Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
by Dyna Dee
Wufei spent the remainder of the weekend safely ensconced within the Winner/Barton home. Much of that time was spent in the company of his friends, but he also spent several hours in his room meditating, settling within him the last few conflicting concerns that remained from having taken a giant step away from the law to join the marauders and their clandestine humanitarian effort. When at last he opened his eyes and rose from carpeted floor, he had reached a place of contentment, knowing he'd made the right decision, regardless of what the consequences might be.
Monday, before the artificial lights of the morning cycle began to glow, he and Trowa covertly left L4 and returned to the satellite with fresh food for Howard and the other two men, enough to last several days. They were warily greeted by those satellite-bound men who, judging by their expressions, were gravely worried about their future. Howard, at least, relaxed somewhat after being reassured all was well and that Wufei had joined them. The other two men looked doubtful. After eating breakfast together, he and Trowa immediately set out in the stealth shuttle with the rented ultra shuttle in tow. Piloting in a pre-determined, roundabout way, designed to avoid the regular travel lanes, they selected a relatively safe spot and ditched the small, slightly tampered with ship just outside regular travel lanes before making their way back to the resource satellite once more.
By Tuesday evening Wufei found himself on the cloaked shuttle once again, but his time he was on his way back to Earth, accompanied by Howard and his crew, minus Trowa. The two burly men, obviously the muscle of the operation, remained nameless, mainly because they refused to acknowledge or speak to the newest member of their crew. He couldn't blame them for being cautious, seeing that he was a Preventer and had basically threatened their freedom only a few days ago. The purpose for this trip planet side, or so he had been told, was to perform routine maintenance on the ship and to refuel it. Howard also mentioned restocking the supplies they'd need to last the next couple of weeks.
Riding in the small passenger section of El Diablo with a stubbornly silent traveling companion who ignored him completely, Wufei had little to do for several hours but look out the port window. The stealth system remained engaged after their entry into Earth's atmosphere, which caused a distorted the view of the planet below. Though he could pick out blurred splotches of blue and brown, he couldn't determine with any accuracy what part of the planet they were flying over.
Wufei didn't like being kept in the dark, yet he understood the reason for his not being told everything. He was being tested. After all, he was a turncoat, and no one in their right mind would trust a traitor until they had proved beyond a doubt they could indeed be trusted. Well, he'd prove to them somehow, someway, that he was worthy of their trust.
With a sigh he turned this thoughts to another matter that had been dominating his thoughts. He'd been AWOL from Preventers radar for over three days now, and no doubt word of his disappearance had reached Une, Heero and anyone else who might be interested. The discovery of the ultra shuttle he'd rented on L4, currently drifting several hundred kilometers from L1, would confirm their fears that something untoward had happened to him. No doubt Preventers would act immediately and begin an investigation into his sudden and mysterious disappearance.
If he wasn't mistaken, the case of his disappearance would be assigned to Heero, adding yet one more mystery for his friend and co-worker to solve. He regretted adding yet another burden to his sometimes partner, but hopefully Heero wouldn't be weighted down by his absence for too long. For some reason, unbeknownst to him, Quatre and Trowa both believed the blockade around L2 would be lifted within the next few weeks. Though they refused to give their reasons for why they believed that would happen. It seemed unlikely to him because the blockade had been in place for several years. What would it take to lift the restrictions on L2 in the foreseeable future? He wasn't sure, but he did believe in what they were doing and trusted his friends... with his life. He was committed to working alongside Howard and Trowa to supply the colony with water, food and other essentials until either the blockade was removed or they were caught. He could only hope for a better outcome than the latter of those two endings.
In the eyes of the law what they were doing was wrong, despite their good intentions and the people they were saving. Director Une was under a great deal of pressure by colonial governments because the marauders had been operating for several years now without a single arrest. Lately, she had grown even more anxious to catch the marauders and try them in a court of law as thieves and hijackers. The sentence, if they were indeed caught and convicted, would be stiff, possibly even life in jail, regardless of the fact that they were on a mission of mercy. He had no wish to spend the rest of his life in prison nor to send his friends there either. To avoid that end, he would follow Quatre's plans and hope for the best.
Shortly after departing the satellite, Howard came back from the cockpit to give him a detailed description of their operations - information he'd already gleaned from the statements given by hijacked crews. He'd gone over those reports more times than he could count. Howard decided to quiz him, asking him how he would react to various scenarios, with the other ship's crew or mechanical failures. The older man seemed pleased by his responses. His answers were based on his knowledge of their main objectives: to get the goods needed off the waylaid ships, pay for them and leave without anyone getting hurt. The last point was paramount to their operation. While aiding L2 was their main purpose, not harming anyone in the process was deemed to be just as important.
It was dark when the shuttle touched down on a long runway in the middle of what appeared to be nowhere. Howard proved to be as good a pilot as he was a mechanical engineer when only the slightest bump of the tires on the tarmac was felt when the ship touched down. It was the most polished landing Wufei had ever experienced on a shuttle. He recalled Heero telling him that Duo could land any flying vessel smoother than anyone he'd ever known. Wufei wondered if perhaps Howard had been the one to teach the former Deathscythe pilot how to fly.
The moment the stealth shuttle came to a complete stop, the cockpit door slid open and Howard popped out. Within moments he'd opened the shuttle's outer hatch and ushered Wufei through it. The two brawny crewmen followed close behind. The taller of the two had impressively large shoulders, a swarthy complexion and a dark heavy eyebrows that hovered over distrustful eyes that seemed constantly in motion. The second man was shorter by a few inches, however his brawn lacked nothing when compared to his counterpart. He wore his brown hair closely cut to his scalp, which accentuated his broad face and the long ragged scar down his left cheek. Howard glanced over his shoulder and frowned at the two, which Wufei could only interrupt was a silent reprimand for their stubborn refusal to speak to their newest crew member. Howard abruptly stopped their descent down the ramp to introduce the silent two as Buck and Stu and explained that they were the muscle of the operation, in charge of loading and unloading the cargo they appropriated from the ships they stopped.
With the stiff introductions made, the four continued to the end of the ramp and they were back to business. Back on solid ground, Wufei followed Howard's instructions to stand off to the side while he and his men set about preparing the ship for their return to space. Actually, he was quite happy to do as Howard asked because it felt incredibly good to stretch his back and legs after being shuttlebound for several days.
He watched as the three competently performed the maintenance on the shuttle, with the help of several men who came out of the dark nowhere to help. Their sudden, surprising appearance was aided by their dark clothing and the masks that covered the entire head, most likely to keep their identities from him. Several large crates were transferred to the cargo area with practiced efficiency, and a fresh supply of food and water were carried on board for the crews' use. Forty-five minutes later, the maintenance was complete and the ground crew waved them off and the four men re-entered the shuttle to begin preparations for take off.
Howard and Buck retreated into the cockpit, leaving Wufei standing in the small passenger cabin while the last crew member entered behind them. The man named Stu immediately turned and began to secure the hatch. Wufei took the seat he'd been assigned to when they'd left the satellite and, after having finished with his task, Stu strapped himself into the seat next to him. Once the shuttle began to taxi to the top of the runway, Stu tuned to look across the short distance that separated them to address the Wufei for the first time.
Wufei turned to the man, surprised that he was finally speaking to him. "Yes."
"I don't trust you." Going by the look on the man's face, that was a true statement.
"Quatre and Trowa do."
"And that's the only reason why you're sittin' there and not doing the dead man's float out in space."
Wufei studied the man, trying to judge whether or not he would have to defend himself. Stu dismissed that concern when he continued. "Howard said he'd given you the basics of what we do, but I'm gonna tell ya again. We have approximately four hours until we catch up with the target. It's comin' from a satellite that's used as a warehouse for goods sent from Earth to L3. We'll be in stealth mode for the entire trip and when we get in range, several warning shots will be fired to get the Eclipse's attention. Buck will issue a prerecorded warning and state our intentions to board the shuttle. They have the choice of opening the cargo hatch or we'll use a lazer to cut through the door, leaving a patch that will be expensive to repair. So far, no one has refused to open the door and let us in."
Wufei nodded that he understood and Stu continued. "We carry only stun guns, and though it's better not to have to use them, we set them off at any sign of provocation. Some guys just can't help trying to be a hero when there's no need. Howard does all the talking while Buck and I haul out the goods we need form their cargo hold, and you're our backup. Buck and I can watch each other's backs; so we're depending on you to watch Howard's. I don't have to tell you what will happen if he gets hurt, do I?" The threat in the man's brown eyes spoke clearly of the mayhem he intended if that unfortunate event came about.
"Buck and I have done this enough times that we can be in and out of there with the goods in twenty minutes, tops. The whole operation takes roughly forty minutes from the time we fire over their bow, barring any arguing by the captain and crew. The bag full of money usually shuts them up fast enough.
"Once we have the cargo transferred to our ship, you'll be the last to leave, again watching our backs. The moment we sever the connecting tube linking the two ships, we're out of there and on our way to L2. After dropping our cargo, you can return to L4 or stay at the satellite with me, Buck and Howard until our next assignment."
"I suppose it depends on where Heero Yuy is," Wufei said thoughtfully.
Stu nodded his head, and there was a look of apprehension on his face as he said, "I've heard about him."
"I suspect he'll be the one assigned to find out what happened to me. If he uses Quatre and Trowa's home as a base, that will be the last place I should go."
"Then I guess you'll be staying with us and we're gonna to get to know each other real well over the next couple of weeks." The grin on Stu's face was less than reassuring.
"Yes, I guess we will."
Wufei had heard the term beginner's luck before, but he wondered in his case if it shouldn't have been beginner's bad luck.
They reached the Eclipse on schedule and everything was going as planned, up to the point of entering the freighter, which they did dressed all in black and with ski masks covering their heads almost completely to keep them from being identified. To his displeasure Howard was presented with someone other than the captain, as requested before boarding. The ship's first mate and several other grim looking crew members stood before them, looking defiant and ready to start a fight.
"I will deal only with your captain," Howard said in an intentionally gruff and commanding voice, his stun gun ready to fire.
"So what are you gonna do about it, leave?" The sarcastically delivered question came from the front man, apparently assigned to be the ship's spokesman. Being a surly, slightly paunchy middle-aged man with stringy brown hair and untrimmed beard, Wufei hadn't been impressed, and he guess Howard wasn't either when he immediately raised the nozzle of his stun rifle and blasted the man into unconsciousness. The four men behind the downed man didn't look like they appreciated Howard's response. Arguing ensued, which ended with the combative men joining their first mate, stunned unconscious on the ships cold deck.
Using the intercom, Howard demanded the captain's presence. He waited close to two minutes before another man appeared, by himself, as originally requested. One look at the five men on the floor and the newcomer's face clearly displayed his fury. The man, just smaller than Wufei's height, was dressed like the rest of the crew, in a faded green flight suit. The only difference being the well-worn cap with the dingy white letters spelling out Captain, just above the bill.
Not trusting the cap to identify the man, Howard asked, "You're the captain of this ship?"
With a shock of white hair and a thin-lipped scowl that looked permanently etched on his craggy face, the man was as unapproachable as could be when answered with a growl, "That's right."
"Why didn't you come as requested, instead of sending your men?"
"It was their idea."
Howard paused to considered that for a moment. While it was feasible that the crew was only trying to protect their captain, Wufei wondered what else this man's crew had up their sleeves.
"We need a portion of your cargo, for which we will compensate you in credits."
"What if we don't want to go along with this?" the man replied with a sneer of disgust.
"Then we take what we want and you'll get nothing."
"Like hell you will!" the captain shouted. It was either his volume or the words he spouted that triggered an immediate reaction from his crew. One heartbeat after spouting his challenge, a dozen men burst out from doorways lining the metal corridor, armed and ready to defend their cargo and captain.
Reacting immediately, Wufei pulled Howard behind the solid door of the open hatch, just as the first bullet pinged above them. "These idiots are going to compromise the ship's integrity," he hissed in anger while the older man in front of him began to fire his stun gun.
The next few minutes were filled with the sounds of weapons firing and stun rifles igniting. Wufei decided that if anyone was going to survive the stupidity of these men, recklessly shooting bullets inside a space craft, he needed to do something and quickly. When there came a brief pause in the firing, he threw himself forward, towards the nearest man. In less than three leaps he'd successfully tackled the ship's captain to the floor, knocking the gun out the cursing man's hand at the same time. Though the ship's captain was older, he was in excellent physical condition and eager to fight, hand to hand. He soon learned, however, that he was no match for the dark-eyed marauder.
In the end, the combative crew, or rather all of those in the vicinity, lay at their feet, immobile. The task made easier once their captain had been captured and used as a hostage. In order to secure the ship and make sure no more mishaps occurred, Stu and Buck made a quick search of the ship to round up the rest of the crew. The three they found joined the rest of the Eclipse's crew, unconscious by way of the stun guns. Wufei was left to stand guard over the bodies on the deck while Howard rushed off with Buck and Stu to take what they needed from the cargo hold.
Alert to every sound and movement around him, Wufei waited impatiently for the three marauders to return. Seldom had he know time to go any slower. Fifteen long, torturous minutes later his teammates returned. Their approach was surprising quiet, even with a large shipping container that had been secured by anti-gravity braces, which helped Stu and Buck move the bulky box forward almost effortlessly into the connecting tube to El Diablo.
"We found what we needed, but we're running a bit behind schedule," Howard stated grimly. "I'm going to check out their cockpit to see if they managed to get off any messages before we blocked their signals. I doubt it, but I want to be on the safe side." He then turned and quickly disappeared down the ship's corridor.
Quicker than he thought possible, Buck and Stu came running out of the connecter tube, each carrying a grav brace under their arms. They disappeared in the direction of the cargo hold once again and, thankfully, returned five minutes later with yet another large container. And so the process continued for three additional trips to and from the cargo hold.
Howard returned with a nod of satisfaction that told Wufei no message had been transmitted successfully. After giving him a pat on the shoulder, the older man disappeared into their own ship, most likely to tighten down the newly acquired cargo.
After the fourth crate disappeared through the hatch, Stu announced over his shoulder, "Last one. Just give us a minute to secure this in the hold and then we're out of here."
Wufei remained at his post though he was anxious to leave. This obviously was not the routine Howard was used to. Never, in all the reports he'd read, had a crew aggressively fought back before.
Wufei turned as Howard came out of the hatch and watched as the older man began picking up the discarded weapons lying on the floor. "No use leaving these things lying around. It's obvious these guys like to cause trouble." Then, when it appeared he had picked up every last one, the older man straightened and looked at Wufei with a smile. "What do you say to us getting out of here?"
Wufei couldn't shake the feeling that they were forgetting something. Something was missing from the pattern the marauders usually followed. And then it came to him what it was. "You're not leaving the credits?"
The older man shook his head. "I warned the man."
"Then this would be stealing. That could be used against you in a court of law."
Rolling his eyes, the older man said, "That's the least of my worries." Then with a sigh he added, "But you're right. I'll be right back." And then Howard disappeared back into their ship.
Wufei sighed, letting out some of his pent up tension. Thus far the marauders had prided themselves on paying for what they'd taken, maybe escaping the worst of the theft charges if they were caught. Of course, hijacking was still the worst of all charges that would be leveled against them and the sentence for that, if convicted, was something he didn't want to dwell on.
Howard returned and threw a heavy, nondescript canvas bag on the floor, next to the unmoving captain's body. "Let's get going."
Wufei turned to lead the way back into their ship when out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a movement. He paused to investigate, and at that very moment the first mate raised his head off the floor and his whipped his hand out from beneath him to point a familiar object at Howard. Damn, Howard had missed the gun that might have been on the or beneath the man's body.
"Move!" He shouted while throwing himself in front of Howard, and in that instant the report of a gun firing filled the air. Searing pain burst through his upper arm, knocking him off balance. The low hum and pfft of a nearby stun gun sounded to his right as he fell against Howard's chest. The older man's arms wrapped tightly around him to an effort to keep him from falling to the floor.
"Let's get the hell out of here!" Howard ordered. Even as Wufei struggled to get his feet to work under him, he was dragged out of the Eclipse and back into El Diablo. Once they were within their ship he was eased down onto the floor and only then did the supporting arms let go.
"Dammit. It wasn't supposed to go down like this!" Howard said, roughly pulling off the mask covering his head. His expression seemed to be torn between anger and worry as his hands began to roam the injured man's body, looking for additional wounds.
"Just my arm," Wufei grunted. "Take off this mask."
Still frowning, Howard pulled off the face mask then unzipped the black flight suit. Without pausing he ripped off the bloody t-shirt beneath it then gently eased Wufei onto his side. "No exit wound. Looks like we're going to have to do some digging to get that out."
Knowing that all gunshot wounds had to be reported to the authorities, Wufei knew that he couldn't go to a hospital or doctor. He looked up to meet the older man's eyes. "Have you done this before?"
Howard offered him a slight smile. "Many times, unfortunately."
With a defeated sigh, the Chinese man resigned himself to the coming procedure. "You've got antibiotics, right?"
"Wouldn't leave Earth without them." The man was much too cheerful, Wufei groused.
After the connecting tube was retracted, the shuttle door was closed and secured by Buck. "You okay to take us out of here?" Howard asked over his shoulder.
The tall man moved towards them, his stun rifle in hand and his eyes focused on Wufei's injured arm.
Wufei's attention turned from what Howard was doing to address Buck. "Thanks for stopping him from taking a second shot."
"No thanks necessary," the tall man replied just before pulling the cap off his head. "That shot was aimed at Howard's heart. If you hadn't moved to block him..." His voice trailed off. The idea of what had almost happened seemed too difficult for the man to continue. Clearing his throat, he said. "You're one of us now."
Wufei looked to Howard for his reaction. The older man simply smiled at him, then glanced back to the other man. "Get us out of here, Buck. Have Stu bring the first aid kit. I'm going to need him to help me dig a bullet out our newest crew member's arm."
Evidently, his actions had won the other men over. Wufei was now, apparently, officially, a marauder.