Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
In a large hangar on the out-outskirts of Moscow Heero spent hours at simulators that mimicked the controls and feel of the craft Ivanov was selling. Ivanov's granddaughter, called Lu, stood near Heero, answering his technical questions about the various options and models their company had available. Now and then Heero looked to the office. Midii had been in there pretending for the old man to be rather clueless and listening to his old stories of the Colonies and the wars. She'd even let Ivanov pinch her rear with his robotic hand with no reaction but a giggle.
Heero had wondered why some women were so stupid until he had realized that with some it was an act. Now he suspected it might always be an act but he still did not understand why a woman would do that. Heero didn't have a problem evaluating women in the same terms that he did men. He understood that their skill sets might differ slightly on average, but he was willing to expect that any individual might have the same range of skills. Heero wasn't aware that he thought one sex or one race was overall inferior and he tried to not underestimate any individual.
Did the women who pretended to be foolish do so in order to encourage them to be unguarded against attack or competition? If they did, that meant they did intend to take advantage of a man's underestimation of their skills in some way.
Heero wasn't aware of any information or service that Ivanov would be more likely to offer Midii if he was convinced she was a silly flirtatious sort of female.
Heero understood hiding specific abilities and trying to blend in when in hard to defend environments but...
He had much more to learn about social engineering and normal human interaction.
When Heero had tried the simulators and looked at the mock-ups of onboard systems and samples of materials used in construction he went with Lu to the office. Midii and Ivanov were sitting about having drinks. Both laughed warmly. "Come in , My Boy!" Ivanov said.
Heero growled in his throat. He really disliked being called that.
He took a seat one side of the old man's desk.
"So, have you decided what you want?" Ivanov asked. He swiveled a terminal toward Heero. Lu leaned in and pointed out format of their ordering system. Heero thanked her then referred to his own digital pad where he had taken notes.
"I want two ships from you," Heero told the older man, "One as soon as you can assemble it and the other in about a month from now, I think you have the facilities to do that."
"Both the same or different?"
Ivanov made some gesture toward his granddaughter with his real hand. "Fill in everything you want and I can make sure the second order goes through afterward," Lu said.
Heero began filling out the forms. Ivanov's people made ships to order and didn't keep showroom models. It would have been very costly to operate in that way and Ivanov tried to keep overhead down as much as possible. He was the sort of man who passed the savings along to his best customers. Heero needed two Earth re-entry shuttlecraft, heavy payload capacity, with all available optional booster packages, bay cybernetic package, repair drones, custom exterior finish and various spare parts. "They will be commercially registered," Heero stated.
"Midii told me about your new project."
Heero tried to make no expression, but he did move his eyes up to Midii and glare.
"Heero," Ivanov laughed, "You were going to tell me yourself, were you not?"
Heero gave a nod. Ivanov had known Lowe, but Heero did not know how well. He had also happened to know J. It just happened to be that the older man had run this same company from the Colonies then and many people who needed shuttles, rockets or associated parts had done business with him. "Both shuttles will be registered to Lowe Security. I will pay in advance as usual but from my company account." Heero pressed several keys on his pad. "I have our company logo here. I can upload it."
Ivanov laughed. "I wouldn't let you upload a file to my toaster, Boy. Lubov, hook our friend's pad to the printer there and print a copy."
Heero shrugged and put the pad in Lu's waiting hand.
"You should trust him. He could probably get all your computer systems running better than they do now!" Midii declared.
Ivanov nodded as he reached for the monitor and keyboard and swung them back to his side of the desk. "Almost a light freighter."
"I do not need a freighter. I need a reliable shuttle that can handle large payloads if need be and be fast and maneuverable. A freighter won't cut it, even if some of the lighter models claim they can make Earth landings and takeoff."
Ivanov waved that idea away with an annoyed snapping of his metal 'fingers.' "On Mars maybe. Earth... a few trips only in an emergency. Planning on carrying around mobile suits are you?"
It was a joke and Heero would have been angry, except he had actually been considering this. "Do you know a source for good mobile suits... legally registered mobile suits?" Heero asked seriously.
Ivanov stared at Heero with his eyes colored like weak chai. "I take it those farming and construction suits won't do?"
Heero shook his head. "No Sweeper Tugs either. I've heard there is some market for ex-military style mobile suits, but I haven't been able to find out much about it except to see the regulations and restrictions the ESUN has come up with."
"In the first year after the Eve Wars no mobile suit construction was allowed, but as usual the politicians did not understand the technology they were regulating."
"No Tugs or Plowmen or even exo-frames could be made legally until the new laws were passed," Lu said from the printer.
"Now there is Zodiac Tech and Wadjet."
Heero nodded. He had come across these names, but researching them had not yet been a high enough priority for him. "I don't know much about them... well... I do know that Wadjet is very much the same group of people who were military contractors in the Middle East."
"You will find they now specialize in only terraforming and construction mobile suits. They sell only new models now, the 03 and 04 were retired."
"I admit I had not given this issue much thought until recently. What changed in the laws exactly?"
Lu answered, "The delegates met with lobbyists that represented manufacturers of mobile suits and exo-frames who had applied the technology to peaceful means for the past 25 years since Romefeller had recruited their think tank of mad scientists. You know once a technology is discovered others will copy that technology. They may not be able to duplicate it exactly due to patents but they will come close or else license the necessary components. The delegates realized they could not actually outlaw all mobile suits as they had previously defined them. Now they are not outlawed, only restricted."
"They basically restricted size, and weight of the mecha as well as restricted the size and intensity of beam and plasma tools to prevent them being used as weapons," Ivanov informed Heero. "But as to your inquiry, it is most likely you will have to deal with Zodiac Tech unless you can find a licensed dealer of custom or re-tooled salvaged mobile suits."
"I know this much about it," Midii said, "Zodiac Tech is all ex-Romefeller and OZ technicians. They hold the rights to build new models based on the military Zodiac series. They fought hard to be able to sell those suits. They are almost identical to the older suits, except that all weapons systems have been left out."
"Very popular with privateers on Mars, especially their new Aquarius model."
"Mines the ice caps with plasma torches and high-powered drills," Lu said, bringing Heero's pad back to him.
Heero imagined that one could by a new suit from ZT and black-market Romefeller weapons systems and with a little skill have a new heavily armed mobile suit. "I would rather not give financial support to their zaibatsu under any name," Heero said. Romefeller had always been a military-industrial combine that found war profitable. They had hired the minds that invented mobile suits and then they had taken that technology and created OZ in the guise of the Specials who were to enforce Alliance policy with their highly mobile artillery. "Wadjet wisely only makes suits for terraforming and colony construction..."
"Speaking of zaibatsu..." Midii broke in, "Do you know that Winner is the parent company of Wadjet?"
Heero shook his head. "It does seem I will have to learn to pay more attention to industry and finance. I have paid attention to politics to a certain degree and it has not been enough. You are all more informed than I am."
"Added together," Midii assured Heero. "Don't worry, I make it a point to follow finance, so you won't have to be expert."
"Then, my option remains: buying custom or reconstructed mobile suits from dealers licensed to do so."
"There are not many. This is what I was trying to say. The laws changed, but apart from ZT and Wadjet there are no manufactures of mobile suits to compete."
"One could say Wadjet exists not to allow Zodiac to have a monopoly, to compete with them such as their goals will allow," Lu explained.
Heero had no doubt that Quatre had the resources to help him acquire any kind of mobile suit he wished. He could probably have one ordered to be made of Gundanium, but Heero was sure it had been agreed no one would build mobile suits like those. These new laws worried Heero somewhat. Even with very small tools as weapons a large number of mobile suits could do a lot of damage to a city or a colony. Heero would have to add this to the list of things he meant to discuss with Une.
"The point, My Boy, is that Zodiac was mainly behind the lobbying and they convinced those manufacturers of automobiles, space technologies and industrial vehicles that each had one mobile suit in their product line to back them. They made it look like the law punished mechanized farms in Russia and in the Americas when they had their own goals. You do not have to worry about violence. They don't want military domination. But, financial domination, yes. Zodiac Tech is a means to financial domination."
"And if a group that does have goals of military domination raises funds to feed their financial empire and purchases an army?"
"Sales are restricted and tracked," Lu assured Heero. "They would also need ability to create many individual fronts to purchase through and not be found doing so by Preventers."
Definitely something to ask Director Une about. "So, you are saying that it is legal for some businesses to construct, re-construct and sell mobile suits but that most people had no interest in that business?"
"Exactly my point. There are a few. But I only know of one and it is by chance that I was told about their business by another customer." Ivanov took a digital pad from his desk. "It seems I only have the number, but they were highly recommended, you may want to look into their business, if you have a serious interest in acquiring any kind of mobile suit."
Heero glanced at the number then copied it onto his own pad.
"Well, My Boy," Heero was really hating being called that, "It looks like we'll be able to get this done in only a few days. One shuttle of this size that is. As it happens we have just one set of struts in stock. Gundanium, you know, we have to order the alloy from the Colonies. We were fortunate to do so much business over the last few months. We can get to your second order two weeks from now."
Heero replied with a nod. The schedule was acceptable. Ivanov's people had parts in stock and much of the assembly was automated. He should be in the Colonies by Friday, maybe before. "Acceptable."
Ivanov gestured to Lu and she made the wireless network connection active on the desk terminal. "You did not specify color... for beneath the commercial logos."
"Like the hair?" Ivanov asked.
"About that color."
"What names do you want the ships registered as?" Lu asked.
"The first one should be called The Zero. Midii can choose the second name. It will be her shuttle."
"I've never even been off Earth!" Midii said.
Heero was not entirely surprised. "You will learn to pilot light spacecraft, maneuver in zero g and emergency decompression procedures. Don't worry, all Colonial children learn as much. You do not have to be expert, just able to survive."
Ivanov laughed. "Are you going to initiate the lady into the 'z club,' Heero?"
Heero wanted to be happy Ivanov had actually used his name but he was sure his face colored and he kept his mouth shut, tightly. He was very confident of his ability to maneuver his body without pull of gravity but he had never had sex anywhere at all. Besides, he had thought Midii was going to refute those rumors.
Midii laughed and reached across the desk to touch Ivanov's metal hand. "Oh, Misha, I thought you could help me with those maneuvers... Heero and I are like brother and sister."
"Don't tease me," Ivanov begged.
Heero swallowed saliva and stared at a wall. Midii just couldn't be serious, could she? Ivanov wasn't just older, he was exceptionally old.
"Grandfather, did you want to make any adjustments to this?"
Ivanov looked at the terminal's monitor. He tapped at a few keys. Lu gave him a skeptical look. Ivanov nodded then swiveled the terminal toward Heero. "For both," Ivanov said.
Heero looked at the price Ivanov had quoted to him in text on the screen. It was lower than he had expected. It was considerably lower. Heero did some calculation in his head. It was cost. Ivanov usually had given Heero good prices, he'd cut back on his profit. This was only enough to cover materials running of assembly line equipment and salary for the technicians involved. The company itself would make nothing.
"It is too low," Heero stated.
Midii kicked his knee. It hurt.
"It is my one time offer to Lowe Security."
Heero typed an account number into the form on the terminal then swiveled it around again.
"Good. We will contact you when The Zero is ready. Midii did not tell us what she wishes to name her shuttle."
"Just spell Zaitsev in reverse," Midii said.
When they had taken their leave of Ivanov and his granddaughter Heero asked Midii if she had asked Ivanov about loosing his arm. She said she had.
"How did he lose it?"
Midii laughed. "I wasn't on assignment; I asked him on my own, so I don't have to share that information."
"He told me many things about you," Midii said, "I flirted, but he wouldn't have given us such a good price just for that. He wants you to be successful. He admires you."
"He speaks to me like I am a child."
"You are a child to him."
Heero supposed this was true, he still did not like it. They went back into the city then and first stopped at a small electronics shop to buy gear and parts Heero wanted. He had two more similar shops on a list of places he wanted to visit that day. He was aware that governments and corporations both were eager to track individuals in every way possible. If they bought components in certain quantity or combinations it would be assumed their activities were illegal and their names would appear on virtual lists somewhere.
Heero was using a hack job ID and an associated account, but he still didn't wish that name to show up on lists. It was such a bother to have to remove his names later.
It was evening again before business was completed and getting more cold than cool outside but stores were still open and Heero wanted to look for some presents. Midii suggested they try GUM, since the department store would have many different types of things and they would not have to walk from store to store that way.
Heero saw the logic in Midii's suggestion, so they went into the well known and rather old store.
"Are you shopping for Relena?"
"Hai," Heero answered, they had switched somewhere along the way so as to reduce the probability that their conversation could be followed. "But I would like to find some small gifts for other people I may see."
"Not a romantic gift then?"
"No. I told you..."
"Hai... I was trying to get you to be specific so I could help you look."
Heero made a nod of his head. "It should be a special present, for someone who is a good friend on her birthday, but not something that might also be too personal or romantic. Something practical will be no good. She has servants and likely owns everything she would need. So, I believe that leaves decorative or thoughtful items."
"Like the aforementioned teddy bear?"
They were currently near a display of such toys. Heero stopped and considered the display. "No. But perhaps I might send one to Ursula. A small consolation for insuring with my actions that the man who offended her will be imprisoned rather than killed. As much as I hate killing now... I can only imagine I would want him dead if it had been me. I almost want him dead now for what he did to Duo and I."
"Does Duo require consolation as well then?"
"Even Trowa wanted him dead," Heero said. But Heero had believed it would have been wrong to take Trant's life. Most likely he would be sent to an asteroid mining penal camp. "What did you say?"
"No. Something more special than that."
Heero lifted a particular bear from the shelves. It was brown, with nubby fur, long floppy arms and an understuffed belly. Heero tucked it under his arm and moved on.
"Really?" Midii asked.
"Really...? You mean about buying Duo a gift?"
"Aa... I cannot say if I have been a good friend to him but I feel that Duo is a very good friend to me. Don't you think that means I should find some gesture that communicates appreciation?"
"Hai. What should we look for then?"
"I have no idea. I do not understand how Duo thinks or what he wants. Is there some socially acceptable thing a young man gives to a good friend?"
"There's a huge range. It depends greatly on what sort of men you are and how close. I mean, are you the sort that would pay a girl to give him a lap dance or more the sort to give him a print first edition of a book novel that is very relevant to his life or how you feel?"
Heero considered. "Most definitely not the lap dance sort." He saw they were in an area of statuary and small figurines. He left Midii to walk around the shelves and cases. There were so many well-crafted and elegant things here, surely Relena would like one.
"Have you seen them collect things?"
"You know, as a hobby. People with hobbies and collections are easy to shop for. Or maybe they have a favorite color."
Heero shook his head as he looked at a shelf of animals in crystal. "I haven't seen either of them in over a year. Before that we all moved around too much to collect things. Relena must be too busy to have a hobby. Duo just wore strange clothes and worried about his hair."
"Right. I have seen pictures. He has a very long braid."
"It is highly impractical and he knows this, but I gather it has sentimental value. I think..." Heero tried to remember if Duo had said exactly or just hinted. He realized Duo rarely spoke about himself or his past, though he talked often. "Well, I gather from things he did say that he was an orphan, I don't mean like I was, I mean, he lost more than one family and must have been on his own a lot so that here and there he seems... spooked by something that triggers a memory or... I don't know."
"Well, don't you know his favorite color or his religion or his favorite style of music?"
Heero shook his head. "It's not simple with him. He wore so much black that I thought he liked it, but then I wondered if he might not wear black the way Wufei wore white, because it signifies mourning. He is American."
"And he actually wore that..." Heero gestured to his throat with his fingers. "The collar that Catholic priests wear. But he wasn't a priest at all. I don't think he is even Catholic. He screamed about Shinigami sometimes, but I think he's was just mad when he did that, as if he really could not decide if Death was this being that toyed with him, or if he was Death or if it was just the nickname of his Gundam." Heero sighed, "I really don't know about music."
"You think he's crazy?" Midii whispered.
Heero looked up at her. She was serious. "I do not mean that he is literally... out of his mind. It is just, you have to understand, and the things we all saw and suffered and did would make anyone a little crazy. I would not be at all surprised if he was mentally ill. Then, I wouldn't be surprised if I was. I probably am. PTSD or something. But even if he was actually delirious... I think I'd still go talk to him eventually and I'd buy him a present."
"You do sound scarier the longer you speak."
Heero shook his head at her and walked away. He stopped and faced Midii again, "It's just... he is really annoying sometimes. I don't know why I would want to buy him a gift. But he is also very intelligent and skilled. He's funny. He does this thing with his voice like," Heero tried to mimic the sound of Duo telling a joke in American English, "Next thing Quatre will say is it's his fault the desert is so dry."
Midii laughed. Heero had to admit, it wasn't a very good impression. "He's sarcastic?"
"I don't think he is. Not exclusively. You know, he never gets my jokes."
"You joke?" Midii laughed.
"No. It is illogical and a complete waste of time," Heero said in very flat tone.
Midii stared blankly for six seconds. "That was a joke."
Heero's shoulder's slumped.
"I got it!" Midii insisted, "It's just deadpan sarcasm is hard to get sometimes."
Midii wandered off.
Heero came across a shelf with many figures of angels on it. One in particular made him think of Relena and since nothing else in the store had yet made him think of her Heero decided he should buy this. He looked more carefully at the small statue. It might have been porcelain. It was some type of ceramic, an angel with pale skin and golden blonde hair in a red robe, with many white lilies in its hair and near its hands and feet. It had wings, black with blue painted highlights.
Heero wondered if it was an angel of something. It wouldn't seem a proper gift if Relena recognized it was the Angel or Death or Angel of Bad Tidings or something like that.
Heero picked the statue up and looked at the base. It had some artist and manufacturer markings as well as a sticker showing its price. It didn't seem terribly expensive, but it was not a very small sum either. This seemed to be a display model. There were some boxes within a case. Heero would need someone to open this. He tried the glass door to be sure; it was locked with a key.
Heero looked around. As if on cue a woman came from behind the case. Her expression looked stern and Heero thought that she had been watching her area of the store with aid of surveillance cameras and now suspected he had tried to break into the case.
"I just want to buy a statue that is like this one," Heero explained.
She smiled tightly and held out her hands. She placed the statue back on the shelf very carefully. She bent at her knees, looked skeptically at Heero then opened the lock there and stood. The woman slid the door open and retrieved one box. She set the box near her feet then closed and locked the door. When she stood again she handed the box to Heero. There was a picture of the statue on the outside. And it was identified as Archangel Gabriel.
"Did you find something for Relena?" Midii asked as she walked up behind Heero.
The store employee began to stare. Midii had spoken in Japanese, but "Relena" was recognizable whatever language they spoke. The woman looked at Heero and then Midii and then back at Heero. Recognition was all over her face.
"Thank you for your assistance. I will pay for all my purchases together when I am finished shopping, if that is acceptable."
"Yes, Sir, do as you like. Do you need any help?"
"No... unless you know what kind of gifts are most often purchased for young men."
"Of what age, Sir?"
"Teenaged, maybe eighteen."
"Does he like girls?"
"Da... " Heero thought about it then. "I am not sure. It is statistically more probably than the alternatives."
"It does not matter. There are some gifts all young men will like. I only asked because I have teenaged sons and they like their posters and calendars. Some boys are interested in sports teams or 'modeling.'"
Heero raised a brow. "Dressing up for photos?" He looked at Midii and she was laughing at him.
The saleswoman coughed. "Building the plastic figures."
Heero laughed. "The same word applies to both in at least three languages I speak," Heero said in his defense. "But that sounds like a hobby and I don't know if it is this young man's hobby."
The saleswoman sighed and forced a smile. "Does he like music?"
Duo was very hard to shop for. "Thank you for trying, but I think my friend is difficult to shop for. We will continue to browse."
As they walked away with the boxed angel and the teddy bear Midii said, "I could try to help you choose some music."
"Duo could easily buy music online and if I tried making a custom disc or playlist it might not be music that means anything to him."
"Let's just go get dinner," Midii suggested. "You can shop for him tomorrow. You can shop for him online if you like."
True. Heero paid for the statue and animal and they returned to the Metropol. Midii ordered room service for them both and they ate. She fed Nanashi from her plate. After dinner they separated and went to their rooms. Heero stripped as far as his jeans and tee then lay on his bed with his computer.
He transferred a record of his spending that day from his pad to the computer. He found the number Ivanov had given him for the mobile suit supplier. The number itself indicated that it was Colonial and within the L2-S3 cluster. Heero knew the time differences for most of the Colonies and many major cities on Earth. It wasn't even lunch time there. Heero decided to dial.
He typed the number in his communications program and then hit his send shortcut. A carrier logo came up and text detailing the status of the connection. Heero got the indicator that the lines were connected and the phone was ringing. Text flashed: active. Video appeared. Heero flinched. "Duo!"
It was a recording. "You've reached Maxwell Garage Startup... it's our current working name. We are a fully licensed dealer of new, used and reconstructed mobile suits as well as salvage and refurbished parts for all models and sell only legal and regulation merchandise. We are very interested in your business, unfortunately we are currently too busy working to answer our phones. Please leave a name and number and we will contact you as soon as we are able. Thank You."
For a second Heero thought about hanging up, but Duo seemed the sort to set his vidphone to monitor and record even while the outgoing message played. Heero decided that, shocked as he was, he better aim to be professional.
"My name is Heero Yuy, I currently represent Lowe Security and have been authorized to purchase several mobile suits for company use. Ivanov in Moscow who tells me an associate of his highly recommended your business gave me this number. I have many questions about the specific capabilities of suits you may have available. You may reach myself or fellow Lowe Security representatives at this number," Heero sent the number as text overlay, "I suggest calls during L1 business hours. Thank You." Heero disconnected.
He folded his arms before the keyboard and then lay his head in his arms. Duo was building mobile suits? Heero trusted he was skilled enough but he did not understand how Duo could be a student, a Preventer agent and have this job besides.
He had looked good, Heero thought. Well, he had seemed upbeat for the lens anyway. Maybe his eyes were more like midnight blue.
Heero fell asleep in front of the computer. He was having the dream about the nightclub. This one reoccurred too. In this dream Heero didn't seem to be anyone special. He would come to the nightclub to see the singer. She was a beautiful woman with a rich voice. Her husband was the bass player in the band. In these dreams Heero loved them both and they both loved him. He had dreamt making love to both of them. The dreams turned to nightmare some of the time and Heero saw tears and pink triangles and soldiers trying to force him to do things he never wanted to do for them.
Heero woke suddenly, cold and sweating. He felt like his mouth had a bad taste in it. Midii was standing in the doorway watching him. "I think you had a nightmare but I was afraid to touch you after what happened to that agent the other morning," she whispered.
"It is not advisable to try to touch me when I am sleeping."
"Was it the war?"
Heero sat up and pushed damp green hair away from his forehead. He shook his head.
"Sometimes I have nightmares about the war. I didn't have to kill very many people myself, but sometimes I felt responsible and I saw... a lot of bad things."
Heero nodded. "I am OK now. You don't need to stay. I'll just get a shower."
"No problem." Midii left.
Heero brushed his teeth then got a shower then went back to bed. He woke late. Heero didn't need an alarm clock much of the time. His internal clock was fairly reliable. He told himself when he should wake and he did. This time he knew it was later than usual, but he remembered having trouble falling asleep.
Heero was used to some sleep disturbances now. It was annoying, but not so bad as it had been in that time after he had left New York and felt bad all of the time. He wondered if it would get better or worse if he ever wanted to sleep with someone in the same bed. There had been that one night with Midii, but Heero had just been passed out, drunk.
He recalled he had shared rooms before. He had slept in the same room with Trowa. Also, on Peacemillion he had shared a room that had many bunks in it. Heero thought Duo and Trowa might have had nightmares, even then. Trowa sometimes talked in his sleep. Actually, now he thought of it, in his sleep Trowa had spoken bits of Spanish. And Duo had made all kinds of pitiful noises and lashed out and hit things too.
Heero must have pushed that memory to the back of his mind. He hadn't really remembered about their nightmares before.
Several days passed while Midii spent time on the phone negotiating and Heero took up hours designing a 'net site for Lowe Security. Heero had woken from one of his strange dreams and thought that maybe he could give Duo a kimono as a gift. He didn't know if it was a proper sort of gift, but after trying to think of a gift that gave the correct message Heero had come up with nothing else. Heero asked Midii if maybe she could ask her friend's advice on the subject. Midii had already spoken to her about locating an apartment and related to Heero that Ursula was home in the Colonies and being taken care of.
Heero had since finalized arrangements to rent an apartment within the Japanese Quarter.
Midii had spoken to her friend Ursula again and she had gotten the name of the very best kimono shop she knew in the Colonies but Midii was concerned because Ursula had not looked well. "She told me she hadn't worn any of her kimono, only 'western clothes' since... it happened. She says they all have long sleeves."
Heero had not understood but he nodded. He guessed that symbolized something. He knew quite a lot about mobile suit models and firearms but probably couldn't tell one style of kimono from another.
"I don't think it matters to most people these days, but she studied traditions and takes them seriously. Apparently only young women wear long sleeves. She didn't say so, but I gather what she actually means is virgins."
"Oh." That did seem distressing. If she had worn an outward symbol of her virginity in a proud manner and then had that taken by force... she might feel she must discard all her clothing and fear that many people would look at her and know how and why the change had taken place. "Now I feel bad we asked her advice."
"I don't expect she would appreciate special treatment. It likely makes her feel she should be pitied. Here, she sent instructions to you. Also, she said she is not angry with you that you spared that man's life and she would like to meet you someday."
Heero took the instructions written on paper and went back to his room to order the kimono. It was easy following Ursula's directions. She must have been familiar with their ordering forms.
Heero received the call from Ivanov late on Wednesday. He said The Zero would be entirely ready for flight the next day they were testing it. Ivanov's people had an arrangement with the local spaceport to make deliveries there for their clients to collect. He told Heero to contact the port about a launch window for late Thursday morning or afterward.
Midii had already negotiated with the port and they would be given launch preference whenever possible, in exchange, two months in the future they expected a report specifically on threats to passenger terminal security.
Thursday morning Heero and Midii checked out of their hotel suite and traveled to the spaceport. Lu met them with the shuttle and their luggage was loaded onboard. They did not have working space suits, so Heero purchased some from the airport shop. The shop had no deals with them and charged them the ordinary inflated price.
Heero planned to order a new personal flight suit when he was back in the Colonies as well as suits and uniform jackets for Lowe Security.
He had spent a great deal so far and made nothing. He tried not to think about it very much.
Just after 1pm Moscow time Heero and Midii boarded The Zero already on the launch ramp. Heero strapped into the pilot's seat and adjusted his helmet radio to pick up the messages from Control. Midii sat in the seat beside Heero.
Heero looked over the controls. It was just like the simulator. "I haven't piloted a real shuttle in over a year," Heero said.
"What? You are that out of practice? This is my first time going into space! Lord!" She crossed herself three times.
"It will come back to me," Heero said, smiling. He went through all the pre-flight checks and preparation. He took cues from Control and responded as required. They gave him a countdown and Heero confirmed as he set the timer onboard.
Launch take-offs were not terribly difficult, they were not unlike Colonial catapult take-offs entirely. A ramp launch from Earth still required some boosters. The computer onboard was fairly standard and prompted most actions, like when to fire or shut off boosters, so that one didn't really have to be much of a cosmonaut to pilot a shuttle these days. Actually, it was possible to let the computer handle take-offs. Landings still needed some human effort. However, if one was flying combat or rescue or dodging debris fields or meteorites, then one had to actually do some calculation and piloting and know how the craft worked.
The launch went perfectly, though Midii whimpered or groaned or gushed with awe during it. A outward spiraling path took the shuttle toward the moon. Heero did a calculation then fired the main thrusters to speed them toward the place the moon would be when they got there.
Heero set proximity and communications alarms and then put himself to sleep. Midii woke him with complaints that she was bored. "Space travel does sometimes require periods of inaction when covering distances between course corrections and acceleration or deceleration. I find it advantageous to sleep, that way I can get more things done at my destination without needing to rest from my trip."
"Aa, but how do you just put yourself to sleep like that?"
Duo had never understood this either. Sometimes Heero had only pretended to sleep because he thought it funny how Duo would talk to himself when he thought Heero was asleep. "Training I suppose."
The proximity alarms went off sometime later and Heero made contact with S4 Main Control. They rerouted control to the Capitol's local port and Heero took their suggested minor course corrections and his given slot in the line to land at the commercial section of the port. It was a busy port.
There were fairly rigorous regulations, fines and customs to deal with. Their parent nations, the Alliance and other groups had persecuted the Colonies in the past. They were very cautious with traffic coming from Earth, especially newly registered craft. They did not hassle him much once they realized who he was. Heero had not only saved Earth in the past but he had saved particular colonies from being destroyed and he had shared in the efforts to free the Colonies from their former persecution. As well, the people in the Capitol understood he was like many of them in having grown up in the Colonies during the times they were under Alliance control.
Heero made notes, mentally, of all the ways he might have caused destruction. He filed the notes away in his mind along with the notes on the port in Moscow and the notes on the Metropol. Once he got settled in he was going to start planning missions against all the places he planned to frequent in case they should pay him for his opinions. He wouldn't carry out the missions of course, unless hired to do tests, but he would plan.
Once they cleared the spaceport Heero put Midii and her luggage into a large taxi and told the driver she had never been to the Colonies before and that he better take her directly to the Russian Quarter to meet her friends. Heero then got himself a taxi and gave the driver the address of the building where his new apartment was located, on I street in the Japanese Quarter. The building was on 8th Avenue, not far from the Seventh Avenue bridges that led into the German Quarter or J street which bordered the Russian Quarter.
This colony being cylindrical in shape and having a city in quarters the Intersections of Seventh and J and First and J both bordered all four quarters, the Avenues separating the Japanese Quarter from the German Quarter as well as separating Russian from English. J street separated English from German as well as Russian from Japanese.
People of all races and former nations and cultures lived here, but this colony had been constructed during the time the former Heero Yuy had lived, to be a neutral capitol for the Colonies as a whole. It had been built by a conglomerate formed by parties from colonies still claimed by their founding nations and so the different areas of the city had been named for those nations. The English Quarter's population did include people who had built the colony, who had wished to preserve their English culture but who wished for all the Colonies to be free of the governing of their parent nations. A similar scenario could be applied to the rest of the quarters. Within the Japanese Quarter, for several blocks along Tenth avenue, there was a Chinatown called Little Xian populated in the majority by people who were ethnically Chinese and who had helped to construct the colony.
Preventer Headquarters was in the Japanese Quarter, pretty much on the opposite side of the colony from where Heero was to live. Many other Government buildings were in the English Quarter and so sometimes the quarter itself was called Government District. Relena worked there and she lived in that Quarter.
Heero found his building and paid the driver. It was within a poorer neighborhood, though no part of this colony was very poor. It was typical of Colonial architecture, at least for this Side, more functional than interesting to look at. The building was box-like and the exterior was lunar concrete sprayed over a wire mesh. Inside the main support studs and beams would be metal. Other framework was made of a composite recycled material and the interior walls were made of another composite recycled material. They were fairly easy to break but the interior layers did not burn well and the exterior layers absorbed sound so the material was practical.
Otherwise it was not so different from an urban location on Earth. There was a public basketball court right across the street. They had a view of the 6-7 Skyglass and the bridges over it. If they looked up through the haze they could see First Avenue. The stores and signage demonstrated that this was the Japanese Quarter.
Heero went into his building and went to the first door on the right as he had been directed. He knocked. Heero heard locks clicking open. The door opened a little. A chain was pulled back. The door opened further. He saw a woman there. She had very dark skin and tightly curled hair, so Heero was guessing if she was Japanese she was not ethnically Japanese. She bowed and looked graceful doing so. Heero bowed to her. "Konbon wa," she said and sound elegant with just that greeting. She was Japanese. "Tetsudai mashu ka?"
Heero had missed Colonial Japanese. "Hai, Okusama." Heero presented the paper copy of his rental agreement. "I was told to collect the keys at this apartment."
"Apartment 402." She reached a hand to the wall beside her door and brought a set of keys into view. "You had a furniture delivery today. Their data looked in order and everything was paid for so I let them into the apartment."
"Thank you. I had ordered furniture. I am glad it arrived."
"It is very clean. The electronics are voice ready and the unit is wired with a hard-line. You should find a list of service numbers and a neighborhood guide inside." She offered the keys.
Heero took the keys. "Arigato."
"Do itashimashite." Heero bowed then walked to the stairs, slightly burdened with bags and crate. "Shall we call you Midorikami-san?" She asked in teasing tone.
Heero laughed. "If you must, but Heero is fine." He continued walking up the stairs to the fourth floor. He found his apartment and opened the locks. He pushed open the door and carried his things inside. It was small, but he had expected that. Heero only planed to live here until he found something he liked very much.
There was no separate kitchen, but there was a refrigerator, a counter, some cabinets, a gas range, a microwave oven and a dishwashing machine along one wall. There was one wide window opposite the door. A desk had been placed here and bits of plastic clung to it. One door led to a tiny closet. Another led to the bedroom.
A futon, frame and wide low chest of drawers had been placed haphazardly in the bedroom. There was a bathroom attached and another closet, bigger than the last, but small.
This was all Heero absolutely needed. He checked the clock. It was too late to get very much shopping done. It might be too late to find Director Une at Headquarters. There was someone in the Russian Quarter Heero wanted to meet with. He also had placed some things in storage before his departure. He should be able to get in there.
Heero took his headset vidphone from his luggage, fit it on his head then dialed headquarters. Quickly the call was answered. "This is Captain Yuy," Heero identified himself, "Director Une requested that I see her when I got to the Colonies. Is she in now or will she be available soon?"
"Director Une is in... would you like me to route your call to her?"
Une shortly appeared on the small monitor before Heero's right eye. "Heero. You made it to the Colonies?"
"Yes. Wufei said you would want to see me. I know I have a few things I want to discuss with you."
"Yes. Would it be too much for you to come in tonight?"
"No. I'm just across the colony on Eighth now."
"I will inform the desk that you will be coming in to see me."
"Out." Heero said.
He straightened his furniture, collected the satchel that held his computer and his keys then left for Headquarters.
As promised the agents working the desk recognized him and sent him upstairs. It was a large office building they had over taken and for security reasons Preventers had taken the whole building though their work might have been performed using several floors. As it was they made use of rooms by allowing agents to use several floors as dormitories and other floors were devoted to recreation or training and many other functions.
Heero could have lived here if he'd asked. Some agents did that, while others only used the rooms to rest after missions before flying to their home colony or to Earth or leaving on another mission. Heero had wanted his own place so he hadn't even asked.
Une's office was on the third floor. Heero passed a kitchen and recreation area on his way down the hall.
As he approached the office the door opened and someone came out. Their back was turned but Heero saw the braid and knew it was Duo. He was saying, "Well, goodnight, Mom, I'm calling it a day!" Heero noticed that around his legs Duo was wearing some kind of skirt. It wasn't dressy or feminine and it wasn't a kilt either. It was a collection of pockets and knots and loops made of black fabric. Heero could see tools hanging from the garment.
Une said something but Heero didn't quite hear it.
Duo laughed then let the door close and turned. He froze still just for a second. In that second Heero noted that he wore a sage green uniform shirt but that it was completely open so that Heero saw skin and muscle and dog tags as well as a cross, a crucifix, a set of rosary beads and, where the shirt was open a bit more on Duo's right side, a silvery ring going right through his nipple.
A ring, through his nipple. Heero knew some people had that done, he'd just never seen it on a live person in front of him. He wondered if they were both done. He wondered if it hurt. Duo came closer.
Heero forced his gaze up, disappointed in himself that he had spent so many seconds just staring at Duo's chest. Duo seemed to be unconsciously, or on purpose, smoothing his hair back toward his fraying braid. No hint of cosmetics, unless a smudge of oil on his cheek counted. He had the earrings in one ear that Heero had seen in his photo. Duo smiled and then it became more like a grin.
He spoke and his voice was remarkably different. Heero hadn't noticed when it had been electronically reproduced. Duo just didn't sound like a kid anymore. "Did you forget my name this time, Heero?"
Oh, Powers That May Be, he wanted to say something witty. "Ya... Wa... I..." He couldn't manage any language. He was looking up at Duo now. He was tall enough that if he leaned forward his lips would kiss Heero's hair where it started to fall over his brow. Heero looked at Duo's eyes. They were round, but not so wide and round as child's eyes. These looked much more sly. Indigo. Maybe they were indigo. "Ai," Heero said.
Somehow that grin went wider. "I know I just look so hot after working in the hangar for hours but isn't it a bit early to be confessing your love for me?"
"What?" Heero demanded in clear English. Then he realized he had said "ai" aloud. The words sounded alike, so it might have sounded like he was trying to speak about love. "No," he insisted, "'ai' like..." Heero pointed to his own eye. He felt infinitely awkward. Now Duo probably thought he was trying to say 'eye.' "No, I meant... your eyes. The color of your eyes is indigo."
"E', ya think?" Duo rolled his eyes as if he could look up and see his own eyes. It was funny. Then he stooped, looked at Heero's face and squinted. "So what color are these?"
"Gray I suppose."
"No, they seem much more blue than gray." Duo closed his eyes. Heero felt a sudden urge to incline toward him. He didn't. "I think... stormy sky blue... or maybe sea before a storm... or..." There was this scent in the air like petroleum products mixed with vanilla and a hint of spice. Duo straightened. His tongue touched his upper lip then disappeared into his mouth.
"Mmmn." Duo's eyes were lowered. Maybe he was looking at Heero's new jeans. "You know Relena's birthday is tomorrow. She saw you on the news. Everyone did. I'm sure she'd be very happy if you showed up."
"I know. I bought a present."
Duo gave a nod then raised his eyes. "You better go in and see Mother. She wants to get home sometime tonight and you two much have a lot to discuss. If you want, come upstairs later. I'll keep my door open."
"If you want. We could talk."
Heero made a nod. He looked up to Duo. This took getting used to, it wasn't so much that he felt he was craning his neck, but enough that he was aware of Duo's height. "Will you be at the party?"
"Sure. Ojosama and I are good friends," Duo said. He didn't lie but Duo sometimes joked. This sounded sincere. He laughed softly then and rubbed the back of his head with one hand. "Must seem ridiculous to you, having been away so long."
"No, you're a perfect match," Heero said straight-faced.
Duo laughed. He laughed at Heero's joke then walked past Heero down the hall.