Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Heero had collected his computer and satchel on the way through the living room. He had found his candy and soap in a bag in the hall and taken them. Koi he discovered in the back room. He set up in Duo and Hilde's bathroom. The computer was used to receive news broadcast while Heero washed and dressed. The cool shower helped a lot. Koi didn't like it, but it seemed a frugal use of water rations to force the dog into the shower with him. Heero was pleased to have use of his favorite citrus and spice soap again, it smelled good while it cleaned well.
He carried a toothbrush and a change of underwear in the pocket of his satchel, among other things, for these occasions when he left a location without planning. Heero made use of these.
Washed and dressed in another pair of black silk shorts, Heero took all his things from the bathroom to the kitchen, pulling Koi along on his leash. The computer was then used to play music at a low volume. Heero found the clothes washer and drying machines among the kitchen appliances. This wasn't particularly unusual for colonial homes. Heero removed clothing from the dryer and tossed his own worn clothing into the washer. He folded Hilde's laundry for her on the table near the window to the living room.
Heero went through the plastic container of old clothing. Duo's taste tended to run toward the dark and retro, but the solid color tanks and tees and the pairs of black jeans seemed like they would fit and Heero wouldn't mind wearing them. Heero slipped on one pair of jeans and a white t-shirt. The rest of the clothes he returned to the crate in two piles: Willing to Wear and Not Willing to Wear.
Heero made a quick inventory of the kitchen. He did know how to cook. He had learned because the old revolutionary mad scientist had not. His cooking skill set was restricted to mainly rice and seafood dinner dishes. He could boil noodles, but Duo didn't have any of those. There was cold pizza. Hilde had put the leftovers in the fridge during the movie.
Heero put his cash cards and money into his jeans and took his sunglasses from his satchel. Heero put his dress shoes on, even though his socks were being washed. He checked the door and then decided to find another way to come and go. He took Koi out the back room's window and down a fire escape, collecting a trash bag on the way.
Koi did his business, Heero collected it into the trash bag. When Koi seemed active and uninterested in marking territory Heero tossed the bag in a can on a corner and they continued on. It was another cool, dim day in colony V08744. The sunglasses were an attempt to look unlike himself.
Heero guessed that bagels and slices of smoked salmon would be acceptable as breakfast. People in New York ate that for breakfast. It seemed preferable to picking up eggs and sausage to fry, especially after the pizza the night before. Greasy foods seemed best in moderation, Heero thought.
When he had purchased bagels, cream cheese and nova Heero walked back to Duo's building and went up the fire escape. When Koi grew bigger, he would teach the dog to climb ladders, for now Heero carried the puppy.
Neither Hilde or Duo had woken by the time Heero returned. He spent a few minutes straightening up the kitchen surfaces and then arranged a platter of bagels with toppings. There had been jellies and butter in the refrigerator.
Heero changed Koi's water for fresh water and measured a cup of dry food into his bowl.
Heero put his clean clothes into the dryer and started its cycle.
Keeping busy felt good. Heero hadn't been thinking about Duo very much or what he had seen early that morning. He was naturally an active person and didn't feel good about sitting around if there was something he could get done.
Heero thought that he should make coffee. He usually didn't make coffee or tea when he was alone. He'd been without a home for a few years, so he hadn't owned any machines or pots. Duo and Hilde's kitchen had a coffee machine and he had found various flavors of coffee grounds in the freezer. Duo's comment the night before about flavored coffee made Heero think Duo considered the flavors girly. Heero had been to many shops where coffee was sold; men did order particular blends or asked for syrup to be added. Some men even drank mochas. Heero didn't see Duo's point in this case.
He didn't want to disappoint Duo, so he chose the most normal sounding type of grinds in the freezer. Heero intuited how the machine worked and then left it to brew.
He went to work. Sitting on the couch with the mobile computer in his lap Heero first checked messages and then went through his lists of tasks he had written to himself in regard to Lowe Security. He located a supplier of uniforms and selected the various company uniform parts that he wanted and asked for an estimate and whether larger orders were discounted. He was spending so much money on this company.
Heero then researched canine training, in particular, the specialized tasks some animals could be trained to do, like find buried survivors of accidents or locate drugs or drag injured bodies to a field hospital.
Hilde peered at Heero around the edge of the doorframe. She disappeared from his view again. A minute later Duo and Hilde were both lurking in the doorway and whispering to each other. They didn't try to hide what they were saying this time. They were discussing whether Heero had done more than just make coffee.
Hilde came into the living room first. She was wearing a slip. "Good morning, Heero. Sleep well?"
Well, when he had been asleep it had been good. "Quite well, no nightmares."
Duo coughed as he came into the room, wearing his skirt again and presumably something beneath it, but nothing else. He waved. "Hi, Heero!"
"Good morning, Duo. Did you sleep all right?"
"Mmmn." Heero smirked to himself and watched Duo go into the kitchen.
"He did my laundry!" Hilde said, "Heero, you did laundry!"
"Heero, I fuckin' love you!" Duo called. "He got bagels and lox!"
Heero smiled. It was satisfying to know that the breakfast pleased Duo. "I will have lox on sesame and coffee with sugar."
A pause. "No cream cheese or milk?" Duo asked.
Heero didn't answer. If he had wanted those things he would have told Duo to give them to him. They needed to work a bit more on their communication skills. Heero was going to have Duo. It would be tragic to finally find he had a clear preference of his own as to whom to share sex with and to find that person did not want him. Heero was much more confident today that Duo did want him. All he had to do was give the appropriate signals to indicate his interest and Duo should soon indicate whether he was willing.
That was the theory at least. Heero had never tried this before.
If he had to take part in Duo's 'messing around' for a little while before he got everything he wanted, Heero had decided that was acceptable. He thought it made some sense to take whatever Duo offered rather than to hold out for the ideal arrangement. Of course, once he had a bit of experience Heero thought he would be better qualified to know what his ideal arrangement was and how to get Duo to go along with his plans.
All this and the new job... well, Heero did rather enjoy challenges.
Heero opened a message from Midii on his mobile as Duo came into the room. He carried two mugs in one hand, a bagel in his teeth and another bagel on a late in his remaining hand. "Ere ya gow," Duo said with his mouth full of bagel. He offered the plate.
Heero took the plate with the sesame bagel with slices of smoke salmon on it. Duo separated the two mugs and offered one to Heero.
Heero pressed his lips together. Duo needed a coffee table. He put the plate by his right side, kept the computer on his knees and held the coffee mug in his left hand. "Thank you," Heero said.
Heero sipped his coffee and typed one-handed to follow a link Midii had sent with her message. It was friendly, not business, her message. She said that since Heero had left the party with Duo the site she was sending Heero to might become relevant. Her laughter emote indicated that she was somehow amused that Heero had not left the party to go to his own apartment.
Duo fell smoothly to the couch and sat beside Heero with his legs drawn up before him. He cupped his mug in both hands and balanced his bagel stacked with cream cheese and lox on one knee. "I woke up earlier and you were gone."
"You said I should make myself at home if I woke at an 'ungodly hour,'" Heero reminded Duo.
"I thought you'd really gone for a while. But, you wouldn't be the type to ditch on a business meeting, so I guessed I'd at least get to see you again to tell you what an ass you were." Duo laughed, "But you hadn't bailed, you'd just cleaned and done laundry and got us breakfast."
"Why would you think that I had bailed on you?" Heero asked as he glanced at the page that came up on his mobile's screen. The graphic that loaded was of two anime characters kissing each other. Heero knew these characters; he did not know very many anime characters. Akairo and Blaec. A fan had drawn it. Midii had said the characters were not officially a couple, but apparently she was not the only one that believed they should be.
"I don't know... I was just afraid you had," Duo said. He cheered up. "But then I decided you wouldn't be that much of an ass, so I just went back to sleep." Something was omitted. Duo didn't lie, but he had no problems with not giving a full account or changing the subject. "What are you doing?"
"Just looking at something Midii sent me."
Most of the page was text. It was a short story, written by a fan, based on the characters from the Gonin Team series. The author's pen name was Commandatrix Sashimi. Heero had no idea what the significance of that was. Heero scanned the text and quickly realized that there could not be every much plot except for the mecha pilots getting into bed together... and discovering a bondage fetish.
Duo was eating and between chews and swallows was saying that after he ate he would get a shower and then they could go to the garage if Heero was ready. Hilde sat the other side of Duo and used a remote to turn on their television. Heero acknowledged Duo's comments with small words only as he read and ate his bagel.
Hilde and Duo were arguing over what channel to watch.
Heero was wondering why Midii had sent him a link to this story. It was very graphic. So far as Heero could understand, with his limited knowledge of the series the story was based on, Blaec had at least three times been a prisoner of the aliens. On one occasion he had been a prisoner of the alien Commandatrix and she had seduced him. On another occasion his alien captors had beaten him and he had been unable to escape on his own until Akairo rescued him. It was described throughout his internal monologue that Blaec was very sexually aroused when his partners put him in some form of bondage.
Heero didn't get it. He just thought, and felt stupid for analyzing a fictional character, that Blaec ought to not be turned on by bondage if he had in the past been treated badly while captive. That was silly, in Heero's opinion. That would be like Heero developing a fetish for chopsticks or rice paddles or cheesecloth because he had really hated being made to labor at cooking dinner for Dr. J when he was younger.
On the other hand, Heero had been made to feel he was less important than others and should be ready to sacrifice himself or his wants... and he now wished to find a lover to please in order that he would feel fulfilled himself.
Heero's bagel was finished. He reached to his satchel near his feet and took out a candy stick. He unwrapped it from its plastic and stirred the remainder of his coffee with it. Heero re-read the most graphic passages of the story. It was detailed. Heero could picture the positions their bodies took. Blaec appeared to speak more Gaelic the closer he was to climaxing.
"What are you reading?" Duo whispered.
Heero turned and looked to Duo, a candy stick held to his mouth. "Eh?" Heero drew the stick from his mouth then smacked his lips lightly. He felt Duo might be looking at his mouth. He smiled. "You want to see? It's just some silly thing Midii sent me a link to."
Duo agreed with a nod. He lowered his legs then took the computer from Heero. Duo read and Heero watched him as he continued to suck on his candy stick.
Duo laughed. "Please tell me you aren't really into this stuff."
"It's just something Midii sent me. I told you. I just happened to stop on a channel that had this show one day and she recognized it and now she considers we have something in common."
Duo did continue reading. His mouth remained relaxed and expressionless but his eyes showed amusement or longing or interest. He cocked his head and at several places nodded or shifted in his seat. "Well it's not so bad as I thought it might be," Duo said, "I like this part: 'All his pretense and the Jester's Mask were drown by the force of nature that was Akairo. The fur-lined cuffs that bound his wrists were an outward symbol of the implicit trust Blaec gave to his leader and lover. In the deep penetration of one body into another they were completed.'" Of course Duo assumed some manner of dramatic reading voice when he said this. "That's deep, like Romance novel material or something."
"Wh-where did you get that?" Hilde asked suddenly. Almost frantically, she had asked.
"It's on the 'net," Heero said, "Midii sent me the link... she said she liked it very much."
"Oh. So... never mind. I was confused."
"Hilde actually watches the series," Duo offered.
Heero twirled his tongue about the end of the candy stick he held. "Duo," he said then, "Can I ask you something?"
"Yeah," Duo said slowly, eyes tracking the candy as it appeared to disappear into Heero's mouth.
Heero drew the stick out of his mouth again. "This here, about the character having a bondage fetish after he was a prisoner for real. Do you think it makes sense? Could that happen for real? I don't think I can believe it."
"Well... I would believe it."
"You would?" Heero asked.
"Yes. Trust me. It happens. That's likely not everyone's reaction to being in restraints or a cell so many times in the past, but I'm sure they could develop a kink like that."
"I think you would discover it by accident maybe. You could have some occasion to be in restraints and the fear of being in bonds could send your heart racing and adrenaline pumping and it would turn into being thrilled and you'd come really hard that time and when it was over, you'd be freed and see that you can trust some people. After that, you might want the bonds and still be very excited by them, or surrendering the control to someone else. You might want that."
"Oh." Duo was talking about himself. He was telling Heero how it had happened to him. "You might want that."
"He might," Hilde said.
"I think my talkative nature is being taken advantage of," Duo announced. "Very soon intend to get Heero to tell me all about his dark past and secrets. That's only fair." He cackled a laugh, "But first I have to wash my hair."
"Which means he will not be getting you to confess anything very soon," Hilde teased. Duo did have a lot of hair.
"Ah, I have to call and see if we can get into a movie-show tonight. That might make a difference what I do with my hair!" Duo hopped from the couch and bounded down the hall.
"Reservations are required?" Heero asked.
"In some cases, but that's not what Duo meant. Don't worry about it. Go along with letting him surprise you. It will be more entertaining," Hilde explained.
Heero gave a nod. He hadn't gotten quite as much sleep as he had liked and they would be out late it seemed. Heero could function for several days without sleep, but not to the very best of his ability. He excused himself to go into the little bedroom and took a nap on the bed there. When he woke Duo was at the mirror, wearing clunky boots, snug black jeans and a t-shirt. His hair was already in the same thick single braid, though Heero had expected it to look different after Duo's comments before leaving for his shower.
Heero sat up. Duo's eyes caught his in the mirror. "So, Heero, what were you doing all that time, alone, besides staying clear of Shinigami?"
"I just..." Heero realized there could be a double meaning there. Duo might be asking, in his way, why Heero had stayed away from him. But, in Duo's way, he wasn't being straightforward. This was part of the cool facade of Duo that often gave Heero cause to answer him in short phrases. And there was a double meaning there. His speech often had been abrupt in manner as well as containing few syllables.
Yesterday he had, as Duo would say, totally spilled his guts. Still, now and then the mask was on. This meant... he wasn't entirely comfortable with Heero, even though he did probably trust him with his life. It didn't seem very unfair; Heero had held quite a few things back yet.
"I stayed on earth. I rented vehicles at times, but for that time, over a year, I didn't go near a mobile suit or visit the Colonies or pilot a shuttle. I most often took public transportation. I stayed in hotels. Many were inexpensive, but a few were very nice. Now and then I felt I was good enough for those places. I lived in New York for a little while, but I wasn't well. I moved almost constantly. I did spend some months on Sakhalin. I liked it there. It was peaceful. I was alone there, without neighbors close by, so it was that kind of peace that comes by default. I started to think that I missed having some people around. I thought I wanted to have someone there to agree with me that it was pleasant there, or wherever we might be."
Duo was working some product from a jar into his bangs. In the mirror it seemed the hair clumped into separate locks and became more glossy, without looking stiff and hard. "Yeah, Wufei said you'd lived on some island. Actually, he told us moths ago you were on some Christmas Island and we all thought him mad." Duo laughed.
"Une said that no one talks about it."
"Right, but you and she talked about it. We talk about it, Heero, we just use creative phrasing."
"I know how you feel sometimes."
Duo's hands stilled as he was working that sort of hair balm over his brows. Dou had very elegant thin brows, Heero thought. He never quite looked angry with those brows. He looked at Heero's reflection in his mirror. He looked afraid. He could face down tens of mobile suits and keep laughing... but he looked scared now.
"Not all the time. It's new."
"So, you really just traveled all over Earth?" Duo asked cheerfully. He lifted a smaller jar then smoothed some balm over his lips. "So, how did you get this new job? Did you go to school? Did you meet anyone?"
Heero answered the questions in reverse order. "I met many people, but only Midii was anything like a friend, and she is more like an invasive business associate. I tested out of school. When I was feeling well I kept up my professional certifications with 'net courses. I could tell you about the job, but then I would have to kill you."
"Seriously, It was totally random getting that message from you. I've never heard of Lowe Security, and I ran a check from Headquarters. It's only several months old and it's not clear what they do exactly."
"I could give you one of our calling cards or a brochure. We have our 'net site up now."
"OK, be that way, but when we're in the garage you will tell me what I want to know, or we don't do business, no matter what we've been or done together in the past."
They went to the garage shortly after that, Hilde also and Koi on a leash. When they got close Heero recognized that the garage was part of an old Alliance Base from the time of their occupation, which had since been split up and auctioned to the public. The Maxwell Garage was located in what had been the Specials Motor Pool.
As a former shop for military mobile suits the large chamber was divided into bays with several walled off workrooms and was equipped with all the large machinery necessary to build, repair and move mobile suits. Sorted piles currently covered some amount of the floor space with signs nearby identifying each small mountain as 'Tragos Bodies' or 'Internal Hydraulics' or 'Propulsion.' Heero could read the markings on some of the doors to the workrooms. One said 'Circuitry Shop' another said 'Software' and below that: 'Do Not Enter Unescorted.'
In two bays there were a pair of Cancer model suits being painted blue over gray primer or red paint. There were a half dozen, or so, Taurus suits in various states of repair. A large tarp hung from girders above so that several bays were hidden from view.
Duo turned and grinned at Heero. He had added a white button down and cropped red denim jacket so that he looked very tall, slim, cool and cute with the solid field of black covering his figure below the brighter layers. "So, Yuy, you made it out to L2 to see us? This is Schbeiker, one of our technical staff. What can we do for you? I understand you are interested in mobile suits."
So, Duo was really going to pretend Heero was not a friend or even an acquaintance. Heero pressed his lips together in a slight frown. "Yes, Lowe Security is interested in purchasing legally registered mobile suits."
"Shall we speak in the office?"
"That would be acceptable."
Duo made a bow and waved an arm toward one of the small rooms, this one elevated and accessible via catwalks and attached stairways. They went up to the office, which overlooked production. There was a man in the office. His back was turned as he poured himself a cup of coffee. He looked up and Heero recognized him. Meiser, he had been an associate of both Millard and Lucretia, he had worked on rebuilds of Tallgeese and Wing Gundam, had served Lucretia's Sank Imperial Guard as a technician and had also served as a technician on Peacemillion. He wasn't just any mobile suit mechanic, he had detailed knowledge of the workings of Gundam mobile suits as well as all the Zodiac series.
"Meiser, this is Yuy, we don't know him very well. He represents Lowe Security and may be interested in buying a mobile suit from us."
Meiser did recognize Heero. They hadn't been friends or close associates, but they had shared conversations in the past. Meiser certainly knew that Duo did know Heero very well. "But..." he protested.
"Why don't you check on that Taurus order?" Duo suggested. "Schbeiker is downstairs, she can help you."
"Ja, right, I'll talk to Schbeiker about it," Meiser said, still unable to disguise his confusion. He took his coffee and left the office.
Duo sat behind the desk and kicked his feet onto the desktop. He tipped his head to the chairs opposite and Heero sat down facing the desk. He lifted Koi from the floor and pet the dog as it curled on his lap. "So, what line of work, exactly, is Lowe Security in?" Duo asked.
"We provide, test, and consult on all matters of security for our private and commercial clients."
"What use do you have for mobile suits?" Duo asked.
"Current laws and public mood being what they are some organizations and individuals may fear that Preventers and the ESUN justice system can't do enough to insure the safety of their material possessions, financial records or intellectual properties or lives. Lowe Security is presently available for hire to test current safety of these things and to consult clients on how to improve their security. We also will soon be offering training seminars for private security staff as well as contracting out security professionals to clients. To properly test security against all potential threats we must have access to all technologies that could potentially be misused."
"You realize legal suits do not have weapons systems."
"I do not intend to give away company secrets, but I should think that someone in your line of work would understand that a mobile suit does not have to be equipped with large beam weapons to do damage."
"Well, why would you choose our company as your supplier?"
"We have our own reasons not to want to give business to the two primary manufacturers of mobile suits."
"Do you have any idea what kind of suit you want?" Duo asked. "Or how many?"
"We have a budget. The quantity depends somewhat on the price we can get. At present, we do not require any more than two, though we may have future needs."
Duo pulled his braid forward and played with the tuft of hair at the end. "Do you have references?"
"I am authorized to give you references earned by our collective field agents and pilots, without individual names. I can assure you that Lowe Security is not allied or influenced by any other organization or individual such that dealing with us could compromise your company. We seek to comply with all laws and policies involving our work and mobile suits."
"We give estimates, not precise quotes, this is because our suppliers do run into shortages and fluctuation in shipping costs and we can't afford not to pass along the cost of doing business. Half of our estimated cost is due before a work order is begun. The balance is due upon receipt of ordered merchandise. Our staff is experienced with all ex-military, farming, construction, and salvage and terraforming mobile suits manufactured. The company is small and highly qualified. We can build completely custom mobile suits, but all clients should understand this increases cost and delivery time greatly. We can also customize existing models, so far as appearance, cockpit systems..."
"Within government regulations. This means a psy or psuedo-psy interface is only one-way operational, from pilot to machine. No hardware or software that can be determined to alter human consciousness is legal for use in vehicle operating systems. We have the ability to make a psy-cockpit interface and operating system for a mobile suit, but we do not recommend it strongly. Our specialty in operating systems is in AI. It's like having a co-pilot that doesn't take up any room."
This was a more impressive operation than Heero had expected. "What were you saying... appearance, cockpit systems... ?"
Duo nodded. "Pretty much anything can be customized. As I said, we could design a new model from scratch, but it's expensive. We can apply custom designs to some aspects of existing models and cut down the cost for clients. We also can do museum mockups of any mobile suit, even the outlawed ones, they don't have all their moving parts. Or, we can restore a mobile suit to its wartime appearance with mock up weapons, as a collector's item. We can even simulate battle damage."
"And you even do custom software?"
"Yep!" He was acting more like the Duo that knew Heero now.
"Who's your programmer?"
Heero said nothing. He hadn't known Duo to be very good with software.
"That wall shows the hardcopy certifications earned by our staff. There's just four of us on permanent staff now, but we're probably going to get two more techs straight out of school in here sometime this summer."
Heero could make out the names but not all the details of the certificates. Duo Maxwell, Hilde Schbeiker, Kurt Meiser, Howard...
"Howard works for you?"
"We're all partners actually," Duo said, "we work together."
"Duo... I own Lowe Security."
"I wasn't sure about that," Duo admitted.
"I don't want other people to know it is me. I named it after my father."
"He was like my father. J was also like my father in some ways. He took care of me and he taught me things."
"You were prepared to kill him!"
"I know. I think he would have let me if he believed it was the time. I was sad that he died. I don't think we can really blame them just for building the mobile suits. They were not the ones who first ordered their use for war. When they got orders that went too far, they chose not to follow those orders. They were not wholly bad people."
"No, I guess not. Here I am building mobile suits with Howard. He helped make Tallgeese!"
"The machines were not evil."
"No. Kinda like how nuclear power gave a lot of homes light and heat when related technology could be applied to create weapons of mass destruction. They use mobile suits on farms. That feeds people. Two Cancers out there are on order from a Colonial fish farmer to maintain his seawater drums. That's mobile suits used to give people in the Colonies fresh seafood and... seaweed. They won't have to import and settle for frozen or days-old fish at twice the price. Right after the wars, I was ready to believe we could just destroy all the weapons. But it was always the way people thought and felt about each other that was the problem."
"Da... yes." Heero nodded.
"I miss the Gundam," Duo whispered.
Heero questioned him in a gaze.
"I know I shouldn't even think about it. But... I do. Heero, I could do it! The technology is there. We're learning new things all the time. Winter and Summer break from SJC I am back here going to school with Hilde. That's how I learned programming and mechanical design, for real, not just to mess around. I don't just think that I could make one I could make one better!"
"Just in case. I mean... if you make condoms available at a school, that doesn't mean your students are not mostly virgins, it just means that if they believed they needed protection they would know a safe reliable source. I could make a Gundam just in case. It wouldn't have to be for war. I could equip it to put out fires," He laughed, "Or attack a meteor heading for Earth or explore the moons of the outer planets or park it in a school yard for kids to climb on."
"It could be dangerous."
"Kitchen appliances can be dangerous, but they can also help you fix dinner. Heero... I didn't say I would... but I could. And if I did... I could make it not want to hurt people."
"A wiser course than building a ZERO system," Heero whispered. He had read quite a bit of Science-Fiction. He believed the writer Azimov had developed the rules of robotics. These were rules with which artificial intelligences would be programmed in order to prevent them from harming their creators. A great many plots described what might happen if robots or androids could or did develop feelings or rebel. In theory, one could program AI to deactivate itself before it would ever take a life. In the most horrible Science-Fiction plots it was usually human error that caused tragedy.
"Hey, Heero, you want to see something?" Duo asked, now sitting straight in his chair and grinning.
They walked along the catwalks, Heero carrying Koi in his arms. Hilde and Meiser were below with another young man. Heero followed Duo toward the tarp. There was a slit in it aligned with the walkway and they were able to pass through to its other side. There was a mobile suit there, a new model.
Heero walked to the nearest railing and looked the large robotic thing in its eyes. Here and there it looked like a Gundam, that was, there had been things that all the previous nine Gundams had in common, such as the mask-like appearance of the 'face,' the placement of vents on head and torso, decorative chevrons and 'beard,' a prevalence of yellow-gold accents, the proportion of its body parts to each other, the way the joints were designed to move and the general appearance of being a giant robotic warrior in ancient armor. Everything that was essentially a Gundam, this mobile suit had... yet it looked different from the others.
It was scaled down. It might have stood as tall as the shoulders of the Gundams Heero had piloted. The color scheme was mainly white, with some red and blue on the 'armor' apart from the yellow accents. It had no obvious weapons but stood with a large shield mounted on its left arm, red with a gold cross on it. It wasn't really what Heero would expect from Duo, being so colorful for one, but more that Heero hadn't thought Duo capable of creating a new model. Granted he had Howard and Meiser to help him, but Duo's body language seemed to suggest this was his idea and his work.
"It looks like it could be one, but it isn't," Duo said softly, "It's made of titanium for one thing. I call it Tinman. You know, like from the Wizard of Oz." Duo laughed loudly. He seemed very amused by the name.
"I didn't read that book," Heero said.
"Book? You really never saw the movie? What are you doing next Saturday?"
"I don't know yet."
Duo shook his head. "Well... there was an OZ, and Dorothy, she was a girl with a dog, and a lion and a mechanical man... the man controlling things... structures falling toward the ground and killing people..."
"I have not seen it. I think I understand that you see it as relevant or symbolic of things in our life."
"It has the most queer song ever."
"Over the Rainbow?"
Heero shook his head.
"Want me to sing it?"
"Can you sing?"
"I'll sing it!"
Heero didn't think he could stop Duo.
Duo grinned, took a step back and then belted the words: "So~mewhe~re over the rainbow, wa~y up hi~gh, there's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby. So~mewhe~re over the rainbow ski~es are blu~e. And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true." Duo could sing and he had a lovely voice. He didn't stop, but picked up the pace of the song, "Someday I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behi~nd me. Where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops. That's where you'll fi~nd me." He was smiling when he sang. The word for the sound, when he finished the song, must be sweet, "So~mewhe~re over the rainbow, blu~ebi~rds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow, why then - oh, why can't I? If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh, why can't I?"
From somewhere far below there was applause.
"Duo," Heero said.
He smiled wide, "Just you wait until tonight!" Heero thought he sounded so sexy when he said that.
"Duo, tell me about this Tinman."
Duo told Heero all about his new mobile suit. Despite the outer appearance this suit had not been designed to compare to a Gundam, but to provide a basic model mobile suit that could be easily modified to compete with Zodiac Tech's popular and highly customizable Leo mobile suit. Duo had figured, that if he ever got enough money to really start up the company, the Gundam-like look of the Tinman would generate brand recognition for him.
As it was, the garage wasn't making very much money. They asked for barely more than cost on all their mobile suits. This single prototype Tinman was the only mobile suit Duo had designed and built without having a buyer lined up.
Heero wondered about Duo. He was working four jobs, attending two different schools, he'd survived the war and seen how mobile suits could be misused and he'd learned to program and apparently had a fair sense of design. He must really like the machines. Heero thought that out of all the Gundam pilots he had known, he had been least attached to his.
Well, perhaps Trowa had not missed Heavyarms, but the others had all seemed genuinely fond of their Gundams. Heero had talked to ZERO, but that was because in his head ZERO really did talk back. But, Sandrock, Deathscythe and Shenlong had not been able to speak. Learning computers onboard, but not really AI, not personalities. Wufei seemed like he might have believed his lost wife haunted the machine he piloted, but that didn't really explain Quatre and Duo talking to their Gundams.
Some people talked to cars.
"Duo... why don't you ask for more money?" Heero asked.
"The people that really have enough money to buy a mobile suit I wouldn't want to sell to. But, you know how it is, the technology will remain expensive until ordinary people have a use for it and a product can be produced in large numbers. I just like the work."
"You should sell to the government."
"What's the ESUN gonna do with mobile suits, Heero? They wanted them outlawed not long ago."
"When I was checking up on Relena I read an announcement about a government contract related to the Mars Colony Project. Relena was at the head of the committee that would award a contract to a manufacturer of mobile suits that could provide a mobile suit that met a specific set of requirements."
"Stop there! Heero! Did you really read this as an official public announcement or did you perhaps find the copy saved on a drive in some government system you hacked just to see what Relena was up to?"
"She's my friend... I think. She's your friend. I just wanted to see how she was doing."
Duo laughed sadly, "Oh, but I know you. hacking government systems without remorse or fear would be just the way you would choose to demonstrate friendship. I would have heard if there was an announcement. Heero, do you know how wrong that is? Telling me? It's... unethical. I shouldn't even bid for the contract because I am Relena's friend."
"Duo. Who knows, really, that you are her friend. You are her paid bodyguard assigned by a government organization. If you are seen together no one assumes it's personal. And, the information is still there, I didn't take it or change it, I just accessed it. No one has to know that you know. You can pretend you don't know. You can start to plan your attack now."
Duo shook his head. "I don't even want to know the requirements. If you know them, do not tell me! I... I don't know. It's unconfirmed, so I don't know. Maybe if such a contract is announced I'll be convinced to go up against the big boys for it, but until then..." Duo sighed. "I would have expected you to be a person who has more... patience," Duo said gesturing as he struggled for the best word to finish.
"You were always more a ninja than I."
Duo smiled and cocked his head to one side, "I have resolved to endure the unendurable," he said, poking Heero in his chest with a finger. "I seem to be a survivor, but I worry about you if you hang around me too long. I should just kill you next time you fall asleep on me to get it over with." He laughed, but Heero didn't think Duo was really amused.
"Juste... une petite morte," Heero whispered.
Duo's eyes widened and then he braced himself on the rail along the catwalk. "I..."
"So you wish to confess love to me," Heero said, completely deadpan. He turned, felt his lips smirk. "Come on, Koi, let's go." He didn't need to tell the puppy, it was already in his arms.
Duo jogged to catch up with Heero as he walked back through the tarp. "So, are you going to buy a mobile suit?"
"Yes. I need to think about what mobile suit I want. I can guarantee that when I do buy one, it will be from you."
"That's good, I would have hated to loose a potential client to Zodiac and I just don't think Wadjet mobile suits are good enough. Tugs handle well and they're the best things for sweeping... but they're just balls with arms. They're only useful if you are one of the Sweepers. I think, if I could, I'd design a really cool farming mecha... " he laughed, "I could call it the Scarecrow."
Duo was joking, but Heero considered this seriously. Duo's crew was small, but they were talented. If they were given a fair chance, they could put Zodiac out of business. And, they could do it without aiming for financial domination, because they were truly motivated by pride in their work. "You could become very successful, Duo."
"I just like them, Heero. I like the mobile suits," Duo said softly.
"That's why you could be successful as a manufacturer."
Duo smiled as they walked along the catwalk to the stairs.
They had no more official business with each other. Heero had promised to go to the movie-show with Duo, so he would stay with him until then. They returned to Hilde and Duo's apartment. Hilde was going out with some friends from school, one of them she had been talking to at the garage. She said she would be back in time to dress for the movie-show.
It was just the dog in the flat with Duo and Heero. Heero was wondering if he could kiss Duo. He had been trying to give signals all day, trying to show his interest without coming out and saying it plainly. He thought saying it plainly would work in some situations, but Heero thought if he tried that here Duo would feel pressured to discuss their feelings and all their implications.
Heero knew, whatever happened, if things were entirely mutual, or if they wanted different things from each other or if Duo decided to reject him there would be enormous implications on their relationship, even as professionals or as friends. There was a chance they might have to work together in the future and they had mutual friends, Heero had to be cautious not to damage their relationship so much that these things suffered.
He wasn't experienced with showing emotions. He just thought speaking plainly would not be best this time. He wasn't sure, but right now his feelings were all he had to go on.
He did not try to kiss Duo, but he smiled for him and he found excuses to touch him. He tried to sound interested or tried flirting, though he suspected he was doing it badly.
They had not been at the flat long when Duo said he had homework to do. "You don't need to stay with me. It would just be boring for you," Duo said, "Why don't you watch TV or have something to eat or play with the dog. You don't have to worry about me, I'll just be in the back room writing some essays and finishing a lab report."
Heero realized Duo was telling him not to go into the back room, because it would disturb him. "I'll find something to do," Heero agreed, "I won't bother you."
Duo frowned, "Well, I didn't mean to say you were a bother... if you needed something really, you could let me know. You are my guest."
Heero regretted hurting Duo's feelings. "If I don't do anything to distract you then you will get your work done faster and you will have more time to entertain me afterward."
"Right," Duo said, barely smiling. He looked uncomfortable. Heero was making him uncomfortable.
Heero decided he needed to be quiet now. He was saying the wrong things, again. He really did like Duo. He was a genius. Heero was convinced he was a genius after being to the garage. And he was very pretty, in his eerie, Elven, American way. He was funny, even when he wasn't putting up fronts. The more Heero thought about the situation the more aware he was of being desperately drawn toward Duo.
He was also increasingly aware of failing to seem witty or clever or attractive himself.
Duo left to do his homework and Heero sat down on the red velvet covered couch and watched television. He did not often sit idle, but this recent social drive in him was stressing him. He didn't think taking a bath would help, as it involved nakedness and relaxation and being a room away from Duo. Watching television would have to do. Heero flipped through the seemingly endless channels, broadcast from stations all over Earth, throughout the Colonies, on the Moon and on Mars. Martian broadcasts were at least twenty minutes delayed even when they said they were live, but the other channels did not have very noticeable delays.
Heero settled on Battle Chefs and just watched.
The episode ended and Heero began watching a Martian news program, just because he did not as often follow their news. The Colonies there were new. They were all government funded under the ESUN's Mars Colony Project, which Relena had founded and her brother Millard had continued as designated Mission Leader of the first Mars Colonists. On the television, Millard was saying that come the beginning of next year their initial two-year mission would be up, after that time further government and private missions to Mars and new privately built colonies would be allowed as well as the planned future MCPs, which were those Martian Colonies founded by government personnel.
Beside Millard a woman read a question from a digital pad, 'A freelance journalist in Brussels asks: 'What of the rumors here on Earth that there will be a government contract offered to mobile suit manufacturers to supply the MCPs and do you think the ESUN or the MCP have the right to ask that more mobile suits be created in light of their wavering convictions on this subject over the past several years?'"
Millard smiled, he looked very much as he had before he had left for Mars. He said, "I make it a policy not to act on rumors and I have no comment on this one. As for whether a person deserves or has moral right to create technology, I say that history has proven that humans will continue to create and experiment and attempt to tame nature. It is not right or wrong, it is simply fact."
A reporter on mars stepped forward, "Sayid Naquib of the Midian-Ophir MCP. Are you saying, Mr. Peacecraft, that the MCP will not answer the Martian Colonials need for replacement Mobile Suits and parts and if so will any action be taken then against the price gouging that occurs when private supply shipments have arrived?"
Millard answered, "Everyone who is on Mars now volunteered to come here as a government agent and as a pioneer, knowing the dangers and risks of Colony building on such a hostile planet, but we are still private citizens responsible for our own actions. We can not allow new Colonists of any kind nor can we allow commercial operations on Mars until our mission to provide future Colonists with adequate shelter and support infrastructure has been completed. As Representative of the Martian people I have addressed our need for mobile suits to the MCPs Home Colony office. They are addressing budget issues to the ESUN. When the finances have been approved we will have supply shipments. I assure you, all supplies we absolutely need have already been issued by the MCP. Another year without designer clothes or your favorite food or operating a sluggish mobile suit badly in need of a paint job will not kill us. We were all told what to expect and volunteered to be first so that others would have a safe place to live in the future. Next year, Mars will be open to commercial operations and new Colonists and normal trade will be established. All I can say about the past problems you mention, is that our Home Office did the best it could given its own resources when they permitted citizens to privately fund unmanned supply shipments to Mars orbit. After those shipments were inspected and cargo shuttled to the surface they were delivered to addressed recipients and all business conducted was considered private and not endorsed by the MCP as a whole. Complaints about prices on goods should be addressed to individual suppliers. If you paid to much for a ZT Aquarius or a pair of Levi's jeans that is your own concern. Turning Mars into a socialist enclave where the government doles out all goods at prices they dictate to citizens willing to wait around for it is NOT an option!" Millard laughed, "I think the Earth Sphere has had its full of sharply dressed revolutionaries and coups."
Heero reached toward the television with his fingers positioned to pretend he had a gun. He aimed at Millard's head then mimed slight kickback. Heero shook his head. Millard should not even joke about that. Somewhere an individual might think Mr. Peacecraft was covering for the real truth and believe that Mars would turn against earth and try to conquer it. They only had about a thousand people total, but they had both men and women if not geneticists available. They had vast natural resources to exploit. It was remotely plausible that Mars could resist government from Earth or the 'Home Colonies' as they called them. There could be a revolution.
Besides, Heero didn't think one political ideology was so much better than an other. Almost any form of government could work well if the ones in power did truly care about their people. A Democracy of apathetic citizens was not inherently better than an Imperial Monarchy with an Emperor that cared about the welfare of his people, actually, in that case Heero would prefer bowing to an Emperor. Even Communism could work if those in power truly cared about the people and what was best for each individual.
Any type of government could fall or be corrupt, if the leaders were greedy or weak. Well, the ESUN's President was in power at least through 200; that was settled for the time being. Heero would have to give a lot of consideration to how he voted when the time came.
Duo walked into the living room.
"Millard just refused to confirm or deny rumors from Brussels that the government is going to offer a contract for mobile suits, so you can't just blame me anymore. Other people are talking about it."
"Whatever. I'll still wait 'til it's announced and not get my hopes up."
Heero smirked, "So, you have hope now?"
"I'm trying," Duo whispered. "Wouldn't want you to off yourself on my account," he warbled. He shrugged. He reached through the window to the kitchen and opened the container of hand-me-down clothes. Heero saw he removed several garments from the not Willing to Wear pile. "C'mon," Duo said then, "let's get dressed."
Heero stood up, but he didn't move from before the couch. "Why should I wear those things?"
Duo sighed, melodramatically. "I wanted it to all be a surprise, but if I don't dress you up now then it'll just be completely obvious you're a virgin."
Duo grinned and rolled his eyes. "Uninitiated in the particular movie-show you are going to see. They call people like that 'virgin.' You'll still be one, but they won't pick on you nearly as much." He cackled as he walked to his room.
"Just what sort of event is a movie-show? Who would pick on me?" Heero demanded as he went into the bedroom after Duo.
Duo removed his white shirt and then glanced at his watch. "Hilde should be back soon."
"Just trust me on this. It is fun. You just have to loosen up, OK? And, you need to wear this. It's the best I can do on short notice, but I think it will do."
Heero looked at the clothing Duo was shaking out and then laying across the bed. A dress shirt. A vest of a fabric that might have been called brocade. A black tailcoat. Shiny black pants...
Heero stepped toward Duo and took the pants. "Vinyl?" Who made pants out of vinyl?
Duo grinned. "You'd really look best in Full Dress Black, but I need to wear that and I only have the one complete suit and it wouldn't fit you. This won't be entirely authentic, but it will look close, while being freaky and very flashy... and freaky and flashy goes over well at all of the shows!"
Heero growled. He began removing his own newly acquired clothes and putting on the outfit Duo had chosen for him. First the white shirt, then the pants. Heero felt ridiculous in the pants. They fit just like a slim but straight-legged pair of jeans, only they were vinyl.
Duo turned from his closet holding a garment bag. His eyes fell. "Oh, Wow! You look good in those pants!" He shivered quite noticeably then gasped softly and said, "I'm sorry."
Heero did feel a bit warm after seeing Duo's reaction, but he didn't see why Duo should feel sorry for saying that he looked good. Heero just shook his head in confusion and continued dressing. He put on the vest and the tailcoat. He went to find his socks. When he came back Duo was pretty much in Full Dress Black and presently tying the white bow tie about his shirt collar.
He looked very elegant. "Good... you look..."
"Oh, sorry, Heero," Duo said in sad pandering speech, "We're not going to see Star Wars." It did take a few seconds to understand he was mocking Heero by saying he sounded like Yoda.
Heero just grit his teeth and turned his back to Duo.
"Hey," Hilde called.
"Oi, Yuji, your parent's let you out of the house in that?" Duo laughed.
It sort of shocked Heero that anyone had parents, even though logically, he should not have been shocked at all.
A new voice said, "Of course not, we both got dressed at Christie's."
Heero did a half turn so he could see the doorway. Hilde and this boy, Yuji were also dressed up, though Hilde seemed to be wearing some manner of saloon girl costume and Yuji dressed as a Hindu god or maybe a jinn.
"So are you pla...?" Yuji began to ask and then Duo leapt toward Heero and covered his ears with his hands so that Heero only heard muffled sounds.
He read Duo's lips. Duo said, "Yeah, Christian, but watch your mouth in front of the virgin."
The other two laughed and then Duo drew his hands away.