Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Tuesday Heero woke up and things just felt wrong. His natural sense of time said it was late to still be in bed, but then he started to recall the night before. He felt groggy, but his memory of drinking cheap beer at the Basketball game the night before explained that. The phone was ringing and Heero thought: wasn't the phone what woke me... I thought it stopped... but it's still ringing... isn't Trowa here?
Heero had imagined Trowa would still be in bed with him. It wasn't like sleeping with Duo, but it was good in a different sort of way. Over the past few days Heero had enjoyed having Trowa around, he didn't think he could have handled not seeing or even hearing from Duo without Trowa nearby. And every day Trowa seemed more open, and that was good.
And then Heero heard voices, more than should be in his apartment while he slept. He wished for a gun and then scolded himself for continuing to wish such things. He shouldn't need a gun.
But he would have felt safe at the moment if he had one.
It sounded like Yanagi. They had been with her the night before but Heero had seen her go home, although she did live close by and know his apartment now.
"I know that he would want to know, but if I wake him up he will just worry and want to do something and we're just too far away," Trowa said.
There was a news broadcast in the background. Heero sat up.
"I tried, but I can't get through to anyone live. I can just punch in my ID number and I get a recording with instructions to standby for orders, but there haven't been any orders."
Something had happened. Whatever had been suspected or feared had happened and Heero had been asleep. He needed to know what was going on. He needed to know where Duo was.
Heero got up, growing more alert every second. He wasn't dressed really but the t-shirt and undershirts covered him. He walked out of his bedroom and found the door was wide open and several neighbors were in his apartment all watching the news on the three computer monitors on the desk.
His desktop, mobile and Trowa's computer were all receiving different networks but all showing basically the same thing. There was a colony somewhere with a big hole in it and some kind of smoke and vapor was still coming from the hole and dispersing into the void.
Heero felt dizzy trying to take in all the images and scrolling text. He must have looked disoriented because Trowa was suddenly taking up most of his field of vision and asking if Heero was well.
"Where's Duo?" Heero whispered. He didn't know why he had said that. Of course he wanted to know, but he hadn't planned to say that. It was logical to find out the more general information first.
"I don't know," Trowa said.
"It's X18999," Trowa said, "It's been hit. So far it looks like it was some kind of shuttle, but we don't know what kind. There are rumors of incidents near other colonies but so far there is only this one confirmed to have been hit. This colony is under alert and all citizens are ordered to stay indoors for the time being and await emergency instructions, but so far, there's no evacuation order. Your building superintendent was here just a moment ago making sure we had heard the news."
Heero pushed Trowa aside, gently, and looked at the screens. Yanagi was there with the others Heero recognized as neighbors but did not know by name.
"How long ago?" Heero asked.
"We only first heard the news here a few minutes ago, well, maybe ten minutes now, but the collision happened about a half hour now. They track with a different time zone, so it was late morning there," Yanagi said.
Heero stared at one screen. A reporter was saying they had finally established contact with a correspondent within X18999. The feed was switched and then Heero saw figures in a dim interior in space suits. The figure in the foreground began speaking with the close sound of a helmet mic, "We are in the emergency shelter within Colony X18999 and the Colony has been struck by what seems to have been a commercial cargo shuttle. The colony hull has been breached and all the residents have been ordered into shelters. We can show you video from a remote camera..." the video switched while the voice over continued. A lifeless densely urban colony interior with vehicles, smaller objects floating without artificial gravity before an enormous metal wall. "As you can see the colony is not spinning. I repeat, X18999 has been struck and has lost artificial gravity. The large wall visible in the remote video, we have confirmed, is the Playa Del Stardust emergency curtain. Eyewitnesses that have made contact with our team in the shelters report that the shuttle came down into the Playa Del Stardust resort area within Colony X18999. Some witnesses report that a mobile suit came down with the shuttle. From the description it seems to have been a Taurus model mobile suit, of the type used by the Preventer Defense Force, but we cannot yet confirm that."
It wasn't Duo, Heero thought. Duo's suit was already badly damaged in that other hijacking... so it couldn't have been him.
A still frame came up showing a map of the interior of X18999. The colony had changed very rapidly in the last several years. The reporters were explaining what Heero already knew. A colony that X18999 had been built to replace had been damaged in the course of Alliance military operations during the wars and abandoned and then later been destroyed in 196 by Preventer Agents, or that was the story. Heero had detonated that colony on his own.
X18999 had been heavily funded by the Barton Foundation and had played a pivotal part in the coup of the Barton Foundation against the fledgling ESUN. The Barton Foundation had secretly built mobile suits there and built a military force. During the coup residents and visiting civilians had been held hostage while the Colony itself was set on a collision course with Earth. Heero, Trowa and Duo had stopped the Colony from going toward the Earth.
Shortly after the coup, after reparations had been settled with the remaining Barton Foundation, X18999 had been integrated into the Side Seven colony cluster. But, because of its history many residents left and the colony seemed it might not survive. Ad campaigns throughout the Sphere inviting immigration had gotten little response, except from the Americas.
By chance, many Latinos in the Americas had seen the opportunity to move to space colonies as desirable; not many of their nations had been involved in the previous waves of colonization. Large numbers made that move, the need of the colony and the low rates offered making it possible for families from all classes to begin in the colony with a comfortable standard of living. Now X18999 was heavily Spanish-speaking in population. And, unlike other colonies, the largest part of the population was first generation Colonial, in fact, most of them hadn't been in space more than a year. It made an easy target because the people just weren't as used to the types of problems that happened in space and how to deal with them.
Of course they had public training courses and emergency equipment, but it wasn't instinct as it was with those who had been raised in space.
This was evident as new eyewitness reports came in. One channel said a tourist had even gotten video and they would make it available shortly.
There had been advanced warning of the collision and emergency alarms sounded but the few minutes of warning had not been enough for everyone to get to safety. The stories related that many people in the colonial park's artificial beach had either not known of the alert or had not been able to respond fast enough.
A shuttle had crashed through a sky glass; a mobile suit, which seemed to be one of the Preventer Defense Squadron, had come down with it in apparently uncontrolled manner. Emergency seal systems had activated but the size of the whole and its placement made sealing difficult and a large quantity of atmosphere was lost. The shuttle had hit the water, 'bounced' up and then struck some buildings in the area around the park. The curtains had sealed off the park and all that section of the colony. At that time many panicked people had still been trying to run over the ground to other parts of the city rather than move down through emergency hatches, while the vacuum of space was still drawing water, sand and everything not bolted to the structure toward the breach.
It was not clear yet whether gravity had been lost by accident or shut off for some purpose. Heero knew that when structural collapse was threatened artificial gravity was sometimes shut down by stopping the colony's spin in order to prevent people being buried beneath debris.
"We have just received confirmation on one of the other rumored shuttle collisions," the news anchor said. "In Colony Zee-Four-Zeros-One a cargo shuttle headed toward the local commercial port failed to respond to protocols and appeared out of control. Live and automated emergency systems were promptly activated and the shuttle was safely intercepted. The shuttle headed for Z00001, the Capitol, did not crash but was intercepted. Preventer agents are on site. We will keep you informed of events at X18999 but we go now to a live report at the Z00001 commercial spaceport.
Heero's phone rang again. Heero picked up his headset and answered. It was Midii. "Are you watching the local channel?"
Heero recognized the port master from their security tests at that site. He was saying that a cargo shuttle had failed to comply with the security procedures in place and to verbal and visual warning systems. Knowing at that time of the incident in S7 they had acted with all possible speed. Manned Tugs had been launched to intercept but the emergency defensors had stopped the shuttle before the Tugs arrived. "If this incident had taken place several weeks ago the Capitol may have been hit as X18999 was. Just a few days ago we completed installation of new systems as suggested by Lowe Security consultants, whom I hired to test port security. Of course everyone here is devastated by the news of X18999 being hit and send our hope that all there are well, but we are also very grateful that we were fortunate enough to avoid similar tragedy."
"Oh my God!" Midii screamed into the phone, "do you realize what he just did?"
"Gave us infinitely positive free publicity!"
For one second Heero was very happy. Then he felt wrong to have gained from tragedy. "People might have died!" Heero said.
"I..." Midii started.
"It is good he gave us credit, but it could have just been chance. We don't know what happened over there. Those people might have taken every conceivable security measure and still, tragically, been hit."
Heero heard Midii sigh. "Heero, I'm shaking. I've been shaking with fear that it could have been this colony and I wouldn't know the right things to do, but now I know that this colony avoided at least one effort to harm it and that we had something to do with that. I am still horrified, but... it's a good thing. Isn't that what we wanted? To make some small difference? To save lives to make up for the ones we destroyed?"
"Then don't act like I am being heartless. If it turns out that many people were hurt... if we get jobs now... we can donate money to the people who got hurt and do more good. I need to see the positive here. I am trying to see the positive."
"I know." He had only thought Midii selfish and cold until he heard the fear in her voice. Thinking about business matters was calming for Midii. She needed to be calm. "Even if there are not many casualties a charity fund sounds like a good idea. Maybe you can look into setting something up."
"OK," Midii agreed. She sighed deeply and sounded relieved.
"I need to go now. Trowa and I have to keep the lines open for orders."
"If... if you have to go, try to let me know. And, be careful in any case."
"You too. Be careful." Heero disconnected.
"It looks like there were several of these attempts now," Trowa said. A station from one of the L4 clusters was reporting that there a cargo shuttle had been off course and headed toward a colony within Side Two. The shuttle had been stopped just short of collision by some construction mobile suits. They had not yet determined who had piloted the suits or been behind the rescue.
"Quatre lived there, S2?" Heero asked.
"His family lives there. It was the Maganac."
"In the mobile suits?"
"I am sure. Some of them settled there and none of them would allow those colonies to be harmed if they could help it. Even if Quatre wasn't there they would do it."
"Was Quatre there?" Heero asked.
"That was how I woke up," Trowa whispered. "I felt him. He knew there might be some danger they had not been able to discover or stop yet and he felt very concerned. I think I woke just when X18999 was hit."
"You used to live there."
"For a little while. That park, I know where they built it. The Barton Foundation Veterans Hospital that Mariemaia founded is close to the park it is on the same property that used to be the Foundation's headquarters and manufacturing center."
"And S2 and here... have we heard anything about S3? Anything from Duo's colony?"
"Not so far, but there are so many unconfirmed rumors. Some are saying there were as many as seven shuttles on similar missions," Yanagi said.
Heero growled annoyance. "I want to talk to Une."
"What is it?" Trowa asked.
"Mobile suit manufacturing. Did you know? Trowa? Did you?"
"No." Heero understood then, he felt it. Trowa worried that he and Heero both had not received other orders because Une had some personal or professional motivation to shelter them. In other words, the Director did not think them stable enough. It hurt.
"It's mobile suits manufacturing. Politically motivated acts of terror. It makes sense. Relena was going to announce the contract for mobile suits to be sent to Mars. The laws favor manufacturing now. I am certain there are factories or government offices in every place targeted."
"But they don't build mobile suits in X18999 anymore," Trowa insisted.
"Then maybe the profile of the perpetrators does not include rational or well-informed. Or, maybe their target was the hospital."
"The men and women there fought for all sides and have all been disabled in some way as result of the war... it would be cruel to target them."
"Cruel to target them, but they were mostly mobile suit pilots and so they can teach if not pilot themselves. Just locking away the weapons is not enough... besides, cruelty is effective in creating fear. We don't know it was the hospital," Heero said flatly, "They may have wanted to be certain there were no manufacturing capabilities left there."
"The target probably was the hospital. It makes a dark sort of sense."
Heero agreed with a nod. "From what we have heard..." Heero gestured to the monitors," The hospital still stands, so maybe the Preventers did their best and they caused the shuttle to hit the water first, rather than the buildings directly. Maybe allowing a hull breach was the best they could do to prevent a greater tragedy?"
"That is what Preventers would do."
A phone was ringing and it was not Heero's. Trowa lifted the phone clipped to a jeans pocket and answered. His expression remained overall blank but Heero knew who it was. Dispatch had just given Trowa codes and orders to follow.
"Going over there?" Heero asked.
Trowa gave a nod when he replaced his phone.
"You have a shuttle?"
"They said transportation might be available at Headquarters."
"You should call in."
Heero's phone rang. All eyes in the room watched as he lifted it and answered. An announcement that it was a call from Preventers. A code. His ID number. An order to report to Colonel Po at X18999. A Colony section where she might be found.
"You too?" Trowa asked.
"Aa." Heero dialed another number, the Z00001 commercial port. The line sounded rings for some time but then it was answered. "This is Captain Yuy, I have a shuttle parked there. Has the incident this morning disrupted launches, or can I get a window any time soon?"
"Captain Yuy? Captain of The Zero?"
A whisper, "It's him. It's Yuy. He wants to launch his shuttle." More muffled voices responded in the background. The speaker's voice returned to normal volume. "Immediately Captain, as soon as you can be ready? Shall the crew prep The Zero, then?"
"Yes, with my boosters. And fully fueled. I need to get to S7 as soon as possible."
"Fully prepped and fueled with boosters, that's confirmed, Captain. We'll start on her right away."
Heero shrugged. He never quite knew what to say to such eager voices. "Good work. I appreciate the effort on such a stressful day."
"Thank you. Good Luck, Captain."
"Goodbye." Heero disconnected, feeling awkward. As if he hadn't been famous already. Most people at that port knew that Heero was the owner of Lowe Security. Heero looked up to Trowa. "We can take my shuttle."
Heero quickly collected all the gear he thought necessary, his field jacket and identification and a change of clothes should he be away long. They stopped by Headquarters briefly to check in and were issued equipment they were told would be needed on site. There, Trowa retrieved his own space suit and a small duffle. Heero took Koi along. The dog had a canine space suit should it be required and if he did not prove useful he could stay on the shuttle and still have some amount of room to move around.
The flight was a relatively long one, passing over the Earth entirely and into space again to reach the colony cluster that orbited Earth, always opposite the moon and the colonies near it. During the flight they continued to monitor news and briefly checked in with Midii to make sure things at home were still orderly. The state of alert had not been lifted there or in most of the other colonies attacked.
They confirmed during the time Heero was en route to X18999 that Colony V08744, or Gotham to locals, had been targeted but the shuttle had been intercepted by a number of mobile suits. Video had been provided. Three blue-striped black Tauruses and some Leos that moved eerily like dolls.
That seemed Duo's doing, ripping out clunky standard Leo cockpits and giving in them customized operating systems, but Heero didn't sense Duo had been there. He knew Duo very well and he knew the way he piloted especially well. None of those suits had moved like they were piloted by Duo.
So, where had Duo been assigned?
As they approached a press conference was broadcast in which Their President, Vice-Minister of Foreign affairs and Director of Preventers all spoke briefly. Their President seemed a fair leader and had another full year before his term was up. He assured the Sphere that all necessary action was being taken to give aid to those harmed in the attacks and to prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law. And that was basically all he said.
Lady Une spoke next, linked through satellites from the Preventer's Moon base, where their fleet was based. Her speech was most informative and accompanied by visual aids including an animation that reenacted the collision at X18999. She first confirmed that there were civilian casualties but claimed that a number was unavailable. There was video of the collision available to the government now, but it could not be publicly released until they made sure no deceased were identifiable. Heero knew he would not want to learn of a friend of his dying by watching it on the news.
Lady Une confirmed Heero's suspicions. Preventers had known of the possibility of attacks for some time. They had been on a high state of alert and had called in agents from reserves and part-time duty to work on the investigation. They had a good idea who the attackers were, but could not comment on the details yet, as the investigation was still underway. She knew of ten possible targets and tried to point out, that however tragic events seemed, her agency had done everything it could to prevent further tragedy and had disrupted, this morning alone, so far as she could confirm, four other attempts by cells of the same organization.
Preventer agents had pursued the shuttle when it was found to be off course. They had been unable to force it onto a safe path. At that time alarms were sounded within the entire Cluster to stay indoors and within X18999 to begin evacuation procedures. A Preventer mobile suit had disabled the shuttle, but that damage had not caused it to crash. At least one agent had boarded the shuttle in attempt to take control. The shuttle had been turned away from the Colony for a time. The shuttle turned again, toward the Colony. The mobile suit piloted by the agent attempted again to force the shuttle off course. It was believed that the shuttle accelerated and forced both the mobile suit through the skyglass after which the shuttle also dropped into the Colony, appearing to come up from the glass, cross the interior and then skip across the water of the artificial beach as it was beginning to vaporize, and finally crashing into a commercial area.
The mobile suit had apparently been disabled in crashing through the glass.
Although evacuation alarms had been activated some civilians had not reached shelters and had been injured or lost their lives.
Currently evacuation to other parts of the cluster from secure sections of X18999 was underway. Those within the damaged section, whether injured or uninjured were being detained to further the investigation. All injured were being treated on site at the Barton Foundation Veterans Hospital and temporary accommodations, food and counseling had been provided to others remaining on site. Artificial gravity had recently been restored as far as .5g.
Several reporters tried to shout out questions, asking which agents had been involved and whether the hijackers had survived the collision. Une left the podium and Relena was patched in from her offices in the Capitol.
Again she expressed condolences and then explained the political aspects of the incidents, namely that it was suspected the motivation was anti-mobile suit. She pointed out that today mobile suits and mobile suit pilots had been invaluable in intercepting the shuttles at other sites and had made every reasonable effort over X18999.
"I know there was early local speculation as to which agents had been in the shuttle and mobile suit. It was speculation only. We will not yet release names of individual agents involved. Along with Preventer agents local security forces were involved in stopping two other attempts today, one at the L4 Colonies and another at a spaceport in the Capitol. On behalf of the Earth Sphere I thank those people. As well all local security and emergency teams throughout the Sphere have maintained a high state of alert recently and helped make area evacuations and emergency procedures operate efficiently. I thank them also. Finally, within X18999 Preventer Agents, local security forces and emergency fire and medical teams were already on site before the collision assisting with the evacuation and afterward involved in rescue, firefighting and medical aide. A number of these men and women gave their lives today protecting the people of this Colony. We should all remember them and their families in our thoughts or in our prayers as well as the civilians who unfortunately lost their lives and their families. I assure you that we are all working as fast as we can to contact the families of any who have died and to make an accurate count."
Heero was silent as he watched Relena speak. He couldn't stop wondering if it was Duo. Was Duo injured? Had Duo been in the shuttle? Was he dead or hideously burned?
Please, Heero thought, please, Powers That May Be, let Duo be all right.
It could not be soon enough when Heero finally found Sally. They had set up docking for emergency vehicles in the small service bays that fed directly into the outer, or basement sections of the damaged section. On approach to their assigned dock the trail of debris spiraling about the wheel shaped space colony was visible as a glittering field in the artificial glow of the colony and the bright starlight from nearby Sol that was so visible here at this time of day month and year. The ordinary approach would be to approach along the wheel, but flight was restricted even more now and Heero found lighted buoys guiding them toward a more difficult approach, which forced them to make matching speed and dock in a very short amount of time. Like landing on an air craft carrier, Heero thought. He'd done that in simulation. He wished Duo was with him. Duo was just good at this sort of maneuvering. Not that Heero was a bad pilot, he managed the task perfectly.
"There were bodies."
Heero looked to Trowa as he was fixing Koi's helmet. Koi did not like being in his suit with the helmet on, but the other options were leave the fog in the shuttle or lug a large carrier around. This way the dog could move with them. Heero thought he should learn. Colonial animals had to learn such things if they wanted to survive, just like the humans.
"I would have thought they'd have the coronary teams out here first thing before we have more Colonial legends like the frozen soldier..."
Heero did not answer that comment either. What could he say? Maybe there had been so many humans swept into the void that the teams were still collecting them now? That, though bodies in space usually ended up burning in atmosphere if not collected, in some times and places people had by chance happened upon disfigured frozen bodies against a skyglass or porthole of their shuttle.
It was... horrifying to think of the number. Had so many people been so unaware? How had it happened? Could anyone be blamed or was it just tragedy? Heero pictured it as he left the shuttle and adjusted instinctively to the apparent shift in gravity and oriented himself to up and down again. The shuttle on the wall, with engines toward the floor, they walked to the airlock.
Heero had seen explosions inside colonies. He had seen bombings. He'd seen a lot of bad things and done some of them. Milliard used to talk about Colonials as being so special, like they alone had defeated human nature. Heero thought in some ways Milliard had been wrong. But, the nature to war was human, at least to fear what was different or unknown and to respond to that fear defensively, sometimes by lashing out or using offensive force in some rationalized preemptive behavior. For the most part Colonials suppressed that or they ended up planetside. They had to become Colonials and work together.
The other human nature when faced with fear was flight. In space, forgetting logic in a crisis and running mindlessly with the mob could cost your life. You absolutely had to resist the urge to run away from things and think instead about chemical processes and physics and the structures around you...
You had to be rational enough to realize the sky was falling and that meant you shouted one forceful alarm to others out of consideration before you got those in your care and yourself into a shielded airtight enclosure.
But, being it was human nature, maybe no one could be blamed if they saw fire falling from the sky and they stood looking up at it a while, or they spent time looking for a child they had lost track of, or they just panicked and ran along a street.
No wonder they weren't releasing the video. Even Heero was effected by just hearing about the bodies, but imagine if people on Earth went to use their media devices to do some homework or look up a recipe for dinner or learn about animals or just be entertained and instead they were confronted by disfigured human remains floating through space and being collected by cold robotic arms that as easily lifted construction materials.
Heero imagined it. They would be horrified. As much as they desired access to information and as much as past wars and disasters had been covered by reporters, there were still some things it was better not to make public, at least, not without some preparation.
They came through the airlock and walked along a corridor. They came to a staging area where men and women in a motley mixture of uniform gear were quickly rehydrating with crates of bottled water, taping hands, or discussing plans around projections on the walls. A light was aimed toward Heero by a man in a blue space suit who was accompanied by a similarly dressed woman holding a gun. Heero removed his helmet and then Koi's as Trowa removed his own.
"Go on in," He said and added a wave. Heero thought it comforting they were making attempts to check who came and went. When attacks came, those attacking sometimes found it effective to plan a second wave aimed at those who came to aid the original victims. Cruel, but sometimes one had to be cruel, or believed they did.
Heero recognized Sally. She was one of the people discussing a projection. As Heero approached and peered over shoulders or between bodies he saw it was a schematic of X18999. Heero had once had to infiltrate this Colony before and he knew construction had changed it so he had accessed its schematics on the flight over. He had noticed that public access to the schematics was removed and he'd needed to use all his current Preventer clearance to access them. So, maybe they had done that several days ago, hoping to make attacks against all colonies more difficult. But, denying the public access to information wasn't the best answer.
Heero had hated that about OZ and the Alliance, the way they controlled information and used propaganda so much. They had never given him any guilt over hacking, because he felt they deserved to have the information liberated so people could be informed.
Usually, better informed people made better choices. Maybe if everyone had understood mobile suits were not themselves evil...
"Colonel," Trowa called finally after Sally could not be drawn away from using one hand to wrap a firefighter's hands while her other hand pointed out locations on the schematic.
Sally took her hands and scrubbed her hair away from her face. She looked exhausted. Actually, most everyone here already looked sleep deprived and physically drained of energy. "I have tasks for you... actually..." she seemed to try to make up her mind. Sally looked around at the gathering of men and women. She gave them some last instructions, reminding them to keep masks on and to wear gloves and to come in for rest as soon as they could be relieved.
The group moved on, some picking up water or popping pills while others went directly from the room through an airtight door.
Sally seemed to be catching her breath. Heero imagined she might have been in charge here from even before the collision. She must be about to fall over. It would do no one any good if Sally collapsed. Doctors were notorious about not taking their own advice and Sally was now trained in the medical field as well as being a Preventer. "If you cannot take a long break you should take a moment to meditate and focus your energy."
Sally chuckled. At least her sense of humor was still there. "Right." She sighed. "Trowa, are you ready to work?"
"You are my commanding officer here. It looks like you can use some help."
Sally gave a nod. She gestured to the area about them. "But we are not the only one's who need help. I was hoping you could do a different kind of work. You'll have to do a lot of talking though. Can you do that?"
Her sense of humor was definitely there. Heero reached into his satchel and found a candy stick. He offered it to Sally. The sugar might help a little. He reached for some water while Sally took the candy with a slight bow and then returned her attention to Trowa.
"That's what your file says," Sally continued.
Trowa grimaced, showing genuine displeasure for his task. But then he shook his head. "No, I suppose it is a very good idea. I am sure you heard that I think too much to be a soldier. My accent is very here and there, but then, the people here must have come from over a large region and be used to different accents."
"I know you probably expected to be doing something more... active, but we really need help with this, Trowa. So many people are... well... they are just devastated and emotional, I am sure you must understand how that happens? They revert to what feels safe to them and they are very distraught and I have learned since working here that we just don't get much call for speaking Spanish dialects in the Colonies, or we hadn't before. You don't have to even be fluent, just say a few words to calm them down, or translate the gist of their description to other agents. The sooner we can process all these people the better it is for everyone."
"They will be in shock or hysterical," Heero said, recalling his reading on traumatic experiences. "Get them to tell you what happened and listen. They will feel better if they tell what they know. You will be helping people. And I am sure you learned some tricks while at the circus that can make children laugh. They are resilient. They will start to laugh and their elders may not understand how they can. Even if they cry later..."
Trowa looked at Heero and made a nod. "If I get to them now, eh? Better go talk to the children in particular before they forget how to laugh or cry."
Sally passed a small digital pad to Trowa. "The priority is t get every one calm and to make sure they are getting medical treatment if they need it, but this is what we will need to know from them eventually. It's... very bad out there. We will need to process all these people and get them temporary housing if they were local, there will be insurance claims, remains to be delivered as fitting their wishes..."
"I understand." Trowa produced a bright purple handkerchief, seemingly from Sally's ear and then wiped some dirt from her face. "You need someone to take care of the victim's emotional needs as much as you need bodies to sort shuttle parts from colony or to pursue terrorist cells. I do understand now. You can have confidence in me in this. I will play this role perfectly, don't you worry."
Trowa put weight into Heero's shoulder with one hand and then left them.
Heero fixed his eyes on Sally as she sucked at the candy stick. "If he was dead you would have told me."
"I-Heero, I am sorry, I wasn't thinking."
Heero prayed he misunderstood.
"He's not... I mean... Duo's alive. He's alive, but, he was hurt."
Heero felt his lips curl. He felt suddenly high. He touched a hand to his chest when he felt lightness there. "Alive is good."
"I am sorry I did not think to mention. I forgot that you and he..." Sally sighed. "So many people have been hurt, or worse, I have to push some of those thoughts away in order to keep working."
"That is understandable. Can I see him?" Heero stopped himself from continuing and then changed his mind, "That was wrong, I shouldn't say that when so many people must be wondering where their families are. We saw... in space..."
"I know." Sally picked up one of Heero's hands in her hands. It felt uncomfortably intimate to Heero at first, but then he just felt that Sally was his friend and she wanted him to feel better. "It is not wrong. If anything, we need little positive things like this now. I need your help here, Heero. I need you to go in there for me."
She meant the damaged area. Heero gave a slight nod in answer.
"I can't let you go for long, because we desperately need to relieve the other workers, but you should see him."
"How...?" Heero didn't know what to ask. What should he be prepared for.
Sally sucked in a breath and looked around. "Listen," she said and then quickly she told him. Duo had been the pilot of the mobile suit that came down with the shuttle. It had been Hera, the Taurus assigned to Gibson, but for some reason Gibson and Duo had switched places. Gibson had been the one to board the shuttle. When the crash took place there had been some confusion as to who they were looking for and where and locals had spread a rumor that Duo Maxwell had died, which Sally had not wanted Heero or Duo's friends to hear that way, even if it was true.
But then they had recovered Hera and found Duo unconscious inside. Sometime later they had gotten through the fire and found that Gibson had somehow fallen or crawled some distance from the crater in the cityscape left by the shuttle, but he was very badly burned. Last Sally had checked Gibson was alive, but she was aware that he might die. And Duo was aware of this.
Heero understood. Duo must feel so guilty. Yes, survivors guilt. A common response to situations such as this in humans. And Duo had been a manufacturer of mobile suits as well. So, no matter how the logical parts of him understood that violence was just violence and he had not caused the attack, Duo must feel on some level that it was his fault. Especially, as he'd lost people before and blamed himself.
He must be cursing himself and his god and calling himself Shinigami again.
And what could Heero do? Say things would be all right? Say Duo had done his best? Even if it was true, he could only see Duo becoming enraged. "I should talk to him."
"I can't give you long, I'm sorry."
"No, I understand. Work needs to be done."
"But, his injuries are not life threatening, I mean, physically he will recover in time, so, if you care about him, there will be time later. He will need someone later."
"Thank you," Heero said. "I will be back soon."
Having the directions for gaining access to the hospital and Duo's room Heero walked Koi through the below street tunnels, passing various security check points and showing ID. Not being injured or bringing in another who was Heero was not allowed to go into their trauma center but directed toward a rather quiet hall. There nurses tried to point out that a dog should not be inside the hospital, but Heero ignored them and continued.
He knew that Duo was not in a private room but in a sort of recovery ward with other Preventers or emergency workers who had been injured in recent duty. Heero agreed that it made sense from a security point of view to arrange things so.
Heero showed ID again at the end of the hall and then read the labels on the walls until he found the correct room. He stopped in the doorway, looking into the room. It was not obvious what branch of service any of the men in this room were in, but they did seem the type to do such work. They all wore bland pajamas, no doubt provided by the hospital. Some were in beds with obvious broken bones in casts and they watched news on the monitor suspended from an arm on the wall. One man sat looking out the window, but Heero could see only a whiteness that he believed was part of a containment system sealing off the building from the rest of the colony.
Duo was in one of the beds, trying to read from a pad, bandages visible on his head and a cast on his lower left leg. Heero walked into the room. The men, they were all male in this room, looked up to note his passing. Duo looked up. The way he squinted and tipped his head, it wasn't the light. Heero thought Duo must have a head injury and he was dizzy or his vision had blurred.
Heero took the digital chart from the end of Duo's bed. Duo looked at him blankly for a moment then fell back, slowly, to the inclined section of mattress behind him. Heero read the Doctor's notes with glances to Duo. He was fully dressed so Heero could not see the bruising, but he believed Duo must be feeling sore everywhere, even if the only bandaged were on head and leg. It was probably from the initial collision of the shuttle with the mobile suit.
Duo must have tried putting his own, or Gibson's, mobile suit between the shuttle and the colony. Brave, but even a small shuttle with light payload could do a lot of damage. Mass times velocity... and they had probably loaded the shuttle with something flammable from the reports Heero was hearing.
Cars could kill. A shuttle had flown into him. Even with a gundanium cockpit cage, Duo was lucky to be alive at all. The notes said he had bruised internal organs, but no evident bleeding.
"You want to cut me out of this thing and check if they set it correctly?" Duo asked, weakly, but obviously attempting a light mood.
Heero returned the chart and gazed at Duo. Heero felt relieved that Duo had his sense of humor, but at the same time, threatened somewhat by the obvious use of humor as a defense mechanism. Was the hair there. Duo would be all right if the hair was there. Heero moved to the side of the bed, drawing the curtain from the wall then to put the others on their honor to give them privacy.
"It seems you will heal. I am glad about that. I... was concerned for you."
"Yeah, don't worry about me," Duo said in that same flippant tone. "Got the sport model and everything. I'll be up in no time." He knocked on his cast, which was the sort that gave enough support to allow walking yet breathed enough to allow one to be active and take wet showers and black too, Heero noticed. It clearly did hurt Duo to bend forward and knock on his cast, but he continued with the show for Heero.
Heero supposed that he should let Duo put on the show for now. "Well, I can't stay. I have orders and they need me. I just wanted to get to see you and let you know that I missed you and I am glad you are going to be well and... if you do need anything you can ask me."
"I'm fine. Fine. Got this great view, got television, got this water."
There was no view except for rescue workers going in and out of the containment structure air lock and the television just replayed what little video had been released and showed so-called experts speculating and Duo would need more than water to get well. "I am glad."
"Lolita's getting tennis lessons." Duo lifted his pad.
"I saw Father David recently. He was helping me with some community work. We both asked each other if we had heard from you." Heero laughed, just because the memory of that awkward moment amused him. He covered his mouth and forced his expression straight. "Well, if you don't need anything?"
Duo pretended to read but the words must be swimming before his eyes.
Heero didn't really know how one should feel. He thought he just felt conflicted. He wanted to be angry at Duo for putting up a front, but he also knew he might have done the same thing if he cared about another's feelings. He wanted to curl up in the bed with Duo and read the book to him, but he also knew he had work to do. He was relieved that Duo wasn't dead and sad he was injured and feeling some amount of this survivor's guilt himself, because nothing bad had happened to him.
Heero opened his satchel and looked through it. He offered his game machine, not really expecting Duo would appreciate the priceless functioning antique. "You can play this if you get bored, if the tiny screen and primitive 2D graphics don't strain your eyes." Saving face for him? Heero asked himself. Duo would probably know that Heero knew he was putting up a front, but maybe he would return the favor and pretend he didn't notice. "I have some candy."
"I didn't know I would find you here, or maybe I could have brought you something."
"Hey, I didn't know you would find me here!" Meaning he expected he would have died.
Heero shouldered his bag.
"Yeah, well, I'm glad you're OK. I heard that stuff about your company. That's pretty fortunate."
"Right. I saw some Leos move unusually."
Duo grinned. Heero was glad. He thought Duo actually felt good about that. It wasn't selfish to be pleased he had spared his own garage, because it meant other people in his Colony had also been spared some tragedy. Heero suspected people there did all know who Duo was and liked him very much, though they pretended to never notice him on the streets. "Get outta here, 'K? There's some job that needs doing. They probably need you."
"I will try to come back and visit."
Duo waved him away. Heero thought he was near passing out and he knew it. That wasn't really a good thing. Duo drew breath slowly. "I'll probably be out of here before they let you have a minute to sleep or eat."
Heero knew Duo had said it as a joke, but that might be true. Unless they observed that his head injury was more serious Duo would be released the next morning most likely. From what Heero had seen since arriving, the clean up and investigation would take a whole lot longer and they needed everyone they could get at the moment.
It was correct to have assumed they had a lot of work to do. When Heero had been briefed on the tasks and finally stood fully suited on that other side of the airlocks he understood.
Everything just looked wrong.
Heero understood that this particular section had not been so densely urban as the rest; instead it had been designed, as with other new features, to draw people and business to this colony despite its reputation. Playa Del Stardust had been real water on pretty convincing white sand with controlled waves and a gentle blue color to the water. Skyglasses and lamps had made it seem sunny. The beach had been lined with hotels, casinos, nightclubs and shops all aimed at attracting tourists. And so, the people here might not even have been local and that had complicated things as well, because Heero could imagine that even a wary Colonial might one day on a much deserved vacation allow themselves to neglect to learn a new escape plan after arriving. And it meant that people all over the Earth Sphere could have lost family.
It was like an alien planet. Many lamps were out. One skyglass was blocked by the sealing foam and metal patches. The air was slowly beign filtered and replaced but now remained thin and vaporous. Visibility was poor through the haze and the air quality was very poor after sand and water had been dispersed along with smoke and fumes from the fires. Eventually it would all settle. And then everything would be coated in the pale mud that they walked on.
The mud was slippery and where there had been metal plates along street level for boots to contact the mud prevented the magnets from attracting. Being at half gravity seemed a good idea. Moving large debris would take less effort. Really the low gravity with the mud combined to make moving treacherous. Even skilled rescue workers were sliding and slipping and bouncing off the ground into things.
There was no traction on the ground and this made moving payloads extremely difficult.
They best they could do was to shovel up the mud and take it elsewhere to be washed, hoping to find parts of the shuttle in the wash. Laws and insurance companies demanded they piece together the shuttle and colony structures.
Heero was informed that it was possible they would find survivors still lost. Some sections, even underground, had been cut off from the rest of those levels by the collision. And though gravity had been out to facilitate evacuation in buildings that threatened to collapse other fire-weakened buildings had collapsed since gravity had been reestablished and though precautions had been taken, some investigators and workers had been trapped.
Playa del Norte was intact but devoid of life, except for the buildings with attached clean room tents where workers took rest. Playa del Sur didn't even look like part of a city. Heero understood what had been said about the fires when he saw it. They didn't have to explain. He'd built bombs. He'd studied history. The twisted skeletons that had once been luxury hotels told Heero the shuttle's payload had been jet fuel, or its like.
Of course, they put Heero to work on the South Beach. He was glad for one thing, that once he got out there no one treated him special or put him in charge. A weary tall and broad-shouldered man rubbed his neck and said, "Unusually strong, good attention to detail, knowledgeable about aerospace craft and explosives?" And them promptly Heero had found himself among the skeletons.
First they had him on the team heading into the still hot wreckage after fellow emergency workers they expected to find. It was difficult to see and more than difficult to move and the need to wear helmets and breathing gear meant they also had to use devices to hear with, so they could not rely on their natural sense of hearing.
Heero was sure it smelled bad, so he was glad for the full suits. He also knew that where the fire had been out long it was cold without a suit. The snowflakes amongst the fiber and smoke evidenced that.
No frost on the ground. Everything was too salty. It had been saltwater, their artificial sea and though some water froze, on the ground everything was slush if not mud. And the salt in everything only added corrosive ability to the mud they all learned quickly to hate.
It was Koi who found the first survivor. The animal disliked his suit and being deprived of several senses but Koi's helmet design allowed a wide field of vision. Being lower to the ground and on four legs Koi was more sure-footed than any man there. Being of a breed known as sight hounds Koi could track movement visually better than a human could.
When they dug out the first woman Koi had found they found others nearby. Heero was very proud of Koi.
After that task was done Heero was sent to the worst section, Ground Zero as it were. There the fire had been hot enough to burn down into the lower levels as well as to reduce buildings to metal vapors and concrete dust. In some places the mud had baked and it looked like pictures of a site of volcanic eruption, a muddy steaming hole in the ground. They did not expect to find anyone surviving in this area, but they were obligated to continue the search.
They might not even find the shuttle, except what parts had been sheered off before its body plowed into the beachfront properties.
It was tiring work. Moving, lifting, digging. Heero understood why he had seen people taping their hands when he arrived. The twisted metal remnants, broken concrete and corrosive muck wore through boots and gloves. At Heero's first break, many hours later, he was obliged to strip out of his suit to make repairs and bandage his fingers.
They had men and women from the veterans hospital and who were in some way disabled volunteering their time to prepare food or clean suits or mend gloves. They had been in the area and had the training to know how to deal with attacks and had been some of the first people to leave their shelter with proper gear after the collision to help those who had not made it to shelter, even though some were missing limbs or had other obvious scarring.
In a way, it was fortunate they had been targeted and that Gibson had managed to control the crash as much as he did. A resort in which there had not been many war veterans in the area might have suffered further loss of life.
It was the general consensus around the workers that Gibson, whose name they all knew now, had been injured badly while struggling with the pilots and had recovered strength enough and consciousness to later overpower them again, enough to control the crash, though he couldn't avoid the colony.
Heero didn't argue. They seemed to have inside information about the extent of his injuries and some had been there when they found him and described how they thought the fit of his flightsuit and the fact that he'd still had his helmet on had kept him from bleeding too quickly or from being burned or asphyxiated before he could get himself out of the fire. They did understand that even considering this, he might die. The flightsuit was fire resistant not fire proof. If it had melted buildings and streets then even short exposure to heat nearly as hot was deadly.
Past the clean room within the tent, where muddy things were left, there was the commandeered hotel. The staff was all gone but the workers could sit down in the lounge, casino and restaurant there and get some water or what food could be brought in.
No one stayed long. Anyone who had been out there knew it was bad and that they ached from the work, but Heero had been there and he knew it felt horrible to stop. It felt like there might be a life they could save if only one more person passed up fresh fruit still sitting on the buffet table or a coffee and went back out. It felt like they were helpless and victimized if they did not do something constructive.
And so everyone went back out with patched gear and bodies.
Koi wasn't human and so he didn't suffer these emotions. He'd already saved lives and his feet seemed to bother him, so Heero left Koi inside the casino with some hamburger patties and a bowl of water.
They went back to work, marking off all the damaged areas and systematically cleaning them out one by one, sometimes moving if someone thought they detected an area where there was a sign of life. Artificial day and night had been disturbed and everything blended into one hazy period of time.
When someone heard that their brother who had been injured earlier had died Heero let that man cry on his shoulder, as much as the gesture seemed strange to him. When Heero found a charred teddy bear and went into flashbacks and anxiety attack he found some other stranger was holding him until he could slow his breaths. They didn't even exchange names all the time, but they all worked together. As Heero had seen before the pieces of uniform and equipment got switched around as others failed and so no one could tell who was a Preventer agent or local security and it was really hard to read them.
When Heero got pulled in he realized it was almost Thursday. He'd been working for over 24 hours with only a few short breaks, more like a day and a half. He got ordered in by Quasi-Tokusa Mimai, or the loud man in the wheelchair wielding a digital pad who had formerly held one of those OZ ranks that did not neatly conform to any other system of ranks currently used.
Heero had seen Mimai get to other members of the rotating team of workers. He had somehow assumed charge of the duty roster and hours logged by each worker and was enforcing rest whenever possible. He seemed to really enjoy barking at Heero and telling him to go upstairs to bed, like he was a child.
By that time, Heero was feeling his exhaustion. He figured, he could have been the one that injured the former OZ officer and so he might owe the man. Heero collected his few personal things and Koi and then went to the desk. It was manned by another of the volunteer veterans. Who added Heero's name to another list and handed him a key.
Heero glanced at the number on the tag, noting wearily that it was heart-shaped. It didn't surprise him really, all this hotel looked very glitzy to him. Heero thought that was a real word. Glitzy, or maybe just ostentatious.
Koi whined at the door but Heero paid him no mind. He just keyed open the door. And then Heero knew Koi had smelled the smoke from all the candles. "Duo!"