Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
"Heero, psssst, Heero, you awake?"
"I hate that wake up looking like that. I want you so bad."
'Ly,' Heero thought, 'badly.' "I was having this dream," he said. His right hand rose from the bed, touched his stomach, and then slid to his chest.
"Was I in it?"
"Aa..." Heero licked his lips to moisten them. "You were on a table I think, yes, I must have pressed you down while you had been seated on the edge. You were wearing old-fashioned clothing, but maybe I dreamt we were in some past time period."
"Your shirt and jacket were open and I put my hand on your chest, and it was black."
"You dreamt you were black?"
"No, I mean, the place I put my hand... there was something... charcoal. I think it was charcoal."
"Oh, like the artist's stuff?"
"Yes... there was a piece of it in my hand, or I put it in my hand then. I made a lot of black marks on you. I painted you. And then, I rubbed it all away with my hands."
"Kinda like a mandala..."
That word sounded familiar. Maybe it was the name of an artist.
"The sand paintings the monks make... and then destroy."
Right. Mandala. To Heero, Eastern religions were just as obscure as Western ones. "Yes," Heero said. "I rubbed the picture away and your skin was left dark and... shimmering... I wanted you so badly..."
"Aaah, and then what happened."
"I woke up."
"Sorry. Not my fault, you know. You originated the connection."
Heero groped beside his pillow and found the earpiece with attached mic. He fit it to his ear. It sounded like Duo was next to him, at his left, just like he would have been.
"Oh, Heero, I can switch cameras on this too?" Duo asked happily.
Heero opened his eyes, finally, and turned his head to the side. The newly installed communication software was working. Evidently the timer had activated the script that confirmed net connection, started this particular program, and connected to Duo.
Heero switched audio to the earpiece only and saw Duo had one remote camera working. He switched camera angles with a quick keystroke and instead of Duo's head and shoulders as in a standard phone connection, Heero received a picture from a camera Duo had placed slightly above and to the right of his position so that Heero saw his entire body.
"Oh, Heero, you got two remotes? You're almost a professional!"
Heero smiled. "But this software works two ways. I can see who is watching me." He moved his finger over the touchpad and zoomed in on Duo's face from the higher angle. "You do not make a bad video boy yourself."
Duo seemed to be moving, so Heero zoomed out, noting that Duo had still not shaven. He saw Duo lift the hem of his black t-shirt over his stomach.
"Take it off," Heero told him.
He saw Duo's lips curl, and then the shirt was lifted up over his head and thrown into the second seat...
"That is the Tinman cockpit, Duo?"
"Oh, yeah, been doing a lot of work in here. Ya like?"
Duo turned his head and licked the back of the seat he was in. "Mmmn, leather."
Heero chuckled; he just had to. Duo could somehow be sexy and goofy at the same time. He sighed. "You put leather upholstery in a mobile suit?"
Duo shrugged then sprawled in the seat. It seemed roomy for a mobile suit cockpit. "It's the prototype, they'll probably change everything out for crap if we get this contract. And pay twice the price. I really do not get government regulations? Have you seen their specs? They aren't really asking for efficiency or style."
"Just do not let them constrain you with some clause that prevents you from releasing a more efficient commercial version of the same mobile suit."
"I guess that's good advice. Damn, what did you do that for, Heero?"
"What?" Heero asked.
"Get my hopes up by telling me to undress and then shifting the conversation toward technical and legal issues!"
"I can multitask."
"Yes, yes, you have many skills."
"Same to you."
"B-but... now I feel like I really should be working."
Heero kicked the sheet from his body.
"What was I just saying?"
"You were waiting for me to give you an order," Heero said, smirking.
"No, it was my turn! You got to tell me to take my shirt off!"
Heero smiled as he watched Duo realize that Heero had lied to him on purpose. It was Duo's turn.
"Thanks," Duo said, for helping him get back into their newest game. "OK, for starters, sit up, turn around and put the mobile with its lens in front of you. I want to be sure to get all your best sides."
Heero smiled to himself as he moved. He thought that he was going to enjoy this game after all. He had not been entirely sure before they started, even though he had been the one to send Duo the software. He liked that they took turns giving each other orders. When Duo told Heero what he wanted him to do, it gave Heero information. He really liked learning what Duo wanted.
Of course, having two cameras on Duo and seeing he was willing to do whatever Heero commanded was not a bad thing, at all. This almost made up for not getting to see Duo in person. Almost.
When their game had ended Heero lay stretched along his bed, chin propped in one hand, and looking at Duo in the traditional phone manner on the screen of his mobile. Duo was naked, eyes closed. Heero could hear his breaths slowing through the earpiece. When he closed his own eyes, it seemed Duo was beside him.
Heero did not long keep his eyes shut. He wanted to see Duo while he could. In the flesh would have been better, but live video and audio was preferable to still pictures. Heero was grateful that he had a small collection of photos of Duo now. Most of them would not be considered risqué or naughty, but then Heero did not always need to see Duo in those poses. The pictures he had reminded Heero of good times by the background Duo was shown against.
"I could fall asleep right here," Duo said.
Heero smiled. He knew Duo would not see, for his eyes really were closed. "I can understand you wanting some rest after all that," Heero said plainly, "And it seems you have been working long hours. I will leave you to sleep." He was sure he sounded unaffected but he was wondering just what it might feel like... how it would smell... to be in that cockpit with Duo. Skipping showers and wearing air-tight pieces of clothing and working up a sweat within a closed cockpit had been fairly normal during the wars, but this was peacetime and Heero wondered if he would have been more or less interested in Duo if he had been there in the flesh.
All that grittiness that came from soldiering had not stopped Trowa from attracting lovers. It had not stopped Milliard and Lucretia. It had not stopped Duo from wanting him.
Heero was still grateful to have the option of taking a shower. He was quite grateful that this Colony had plentiful water reserves. He had long found sonic showers efficient, but all his time on Earth had spoiled him. Heero liked water on his skin. He especially liked baths.
"I will talk to you later, Duo. I am going to go have a bath."
"Heero!" The tone said Heero should not disconnect quite yet.
"Thanks. You make a great video boy. Think you'd mind trying this again?"
"I would not mind at all," Heero said sincerely. He tried to think of a good way to say how he felt without sounding too cold, or too sappy. Sometimes, Heero still had trouble saying things in a way that Duo could appreciate. "I would still like to see you in person, of course, but this was satisfying. Though, I will not be able to give you proper attention again until much later today. I have work to do away from home."
Duo opened one eye and looked toward the main lens. "I'll probably be asleep most of the day. Gives the others time to see if they can add or improve on my recent changes."
"Yes. Well, it is morning here now, so I really must go and get ready to leave."
"It's morning here too," Duo laughed.
"Very early morning. Here it is the time when normal people start business."
"Training your new agent today?"
"Among other things."
"Watch out for him. He's meaner than he looks."
Heero wondered at that. He thought Duo was not using 'mean' in the sense of cruel, exactly. "I will do my best."
"As good as anyone can do," Duo said sleepily.
"If you want to talk after you wake, text me. I will get back to you as soon as I can. And, take care of Hilde."
Duo cackled a laugh. "I would if she'd let me. 'None of that chivalrous nonsense' she said."
"She will change her mind by the third trimester. She might be screaming at you to help her with simple tasks like getting up from chairs."
Duo groaned. "Goddamn, do you not understand the concept of vid-sex before bed? I only want to have good dreams!"
Heero cringed and folded both his arms before him. Duo's tone had been half mocking, but that meant he was half serious. "Duo, if you like, I will call you back on my other phone once I get in the bath. I could tell you about a fantasy I have had about you."
"No, no, it's all right. I shouldn't have said it like that. You worry about me and I know you do. I shouldn't suggest that it would be your fault, if have bad dreams. You go get your own work done. I really will be fine. But, try to figure out what happened in the art studio. You can tell me about that again sometime."
"OK." Heero paused only a second. "I can barely wait until we go to Hawaii. I think it is good we decided to stay in Honolulu and take day trips to Kauai and Hawaii. I do not think we could escape other tourists on any of the islands, but that does not matter. We will get to see each other again."
"Yeah..." Duo did not sound as happy as Heero meant him to.
"You said it would be good if we had the option of doing horrible touristy things as well as hiding out with each other."
"No... I mean, yes, I said that. It's just you reminded me of something I have to do. Some other travel I might have to plan... for myself." Duo shook himself slightly and then smiled at Heero from the small screen. "I don't think I can wait more than a week!"
Heero did not want to wait, but they had decided before parting that it would be better if Duo had at least a week of uninterrupted work. This way Duo would get much of the modifications to the Tinman completed and he could afford to be away while his partners worked on other aspects of the mobile suit's design. He could afford to be away for more contiguous days, maybe even a whole week.
A whole week with Duo at a tropical resort!
"Just think about that horrible bathing suit you are going to get me to wear," Heero said.
Duo thought about it, and made a sort of humming sound. He seemed contented. Mission accomplished.
"Sleep well, Lover," Heero said quietly, then he disconnected.
Heero got up from his bed. He went to feed Koi first and then got his bath. When he was finished with his usual routine of washing and grooming Heero selected some clothing. He put on a new-looking pair of jeans and a green tee, and packed some gym clothes in his satchel.
Heero gathered the gear he would need for the day from his apartment. When he was done with that and prepared to leave the house he called Koi to the door. Heero put only the collar and leash on him and then they left the house.
Heero detoured to the park for Koi's sake and then continued into the Russian Quarter. He walked some distance along L Street before he reached the Lonely Heart. Recently Heero had wondered if the bar's name came from Adin Lowe's apparent preference for singular names.
The bar was not yet open to the public; they usually opened at lunchtime. Heero knocked on the door. Midii came from behind the counter and let him inside. Heero did not see Marina there yet, but Adin Barnet was at the bar.
Heero released Koi near the door and watched him climb up into the window. Heero followed Midii to the bar and sat on a stool near Adin. "Ohayo!" Adin said. It sounded very much like something Duo would say. Heero only smiled at Adin's attempt at Japanese.
"'Konnichi wa' might have sounded more professional," Midii mused as she went about checking the inventory behind the bar.
Heero looked at Adin's bowl of cereal. "So, how have you been?"
"I saw Duo over the weekend."
"I heard. He told me. About him and Hilde I mean."
"Yes, I think you probably took the majority of the ranting so that I only had to deal with... the other stuff."
"Mood swings probably."
"Well, not in the manic-depressive extreme."
"No," Adin agreed, "But if that happened to me... I would have some significant ups and downs."
Heero gazed toward Adin steadily. If it happened to him.
Adin noticed Heero's eyes on him and coughed quietly. "Not that I would be in a position for that to happen to me with someone too soon."
"Haven't nailed the Queen of the World yet, Adin?" Midii asked.
Heero turned his gaze to her and glared. Of course, this had no effect on Midii. She smiled and then as if she had not said a crude word: "Do you want some breakfast, Heero?"
Midii retrieved some dried fruit, cereal and milk from beneath the bar and then moved along the hidden shelves for a bowl and spoon. She stood and looked to Adin.
"No," Adin answered, "not exactly."
Midii laughed softly. "I know some things about politicians and about teenaged females," she said, "You could if you wanted to."
"If I did everything I wanted, I might be in that position to have mood swings. Better to plan out... you know."
"Well, you'll see some experts today. I bet they could advise you."
Heero smirked to himself. Adin had been told of their later destination and he did not entirely agree with Heero's logic regarding the matter. Heero did not entirely care. Adin was now his employee. In business matters, Heero had final say.
Heero ate the breakfast Midii served him. It was good, so he told her this. She politely insisted she had done nothing.
Later she asked if Heero had heard from Trowa recently.
"He is well," Heero said. "He is continuing with the job in Luna Sea. We could go see his show tonight if you like."
"That might start new gossip," Midii said, smiling.
"We could start a lot of rumors before the end of the day."
Adin groaned, understanding the situation in general.
After breakfast Midii and Heero went over business. Most often now, Midii was the one that received inquiries from potential clients and who corresponded with clients. She was better at dealing with people, Heero trusted her to negotiate the best deal for them and Heero had ever sought to be the public face of Lowe Security. Heero did the majority of the actual testing, whether it be field assignments, as they called them, or computer work. Both participated in research.
When they had meetings, such as this morning, they exchanged files they had worked on, updated and synchronized each other's client database, and discussed strategies for upcoming assignments, as well as the scheduling of those assignments given their own availability and window of time submitted by their client.
A lot of this had been done when they were both staying in Hilde's apartment, but a few new calls had come in.
"I have to get back to this client here," Midii said, turning her own mobile so that Heero could see the information. They used off the shelf small business software to keep track of clients and assignments. "They asked for a timeframe very close to the time they contacted us and I told them that I was not certain we could fit them in given that window. I said we charged a fee for short notice."
Heero smiled. Midii was good with coming up with fees were appropriate. Heero made sure to write out the definitions of these fees and then update their advertised policies whenever Midii invented a rule for their clients. This one did make sense. Real terrorists and criminals would work on their own schedule, first researching the company to know that they wanted something from them and then planning an attack. If they did not spot an opportunity to gain in time, they simply did not gain.
Heero looked over the information. Ocean luxury cruise ship fleet. Concerns about security of people and property on ship and when in ports. "Yes, this is not the type of business that could keep their plans or services secret," Heero said. If it had been a matter of industrial sabotage or intellectual properties Heero might have waived the fee or ruled that it did not apply. Realistically, businesses that dealt in producing new products and technology could manage to keep things secret enough that opportunists would have a very short window in which to attack if they were able to learn of a new development.
"Regular schedules?" Adin asked, leaning over to look at the screen. They wanted him mainly for fieldwork, but Heero thought it was good he showed interest in this stage. The field agent would need to understand, basically, what they were after and what the risks would be. Otherwise, they were just someone's patsy.
"Fairly regular from year to year and advertised well in advance," Midii said. "People plan vacations around their schedules, reserve airline tickets to the port of departure or even shuttle flights to Earth. I checked that much. The ports and dates they will be visited are easily accessed and well in advance."
"Motivation? Why this window?" Heero asked.
"I did a preliminary search on the industry in general. I did not know much about it. There are recreational cruises in all the major oceans and seas. There is even a cruise that stops in Antarctica... not this line, though."
"Antarctica?" Adin asked.
"It might seem unwise, taking a luxury ship into a region full of icebergs, but they track every little piece of ice by satellite, you know? Concerns about global climactic shifts and such."
"I suppose it might be scenic."
"If Colonials could get away with putting shopping malls and nightclubs on the moon then I do not see why we can not have resorts in Antarctica," Midii said, "That is beside the point. They are not worried about the safety of the ship itself. I suspect it is concern about theft or abduction. I was saying: I did preliminary research and besides piracy and sinking the topics that come up most are theft of property and abduction of wealthy tourists for ransom."
Heero nodded understanding. "Do you think they have some particularly wealthy or famous people scheduled for an upcoming cruise and they want to test out their security procedures?"
"That would be a guess, but yes, that is my guess."
Heero looked at the file on this client that Midii had transferred to his mobile. "Before the end of the month!"
"You see our problem? If we agreed to take this case, at least one of us would have to go to Earth and get on this ship. Legally with proper reservations, or simulating an attempt at theft or abduction makes no difference right now. They have specified that the test should be performed on this particular Alaskan cruise. They leave Vancouver on Thursday and end the cruise on the 3rd in San Francisco, after cruising up to Glacier Bay."
Heero looked up the cruise line's 'net site. "Well, they have spelled out their particular security procedures right here."
"To reassure guests," Adin suggested.
"Naturally. Thursday. We would not have to be on the ship the entire time, though it would be best. Are these cruises even fun? Who goes on these cruises?"
"Some cruises have themes and are more designed to attract seniors or singles or couples, but this one does not seem to have a theme of that sort..." Midii paused while she also looked at the online information. "I expect there will be many older wealthy people. This kind of trip, you just do not see less affluent people. Perhaps single professionals. Some honeymooning couples... maybe."
"There is a theme," Heero said. He shook his head. "This all sounds... rather touristy and flaky. That is the word I mean? Flaky?"
"If you expect the sanatorium crowd with particular interest in visiting Chinatowns and reproduction Gold Rush saloons..."
Adin laughed. "Sanatorium crowd?"
Midii wrinkled her nose. "Well, how do you say it here? 'Sanatoriy.'"
"I think I know what you mean, but we do not really have places like that in the Colonies," Heero said. "I think people might use 'spa.'"
"Well, sometimes 'spa' is code for compulsory therapy or addiction counseling, even so, we have hospitals and upscale salons, but we do not even have spas, really," Adin said. "We do not really have vacation spots."
"Yes," Heero agreed, "People who take vacation days just joy ride in shuttles or go to Luna for the day or go to a park if they have one."
"Or, now they just go to Earth," Adin said. "Some people might go to the museums and older buildings we have, but nothing here is as old as on Earth. Mostly people stay at home if they do not have to work."
"We did have Playa Del Stardust," Heero said quietly, "It was new."
"It will be new again," Midii said, "They are restoring it. I have seen the live feed on the news quite regularly."
"I tend not to watch that," Heero admitted. Looking at the progress just brought to mind the reason they had to do restoration to X18999 and the resort there. "I do like the idea of vacations. I plan to go away on a holiday with Duo once every month. I did not mind doing touristy things in Moscow."
"Could Duo go on the cruise? Would you get work done if he did go?" Midii asked.
"The cruise ends on the 3rd of June?" Heero asked. He saw this was true even as Midii confirmed it. "We were planning to leave for Hawaii that weekend. I do not think Duo could get so many days off work."
"Do you understand what is up with that?" Adin asked. "He bitches about it all the time, but he is his own boss. I don't understand."
"I'd slap you if you were not here on business," Midii told Adin. "Just because you work for yourself or are a partner does not mean you can do whatever you want. Duo has responsibilities."
"I just meant... he could probably work from remote. I am not completely ignorant about his business."
"Neither of you will go on this assignment?" Heero asked. "You could pretend to be a couple. Midii, you could help Adin with a disguise. We can make up IDs." Even as he said it, Heero knew that was not feasible at this point. Heero and Midii now knew each other well enough to play at being a couple. Heero did not think Adin and Midii trusted each other enough, yet.
"We could decline the job," Midii said. "We do not have to take on every client, especially if they cannot do business as we like."
"But there is no moral or ethical reason to turn them away, and they seem willing to pay this fee, correct?"
"Da. Da. They are still interested," Midii said quickly.
"Then I will have to be the one to go. Any other computer work I need to complete I can do on the ship. While I am gone, you and Adin should train together. I will show Adin our new training facility today. You can do physical training and show Adin the gear we have been using for field assignments." Heero looked at the information on his screen. "I will talk to Duo later, but I think it is safe to say I will be away from the Colonies for two weeks. That is a considerable amount of time, so Midii, you should also go through the basics of mission planning." Heero lifted his head to look at Adin, "Does that sound acceptable? You will not be required to plan assignments in your present position, but you should understand the basic procedures, so that you will be able to communicate your understanding of the plans and assignments we give you. Though, if you become interested we might promote you in the future as the company grows."
"Acceptable," Adin said. "Will we still do training this week?"
"Today. I will likely have to reschedule the next two days. I will need to cram, as you schoolboys say, for this assignment."
"I am not a schoolboy anymore. I am in computer consulting."
Heero smiled slightly. 'Computer consulting' was their agreed upon code for their real work. Heero thought that in some environments it was disadvantageous to admit they worked with high level security issues for such clients as they had, so he thought they should substitute another industry in those situations, rather than risk that the security consultation firm became the prey of hackers, thieves or spies and their reputation was ruined. Saying something aroused less suspicion than declining to answer casual questions about one's work.
Better they have no very obvious assets and personnel to target. Company uniforms were only to be worn when working with the clients.
"How busy will you be today, Midii?"
"No more than usual. Do you need something?"
"I will start Adin's training as scheduled, but we need to get started on this new assignment. Confirm the deal and contract first. We'll use one of those new IDs we made. Get me a ticket under that name. I will also need either a wig or hair dye for this job, I think, and contacts as well."
"I can get you the dye more quickly than I can get a wig that is equally convincing."
"Yes, but I am not sure how compatible it will be with the green dye. You will probably have to re-dye the green later."
"I am not very concerned. If all else fails, I can grow it again. It is not that long."
"Right. So, just the one ticket?"
"I would like to have a partner on this assignment, just to make the cover more convincing. I honestly dread having to be on this luxury cruise alone for ten days."
"You could have Ursula pose as your wife," Midii offered.
Heero shook his head. "I do trust her. She is intelligent and seems wise in matters that I am not. If she showed interest in working with us in the future, I would agree to it. Yet, I have to disagree with the scenario you suggest. Duo does not entirely trust her."
Adin laughed. It seemed cold laughter. Midii rolled her eyes. "We are in secret work, are we not?" Adin asked.
"Heero, if Ursula or I had ever felt the slightest sexual vibe from you... well, things would be different, but there is just nothing to worry about."
"Duo would feel bad."
Adin made a sound, clearing his throat. He spoke in a low voice, "If you do not want to do it, then just say so, but do not use Duo as an excuse. I also know Duo. He is not the one who should be worried about... um... not that..."
Midii put a hand up to ask Adin to be quiet before he could say that Heero ought to be the one worrying that Duo would cheat. Heero already knew what Adin had been thinking, so it was pointless for Midii to silence him, except to show good manners and consideration. In either case, Heero was not afraid Duo would cheat.
"That is all beside the point," Midii said. "Our work is meant to be confidential. If someone hires us, before and after the job, it is not our place to tell others about the work we do. The people at the port chose to mention us and I am grateful for that endorsement, but we should not tell anyone what our jobs are. Duo should not know."
"I made him a contract employee and did not remove the tag from his ID," Heero admitted. "We can trust Duo. It suited my purposes to take him along as cover..."
"And you thrive on multitasking," Midii sighed. "But, Heero, even if you do this job solo, you do know that in the future some of us may have to pretend a lot of different things before a mission is complete. Duo will have no business knowing about assignments that do not involve his working for us. Relena has no business knowing, Hilde has no business knowing, no one we are friends with has any business knowing."
Heero nodded. Midii did not really have to tell him this, but maybe he did need reminding of what he already had known. In this respect, his current work was similar to what he had done in the war: secrecy was vital to success. "I will do this mission alone. There is no time to plan otherwise. In the future, we will need to hire several other people to work with us and we must all be able to work together in public roles and in planning. People who are close to us do not need to know what we are doing."
Midii and Adin agreed. Midii promised to begin the planning; she did her tasks for Lowe Security on her mobile behind the counter, between serving Lonely Heart customers. Heero had recently realized that Midii had managed to get herself the bartending position because, so far as the Family was concerned, Heero had recognized her as his sister and he owned the bar. Heero had asked Midii to be slightly more open about what deals she was making on his behalf.
Heero collected Koi and then he and Adin left. The walked farther along L Street until they came to a tall, boxy white building with first floor windows displaying mannequins in frilly lingerie and rubber clothing. Heero stopped in front of the steps that led to the single pair of double doors that gave entrance to the shops and businesses within.
"We really are stopping here?" Adin asked.
"Yes," Heero said. He walked up the steps of the locally renown, L Street brothel.
Inside he found a large lobby, as in a hotel. Actually, Heero suspected the original design of the building had been either hotel or apartments for workers early in the Colony's history. The rich surface treatments and nude sculptures gave way to several separate boutiques to the left and right. Ahead there was a wide counter with entrances to other rooms and halls behind.
Several tall muscular men in snug-fitting uniforms patrolled the lobby, and despite the suggestive fit of their clothing, they did seem to be legitimate security guards.
Heero passed the small exclusive boutiques of lingerie, costumes, pornography, and sex aides then approached the counter. He stood still for a moment, Adin behind and to his right and Koi trying to sniff at a potted plant to his left. Heero tried to think of what he had planned to say.
A woman in a professional looking suit that happened to also expose significant cleavage smiled at him. "How my I help you, Sirs?"
"My name is..." Heero started and was cut off.
"If you have not visited us before I can call one of our admissions staff to go over our policies."
"I need to see your senior manager," Heero said, "I am not here as a customer today."
"Yes, Sir, what business is this regarding?" The woman asked, still smiling as she tapped at her headset.
"I own this building and this business."
A tap and Heero sensed the guard she had put on standby backing off. "I will call Miss Hitachi for you."
Heero gave a nod as he pulled Koi in with a tug on the leash.
Shortly another woman came from a hallway beyond the reception desk. She was of that generation that had been severely reduced by the period of war and oppression. She looked at Heero and at Adin and then she moved through the gate in the counter and rushed toward Heero. "Ichi-kun!" She said loudly and then she grabbed Heero and pulled him against her chest.
"Hello," Heero said and tried to free himself as gracefully as possible, which was rather awkwardly, from her embrace.
She tilted her head and studied him, as if amused. "Oh, you do not remember me, Heero? I knew that it was you. I knew when I saw the pictures of you during the wars that Adin's little boy was our Gundam pilot. We were never very happy here, to be ruled by the Alliance, or by OZ. Some of the boys did join White Fang I'm afraid, but not all. I knew it was you. And when you caught that Clark fellow and came back to us, I told them you were one of us. I told them Heero was Lowe's boy!"
Heero stood very still, looking at this woman and processing what she had said. "How, specifically, did you know?" he asked.
She was laughing at him. This woman dark blond hair and almond-shaped red tea eyes and beige skin with a few freckles or beauty marks.
"You knew me," Heero said. It was the only answer that fit, unless she was lying. She might be lying. "I do not remember you."
She continued the laughter. "You were very young, but I have not forgotten that look." Heero was not aware he was giving her any look in particular. "You used to glare just like that when I told you to eat your carrots, only your hair was brown."
Heero glanced to Adin. He seemed at least slightly amused. In any case, most people did know that Heero Yuy had brown hair. Green was hardly a naturally occurring color for hair, though he had heard of people breeding green cats as pets for colonists in space or on Mars but never seen one. "I like carrots," Heero said. Well, except canned carrots. "If they are not canned," Heero admitted.
"We were on rations then. The Alliance soldiers got the best of the hydroponics bays during the occupation. We could not smuggle fresh foods to our children every day."
"Be thankful you have carrots at all; the messages that get through say that children in the Colony at L2 have no carrots," Heero said slowly. Someone had said that to him.
"Then you can put all my carrots in the packages you tell your soldier friends to take to your sisters, Karen-chan, so they can feed the starving children," Karen said in a child-like voice. That was her name, or that was what Adin had called her when Heero was a boy: Karen-chan.
"I said that to you," Heero told her.
"Yes," she agreed, "and though I had said it to guilt you into eating, you guilted me into sending food to L2. Things were worse there; even on rations, we had more food than we absolutely needed. We were not starving." There was a pained look on her face and Heero realized the full implications of what he had observed as a child. Everyone had sacrificed during the occupations, even prostitutes.
The soldiers had not been her friends, for surely she was Family and Colonial. It must have been very difficult for the house here to operate during the wars. There may have been many stressed out soldiers away from their homes that wanted companions, but some number of them might have been stressed enough, or taught to hate Colonials enough that they would just take what others paid for. That happened in wars. The young men and women in the house must have traded services for every favor they received. They might have served for free only on the chance that a promised favor would be done and not reported to superiors.
It must have been very risky to convince even good-hearted Alliance soldiers who remembered the women and children in their own families to smuggle goods from one Colony to another. If one person in the chain was compromised...
Heero shook himself and tried not to think of those days. His childhood had not been so bad as some, but he did not like to think about what other children had suffered and he did not like to dwell on the particular and strange circumstances that afforded him the slight advantages he had been given.
Mentally, Heero was writing to his list of things he had learned about his childhood. He wondered at what point it had all become obscure and if it was just the normal process of growing older or a traumatic event that had caused him to seal away all prior memories as too painful. Had he not been discovered wandering and stunned by Doctor J after he had completed Adin's final mission for him? He had remembered who Lowe was, but little else. The details had blurred and faded until he had come home to the Colonies this year.
With a slight sigh Heero added 'was left in the brothel as if in a day care when I was too young to go with Adin on a mission' to the mental files.
Karen too sighed, then forced a smile to her lips and got to business, finally. "Heero-san. How may I help you?"
"You may just call me Heero. I dislike honorifics," Heero said flatly.
"Why have you come? I hope that you are content with our business... perhaps we should speak in my office?"
"That would be acceptable," Heero said. He noticed Karen looking to Adin. "This is Adin Barnett. He works for another business that I now own, one I wish to discuss with you."
Karen gestured to the gate in the counter. The section of facing and countertop could be swung out toward the lobby to provide access to the areas beyond. Heero led Koi in and then Adin followed. The gate locked automatically.
Down a hall and behind a door was an office suite. There was another reception area, where a young man now worked at a computer terminal. Two other offices were attached to this room. The door on the right side was still marked with a nameplate that read: A. Lowe.
K. Hitachi was the name on the door to the left.
"What is in there?" Heero asked; seeing Karen was leading them to her own office.
"It is an office," Karen answered, then paused. "It is unused. I took over the office the previous manager used and no one has needed to use that space. Yemon-san visited us but had no interest in more direct involvement. He died well."
"Yes," Heero agreed. Part of him viewed suicide as cowardly, but some other part of him thought Vasili had been honorable and courageous to plan things out the way he had... and to end his life that way. Either way, he thought it best to agree, that way he avoided further discussion of the topic. "Can we go in there?"
"I have the key in my office," Karen said, "Would you care to wait?"
"I will wait here," Heero said.
"What are we doing here?" Adin whispered, his eyes tracking the movements of the man at the desk.
"I need a secured location to hold a few meetings and do training. This building is secure in its plan, and I can make sure the surveillance is adequate without trouble. They have a gym here, I understand. And, here is an office no one else needs."
"And anyone who sees us enter the building will assume that we are here to... find companions?" Adin guessed.
"Perhaps," Heero agreed, "The point is that they will not assume it has anything to do with Lowe Security. People in this Colony do not view visiting L Street in any negative way, whether they think you are shopping or hiring prostitutes or getting a massage."
"But the media representing cities on earth that is assigned to the Colonial Capitol likely has other opinions and they may be inclined to follow you and I here."
Heero smiled. "Do you care, Adin, if people on Earth think you are visiting prostitutes?"
"When I could be with Relena? They will make something of that."
Heero shrugged. He was not sure they would. "Perhaps you could invite her here one day. They have some special services for couples."
"Familiar with all the services?"
"It was my assignment last night to make myself familiar with the layout of this building and with the publicly available information on the business."
Karen returned. She held aloft an old style metal key on a black ribbon. Karen presented the key to Heero and he opened the door.
The room inside looked like a typical, small Colonial office. There was a functional computer worktable and chair of metal and composite materials and synthetic fabric in black. There were some metal filing drawers for hardcopies that would be saved.
"This is perfect," Heero said, "This will be my office."
"You will be taking control of operations here?" Karen asked.
Heero turned to face her. "No. From what I have heard, you are well able to run this business. I would like you to remain in your current position. I do require this office, however." Heero sat down in the chair behind the table. It was comfortable enough. The office furniture had the usual consideration of ergonomics as well as functionality and efficiency that Heero would expect of Colonial design.
Heero then explained, without giving away more than he wanted to, that he had decided to make himself more aware of the businesses he owned, while continuing to allow the managers to oversee operations. What he wanted from Karen in particular was cooperation in allowing employees of another of his businesses access to this office and to the gym within this building.
Karen told them that the businesses, which Adin had owned, had an agreement to offer each other discounted goods and services. Some services were shared at cost. "We have a list of the employees from the other businesses and they are permitted to use our gym now, provided they use the employee entrance at the side of the building and read and sign our harassment policies and gym rules."
"Then I hope to add Lowe Security, the business I founded, to the group," Heero said. "We can test security of the other businesses for free and install alarms and surveillance at a discount. Everyone will feel safer and my employees will get experience out of it."
"I can authorize the exchange for L Street, but you will need to speak with the other managers."
"I will be doing that soon," Heero said. He had already planned to speak to the other managers.
"For now… what do you need from me?"
"Lowe Security has three permanent employees at this time. I only need use of this office and of the gym."
"You can use that terminal. We purchased new computers for all the offices and had them networked at our last upgrade, even though this office was not used at the time. I can give you an ID…" Karen moved around the workstation.
Heero was already powering up the unused machine.
"I should have thought," Karen said, "You were always playing at the machines."
Heero quickly recognized the operating system and many of the office programs they used. "I will make my access equal to yours. It is my business."
"Then… forgive me for reminding you, Heero, but you do understand that the success of your business relies on those with access to the customer database maintaining discretion."
"I can maintain discretion. If I wanted to bother someone, I would not need your database. That would be sloppy, using databases I have legitimate links with to create mayhem." He laughed. "We must be like doctors and bartenders. In the security business it is also important. You will not have to worry about us."
Heero was a bit curious. Customers visiting for the first time applied for a customer ID number; if their background and credit checks met with the brothel's particular criteria they were issued a card with that number. The main database tracked clients only by number. The list of names, which numbers had been assigned to was protected by additional levels of security, to protect theft and sale of the client list.
It had little to do with customers' neighborhood reputation, for their faces could be recognized here as in any other establishment, but more to do with competitors and aggressive marketers wanting the client list.
Heero looked up at Adin and smirked.
"It was a birthday present when I turned seventeen."
"From Duo, no doubt," Heero said. "I see the gift was returned." Neither Adin's or Duo's ID had been used often. "I'll give myself one, to be fair. Well, I'll run my name through this background check first, of course."
"Can I help you with anything else?" Karen asked.
"Print the card from your office, assuming it is approved," Heero said, "And, when you come back, could you go over the uses of the gym."
Heero continued filling in the forms.
The application was approved. Heero waited.
"You can really find out there who comes here and what they like?" Adin asked.
"Yes, but I cannot tell you."
"Yeah. But you can find out?"
"Does it list all the services available?"
Heero looked. "Yes, there is a program for that. Do they not tell you all the services when you visit?"
"Actually, they will not just show you a list. Maybe they think some people will steal their best ideas or something. They sort of explain this range to you and try to focus on who you will want to serve you, then suggest that they could do many other things if you explain what you want."
"There is a very long list here," Heero said, "I do not even know what some of these things are."
"Karen-chan," Heero said as sweetly as he could manage, "A friend of mine said they we did not have any dominatrix here, but on this list, some things sound like what a dominatrix would do."
"That is because when a customer explains what they want, if we have a young man or woman willing to do it, we settle that deal if a price can be negotiated. What we do not have is employees licensed by the other guild. We are members of the prostitution guild. Currently we do have some masseurs that do only that, and they are in the other guild, but that is recent. We used to just have prostitutes do sensual massage, but they required a different pay rate. Now we have masseurs that are affiliated with us, so the service is of better quality, and if they want sex, someone else comes into the room to take over."
"And there was no general loss of business to the ones who had done massage at the higher rate before?"
"It left them free to do the work they are best qualified for. Everyone is satisfied."
"I think we should have employees from the other guild."
"The employees that entertain clients interested in bondage or domination or masochism are trained, they just are not licensed by that guild. It is legal, as we make this clear to guests."
"You do not let your employees be punished?"
"Punished yes, assaulted with sharps or whips, no. We will punish for money, but we will not risk bleeding under untrained hands for money."
"You should look into getting a few of them licensed."
"I will look into that, Heero. As you say."
Heero frowned. "I do not mean to interfere. No doubt you considered it. It's just…I wish you would consider again. Or is there someone else in the Family that is in that business, which we do not wish to anger?"
"No. It is not that sort of issue."
Heero smiled. He took his new guest card from Karen when she offered it. She took them downstairs to the gym then, explaining the policies and behavior that was expected of them and others.
It was early in the day and the gym was fairly crowded. Karen said that it was less crowded in the evening. Though they rotated employees over a 24 hour a day business period, evenings were still busiest upstairs and those who were not on shift were often not within the brothel at that time.
Heero saw many people took notice of them, but all maintained distance. They seemed respectful of Karen, but not afraid. Heero thought some of them had recognized him, or even Adin. Lately video and photos of them had been shown on and off Colony in the media.
Karen took leave of them finally. Heero and Adin found empty lockers and then changed into some exercise clothes. There was an area of padded flooring that was not being used by groups of men and women stretching or otherwise working out. There were many benches, machines, and weights available also, but Heero was not interested in those now.
"I want you to fight me," Heero told Adin. "Do not try to kill me, just try to knock me down, in whatever manner you may."
"You might kill me," Adin said, mostly joking.
Heero shook his head. "For now, I will fight defensively, until I understand what you are capable of. You try to get me on the floor and I will try to stay standing."
Adin made a deliberate nod and it was begun. Adin attacked with swings, kicks, and lunges and Heero did his best to avoid him. He did not run or jump far away, for he wanted to learn about Adin. Heero dodged, blocked, ducked, and spun away. They had not been long at it when Heero was trying to decide if it was true Adin did not know any specific martial art, and Adin landed a fist to his jaw that made Heero stagger.
Heero steadied his stance, ready for a following attack that would take advantage of his momentary disorientation, but Adin was shaking his hand, his face screwed up in pain.
They both regained composure and stared at each other. "So, that only made you stagger?" Adin asked.
"It hurt, too," Heero said lightly. What worried him was that he had not seen it coming.
"I see I will have to put more effort into this."
Heero nodded and they resumed their combat.
Adin did not manage to get Heero to stagger like that again, but he was grazing Heero where Heero had escaped his attacks cleanly before. Adin was fast, Heero realized. He was undisciplined…but he was so fast. He was Wufei fast.
Compared to an average person, Heero's ability in hand-to-hand combat was absolutely deadly. Compared to trained soldiers and martial artists Heero was still fast, strong and efficient in combat. He was still deadly. There were a few people that Heero had respected simply because he realized they could best him at something. Wufei was one of them. Heero considered it fortunate they had only fought each other in mobile suit combat. Wufei had years less training with mobile suits than Heero. If they had fought had-to-hand, Heero was sure he would have lost.
Wufei was fast, even compared to Heero. Adin was that fast. If he had possessed any of Wufei's martial arts training, Heero would have felt uncomfortable, to say the least.
As it was, Heero felt slightly unsettled. He did not think that Adin had the strength to take him down easily, but force had as much to do with speed. A bullet was deadly because it was fast.
Heero was taking too many small hits. He was not certain Adin would tire first. Heero cold be worn down, eventually. He had to stop taking hits. How could he stop taking hits? He could attack Adin. Put his strength to forcing him down, but that would not really teach either of them anything.
I have to predict his moves, Heero thought. That was what he had learned when he fought. When he had been a Gundam pilot in the war he had learned, other than not wanting to fight at all, that they would lose too much if they could not predict the enemy's moves. It was not just ZERO. Quatre had learned to do it without ZERO.
I have to do this, Heero thought, even as he was fighting with Adin. He had to keep forcing his body to fight, while he focused his mind on predicting Adin's moves.
Heero focused. He staggered back as Adin kicked him in the chest. That had not been the way.
He needed to feel like he was releasing, letting go, not thinking so hard it hurt. Yes, feel. He had to feel the way.
Heero suddenly recalled some dialogue from a Star Wars movie. A Jedi Master had seen Anakin race, and he had observed that Anakin was not really as fast as he seemed, but he saw things before they happened. That sounded like Wufei, really, but it made Heero feel that when it came to live, thinking targets, he could see what they would do next.
Heero took a few more hits and then…it just worked. His blocks were neat. His dodges were clean. He knew which direction to move to avoid Adin's attacks. He was predicting the moves, and he knew that he was doing it. Heero recognized how it felt to be in this mindset. He knew how he was doing it.
"You were just playing with me before," Adin said.
"No. I learned. You can stop now." Adin had stopped already and was looking over Heero's body as he caught his breath. "I know what I need to know. You are good, Adin, if you just learned a few techniques, I would be glad to have you at my back in a fight."
"Yes. I can teach you."
"OK. Let's go!"
Heero smiled, then he began teaching Adin hand-to-hand combat techniques.