Another Time, Another Place
Howard zipped up his duffle, tossed it over his back. It was time to leave.
It had been almost two weeks since Heero Yuy's assassination. His death had caused an uproar throughout the Earth Sphere, and the Alliance - while officially denying involvement - was by far the likely contractor of his murder. That they'd commenced a great number of 'peacekeeping' operations did nothing to quell that suspicion.
Howard and some of his friends had chosen to resign rather than continue working for the Alliance's R&D branch. They had disagreed on what to do and where to go, though.
He gave his room a last glance over the brim of his sunglasses, sighed and walked out.
Howard had hoped to sneak out alone, unseen. He had no such luck. Turning a corner at the bottom of the stairs, he ran into Professor G, lugging on a large wheeled chest.
"Leaving so soon?"
Howard nodded. "And looks like you'll follow."
Snort, wry smile. "If I can drag this thing out of here once it's packed, sure." He let go of the handle. "So, where are you going?"
Howard shrugged. "I don't know... I was thinking... the sea. Always loved the sea. Maybe I'll find a boat in need of an engineer gone machinist, or something." He gave a dry chuckle, fished for a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in his front pocket. "What about you?"
"L2," G announced. "It's remote enough to give me a while to work on my next project."
Light, two puffs. "Far side of the moon, huh? You think the Alliance aren't going to take on the colonies?"
"Undoubtedly - but I might have enough time." G studied the rising smoke circles. "You could come with me, you know. I could use a skilled hand, and... a friend," his voice trailed off. "I'm planning to build a ship capable of sailing the greatest sea of them all - outer space. Not just a skiff to make runs to Mars and back, either. Another star, that's the goal."
Soft cough. "Sounds big."
Nod. "It will have to be."
Shrug. "In time. I've only been asked to make designs for now, not build it. We need more financial backers, and with Heero Yuy's death, anything that isn't military is... not a priority."
Howard tapped his cigarette, ashes to the floor. "Have to admit, I kinda like the thought of space travel..." Inhale, slow puff. "But I'm not much for making blueprints or following them, you know that. I like building stuff. Why don't you give me a call when you're gonna start doing that?"
Singular chuckle, grin. G rubbed one end of his moustache. "If I can find you."
Howard let go of the cigarette, stamped it out, laughing. "Not like I'm planning to hide - unlike you guys. I almost think you're splitting up on purpose."
G gave him a narrow glance, looked at the chest, grabbed the handle. "Well, be seeing you."
Howard watched him haul the chest a bit down the hallway. "Yanno, I always thought you'd have asked J to join you, not me."
Freeze. "I did. He never gave me an answer, just stared at me until I walked away. I took that as a no."
Long seconds of silence. Howard's fingers twitched, not finding the comfort of a cigarette there. "He doesn't blame you - never has. You know that, right?"
G's glare mellowed quickly. He sighed, shook his head.
"It's been years already, damn it! Why can't the two of you get over it?"
"If I'd triple-checked the numbers-"
"It was a damn accident, G! You couldn't have known the propellant mix was off! None of us could! Besides, we all told him to use a remote control system, but no, the great J had to be up close and personal for the test flight of our new engine. If anyone is to be blamed, it'd be-"
Howard stopped himself, noting the fire burning in G's eyes. He took a step back, calmed down. Instinctively, he fished out another cigarette, lit up. Deep, calming breaths, waiting for the fire to die down.
"Look, I know he's a quiet, calculating bastard, but he doesn't hold a grudge, not over that. It happened. He got through it. If he's over it, why aren't you?"
Narrow gaze, tight grip on handle. "Is he over it? I can't tell. Not from those eyes. All I see in them is the biggest mistake of my life." Brief pause, modification. "The two biggest."
Howard shrugged, raised his palms in surrender. He wasn't going to fight it. Between J's silence and G's guilt, there was nothing he could do to help them. They would have to talk it out between themselves. They were just too damn stubborn to do that, though. A final drag, the cigarette crushed under his boot. "You know... when you asked him - he didn't say no, did he?"
G snorted at that, and with a lopsided smirk he turned and began hauling his chest again. "Maybe I'll see him again in decade or two, then." He glanced over his shoulder. "I'll call you."
Howard nodded and started walking in the opposite direction. He had a ship to find, and a port of call beckoning.