Part 5 - Taciturnity
Duo found himself blinking three times in rapid succession, not entirely sure he'd heard his mentor correctly.
"Excuse me? What the heck do you mean, on foot? Haven't we already finished with the secrecy part? Why don't we just-"
Duo would have gone on, a string of colorful expletives already forming in his mind, had not Heero signaled him to shut it with his hand. On the screen, Professor G looked none too comfortable, knowing this was not quite what they had originally planned. The old man looked away for a second, sighed and continued his briefing.
"Look, let me explain and you'll understand. I'm risking full audio and video feed simply because I didn't think you'd believe me if I just sent you a text message - for that reason, I want this done quickly. First, it appears the staff out there has been working on energy weapons - not the standard fare, though - no beam cannons or energy rifles. By the schematics stored in the backup files you recovered, it looks like they've tried to create a powerful EMP - Electromagnetic Pulse - weapon of sorts. Now, such devices aren't exactly new. EMP shock grenades are well-known, as are many other forms of EMP-generating items, such as nuclear weapons - of course, then it's a side effect, and hardly worth noting, for some strange reason." G let a short, nervous laughter burst through. "Anyway, by the looks of the data, they were very busy putting together a prototype. Essentially, it will act as an oversized EMP shock grenade stuck on top of a Leo chassis - only, this thing doesn't explode and deplete, it recharges over time. Its range should also be significantly greater. If fully charged, it might send out an EMP shockwave capable of destroying all unshielded electronic circuitry up to a radius of at least a hundred and fifty feet. The radius of merely damaged systems would be well beyond that, perhaps up to five hundred feet."
Duo was opening his mouth to argue, but G caught his breath again quickly enough to beat him to the speech. "Now, I know what you're about to say. Yes, we did shield the electronic circuitry on the gundams. However, we did so considering the strongest EMP weapon on the market that wouldn't just incinerate the armor in the first place. This thing goes far beyond that. Therefore, if you attack the base using your gundams, you could end up paralyzed in the middle of the battle. It all depends on whether or not the engineers at the base has put together the prototype yet or not. We'd rather not risk it, so you're going in on foot. We'd like you to get the latest data on this weapon for further analysis. You'll have to get to the mainframe for that. Once you have the data, destroy the mainframe, the prototype, if finished, the backup systems and any spare parts for the prototype. Without these things, it is unlikely the scientists can recover enough of the research to build a new prototype before we can find a proper way to counter it - or use it ourselves. We don't want the EMP weapon, though. You see, the OZ engineers might have unknowingly stumbled on to something far more valuable, though they're probably a good way from noticing yet, and we want to keep it that way. A side-effect of the EMP process indicates a way to make defensive shields of pure energy - the possible applications of this tech is... Well, we want it. With the somewhat incomplete backup data, it'd take years to figure out the exact method to stabilize such shields. With the up-to-date mainframe data, it might be done in mere months. So, go at it. The base is still maintaining radio silence, so I assume your last infiltration was a success. OZ traffic doesn't indicate any reinforcements heading in that direction, either. Oh, and another thing - you have to hurry. The blizzard is dissipating much faster than we anticipated, it might have dissolved completely within a day, and when it does, Aires air patrols and spy satellites could become a serious hazard. No blizzard, no natural cover, trickier to sneak in, easier to be spotted. Any questions?"
Duo, still fuming over the prospect of another extended trek, calmed down enough to think of practicalities. "Yeah... We have enough explosives, but we're short on remote detonators. We wouldn't be able to blow it all up in one go, some of it will have to be time bombs, or directly activated charges. Regardless, we wouldn't be able to get far on foot before the fireworks start. How are we meant to escape, even if we got the precious information you want?"
"Use your imagination, Duo. I'm sure you two will think of something. Anything else?"
"Should we attempt to recover any prototype we find?" Heero asked.
"Negative. It would probably be too bulky, and hardly useful for our purposes. We just want to understand the energy shield effect. Dispose of any prototype in any way you see fit."
Noting no further questions were posed, Professor G looked away from the screen, reaching for the 'kill transmission' switch. "Okay, best of luck to you, boys. Contact us when you have the data and have destroyed the targets." The screen went black. Heero immediately opened the hatch and stepped out, put a foot in the stirrup of Deathscythe's pilot-winch, activated it and descended to the ground. He was already in the cabin rearranging their backpacks before Duo followed him, though not before carefully closing the hatch and making a quick inspection for crowbar marks, just in case.
He made it as far as the door before Heero emerged, shoving a backpack at him, nearly knocking the wind out of him. "Here, take this. Get your snowshoes on, and let's go." Before Duo could regain his breath enough to form a reply, Heero was already at the edge of the makeshift tarpaulin hallway, donning the full winter walking gear, ski poles and all. "Get moving, slowpoke, or we won't be there before it's tomorrow."
Duo put on the gear as fast as he could as Heero vanished from the entrance, not intending to wait a single second more.
The long break of silence bothered Duo to no end. Not a word had been exchanged between the two wayfarers for hours. He had caught up with Heero soon enough, but the brisk tempo set by the Wing pilot felt even worse than that of the previous hike. Now, if only he could get a chance to talk to pass the time, distract him from the way his body screamed for a break - things Heero's rushing and unresponsiveness to Duo's every attempt at starting a conversation made impossible.
"Heero, hold up a sec."
No reaction. The back before him kept moving at the same, steady pace.
"Okay, that's it!" Duo shouted, grabbing Heero's shoulder, forcefully turning him around, bringing them both to a standoff standstill. "What the heck is going on here, Heero?"
Heero looked at him as if he had just asked why the color green looked green and not blue, why up was up and not sideways, or a similar pointless question. "We're on a mission."
"I know that, I'm not a total idiot. I mean, why the heck are you so damn unresponsive? Two days ago, you could barely speak more than a full sentence or two to me at a time, and not endure my company for long without striking out hoping to shut me up, verbally or otherwise. Then you went all mush on me, offering-" Duo paused himself at the thought. "Well, you know that bit well enough. And then there was the kisses yesterday, and the way you acted this morning - I don't think I ever thought you had that much... much... sap in you - but as soon as old man pestilence broke the transmission, you went back to the freakish soldier mode of yours, not reacting to anything, possibly short of a gunshot or two." Duo paused to catch his breath, determined to finish, yet highly worried the question that brooded in his mind might destroy all if he voiced it. "Heero... Are you... Are you having second thoughts?"
For a few moments, there was no sound but the whisks of the wind. Even though Heero's face was as stoic as could be, Duo saw the brain behind was working overtime, trying to make a decision, creating a 'proper' response. Not a heartfelt one, not a spontaneous one. A created, artificial one, a designed one. Heero's eyes hardened, and Duo braced himself for something he probably didn't want to hear.
"Duo, I am not having second thoughts. However, we're on a mission now. I can't let anything distract me - or you - from completing our objectives. We both risk dying, that's part of the game. I don't want to have to think either of us might die today, or tomorrow, or at any moment from now until the war is over - it wouldn't be productive."
"So you're saying that while we're on call, it's okay to care, but as soon as the mission starts, that's all that matters?"
Heero hesitated slightly before answering. "A bit crude, but essentially what I mean, yes."
At first, Duo felt like shouting at Heero, digging out a whole lifetime worth of accumulated expletives and colorful curses. After a few seconds of thought, however, he realized the way Heero's mind had reasoned. Cold, hard, logical - and as reluctant as he was to admit it, perhaps right. Heero might not be able to handle the assignments if concern clouded his mind. He'd be damned if he was to think or act the same way, though. Duo did not feel like turning his emotions on and off like a switch. He let out a sigh. At least the words he had dreaded most, had been left unsaid, worries unfounded. Heero's sentiments weren't gone, only repressed by the necessities of war.
"Never mind, then..." Duo muttered, slowly resuming the trek towards the base. Heero didn't move, mind still working in overdrive. At last jolting into action, he took a few fast steps to catch up, and tried voicing out his mind's latest fabrication.
"Duo, I - Duo, can you promise me something?"
"Promise me that you'll put the mission over anything else, okay? Regardless what happens-"
Duo gave him a dull, disappointed look, as if he almost expected this request. "Sure. Whatever."
The rest of the walk was done in complete silence.
As they approached the last low ridge of snow before the OZ complex, Heero signaled Duo to do as he did; lay down on the snow and crawl the last bit up to the ridge crest, just in case some sentinel at the base was actually tending his or her job, rather than trying to keep warm in the one guard tower shielded from the cold winds. The howls of heaven had mellowed as the sky had darkened, and the dancing white particles had gone from a raging polka trot to that of a tranquil tango, no longer frantic, but far from still. Professor G had been right with the weather update. Hopefully, the cloud cover would last long enough for them to cause a bit of havoc, and get away safely.
From one of the many coat pockets in his white jacket, Heero fished out a set of pocket binoculars. Unfolding the device, he glanced briefly over at Duo. Duo didn't look back, but rather glared emptily at the base perimeter. That, and the lack of a smile on the normally oh-so cheerful one, made Heero keep his silence. Regardless what he said, he couldn't top the job he'd done earlier.
Through the binoculars, it became obvious the base was still guarded as lax as it had been the day before. Perhaps Duo's mad scheme had worked, after all. Just how well it had worked, there was no way to tell. However, the security was, if even possible, even more shabby. Of the four corner guard towers, only the one with glass insulation was manned, and all the searchlights, except those at the main gate, had been turned off. For a moment, the word 'trap' flashed in Heero's mind, the sloppiness displayed in protection here too great to be believed. Nevertheless, there could be no turning back now. Perhaps they had just gotten incredibly lucky, for once. Sweeping the base a few times, taking in the position of patrols, searchlights, doors, windows with potential spectators and so forth, a battle plan slowly began forming in his mind.
Duo's dulled eyes appeared to survey the soon-to-be battleground, but his mind was elsewhere, still brooding on the recent past. He couldn't help feel a bit betrayed, betrayed by a heart he thought had gone soft, yet remained guided by the cool of logic and reason. With the same frame of mind, he understood what Heero had tried to tell him; concentrate on the mission, leave your feelings behind while you get the job done. Duo reached a conclusion - if Heero could be such a cold bastard about this, so could he. Mission first, whatever's left afterwards. The words felt cold, alien, out of place as they roamed through his mind, seeking acceptance, or even approval. He welcomed being torn from them when Heero tapped his shoulder.
At last truly noticing the near lifeless eyes, Heero felt a flash of concern pass through him, a flash dampened by the soldier mind before he formed his next words, reshaping what might have been sentences of comfort into mission orders. It did clear the blur in Duo's face, but not for the right reasons.
"Okay, this is how we do it. The door we used yesterday, appears unguarded. I want you to sneak in there. Do you remember the blueprints we saw on the computer screen yesterday?"
"Good. The mainframe computer was clearly marked. Find your way in there, and copy the data G wanted. Once that's done..."
Heero reached into his own backpack, and held out an encased computer disc, which Duo accepted.
"Use the program on this one to scramble their entire system. This disc contains a really nasty worm I typed up before we headed up here. It should completely shred their software in minutes. It probably won't be detected for a short while - before that happens, you are to place explosives in every section of the mainframe system."
Again, he reached into his backpack, and brought out a handful of remote detonators.
"Use these too. Tie all the explosives you plant to one of these, and these detonators to your detonator switch. Don't blow it up until the worm has had time to work a while."
"Heero, wait a minute - as soon as they detect the worm, or stumble across some of the explosives, they'll go to full alert. They'll seal off the backup unit in an instant, if they have any brains. If the mainframe goes, you can be damn sure they'll do everything to protect the backup."
"Probably. That'll be my problem, though. I'll head for the hangar and destroy whatever parts or prototypes OZ has built. I won't need the remote detonators for that. I'll just make sure the charges can be set off by gunfire. That'll do. After that, I'll get to the backup systems."
"How? If they seal that off, and-"
Heero smirked. "I have an idea. Don't worry."
Duo was about to argue, but decided not to bother. Why try to change a mind so firmly set? Deep in his mind, an answer formed, but it never got heard by his consciousness now so chilled and concentrated.
"You're the best at stealth and infiltration, so I'm counting on you to get in there and deal with the mainframe. Once things begin to liven up, I'll be ready to create a secondary destruction zone in the hangar, while you get out of here with the data for G and the others. How, is up to you - I recommend stealing a vehicle over walking back to the cabin, though. When you get there, take Deathscythe and go. Don't worry about me. Clear?"
"Clear," Duo muttered, in a tone anything but happy.
"If all goes as planned, we'll meet up at Quatre's safehouse afterwards."
"Fine." Duo's voice was somewhat dejected, but the soldier either didn't notice - or pretended not to.
Duo had not encountered the slightest snag in getting over the fence, across the open, dark yard, through the side entrance of the research complex, or sneaking along the eerily empty corridors within. For a moment, he wondered if the place had been completely abandoned - the blinking hallway light still hadn't been attended to. Rapidly approaching footsteps and voices informed him otherwise. He ducked into an open side door, and found himself in a storage room yet again. Along one wall were shelves with all kinds of solvents, cans of polish, cleaning utensils and the like. Along the other, racks of crispy, clean white coats shone as if they'd been processed by the items along the first shelf. Pure luck would have it there was a lab coat in Duo's size among them, something he found out by quickly digging through them, turning the neat, ordered racks into a few assorted piles on the storage room floor. Hurriedly he swapped the outer layer of the thermosuit for the coat. Making sure his braid was tucked inside the lab coat, along with all the explosives and detonators he'd need, he searched for something to mask his face a little better than the coat's unfolded collar. The mainframe room wouldn't be a sterile room, so surgical masks were out of the question, but there had to be something. Every corporation and organization loved to label their employees - free, walking advertisement or propaganda posters were hard to come by without using manual labor. The coat had one great dirt spot, after all; the OZ logo stitched in above the left breast pocket. It was on one of the top shelves he found what he was looking for; out of place though it was, the white baseball cap with the OZ logo front and center would help disguise him even further - if only at least a few of the lab's employees had such a bad sense of style and fashion they'd be wearing the thing too. A gamble was in order, but for once, Duo felt the odds were in his favor. After all, why wouldn't the OZ minions consider their work their pride and joy, and make a display of it?
Back in the hallway, Duo made a quick pace through the corridors towards the central computer complex, keeping his head down the entire way. The few people he passed, didn't even notice him, but he wouldn't take chances. The two goons he had encountered yesterday might have given the entire base his description. The only thing that worried him, was security checkpoints - a worry that was unjustified, as there proved to be none, despite how they had been marked out on the base blueprint. Cutbacks in the security budget perhaps, or just the assumption post-planning that they wouldn't need it. Still... This is too easy, his mind whispered to him. Even as remote as this place is, they should have some way of securing the most precious asset at the base. Duo mentally shook his head to remove the slight hesitation creeping in on him, and adjusted the baseball cap down a bit, curving it even further.
Once inside the room, the sheer size of the mainframe system had him a bit baffled. It was obvious OZ procurement had been a bit overzealous in judging the computational needs of the base, unless they were planning something entirely different than what G and the others thought. Still, that didn't matter now. He had a mission to complete, and complete it he would. An available terminal tucked away in a cubicle row on one side of the large, open room looked promising. Closing the door with his foot, seating himself on the chair, fishing out another of G's storage discs and inserting it in the terminal's slot, he began searching for the information sought. Long, dexterous fingers and a dedicated mind found what they wanted within minutes.
Heero had had no problems making his way to the hangar. With nearly all the searchlights off-line, and the few patrols virtually standing still, he could almost make a beeline directly there. As he prowled up along one of the hangar's walls, he noticed something he had missed in his previous surveillance sweep, because of obstructing buildings. On the far side of the compound stood three Leos, two of them in seriously bad shape, the last merely lurching a bit. One lacked an arm and had a gaping hole on the left side of the cockpit, the blast damage indicated an outward explosion, not a hit. Another lay on the ground, torso and legs separated, long black metal strands held in one hand. It took a few seconds for Heero to realize the black metal was what was left of a shattered Leo beam rifle. The last suit appeared less damaged, as it was still in one piece. However, the torso was tipped forward, and the arms hung lifeless towards the ground. Inwardly, Heero smirked. If anything, this confirmed his suspicions - the weapon prototype had not only been assembled, it was operational, the first test evidently a success. Too bad for OZ. I'll use their own weapon against them.
Having commenced the download of the EMP data, Duo stepped out of the cubicle, took a piece of paper from a nearby printer, grabbed a pencil from the breast pocket of an abandoned lab coat two cubicles down, wrote 'out of order' in big letters on the paper and returned to put his masterpiece across the terminal's keyboard. After turning off the screen, the time had come to distribute some future fireworks.
Casually making his way through the mainframe compound was easy enough. Researchers were scrambling to and fro amidst the vast landscape of the open room, making it look more like a rushed fast-food joint than a scientific establishment. Now and then Duo halted, reaching into one pocket for a small lump of what looked like putty, and into another for a detonator. He quickly applied the little mix in hard-to-find places, such as under office desks, where he could feel old pieces of gum had been left untouched for untold ages, or behind stacks of paper, junk or terminals where the layers of dust rivaled that of G's old workshop - that is, it could be measured in full inches.
For some reason, Duo was convinced his actions might tidy up the place, rather than wreck it.
The hangar was as poorly guarded as anywhere else on the base. The two guards at the main entrance were nearly dozing off on duty, keeping themselves on the inside of the barely open hangar doors, seeking shelter from the still dissipating storm outside. Sneaking past them was no trouble at all, given the disorganized mess of crates to hide behind scattered all over the hangar. Yesterday's shipment had apparently not been properly sorted out yet.
Standing vigil over the chaos were three standard Leos along the each of the two side walls, another guarding the far wall, and two oddly looking machines put in the center of it all, none of them currently manned. The rear of the two was little more than a Leo undercarriage, all of the upper works except the cockpit carved away, discarded by its feet. The front one had undergone the same treatment, but where there was once a trapezoidal torso and a set of arms, there was now a huge sphere, only breached by the flat section below where it attached to the Leo waist, and the cockpit carving out a small piece of the ball. Atop of the globe, was what looked like the standard monitor system - the 'head' - Leos used. Even from a distance, it was evident this Leo had far less armoring than what was usual, and additional layers of what looked like plastic had been wrapped around the legs. By the cockpit, a small flap of the same material could be seen poking out, indicating it too was shielded by this. The EMP prototype was indeed the ugly duckling of mecha, but as the three disabled suits outside showed, one should not judge a book by its cover. This thing might look like a ball of fluff, defenseless - but it sure packed a punch if fired up, made evident by evidence.
Making his way through the crate maze, Heero placed one third of the explosives he carried in an opened crate next to a makeshift workshop close to the half-finished second prototype, pulling some discarded piece of plastic to cover up the volatiles from inquisitive eyes. Another third of hazardous material went amidst assorted unpacked electrical systems across the hangar, then deftly covered by a section of plywood. The last third of soon-to-go-boom got stuck inside a disconnected chocolate vending machine, still awaiting installation in the main complex. The candy might have a bit more of a crunch to it than any OZ snacker slacker would anticipate. Of course, Heero intended to make the sweet stuff airborne long before it could be eaten. All he had left to do, was preparing to run for the EMP Leo's cockpit the moment Duo set off the other half of the explosives.
Duo had finished his round, and upon returning to the terminal, found the download complete. He quickly replaced the data disc with the disc Heero had given him, made sure the digitally diseased worm gained entrance into the inner workings of the mainframe system, and started walking out of the complex.
Halfway down the first corridor, he could hear agitated voices of scientists that obviously had discovered Heero's creation in their systems. Despite the ever-growing distance between him and the voices as he walked away, the volume appeared to remain the same, hard words of frustration turning into shouts of despair. After making his way back to the storage room where he had found the lab coat, Duo changed back into the thermosuit, preparing for a rapid exit. There was only one duty to attend to first...
He heard footsteps outside rushing towards the computer nexus. It seemed like an eternity before they grew distant enough to encourage Duo to open the door even slightly. He had no desire whatsoever to repeat yesterday's grand fiasco of running into OZ guards on a stroll. Turning a corner, another desperate voice came from the computer complex, one word only;
Distant cries, screams and stampeding feet came next. Deciding now was as good a time as any, Duo reached for his remote detonator switch, flipped the protective red cap aside, leveled the small tube horizontally, momentarily closed his eyes - and pressed the button.
Through the weakening wails of the dying blizzard, across the large compound, through the shielding hangar doors, the explosion was still deafening to Heero, hidden behind a cargo crate by the foot of the modified Leo as he was. If nothing else, it sure woke up the two guards by the large doors. Heero could see them grabbing their rifles and rushing out towards the scene of havoc, as did the patrols and the few active guard Leos outside. Waiting an extra minute for good measure, he scaled the EMP Leo, pried open the hatch and pulled out his gun, removing the safety. Within two seconds, one bullet went through plastic, another through plywood and a third through thin metal and candy, each one triggering a significant blast, enough to make the runaway guards halt and double back, followed by three of the patrolling Leos. Heero got inside the cockpit, closed the hatch and powered up the engines. A brief look at the controls revealed most of them to be familiar, standard Leo controls. All the gear usually used to control arms were gone, however. In their place was a large multi-buttoned console. Fortunately, each button was clearly labeled. Luck would have it the OZ engineers were as forgetful as any others, and had yet not memorized what each button did.
The suit's sensors came to life, flickering screens revealing the landscape outside. The guards on the ground weren't too much of a worry. Even with the paper-thin armor of this suit, normal gunfire would have a hard time scoring a vital hit. OZ designers might not be the smartest people on the planet, but they weren't completely stupid. He hoped.
The other three Leos outside were of much greater concern. Taking but a few seconds to survey the control panel of the EMP weapon, Heero found what he was looking for, quickly pressing the primer button. Behind him, he could hear a vast generator building up its power. A small gauge indicated the current level of charge, and it rose rapidly. Satisfied with this, Heero started moving the EMP Leo out, kicking aside cargo crates as he made his way out into the snow.
The first tell-tale rattle of gunfire tapped across the sphere-shaped suit, bringing loose a few flakes of sheet metal. It did not deter Heero from advancing. His only chance to use the powerful device humming with a high-pitched tune behind him, was to close ground quickly, and unleash the force aching to escape the sphere. So he did. The modified Leo crashed into the first of its former companions, causing it to fall on its back. Making good headway towards the other two, Heero ignored the bits of metal each enemy hit shaved off of the sphere. Hoping he was at optimal distance, he halted and pressed the large red button marked 'Fire'. What followed, was the greatest fireworks the base had yet seen.
Duo had escaped the compound without incident, and was now sneaking along the walls trying to find a valid escape route. Running overland the way he came would be suicidal; he'd never get away in time. If OZ had had an airworthy suit or a mobile suit carrier parked anywhere, that would have been dandy. However, he had no such luck. Yet, he was not completely without the aforementioned item, as he came across three snowmobiles beneath a tarpaulin cover. Not wasting any time, Duo revealed them to the elements, delighted to find this winter version of the motorcycle far easier to jumpstart, as there was no key, no ignition, only a heavy-duty ripcord. In a last-minute streak of creative thinking, he gathered up the tarpaulin into a huge ball, attaching it to the back of the vehicle, pulled the cord and made the engine roar with the throttle, heading towards the closest section of fence.
It was obvious he'd be unable to simply drive out the main gate, as it was probably the only point on the whole base that was actually guarded. Instead, he made a beeline for the fence, stopping at a slight distance, took out a grenade from his backpack, pulled the pin and threw it against the barrier of chain link and snow. Seconds later, twisted metal gave way to an onramp of disorganized white. Remarkably, the blast called little attention, if any. Apparently, OZ had bigger things to deal with. Duo grinned at the thought, before attaching the piece of tarpaulin to the snowmobile, extending it in a large rectangular shape behind it. He took one metal pole from the destroyed fence, along with some of the threads of the chain link, put the bar across the lower end of the rectangle and stitched a small section of the tarpaulin over it with the chain link metal, and did the same to fasten the other end of the canvas to the back of the vehicle's seat, giving the snowmobile a cape, metal pole making sure the end of the cape would drag along the ground. With luck, this ad-hoc device would mess up the vehicle's tracks enough to make it much harder to track from the air, which was the largest threat now that fresh snow wouldn't cover his tracks for him.
As he revved the engine, he saw an odd-looking Leo run across the open area between the hangar and the main research compound. The way it moved, along with the fact it nearly trampled down another Leo, convinced Duo who the pilot was. Enjoyable though it might be to watch, his lot was not to remain, but to flee with the data, as he'd been told to. A slight queasiness came across him as he saw the sphere-shaped Leo come to a halt. Seconds later, he found himself rubbing his blinded eyes, cursing himself for watching the blast.
Rapidly blinking to remove the temporary dizziness, Duo again prepared to charge the makeshift onramp, released the engine and caused the snowmobile, cape and all, to jump over the wrecked fence and onto the great white plain, escape route now being anywhere but back.
The EMP Leo shook violently as the charge went off, electromagnetic pulse irradiating in every direction, intent to cause havoc wherever it went, except to its source. The closest suit appeared to spontaneously combust as the pulse overcharged its engines beyond what fail-safe cut-offs could manage. The second one had time to watch its rifle and arm splinter before the sensor head shattered into a thousand shards, some of which sought out the armor of the third, yet never penetrated it, as said armor melted away from internal heat build-up in the munitions depots of its shoulder mounts. On the ground, some of the ant-like soldiers discarded communications equipment, automatic weaponry and anything else that contained even the slightest of electronics, as each of these items either blew up outright, sent sparks flying everywhere or simply ceased to function. Seeing the power this prototype held, Heero was only too glad they hadn't attacked with their gundams. The result would not have been pretty. He would not allow himself time to gloat until the job was done, however - And there was still one job to do before they had come full circle; the backup system.
The controls were still shaking in the pulse's aftermath, but there was no time to spare. By now, the rest of the base should be aware of the renegade Leo, and the rest of the OZ Leos on patrol would soon vector in on him, along with ground troops carrying shoulder-mounted missile launchers or other heavy anti-suit weaponry. The shakes of the Leo slowly subsided as it trotted toward the complex, but they refused to die. The hum of the EMP device intensified, already charging up for a second blast. The noise wasn't as steady as last time, however - yet another item Heero's mind registered and filed under 'slight concern'. He did not halt the machine until he was along the wall shielding the backup system from the outside world. With one solid kick by the titanium foot, the wall buckled. A second kick made it cave in, revealing even more OZ soldier ants scurrying to safety within. As Heero prepared a third kick to remove the last of the shielding the backup would have from an EMP charge, the gunfire rattled across the suit's back again, and something impacted in the leg it balanced on, knocking it over. A slight curse escaped the pilot as he got back up, giving the wall the final blow. No longer caring about the disturbing wails the generators behind him was making, he pushed the red button again - and the world around him erupted.
Duo was going in a huge half-circle around the base in order to get back to the safehouse. His eyes fell less often to the road ahead of him, or the cape-disrupted track he left behind, compared to the number of glances he made at the OZ base, wanting to see Heero get out of there. Although he knew the longer Heero kept them occupied, the further he'd get away with the data, but a narrow escape together felt better than a secure escape apart - not that he was certain how Heero thought he could get away from the fight. Sure, OZ's EMP Leo was powerful, but it couldn't fly, and it wouldn't be very fast going through the soft snow. Against better judgement, he stopped. In his left breast pocket, he found his own set of foldable binoculars. Aided by these, he located the renegade Leo kicking in a section of wall of the research complex. Seconds later, as the suit fell due to a lucky OZ hit, he caught himself letting out a slight gasp, earning the sensation of half a mouthful of snow, courtesy of the wind, to add to the twisting feeling in his gut. Seeing the suit get back up made him remember to breathe, and sigh. The suit kicked the wall again, but then came to a complete halt. Something was wrong, very wrong. And then, the blast came. Again, he was blinded by the flash of the EMP surge, again he struggled to regain a clear vision. As he peered through the binoculars once more, however, he couldn't locate the EMP Leo.
The generators had overloaded, just a fraction of a second before unleashing the full force of the pulse. The twisting energies of the charge reached out in all directions, not only against the guard Leos approaching, or the men on the ground carrying electrical equipment, or the backup systems that sputtered and died in a firestorm of sparks, but also at the plastic shielding of the modified Leo, burning big holes in the protective material and searching out vulnerabilities within as well as outside the sphere. Consoles and screens sent clouds of sparks, glass shattering all around him. Acting on mere instincts, Heero blew the hatch of the cockpit away using the emergency escape controls, but found himself falling to the ground without ever jumping out, as the last death throes of the generator blasted away the rear cockpit walls, forcefully ejecting the pilot. In the split seconds after he realized what happened, and the fraction of time before he blacked out at impacting the ground, Heero's thoughts went not to anger that he had failed the mission, not to frustration he had been overconfident both in the abilities of OZ engineers and himself, but to the reassurance his actions had at least guaranteed Duo's escape and safety, and regret they would now be parted before ever truly being bonded.
Through the binoculars, Duo began realizing what had happened. He saw the burning hulk of a legged half-sphere lying on the ground next to the shattered corpse of a guard Leo. Quickly scanning the area to find any sign of Heero, he could barely distinguish the white-clad body lying lifeless beneath the gaping hole in the wall. OZ soldiers were already rushing towards it, guns at the ready. Through the looking-glass, Duo could see one of them poking at the body with the muzzle of her rifle, turning the face-down Heero over. Heero wasn't moving. The soldier knelt down, one hand reaching for the throat, ear positioned over Heero's face. Duo felt the knot in his stomach twist again. The soldier cried out, and the word Duo read on her shouting lips was all that prevented him from vomiting; 'Medic'. If nothing else, Heero was still alive. Soon after, the unconscious boy was strapped to a stretcher, being hurried away to who-knows-where. Perhaps the infirmary, perhaps directly to an interrogation room, or just to a holding cell.
Duo tucked away the binoculars, biting his lip in frustration. The slight taste of blood in his mouth only fueled his anger. Why had Heero taken such an intolerable risk, using the suit like that? Sure, their mission was completed, provided he brought the disc back to the safehouse, and uploaded the contents - but that wasn't good enough. Questions raced through his mind, seeking answers he could not fathom. Why did Heero force me to make that stupid promise? Why did he turn so damn cold after the mission orders came through? Why had he created a battle plan so evidently flawed? Why- And it hit him. Out of concern. Heero would never have admitted it, but that was what he had meant earlier. He cared - for Duo, for the mission - but not for himself. He had seen the hopelessness of their situation while making the battle plan, and done all he could to relieve Duo of guilt, should anything go wrong, as it had. Intentionally sparking anger beforehand might make the potential loss easier - that had to have been what Heero had thought. Still, it was wrong. The slight anger was not enough to compensate the loss. Now, left with the choice of breaking an empty promise to fulfill the mission, or live with a guilty conscience for the rest of a lonely life, however short that might be - the choice was no choice at all.
As the snowmobile's engine roared into the clearing night sky, the Caped Crusader flew like a bat out of hell towards the OZ base, carrying its dark knight in white, its God of Death, on a mission of mercy - or vengeance.