8-31-2002

"Domino" Episode 1

A Gundam Wing AU by Anne and Raletha

Feedback:

Anne: anneo @ paradise.net.nz

Raletha: geekpuella @ yahoo.com

Disclaimer: Gundam Wing belongs to Bandai, Sunrise and Sotsu Agency. We are not making any money from this, though we do admit to having fun and losing a lot of sleep.

Summary: While on a commercial shuttle bound for Earth, Relena Darlian meets Quatre Winner and the two observe an unidentified object re-entering the atmosphere. New mobile suits called Gundams appear at different places around the Earth, and their pilots Duo Maxwell, Trowa Barton and Chang Wufei attack various Alliance resources. Later Relena meets a strange boy at the beach. Who is he and why is he so hostile towards her?

Rating: PG-13

Pairings: Eventual 3x4x3, 1x2x1

Warnings: mechanical violence, mild angst.

Archives:

Anne: http://www.angelfire.com/ab7/shadesandechoes/domino.html

Raletha: http://www.angelfire.com/gundam/serendipity/Domino/domindex.html

Notes: Just a reminder, the premise of this canon based AU is answering the question, "What if Quatre had made a different decision and not become Sandrock's pilot?"

************

Opening Credits

 

As the bouncy strains of "Just Communication" begin, Anne and Raletha stand to thank a few people who helped with this fic.

Trowa and Quatre step forward as Lady Bast makes her entrance, moving with the grace and dignity only a goddess can possess. Each boy takes a turn whispering in her ear before giving her a warm hug.

Thank you Bast, for the beta reading!

The boys escort the lady to her seat and Treize steps forth. Clad in his formal OZ uniform, he graciously approaches Jessie and drops to one knee, speaking to her softly before taking her hand and kissing it.

Thank you Jessie! For your help with Wufei!

Now, Zechs and Noin greet a middle aged man, each firmly shaking his hand and saluting with respect.

Thanks to Raletha's father for his help with the technical details of piloting and such!

Now, the scene changes, Anne and Raletha are reclined on low Greek-style sofas in a verdant, spring garden. The Gundam boys, each clad in nothing but loincloths approach with trays of delicacies and iced beverages. Wufei selects a large palm frond and begins fanning the authors. Quatre and Duo approach Anne to offer her drink and hand feed her grapes. Trowa and Heero attend similarly to Raletha.

Enjoy the episode!

***************

~previously~

This decision wouldn't alter the ultimate outcome of the project. He was only one person; it wasn't as though his presence was crucial in the grand scheme of things.

His father's words echoed through his mind over and over. /A pacifist has no right raising a weapon against others,/ he had said. /But there were different ways to deal with this threat, ways that were just as effective./

"Could you at least take me there? H's eyes reflected the sadness in Quatre's heart, and he took a step close to the older man before he realised what he was doing.

"Yes I can do that much for you." The blond paused, surprised at the regret in his voice. "I hope you find the person you need."

H spoke softly, in almost a whisper. "So do I."

************

The human race has ventured out from the Earth, seeking to build a future in the space colonies. But under the banner of justice and peace, the United Earth Sphere Alliance has seized control of these colonies, using its superior military power.

It is the year After Colony 195.

However, a few colonists rebel against this oppression and send new weapons to the Earth, disguised as shooting stars. But the Alliance has discovered the existence of Operation Meteor.

************

EPISODE ONE - THE SHOOTING STAR THEY SAW

************

"Is this seat taken?" The blonde girl glanced up at Quatre as he addressed her, giving him a small smile and shaking her head. He made himself comfortable, glad of finding someone his own age to talk to, as she held out her hand in greeting.

"I'm Relena Darlian," she introduced herself. "These shuttle trips can be quite boring. Is this your first time visiting Earth?" Her words were polite like her tone, but there was some underlying bitterness and pain accompanying them - not obvious, but enough for someone with abilities such as himself to pick up on clearly. The stay in the colonies hadn't been fun for her, he presumed.

Quatre took the proffered hand, noticing how cool her skin was against his own. "My name is Quatre Raberba Winner," he said. "And yes, this is my first time on Earth." His tone grew wistful. "Our family is based on L4 and my father is busy."

Relena nodded sympathetically. "I know what that's like. This trip was really for my father. I just came along for the ride. I had hoped it would be an opportunity for us to spend some time together but." She glanced over to where her father was sitting, half dozing, a few seats down. "I know it's important what he does and all, but I'm still his daughter." She gave him a small shy smile. "And you must be wondering about me, going on like this to someone I've only just met."

He returned the smile, "Don't worry about it. Sometimes it's easier to talk to someone you don't know." The blond glanced over at his tutor and sighed. Much as he enjoyed the stimulating discussions with Nigel, there were times when he yearned for other company. If only his father would consider allowing him to attend a regular school, if he were given the chance, if only for a while, to be a regular teenager and not the Winner family heir.

A female voice came over the shuttle loudspeaker, before Relena could answer. "We are about to enter the Earth's atmosphere. Please fasten your seatbelts and stay seated."

The adults stood to move back into their correct seating and Quatre followed suit. "We can talk later, if you'd like," he promised, pulling away as he stood to find his way back to his own seat. He hadn't even noticed that her hand had still been grasped in his, as she reached out for the company he had offered.

He settled himself into his seat, fastening his belt firmly, unable to help but overhear the conversation between Relena and her father coming from behind.

"What's wrong, Relena? Don't you want to go back to Earth?" Mr Darlian's tone was full of concern, as he tried to find out what was disturbing his daughter's peace of mind.

Relena's reply was almost to herself, her whisper revealing her dissatisfaction with the way her trip had turned out. "No, I don't." From the reflection in the glass, Quatre saw her turn away from her father, opting instead to gaze out the shuttle window. The undercurrent of disappointment and bitterness were present in more than just her words, and he fought the urge to offer a word of comfort. He was eavesdropping on a private conversation; overstepping the boundaries of good manners would be a mistake. It was up to Mr Darlian to put things right - hopefully he would have the right words to say - to give better reassurance as to the importance of his child over his job than Quatre's father had done for him.

Darlian stroked his beard with one hand, as he spoke firmly but with regret. "I feel as bad about this as you do, but it's my job." He paused, his tone softening. "I know you wanted more from this trip, that you wanted some quality time, but what I'm trying to do is important."

/More important than me?/ Quatre knew what she was thinking even without hearing the words - they echoed those he'd silently repeated to himself many times. He sighed. Hopefully Relena and her father would try to build the bridge needed to close the gap between them. He'd tried with his father, but Haroun Winner never seemed to have the time to listen. "We'll talk later about whatever is bothering you, Quatre," he'd always said. Quatre suspected later would never come.

"Maybe next time." Relena's words were forced, full of false hope and Quatre turned away, suddenly embarrassed at being party to something which was really none of his business.

He concentrated his attention on the stars outside his window, attempting to replace the mixture of anger, sadness and disappointment coming from Relena with his own hopes and dreams. Soon he would be on Earth. All his life he'd waited for this moment, the opportunity to breathe fresh air, to feel real wind caress his cheek, and ruffle his hair. Even though he was supposedly on Earth to learn about the inner workings of the Winner family business, he was determined to take some time out to follow at least some of that dream he'd clung to since childhood.

/What was that?/

"Father, what's that?" Quatre was undoing his restraint, and out of his seat to get closer to the window before Relena had finished voicing his thoughts.

"Master Quatre, get back in your seat." Nigel chastised in his clipped British accent, putting out a hand to restrain his young charge.

"I'll be fine, Nigel. Didn't you see it?" Quatre ducked to avoid the obstacle his tutor represented, and joined Relena at her window. His had been partially blocked by the high seatback in front of him, and he sensed somehow that whatever the bright light had been, it was important.

Quatre shivered, as cold fingers crawled up his spine in some weird sense of anticipation. Something or someone was coming. That was all he knew, and he gripped the side of window frame to stop himself shaking. He could feel himself being tugged, pulled empathically towards whatever, whoever was out there. The blond couldn't have broken that connection, or prevented its inception.even if he'd wanted to.

"Whatever it is, it's re-entering Earth's atmosphere," he noticed, forcing himself to keep the excitement out of his voice. Was that emotion even his? "Is it a capsule?" he wondered. It must be, maybe he was picking up on the pilot? But how? His abilities weren't that strong, and he'd certainly never felt such a strong empathic link before with someone at this distance.

"Is this Operation Meteor?"

"Operation Meteor?" Quatre asked, his curiosity piqued, but Darlian ignored him, seemingly unaware he'd even spoken aloud.

Excitement changed to puzzlement, the sudden exhilaration giving way to triumph. Quatre let out a small laugh, unsure as to why. He glanced around, hoping no one had noticed. What the hell was going on out there?

The bright light faded from view as it continued its flight into the atmosphere ahead of the shuttle, and Quatre closed his eyes, reaching out with his space heart, with his other senses as he tried to make sense of what he was picking up on.

Power.

Invulnerability.

Shock.

Quatre swayed, as the connection broke suddenly. /Where are you?/ Blackness, he was surrounded by blackness.

"Are you all right?" Relena's concern forced him to open his eyes and focus. To his surprise he was still standing by the window by her side, but there was no sign of the shooting star.

"What?" he asked lamely, trying to collect his thoughts, to work out what had just happened.

"You seemed a bit.spaced out there for a moment." Relena paused. "I asked you a question and you didn't even seem to hear me." Her voice had a note of disapproval in it. This was a girl who didn't like to be ignored by anyone, whether intentionally or not.

Nigel was hovering in the background, disapproval coming from /him/ loud and clear. Quatre sighed. His tutor would probably be watching him carefully once they landed, which was really the last thing he needed, and would probe him for details once they were alone. How could he answer questions on an incident he had no explanation for?

"I was thinking," he explained, hating himself for taking that way out, but knowing it was the wisest course of action under the circumstances. "I'm sorry I didn't answer." The blond gave her a smile of reassurance, pleased to see her relax slightly. "It wasn't deliberate."

"Master Quatre, it's time you took your seat," Nigel told him, his tone suggesting that although he was merely a tutor, his opinions were to be adhered to. "The shuttle is about to land."

Quatre nodded. "Sorry, Nigel. I'll be right there." He sank into his seat, his mind racing as he tried to formulate his next course of action. Something was going down, that was for certain. Operation Meteor. Whatever the phrase meant, it was certainly tied into what he'd experienced. Once they got to Earth, he'd use whatever resources he could put at his disposal to discover more.

Relena gave him a small wave goodbye while his mind was still trying to piece the puzzle together, before she and her father were mobbed by reporters as they made their way down the escalator towards the exit of the spaceport.

"Mr Darlian, what did you discuss at the Summit meeting? What are the Colonies' demands? Will there be war?"

Quatre deliberately took a step back, slipping into the shadows to avoid being noticed by the small but determined group. He just wasn't in the mood for cameras and stupid questions. Besides it wouldn't do to advertise the presence of one of the most powerful influences in the colonies at this point. Not even if that presence were only in the form of its fifteen year old only son and heir.

He felt Relena bristle, as she noticed the military personal waiting on the ground floor. "Welcome back, Vice Minister Darlian. A car is waiting outside. Please follow us."

Darlian visibly hesitated. "So soon? But I have to prepare a birthday party for my daughter. Can't this wait?" Her birthday? No wonder Relena had been so upset on the shuttle.

The uniformed man was all business. "We've prepared another car for your daughter."

Relena interrupted, putting on a brave front. "It's all right. I know how to get home. I'll see you later, Father." Darlian hesitated again, obviously torn, but knowing where his duty lay.

"Come on, sir. General Septem is anxious to speak with you." The Alliance official manoeuvred Darlian towards the car with practiced ease, and within minutes Relena was left standing alone, watching her father disappear into the distance.

Even the reporters had gone.

"Excuse me, Nigel." Quatre didn't wait for his tutor to respond, as he quickened his pace to catch up with Relena. "Relena!". He couldn't let her just leave in her present state. She needed to know someone cared, that someone could take the trouble to make sure she got home okay. He'd been in that situation too many times, and knew how much it hurt.

Relena turned, her frown turning to a smile as she noticed him. "Quatre." She rummaged around in the small handbag she carried, her frustration clear as she unsuccessfully attempted to find whatever she was searching for. She bit down on her lip, losing her grip on the bag and it fell to the floor.

Quatre reached out and took one hand in his, trying to calm her. "It's okay," he said. "Can I give you a lift home?" He bent and retrieved her bag with his free hand.

"Thanks for the offer, but no." Relena smiled sadly, her next words drowned out by the piercing metallic whine, which overlaid the reverberating, almost ostinato bass, of the engines of the carrier passing overhead. They both glanced upwards, waiting for the deafening noise to cease, then she broke the silence which followed. "If it weren't for the military planes, this place would be an ordinary, peaceful spaceport." Her next question took him by surprise. "Don't you wish there was no need for weapons, or the military?"

He paused before answering, unsure whether his answer would be what she wanted or needed to hear. "Yes I do, but I suspect changing human nature isn't going to achieved easily."

Relena shook her head. "I need to be able to think there must be an option." She smiled. "Thanks for coming after me, but I'm going to walk home. It's not far, the fresh air will help." She felt inside her bag again, this time in the side pocket and handed him an envelope. "It's my birthday tomorrow. I'd really like it if you could come. Please say you'll try."

Quatre slipped the envelope into his pocket. "I can't promise," he said. "But yes, I'll try."

"I suppose that's all I can ask."

He held out his hand. "Nice to have met you, Relena Darlian." She grinned at the formal farewell and took his hand in hers.

"The pleasure is all mine, Quatre Raberba Winner," she replied, matching his tone, before turning to begin her journey home.

/Take care, Relena,/ he thought. /I get the feeling we haven't seen the last of each other./ His fingers curled around the thin invitation in his pocket, his thoughts drifting back to the phrase her father had used on the shuttle.

Operation Meteor.

"Master Quatre?" The familiar voice made him jump. He'd been so focused; he hadn't heard the approaching footsteps. Thank Allah, Rashid had made it after all.

Quatre turned to greet his old friend, aware of the huge grin on his face. "Rashid. It's been far too long. I'm so pleased to see you again."

************

Unrelieved blackness slowly gave way to the realisation that he was lying face down somewhere, and no longer in the cockpit of his Gundam.

A rhythmic and susurrant sound permeated his hearing. It sounded wet - waves? A beach, yes, he must be on a beach. Wing had gone down in the ocean; he must have washed up onto the beach. He /had/ made it to Earth.

As the young pilot struggled to consciousness, he heard the vague rhythm of a voice, a female voice. It stopped. Lucidity remained stubbornly elusive while Heero attempted to catalogue preceding events.

As he'd been beginning entry into Earth's atmosphere, a civilian shuttle had been obstructing his course. He had targeted the craft; it had been an obstacle to his mission, and he couldn't allow his vessel to be seen. But before he'd been able to take further action, an Earth assault carrier had come onto his radar. Were they here to intercept /him?/ J was right, they did know about Operation Meteor, but Heero didn't have the time to contemplate this new development in detail, nor did he need to. His first priority was that the Alliance not get their hands on either him or his Gundam. And, he amended, that he make it to Earth, if at all possible, to carry out his orders.

The boy had wanted to come to Earth before he died. In a brief moment of relief, the vast blue, green, and white swirls of the planet had begun to resolve into terrain details, he had been able to make out areas of human settlement. He /would/ make it to Earth. But, that moment of satisfaction at his arrival to the planet had been short lived as he noted the assault carrier closing the distance between them.

He had tried to escape by taking a steep dive into the atmosphere. His shuttle had been predictably destroyed, but Wing, of course, had not. Escape had seemed likely, but then there had been a change in mission plans from J. He was ordered to destroy the carrier and the mobile suits it carried.

A Leo had emerged from the carrier after he had changed course to intercept the transport. The pilot of that suit had been good, /very/ good. His second shot had even damaged the left drive system of Wing. But Heero wasn't finished yet. After having initiated the transformation from flight mode to battle mode, he was ready to battle the Leo. The heavy vibrations of his machine shifting and rumbling as it rearranged its components were exhilarating. The Gundam was powerful, more powerful than Heero had possibly imagined or anticipated. Even after all the simulation training, piloting the suit in the flesh was incredible.

A pair of Aries had been deployed as the Leo retreated; its pilot perhaps thinking the Gundam was down for the count and easy pickings for his subordinates. Wing had taken several direct missile hits from the pursuing Aries, but the Gundam had shrugged them off with ease. A veritable hail of high calibre rounds from the suits' chain rifles had been even more easily ignored as he turned Wing and brought the buster rifle to bear.

The big gun had charged quickly and released its potent plasma blast, enveloping and destroying both enemy suits with hideous ease. It had been almost funny; the Gundam so vastly outmatched the incompetent pilots in their Aries.

It had been a glorious feeling, a euphoria of power and invulnerability. But the Leo suit had still been there, detaching from its parachute. /Its/ pilot was frighteningly skilled. As the Leo closed on him, fast - very fast - it had dodged a blast from the buster rifle, and the pilot had drawn his beam sabre for melee combat. The Leo was too quick; before Heero could react appropriately, the suit had grappled with Wing, holding him in an unbreakable titanium embrace, effectively handicapping the larger suit, and the Leo pilot had escaped.

His first mission had failed. Helpless, Wing had plummeted into the ocean...

His thoughts catching up with the present, Heero realised his helmet was being removed. He fought harder for clarity, adrenaline pumping, filling him with fresh energy, as he anticipated the potential for danger.

"He can't be any older than I am..." The voice beside him was the same as before. Reflexes tuned by having spent his life as an assassin enabled Heero to move rapidly and assuredly, rolling away from the voice and standing, covering his face with one hand. His eyes widened as he recognised the girl kneeling in the sand. She was the girl from the colony, the daughter of Vice Foreign Minister Darlian. Her limpid blue eyes were wide in her pale face framed by honey blonde hair, as she tried to calm him, "Don't move! I've called an ambulance. Help should be here soon."

What if she recognised him? "Did you see it?" he asked, unable to accumulate words for a more eloquent interrogation.

"See what?" the girl looked genuinely confused. Still, he couldn't risk another compromise to his mission. Bad enough that he had lost the Gundam already, his options were dwindling rapidly. And, as if the situation could not be worse, Heero's attention was caught by a sudden exclamation.

"Hey! Over here!" was the cry from above the seawall. Turning, Heero espied the ambulance and its team of paramedics coming down the steps to the beach.

/Damn it./ Heero glanced between the approaching men and the girl, coming to his decision quickly. Stepping back, he punched the self destruct button on his suit.

Nothing.

He stumbled sideways, hitting the button harder in frustration. It exploded, throwing him backwards, but the charge had been insufficient. Damning Doctor J, Heero changed tactics. He stood and charged the stairs, catching the three men descending off guard. A swift punch followed by a pair of high kicks left all three sprawled behind him. Leaping through the gate, the young assassin aimed a hard kick at the ambulance window. It shattered but the safety glass held together. Still cursing his bad luck, the boy jumped to grab the top of the vehicle, using his arms as leverage to swing both legs at the window, finally succeeding in breaking through. Taking the driver by surprise, he tossed the stunned man from the ambulance, slid into the driver seat, and took off.

************

Duo let out a few choice curses as he struggled to bring the shuttle under control. "What's the latest?" he asked the sweeper in the co-pilot's seat.

"They're targeting the propulsion system. Vernier output down forty per cent." Jason ran a hand through his cropped blond hair. "Not looking good, Duo."

Duo rolled his eyes. "Tell me something I don't know, Jase." He frowned, glancing again at the screen in front of him, willing it to change its information but knowing it wasn't going to. "Damn it, engine's been hit."

He gave the man sitting quietly behind them a quick glare. "What now? Outrunning those military ships isn't an option, and we haven't the fire power to out gun them." Duo paused, then reached over the tapped the guy on the shoulder. "Hey, Doc? I just said we're in deep shit. Got any pearls of wisdom? Cause now might be a good time to share."

G stood, and Duo fought the urge to pat the imitation mushroom the guy insisted was actually his hair, while he waited, hoping for the scientist to suggest a way out. "I don't see any option. We need to abandon ship."

"Huh? C'mon, get real. We can't just abandon.."

G cut across him, his tone impatient. "Duo, come with me." Duo threw Jason an apologetic look, and went to follow the old man. No point in trying to argue when the guy got in this kind of mood. It was easier to find out what he was up to. Sneaky bastard was probably up to something, he figured.

"So, where are we going?" Leaving the cockpit, curiosity got the better of him, and his mind switched into overdrive as he tried to pump G for information.

"To Deathscythe," the scientist replied, his tone in no way suggesting the implications of what he'd just said.

Duo didn't even attempt to hide his reaction. "You shitting me? Deathscythe? I thought you said we weren't going to go through with Operation Meteor."

G stopped in his tracks and looked the teenager straight in the eye. "We don't have a choice," he attempted to explain. "We have to co-operate with the Barton Foundation.for now."

Duo clenched his fists and slowly counted silently to twenty. It didn't work. G couldn't be serious.

He almost hoped G's nose would do a Pinocchio impression and grow even longer. After all, the guy did have a head start in that direction already.

Nope, no such luck.

Duo's next words didn't come close to reflecting how disgusted he was, how sick he felt inside. He'd seen so much death and destruction in his life, there was no way he was going to be party to this. "And commit mass murder?" He shook his head, his braid swinging with the force of the gesture. "You can't ask me to help with this, Doc, and you know it."

G's eyes narrowed to small slits glinting dangerously behind his curtain of hair, as he rubbed his hands together and sighed. "I know that, boy," he said. "I said.for now. What I'm suggesting, is that we steal the Gundam and go to the Earth, in accordance with their plan."

"We?" he asked, putting two and two together with regard to what was coming next. He'd been right. Sneaky bastard did have a plan.

"You," amended G, "go to Earth, but without following through with Operation Meteor." He opened the hangar door, indicating Deathscythe and handed Duo the spacesuit hanging near the Gundam.

"So in other words, it's easier to tell them it was stolen, rather than go into the fun details about how you think their plan sucks? Doc, I like the way you think." Duo nodded his approval as he climbed into the suit, and entered 'Scythe. "You and I are going to get more closely acquainted than I figured," he told the Gundam softly. Duo fastened his restraints as he leaned over to switch on the monitor directly in front of him, and gave G the thumbs up as his face appeared, on cue, on the screen.

Part of him idly wondered if this would be a good moment to come out with the phrase, 'What's up Doc?' On second thoughts, maybe not.

"Congratulations, Duo. Deathscythe is now yours." G paused, and Duo inwardly groaned. Now what?

"Hey, I'm not saying thanks yet."

G's next words confirmed his suspicions. "Now to give you your mission." Mission? What the hell was the crazy old guy up to now?

Duo swallowed hard, trying to find something eloquent to respond with, but in the finish settled for the all purpose "Huh?"

G ignored him and continued talking, his voice tinged with an urgency which convinced Deathscythe's new pilot that the scientist had planned this course of action all along. All he'd needed was someone to carry it out, and obviously thought he, Duo Maxwell, was the right person for the job. "Destroy the OZ weapons factory in Guam. I'm uploading accurate maps and your attack route now."

Duo folded his arms and tried to project an air of indignation. "And my reward?" he asked, knowing full well what the answer would be. Still had to give it a shot though, right? After all he had his reputation to think of.

True to form, G replied without even batting an eyelid. "None," he said, with a tsk tsk tone in his voice. "What idiot is going to reward Death?"

Duo had to agree with that one. "Shit!" A thought struck him. "Hey but if I'm Death, you're Pestilence."

G sniggered; the allegory obviously appealing to him. No surprise there. "Your target is OZ. They disturbed the colonies' peace. This is revenge."

"Wouldn't it be better to just subjugate OZ here, rather than going to Earth to do it?" There was a certain logic in his reasoning, Duo figured, but he doubted G would agree. He just hoped the scientist's overall plan covered the all the consequences of their planned action.

"Don't worry about the colony." G's answered his unspoken question. "Kill before you get killed. That's your mission."

Made sense. He'd seen enough of OZ in action to know what they were capable of. "Gotcha," he said a bit too cheerfully. His next words were said more to himself, and in a whisper. "Better to die than to be taken over by OZ." After all wasn't that why he was going along with this? He'd been given a chance to help the colonies, to fight so that others didn't have to.

And there was no way he couldn't take it.

Duo powered up Deathscythe's engines, taking into account the slight pull of the pod surrounding the Gundam. He nodded approvingly, feeling the output of the verniers kicking in as he exited the sweeper ship. Smart move hooking the pod control into Scythe's. If the need arose, it would be a piece of cake to ditch the disguise mid flight and kick some Ozzie butt.

The American glanced at the control console, then leaned back in the pilot's seat, content to just feel Deathscythe's controls under his hands. He'd fallen in love with the Gundam the first time he'd seen him. Over sixteen meters of pure gundanium, machine cannons and a beam scythe. What wasn't there to love? /I bet he handles like a dream in battle. Yeah, Maxwell one, bad guys zilch./ Duo sighed. And the stealth mode was a cool added extra if he ever saw one. The Leo factory in Guam would never know what hit them until it was too late. Why start small when you can do maximum damage first time out?"

Ironic that Shinigami and the Gundam called Death would finish up working together to dish out their own brand of justice to the Ozzies. A part of him regretted he was doing this alone - could be fun with company but still, this way he only had himself to worry about, and that was the way it should be. He was a loner by nature, had been ever since he'd lost his only real family, though a part of him realised that he had a loneliness inside which needed to be filled. Maybe, someday, he'd do something about it. Until then, he'd make do with the memories.

Both good and bad.

"I wish you guys could see this," he spoke the wish aloud, clinging to the illusion that his words would be heard, somehow, by those he'd cared about. All those people he'd lost through death.

Too many.

A warning light flashed on the control console, indicating he was close to reaching the Earth's atmosphere. /Time sure flies when you're having fun./ He checked his systems over, satisfying himself that everything was well within the correct parameters regarding his approach angle, then readied himself for the rough ride in. /Not much longer,/ he thought, the pod shuddering under the pull of the gravity it was fighting as the retrorockets kicked in. If his estimated trajectory was correct, he should break through just above the Pacific Ocean, a mere hop, skip and a jump away from Guam.

The pod started to slow, and Duo checked his instruments. If he deployed at 50,000 feet, that should work, considering he wasn't coming in over land./ No need to worry too much about being spotted by the bad guys,/ he thought, hitting the control to bring the stealth feature online. After all what was the point of having all these cool options, if he didn't test them out, and use them to his advantage.

The pod shuddered, giving a sudden jerk as its mooring released at the correct attitude, and disengaged from the Gundam without a hitch, falling into the watery depths below. Duo pushed forward Deathscythe's throttle, making sure to put some distance between him, and the disguise he no longer needed. /Let's see what you can do without the pod to hold you back, buddy./

He brought Deathscythe lower, switching on his outside scanner to enjoy the scenery. The ocean was so blue here, the coral reefs a bright cascade of colour as he passed over the coast of Australia, on his way to Papua New Guinea. Shame he didn't have time to enjoy it properly. Maybe one day when life did an imitation of what passed for normal in his neck of the woods, he'd take some time out and do the tourist thing.

Guam.

Now to find a landing spot and ditch the space suit before he went further. Deathscythe flew over a limestone plateau, then hovered as Duo debated his options and checked info. Yeah, dense jungle. Always a good place to hide in. He grinned. Hiding was one of his strong points, after all. One of the reasons he'd survived so long on his own was knowing when to fight, and when to hide.

Darkness was falling on the small island, and he took a moment to catch a breath of fresh air, as he opened the Gundam's hatch. It was so fresh, so alive, and it smelled of .nature. Flowers of some sort, he presumed, although he didn't have a clue what they were called. There hadn't exactly been time to worry about that stuff in the places he'd lived - he'd been too busy surviving to trouble himself with the niceties of life. Still, whatever it was, it certainly beat the recirculated stuff passed off as the real thing on the colonies.

Duo shook his head. He didn't have time to get all philosophical. There were OZ butts to kick, and sooner, rather than later.

He strapped himself back into the pilot's seat, double-checking that all his weapon systems were online. Within minutes Deathscythe was ready to show the enemy that their days of oppression were on a one way ticket out.

The Leo factory was in darkness, apart from the spotlights crisscrossing at intervals. The Ozies were dreaming, thinking mere spotlights would pick up on the likes of Shinigami before he wanted them to. Duo shook his head in mock disgust - they also could be used to his advantage to highlight strategic weaknesses. /Through the roof would be the way to go,/ he decided. Why sneak around when he could have so much more fun with that direct approach? Even though he normally chose the stealth approach, he was itching to see what exactly Deathscythe was capable of, and this was the ideal scenario to do just that.

He moved the Gundam into position quickly; ready to use the element of surprise against the home team advantage. All that could be heard was the sound of hydraulics on the assembly line. The pretty rows of Leos lined up for him were reminiscent of the targets on the firing range at the circus he'd sneaked into as a kid. It seemed almost a shame to gatecrash the party and disturb the peace and quiet - maybe next time they'd do the decent thing and send him an invite.

"Are we under attack?" someone yelled as he made his entrance, blasting his way through with his beam scythe, glass shattering in all directions.

/Nah, you idiot. I'm just the God of Death making my regular house calls. Shinigami at your service./

Two Leos fell instantly, titanium alloy armour slicing cleanly in two. Explosions rocked the factory, as he made short work of the bad guys. Whoa, Scythe certainly handled well - better than he'd even dreamed.

/Go, G,/ he thought. /I'm suitably impressed./

A couple of guys yelled to each other before clambering into nearby Leos, trying to take on this new enemy, but they were no match for the Gundam. Another explosion shook the building, the smoke becoming thicker, and the air filling with the stench of burning metal. Duo swung the beam scythe again and this time added a round from his machine cannon to the mayhem. He'd completed his mission, and with minimum resistance.

"This is Duo," he reported, his mouth turning up in his trademark grin. "I've destroyed the main motor. Now all I have to do is slice my way out of here."

************

The Gundam had been loaded successfully. The young man now calling himself Trowa had checked and double checked the moorings holding the heavy suit in the atmospheric entry pod. He settled into the pilot's seat of the Gundam, the pod's controls having been routed to Heavyarms' cockpit. Trowa secured his own harness, tightening and tugging each buckle to make certain it would hold fast under the stresses of landing. Over the radio he heard Doktor S giving him his final instructions.

"Good. As of now, young man, /you/ are Trowa Barton. We are entrusting the fate of Operation Meteor to you."

The engineer's words required no response, so Trowa gave none. Instead, he tapped several buttons on the control console, causing the engines to come to life in a steadily rising whine. The familiar vibrations tingled through his body as the boy experienced a sudden wave of anticipation.

/So, I am returning to Earth after all./

He quickly scanned all sensor data and engine status gauges before releasing the docking clamps of the pod and pushing the throttle forward. With a sudden jolt and a roar, his craft lurched forward. Rapidly accelerating, he exited the hangar into the waiting inky blackness.

A group of several large mobile suit transports were hanging in the space immediately surrounding the colony.

/These must be the Barton Foundation's men./

As if on cue, his vid screen flared to life; a blond man appeared and spoke, "We're the task force from the Barton Foundation sent to support you in Operation M."

Trowa targeted the nearest transport without replying.

The man on the screen registered him as someone he did not recognise, "Huh? Who the hell are you?"

Pulling the trigger, with practiced efficiency Trowa destroyed the first transport, and the next, and the next... If he heard the screams of the dying, he did not acknowledge them.

Turning the craft, Trowa set the entry coordinates for Earth. He should be setting down off the coast of England; his first target was the Dover spaceport. Now underway, he turned his attention to the battle recorder and typed his first report, "Operation M has commenced. Acts of treason have occurred. Fleet has been eliminated. Operation M is a failure. Descending to Earth. Battle record 000. Recorder: Trowa Barton."

His ETA to Earth was 3 hours 12 minutes, giving Trowa ample opportunity to scan the databases aboard Heavyarms for tactical information regarding the layout of the Dover base and its defences. He could expect a moderate presence of Alliance mobile suit troops, but it was be unlikely that he would encounter any OZ Specials. The most probable and dangerous units he would face would be Tragos and Leo models. Neither should pose much of an obstacle to the mobile arsenal of the new Gundam.

Perusing the maps of the spaceport once more, Trowa decided on his best approach to the facility, and then closed the files. Then, with deft movements of his fingers, he ran a battery of diagnostics on Heavyarms' weaponry and engine systems. The mech was in fine shape. All ammunition stocks were fully loaded; the engines and hydraulic systems purred with fine tuned efficiency. Trowa had to admit, he was proud of the suit and the work he'd done on it, and was eager to pilot Heavyarms in battle. He'd not yet had the privilege of this much firepower under his control, nor had he ever piloted anything so new and advanced.

Just under two hours remained until atmospheric entry. The young pilot set his pod's perimeter alarms and closed his eyes. With easy concentration, he began to visualise the Dover base, the potential deployment of suits. Imagining different scenarios, Trowa ran several simulations in his mind, preparing for all eventualities. Hopefully, he would be able to limit the casualties, remain undetected, and simply eliminate the Alliance's capability to launch from Dover - but that would be the best case. Worst case, he would be overwhelmed by the unlikely presence of OZ reinforcements, run out of ammunition, and be taken captive. The latter could certainly disrupt his mission for a time, but Trowa put this eventuality in the highly improbable category and instead replayed the more likely possibilities of enemy troop numbers and arrangement.

He opened his eyes with less than 5 minutes until atmospheric contact. Quickly scanning the instruments of the cockpit verified his angle of approach was within parameters, and his calculated trajectory would bring him several miles to the northeast of the Dover spaceport, over the British channel. Forcing himself to relax as the pod began to shudder, Trowa began to prepare Heavyarms for deployment. The setting for each mooring was adjusted to release at 2500 feet. He knew it was a dangerously low altitude for exiting the pod, however, it was necessary if he wishes to maintain the element of surprise.

With a loud roar, the pod's retrorockets fired, causing the craft to be wracked by tremors as it struggled to defy the force of gravity. Decelerating rapidly, Trowa felt a sudden jerk when the moorings released. His hands flew across the control panel while the pod, now at 2000 feet, blossomed, releasing the Gundam to descend alone. Pushing all the way forward, Trowa slid the throttle outboard to the detent, activating the afterburners of the vernier engines, and pulling away from under the falling capsule. Though the Gundam was unwieldy in flight, and exceedingly heavy, Trowa managed to move off southwest, towards land, as his entry craft plummeted to the ocean behind him, abandoned.

Continuing his flight path over the land, Trowa guided Heavyarms towards an area of dense forest to land. Finding a small clearing, he set the massive suit down with surprising lightness. Quickly, he powered down both Heavyarms' engines and active sensors. After initiating the passive sensors, the tall youth unstrapped himself from the pilot's seat and shimmied out of the cumbersome spacesuit he wore. Stowing the garment, he stretched to relieve the stiffness of having been sitting motionless for the past three and a half hours, and took a welcome drink of water from the small stash of necessities onboard the Gundam.

Settling back into his seat, he glanced over the collected sensor data; there were still no approaching blips on his radar. /The Alliance has become far too complacent during peacetime. I should not have been able to land here without inciting some kind of response./ Not questioning his good luck any further, Trowa refastened his harness and, after completing a pre-flight check of all systems, powered up the Gundam once more. He set a low altitude flight path to approach the Dover spaceport from the north near the mass driver array that would bring him to land just outside the base where he would proceed with the Gundam on the ground.

The perimeter defences of the base were laughably minimal and Trowa entered with little resistance. The Gundam moved surprisingly well on the ground, despite its bulk and Trowa was pleased at the overall responsiveness of the machine. But, as he moved the arm with the beam Gatling cannon experimentally, the hydraulics felt a touch slow to respond. He'd have to modify the system later, but for now, he attended to the transmission he was receiving over his radio. Finding the Alliance communication frequency had been almost too easy. Breaking the encryption had posed slightly more of a challenge, but now Trowa could overhear the exchange between two enemy pilots:

"This is the Dover spaceport. We are under attack! Repeat, we are under attack!"

"A surprise attack? Who the hell is it?"

"I have no idea. Enemy suit of unknown configuration and affiliation incoming."

/Complacent and clueless./ The pilot grimaced briefly, he had hoped for a better scenario, but he'd been observed. /It's too bad for them.../ "They've seen the Gundam - so much for getting through this mission without witnesses," Trowa spoke to no one but himself, calmly observing and providing an unheard commentary for the battle while his hands glided over the targeting systems of his Gundam. "Destroying the space port would have been sufficient, but now I'll have to eliminate all opposing troops."

Trowa quickly sized up the mobile suit units arrayed ahead of him as he approached the launch tower via the runway. It was as he had anticipated; Leos supported by the heavier firepower of several Tragos suits.

Having piloted both models, the young soldier knew well their strengths and weaknesses. He fired upon the Tragos suits first; they possessed the most dangerous weaponry, but were hampered by their limited and slow mobility. A flurry of high calibre rounds tore through the sluggish suits followed by a barrage of micro-missiles, which not only decimated the damaged Tragos units, but also demolished several of the surrounding Leos. Heavyarms continued to advance and shrug off the incoming hail of fire from the stalwart Leo squadron blocking his path. Trowa threw down more heavy artillery fire from the beam Gatling cannon, sweeping the lighter suits aside in a series of cacophonous, fiery blooms. As the last of the Leo's fell to his assault, the graceful curve of the mass driver array came into range of the Gundam's shoulder mounted missile battery, and Trowa launched a volley of high yield missiles. Gratified by the resulting huge explosion and the quaking of the launch structure, he then launched a second volley to succeed the first.

 

As the tall mass driver ramp began to heave under the assault, fragment, and collapse, Trowa updated his battle record, "Alliance launch capability at Dover eliminated. Battle record 001. Recorder: Trowa."

************

Wufei surveyed his handiwork with a degree of disgust. OZ had been too weak, too unprepared for his attack. He would have thought the soldiers would have at least put up a better fight.

"There is no pride in fighting against such a weak enemy, Nataku," he told his Gundam.

"It's Shenlong, not Nataku". O's words repeated in his mind as painful memories resurfaced.

"Shouldn't you let go of Nataku's memory?" Wufei had shaken his head firmly, but O had insisted on pushing his point. He couldn't forget Nataku - why couldn't the scientist understand that? If he'd only been strong enough to fight instead of losing himself in his books, Meiran would still be alive. He'd failed his wife in life; there was no way he would allow her memory to be tarnished. He had named the Gundam Nataku in her honour, in the hope her spirit, the spirit of Nataku, would be with him during what was to come.

Wufei sighed, trying to keep his frustration - his weakness - under control as he sent another shot from his plasma cannon towards the other ship. The air was already thick with orange smoke, his targets burning in the water as the troops attempted to halt the attack from the air. He extended his right plasma cannon towards the two small aircraft, twin trails of fire heading towards them on an intercept they couldn't escape, exploding to send them to join their comrades in the afterlife.

"As long as our enemies are destroyed, that is what is important." Those had been his final words to O as he'd left the room angrily, ignoring the scientist doubled over from the blow he'd delivered to his midsection. The Chinese boy hadn't meant to hit the man, but he'd been so angry that he'd acted without thinking, more on instinct than anything else.

"Wait, Wufei." Master Long had called out to him, his tone containing an urgency he couldn't find in his heart to ignore. "Take this with you."

He'd paused, turning to see him holding out a small square box with a bevelled top. "What is it?" he had asked suspiciously. How could he seriously expect whatever 'this' was, would be able to help him? He was beyond help - he could only fight, and hope it wasn't too late to redeem himself for his past.

The old man spoke quickly, opening the box to reveal its contents. "This is the "Altron," he explained. "It is passed down from each generation of our clan. If you sell it, it should supply you with ammunition for at least a while."

Wufei caught his breath, noting the dragon curled up in the case, like a cat in a small casket, its two heads lying symmetrically on its back. "Thank you," he whispered, unable to find the words he needed.

The old man nodded. "I'm sorry that this is the only thing I can do to help you, right now. My wishes go with you, Chang Wufei."

Wufei bowed, then watched the other retreat. He closed the box, clutching it firmly and made his way slowly to where his Gundam awaited.

Nataku. As far as he was concerned his wife, Meiran had died protecting the suit, and therefore her spirit resided in it. And together they would prevent the 'Scourge of Space."

His thoughts returned to the present, Nataku's sensors scanning his surroundings for the enemy. "My name's Wufei," he informed anyone who might be listening. "And I'm not hiding anywhere. This battle will be over in practically no time."

************

The blonde girl sat somewhat despondently in the back of her cotton-candy pink limousine as it pulled to a halt outside the St. Gabriel Institute. Even though it was a beautiful morning - the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and a soft breeze carried the delicate scents of the season - Relena found herself unable to enjoy it. She resisted cringing at the thought of the fawning girls she knew would be waiting inside. They were nice enough, and always so friendly and attentive, but they had never seemed interested in her, Relena, but rather in the symbol of her status as the daughter of a wealthy and powerful family.

And beyond that, the memory of the events in the preceding days was just a touch too surreal for Relena to feel like engaging in the usual mundane pleasantries and routine of her life on Earth so soon. She'd been exposed to so much novelty, the girl wanted to be able to take the time to run through it all - all the places she had been, and the people she had met - and integrate the experiences into her evolving worldview.

It had been wonderful to go to space. The colonies were such an extreme testament to humanity's will to succeed and prosper through adversity. She felt such admiration for the men and women who had given up the comforts and security of life on the planet and ventured into space. They must have been extraordinarily brave souls to face the unknown and carve an existence among the stars - and not just an existence - many were flourishing. After the propaganda fed to the public at large by the Alliance and the mainstream media, Relena had expected the colonies to be little more than unsophisticated backwaters. Instead, she had found them - both the cultures and their artefacts - possessing both a maturity of spirit and a refreshing idealism. She squelched a surge of annoyance at her father for having not had the time to take her to all the places she wanted to go, and for having been led around to the places she had gone by servants instead of family. But, at least she had met someone who understood.

She found a small smile gracing her lips as she recalled her new friend of the previous day. /Quatre Raberba Winner./ He was truly a child of the colonies' idealism and spirit, possessing such refinement, confidence, and gentility. And he'd treated her as a real human being, not just some pretty, little accessory of her father's - or worse, a trophy of some sort to befriend solely for the prestige of claiming her friendship. /He'd seen me, not my name, and not my money./ She blinked back a flurry of brief tears, chiding herself for feeling such a strong response to the simple comfort of the boy's words and gestures of genuine sympathy.

Continuing to contemplate the phenomena of new acquaintances, Relena found the strange soldier-boy she'd found on the beach entering her thoughts. She hadn't told anyone about him yet; it just didn't feel appropriate. He'd been so scared, of that she was sure - so young and scared despite his evident tendencies toward violent action. /He must be lonely,/ she thought, /Who or what was he scared of?/ Thinking back on the harried expression in those dark blue eyes, she tried to work out his story. How would a boy her age end up unconscious, in a military spacesuit, on the beach? /Maybe he's a Star Prince!/ she kidded herself with a grin and then was abruptly pulled from her fantasy when her chauffeur spoke.

"Miss Relena?"

"Hmm?" she managed, as she returned to the present.

"Daydreaming again?" he observed with an affectionate chuckle, his squinted eyes meeting hers in the rear-view mirror, "We've arrived."

"Thank you, Peygan."

Relena made her way from the car, through the halls, to the balcony where the students gathered before class. She barely noticed the stately French architecture, nor did she really notice the people she spoke to as she returned each friendly sounding greeting with her own polite, "Good morning." Her thoughts were still on the strange boy from yesterday. She chewed her lip thoughtfully as she walked to class. /He can't be a soldier for OZ or the Alliance, unless he's some kind of deserter./ She wondered if the shooting star they'd seen from the shuttle could have had anything to do with the boy. /What is Operation Meteor?/

Relena found her usual desk and sat down, absently sliding her books into the cubby-hole of the desk. She doubted that her father would tell her more about the cryptic designation, so she decided she would ask Quatre if he knew anything - that was, if he were able to attend her birthday party. The young man had seemed quite interested in her father's words, almost as if he had a suspicion about them. And his reaction to the shooting star had been... strange at best. /Maybe he does know something? Maybe it is something to do with the colonies?/ The rumours of imminent war, or some kind of retaliation from the colonies were becoming more and more pervasive, despite government attempts to reassure that all was well and peace reigned. /The soldier-boy could be from the colonies... some kind of special agent. Or a spy!/

Hanging on this thought, it was with a strong tingle of apprehension that Relena noticed the new student following Sister Charlotte into class. His unruly dark hair over fiercely dark blue eyes - even in the school uniform she was sure she recognised him.

/It's him!/

Relena could not have torn her gaze from the boy if she had wanted to; she stared at him wide-eyed while he stood before the class as he was introduced. "Quiet please, class. I'd like to introduce a new student." Sister Charlotte gestured for the boy to step forward.

His eyes glinted with a frightening intensity, and his voice was sinister in its cold, almost mechanical, tones, "I'm Heero Yuy. It's a pleasure."

/I'm positive that's him!/

"Take the seat beside Relena, Heero. Feel free to ask her any questions you might have." Relena started as the nun's words registered; her heart raced and she felt a chill crawling up her spine. /Oh no! He looks angry./ Fighting the urge to panic, she watched the boy approach. He wasn't looking at her. /Maybe he doesn't remember me?/ Studying his face, she realised that perhaps it wasn't anger she saw. In fact, he looked almost tired. Her heart turned from fear to a strange, protective pity as her overactive imagination rapidly concocted tragic scenario after tragic scenario of woe for the boy.

She smiled warmly, and turned to him, "It's nice to meet you, Heero." He didn't acknowledge her words, rather he closed his eyes and just sat there barely moving. A flash of annoyance raced through the girl before she managed to reassure herself, /He's probably just nervous around strangers... Or he's trying to keep a low profile! He must be a spy! But, I wonder why he's here?/ She frowned thoughtfully, deciding on a course of action. /I'll invite him to my party./ Now firm in her resolve to get to know the enigmatic boy and solve his mystery, Relena was able to turn her attention back to Sister Charlotte and the joys of a sophomore Biology lesson.

When class ended, Heero was out of his seat and leaving before she had a chance to get his attention. /Drat!/ Relena collected her books and followed him as surreptitiously as she could. He exited the hall to one of the balconies. Steeling herself to approach the youth, she set her books down and retrieved an invitation from her bag before stepping out onto the terrace herself and stifling an annoyed groan as she heard a number of girls follow her. Heero was standing, leaning against the low stone wall, his attention seemingly far away. He looked quite dashing in the St. Gabriel uniform. /The handsome young spy, planning his next move! /Relena enthused to herself and took a step forward.

"Um... excuse me, Relena...?" queried Bethany from behind her. Relena ignored the blonde girl and approached Heero; the crowd behind her shuffled forward curiously.

Heero turned to her, his expression unreadable as she held out the envelope for him to take, "Here you go." He took the invitation and stared at it uncomprehending its significance. "It's my birthday tomorrow," she explained. "I hope you'll be able to make it to the party."

At her words, applause erupted from the surrounding girls. Relena smiled; he couldn't refuse, not with an audience. But then the unthinkable occurred. Meeting her eyes with his cold blue gaze, he held up the paper and very deliberately tore it in half. The wind picked up just then, carrying the fragments away like autumn leaves.

Unbidden, tears sprang to Relena's eyes; the rejection was incomprehensible. She glanced around in confusion, only dimly noticing the crowd had dispersed and she was now alone with the strange boy, "But... But why?" she wondered aloud. A shadow crossed her face as Heero stepped close. She looked to his face once more before he raised a hand to gently brush the tears from her face. Hope was reborn in that instant of his tender caress and she smiled.

But, as the boy moved past, his arm brushing hers, he met her eyes with a sidelong glance, and in a voice all the more menacing for its lack of inflection spoke, "I'll kill you."

Her breath stopped; her heart froze, and the wind tore cruelly at her hair and clothes while Heero walked off, leaving her paralysed by her terror. Finally she spoke, but only in a whisper to herself, "What kind of person is he?"

************

~to be continued

************

Next on 'Domino'

EPISODE TWO - The Gundam Called Death

Quatre attends Relena's party, while Trowa joins the circus. Heero attempts to retrieve Wing before Zechs and the Alliance can get their hands on it. Meanwhile in the ocean another Gundam appears.