7-5-2001

Author/Alias: Fractalforge@hotmail.com
Title/Part Number: Drachenblut part six
Catagory/Warnings: Cyberpunk, shounen-ai, violence, mild AU.
Pairings: 1+2, 3+4
Feedback: Yes

Gundam Wing is the property of Sotsu Agency, Bandai, and Sunrise. No infringement is intended. Please contact me at fractalforge@hotmail.com if you'd like to give me comments, and visit http://www.geocities.com/fractalforge/index.html for the latest version of all my work. All feedback is appreciated.

DRACHENBLUT

Chapter Six

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Getting onto the night-black roof of the mansion was easy for Heero. Crouching about five meters from the mansion's west side, the boy leveled his gun towards the top of the house and pressed the trigger. There was a low hydraulic noise, then the steady rushing noise of line uncoiling. The hookshot's tri-cornered blade sailed over the steep roof of the mansion like a silent bat through the darkness, towing behind it a thin strong cable. The shiny metal spikes wrapped and flailed around a small chimney, then pulled the climbing line taut.

Heero tugged at the line a few times, cautiously, testing its strength. Carefully detatching it from the gun, he wound it around his left hand a few times, then unwound it, satisfied. The line was safe to climb. The boy reloaded the gun with a new hook and a new line, then reattached it to his vest.

Edging close to the flat steep side of the mansion, Heero held onto the climbing line with both gloved hands while shifting his weight. The Wing pilot placed one foot slowly on the dark, night-shadowed wall of the mansion while supporting his weight on the line, then moved the other foot upwards.

Continuing in the same cautious manner, the boy proceeded to gradually ascend the three-story wall. Keeping his legs at a forty-five degree angle to the wall to support some of his weight, and stepping with them to maintain the same angle; Heero grasped higher sections of the rope with alternating arms. The process was slow and arduous, but in the end fruitful: in less than a minute his elbows were wedged over the ledge of the roof and gutter three tall stories above the ground. Swinging a flexible leg up over the lip of the edge and the metal trough, Heero rolled silently onto the roof of the mansion and climbed up onto the edged peak of the roof.

He crouched upon the point of the roof for a few moments, regaining his strength. While doing so, he gazed around him at the rest of the dark shingled roof, still through the thermal goggles. The neat slabs of tar and meshed fiber appeared as moon-yellow rectangles surrounded by the night's darkness; the edges separating them were needle- slashes of orange where more heat escaped. The grounds below were smaller and more comprehensible, and he could see the spot where he had climbed up from the cliff quite easily.

Many acrophobics -- indeed, many normal people -- would have had problems retaining balance at that level. However, Heero's mind was on other things besides the height: namely, the layout of the house below him. His goggles couldn't penetrate the shingles and insulation; it was impossible to really see the forms of any halls or rooms.

The pilot squatted, motionless, a soft gargoyle with blowing hair; considering his options.

Moonlight glinted off of a surface on the other side of the mansion. Intrigued, Heero shifted his weight and scuttled over along the middle of the roof towards his goal. To get there he was forced to climb over another, higher section of roof; then climb down a steep incline to his older level. However, the obstacles he climbed over were moot as soon as he saw the source of the reflection.

A skylight.

Actually, several skylights: four sections at least as large as normal windows, arranged in a square with hardened glass bubbles covering them.

Peering into the large and slightly dusty domes of glass, Heero could see vague shapes through his goggles. The rangefinder said that the wooden floor of the bedroom was easily four or five meters below him.

/Cathedral ceilings... that explains the height of the stories.../

The heat sensors told him that the large raised rectangular shape covered in irregular soft bumps was a bed, and that there were two sleeping objects lying on it, wrapped in sheets and quilts. There was a bedside table next to the bed, cluttered with a clock and various books, and to the other side there was a door -- probably to a closet -- and there was a wooden chest near the side of the room. The shape of the skylight and the angle of the roof obstructed Heero's view of the other third of the neat bedroom. No other furniture -- but more importantly, no computer or desk.

/His office is probably in an adjacent room.../

Heero shivered mechanically as a particularly strong gust of wind pulled at his clothes, then turned his attention back to the forms on the bed. He tapped a button on the side panel of his goggles and the visual matrix shifted from thermal imaging to light-amplification mode. Like someone flicking off a light, the imaging registers went from colorful to amplified black-and-white. The details became more pronounced, and shadows licked across the sleeping figures.

The figure on the right was curled up on its side in a semi-fetal position. Its head rested on a fluffy pillow, long locks of hair flayed out around it like painted waves. The figure was obviously female, but the face was not perceptible. Heero's mind instantly retrieved her name: Doreen Westmarch Eriksen, the General's wife.

The woman's left arm was wrapped around the midsection of the other figure. This one was larger and more built, lying face-up with its head inclined towards the woman. The dim amplified light from the digital clock was sufficient for Heero to identify the face through the goggles: it was definitely Eriksen.

/Target located./

Now to find the computer. Heero braced his boots against the higher moulding around the skylight and stood up straight. There were no other reflections or domes: as far as he could tell, this was the only skylight. Further visual reconaissance was dangerous, as he'd have to attach a rope, prop himself downward and walk around the third story of the house on the outside. The risk of doing that was simply unacceptable: he might fall, and he'd also be in a seriously deficient defensive position if he was attacked.

No power lines or cable connections ran to the outside of the house: obviously they fed into the house underground to preserve the "classical" charm of the estate. That meant it was meaningless to check for an external line leading directly into the office.

Heero's eyes narrowed and he switched his goggles back into full-function infared. He'd just have to enter the house somehow and work from there.

The skylights before him offered the most accessible and easiest entry to the house. The boy pondered a moment and considered that line of action. Unfortunately, there were several problems: the first and most obvious was that Eriksen and his wife were lying almost directly below the domes of glass, and they could wake at any time. The second was that the glass of the skylights was probably equipped with a security system that would go off if it was broken.

/There's another problem: her./

Her. The woman. If he broke in through the windows he would need to kill her as well. He might need to kill her even if he didn't break through the windows.

And he didn't want to kill her.

Heero's mouth broke into a grimace.

What other options were there? Eriksen needed to die: that was a mission order and that was immutable. But how to kill him without waking his wife? ... more accurately, how to kill him without KILLING her? His aim was certainly good enough to be sure of only killing Eriksen, but he would need to be inside the house to do it safely -- and then, waking her was might be a problem. Even a silenced gun makes some noise.

Heero was tempted to simply write her off as collateral damage and shoot both of them, but something about that seemed wrong. The Wing pilot was no devotee of lofty ideals like Wufei, but he wanted to avoid killing her if at all possible.

Why? He didn't know.

In any case, the first objective was to get inside the house. Next was to download the file. After that, a solution might present itself for dealing with Eriksen. But if nothing appeared, he would have a difficult choice to make...

Heero moved away from the skylights and looked for other windows on the top of the house. There were none.

/I'll just have to go in through a side window. I don't like the idea, but it's still safer than trying to bypass a door's security system.../

Heero switched his goggles into infared mode. Next, the Wing pilot removed the hookshot from his vest and pressed a switch on it. The tri-cornered metal spike ejected from the pistol with no force, and the hookshot loosened its tight hold on the running line. It was now possible to pull out cord easily. Heero crept over the ridge of the roof to the main chimney, then braced the spike against a sharp stone edge so that it pulled tight. After measuring out a good length of line, he wound it around the stone pillar thrice. The line was now fast around the chimney of the mansion.

Heero adjusted the tension controls on the hookshot and set it to the slowest release setting available. The boy walked backwards to the nearest edge of the roof and slipped his hand securely into the hookshot pistol, then took an almost imperceptible deep breath.

Then he leaned back, weight on his heels, above the three-story drop until he was at about a forty-five degree angle; held only by the thin climbing line and the friction of his shoes on the shingles.

He breathed outward and gingerly pressed the trigger to gradually release a small amount of line. The angle at which he was held gradually lessened until he was almost horizontal -- then he took a simple step downwards off of the shingles and planted his foot on the siding of the mansion. Now, essentially in the same position as had been while climbing up, Heero released enough line for him to walk down, nearly horizontal, to the level of the third-story windows.

Heero, holding onto the hookshot with his right hand, let his legs slip off of the wall and turn to a vertical position. His right arm was pulled taut above his body, his grip on the hookshot pistol now supporting all of his weight. He was now an arm's length away from a large window.

The suspended boy took a moment to listen to the sounds of the night. Birds, mostly in the distance. What sounded like an owl. A vague hum of machinery, probably a generator of some sort. Crickets, of course, not as loud as in summer but still present. The sky above him showed an empty hole in the thick cloud layer, and now more stars beside the brilliant moon shone down upon the landscape. A gentle wind, warm somehow, blew in and gently rocked him on the line.

/The night.../

Heero shook his head. There was no time for that now.

He looked into the window facing him. It was larger than a normal window, perhaps a meter by a meter. The room inside was vacant, with the door shut: it appeared to be a guest bedroom, furnished in practical elegance. The room contained a dresser and a large mirror, several plush chairs, and various lamps and tables. The double bed, made up with a quilt and several pillows, was pushed up against the window frame

/The window... it's probably equipped with some alarm. All I can do is to try and jam its transmitter.../

The pilot unsnapped a pocket in his vest and removed a small cellular phone. He tapped a few buttons on it, watched the screen light up with static, then returned it to where it came from.

/I'll have to leave the phone near the window if I want the jamming effect to persist after I leave... no matter. I can always modify another one./

With that thought, Heero reached down and removed a combat knife -- modified especially for this purpose -- from a sheath attached to his thigh. All fifteen centimeters of the serrated blade gleamed in the moonlight. The boy glanced at the needle-sharp tip of the knife, then brought the tip into contact with the glass of the window. He moved it a few centimeters and listened for the almost imperceptibly high squeal of metal on glass. The noise was strangely disturbing, like nails on a blackboard.

The boy grimaced one final time, listened again for ambient noise, and finally scraped the tip of the knife about the window in an almost perfect circle, the edges almost touching the windowframe. The cutting squeal sounded almost painfully loud against the muted sounds of the night, but Heero knew (intellectually at least) that no one in the house could have heard it.

After inspecting the circle he had cut, Heero returned the knife to its sheath and pushed the circular pane of glass inward with his gloved left hand.

It fell noiselessly and perfectly onto the quilt and pillows of the bed.

Heero toed himself onto the windowframe, released a little more line, bent backwards, and walked through the empty hole in the pane in a manner that Duo had once referred to as "The Limbo". He removed the jamming cell phone from his pocket and placed it on the windowsill, set the hookshot down on a pillow and set its tension level for his escape, and shook out his cramping right arm.

/First objective: successful./

He was inside.

Utter silence. Heero remained perfectly still for ten seconds or so, then crept off of the bed onto the floor and across the room to the door. He listened at the white-panelled slab of wood for a while, then unlatched it (pushing up on the knob all the while to avoid creaking) and quietly entered the hallway.

The infared goggles told him nothing of the colors of objects, only their outline, distance, and relative heat levels. However, now that he was inside the warmer interior of the house, objects began to appear in red rather than the cooler yellow of the outdoors. He was definitely able to percieve his surroundings: he was standing in the middle of a wide hallway. The hall was decorated well, with various indecipherable pictures framed and hung about the walls. An ornate carpet of some sort ran lengthwise down the hallway. The light fixtures were mounted on the walls, doubtless antiques of some sort. Directly in front of him was a doorframe (probably leading to a similar room to the one he had just been in), and there was another set of two opposing doors a few meters to his left. At the very end of the hallway to his left was another door, this one open a crack.

/This wing of the house is probably the guest wing... in which case, this room on the end shouldn't be anything important. Still, I should look at it./

Heero turned left and crept along the hall towards the unknown doorway. When he reached it, he slowly pushed it open to find an elaborate and dusty bathroom, obviously out of frequent use.

/Definitely the guest wing./

The pilot turned and walked towards the opposite end of the hallway, where it opened into a larger room. As Heero moved nearer and nearer the corner, he drew his pistol from its holster and pulled it close to his cheek. He listened at the corner for a few seconds, then edged his head around it. As no one was immediately visible, he moved out into the open and dropped down into a crouch.

The room seemed to be the main room of the house: it was three stories tall and circular, built around a central stairway that curved up from the ground floor to a landing on the second story, finally to end on the third story on the other side of the room. A massive and ornate chandelier, unlit, dangled from the center of the ceiling. The hallway Heero had come from opened onto a large carpeted landing decorated with various chairs, paintings and carpets.

On the center of the landing, directly opposing the front entrance of the mansion, was a large set of double-doors.

/A library? A games-room?/

On the side of the landing opposite Heero, next to the end of the stairway, was another hallway.

/Eriksen's room is down in that wing. Probably the last on the left.../

Heero decided to move to the double-doors first. Pistol still in hand, the noises gone now except for a periodic creaking (probably the house settling), Heero moved to the double-doors. These were made of some unidentifiable heavy wood, but they swung outwards fairly easily. Heero peeked into the room and saw a railing and balcony running fully around a large gap in the middle. It was the top floor of a large library and den. A circular staircase connected the third floor of the building to the second at the opposite end of the room. The walls of this floor were nothing but bookcases and a large, mobile ladder on runners.

Heero abandoned the double-doors, shutting them quietly, and moved across to the other wing. Creeping along close to the ground, Heero made his way along the carpet until he was crouching on the top of the stairs, waiting to turn the corner into the wing of the house where Eriksen slept.

/First deal with the computer. Then take out the General.../

Heero closed his eyes. The garish red of the infared goggles fled from his vision. He squinted, trying to block out all sight, listening for anything at all.

Total silence for a few seconds. Then he heard something that sounded like a human voice... but it was very distant, and very slight. It could have been a bird. It might have been the house settling, too.

/Okay./

Heero set his expression and opened his eyes and moved silently down the hall. This hall was set up in a similar manner to the last one: two facing sets of doors and a door at the end. The door on the end was probably the bathroom. Heero crept down the hallway, pressing his ear up against each door.

At the first one on the right, Heero heard absolutely nothing. At the one opposite it, the boy heard a vague humming noise, like a fan of some kind.

/Probably the computer room./

Heero drew his pistol, then slowly turned the doorknob. It backed up in his hand, locked. He rattled it silently. It did not give.

/It's definitely here./

The Wing pilot glanced at his watch. It was 3:07 AM.

/There's only a keyhole, no cardkey input or keypad. It's only a mechanical lock. I could try and pick it, but that would take time. If I tried to blow it open or melt it, it could trip an alarm... and I don't have any explosives that could do the job quietly./

Heero heard a stirring from down the hall.

/Solution./

/Someone is getting out of bed. An opening.../

He crept up the hallway, staying as close to the ground and as quiet as possible. His pistol was heavy in his hand, and despite his tight grip it didn't seem comfortable or steady. The noise had come from the room on the left side of the hallway. Heero moved close to the near side of the doorframe, staying very low and putting his head against the wall.

/A few footsteps, a creak. A female-sounding yawn. She's moving closer. It's the General's wife.../

/This door opens outward and in this direction, and stops when about three-quarters open... so I'll be hidden if she leaves the door open. But if she closes the door and looks back, then I'll have to shoot her.../

Heero readied his gun, pressing the cool barrel against his cheek. His pack was pressing into the wall behind him, and his eyes narrowed behind the goggles. It was time to go into action. He craned his head forward and around the corner towards the doorway. The infared vision gave a slight hint of a heat source behind the wooden door, the sillhouette staggering vaguely towards the doorway.

/Only a few more steps.../

The creak of the door was incredibly loud compared to the slight noises Heero was accustomed to hearing. The door swung quickly outward on unoiled hinges.

Heero's heart moved along at a constant pace as Doreen Westmarch Eriksen turned left, yawned again, and headed down toward the bathroom. She was clad in some sort of long bathrobe and big slippers with fuzzy tufts around the ankles. Her gait was slow and dizzy yet sure, the walk of someone who can perfectly navigate their house while blindfolded and robbed of hearing. She yawned again lazily.

She walked eight paces in the darkness to the bathroom door, pulled it open, and walked inwards. Heero caught a glimpse of her face when she turned left again and flicked on a light. Then she closed the door and latched it, not looking back.

Heero exhaled very quietly, then moved from his crouch. He slowly stuck his head past the doorframe and looked inside toward the bed. Eriksen slept calmly, in the same position he'd been when Heero had peered in through the skylights. The man was snoring softly, his head nestled against his pillow, a quilt pulled up close to his chin.

Heero moved so that he was completely in the doorway, took two steps forward, and froze.

There was a sound, a vague smooth rushing noise. It took Heero half a second to realize that it was only running water.

/Why is she running water?/

No matter. Heero advanced toward the bed. He could now see the residual heat left on the sheets by the General's wife. Through the goggles, the bed practically radiated warmth. The rest of the room looked familiar from when he'd seen it from above. Making no noise, he moved to the side the man was facing, where his wife had slept until a few moments ago. Moonlight from the skylights above streamed into the room, as the moon was almost directly overhead.

/I need to confirm that it's him.../

Heero reached up and switched his goggles into night-vision mode. The red glow faded and was replaced by a more detailed and contoured black-and-white image. He glanced at Eriksen's face. It was the same face he'd seen in photographs, but now it seemed happier, peaceful, rather than formal and stiff. He was smiling slightly, mouth open, eyes softly shut together.

The boy raised the gun and aimed it at the man's forehead.

The water was still running in the bathroom. The moonlight was streaming in through the skylights. The man was still snoring.

Heero switched the goggles back to infared mode, obscuring the details of the man's face. He was more comfortable doing it this way.

/It's time./

There was two pounds of pressure against his trigger finger, then a swishing noise. A blank dot appeared on Eriksen's forehead. There was a moaning rattle and then no sound at all.

Heero's eyes closed for a moment, but he did not smile.

/Second objective: successful./

He reached toward the dead man's throat. His hands, sense of touch decreased by electrical gloves, touched upon a thin chain. Heero ran his fingers down it quickly to its terminating point: a small, thin metal key. The boy quickly pulled the chain off of the man's neck and grasped the key in his left hand.

/The key to the computer room../

He turned left, away from the bed, and turned quickly towards the door. The key was light and solid against the gloves, and the chain fell comfortingly around a finger.

Heero realized that the noise of running water had stopped. A wave of panic hit him. He looked up and there was a thin human-shaped red echo in his vision.

/But this was a silenced gun! How could she be back already..?!/

But she was already back;

/Kill her./

She was standing, stupefied, in the doorway;

/Do it now./

She was watching Heero beneath the skylights and the moon;

/Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it NOW!/

She was breathing quickly;

/Think of the colonies. Think of the mission. Think of your orders./

She was moving backwards, stepping away into the hall;

/Think of everyone you know./

She was raising her arms toward her face...

/DO IT NOW...!/

...and she began to scream.

She screamed for several seconds, a high-pitched bending wail, before Heero raised his gun again and pressed against the trigger several times. He did not hear the soft tap of the ejected shells hitting the carpet, nor did he hear the woman's death rattle. All Heero heard was the regular beating of his own heart.

Afterwards, he stood still, not lowering his gun, for a moment or two. A few thoughts went through his mind, mostly of his own incompetence and inadequacy as a soldier. The moon still shone through the skylights, but he was facing away from the light now. There was no breathing except for his own silent breaths, and no noise save the constant, unchanging rhythm of his own heart.

He shook his head and walked out of the door, stepping over Doreen Westmarch Eriksen's body as he went. Heero did not look back as he walked down the hall. The pistol was hot and heavy as he slid it into his holster.

The door to the study opened easily as he turned the key in the lock. Heero left the key there, its lanyard hanging limply beneath it. He turned on the light and ripped off his goggles, dropping them onto the floor. The piercing brightness of white light stung his eyes for a moment, but he ignored the shock and moved inward.

The room was a small office, with various low bookshelves on the floor beneath several framed diplomas and certificates. The desk faced the doorway and was topped with a small computer system, various file folders, and a thick book or two. The computer was alrwady on and its fan was gently humming.

Heero moved to the desk, thrust the chair up against the window, and began to rifle through the clutter. Just papers, no datadisks or backup tape. Nothing in the large drawer except extra stationary, pens and pencils, and a ruler. One drawer was completely full of reciepts, another contained household bills -- credit card bills, utility bills, and so forth. A third held a bank passbook and some financial files. Heero grabbed the passbook and stuffed it into an empty pocket. The last drawer was locked.

Before trying to break into the computer, Heero examined the locked drawer. The desk was obviously an antique, wooden and solid; and the lock was a small keyhole. It couldn't be a very complex locking mechanism. The boy reached into his pack and withdrew his set of lockpicks. He used a familiar pick to quickly probe and examine the interior of the lock, and managed to have the drawer open within fifteen seconds.

The now unlocked drawer was heavy as he pulled it out, and it contained what seemed to be a stash of money: neat rows of bills and banknotes, as well as four more passbooks. Heero decided to look for the file first, then decide what to do with the money.

The computer, on, was sitting, stable, at the command prompt of the OZ operating system. Heero began to type in commands, stripping away file directories and hierarchies, simplifying the file structure of the computer. The methods he used were mostly undocumented commands, bugs, and hidden features he'd learned from the leaked notes of an OZ system designer.

Seven commands and an override code revealed a few hundred sectors allocated to a single hidden, locked, and encrypted file, "drachenblutRS3Ksys.io."

Located. Heero ripped a datadisk out of his pack and slid it into the drive of the machine. He could tell by the file size and storage prefixes that it was the one he'd been looking for. The boy typed in several commands for disk access, then gave the command to rewrite the file on the datadisk. It occurred to him for a moment that the file was quite easy to locate and copy... but he dismissed the thought when he considered that decryption would be quite another matter.

As Heero waited for the machine to finish, he removed his pack from his back and set it down on the floor. There was definitely some extra room in there...

He frowned for a moment, considering the possibilities. Then he knelt down on the floor and reached forward. The pilot began to move the cash and passbooks from the bottom drawer into his pack. He needed some parts for Wing Gundam that were too common and too minor to bother stealing, and the mission ahead -- whatever it might be -- would probably require funding of some sort. Feeling an unpleasant but quite unidentifiable sensation inside his chest and throat, Heero uneasily closed up his pack.

The file was finished. Heero ejected the datadisk from the computer, shut off its power, slammed shut all of the drawers, and slid the disk into a pocket. He picked up his goggles from the floor, put them on his head, and set them to infared mode. Finally, he turned off the light as he went out of the study, and locked the door behind him.

He glanced to his left for a moment. The general's wife's body was still on the floor there.

No more than six or seven meters away from him. One of her arms was pinned beneath her torso, the other was stretched forward towards the bed in the next room. It looked as though she was reaching for something.

An odd sense of dizziness moved through his body.

What was this...?

His hands, sticky and tight inside electrical gloves, tightened around something invisible.

He pressed his tongue tight against the roof of his mouth and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to ignore the waves of sensation.

Heero closed his eyes and turned. He found himself running away.