Gundam Wing Fan Fiction ❯ High School Acquaintance ❯ High School Acquaintance ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

A/N: Because the reviews for my other GW-fanfic, New Life, were so positive, I've found a reason to write more GW-fanfic. This one is a short story, too, but not related to New Life although the themes are somewhat similar. Read and tell me what you think of it
High School Acquaintance
You know what is strange? I never thought he would be the first one to die. Kind of thought him invincible. Indestructible. Well, to be honest, I never really thought of the hair's breadth that separates us from death every day. There are so many ways in which your life can be over from one moment to the other, caused by little things like simple heart failure or by massive tragedies like terrorist attacks.
Today, the mailman brought a white envelope framed by a black edge, no return-address. The simple black cross in the right-hand corner should have clued me in, but I didn't know what it was; I've never gotten one of those letters before, and so I opened it without thinking about what could be in there. Could have been a letter bomb for all that I knew at that point of time, but what normal person sees death lurking at every step?
To think about it, I suppose he was more aware of death than he let on. More aware of the possibly abrupt end of his life than he ever told me. But that is hindsight speaking. During high-school, I was just happy to have somebody as … well, as much of a friend as I ever had at that point of time. He was an outsider, I was an outsider, so by default we were in the same group, becoming friends soon after the first time he entered the classroom I was miserably spending my time in. He had transferred to my high school one day after the Eve War, and soon enough, the other students had stamped him as strange, nobody to associate with.
Thinking back on that time, I wonder why our friendship worked as well as it did, because normally, outsiders are outsiders because they are shunned by everybody else, yes, even other outsiders. You think that outsiders always band together, forming a secluded group? Get real. Those `outsiders' are just outside normal society, but for all that they renounce current social behaviour codes, they embrace all who share their attitude. No, when I say outsider, I mean those who do not fit anywhere, but who want nothing more than to be part of a group but cannot give up their identity. No, that didn't come out right.
What I want to say is that there are people who are so individual - and so socially inept - that they fit nowhere, although they crave an understanding soul. If you still don't know what I am talking about, imagine somebody very shy. It takes a long time for him or her to open up to you, even if you daily spend time together and talk. Most of the time, you will be the one to talk, because he or she doesn't know what to say.
Now imagine this: two shy people. Do you really think they will start talking to each other when nobody quite knows what to say, how to get to know a person better? Well, that was what him and me were at high school. Ok, I was the shy one who watched society from the fringes. He was the one who was so mature already that he couldn't fit into teen-age society anymore. At least that was what I thought after the first few weeks, when it was clear that no fraction claimed him.
Actually, he didn't make any efforts in social contacts at all, never laughing, never smiling, always deadly serious. I think, deep inside, I was envious and wanted to find out how he could live without human contact, staying coolly detached from everybody else. Now, hindsight is telling me that he didn't talk because he knew nobody would understand him. Not even I did, although I silently claim him my friend. But some part inside me tells me that I must have left at least some impression on him, otherwise I wouldn't have gotten the envelope.
Inside is the invitation to his funeral, two days from now, and a flight ticket with a hastily scrawled note besides it.
“You were the only one whose address he kept track of, so I think he wanted you to know. The date and time on the ticket are open, because I didn't know when you would be able to get off work. Don't worry, it's already been paid for, the return flight, too. Duo Maxwell.”
Probably a co-worker of his, this Maxwell. And a very nice person to pay for my ticket. Or was it in his will? If somebody thought of minor details like this, it would certainly be him. During high school, I thought him a genius, because he got 100 points almost all he time. But one of the few times I dared talking to him, I told him that I wished I had as brilliant a mind as he had. You know what he said?
`Don't. I am no genius. I am merely good at paying attention to detail. That doesn't require an extraordinary mind, only training.'
When I asked him about what kind of training, he just shook his head and turned back towards his food. I think he never answered my question, and, to be honest, I actually don't want to know it anymore. What kind of training would teach a child to think of everything? Most adults don't have that ability, and he had it at 16 years of age. I think it might have something to do with his mature behaviour; his childhood must have been virtually non-existent. But, as I said, those are only guesses based on hindsight, and not even hindsight is perfect because of the emotional aspects of our memory.
In high school, I certainly did not see that side of him, because he was my secret idol. I admired him from some distance, circling as close to him as I dared at the moment, always scared that he would chase me away. I wanted to be like him so much that I closed my eyes to all of his shortcomings. `Nobody's perfect', but at that time, I was convinced that he was the exception to the rule, never realizing that he must have had as many problems as I remember having had myself at that time. It is a pity that only now, after his death, I think of him as a human being with all its quirks and flaws.
But, to be honest, I haven't thought of him in years, because although we've more or less regularly written each other e-mails for a few months after graduation, communication quickly slowed down to a minimum, and I can't even remember when I got his last e-mail.
Now, I could blame that on his job at Preventers. He was recruited fresh out of high school; to me it had seemed as if they were watching like hawks for him getting his diploma, not wanting to wait until he finished a college education. I don't know what exactly he did at Preventers, but they kept sending him all over the world, even into space. From his more than brief e-mails I gathered he was really busy, but while I am already on an honesty trip, I won't lie to myself. He had always found time to answer my mails, even if it was only two or three lines in his curt, dry style. It was me who had never answered his last mail; at first because I didn't know what to write him, then because I was too busy, then because my computer was down, and then, I finally forgot about it.
But it seems that he didn't forget me; otherwise I would have never gotten that letter after five moves from my home town to LA, to China, to Japan, back to the US, and finally here. The software company I work for is expanding rapidly, opening new branches all around the globe, and I have helped building up some of them. It is a very stressful job, but I like it very much, and not least of all, it is as secure a job as you can get today - with the exception of being employed by the administration. But only those who have impeccable records are allowed into any administrative positions that pay good money, so I've never tried. There are a few things in my past that I'd rather forget.
Calling in at the company, I tell the secretary that I am going to take a few days off because of personal matters, then I call the space port for the earliest flight reservation possible. Ten hours later, I am nervously sitting on my very first trip into space, L1. I've never known that he hadn't been born on earth, but on a colony. Where I got that piece of information from? Well, it was in that letter. `May he rest peacefully in the place life was given to him.' I wonder why he had come to earth, that's not quite the closest step for a colony kid.
Now that I've begun thinking about that I realize how little I actually know about him. I think he told me once that he didn't know his parents, and that he didn't know of any siblings. But he's never said anything else about his life before he moved to my home town. Why? I can only guess; it probably has something to do with his bad childhood of which I am more certain than ever before.
When we land on L1, it is already late at night, colony time. Going through customs is tedious, but fortunately, not all that many people are there, perhaps because of the late hour. As the funeral is quite early tomorrow, I immediately retire to the hotel room I have booked, some inexpensive mass-accommodations close to the docking station.
From the short glimpse of L1 I have gotten on my short walk to the hotel, the colony seems considerably more cramped than the area I live in, but not as bad as Tokyo. During the time I spent in Japan, I had to go to Tokyo several times, and let me tell you, you have no idea of how close to each other people can live if you haven't been there yourself. The fact that the predominantly Japanese colony L1 is not as cramped as Tokyo can probably be accounted to the influence of the Russian settlers that came here together with the Japanese ones during the first years after the creation of L1.
Still, my hotel room is tiny, barely more than a single bed, a dresser right next to it, and a separate bathroom that is so small that you practically have to sit on the toilet when you want to wash your hands, and watch at the same time that you don't trip over the shower stall. But I don't need more room. I will only stay here for a night or two, and it would be a waste of money to go for bigger, much more expensive accommodations.
The next day, I am standing in front of a small, inconspicuous park, wondering tiredly whether I have the right address or not. Somehow, I expected the funeral being held at some church or other religious institution, but I should have known that was not his style. He'd never said anything about believing in a god, and he certainly was not into sects. I just thought, well, that he was like me in that aspect.
My parents are Christians, so by default, I became a Christian, but in name only. I think the last time I went to service was with my Grandpa, and he died when I was eight. That was also the last time I held a bible in my hand, so I guess I am a Christian because it is in my birth records. I kind of expected the same from him, but now I realize how ridiculous an assumption like that is.
He was an orphan, so how could he have gotten any set of belief? I don't think he was one of the lucky kids who got placed in foster families, so he must have been in an orphanage. In orphanages, religion is no big theme, except in orphanages founded by religious groups. But if he had been a Colony ward, he certainly did not have to go to church on Sundays, and it would explain some of his attitude at least. I am not completely ignorant, I know how life is in government-founded orphanages. Too little staff, too many orphans, especially after the war. No wonder he was so tight-lipped about his past. He must have run away from an orphanage sometimes after the war, and they were too glad for not having to feed another mouth to look for him.
It is really a pity that I didn't open my eyes enough during high school to see the sides of him that weren't immediately apparent, to look behind the façade he wore every day. Now that he's gone, I can't ask him questions anymore, can't admire his unbelievable skills with the computer (which I don't think were quite legal, but back then, I didn't have any idea of what exactly he was doing). I also have no way anymore of finding out how correctly I remember him, how he was just before his death.
Did he still have the ability of always knowing who came within a 10-feet-radius of him? Of paying attention to details so small that I wouldn't have even considered them details?
With reversed positions, I think he would have deduced all the things I've needed more than 10 years to see within five minutes of reasoning. Or perhaps he would have come to a completely different conclusion because of some details I overlooked. Like where he got enough money from to pay for an apartment when he didn't have a job or any other visible source of income.
Idly, I step through the gate into the small park that looks exceedingly green amongst all the grey colony buildings. Its walls are lined by trees and shrubs, tidy but with a sense of nature that reminds me of earth. Amazing how somebody can plan a structure that looks as if it had grown naturally. Occasionally, not-so-natural bundles of flowers jut from the thick grass, probably marking other graves, but no heavy head-stones cut from a solid slab of granite like you see in old horror movies. Perhaps this is a graveyard after all.
“Excuse me, can I help you?”
Surprised, I turn around to the friendly voice. A tall gardener who is standing in the niche between the gate and the wall is looking expectantly at me. I think I must have looked quite lost, because judging by the cared-for state of the graves, people come here all the time to visit deceased friends or relatives.
“Actually yes. I was told that there is a funeral here today.”
I don't think anything has changed, but suddenly, the gardener seems even taller than before, and his voice sounds just a tad more attentive, confirming my assumption. “There are funerals here almost every week.”
A first glance around the park had revealed no freshly dug graves, but the cleverly arranged trees and bushes make inquiring looks further into the park next to impossible. Motion at the gate is drawing mine and the gardener's attention. A somber Preventer in dress uniform is walking through, limping heavily, wearing his left arm in a sling. He is followed by another one a step behind. As if sensing me, the injured Preventer turns toward us, a small smile appearing on his youthful features. Him and the Preventer behind him must be my age approximately. Are they also here for the funeral?
Limping towards me, the injured Preventer awkwardly extends a hand in greeting. “Hello. Nice to finally meet you in person. My name is Duo Maxwell.”
Shaking his hand in confusion, I don't recognize his name at first, but then I remember. “You are the one who sent me the invitation?”
His slow nod reveals a sadness and grief in his eyes that belie the smile on his lips. “Yes. Heero has told me a lot about you, even showed me your picture.”
The other Preventer, a Chinese one with his black hair tied back into a tight pony tail resting in the nape of his neck, settles a concerned hand on the uninjured arm of Duo Maxwell. “Duo, we have to be going, you can talk on the way.”
The smile on Maxwell's lips turns painful as he looks up at his slightly taller companion. “Well, `Fei, I think you will have to do the talking then. Oh,” he turns to me, “this is another friend, Wufei Chang.”
Chang bows slightly into my direction, then follows Maxwell's slow steps. Blinking after them is all I can do until my brain finally snaps out of the loop that Maxwell's words have thrown it into. Who is Heero? And why does he have my picture?
Quickly catching up to the two somber Preventers, I carefully ask them: “Excuse me, but who is this Heero? I don't know any Heero, and the invitation said that the funeral was for my friend Odin Lowe.”
“Ah yes, of course,” the Chinese Preventer explains, “Heero Yuy is the man that you know as Odin Lowe. Heero Yuy was his code name for a mission, and that's the name we all call him by.”
`Code name?', I silently mouth, trying to get used to the idea. Why in the world did Odin change his name? Didn't he like his old one? And what the hell did he do to need a code name? As far as I know, only undercover agents need code names, because calling your secretary by a code name would be utterly ridiculous. Looking towards Maxwell, I see that he is sweating and biting his lip, his eyes narrowed in concentration for every step, skin turning a shade whiter every few seconds.
All thoughts of asking him for clarification vanish from my mind. Concerned, I want to support Maxwell, but a brief touch on my arm and a headshake by Chang hold me back. Mutely wondering why, but too shy to ask, I turn the conversation back to Odin, or rather Heero. “I didn't know he had a picture of me. He never was the type to talk about his past.”
A small smile is crossing Chang's face. “Who said that Yuy volunteered the information? Maxwell pestered him so long that Yuy had the choice of giving in or going crazy. Afterwards, Yuy didn't say a word for three weeks, because he had used up his quota.”
Smiling, too, I think that sounds like the Odin I know He talked only when necessary, only saying what was needed at the moment. Getting curious, I ask: “How did you meet him?”
The smile on Chang's face is growing wider, and Maxwell is snorting. Is there a joke that I don't get? “What's so funny?”
Chang answers me, still smirking. “Well, Maxwell and Yuy met on their first mission. You could say that they had a slight disagreement, so later, Duo had to bust Yuy out of a hospital. I met them only a few months afterwards.”
Grimacing, I try to imagine what could cause Odin to disagree so strongly, and what the hell Maxwell had done to put Odin in hospital, because during high-school, he had always kept his calm, no matter the accusations. And Lowe was no slack in PE, either. “Then how did you become friends?”
“Oh, the three of us were the youngest Preventers for close to five years, and we stayed quite close together.”
Yeah, I imagine that must suck, being the babies of the organization. Nobody takes you seriously, you get stuck with the crappiest jobs, and everybody doubts your abilities. Believe me, I know. Even after college, I was very young, and the first place I found work at was more like a living hell.
By now, we are slowly rounding a couple of trees, and then I see the open mounds of earth. Suddenly, some switch is turned inside my brain. No matter how happy we are reminiscing about Odin's life, he is gone now. With a scratchy throat, I ask the one question that has been bothering me the most up to now. “Were you with him when he …”
Maxwell's grimace becomes worse, and Chang winces, though still answers. “Maxwell was on the same mission as Yuy. Intel went bad, didn't expect that much resistance.”
So that's why Maxwell's injured. Must have been hell of a mission, and suddenly, I am glad that I didn't become a Preventer if that's the kind of job experience you're faced with. What must Maxwell feel when his partner died right next to him? I wish I hadn't asked that question, but the milk's been spilled now.
Deciding to stay quiet now, I watch the people waiting at the grave. There are only few, and even less Preventers. Three Preventers, as far as I can count, all women. Somehow, I am relieved. I expected some impersonal ceremony where some old priest read how brave and good Odin was, how courageous to give his life for peace, and some other rubbish like that which makes my stomach turn. But I don't think there's any danger of that, if those three women - plus Maxwell and Chang - are the only Preventers that are going to come.
There is a girl, well, almost a woman, perhaps ten to twelve years younger than me, standing next to one of the Preventer women. I wonder how that girl got the fiery red hair, as her mother - well, I think that's her mother - is a brunette. There are two more men, both in black slacks, white shirt, the smaller, blond one even with a black tie. He looks somehow familiar, but I'm not sure where I know him from.
When he sees us, he comes towards us, the other one who has quite a strange hairstyle, in tow. His bangs are drooping quite low over his face, hiding an eye behind a curtain of brown hair. Quietly, the blond takes Maxwell's good arm and supports him, not caring about the glare he is thanked with. Offhandedly, he comments: “You should be in bed, you know?”, but there is no accusation in his voice.
The four apparently know each other; they fall in synch without so much of a word said, the blond one patiently matching his steps to Maxwell's painfully short ones. There is a single chair out here on the grass, looking very alien in the natural surroundings, but it is clear who it is meant for. Maxwell is stubbornly refusing to look into its direction, and I can't help but sympathize. I can vividly imagine how awkward it is to be sitting when all the others are standing. The blond one though doesn't heed Maxwell's silent protests as he positions Maxwell in front of the chair.
“Now sit down.”
Maxwell only looks at the blond with a frown, shaking his head. The blond sighs. “Either you sit down or I get Wufei to do it for you. Or I could call Une,” he adds with a small smile.
Maxwell's frown turns deeper, right into a grimace. “You wouldn't dare.”
Another voice intrudes, this time the Preventer woman whose daughter I wondered about. “Oh, Maxwell, he doesn't have to. Let's see. If you don't sit down right NOW, I will place you in a single-bed-room with no TV, no computer, and no visitors. Do you understand me?”
A quiet `Yes ma'am' later, Maxwell sits on the chair, not quite knowing whether to feel relief or to fidget uncomfortably. The brunette woman looks familiar, and suddenly, I recognize her. This is Lady Une, head of Preventers for more than 10 years. No wonder she looks so familiar, she is on TV quite often although the cameras don't do her justice. They fail to transmit her presence, a stern aura of importance, business, no-nonsense surrounding her like a cloak. I wonder why she is here; I doubt she appears at the funeral of every agent, or does she?
“Agent Chang, make sure he stays put. Use force if necessary.”
Chang immediately salutes and acknowledges the order in a crisp military tone, making Maxwell wince and the blond smile. Damn, now I recognize him, too, no wonder he also seemed familiar. Quatre Winner, head of Winner Enterprises, the youngest CEO in history, and also one of the most successful. What in the world is he doing here? How does a Preventer agent get to know such an important man? This seems to turn into a convention for prominent people, and I have to say, neither Lady Une nor Quatre Winner are how I imagined them. But then, celebrities hardly behave in public like they behave in private.
All of a sudden, Winner's quiet companion - bodyguard I guess, although he's kind of small for this kind of job - turns towards where Maxwell, Chang, and I came from, and I follow his gaze, barely suppressing a whistle through my teeth. Well, if we've already started with celebrities, why not add some more? Nonetheless, I can't help a second and a third stare when the slender shape of Relena Peacecraft, Foreign Minister of United Earth Nations for the 12th year running, appears amongst the trees in a black dress fitting for a funeral. At least her, I recognize immediately.
She comes in our direction, composed, solemn, carrying something in her arms I can't see from here. Silently, I wonder why there are no bodyguards except the one with the crazy hairdo in sight with all the celebrities, but I guess nothing like a few Preventers to scare off any attempts of kidnapping. Minister Peacecraft looks weary, tired, years younger than she appears on TV, and I have to ask myself if the grief on her face is for real. As a politician, she has the duty to attend to some funerals of high state officials, but why is she at the funeral of a Preventer? Just who did Odin know?
She heads towards us, and Maxwell smiles at her, a smile that does not exude much happiness behind the forced calmness. “I thought you might want to come. Did Rashid scare the reporters away that perpetually seem to follow you?”
Foreign Minister Peacecraft answers with a smile in kind, the happiness on her mouth not hiding the fact that she doesn't want to smile at all. “Yes, I have to say, Rashid is quite effective. As are all of your Maguanacs, Quatre.”
The blond nods towards her in recognition. “Although some of them were already thinking about retirement, all of them were quite adamant about being here today. I tried to get Rashid to talk them out of it, but you know how he is: `You can't get any better security than that, so be quiet and let us do our work. It is the least we can do for him. May his soul rest with Allah.'”
Rashid? Security? Didn't see any on my way in. Not by a far shot. But I think I've heard about the Maguanacs, some elite troupe of bodyguards hired by Winner to protect him. But then where are they? I guess that the question is written directly onto my face, because Winner adds into my direction: “Rashid is the gardener at the front gate. I doubt that you haven't seen him.”
The gardener. Never thought he was a bodyguard, but he certainly has the stature for one. Tsk, and I only thought he was a little bit strange. Guess that tells me how good I am at assessing characters. This is turning out quite interesting, because I also never would have thought that Odin was one to befriend big, burly bodyguards as all Maguanacs surely are. But, on the other hand, the silent brunette with the strange bangs is only a few inches taller than Winner, and he definitely doesn't have the typical bodyguard stature.
Anyways, I think that is all who are going to come; at least for the past few minutes nobody else has arrived. We are just standing around, oppressively quiet, and amongst the silent friendship and all the celebrities, I feel quite lost. Maxwell's not looking up; he is staring into the ground, or rather, through the grass as I don't think he's actually seeing it. Chang, Winner, and the bodyguard who I still don't know the name of, are standing around Maxwell in a silent show of friendship; the other people, all women I realize now, are close by. My lost feeling doesn't abate as I silently watch a big, burly man who is almost as tall as that gardener Rashid appear amongst the trees. Definitely somebody cut for a bodyguard job.
He is holding something in his hands. An urn, I recognize as he comes closer. By the painful looks towards the porcelain vessel, I don't have to ask whose remains are in there. Quietly, I watch the man kneeling besides the small hole in the grass, carefully placing the urn inside, then bowing deeply. Hearing some Arabic mumbling, I guess that he's a Muslim, and Winner steps closer, laying a single, iridescently white rose on the freshly dug grave, saying something else in Arabic.
One by one, the women go up and lay down flowers and small reminders of their time with Odin, saying something so quietly that I can't hear it, or just watching silently. The strange bodyguard and Chang are next, staring into the grave for a long time after placing their gifts. Then Maxell painfully heaves himself out of the chair and gets some brown … rope… out of one of his pockets. He gives it a last pat before he limps towards the grave and reluctantly puts it next to the single white rose, lingering for a while before the open mounds of earth. Then it is my turn.
The only thing I have is a small picture of him, the only one where he is smiling at least halfway. I lay it on top of the gifts, and I can't help but look at the strange collection. The white rose in the center, half a clown's mask and a scroll with some Chinese characters which I can't read beside it, a teddy bear where the stuffing is already pouring out through the seams, a small toy Gundam, and many flowers. And there, right next to the purely white rose, there is the brown rope - which is no rope at all as I can see, but a braid of hair. A long braid of hair, as brown as Maxwell's. I wonder …
No, I don't want to wonder, because Maxwell's choppy haircut looks quite self-inflicted, and I suddenly have to look away to not let the grief rise to my eyes. Odin's happy picture sits amidst the flowers, framed by petals, giving it a strange glow. Did he know that he would die on his job? No, of course not, but I mean, was he aware of the chance of dying so young? He wasn't even 30 yet, right in the prime of his life, probably enjoying it quite a bit. And now, he is gone. Stepping back, I take my place a little bit away from the two groups and watch how the man who has brought the urn heaps earth on the grave. Nobody is talking, no music, only the silent humming that has been with me ever since I entered L1, the almost inaudible sound of life support refreshing and recycling the air.
Just as silently, the man steps back after he has filled the hole, next to Mr. Winner, who murmurs: “Thank you, Abdul. Thank you very much.”
Everybody is just staring at the grave for some time until Winner breaks the spell we all are under. “Rest in peace, Perfect Soldier. You earned it more than most.”
Perfect Soldier? Was that his nickname at Preventers? Actually, I don't mind not knowing. Somehow, my curiosity has gotten buried together with Odin's ashes, and I feel hollow, drained.
Emotionlessly, I watch Maxwell heaving himself out of his chair once more, standing silently, his head bowed. Then, without a word, he turns around and leaves with painfully short steps. Chang and Winner look at each other, volumes of conversation passing between them, and then, Chang shakes his head. “Don't go after him just yet. He needs time.”
Winner looks sad, but accepts Chang's judgement. Lady Une is walking up behind the two, looking into the direction Maxwell has left, too, asking Chang in a broken voice that doesn't fit to her composed exterior. “You will take him back to hospital, won't you? I would give the two of you a few weeks off, but knowing Maxwell, I thing he'd be back within the first two days. Oh, and try to talk him out of his unnecessary guilt, Chang. I trust you to take care of Maxwell.”
Nodding gravely, Chang acknowledges his orders, and I watch Lady Une take the hand of her daughter, walking off together. Only now do I wonder why the head of Preventers has taken her daughter to the funeral, so that rules out a purely representative function. Odin had known Lady Une - and her daughter - personally, but I feel too empty to dwell over that fact for a long time.
To my surprise, Lady Une is heading directly towards me, looking at me expectantly. “Excuse me, are you the one that Agent Yuy went to school with?”
Silenced by the sudden question, I can do nothing more than nod mutely. I thought nothing could surprise me anymore, but apparently talking to Lady Une in person can. She adds, not minding my silence. “In his will, Yuy suggested you as successor to his position as system admin. You have excellent qualifications for the position, and we are currently short on staff. Would you consider the offer?”
Unbelievingly, I stare at the woman, my thoughts circling without any results. “Me? What? System admin? Odin's old job?”
Never batting an eyelash, Lady Une elaborates. “Heero Yuy, or Odin Lowe, was responsible for all electronic networks at Preventers, especially for security against hackers, viruses, and other system bugs. He suggested that you take his job as he was convinced that you were one of the best in that area. And, looking at your credentials, I have to agree.”
I am utterly perplexed, my feelings having changed from drained to numb. Lady Une offering me a job personally? That's a dream, isn't it? Must be. Odin thought so highly of my skills that he trusts me with a security network that he built up? Another oddity: who in his right mind suggests a successor to his job in his last will? And what kind of boss acts on that suggestion?
Stumbling over my own tongue, I stutter: “Erh, … erhm, do I have to agree immediately? I would like to … to think about it some more…”
Lady Une nods briskly. “Of course. I will send you a copy of the contract right away and then you can decide. But I need somebody as soon as possible, best within a week. Is that too soon for you?”
Remembering to shut my mouth, I shake my head no, probably looking completely flummoxed. “Erh, no, a week will be fine, ma'am. Just fine…”
She nods. “Excellent. By tomorrow morning, you will have the copies. Glad to have met you.”
Managing to shake her hand, I respond in kind, then stare after her and her daughter for quite some time. I still can't believe it. A job as system admin? I am the best they could find? Preventers must be pretty desperate at the moment, I think. Lady Une hasn't mentioned my small career as a thief with so much of a word. Does she not know about it, or did they run out of people with impeccable pasts?
In high-school my computer skills were next to nothing compared to Odin, but still better than the average. I studied IT in college; I never was really good though. There are many out there who graduated from college with better grades than I. But I admit, if I really wanted to, I could break into next to every computer system. I never quite went to my limits, but I learned a lot from watching Odin work on his laptop, even if I didn't know what he was doing at that point of time. Really, not the average kind of guy, Odin Lowe. But mentioning me in his last will? And Lady Une actually acting on it? Never seen a crazier thing.
Ah, well, I think I should be going now, seeing as everybody else's leaving as well. Still kind of numb from shock, I return to my hotel room after saying good bye to Chang and Maxwell - and that bodygardener, a pun which I crack myself up with so hard that I laugh all the way to my room.
The next day, I return home to earth, and I don't even get sick as we enter the atmosphere. At home, on my desk, there is already a pile of papers waiting, neatly printed by the fax machine sitting behind it. So Lady Une really meant what she said. But by now, the shock has worn off, and I study the papers meticulously. When I'm through, I have to lean back and bury my face in my hands. This offer is so good that I'm afraid it can't be real. Three times the salary of my current occupation, full health insurance, retirement pays ensured (the amount depending on how many years I work for them), and five weeks of vacation a year. 50 hours a week, overtime can be set off for more vacation. Can't believe it. Contract for half a year, if I do my job well, it can be extended indefinitely. A bonus is that Preventers can't go bankrupt as they are a government-founded agency.
But I still don't see where the missions part comes in. The Preventers I met at the funeral were always talking about Odin being on missions which must have been really dangerous if Odin actually was killed on one of them. That's a question I'd like to know. Why did they send their system admin into peril? What kind of computer geek is able to handle himself well in the field? Doubts rise in my throat. Nonetheless, I am looking at the offer once again, then I get up, a decision made. Tomorrow, I will call the number that Lady Une has sent together with the copy of the contract, and then we'll see what happens. I have not agreed to the contract yet, and if their expectations of a system administrator's area of expertise don't sit well with me, I can still turn the offer down. It's just that I won't get such a chance again.
Shaking my head, I sit down in front of the TV, switching it on for some background noise while I try averting my thoughts from the curious turn my life has taken. I don't think it's working too well, because I have no clue what is happening on screen until the voice of a news speaker catches my attention.
“… died a few days ago. The funeral was yesterday on L1 under the exclusion of the press. And now the weather…”
Raising an eyebrow, I zap through the channels for some time until I catch another news program. What a strange coincidence that there were two funerals on L1 yesterday. Well, not as strange if you think that the population of L1 alone is close to a million, so there's bound to be several people dying a day. But who's so important that it's in the news?
Fed up with the overly happy newscaster who only tells stuff that I'm not the least interested in, I decide to switch on my computer (yes, an old-fashioned, stationary model, not one of the super light, super thin laptops which are also super expensive). Within a few minutes of searching, I have the information I am after. Once again, I lean back in my chair this time staring blankly at a dark spot on my ceiling.
Quite funny actually, how fate deals the hands. Odin Lowe was buried at the same time as one of the Gundam Pilots, but whose funeral did Foreign Minister Peacecraft and Lady Une visit? Odin's. I feel sorry for all those who had to stand at the grave of the Gundam Pilot and know that neither the government nor Preventers had the guts to have a representative show up at the funeral of one of the people who ended the war. Who brought peace for all of us.

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