see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
AN: Dedicated to Dacia, as always!
Thanks to Anaitis and Tsuki for the advice and the fixin'. This chapter
got a complete overhaul, as much as I can manage at present. Thanks to
all you reviewers out there! I really needed the morale boost this week
*cheers and sobs in pure gratitude*
My writing schedule is officially shot all to hell by a change in jobs
(good change though). Chapter postings (for Freeport and Source) might
be unpredictable for the coming month, month and a half. Then I should
get back into the swing of things, and it should (I hope!) become regular
This chapter is a deliberate change in pace; something of a breather.
Don't worry, things get violent again shortly.
+ Chapter 12
"La grâce de tes
Belle danseuse de l'Orient
Remplies de nostalgie
Les charmes de ton corps
Danses royales du Cambodge
La fleur du Laos
Ton coeur est une rose
Tu chantes résistance
D'un monde en souffrance
Sous les drapeaux rouges sang
Ont fuit les éléphants
La grâce de tes mouvements
Belle danseuse de l'Orient"
(The grace of your movements
Beautiful oriental dancer
Words and poetry
Filled with nostalgia
The charms of your body
The royal dances of Cambodia
The flower of Laos
Your heart is a rose
You sing for resistance
In a suffering world
Under blood-red flags
We're fleeing elephants
The grace of your movements
Beautiful oriental dancer...)
- Beruriers Noirs, 'Danseuse de l'Orient'
The hammering on the door rang in his sleep like machine gun fire. The
squeak of the alarm from the laptop was an urgent counterpoint. Wufei
was half out of the sleeping bag, sword unsheathed, before he was fully
His eyes darted around the room, scrutinizing shadows - one of them was
moving. Duo ghosted towards the door in such complete silence that Wufei
almost doubted his senses for a second. A saw-toothed blade in Duo's left
hand caught and cut the streetlight shining through the shutters.
"Duo?" The voice, muffled through the door, preceded another round of
Duo relaxed and moved more naturally, without the silence and deadly intent
of a knife. Wufei, prompted by the change in his ally's body language,
stood down as well and sheathed his sword.
"Petey, for chrissakes, stop before you wake up the whole sector," Duo
grumbled. He opened the door a wedge and checked the corridor outside
with a swift glance, before throwing it fully open.
"Sorry, mate, I'm in a hurry. I'm gonna miss the shuttle."
"Off to the shipyards?"
"Yeah. Look, I tried to get that info for you, but-" Petey glanced over
his shoulder then around the room, and he continued in a whisper.
Wufei headed towards the kitchen area, his eyes on the coffee maker. He
and Duo had spent the entire previous day walking all over the docking
rings, and they'd gone to sleep only five hours ago. He put the coffee
in, then remembering how Duo liked it, he trebled the amount. He didn't
actually want any of the poison; the smell alone would be enough to wake
The coffee burbled as Duo closed the door. Wufei took one look at the
uncharacteristic frown on his friend's face and drew his own conclusions.
"...Yeah. Another dead end."
Wufei rubbed his face. It had been four days since that near-fight with
Mako, and nothing had cropped up. In a way, that was good. Wufei had been
expecting a lynching party every time he turned a corner. He’d spent four
days jumping at shadows and flinching at the many loud sounds in Freeport.
Four days of nerves coiling every time someone gave him the Freeport Look
for a second longer than seemed normal.
The mob bearing tar and feathers failed to materialize, but so did any
further information. Terrence Darbois had left Freeport on a 'vacation'
the very day after the Mako incident. Duo had sworn fit to peel the paint
off the walls when he'd heard about that. Every other source in Ravachol's
organisation had completely dried up, not that Duo dared to press too
hard. Even Duo's informants couldn't get anything out of the gang; the
gag order was quite thorough. So far it hadn't been possible to determine
if it was general, or aimed specifically at Duo and his friends.
"What now?" Wufei asked, shoving a cup of coffee at Duo, who was scratching
his abs through his ragged black t-shirt with the dazed air of someone
who could have used more sleep.
"Keep on digging," Duo answered with a morose shrug. Then he grinned,
his usual cheerfulness and self-confidence rising to the fore at the first
whiff of the thick brew in the cup. "Rav's men may not be talking, but
I know others who will; people who will have seen Carver's ship come in
and allowed him entry into Freeport. Like most freetraders, I'm friendly
with the guys who volunteer for customs. And they love me on the flight
Wufei looked at him dubiously, remembering just how much they loved the
smuggler on the flight deck. He hoped that Duo wasn't being overly optimistic
"Give me a couple hours and we'll hit the streets, start looking along
those lines." Duo glanced at his watch. "I have to wait for a repair job
from Monique; something else broke in the-"
"Duo, we don't have the time for that!"
"I don't have to fix it today; I just need to make sure I'm here to pick
up the broken rotor when her runner drops it off. I'll fix it in my spare
time," Duo replied, conciliating.
That meant that he'd fix it instead of sleeping one night. Duo's day-to-day
schedule, in conjunction with the needs of the mission, made for a brutal
timetable, even by Wufei's excruciating standards. Wufei didn't particularly
want his informant burning out on him, but his protest was firmly cut
off by a wave of Duo's damaged hand.
"This is important, man. For the investigation too, actually. Monique
is a...well, she's a tartar. She'd give wartime Une a run for her money,
but she's a power in this place. And she's got a tab with me now. She's
the person who organizes the repairs and maintenance for anything that
flies in and out of Freeport. Her and her crew know everything there is
to know about which ship comes in from where and in what state."
"Sounds like she's in charge of a lot," Wufei asked, interested despite
himself. "Who decided she gets to have a say in all that?"
"She did," Duo informed him dryly. "And nobody, and I mean nobody,
has ever dared tell her otherwise. She's not 'in charge', like, officially.
But she's got the memory of several computers networked together, and
the organisational skills to match. She's just the best for the job. That's
how most people get steady work like this." Duo jerked thumb at the mechanic’s
workbench behind him in illustration. "By being so good at them that they'd
be wasted on the shipyard floors."
“And I guess she’ll help us with information only if you help her with
her repairs,” Wufei growled.
“That’s the way the world works, man. Or you could try to serve her with
a subpoena. I’ll send your remains to Tro.”
"Very well," Wufei grumbled, caving in with bad grace. "And if she can't
Duo had set down his coffee to pull his prosthetics glove onto his right
hand, twisting the neural connector into his biceps.
"We do have other avenues," he answered briskly. "I'm already tracking
Carver through the general rumour mill, and I've put out a few feelers
into Freeport’s assassin's network." His eyes remained thoughtful, focused
on numerous threads of enquiry. His fingers started their daily routine,
re-doing his sleep-mussed braid practically on automatic.
"If the freetrader side completely seizes up, we'll hunt for the fucker
the old-fashioned way. Find out how he gets his jobs, set a trap, bait
the bastard out, nail his ass. I just gotta come up with a really, really
good reason why a smuggler like me would want to hire a hitman, 'cause-
" Duo interrupted himself with a gigantic yawn.
"Two hours to wait," he growled, once he got his jaw under control again.
"I coulda used the sleep."
"Slip back into bed. I'll keep an ear out for the door," Wufei offered,
rooting around his knapsack for his thin sandals. Then he remembered the
state of the scrapyard outside and decided to wear his boots instead.
"Nah, no point," Duo muttered into his brew. "After that wake-up call,
I'll never get back to sleep."
"Have breakfast then."
Wufei pulled on a tight tank-top instead of the loose sweat he'd worn
to bed, and bent down to fasten his boots.
"Whacha doin', Fei?"
"Going out back," Wufei answered shortly, grabbing his sword.
"Why? You've already cleaned out the yard twice. I don't think it's ever
been that spotless." Duo was looking at him quizzically.
Duo didn't take the hint of Wufei's curt responses; he trailed after the
Preventer, blinking sleepily. Wufei resisted the urge to shoo him back
inside, knowing that would only encourage him. Instead, he took an extra
long time with his warm-up exercises. Sure enough, after ten boring minutes,
Duo went away without any prompting. He left the door open a few inches.
It wasn't that much warmer inside the room than in the yard outside, and
the quality of the air was the same everywhere in Freeport: it was air
with a great deal of personality.
Wufei heard the rustle of clothes as Duo got dressed. Then a swivel chair
creaked in the room; something on the workbench was picked up with a slight
scrape of metal on metal. After a few seconds, a regular squeaking shivered
the silence, a wrench attacking a bolt. The small sound was almost immediately
drowned out by a banshee screech of cables and the ratchet of a crane,
coming from the sector wall a few blocks away; supplies being hauled up
from the cargo area.
Wufei glared at the wall in the rough direction of the noise. He'd cringed
again. He still wasn't used to the sudden bursts of racket in this hell-hole.
Duo never even glanced up. It was galling: Wufei expected better discipline
of himself. All he had to do was forget the deadly little tango of ships
around the hub and rim of the colony; the chances that one of them would
spin out of control and crash into Freeport. Forget the probability of
twenty tons of rogue steel and fuel cells ripping open the fragile metal
skin of the wheel and exposing them all to agonising death. Piece of cake.
He shook his head and breathed deeply, banishing the little prickle of
fear that clung to him still. The air was rich with the scents of metal,
chemicals, sewage and life. It might smell like cesspit perfume, but it
was real in his lungs. He forced himself to relax and forget about accidents
and killing vacuum. The perpetual stress and the frustrations of the investigation
were getting to him. He needed to do some Wushu, and connect to the still,
calm centre of his soul.
Banishing the clattering noise and distant shouts of workers from his
mind, he took up a stance in the centre of the cleared-out part of the
yard, hands at his side, body loose. He let his eyes focus on an empty
spot beneath the netless basketball hoop. He breathed deeply, and started
The Tai Chi forms loosened his muscles and rounded off his warm up. His
mind started to flow from the rigid straight lines of mission-mode.
His feet drifted over oil stains and metal shards. The grace of the open-hand
forms felt foreign against the backdrop of the junkyard. The very contrast
was intriguing. He watched his own hands move, detached, admiring the
strange beauty he was creating in this setting. The calm and concentration
touched his soul. It focused him on the here and now; on feeling; on drawing
one breath after another. His body occupied the space between the junk
piles in precisely controlled movements, that gifted him with a strange
He held the final form for a few minutes, breathing evenly, letting aggression
and worry flow out into the ground. Light crept into his body through
his lungs; energy warmed him, flowed through him.
His sword murmured, a cool hiss as he drew it. He loved that sound. It
seemed alive; light played on the blade. It gleamed, cold, hard and intransigent
in the murky darkness; it sliced the thick air and all the doubts and
frustrations. Pure. He nodded to it appreciatively-
There had been a small thunk from the room. Wufei felt a prudent pair
of blue eyes observe him from the shadows around the partially open door.
They flicked over his sabre and scrutinized the yard, looking for enemies.
Wufei went to put down the scabbard, as well as his cast-off tank top.
No need for words. Duo would read reassurance in the way Wufei walked
"Aren't you cold?" Duo quizzed, opening the door wide and leaning against
the frame, his eyes still scouring the corners for possible danger.
Wufei shook his head. The calm and composure of his ritual warmed his
body, eased his soul.
He heard Duo grunt and go back into the room. A movement of air brushed
against Wufei's skin; it chilled him slightly. A shiver tried to scurry
up his arms. He shook himself, and brought up his sword into the first
He fell back quickly into his familiar routine. The blade seemed to draw
him into the Tai Chi Dao and he followed, like a dancer with his partner.
As he held the 'Striking the Tiger' form's slow kick, he felt/heard Duo's
quiet return. His mind and body flowed into the measured, controlled and
elegant moves, following the blade, and he didn't even consider stopping...There
was something in the silence now, something that chimed in harmony with
his serenity and concentration: he somehow knew that Duo would not interfere
or distract him. His friend would watch in silence, with the eyes of the
warrior that existed side by side with the cheerful smuggler. And Wufei
found he didn't mind the company as much as he should...
The world started to blend, to become a coherent entity. The smell of
coffee, the swish of the sword, the crackle of an N-bar wrapper; each
took their place, like one heartbeat following the next. It felt strangely
complete, and right.
The brush of Wufei's boots against the metal floor. The pure, beautiful
whisper of his dao's song as he whipped it around, 'Pushing the Boat with
the Current'. In the background, Duo started at the suddenly abrupt movement,
and then coughed quietly on a bit of energy bar. Wufei's lips curved in
the slightest of smiles. He didn't hide it behind a mask. There was no
repression here, only control.
He came back to first position, fists at his side, sword straight and
still despite its weight. He breathed deeply, letting the cold air fill
his lungs. He didn't look towards the doorway where Duo was sitting on
the stoop. Let him watch. His sword was already tempting him into the
set of forms that were unique to his clan: the Dragon's Wushu.
His feet fell into the moves. They followed the footsteps of his father,
brushing the grass of Master Li's temple. Wufei’s grandfather had followed
these forms, under the orange trees that had been coaxed into blossom
on a broken-down colony. His great-grandfather had swung this same sword
through the clean crisp morning of a Chinese springtime. His ancestors
had followed this ritual over the hallowed stones of an Emperor's palace
and the dirt of battlefields; on the wooden floors of practice halls and
in small gardens and temples.
His thoughts darted like the sword. The Dragon Wushu of his clan was not
the slow, meditative steps of Tai Chi Dao; they were rapid, deadly forms,
meant to enhance a warrior's strength and battle spirit. He was one with
the sword, one with the graceful, murderous movements; he was even one
with the junk-filled yard and the biting cold air. His senses swept out,
prowling. There hadn't been any more sipping noises from the mug since
he'd started, though when he'd spun and darted into 'Dragon Fighting Phoenix',
a two-fold blow as fierce as it was graceful, he'd heard the liquid slosh
and spill, so Duo hadn't actually finished his coffee yet.
His mind spiralled, tighter and tighter into the finish, body and being
drawn into the final moves, violent, lethal, beautiful. The final slash
was a catharsis, as always.
He straightened from the last lunge slowly; the final form was borrowed
from the Tai Chi Dao. It was meditative, calming. He finished, and then
bowed to the enemy he'd cut to ribbons, to his ancestors, and to the terrible
beauty which lived in the heart of each man. Then he sank to his knees,
dao across them, eyes closing of themselves. Meditation was the logical
conclusion to the final liberating moves and the slow step down into the
The scrapyard and the silent presence on the stoop came back to him in
pulses, in time with his slowing heartbeat. His senses were heightened
by the Wushu. He could tell, just by the way his skin prickled, that Duo
was still sitting on the doorstep and staring at him. Wufei peeked through
his eyelashes, momentarily setting aside the gathering threads of his
Duo's elbows were planted on his knees, and he had the mug frozen halfway
to his mouth; Wufei wondered how long it'd been like that. The blue eyes
were wide, his expression distant. He was staring at Wufei, who wondered
what his burn scars looked like under the harsh yard lights and trickles
of sweat. The suddenness and strangeness of that thought caught him off-guard;
he hardly ever wondered about his appearance any more.
Though his position hadn't moved from the relaxed stance of meditation,
and he'd been looking at the other man through the barest slit of eyelids,
hidden by sooty lashes, Duo nonetheless started and lowered the coffee
cup. The blue eyes blinked and darted to Wufei's. The barest flush brushed
his spacer-pale cheeks-
Duo stood up quickly and turned. "Jesus, don't tell me you're going to
sit like that!" he exclaimed, already inside the room. "You ain't got
the sense God gave a kitten! You'll catch your death, sweating like that!
Get you a towel-" the voice faded.
Wufei stared at the empty doorway for a few startled moments; then he
frowned and closed his eyes, sinking into meditation by habit. Or trying
The point of the Wushu was that it made you remarkably clear-headed. So
Wufei was having a hard time dismissing that brief, dreamy look on Duo's
face as just one warrior being impressed with another's martial moves.
What was worse, Wufei was having a hard time feeling the required disapproval,
He was on a mission, and Duo had no business looking at him like that,
anyway. Wufei had exceedingly high standards in that department, and Maxwell
failed to qualify-
Then why did I let him watch...?
Wufei felt a frown work its way through his composure. Why had
he let Duo watch? He'd barely questioned it during the Wushu. Wufei was
an intensely private person, and he didn't like people ogling him while
he practiced or meditated. And the Dragon's Wushu was something particularly
intimate. He always isolated himself when he performed it. He wouldn't
consider showing it to any of his lovers, much less a somewhat-friend-onetime-ally
he'd not seen in five years. Heero had seen it, and Quatre, and- why hadn't
he stopped when Duo had shown up with his coffee? Duo would have respected
his wishes; the smuggler might be a stubborn adrenaline junky at the best
of times, but there'd been something there; a warrior's understanding.
If he'd stopped, Duo would have immediately gone back inside-
That's why Wufei hadn't stopped...
And he couldn't deny that he had rather liked having those blue eyes on
him as he moved; watching the pure, graceful forms and the naked blade...
He couldn't deny that he'd like that last look, either. Admiration mixed
with a hint of interest that had nothing to do with martial arts. The
memory of the brief flicker of pleasure Wufei had felt when he'd caught
that look troubled his mind, like a rock skipping across the still surface
of a pond. It was going to run roughshod over his attempts at meditation
until he'd accepted it.
Yes, he'd enjoyed the way Duo had been staring at him. He wasn't often
looked at like that, as a warrior or as a man. Warriors were, to say the
least, out of fashion these days, and it couldn't be easy to admire his
body, which was very visibly a weapon, every burnt inch of it.
Once accepted, it became easier to dismiss. Duo was an ally, and a friend,
and an informant helping Wufei with his mission. Three good reasons not
to go there. Wufei had been through this before, with Heero. With Trowa
too, for that matter. Wufei walked a warrior's path which not many people
could aspire to. It was tempting to reach out to the few other men who
could stand with him. But that was all it was; a temptation. He was too
disciplined to even consider giving in to it. He kept everything carefully
separate and under control. He lived alone, he had sex with a few well-chosen
friends, he treated Heero and Trowa like the brothers they were, he existed
Duo probably understood this - that's why he'd broken off his staring
and left like his braid had caught on fire, Wufei concluded. He'd backed
off just as quickly as Wufei had from a potential complication, one that
Duo wouldn't want either; the smuggler was too smart for that. It looked
like they were both on the same wavelength. Wufei just hoped there would
be no awkwardness-
A towel landed on his head, answering that concern quite adequately. He
snatched it off to glower at the familiar smirk.
Yes, this was best. Back to normal.
His search for a suitable threat, and Duo's look of anticipation of same,
were abruptly cut by a loud knocking at the front door.
"Huh, the courier's early," Duo commented, trotting away to get it.
Wufei used the towel so generously provided, then picked up the scabbard-
"Yeah? What's up?"
His sword stopped at the lip of its sheath, then whispered as it sliced
the air to lie ready by his side. Duo had spoken loudly; loud enough to
be heard from the courtyard. He shouldn't be asking Monique's courier
that question. Wufei made his way as silently as possible towards the
"Yeah, me Maxwell. Who you?"
Wufei took in the room with a glance. A very big man was talking to Duo
near the door. He was dressed in thick protective clothes and an apron,
but Wufei also spotted the bright red band tied around his arm.
When Reba Hamilton-Grey had reacted to the sight of a gun by ordering
someone to fetch a Red Band, Wufei had gotten a fairly good idea of what
a Red Band was. Figures of authority, inasmuch as anarchists had any.
He'd met a couple of Makhno's Red Bands since that day in Zapata. One
of them had been in charge of stopping the turbine when Kolia had wanted
to repair the vent in Centre Street. The next day, a woman, with the same
piece of red cloth tied around her upper arm, had shown up to thank Duo
for Wufei's assistance with the vent. She'd mentioned, with a hopeful
look, several other repairs in the sector that required a couple of good
mechanics. Both Red Bands had been friendly; they were local to the sector
and knew most people by sight.
But from Duo's behaviour, this Red Band wasn't a citizen of Makhno, and
his presence was unexpected. Duo looked relaxed, but his hands rested
loosely at his sides, ready to react. This might be the next of Mako's
attempts to uncover Wufei's identity...
"Name's Cadma. From Lao," the Red Band grunted, in response to Duo's query.
"And you're a man of few words. What exactly can I help you with?"
The Red Band scratched his chin pensively, as if this was a rather complicated
question. He was in his mid-twenties, with long thick black hair melding
into a beard. The radiation apron and bulky protective gear indicated
he should have been at the far end of the colony, working on its core,
instead of knocking on Duo's door.
Wufei forced himself to relax a bit. The guy was alone, and apparently
not too bright. Surely Freeport could have sent a better spearhead to
a lynch mob if Mako had-
"Gotta message. From Elder Braun."
Duo's head came up swiftly. He stared at the message tube Cadma was holding
out to him.
"Take it. Gotta go work," Cadma muttered, a deep rumble low in his big
"Thanks," Duo chirped, recovering in an instant. "Wanna cup of coffee?
No, you're obviously too busy," he added a bit weakly, watching Cadma's
back disappear down the hallway at a lumbering pace. "Have a safe day!"
There might have been a faint grunt in response.
Duo closed the door by leaning against it and letting his weight do the
work. He was staring at the message tube, checking the electronic seal.
"Balls, now what...?" he muttered, twisting it open and shaking out a
piece of paper.
Wufei was at his side in a second, reading over his shoulder. That close,
he could hear the faint intake of Duo's breath.
The note was scribbled in a leaky pen. '201-3-3rd Av, Kropotkin. Amber!'
"Amber?!" Wufei gasped, skin prickling. Duo had told him, before they'd
even docked in Freeport, that flashing amber lights were a serious warning.
Like a hull-breach or a radiation leak, that kind of 'serious'. The metal
of Duo's building, and the sector walls around them, seemed suddenly pitifully
thin in Wufei's mind, when stacked against the crushing vacuum of space.
Duo crumpled the piece of paper and stuffed it into his pocket. "Get dressed,"
he ordered shortly.
Wufei ran towards his pack automatically. "Amber? Does that mean we've
"No, I think people would be doing a little bit more running around if
we'd sprung a leak," Duo drawled sarcastically. "And we'd have sirens
and stuff." He threw off his comfortable house-jacket and pulled on his
leather coat, after strapping on his spring-loaded sheath over his tight
black glove. "Amber's just a code for urgent. 'Fucked-up' level of urgent.
We gotta hurry. Get dressed!"
"What were those numbers? An address?" Wufei asked, fumbling through his
neat pile of folded clothes for something warm. Sweat was drying on his
chest, under his arms and at his waistband, chilling him, but no time
"Yes. In Krop. Come on."
"Are we going there?"
"Why?" Wufei countered. "What does this-"
"Because if Braun sent me this, it means I gotta be at this address yesterday!
Now hurry or I drag you through the streets like you are now!"
Wufei, in his underwear, with his leather pants in one hand, took half
a second to throw a scowl at his Handler before getting dressed as fast
as he could.
While Wufei threw on his jacket and strapped on his sword, Duo scribbled
a note directing Monique's runner to drop the broken mecha piece off at
Gilla's. Then they headed towards the Voltairine airlock almost at a run.
Which turned out to be rather pointless, as they had to wait a quarter
of an hour for the train.
When factory and shipyard shifts were turning over, the trains were packed
to capacity. But at this hour, both carriages were all but empty. Wufei
and Duo settled all the way in the back, empty seats all around them as
a matter of course.
"Is this summons anything to do with Mako?" Wufei asked quietly.
"No. Well, maybe. Maybe Braun wants to meet me to warn me about somethin'.
But then he'd have dropped by, or asked me to stop by his office. Donno
why we'd meet him in Krop if it was that." Duo fished a liquorice stick
out of his pocket, twirled it around his fingers agilely, then flicked
it into his mouth.
"I've been worried about a Red Band showing up with Mako behind him for
several days now," Wufei admitted in a low voice, finding the right pitch
to be heard over the train's racket without being indiscreet. This was
the first time in four days he'd actually voiced one of his concerns;
they'd fallen back into wartime patterns, where they'd not talk over the
worst that could happen, just quietly prepare for it, each on their own.
"I wasn't worried about Mako showing up with a Reddie. I've been more
worried about him showing up with forty bruisers and lead pipes," Duo
admitted in a mutter; Wufei read it on his lips more than he heard it.
"It'd be worse if it were someone in authority, though. Right? Then we'd
have the whole colony against us," Wufei reasoned.
"Not really. Some guy picking up a piece of red cloth in a lottery don't
have the authority to move the whole colony against you, not without proof.
And if Mako had any kinda proof, then we'd have had a mob at our door
with a nice, shiny rope," Duo mumbled distractedly around his liquorice
stick, staring out the much-scratched plastic window.
The train taking them to Kropotkin thundered over the tracks. Cla-clack,
"What did you say?"
"Rope. Sorry, Chang, we don't have courts of appeal here-"
"No, I meant, how did you say Red Bands are chosen?"
"Lottery. A random draw."
"That's what I thought you said the first time, too. You're joking, of
Wufei stared at Duo, who gave him a fairly serious look in return, well,
as serious as he usually got.
"I can't believe even a bunch of- of-"
"-of anarchists like you would choose your supervisors randomly?!"
Duo shrugged casually. "That's how it works. If you live in Freeport two
years, and you're over eighteen, you're in the draw. They select twenty
to forty Red Bands, depending on sector size. Ain't been chosen yet, and
I hope my luck holds out. You get to do all that rationing and organizing
and shit, and you still have to do your own job, s'insane-"
"...a random draw every six months..."
There was only a pair of lovers necking at the other end of the near-empty
train wagon, and a couple of girls talking quietly. The couple ignored
Wufei's loud exclamation. The girls stared at him, then went back to talking
together and giggling in a way he found rather discomforting.
"But these people are in charge!" he hissed at Duo, keeping his voice
at a reasonable level this time.
"You just loooooove that word, don'tcha."
"That's insane! Why can't you have elections to decide who'd do the better
Duo stopped staring out the window and turned around. Wufei had the distinct
impression Duo was enjoying his confusion, and finding it an acceptable
distraction from worrying about the urgent summons. "An election? Do we
look that organized? Besides, around here, 'politician' is a dirty word.
It just means the kind of rat who likes to boss people around, and spends
all his time and energy trying to get re-elected so he can do it again."
"Isn't this-" Wufei's lips curled, he refused to call it a 'system', "-isn't
this lunacy open to abuse? If you select just anybody, and they know they
don't have to be accountable to an electorate-"
"Oh, everybody plays the system a bit, but remember..." Duo smiled ferally.
"The position is only yours for six months. And after that, someone else
will get picked. And that guy might be the one you screwed over. Makes
"But what about- for fuck's sake, Maxwell! This place is rife with- with
desperate psychos and- and thugs, pirates-"
"Smugglers!" Duo put in proudly.
"-and god know what! You don't mind when one of them gets put into power
for six months?!" Wufei had always assumed the Red Bands were chosen through
a responsible and thoughtful election. Rational and Freeport apparently
"Well, there's thirty nine others to balance out any real lunatic element,
and to help each other out," Duo answered distractedly. His fingers were
beating a nervous tattoo on the edge of the seat, and his eyes twitched
every time they crossed a junction and the lights in the wagon flickered.
"It's not just the loonies you gotta worry about; we also got people who
can't read and write, and those who are a bit low on brains. They're citizens
too, and some of them are my friends, but I wouldn't trust with an electric
toothbrush, much less an air filter turbine. They have their strengths;
they leave rationing, repairs and organizing to the other Reddies, and
they take care of the people, they make sure everybody's happy, and that
there's no growing friction. They break up fights and stuff. Everybody's
got something Freeport can use. Even the psychos. And you know what?"
A disrespectful hand slapped Wufei on the thigh. Wufei started violently;
he was still a bit spooked by had happened between them earlier- but Duo's
smile was nothing but teasing. Wufei scalded the space-jockey with a look
that could have melted Gundanium, but Duo only smirked.
"Psychos, pirates, smugglers, terrorists...and it's still better than
the politicians we used to have on L2!" Duo declared. "You still have
them out there. You guys may have elected Relena to power - and I pray
to God Almighty she's matured a bit since she wandered around after Heero,
getting herself kidnapped and all-"
"She has," Wufei grunted.
"Good, good. But the thing is, the middle management and civil service...they're
still the same! They serve her, they served OZ, they served the Alliance
and the Federation and the Colonies before them. You couldn't even prosecute
the ones who were responsible for crimes against humanity, like the bastards
who let the plagues run rife through L2 fifteen years ago, trying to clear
up the riffraff. Blanket pardon! Thank you, Ms Peacecraft."
"That pardon allowed the five of us to escape-"
"I'd have gladly gone to jail with the fucks!"
Duo's voice had been a snarl, sudden and vicious.
Wufei leaned back, trying to gauge how serious those words had been, though
his gut was telling him Duo had meant every one of them and more. Duo
turned away to stare out the window, and the ugly light in his eyes dimmed.
He spat out a piece of the stick he'd accidentally bitten through. The
lazy grin came back a few seconds later.
It had only lasted a moment, but Wufei had caught sight of a bitter hatred
that was probably almost as old and strong as Duo himself. What shocked
him wasn't the emotion. He knew how he'd feel in Duo's place. What confounded
him was the way it melded into the cheerful blue eyes and mocking grin
once more, without a fuss. It wasn't banished. It wasn't pushed down and
ignored, like Wufei's past was. It burned softly in Duo's pupils, it sharpened
his grin. If Duo met one of those men, and he thought he could get away
with it, he'd kill the rat. Without any regret or remorse. But until that
happened, he wasn't going to dwell on it. Wufei would have been consumed
by it years ago...
"Well, no matter. I guess we all got to move on," Duo drawled, probably
remembering that he was talking to a Preventer, an agent of law and order,
who would have something to say about vigilantism and cold-blooded revenge.
Wufei felt a flicker of relief. If one of those men suddenly disappeared
while Duo was on the same colony, Wufei didn't want to know any more about
it than he already did. He didn't like it when Justice and his duties
as a Preventer collided.
"As for how us poor lil' citizens choose who's in charge...each to his
own, Wufei, each to his own. Me?"
Wufei was still staring at the strange creature by his side, emotions
bright, primal, uncontrolled, yet as strong and effective in his own way
as any of- he was paying so much attention to Duo's psychological makeup
that he lost sight of what the joker was actually doing, and so he wasn't
able to avoid another lightning-fast slap on the thigh. Duo had snatched
his hand back before Wufei could do anything constructive about it, like
break his wrist.
Duo's grin was much brighter than the train's grimy neon. "You can keep
your politicos and their cadre, Chang! Me? I prefer the randomly-chosen
Wufei nodded slowly, picking up the challenge. In the ten minutes it took
them to get to Kropotkin sector, he'd marshalled a few stinging arguments
on political theory and democracy that left Duo grimacing and rubbing
his neck in a familiar gesture. Wufei had the advantage of a formal education
in both history and politics. He knew the kind of arguments to put forth
and how to present them, whereas Duo only had information he'd gleaned
from the books he'd read during his quarantine, and a mind that was more
suited to practical mechanics than philosophical discussions.
Despite the uneven match, Duo put up a damn good fight. His wit was quick
as his stiletto, and he'd obviously thought about this more than his casual
endorsement of the system seemed to suggest. The discussion was a nice
distraction from the worries and tensions that had ridden them these past
four days. The argument was just getting interesting - as well as a bit
loud, though still friendly - when they arrived at their destination.
Wufei hadn't been in Freeport that long, but it was obvious there was
something very wrong in Kropotkin the moment they set foot in the sector.
There were people in the streets, but they were not going back and forth
on shifts, or working on their secondary jobs. They stood, muttering in
doorways and alleys, in knots of twos and threes. There were no children
about, though small eyes peeked at Wufei over window sills, wide and worried.
Duo was in his element again. His smile was bright, curious and entirely
innocent. He inspired confidence. The sector's inhabitants looked worried
and angry, and reluctant to share whatever it was with someone not from
their home turf. But Duo cajoled and charmed; he greeted people he knew,
badgered those he didn't. Before they'd walked more than three blocks
towards the address Braun had sent them, they'd figured out what had happened.
There'd been a murder in the sector.
[chap. 11] [chap 13] [back
to Maldoror's fic]