Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

AN: Dedicated to Dacia, as always!
I'm only sketching out the politics of Freeport part in this chapter; I did think of a lot of the details of how this colony works, but I don't particularly want to info-dump the entirety on ya. As Duo explains, it's not a theory on paper anyway; we'll be seeing how it works in little touches, dribs and drabs throughout the rest of the fic.

Freeport + Chapter 8

Once a number of men set out to sea. In an idle and mischievous moment, one of the passengers started to bore a hole in the bottom of the boat where he was sitting.

"What are you trying to do?" ... cried his fellow passengers in alarm.

"What does it concern you what I am doing?" ... replie
d the man ... "I am not boring a hole under where you are sitting, only under my own place."

"It may be only under your place" ... retorted the others ... "But should the water fill the boat, it will capsize ... Then all of us will drown."


- Parable from the Talmud (I do not answer for the translation, I found many different ones online)

+

"Anarchy." Wufei stated, voice flat.

"Yup."

Wufei was silent, his mind whirling.

"Some coffee with that would be nice," Duo suggested dryly, nodding at Babka's cake. "It would help drown the taste."

"I'll get some," Wufei answered numbly.

"Thanks."

The left-over coffee in the pot trickled into Duo’s chipped mug, but Wufei’s ideas refused to similarly settle.

"Why didn't I know this?" he asked, putting the cup next to the cake on the worktop.

Duo finished his soldering. "You didn't have time to prepare for the mission -"

"Why don't we all know this?! I knew a bit about Freeport, everybody does. I heard about the criminality, the smugglers, the pirates, the shipyards, the blockade...I read an official Preventer report on the shuttle over; it failed to mention that even the little old ladies have enough social dynamite to cause a serious disruption!"

"It don't?"

"No! I can't believe- someone has to know about this! Kindly old Babka could foment a revolution somewhere if-"

"Oh no. Babka is a strict pacifist."

"I doubt you're all strict pacifists!"

"Well, then, Agent Chang, you tell me why it ain't known all over ESUN." Duo looked completely indifferent as he put down the solder torch. "It's your world outside."

Wufei was silent again. He wasn't sure he liked the likely answers that occurred to him. The Peacecraft government was very concerned about image. About being the Bright New Hope for All Humanity, or whatever the last election slogan had been.

It would be a bit jarring if over a hundred thousand people had turned their back on that pretty ideal and preferred, of all things, anarchy! Wouldn't look good on the peace banners during the New Year march, now, would it? ‘Peacecraft OK, Anarchy Better!’

"Aw hell, listen to that!" Duo had leaned back to stretch in the chair, and his joints were cracking like castanets. "Here, if you're going to stand around looking dazed, why don't you rub my shoulders? I've been in the same position for hours."

Wufei muttered something. His hands found themselves settling on a hard, muscled back without the brain's conscious input.

"When you say anarchy...you mean a system. Not just- general disorganisation. You're talking about anarchism." It wasn't a question. As his hands started kneading, and Duo gave a startled but delighted grunt, thoughts were adding up in Wufei's mind. The absence of currency. The writings on the wall - the big mottos and the small words. The notorious lack of rules in Freeport.

"I guess. Sorta. Hmmm." Duo's muscles started to melt under Wufei's fingers, like Sally's did when she badgered him to do this for her. "If that means, every one free and out for themselves, then that's what we got."

"I helped two guys change the lighting on 4th Street," Wufei countered. There was a whole argument behind that, but he was still too stunned to put it into words.

"Did you?" Duo sounded rather surprised and honestly pleased.

"They were just ordinary people - why were they changing the lighting?"

"Lights all over the sector are fritzing out. Make noise. Tend to black out just when...people walk by." Duo was beginning to sound almost sedated.

Wufei watched his fingers absently start on the knots in Duo's neck, beneath the root of the braid.

"But why were they changing them? There has to be some organisation that put them in charge?"

"No one's in charge. They changed 'em because they didn't want to listen to the noise of lights fritzing out near their home."

"But what if they hadn't?"

"Someone else woulda. God..." Duo bent his neck left and right slowly, against the pressure of Wufei's fingers.

"But-but-" Wufei was starting to think constructively again. Which got him to wondering, why the hell was he rubbing Maxwell's shoulders for?!

Duo began to purr; Wufei ripped his hands away. He ignored the little disappointed mewl behind him as he stalked away to the other swivel chair. He sat as straight-backed as a judge and swivelled to face his informant, hands braced on his knees.

"Maxwell, anarchy doesn't work. You can't have a political system like that. Especially on a colony!"

Duo didn't seem particularly intimidated by Wufei's pose or abrupt challenge. He was stretching to get the last kinks out.

"Actually, I think it's because we're on a colony that it works at all," he murmured. "It's really simple. There's a fundamental motivation that runs the whole thing."

"What?"

"Survival."

Duo's smile was cruel. He idly leaned over, switched off the stabilizer's temporary power supply and picked up a piece of plating.

"It's not a political system that got chosen as such. A few thousand jailbirds started it, trying their best to survive, but without cops and jailers this time. A few of them were anarchists - not the fuzzy dreamer kind; the bomber kind, which was why they were in the slammer in the first place. But beyond giving the others a basic idea of what they could do, I don't think many people listened to them, possibly because they were nuts.

"Then a few years after that, some pirates and smugglers desperately needed a place to hide from the heat, and they helped out. And then others arrived, looking for a haven, a last resort. I don't think I ever heard of anyone coming here looking for freedom, or any political thingy ending in -ism. They just don't have a choice anymore; if they stay outside, they'll either end up dead, conformed or broken, and they decide that Freeport is their only chance of survival, even if it ain't the most pleasant one. And things evolved from there. We're still evolving. The system and the colony are changin' all the time, with every new migrant who makes it through quarantine with his own idea of what he wants to do to get through the next day alive."

Wufei was shaking his head savagely. "No, wait. It's - you have a corporation, right? The Freeport Corporation, that deals with the ship-building industry. They're the ones controlling everything."

"That's just a piece of paper. Freeport acts as a group; professional negotiators deal with the shipyards, so the lawyers are happy, and they all get paid with kickbacks from the contracts. The rest of the money is sent to a few accounts in and around the Space Sphere, and used to buy essential supplies for the colony. Machines, parts, food, clothes, medical gear, stuff like that."

"But people work in the shipyards! And- and you're repairing that mecha for them too! Who pays for that? Why do people do that?!"

"Because if we don't work in the yards, or repair the mechas, or fix the colony, then things would fall apart, and we'd all die. Survival, I told you. It's quite a simple choice to make, between working and chewing vacuum. We organize stuff amongst ourselves, make sure shifts are covered, choose supervisors to direct the effort, ensure there's people to fill in the ship contracts and all that. I hope I ain't making it sound easy, 'cause it ain't. Your average citizen is an ornery critter at best; organizing stuff can be hard. Those who got too much attitude are asked to work on something where they don't have to cooperate with others; there's always plenty to do. But in the end, we all work together. Got no choice. If we fuck up, well, this place is screwed."

"But- but who's to stop-" Wufei rubbed his forehead fiercely. Concentrate. The next thought came straight from Agent Chang, Preventer. "What's to stop people from stealing and murdering everybody?"

"Everybody else," Duo answered dryly.

"...What?"

"We ain't got any pretty ideals in Freeport. If we had, we'd have sold them long ago. Anarchy is selfish. People watch out first for themselves. But we don't have laws to stop people from murdering their neighbour. And if you see somebody do that, who's to say you won't be next? So people watch each other, too, and watch out for each other. Most of us got nothing worth being murdered for anyway, and a few good strong friends around to bury us and then ask some seriously bloody questions if it does go ahead and happen."

"That's anarchy! Er, I-I mean, that's- chaos! That’s chaos!"

"Yeah, yeah. I knew that'd get you going," Duo snickered as he fit the plating. "Damn, I wish I had my camera ready. I left the bloody thing on Scythe."

Wufei glared at him. "What's to stop someone from bursting in here right now and-"

"I have good locks on the door," Duo purred. "Mind you, that's because of the tools I have here. They aren't mine, they belong to Freeport. They gave them to me because I'm a great mechanic and I can fix suit parts, but they'd be hard to replace, so I don't want them stolen."

"But- okay, how about Babka! She doesn't have good locks. I could open her door with one kick. And she has windows out on the street."

"Babka has nothing worth stealing." Duo shrugged, lounging back in his chair.

"That's not the point!" Wufei glared at the floor, trying to remember what the point was. The picture of Babka smiling proudly kept nudging his thoughts. Her room, cluttered with furniture nobody would want, and nearly no luxuries - "How about those silver picture-frames?"

A chair crashed against the workbench - Wufei started, but Duo was already there, in his face. Two hands slammed into the armrests, pinning Wufei in.

Duo smiled, like he used to when he was called Shinigami. His voice was a murderous whisper three inches from Wufei’s face. "If someone stole the pictures of Babka's dead children, me and Gilla and Ivanov and Lucy would hunt them down and flay them very slowly...That's why they'll never be stolen..."

Wufei's reflexes were screaming, his hands were a breath away from Duo's chest, raised instantly in automatic retaliation against a possible attack. Duo said nothing, still looming over him. Wufei let his arms drop by increments, as he tried to gather his thoughts again.

"That works for Babka." His voice was a bit hoarse. "What about the other old ladies-"

"They all have friends too. Your friends and your reputation are your only currency in Freeport. We're a selfish lot, but we keep in mind that today they need you, tomorrow you'll need them."

"That's...er, barbaric." Wufei shook his head slowly, and realized he'd been trying to inch back. Duo was real close still, his eyes incandescent in the light from the workbench. "You're saying- you're saying it just all-...spins out of control and everybody just cares about how it affects them?! There's no-no laws - who protects the helpless?! The ones at the bottom of the heap?!"

"Who protects them outside?" Duo answered coldly, straightening up and turning back to his chair. "The cops, who don't dare go into the worst slums? The Preventers, who are so strapped of personnel they only act in the war-damaged countries to put down fires? The guys at the bottom of the heap, as you say, are the ones who come to Freeport. And here they stay, for the most part. Some go back to the ghettos. To Neo-Tokyo and its cathouses. To overfilled prisons. To the soup kitchens and dole queues, choked by hundreds of thousands of out-of-work soldiers. It's their choice. I don't give a damn."

"That's just..." Wufei was appalled, and not just as a representative of law and order. This went against so much he'd been taught and believed in. "I can't believe it works!"

"Define 'works'. Do we have a level of violence to rival most colonies? Sure. Is it dark, cold and stinky? Well, yeah. Do we have drifters and psychopaths and malcontents and rebels? Yeah, and we embrace 'em! Are we all one accident away from total disaster and a hullbreach? You betcha! Do we have kids with rickets, thieving meals, peddling drugs and living little better than rats, like they still do in every slum today, even in the richest countries? No."

"No? Why, who feeds them?" Wufei snapped. "Who cares?"

"Freeport ain't got no laws, but we do have traditions, ways we do things." Duo carefully put aside the stabilizer and fished a mechanical servo-arm attachment from beneath the workbench. "There's the quarantine. We'll let anyone in, but they have to realize the kind of work it entails. It's fair warning. Then there's the basics. Everybody gets free food, free clothing, free air, free housing, free education."

"...Sounds like socialism."

"That's the only bit that does, then. But it's not for the pretty principals. It's selfish too!” Duo threw him a wolf-like grin as he wiped old oil from a nut-head with a dirty rag. “If we didn't feed and clothe the desperate, robbery and murders would go through the fucking ceiling. Then there's the import checks."

"What are those?"

"Did you notice that I didn't bring any of the cargo on Scythe in with me?"

"Yeah."

"Freeport gets first dibs on anything imported. It's...kinda complicated. You wouldn't get it."

"I do, and that sounds like communism," Wufei shot back tartly.

"You really like those -isms, don't you," Duo drawled. "Well, it ain't communism, 'cause what belongs to me fucking well does belongs to me. Like Scythe. Like my camera, which I really wished I had right now, and my laptop, and stuff like that. But people don't like hoarders; that's the kind of thing that can start a riot, so we keep an eye out on what comes in. And one thing's a given: we don't allow hard drugs and guns into Freeport. It's not a law, it's common sense. There are too many delicate mechanisms that would be fucking hard to replace if some hopped-up loony with an Uzi started firing all over the place. That means everything coming in to Freeport has to be checked-"

"By whom?"

"By people," Duo shrugged. "Frank, who passed us through customs, is not an employee. He's just a guy. He works on the shipyards every third week or so, and occasionally serves aboard the Sweeper Corvette Calisto when he wants to go to L4 to see his daughter and ex. When he has the time, he works at customs."

"If he's not an employee, what stops him from accepting bribes, or stealing the cargo?" Wufei challenged.

"What does being an employee have to do with it?" Duo snorted. "How do you think your wanted terrorists move around the colonies, if they're not bribing the shuttle-port employees? As for skimming...would you put that sword of yours through Baggages? You can't be that sweet and naive about how things work out there."

Wufei's glare could have cut steel plating; Duo grinned joyfully right in its teeth, and picked up a number six wrench.

"Frank might help himself to something he fancied, but only if he thought the freighter wouldn't really miss it, unless he wanted a couple of tough sailor types checking out his liver with their knuckles. And the reason Frank works on Customs, and would never accept a bribe to let in hard dugs or guns, is a simple question of survival again. If Frank, and others like him, didn't do the job, then Customs would either get backed up, and needed goods might not make it into the colony, or else people would get in without checks, and Frank might end up being the one shot by the hopped-up Uzi-waving junky."

"They find people to do all the work? Just-...volunteers?!"

"There's always ten times more odd jobs than volunteers." Duo smiled sourly as he examined the bolts on the servo-arm's plating. "But yeah, that's the basis of it. Everybody in Freeport has about three or four jobs. Me, for example. I'm mainly a mechanic. This-" he tapped the arm gently with the tool in his hand, "is my main job. But I'm also a Scissorman and a freetrader. That's how I keep Scythe running. And-....I have a few other jobs squirreled away."

He reached for the laptop, and Wufei had the impression Duo had been about to say something else, but had thought better of it.

"But how about-"

"Look, man, as much as I love that stunned herring look on your face right now, I've really gotta work on this. Half the circuits are fried. I have the spare parts, but I have to wire them up to the boards. It’s going to take awhile." Duo had clicked up a few schematics on his laptop and sent them to the small, cheap printer in the corner.

"But..." Wufei shook himself, realizing that had come out almost as a whine.

He didn't believe Duo, though the smuggler was notorious for never lying. Even yesterday, when he was risking both their lives trying to worm information out of drug-running and smuggler rings, Duo had told the truth very inventively, but he'd never told a downright lie. But Wufei just couldn't believe what he'd been told. It just...didn't make sense.

"We'll chat some more, later. Much later. We're gonna be busy for awhile, between my mechanics job, the Scissorman stuff, and Carver, and this whole subject is off-limits while we're anywhere in the streets outside. But hey!" Duo gave him the cheerful, baiting grin Wufei was beginning to feel familiar with. "You're supposed to be the big-shot investigator! And a scholar, apparently. I gave you most of the info you need; you should be able to figure it out by yourself."

Yes, why not? Wufei scowled at him as he stood up and walked over to the joker. He'd be stuck in Freeport for a few weeks, at the very least. He'd have time to make his own observations. Duo was surely...not lying, but, well, oh, the braided bastard was surely doing something to confuse Wufei, because none of this made any sense. A colony could not function like that. Wufei would keep his eyes open and figure out how things really worked here, as an unbiased observer.

And he was not going to let Duo catch him out that badly again. Stunned herring indeed...

He kicked a leg of Duo's swivel chair and felt mildly gratified at the wide-eyed uncertain look he got in return.

"Sit in the other chair, Maxwell. You start wiring up the circuit boards; I'll open it up and strip out the burnt circuits."

Duo looked at him with a mixture of surprise and appraisal. Then he grinned. "Sounds good."

Wufei sat down in the vacated seat, Duo's warmth still clinging to it, warming his back. His mind felt numb; from surprise, and all the questions and details he'd picked up these past few days, which were jostling for attention and classification into this insane theory, when he knew very well that he did not have enough information yet to make an informed analysis. The wrench in his hand felt reassuringly real by contrast. Some manual labour and mechanical work was actually quite attractive at this point.

But there was one point on which he would not allow confusion or questions.

"Duo?"

"Hm?" Duo didn't glance up from where he was sorting through microchips in a box. He'd speared the print-out of circuit schematics through a nail in the wall in front of him, glancing at it frequently.

"I have to ask one more question." Just one. This one was important; it was for the mission.

"Promise? Okay, what is it?"

"...Why are you helping me find Carver?"

Duo picked up a microchip and stared blindly at its part number.

"Maybe I just don't want him dating my sister," he said quietly.

Wufei nodded slightly and attacked the first bolt.

+

The arm took even longer to fix than the stabilizer, and at one point Wufei had to root through the pile of broken computer equipment in the yard, looking for something that could serve as an Xcom90 controller chip. They ate the borscht before going to bed - it wasn't as bad as Duo had made out, but neither was it very good. Wufei asked no more questions; he needed more of his own observations before being able to weigh what Duo had told him. Besides, Duo was giving him these little oblique looks as if he was expecting Wufei to crack and start peppering him with questions, and Wufei would be damned first. The matter of how Freeport kept from spontaneously imploding wasn't really crucial to the mission, as long as Duo served him as a guide as promised, so Wufei had the time to figure it out for himself.

He curled up in his sleeping bag and stared at the hilt of his sword, gleaming in a stray dash of light from the ever-shuttered windows. He listened to bedspring noises and a yawn, Duo settling down for the night. The howl and clatter of a train overhead made him stiffen and nearly sit up - his alarm had been renewed almost to its original levels now that he'd been told there was no real organisation, as such, between him and the dance of ships and satellites outside. As the echoes died, he closed his eyes and tried to organize his thoughts.

Anarchism...a pipe-dream. Either a raving monster called chaos that devoured and drove mad anyone in its path, or a kindly community of dreamers who thought that human beings really were nice deep down, and who lived in benevolence and equality until the real world caught up with them and crushed them. Both those extremes used the same name, and anarchy had covered a thousand different nuances in between. But none of them had ever made it work. Well, as far as Wufei knew. He'd studied political systems and philosophies during his schooling, but he'd mainly concentrated on Asian history and post-colonial politics. Wufei fell asleep speculating on ways he could obtain some answers without getting teased, and without spending too much time and effort on it, when the mission and survival had to be his first priority. Maybe he could borrow the laptop and do some research next time Duo had to work on some mecha parts...

When Wufei woke up the next day, Duo was at the workbench carefully packing the stabilizer in a crate. He was wearing a tight black shirt and his spring-loaded sheath strapped over his forearm. Good. Looked like Wufei could forget politics today. They were going to work on something far more important: finding that dog Carver.

"'Fraid it's gonna be the pizza this morning, mate. Unless you want to eat enough N-bars to hold you for more than six hours. We're going to Zap today. That's almost half-way around the station, and we have to walk a good part of the way."

"Can't we eat over there?" Wufei was getting tired of energy bars. Though they'd still be his first choice compared to pizza.

"Ah, no. In Zap, I'd be lucky to get a drink of water." There was something slightly ominous about the tight, deadly smile on Duo's lips. But he refused to elaborate when Wufei questioned him; he merely served up coffee strong enough to put a hole in Wufei's gut, and pizza gooey and chewy enough to fix that same hole afterwards.

The prickles to Wufei's instincts heightened at Duo's silence over 'breakfast', and intensified when he caught the smuggler checking his spring-loaded sheath for the second time. But when it was time to go, Duo did not put on his Scissorman's leather coat; he slipped into his non-descript Sweeper jacket instead.

"Let's just say, there are people in Zap who don't like me much," Duo finally admitted, when Wufei pressed.

"Then why don't you call this person?" Wufei asked, eyes on their surroundings as they stepped out the door. The streets of Makhno were empty; he and Duo were still out of synch with the sector's day/night cycle.

"I need to show him something."

"Vid him a pic, or send him an email. Or does Freeport use carrier pigeons."

"Nah, the cats would eat them. We don't have vids, only plain and simple phone lines; they're already enough work to maintain. As for email...it so happens that Freeport has some of the greatest hackers alive living here, and, surprise, surprise, they don't have much respect for privacy and stuff like that. My network's Yuy-ed now; no one's cracking that baby! Can't say the same for the guy I'm going to see. And what I need to show him...we can't afford to have spread across the colony's net. That's why we're going in person. Actually, a lot of stuff is done in person in Freeport. People like to see who they're dealing with, and it ain't that big a colony."

"But some places are dangerous," Wufei reminded him acidly as they turned a corner and headed towards the airlock.

"Yup. That's why we're taking the long route instead of the train. The guys in Zap work on the shipyards as needed, in the mecha and ship maintenance and pilot sections for the most, so they're in and out at all hours. There's no real shift for them. We could bump into some on the train any time of the day, and if they see me, and get word to certain parties...well, it could get a bit messy," Duo concluded with a razor-sharp smile.

A bit messy. This from the guy who once thought attacking heavily armed convoys of mobile dolls by himself was sound tactics and 'a lotta fun'. Wufei made sure once more that his sword, strapped on his back, was quickly accessible and could slide cleanly from the scabbard.

They took what Duo referred to as 'the back road': walking instead of taking the shuttle, cutting across streets to go through alleys, detouring around certain areas for no apparent reason, and taking the smaller airlocks and service tunnels. They avoided any sector where the shifts had sent people into the streets, which made the journey rather convoluted. Wufei glanced at his watch when he saw the name Emilio Zapata on a small maintenance airlock. They'd been walking for three hours, with the cautious silence of soldiers in potentially hostile territory.

After all these precautions, Wufei expected 'Zap' to be some kind of ghetto. In fact, it looked like a mirror image of Makhno and the other sectors he'd seen so far, and actually a bit better maintained, with good lighting on the streets and well-painted walls and buildings. Instead of junkyards, there were open areas with long benches and tables at regular intervals. Though Duo skirted wide around these, Wufei caught sight of what appeared to be a pot luck going on at one of them. He saw no playgrounds, but they passed a basket ball and tennis court under a harsh set of floodlights.

Duo avoided people, and kept to the alleys and courtyards. He had his braid stuffed down the back of his jacket, his bangs hanging over his eyes and an innocent, slightly vacuous smile on his face. Wufei felt like he stood out a mile with his collar and sword. He tried to move like Duo, shape his body-language into something less threatening. But that wasn't in his nature. A few people stared at them from the windows as they passed. Duo walked on quickly.

After a quick look around, Duo slipped down a dark alley between two buildings. A baby was crying behind an open window, the first sign of any children so far; most of Zap's inhabitants seemed to be young people in their mid to late twenties. Halfway down the alley, Duo turned sharply and walked down a few steps to a basement door. He glanced around quickly before knocking. After a minute of nothing happening, he knocked again.

A distant squeak of bedsprings was followed by a grumble as someone approached the door. "-asleep only two fucking hours, whaddyawant, better be good, you-"

"Cesar," Duo hissed near the keyhole.

The grumble abruptly cut off, then there was a clack and fumble at the lock and door handle. A man in his thirties wrenched the door open and gave Duo a brief, wide-eyed stare.

"Fuck, get your ass in here!" The man grabbed Duo by the arm and dragged him into the room. Wufei had his sword out at the man's first move, but Duo didn't look alarmed as he stumbled over the doorstep.

"Hi, Cesar. How's things?" Duo patted down his rumpled Sweeper jacket and smiled. It was actually quite honest and pleased, as if the abrupt and vigorous invitation to come in were perfectly normal. Wufei followed, slipping his sword back in its scabbard; the man closed the door behind him, after a quick glance at the empty alley outside.

Cesar turned a bleary look on Duo. He was a big man, nearly six feet tall, arms and legs corded with muscle just starting to run softly into fat. He had the beginnings of a belly on him, curving what had probably once been a wide set of six-packs, covered by a ratty old t-shirt with sweat stains like haloes trapped under his arms. A small pair of shorts and socks against the cold was all that he was wearing besides that. He was badly in need of a shave, but his hair was cut in a buzz crew that was at odds with his tired, shadowed face.

"Sorry I woke you, man," Duo murmured, nodding towards an unmade bed barely visible in the second of two small rooms. "I didn't realize you were on split shift."

"S'okay. What's up? Who's this?" Wufei was once more getting the usual scrutiny.

"Friend of mine."

"I can see that," Cesar commented with a slight smirk as he noted the collar. Then his eyes narrowed as he examined Wufei's stance, his eyes. "Same deal as last guy?"

"Yeah." Duo had hesitated a bit before nodding.

"You live dangerously, Maxwell. I don't care if you got a couple of Elders on your side. If the locals find out you work with Preventers, you're in for the tar and feathers."

Wufei stiffened and glanced at Duo, but the latter did nothing more than shrug. "It won't be the first time. If everybody liked me, life would be boring."

"That's why you're in Zapata? You like the excitement?" Cesar's laugh was more of a wheeze.

"Yeah, I live for it," Duo replied drolly. "Look, Cesar, I'm after someone. Here. Seen this guy?"

Wufei tried to keep his face neutral as Duo fished Carver's specs from his pocket, unfolded them and passed them to the other man. The folder with Carver's info had been left on Scythe, in the safe, and he had no idea when Duo had managed to filch these details.

Cesar took the pictures to the light over a small desk and looked at them carefully. His back was straight, he held himself easily even as he leaned over to get a better look at the photos. There was an army knife in a sheath strapped to his thigh, barely hidden by the shorts.

"Not from Zap. I'm sure of that."

"Damn. Or maybe, 'good'. Would have been tough tracking him through here. You never seen him, not even going through?"

"No, pretty sure I haven't. Name? Details?"

"Don't know his name. Occupation: hitman. A citizen."

"Sure?"

"Kills with a machete. Know many hitmen who do that, outside?"

"Yeah, some prefer blades, I hear. But I'll give you that one, they're rare. Most of them use sniper rifles and guns. Associates?"

"None known."

"Fuck, Maxwell."

"I'm not asking you to find the bruiser. I just wanted to make sure he's not ex-military."

"He could still be, but not from around here." Cesar was still looking at the pictures carefully. "Try the other sectors."

"Will do. Can you keep an eye out for him, in case he comes through here?"

"Anybody he's likely to be talking to?"

"Not really. Maybe Finn's bunch. He might try to hitch a ride with pirates to get out. But my guess is, he'll use the same route as when he came in. I think Ravachol's freetraders took him through the blockade."

"Ravachol, that guy from L2? If your man's got that kind of connections, why would he come around here then?"

"He's big, he's mean, he could be ex-military, and he works a lot with terrorists and guerrillas."

"In Europe? Asia?"

"...No, in space, mostly."

"Then you're in the wrong sector, Duo."

"You're probably right. But I had to make sure. You're my only antenna in Zap, Cesar."

"I feel so blessed," Cesar wheezed. "I'd offer you guys something to eat, but I was right in the middle of my night, and besides, I don't particularly want you hanging around here. I've got enough problems. And, no offence to the silent guy over there, but I don't like Preventers. So..."

"We'll haul rockets outta here, then. Thanks. I owe you one. Did you have anything for me?"

"Nope. Things have been pretty quiet here, and I've been busy. Been teaching a few rookies how to spacewalk. It's heaps of fun, especially when they start vomiting in their suits."

"I see you still have that drill-sergeant humour, you sadistic motherfucker," Duo shot back with a grin. Cesar wheezed. "I'll see you around. Maybe at Fieder's one day."

"Make sure I'm drinking alone before you say hi, then," Cesar answered, suddenly gloomy. "Watch your back on your way out. Be safe, kid."

"You too, mate."

Wufei followed Duo out without a word. They dodged down the alley and walked swiftly towards the sector's wall and the small airlock where they'd come in.

"He knew about me," Wufei whispered softly, as they stopped in the shadows of a building to let a small group of friends walk by in the street, talking amongst themselves.

"Yeah. Cesar's...he's someone who helps me around here. A contact."

"Ex-OZ." It wasn't a question. Wufei had met - and killed - too many of Cesar's peers to be mistaken in this. Probably an non-com officer, he judged, either suits or heavy infantry.

"A lotta people in Zap are, that or Alliance" Duo informed him with a shrug, eyes on the men passing by.

Well, that explained a lot. It didn't explain the genuine concern in Cesar's eyes when he'd told Duo to be careful. Wufei wondered how the two men had met and formed a bond of such trust that Duo would let Cesar know who and what Wufei was, and Heero before him. He wasn't able to question Duo; his guide needed all his attention on their exit. Wufei silently trusted him to know the best way to navigate this sector; it was obvious Duo had been here before

Duo's pace accelerated and his head came up as they neared the lock. There were five people sitting on a porch step half a block away, Wufei noted a bit worriedly. They'd not been there before. The men weren't looking their way, and in Freeport that was a bit odd. Wufei judged the distance; if they had to, he and Duo could run for it. They were faster than anybody around here, and Duo had shown he knew the ins and outs of all the sectors well. If they could get out of the service tunnel beyond the lock, they could easily lose themselves in the alleys and sheds in the next sector over. Wufei kept a close eye on the men as Duo hit the lock's release.

A hiss warned him; Duo took a quick step back and Wufei fell to one side, hand to his sword hilt. There was someone already in the airlock. Several someones.

The sparse lighting of the service tunnel glinted on a long knife. Wufei heard the men behind them stand up quickly from the porch, and more coming down the street, blocking them in.

++

AN: A little disclaimer on politics! (You knew this was coming, right?)

Just in case anyone was wondering, lil' Maldoror is not an anarchist. None of the political views expressed in this fic are my own, yadda yadda. I'm just having fun exploring ways a closed colony such as this might work, after decades of war, and above all, how two lovely bishies move and evolve in this environment (mustn't forget the bishies...).

I will be letting a few more details of Freeport's politics and economy trickle through in the coming chapters, but this is not a political drama, this is mainly the story about Wufei's investigation (and the relationship thingie too, eventually). Pleeeaase tell me if the fic's getting boring, too detail-heavy, or not going fast enough, or whatever; as I've said before, this is my first attempt at something in a 'novel' format, instead of the more 'episodic' format of The Arrangement and Whispers. I want to be sure I get the pace right, and feedback is very helpful for that (even if it's to say, 'yeah, I'm still reading', since somebody still reading means I'm getting something right! ).

[chap. 7] [chap 9] [back to Maldoror's fic]