"Who's that?" The Jinsei soldier barked, leveling his rifle at the approaching figure. Beside him, his partner straightened up and raised his assault rifle as well. They stepped out into the street, barring the way. The figure staggered towards them out of the darkness.
"Unit down... At grid 11B," The Figure said. As he approached, they could make out a Jinsei uniform, but no weapons. "Lost communications," The figure added, gasping for breath.
They nodded to each other and stepped forwards. They supported their comrade between them and brought him back down the street. "It's okay, man. We'll get someone there soon."
The wounded soldier's head raised and he looked forwards as they approached a clearing. Many days of back-breaking labour had cleared away several blacks of land, on which now stood rows of pre-fab buildings. He glanced around, taking in the other Jinsei soldiers watching over their charges; Zone residents, filing in and out of the makeshift barracks.
"Just sit tight," the soldiers said as they laid him down near the command tent. "We'll get help for your squad." With that one ducked inside, and the other returned to his post in the street. Within minutes there was a flurry of activity around the command tent, and the nameless soldier resting there was lost in the crowd.
Koichi had to admit that he wasn't sure about this mission. He had no doubts that he could bluff his way past the guards, but his objective had seemed ridiculous. Nevertheless he had agreed, knowing that he was the only one who could accomplish this task.
Apostle had given him a few pointers on getting lost in an army camp. He had wondered about the man's experience, but it had turned out to be invaluable. Best part about a uniform was that they all looked the same, Apostle had said. Koichi realised how valuable this was as he surreptitiously slipped away from the command tent.
Even when he was with Jinsei's forces, he hadn't seen this part of the headquarters. "The Cells," the troops had called it, where they kept corporate prisoners for exchange and Zone residents were housed between work shifts.
He patted a bulging pocket on his fatigue pants and made his way in between the barracks. He was told to look for some sort of leader amongst the prisoners. Between them, Apostle and the Prof both agreed that one was likely to emerge. But how to tell who? Although his uniform let him slip in, it would hardly endear him to the prisoners.
A shout nearby brought him out of his reverie. He turned dumbly to see a soldier struggling with a dark haired young man of fifteen. "I said, give me a hand!" The soldier yelled at him. Dumbstruck, Koichi sprinted over and grabbed the boy by his free arm.
"Jinsei bastards!" the boy cried out. He surged forwards in their grip, his forehead striking the other soldier's face. "Where's my mother? What did you do to her?" He spat out as the soldier recoiled.
"God's sake... Get him back inside!" The soldier indicated to one of the barracks.
Koichi nodded mutely and grabbed the boy around his shoulders. Walking backwards, holding him tight, he slowly dragged the boy to one of the nearby pre-fabs. "Simmer down," he whispered into the boy's ear as they neared the barracks door.
"Why should I listen to you?" he spat back.
"I'm with the Zone Army," Koichi hissed back. Immediately the boy stopped struggling, and turned his head towards Koichi. Koichi nodded quietly. "There's going to be a rescue attempt soon. Hold tight." Again the boy quietly nodded.
The other soldier rejoined them and produced a key. "Goddamn kids. We got a whole bunch of them here."
Koichi blinked in surprise. Children? He hadn't heard anything about holding children. "Why are we holding kids here?" He asked the guard.
"Who knows?" He replied, working the lock. "Some guy at the bunker picks 'em out of the workers. So we keep 'em separate and locked up in here. They don't work, they ain't getting traded; they just sit here."
"And him?" Koichi asked, nodding to the young man in his grasp.
"He's the latest. Ah, got it."
The guard turned the lock and swung open the door. Inside was a single gloomy room with metal bunk beds lining the walls. Children of all ages waited inside, some sitting on their beds, one pair standing by the door, and even a few of the younger ones playing on the floor.
Koichi looked over the group in a mixture of awe and horror. He counted seventeen people in there; nine girls, eight boys, as well as their new arrival. They varied wildly in age, between ten or eleven and late teens. Most seemed to be between the ages of thirteen and fifteen.
Particularly, the pair near the door struck him. They looked like the oldest of the group, and the boy was taller than he was. He had short, spiky black hair and cold blue eyes, and wore an odd grey jacket with yellow lining. The girl had shoulder-length red hair, and watched him closely with narrow green eyes. Koichi glanced down to his bulging pocket, and she followed his eyes.
"Get in there!" The guard shouted, pushing the new boy forwards into the barracks. He immediately turned around to take a swing at Koichi, but the older boy held his hand back.
"It's all right. They're not our enemy," He said quietly.
"C'mon," The soldier muttered as he turned to leave. Koichi nodded and turned, but slipped his foot across the doorway and fell to his knees. "You clutz!" he shouted.
"Sorry," Koichi muttered as he fumbled with his pockets.
"Here," the girl said. She offered a hand to Koichi, and helped him up. He watched as she slipped her hand behind her back, then he turned to leave.
"Man, how'd you ever make it into security?" The guard asked as he locked the door again.
Koichi just shook his head and walked off. From here, walking out the gate was easy. Although he hadn't found a leader or reached the workers, he felt that his mission was well accomplished.
"Well? Let's see it." Johan asked. He turned to his newfound partner Haman Kell and looked at her expectantly.
The redhead slid her hands out from behind her, and offered a wad of paper to Johan. He unfolded it and read over the first sheet.
"They're watching you, Scirocco," Haman said quietly. He looked up and saw all the other children watching him and Haman.
"It's from our families and friends," he said out loud. There was a murmur of excitement amongst the children. "Messages from all different people."
He handed out the sheets of paper, and the children passed them around the room. He watched as they poured over the papers, each containing messages for people held by Jinsei. Every now and then, one of the children would recognise their name and read out a message.
"Some weapon," Johan muttered bitterly.
"And if the workers got a hold of these?" Haman asked. "They would be rioting."
Haman and Johan looked into each other's eyes, and a smile played across each one's face. "I can arrange it," Haman said.
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