Genre: Action, investigations, my usual strange humour, tiny touch of angst, some weird politics and a bit o' romance (yes, I still know how to write those - just don't expect anything majorly fluffy)
Rated: NC17 - for language, violence, sexual content
Archived: http://www.raygunworks.net and GWAddiction under the pen-name Maldoror
Feedback: Please! Particularly what you like/don't like about the fic.
Spoilers: Some, for series and episode zero.
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing belongs to its owners (Bandai, Sunset, and a whole host of others, none of which are me) and I'm not making any money off of them. The very idea is laughable. See? This is me laughing. Ha ha. The songs/quotes used in the chapter heads don't belong to me either.
Author's Notes: Dedicated to Dacia, as always.
Huge thanks to Anaitis for the lightning-fast beta. Thanks as well for the GWAddiction reviews!
"I want to be the minority
I don't need your authority
down with the moral majority
'cause I want to be the minority
I pledge allegiance to the underworld
one nation under dog
in which I stand alone
a face in the crowd
unsung, against the mould
without a doubt,
the only way I know"
---Green Day, 'Minority'
Freeport by Maldoror
"We don't know who Ferret is. We don't know his political affiliations, his origins or his name."
"This is beginning to sound familiar," Duo muttered around a mouthful of sandwich.
"We do know he's one of the agitators on X953 who made a bad situation worse." Wufei's words were measured, but he could feel his lips trying to pinch together, and his free hand was trying to tighten into a fist against his knee.
Duo's eyes flickered over Wufei's whitening fingers, but he didn't comment. He stayed silent, apparently concentrating on chewing the bland sandwich the public commissary had distributed to them. It was some nefarious mixture of ham, spam and reconstituted salad. Wufei had started talking about Ferret in an effort to distract himself from what he was putting into his mouth. Unfortunately, there was nothing else to eat in the house. Duo had run out of more tasty victuals, and since they'd spent the day combing Kropotkin for details about Joshua Brindlow, they'd not had time to barter for better from stall vendors and neighbours.
Despite their efforts, they hadn't learned much. The murdered man was virtually unknown in Kropotkin. Duo had carefully sounded out friends, one-time rebel allies and Sweepers all over the sector, but there was little more information. Only a few people admitted to knowing him, by sight or by name. Joshua was a freetrader from Mooncurse. Like Duo, he worked essentially for himself, or took commissions for a few big names in utter secrecy. Many people were speculating about what he'd been doing in Kropotkin, but so far nobody had a reasonable guess to offer.
Duo had warned Wufei not to mention Ferret for now. The word 'bounty hunter' still fresh in his mind, Wufei had complied with little protest. He'd learned, by now, that things couldn't be hurried in Freeport. But neither could they be hidden for long. They'd get back on Ferret's tracks eventually.
Until then, time to rest back at Duo's appartment, share information and make some plans.
"Ferret is a murderer and probably a terrorist," Wufei continued. "We're not quite sure what political party he belongs to, he's been spotted with several different groups. And with Carver."
Duo paused in his eating and let out a low whistle. "Damn. No wonder you shot out of there like a bat out of hell to have a lil' talk with him."
"Precisely. Though I think I'd want a... talk with him anyway."
"You mentioned X953? He was mixed up in that shit storm?" Duo's voice was casual, but he was watching Wufei curiously out of the corner of his eye.
Wufei scowled down at his hand that had gone and fisted itself despite his orders. He forced it to relax. He didn't let his anger show; he tried to control it better than that these days.
When he spoke, his voice was clipped and neutral. A policeman's voice, stating his case to the court.
"The trouble started on the 18th of May on X953, in the Fairview sector. Its citizens had organized a wake for one Harold Platter. He was one of the resistance leaders who'd been killed during the splinter cell infighting that had followed Carver's murders. In hindsight, the colony police made a mistake, there. They should have told Preventers about this inner strife right away, instead of just rubbing their hands and congratulating themselves on seeing the local hotheads kill each other off.
"The wake turned into civil unrest. Incidents of looting, vandalism. Bricks thrown at cops-"
"They build colonies out of concrete, metal, plastic and amalgams, but you can always find a brick when you need it," Duo commented with a wicked smirk. Wufei paused, a bit uncomfortable at the reminder that, ten years ago, Duo would have been one of those rioting against authority.
"The unrest grew when it was obvious the local police were more interested in suppressing the violence than investigating the murders of the various faction leaders. Rumours started: a ‘special Preventer taskforce' was responsible for the deaths of Relena's opponents, and the police were covering it up."
"That would be almost too easy to believe," Duo commented dryly.
"I know. The new, more virulent resistance movement that had been born from the infighting was, of course, adding fuel to the fire. On the 23rd, in an effort to keep the explosion at bay, the Police Commissioner made a public address to a delegation of People's Representatives and a few thousand demonstrators. Not rioters, just normal, worried people. There were children present. I-"
Wufei picked up his glass of water; the taste of his sandwich had suddenly curdled in his mouth. He took a sip. When he continued, his voice was neutral once more.
"Commissioner Heiman did an excellent job. He's well-respected in that colony; he's an ex-rebel, and seen as an opponent to self-centered L2 politicians. Heiman promised a full-scale investigation into the murders, as well as reports of police abuse and brutality.
"We were present at that time; the situation had attracted Une's attention. It was too similar to incidents on other colonies, and those had ended badly. Heero had deployed our team to cover the venue, but we stayed out of sight. We didn't want to enflame the situation. We had cameras on every inch of the crowd, ready to intervene if we had to, but we stayed in the buildings around the stand.
"That's how we knew what had happened; when we went over the films later."
Duo sipped his juice and prompted him to continue with a nod. Wufei rubbed the bridge of his nose. He'd wanted Preventers infiltrating the crowd. He'd wanted sharpshooters on the roofs around the place. He'd wanted-... it probably would not have made a difference, in the end. It hadn't been his call.
"Ferret was in the front row. He was standing next to a couple of demonstrators near the police cordon. Somebody started yelling in the crowd. Inflammatory comments. Said that the Commissioner was stalling, that the Preventers were waiting to arrest them all and kill anybody who resisted. While the crowd was distracted, Ferret knifed the person standing in front of him-"
Mary Tessler. Seventeen. A perfectly innocent bystander who'd been chosen purely on the basis that she was small enough for Ferret to grab and stab in one swift second.
"She screamed. Blood everywhere. One of the policemen leaned over to help. The commissioner interrupted himself - the TV cameras centered on the body - and Ferret shouted that the cop had killed her, that it was the start of the assault. His accomplice in the crowd shouted 'massacre'. The officer was kneeling next to the victim. Ferret drew out a small calibre and shot him in the neck-"
Hubert Madalo. Twenty seven. Divorced, father of one. Fairly good record on the force, with just the kind of small blemishes that justified his posting to L2-X953, and a peaceful, uneventful career that had ended in the morgue.
"Another man in the crowd started shooting too. The whole thing was a setup. He was aiming at the Commissioner, but he only winged his Lieutenant. And the crowd panicked... "
"And all hell broke loose," Duo concluded.
"Yes. Twenty-one dead, including the first two victims. Hundreds were wounded during that stampede, and then of course, the riots started, and nothing could stop them. We arrested a lot of the terrorists and extremists on X953, but Ferret slipped through our fingers. It's not the first time either; when his photo was circulated, a colleague of mine recognized him from a similar incident on L3. But we never found him. No wonder, if he was hiding out here!"
"And he knew Carver?" Duo asked quietly, ignoring Wufei's angry outburst.
"We caught them together in one surveillance pic, but I don't know if that means much. Carver was seen associating with a lot of terrorists. That's his clientele. We didn't think Ferret had any stronger relationship to Carver than that. Before today."
"Before we catch him ferreting around a murder scene that's got 'Carver' written all over it," Duo concluded with a cat-like grin. "That's got to get your little copper heart beating faster."
"It's certainly interesting," Wufei agreed dryly. He was thinking. He'd been thinking all day. "It's possible that Ferret simply knows Carver by association. Ferret heard about the murder, decided to see if he could learn more about it... I spent hours studying Ferret's case file, what there is of it. He's a slimly piece of work by any standards, and he's not above shaking down Carver if he thought he could prove the latter had murdered Brindlow."
"That's one possibility." Duo was frowning at his juice. "Or maybe he was keeping an eye on how Kropotkin was reacting to the murder, on Carver's behalf."
"That's fairly common," Wufei agreed with a curt nod. "Many criminals can't stay away from their own crime scene; they're worried about what the Preventers are doing, what forensic evidence we could turn up, what they might have overlooked. They can't stand the uncertainty, they have to see if we're on their trail already. If they can't check themselves, they'll send a friend or associate."
"Ferret and Carver, associates?"
"Yes. And it's giving me a headache just thinking about it." Wufei scowled into his glass of water. He'd lost all taste for the dubious ham-n-spam sandwich. "Carver is a hitman for political activists and Ferret is an agitator, but having them linked that close together here, in Freeport... that just smells bad."
"Worse than recyc on a warm day," Duo agreed absently, peeling the label from his juice bottle. "Then there's the third parameter of this equation."
"Which is? Ah, Joshua."
"Yup. What the hell was he doing in a sector where nobody knew him? Trust me on this, Wu. It's not common for people to wander around where they don't have friends. Not by themselves. And why did Carver carve him up?"
"I don't know." Wufei rubbed his head as if that could massage the various elements of the problem together into a solution. "He might have been working with Carver and Ferret."
"And they had a falling out?"
"On the second floor of a building where nobody knew him or seen anybody like Carver before? Above a crèche, for Chrissakes? Do you think that's likely?"
"Do you have another explanation?"
"Nope, but I think you can put that one back on the shelf, Chang, it's cracked."
"We'll see. We certainly need more information about all three of these 'citizens'."
"We go back together tomorrow and hunt for that!" Duo smiled and clinked his bottle loudly against Wufei's unsuspecting glass. "It's a date!"
Wufei glared at the water he'd accidentally spilled onto his lap, then at Duo's amused grin. Duo leapt to his feet, completely ignoring Wufei's sour scowl.
"Let's go to bed, then. Tomorrow's gonna be a busy day and we need our beauty sleep. Oh, you gonna need to drop by Scythe first, right?"
Wufei finished his neglected sandwich in three large bites, and swallowed fastidiously rather than answer with his mouth full. "Why should I want to go to your ship?"
"Well, to send your report, doofus! You've not done it for days now."
"Oh." Wufei carefully wiped his fingers on the napkin that Duo, after some prodding on Wufei's behalf, had produced from the depths of one of his cupboards for his guest's use. "That's okay. We don't need to."
"You don't? Heero had to report every three day. Tro's gonna want to know how close you are to Carver. Right?" Duo cocked his head to one side.
"I'll report when I have something to report," Wufei grumbled, rubbing harder at the greasy traces on his fingers.
"What about Ferret?"
Wufei paused. Good point. "We'll see if we can find Ferret's tracks, or prove his association to Carver. If it looks like we can find Ferret, I guess I should warn Trowa."
"You guess?" Duo looked downright puzzled now. "I don't think Tro would consider it optional. I'm sure he cares about catching a multiple murderer and nabbing a recidivist agitator and checking on the health of one of his best agents. Right?"
Trowa would definitely want to know about Ferret... "I'll send a message tomorrow evening," Wufei offered, standing up and turning away, tossing his napkin over the back of the chair. "We should have more information about Ferret by then."
"He'll be glad to know Carver's finally shown up too."
"Yes," Wufei answered shortly, heading towards the door. "I'm going to take a shower, then we should get some sleep."
Wufei pulled the sleeping bag up to his shoulders against the nip of cold in the room, and grunted in response to Duo's 'good night'.
The passage of a cargo train overhead made the two toothbrushes in the glass mug near the sink clink together. Wufei glared at the ceiling. He hadn't flinched much. He was getting used to it, but it was still annoying. He rarely slept more than an hour without some noise or other waking him up.
He stared at a splash of neon, which had slipped through the shutter to fall onto the floor of Duo's apartment. His eyes absently traced indentations in the crude linoleum and he remembered how Joshua's blood had trickled and pooled in them back in Kropotkin. There was a shuffle and a squeak of springs from the bed as Duo curled himself up a bit more and huffed sleepily.
I wonder- I think you are- I bet I know- I've heard this word time and again and- are you-
"Are you a rat-catcher?"
Silence, and a slight shift of the bed-covers, were his only answer. Wufei frowned at the splash of neon, as if he could blame it for the way the question had slipped out. He had his suspicions; he was going to question the other man, drop hints here and there and watch his reaction. That was the smart way of doing it; the cop way. It was stupid to ask the question directly, since Duo always pretended to not give a damn about Carver beyond the money Trowa was paying him, and the undatable sister silliness.
But the intimacy of darkness, lying six feet away from his friend, had somehow disengaged Wufei's reserved and suspicious nature. He'd simply asked, instead of thinking. Giving Duo plenty of opportunity to shoot the question down, and Wufei couldn't even watch for that tell-tale flicker of blue eyes. Chang, you're really losing it...
"Where did you hear that word?" Duo finally asked. His voice sounded curious and maybe just a little wary.
"I've heard it several times since I arrived. One of the men today said he could live with me being a rat-catcher, but not a bounty hunter-"
Duo snorted harshly.
"So I assume it's not the same thing," Wufei concluded.
"You know how I told you that people in a sector watch out for each other?" Duo finally said, after a few seconds of silence.
"Well, they also watch each other, if you know what I mean. We're all a bunch of criminals here, most of us. Even Freeport's few traditions wouldn't keep us in line if we didn't all have a healthy paranoia about what our neighbours are doing."
"That's what I'd gathered."
"That's normal, okay? If you stumble across something smelly in your sector, you don't just ignore it. Maybe you'll just tell a neighbour, or a Red Band, but you don't let it go, unless you know and trust the people involved, in which case you'll give them the benefit of the doubt."
Trust as credit. You could probably get away with murder if your friends believed you had a good enough reason to do it and trusted you. No, not murder, Wufei reminded himself with a grimace. Duels, confrontations and 'accidental death'. Right. If you had to murder somebody, it meant you were hiding something you probably didn't want your friends and neighbours to know about.
"Now, that's the norm, right? That's what a good citizen is supposed to do. But some fucking idiots, that's not good enough for them. They don't trust popular pressure to do the job of uncovering the real crimes, the stuff that's been deliberately and carefully hidden. Like drugs, murder, hoarding, breaking quarantine, rape, shit like that. A rat-catcher doesn't just stick to his own sector, where he knows who's who; he'll follow the trouble out of his territory, and hunt it down in sectors he don't belong in. Rat-catchers are shit-stirrers, plain and simple. And then they go and tattle to the Red Bands, and some rat gets spaced or kicked out or something."
Wufei measured the scorn in Duo's voice and matched it with the way people spoke about rat-catchers. He frowned in the darkness. "Sounds like a good citizen to me. These 'rats' are doing something that breaks Freeport's-" he interrupted himself as he was about to say ‘laws', and rephrased that the Freeport way. "The rats are doing something that can endanger the colony's survival. Right?"
"... Right." Duo appeared to have noted his change of wording. "Yeah, it's not all bad. Some people see rat-catchers as a necessary evil, or even kinda brave; idiots who put themselves at considerable risk, in a place where a lot of the rats would eat them alive, just to make sure nothing's about to blow up in all our faces. But... for a lot of other people, rat-catcher is too close to a couple other jobs."
"And cop. Let's face it; even the non-criminal side of Freeport's population have a knee-jerk reaction to authority. As I said, it's a stupid job."
"But someone's got to do it. Do you?"
"Do I look stupid to you?"
Wufei rolled over onto his stomach and propped himself up on his elbows, eyes on the dark lump in the bed.
"From the way you've been avoiding answering my question with a direct 'no' from the start, you've already told me all I wanted to know, but I'll be polite and answer you directly instead of waffling. Yes, you do look that stupid to me."
"Oy!" A rustle of bedclothes and Wufei caught a gleam of light off of a pair of annoyed blue eyes.
"Duo, you sat yourself onto ten tons of H-fuel barely balanced on a couple of Verniers and then you single-handedly attacked an entire army. That's beyond stupid in my books. Becoming a cop in a den where there is nothing but lawless anarchists is actually a smart career move for you."
" ...Hi Pot, my name's Kettle."
"Granted, I did the same during the war, and I'm in the same position you are in Freeport today, but that's exceptional for me," Wufei pointed out didactically. "Most of the time I have the power and authority of the law behind me. That does make things a lot easier."
"Yeah, I guess nobody hates you for doing your job," Duo grumbled.
There was a scratching noise from the bed, then Duo continued in a soft voice.
"It's just... those of us who do this - and it's not a full time job, right? It's more like keeping your ears open and your curiosity on medium broil. But... me and Cesar and the others who are stupid enough to do this, it's because we know how fragile Freeport is. It wouldn't take many leaks in this hull to breach us. It's something that has to be done. Like clearing out the garbage. We gotta make sure this station doesn't get full of Carvers and Ferrets, until the Preventers have no choice but to come shut us down. How did you guess, though?"
In the distance, somebody shouted a greeting. People were starting to trickle back from their day in the shipyards. The streets were about to get noisy.
"I suppose, hanging around me, for an investigator of your calibre, it musta been pretty obvious, hm?... Fei?"
"You've gone awfully quiet."
Wufei dragged his eyes away from the slice of light that lay on the floor like a pointed finger. He tried to think of something to say, but his usual sarcasm had deserted him.
"What's up?" Duo asked, propping himself up onto his elbows.
"Nothing," Wufei answered. "Why did you say you were selfish?"
"When you first told me about anarchy, you said it was selfish; that you, and everybody else in Freeport, only cared about your own freedom and survival."
There was a short silence and then a fairly grumpy: "Yeah?" Duo's voice informed him that he didn't like the direction this was heading. Wufei didn't heed the warning.
"I think being a rat-catcher disqualifies you from the 'selfish' club," he pointed out neutrally.
Duo flopped back against his pillow as if he intended to ignore the question; Wufei settled back down into the sleeping bag again. The bit about being a rat-catcher was important information, something Wufei should have been informed of. He'd find a way of berating Duo over the man's secretive nature at a later date. Duo Maxwell was way too used to playing everything close to the chest; which, considering his 'second profession' of being a cop in a nest of criminals, was hardly surprising. But this last question was personal. If Duo didn't want to answer, then that was fair enough.
"Couldn't do it... "
It was barely a murmur. Wufei twisted his head to glance up from his pillow, not that he could see anything except for a mound of covers on the dark shape that was the bed.
"What?" He kept his voice soft, a mere whisper.
There was silence, but it was the silence of somebody ordering their thoughts.
"When the war was over... Of course I cared." Duo's voice was raw with bitterness. "I'd fought just as hard-... fuck it, I lived in L2 during two civil wars, if Une thinks I don't give a damn about peace, she can suck my-... "
There was more silence. Somebody started singing outside; it sounded like a dirge. It was probably a Russian love song.
"I just... don't work well under authority. You give me an order, I'll give you the finger. You give me a rule, I'll turn around and break it. I spent too long under the Alliance, I guess. I don't trust nobody who tells me what to do. Except for-... well, except for a few privileged guys who've fucking well earned it.
"During the war, a coalition of colony rebel forces asked me to join them. They wanted my help; they wanted to form an alliance for The Future. Big fucking whoop. And in that Future, who takes out the garbage? Who makes the rules? Who obeys them? Who goes down into the mines, and who stays on top and counts the profit? That fucking matters as much as your goddamn ideals, yanno. Just beating OZ isn't good enough! Then it's just some other organisation that takes over, with ideas that aren't yours, and you go back to fighting them, and another church- you get another civil war. Just stupid, man.
"And yeah, I know about the greater good. But behind the greater good, there's generally a minority getting fucked over. That's how the universe works. The little details count, for me. 'Cause I used to be one."
"You don't believe in what we are doing?" Wufei asked softly. He didn't blame Duo. He'd had his own doubts after the war.
Duo was silent for even longer this time. When he spoke, his voice was strangely controlled; unusual for the mercurial smuggler.
"No, I think you guys are doing the right thing. But I can't fight on your side, not in this war. I can't fight for the greater good and the big picture, not if have to ignore the ten-year old hooker getting paid in drugs in an L2 slum, just because the politicos are too busy rebuilding the nice places first. I'm... I have to see what I'm fighting for. It has to have a face, a body and a voice. Heero is a bit the same. That's why he never blamed me for cutting bait and running to Freeport. He believes in Relena; that's easier to believe in than Peace with a capital P. Now, Relena's sweet, and some of her ideas are good. But she's never eaten a rat. She can't tell me what's best for me and my kind if she's never had to eat a rat."
"Relena has survived several wars. She knows the cost-"
"A society with ghettos is at war. It's just not the kind of war that has tanks and Gundams."
Wufei was silent, his eyes fixated once more on the dagger of light on the floor. He wondered if they would ever had had this conversation in the light of day.
"That's why I live in Freeport; because it's small and crazy and it don't have no rules. Just like me, huh? So Une turned out to be right on one point! You can slap me with a medal the size of a soup plate, but once the war is over, Duo Maxwell ain't no hero. He's a street rat who cares about his next meal, his safety, that of his gang of friends, and nothing else. That's why I'm selfish, Chang. Now go to sleep."
Wufei was silent. He rolled onto his back, put his hands behind his head and stared at the darkness until little blue and red lights danced in his vision.
"I believe in Justice," Wufei said into the darkness and the silence.
"We know," Duo groused into his pillow. Wufei chose to ignore that.
"I believe in law and order, and the greater good. Rules help to protect the weak, they keep people safe. More than that, they give us all a sense of direction, of place. I know they hide parasites, monsters and cowards. I won't throw the rules away just because of that, though; I'll fight to purge them instead."
"Good for you." Duo's voice was a sneer, but here, in the darkness, Wufei could distinguish the facets behind the tone. Duo sounded sad, too, and weary.
"That is my battle," Wufei said slowly. "It is the one I chose, and I do not count the cost, to myself or others. I am the sword that cuts the just from the unjust. I trust no-one to tell me who they are; I reserve my own judgment on that." Even if he couldn't always apply it immediately.
"Tell me when to clap, willya?"
"I don't agree with most of your choices, Duo, but they were not mine to make. I do, however, respect your decision to seek out your own battleground, rather than finding comfort in blindly following orders you did not believe in. You don't keep your head down like a coward, either. In fact, I'd say you put yourself at considerable risk, being a rat-catcher in this... pit. You found a fight where you could make a difference; you stand true to your own code of honour.
"You were not lying to those men we faced today. You have nothing to be ashamed of."
There was a small silence.
"Humph. So I'm living in stinky old anarchist Freeport, I'm doing the most unpopular job there is, even lower than the trolls in recyc, I'm good for the tar and feathers if they find out I sneak the pigs in, but at least I have the Chang seal of approval. I can die happy now."
Wufei allowed the smile to reach his lips, here in the darkness. Duo's sarcasm felt like a reflex, and there was a droll humour behind it that removed the sting.
"You're not allowed to die, Maxwell. You're too useful to us. Trowa has given us clear orders: I'm to find Carver and you are to stay alive."
"Man, an order I actually want to follow, for once."
"Good. Make sure that you do."
End Part 15
On to Chapter sixteen
Back to Chapter fourteen