Disclaimer: No relation to Gundam Wing. No own Gundam Wing. No relation to anything Gundam. No own anything Gundam. No making profit from this. All of the above is very obvious, otherwise why would I be writing this? Disclaimers are a pain to write.
Pairings: 1x2, 3x4, 5xS, past 5xM (she's dead)
Summary: Gangs rule the Outlands, and shoot any OZ soldiers that enter their turf. The solution? Use ex-gangers, now OZ prisoners, to infiltrate them. What OZ doesn't know is that these five prisoners have something else in mind…
Chapter One: Kindling Flames
"Are you sure you have tried everything?"
"Yes, Commander. Even White Fang, our most elite force, has failed. Captain Zechs reports that he barely escaped with one tenth of his original fifty men force. He says that the gangs have burrowed deep and are familiar with the land and so have a huge advantage. The soldiers were ambushed or shot down from hidden positions not ten steps into the Outlands."
"In civilian clothing? Or the rags that the gangs like to call 'clothing'?"
"Even dressed as street gang members, sir. Captain Marquise says that it's the air of a soldier. He says it cannot be trained out, and apparently the gangs can recognize one of their own kind."
The Commander sighed, shaking his ginger-haired head. "And we cannot do anything major since it might just spark off a nuclear reaction, what with all those piles of contaminated junk festering there. And the whole point of trying to take over the Outlands is to salvage the very same junk." His forked eyebrows furrowed as he thought, dark blue eyes contemplating. "Absolutely no ideas, my dear Captain Une?"
The blonde sitting straight in the chair opposite the Commander shook her head. "No, I'm afraid not, Commander Kushrenada."
"Yes, Commander Kushrenada. If even White Fang fails…" she let the sentence trail off. There was no need to continue, anyway.
Then there came a knock at the door. "Come in," Treize called. The oak door swung open to reveal an aristocratic man with silver hair in a ponytail and an arm in a sling. His light blue eyes swept over the room's two occupants as he bowed slightly. "Commander Treize. Captain Une."
They nodded back. "Captain Zechs," Treize smiled warmly as the newcomer closed the door behind him and took a seat next to Une. "The lady here was just telling me about our latest failure in clearing the gangs out of the Outlands."
Zechs flushed. "I am sorry, Commander," he murmured. "But there is simply no way into the Outlands. The gangs have been there for so long they know every secret hideout, every passage, every entrance."
"Are we beaten, then?" Treize frowned.
"I… have a suggestion, Commander. Although it is highly unorthodox, and not very reliable."
Treize raised an eyebrow. "At this point, I am willing to try anything. Let's hear it, Captain."
"Even out of uniform, there is something about a soldier that gives them away, while on stakeout, we've seen gang rats entering and leaving the outlands without problems. I was thinking… fight fire with fire. We could send prison inmates in there, former ex-gang members. We could give them freedom if they manage to clear out the gangs for us, and the means to start a new life thrown in for good measure. As incentive. It would take a long time, longer than we planned, but it would be done, if they eliminate the gangs bit by bit."
He blinked under the two penetrating stares he was subjected to. "Uh, it was just a thought…"
"Actually, that is a brilliant idea," Treize breathed. "We'll need to find a way to make sure the people we send in can be controlled, but by the gods, it's possible!"
Une nodded. "It would be better if we sent the juveniles, and a small group at that. They would be viewed as young, few in number, and so a lesser danger by the gangs, and thus have a better chance of surviving. We have enough prisoners to replace them if they die, anyway."
Treize frowned. "When you put it that way, it seems like we're sending them in to certain death."
"If we ask for volunteers, we'd be sure that we aren't forcing them to die. It would be their own choice. If they volunteer but cannot handle it, it's their problem."
Treize raised an eyebrow. "And when you put it that way…" He sighed, then gave his two Captains a half-smile. "Both of you see to it. Volunteers, remember. Once they've been chosen, get them to wash up and bring them to me. Tell them only their mission, not why they're doing it."
The Captains nodded and stood. "Right away, sir."
They not only did not gather in straight rows, but slouched and fidgeted and talked among themselves. Captain Une's eyebrow twitched.
Her voice boomed throughout the High Security Juvenile Delinquent Centre and froze all the young teens lounging in the courtyard where they had been forced to gather. They had heard of the female Captain and her two personalities, but hadn't really believed it. Seeing the mild-looking woman on the temporary platform suddenly transform into a smaller (and female) version of Satan changed their minds.
"Now. I am Captain Une. I am here because you are supposed to be the worst of the lot of juvenile lawbreakers we have, attempting daring escape attempts from your previous centres or committing a high crime. Looking at you, though, I wonder."
Uneasy, resentful murmurs rose. They did not like being looked down upon.
"I need a small group of ex-gang members, preferably six or seven of you. Ex-gang, mind. I need this group to infiltrate the Outlands and get rid of all the gangs, or at least the majority of them, or provide a way for us, OZ, to do so."
"Well? All necessary equipment provided. Afterwards you get freedom and a clean slate, and a small sum of money to start your new and hopefully law-abiding lives with."
"Ya mus' be crazy, lady. The Outlands' turf o' the meanest gangs there is. No mercy. Six or seven don't cut it. We'll die."
Une's glare made the crowd flinch. "A small group to infiltrate the Outlands, not to launch an attack. A small group will have a better chance of weaselling their way in."
"It's still suicide!"
"Not if you're smart enough. Not if you're good enough."
Again, silence after she spoke. Une waited, barely holding on to her patience and temper.
"What kinda equipment, lady?"
Une couldn't find the source of that drawl, but from the way the crowd shifted and murmured, she knew the owner of the lazy tenor was either someone they were scared of, respected, or didn't hear from often. "Any kind, within reason. Computers, guns, knives. If necessary, custom made to order."
That was tempting, she knew, but not tempting enough, apparently, since no one spoke or even looked at her for some time, hunching into themselves as if that would make them less noticeable to her.
"Do you know which gangs are in there?"
Again, she could not find the source of that clipped, slightly accented voice, which drew the same reaction from the crowd as the previous voice did. "Almost every gang has a part of the Outlands. Since we chased away or captured most of those on the city streets, they have retreated to the Outlands, which is a far bigger territory than they'll ever have in the city."
"What do you want the land for?"
Frustration built in her as, yet again, she couldn't pin the light, alto voice down. It seemed that this one was also unexpected by the crowd. "You don't need to know that. Just do your job, no questions asked, and we'll clean your slate and give you freedom if you manage, no questions asked either."
"Why not send your own soldiers?"
Une winced at the question, voiced in a flat low tenor monotone from somewhere in the crowd, which elicited another nervous response from the mass of people. She had been hoping this wouldn't come up. "We did. They were killed."
A few gasps, and the crowd was even more restless than before.
A cool, smooth tenor that yet again came from nowhere and yet again set the crowd off. What was the matter with her? Or were they simply that good? "They… barely got out. Even Captain Zechs was injured."
"Suicide," declared another voice, and the teens agreed loudly.
"Not if you're smart enough. Not if you're good enough."
The drawl froze the crowd and Une, who had opened her mouth to yell them down. Then five figures seemed to slowly melt out of the crowd, until there were five young boys standing in between the podium Une was standing on and the rest of the crowd, with a good five metres of space on either side. She shut her mouth and looked at them.
The first one to her left was of Japanese origin, slim and lean. The deep blue eyes surprised her, though; the shade of blue even deeper and bluer than Treize's, and so well guarded that the only emotion in them was apathetic wariness. His lightly tanned golden skin hid pure muscle that she could barely make out, lending to the impression that he was thin and small, easy prey. She'd bet that people had paid dearly for making that mistake. His posture was straight but relaxed and alert, with a dangerous edge.
The second startled her. He was outright grinning, intriguing violet eyes sparking with mischief, heart-shaped face seemingly open and friendly. And was that a braid of autumn-leaf-coloured hair? He must be either very foolish or very brave or very good at fighting to have dealt with all the trouble that it must have brought him. Maybe all three. He was slim, too, about the same height – i.e. rather short – as the previous boy, if he straightened from his slouch. Then she took a closer look and saw the manic gleeful glint underneath the mischief, and the sharp edge to that innocuous grin, and the subtle play of muscles underneath pale American skin. He was dangerous, just as much so as the first.
The third was tall and lanky, standing loosely at attention, and his hair just as weird as the second, a fall of dark brown bangs covering one eye. Latin origins, one of the European countries. His visible eye was green and empty. He looked like nothing would startle him, but perhaps the cold, cool air he exuded discouraged people from trying to. His entire demeanour suggested that he would kill without batting an eyelid, and have no trouble doing so.
The fourth startled her, again. He was as tall as the third's chin, as short as the first two, standing straight and relaxed. He had light golden-blond hair and clear blue-green eyes, pale skin, and a small slim frame. The sweet smile made him seem even more angelic. Une wondered what someone so young and innocent-looking was doing here. Then, learning from her previous mistakes, she looked closer. There was a steely glint of cold intelligence in those clear eyes, and a hard undercurrent to the smile. Yes, he hid strength, like the others before him.
The fifth was Chinese, obviously. Almond-shaped eyes that were large for his race, and black as his hair, tied in a small tight ponytail at the back of his neck. Muscles were more obvious this time, though still rather subtle, under tanned golden-brown skin. The way he stood still and stiff, holding himself high, told of previous training that advocated respect, dignity, integrity and honour, the traits of any respectable Oriental. What was so important, she wondered, that he could allow himself to be lowered to this level?
All this was observed in less than ten seconds, after which she nodded. "Introduce yourselves, starting from you." She pointed to the Chinese.
"I am Chang Wufei, Chinese, fifteen years of age, Dragon gang member for three years, prisoner for one." Ah, she had heard gossip of a proud juvenile refusing to cower and flinch, instead marching into the detention centre, head held high. He'd been the one to ask her about which gangs were in the Outlands.
"I'm fifteen, too, and have been in here for one and a half years. Formerly a member of the Sands, for two years. Oh, and I'm an Arab. My name's Quatre Winner." Une didn't let her surprise show at that last sentence, though inwardly she jumped. So this was the infamous Winner son, who'd murdered his rich and famous father and calmly turned himself in to the OZ police force, refusing to give any reason or excuse. He'd been the talk of the world for months, though no one really knew what he looked like, and his sisters hadn't talked either. He'd asked her about the reason OZ wanted the Outlands.
"Trowa Barton. Sixteen. Here for two years. Former mercenary from childhood until now. Latin." Well, didn't waste words, did he? Mercenary… there wasn't really any difference between that and a gang member, so she let it slide. He had been the one asking about White Fang, and also the one her soldiers had muttered uneasily about, the silent boy with that unnerving dead stare.
"Heya, all! Duo Maxwell, at your service. I may run and hide, but I never lie. That's my motto, and I stick to it, no exceptions! Unless I really see fit, o'course. American, if ya haven't realized by my accent, by now. Been in this shithole for, oh, slightly less than a month, prisoner for slightly less than a year, and I was in Hell's Demons ever since five. I'm fifteen now, only got caught 'cause we were ratted out. Sadly, the rat's dead, so I can't slaughter him, drink his blood and use the remains as deco."
That was met with horrified silence, and from the corner of her eye, Une saw a few of her soldiers blanch; the grin hadn't changed throughout his entire speech, the tone continuously cheerful. This was the one that had given many other institutions hell, always trying to escape and almost succeeding most times, with an attitude to boot. The two drawled sentences from before belonged to him.
"Heero Yuy, half-Japanese, fifteen years old. Previous member of the gang Zen for approximately eight years. Transferred to this institution with Maxwell twenty-eight days ago. Apprehended approximately ten months before that." Crisp, detailed, barely noticeable accent, a cold monotone. He'd been the one to ask her why she hadn't sent her soldiers to deal with the gangs.
She remembered him; he and Duo Maxwell had partnered up for their last escape attempt, which saw them one mile away in a forest before OZ caught them again, and that was only because one of their soldiers had stumbled upon them by accident. Even so, they had killed two and injured twenty-something men – with their bare hands and a few branches – before they were subdued by tear gas mixed with a strong tranquilizer. They had been transferred to the highest security juvenile prison OZ had immediately after that. Even now, the men still talked of them with awe and fear.
She raised an eyebrow. "Five of you? I asked for six or seven."
Duo laughed. "Lady, we're the cream of the crop. The best of the best. Numero uno, yanno? Ask the rest of the juvvies, they'll tell ya. The five of us probably equal to seven or eight of the group you imagined."
Une smirked slightly as a few heads in the crowd nodded. "You're probably right, Mr Maxwell. Very well. The rest of you, dismissed."
The crowd scattered, and Une stepped off the platform, standing in front of the five boys, who had moved closer together. She swept a glance over them. "If you can pull this off, we clear your records, and we'll probably offer you a job on the force, if you're interested. We'll also give you ten thousand credits each, which is enough to live for a year if you don't waste it. The job is simple: infiltrate the gangs and pick them off one by one. You don't have a time limit, though the sooner the better, of course."
"Preferably by the end of next year. It's April, so you have more than one and a half years to do it. There are about two hundred gangs in the Outlands, big and small, totaling up to – this is very rough estimate based on guesswork, since all the radiation interferes with our equipment – totaling up to a thousand people. Those are pretty big odds, for five people, working at a snail's pace, no less."
To her surprise, smirks appeared on all their faces. "We won't be exactly working at a snail's pace, lady," Duo drawled. "Don't underestimate us."
"A few bullets in the wrong place and we could have a reaction equaling that to a nuclear bomb," snapped Une. "Don't underestimate the Outlands."
"Oh, we know very well what we're up against, Captain Une," Quatre chuckled. "We know why you don't dare to send a large force inside. We know how dangerous the gangs are. We know what we can do. And I'll say it again: don't underestimate us."
Une looked incredulously at the boys in front of her, and saw easy confidence in their faces. "You are crazy."
Heero shook his head. "We will need every bit of those twenty months you give us, but it can be done, quite smoothly. We need your co-operation, though. You must not do anything unless we ask you to, and when we do, you must do it immediately. It is imperative that this is agreed to."
"We'll also take you up on that custom weapons offer, lady," Duo said easily. "Would be best if you still had our old stuff, of course…"
"As a matter of fact, we do. I will give them to you later, though some of it might be lost or worse for the wear. I ask again: are you five sure about this? Are you committed?"
The five nodded, and murmured various versions of oaths and promises.
Une sighed. "Fair enough. I ask you not to try to escape while I escort you to the OZ headquarters. The Commander wants to see you."
Duo whistled. "Treize Kushrenada? This is big, then."
"Big, yes. But also because the Commander feels guilty for sending children into what he feels – and I somewhat agree – is certain death."
Five pairs of eyes flashed with insulted fury. "We can do it," Heero said with suppressed anger.
"We will do it," Duo agreed, expression dark and feral.
Trowa nodded curtly, green eye suddenly filled with cold cruel determination.
"We have not been children for a long time," Quatre smiled mirthlessly.
"Don't insult us again, onna." Wufei's anger was plain at having his honour so blatantly insulted.
Une was extremely careful to conceal her smugness. There was no way they would back out now.
"Then follow me."
Well? [looks expectantly at readers] Was it okay? Interesting? Long-winded? Tell all in a review! [grins] Please?
[Ashen Skies][One good turn gets most of the blankets]