"You see... For most of these people, it's not actually about land. It's not about wealth or possessions, however meager they may be. What this is about is dignity."
Koichi blinked, furrowing his brow. Since 'defecting' to what he figured was the winning side, he'd asked to see the man in charge. With the innumerable gang members and mobsters running around, he'd figured the man behind this rabble would have to be a mafia don or something. When they showed him to a humble, middle-aged man he was equally as confused as he was surprised.
Their meeting was taking place in an old coffee shop. The two of them sat on crates, while another man who had been introduced as Apostle watched over them. Apostle seemed like a nice person, despite the fact he was now the proud owner of Koichi's assault rifle.
As for their leader... People had simply called him "Prof," which made Koichi suspect he'd been quite important before moving to the zone. His hair was thinning out on top, but he had a healthy tan, no doubt from hours of hard work in his adopted home. He had a warm, friendly smile that instantly put Koichi at ease.
"Dignity?" he asked, looking around the old coffee shop again. The place was stripped bare, anything useful having been taken long ago. He could make out a small stove in the corner, along with what looked like a pair of bedrolls. Apart from that, the only features were a pair of crates that he and the prof were sitting on. How could people who scraped a living out of wreckage and filth have any dignity left?
The prof nodded. "You see, most people in the city think that the only people in the Zone are runaways and criminals. People who turned their backs on society." He shook his head slowly and continued. "But they forget the zero zone's origins. It always was a stopgap measure, a temporary solution to an eternal problem. For most of the people here, the city - no, society turned its back on them."
Koichi shook his head. "But I've seen all kinds of criminals. It's like they run the place."
"Oh, they do, to an extent. It seems that order will always establish itself from out of anarchy. The various organized crime groups are the closest thing the Zone has to law enforcement. And in Zone city, they do keep a modicum of peace."
"Through violence and extortion?" Koichi asked, incredulous.
"Is it really that different in Neo York?" The Prof replied.
Ryo was bored. There was no doubt about it. He adjusted his glasses again and looked around him. He was absurdly out of place in the Jinsei stronghold in the zone. Whereas soldiers milled around him in fatigues, all he had was his suit and a spare armored vest. He watched as the latest captives were herded past in front of him. He tried to ignore their filthy stares, and rubbed his forehead.
His was a unique position. His official job title was 'talent scout,' but nothing so mundane could describe his work here. He scanned over the captives again as they walked past, trying to ignore his growing headache.
"Wait..." He muttered. He could feel it through his headache, the slight buzz in the back of his mind. He scanned the captives closely, stepping forwards. "There," he said, pointing to a japanese girl with dyed brown hair. "She's one."
He heard her scream out for her friends as the soldiers stepped up and removed her from the queue. The rest were quickly taken from his sight. He shook his head and turned towards the barracks.
"Orders, sir?" A soldier said, as his comrades restrained the girl.
"Put her with the others. I'm going to catch some sleep." He walked off to the barracks, calling out "Wake me when they've got more to test," over his shoulder.
Koichi stepped out of the coffee house, into the night air. There was no doubting that it was fresher and cleaner here than anywhere else he'd been. In the distance he could hear the occasional report of gunfire. He was near the center of Zone City itself, close to the famous church district. Around him, the streets were empty. He was surprised by how intact and well kept the buildings were. His briefing had said the place was a wreck.
Koichi glanced around to find Apostle standing behind him. "It's nothing I expected," he replied.
"And the prof?" Apostle asked, nodding towards the door.
"He's quite a man."
Apostle nodded solemnly. "He's not really our leader. More like an army chaplain, or a guru."
"Army?" Koichi asked, confused.
Apostle nodded to the far end of the street. Turning, Koichi saw a group of men and women assembling at the end of the street. He rubbed his eyes, not believing the sight. For the want of a better word, they were an army squadron. Each was wearing the same uniform; urban camo pants and a plain black t-shirt. Although their weapons were mismatched, they carried them with professional care.
"How... on earth..." He muttered, then fell silent.
"Sweat shops," Apostle replied. "Small clothing companies use Zone labor to make their products. It's risky shipping them in and out, but very cheap. Of course, when Jinsei cut off the bridge, all their stock was left here."
Koichi watched, transfixed in awe as the squad formed up and moved out. They were clearly amateurs, but they were clearly well trained and organized. "Make no mistake," Apostle added, "We're raising an army here, and we're going to fight back."
Koichi could only nod in agreement.
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