This is a bit short, but I like it. More of the "Nine" series. This one has some adult elements just slipping in, but I wrote it so it still fits into the "K+" category. Otherwise, I’m going to have to rate it Adult Content.
“I got another one. Check the list.”
A crisp voice broke through Terrance’s sleep. He groaned and tried to move, but two firm, tight grips held him down.
“Name?” asked the voice sternly.
“Terrance,” he said simply.
A quick flittering of paper. The dim light of the sunset was filtering into Terrance’s eyes; he guessed that he must have been unconscious for ages. Then the noises stopped, save for the occasional crackle of fire.
“I haven’t got him.”
Dread filled Terrance. That wasn’t good at all. From the little they knew of the World State, this information was the most revolutionary. They had lists of everyone in the cities they attacked – from the records of other cities – and if there was anyone not on the list, they were killed. Terrance was about to suffer that same fate.
He opened his eyes as the soldier – or whoever he was – dragged him out of the debris and saw the devastation in front of him. A gaping hole in the wall. Strewn chairs everywhere. No bodies – but plenty of soldiers, all dressed in the same, dark red uniform, bending over others. Terrance could see the occasional limb and realised that the rest of his friends and students must still be alive.
“Move,” commanded the first solider harshly, pushing Terrance forward. The second solider, Terrance saw, had a thick wad of paper clipped to a board and had moved on to another one of his comrades. Terrance clambered out of the hole and into the street outside.
“Where are you taking me?” he asked.
“Talk when you’re asked a question. Otherwise, shut up!” said the solider fiercely. Terrance shut up and started to walk briskly down to street.
“But to answer your question,” said the solider in a kinder, quieter voice, “I’m not authorised to deal with you. So I’m bringing you to the head instead. And the entire thing about us killing was always a rumour.”
“The head… Leo?”
“That’s right. He’s apparently looking for another couple of pets, too.”
Terrance stared, open-mouthed, at the small figure in front of him.
Surprised for two reasons.
Firstly, the head, Leo, was fourteen years old. Male.
Secondly, Terrance was staring into a mirror image of himself.
There were minor differences – the way the hair fell across the eyes, the way the head of the World State Military Commander was standing – but they were too similar. Eerily similar. The same coloured hair, the same near-black eyes, and, Terrance saw, the same taste of clothing. Although he himself hadn’t had much choice in what he could wear, with all the military blocks, Leo was wearing more or less what Terrance had fantasised about after the breakout of the war. Pure white shirt. Comfortable jeans. Stuff that he hadn’t seen for ages.
But after Terrance got over that shock, which was, surprisingly, much later than Commander Leo did, he realised how much power this fourteen-year-old must hold. And he was paralysed again when he realised that he was actually seeing a teenager command one of the largest armies ever known in history.
And possibly, the most powerful army, too.
“You may leave now,” said Leo curtly, with a nod towards the guard. He spoke in a soft, clipped accent, almost as if he was worried about hurting himself if he moved his lips too much.
The guard released Terrance’s shoulder and turned away without another word.
“What is your name?” asked the other teenager, his voice still as soft as ever.
“Terrance,” said Terrance definitely.
“Is that it?”
“That’s all I’m willing to divulge at this moment, yes.”
The commander-in-charge just smiled widely. “That’s okay. My name’s Leo – although, through your wonderful spies, you probably already know that. Please, sit down.”
Terrance took one of the chairs behind Leo, but he perched at the edge of the seat, ready to spring up at any sign of danger. Leo, however, simply slid backwards into his, looking completely relaxed for a military commander that had just roamed across one of the few remaining opposition cities outside his empire.
“I suppose you don’t know why you’re here, do you?” asked Leo.
“No, I don’t,” said Terrance sharply. “I don’t know if you’re going to kill me or gods know what. This entire operation is confusing me.”
“Well,” said Leo, leaning forwards, “perhaps I could help you with that. It may make more sense for you to realise that killing people was never my policy.”
“Your policy?” laughed Terrance, but there was no emotion in it – his laughs had lost their emotion a year ago. “I’m sorry; I never heard anything about your policies. And while we’re on the subject of you, could you please explain how a fourteen-year-old manages to run and command an entire army?”
“So many questions!” said Leo in a panicky voice. “But I suppose you’re right. First: you’ve never heard any of my policies because I keep them well hidden. Second: I run an entire army because I’ve proven over time I can. The end.”
Terrance remained silent as he digested this information.
“I suppose,” he said slowly, “I suppose that makes sense, but neither answers my question.”
“And you won’t get an answer. Not until you wear this.”
Leo got up from his seat and carelessly moved over to a table shrouded in shadow. He fumbled with something, then pulled out a large piece of cloth, dusting it down as he shook it in the air to let it unfold.
It was a World State military uniform. Except that instead of being the State red, this was made of deep, velvet purple. Terrance raised an eyebrow coldly.
“I know, I know,” said Leo, sighing, “it might be a bit too much to ask you to wear the World State stuff, but if you do choose to wear this, well… I don’t know. You become… higher-ranked. Important. None of the soldiers will challenge you. You become… one of mine.”
Terrance stiffened. “What do you mean?” he asked coldly.
“If you put this on, anyone in the World State will recognise you as being with me. And not just meeting me on a regular basis. This particular uniform is only reserved for the few I consider special to me, and if you do choose to wear this, you can become one of mine. I’m offering you a choice here – you can spend the rest of your life in prison, or you can walk free, but be one of my subordinates. And possibly something way more than that.”
“Is that it?” demanded Terrance sharply.
“Right. I choose the prison. Goodbye.”
“Before you go, though,” said Leo, dropping the uniform and putting up one delicate finger the exact same way Terrance did, “I might remind you that I am interested in you and spent most of my time finding out as much about you as I can. And one of the few interesting things that turned up was the fact you spearheaded the teenage section of the anti-World State guerrilla army. I’m sure you already know what the penalty for that is.”
Painful torture, then a slow death. Terrance did know.
But he didn’t know what to choose. Did he want to follow a life with this person? This fourteen-year-old teenager running an entire army? Did he?
“Make your choice, Terrance. Make your choice.”