No one can tell if Seda's her first name or her last, and that's just the way she likes it. Her past is hers and hers alone, and as far as she's concerned she is very alone indeed.
She became part of the rebellion like anyone else; she got tired of dying by inches and figured it'd be better to die all at once. She wasn't the only kid under ten, either; she joined what was rather accurately called the "Child Army" with three other newbs one cold winter day a week before her eighth birthday, although, truth told, calling it an 'army' was being generous. With their level of attrition, there were rarely enough bodies to fill a company, let alone a full division.
Her squad was led by an islander called Masaka, Mace for short (not that anyone called him that other than stupid newbies; Seda certainly never did, but then again Seda wasn't stupid, either). He was only sixteen, but she'd thought him much older that first time, eyes dull beneath his easy going laughs and smiles. He'd run her squad for the last five years; the second-longest person with them had only been there two.
Seda thought she understood him and his sad eyes. She might've even been correct.
He taught her how to use any weapon she could get her hands on, how to fire a gun without breaking her wrists, what mines looked like and how to avoid them. He taught her how to fight, how to survive, and if she'd anything to compare it to she'd call it familial love and've been right but instead called it loyalty and that was right too. One by one, the others died but she kept coming back, no matter how battered or bleeding she came back. They called her Masaka's Hound and she bared her teeth.
Fourteen, and she'd been his 2ic for four years, ever since Ash triggered the Smiler's wrath and left Seda with two chunks missing out of her face and a shiny new bar on her sleeve. She had her own squaddies now, a diffuse branch of specialists that almost-always came back, and she was fucking sick with worry. Fourteen, and she was a better leader than Masaka; fourteen, and she never lost people more'n once a three-month; fourteen, and she heard whispers of 'traitor' dogging her ex-commander whenever she turned.
She was still his Hound, though, still his soldier through and through, and she broke into his bunk one night after he lost another five-count and she whispered all she heard in his scarred ears and hissed, "You're fucking up!" with her fingers clenched so tight in his clothes and her body pressed so tight against his. He just smiled at her with that same sad smile and she tried to kiss it away (wasn't that how it was done? wasn't it what she should do?), pressed their lips together and it was gross and her stomach heaved but he was hers and she loved him and she needed him to stay and she didn't know what else to do. He let her for a moment, let her because she was his like he was hers, but he pushed her away gently and said, "Let's just sleep" and for the next month she never left his side and she ran their armies and she would think it fixed except he was falling as inexorably as ever and even she couldn't hold him afloat for much longer.
He died a handful of weeks later; least, that's always how she thought of it. He'd been covering her as she'd gotten a local LE to safety, a wiry tough as nails woman with a shock of blonde streaked through her black hair and perfect aim that always hit and they were in relative safety almost to full when she heard him scream and her heart was frozen and she was numb because no no no--
"Let's take this one alive, shall we? I'm running low on test subjects."
She heard the voice over the roaring in her ears, heard it and would never forget it, halfway out of the bolt hole without conscious thought or input, almost over the downed wall with her gun sliding free when two strong hands gripped her tight, this wisp of a girl who'd only been with them a day whose turquoise hair'd been gem bright to start but already dulling to just filthy, who had islander eyes like Masaka's even if hers were an unnatural blue and oh, god, Masaka, who had a grip like iron that Seda couldn't escape and she watched as her friendleaderbrotherlife was taken away by the fucking metal while a cold-faced woman watched with dead eyes as his blood and guts trailed a red path behind him.
She thought of it as the day he died because the alternative was so much worse.
She promoted the fairy girl to squad leader because the girl had saved their asses, and even as fucked in the head as Seda was now she could recognise that. The girl called herself Tak and wouldn't let her wallow and fade (which was more than Seda'd ever been able to do), and so at fifteen she commanded a veritable army of children with a loud-mouthed asshole of a 2ic, and what do you know, they had a head for this kinda shit and the death rates dropped to match the other forces and one day Seda woke up with her 2ic crammed in beside her, her old scars aching and realised that she was the same age Masaka's been when she'd joined and she was so much better than him it made her angry and sick but most of all bitterly proud because she wasn't just a stupid soldier any more (as though she'd been one to start with) and even if she'd always be a Hound she could choose what she did and who she did it for because Hounds chose their masters and she wasn't loyal to anyone but herself and maybe Commanders Evans and Schuler and she didn't have to take shit from anyone any more, and she didn't have to love anyone because that part of her had died and wasn't that just something. She wore Masaka's bloodstained bandanna like a badge 'round her neck and bore her teeth like knives and carried her call sign like a kill shot but she kept on living even if only out of spite and that was all anyone could dare to ask of her.
Tak was her foil and her compliment, bursting with energy and disdain and whirling anger that Seda couldn't hope to match, picked apart every plan and called her a "fucking moron" in front of the troops but she covered her back and kept the nightmares at bay and Seda could honestly call her a friend even if it'd make her mouth taste foul because she was and they were. Their star rose until they were no longer in charge of the CA, instead the first and second of a specialist group much like the one she'd used to run, sent in for precision strikes and data thefts that others couldn't handle with even a tenth of their finesse. They were all still young--god, who wasn't?--but the youngest was a sixteen year old hacker from the far south, three years Seda's junior who could croon to metal and make it tell all its stories; the oldest was twenty if a day, a bomb enthusiast from so far north the sun would rise for weeks before setting for months, where people still lived in ice and fire was more than a calling it was life.
They were a diverse lot.
They were sent to fetch a package one cold day (as if there was any other kind, every day just as cold and dreary as the last and some day, some day Seda was going to fucking go south if only to see if you really could see the damn sun) and bring it back, the package being a boy so green he practically leaked and so nervy he almost died without hands on, skittish and scared and practically invisible with his grey hair and grey self. Tak took to calling him Ghost in taunt and the moniker stuck; they weren't to know his name, if he even had any, and Ghost was as good as any other by Seda's reckoning so she let it be. She brought him back and let Emmery (oh, how far she'd risen, to be able to call the Commander and her man by their first names) mother him, let him teach the poor bastard how to shoot. She heard scuttlebutt that his new call sign was to be Ookami, 'Wolf', and felt a grudging kinship with the hopeless bastard even as something in her squeezed and ached. If they were tasked to transport him to his next destination, she honestly could say that she wouldn't mind, and as she fired shot after shot into the targets she figured that would probably be so.
Tak came out to find her deep below, all taunt wire and bristling nerves. "New orders," she spat out, pacing the small range back and forth while Seda puzzled out the missive.
"It's not addressed to us," she stated, calm and serene, lazily flipping through the filthy papers.
Tak snorted. "What the fuck ever, I need to get the fuck out of here," she growled, hands clenched into tiny fists at her sides. "Besides, you'll want it. I know you will."
"What the fuck is wrong with you lately?" Seda asked, curious despite herself. Wound by nature, Tak wasn't usually this tightly spun, like a firing pin about to snap. Nothing got to her; if she was worried, then Seda felt that meant she ought to be (it probably wasn't right to use Tak as her emotional barometer, but needs must and she'd never really found anything better to use).
She stopped, back to Seda. "My sister is on base," she said, voice false with pleasant cheer. "I don't want to see her."
Seda figured if any of her cousins miraculously showed up, she'd feel much the same, let it drop without comment. Tak resumed pacing.
Seda hit the last paragraph on the last page and froze, hand twisted tight in the red fabric around her neck. We believe the subject to be Captain Otsuka Masaka; further contact is recommended to determine whether extraction or expurgation is necessary.
"Gather the troops," she said flatly, holstering her gun. "We're taking this."
"Thought so," Tak babbled, already out the door. Heading back to quarters, Seda paused in her mental packing list, wondered if she should say goodbye to 'Ookami'; shaking her head, she decided against it, continuing on through the tunnels to her and Tak's bunk. The Ghost would most likely still be here when they got back; after all, who else would take his useless ass?