"From this day forth, you are one of us.”
“Today, we gather here to welcome the next group of boys and girls that are risking their lives as they join the Zero Collective. Of the forty-seven thirteen-year-olds currently present, fifteen have joined the part of the collective that will carry out missions that may cost them their lives. The other thirty-two, though they may not be out there with us, are still a part of the collective, and have sworn to help in any way possible. Either way, we’re happy to accept whatever help we can get.”
As Gerard spoke at the ceremony, JT found it difficult to stand still. To this day, he still found it hard to believe that it’s been so long. Seven years. Really, that was a long time, especially to the thirteen-year-old.
JT glanced over at Mikey, who stood on the other side of the platform. Mikey, now in his early twenties, still looked fairly young, and was still tall enough to be considered a giant.He appeared to have felt JT’s gaze upon him, as he glanced over at him and gave him an assuring smile. It was a smile that hadn’t changed in the seven years JT had lived in the underground city.
Gerard had finished speaking and left the podium, motioning for Mikey to take his place. Mikey gave a soft sigh and stood behind the podium. “As with many orphans and broken families that come through our little sanctuary, I see many of them grow and move on to join the Collective. Out of those that join, I see a few die tragically in the field. It’s a strange and awful feeling, considering that a few of them were orphans that I have rescued. Some of them weren’t even able to talk when I found them- they were toddlers, sometimes even newborns. I’ve raised them like my own siblings when I was younger, and now, practically as a surrogate father. Out of the fifteen that stand before you today, I’ve rescued, befriended, and comforted thirteen of them. They’re all family to me, and I hope to protect them as best as I can through their deadly journey.
“To the parents that are lucky enough to be here to witness this bittersweet day, you should be proud. They’re undertaking a mission that either involves them following in your footsteps or creating a new path. For those who are long gone, I know that they’d be happy to see them doing what they can to break the CALM’s grip on what used to be a relatively peaceful partof the country formerly known as the United States of America. While I acknowledge that the ideal tomorrow is still years away, and that I may not be there to witness it, I know for sure that these young people will play a part in ending the CALM, or, perhaps, completely rid ourselves of the Coalition. Today, you are no longer children to be educated on life before the CALM. You are no longer going to be stuck in yesterday. From this day forth, you are one of us.”
Mikey glanced directly at JT and smiled softly. “Welcome to the Zero Collective.”
JT smiled to himself as he began to pack his bags. Now that he was a part of the Collective, he was no longer going to be stuck in the cramped quarters of the boy’s dormitory. He was one of the five boys in the room packing their things, waiting for Mikey to show up in order to lead them to their new home. The other four were in the room across from them.
“I hear it’s super technological,” Austin Carlile said, “Apparently Frank’s been working on new inventions that’ll really help out the city.”
“Yeah, I heard,” said Brendon Urie, “But personally, I want to see what Mikey knows. Did you see the weapons he had on him at the ceremony?”
“He always has weapons on him,” Micah Carli snorted, “I mean, he is the weapons expert. If you ask me, I can’t wait to see what technology is down there. Do you think Frank would be willing to teach me a thing or two?”
“Maybe so. There’re only three techs there, anyway,” replied Jared Leto, “My brother says that there aren’t many there, and that they really need them.”
JT avoided the conversation as much as possible. In all honesty, he just wanted to get started on his training. Lately, he had been seeing Mikey less and less, and from what he understood, Mikey always trained the new recruits. It would be nice to catch up, especially since the older meant a lot to him.
There was a knock on the open door, and there Mikey stood. JT smiled at Mikey, who walked over to him and ruffled his hair. “You guys almost ready?”
There was a noise of acknowledgement from the teenagers, prompting Mikey to nod. “Great. The others are ready and waiting. Make sure you have everything, because after today, it’s unlikely that you’ll be coming back.”
JT and the others joined the group of teenagers waiting outside of the room and followed Mikey out to the bazaar, where a woman and the six girls that enlisted in the Zero Collective were waiting. She saw Mikey and waved, smiling.
“This is Jennifer, but everyone in the Collective calls her Kitty,” Mikey said, “She oversees the recon department.”
Kitty turned to the girls. “And this is Mikey, who handles all new recruits. Weapons expert, ex-recon agent, and second in command of the Collective. I also know what color underwear he’s wearing, his shoe size, and just about everything in between.”
Mikey’s cheeks turned pink as the girls giggled. “Um… I guess you all see why she specialized in recon.” He regained his composure and sighed. “Come on, then. We’ve only got a short time for the tour before curfew.”
The fifteen teenagers were led through the familiar hallway that led to the residential area, the academy, and the door to the Collective’s headquarters. When they arrived at the corridor, JT felt a shiver of anticipation ride up his spine. This was the moment he had been waiting for since arriving in this underground city.
Mikey pressed a small button. A static voice requested that he state his name, branch, and rank. He gave the required information on the doors opened, revealing a sight JT hadn’t seen since he was six.
Everything within the Collective’s walls was reminiscent of the science fiction novels JT would read to escape the life he knew. The walls were metallic, with tapestries featuring the familiar zero that graced the underground strung from up high. CALM computers that had been reprogrammed completely lines one of the walls, hacked into the CALM’s cameras. Another large CALM screen, which had also been modified, featured every active field agent with one of four statuses underneath their pictures: /inactive, active, MIA/, or /KIA/. JT could see Mikey’s picture, which read inactive. There were other hallways with signs pointing people into the right direction. One hallway, according to the arrows, led to the sleeping quarters, rec room, and mess hall. The second led to the training room and library. A third led to the medical hall and morgue, and the forth led to a shrine for those fallen.
In short, it was so much more than JT expected.
“It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?” Mikey asked, chuckling. JT nodded, completely speechless.
Micah, however, was rather excited. “How did you manage to clear out the CALM’s programming in the computers? What all can these computers do? And-”
“Whoa, calm down, Micah,” Mikey said. Micah stopped talking, looking relatively glum. “Don’t worry, man, you’ll have a chance to talk to Frank about this. Your teachers said you were gifted with technology, so you’ll be taken under Frank’s wing rather than my own.”
“Really?” Micah grinned, “That’s so cool!”
“You’ll still have to learn basic combat, but Frank can help you out with that,” Mikey replied. He led the teenagers to the living quarters. “Okay, like the dormitories, the living quarters has been split in two. However, rather than twenty roommates, you only have to deal with three or four. Since all of you are new recruits, you’ll each be assigned to one experienced member of the collective.”
The girls were led into the girl’s portion of the living quarters. Mikey led the boys into their quarters and began to list off names. “Austin Carlile, Brendon Urie, and Jared Leto, the three of you will be with Shannon Leto. Andy Biersack, Kellin Quinn, and Spencer Smith, you’ll be with Pete Wentz. JT Woodruff, Micah Carli, and Casey Calvert, you three are rooming with me.”
JT got the feeling that Mikey may have pulled some strings to share a room with him. He wasn’t complaining, though- it would help him adjust to the change. Mikey was the closest thing to a family that he had in this city.
Mikey directed the others to their room before leading JT, Micah, and Casey into his room. It was around the size of the room that JT had spent the past seven years in, but with only four bunks, it was less crowded.Posters decorated the walls, giving the room a bit of a personal touch. Queen, Smashing Pumpkins, Black Flag, as well as other pre-CALM bands lined the metallic walls, making the room seem less like a room in a military base and more like a home. There was a small radio sitting on the desk with tapes stacked beside it. There was a flag pinned up on the wall in front of the desk with the Zero Collective’s emblem, proudly showing that he was a part of the rebellion.
“Please try to keep everything relatively tidy,” Mikey requested, smiling sheepishly. “It’s a habit of mine to keep this room clean, if nothing else, out of respect for my old roommates.”
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Micah piped up, “What happened to your old roommates?”
Mikey hesitated, not really sure how to go about this. He sat down on the desk and sighed softly. “A few years back, I roomed with three of my childhood friends- David, Steve, and Justin. Dave started a family, so he was allowed to live in the residential area. Steve became Doctor Death-Defying, and pretty much has a room to himself where he broadcasts his radio show. And Justin…” Mikey ran a hand through his brown locks, his face taking an expression JT often had on his own- sorrow.
“We were on an infiltration mission. Tasked with implanting a virus into the CALM’s mainframe, Justin and I snuck in without a problem. Thing was, they saw us coming. Apparently, they had captured one of our recon agents and forced him to give the details of our plan. As soon as we implanted the virus, sirens went off and the lockdown process began.
“We had to leave before we were captured or killed. While Justin called for backup, I fought them off, using whatever I could as a weapon. We had successfully navigated out of the castle, but we were faced with a problem- the drawbridge had been raised, and that cut off our only way out. Below us was a drop so far down, we couldn’t see the bottom. I was forced to create a zip line using my crossbow.
“I got across, but Justin had only made it halfway before the CALM troopers cut the line. He fell, and I couldn’t save him.” Mikey sighed again. “After some vicious battle that took place, I had been unconscious for three days. I was told that their search for a body had been unsuccessful… the presumed he was dead.”
Mikey stood up, walking over to a table that held several pictures. He picked one up and added, “I held on to hope for so long. Hours turned to days, and days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months. Even today, I can’t help but hope that he’s okay. It’s wishful thinking, I know, but that’s what helps me get through the pain. There’s that slim chance that Justin is alive and that, one day, I’ll be able to see my best friend again.”
Mikey placed the picture back in its spot and sighed softly. “No matter. Right now, I’ve got bigger issues to deal with, and I need a clear head if I’m going to start training you all.” He smiled at the teenagers, piecing together the façade that had momentarily fallen apart. “Your training will start tomorrow. For today, you-”
Mikey was interrupted by the crackling of the intercom. “The following agents are needed for a high-priority mission: Matt Bellamy, Kitty, Mikey Way, Dallon Weeks, and Pete Wentz.”
Mikey sighed, obviously not in the mood for such a mission. “Perfect,” he mumbled sarcastically. “I need to go, guys. The three of you are welcome to take a look around, provided that you return to this room before curfew. Are we clear?” Upon hearing the sound of acknowledgement from the three, Mikey nodded, leaving the room.
“Mikey, wait!” JT called as he ran out of the room.
Mikey turned. “I can’t stay long, JT. What’s up?”
“…Be careful,” JT said, “Please.”
Mikey chuckled, ruffling JT’s hair. “I’ll be fine, kid. I’ve been on plenty of high-priority missions before and made it out without dying.” He kissed JT’s forehead in a brotherly manor, knowing that it’d bring some form of comfort to the younger. “And if I do fall, I promise you that I’ll still be there in you.” He pointed at JT’s chest, where his heart was. “I’ll be there in your heart, in your head, and in your memories. If I die, I’ll be gone, but my skeleton will remain.”
Mikey sighed softly and started walking. After a few feet, he stopped, turned, and added, “But, if it makes you feel any better, I’ll be extra careful.” He continued walking, leaving JT to wonder if this might be the last time he’d see the one that he thought of as a brother.