Final Fantasy VIII characters and locations from said game are owned by SquareSoft.
Original characters, locations and plot Copyright RobertDogwood 2002
I would like to thank the great writer Raine Ishida for her most generous permission to use her character of Mina in this story.
Squall stood beside Zell impatiently outside an ornate mahogany door in the Galbadian Embassy in Trabia. As the dark-haired man watched Zell standing poised on the balls of his feet, Squall realized there was no one who he trusted more in a fight than the excitable blond-haired man.
Squall stood in the interior of the ornate Embassy, the spacious hallways, marbled floors, famous classical paintings hanging from the walls and high ceiling chandeliers, and realized that his overriding emotions were conveying the tinges of tragedy to him. Squall wasn't superstitious, but he didn't like it. The Commander gave himself a slight shake to try to rid himself of the unwanted feelings. This was Rinoa's thing, precognition; not his, but he assumed it was so quiet because they were all already dead.
Shivering slightly in the cold of the dawn, as the power and heat had been cut off in the building in a failed attempt to force the abductors out into the cold Trabian winter, Squall thought, It's now or never, and nodded slightly at Zell.
When the young blond SeeD lowered his shoulder to crash through the heavy door, Squall quickly positioned himself behind in order to have an unimpeded view of the entire room once the door was brought down. The tactiturn young man stood with Lionheart drawn and held in his right hand. He watched coolly as Zell successfully battered the door down.
Moving quickly, the two SeeDs raced through the now unprotected doorway and into the next room, with Squall taking the entire room in with a single glance.
It all began twenty-four hours earlier when Rinoa awoke to hear the intercom crying out for Squall.
Oh Great Hyne! The ebony-haired beauty thought. Now what? It's not even daylight out yet.
Fighting off her sudden presentiment of extreme tragedy, Rinoa gently shook her lover's shoulder from where she lay next to him on his narrow bed.
"Squall?" the young woman softly inquired.
"What?" he mumbled irritably, his face buried in his pillow.
"They're calling you to Cid's office," the ebony-haired beauty answered.
"Crap," he softly replied, while rolling over and sitting up, the sheet dropping from his bare chest.
Watching as her beloved arose from the bed and began to search through their scattered clothing from the night before, Rinoa experienced the same thrill she always did when she spied the handsome young man in the nude.
I love you so much it hurts sometimes.
Glancing at the bedside alarm clock, the young woman noticed it was only 6:15. What could be so important that it had Cid paging Squall before 6:30?
Again the brown-eyed woman had a sudden intuition of impending doom, which sent a slight shudder through her body. What's wrong with me? Is something bad gonna happen or is it just because I'm-.
After completing his dressing, Squall leaned down and gently kissed his love on her lips, interrupting her train of thought.
Standing up, the dark-haired man spoke, "Catch you later." He smiled slightly and turned toward the door of the small bedroom.
"Come see me, if you have to leave on assignment. I have something important to tell you," the hazel-eyed young woman called out.
Squall paused and turned in the doorway. "I will if I can."
The beautiful young woman lay back down and snuggled under the blankets in the still chilly early morning.
Maybe I should have told him last night - but he was so relaxed for a change. And really, I don't know anything for sure yet. Why should I worry him needlessly? If he does come back telling me they're sending him somewhere, maybe I'll just make something up. I don't want to send him out on a possibly dangerous mission with his mind preoccupied with something that might not even be true.
And was so thinking when she drifted back into an uneasy sleep.
The halls and corridors of the pre-reveille Garden were almost completely deserted of SeeDs and upper-classmen. No one was up yet except for the dining room and kitchen staff and the midnight to eight shift of SeeDs and upper-classmen.
As Squall strode quickly through the semi-darkened corridors and hallways and around the circular pool to the elevators, he attempted to recall what his agenda was for the day.
Let's see - what do I have to do if they send me somewhere? I've got to leave Kristen a note to cancel all my appointments. Oh, yeah. I need to remember to ask Xu to meet with that representative from Winhill and someone will have to meet with the disciplinary committee.
Stepping into the elevator, Squall punched the third floor button. A sudden vision of how fetching Rinoa had appeared despite having just awakened in the early morning flashed through his mind.
I wonder what she wanted to tell me. It seemed important.
Squall shook his head slightly to clear his mind of any thoughts that were not presently oriented to the task at hand. The elevator doors closed.
Cid stood expressionless behind his desk in his third floor office, while Zell stood in front of the back wall and Irvine slouched against the near wall. The Headmaster was speaking. "I'm certain you two are anxious to know what your current assignment will be, but we really should wait for Squall to report, so I don't have to repeat this more than once."
As Zell fidgeted, Irvine nodded almost imperceptibly in agreement. The tall man noticed that the older man appeared much more worried than usual.
I hope I'm doing the right thing, Cid thought. It's probably unethical to involve the Garden in this, but what can I do? I can't do it by myself. It's simple - we're here to make money. They're offering money. Oh Hyne! It's not simple - it's blood.
As the Headmaster stood and endlessly ruminated, the elevator doors opened and the Commander stepped out. He noticed immediately that Cid appeared extremely anxious.
When the dark-haired man exited the elevator, Cid explained, "Time is of the essence. That's why I was forced to call the three of you so early."
What's going on? Squall questioned to himself, while keeping his facial expression completely emotionless.
"What the hell's going on, Cid!" Zell demanded, while Irvine laughed softly and slumped against the wall.
Zell, calm down, thought the Commander.
Zell clenched and unclenched his fists several times, remaining silent with the appearance of one who was using a great deal of effort to do so.
From his vantage point of the near wall, Irvine laughed softly again at the spectacle of Zell squared off as if to fight the Headmaster.
Cid held the complete attention of the three young men for the next few minutes. "I was contacted by the Galbadian government via Deling City at approximately two hundred hours concerning a possible assignment and contract if we so desired. The task is a difficult one and fraught with peril for approximately forty hostages in the City of Trabia, who are mostly Galbadian citizens working in the Galbadian embassy there. They have been kidnapped by a group of urban guerrillas who fancy themselves as 'Freedom Now.' We have been led to believe that one of the forty is a small child - a young boy, who was brought to work by his mother because her babysitter was ill."
There Headmaster Cid's voice cracked and he fell silent momentarily. Squall glanced shrewdly at his immediate superior.
Since when did you care that much about kids? Something's missing here.
After a few seconds, Cid began again. "The terrorists want Deling City to release a number of their compatriots from the D-District Prison in exchange for safe passage for those people who were abducted."
Cid took a deep breath. "Naturally enough, this isn't going to happen. Galbadia won't be blackmailed into releasing prisoners by anyone under any conditions in exchange for anyone - even their president."
"Our job is simple - get those innocent people to freedom before 'Freedom Now' figures out that Deling isn't going to deal and gets it into their heads to kill everyone as a statement. That's it in a nutshell. Any questions?"
As Cid stood waiting, he thought to himself. I hope I'm doing the right thing - risking our finest for something that's extremely high risk at best. But what else can I do? Just leave them to die? Without even trying? However could I hope to live with that for the rest of my life?
Squall wondered, What is going on here? There's something missing. Why would we be helping Deling City? Hostages or not. They have their own forces. Why would they need us?
The young man stared at the Headmaster's rather apprehensive appearing face, as if he were attempting to divine Cid's thought processes.
Zell exclaimed excitedly, "Why are we cooperating with the Galbadian govenment, Headmaster?" And this better be good.
Cid sighed audibly and began to explain patiently as if to a small child. "Zell, the purpose of the Garden is carry out missions for clients and make money."
Oh, come off it, the blond Seed thought bitterly. Since when do we work for Deling City?
Working for Galbadia? Squall thought.
Still lounging against the wall, Irvine mused of his two cohorts, Look at the two of them. They think they're so different from each other, but they're just the same - one inside and one outside. What's the difference why we're going? It still comes out to the same thing. Let's just go.
"Since when do we accept dirty money from Deling?" remonstrated the excitable Seed.
Cid flushed intensely, coughed twice into his hand and stammered, "I - There are things here you don't understand." Maybe I should have chosen someone else. Quistis could have handled this.
"Then tell us," Zell appealed plaintively.
The Commander thought, while nodding at Zell. Why the secrecy? What he is setting us up for? Doesn't he trust me after all we've been through?
Irvine noticed that Zell had relaxed somewhat after the signal from Squall. Standing erect by slightly pushing himself off the wall he was relaxing against, Irvine interceded. "Hey, hey, fellows. Let's just get on with it."
Noticing that Zell had unclenched his fists and relaxed almost imperceptibly, Cid slightly nodded his thanks at Irvine.
"You have your assignment. Selphie is waiting to transport you in the Ragnarok."
Cid offered the SeeD salute in his awkard manner, and as Squall and Zell returned it, he thought, Why don't they just go and let me be?
As the three young men quickly exited Cid's office, Irvine glanced back and observed Cid seated at his desk with his head buried in his hands. Poor man, the erstwhile cowboy thought.
As Squall trudged through the front gate with his small carry-on bag, into which he had haphazardly thrown some personal items a few moments before, the first thing he noticed was that the sun was just beginning to peek out from the horizon. The second thing he noticed was Zell standing at the boarding ramp of the Ragnarok talking with his girlfriend, Mina - the girl from the library.
Oh, sweet Hyne! I forgot to go back and say goodbye to Rinoa. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now. She'll understand...I hope. Maybe we'll be back quick.
Squall stepped through the back door of the Ragnarok, following Zell and Irvine, who had already entered.
Now rapidly approaching the Trabia Airfield, Selphie identified the Ragnarok and asked for detailed instructions and permission to land. After a few minutes, the tower asked how much fuel they were in possession of and, after having received an answer that apparently satisfied them, they instructed the Ragnorok to remin in a holding pattern for a few minutes more.
"Oh, for Shiva's sake!" whined Selphie.
"Selphie, calm down, it'll be okay," soothed Irvine from behind the pilot's chair.
Selphie reached back and gripped Irvine's hand, squeezing it and offering a quick smile.
Zell turned to Squall. "What's going on? Weren't they expecting us?"
"I think" the Commander answered, "they don't want to acknowledge we're here, so they can't allow us to land in public."
And that's exactly as it turned out. A short time later, they were directed completely away from the main Trabia airport and redirected to the old one that was first built by the mine owners to better transport the diamonds they were taking out of the ground in record amounts at the time.
Stepping out of the Ragnarok with Squall and Irvine after Selphie had smoothly landed, Zell glanced around at the all too obvious evidence of the strip mining that had thoughtlessly and greedily ruined the environment here for generations to come.
Selphie piloted the Ragnarok immediately back off the ground and headed back to the Garden, as per instructions given to her as part of the flight plan.
"Oh, man! This is primitive," Zell complained.
"So what?" Irvine retorted. "We're not gonna live here."
As Zell quickly turned to reply angrily with some biting comment to Irvine, he had occasion to observe the expression on their Commander's features and had second thoughts about becoming involved in trading insults with Irvine at that particular time.
"My name is Robert Wilson and I'm here to assist you in any way that I can," spoke a light-brown haired man of average height, who had apparently just exited the wooden shed that appeared to be the only thing left besides the ruined ground.
As the man held out his hand to shake, Zell quickly rubbed his right hand on his blue shorts and stepped forward and shook the newcomer's hand, because if given a choice no one ever chose to shake his hand, a fact which was gleefully pointed out by Irvine from time to time.
"I suppose you're wondering why we've met here?" Wilson asked.
"I don't particularly care one way or the other," Squall responded harshly. "Just get on with the briefing."
Irvine stood with his head cocked slightly, watching the interaction. He understood immediately that Squall was being purposefully rude. Squall's just full of tricks, isn't he? He's hoping Wilson will get flustered and give something away that could help us.
The man who called himself Robert Wilson flushed, but made no other acknowledgement of Squall's discourteous manner. "Just how much do you already know?" the brown-haired man questioned.
Squall made a practically imperceptible move toward Zell with his right hand. Zell stepped slightly forward. "Suppose you just tell us everything you know?"
I'm only trying to save you some time," Wilson whined, his facade beginning to show cracks.
Squall glanced at Irvine, who responded, "You don't tell us everything you know now, it could hurt us badly later."
Wilson gave in with a sigh, understanding that he was facing a united front.
"Okay, okay," he muttered. "As you probably already know, Galbadia's power is stretched too thin. We're in every major country of the world, if not in control, then at least with an embassy that comes attached with a great deal of financial aid and some other goodies, such as reduced tariffs if they decide to play ball out way."
I'm beginning to think we asked for too much information, thought Zell as he scowled at the man.
Wilson, noticing Zell's expression, began speaking at a slightly increased tempo. "Now something like this happening - this group of nuts managing to kidnap a group of Galbadian citizens and holding them for ransom - this makes us look bad all over the world. Worse than that, it makes us look as if we've lost control. And that could cause some other factions to come after us. We can't afford that! Not now. Not ever."
"Okay," Squall challenged. "Enough is enough! Cut to the chase."
The Galbadian flushed, but continued. "The terrorists must have been already waiting inside the building when the first people arrived for work yesterday morning."
"They've already been in there for almost twenty-four hours and you haven't done anything?" Zell accused.
Futher fissures began to show in the man's veneer. "Who are you to judge us? We've acted in good faith," the man quickly and loudly justified.
"Good faith!" Zell snorted.
Irvine realized this was part of the act also - good-cop, bad-cop. They've done this so many times it's second nature to them.
Squall stepped forward. "Okay, now's that enough, Zell," he said in an harsh voice.
The Commander now turned toward the visibly shaken Galbadian representative. "I'm so sorry. I must apologize for the over exuberance of my charge. You were explaining why you didn't attempt to meet the terrorist's demands."
The man had difficulty meeting Squall's eyes. Instead he chose to look slightly beyond him. "We weren't certain what to do initially," his voice faltered.
"Bull shit!" Zell expostulated.
"Okay, okay," Wilson snapped, his voice giving in to more than a little frustration. "Of course, we're not giving in to their demands of releasing their compatriots from D-District Prison. We can't afford to do that for too many different reasons to bother going into right here."
But that still doesn't explain why they waited so long to call us or go in themselves, the Commander thought to himself.
Feeling that the negotiating period was over, and that no more information was going to be learned that day, Irvine stepped forward suddenly, startling Robert Wilson more than a small amount, for the brown-haired man flinched noticeably.
"Okay, what do you have for us?" Irvine asked in a reasonable tone of voice.
Wilson quickly answered, "Carte blanche, basically. Whatever you need - whatever you want. I have a suite of rooms reserved for you at the Trabia Astoria with color TV in every room, five bathrooms and unlimited room service."
Squall's face flushed crimson. They're treating us like pimps!
The tall cowboy noticed the Commander's angry expression and quickly covered, "No, thanks. We'll find our own lodging. What I meant was what do you have for us in terms of intelligence?"
The Galbadian again appeared extremely startled at this question of Irvine's.
"Um, not a whole lot other than what I've already told you. Of course, we are more than willing to keep trying, if that's what you need."
"What we need is your heartfelt assurance," explained Squall, "that you will back us in all our attempts to negotiate with 'Freedom Now.'"
Robert Wilson couldn't have appeared more shocked if the commander had suddenly grown a horn in the center of his forehead or gone stark raving mad - which in his opinion Squall had just done.
"Of course we will," the Galbadian murmured, while wiping some perspiration from his forehead despite the extremely cold temperature. "Come," he directed. "Our transporation is waiting over here."