Chapter 10 Habeas Corpus
When Raijin came in the next morning, the posse took immediate notice.
He was tired, of course - he'd been going for at least twenty-four hours without rest. He wasn't drunk, either. The smell of alcohol clung to his clothes, but was entirely absent from his breath. These things were to be expected, and weren't what had grabbed the posse's attention.
No, what got their notice was his expression. Instead of his usual easygoing cheerfulness, a deeply worried look was camped on his dark features. And anything that was enough to worry Raijin that much, was enough to catch the posse's attention.
He didn't even bother entering the hotel room. He just hung in the doorway, leaning heavily against the frame. "I found us a clue, Seifer," he said tiredly. "Come on, y'all need to be quick before it gets moved."
Seifer and Fujin were dressed and ready to go in a matter of minutes; Raijin in a serious mood was not a phenomena to be ignored.
Seifer delicately turned the head to one side and then the other with one gloved hand, now that Fujin was done taking pictures. The man had had his throat cut, and the floor was sticky with blood. The smell in the little room was terrible, but the posse had seen much worse. "How did you find this, Raij?" he asked.
"Heard some guy at the bar bitching about the smell in his room," said Raijin. "Musta never smelled a rotten body before, 'cause otherwise the authorities woulda already cleaned this up, ya know? I knew it had to be important, so I grabbed you guys."
"Well, you got that right," said Seifer. "Murder's pretty rare in Esthar, at least this kind. No fight in people at all unless it's over a game. This guy's been dead for some time." He sat back on his heels, studying the corpse. "The clerk said the room was paid through this week, with orders not to disturb the occupant. Fuuj, how long has he been dead?"
Fujin finished putting her camera away, and its snapshots, and tested the body's stiffness and decomposition. This stirred up the smell of rot, and Raijin had to head for the bathroom. Even Seifer looked a little green, but he stayed where he was and waited for Fujin's report. He wasn't going to ask anything of his posse he was not prepared to endure himself, no matter how disgusting it was.
"WEEKS," said Fujin at last, holding up one and then two fingers, waving her hand to indicate a lack of surety. She shook her head and stood up, indicating the room with one hand. "CONDITIONS."
Seifer nodded and stood up, trying not to breathe deeply. One or two weeks, depending on unknown conditions in the room such as humidity and temperature. That could put the time frame of the murder as being shortly after the assassination. It was too much to expect it to be a coincidence, here in Esthar where the murder rate was an unbelievably low two or three persons a year. He looked over at the bathroom, where Raijin had apparently finished giving up breakfast. "Get searching if you're done being green," he said. "I want to know if this guy owned anything that might tie him in with our mission."
The three searched the room with thoroughness and speed learned in a thousand Disciplinary Committee search-and-siezures. At the end of it they had a business card with only a phone number on it, a check so blood-soaked the payee's name was obliterated, and a little blue pill with an interesting design stamped on it. No form of identification was available; the body had been searched already and any money or other items of interest had been taken by the murderer.
Seifer scowled at the meager results. "The clerk said he'd been here two months or so," he said, "which means all this shit has to be his. This place is cheap but it's clean. Let's get the fuck outta here before the stink builds a condo in my nose."
The other two made haste for the door, not even sparing the time needed to agree.
Back at the hotel, all three opted for a shower before doing anything else. Seifer graciously allowed Raijin to go first, since he'd had to be there twice and hadn't had any sleep. Fujin took the time to unpack the snapshots she'd taken of the room and body and lay them out, and the three found items of interest were neatly packaged in little plastic bags.
Away from the stench of a rotting corpse, Seifer could think a great deal more clearly. What he saw told him unequivocally that this new body had something to do with his mission. The number on the card had been a Galbadian number - and the pill stamped with a symbol only used there. The victim had had contact with Galbadia before he died, and it seemed too much to lay at the doors of coincidence that one of the suspects was also Galbadian. Fujin ran a few simple tests on the pill to determine its nature while Seifer contacted the phone services in Galbadia to track down the owner of the telephone number. Raijin they let sleep; he'd done his duty.
The check was left for last, simply because it would require more chemicals than Fujin habitually had handy to clean it up enough to read. While she was out getting them, Seifer got a call back from Galbadia; the number traced to a cell phone registered to Soares Detmer. So much for coincidence; now they knew this was tied in to their mission.
The pill was an interesting one; a non-addictive euphoric. Generally not the sort pushers would go for, because it wasn't addictive - though euphorics were easy to get psychologically dependent on. There had only been one in the entire room. Seifer wondered whether Fujin had thought to get a blood sample from the corpse; he didn't even know whether it would do any good, with the body in the condition it had been. He headed for the hotel's balcony, so Raijin's snoring wouldn't distract him.
He leaned on the balcony rail and glared down at the ethereal beauty of Esthar. Hyne, how he'd hated this place. Every time he'd come here, his luck had run out in one way or another. Last time he'd come here, he had had the power of Ifrit in his veins, and felt like he could take on the world. Not mere borrowed magic through a junction, but a more direct power. But he'd just had to set foot in Esthar, and lose it all. Logically, he couldn't complain. The power would have killed him if he'd kept it. But it still rankled when he thought of how he'd lost it. Squall hadn't pulled his punch in the slightest, and with a similar power flowing through him, Seifer had been knocked cold. A stronger power, all told. Stronger, and more deadly both to the attacked, and the attacker. Seifer felt a pain, and realized he was gripping the balcony rail so hard its edges were cutting into his skin.
He'd hated this city because it had been Squall's. Squall's father's, really, but Seifer had seen. Laguna would have done anything for his son - so Esthar was Squall's. A whole damn city, and Garden to boot. Well, at least that wasn't the case any more. Both of them were pretty much out of his hair, and finally - finally - his luck was changing. He pulled his hands off the rail, and cast cura on them to stop the bleeding.
Thinking back on that time, though, Seifer realized he'd never asked what happened to the work that they'd done. That Fujin had done, really, and Selphie. Or the work Odine had done, that Laguna had retrieved, or the research at Alicia's complex.
Well, if they didn't have that already, Seifer was not going to volunteer to go get it. He still had a hard time repressing a shudder when he remembered Alicia's sensory deprivation tank. Damn, that woman had been twisted. But what had happened to the research Laguna had had, that Seifer had been unable to pry out of him?
He headed over to the console, to check out the local headlines, and found a message waiting from Irvine. A status report; not bad. Found the gun, yes...found the thieves...oh, great Hyne. Alicia's family were involved? Seifer's green eyes narrowed. He knew that family. If they did anything, it was a certain bet that power was involved somewhere. At that time in his life, it had been highly attractive. But if they were involved, then was this Detmer guy involved with them, or just with the general? Who wanted what? Who was getting what out of this?
His thoughts were interrupted by Fujin's return, her arms laden with little vials of chemicals.
"Fuuj, would you be able to tell from the blood on the check whether the dead guy ever used the pill type we found?"
Fujin looked at her acquisitions and frowned for a moment, thinking. "AFFIRMATIVE."
"Add that to the things to do to it, then," he said. A flashing occurred out of the corner of his eye. High priority message from Garden?
Holy shit. Priority one? The last time anyone had issued that code, Galbadia Garden was about to attack; he'd seen the reports of Balamb's side. Seifer's eyes widened. "Get Raijin's sorry ass outta bed," he said. "Garden wants us back right now."
Fujin looked at the flashing screen, and her silver-gray eye widened. She set her vials down - carefully - on an empty bed and unceremoniously yanked the blankets off of Raijin, tumbling him to the floor as Seifer quickly started packing their belongings.
"Heyyyy..." grumbled Raijin tiredly. "I ain't had my beauty rest, ya know?"
"You aren't getting any for a while, Raij," commented Seifer as he started packing away the photos and chemicals. "Priority One from Garden. Get your ass in gear or we throw you in a bag and carry you."
Raijin's face went from disgruntlement to shock. He knew what a Priority One message meant. He started attempting to break the world speed record for getting dressed and packed.
Within five minutes of receiving the message, the posse was completely packed and out the door, the only sign of their occupancy in the room a collection of rumpled blankets.
When they got back to their hotel room, Irvine was needling Zell about Griever again; what had happened in the hall?
"I saw the gun, man, and all I could think was Caraway had to be behind it," said Zell unhappily. "I was just gonna pounce on him but Griever decided to knock me out."
Irvine's eyebrows went up. "First time that GF has actually come in handy," he said. "It wasn't great making excuses for you fainting like a delicate lady, but it was better than explaining why a SeeD knocked a Galbadian General's teeth out." He opened the room door, to see the com screen flashing.
Irvine's eyes widened and his face went pale. "Oh, no..."
Zell pushed in past him, and saw the screen. "Priority One?" he asked incredulously. "Shit, we gotta get moving. Bella you'd better steer, Irv here doesn't look too good." He cleared the screen and quickly checked them out of the room; so much for sleeping in a full sized bed.
He didn't notice Bella's face pale until he turned to get the two frozen SeeDs out of the doorway. "Come on, people, we gotta move! What's gotten into you?"
Bella swallowed. "The rest of the message," she said. "We must've got it because it's in the records that our mission was assigned transport. We'll have to grab Seifer and the posse on our way."
"Yeah?" said Zell, trying to push them out the door. "Well, I am no fan of Seifer but you two are acting like you've seen a ghost."
At the word 'ghost', Irvine blinked and suddenly ran full speed from the room, knocking over anything in his way. Zell paused in surprise, only to find Bella grabbing his arm and pulling him after them. "Oh, so now you want to run," he said, and got his legs properly under him for a good burst of speed.
Bella panted lightly as she kept pace with Zell, but Irvine was still a good way ahead of them and didn't show the slightest sign of slowing down. "Okay, I saw the same message you two did but I guess I didn't read it right. I know it means 'hurry' but what's gotten into Irvine?"
"The two letter code at the end," said Bella. "It explains the emergency; I think only our version had it, because Irvine's with us."
Still mostly concentrating on running and not knocking people over, this made little sense to Zell. "Yeah, so?"
"It stands for 'Administrator - Master'," said Bella, losing patience. "You need more details?"
"Selphie called the emergency?" hazarded Zell as the Ragnarok came in view.
Bella couldn't hit him very hard when they were both running, but she tried. "You idiot. Selphie is the emergency."
"Oh," said Zell, then his mouth made an O as it sank in. "Oh, shit!" he cried, and put on a burst of speed that let him overtake Irvine just as he was reaching the ramp - tackling him to the ground.
"Get off me you punk-haired bastard," growled Irvine. "Selphie's in trouble!"
Zell didn't move until Bella caught up and got on the ship. "I know, buddy, I know," he said, getting up. "But you can't fly like this, and we gotta get Seifer."
"No!" snapped Irvine, heading for the cockpit. "We've gotta get back to Garden! They can find their own way over..."
"Not from Esthar, they can't," said Zell, getting in his way. He realized it wouldn't do any good to argue; Irvine's cool was long gone and in its place was someone desperate to get back to his loved one.
Griever, you did it for me, now you gotta do it for him, Zell called to the Guardian Force. He's no good to us like this, he can't do anything... ...We will try, said Griever reluctantly. Touch him.
As Irvine tried once more to get past Zell, get to the cockpit, fly the ship to Garden and Selphie, Zell grabbed the nearest bare skin he could reach; Irvine's throat. Zell wore his combat gloves as usual, but the gloves didn't have fingers so there was still hopefully contact enough for whatever the Guardian Force might try. There was a moment of wrenching disorientation and then a flash - and Irvine crumpled, unconscious. Zell didn't feel too wonderful himself; his head felt like it might explode.
What the hell was that? he asked as he scooped Irvine up. He'd have to lock the poor guy in the sleeping quarters until they arrived, or at least until they'd picked up the posse and were on a direct course for Garden.
We had to do something that was a cross between junctioning and a summoned attack, said Griever, and its voice was noticeably quieter than it had been. Irvine sensed it and rejected it; we had to overpower him.
Er, plain English please?
We forced ourselves into his mind, and then knocked him out the same way we did you, whispered the Guardian Force, the power in its voice gone. We do not think we will try that again...
The voice faded completely away. Zell got his friend settled and checked his pulse; a bit fluttery, but there. No telling how long he'd be out. Given that he'd junctioned sleep to his status defense, and that Griever was pretty much worn out with this attempt, if Irvine woke too soon Zell would have to knock him out the hard way; fist to the jaw. He sighed; if it came to that, it could be a long time before Irvine forgave him.
Making sure to use all the strength he had to move blocks in front of the sleeping quarters' doors, Zell moved on up to the bridge. Bella was in radio range of the posse now - having pushed the Ragnarok's capabilities to their limits - and was arranging a pickup point.
"Let 'em know they're going to have to sleep in chairs if they need a rest," yawned Zell. "I've done the best I can to lock Irvine in there until we're back at Garden."
Bella looked over at him, just as tired as he was. "Didn't go quietly, huh?" she asked.
"You could say that," said Zell, trying to get comfortable in a chair with the headache he had. "Not that I blame him, you know..."
"I know," said Bella gently. "They've been together a long time."
"Bout as long as us," said Zell, closing his eyes.
"Yes, but they've been together for almost all that time," said Bella wistfully. "You and I, we've had missions. This is the first time Irvine's been away from her for more than a few days in years. It's...different for them."
"D'you regret it?" asked Zell, curious. "I thought you liked the active life."
"Oh, I do," said Bella. "It's just...sometimes I wonder what we're giving up, you know?"
Zell thought about the way Irvine and Selphie acted together, the way they always struck people as one of them dragging the other around by the wrist. They had a strong streak of wildness in them, both of them did - but together they could pull off the impossible. And apart...they just sort of wilted. He thought about Squall and Rinoa, the way they always seemed to hit the same point from opposite directions, meeting in the middle. Together, they were both great people to be around. Apart, Rinoa became dangerously impulsive and Squall became suicidally morose.
Whereas he and Bella...just were. Together they grew, and apart they just sort of...stopped. It didn't seem to be the same thing at all.
On the other hand, having seen Squall when Rinoa was in a coma, and the way Irvine was acting now...did he want that for himself? Did she? "Yeah, I know, Bella," he said. "It's a crazy ride they go on, but I don't know if the highs are worth the lows."
Bella nodded. "Exactly," she said, and they finished the trip in silence.
Seifer had not been pleased to find out that Zell had barricaded Irvine in the sleeping quarters; Raijin was functioning on minimal sleep. When Bella explained what they knew, however, he backed off. The trip from Esthar to Garden was remarkably quick; Garden was docked at FH so that the most SeeDs could get there quickly.
As they made ready to land - a tricky maneuver involving getting the Ragnarok into the parking garage - Zell moved aside the hefty steel shelves he'd used to barricade the sleeping quarters. Just inside the door was Irvine, who had apparently knocked himself out again trying to force his way through the door. His face was wet with tears, but his breathing was steady.
Zell shook his head; there was a good chance Irvine had broken his shoulder, doing that. Seifer and the posse were considerate enough to make no comment as he picked his friend up and carried him off the ship.
Outside the ship was pure chaos, as a hefty string of SeeDs formed a queue that completely circled the Ringway four times over. Most looked harried; called in from distant missions on short notice. The line led to the Commander's office. The six SeeDs looked at each other; chances were that they wouldn't be needed that way yet. Seifer glanced down at Irvine, and said, "Infirmary first. Let's get the Cowboy looked at."
Zell wasn't going to question the unusual degree of empathy Seifer was showing - not now. He darted down the ramp and ran as fast as he could for the Infirmary, wondering if he would always be doomed to carrying his friends there.
The crowd around the Infirmary was huge. It looked like every cadet in Garden was trying to get in. Zell wondered how it had been allowed to happen - and then remembered that last time, Irvine had been able to disperse the crowd. Quistis was cracking her whip and trying to disperse them now; her orders got harsher when she saw Zell carrying Irvine. "Get back to your classes!" she shouted. "You are interfering with SeeD business! Get back to your classes now!"
The crowd thinned just enough to let Zell through - and then suddenly dispersed entirely. Seifer, Fujin and Raijin were striding forward, in perfect Disciplinary Committee formation, and when they did that every cadet made himself scarce. Zell tossed back a 'thanks' and hurried in.
Kadowaki met him at the door, and indicated a bed Zell could lay Irvine down on. "Just a moment," she said, and waited for the others to come in. "The rest of the SeeDs are giving their reports to Xu," she said, "But you six are cleared to be here first. Now...don't go overboard when you see her, all right? It looks worse than it is - though it took us a while to make sure. The Code One is because we don't know who's behind it. Now - what happened to him?" and she indicated Irvine.
"He saw the message and lost it, Doctor," said Zell. "I had to knock him out to keep him from taking over the Ragnarok and leaving...our team leader in Esthar. I locked him in a room till we got here; I think he got hurt trying to break out."
Kadowaki nodded. "That's what I thought," she said, "but I had to be sure. He'll be fine, assuming he can handle what's happened to the Garden Master." She nodded at a few of her medical cadets, and they immediately began checking Irvine over. She indicated another room. "This way," she said.
Zell was immediately grateful that Irvine had knocked himself out - he did not want to see his friend's reaction to seeing Selphie like this. There were bandages covering her arms and chest, there were bandages on one side of her face, her hair was burned short...she had a tube in her mouth to help her breathe...
No one spoke for a few minutes as they absorbed the sight. Selphie, bouncing energetic Selphie...caught on the wrong side of an explosion?
"What happened?" asked Seifer - quietly, but in a tone that did not brook disobedience.
"Mail bomb," said Kadowaki. "She gets a lot of packages every day as part of her job. This one used all plastic parts so it would slip through the metal detectors, and we're still working on how it got past the x-ray scan. She worked out what it was just seconds before it exploded - which is why the damage isn't worse. She'd almost managed to get out of her office. The room was completely obliterated."
Quistis came in then, coiling her whip. "We called the Code One in the hope that some SeeD might have an idea who's behind this," she said. "Whoever did it attacked a Garden Administrator; we can execute the people responsible no matter who they are."
Zell's face wore its usual talking-to-GFs expression, then he said, "We have a volunteer for executioner," he said. "Two, actually." His voice was flat, but there was a seething anger behind it.
Quistis nodded. "I'm glad Leviathan is willing, and Griever also. But we have to catch them first."
"...Sefie?" said a groggy voice, and the group parted to let Irvine in the room. He wasn't wearing bandages, which meant Kadowaki had poured an Elixir down his throat. He was holding his head in one hand, and the other arm hung a little stiffly. Everyone gave him space as he saw the figure on the bed, but he just walked slowly over to her and took one of her hands gently in his own. He looked very much like he wanted to cry but had forgotten how, a dreamer who had forgotten how to wake up. One hand gently stroked the burned ends of her hair.
By silent agreement, the others left the room. Quistis closed the door behind them. "I've been hearing your reports," she said. "I would like to hear any conclusions you may have reached."
Seifer shook his head. "No proof yet, but we're working on it. My theory is General Torben wanted Laguna dead, and hired a hit man from Galbadia to pull it off. But there's a lot of missing pieces in between theory and fact."
Bella said, "Whoever shot Laguna wanted Caraway blamed for his death. We found the gun in his house. From him, we identified the people who stole the gun as being Alicia's family. Alicia from the whole business ten years ago with Squall."
Quistis nodded. "Alicia...that could make sense," she mused, one finger tapping her whip. "It's a possibility, anyway."
"What is?" demanded Seifer. "What are you talking about?"
"I haven't heard any other theories as to who might have attacked Selphie but this," replied Quistis calmly. "But if Alicia's family were involved in Laguna's death, it's possible that they were also involved in the attack on Selphie."
"EXPLAIN," said Fujin shortly.
"We tried to keep the events in Esthar quiet," said Quistis, "but there were a great many witnesses. It wouldn't be hard for Alicia's family to know which SeeDs were present when she died. That would be Irvine, Zell, Selphie, Squall, and Rinoa. And the non-SeeD present were Laguna, Kiros, and Ward. If we accept the theory that all the attacks are related, then Selphie was attacked because she was present, and Laguna and Zell were attacked for the same reason."
"And framing Caraway?" asked Zell. "He doesn't even know what happened, never mind who was there."
"Rinoa and Squall are out of reach," said Quistis. "Laguna would then be a twofold target - being present and being Squall's father, and Caraway would be a target as Rinoa's father."
Zell's eyes widened. "Ellone!"
Quistis nodded. "I'll have to get Xu to station SeeD to guard Ellone, Kiros, and Ward. Just in case."
Seifer frowned. "You're reaching, Quistis," he said. "How can you be sure you're right?"
Quistis gave him a small nod - a teacher acknowledging an intelligent question. "Zell. I am sure Kiros and Ward told you where you could look them up. Why don't you? If I'm wrong, then they're probably fine." She shrugged. "If I'm right..."
Zell got on the Garden intercom, calling Xu. "Can you tell me if any SeeDs have reported in from Timber?" he asked, and listened for her answer. "Yeah. Any news of Kiros and Ward?" He listened for a moment, and slumped. "Yeah...thanks Xu." He hung it up, and faced the others.
"Kiros and Ward were attacked in what the SeeDs there say was a mugging," he said heavily. "They're both soldiers, so their attackers didn't survive...but they took a heavy beating. They're both in the hospital." His face scrunched up, and he punched the wall so hard he put a hefty hole in it. "Why didn't someone tell me?" he asked.
"You know it isn't Garden's policy to keep track of non-threatening non-SeeD," said Quistis sadly. "But now we know - Alicia's family wants not a few of us dead. I'll make sure Xu knows to guard Kiros and Ward, as well as Ellone."
"No," said Zell in a strained voice. "They got hurt because they helped SeeD. SeeD can protect them better if they're here, and they'll get better care here than anywhere in Timber. You get them here, Quistis."
Quistis took in Zell's expression; these two were as much his friends now as they had been Laguna's. She nodded. "All right, Zell. We'll see if we can bring them here." She turned back to Seifer. "You - I may not be Commander, but Xu will back me on this. Find out how extensively this General Torben is involved with the Felians. We may know they're responsible, but we still have to prove it. There's too many missing pieces still."
Seifer gave her a level stare that clearly said, How positively brilliant of you to try ordering me to do what I was already doing anyway. But he said nothing; he'd learned a long time ago what the limits were within the walls of Garden. "And the cowboy?" he asked instead.
Quistis cast a worried look at the door to Selphie's room. "You three take the Ragnarok this time, but don't land at the airstation. Keep undercover. I'll get Nida to stop the Garden outside Deling City...by then Irvine should be able to pull himself together."
Seifer nodded and strode out, his posse on his heels. Quistis followed, saying she would make a report to Xu and see what else the incoming SeeD reported, leaving Zell and Bella outside the door to Selphie's room. Zell gave his girlfriend's hand a squeeze, and they went back in, to offer Irvine whatever support they could.