On Earth as it is in Hell
by Caleb Nova
"Why was SeeD made? Like any company SeeD is here to make money, Sorceress shit aside. We are the employers, you are the employees. So get back to work!"
-Unknown SeeD Instructor in response to student query
The Universe is uneasy. A complex concept to be sure, but as true a one as there ever was. It hangs in the dimension we call home, powered by an unknown psyche, a presence of order or creation. Encompassing all the matter we know of, the Universe is for all intents, infinite. Yet still, it hangs in balance, a fragile creation of some Great Design. On the surface, it is black and white, good and evil. But the line between the two is not always clear, and the truth not readily apparent.
Zell Dincht was at peace with life in general, or as much as one could be. Why shouldn't he be happy, pleased even? He had every right to be so. But somehow, at the back of his mind, like an itch he couldn't scratch, he felt something was not well. For the life of him, he couldn't imagine what, but a sense of foreboding rasped at his conscience, making him falter for a minute on his way to the Cafeteria.
But only for a minute.
Zell strode into the Cafeteria with a smile on his face and Triple Triad cards in his hands. Today he felt, was his lucky day.
"Hey!" Zell yelled at the players in the back. "Who wants to play the Master?"
His shouted query was met with assorted groans and eye rolling. Normally, playing Triple Triad and losing was not a horrible situation- a card or two was lost, and then you could simply quit the field. But in Zell's mind, it wasn’t fun unless the stakes were high. Sky high.
Zell slid into a chair across from Kevin, whom he felt was a worthy opponent, and slapped his deck on the table. "I bet half my cards and 200 gil!"
Kevin shook his head. "Zell, don't be an idiot. Just play like the rest of us, okay?"
Zell stubbornly crossed his arms, directing a challenging look at Kevin. "What are you afraid of? Losing? Like you always lose?”
Kevin sighed in exasperation. “You just don’t get it, do you. I think perhaps some education is in order.”
Zell grinned like a shark.
"Let’s do this!"
Carefully picking the cards he wanted, Zell played to his utmost of ability, choosing his moves and carefully considering his options. At last, he lay down his final card and looked up at Kevin, chuckling in smug superiority, with the air of a man who could not possibly lose.
Kevin raised his head. "I win."
Zell did a double take.
Kevin pointed it out. "See? It's all there."
"Wha-?! No, no, you cheated! See you got that card there... No wait...Well, that other card, no, damn! What about.. Shit."
Zell reluctantly dug into his pocket and produced the money.
"And the cards?"
Scowling at Kevin, he cut his deck and passed over his cards.
Kevin smiled at him. "Thank you, hope we can play again."
Zell left with as much dignity as he could muster.
Walking out of the Cafeteria, Zell felt depressed. That had to have been the third time in the week he had lost at Triple Triad, and he was running short on cards. It was something he had never thought could happen. His confidence shattered, a gloom descended on him, making the world seem dim. As is the case in most such moods, all his other problems in life came to mind, adding to his burden, and he unconsciously began to tick them off in his mind.
He was losing at Triple Triad, Squall and the others except for Rinoa had gone on that diplomatic mission to Galbadia, Selphie wasn’t around…
His mind stopped at Selphie. The issue was the relationship between them, or to be more specific, the lack of. He had watched her from afar since.. He couldn't remember a time when he hadn’t. It wasn't that she was snubbing him, Selphie was too sweet for that. He was too shy, and he had waited too long, for now she was with Irvine. Missed opportunity. The story of his life.
Irvine. The name invoked a series of mixed feelings, most of them edging towards anger. From day one they were like two opposite sides of a coin, never really agreeing on anything. He had always thought Selphie deserved better, but he knew that argument sounded rather flimsy when his mind told him he was that better man. A hypocrite was something Zell never wanted to be, Seifer's fine example etched in his mind. And when push came to shove, deep down where it really counted- Irvine was his friend.
But didn't he deserve something? Zell was tired of being last in line and first to be forgotten. All he wanted was Selphie, or at least a chance, and that was the one thing he couldn't have. If she just wanted to be friends, he supposed he could live with that, but lately she had been distant and distracted, not at all her normal self. It was almost as if something was weighing on her mind, sometimes he would catch her on the verge of tears. When questioned though, she would just shake her head, explaining that everything was fine, giving him a weak, but still beautiful, smile. When Selphie was moody, something was most definitely wrong.
Zell didn't wish to dwell though, not now. The Library was having a book sale from the back shelves, something he didn't want to miss.
Silence settled over the Galbadian Court as Squall finished his final speech.
"As such, Garden extends its full apology to the Galbadian government for any damage done during the fighting, knowing that it was acting under the total control of the Sorceress Ultimecia, and wishes you all success as a country and as a people. Please know that SeeD is always standing by to extend a hand in friendship."
If the Court noted that he didn't mention any reparations, they didn't say anything. The Head of State took the floor.
"Thank you all for representing SeeD at this gathering. Let it be known the Galbadian people harbor no ill will towards the name of SeeD, and all apologies are accepted."
Squall nodded, looking into the man's eyes for sign of illusion. He noted none but the ease of the acceptance troubled him.
"Thank you for having us."
The Head smiled. "Thank you for coming."
Straight, to the point, and unheard of in politics. Something was wrong.
After an uncomfortably lengthy reception afterward, Squall slowly walked down the steps from the Courthouse, eyes on the ground in deep concentration. He didn't trust the Head, not at all. The man not only had ample motivation to move against SeeD, but Squall was sure he had personal reasons as well. The Galbadian people harbored no ill will towards the name of SeeD. Bullshit. The Galbadians considered SeeD nothing more than common terrorists with delusions of grandeur. The Sorceress Edea\Ultimecia had been willingly embraced as a leader, if not by the people then certainly by the government, and both SeeD and Galbadian alike knew it. As far as he was concerned, Squall knew violence was all but inevitable. The complexities of nations, silent ships passing and crashing in the dark. The individual is intelligent, but people as a whole are stupid.
Quistis hurried to catch up with him, shoes clacking loudly on the marble stairs. "Squall, wait up!"
Squall stopped and turned to her. Quistis halted next to him and looked over, eyes searching his face. "What did you think?"
Squall didn't need a moment’s deliberation to decide his feelings. "Something isn't right. That was too easy."
Quistis nodded. "Those were my feelings too." She hesitated for a second, before continuing. "Do you think they will move against Garden?"
Squall frowned. "At this stage I think they may be too weak to wage an all out war on SeeD."
She nodded and blew a stray hair away from her eye. "I hope you’re right."
Squall smiled slightly, only barely noticeable. "So do I." They walked in silence the rest of the way, both contemplative. Quistis reached the car first, and turned to look at him.
"When do you-" Squall cut her off by shaking his head, indicating with his hands that the car might be bugged.
"Irvine and Selphie are waiting at the hotel, we should discuss this with them." They both climbed into the car.
Deep within a dimension unreachable by humankind, something moved. It opened its eyes, slowly at first, sensing the oncoming tide of destruction, almost tasting the strife. It closed its eyes worriedly, wondering if, in the end, would its people be destroyed?
Chapter 2: Foreboding
"Why do all those small candy bars say, "Fun Size" on them? There's nothing fun about a small candy bar."
A galaxy hung suspended in the Universe, vast and complex in its wonder. Billions of stars followed their preset rotation, traversing the great distances ordained by mutual gravity. But something did not follow this majestic pattern, this grandiose scheme. Erratic in motion and hectic in thought, small, unpredictable happenings occurred on a small, blue-green planet, deep within the system......
The Hotels in Galbadia were and always had been infamous for one thing: Price. No matter how shabby or decrepit the building the owners inevitably charged an exorbitant sum. Since all the hotels in the region plied their trade the same way, a business man or passing tourist had no choice but to eventually be what could only be described as robbed, providing a key staple in the Galbadian economy.
In one such hotel on the west side of the city of Deling sat Selphie, lost in thought and in such a Squall-like pose that she seemed mimic his mental anguish perfectly. That someone might be doing that in itself was not unusual. That Selphie Tilmitt would be in such a state most certainly was out of the ordinary. If Selphie's head were transparent, her every thought displayed as wispy words and memories floating through the conscience, we would see one word predominately repeated: Irvine.
At that moment the person in question entered the room, sauntering over to the window that she looked out of. His gaze drifted over her body, taking in her petite form. He smiled to himself when he realized she was distracted, unaware of his presence. Slowly, he reached out and placed his hand gently on her shoulder.
Selphie jumped at the sudden touch. She spun around, but instead of relaxing at the sight of him, she only seemed to grow tenser. She forced a smile. "Hi, Irvine."
He smiled down at her, while searching her eyes for the problem. "Looking at something in particular?"
Selphie lowered her eyes under his gaze. "Oh, nothing. Just the lights I guess." She stood up and smoothed down her skirt. "Are Quistis and Squall back yet?"
He shook his head. "Not yet. Soon I think, the Senate should have adjourned about twenty minutes ago."
They stood in an uncertain silence for a minute, Selphie with her mind elsewhere, Irvine wondering where that was.
He moved first. "Um.. Selphie, I.. Is something wrong? I mean, not that I want to intrude or anything, but you've been pretty quiet for the past couple days, and-" Selphie cut him off.
"No, Irvine, I'm fine. Thanks for asking though," She said rather coldly, making him take an involuntary step back. Her eyes widened as she caught herself, shocked at her own tone. She let out a breath and started walking to the door.
"I’m going to go downstairs."
Irvine stood, confused. What had he done?
On our world, the planet Earth, in 1972, a scientist by the name of Frederick Gallern made a discovery while testing some equipment of his own design. While looking at isotopes in his private lab, he noticed something strange. The isotope he was testing on had an echo, a second isotope that was faintly readable, but he couldn't actually perceive. Believing it to be human error, he performed the same tests on other forms of matter, and all rendered the same faint shadow. Why? This led him to speculate on the only reason he believed this might be true: Parallel Universes. Quantum Theory already had laid the basis for these ideas, but what Gallern had was something more concrete. That night, Gallern went home, and wrote was to be called, the 'Tunnel Thesis'.
Gallern theorized that other, similar universes existed close to ours, much like Quantum Theory. But unlike Quantum Theory, Gallern did not believe these universes were branches of our timeline. Quantum Theory says that infinite universes are created every second. Everything you could have done that you didn't, everything that could have happened but never did, cause another universe to be created when the instance might have occurred. Most people think that means that there is just another universe where you didn't go to the grocery store, but in fact, this applies to everything. Quantum Theory states that there is another universe next to us that is exactly the same, except the molecules in one piece of carpet didn't blow the same way when the air conditioner came on. And then another where the air conditioner didn't come on at all. That every possibility spawns a world.
But Gallern thought that this wasn't true. His theory explained that the other universes are either like that, or completely different. The theory stated that all the universes were interconnected, like a web, and as such all the universes affected the other, or manifested themselves in some way. Gallern theorized that these manifestations came in the form of books, stories, and the like. Universes so close to ours echoing in the minds of many, coming as thoughts, spurring creativity. If the thesis was true, how many writers were not penning fiction, but in fact history?
Gallern believed that travel between these worlds was possible, by connecting a piece of matter and its shadow by a method he called, ‘Tunneling’.
The Tunnel Thesis became the subject of fierce debate within all circles of the scientific world, but the theory was never proved, or likewise disproved.
The controversy died out in 1986, when Gallern passed away of a fatal heart attack. The papers were filed, the materials disposed of and the Thesis was largely forgotten, a memory amongst the new sciences of today.
What the scientific community was not privilege to was that in 1993 the government set up a laboratory near Granite Peak, Utah. This laboratory's only purpose was to unravel the mystery of Tunneling. Known only to a few, the lab was utterly secret, due to the military options that would present themselves if the experiment was successful.
Over the next five years some progress was made, but no matter was ever actually transported interdimensionally. Then, in 1998, a portal was finally created to another world. It was unstable however, and the researchers were unable to see to the other side. After several days of watching it, the team decided it was stable enough to send someone through. Several volunteers were screened, and in the end, one man was decided on, Scott Keyor. Keyor was 26 years old, drawn from a pool of possible volunteers from various military organizations. His willingness to cooperate and interest in the science involved made him the key candidate for the test.
After months of preparation, the portal was opened, and Scott walked through. It would be the first and last mistake the Granite Peak Science Station would ever make. Scott had just entered when the strain of actual transportation proved too much for the portal, and the little stability attained was lost almost immediately. Desperately, the GPSS tried to pull him back through, but the collapsing portal did not provide enough Tunnel Space to bring him back into safety. Only five minutes after entering the alien universe, Scott Keyor was stranded from the dimension he called home.
In the next few months, many attempts were made to open another portal, but none succeeded. In late 1999 the government cut their funding, and Project GPSS was disbanded indefinitely.
Squall emerged from the car deep in thought, images of the council bouncing through his mind. Something wasn't right, not at all. The Galbadians had shown an almost obsessive resistance to SeeD in the past, and despite their political problems, there wasn't any really pressuring reason to forgive Garden.
Perhaps something was forcing Galbadia's hand? Esthar certainly had the military drive to do so, but no motivation was present and he couldn't really see Laguna putting himself in that position. Esthar had always taken the passive road, a stoutly isolationist country, a fact for which Squall was sure the Galbadians gave thanks to daily. However, a more sinister strain of dealings above and beyond, or rather below, the government's sight took place constantly, a recycling routine of murder and deceit.
Squinting through the polluted mist that always seemed to cover Deling, Squall could make out the slim form of Selphie, back lit by the twin posts flanking the double doors. He was somewhat surprised she was out this time of night with the weather like it was. Irvine was also noticeably absent from her side. As Squall drew closer, the look on her face could only be recognized by a kindred tortured soul, a kind of mental anguish that Squall could see written on her pretty features all too well.
And like Zell, an icy moment of near prophecy descended over him, and for one instant in time, he was positive something terrible was going to happen. Then, as quickly as it came, the feeling passed.
Selphie spoke only after he and Quistis had stopped right in front of her.
"How was it?" She asked, rather blandly it seemed.
He shook his head. "I'm not really sure." Squinting against the harsh lamp light, Squall peered through the slightly open doorway. "Where's Irvine?"
"He's inside." The tone of her voice made it evidently clear no further questioning was permitted.
"Oh." A few moments of awkward silence prevailed. Quistis broke it.
"We should get inside," She said, taking a step towards the door. Squall moved with her, but Selphie stayed were she was.
"I'll be coming soon. Just need some air..." She turned back to the night sky. Squall hesitated, then thought better of interfering.
He walked away, but halted just inside the door to look back at Selphie. I wish Rinoa was here... She would know what to do.
Zell walked quickly down the hall, punching the air occasionally. At this particular moment in time he was bored as all hell, and as such, he fell back upon one of his favorite pastimes: eating. Striding towards the cafeteria, Zell knew he had to get there fast before the hot dogs were all gone, a circumstance that frequently plagued him. After arriving he looked at the line, and if it was possible his jaw would have dropped to the floor. At the head of the line was none other than Rinoa.
Zell ran over just as Rinoa bought not one, not two, but three hot dogs. Frantically he turned to the lunch lady but she shrugged apologetically and turned away. Zell glared desperately after Rinoa.
Rinoa looked at him, then the hot dogs. She smiled teasingly and sat down. Zell was drawn to the hot dogs, an irresistible force. "Rinoa! You gotta give me a hot dog!"
"Hmm... I don't know Zell," She said as she picked up the mustard and put and excessive amount on, knowing that Zell craved mustard.
"Oh my God... Rinoa! You know I need it!" Zell shouted. All the people at the adjacent lunch tables had gone quiet.
"Zell!" Rinoa exclaimed. Zell looked puzzled for a second, then he slowly smiled as the connotation of what he had just said hit him.
"Rinoa... I need you to give it to me! Right now!" Zell grinned. The entire lunch room had by now fallen silent.
Rinoa glared daggers at him, then handed him a hot dog. Zell's smiled increased.
"I'm not getting enough Rinoa, I need more!" He held out his other hand.
"I am going to murder you!" She hissed as she handed him another hot dog. Zell just smiled as he sat down across from her.
Zell poured on the mustard and said, "Thanks for giving it to me."
Rinoa did not deign to reply. Zell began to eat the hot dog, and everyone else returned to their rudely interrupted meals.
A man walked through the streets of Deling. His blond hair was short and trimmed, but grimy. He wore a dirty and scuffed jumpsuit, which was once blue but was now faded and torn in places, with the letters 'GPSS' stenciled on his shoulder. His eyes were a little wild, sunken, darting from place to place. His skin might have once held a light tan but was now pale and slicked with sweat. His face could have been considered handsome but it was etched with fear.
He walked with urgency, avoiding crowds and skirting main roads. He strode through town for hours, looking for something it seemed, from dawn to dusk, asking strange questions about scientists, or inquiring about technology or things even the small children were expected to know. By the time the sun set, the bus conductors almost knew him by name, and the same query followed him wherever he went. "Where to now, Scott?".
Then, suddenly and inexplicably, he stopped. His eyes widened and his breathing quickened as he stared at the petite figure of a woman standing outside the Galbadian Hotel. A spark of hope entered his eyes.
He jogged, almost ran over to Selphie, and as she stared at him and he stared back, he opened his mouth and said, "Are you Tilmitt? Slephie Tilmitt?"
Selphie gazed at him for a minute. Then cocking her head sideways, she shrugged.
"Selphie Tilmitt. Who's asking?"
Palpable relief washed over him like a wave. "Thank god! I thought I’d never know where I was!”
Again, that ethereal presence stirred. Something was here that was not supposed to be. This human, this man, he was, different? No, he was human, but yet, he was not the same. The puzzle expanded to fill its mind, until horrible realization dawned. The seals had been breached.
::AN:: Special thanks to Gene for writing the cafeteria scene.
Chapter 3: The Thesis
"By the time we reached the Castle, we had become more than family, and fighting together was second nature. Sometimes I think if we could have seen ourselves in action, so efficient and cold, that it would be frightening even to us."
-Irvine Kinneas, The SeeD and the Sorceress
A twisted cortex of synapses and reflex, a sparkling and flashing machine made of basic matter, extreme in its complexity and boundless in its wonder. A standing testament to all that makes us human, the brain fuels a swirl of ever changing reactions and counter-reactions. A careful balance between genius and insanity, anything can tip the scale.
Julian Foss was born in 1956, son to Robert and Mary-Anne Foss, a middle-class couple living in Sacramento. Robert was the foreman in an early electronics firm, and from an early age Julian had experience with high-tech products.
After graduating from high school with top honors in 73', Julian applied for and was accepted by Yale University. During his 5-year term there he studied business and financing, becoming more and more adept at running companies. And manipulation.
After graduation Julian hopped from one company to the other, until eventually he was hired by Microsoft for three years, becoming a top CEO in the administration. He voluntarily left after Microsoft accused him of embezzling funds from the Treasury department. None of the accusations were ever proven.
In 1989, after working in several other software companies, Julian founded the blandly named TAA, Technical Applications America. TAA became a mover and shaker behind the scenes of the business world, quickly gaining suppliers and quietly increasing in size. TAA never hesitated to put its hands in everything, resulting in a wide, if somewhat unsavory, reputation.
By 1999, TAA had become a super-corporation to almost rival that of any, an invisible giant with a large cash flow and unlimited resources. Julian Foss ran it all.
TAA’s corporate headquarters was situated in New York, an appropriately large and influential city for a large and influential company.
And in such a city of massive corporate buildings and plazas, TAA had one of the biggest of them all, spanning two city blocks and 43 stories. At the very heart of this machine created expanse lay Julian's office, 25 stories up and nestled in the very center, with no windows and thick soundproof walls. One door was the only entry, directly in front of his desk. Nothing ever went through that door without him ordering it. It was from this totally secure room that Julian reigned supreme over his vast enterprise, directing business and affairs.
On this night, Julian was concentrating on his most important business at hand. Michael Hendrow was approaching his polished mahogany table, and as usual, was all ears for what his partner had to say.
Hendrow was a University graduate who had achieved great success in the often harsh world of Wall Street. Buying and selling stocks was his hobby, his work, and his obsession. By the time he had reached 38, Hendrow was one of the richest men in the country.
He had met Julian during a cruise to Hawaii with his wife. Julian himself had been there for purely business reasons, and the two struck up a friendship almost immediately. Hendrow was fascinated by Julian's ideas and working style, and after returning to the states, bought stock in his company. They worked side by side for many years, until after some time, Hendrow was the only man in Julian's close confidence, entitled to the grandiose schemes and backroom plotting of TAA.
That was why he was here tonight.
Julian did not look up from his papers as Hendrow sat down. They sat in silence for a minute and a half before he stopped shuffling papers and looked up. His dark green eyes studied Hendrow for a second, then returned to his work. When he spoke, it was the cultured yet hard voice of an ambitious self-made man.
"Hello Michael. How are things with you?"
Hendrow smiled easily, sliding comfortably into the role of old friend. "Things are well with me, thank you."
"The wife is well, I expect?"
"Of course, of course. Kendra just had her sixteenth birthday last Tuesday."
"Really?" Julian lowered his eyes to his papers again. "Tell her Uncle Julian gives his best wishes."
Another shorter stretch of silence prevailed. Julian looked up again.
"Here, I want you to read this."
Hendrow took the thick manila folder labeled, "GPSS". He opened it and read of a failed experiment near a mountain in Utah. After a moment, he closed the folder and placed it back on the desk.
"Interesting. It seems man will never stop trying to step over the boundaries nature has set for us."
Julian lifted his lips in a thin imitation of a smile. "The report skips a few details."
"A portal was successfully created."
Hendrow took a deep breath and sat back. It was too unreal to be truly shocking. "Well. Then why did they shut it down?"
"The first man inserted was lost after the portal collapsed in an unforeseen accident. The government, in one of their larger blunders, didn't realize the portal had actually worked, and put it off as if the volunteer had simply died. The truth is rarely that obliging."
"Yes, well. If the portal was not a total failure, where did the volunteer go?"
Julian opened another large drawer in his desk and pulled out a slightly thinner file. "You have heard, or course, of the Tunnel Thesis."
Working with Julian required at least some grounding in science and, as a college graduate himself, he knew of the Thesis. Hendrow said nothing as the implication of this hit him. Julian opened the file and removed several black and white pictures.
"These are surveillance camera photos that I, procured from some very, ah, reclusive sources," He leaned over the desk. "Take a look."
Hendrow thumbed through the photos, which brought to mind the set of some bad B movie. They predominately featured a steel canyon of a room, with a strange circular gate as its centerpiece. "If Gallern's Thesis was accurate, then where did he emerge?"
"That was a difficult question to answer. But first, I must tell you, my scientists have recreated the portal at our Oregon lab. It was somewhat tricky, but the results have come through positive. It's quite stable."
Julian raised his eyebrows slightly. Never an expressive man, this was his equivalent of a shrug. “We cannot say. Our portal was created using steps taken from a more complete report than the watered down government file I gave you. We followed it exactly, and yet achieved greater results. In all honesty, we simply do not know why.”
"Yes, and you do realize why?"
"The possibilities are endless. If every book and other such things are to be manifest, why, the technology! Imagine if we could enter the universe of say, ‘Star Wars’ comes to mind. That alone is trillions and trillions of dollars! A quantum leap in every scientific field known to man!"
Julian nodded. "That was my thinking, but what else is there to yield?"
"Conquest! Lands, people, power! Oil, gold, mineral wealth. A rich man's dream Hendrow. Any man's dream."
Of course. If a man could rule his world of birth, then for Julian another would do just as well. Hendrow had not considered these discoveries in such a light.
"Conquest? But many of these worlds are technologically much more advanced than we are. Certainly, there are some which are not, bu-"
"That doesn't matter. Our portal was created using the same steps as GPSS, and we can only enter whatever world they did. For now."
Hendrow pondered this for a moment. "Still, no matter where we appear, mystery as it is, some advance knowledge is better than no-"
Julian cut him off again. "We know where the portal emerges."
"Yes. Our scientists successfully inserted a probe yesterday, and it brought back sufficient data."
"Why didn't GPSS use a probe as we did?"
“They had no way of transmitting or receiving signals through the portal. Ours is much more stable, and functions like an open door instead of a mirror.”
Once more reached into his desk and pulled out not a file, but a book. "We go here."
FINAL FANTASY VIII
OFFICIAL STRATEGY GUIDE
Selphie stared at the rather disreputable looking man in front of her for several seconds, during which neither of them said a thing. Then she tentatively stepped forward.
"Umm, why do you ask?"
Scott fumbled over several sentences at once, unsure how to explain his situation.
Selphie stared at him. "Sir, are you okay? Maybe you just had too much to drink, why don't you-"
Scott shook his head wildly. "No! I'm not crazy I need to talk to,” He desperately wracked his memory. “'Squall'. He can help me, he's your leader or something, right?"
Now she was somewhat suspicious. "What do you know about Squall?"
"I'll tell you if you'll just take me to Squall, please!"
After debating for several seconds, Selphie decided that four SeeDs would be enough to handle whatever threat this man might pose. She turned without looking back and gestured towards the door. "Fine, c'mon."
Squall had no sooner sunk into a chair next to the fire when Selphie burst through the door trailing a grubby man. This better be good. He turned to face them without getting up. Irvine leaned against the window with his hand resting on his guns while Quistis looked up from her laptop with surprise. Unknown visitors were often dangerous visitors. The stranger didn't look like he might be inebriated with liquor, but Squall knew it was more obvious on some people. Like Selphie.
Squall decided to broach the question diplomatically. "You.. Wish to speak with us?"
The man hesitated. "Yes. I’ve been looking for anyone who might be in a position to help me." He smiled a little, but it was weak.
Most of the time people came to the SeeDs with minor issues. When you’re a hero, people expected you to get cats out of trees, something that was not in the job description. Behind the man's calm exterior though, Squall could see a growing terror of...What? Whatever it was, this man was close to the edge. Squall just hoped he didn't crack before he explained things to them. As long as this wasn't some lovers quarrel.
The stranger awkwardly lowered himself on slightly trembling legs and seated himself across from Squall. Selphie crossed the room over to sit by Quistis, rather conspicuously not taking her usual position next to Irvine. I need to talk to her. Whatever was wrong between her and Irvine could not interfere with their job. The man cleared his throat.
"My name is Scott Keyor and I am... Very far from my home, and I need your help to get back."
Irvine leaned forward. "So why come to us?”
Scott opened his mouth to reply.
And then the wall exploded.
Capter 4: Vicarious Reality
"I think it was after I reached Garden when it really set in, when I realized where I was. I found myself wishing I had bought the damn game instead of renting it."
-Scott Keyor, Worlds Unknown
Deep beneath the watery depths in the tome of watery Ry'leh, the slumbering horror Cthulhu plagues the Dreamscapes of humanity with unspeakable terrors, as the dread Hounds of Tindalos manifest through the angles and destroy their helpless prey. Shudde M'ell and his Burrowers Beneath glide unknown through the mantle of the Earth and Yog Sothoth lies in his eternal prison since time immemorial, the Gate, the Key, the Keeper.
Or, at least they would be if this was a tale of the Cthulhu Mythos. But perhaps in this strange multiverse of Gallern's Thesis, Kthanid and the Elder Gods do lie in eternal watch from Elysia, and Ithaqua does stalk the wintry wastes. All divided by space, time, and things unknown from ours and other universes.
But are these barriers spoken of by any means impassable? Or could a portal be opened throughout the unimaginable continuum, breaching the guards unseen and untouched, to cross the trackless cosmos to other worlds, other galaxies, and other universes. This has become the case only once, and only here.
The Portal glowed a shade of color that Hendrow couldn't quite place, a color that almost seemed to be on the very edge of the spectrum, something not quite clear to human eyes. It was quite disconcerting, and it hurt if one looked at it too long. He supposed that was why Julian and the others wore goggles. He mentally cursed himself for not looking into it before hand.
At that moment a tech whose tag read "Sullivan" ran over across the lead lined floor to hand him a pair of the same dark goggles everyone else had. Hendrow smiled. Thoughtful lad, knew which side his bread was buttered on.
Hendrow turned back to his viewing, now made comfortable by the goggles. The room was the size of an aircraft hanger, although he still couldn't understand why they needed that much space for the portal. It in itself wasn't all that big. You could drive a truck through it, but it wasn't large enough to warrant the extravagantly huge interior. He might ask another tech about it, but he was sure the explanation would be incomprehensible mumbling about spatial physics or something else he knew nothing about. Sometimes he wondered if Julian knew what they were talking about.
He sometimes wondered if they knew what they were talking about.
But technicalities aside, Hendrow had to admit it was impressive. The future of technology was being created right in front of his eyes. He had arrived earlier than required at the facility to ask some questions. He wanted to voice a rather large concern of his. Julian was reading something off a clipboard, and Hendrow judged this as good of a time as any to approach him. Hendrow cleared his throat. Julian didn't look up.
"Ah, Julian. I couldn't help but research this universe we are entering. The guide was very informative, and I can't help feeling we are biting off more than we can chew."
Julian raised an eyebrow. "How so?"
"The game details have lent me some knowledge on the more disturbing aspects of the world-"
That brought confusion. "Pardon me?"
"Sphereverse. Our space-time calculations have revealed that all micro-universes are shaped like spheres as far as the relative continuum goes, so we've dubbed them Sphereverses."
"Yes. I see. Anyway, this Sphereverse has magic Julian. Beings called GFs. Certainly some of their technology is archaic but in some instances, like this nation called ‘Esthar’, it can be far more advanced than ours."
"There won't be problem. This has already been studied, and the results are favorable."
Julian's face, as always, revealed little. "They won't be able to touch us."
Deling is a windy city, and this did nothing but blow the rubble and bits of glass at Squall's face as he was plastered against the door. At least, there had been a door there. Not even a second passed before the SeeD training so rigorously ingrained in him kicked in.
He rolled to his feet, grabbing the unconscious form of Selphie and moving into the hallway, keeping low. Irvine and Quistis were nowhere to be seen, but Scott was crouching in the far corner behind the double beds, apparently dazed.
Squall threw Selphie over his shoulder, turned to Scott and shouted, "Move!"
That seemed to bring Scott out of his stupor, and his eyes focused, quickly taking in the situation. There was a time to fight, and there was a time to run. Running seemed like a good idea right then, so he lifted himself up with an overturned table and had made it halfway to the door when something flew through the gaping hole from outside into the room. His mind's only impression was of some sort wrecking ball, before whatever it was slammed through the opposite wall and into the hallway, throwing Squall and the unconscious form of Selphie with such force that Squall smashed through the plaster and wood wall and Selphie flew completely through a door on the other side and out a back window, falling into the small lot behind of the hotel. Scott was only pushed back by the passing force of the object, and managed to only be knocked over without serious injury.
Untouched by the path of destruction, he crawled along the floor until he reached Squall. It was apparent that Squall wasn't getting up anytime soon. With Irvine and Quistis gone and Selphie somewhere out back, the cavalry was him, and he could hear footsteps pounding up the stairs. For one cowardly moment, he tried to convince himself that it wasn't his fight, and he was tempted find other help himself. But his military training reasserted itself, along with the realization he had little chance of escaping unnoticed. They might take him, but they wouldn't take him easy.
Picking up a solid piece of the shattered wooden door frame, he positioned himself in the corner of the room behind the one of the remaining beds, which was lying on its side. The footsteps grew closer, and he moved his eyes back and forth between what was now the new door in the wall, to looking outside through the completely destroyed wall. He fervently hoped they didn't climb up the front of the building to come in that way. He might be able to hold the door for awhile, but fighting on two fronts would finish him quickly.
The soldiers burst into the room at a run. The man at point saw Scott a half-second too late and the board smashed into his uncovered face, sending blood and not a few teeth splattering on the wall and floor.
As the leader hit the floor the second and third soldiers brought up their guns, shouting to the others in the hall. Scott ducked beneath the line of fire of the one closest to the door and swung the club in a tight arc against the soldiers kneecap, bringing a satisfying snap. The man screamed something as he fell and loosed two wild shots over Scott's shoulder into the ceiling.
Plaster dust and chips from the shots impact flew into the remaining man's eyes, momentarily blinding him. Choking in agony, a quick side sweep to the head brought him down in a crumpled pile. Scott didn't hesitate to bring the club down, slamming on the last conscious man's head. All in a day’s work.
Just as his mind was swept up in victorious exultation, a clank and rattle of something bouncing off the wall announced the one thing he had fervently hoped against. Grenade.
Everything went white, then red, then black.
Selphie woke up. Immediately after doing so, she started to wish she hadn't. Her head felt like it was coming apart and she was sure her right ankle was broken. Good thing they hadn't trimmed the hedges recently, or cut the grass. Sloppiness wasn't something to be admired, but she was feeling very grateful to the minimum wage.
The back porch light wasn't on, it was turned off with all the other lights when whoever had attacked them cut the power. She wasn't sure where her weapons were, they were presumably lost in the explosion. On the whole, this situation sucked, and it most likely wasn't going to get any better. She needed to either find Squall, or find a way to contact Garden. Cid had to be told of this situation.
She had a mission, she had a plan. She also had a concussion. Selphie tried to stand up and promptly fell back down.
Steadying herself on what looked like some misbegotten lawn gnome, she forcibly pushed herself to her feet and stayed slightly hunched over until the pounding stopped. She wasn't sure how serious the head injury was, but she didn't want to fool around with head injuries. She needed a doctor, or at least a good night’s sleep, neither of which was available.
There might be a communicator in the hotel, but whoever had just wrecked the building had probably cut all the lines, power or otherwise. The best bet was not the police station, the invaders might be the police. No, her main chance was either access to a toll or private communicator.
She straightened up quickly, a mistake, when footsteps and murmurs could be heard moving up the side of the hotel. Both sides, if her hearing could be trusted after the tremendous blow, or blows, her head had received.
She broke into a jog, but it was too much, so she lowered herself to the damp grass and crawled at what seemed a agonizingly slow pace, but was fast enough to reach to fence ahead of the searchers. At the price of some pain, she vaulted the fence and tumbled into the bushes on the other side. Lights swept the ground as the soldiers carefully checked the back yard.
Still swaying slightly on her feet, Selphie stumbled off into the night.
Chapter 5: All But One
"After Trabia, my friends became everything. I fought the Sorceress because they fought with me."
A hand is one of the most significant, elegant, and deadly parts of the body. The hand is responsible for countless killings in history, yet one cannot blame this alive yet non-sentient conglomeration of tissues. The blame is laid to rest not on the hand that performs the deed but the mind behind the hand and the personality that drove it to reap the life of another being. Does the Multiverse itself adhere to this? Planets may explode, people may die of natural causes or of the horrible forces of nature, so do we blame the Multiverse, the hand in this equation? Or is there a force and personality behind the structure that performs the deed?
Regardless of the theological implications, the Universe is still structured, but not unable to be bent. Are the rules bypassed in the joining of dimensions? Anck-Su-Namun and Imhotep were surely not meant to walk the shining streets of Coruscant. Kane and the forces of Nod will not rule Oz. Will Mattimeo this time be slave to Dolza of the Zentraedi? But the path always ends where it is supposed to, and whether Indiana Jones is fighting an Agent of the Matrix or Nazis, the story will finish the same.
Perhaps one day Scott will battle the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, but in the Multiverse reality sometimes called Final Fantasy 8, the truths are beginning to coalesce, and confrontation will be imminent. This event will be monitored by many beings, some hostile, some not. This is the first clash between dimensions, and even should Scott return victorious from this encounter it is doubtful that it will end so easily. He is a drifter, the first one to drift dimensionally. These Presence's will use him to their means.
One Being in particular has a vested interest in this outcome, and she watches on the fringe of the reality, waiting.
Selphie lay hidden behind a dumpster across from the hotel, waiting for her chance to hobble across the opposite street. She had managed to get this far, and she was sure to find a communicator in the city. They would need backup or immediate extraction from the area, since whoever was powerful enough to destroy the hotel without immediate and serious repercussions from the local authorities was bound to be in bed with the government and more likely to be the government itself.
The hotel was being doused by fire trucks, a crowd of gawkers and concerned onlookers leaning over the yellow police tape.
Selphie half walked, half hopped her way down the alley and across the street when the light turned red, earning many stares and a few offers for help. It wasn't good. She couldn't afford that kind of attention.
Holding onto a streetlight for support, she desperately scanned the area for a public com unit. A visible relief flooded over her as she spied one several blocks down.
It seemed to take hours, but she reached the com unit, opening the door and hurrying inside the row of equipped cubicles. Then someone behind her spoke out.
"Yeah?" She said, turning towards the voice, realizing too late through a hazy fog of pain that the correct response was not to confirm her identity.
The plainclothes agent drove the shock stick into her stomach. Luckily, her last thought turned out the lights as it left.
Your failure to intercede on SeeD Tilmitt’s behalf is noted.
You think I care? That sort of direct interference would have gotten me in just as much trouble as doing nothing has.
In several precedent cases the Council has ruled in the favor of those who revealed themselves in times of desperate need.
Yeah, well sorry if I didn’t take the chance the Council would actually do something right for once.
You might want to consider your situation before insulting them so flippantly. This is a time for honesty, not false bravado.
Nothing false about it. Now shut the hell up, or I’ll take another bathroom break.
Chapter 6: Outside Avatar
"It seems funny now, but I think the most relief I ever felt was when I saw a TV."
-Scott Keyor, Worlds Unknown
The Television is not an old invention by normal standards, compared to say, the wheel, but it has seen tremendous advances. One of the most recent is cable and satellite TV, more reliable ways of broadcast than the old indirect antenna. But before AT&T Broadband and Direct TV, millions and millions of shows were sent winging off into nothing, eternal signals of humanity's broadcasts. What if there was a monitor, an alien force watching these signals, even today? What would an outer being make of daytime soaps or NYPD Blue? Certainly, these shows would describe us in a way we would not want to be described. But outside of this, here is another bit of thought food: If transmissions from other dimensions manifest themselves in our world, surely something from us will affect them.
The black haze that filled his mind and thudded in his brain was unlike anything Scott had felt since Tom Ferguson had hit him on the head with a two-by-four in Third Grade. Scott struggled to remember the incident. He hadn't anything better to do, because as far as he could tell he had no control over any part of the body he could not feel. On the playground, a construction crew was putting in a new cafeteria wall. He wasn't a nerd back then and would have hit back if the playground teacher on duty hadn't ran over to stop him. Plus, he had felt his chances of hitting Tommy weren't very high since he saw five Tommy's. They had sent him to the nurse's office and- Huh?
Bright light on his eyelids suddenly dispelled the fog but not the pounding. Dimly he could make out shapes standing over him, wavy lines slowly coalescing into a recognizable figure.
"Trying," He managed to squeeze out.
He opened his eyes all the way until things came back into focus. The face staring down at him was familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. Really, it sort of looked like-
The person in question frowned slightly, as though unsure of his reaction. "Yes."
It all snapped back to him. The experiment, the streets of Deling, the hotel, and the impossibility of it all. Briefing hadn't prepared him for this. But then, what could?
The one thing he was not aware of however, were his surroundings and circumstance. He sat up to discover both and immediately wished he hadn't. Fighting off the sudden attack of nausea, he struggled to his feet from where he had been laying on an extremely cold concrete floor. The fact that it was extremely cold stuck out in his mind quite firmly and not surprisingly considering he was totally naked.
It was fairly obvious that waking up would not be pleasant, but being buck ass naked was going, he felt, a little too far.
Doing his best with what he had, which was nothing, to cover himself, he looked to Squall. "Why, by chance, am I naked?"
Squall was not particularly clothed either, but luckily there was nobody else in the small concrete cell. "Intimidation. Discomfort from the cold," His aquiline eyes scanned the steel door that was apparently the only way out. Besides that, the cell was depressingly bare.
Scott smiled despite the circumstances. "They'll have to try harder than this. So, you’re a, what, CD or something right? How do we get out of here?"
Squall's gaze focused on Scott, as if reassessing him. "Who are you?"
"Well, that's a long story."
Squall raised an eyebrow, the first expression of emotion Scott had seen. "I think we have time."
So Scott began the long task of relating all that had transgressed, followed by a short personal history. As he went through the rather long listing, he was slightly piqued by the fact that Squall seemed pointedly undisturbed by this flux of new information. Scott at least wanted his audience to be a little impressed that he had survived interdimensional travel. But then, kill an insane sorceress from the future, and life would probably seem a little less unbelievable. Tactfully, he left out the part of them being featured in a game from his world, something he felt would be too hard to swallow in light of everything else that had to go down, not to mention his experience with it had been brief, and his memory incomplete.
After he had finished, Squall looked up from his contemplation of the floor and then spoke the question that had been weighing heavily on Scott’s mind. "How do we get you back?"
Scott shook his head. "I was hoping you could tell me."
Squall shifted to a more comfortable position. As he saw it, whether or not this man was telling the truth was unimportant. There were more immediate things to deal with. "I think we have been captured by the Galbadian government. You were taken along with us, maybe by mistake."
"So they probably think I'm a C-thing too, huh?"
"Oh. Do you know how to get out of here?"
Meanwhile, a different sort of problem was occurring in a different sort of cell. Irvine and the two girls had also been rudely thrown into a similar compartment.
"Irvine, put the mouse back in the house!" Selphie screeched, the echoes reverberating off the dim walls and rattling Irvine's teeth. She had awoken with no trace of her leg wound, which would have cheered her but for the fact that she had been bagged with the oldest trick in the book. She couldn't tell the others. She felt like she had let them down.
Irvine himself was not in the most comfortable of situations, and he wasn't going to take any crap.
"I can't put the mouse in the house, because there is no house!"
"Well, stop that then!"
"I can't help it! It's natural!"
Selphie sputtered over that one, and after several false starts finally settled on, "Well, then you get that corner!"
He picked himself up to move over into the far corner when a look of poorly disguised cunning came into his eyes.
"You know, if you want to make the problem go away, at least for awhile..."
Selphie desperately looked around for something to throw, but Quistis was too heavy and the concrete looked rather solid.
Quistis stepped in. "Look, stop this. We're SeeD. What should our first move be?"
Selphie started to raise her hand then caught herself. "To escape."
Irvine fielded that one. "To find our Commander."
"Right. Let’s start."
The three moved around the room, trying to keep their backs to one another (except Irvine, who wasn't really trying) and find a way out, the hinges on the door being the most likely prospect. After a through inspection by Irvine, Quistis and Selphie in turn, it was apparent the hinges were not a viable option.
"Stuck like titanium glue," Irvine grunted, trying to bend the pins. "This door isn't going anywhere."
Quistis looked at him.
"Stuck like what?"
"Like titanium glue."
"There's no such thing."
Irvine shrugged, sliding down the wall. "Well, if there was it would be stuck like this."
Selphie sank into a corner, her head in her arms. Quistis raised an eyebrow. "What are you doing?"
Selphie's voice came out muffled. "Sleeping."
Quistis sighed, doing likewise. There was nothing else for it until their captors came for them.
Zell was, in the short of it, not happy. Squall's team was late, and there had been no reports from Galbadia. His frenetic energy surging through his veins, he violently paced his room. His requests to go to check on the team's status had so far been denied by the Garden heads and Cid himself. Denied. Him! Defeated Ultimecia and everything. Sandbagged.
But he wasn't going to take it without a fight. No, he would have permission. He would request every day until they gave him the okay to help his friends.
A buzz from the door intercom, or doorcom as they were more commonly known on campus, startled him from his angry reverie.
Turning to the door, he keyed the doorcom. "Yeah?"
"Zell, it's me. Rinoa."
"Oh, right." He fumbled with the pad. The door slid open with a slight hiss, revealing Rinoa in a blue jacket with a hood. She quickly ducked into his room as the door closed.
Zell raised an eyebrow at her dark clothing. "Hey, uh, what's with the covert ops stuff?"
"Curfew is on," She said as she put down her hood. "Remember?"
In fact, the clock had been the last thing on his mind, and he sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh, no. I mean, yes, but I wasn't remembering. No, I was. Remembering."
"Um, okay. We need to talk."
Rinoa sighed, brushing back her hair from where it had been hanging in her eyes. "The mission. Squall and the others still haven't come back, and.." She bit her lower lip, worry coming over her face.
Normally Zell would have told you that worry wasn't in Rinoa's vocabulary. But since the days of the battles and Ultimecia, everyone had changed, none more so than Squall and Rinoa. Their relationship was much discussed in Garden. And in the tabloids, much to Squall's dismay and Rinoa's delight. Many people thought it wouldn't last long and that they didn't have enough in common, but Zell thought they had more than it appeared. Sometimes Rinoa could have very Squall-like attributes. In his dim subconscious Zell suspected the 'normal' Rinoa was as much a mask as the 'normal' Squall.
Such things were, for the time being, far from his thoughts. "Yeah, I know. This just really...really.." He struggled for a suitable word. "SUCKS!"
"That's not the way I would have put it," She said wryly. "But you have a point. Zell, why can't we go find them?"
"I told you Rinoa, the Headmaster won't, 'delegate a team from other critical assignments' to go to Deling. The Garden is really busy right now and I'm on hold for a possible call. We'll just have to wait, at least until we know something is wrong."
He resumed his ferocious pacing. Rinoa sat on the edge of his bed, eyes following him back and forth.
"Yes, but what about just one of us? I know you’re on hold, but-"
He vehemently shook his head, as if by doing so he could shake the dilemma free of his brain.
"No, I already tried. Everything. Again and again!" He let loose an explosive sigh, clenching his gloved hands. "It's just no good. If I wasn't a SeeD, I-"
He broke off, as though afraid to talk of not being a SeeD. He stopped abusing the carpet long enough to walk over to the window and glare moodily out into the cloud filled horizon. The Garden was resting in its usual place at Balamb, and a storm several miles out to sea cast eerie flashes that soon dissolved in the flickering twilight.
Rinoa stood up and walked to his side, looking at his face.
"You'd what, Zell?"
He faced her, as readable as always. "I would go and do it anyway."
Even the air seemed different to Hendrow, cleaner somehow. And a slight hint of tang, something else. Magic. He thought to himself, if such a thing could taint the air.
The expedition had emerged onto a grassy plain, a full moon high in the sky. Hendrow had brought the Strategy Guide, but the game map was hardly an accurate one, lacking any real information other than names and vague locations. Perhaps if they could find one of these, 'Draw Points'. He could almost taste that new power, a high achieved by invincible new technology.
So this, He thought. This is what it must have felt like to set the first foot on the moon.
One small step for greed, one giant leap for power.
Julian was too efficient for standing around. Workers and guards moved into position, erecting shelters and securing the perimeter. Hendrow nervously flipped to the Bestiary section of the Guide. Some of these creatures would be most difficult to face until the rest of the men were brought through the portal. Especially without the larger weaponry. He had been assured the professional soldiers could hold off long enough to get back in the portal, but just in case he ordered his and Julian's shelter to be built closest to the opening, still glowing in the moonlight.
This area of the entrance was to be the base of a huge operation, and a concrete bunker-compound would be under construction first thing in the morning. No expense was spared, and it was turning into a more than multi-million dollar project. Not to mention the fact that the private army Julian was going to hire had only been partially filled out. But if there was one thing Julian Foss had, it was money.
Hendrow gave a slight smile at the thought of the glory that awaited them.
The first sign of their captors came at first light, or what Scott judged to be first light. A metallic clang brought him out of his half sleep, dozing on the rough floor. A man walked in, dressed in a tight black T-shirt and slacks of the same color. In the dim light he seemed to be only a floating head.
Scott sat defiant, unmoving. The man barked a short laugh.
"You might as well move. Your friend isn't here to back you."
With a quick glance, Scott saw this was true. Squall had disappeared while he had slept. He inwardly cursed his lack of observance. Still, he wasn't going to move until the man did. After a couple seconds of silence, the man in black grudgingly tossed him a pair of boxers. Scott quickly put them on and decided there wasn’t anything else to gain in defiance. He stood up in what he hoped was a firm posture and faced his jailer. He knew they had moved Squall and himself separately so there was less chance for resistance. Being half naked with no weapons, he was not in a position to resist.
The jailer led him down a twisted hallway, complete with damp steps and slippery ramps. Judging by the smell they were either in or by some sewers. The idea that the sewers were making the floor slick was not a pleasant thought.
Dim lights showed the way, until they arrived at another blank door, unmarked and anonymous as the rest. The jailer reached up and hit a switch planted in the wall that Scott hadn't noticed.
The room revealed was like the rest, except auditorium size and lined with built in seats. The front row was occupied by the others, all in the same shorts. Strangely, he noticed the girls didn't have any tops on. Then again, he glanced at the guards, maybe not so strange. Either way, they were dealing with soldiers who had little in discipline or courtesy. Already embarrassed enough, he fought his body's natural response, trying to concentrate on the danger of the situation. Scott was seated next to Squall and his hands were bound like the others.
The jailer walked up to the podium, surprising Scott, who hadn't thought he was in charge. The man looked at them coldly before clearing his throat.
"You have the honor of the hospitality of the Galbadian government. Perhaps permanently."
He paused here, leafing through some papers. Scott figured they were blank. The jailer looked up again, scanning their faces for any reaction to his words.
"We of course have extensive information on all of you. Squall Leonhart, Selphie Tilmitt, and so on. Except for.." He paused as if questioning the wisdom of revealing that he didn't know something.
"Him," He pointed at Scott. "You refer to him as 'Scott'. Who is he?"
Quistis was the first to speak. "Why are you doing this?" She questioned him, refusing to let her nakedness demoralize her.
The jailer ignored her, eyes still searching. "A specialist of some kind, obviously SeeD. An assassin? No, Mr. Kinneas is here. Some sort of spy? Perhaps a martial artist. Zell Dincht is still at your Garden."
None spoke. Scott watched Squall carefully. It was hard to judge a person by a character you had only a passing familiarity with. Would he reveal anything? Perhaps the game had been wildly inaccurate. Whatever happened, this could only get worse.
The jailer waited for a minute, then gave a smile that was more of a grimace on his hard face. "Well then. Maybe we can fire it out of you."
Nobody made any sound, but that was enough to make Scott uneasy. When the man in black turned to give orders, he leaned over to Squall who was sitting next to him.
"They’re gonna set me on fire?"
Squall's grave eyes focused on him. "A bit more controlled. Magic."
Scott wondered how long he could hold under torture. He had been trained for it, and now it appeared it would be time to see if all that training was up to the hype.
Chapter 7: Inherent Instability
"I can remember when Scott first showed up, it took awhile to get used to him. There was just something about him, like you knew he was from out of town. Funny, considering who he turned out to be."
-Quistis Trepe, What's Hyne Got To Do With It?
One can always get what one wants, and everything has its price. The golden rule of greed. Whether it be power or mere object, the seduction of ownership is a lure for everyone. Some may resist it, others indulge openly or privately in small ways. To a few, it is a way of life. Men like Julian Foss. This comforting platitude of the self-absorbed and wealthy has little truth in the real working world, or Multiverse. So if you cannot buy it, cannot steal it, then you must take it. And with the Thesis, there is much for the taking.
There was really no way around it.
The scenery did nothing to distract him. He could only stare at the concrete surroundings for so long until his brain wandered back to the forthcoming torture. These thoughts came unbidden, seeping into his brain against his will and his good sense. The bonds that held him fast in this public torture chamber were unbreakable. No way out.
The jailer returned from a room behind the stage, emerging from a door Scott couldn't see. He carried with him a black case, uniform and unremarkable. Scott fought back a shiver.
From the rather large case he drew a small instrument Scott could not identify. It was akin to a syringe, a shape that made Scott’s skin crawl. Something about needles made his mind numb.
The jailer walked down the stairs until he was standing in front of Scott, glaring at him. Guilelessly, Scott stared back, calm on the surface only. He braced himself.
"This is your last chance," the jailer said softly. "Who are you, and why are you here with the others?"
The fear was real now, but Scott refused to give in. He said nothing, clenching his fists tightly.
The jailer only smiled. He reached for Scott's arm, and jabbed the needle-like point on the device into it. Scott gritted back a gasp at the pain.
"Stop!" Selphie shouted. "Leave him alone! He just showed up at the hotel, we don't know who he is-"
One of the guards walked up and backhanded her, silencing her cry. Irvine gritted back a swear, shooting the man a glare of hatred.
The jailer didn't spare it a glance. He looked at Scott, finger on some sort of trigger, magic ready at his word.
"I would say ‘last chance’, but since I already did-" The jailer shrugged, hit the switch, and shot a fire spell into Scott's bloodstream.
A strange roaring filled his head. Scott's first impression was that it wasn’t all that bad. Then it occurred to him that it really wasn't bad. Aside from the noise in his head and the stabbing pain from the needle, it really didn't hurt at all.
He jerked, shaking off the darkness that had threatened to overtake his vision, to find the room surprisingly silent. Lying in a charred crater of burnt blood, his face contorted in agony, the jailer was dead. Scott stared at the body uncomprehendingly.
Scott may have been dumfounded into inaction, but Squall wasn't. In an instant he had used his bare feet to grab the gun from the jailer's flaming holster, burning his toes in the process. Foolishly, their captors had opted to tie their hands in front of them, a stroke of luck.
Squall threw himself over the backs of the first row of chairs, gun firing a precise two shots. One of the six guards fell over, clutching a stomach wound. The second shot hit the other guard on his right in a textbook perfect headshot, the powerful .45 blowing an apple sized exit wound in the back of the man's head, crashing him to the ground.
The other SeeD scattered, hobbling as best as possible to cover while Squall took down another guard with his pistol, the remaining three struggling to get their guns up and fire, frantically thumbing the safeties. Their reaction time was abysmal, and they were obviously poorly trained.
Irvine reached the other two downed guards in seconds, using his bound hands to grab an assault rifle and pistol. Unable to fire the assault gun single handed, he fired the pistol, forcing the men at the back to take cover and dove behind the podium where Selphie was crouched. Quistis had ducked and crawled over to the third killed guard, weapon laying in the open just beyond her reach.
By now the remaining guards had taken aim and were unloading at whim, chipping concrete and shredding the thinly padded seats.
Selphie sent a burst of fire from the podium, suppressing the guards behind the last seat row and giving Quistis enough time to snag the other rifle.
The firing stopped at what had become a standstill, the SeeDs at the front of the auditorium and on the stage, the last guards ducked behind the final row of seats before the open aisle space to the exit. The SeeDs could only advance slowly as they worked to free themselves fully, while the guards couldn't hope to make the exit without getting cut down in the open space, unprotected from the firing position of the podium.
Scott had taken cover in front of the first row of seats, just below the podium where Selphie and Irvine were hidden. Weaponless, he crawled around the perimeter until he reached Quistis, who handed him the recovered pistol from the dead guard. While the situation was deadly, it was also embarrassing. Scott couldn't seem to find a place to put his eyes. Quistis' rather ample assets were an unwelcome distraction from the loaded guns pointing his way. Perhaps the guards hadn't been as dumb as he had suspected.
A movement at the corner of his eye brought his head snapping around. Squall had freed himself from his bonds and was crawling along the aisles in a zigzag fashion, keeping just out of sight. Afraid covering fire would only draw attention towards him, Scott decided to meet Squall halfway.
"Hey," He whispered, indicating Quistis. She turned to him. He held out his hands, making it understood he wanted to be untied. Quickly, she reached over and carefully undid the knot, then he did the same for her.
The concrete grated on his stomach as he wriggled along the floor. Fortunately, the seats had solid bottoms rather than separate legs, give the guards no clean line of fire along the ground. He reached Squall in less than ten seconds. Face to face on the floor, Scott opened his mouth to ascertain the plan, when something unexpected happened.
Selphie and Irvine, cut off from the rest of the group and unable to discuss or receive a working plan, decided to let loose with a blistering round of fire, jumping off the stage and behind the first row of seats. Without thinking, Scott and Squall made use of the distraction. Jumping up, they ran in opposite directions down the aisle. The sudden hail of bullets impacted on the far wall and seat tops, and the guards had to move to the sides. The guard on the farthest left made a critical mistake when he moved a few feet too far, allowing Quistis to drop him with a burst.
Two left. Scott thought.
One of the guards had the presence of mind the stick his gun over the seats, firing blindly. Scott had to duck back into safety lest he be hit. Squall, however, was by now on the other end of the row and out of the rightmost remaining guards view. Quistis was edging forward for a better shot. Scott couldn't see Irvine and Selphie but he guessed they were moving up the aisles as Squall had before.
Scott saw at the last moment what Squall was going to do. If he had not, the outcome might have been much different.
Squall emerged over last row of seats, giving him a final shot on the two guards. The guard nearest Scott saw the movement out of the corner of his eye, and raised his weapon.
Scott reacted by leaping to his feet, desperately exposing himself to the line of fire and raising his pistol, the shot echoing in his ears as everything seemed to slow down. The shell ejected from the gun lazily, floating in its decaying trajectory to bounce on the floor. He could almost see the bullet before it impacted just under the guards right elbow, into the ribs. The bullet was just smashing through the man's organs when a burst fired by Quistis all but vaporized his head, scraps dispersing in a bloody balloon.
The lifeless remains flew with the force of multiple impact until its flight was arrested by the wall, spattering warm liquids in a fan-like pattern.
Scott saw none of this. He had already swung right, bringing up his .45 to dispose of the final guard. He need not have bothered. The last guard was dead, killed by Squall. Scott's arms dropped in temporary relief as the adrenaline rush thinned itself out of his bloodstream.
Selphie and Irvine were the first to move, running up from the back. Selphie had tied one of the dead guard's shirts around herself in a attempt at modesty. Quistis was busying herself doing likewise. Scott approved. Distractions under fire could quickly prove fatal. Squall picked himself off the floor and walked over to where Scott and Irvine stood. He halted, calm eyes surveying the carnage.
"So," Irvine said, scratching his head. "Which way out?"
Scott marveled at their resilience as he slumped to the floor, head still aching.
"We need to recover our equipment," Squall spoke while turning to the door. "This complex follows the construction of the old fallout shelters from the Sorceress War. There must be an exit somewhere in the city."
Irvine smiled broadly. "Well then. We'll be back in time for dinner." He turned to Scott, raising an eyebrow. "You okay?"
Scott just shook his head, unable or unwilling to answer.
Selphie pushed past Irvine, heading towards Squall who was moving for the door. "Where do we go? All my things are back at the hotel! Do you think our weapons are still there?"
He opened steel door without answering, and the rest followed hurriedly, anxious to exit before their escape was compromised. The SeeDs hadn't seen any cameras, but that didn't mean they weren't there.
The same damp hallways stretched out before them, taking almost random turns it seemed. Rusty or broken doors revealed long empty rooms, built for some unknown purpose, some filled with machines no longer working.
Of all the things most suited for silent walking, Scott would have pegged bare feet as one of the best. Instead he unhappily remembered that if not careful, bare skin made a loud slapping sound against the concrete. Concentrating on his footing and trying to keep up with Squall and the other SeeDs, he had only a part of his thoughts to puzzle out the sudden and violent death of the jailer.
Why? There seemed no reason for the backlash of magic. Of course, he was in no way proficient in the art himself, for all he knew there might be a perfectly reasonable explanation. The SeeDs seemed to be more involved with escaping than analysis, so the questions would have to wait.
All he had wanted to do was go home. Back to his dimension. Who would have known that in the hours since his arrival he would be attacked, brought in for torture, and then inadvertently trigger an unplanned escape? There was nothing left but to follow through, at least until they could find their way out from under the shadow of Deling.
Hendrow nervously watched the sun dawn, revealing with greater detail the landscape that had been darkened from vision by the previous night. There still wasn't much to see. The plain was empty, though now lit. It seemed to him that the air was thicker, heavier some how. Perhaps they had emerged in a lowly populated area, the lack of pollution leaving the air oxygen rich.
By mid afternoon Julian's work crews had settled into digging the appropriate holes and pouring in the first foundations of concrete. Hendrow routinely patrolled the perimeter, keeping tabs on progress and penalizing slackers. There weren't many slackers to be penalized. Typical as the field seemed, they couldn't mistake the feeling of being far away from home. The night before none of the stars had formed constellations that made any patterns familiar to the human eye. The need to be behind walls was strong, and the men worked harder for it.
Julian was in his tent, waiting for the temporary command station to be completed. Hendrow wasn't sure what he was doing, but it was undoubtedly vital, and Hendrow left him to his concentration.
A reconnaissance team of twenty men was being prepared to venture beyond the area of arrival. Assuming the sun rose and set in the same directions as the one of Earth did, their position was calculated, but the map in the guide next to the Toyota ad (an ad that was strangely comforting) was not precise enough to be of any use. To their immediate north less than a mile was a beach, and the south was the same. To the west the land trailed off into a point in the ocean, leading the expedition to believe they were on some sort of peninsula. To the east the land appeared to stop and cut off into a channel across which were two islands, one larger, one small, and what Hendrow thought was the mainland, the only body that didn't appear to terminate in water. Hendrow had studied the map all morning in between his patrolling and believed he knew where they were.
Now it was only a matter of waiting until the rest of the men and equipment came.
Rinoa faced the window of her room, crossed arms hugging herself tightly, as if afraid to let go lest her heart fall out in its agony. So many days without word. By now Garden was demanding that Galbadia give information on the SeeD delegation. Galbadia was claiming they had vanished without their knowledge. Neither side was giving in. And Squall was still gone.
Where are you?
It hadn't been so bad before, when it had only been a few days. Now every day was a battle not to forcibly find her Knight. His absence was a deepening hole in her mind. She fully understood what they meant with the saying, "Like a Sorceress and her Knight", a common expression for two inseparable things or people. It just was not meant to be. What then, must it have been like for Cid and Edea, apart all those years?
She closed her eyes, reaching out with her mind to find his presence, a futile gesture she knew, having tried so many times before. With all her power she could not see to Galbadia, across many miles of water and land. And even if she could, Galbadia was so very large. One body and essence so very small amongst all of it, despite their link.
She felt the guardian forces present inside her mind, Siren, Ifrit and the Brothers. In her Sight they appeared as dim lights in her essence, faintly glowing.
Then, one was different.
She gasped as her mind was pulled into Ifrit, who became to her more than just the Guardian force, but the Being behind it. She had barely time to understand, 'Let me help you.', before her mind was shot into the sky, expanded. It enveloped the world, Ifrit guiding it, giving it previously unknown reach and clarity.
She flew over Esthar, Trabia, and the Shumi Village at the speed of light, seeing, tasting, smelling sights, sounds, things almost faster than her brain could translate them, absorbing so much information it ceased to be coherent.
Her mind rebelled frantically, essence kicking and struggling in an unthinking fear over her lack of control, her fragile link with her body wavering and thinning.
Then she was there, Galbadia. It was but the work of a moment to find him, burning bright under Deling.
He halted, stopping the rest of the team behind him, eyes darting.
Their minds touched for an instant, then she was hurled back into her physical self, collapsing on the floor. She lay there, gasping and covered in a cold sweat. Sitting up, she ran a shaky hand through her hair, grasping for composure.
What was this?
Dimensional fabric wavered, tore slightly, then compacted and rebound back into its original form. The tightening Knot woven into the continuum was continually coalescing around a single essence, one man.
The dimension destabilized further, bending reality, gravity, time. Hyne watched in something akin to awe, closer to terror. She held the dimensional fabric together until the vibration stopped. Something like this could destroy everything she had worked so hard to create. Never had she imagined that anything below the level of her deity could pierce the walls she and her kind had built so long ago to preserve the boundaries for peace and sanity. Some things should never collide. The fools responsible for this were not her jurisdiction, but she wondered at the laxity of the God who had allowed this to come about. If all worked properly, such a Knot would eventually be rejected. Hyne settled back to watch, and secretly hoped her untested defenses were enough to fix a Knot of this magnitude.
Continue to Part 2