Forever Part 3
At first, the entire office was silent after Laguna had spoken. Then, it seemed everyone started talking at once. Everyone tried to remain calm, but how calm can you be knowing that your government is now at war? Laguna took the initiative, as a president should. In fact, I was a bit amazed at him. I'm sure Squall would have been proud to see him walking around with his head held high, giving out orders - good orders - to everyone around him. Well, maybe he wouldn't exactly be proud, but at least less ashamed that Laguna was his father.
"Yes sir?" Daima stepped forward, blotting her eyes with a tissue. She looked so vulnerable at that moment. I wanted to do something for her.
"Keep trying to contact the Galbadian President. Let me know as soon as you get through to him. He's reacting out of anger, but if I can somehow show him that I'm being honest, maybe we can stop this thing before it progresses any further."
"Yes sir," Daima quickly bowed and exited the room.
A man who looked to be about ten years older than Laguna stepped forward. "Yes sir?"
"Activate the emergency defense system. Alert the city that we're in a state of emergency," Laguna instructed him.
"But sir, if I do that, everyone in the city might panic!" Luke protested.
"I don't believe in keeping secrets. The people should know what's going on so they can be on guard," he turned away from Luke and kept delegating tasks until everyone had left his office. He turned to me and Quistis and then sat down and buried his face in his hands, looking suddenly much older than he really was. "Guys, I don't know what's going to happen. How can missiles simply get activated?"
I sat down across from him and asked, "Who had access to the activation codes?"
Laguna shrugged. "I don't know. Me, Luke, Daima, Valente, Mathis." He listed several people in his cabinet. "But I can't see any of them doing this. They're loyal. All of them."
"Well, looks like there's more for us to do here than we originally thought," Quistis said. "I'll contact Cid. Irvine and I will stay here and investigate the matter. President Loire," her voice softened, "We'll, figure this out. It'll be alright."
Laguna slammed his fists on the table, causing Quistis to jump a little. "No it won't! Don't you see? Even if we stop an invasion, innocent civilians have already died! That's what people don't understand. I don't care if they're citizens of Esthar or Galbadia. They're people, all the same. And they're dead."
"Sir," I stood up. "Forgive me for being bold, but you sound like you're defeated already. While we can't save those lives already lost, we can prevent more of the same."
He sat back and regarded me seriously and then closed his eyes and exhaled. Opening them again, he said with new clarity in his voice, "You're right. Why am I president? So I can lead everyone through times likes these." He leaned forward. "Quistis, call Cid. And find out who did this."
* * *
"Mr. Kinneas, are you alright?" a soft voice asked me. I looked up and saw Daima standing a few steps away from me. I was sitting on the floor outside Laguna's office, thinking of how I should go about this investigation and waiting for Quistis to get off the phone with Cid.
"I should be asking you the same thing," I replied, patting the ground next to me, inviting her to join me.
"I'm fine," she answered. "I guess I was just a little scared at first. Still am, in fact," she laughed.
"Well, you have every reason to be." I paused and then looked up at her. "Daima? Do you have any idea who could have done this?"
A strange look crossed her face and she shrugged. "I suppose anyone could have done it. You never know what motivates a person."
I wasn't really sure how to interpret that remark. "What do you mean?"
She suddenly flashed a smile and shook her head. "I don't know what I mean. So what's that?" she changed the subject and gestured towards the list in my hand.
"Oh this? I was just jotting down some things I needed to check on. What can you tell me about Luke?"
Daima looked thoughtful. "He means well. He just doesn't always agree with President Loire." She peered at my list. "Valente, Mathis, Trapley, Colter.nope, it couldn't have been any of them. Personally, I don't think they're clever enough to come up with something like that." She rose to her feet. "I should get back to work. Good luck, Mr. Kinneas. It's my feeling that you'll find the truth pretty soon."
"I hope so," I sighed. The door opened and Quistis stepped out into the hallway. Daima and I both looked at her expectantly.
"Cid said that he just sent Squall and Selphie to Deling City to work on things there. You know, control the peace, investigate, try to get the President to agree to a meeting with Laguna."
All of the sudden, I was scared. Scared for Selphie. Though I knew she could take care of herself, I wasn't there to protect her and that scared me. Quistis read my expression and responded to it. "She'll be fine, Irvine. You know she's a talented SeeD and besides that, she's got Squall with her."
"I know," I said.
Daima looked at me curiously. "Your girlfriend?"
My head snapped up when she said that and I saw out of the corner of my eye that Quistis tensed up slightly. "No," I answered carefully. "She's just a friend that I care about."
"Oh," Daima nodded and repeated, "I should go." She turned and walked back down the hallway.
"Quistis--" I began.
"No Irvine. Listen. You care for Selphie. I realize that. Why should that bother me?"
"But it does."
"No it doesn't!" she insisted. "I guess I'm just tired of not knowing what's going on. With you, with her, with myself. Everything is just so uncertain right now." She turned away.
I leapt to my feet and grabbed her hand. "Look at me." She shook her head. I squeezed her hand and said, "Please." Slowly, she turned her head and her eyes met mine. "I care for Selphie, but I care for you too. Hyne, you can't even imagine what you've come to mean to me!" Her eyes widened when I said that. I meant it too. "I know I haven't been fair to you or Selphie. And believe me, it's really making me feel like a jerk. I don't want to hurt either of you."
"Do you?" I was about to say more, but Laguna's office door opened and Valente stepped out.
"Mr. Kinneas, there's a transmission for you."
"OK," I said, wanting to continue talking to Quistis for just a few minutes more, but Valente stood in the doorway, waiting. I followed him inside, Quistis right behind me. He showed me what to push and then left, closing the door behind him, leaving me and Quistis alone in the room.
I sat down and pushed the "Receive Transmission" button and said, "This is Irvine Kinneas."
"Ah, Mr. Kinneas," a voice came over the speaker. It was incredibly distorted. I could tell some kind of voice filter had been added to it. "Just wanted to see how you were enjoying the little war I started."
"Who is this?"
"You'll find out soon enough. Wouldn't want to lead you to the answer too quickly. That's not very fun."
"You were responsible for the research team, " I stated icily.
"And your friend. It's a shame about his face." Quistis gasped and I heard her whisper Nida's name.
"Just tell me one thing...why?"
There was a slight hesitation and then the voice answered, "Let's just say I want my fifteen minutes of fame." Before I could answer again, he had ended the transmission. I swore to myself.
Quistis and I stood, waiting for the transport to arrive. We hadn't been able to learn anything new since the transmission and we were quite worried about what to expect next. I still wondered what had happened to the research team that had disappeared. Were they still alive?
Quistis grabbed my arm and pointed as the transport approached us. When we had told Cid what had happened, he insisted on coming to Esthar, even though we told him that we had everything under control. Well, as close to under control as we could, at least. The door to the transport opened and Cid stepped out, followed by Zell and Nida. I grimaced as I saw Nida's face disfigured by a terrible scar, caused by the exploding Tauron egg a few weeks back. He noticed my reaction and smiled wryly. I guess he was getting used to people reacting to him that way.
"Hey, at least people actually see me now instead of looking right through me," he quipped sardonically. He walked past me and Quistis greeted him with a hug. The next person who stepped out of the transport was someone I wasn't expecting to see at all.
Well, she didn't exactly step out of the transport at all. She bounded out and wrapped her arms around my neck. "Selphie!" I exclaimed. "What are you doing here? I thought you were in Galbadia."
"We were, but we weren't really getting anywhere. The president is backing off for now, but he's ready to proceed with the attack. He didn't really trust Squall because he knew Sir Laguna was his father."
"Yeah. Lucky me, right?" Squall commented as he stepped forward. The doors closed behind him.
"Laguna's expecting us," Cid said. "We'll have plenty of time for socializing later." Quistis and I turned in the direction of the presidential offices, but Cid stopped us. "Not there. This way."
We followed Cid, wondering where we were supposed to meet Laguna and why he hadn't mentioned anything to us back at the offices. We entered the older section of Esthar, still amazingly technological, but a little more dated. Cid paused outside a door to a small building and tapped in a code to the access pad. The door slid open.
Laguna was waiting for us, seated at a round table. In the middle of the table was a pitcher of water. He gestured for us to take our seats and so we did. I sat down between Zell and Squall and reached for the pitcher, pouring myself a glass of water. Laguna began to speak.
"OK. Thank you for coming here today. I'm at the point where I don't know if I can truly trust anyone I'm working alongside. I know most of them are good, genuine people. I just can't figure out who's not. And I'm almost positive this threat is coming from within Esthar's government. I briefed Cid on the transmission that Irvine and Quistis received yesterday and I'm sure he's briefed all of you about it," he paused as everyone around the table nodded. "We traced it and found that it had come from within the main Presidential Office Building. They put scramblers on the signal, so by the time we were able to trace, whoever the perpetrators were, they were already gone. So I think we can narrow down our suspect list to people who work in the Estharian government. Security's been beefed up around here, so I seriously doubt that anyone who isn't authorized to be here, will be here."
Nida replied quietly, "That's because you've never been an outsider." He had spoken so softly, I almost didn't hear what he said.
Nida cleared his throat and spoke a little more loudly. "You've never been an outsider. You've never been a person who no matter what you do, you don't ever get noticed."
Zell rolled his eyes, "There are plenty of other ways for people to get noticed than kidnapping people, blowing up buildings, setting off missiles, and starting wars."
"Maybe they tried other things and it didn't work."
"Nida, that's ridiculous!" Zell retorted.
"No, wait." Laguna held up his hand. "He might be on to something. Why do children misbehave?"
"Because they're brats?" I suggested with a smile.
"Well, sometimes," he conceded. "But most of the time, it's to get attention. Any kind of attention. Suppose our friend here has lived his whole life never feeling like he was receiving any sort of recognition; never feeling noticed. Maybe he wanted to do something that was sure to bring him some attention. And if a war between Galbadia and Esthar escalates, it could turn into the biggest conflict the world has ever seen. And if that person steps forward and is made known to be the cause of it all, then though the repercussions are terrible, he'll go down in history. Everyone will grow up knowing his name."
Squall seemed to be shaking his head. I could tell that he found Laguna's thought processes ludicrous. However, Selphie spoke up. "Do we really have anything else to go on right now?" I saw everyone either shaking their heads or muttering the word, "no." Selphie continued, "Well then, it is a lead, which is more than we've had up to this point. We should pursue it."
"But to work in the Estharian government is a pretty big deal. I'd hardly say that someone with such a prestigious job would be someone who'd cause a war simply to get recognized. It just sounds.off," Zell sat back and let out a sigh of frustration.
Quistis shrugged. "I think it actually sounds kind of plausible. How else would you explain the 'fifteen minutes of fame' comment?" She turned to face me. "What do you think we should do?"
I gulped as all eyes turned towards me. It was kind of a strange feeling, especially having Squall sitting in the group. Normally, he was always the leader. But since this had really been something that Cid had handed over to me at the beginning, I had a lot of say in the final plans. I was kind of unsure. I mean, there really wasn't a lot of room to mess around! If I made the wrong decision, everything could fall to pieces. Still, I went with my gut. "I think we should try to trap him."
"Trap him? How?" Selphie asked.
"If he's wanting ultimate credit for all this, let's give it to someone else."
Squall frowned. "Blame someone else?"
"You got it," I smiled. "If we can get the Galbadian president to go along with us, we'll just need to find someone who'll be willing to be our scapegoat."
"Who would be willing, though? Being accused of something like this is a pretty big deal," Quistis pointed out.
Cid smiled. "I think it's brilliant. And I know of a few people who might go along with it for a large enough price. We'll broadcast it and--"
"And whoever the guilty person really is, they'll step forward. A lot of work's gone into this whole thing. A lot of planning. And if it is the 'fifteen minutes of fame' they want, they won't stand for someone else claiming it," I finished.
"And if we're wrong about all of this?" Zell asked, raising one eyebrow.
I shrugged. "I guess we're screwed then."
We started formulating our plan. If we could publicly blame all the recent events on someone else, chances are, the person who was really responsible would step forward. We went back to Balamb Garden to finalize things. Selphie and I were sitting in Cid's office.
"Got him!" Selphie exclaimed as she set the telephone's receiver back on it's hook.
"The President of Galbadia?" I asked.
"Yep!" she squealed. "He agreed to go along with everything. He said he still didn't trust Esthar, but if we could prove that Esthar wasn't responsible for the bombing, then he'd have no choice but to go along with us."
"Great! Now we just need to figure out who would be willing to be a scapegoat." I sat on the edge of the desk beside her and looked down at her. She smiled up at me, her eyes shining.
"We haven't gotten much time to talk lately, you know."
"I know," I sighed. And truthfully, I missed it. Selphie and I always had the best talks. She had truly become my best friend.
"Would it be too forward of me to ask you for some time? Maybe after all this mess is over with? Just you and me?"
"There's nothing I'd like more," I said. And I meant it. I admit, this whole mess between Esthar and Galbadia had been occupying all my time, but my thoughts still remained with Selphie and Quistis. I'd lie in bed at night for hours trying to figure out what to do; weighing all their pros and cons. And then I'd realize I couldn't compare the two of them. I mean, they were like grats and ochus! OK, maybe a lot prettier, but at any rate, they were so different from each other. And their differences were what attracted me to both. But I knew that I couldn't keep stringing them both along. In a way, I was thankful for this little war that had sprung up because it took some of the pressure off of me.
"Really?" Selphie exclaimed and reached up and gave me a hug. As I was holding her, I realized that I couldn't imagine life without her. It was Selphie. It had always been Selphie.
The door opened and Selphie and I quickly separated. Cid stood in the doorway with a smug look on his face.
"Let me guess," I said. "You found someone."
Cid nodded and stepped aside. I gasped as a familiar face stepped in behind him. "Seifer!" He'd be willing to take the fall for everything?
"Don't get too excited," he quipped. Selphie squealed and ran to give him a hug. "Hey, hey," he laughed as she almost knocked him down. "Nice to see you too."
"But.I." I was honestly at a loss for words. I didn't know how to react. I mean, this guy was the enemy. I was sure he didn't like any of us much. So what could Cid have promised him that would have made him cooperate?
He crossed his arms after Selphie had released him and said, "Looks like you need me to save your butt, huh Cowboy?"
"Where've you been all this time?" I asked.
"Oh, here and there," he replied as he walked around the room. "You know, wandering around like outcasts typically do." I could hear the bitterness in his voice.
Cid cleared his throat. "Seifer agreed to help us."
"Yeah, I agreed all right," he scoffed. "More like, I had no choice if I didn't want to spend the rest of my life locked in a tiny cell. See, 'crimes don't go unpunished,' he said. And the way I see it, it's better to be hated and be free than to be loved and be imprisoned, huh?"
I looked at Cid with astonishment and I could tell Selphie was feeling the same thing. Cid wasn't a bad man, but sometimes he could be ruthless. I supposed we were desperate at this point, but to seek Seifer out and then force him to cooperate or he'd be arrested.well, that was just plain brutal. And I could tell Seifer thought so as well. I knew that once this was all over, Cid had better give some sort of restitution or Seifer would take his revenge. Another thought plagued me too. What if none of this worked? Where would Seifer be then?
Seifer continued, "I wonder what deal he made with his wife."
That angered Cid. "Seifer, enough!"
Nida burst through the door. "I got it! I figured--"
"Not now," Cid said through clenched teeth.
"But it all makes sense now. If you could just--"
"Nida, please. Excuse us," Cid replied tersely.
Nida's face crumpled into a frown. "You're making a mistake--"
"Nida," Cid growled. Selphie and I kept our mouths shut this entire time. Seifer hadn't taken his eyes off of Cid.
Nida glanced from Cid to Seifer and then over to me and Selphie and finally said, "Fine. But don't blame me if things go wrong." He stormed out of the room and Cid rolled his eyes.
"Go make the arrangements," Cid instructed me and Selphie. "I think Seifer and I have some things we need to work out." Seifer's eyes flashed, but I took Selphie by the arm and nodded. I pulled her out in the hallway. She was visibly bothered.
A body leapt at me and knocked me to the ground. Selphie cried out in surprise and instinctively, I twisted my body until I was able to knock the perpetrator off his feet. I clamped my hand around his throat until Selphie cried, "Irvy, stop!"
Nida looked up at me, his eyes wide with fright. He coughed and I quickly loosened my grip on his throat. "Nida, what're you doing?" I yelled at him. "You startled me. You're lucky I didn't pull out my Exeter!"
Nida sat up and gulped. "I'm sorry. It's just that, well.you have to listen to me! Cid won't give me the time of day, but I figured you would be different. I think I know who's responsible for all this."
"Who?" I frowned.
"Well, I've kind of been reading the files and I--"
"You read the files? Nida, those are classified and you didn't have the authorization to do so!"
"Irvy, don't yell," Selphie piped up. "Let him finish. Who do you think it is, Nida?"
Nida looked over at Selphie and cleared his throat nervously. "I think it's Daima."
At first, neither Selphie nor I could utter a word. Daima? How could the perpetrator possibly be Daima? And why? She had been present when they had received the announcement about the war and had been quite distraught. She was one of Laguna's most trusted employees and she had a quiet demeanor. She was trustworthy. She was!
"Daima?" Selphie said. "Why would you think it was her?"
"It all fits!" Nida exclaimed. "Especially with the whole 'fifteen minutes of fame' thing. Daima's just like me. She's lived her life working behind the scenes. She's always in the background and she's probably a heck of a lot smarter than the people who get all the credit and the glory."
I frowned at that remark. What was he insinuating?
He smiled guiltily and continued. "There's nothing I'd want more than to be recognized for something for once in my life no matter what it is. And sometimes I'd almost stop at nothing to get that recognition."
"Wait a minute, Nida," Selphie laid one hand on his arm. "Are you talking about Daima now or yourself?"
Nida thought for a moment and laughed guiltily. "Daima, naturally. Why? Did it come out wrong?"
I nodded and Selphie said, "You kept using the word, 'I'."
"I didn't mean 'I.' I meant Daima, of course. Anyhow, I could sense the same thing I've always experienced in her as soon as I met her. I realized we were the same, except for one thing. She's the kind of person who would actually do anything without a second thought and I actually have a moral standard." He looked proud. "Furthermore, just look at her name. Daima. It means 'forever' and I think that's exactly how long she wants her name to be known to the public. I did a little checking up on her background and it confirmed everything I had ever thought. Her parents were rather important and she was the middle, forgettable child."
"She's certainly not forgettable now, though," I said. "She's working for the most important man in Esthar. That's saying a lot."
"But not enough," Nida insisted.
"But this is all speculation, right?" Selphie asked. "I mean, you don't have any evidence, do you?"
"Not exactly," he hesitated. "But I pride myself on being an excellent judge of character and--"
"I don't think so, Nida," I shook my head. "Nice thought, but it's not Daima."
"How do you know?" he cried.
"I just know," I answered and turned my back on him. I knew that ticked him off, but I didn't think he needed to keep wasting our time. Daima wasn't the guilty one. She was actually making something of her life as Nida was trying to do. I knew that Nida had always really wanted to work for one of the Presidencies. Was he simply jealous of Daima? Nah, that didn't make any sense either. He wasn't the type to try to bring an innocent person down simply because of jealousy. I left him where he stood and Selphie came running after me.
"What are you going to do?"
"I suppose we'll go forward with the plan. As long as Seifer's cooperating."
She frowned. "I just feel bad for him. You know he didn't really have any say in the matter. His reputation is going to be tainted after this, even when it's revealed he's innocent. Besides, what happens until that point? He's going to be hated!"
"He's already hated, Selphie. You know that. This little bit of extra attention won't hurt him at all," I told her, but I knew I was lying. Seifer may be cold-hearted, but I know he's human deep down. How could the humiliation of all this not hurt him? He'd be blamed for a crime he didn't commit and wouldn't be able to show his face without receiving even more cold looks than he already does. But Selphie seemed to accept what I was saying or at least, on the outside, she appeared to, but I knew it still bothered her and would continue to. "Let's go."
* * *
The President of Galbadia called a press conference and so we were all waiting eagerly for it to begin. I watched as Laguna and some of his staff took their seats. Daima was dressed smartly and was busily jotting down notes as Laguna was speaking to her about something. When it was finally clear that everyone was present, the Galbadian President stepped forward.
"I'm glad every one of you could attend this meeting today on such short notice. As you know, there have been numerous recent events that have led to a near-war between Galbadia and Esthar. Tensions have been at an all time high. Well, I am happy to announce that we have found the person who is responsible for it all. Not only the conflict between these two nations, but other crimes such as the disappearance and murder of a team of researchers from Esthar. It was all part of an elaborate plot to produce a war."
I scanned the crowd and I could see that Quistis was doing the same from where she stood at the side of the room. My eyes rested on Daima, who was now frowning. She began to cough and pounded her chest, excusing herself politely to get a drink of water. I knew at the point that Nida had been correct all along, though I still couldn't understand why Daima would have done such a thing. But the look on her face along with her fake coughing spell told me that she was indeed the guilty one.
"The criminal's name is Seifer Almasy," the President of Galbadia stepped back and gestured to where two guards pushed Seifer into view. His hands were bound behind his back and he stumbled when they pushed him, landing painfully on his arm. The crowd began to jeer at him and I could see anger burning in his eyes. I knew he was about to say something but Cid walked to him, helped him up and whispered something in his ear, most likely a threat.
I didn't want to stay to witness anything else, however. I began feeling really guilty about the whole setup, especially since Seifer had not been a willing accomplice. Besides that, I needed to confront Daima.
I hurried after her, following her into the lobby of the building. Before she could reach the door, I pulled out my gun and said, "Freeze."
She slowly turned around, a smug look on her face. "Freeze? Is that the best you can do, Irvine? Seems a bit cliché, don't you think?"
"Seifer's not the guilty one."
"Of course he's not! He doesn't have the brains to do all this," she sighed in exasperation.
"But you do."
Daima nervously grabbed the end of her braid and smiled at me. "Irvine, I don't know what you're thinking, but surely you don't--"
"Cut the crap," I interrupted her. "Why'd you do all this, Daima? Your actions have caused many people to die and a good friend of mine to be disfigured the rest of his life."
Her eyes flashed in anger. "Why don't you cut the crap, Mr. Hero-of-the-World. Some of us aren't as lucky as you to be recognized wherever we go."
"But you are recognized. As one of Laguna's top employees. He trusts you."
"He trusts anything with two legs," she shook her head. "I wasn't going to let war destroy the two nations. Don't think I'm that heartless. I was planning on being the one to end the conflict and then all of the sudden, I'm the hero-of-the-world. So go on, let Seifer take the fall for it all. That's fine with me. When he's executed for his 'crimes,' none will be the wiser."
"Except you're forgetting one thing," I smiled at her.
"Me." I was about to fire a shot at her to simply bring her down, but she was too quick. She dodged out of the way and shouted something and before I knew it, I couldn't move.
"If you want me, Irvine, you're going to have to do better than that," she shrugged and pushed the doors open, leaving me inside to either wait for the paralysis spell to wear off or for someone to find me and help me out. So Nida had been correct all along! But he hadn't gotten it all straight. She didn't want to be known simply for anything. She wanted to be remembered for good, though she had masterminded the evil as well. She had a moral standard, but that standard was merely a little twisted.
At any rate, I knew it all had to end soon...
I ended up waiting about twenty minutes before Quistis ambled out into the foyer, looking for me. She gasped when she saw me standing there, frozen in place. She quickly used her magic to get me out of my bind and I fell to the floor, gasping for breath. I hate being paralyzed. I don’t know how it makes other people feel, but I always feel as if a giant weight is being pressed on all sides of me and I feel as if I’ll soon suffocate, though I know that wouldn’t necessarily happen.
“Irvine!” she exclaimed and knelt beside me.
“I’m fine. Really,” I growled. She was a little taken back so I quickly explained. “I just have something I need to take care of right now.” I picked myself up and tightened my grip on my Exeter.
“I’ll explain it all later. I promise,” I told her. “But for now, there’s really no time.” Before she could say anything else, I pushed through the doors and began to pursue a woman who only hours before, I had thought a lot of. I was determined to bring her to justice. This was my first real assignment that I was heading up and I wanted the outcome to be good. Not for my own glory, but because the good guys were always supposed to come out on top. That’s the way it’s always been. The only problem was, I had no idea where to go. It wasn’t as if this was Esthar and I could simply visit all the places I knew she frequented. This was neutral ground for both of us and I was no mind reader.
So for the next two hours, I wandered up and down the streets of Galbadia, watching, searching. I checked the hotel where I knew Laguna and his staff were lodging, but she wasn’t there either. This was getting ridiculous. How could one woman simply disappear? Especially when she was expected to be somewhere particular.
That was it! She had to have slipped back into the press conference, assuming I would pursue her instead of walking back inside where everyone was. She was either very sure of herself or very foolish, for it would have been so easy to walk in and lay my claim in front of everyone. I ran back to the meeting hall where the press conference was taking place, but it was already over. Only a few people remained, cleaning up after everyone. I spotted a boy sweeping up and approached him.
“Excuse me, do you know who President Loire is?”
He looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “Are you kidding me? Who doesn’t know who President Loire is?”
“Fine, fine. I’m sorry,” I held up my hands. “Have you been here all night?”
“Did you see President Loire leave?”
What a punk! “Yes or no.”
He smiled mischievously and said, “What’ll you give me?”
“Yes or no?” I repeated firmly, standing up straighter, resting my hand on my gun. I had no intention of shooting the kid and I know intimidation isn’t the way to go, but I didn’t have time to put up with him.
Apparently my intimidation didn’t scare him too much. He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, he left already. Back almost an hour ago.”
“Was he with anyone?”
“Of course,” said the kid. “He was surrounded by people.”
“A woman with long brown hair in a braid?” I asked.
“I don’t know! Why not?” the kid shrugged as he resumed his task of sweeping the floor.
“Kid, I really don’t have time for-“
“Yes, she was with him,” another voice piped up. An old man was putting away chairs. “Tobey, why can’t you just help people when they ask something of you?”
“I’m sweeping for you, aren’t I?” the boy protested.
“Thanks!” I said and turned on my heel, ready to run out of the meeting hall, but the old man wanted to keep talking.
“She you’re girlfriend?”
“No,” I answered. “If you’ll excuse-“
“She must be sweet on you then because she left you a message.”
“What?” I said.
He dug in his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. “She told me that if a cowboy-looking guy came back, that I was to give him this. You look about as cowboy as they come, so it must be you.”
“Do you know her?” I asked, taking the piece of paper from his hand.
“Nope,” he shook his head. “I just work here. She probably figured I’d be here awhile after everyone left. If you want my opinion, you should go for her.”
“I’ll take that into consideration,” I nodded and walked out, unfolding the note as I went.
Are you having fun yet? I tell you what. I’ll talk. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. But only you. I like you. You have charisma and you seem like a good, strong person. Like the kind of person who would actually listen to what I have to say before judging me. Please meet me tonight after midnight near the gardens. I know I teased you before about sounding cliché and now it is I who’s using the clichés, but I can’t think of a better place to meet. Don’t tell anyone where you’re going. Let this be between you and me and I promise I’ll cooperate any way I can. I’m starting to feel in over my head. Help me.
PS – Sorry for paralyzing you like that. I’ve never liked the way it felt and I’m sure it was unpleasant for you.
I stared at the piece of paper. I didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, she actually came right out and asked for help. Maybe she was finally seeing that everything she had done was wrong and wanted to make amends and take responsibility for it all. Or perhaps it was all a trap. She wasn’t a stupid girl. She was actually smarter than most from what I could tell.
I walked back to my hotel room and sat down, wondering what I should do and I think I’ve finally decided. I’m going to go meet her, see what she has to say and take it from there. I just can’t see that she’d try to harm me. She seems to know when enough is enough.
Well, I’ve written in this journal much more than I ever thought I would. When Selphie got it for me originally, I kind of laughed at the idea of me keeping a daily record of everything that was going on. But it’s true what she told me that night. She said that it would take a little piece of today and keep it alive forever.
Forever. Do you know I’m starting to hate that word?
Anyhow, I think it’s time to close this book and just go. Get this mess over with so I can start thinking about more important things such as how to tell Quistis that I’ve finally made my decision. That’s not going to be pretty.