Chapter 13 Evidence
Zell pulled on the last of his outfit for the day - skintight camoflage - with a satisfied grunt. The material was stretchy so as to be comfortable, but he couldn't help feeling a bit exposed. It was, after all, uniformly tight.
"Okay, all set," he said to the head of security. "Now, you're sure the settings are the same as they were on the days I gave you?"
"Yep," said the chief. "And if you get through without the alarms going off, even in that getup, I will personally buy you the pizza of your choice."
"Deal," grinned Zell. "I've got the sensor on, and the camera. If I prove a thief could've gotten in and out both times without being picked up, there's enough doubt to clear Caraway. Don't lose the tape!"
"I do this every day, SeeD," said the security chief. "I know the ropes. Get on with you."
Zell pulled the mask on, and winced as always when it crunched his spikes. He left the mansion and got a good thousand feet away from it, then radioed back. "Switch everything on fellas, I'm out of range now."
"Gotcha," came the response.
Now, if I was a freaked out nutball looking to sneak into Caraway's, what would I do? Zell asked himself, looking over the mansion's layout. He was supposed to do this with as few resources as possible so as to measure the possible security risk. He checked the pan of the security cameras from where he stood using binoculars. Yes, he could get through that level without being seen, if he were quick. Counting under his breath, there was a thirty second window where the cameras were blind to his chosen route of entrance - a nice, big tree with overhanging branches. He flexed his fingers in the doubled gloves - regular gloves overlaid with his Ergheiz cestus. Enough flexibility to grip where he'd need it, yes. And from the tree...well, he was supposed to be an amateur. He'd just have to see what opportunities were there.
The security window opened and Zell sprinted for the tree, easily concealing himself in the branches before the cameras swept back. The little earpiece he was wearing didn't beep - the people inside, who were watching every screen and sensor, hadn't seen him.
So far, so good. Now...let's see. Weather reports said the nights had been clear before Detmer showed up in Estar with the gun, so he couldn't use mist to spot any motion detector beams. And using an infrared scanner would be cheating, so...hm. Where would the beams be hidden best? Probably near the gate - like, under his perch in this tree - and near the house. Caraway wasn't made of money, after all. Best to put the security at the entrance and exit rather than flood the whole lawn...
The guess was confirmed when he heard the sound of dogs loose on the grounds. He wouldn't want motion detection beams out where his own dogs would set them off. So that meant...probably near the entry points of the mansion itself; just windows and doors. Now, as to the dogs...Zell grinned. More than once, Rinoa had set her furry demon Angelo to waking him up in the morning; it looked like payback time. Not that Angelo had been unruly; on the contrary, the dog had been quite the pleasant houseguest at the Presidential Palace - Laguna had 'adopted' it after Rinoa entered Griever. It was just that ... well, big dog, open door... it was not the best way to wake up in the morning.
One, two, four...six dogs. Attack dogs, not the halfway job that Angelo was. Even at his best, he could only handle four at a single time, and it would be less when trying to keep things quiet.
Well...even amateurs could see that there were dogs on the property. Hell, there was even a big ol' "Beware of Dogs" sign on the front gate. So it wasn't cheating to use something aimed at dogs...
He blew a dog whistle, and when all six came running, dropped a small canister of sleeping gas before they could start yapping too loudly. Problem solved.
He scanned the grounds as well as he could, looking for a tree near a window. Caraway had grown complacent in his years here, trees were growing where they should not. None were near the house itself though. With the dogs down, he sprinted for the tree that he could see that was closest to the house. From there, at least, he could get an idea of the house's security.
He climbed the tree as high as he could without bending branches, and got out his binoculars again. Focusing on the windows, he spotted motion detectors and sweeping security cameras. It looked tight, but obviously it couldn't be. Not for the gun to have been stolen and returned, with no one in the house the wiser. He increased the magnification and carefully scanned each window in turn.
Hmm, interesting. One of the motion detectors was disconnected; quite expertly, too. He only noticed it because he had his binoculars on maximum magnification and he was looking for it. He checked for nearby security cameras; yes, these were on a wide pan - he'd have a whole minute at the window to get in and close it behind him. Assuming the window wasn't locked, but since it was a storey up it probably wasn't. People tended to assume thieves wouldn't want the climb.
How to get up there...Zell laughed silently to himself. Whoever had disabled the motion detectors had had top-of-the-line gear on them; this was no amateur hack. Zell gagued the distance from the ground to the window - yes, junctioned to Griever he could make that leap easily. Whoever had disabled the motion detector had had equipment; Zell had only what he could fit in a few very tiny pockets in his body suit. But then, Zell was SeeD. And damn proud of it, too...
When the security window opened, Zell burst into motion. He didn't race across the yard, though. He took bounding, leaping flips that covered a lot more ground, and gave him momentum for the final jump. He got himself latched against the windowsill inside fifteen seconds, letting out his breath before he hit the building so as to make as little noise as possible. A thin knifeblade under the window pried it up and he was in, well before the minute was up.
He checked the motion detector from the inside, and realized that that was how it had been disabled. From the inside. Someone had already been in the house, and cut the wires. But if they were already inside, why cut them at all?
So they can come back later, Zell realized with a start. The gun was large; someone over for a social or business reason would be spotted walking away with that gun. But they could come in with a knife, and make sure that their next visit was unannounced. With a full minute, they could bring a light ladder with them and pull it up after themselves.
He walked down the hallway and gave an insolent wave to the guard by the display where the gun had hung. He'd gotten in here with nary a peep from security, proving that someone could have set Caraway up. Time to go collect on that pizza; Bella would love it.
* * * * * * * * * *
Irvine was standing on a beach, a stiff cold wind pulling hair out of his habitual ponytail and threatening to blow away his hat, as it whipped up little whitecaps on the water.
The beach near the orphanage, in Centra. A surprising place to be, given that the last thing he remembered was being zapped by a kid in Deling City.
Or perhaps not so surprising. There was a clarity to his surroundings, an emptiness, that told him this was one of those Dreams he'd had as a kid. The ones after his adoptive parents had been shot, where they would be alive again and talking to him, telling him things would be all right...
Irvine was older now. He looked back on those Dreams, those clear visions, and with adult consideration realized they were more than mere wishful thinking on the part of a bereaved child. His parents really had been talking to him, it seemed. Putting his dreams together with what Zell had told him about the fight with Leviathan...this had to be eternity. It had been more reassuring when he hadn't known, all told.
Had that little girl killed him? Would he be with his parents now...gosh there would be four of them wouldn't there, if he knew who to seek...he looked around. There was no sign of his adoptive parents. The Dreams had stopped when he went to Garden; maybe his parents figured he had had proper guidance at that point. Or maybe he'd just been too tired from cadet training to Dream.
He looked around and realized he wasn't alone. Perched on a high rock, the wind ruffling his hair and the white fur on his jacket's collar, was Squall. He was simply sitting there, still as his surroundings, one leg curled beneath him and the other drawn up so that his knee was almost under his chin, his arms wrapped loosely around it. He was watching Irvine, but didn't seem inclined to say anything. He was just there.
I think I would have preferred to see my parents, sighed Irvine to himself, but he gave Squall a nod. "You can quit playing statue," he said. "I see you now."
Squall just shrugged. "Why are you here, Irvine?" he asked, as though Irvine must have a reason.
"Do I need a reservation?" said Irvine. "This was my home too. But if you mean why here, as in the same place you are...it happens sometimes. Hell, for all I know I'm dead."
Squall's eyes flashed briefly, dark amber-gold - making Irvine realize that before they had been gray. "You're alive," he said definitively. "We have a...sense about these things."
"In that case I'm just asleep," shrugged Irvine. "Used to happen more often when I was a kid. Used to talk to my adopted parents here, in my dreams." He faced away from Squall, watching the waves hit the beach. "The question isn't why I'm here, Squall. The question is, why are you here? You made your choice, though I don't see Rinoa around. Why did you want to talk to me?"
"She's in the flower field," said Squall. "She knew you were here and sent me. Figured you'd have an easier time with me than her, Hyne knows why."
"What, no royal 'we'?" said Irvine, unable to keep bitterness out of his voice. "I'm flattered."
"It's not royal," said Squall, unruffled as always. "We are...inseparable. A small part of her is with us now, and a small part of me is with her now. We've learned how to adjust the balance enough to justify a singular pronoun sometimes. Right now...I'm mostly the Squall you knew. Just not completely that. It seems to be easier for you guys to deal with us when we...split up a bit."
Irvine still wouldn't look at him; it still hurt that they had abandoned their friends for...this. But since he was here, he might as well make use of it. "Yeah, I know. Zell's lousy at explaining things like that, but I worked out what he meant." He studied the clouds overhead as they flowed by. "Well, since for some reason I'm here, I might as well put the time to good use. Do you talk to the other GFs?"
"Would you be willing to talk to Diablos?"
"'Cause the last thing I remember before this happy trip down Memory Lane was being hit with Diablos' power by a little kid. If it's been stolen from Garden, I'm assuming it would know who its thief was."
"We are not junctioned," said a new voice behind Irvine and to his left. It startled him, and he jumped reflexively. He spun around to find himself confronted by a short young man with oriental features and a rather flamboyant outfit, whose eyes were a solid field of yellow gold - brighter than the amber-gold, cat-pupiled eyes Squall had when he spoke as Griever. He turned his head to Squall, and Irvine could see his hair in a straight braid down his back. "Hello again, Scarface," he said cheerfully. "So this is one of your friends?"
Irvine couldn't help it, he cracked up laughing. " 'Scarface'?" he asked. "Do you have any idea how long I've waited for someone to say that to his face?"
Squall stood up, and dismissed the nickname with a wave. "He's not teasing, Irvine, he just says that so he can tell us apart."
"Tell who apart?" asked Irvine, still trying to hold back a laugh. "You got a twin or something hiding under a rock?"
"No," said Squall flatly, and refused to elaborate.
"We aren't junctioned right now," the boy repeated. "Whatever hit you, it wasn't us."
"Which means you're Diablos," said Irvine, finally calm again - though a little grin kept fighting at the corners of his mouth. "Isn't there supposed to be two of you? Sorceresses are always pretty, and I'd hate to miss paying my respects."
"Irvine - " warned Squall, but too late. The boy didn't look it, but he was strong. He picked the sharpshooter up and threw him headfirst into the ocean. Irvine came up spitting sand and seawater.
"Your friend needs to learn how to be polite to a Sorceress," said the colorful boy to Squall, frowning. "If there's nothing else, we'll see you later."
Squall nodded, and the boy disappeared. Irvine waded to shore, thankful he hadn't been thrown so far out as to need to swim; with his coat and boots he'd have sunk like a rock. "Spunky kid," he said.
"A Guardian Force," said Squall. "It's best not to judge them by appearances."
Irvine, now on dry land again, began pulling his boots off and emptying the seawater out of them. "Yeah, I gathered that," he grumbled. "What'd he mean about being polite to Sorceresses? I don't think I ever bugged Rinoa half as much as you did at first."
"Different times had different attitudes," said Squall simply. "In general, act like you're addressing a deity - if it's too much, they'll tell you. You see what they do if it's too little."
Irvine scowled at him. "I am not going to talk to you like you're a god, Squall. Or Rinoa either."
"Didn't ask you to. I did say 'in general'. Tell me about this attack. If it isn't Diablos..." Squall frowned, and closed his eyes.
Irvine calmed down again, worried. "Yeah," he said. "I get ya. So...that whole can of worms is opened again." He took a deep breath. "I'm not going to like waking up, I think."
"You have to stop whoever's started this up again," said Squall, and there was something new in his voice now. If it had been anyone else speaking to him, Irvine might have labeled it 'fear'. "That power...you can't take it away from someone once it's given. If they've found a stabilizing agent, there will be war. It'll make the last two Sorceress wars look like a kid's game of wooden swords."
"I know!" snapped Irvine. "You think I don't know that? I worked with Selphie, we tried everything on the Leviathan..." he shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said. "I saw the effects but not the cause. That rooftop was cleaner than most windows. Lots cleaner than the windows right under it, that's for sure."
"Don't ask," was all Squall said, and looked out to sea. "Irvine...it has been good to see you again."
Irvine's hands balled into fists, and he kept his gaze firmly on the ground. "You abandoned us," he said. "You had friends, a family..."
"What did you tell Zell, when he said there might be a way to help Selphie?" asked Squall calmly. "We all have our price, Irvine. We're SeeD."
"All right," sighed Irvine. "I'll try to let it go. But since you can work in both worlds, I want a promise from you and Rinoa."
The gray in Squall's eyes shifted back to that rich amber-gold that meant the person Irvine was looking at was as much Rinoa as Squall. "Ask," said Griever. Irvine could even hear Rinoa's voice. Eerie.
Irvine took a deep breath. "Those of us left...some of us are starting families soon. You look after them, okay? SeeD's a dangerous life. You do whatever you have to, to keep them safe. More than you'd do for the rest of SeeD, I mean. No more orphans - make sure they've always at least got you."
Griever blinked slowly. "As much as we can do, we will do," it said. Once again Irvine caught a hint of something else in its voice, something out of place.
Irvine nodded. "Thanks," he said. "Now...I've probably got a few hours until I wake up, and it's gonna be hell from there on in. If you don't mind, I'd rather say hi to my folks with the time I have left."
Squall/Griever nodded, and vanished. Probably gone to the flower field, Irvine thought, and heard footsteps behind him.
"Hi mom, hi dad," he said with a grin, and began filling them in on life since his last Dream.
* * * * * * * * *
Zell returned to the hotel room with his arms full of hot pizza boxes. "Midnight snack time," he grinned. "Stupid security guard thought a SeeD couldn't get past his defenses."
Bella leaned back from her console and rubbed her eyes; Selphie was asleep on one of the beds. "Zell, I think we've got trouble," she said.
"Trouble?" Zell immediately deposited the pizza on a handy surface. "Lemme get out of this catsuit, man. I can't look an enemy in the eye when I'm feelin' exposed, y'know."
"Be quick," said Bella. "I'd have called you in, but I couldn't be sure if you'd finished your tests and I didn't want you to have to re-try the experiment because my radio alerted security. Irvine's disappeared."
Zell, who was in the process of pulling the catsuit off his ankles, lost his balance and tumbled to the floor - waking Selphie.
"Mmmmph?" she asked. Zell ungracefully leaped over the bed so as to continue changing out of Selphie's sight.
"Good timing, Selphie," said Bella cheerfully. "We have to find out what happened to Irvine."
"Something's wrong with Irvy?" said Selphie, instantly wide awake. "What're we waiting for then?"
Bella nodded in Zell's general direction, just as he got his shorts on. Standing up, he said, "You two quit lookin, man," as he blushed under his tan. "Bella, you got work to do, and Sef - good grief, Sef, Irvine'd have my tattoo on his mantlepiece. Now, what's goin' on, and do I have time to eat first?"
"What's going on is that Irvine's transmitter died about an hour ago, and he hasn't checked in all night," said Bella. "So, no - you really don't have time to eat first. We need to find out where he was taken to; all I know is the last place the transmitter worked. I'm hoping it's just muffled, and not dead, and when we're closer we can pick up the signal."
"Let's go," said Zell, now fully dressed.
* * * * * * * *
The world they sat in was not eternity. In the true infinity of the universe there exist many places outside the rules that physics or magic decree, and each Guardian Force lived in its own. Three voices, three minds, three dimensions of residence. One within time and space, one outside of time, and one outside of space. This was Griever's realm outside of space; the swirling purple-silver column that was the Griever ring itself. The only time another would see this realm would be when Griever pulled them here - for within this place its power was strongest. Here, when they were one, they were Griever. And when they chose, they were also just Rinoa and Squall, as they had been before they Joined.
Squall sat dejectedly against an ill-defined couch, gray eyes staring at nothing. Rinoa touched her fingers lightly to the back of his neck, listening to the turmoil within but not interfering. They came here when the conflicts between them needed resolution, for here they could not be separated even when their minds were entirely individual. Since Irvine's impromptu appearance, Squall had grown increasingly agitated within Griever, until a retreat here had been required or Rinoa would have been dragged in and the Guardian Force's power would have been compromised. If Zell needed them they would hear his call...but no other intrusion would be heard.
"Will you tell me what is wrong, Squall?" Rinoa asked quietly. "We may be needed soon, if Irvine is in as much trouble as he thought he was. We must be resolved." Unspoken was her worry that whatever it was, Squall had been able to keep it hidden from her. It wasn't supposed to be possible, not with their minds as meshed together as they had become.
Squall stood up and moved away from her, scowling as he paced. "I hear your thoughts too, Rinoa," he said. "And the reason I can hide this from you is you don't want to face it either." His right hand clenched over LionHeart's hilt. "What I wouldn't give right now to be free of the junction..." he shook his head as though trying to force his thoughts down a different track.
"Face what, Squall?" Rinoa asked, holding herself still. She, too, was growing afraid, but it was undefined fear. The fear of a child for a suspected monster in the closet, strong yet nebulous. "What is it that you see that you don't think I want to see?"
Squall stretched out an arm, palm forward, and between them an image appeared. Irvine's memory of the girl who had attacked him. "This is what sent Irvine here; a near-death experience I suspect, that reawakened an old gift. Look at her, Rinoa."
Rinoa knew that tone in his voice; if she didn't see what he was driving at, he would not be persuaded to explain it to her. They would be disjointed, their power crippled, until she understood.
She was a pretty girl, all told. Fine brown hair spilled down her shoulders to about the middle of her back. Her features were fine and soft, the shape of her eyes almost oriental but not quite. The color of those eyes could not be determined, for in Irvine's memory they glowed like Diablos' yellow orbs. She was richly dressed; someone had taken good care of her, but the expression on her face was one of cheerful maliciousness.
She was just about to tell Squall that she didn't understand, but when she looked back at him after staring at the image she started.
This girl had Squall's face. But how could that be? Laguna had neither remarried nor taken any lover, Raine was long dead, and Squall had always been faithful - her thoughts stumbled. Squall had never willingly taken any other to his bed but Rinoa - but the key word there was willingly.
Oh, Great Hyne. Rinoa backed away - from the image, from that terrible darkness in Squall's gray eyes - and tried not to retch. There was nothing in her stomach, her form a mere conjuration of thought, but the feeling of nausea was overwhelming. How... sick. "But...how?" she managed. "Quistis and Zell said they killed everyone there..."
"Obviously, at least one got away," said Squall emotionlessly. "She is the stabilizing agent, Rinoa. She wasn't infused with Diablos' power. She was born with it. She, and who knows how many others that this Detmer person has found." Self-loathing entered his voice as he spoke, a bitter self-hatred for being partly responsible, however unwillingly.
"You didn't do this, Squall," said Rinoa forcefully to that emotion. "Don't ever hold yourself responsible for this."
Squall lowered his arm and the image of the little girl vanished. "But I am," he whispered, turning away from her. "I didn't want to, they forced..." he stopped, took a deep breath. "She has to die," he said in a dead voice. "As her mother should have died...but I can't do it. I can't...kill her...I'd be worse than Laguna then, worse than Seifer ever was."
"They don't have to know," said Rinoa. "We never told them all that Alicia had done to you - they won't make the connection unless we tell them. We can sit back and let them take care of things. I'm sure Irvine's already planning to."
"And Zell?" demanded Squall. "If Zell calls on us, we have to obey. He hasn't done it yet but with this power loose he probably will soon. We lost Leviathan - he only has us to call on now. If he calls for Shockwave Pulsar..."
"We don't have to kill with it," said Rinoa soothingly. "We could...injure her maybe, knock her out..."
"Zell already knows how strong we are," said Squall bitterly. "You know as well as I do that if she does not die in the Shockwave it's because we chose not to kill with it. By now, Zell knows that too. What do you suggest we tell him when he realizes we didn't kill? She's already almost killed Irvine. She's not an innocent bystander we can choose to save."
"He's your friend, Squall," said Rinoa. "Surely he'll understand, if we explain."
"There you go using that word again," said Squall savagely, clearly angry. "I know what you mean by it, but you don't understand what they mean by it. By your standards, I don't have friends. You want me to repeat that? They're SeeD, Rinoa. SeeD kill their enemies no matter who those enemies are. Remember Quistis with the traitor in Garden?"
"Even this girl, Squall? And her half-brothers and sisters if they survived? Is that what this is about - are you ashamed that you can't bring yourself to kill her?"
That dart struck home; Squall's anger evaporated, leaving only despair. He slumped onto a chair formed of nothingness, and put his face in his gloved hands. "I only wanted children if they were your children," he said brokenly. "I tried to stop it, I did...I thought all the women died when SeeD stormed Alicia's base..."
Rinoa gave up; Squall was an expert at walling himself up, hiding behind words, but he couldn't hide from her now - not completely. She listened to his words and heard the truth behind them; he was ashamed because in his own mind the crime wasn't rape but adultery - he couldn't accept, even now, that events had been beyond his control there in Alicia's complex. In his way, Squall was trying to apologize for being unfaithful, and for lacking the courage to 'atone' for his crime by destroying the results.
Her guess was confirmed when he continued, "Irvine was angry at us for abandoning my father and sister..." Squall's voice took on a hint of laughter, the kind of laugh that he only ever made when skirting the edge of a deep, deep pit, "...but how much worse would it be if he knew the girl who attacked him is my daughter?"
Rinoa put her arms around him then, let her love for him flow through fingertips into his soul. "Squall," she said slowly, carefully, "it's all right that you don't want to kill her. You don't have to apologize for that. Frankly, I'd feel worse if you just decided to cut her head off without thinking twice. It's human, to want to protect your children - even in a case like this. And don't go thinking you're worse than Laguna, either, for not being there when she was born. Laguna and Raine were together by choice, out of love. Neither choice nor love tie you to your daughter - not yet, not unless you choose it. She isn't a gift you've given - she's a child stolen from your body."
Rinoa shook her head; there just wasn't any good way to say any of this. If Squall had a knack, it was for landing himself in situations where the truth couldn't be said but only felt, in the places of the heart and mind beyond words. She stood up then, took his hands in hers. "Come back with me, Squall," she said. "Be open to me. I'll help any way I can, and we will be whole again."
"Whole, perhaps," said Squall, "but maybe never sane." He tapped one finger against his forehead, over the scar Hyperion had left. "It doesn't go away, the break - doesn't heal as long as we're here and not in the world of time. So long as it's there, Griever is half-mad."
Rinoa smiled. "You're forgetting already that you barely feel it when we're joined," she said.
"That was before." Squall's pupils contracted, tiny black pinpoints in seas of gray, as though he were looking into the sun - or standing in a brightly lit room. "Now...it pulls at me...what if it takes you too?" There was worry in his voice, a fragility in the tone.
Rinoa frowned, understanding his point. Before he had seen the girl who must be one of his daughters, the break in his mind had been something he could cope with on his own - barely. Joined with Rinoa, their combined will was enough to render it almost insignificant. But this - this having those times be more than a memory to deal with at leisure - it widened the break, making it almost impossible for Squall to fight it alone. If she let it claim him, Griever would be half-mad; more than that, she would be left to fight the madness alone. If she returned with him now, though, there was no guarantee that it wouldn't happen anyway - the break claiming both of their minds.
"We will stay here," she said at last. "You can draw on the power here to help you. And I will do everything I can. We will fight it back again; outside of time it can't stay this bad - it must eventually go back to where it was before." At least, I hope so...
Squall conjured the image of the girl again, looking at it almost blankly. His voice was heavy as he said, "Irvine made us promise, no more orphans of our friends. It looks like in order to save their children, I'm going to have to kill my own."