On Earth as it is In Hell Part 2
"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, a alien force watching these signals, even today? What would a 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. Yes, Third Grade it was... 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 have run 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. "Trying. Still trying."
He managed to open 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 a 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.
Well, that's not good. It was fairly obvious that waking up would not be pleasant, but being buck ass naked was not something he was prepared for.
Doing his best with what he had to cover himself, he looked to Squall. "Why, by chance, am I naked?"
Squall was not particularly clothed himself, but luckily there was nobody else in the small concrete cell. "Intimidation. Discomfort from the cold," His aquiline eyes scanned the steel door with no bars that was apparently the only way out. Besides that, the cell was depressingly bare. "Their trying to break us."
Scott smiled despite the circumstances. "They'll have to try harder than this. So, your 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 inter-dimensional travel. But then, kill a insane sorceress from the future.... Tactfully, he left out the part of them being a Playstation game.
After he had finished, Squall looked up from his contemplation of the floor and then spoke the question that Scott had been hoping to hear. "How do we get you back?"
Scott shook his head. "I was hoping you could tell me. But first, where are we and why are we here?"
Squall shifted to a more comfortable position. He wasn't sure how much information to trust this man with. "I believe we have been kidnapped by the Galbadian government. You were captured along with us."
"So they probably think I'm a C-thing too, huh?"
"So, 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 their compartment, which would have just been the same sort of problems Scott and Squall where having, except for Irvine's obvious presence.
"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. Lets start."
The three moved around the room, trying to keep their backs to one another (except Irvine, who wasn't really trying) and find away 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 way out.
"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. At all. Squall's team was late, and there had been no reports from Galbadia. His frenetic energy surging through his veins, he 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 all! 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 permission 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."
"Whatever. 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 in common 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 the 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."
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 your 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 it's usual place at Balamb, and a storm several miles out to sea cast eerie flashes of light 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 a real 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.
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 big guns. 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 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 to move. He stood up in what he hoped was a firm posture and faced his jailer. He knew they had moved Squall and himself seperately 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, to be brief, not cool.
Dim lights lit 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 Scott hadn't noticed.
The room revealed was like the rest, except auditorium size and lined with chairs. 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 thought glancing 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.
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.
"Looks like you SeeD aren't so big anymore, hmm? 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. He was just showing who was in power. 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 PSX character. Would he talk or not? Perhaps the game had been wildly inaccurate. Whatever happened, this could only get ugly.
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."
"No!" Selphie gasped.
Nobody else made any sound, but that was enough to make Scott uneasy. When the man in black turned to give orders, he leaned over at Squall who was sitting next to him.
"Their gonna set me on fire?"
Squall's grave eyes focused on him. "A bit more controlled. Magic."
"Ahh. Wonderful." 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.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"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, or some illegal alien looking for a minimum wage. 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 it's 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.
But taking isn't always easy. The owners of the things being taken are sure to object. And whether it be in Watership Down or Ender's Game, a fight will ensue. As always, to the victor go the spoils.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
There was really no way around it. After a good 15 seconds of solid thought, Scott was still in a world of crap.
The scenery did nothing to distract from his unavoidable doom. He could only stare at the concrete surroundings for so long until his brain wandered back to the forthcoming torture. These thoughts coming 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. None. Oh, shit.
The jailer returned from a room behind the stage who's door Scott couldn't see. He was about to ask Squall if he could when the man in black set down a black case, slamming it imposingly down on the podium. Scott hid a smile. The jailer tried so hard to be intimidating it was almost pathetic.
From the rather large case he drew a fairly small instrument Scott could not identify. He supposed it was a flamegun of some sort until he remembered the magic part of it. A focus device, then. Something to direct the magic. He hadn't seen anything like that in the game, but then he hadn't seen a lot of the game.
The jailer drew the object and walked down the stairs until he was standing in front of Scott. 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.
"Suck it, ass clown."
The jailer only smiled. He reached for Scott's arm, and jabbed the needle-like point on the device into Scott's arm. He gritted back a gasp at the pain.
"Stop!" Selphie screamed. "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 shouting. 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, Well, this isn't so 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. He was somewhat hurt, expecting at least cries for mercy from his newfound companions. Then he looked down at the floor.
Lying in a charred crater of burnt blood, his face contorted in agony, the jailer was most 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 behind the chairs, gun firing a precise two shots. One of the six guards fell over, clutching a gaping stomach wound. The second shot hit the other guard on his right in a textbook perfect head wound, the powerful .45 blowing a 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. 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 assault rifle and pistol. Unable to fire the assault gun single handed, he fired the pistol and dove behind the podium where Selphie was crouched, their chairs banging together, making it difficult. Irvine finally managed to cover himself by offering only his chair protected back to the line of fire. 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 automatic fire at whim, chipping concrete and shredding the thinly padded seats.
Selphie sent a blast of fire from the podium, forcing the guards to take cover 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 from the chairs, 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's rather ample assets were a 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 chair and was crawling along the aisles in a zig-zag fashion, keeping just out of sight. Afraid covering fire would only draw attention his way, Scott decided to meet Squall halfway.
"Quistis," He whispered. 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 right 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 leftmost 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 was throwing himself behind the last row of seats, giving him a final shot on the two guards. The guard nearest Scott saw him immediately, and turned to deliver a killing round to Squall.
Scott reacted by leaping to his feet, emerging over the seats in a almost graceful arc, raising his pistol, the shot echoing in his ears as everything seemed to slow down. The shell ejected from the gun lazily, floating in it's 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 it's flight was arrested by the wall, spattering warm liquids in a fan-like pattern.
Scott saw none of this. After he landed awkwardly in the seats he jumped the last row into the back, 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.
"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. "Suck it, ass clown?"
Scott just shook his head, unable or unwilling to answer.
Irvine reached up to tip the hat that wasn't there. "My compliments on your eloquence. Words, I'm afraid, are not my forte'."
Selphie pushed past the still posing Irvine, giving him a withering look on the way, heading towards Squall who was heading 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 able to serve their purpose.
Of all the things most suited for silent walking, Scott would have pegged bare feet as one of the best. Instead he unhappily discovered 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, which made sense. Who would have known that in the hours since his arrival he would be attacked, brought in for torture, and then inadvertently trigger a unplanned escape? There was nothing left but to follow through, at least until they could find their way from the clutches of the unknown antagonist.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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 still empty though lit. It seemed to him that the air seemed 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 the hard work of digging and pouring. Digging dirt and pouring 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, unfamiliar. Last night none of constellations made any sense. The need to be behind walls was strong, and the men worked harder for it.
Julian was in his tent, waiting for the command central 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 prepare to venture beyond the area of arrival. Assuming the sun rose and set in the same directions as the one of Earth did, there position was calculated, but the map 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 was a two islands, one larger, one small, and what Hendrow thought was the mainland, the only body of land 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 it's 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 at all. And Squall was still gone for all of it.
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 forcefully 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, tried so many times before. She with all her power could not see to Galbadia, across many miles of water and land. And if she could, Galbadia was so very large. One body and essence so very small, 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 a unthinking fear over her lack of control, 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 mind touched for a 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 at composure.
What was this?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Dimensional fabric wavered, tore slightly, then compacted and rebound back into it's 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. Soon, this reality would reject this Knot, spitting out into another dimension, ridding itself of the anomaly before it became a threat.
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. Luckily, the safeguards built into her universe would soon reject the problem, handing it to something else. Hyne settled back to watch, and secretly hoped her untested defenses were enough to fix a Knot of this magnitude.
"I think love is something you have, but don't always know it. Look at Squall. Why else would you jump out of a space station?"
-Irvine Kinneas, The SeeD and the Sorceress
Ender's Game. A novel that tells the tale of a boy torn from everything he knows to a place strange, terrifying, and outside of all experience. Is this so different from anyone's life? Thrown from circumstance to circumstance, events wild and beyond control. Maybe we end were we want, maybe not. Maybe the story ends somewhere unknown, but just as good or even better than the destination you set for yourself. Or not. Scott is a man which fate has, in the most real of senses, kicked in the head. Groping for composure or a handle on this world, he cannot know what is to come. Can we ever really?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Zell contained his exuberance long enough to get out of the Headmasters office, long enough to get to the dormitories, but not long enough to get into his room. Three feet away from his door, the joy had to be spread.
The victorious cry reverberated up and down the halls, startling more than one student and earning him several reproachful stares. Shrugging these off, he gleefully keyed open his door and practically skipped over to his dresser.
The cause for his obvious euphoria was a set of orders, crumpled and shoved into his left pocket. These orders came from Cid, conceding the need for a investigation and giving Zell permission to take one other SeeD operative along if necessary. Packing in a hurried frenzy, he finished quickly and sped down the hall toward the library, where he knew Rinoa would be studying for one test or the other. SeeD exams could be grueling, and requesting a library pass could give a student much needed cram time.
Zell wasn't very observant even when he wasn't in a rush. He had just entered the library at a dead run when he ran right into the library girl, Amber. Books flew in random patterns as they both fell to the floor. Getting up, Zell immediately began scrambling about on his hands and knees, grabbing the fallen books and stacking them in a lopsided pile. Amber was still picking herself up from the floor when he finished and, giving out a quick 'I'm sorry', ran past her into the reading area.
He might not have been so hasty, but Amber was always, well, weird around him. He supposed she might like him, but his heart was set on another.
Rinoa was as predicted, hunched over a massive tome of Centra history. Smiling in anticipation, Zell moseyed over to her side.
She looked up from her studies. He could tell she hadn't really been working, her eyes far away. Man, was he gonna cheer her up.
"I was up in Cid's office today, and he gave me permission to go check on Galbadia team, aaaaaand," He gave out the punchline. "I can take one-other-SeeD-operative with me!"
Excitement became confusion, became an instant vaporization of euphoria when he saw the look on her face and realized what he had forgotten all along.
"I'm not a SeeD yet Zell."
She hadn't needed to say it, but there it was. Zell's personality came through and impossible hope welled.
"I'll go to the headmaster, I'll ask him-"
She cut him off with a sad shake of her head.
"I already did Zell. He asked me to meet him, he said," She bit her lip, understanding but not wanting to. "That with my power.. I'm a Sorceress, Zell. Galbadia wouldn't want me there, they might panic, they might..." Hurt Squall.
Zell slumped in a nearby chair. His eyes met her.
"All right," He said. "But I'm not taking anyone else along. I mean, this is pretty important, right?"
The moment turned awkward, them now looking away from each other. With nothing more to say, Zell stood up to leave.
"Be careful." Bring him back.
He left, and she sat there for awhile, wishing success, fearing what might happen, frustrated she couldn't help. Or could she?
Since the night before she hadn't touched or used her GFs, still uncertain, not knowing what had happened. Still, there was a time for everything.
She went to her room, locking the door and sitting in a chair, facing the window. Closing her eyes, she once more reached out with her mind, flexing her power, feeling the aura of it pulsing through her. She reached for Ifrit, then stopped, hesitating. She moved away and touched Leviathan. She gasped as the same feeling came over her, expanding, ripping away restraints she hadn't known were there, stretching her humanity.
Fighting it, she forced her mind back into the boundaries, this time controlling the GF enough to focus the surge. Then a voice.
I apologize. I did not mean to bend your psyche so.
Rinoa wildly cast about with her thoughts, trying to find the entity invading her mind. She had been positive no one could break into her aura, the power of Sorceress would be required. Then she realized that the voice was not coming into her mind, but rather already in her mind.
Yes, it is I. You reached for me, did you not?
But this is.. Why did Ifrit not speak to me? I mean, so.. Fluently.
If a GF could chuckle, then Leviathan did.
Ifrit is rash and fiery as his element. His contact is simple. He is sorry for any harm done to your mind, he did not mean to rush you so.
Rinoa hadn't known that GFs had personalities.
I'm okay, he was helpful in his own way.
Then let it be known that I can be even more so. Articulate your need to me.
'Articulate your need to me?' GFs were also apparently rather formal. She dredged up three years of speech and etiquette lessons from her childhood as a member of the privileged in Deling.
I have a need that you assist me in the search for a single essence.
Leviathan laughed again.
There is no need to conform your speech for me, child. I have no ears and no sensibilities to speak of.
Help me find Squall.
Of course child.
This time the trip was not so rough or fast. Given almost total control, Rinoa sped towards Deling only gently guided by Leviathan. When they approached Deling, Leviathan stopped them both, suspended.
What is it Leviathan?
Rinoa could sense a sort of unease in Leviathan, making her uncomfortable. If a GF was worried, she should be on guard.
Leviathan gave off a signal the equivalent of a mental frown.
There is a disturbance here. Ifrit spoke of something like this before, but it did not stop him. But now the... Stuff of things is torn, knotted. This prevents us from getting closer, for there is nothing there for us to traverse. Strange, I have never encountered anything of this magnitude.
Rinoa felt helpless, unable to reach Squall, who was somehow in that mental block.
Leviathan, will this affect normal people? People who don't touch this plane?
Only if the Knot becomes severe enough to rupture. Otherwise, it is apparent only to us.
Relieved, Rinoa decided on her next best option.
Lets find Zell.
I believe he is at the Balamb docks. Shall we go there?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Zell tapped his foot impatiently, waiting for the boat to arrive. This mission was undercover, so no official SeeD transport could be used. His orders gave him just enough credit to use standard civilian travel methods without dipping into his own pocket.
"Hmm?" Zell turned around, expecting some native to have recognized him. There was no one looking at him, or anyone by him. The other people on the dock were several piers down, fishing or waiting for other boats. Everyone else was just passing by.
Shrugging it off as the wind, he turned back to the ocean.
"Okay," He glared around, earning him several strange glances from the men on the docks. "Who the hell said that?"
Zell, it's me, Rinoa!
"Rinoa!?" Zell almost gave himself whiplash scanning the docks for her. "Where are you?"
I'm not here, I'm talking to you from somewhere else!
Zell laid his bags down, scratching his head. "Oh really? You know what I think? I think you just snuck down here because you want to see Squall."
He took several step towards the nearest building, in front of which several stacked barrels made a conspicuous hiding place. "Am I getting warmer?"
Zell! Stop it and listen to me!
"AH-HA!" He shouted as he dove for the barrels, knocking them over. To his surprise, no Rinoa.
One of the fishermen called from down the docks. "You okay there son?"
Zell ignored him, pacing in front of the fallen barrels.
"But how?" He argued, apparently to himself from all the bystanders points of view. A mother shopping for fish was edging her young daughter away from him.
"I'm here, your in the Garden, this doesn't make any sense!"
Trust me, I found a way. I'll be following you around for the trip.
"If you can be invisible or whatever, why don't you go find Squall?"
I can't reach him, there's some sort of field that prevents me.
"Oh great, another Sorceress."
He had been kidding, but became concerned when she didn't answer.
No. I would know if there was another. I can sense power like mine, GFs and magic. I couldn't not sense another Sorceress.
"Well, okay then."
I'll keep in touch.
Then she was gone. Zell picked up his things, marveling at this new discovery. He walked back to his place at the pier. Humming to himself, he noticed that everyone who had not fled was staring at him, wide-eyed. He frowned.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Scott rolled over, desperately trying to find comfort where there was none. The cold concrete was not only hard, but the surface was curved and vaguely damp. He gave up, propping himself uncomfortably against the tunnel wall, back curved, legs straight and head bent with the sloping pipe. He and the others were camped in an abandoned piping project, some sort of water system that had never been connected or completed. The tube they lay within was quite large, at least twelve by twelve feet for the actual hole and forty something feet long. Despite this, the wall still sloped to much for Scott to get a comfortable head rest.
He didn't know what time it was. Even if he had his watch the time might not be accurate. How long were the days here, or nights? How many days to a month or year? The planetary movements here were a mystery to him. Maybe he could ask Squall, or someone more approachable, like Quistis. He vaguely remembered she had been the smart one in the game.
What Scott didn't know was that everyone was awake, lost in thought. In the moments before full awakening, things become apparent. The moment passes, but for now, all they have is what is true in themselves.
Squall was on the far side of the pipe, just as Scott was on the other end. Squall thought of the mission, thought of the possible perpetrators, enemies, and how to escape. A difficult task this was, but his friends had never failed to pull through. And so I depend on others again. He thought mostly of Rinoa. What you had becomes painfully clear when it's not there. The sound of her voice, the feel of her hair, all came back in detail. She brought out the best in him. And when they were alone, sometimes he could forget everything the world told him he had to be, and just be what he was. Maybe he could never be like Zell or the others, talking, openly laughing, socially competent. But Rinoa gave him room for change. In a very real sense, he was only complete with her.
Quistis was next to Scott. In the night she had unconsciously pressed herself against him, seeking warmth in the cavernous space. She had woke before him, and moved away. He seemed a nice guy, but she didn't care for him that way. He might misunderstand. That seemed the way of it now days. No one seemed to catch her eye, not since Squall. It had been hard to admit to herself that she didn't really love him. Doing so destroyed a center part of her concept of herself, her attraction to Squall had seemed a constant, a romantic pastime. But no more. Truly alone without even the illusion of love to comfort her. Perhaps it didn't have to be so, but.. She had never been good at such things. She knew many people at Garden found her attractive, and she could have any one of the Trepies. But the Trepies had nothing but hero worship, and her attractiveness was offset by her authority figure, a strong counter that discouraged both lust and sincere interest. She hadn't had the courage or assertiveness to not turn down the offers that had been made.
Selphie and Irvine lay in the middle, not together, but not too far apart. Irvine had considered getting closer, but her recent attitude made him wary of trying. He reflected on their past together, the good and the bad. He still wasn't sure of his feelings towards her, honest enough to admit to himself he wasn't ready to be serious with her or anyone else. The game still seemed exciting, the image of the ladies man his trademark. Someday he would lose the label, but it seemed to not be the right time now. Still, her distance was worrying. Had he given offense? Irvine agonizingly went over his various doings in the previous months, searching for some discrepancy. She knew his occasional advances towards other women were only a game, a game between the two of them. He hadn't really seen anybody else, but did she need some more reassurance? He didn't know, but this mission probably wasn't the time to find out.
Selphie had her half of the problems with Irvine. She liked him, she did, and at first being his casual girl had been the best thing ever. But the magic faded. When every girl seems to get the same attention you do, how do you know you're special to him? She knew that he wasn't a bad person, it was just his way. He had even joked about with her, made it clear that he wasn't really serious. But neither was she. She knew he didn't love her, she didn't love him. All they had was a mutual attraction and a friendship. Maybe just a friendship would be good. And there was... Zell. Zell had always just been a friend, but... Sometimes she just liked watching him, the way he smiled, talked, moved. She was on unexplored ground, unsure of where her feeling lay, and unsure of where his. She just didn't know about Irvine, or Zell. These thoughts had consumed her for some time. She knew it made her pensive, and noticeably not her usual self. It was confusing Irvine too, although she hadn't yet seen that. Torn between two uninformed decisions, Selphie shivered on the tunnel floor.
Scott was coping, which is all that can really be said. Unfamiliar faces, names only read in a game. No McDonalds, Sony, Best Buy, Old Country Buffet. He knew that when the first person stood, there would be a meeting of sorts, a discussion of events and plans ahead. He didn't know how the jailer died. He hardly knew how he came to be here, a story which only Squall knew, and would have to be repeated for the benefit of the rest. The part about the game, well... He considered telling it, then decided against it. Not only would it raise doubts of his sanity, he had left his 'proof' back in the hotel, the Final Fantasy VIII manual that had accidentally been in the pocket of his pants, put there, he suspected, by his nephew Brandon, who had been visiting with the rest of the family the day before the experiment and had brought his Playstation. Which reminded him, that if he ever was able to go back home, to buy Bushido Blade, which was quite fun. Rolling over again, he waited.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Hendrow smiled in the manner of a wealthy uncle, pleased to see the rest of his family and generous with it. He strolled the perimeter, noting the excellent progress and giving praise wherever he thought spirits were lagging. Chuckling heartily at the high walls surrounding him, he walked back to the completed bunker, traversing the tent covered green to the base. The only problem thus far had been the lack of space- the wall had to be extended, there were too many men for the space previously planned. The bridge had been behind schedule, but the boys on Earthside had managed to deliver the pylons in time. Now the walls could be completed in a matter of days.
After the walls were finished, a massive transportation of manpower would result, and the first forays into civilization could occur.
Hendrow had just reached the stairs to descend into the headquarters when a messenger came up to him from the bottom of said stairway.
"Mr. Hendrow," The messenger saluted, returned by Hendrow. "Mr. Foss requests your presence."
Hendrow smiled genially. So, Julian finally wished to talk of further plans. "I'm heading there now."
Waving off the messenger, Hendrow made his way through the main hallway towards the elevator. In the interests of speed and simplicity, the bunker was simply built. There were five floors, each deeper into the earth. Each floor consisted of a two hallways crossing each other like a plus sign. If looking at a flat blueprint, there were two elevators on each floor, one on either end of what on the blueprint would be the vertical hallway, save the first floor, which had only one elevator and a set of stairs at the other end. The horizontal hallway was dead end on both ends. All hallways had numerous doors leading off to their respective rooms. While the basic concrete structure was complete, the internal systems such as plumbing, electricity, radar and all other functions were still under construction, due to be completed within the week. Julian had hundreds of technicians working shifts to complete the bunker on time.
Taking the elevator down to the fifth floor, which was currently the only completely functioning area, he walked down the corridor and opened the door to Julian's office. The inside might as well have been his office back in New York. Either the whole office had actually been transplanted or every detail had flawlessly been attended to. Closing the door behind him, Hendrow comfortably seated himself across from Julian.
As always, there was a moment of silence while Julian finished with the papers he had been intently studying.
"Well now," Julian said, looking up from his work. "We have made fine progress, Michael."
"Indeed we have. Our workers have been most industrious."
"Quite. Tell me Michael, what do you think our next move should be?"
Hendrow wasn't fooled, he had known Julian too long. He knew Julian had already decided what to do, but as a friend had decided to ask for his input.
"I have been," Hendrow pulled the strategy guide. "Studying these maps for some time now, and, it's interesting- there seem to be relatively few centers of civilization. You see, this map shows very few cities. Indeed, even the walkthrough doesn't really list that many locations even though it explores the world in depth. These people have been through some fascinating things. I hope to meet them."
Julian gave a slight smile. "You will Michael. But we cannot be sure how this is going to go. We may find that conquest is, ah, not in our interests. However, I believe we won't find it necessary to hold back."
"Well, their 'magic', as it is said, will be quite ineffective for one thing. For another, the game guide and the game itself are not entirely accurate. You see, while the this world does manifest itself in ours as the good Gallern said, he did not predict the distortion that would occur. We get the basic story, perhaps, but we lose quite a lot of it. It is, after all, a game. What about all the times they slept? Went to the bathroom? They have to eat three times a day, Michael, they don't have hit points."
"I see. So, there are more cities than this?"
Julian shrugged. "I imagine we will find what you would expect from countries of their size and technology. It will vary."
"So we will not have a small, easy to control population."
"A population doesn't have to be small to control it, Michael. And this is not an overnight undertaking, nor do we have to aim for world domination. If there is some way to harness this magic as an energy source, or perhaps just for it's basic function, we will have more power and money than we know what to do with. But lets not take over the world and find we have nothing to do with it."
"Then this world does not have the mineral wealth we had hoped for?"
"We've made only a few tests, and only in this area," Julian said, pulling several thick folders out of his desk as he did so. "But according to our research division this world is just as mineral rich as ours, and probably just as exploited. We're not dealing with stone age natives, Michael. But lets not give up hope. First we need to take something, any area of land or country. From studies of the game and other sources we have concluded that Galbadia would be our best bet. The country is politically unstable, with no President, ruled only by a weak cabinet of former Congressmen. It is also quite centralized."
"If you captured Washington D.C the government would not fall, and there would be immediate retaliation. If we capture this, 'Deling', the government will be ours. Simple. The history we have recovered tells us that Galbadia changes governments often, and uprisings and revolts are commonplace. Perfect. If we take over in the most quick and painless manner possible, the way of life for the masses might not even be interrupted at all."
Hendrow felt better about the prospects, but shifted uncomfortably in his seat at the thought of full-scale fighting. Julian might have enough money to hire a small army, but it was still only a small one.
Julian sensed this. "Relax, Michael. Their military is a joke, devastated by raids from Esthar right after the time period when the game ends. As you've read, one of the central military hubs, the Missle Base, was also destroyed. And if we take Deling, we won't even have a fight. Their military will be our military."
"They will follow people from another world?"
"They followed a Sorceress Michael. I don't believe they'll have any problem with us. To a soldier, a leader is a leader. Besides, we're not going to tell them that. Our spies in Deling are gathering enough information to create identities for us."
"How in the world did you train spies enough to pass as commoners?"
"All of ours spies were given copies of the manual for careful study and classes from our researchers on the local weather and such. We then trained them to fit in the small villages and towns just around this area. They won't know a few bits of common knowledge such as legends or much of history, but if they speak carefully and don't make themselves conspicuous, no one will know better."
Hendrow sat back in his chair, wiping his forehead. "This is all quite amazing. You've really planned this well."
"I have to Michael. And besides, there is no excuse for the intelligent mind that does not think ahead. These events will all take place soon Michael. Within the week, we will be standing in the Deling Senate Hall."
Hendrow savored the thought. Then another one occurred to him. "You speak of magic being harmless. Is the game so inaccurate that this magic is not used offensively as it appears?"
"No Michael, it is. Fire magic will burn a man and Ice will freeze him. But not us, or anyone else who came from Earthside. You see, it has to do with relative physics. Even I don't completely understand it, and I suspect the scientists don't either for all their assurances. While gravity, time, wind even, are all native to our world, there is no magic. Our bodies are made of mostly the same stuff as those here, but not completely. Our matter is incompatible with magic. It cannot touch us in any way. Of course, the down side to that being we cannot 'junction' GFs or use these offensive spells. To our matter, the very stuff of which we are made, none of it exists."
"Then how do we harness magic and still be able to use it as energy or otherwise back on Earthside?"
Julians sighed, hands rubbing his temples. "That is our problem Michael. We don't know. Our scientists are still studying matter compatibility back in our Earthside lab. This a new field to science, so some of the best researchers in the world jumped at the chance to work on it, but it may be years, even decades, before a solution is found."
Julian leaned back once more and shuffled his folders. "But no matter. We must live in the present, and work on the current problems. Please Michael, go talk to Foreman Valesquez. We are behind schedule for our electric wiring, and he needs these blue prints, if you will."
"I'll see you tonight Michael. We brought in a new chef, dinner should be excellent." And Julian returned to his papers, contemplating his new empire.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"We were always too busy fighting to worry about getting killed. Well, at least I was. I guess I don't think much when I'm pounding on something."
-Zell Dincht, The SeeD and the Sorceress
What is death? The end, the beginning? The beginning of the end? Death takes many meanings in many cultures, but one thing is certain- once your are dead, it is a permanent state. Perhaps this is where the fear lies. The fear of the unknown, the fear of pain after death, Hell. The fear of permanency, a state irreversible. The same fear some get when they consider marriage, that commitment. Unlike marriage, death isn't a choice. But like marriage, death can come before it's time.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Scott sat on one side of the circle, all eyes on him. A bit of light filtered through an unseen grate, the only indication of daytime. This faint light did nothing to improve the look of their temporary residence. Slime glittered dankly on the ceiling, and the occasional drip kept eyes watchful.
He ran a nervous hand through his hair, everyone waiting for him to talk. Shifting to a slightly more comfortable position, he decided to give out some answers.
"If you want it from the first thing," He began. "It starts with a scientist, a guy named Frederick Gallern."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Zell was crammed into the rear bathroom of the train he had taken from Dollet. His hair was now brown, green contacts in his eyes. His tattoo had been covered with a special makeup, a process that was surprisingly painful. He looked at himself in the mirror as he finished. I look like Selphie's brother.
He was glad he wasn't though. That would have made his feelings towards that certain femme unacceptable. The invocation of Selphie's name brought a mix of feelings, but mostly a reminder of his mission. To find her.
Grabbing his gray briefcase by the handle, he tugged at the collar of his restricting business suit and stepped out of the rear compartment, making his way back to his seat. He had gone to the bathroom to fix one of his contacts that had somehow slipped out of position and had been digging painfully into his eye. He didn't really like disguises, at least not that much. They appealed to his dramatic side, but they were usually uncomfortable and sometimes pretty lame. This one wasn't all that bad considering.
Zell's grasp on his assumed persona had always been tenuous at best. When he reached his aisle to find someone else in his seat, he was hard pressed to remember he was now a calm businessman.
Rinoa, as a spectator, wondered why they had cast Zell as a professional, fairly rational character.
Zell bit back a angry cry and cleared his throat, searching for some suitably suave way to ask for his seat back. The people in the row turned to look at him.
Fixing his gaze in what he hoped was a steely stare, Zell spoke.
"Excuse me. Your in my seat."
He felt this was a pretty good way to start. What he hadn't counted on was the total lack of response from the other passenger. Ignore me, will you!!
Angrily, he dropped his facade and opened his mouth for a blistering denouncement of the strangers parentage, personal hygiene and sexual preferences when his speech, or rather thoughts, were arrested by Rinoa.
Don't Zell, there's been a change of plans.
Trying to salvage what was left of his dignity, Zell turned up his nose and marched back down towards the bathroom to reach relative privacy. He faced the wall and tried not to look crazy.
Jump off the train.
I think that was pretty self-explanatory. Twelve miles up there's a switching station. You need to jump before you get there.
Now your just repeating yourself. Look, it's not quite noon there yet. I think you'll want to enter under the city while there's still light.
"Rinoa, this is a nice suit. Why the hell do I want to crawl through the sewers when I can go through the front gate?"
Because there is a bunch of Galbadia soldiers waiting at the next station to take you in.
"Son of a bitch! Tell me these things!"
I just did. Hurry, you better jump soon.
Running to the caboose, Zell pushed passed a startled steward and promptly threw himself off the train. Of course, this did not allow time for planning or preparation for impact. It took Zell awhile to stop rolling.
"Oh, Hyne... My spine... Hey, that rhymes."
Okay Zell, that was real subtle. Shove your way past one of the staff and hurl yourself off without a second thought? Your briefcase is about thirty feet to your left. I somehow think you might need your gloves, so stop being paralyzed and get up.
"Man, your nice. You said I had to hurry!"
Maybe not so much hurry. You might have been killed.
No, forget it. I'm sorry, I should have told you that you didn't have to jump right away. Do you mind if you get dirty now? I mean, your suit is already ruined.
"Yeah, it is," He grumbled, getting his now battered case and removing the false bottom to reach his gloves. At least she sounded sheepish. "So how do I get to the sewers?"
The field is interfering even more this close. I can't give you the exact position, but there is a water tower around here somewhere, I think it was never finished, incomplete public works or something. If it's still standing, you should be able to find it.
"Uh, Rinoa? I'm no plumber, but I know water towers don't connect to the sewers."
Yeah, but these old water tunnels should take you at least to the city.
"Are you sure there's a way into them? This sorta counts on the pipes being exposed."
"Oh, like I have a choice?"
He didn't get an answer. Trudging up the embankment, he crossed the tracks and saw the tower, half collapsed and almost hidden behind a grove of trees.
Upon reaching the tower, he discovered Rinoa had been correct. The concrete base had cracked and split wide open when it had fallen sometime in the past. The pipes weren't as large as a sewer tunnel. In fact, he would have to go the way on his stomach.
"Rinoa," He shook his head. "This isn't going to work."
It has too! If you go by foot, they'll catch you in no time, they won't think of these pipes as a way to the city.
"That's because this pipe is impossibly small! It would probably take me more than a day to get to the city by crawling. No way. I'm walking man, enough is enough."
Zell! If you- oh..
"What?" He said, concerned. "What's, 'oh'?"
It doesn't matter. The soldiers are making their way here in a jeep, the steward must have told them when you bailed.
If you run, I can guide you to avoid them. I think if you make the station, you might be able to get into the sewers.
"Awww, man. I hate sewers."
Not a pleasant destination, but you've got to. Hurry, cut around that thing of trees, the jeep is only a mile down the tracks.
"Full speed ahead!"
Zell shot off, sprinting behind the trees and circling until he was hidden. Glancing up at the sky, he noted it was almost noon. It would have been easier to hide at night. The shadows also wouldn't work to his advantage. What he really needed was that jeep.
He began forming a plan in his mind. He didn't share this with Rinoa, she would only tell him not to.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Not long now. Hendrow's enthusiasm had at first seemed indefatigable, but now he was wearying of watching the men move like machines as they went through the monotonous task of pouring concrete. And more and more concrete. A person could only look at so much concrete before it all became one big gray blur. And frankly, there wasn't anything else to do.
Hendrow was rescued by a summons from Julian. He wondered why. He didn't have bad news to report, or for that matter, good news. The final tasks were being completed by workers in hard hats with cement trucks and sluices. The planning phase was long over.
Hendrow was also tired. This shouldn't have been a problem as all executive officers had a good ten hours of sleep time allotted. Despite this, it was difficult to sleep. Rolling, tossing, turning, sleeping pills and soothing songs. He wondered if it was the lack of normal sounds. A car passing on the freeway, horns in the distance, the ever present humming of machinery everywhere, that ever present squeal emitted by electronics, just a notch above human hearing. He had heard of things like this, campers from the city unable to sleep without the ambiance. Yet, it seemed to him to be more than just the absence of the ringing in his ears present in high tech society. Something deeper, in the psyche. Something that constantly reminded, you are not at home. You do not belong here. A alien God whispering in his ear.
Nonsense of course, Julian would never hold with it. Hendrow smiled at his own foolishness as his confidence returned. Julian knew what to do, he always did. Alien gods indeed. Preposterous.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Hyne struggled to close another tear, no sooner finishing before another opened. This disturbance was tiring her, she had never been so close to her limits. Still seeking the impossible, she grasped the mind of another Outsider, trying to bend it to her will. She could not, her power unable to maintain a hold, grip slipping free, only briefly touching him.
<GO HOME!> She shouted, throwing the message to the cosmos. All around the world, people left their jobs early, children skipped school to run back to their houses. The Outsiders rode this mental blast with only slight consequences, a few frowning, even rethinking their decisions about coming to this new world, receiving unvoiced doubts. But that was all.
Frustrated, Hyne turned back to her constant struggle.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"So," Scott let out a breath. "That's the end."
There was a silence as the group digested the information. It had taken over an hour for the telling. Scott had given them the uncut version, rather than the shortened tale he had related to Squall in the cell. Again, minus the game part.
Quistis was skeptical. There wasn't really any reason to doubt his story, but some things just didn't fit.
"I've read some similar theories by Dr. Odine and others, but if your from another universe," She questioned. "Then how did you know who we were?"
Shafted. Scott hunted for a suitable lie to tell.
"Well, your pretty famous, and I saw you guys in a, uh, Deling City newspaper. You know, an article."
Quistis raised an eyebrow. "What was it called?"
"I forget." Lame, lame, lame!
"How co-" She was cut off by Selphie.
"Quistis, leave him alone! He's telling the truth, it makes sense."
Quistis was exasperated by her apparently instant acceptance of Scott's ludicrous tale.
"Why Selphie? Where's the proof?"
Selphie looked Scott in the eyes, hands on her hips. "Okay. Who is the main male oh-so-hot character in Balamb House?"
Selphie turned triumphant to Quistis. "See!"
"He might just not watch the show Selphie."
"Everyone watches Balamb House Quisty!"
"Not knowing the name of a show character is not substantial proof o-"
She was cut off again by Squall this time, who was standing up.
"It doesn't matter," He said, looking down the tunnel the way they came. "We need to leave Deling, now. Garden might have even sent another party to look for us."
Irvine also stood, rearranging his hat. When Selphie raised herself next to him, he considered patting her bottom, but decided it wasn't really the time to raise that kind of racket. He looked at Squall, raising an eyebrow. "You mean Rinoa or Zell?"
Squall didn't answer, pensive. He may not have replied, but he had heard. Rinoa. He missed her, had even thought he heard her voice. But he didn't want her here, not in this. Luckily, he knew Cid would never allow a non-SeeD to act as a operative.
Realizing he was expected to say something, Squall shrugged slightly. "Maybe. Whoever they send, we need to find them first. We're moving out."
He motioned to Quistis. "You remember these sewers?"
Quistis shook her head. "No. Not this part, we were never here. But if we can get to the area below downtown, I can get my bearings."
"Galbadian presence will be too high. We must get past the walls. We can be sure they are already looking for us."
Scott only barely followed this exchange. He was straining his hearing. He could have sworn he had heard something- There. That echo almost like...
The others looked at him in surprise as he gestured with one hand, silencing them. Irvine drew his gun, chambering several rounds he had scavenged. The clink of the ammo was deafening in the sudden quiet.
"What is it?" Irvine asked, lowering his voice.
Scott stood perfectly still, stretching his perception.
"I don't know. Kind of from above, almost most... Sounded like-"
Gunfire burst from the right end of the tunnel. Selphie screamed as bullets whizzed past her head, turning concrete into choking dust, ricochets making the close quarters into a fatal trap.
Irvine returned fire, scattering the soldiers and giving the group a small reprieve. He made it out to be about half a dozen as he ran down the tunnel, catching up with the others.
Squall had received gun training during his schooling, but still wished he had Lionheart, which would have made things much easier. Crouching on one knee, he raised his weapon and put two shots in the chest of a soldier that had run along the top of the tunnel and dropped down to the other open end, blocking their only exit. He fell with a smoking hole where his heart had been.
Scott knew that only by returning fire could they survive this. Solid concrete tube, both ends open and covered by the enemy. Then he saw Selphie clutch a damaged shoulder, Irvine painfully grab his pierced leg. It was up to him. He didn't know why, he didn't know how. But it was, he had this something he was wrapped in, pulling him, pulling and-
Hyne sunk her fingers into the Knot surrounding this Outsider. Grabbed it. <I will not let my children die! They belong to me, have saved me before, now I will->
Reality jerked and sputtered. Scott found that thing in his mind, saw the tracer streaks flying down the tunnel, saw the enemy about to win-
Hyne flung the Knot to the side, depleting her power and ripping more tears than there had ever been before. Flung it, and-
Then Scott was behind the soldiers. It was but the work of a moment to raise the barrel and send the bullets smashing through flesh, blood and bone. The Galbadians fell to the ground, bodies contorting in the final pains before death.
Hyne heaved with exhaustion, stars and planets faltering in their eternal orbits with her weakness.
There was only the darkness. Mind asking, is it real?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The President was uneasy.
This in itself is not much to say, the President might have been uneasy for any number of reasons. Indeed, the title of President over the United States of America lends itself many reasons for nervousness.
But this time, the President was uneasy because the situation that might be occurring was one no President had ever dealt with before.
Once more, the President scanned the sheets in front of him. Placing them down, he sighed and rubbed his temples.
"So," He said. "This lab is not officially sanctioned?"
The Secretary of State moved his head in a negative. "No sir. We noticed these large movements of men to this private facility only days ago. I'm afraid that there is nothing we can do legally until further proof is substantiated. Satellite pictures of the area show a compound that could be used for many different purposes."
"Why is this a problem?"
"Our people agree this is the largest movement of manpower and equipment we have ever seen to a private laboratory. It may be harmless, may be some sort of testing that requires a lot of manpower. Either way, we believe it should be investigated, if only to determine the value of the data they may be collecting. What really raised some flags were the identities of some of the men moving into the facility. Many of them are leaders in the field of science. Many large trucks have also entered. From satellite I'm afraid we can't tell what they contained."
"Have you tried inquiring through civilian lines?" The President questioned.
"Yes. Strangely, we can't even find out who owns the installation. Another reason to watch this."
The President mulled over this for a second. Then, he shoved the papers back into their folder decisively.
"Keep an eye on it."
* * * * * * * * * * * *