Retribution Part 2

“MA!” Zell yelled at the top of his voice, before sprinting down towards his flaming house, closely followed by Nida. Zell ran straight up to his front door, but the flames were intense, and he hesitated in front of the door. Come on, man! He thought to himself. Don’t be a chicken now! Zell took a deep breath, and plunged straight into the burning house. He ran around the rooms, the smoke stinging his eyes, looking for his mother, but she was nowhere to be found. He coughed and spluttered as the smoke started to enter his lungs, but still he could not find her. Morbid thoughts started to enter the young man’s head. What if she was… in the explosion? He thought to himself, before shaking his head.

“No!” Zell shouted out loud. “Ma! MA! Where are you?” He ventured back towards the kitchen area, checking it again, when he was grabbed from behind. Zell twisted his head, and saw that it was Nida who had restrained him, and was leading him out of his house.

“Let me go!” Zell shouted, struggling in vain against Nida’s grip. “MA!” Zell started coughing uncontrollably, as the smoke started to inflict serious damage on his lungs. Eventually, Nida dragged him outside, and his struggles against his friend’s grip were ended as he collapsed on the pavement opposite his house, struggling to catch his breath.

“Ma…” he gasped between forced breaths, before passing out.

Zell regained consciousness a mere few minutes late to find a breathing mask on his face and a blanket covering him. Immediately, he removed the mask, even though his breathing was far from back to normal.

“Ma,” he spluttered, before the paramedic forced the breathing mask back on him. Suddenly, Nida’s face loomed large over Zell. Although Zell’s vision was still blurry from the smoke, he could still clearly tell it was him.

“Zell, man,” Nida started talking in an urgent tone, “she’s OK, she wasn’t home. She wasn’t in the house.” Zell smiled out of pure relief at this news, and gave Nida a thumbs-up, before blacking out again.

Quistis was sitting alone in her quarters when she heard her door chime ring. She ignored it, hoping that whoever it was would go away. Quistis, like the old Squall, was not one to show excessive emotion, but she had been deeply scarred psychologically by Chris’s attack. Usually, she immediately spotted a dangerous situation and reacted to and dealt with it coolly and clinically, but this time she’d been caught completely off-guard, and had nearly paid the price. It wasn’t so much the attack that disturbed Quistis, it was the fact that she’d let it happen. She’d noticed that Chris had been acting suspiciously (and not just in the corridor, but for some time previously as well) and she knew he had no love of Seifer, but it never entered her head that he’d be capable of attempted murder. She’d watched for herself the video footage of him pretending to be Irvine entering his quarters. She’d known that Chris bore a resemblance to the sniper, right down to the ponytail, and she never figured it out. And she’d nearly been raped for her ignorance. No, Quistis, she thought to herself. Don’t think like that. You’d have escaped long before then. You’d have easily kicked his butt. She started to feel a little better, but she just couldn’t shake the feeling of helplessness she’d got when he’d restrained her arms behind her back, where she could do nothing, not even cast magic on him. You’re not the only one who’s been in that situation, Quis, she forced herself to remember. Remember the D-district prison 3 years ago? When Squall was about to have his head sliced off by Seifer? Imagine how he felt then, knowing that he was almost certainly going to die. But his friends came for him. Your friends always come for you… She thought to herself, before thinking of the man who had, on both occasions, been the rescuer. Particularly Zell. Quistis smiled when she thought of him, how he’d jumped in and prised Chris off her without even a thought as to what Chris would have done to him. She wouldn’t even have dreamt of setting off a red alert at that time of the morning, but Zell had been only to eager to do it. She contented herself with the thought that no matter what happened, he’d always be her friend… and, quite possibly, guardian angel.

The door chime rang again, for what must have been the seventh time. There was then some banging on the door, followed by shouting.

“Quis!” She heard a familiar man’s voice shout from outside. “It’s me, Squall! I need to talk to you!” Quistis smiled, and stood up, letting Squall in. He had a very concerned look on his scarred features.

“What was up?” He asked, a very concerned tone to his voice. “I rang the doorbell over and over, but you didn’t answer.” Quistis looked down briefly.

“S-sorry,” she started, “I was on the toilet.” She didn’t like lying to one of her closest friends, but she also didn’t want to admit that she’d been as badly shaken by the attack as she had been. “What’s up?” She asked Squall, looking him in the eye.

“You need to come with me to Balamb as quick as you can,” he started, still with concern in his voice. “Zell’s in hospital.” Quistis’s heart started pounding hard when she heard what Squall had said. Although Squall, in adulthood, was not the teenager-without-a-sense-of-humour that he used to be, she knew him well enough to see that he was being deadly serious. Added to that the fact that Garden had just been attacked from within, and that Squall new she wouldn’t be up to any jokes, Quistis could tell that Zell had been badly hurt. She quickly put on her boots and her jacket, not bothering to change out of the jeans & T-shirt she had been wearing, and followed Squall down the corridor to the car park, where they both got in a car, and she drove the car off, down the road, to Balamb town, all the while praying that her guardian angel would be alright…

They arrived at Balamb hospital roughly forty minutes later, and were immediately shown to Zell’s room. They knocked on the door.

“Yo, come in!” Zell shouted from within the room. Squall and Quistis entered, expecting to find Zell lying in the bed, but instead, he was sat up on the end of the bed, eating hospital food and watching TV. Squall and Quistis sat down either side of him.

“How are you feeling?” Squall asked. Zell shook his head.

“Man, the food here sucks!” He exclaimed, prompting small smiles from both Quistis and Squall. “Give me a Garden hotdog any day!” Zell put his plate, complete with uneaten vegetables, down on the floor.

“We meant ‘Are you hurt?’” Quistis informed Zell. Zell shook his head again.

“Nah, I’m fine,” he said. “My chest’s still a little tight, but it’s nothing. Really!” Squall and Quistis both nodded.

“We heard about your house,” Quistis said, a concerned tone creeping into her voice. “Is your mother…?” For the third time, Zell shook his head, and Quistis sighed with relief.

“Zell,” Squall started, having spent time trying to find the right way and time to say what he had to say, “we’ve been in touch with the Balamb police, and we’re almost certain it was Chris Duncan who was behind the bombing.” Zell looked incredulous.

“Of course it was him!” Zell shouted. “Who else would have done it?”

“But why would he target you?” Quistis asked, still not completely able to accept that Chris was now a psychopath. Zell stood up and addressed both his friends.

“Because he wants to hurt all of us,” he explained, full of energy. “He shoots you, Squall; he shoots Seifer; he frames Irvine; he shoots Rinn; he attacks you, Quis; he watches, laughing, as Selph falls thirty feet and cracks her pelvis. I’m the only one left so he firebombs my house to complete the set.” Zell punched the wall out of frustration. “Sicko…” He muttered to himself. Before either Squall or Quistis could reply to Zell, however, a nurse entered the room.

“Excuse me,” she started, “Mr. Leonheart?” Squall stood up at the mention of his name.

“That’s me,” he said, pointing to himself.

“A Mr. Kramer is on the telephone,” the nurse informed him. “He says it’s urgent.” Squall simply sighed.

“I guess I’d better take it, then,” he said, leaving the room. “See you in a couple of minutes.” Quistis and Zell both nodded and said “bye” as Squall left the room. There was an uneasy silence, before Quistis spoke up.

“Zell,” she started, “surely you don’t think Chris would destroy your home just for a whim, do you?” Zell was, again, incredulous.

“Huh? What?” He replied. “Weren’t you paying attention last night when he attacked you?” Quistis lowered her head and nodded at the memory- Zell was right, it wasn’t the same Chris she’d taught for all those years. There was another uneasy silence before Zell decided to end it.

“Hey,” he started, a lighter tone creeping into his voice, “you’ll never guess who came and visited me earlier!” Quistis smiled, happy to see Zell more jovial then he had previously been.

“Who?” She asked, genuinely curious.

“Mei!” Zell shouted, enthusiastically. “I couldn’t believe it, I hadn’t seen her in years!”

“Mei?” Quistis asked, worriedly. “But I thought she’d taken a job in Trabia Garden?”

“She had!” Zell continued, still enthusiastic. “But apparently, she’s back in Balamb for a couple of days.”

“Are you going to see her?” Quistis asked.

“You bet!” Zell said, still smiling at the thought of the only girl he’d ever been more than just friends with…

Zell and Mei had seemed like the most unusual couple since the old, introverted Squall had hooked up with the lively, outgoing Rinoa, but as it turned out, they seemed to be right for each other. Zell was the loud, often obnoxious SeeD, an expert in hand-to-hand combat, and Mei was a quiet, often cripplingly shy library assistant who just happened to have a huge crush on Zell. All throughout the Ultimecia incident, and for a short while afterward, Mei had tried, on numerous occasions, to tell Zell how she felt about him, but they always ended up missing each other by a short while. Eventually, while Zell and the others were staying at Balamb Hotel (Zell still had no idea why they would stay at the hotel when he only lived down the road), she had come up to him, and declared her feelings. Figuring he had nothing to lose, Zell played along. He liked Mei, and she seemed genuinely entertained when he demonstrated the new technique he’d learnt from the martial arts magazine she’d found for him. It was all going smoothly, until the party they’d held the week after they defeated Ultimecia. Naturally, Zell and Mei had gone together, but an unfortunate situation occurred, when Zell attempted to cram too many hotdogs into his mouth at once, and as a result, he choked, and ended up spitting them up everywhere. After that, Zell and Mei’s relationship started to go downhill. The fact that Irvine had videotaped it and kept on playing the tape whenever there was a VCR in the cafeteria did nothing for Zell’s self-esteem, and while Zell started plotting how to take his revenge on Irvine (which he did by managing to lock him outside the Garden buck naked one night), he and Mei eventually drifted apart, until that evening when she’d come to his house to tell him that she was leaving Balamb for a new job at the newly-reconstructed Trabia Garden. She’d given him a kiss on the cheek, said “goodbye”, and left, and that was the last Zell saw of her. Sure, he still got birthday cards from her (although he couldn’t remember her birthday and usually sent one too late), but they’d not actually met up for nearly four years… until now. She’d heard about the bombing of his house, and had actually visited him in hospital. Zell was overjoyed when she came, and they’d spent almost an hour chatting about old times. It was during that hour that Zell realised that he missed Mei, and he fully intended to call her on the number she’d given him. Hell, he thought to himself, maybe today ain’t gonna be all doom and gloom after all.

Quistis, however, was not happy at the news. Mei? She thought to herself, uneasily. It was a name she’d not heard in years, nor had she even thought about her in months, and yet, here she was, in Balamb, trying to steal her man. No, Quistis sadly thought to herself, Zell isn’t mine. At least, not yet…

“When are you planning on meeting up with her?” Quistis asked, breaking the silence.

“I dunno,” Zell replied. “I still got a mission to worry ‘bout.” Quistis nodded- she knew Zell well enough that he wouldn’t let anything distract him from his work. She was about to ask another question when Squall re-entered the room. The expression on his face meant that he did not have good news to relay.

“Squall?” Quistis asked, her voice full of concern. “What’s up?”

“We’re going back to Garden,” Squall replied. “All of us, right now. Contact Nida and tell him to meet up with us.”

“What about our mission, man?” Zell asked, as Squall turned to leave the room.

“We’ve all been re-assigned. This is big,” Squall replied.

“How big?” Quistis asked.

“About five miles…” Squall answered, quietly.

The asteroid headed ever onwards, silently ploughing through space towards the helpless blue-green planet. The eight SeeDs, watching the computer-generated image of it, were open-mouthed, shocked at what they saw. Cid stood up and switched the video off.

“What you have just seen,” he stated, “was a CGI of the asteroid that is currently on a collision course with this planet. It was detected by Esthar observatory approximately eight hours ago, and President Loire has already contacted me requesting that we use SeeDs to try and stop that thing.”

“Isn’t Esthar capable of stopping that thing by itself?” Rinoa asked, stilled stunned by the news.

“How can you stop something like THAT?” Irvine responded, incredulously. Cid banged his gavel down on the desk, silencing the two SeeDs.

“For your information, Rinoa,” Cid started, “Esthar is not capable of taking it out by itself. Their technology is advanced, yes, but to even divert the asteroid’s course would require an explosion far bigger than any bomb Esthar currently has could produce.” Suddenly, Edea stood up, and addressed the SeeDs.

“That is where I come in,” she said. The group of eight suddenly looked at her, surprised that she, their former matron, could help blow up an asteroid. “During the time I was possessed by Ultimecia,” she continued, “Galbaldia secretly developed weapons of mass destruction, which used nuclear reactions to create explosions.” Rinoa kept listening silently, but stared at the floor, not wanting the others to see the expression on her face. She’d fought Galbaldia for nearly two years as part of the Forest Owls, not knowing that they could have turned any city they were hiding in into dust, if they so wished. Obviously they didn’t think that much, if anything, of us… she silently thought to herself. She opted to take the ego bruising on the chin, and continued listening to what Edea had to say.

“These weapons were only experimental,” Edea continued, “but the tests that were run before President Deling’s death seemed to indicate that they would work.”

“OK,” Squall spoke up. “So where do we get these bombs from?”

“They were stored in a secret bunker deep in the Galbaldian desert,” Edea continued, “about a hundred miles west of the D-district prison. However, I will not be able to gain access to them.” The SeeDs all murmured- Why is she telling us this if they won’t be any use to us, was a thought shared by a few of them.

“In my possessed state,” Edea continued, “I felt it best not to give access to myself, in case I should free myself of Ultimecia’s presence, which I eventually did. The only person still alive who can access the weapons was my second-in-command.” Everyone around the table knew exactly whom she was talking about.

“Seifer,” Squall said, plainly. Edea nodded, and Cid once again stepped forward to speak.

“Squall, I want you to take the train to Esthar, and bring Seifer Almasy to the bunker in the desert, where he will unlock it, and retrieve for us the weapons.”

“Why can’t I take the Ragnarok?” Squall asked, interrupting Cid.

“The Ragnarok is currently undergoing tests to determine whether or not it’s still space-worthy,” Cid replied, irritated by Squall’s interruption. “Once you have the weapons, we shall load them on board the Ragnarok, and you shall fly out to the asteroid, and set them.”

“I understand,” Squall replied.

“I know the Garden is still on a high state of alert,” Cid continued, “following the shootings, but this is far too important. That mission is currently suspended until further notice.” Cid paused, marking the end of his address. “Unless anyone has any questions,” Cid did not finish his sentence.

“Yes,” Rinoa butted in, “I have a question. Why did it take this long for the weapons’ existence to be revealed?” Cid smiled- this was a question he’d been prepared to answer, asked by the person he expected to ask it.

“I was already aware of them,” he replied. “When Edea was… returned to us, she informed me, and I dispatched a group of SeeDs to secure the bunker, in case Seifer tried to deploy the weapons. Fortunately, he did not. And he’s kept their existence a secret for all these years, so I can only assume he can be trusted.” Rinoa nodded, satisfied at this explanation.

“When do I leave?” Squall asked.

“Immediately,” Cid replied. “The Ragnarok is scheduled to leave in seven days. It is absolutely imperative that the weapons are retrieved by then. Any other questions?” No one spoke up, or raised their hand. “Good. Dismissed.” Cid left the room, accompanied by Edea. Slowly, the SeeDs made their way out, Rinoa walking with Squall’s aid, and Selphie in a wheelchair, which was pushed by Irvine. None of them spoke as they left the room, all still stunned by the news.

Seifer was sitting up in an armchair, watching television in his hospital room, when he heard a knock at his door.

“Come in,” he muttered, half-heartedly. He was surprised to see Squall enter the room, with a grim look on his face.

“Hello, Seifer,” Squall said, stoically.

“Squall! Hi!” Seifer responded, still seated in front of the TV. “You’ll excuse me if I don’t stand, but my knee is not as healthy as it should be.” Squall nodded, and turned off the television.

“I’ve got something I need to tell you, and it’s important,” Squall said, seriously.

“If it’s about Rinoa, I already know,” Seifer replied. “How is she?” Squall shook his head.

“Rinoa’s fine,” he responded, “but it’s not that. You must promise me that whatever’s said in this room doesn’t leave it.” Seifer nodded. “Good. Yesterday, Esthar astronomers discovered an asteroid heading towards us. It will impact in less than two months.” Seifer was stunned by the news.

“An asteroid? How big?” He asked.

“Over 4 miles,” Squall responded. “We need your help.”

“To do what?” Seifer asked, before remembering one of his dirty little secrets from the last sorceress war. “Ohhh, you want the bombs, don’t you?” He asked his friend, who nodded. “They weren’t even tested, Squall. We have no idea whether or not they’ll work.”

“They’re our best bet, Seif,” Squall replied. “It’s either that or, two months from now, watch as every man, woman and child on this planet gets obliterated.” Seifer nodded, reluctantly.

“I guess we’ve not got a choice, then,” Seifer replied. “I assume you’ll be taking the Ragnarok into space to intercept it?” Squall nodded.

“The team’s gonna be Me, Irvine, and Quistis.”

“And me,” Seifer interjected. Squall shook his head, defiantly.

“No way,” he said. “You’re still injured. Besides, you’re not even a SeeD.” Seifer threw up his arms in exasperation.

“What does that mean, for crying out loud?” He exclaimed. “Not even a SeeD? So do SeeDs have the codes for arming the bombs?”

“You can give us the codes before we leave,” Squall said, trying to respond. Seifer was having none of it, however.

“You need me there,” he replied. “Entering the codes isn’t simply a case of punching in a few numbers. It’s about timing, and there’s an eye scan involved too. I’d prefer it if you didn’t remove my eyes before you left, so the only other option is for me to come along.” Squall looked down.

“I’ll have to clear it with Cid,” he said. “We also still have the problem of Chris.” Seifer nodded- he was not surprised by the gunman’s identity.

“I have total faith in your security arrangements,” Seifer stated. Squall smiled.

“OK then,” he started, “I’ll have words with Cid, and I should be back to pick you up tomorrow.” Seifer smiled.

“It’s gonna be weird, going back to that place after all these years,” he said. “I’ll also have to clear my diary for the next few days.”

“Got anything special planned?” Squall asked, genuinely curious. Seifer simply shook his head.

“Just a few meetings with my publishers,” he replied. “I’ll send along my agents instead.” Squall’s face assumed a very serious expression upon hearing this news.

“Are you sure?” Squall asked his friend.

“Don’t worry,” Seifer replied, “they’re very efficient negotiators.” He sat back in his chair, with a smile on his face. “In fact, they’re negotiating a deal with a newspaper right now, about the serialisation of my next book…” Seifer’s smile widened.

Meanwhile, on the 12th floor of the Deling City News building, one executive was being held in a very uncomfortable position…

“UNACCEPTABLE!” The executive heard the woman with the eye patch and grey hair shout into his ear, while simultaneously pressing the other side of his face into his desk.

“Yeah!” The woman’s dark-haired accomplice shouted, “we said 50 000 gil per part, ya know!” The executive whimpered.

“I-I can’t!” He said from his uncomfortable position on top of his desk. ”My bosses will only allow me to give you 35 000!” The grey-haired woman pressed his face into his desk even harder.

“UN-ACC-EPT-ABLE!” She repeated, stressing every syllable.

“OK! OK!” The executive whimpered. “42 500! That’s the best I could possibly do, honestly!” He felt the woman release her grip on his head, and he slumped back into his big office chair. The two agents he had been dealing with smoothed out their newly creased business suits, and offered him their hands.

“We gotta deal, then, ya know?” The man said. Cautiously, the executive shook the big man’s hand, then, even more cautiously, the woman’s hand.

“INDEED,” she said, still in the military one-word tone she had been using all throughout.

“Th-thanks,” the executive stuttered, shaken by his experience. He watched, relieved, as the two “agents” left his office. On their way out, however, the man decided to pat his female companion on her backside.

“We did good, eh Fuj?” Raijin said, while giving Fujin the friendly pat. Fujin said nothing in return, however, instead simply kicking Raijin hard in the shin, before closing the office door behind her. The executive sighed with relief, and then reached for his telephone. He had some bad news to tell his boss…

The next morning, Squall woke, as usual, at half past six. He was about to perform his usual morning ritual of waking his wife up with a kiss, only to find that she was already awake, and up.

“Angel?” Squall asked, slightly concerned.

“Squall…” Came Rinoa’s weak response from their bathroom. Squall was immediately on his feet, and put on a pair of boxer shorts (he always slept naked) before heading in there to see what was wrong. The sight of Rinoa hunched over the toilet bowl, looking pale, and almost green, greeted him.

“Angel?” Squall asked again, more urgently this time.

“Squall…” Rinoa said again, weakly, “I’ve been sick…” She then vomited again down the bowl. Squall placed his palm against Rinoa’s forehead.

“Hmm,” he said, “you don’t have a fever, but I’d probably best get you down to the infirmary anyway.” Rinoa shook her head.

“I’m too tired…” She complained, before vomiting one more time.

“You’re coming whether you like it or not,” Squall commanded, picking Rinoa up in a fireman’s lift over his right shoulder and carrying her back into the bedroom. “Get dressed, I’ll let Dr. Kadowaki know we’re coming.” Rinoa nodded, swallowing the urge to vomit again long enough for her to slip into her usual black shorts and vest. Once Squall had finished talking to Dr. Kadowaki on the phone, he handed Rinoa a bucket, then picked her up again and carried her to the infirmary. The bucket saw a lot of use along the way, and Squall silently prayed that it was nothing serious…

Half an hour later, Rinoa was laying on one of the beds in the infirmary, with Squall sitting at her side, both waiting for the test results. Squall stood up, and Rinoa sat up, as Dr. Kadowaki entered the room.

“Doctor?” Squall asked. “What’s the news?” Dr. Kadowaki looked at her results sheet, then at the couple.

“It’s good news,” she said, smiling. Squall and Rinoa both sighed from relief. “Very good news in fact,” she continued. “Actually, congratulations are in order. You’re going to be parents.” Squall sat back down in the chair, not able to comprehend what he’d heard.

“Excuse me?” Rinoa asked, as shocked as her husband. “Are you saying I’m pregnant?” Dr. Kadowaki nodded.

“There’s no doubt about it,” she replied. “I’m 100% sure.”

“You’re certain?” Rinoa asked again. Dr. Kadowaki simply nodded.

“Are you late for your next period?” She asked Rinoa. Rinoa simply nodded.

“Yeah,” she replied. “I thought maybe I’d skipped a month or something. It never occurred to me that I-“ she cut herself off, still in shock.

“Well,” Dr. Kadowaki said, turning to exit the room, “I’d better let mother and father-to-be have some time alone. Oh, and let me know when you want to arrange your first ultrasound.” She exited, leaving a still-dumbfounded Squall and Rinoa alone in the antechamber. A few seconds passed before anything was said.

“Squall,” Rinoa said, quietly.

“Rinoa,” Squall replied, stoically.

“Are we gonna-?” Rinoa asked. Squall nodded, smiling.

“I’m gonna be a dad!” Squall exclaimed, now excited. Rinoa smiled too- Squall’s excitedness turned out to be infectious.

“And I’m gonna be a mom!” They both laughed as they embraced each other. “We gotta tell everybody!” Immediately after she said that, however, she was struck by the memory of her two friends who were unable to have children. Rinoa looked at Squall, whose face was now glum, obviously thinking the same thing.

“I think we’d better tell Selph and Irvine first,” Squall stated. Rinoa nodded, before she and her husband embraced each other again.

Selphie was helping Irvine practice his aim in the shooting range, when they both noticed Squall and Rinoa approach. The expressions on the faces of the young commander and his wife implied that they did not have good news. Selphie turned her wheelchair around to face them.

“Hey guys,” she said with a concerned tone replacing her usual sparkly voice, “what’s up?” Irvine put his rifle down and stood next to his wife.

“Yeah,” he said, as concerned as his wife. “Why the glum faces?” Squall looked at Rinoa, who simply nodded.

“OK, I’ll tell them,” Squall quietly said to his wife, but not quietly enough for Irvine not to hear him.

“Tell us what? What’s the big secret?” Irvine was getting very anxious now, worried that it might be about their mission, and facing the prospect that Squall might be telling him that they’ll all be dead within three months. Irvine decided to voice his concerns. “Is it about the asteroid?” Squall shook his head, but his expression remained the same.

“I’ve got some news about Rinoa and I,” he finally started, “and I’m not sure you’re gonna want to hear it.” Squall paused for a moment, trying to find the right words for what he was about to say.

“What is it? Tell us!” Selphie exclaimed. Rinoa sighed, and took a deep breath.

“…I’m pregnant,” she finally said. Selphie and Irvine both looked stunned for a few moments, like Squall and Rinoa had been when they heard, before they both broke out in big, goofy smiles.

“Wow!” Irvine exclaimed. “Well done, man!” Irvine went over and shook Squall’s hand, also giving him a brief slap on the back.

“WOW!” Selphie shouted, simultaneously, wheeling herself up to Rinoa and giving her a friendly hug. “That is so cool! Is it a boy or a girl? Have you decided on any names yet?” Selphie was firing off questions quicker than either Squall or Rinoa could answer them.

“Slow down, Selph!” Rinoa said, giggling. “We don’t know yet. We’re going for our first ultrasound when Squall gets back. We just thought you should know first because you… well, that is to say-“ Selphie and Irvine started giggling together at this comment.

“Oh, Rinn, you silly!” Selphie said. “Why did you think we’d be upset just because we’ve had some bad luck?” Rinoa and Squall also laughed, wondering the same thing.

“I don’t know,” Rinoa replied, “it’s just that we weren’t even trying…” She got no further before descending into another fit of giggles.

“Anyway,” Squall interjected, “we’d better be going, I have to leave soon. We just wanted you to be the first to know.”

“OK, man,” Irvine said, “good luck with the next eighteen years!” He and Selphie laughed and waved goodbye as Squall and Rinoa departed.

“Can you believe it!?” Selphie squeaked. “I’m gonna be an auntie!” She giggled for a few more seconds before a more sombre expression appeared on her face. “I wish I could be a mommy, though…” Irvine simply smiled and knelt down beside his wife.

“Well,” he said quietly to Selphie, “that’s why I…” he then whispered something, meant for Selphie’s ears only. She immediately perked up.

“Really!?” She squeaked again, immediately cheerful. “Adoption? Can we do that?” Irvine simply shrugged.

“Why not?” He asked, rhetorically. “We were adopted, weren’t we?” Selphie giggled again, nodding.

“Woohoo!” She shouted. “I love you SO much,” she then added, pulling Irvine’s face down level with hers and kissing him fully on the lips.

Seifer was already dressed and standing when he heard the knock on the door that he’d been expecting for the past half hour. He was still leaning on crutches from his injuries- although the bullet wound in his arm hadn’t been too bad, his knee still hurt badly and couldn’t support his full weight.

“Come in,” he said, hobbling closer to the door. Squall, accompanied by a Garden security guard, entered the room.

“Are you ready?” Squall asked his blond-haired friend.

“I’ve been ready for over half and hour,” Seifer replied. “I thought you were supposed to always be early?”

“That’s just a vicious rumour,” Squall retorted, deadpan. “Are you sure you have everything you need?” Squall asked.

“Don’t worry,” Seifer said, “if there’s something I’ve forgotten I’ll just send one of my agents to get it for me.” Squall eyes widened- he’d forgotten about Fujin and Raijin.

“They’re not coming along with us, are they?” He asked, hesitantly. Seifer shook his head, at which Squall sighed with relief.

“I sent them on ahead,” Seifer said, smiling. D’oh! Squall thought, not for the first time, regarding Seifer’s two closest friends. “They should be there by now,” he added. Squall simply shook his head, which prompted Seifer to laugh out loud.

“What is it?” Seifer asked, still laughing.

“A bit of advance warning would’ve been nice,” Squall informed his friend. Seifer simply laughed some more.

“They’re just literary agents,” he said, unsuccessfully trying to reassure Squall. “What harm can they do?” Squall simply looked at Seifer, unconvinced.

“We’d better get going…” Squall stated, leading a still-laughing Seifer out of the room as the security guard collected Seifer’s luggage.

Meanwhile, at Balamb Garden, Zell had been called down to the front gate over a potential security breach. He was descending the stairs leading from the directory to the elevator when his beeper went off again.

“OK! OK!” He cried to no one in particular, “I’m coming already!” He broke out into a jog and arrived at the gate a few seconds later.

“What’s up?” He asked Brian, the security officer he’d put in charge of the gate.

“I’ve detained two suspicious looking people,” he replied. “They claim they’re here under Commander Leonheart’s invitation.” Zell looked perplexed.

“Squall didn’t tell me he was inviting anyone…” he cleared the thought from his mind and turned to face Brian. “Show me them,” he ordered. Brian led him the few hundred yards to where the business suit-clad man and woman were waiting, impatiently. Zell immediately recognised them.

“Aw, geez,” he said, not wanting to believe his eyes. “Fujin? Raijin? What the hell are you doing here?”

“Didn’t he tell you?” Raijin asked. “We’re here ‘cause Squall asked us, ya know!”

“ENTRY! NOW!” Fujin demanded, impatiently. Zell smiled at that comment of Fujin’s- he’d been on the receiving end of the old disciplinary committee, of which Fujin and Raijin were members, many times regarding his T-board (amongst other things), and now that the tables were turned, he decided it was his turn to have some fun.

“Sorry guys,” he shrugged. “If your names ain’t on the door, you ain’t getting in.”

“RAGE!” Fujin said, angrily, looking as if she was ready to attack Zell.

“Aw, come on, man,” Raijin said, “you know Seifer’s coming back soon, and we gotta be here for him! We’re his agents, ya know!” Zell just smiled, folded his arms and clicked his tongue a few times.

“I suppose I could ring Squall and clear it with him,” he said, patronisingly calmly, “but he’s a very busy man. Doesn’t like to be disturbed. I guess my only option is to ask him when he gets back from Esthar.”

“WHEN?” Fujin demanded, still angry about the whole situation.

“Oh, shouldn’t be more than three hours,” Zell said, desperately trying to keep a straight face. “In the meantime, make yourselves comfortable in the visitor’s reception. I’m sure you’ll find it most relaxing.” Zell then turned and left, leaving Brian to deal with Fujin and Raijin. As he left, however, Zell had to hold his arm against his mouth to prevent Seifer’s former cronies from hearing the howls of laughter that he was unable to keep to himself.

A mere three hours later, a simple Balamb-registry car pulled up to Balamb Garden, containing the Garden’s commander, and the Garden’s prodigal son. Seifer looked out of the window at the place where he grew up, and the memories started flooding back. The day he enrolled, aged just eight… the day he got his first gunblade… meeting Fujin and Raijin, his best (if not only) friends there… all those endless SeeD exams… even the time he viciously attacked the man sitting next to him in the car, scarring his face… all the memories came flooding back.

“Lost in thought?” Squall asked, noticing Seifer’s far-away look.

“Mmm?” Seifer asked, returning to reality. “Just a little bit. This is the first time I’ve been back here since I, er, befriended sorceress Edea.” Squall had a quick think, and then nodded.

“Yeah,” he agreed, “I guess it must be. So how does it feel to be back?”

“Weird, to put it mildly,” Seifer said. “I notice we’re not going in the front gate.” Seifer was quizzical- it wasn’t quite the homecoming he’d had in mind.

“There are still a few people around here who may hold a grudge, not including Chris,” Squall informed him. “We thought it’d be best to keep your presence here a secret.” Seifer nodded, before he felt the car come to rest. Squall got out first, then helped Seifer out, and handed him his crutches. Seifer surveyed the scene- everyone he knew from his time at Balamb Garden was there waiting for them- Quistis, his old teacher; Zell, whom he had bullied relentlessly; Selphie (in her wheelchair), accompanied by Irvine; Xu, another of his teachers; even Cid had put in an appearance. There was one face, however, that caught Seifer’s eyes most of all- the face of his former girlfriend, now Squall’s wife. He had to stop himself from bristling as Squall went up to Rinoa and put his arm around her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Seifer’s thoughts were interrupted, however, as Cid approached him, his hand outstretched. Even though Seifer stood a full eight inches taller than Cid, he still felt like a little boy getting disciplined by a teacher.

“Seifer,” Cid started, “on behalf of everyone at Balamb Garden, allow me to welcome you back.” Seifer took Cid’s hand, and shook it.

“Thank you, headmaster,” he replied, not being able to shake the feeling that he was one of Cid’s pupils (even though her never acted like it even when he was).

“How does it feel to be back?” Selphie eagerly asked. Seifer sighed- he knew he’d have to answer that question a million times over his stay at the Garden, so he decided to give the full answer there and then.

“It’s strange,” he replied. “A part of me feels like I’m home, a part of me feels like I’m in enemy territory.” He was about to speak further, before Cid cut him off.

“There will be plenty of time for reunions later,” the headmaster said. “First, though, we need to deal with this asteroid.” Everyone nodded in agreement, and followed Cid as he walked out of the door. The group headed slowly (in deference to Rinoa and Seifer being on crutches) down the corridor to the stairs. Seifer was expecting half of the population of the Garden to be staring straight at him as he hobbled down the corridor, but it was not the case- the corridors were deserted save for a couple of security guards. The group headed into the lift, and ascended into Cid’s office. Seifer remained quiet throughout the mission briefing, partly through not wanting to speak out of place, but mainly through not knowing what he was talking about. Sure, he’d had extensive SeeD training, but had never actually become a SeeD, and struggled to understand half of the terms being mentioned. He’d tried interjecting at times, but it was Rinoa, of all people, who had sharply corrected him, glaring at him each time she did it. Seifer was also troubled by the looks that Zell was giving him all throughout the meeting, and quickly pieced together in his mind what the problem was.

Squall was not the only one of his acquaintances from Balamb to have visited him in prison- as well as frequent visits from Laguna, Ellone and Ward and Kiros, Seifer also received visits from Quistis, who was one of his biggest fans. The biggest surprises for Seifer, however, were Selphie and Irvine- both of whom he’d tortured during the spell of madness that had eventually landed him in prison. True to Seifer’s perception of them, Selphie and Irvine were warm and friendly, and always made a point of calling him on his birthday, and always wrote him letters about their holidays, whether Seifer wanted them or not. In fact, with the exception of Squall, Fujin and Raijin, Seifer considered Selphie and Irvine to be his best friends. However, while Seifer had discovered newfound friendship amongst some of the SeeDs, he’d encountered nothing but apathy from certain others.

Whenever Squall wrote a letter to Seifer, he always signed it “best wishes, Squall & Rinn”. However, Seifer had yet to see in his letters even a word that had been written in Rinoa’s hand. At first, Seifer thought nothing of it, knowing from Squall’s correspondence that she was taking her SeeD exams (and Seifer knew all too well how time-consuming they were), but the cold shoulder didn’t stop from Rinoa. One day, Seifer simply snapped and wrote a letter, addressed to Rinoa, asking politely (Seifer didn’t want to alienate her further by being angry with her) why she never seemed to write to him. That was a full year before Seifer finally met her again face-to-face, and no reply had been written. He’d meant to take the subject up with Squall on one of his frequent visits to his Esthar cell, but Seifer never seemed to find the right words, not wanting to alienate another friend with some callous remark such as “hey! Why hasn’t your lady written back to me?” Instead, Seifer just bottled it up, figuring that as he’d never have to work with Rinoa again, it wouldn’t matter. How wrong he was…

Zell was another matter entirely- rather than simply pretend Seifer didn’t exist, Zell had actually gone out of his way to respond to Seifer’s correspondence by saying words along the lines of “look Seifer, I don’t like you, I have never liked you, all I see when I look at you is just a bully who got what he deserved.” Seifer had to agree with Zell’s sentiment up to a point, as Seifer had been cruel to Zell while he’d been in charge of the disciplinary committee, but he had tried to explain to Zell that he knew he’d been a bastard in the past, and he’d now changed. Unfortunately, Zell was buying none of it, and in the end, Seifer gave up, thinking along the same lines as he did with Rinoa- “it’s not like I’ll ever have to work with him or anything like that.” Unfortunately for Seifer, as with his feelings about Rinoa, he was dead wrong there too…

The briefing eventually ended with it being decided that Squall, Seifer and a couple of others would retrieve the bombs the following morning. This left Seifer free for the rest of the evening- he’d already accepted an invitation to dinner from Selphie and Irvine, but first, he had to be shown to his quarters, and it was a none-too-thrilled Zell who had been assigned that task.

“OK,” Zell said, sounding like he really wanted to be somewhere else, “these are your quarters here.” He gestured towards a doorway, beyond which lay a simple SeeD single room. Seifer nodded and entered, followed by Zell, who unceremoniously dumped his bags in the corner.

“Hey! Be careful,” Seifer said after seeing Zell’s rough treatment of his bags, “my typewriter’s in there!” Zell just stared at Seifer, condescendingly.

“Like I give a damn,” Zell said. “I’ll post a security guard outside. If you need anything, just knock on the door and ask him. You are not to go outside unattended. Do you understand?” Zell added a threatening edge to his final sentence, which pushed Seifer too far, and he felt he had to retaliate.

“What’s your problem, Zell? Huh?” Seifer asked, adding a threatening tone of his own. While he may have been a different person from the last time he was at Balamb Garden, certain personality traits, such as a bad response to provocation, still remained in Seifer. Unfortunately, Seifer and Zell’s personality clash was about to become a literal one.

“What did you say?” Zell said, his temper worsening, his fists clenching.

“You heard me,” Seifer replied. “You gotta problem with me and I want to know what it is.” Zell turned round at that point and lunged at Seifer. He grabbed the tall man by the throat and pinned him against the wall.

“You KNOW what my problem is!” Zell shouted, his rage boiling over. “Twelve years of you constantly on my back, constantly having fun, at MY expense! Twelve years of you laughing at me! Twelve years, Seifer! THAT’S my problem!” Zell released Seifer, and turned his back on him, walking towards the door.

“Geez,” Seifer started, anger causing his voice to rise, “you’d have thought in the four years since I last saw you you’d have grown up a little bit! Yeah, so I was an asshole. Yeah, so I bullied you. Well, I’ve got some advice for you, Zell- GET OVER IT! People change. Intelligent people do, anyway. You take the advice that I’ve given you, and grow up!” Zell paused upon hearing Seifer’s words, but continued his march out of the room, not looking back as he slammed and locked the door behind him. Seifer was still angry, not at Zell’s manhandling of him, but the fact that Zell didn’t listen to him.

“Maybe he ain’t a chicken-wuss after all,” he said to himself, “he’s just a dickhead instead.” He hobbled over to the bed and laid down on it, trying to calm himself down before his meal with Irvine and Selphie.

Seifer eventually calmed himself down, and set off (accompanied by a member of Zell’s security team, naturally) for Selphie and Irvine’s quarters a few hours later. At the same time, however, Squall, Zell and Rinoa were eating dinner together in the cafeteria.

“I wanna know where that bastard gets off!” Zell exclaimed to his friends, trying to keep his voice down so that no one else heard him, but not succeeding very well.

“Keep your voice down, man!” Squall whispered, desperately trying to calm Zell down. Zell had been ranting about Seifer, and how he’d had a bad attitude, for the past ten minutes, and Squall did not like hearing one of his best friends denigrate another of his best friends. Rinoa, however, had remained quiet all throughout, not even looking up from her meal.

“I know, I know,” Zell continued, “but that guy just pisses me off so much!” Zell picked up the saltshaker and went to sprinkle some salt onto his meal, only to see the top fall off, and the salt go everywhere. Squall could see Zell’s rage increasing again, and he took pre-emptive action.

“Zell!” He whispered to his angry friend. “Calm down! Don’t blow up!” Zell noticeably calmed down, and picked up his plate, taking it away to the kitchen.

“I wouldn’t want to be the poor bastard who has to deal with him,” Squall quietly said to Rinoa once Zell was out of earshot. Rinoa didn’t respond- she was still lost in thought. “Angel? Are you OK? Rinoa?” Rinoa jumped upon hearing her name, and turned to look at her husband.

“What?” She asked, still not fully paying attention to Squall. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“No you’re not,” Squall replied, “you’ve hardly said five words to me since I came back from Esthar with Seifer. What’s up?” Suddenly, it all fell into place in Squall’s mind. “Oh, I just realised,” Squall started, “you haven’t seen Seifer since he was imprisoned, have you?” Rinoa looked down. Squall smiled and put his hand on her shoulder. Rinoa took hold of his hand a squeezed it.

“That’s not entirely it,” she responded, lying to her husband.

“Are you sure?” Squall intuitively asked. Rinoa shook her head. She was close to tears, and Squall could tell that she was very upset. “Maybe we should go back to our quarters,” he said, calling one of the waiters over and instructing him to put their meals in doggy bags. Squall and Rinoa stood up, and left the cafeteria. Zell arrived back at the table a few seconds later, confused.

“Wh-where’d they go?” He said to no one in particular, looking round to try and find where his friends were.

Once they were back in their quarters, Squall and Rinoa sat down on the bed together, and Squall put his arm around Rinoa, comfortingly.

“OK,” he said, comfortingly, “tell me what’s wrong.” Rinoa took a deep breath, and started.

“When you were captured by Seifer, three years ago, I found you by going to Esthar, and having Ellone put me into your head.” Squall nodded- Ellone had told him all about it shortly afterwards.

“I know,” he started, “but what does that have to do with it?” Rinoa continued talking.

“When she put me into you, you were strapped to the torture rack, and Seifer was torturing you. I felt everything he did- and I saw him staring at you, with that evil stare of his. Now, every time I think of him, all I can see is that stare, all I can think about is that torture. I try to shake those feelings but I-I just can’t.” Rinoa was almost weeping now, and Squall gave her a long, comforting hug.

“I think you should go and talk to him,” Squall said, letting Rinoa go.

“N-no,” Rinoa stuttered, “I don’t think-“ Squall pressed his finger to Rinoa’s lips, silencing her protest.

“I really think it’d be for the best,” Squall insisted. “You can never have too many friends.” Rinoa nodded- she’d only protested as a reflex action, but the more she thought about it, the more she knew that Squall was right.

“OK,” she said, hesitantly, “I-I’ll go see him tonight.” Squall nodded, before giving Rinoa another long, comforting hug.

Seifer arrived back from dinner with Selphie and Irvine feeling both full and tired- Irvine’s cooking had been first-class, and they had both insisted on talking his ears off over the meal, so much so that Seifer barely said twelve words while he was there, choosing instead to limit his responses to nods and laughs at whatever the couple said.

“Well,” Seifer mused to himself, out loud, “it’s not too bad being a human Dictaphone, as long as you like the people who are talking.” He laid down on his bed, resting his injured knee, and started to drift off to sleep. His nap was rudely interrupted just a few minutes later, however, by the guard outside his door paging into the room.

“Mr. Almasy?” The guard said over the intercom. “There’s someone outside who wishes to speak to you.” Seifer sighed, and pressed the intercom button on his bedside phone.

“Send them in,” he said, unenthusiastically, expecting it to wither be Selphie with yet another batch of photographs from her wedding, or Zell with another reading of the riot act. Seifer was to be surprised, though, by who it actually was.

“H-hi,” Rinoa started, hobbling into the room on her crutches. Keeping his weight on his good leg, Seifer stood up, shocked by the identity of his visitor.

“Rinny!” Seifer exclaimed, using the pet name he’d given her when they’d dated during the summer, five years before. He quickly corrected himself, however. “Rinoa, what are you doing here?” Rinoa was hesitant to approach Seifer, and seemed almost scared of him. “What’s wrong?” He asked, picking up on Rinoa’s hesitation.

“I-I need to- to talk to you,” Rinoa stuttered, the pseudo-fear clearly apparent in her voice. “Can I sit?”

“Yeah,” Seifer started, “Unless you’ve injured your back as well.” He sat back down on his bed, gesturing for Rinoa to sit next to him. Rinoa giggled a little bit at Seifer’s joke, and also sat down, keeping a couple of feet between Seifer and herself. There was an uneasy silence, as Rinoa tried to work out what to say. Before she could muster all her thoughts, however, Seifer broke the silence for her.

“So,” he said, “I hear congratulations are in order.” Rinoa looked at Seifer quizzically, not knowing what he meant.

“This?” Seifer said, pointing at Rinoa’s abdomen. Rinoa smiled and nodded.

“Yes,” she said, simply. There was another uneasy pause.

“Squall wouldn’t stop talking about it on the ride over from Esthar,” Seifer continued. “How long have you gotta wait?”

“Six and a half months,” Rinoa answered, starting another uneasy pause. This one lasted longer than the others, giving Rinoa the ability to muster her thoughts.

“Seifer,” she started, still not able to look at him, “I know I’ve been rude to you,” Seifer shook his head.

“No, it’s alright,” he started, “I knew some people wouldn’t like my books.”

“Oh no,” Rinoa said, correcting Seifer, “it’s not that, it’s just-“ she paused, trying to find the exact wording she wanted. “When you were torturing Squall, three years ago, you were torturing me as well.” Seifer looked at Rinoa, a puzzled look on his face.

“I don’t understand,” he said to his former girlfriend.

“When we were trying to find Squall,” Rinoa started, “we went to Ellone, and asked her to use her powers to put me in Squall’s body, and I, well, intruded on a torture session.” Seifer looked down at the floor.

“I-I did the same thing,” Seifer confessed. Rinoa looked at him.

“Huh?” She asked. “What do you mean?” Seifer took a deep breath, and prepared to spill the beans to Rinoa.

“A few months after I was imprisoned,” he started, still avoiding Rinoa’s stare, “I was feeling guilty for all I had done. Ellone had told me about how she helped Squall and co. during the Ultimecia war by putting their minds into the bodies of Laguna and co, so I asked her to put me into Squall’s body when I was torturing him, so that I could feel what he felt. I lasted 25 minutes, maybe 30 before I was begging to come out.” Seifer closed his eyes before uttering his next statement. “I tortured Squall for six straight hours,” he said, thoroughly ashamed of himself. Rinoa gasped at the revelation- she’d previously been told (by Squall) that it had only been in the two-hour region. Seifer continued with his speech.

“Of course, I immediately wrote to Squall, begging his forgiveness,” he said, his eyes open again. “It didn’t matter that he’d already forgiven me, I wanted, needed him to forgive me again. Of course, a letter came back shortly afterwards in which he forgave me, again, but do you know what’s stayed with me to this day?” Rinoa shook her head. “The revelation that I am a weak man.” Rinoa shook her head.

“You’re not weak, Seifer, you’re just-“ Seifer cut her off before she could speak further.

“I am weak, Rinoa,” he continued, “I was just a torturer. I took pleasure in hurting someone else. I was weak. I was pathetic.” Rinoa put her hand on Seifer’s shoulder, trying to comfort the man she once had strong feelings for.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she started, “you were under Ultimecia’s influence. Even Squall succumbed to it. You can’t blame yourself for what you did.”

“Oh yes I can, Rinoa,” Seifer retorted, “and I do. I couldn’t even beat a figment of my imagination, either…” Rinoa shook her head.

“She wasn’t a figment of your imagination, Seifer,” Rinoa replied. “She was real. Well, sort of, anyway. And you did beat her.”

“No I didn’t,” Seifer said in response, “you got rid of her for me, remember?” Rinoa smiled.

“Look at me, Seifer,” Rinoa said, slowly, Seifer turned to face her. Rinoa took Seifer’s head in her hands and looked him straight in the eye.

“Listen to me,” she started, “you beat Ultimecia all by yourself. I didn’t help you at all- only Squall needed my help. Do you understand me?” Seifer nodded, although his eyes betrayed the fact that he still didn’t fully comprehend what she was saying. “If you’re so weak, Seifer, then how come you could break a powerful sorceress’s mind control?” Seifer started to smile, prompting Rinoa to grin too.

“You’re right,” he said, genuinely happy for the first time in what seemed to Seifer like an age. He gave Rinoa a quick, friendly hug. “Thanks.”

“Thank you,” Rinoa said, ending their hug and slowly standing up, leaning on Seifer’s shoulder for support. “Hey, your shoulder’s got a lot better,” she said, commenting on the injury Seifer had suffered at the same time Rinoa had saved Squall from Ultimecia’s mind control. Seifer looked at his right arm, and flexed it a little.

“Yeah, it is, a little bit,” he commented with a smirk, before standing up and showing Rinoa out. “It was good seeing you.” Rinoa smiled, and gave Seifer another brief hug.

“It was good seeing you too,” she said. They leaned in towards each other, as if to kiss, but Rinoa backed off at the last moment.

“I-er, bye, Seifer,” she said, leaving hurriedly.

“Bye!” Seifer said after her, as the door closed and he heard the familiar click of the lock. He went and sat down on his bed, fond memories of his summer with Rinoa filling his head. He then turned to look at the clock, but something caught his eyes- the case of his gunblade, Hyperion, which had not been opened in over three years. Seifer flexed his right arm again, and smiled. He stood up, and walked over to the case, opening it, and using his right hand, picked the weapon up by its handle. At eight and a half pounds, it was not the lightest of instruments, but Seifer felt no pain from his old wound, and indeed, Hyperion felt as much a part of him as it had done four years previously. He swung it in a tight circle around him, but still felt no pain. He started laughing to himself. Back in action… he thought, believing that his days as a warrior, as a knight, might not be over just yet. Just then, he heard the intercom go off again. I’m popular today… Seifer thought as he moved over to his bed.

“Send them in,” Seifer commanded, pre-empting the guard’s question.

“Yes, Mr. Almasy,” the guard replied, opening the door to his quarters, through which the visibly annoyed Fujin and Raijin entered.

“You took your f**king time,” Seifer said, irritated himself at their tardiness. He’d expected to meet with them several hours earlier, and had got annoyed when he hadn’t so much as heard from them in that time.

“Man,” Raijin replied, “you wouldn’t believe what happened to us, ya know!”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Seifer said, lying down on his bed. “So what’s the latest on the serialisation deal?” Raijin and Fujin looked at each other with sympathetic eyes (or, in Fujin’s case, eye in the singular)- what they’d been through with Zell had been worse even than the customs at Esthar during the holiday period- and now Seifer expected them to get straight down to business. However, they both controlled their frustration, and got on with what Seifer had asked them to do. He was, after all, their boss…

Chris had been travelling through the desert for over 12 hours. He’d set off just before nightfall, so as to avoid the midday sun. However, it had been morning for over two hours by now, and Chris was getting fatigued, in spite of the fact that he was travelling by jeep, as opposed to on foot. He’d successfully made it out of Balamb by train, and had arrived in Galbaldia shortly afterwards. Upon his arrival, he immediately headed towards the desert, in the hopes of finding Seifer’s old base of operations. He was about to give up and head back to Balamb when the three ominous corkscrew-shaped towers loomed large in front of him. Chris smiled, and drove up to the long-abandoned prison. Once he had arrived, he set about the task of gaining entry.

Surprisingly for him, it only took a mere ten minutes to break through the locks leading into the main building. He entered the prison, eager to know what he was going to find.

“So what dirty little secrets have you got hidden in here, Seifer?” He chuckled to himself as he started climbing the stairs, looking for Seifer’s former living quarters. When Squall had told Chris exactly how and why his sister had died, he’d made the confidential report of the mission available to him, an offer that Chris had been unable to refuse. In it, he’d not skipped on any detail of Seifer’s transformation of the prison into his headquarters, and when Chris had been forced out of Balamb, he’d immediately made plans to seek it out, hoping that it would contain clues of any potential weaknesses that he could exploit. However, Chris failed to find a single thing on the first eight floors, and his patience was starting to wear a little thin as he reached the ninth. However, he perked up, as he read the label of the first door he came to.

“Video vault,” he said out loud. Chris smiled- he’d remembered Squall’s report detailing how Seifer left video messages at the scene of every crime, and he wondered to himself whether or not Seifer had kept a video diary as well. It may have been an ironic choice of media for the one of the world’s best-loved authors, but Chris was not interested in splitting hairs, he was more interested in splitting Seifer and Squall in half. He entered the vault, and was confronted by over 250 videocassettes, each one probably three hours in length, possibly more. Chris quickly worked out that that equalled a month’s viewing time alone, meaning that many of them had to be security tapes. Nonetheless, it was exactly what he had been looking for, so he plugged in the VCR (and was surprised to find that the power was still on), put a tape in the machine, and sat down to watch it, with a notebook and pen in one hand, and a bag of popcorn in the other. He was disappointed to find that it was merely a security tape, but Seifer did appear in it, so he watched it through to the end…

Chris was in the middle of his seventh tape, early the following morning, when a loud roar coming from overhead interrupted him. He immediately stopped the tape (which, like the other six, was another security tape) and he ran upstairs, hoping to catch a glimpse of what it was that had interrupted him. He arrived on the observation balcony just in time to see the sleek shape of the Ragnarok pass overhead, heading west.

“Just what are you doing here?” Chris mused out loud as he watched the spaceship fly off into the distance. Hurrying, Chris ran back into the tower to fetch the pair of high-powered binoculars he’d packed in his bags. He quickly headed back onto the balcony and turned his binoculars up to 750X magnification, the highest setting he could. He observed the Ragnarok land at a small bunker, and watched as 5 figured emerged from the craft. Although the figures were very, very small in his vision, Chris correctly identified the leader of the group as Squall, easily recognisable with his hairstyle and his dress sense. Chris didn’t think too much of it, assuming that it was just Squall leading a bog-standard mission, until he saw a tall man with short gingery-blond hair limp out on crutches. The man was wearing a long, white coat. Chris smirked.

“Ah, the game’s afoot,” he thought to himself, as he continued his observation of the SeeDs. He watched them all enter the bunker, only to re-emerge 20 minutes later, dragging two heavy-looking metal containers behind them. Huh? Chris thought to himself. What’s going on here? He continued watching as the containers were loaded aboard the Ragnarok, which promptly took off. Chris was puzzled.

“That’s strange,” he thought to himself. He then thought of the little surprise he’d left on board the Ragnarok, and wondered if it was the right time to spring it on the crew. After all, his two enemies were both on board the ship, and he’d most likely never get a better chance. However, Chris was worried about the containers- they could feasibly make the explosion a lot bigger, and kill a lot of innocent people- himself included. Eventually, Chris decided he needed to find out exactly what was going on. Waiting until the Ragnarok was overhead, Chris launched a spyphone, a highly advanced listening device he’d used many times while training for covert operations, towards the spaceship. He smiled, as the small machine, developed from Esthar technology, made a dull ‘thud’ as it connected with the underside of the cockpit. The small rocket that was used to deliver the machine to the spacecraft detached itself from its payload, and Chris put on a pair of headphones, and listened in.

“Did you just feel something?” Squall asked, tapping the part of the floor where he was standing with his foot.

“I didn’t feel a thing,” Quistis replied. “It’s probably just turbulence.” Squall was not convinced.

“It definitely felt like something flew up into us from beneath,” he stated.

“A bird, maybe?” Nida, who was flying the ship, commented.

“Maybe,” Squall said, sitting down on one of the chairs. He was still a little uneasy about having on board two bombs that could, feasibly, blow a hole the size of the Great Salt Lake out of the world…

To all those involved with the mission to the asteroid, the five following days went by like a flash. Squall, Quistis and Irvine were all sent to Esthar for training that would help them in the miniscule gravity of the asteroid; meanwhile, Seifer was left at Balamb, with nothing else to do on his end but remember the pass codes for the bombs and not lose his eyes. With nothing better to do, Seifer simply sat down with his typewriter and continued with his latest book, which was going to be a book of his favourite quotations- in prison, Seifer had heard many sayings which had made sense to him, and he’d decided that he’d put them all in one volume and see if anyone bought it (which they invariably would).

On the third day of the five, Seifer was hard at work on the typewriter, writing up his review of the phrase “if you can’t beat them, join them”, a phrase which struck Seifer as being highly appropriate, given his current surroundings. He’d sent Fujin and Raijin back to their hotel in Balamb a few hours previously and had instructed the guard outside not to interrupt him unless it was an emergency. Naturally, however, as Seifer was just getting into his flow, typing like a man possessed, his intercom went off and his train of thought got derailed. Seifer sighed, and answered the buzzing of the intercom.

“Yes, what?” He asked, making sure the guard outside could detect the irritation in his voice.

“Telephone call for you, Mr. Almasy.” Seifer sighed again. He’d also ordered the guards to turn away all non-urgent calls. However, even if it was urgent, Seifer was in no mood to be interrupted.

“Tell them I’m on the crapper,” he instructed, getting ready to resume his typing.

“She says it’s life-or-death urgent, I’m afraid, and won’t take no for an answer,” the guard replied, sympathetically. Seifer scowled, and flashed his middle finger at the door, in front of which the annoying guard was stood.

“OK, let her speak,” Seifer sighed, picking up the receiver of the telephone. “Hello?”

“S-Seifer?” Seifer immediately recognised Rinoa’s voice. However, she sounded upset, almost as if she’d been crying.

“Rinoa? Are you OK?” Seifer responded, genuine concern replacing the irritated tone his voice had previously had.

“I-I’m all alone,” Rinoa replied, sounding as if she was choking back tears. “I just need some company.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be down there faster than you can say Quetzacotl,” Seifer said, hanging up the phone. He got on his feet, and banged on the door to alert the guard.

“Hey!” Seifer shouted. “Get your arse in gear! We’re going for a little trip!” He threw on his coat, and followed the guard as he escorted him the short distance to Squall and Rinoa’s quarters.

Rinoa was sitting at the end of her bed with a blanket wrapped around her when she heard the knocking at the door.

“Come in,” she said, not looking up. She heard the ‘click-click’ of crutches, and looked up, looking at Seifer face-to-face.

“You said you needed some company,” he said as the door closed behind him and he sat down on the bed next to Rinoa. Rinoa, keeping the blanket tightly wrapped around her, snuggled in closer to Seifer.

“I-I had a bad dream,” the dark-haired woman started, as she leaned her head into Seifer’s bicep. There was a brief pause.

“Is that all?” Seifer asked, keeping a jokey tone to his voice in an effort to lighten Rinoa’s spirits.

“What?” Rinoa asked, momentarily lifting her head from his arm, before leaning it back there again. “It was REALLY bad. I didn’t know who else to turn to…”

“In other words, Selphie and chickenwuss are both asleep,” Seifer joked again. Rinoa looked up again, and stared Seifer in the face.

“Can you take this seriously, please?” She asked, her voice still unsteady but with irritation definitely setting into it. Seifer simply chuckled.

“Take what seriously? You had a bad dream, that’s all,” he said with a broad grin on his face.

“This is no ordinary nightmare,” she replied, burying her head back in Seifer’s arm. “It was about the mission. Something went wrong, and you all died.” Seifer simply continued chuckling.

“I’m not planning on dying anytime soon,” Seifer retorted. “It’s just a bad dream. Get over it. When I had Ultimecia messing with my head a few years back I had about 4 or 5 per night. I still do, sometimes.”

“What do you do?” Rinoa asked, genuinely curious. Seifer simply shrugged.

“I get over it,” he replied, smirking. “It’s not like a bad dream can kill you, you know.”

“It’s different for me,” Rinoa retorted, “I’m a sorceress- maybe that means I have premonitions.”

“Or maybe,” Seifer said in response, “it’s the change in hormones from your unborn child messing with your mind and making you paranoid. I mean come on, Rinoa, you must have had a bad dream before. What do you usually do?”

“Wake up Squall and get him to hug me until I fall asleep again,” answered Rinoa. Seifer nodded- that’s what he’d guessed.

“Well I’m afraid I’m not Squall,” he started, “for one thing I’m not a shortass and another thing is I don’t have a stupid haircut.” Rinoa sat bolt upright at this and punched Seifer in the arm.

“Squall’s far sexier than you are, you big lump!” Rinoa said, taking offence at Seifer’s comment.

“…but I suppose it’s all a matter of taste,” Seifer said, finishing his earlier thought. “My point is, if you need a hug, all you have to do is ask.” Rinoa fidgeted a little bit.

“…It’d be too awkward,” she finally said. “I wouldn’t feel right, with Squall being away…” Seifer interrupted her by standing up, and preparing to leave.

“Fair enough,” he started, “I’m sure Angelo’d be up for a hug instead.” He picked up his crutches and prepared to leave. Rinoa struggled to her feet after Seifer, keeping the blanket wrapped around her.

“No, wait,” she said, “I’ve changed my mind.” Seifer smiled and sat back down, followed by Rinoa. She snuggled in towards him, burying herself into his chest, but still keeping the blanket tightly wrapped around her, something Seifer finally called Rinoa on.

“What’s up with the blanket?” Seifer asked, his curiosity finally getting to him as to why Rinoa had had it tightly wrapped around her all throughout. Rinoa hesitated, blushing a little bit.

“…I haven’t got any clothes on,” she said, embarrassed. Seifer started laughing out loud at this little revelation, and Rinoa, to her surprise, started laughing too.

“Not even that battered old pair of shorts you’re so fond of?” Seifer asked as he put his arms around her.

“Hey!” Rinoa said, looking up at him with an irritated look on her face before leaning back into his chest, “I’ll have you know they are not battered.”

“Only because you bought a new pair 7 months ago,” Seifer retorted. Rinoa looked at Seifer again, but this time, she wasn’t irritated, she was smiling. Seifer tightened his embrace around her. How different things might’ve been, he thought to himself, as gradually, she fell asleep in his arms, smiling…

The morning Sun shone down on the Ragnarok on the day of the launch, just as the four soon-to-be astronauts prepared for departure. Squall, Irvine and Quistis had returned from Esthar the previous night, so that Squall and Irvine could spend the night with their wives. While the mission was not deemed to be high risk, they were still going into outer space, and would be landing on an asteroid, and the dangers kind of spoke for themselves. While Squall and Irvine were spending quality time with Rinoa and Selphie, however, Quistis was still trying to work up the courage to tell Zell what she felt for him. Eventually, however, she decided that it would be inappropriate to tell him anything the night before she departed on a mission, especially such an unprecedented mission. Or was that just me wimping out? Quistis thought to herself as she made her way past Selphie and Rinoa towards the spaceship. Oh, Hyne, there he is… Quistis thought as she eyed Zell, who was standing on the ramp leading into the Ragnarok.

“Hi Quis!” Zell said to the longhaired instructor. “You gotta give me your bags, so you can go get strapped in in the cockpit. You gotta pull a lot of G’s to get into space, you know!” Zell was being surprisingly enthusiastic, especially so for half past five in the morning. Maybe he’s disappointed he’s not coming on the mission, Quistis thought as she diligently handed her bags over to Zell and got ready to change from her usual peach-coloured outfit into her spacesuit. Before she did so, however, she was overcome by the moment.

“Zell?” She asked, as she saw Zell carefully secure her luggage at the far end of the corridor. After he had done so, he jogged back to the entrance, answering Quistis’s call.

“Yo, what’s up?” He asked, innocently. Quistis simply leaned in toward him, and kissed him on the cheek. Zell, despite himself, felt his cheeks go red. “Aww, Quis, what was that for?” He asked, embarrassed.

“I just wanted to say thank you, for everything you’ve done for me,” Quistis said, smiling.

“You coulda just said it out loud,” Zell said, mumbling slightly. “You’d better get changed, the doc’s waiting for you in the cockpit.” Zell’s eyes met Quistis’s for a brief moment, and for the first time, he began to get an impression of what it was Quistis felt for him. “See ya in two days, then,” Zell said, as Quistis walked towards the changing room.

“Yeah,” Quistis said, waving at Zell, “see ya!” She disappeared into the main body of the Ragnarok, and Zell turned round, ready to deal with the next member of the mission. The smile he was wearing vanished immediately.

“Seifer,” Zell said, quietly, and with a hint of anger in his voice. Seifer, on the other hand, said nothing, merely staring down into Zell’s face as he handed him his luggage. Saying nothing more, Seifer hobbled through into the spaceship, where he waited for Quistis to finish changing into her spacesuit, before he did so himself.

“Hey, pal,” Zell heard a familiar voice say behind him, “you gotta learn to be more forgiving. Live and let live, you know?” Zell turned round and took Irvine’s bags from the ponytailed sniper.

“Yeah, whatever,” Zell retorted, securing Irvine’s luggage next to that of Quistis and Seifer. “Get changed- the doc’s waiting for you in the cockpit.” Irvine simply shrugged and turned around, waving goodbye to his wife, before heading into the spaceship. Zell had a while to wait for the last member of the crew, however, as Squall was still saying his goodbyes to Selphie and Rinoa.

“You’re in charge until I get back, Selphie,” Squall instructed the wheelchair-bound SeeD. “I will support any decisions you make.” Selphie smiled, and saluted her commander.

“Yes sir!” She then noticed that Squall had turned to talk to Rinoa, and decided to wheel herself the 400 yards back to the small HQ Cid had set up, which would be acting as ground control for the mission.

“So, you’re going now,” Rinoa mumbled, avoiding eye contact with her husband.

“I’ll be back soon,” Squall said, smiling reassuringly. “You take care. Both of you.” Squall placed his hand on Rinoa’s slightly expanded belly. Rinoa looked into Squall’s eyes.

“I wi- we will,” she said, laughing a little at her mistake. She and Squall shared a brief yet tender kiss, and an even tenderer hug, before he picked up his bags, and headed toward the spaceship. She watched as Zell loaded his bags on board, and as he entered the ship, vanishing out of sight. Zell then disembarked and walked over to Rinoa, handing her her crutches.

“Don’t worry,” the spiky-haired SeeD said, sensing Rinoa’s troubled mood, “he’ll be fine. You mark my words. Even WITH Seifer on board.” Rinoa smiled briefly at Zell, before heading off towards the ground control with him.

On the bridge, the four spacesuit-clad astronauts were securely strapped into their chairs while Dr. Kadowaki was giving them their final going-over prior to departure.

“As you know, you will be undergoing two major burns of the Ragnarok’s engines- one to get into orbit, one to break out of orbit. Each one will be accompanied by G-forces of 5 to 6 times what you’re used to, so be prepared. Seifer, the local anaesthetic I’ve given you should prevent your knee injury from hurting too much.” Seifer nodded, looking down at his leg, which had already gone numb from the injection. “Are you sure you don’t want any anaesthetic for your shoulder, Squall?” Squall simply shook his head.


need to be focused on the mission,” he stated, clearly, “anaesthetic would just fog my mind.” Dr. Kadowaki nodded.

“Well make sure you’ve got plenty of healing magic with you just in case, and let’s hope you won’t need it. Does anyone have any further questions?” When no one spoke up, the doctor took it as her cue to leave. “Well then, I wish you good luck.” Dr. Kadowaki took the lift back down to the ship’s main hold, and disembarked. With everyone but the crewmembers off the Ragnarok, Quistis, in the pilot’s seat, started up the newly enhanced engines, and the Ragnarok slowly lifted off.

Ground control was a flurry of activity as they prepared for the first firing of the Ragnarok’s engine.

“T-minus 120 seconds, over,” Xu, acting as mission controller, stated.

“Copy that, over,” Irvine, Quistis’s co pilot for the mission, replied. Xu snuck a quick look behind her, watching what was going on. There were about 8 Ragnarok specialists, who had been sent from Esthar by Laguna, and they were all busy recording data from the engines. Next to her, Nida was busy confirming the Ragnarok’s course, and on the other side of her sat Selphie and Rinoa, who both had Zell trying (and failing) to keep their minds off the danger that Squall and Irvine were about to put themselves into.

“T-minus 90 seconds,” Xu stated. “Confirm altitude please, Ragnarok, over.”

“Altitude at 9 miles, over,” Irvine’s disembodied voice said over the speakers. Xu, however, had become preoccupied with the two women sat to her left. Although Zell was still talking, Rinoa and Selphie were obviously not interested with what he was saying, instead looking at the floor. Selphie, in particular, was quite upset with being able to hear Irvine’s voice, but not being able to talk back to him. Knowing how upset she’d be if her husband, whom she adored, had to go away for several days on a dangerous mission such as the one Irvine were on, Xu decided to let herself have a moment of weakness. Catching Selphie’s attention, she gestured “come here” with her hands. With a broad grin on her face, Selphie wheeled herself over towards the command console, and parked herself next to Xu’s chair. Xu activated the microphone again, but not before casting a knowing wink in Selphie’s direction, making the petite brunette giggle a little.

“T-minus 60 seconds,” Xu said, before adding “Ragnarok, there’s someone here who wants to say a few words, over.” Xu turned the microphone over to the ecstatic Selphie, who immediately activated it and began speaking.

“Hi Irvy!” Selphie energetically squeaked down the microphone.

“Sefie?” Irvine answered, surprised at hearing his wife’s voice. “Is that party still on?” He then asked in a cooler, more typically Irvine voice.

“You bet!” Selphie answered. “We’re gonna have cake, ice cream, streamers, lots and lots of champagne, and, of course, the most important thing!”

“You mean balloons?” Irvine asked, jokily. Selphie giggled a little, while Xu continued her countdown.

“T-minus 30 seconds, over,” she said into the microphone, before handing back to Selphie.

“No, silly!” Selphie exclaimed, “The most important thing is the four of you!”

In the cockpit, the spacesuit-clad Irvine grinned inside his helmet.

“Thanks, Sefie,” he said. “I love you.” There was a brief pause before Selphie replied.

“I love you too, Irvy-poo,” she said, sweetly, making Seifer and Squall have to suppress sniggers of their own.

“T-minus 15 seconds, over,” Xu stated over the radio.

“OK, people,” Quistis said, taking charge, “brace yourself for the acceleration. It’s gonna be one minute you’ll never forget.”

“Approaching optimum altitude, over,” Irvine stated into the radio.

“Copy that, Ragnarok,” Xu said over the radio. “Engine burn one in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, now.” As the crew of the spaceship braced themselves for the acceleration, Quistis pulled hard back on the steering column, and instantly, the sound of the radio was drowned out by the deafening noise of the Ragnarok’s engines.

Squall thought he was prepared for the intense gravitational forces of the engine burn, but he was wrong. He was expecting a few mere strains on his muscles, but instead, with the weight of his spacesuit, it felt like a 400 lb man was not only sitting on him, but also forcing his way back into his body. After a few seconds, it died down, and Squall took several deep breaths to fill his lungs, and to attempt to combat the pain in his shoulder, which had become almost blinding. He calmed himself by closing his eyes tight, and thinking of his wife, but even that couldn’t drown out all the white noise being produced by his shoulder. He felt his breaths becoming more and more shallow, and he felt himself start to black out. Then, after a few more seconds, Squall felt the intense gravity ease, and gradually fade away. After a few more seconds, it died down to easily tolerable levels. A few seconds more, and Squall felt like he was floating in his seat.

In fact, much to Squall’s surprise, he was floating in his seat.

“Ground control,” Irvine started, “we have reached orbit. Altitude confirmed at two hundred and forty-seven miles, over.”

“Copy that, Ragnarok,” Xu’s voice came over the radio, “we are confirming the second leg of your journey now. Don’t worry, this one won’t be nearly as bad as the last one, over.”

“Roger,” Irvine stated into the radio. “Over and out.” Once the radio was de-activated, Squall took control of the situation.

“OK, people,” he said, removing his helmet as the others did so too, “we’ve got about an hour and a half before the next engine burn. If any of you need the toilet or anything, now’s the time.”

“Yeah, I’m dying for a crap after that,” Seifer announced from his seat next to Squall.

“Be my guest, then,” Squall replied, “but be back up here within the hour.” Seifer undid his safety harness, and floated away towards the newly installed toilet facilities of the Ragnarok, while up front, Quistis and Irvine prepared for the next firing of the engines. Squall tried to relax in his chair, and make the pain in his shoulder go away, but before he could do so, he was interrupted by Quistis.

“Are you OK?” She asked as she turned to face him, with a concerned tone in her voice.

“Yeah,” Squall replied, “why wouldn’t I be?”

“Your shoulder…” Quistis was interrupted by Squall waving his injured arm, as if to prove a point.

“It’s fine. Just a little sore, that’s all.” Squall smiled, and tried to convince Quistis that he was alright. Fortunately for him, she was too busy with flying the ship, and was convinced by his story.

“OK,” she said, “if you say so.” She turned away from him, not noticing Squall breathe a sigh of relief, and go back to nursing his shoulder, while back at mission control, they were busy logging what was going on in the cockpit, and calculating the next engine burn.

However, mission control were not the only ones who were listening in on what was going on in the cockpit. In his new home in the D-district prison, Chris was busy taking down every detail of what was being said to, and by, Squall and Seifer. While his microphone had been damaged during the engine burn, he was still picking up enough to get by on. Chris had overheard them discussing the asteroid, and it’s threat to the world, and he had opted to let them carry out their mission before he took his revenge on his two archenemies. After all, he reasoned to himself, what good is vengeance if you’re not alive to enjoy it? As Seifer returned to his seat, having finished his business on the toilet, Chris resumed his note taking, determined to learn as much as he could about the men he despised…

The second burn of the engines was much less dramatic than the first, taking the Ragnarok out of it’s orbit and towards the incoming asteroid. Even at the Ragnarok’s top speed, it would take them 8 hours to reach the rock. Once they were safely en route, the four astronauts took the time to go over their plan.

“Once we’ve landed,” Squall said, detailing each phase of the plan as fully as he could, “Seifer, you arm the bombs, then us three head outside,” Squall said while pointing to Irvine and Quistis. Seifer took the opportunity to mentally remove himself from the discussion- his role, arming the bombs, had been dealt with, and to have said he felt uncomfortable being in the discussion would have been a huge understatement. Yes, he considered all three of his crewmates to be close friends, Squall especially so, but they were all SeeDs, and had been for years. Now that I think of it, Seifer mused to himself, Quistis has been a SeeD for a third of her life. Graduated at 15, now 22. Remarkable. Seifer’s outlook on life couldn’t have been more different to the three people he was supposed to be sharing a discussion with. Squall and Quistis were very much rigid military types. When it came to their work, they did things by the book, and wouldn’t dare question their orders, even though they usually gave them, rather than took them. Irvine too was like that, in spite of his light-hearted persona, when it came time to get on with his work, he could become incredibly cold-hearted and detached. Seifer had noticed that four years previously at the Lunatic Pandora, when he was fighting the SeeDs, he believed that Irvine would not have the heart of steel necessary to finish him off. However, Seifer was proven wrong when Irvine unleashed a tripled ultima spell on him. That alone nearly did for Seifer, but he was able to rally back, eventually. Seifer continued his observations of his friends for several minutes, unaware that his name was being called.

“Seifer? Are you listening?” Squall was trying to verbally prompt the blond man.

“Yo, Seif? You awake?” Irvine said, also trying to get a reaction from him.

“Hmm?” Seifer mumbled, returning from his mental stroll. “Of course I’m listening. Carry on.”

“As I was saying,” Squall said, casting a wary glance at Seifer, “we may need you to warm the ship’s engines in case of emergency.”

“No problem,” Seifer replied, making it sound as if he was listening to Squall, but in reality, his mind had wandered elsewhere again…

The meetings continued, the mission simulations continued, the contingency plans were drawn up, and, eventually, they were about to be put into action, as the Ragnarok approached the four-and-a-half mile wide rock. With his role in the proceedings reduced to that of a mere spectator, Seifer sat back and watched, as the three astronauts, all of whom were younger than he was, carry out the landing procedure like seasoned professionals, rather than 22-year old rookies who’d never landed on anything but fields and airstrips before. Their plan to destroy the asteroid was simple- the asteroid had a large crater on one side, almost as if someone had taken a bite out of it. In the middle of the crater was another, smaller, deeper one, and the bottom of that would have been the centre of the rock, had it been a perfect sphere. The plan was simply to land near the small crater, lower the bombs to the bottom of it using pulleys (which was where Irvine came in- he’d have to use a harpoon gun to get the ropes secured tightly enough), get to a safe distance in the Ragnarok, and set the bombs off. The explosion, it was predicted by the Esthar scientists who ran the simulation, would be big enough to shatter the asteroid into several tiny fragments, none of which posed any real danger. It all seemed so simple, yet the four of them knew that simple would be the last word they’d use to describe it…

Silently, in the darkness, the Ragnarok touched down on the asteroid, a mere 300 yards from their target area. After entering the codes into the nuclear bombs, and setting the detonation at the maximum countdown of 24 hours, Seifer returned to the bridge, and watched as the three SeeDs drove out of the ship in their modified dune buggy, heading into the airless desert of the asteroid.

As they rolled down the ramp of the Ragnarok, the SeeDs tried to keep their minds focused on the job in hand, but all of them, particularly Irvine, were awestruck by what they were witnessing. They were on another world- a small world, yes, but another world nonetheless. Irvine turned his head to look at the landscape around him- it was nothing much to write home about, just dull grey rocks and a few small impact craters, and it would be little more than a huge pile of gravel once the bombs went off, but Irvine still felt privileged to be one of only three people to ever witness it up close and personal. He was busy regretting not bringing his camera when he felt the buggy hit a bump.

“Whoa! Keep it steady, Quis!” Irvine exclaimed as the buggy jumped six feet off the ground, before gently floating down again. “Any bump bigger than that and we’ll jump clean off the rock!”

“Sorry,” Quistis said, trying to keep her attention on driving the buggy towards the crater. A couple of minutes later (they’d had to drive slow in case they did hit any large bumps) they arrived at the crater, and stopped briefly as Irvine fired the harpoon across to the other side of the 300-yard wide hole. The spacesuit-clad sniper gave a whoop of celebration as he watched the spear embed itself in the rock, within just five feet of the target point.

“Whoo!” Irvine exclaimed. “Am I good or am I good?”

“Not bad,” Squall said stoically.

“What D’you mean ‘not bad’?” Irvine asked incredulously. “That was damn near perfect!” Squall and Quistis simply looked at each other, and gave each other verbal shrugs. Quistis then started the motor back up, and headed around to where Irvine’s shot had landed. Once they arrived, they climbed off their vehicle and started setting up their apparatus. All the while, Seifer sat on board the Ragnarok, observing the three SeeDs at work, and not failing to be impressed. However, while he was engrossed, a small alarm started sounding in the Ragnarok’s cabin, drawing his attention away from his friends. A printout appeared in front of him, which he diligently read, before activating the radio to the other three.

“Attention, you three,” he started, “the ship’s detected some seismic activity down there, so I’d watch your step if I were you.”

“What kind of seismic activity?” Irvine asked Seifer over the radio.

“The kind caused by your harpoon shot, probably,” Seifer retorted, chuckling to himself, before he cut off the communications. Before they were cut, however, he did catch the first few words of Irvine’s less-than-friendly reply.

Less than ten minutes later, the pulley was fully set up, and the three SeeDs began the task of getting the bombs where they needed to be. To do this, they had attached yet another pulley to one of the ropes, and dangling underneath it on a long rope was a metal pallet, on which laid the weapons. Once the pallet had been winched out so it was over the centre of the crater, it would then be lowered down so that it was lying at the bottom of the crater. This whole plan left several people confused, Irvine included. He had wondered (out loud) why they couldn’t just load them onto the pallet and simply push it to the bottom of the crater, but he was informed that they were very powerful weapons that needed to be handled with care. Or, as Seifer had put it, “one wrong move and you’re ashes.” Silently and carefully, the SeeDs carried out their task, and before they knew it, the lethal cargo was resting safely at the bottom of the crater. It all seemed like an anti-climax, and Irvine was the first to make himself heard.

“So, what now?” He asked, shrugging.

“The job’s done,” Quistis informed him. “Now, we can go home.”

“You mean that’s IT?” Irvine asked, incredulously.

“Yeah,” Squall said, heading towards the buggy, “that’s it. All we gotta do is wait about 22 hours, and see if the bombs work.”

“What happens if the bombs have a malfunction or something?” Irvine asked, still not satisfied that the job was done. Squall turned back towards the sniper.

“What’s the worst that can happen? They explode more?” Squall said, answering Irvine’s question with a rhetorical question of his own. As Squall headed back toward the buggy, however, he suddenly felt a small tremor beneath him, which caused him to stop dead in his tracks.

“What’s up, Squall?” Quistis asked, wondering why Squall had suddenly stopped.

“Did you feel that?” Squall asked his two crewmates.

“Didn’t feel a thing,” Irvine responded.

“Me either,” Quistis also replied. The ground moved beneath Squall a second time.

“There!” He exclaimed. “There it is again!” He took a step backwards, away from the tremor and towards the edge of the crater, only for the ground in front of him to crack, and Squall turned round just in time to witness the ledge he was standing on break away from the crater edge and start to slide down toward where the bombs were laid.

“Squall!” Irvine and Quistis both shouted, as they struggled against the low gravity, trying to clamber toward the ever-receding Squall. They were too late, however, and Squall soon found himself standing at the crater’s bottom.

“Oh, crap,” Squall thought out loud.

“Squall!” Quistis shouted over the radio and into Squall’s ear. “Are you OK?”

“Yeah,” Squall confirmed, “I’m fine, but I’m stuck down here.”

“Squall?” Seifer said over the radio, interrupting the conversation. “I’m watching your situation, and I’ve got a plan. Why not use the pallet? The gravity’s low enough for you to move the bombs by yourself, and you can simply get on the pallet and be winched back up.”

“It’s that simple?” Quistis asked.

“I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be,” Seifer retorted.

“OK then,” Squall said, approving Seifer’s plan, “where should I place the bombs?”

“Anywhere that isn’t on the pallet,” Seifer replied condescendingly. “Hell, you can even lean them against a rock, they’ll still work OK.”

“Alright, then,” Squall said, “Just give me a few minutes.” With that, the radio transmission was cut, and Squall started heading towards the bombs. Squall, like Irvine, was disappointed with the whole anti-climactic feel of the mission, but Squall realised that they were, after all, in outer space, and if anyone did suffer a mishap, it was likely their spacesuit would be punctured, and that would be the last anyone would ever hear of them. No doubt if Rinoa were here it’d have been more exciting, he thought to himself, musing over the several missions (Ultimecia incident included) where he had assigned himself and Rinoa same mission, and one of them had inevitably wound up rescuing the other (although admittedly, as Rinoa became more experienced, it happened less). As Squall was thinking of what good luck it was that Rinoa was too injured to be on the mission, he suddenly stopped, spotting something in the corner of his eye. He turned to face the strange object that had grabbed his attention- it was a small orb, jet black in colour, but perfectly spherical. It was embedded halfway into the wall of the crater, and looked as if it had been there for several thousand, if not several million, years. How could something like that survive at the bottom of an impact crater? Squall thought to himself. Usually, when an impact or an explosion creates a crater, everything that used to be in the crater gets vaporised very quickly indeed. Re-assuring himself he had the time, Squall walked over to the orb. As he approached it, much to his surprise, it started pulsating, glowing a greenish colour. The closer Squall got, the faster it pulsated, until it eventually started vibrating. Squall felt connected to the orb somehow, as if he’d seen it somewhere before. He was like a moth that was attracted to a light- he couldn’t draw his eyes away from it no matter how much he tried, and, eventually, he reached out his hand, and placed it on the orb. The second he touched it, the orb, for an instant, glowed pure green, and stopped vibrating. Then, Squall felt himself get pulled into the green light, and a million images filled his mind. Images that Squall had never seen before in his life…

A man with long, silver hair, brandishing a long katana…

A blonde-haired woman riding what looked like some sort of robot walker…

A green-skinned, overweight queen overlooking the destruction of a country…

People swimming underwater, playing some sort of futuristic ball game…

Airships of every kind, big, small, jet-propelled…

A girl, wearing a pink dress, selling flowers…

An army of warriors, none of which had facial features, save for two glowing yellow eyes…

A clown, smiling a smile of pure evil…

Giant dragons, bearing down on a group of friends…

A green-haired woman calling forth magical beasts…

A brown-haired woman in a long blue skirt, dancing on top of the water.

Squall witnessed all of the images, and while it may have been the first time he saw any of them, they felt oddly familiar to him, as if he’d been there when the events took place…

As soon as it had started, it had finished, and Squall found himself standing back at the bottom of the crater, staring at the orb. He took his hand away, and watched, as the orb disintegrated in front of him, and turned into dust at his feet. He was lost in thought for several seconds, before his radio activated, bringing him fully back to reality.

Part 3