On Earth as it is in Hell
by Caleb Nova
Chapter 8: Advent Destiny
"I think love is something you have, but don't always know it. Look at Squall. Why else would you jump out of a space station?"
-Irvine Kinneas, The SeeD and the Sorceress
Ender's Game. A novel that tells the tale of a boy torn from everything he knows to a place strange, terrifying, and outside of all experience. Is this so different from anyone's life? Thrown from circumstance to circumstance, events wild and beyond control. Maybe we end where we want, maybe not. Maybe the story ends somewhere unknown, but just as good or even better than the destination you had set for yourself. Scott is a man for whom fate has a plan. Groping for composure or a handle on this world, he cannot know what is to come. Can we ever really?
Zell contained his exuberance long enough to get out of the Headmasters office, long enough to get to the dormitories, but not long enough to get into his room. Three feet away from his door, the joy had to be spread.
The victorious cry reverberated up and down the halls, startling more than one student and earning him several reproachful stares. Shrugging these off, he gleefully keyed open his door and practically skipped over to his dresser.
The cause for his obvious euphoria was a set of orders, crumpled and shoved into his left pocket. These orders came from Cid, conceding the need for an investigation and giving Zell permission to take one other inactive SeeD operative along if necessary. Packing in a hurried frenzy, he finished quickly and sped down the hall toward the library, where he knew Rinoa would be studying for one test or the other. The SeeD exams were grueling, and requesting a library pass could give a student much needed time to cram.
Zell wasn't very observant even when he wasn’t in a rush, so of course things only worsened when he was. He had just entered the library at a dead run when he ran right into the library girl, Amber. The crash was spectacular, and books flew in arcing patterns as they both fell to the floor. Getting up, Zell immediately began scrambling about on his hands and knees, grabbing the fallen books and stacking them in a lopsided pile. Amber was still picking herself up from the floor when he finished and, giving out a quick apology, ran past her into the reading area.
He might not have been so hasty, but Amber was always, well, weird around him.
Rinoa was as he had predicted, hunched over a massive tome of Centra history. Smiling in anticipation, Zell ran over to her side.
She looked up from her studies. He could tell she hadn't really been working, her eyes far away. He grinned, certain he had the news that would bring those eyes back to life.
"I was up in Cid's office today, and he gave me permission to go check on Galbadia team, and," He drew out the punchline. "I can take one other SeeD operative with me!"
Excitement became confusion, became an instant vaporization of euphoria when he saw the look on her face and realized what he had forgotten all along.
"I'm not a SeeD yet Zell."
She hadn't needed to say it, but there it was. Zell's personality came through and impossible hope welled.
"I'll go to the headmaster, I'll ask him-"
She cut him off with a sad shake of her head.
"I already did Zell. He asked me to meet him, he said," She bit her lip, understanding but not wanting to. "That with my power.. I'm a Sorceress, Zell. Galbadia wouldn't want me there, they might panic, they might..." Hurt Squall.
Zell slumped in a nearby chair. His eyes met her.
"All right," He said. "But I'm not taking anyone else along. I mean, this is pretty important, right?"
The moment turned awkward, them now looking away from each other. With nothing more to say, Zell stood up to leave.
"Be careful." Bring him back.
He left, and she sat unmoving for awhile, wishing success, fearing what might happen, frustrated she couldn't help. Or was there a way?
Since the night before she hadn't touched or used her GFs, still uncertain, not knowing what had happened. But there was a time for everything.
She went to her room, being sure to lock the door behind her. Setting her books down on her desk, she pulled out the chair and dragged it over to face the window.
Closing her eyes, she once more reached out with her mind, flexing her power, feeling the aura of it pulsing through her. She reached for Ifrit then stopped, hesitating. She moved away and touched Leviathan. She gasped as the same feeling came over her, expanding, ripping away restraints she hadn't known were there, stretching her humanity.
Fighting it, she forced her mind back into the boundaries, this time controlling the GF enough to focus the surge.
I apologize. I did not mean to bend your psyche so.
Rinoa wildly cast about with her thoughts, trying to find the entity invading her mind. She had been positive no one could break into her aura, the power of a Sorceress would be required. Slowly, she realized that the voice was not coming into her mind, but already resided there.
Yes, it is I. You reached for me, did you not?
But this is.. Why did Ifrit not speak to me? I mean, so.. Fluently.
If a GF could chuckle, then Leviathan did.
Ifrit is as rash and fiery as his element. His contact is simple. He is sorry for any harm done to your mind, it was not his intent to rush you.
Rinoa hadn't known the GFs were personalities.
I'm okay, he was helpful in his own way.
Then let it be known that I can be even more so. Articulate your need to me.
'Articulate your need to me?' GFs were also apparently rather formal. She dredged up three years of speech and etiquette lessons from her childhood as a member of the privileged in Deling.
I have a need that you assist me in the search for a single essence.
Leviathan laughed again.
There is no need to conform your speech for me, child. I have no ears and no sensibilities to speak of.
Help me find Squall.
Of course child.
This time the trip was not so rough or fast. Given almost total control, Rinoa sped towards Deling only gently guided by Leviathan. When they approached Deling, Leviathan stopped them both, suspended.
What is it Leviathan?
Rinoa could sense a sort of unease in Leviathan, making her uncomfortable. If a GF was worried, she should be on guard.
Leviathan gave off a signal the equivalent of a mental frown.
There is a disturbance here. Ifrit spoke of something like this before, but it did not stop him. But now the... Form of things is torn, knotted. This prevents us from getting closer, for there is nothing there for us to traverse. Strange, I have never encountered anything of this magnitude.
Rinoa felt helpless, unable to reach Squall, who was somehow within that mental block.
Leviathan, will this affect normal people? People who don't touch this plane?
Only if the Knot becomes severe enough to rupture. Otherwise, it is apparent only to us.
Relieved, Rinoa decided on her next best option.
Lets find Zell.
I believe he is at the Balamb docks. Shall we go there?
Zell tapped his foot impatiently, waiting for the boat to arrive. This mission was undercover, so no official SeeD transport could be used. His orders gave him just enough credit to use standard civilian travel methods without dipping into his own pocket.
It was a shame, really, since he loved to stand on the deck of the SeeD transports. The way they cut through the water was exhilarating, the sea spray shooting off the bow and glistening on the steel plates-
"Yeah?" Zell turned around, expecting some native to have recognized him. There was no one looking at him, or anyone by him. The other people on the dock were several piers down, fishing or waiting for other boats. Everyone else was just passing by.
Shrugging it off as the wind, he turned back to the ocean.
"Okay," He glared around, earning him several strange glances from the men on the docks. "Who the hell said that?"
Zell, it's me, Rinoa!
"Rinoa!?" Zell almost gave himself whiplash scanning for her. "Where are you?"
I'm not here, I'm talking to you from somewhere else!
Zell laid his bags down, scratching his head. "Oh really? You know what I think? I think you just snuck down here because you want to see Squall."
He took several steps towards the nearest building, in front of which a pile of stacked barrels made a conspicuous hiding place. "Am I getting warmer?"
Zell! Stop it and listen to me!
"AH-HA!" He shouted as he dove for the barrels, knocking them over. To his surprise, Rinoa was not behind them.
One of the fishermen called from down the docks. "You okay there son?"
Zell ignored him, pacing in front of the fallen barrels.
"But how?" He argued, apparently to himself from all the bystanders points of view. A mother shopping for fish was edging her young daughter away from him.
"I'm here, you’re in the Garden, this doesn't make any sense!"
Trust me, I found a way. I'll be following you around for the trip.
"If you can be invisible or whatever, why don't you go find Squall?"
I can't reach him, there's some sort of field that prevents me.
"Oh great, another Sorceress."
He had been kidding, but became concerned when she didn't answer.
No. I would know if there was another. I can sense power like mine, GFs and magic. I couldn't not sense another Sorceress.
"Well, okay then."
I'll keep in touch.
Then she was gone. Zell picked up his things, marveling at this new discovery. He walked back to his place at the front of the pier. Humming to himself, it took him a minute to notice that everyone who had not fled was staring at him, wide-eyed. He frowned.
Scott rolled over, desperately trying to find comfort where there was none. The cold concrete was not only hard, but the surface was curved and vaguely damp. He gave up, propping himself uncomfortably against the tunnel wall, back curved, legs straight and head bent with the sloping pipe. He and the others were camped in an abandoned piping project, some sort of water system that had never been connected or completed. The tube they lay within was quite large, at least twelve by twelve feet for the interior and forty something feet long. Despite this, the wall still sloped too much for Scott to get a comfortable head rest.
He didn't know what time it was. Even if he had his watch the time might not be accurate. How long were the days here, or nights? How many days to a month or year? The planetary movements here were a mystery to him. Maybe he could ask Squall, or someone more approachable, like Quistis. He vaguely remembered she had been the smart one in the game.
What Scott didn't know was that everyone else was also awake, lost in thought. In the moments before sleep ends and life resumes, things become apparent. The moment passes, but for a time, all they had was what was true in themselves.
Squall was on the far side of the pipe, just as Scott was on the other end. Squall thought of the mission, thought of the possible perpetrators, enemies, and how to escape. A difficult task this was, but his friends had never failed to pull through. And so I depend on others again. He thought mostly of Rinoa. What you had becomes painfully clear when it's not there. The sound of her voice, the feel of her hair, all came back in detail. She brought out the best in him. And when they were alone, sometimes he could forget everything the world told him he had to be, and just be what he was. Maybe he could never be like Zell or the others, talking, openly laughing, socially comfortable. But Rinoa gave him room for change. In a very real sense, he was only complete with her. It still scared him. But he was no stranger to fear.
Quistis was next to Scott. In the night she had unconsciously pressed herself against him, seeking warmth in the cavernous space. She had woke before him, and moved away. He seemed a nice guy, but she didn't care for him that way. He might misunderstand. That seemed the way of it now days. No one seemed to catch her eye, not since Squall. It had been hard to admit to herself that she didn't really love him. Doing so destroyed a center part of her concept of who she was, her attraction to Squall had seemed a constant, a romantic pastime. But no longer. Truly alone now, without even the illusion of love to comfort her. Perhaps it didn't have to be so, but.. She had never been good at such things. She knew many people at Garden found her attractive, and she could have any one of the Trepies. But the Trepies held nothing for her but hero worship, and her attractiveness was offset by her authority figure, a strong counter that discouraged both lust and sincere interest. She hadn't had the courage or the real will to accept the offers that had been made.
Selphie and Irvine lay in the middle, not together, but not too far apart. Irvine had considered getting closer, but her recent attitude made him wary of trying. He reflected on their past together, the good and the bad. He still wasn't sure of his feelings towards her, and honest enough to admit to himself he wasn't ready to be serious with her or anyone else. The game still seemed exciting, the image of the ladies man his trademark. Someday he would lose the label, but it seemed to not be the right time now. Still, her distance was worrying. Had he given offense? Irvine agonizingly went over his various doings in the previous months, searching for some discrepancy. She knew his occasional advances towards other women weren’t planned to last. Their relationship was difficult to put a tag on. They flirted, spent time together, and were attracted to each other. But they didn’t really date, or share any of the other things that came with a relationship. It was all up in air, and maybe that was the problem. If she was tiring of the game and looking for something to hold on to, well.. He would be sorry to say it, but that something wasn’t him.
Selphie had her share of problems, the majority of them resting in her dilemma with Irvine. She really liked him, she did, and at first being his casual girl had been the best thing ever. But with time the magic faded. When every girl seems to get the same attention you do, how do you know you're special to him? She knew that he wasn't a bad person, it was just his way. He had even joked about with her, made it clear that he wasn't really serious. But neither was she. She knew he didn't love her, she didn't love him. All they had was a mutual attraction and a friendship, and it just wasn’t enough. Wasn’t it okay to want more? And there was… Zell. Zell had always been a good friend to her. Sometimes she just liked watching him, the way he smiled, talked, moved. She was on unexplored ground, unsure of where her feelings lay, and unsure of his. She just didn't know about Irvine, or Zell. These thoughts had consumed her for some time. She knew it made her pensive, and noticeably not her usual self. Torn between two uninformed decisions, Selphie shivered on the tunnel floor.
Scott was coping, which is all that can really be said. Unfamiliar faces, names only read in a game. Nothing of his home to hold on to. He didn't know how the jailer died. He hardly knew how he came to be here, a story which only Squall knew, and would have to be repeated for the benefit of the rest. The part about the game, well... He considered telling them, then decided against it. Not only would it raise doubts of his sanity, but it was pointless. There was nothing to be gained in revealing something of that nature even if they would believe it. Rolling over again, he waited.
Hendrow smiled in the manner of a wealthy uncle, pleased to see the rest of his family and generous to boot. He strolled the perimeter, noting the excellent progress and giving praise wherever he thought spirits were lagging. Chuckling heartily at the high walls taking shape around him, he walked back to the nearly completed temporary bunker, traversing the tent covered green to the base. The only problem thus far had been the lack of space- the wall had to be extended, there were too many men for the space previously planned. The bridge had been behind schedule, but the men on Earthside had managed to deliver the pylons in little extra time. Now the bridge could be completed in a matter of hours.
After the walls were finished, a massive transportation of manpower would result, and the first forays into civilization could occur.
Hendrow had just reached the stairs to descend into the headquarters when a messenger came up to him from the bottom.
"Mr. Hendrow," The messenger saluted, returned by Hendrow. Julian had insisted a military bearing be applied to the proceedings. "Mr. Foss requests your presence."
Hendrow smiled genially. So, Julian finally wished to talk of further plans. "I'm heading there now."
Waving off the messenger, Hendrow made his way through the main hallway towards the elevator. In the interests of speed and simplicity, the bunker was simply built. There were five floors and a basement. Each floor consisted of a two hallways crossing each other like a plus sign. If looking at a flat blueprint, there were two elevators on each floor, one on either end of what on the blueprint would be the vertical hallway, save the first floor, which had only one elevator and a set of stairs at the other end. The horizontal hallway was a dead end on both sides . All hallways had numerous doors leading off to their respective rooms. While the basic concrete structure was complete, the internal systems such as plumbing, electricity, and all other functions were still under construction, due to be completed within the week. Julian had hundreds of technicians working shifts to complete the bunker on time. Hendrow still marveled at the amount of willing manpower available if one had the money to command it.
Taking the elevator up to the fifth floor, he walked down the corridor and opened the door to Julian's office. The inside might as well have been his office back in New York. Either the whole office had actually been transplanted or every detail had flawlessly been attended to. Closing the door behind him, Hendrow comfortably seated himself across from Julian.
As always, there was a moment of silence while Julian finished with the papers he had been intently studying.
"Good news,” Julian said, looking up from his work. "We have made fine progress, Michael."
"Indeed we have. Our workers have been industrious."
"Quite. Tell me Michael, what do you think our next move should be?"
Hendrow wasn't fooled, he had known Julian too long. He knew Julian had already decided what to do, but as a friend had decided to ask for his input.
"I have been," Hendrow pulled out his copy of the strategy guide from his carrying case. "Studying these maps for some time now, and, it's interesting- there seem to be relatively few centers of civilization. You see, this map shows very few cities. Indeed, even the walkthrough doesn't really list that many locations even though it explores the world in depth. These people have been through some fascinating things. I hope to meet them."
Julian gave a slight smile. "You will Michael. But we cannot be sure how this is going to go. We may find that conquest is, ah, not in our interests. However, I believe we won't find it necessary to hold back."
"Well, their 'magic', as it is said, will be quite ineffective for one thing. For another, the game guide and the game itself are not entirely accurate. You see, while this world does manifest itself in ours as Gallern supposed, he did not predict the distortion that would occur. We receive the basic story, perhaps, but we lose quite a lot of it. It is, after all, a game. What about all the times they slept? Went to the bathroom? They have to eat three times a day, Michael, they don't have hit points."
"I see. So, there are more cities than this?"
Julian shrugged. "I imagine we will find what you would expect from countries of their size and technology. It will vary."
"So we will not have a small, easy to control population."
"A population doesn't have to be small to control it, Michael. And this is not an overnight undertaking, nor do we have to aim for world domination. If there is some way to harness this magic as an energy source, or perhaps just for its basic function, we will have more power and money than can be imagined. Let’s not take over the world and then find we have nothing to do with it."
"Then this world does not have the mineral wealth we had hoped for?"
"We've made only a few tests, and only in this area," Julian said, pulling several thick folders out of his desk as he did so. "But according to our research division this world is just as mineral rich as ours, and probably just as exploited. We're not dealing with stone age natives, Michael. But let’s not give up hope. First we need to take something, any area of land or country. From studies of the game and other sources we have concluded that Galbadia would be our best bet. The country is politically unstable, with no President, ruled only by a weak cabinet of former Congressmen. It is also quite centralized."
"In what way?"
"If you captured Washington D.C the government would not fall, and there would be immediate retaliation. If we capture this, 'Deling', the government will be ours. Simple. The history we have recovered tells us that Galbadia changes governments often, and uprisings and revolts are commonplace. Perfect. If we take over in the most quick and painless manner possible, the way of life for the masses might not even be interrupted at all."
Hendrow felt better about the prospects, but shifted uncomfortably in his seat at the thought of full-scale fighting. Julian might have enough money to hire a small army, but it was still only a small one.
Julian sensed this. "Relax, Michael. Their military is a joke, devastated by raids from Esthar right after the time period when the game ends. As you've read, one of the central military hubs, the Missile Base, was also destroyed. And if we take Deling, we won't even have a fight. Their military will be our military."
"They will follow people from another world?"
"They followed a Sorceress, Michael, I don't believe they'll have any problem with us. To a soldier, a leader is a leader. Besides, we're not going to tell them that. Our spies in Deling are gathering enough information to create identities for us if needed."
"How in the world did you train spies enough to pass as commoners?"
"All of ours spies were given copies of the manual for careful study and classes from our researchers on the local weather and such. We then trained them to fit in the small villages and towns just around this area. They won't know a few bits of common knowledge such as legends or much of history, but if they speak carefully and don't make themselves conspicuous, no one will know better."
Hendrow sat back in his chair, wiping his forehead. "This is all quite amazing. You've really planned this well."
"I have to Michael. And besides, there is no excuse for the intelligent mind that does not think ahead. These events will all take place soon Michael. Within the week, we will be standing in the Deling Senate Hall."
Hendrow savored the thought. Then another one occurred to him. "You speak of magic being harmless. Is the game so inaccurate that this magic is not used offensively as it appears?"
"No Michael, it is. Fire magic will burn a man and Ice will freeze him. But not us, or anyone else who came from Earthside. You see, it has to do with relative physics. Even I don't completely understand it, and I suspect the scientists don't either for all their assurances. While gravity, time and such are all native to our world and identical components in this one, there is no magic. Our bodies are made of mostly the same stuff as those here, but not completely. Our matter is incompatible with magic. It cannot touch us in any way. Of course, the down side to that being we cannot 'junction' GFs or use these offensive spells. To our matter, the very stuff of which we are made, none of it exists."
"Then how do we harness magic and still be able to use it as energy or otherwise back on Earthside?"
Julian sighed, hands rubbing his temples. "That is our problem Michael. We don't know. Our scientists are still studying matter compatibility back in our Earthside lab. This is a new science, so some of the best researchers in the world jumped at the chance to work on it, but it may be years, even decades, before a solution is found."
Julian leaned back once more and shuffled his folders. "But no matter. We must live in the present, and work on the current problems. Please Michael, go talk to Foreman Valesquez. We are behind schedule for our electric wiring, and he needs these blue prints, if you will."
"I'll see you tonight Michael. We brought in a new chef, dinner should be excellent." Julian returned to his papers, contemplating his new empire.
Chapter 9: Transit Factor
"We were always too busy fighting to worry about getting killed. Well, at least I was. I guess I don't think much when I'm pounding on something."
-Zell Dincht, The SeeD and the Sorceress
What is death? The end, the beginning? The beginning of the end? Death takes many meanings in many cultures, but one thing is certain- once your are dead, it is a permanent state. Perhaps this is where the fear lies. The fear of the unknown, the fear of pain after death. The fear of permanency, a state irreversible. The same fear some get when they consider marriage, that commitment. Unlike marriage, death isn't a choice. But like marriage, death can come before it's time.
Scott sloughed wearily through a patch of ankle deep water, having difficulty keeping his balance on the slightly rounded floor. A bit of light filtered through an unseen grate, the only indication of daytime. This faint light did nothing to improve the look of their surroundings. Slime glittered dankly on the ceiling, and the occasional drip kept eyes watchful. Ever wary of the possibility their escape had been discovered, Scott was forced to talk on the move.
"If you want it from the first thing," He began, steadying himself momentarily against the wall. "It starts with a scientist, a man named Frederick Gallern."
Zell was crammed into the rear bathroom of the train he had taken from Dollet. His hair was now brown, and he had green contacts inserted in his eyes. His tattoo had been covered with a special makeup, a process that was surprisingly painful. He looked at himself in the mirror as he finished, with the result he looked like he could have been Selphie’s brother.
He was glad he wasn't though. That would have made his feelings towards her unacceptable. The invocation of Selphie's name brought a mix of emotions, but mostly a reminder of his mission. To find her.
Grabbing his gray briefcase by the handle, he tugged at the collar of his restricting business suit and stepped out of the rear compartment, making his way back to his seat. He had gone to the bathroom to fix one of his contacts that had somehow slipped out of position and had been digging painfully into his eye. He didn't really like disguises, at least not that much. They appealed to his dramatic side, but they were usually uncomfortable and sometimes pretty lame. This one wasn't all that bad considering.
Zell's grasp on his assumed persona had always been tenuous at best. When he reached his aisle to find someone else in his seat, he was hard pressed to remember he was now a calm businessman.
Rinoa, as a spectator, wondered why they had cast Zell as a professional, fairly rational character.
Zell bit back an angry cry and cleared his throat, searching for some suitably suave way to ask for his seat back. The people in the row turned to look at him.
Fixing his gaze in what he hoped was a steely stare, Zell spoke.
"Excuse me. You’re in my seat."
He felt this was a pretty good way to start. What he hadn't counted on was the total lack of response from the other passenger.
Angrily, he dropped his facade and opened his mouth for a blistering denouncement of the strangers parentage, personal hygiene and sexual preferences when his speech, or rather thoughts, were arrested by Rinoa.
Don't Zell, there's been a change of plans.
Trying to salvage what was left of his dignity, Zell turned up his nose and marched back down towards the bathroom to reach relative privacy. He faced the wall and attempted not to look crazy.
Jump off the train.
I think that was pretty self-explanatory. Twelve miles up there's a switching station. You need to jump before you get there.
Now you’re just repeating yourself. Look, it's not quite noon there yet. I think you'll want to enter under the city while there's still light.
"Rinoa, this is a nice suit. Why the hell do I want to crawl through the sewers when I can go through the front gate?"
Because there is a bunch of Galbadia soldiers waiting at the next station to take you in.
"Son of a bitch! Tell me these things!"
I just did. Hurry, you better jump soon.
Running to the caboose, Zell pushed passed a startled steward and promptly threw himself off the train. Of course, this did not allow time for planning or preparation for impact. It took Zell awhile to stop rolling.
"Oh, Hyne... My spine... Hey, that rhymes."
Okay Zell, that was real subtle. Shove your way past one of the staff and hurl yourself off without a second thought? Your briefcase is about thirty feet to your left. I somehow think you might need your gloves, so stop being paralyzed and get up.
"Man, you’re nice. You said I had to hurry!"
Maybe not so much hurry. You might have been killed!
No, forget it. I'm sorry, I should have told you that you didn't have to jump right away. Do you mind if you get dirty now? I mean, your suit is already ruined.
"Yeah, it is," He grumbled, getting his now battered case and removing the false bottom to reach his gloves. At least she sounded sheepish. "So how do I get to the sewers?"
The field is interfering even more this close. I can't give you the exact position, but there is a water tower around here somewhere, I think it was never finished, incomplete public works or something. If it's still standing, you should be able to find it.
"Uh, Rinoa? I'm no plumber, but I know water towers don't connect to the sewers."
Yeah, but these old water tunnels should take you at least to the city.
"Are you sure there's a way into them? This sorta counts on the pipes being exposed."
"Oh, like I have a choice?"
He didn't get an answer. Trudging up the embankment, he crossed the tracks and saw the tower, half collapsed and almost hidden behind a grove of trees.
Upon reaching the tower, he discovered Rinoa had been correct. The concrete base had cracked and split wide open when it had fallen sometime in the past. The pipes weren't as large as a sewer tunnel. In fact, he would have to go the way on his stomach.
"Rinoa," He shook his head. "This isn't going to work."
It has too! If you go by foot, they'll catch you in no time, they won't think of these pipes as a way to the city.
"That's because this pipe is impossibly small! It would probably take me more than a day to get to the city by crawling. No way. I'm walking man, enough is enough."
Zell! If you- oh..
"What?" He said, concerned. "What's, 'oh'?"
It doesn't matter. The soldiers are making their way here in a jeep, the steward must have told them when you bailed.
If you run, I can guide you to avoid them. I think if you make the station, you might be able to get into the sewers.
"Awww, man. I hate sewers."
Not a pleasant destination, but you've got to. Hurry, cut around that thing of trees, the jeep is only a mile down the tracks.
"Full speed ahead!"
Zell shot off, sprinting behind the trees and circling until he was hidden. Glancing up at the sky, he noted it was almost noon. It would have been easier to hide at night. The shadows also wouldn't work to his advantage. What he really needed was that jeep.
He began forming a plan in his mind. He didn't share this with Rinoa, she would only tell him not to.
Not long now. Hendrow's enthusiasm had at first seemed indefatigable, but he was wearying of watching the men move like machines as they went through the monotonous task of pouring concrete. And more and more concrete. A person could only look at so much concrete before it all became one big gray blur. And frankly, there wasn't anything else to do.
Hendrow was rescued by a summons from Julian. He wondered why. He didn't have bad news to report, or for that matter, good news. The final tasks were being completed by workers in hard hats with cement trucks and sluices. The planning phase was long over.
Hendrow was also tired. This shouldn't have been a problem as all executive officers had a good ten hours of sleep time allotted. Despite this, it was difficult to put that time to good use. Rolling, tossing, turning, sleeping pills and soothing songs. He wondered if it was the lack of normal sounds. A car passing on the freeway, horns in the distance, the ever present humming of machinery everywhere, that squeal emitted by electronics, just a notch above human hearing. He had heard of things like this, campers from the city unable to sleep without the ambiance. Yet, it seemed to him to be more than just the absence of the ringing in his ears present in high tech society. Something deeper, in the psyche. Something that constantly reminded, you are not at home. You do not belong here. An alien God whispering in his ear.
Nonsense of course, Julian would never hold with it. Hendrow smiled at his own foolishness as his confidence returned. Julian knew what to do, he always did. Alien gods indeed. Preposterous.
Hyne struggled to close a tear, no sooner finishing before another opened. This disturbance was tiring her, she had never been so close to her limits. Still seeking the impossible, she grasped the mind of another Outsider, trying to bend it to her will. She could not, her power unable to maintain a hold, grip slipping free, only briefly touching him.
GO HOME! She shouted, throwing the message to the cosmos. All around the world, people left their jobs early, children skipped school to run back to their houses. The Outsiders rode this mental blast with only slight consequences, a few frowning, even rethinking their decisions about coming to this new world, receiving unvoiced doubts. But that was all.
Frustrated, Hyne turned back to her constant struggle.
"So," Scott let out a breath. "That's the end."
There was a silence as the group digested the information. It had taken over an hour for the telling. Scott had given them the uncut version, rather than the shortened tale he had related to Squall in the cell. Again however, he had omitted his knowledge, however slight, of the video game.
Quistis was skeptical. There wasn't really any reason to doubt his story, but some things just didn't fit.
"I've read some similar theories by Dr. Odine and others, but if you’re from another universe," She questioned. "Then how did you know who we were?"
Shafted. Scott hunted for a suitable lie to tell.
"Well, you’re pretty famous, and I saw you guys in a, uh, Deling City newspaper. You know, an article."
Quistis raised an eyebrow. "What was it called?"
"I forget." Lame, lame, lame!
"How co-" She was interrupted by Selphie.
"Quistis, leave him alone! He's telling the truth, it makes sense."
Quistis was exasperated by her apparently instant acceptance of Scott's ludicrous tale.
"Why Selphie? Where's the proof?"
Selphie turned and looked Scott in the eyes, hands on her hips. "Okay. Who is the main male oh-so-hot character in Balamb House?"
Selphie turned triumphant to Quistis. "See!"
"He might just not watch the show Selphie."
"Everyone watches Balamb House Quisty!"
"Not knowing the name of a show character is not substantial proof o-"
She was cut off again by Squall’s voice this time, echoing up from his position halfway down a ladder to a lower tunnel.
"It doesn't matter," He said, reaching the bottom. "We need to pick up the pace. Garden might have even sent another party to look for us."
Irvine lowered himself after Squall, rearranging his hat when his feet were back on the ground. When Selphie lowered herself next to him, he considered patting her ass, but decided it wasn't really the time to raise that kind of racket. He looked at Squall, raising an eyebrow. "You mean Rinoa or Zell?"
Squall didn't answer, pensive. He may not have replied, but he had heard. Rinoa. He missed her, had even thought he heard her voice. But he didn't want her here, not in this. Luckily, he knew Cid would never allow a non-SeeD to act as an operative.
Realizing he was expected to say something, Squall shrugged slightly. "Maybe. Whoever they send, we need to find them first.”
He motioned to Quistis. "You remember these sewers?"
Quistis shook her head. "No. Not this part, we were never here. But if we can get to the area below the downtown, I can get my bearings."
"Galbadian presence will be too high. We must get past the walls. We can be sure they are already looking for us."
Scott only barely followed this exchange. He was straining his hearing. He could have sworn he had heard something- There. That echo almost like...
The others looked at him in surprise as he gestured with one hand, silencing them. Irvine drew his gun, chambering several rounds he had scavenged. The clink of the ammo was deafening in the sudden quiet.
"What is it?" Irvine asked, lowering his voice.
Scott stood perfectly still, stretching his perception.
"I don't know. Kind of from above, almost.. Sounded like-"
Gunfire burst from the far end of the tunnel. Selphie screamed as bullets whizzed past her head, turning concrete into choking dust, ricochets making the close quarters into a fatal trap.
Irvine returned fire, scattering the soldiers and giving the group a small reprieve. He made it out to be about half a dozen as he retreated behind the ladder, using the slim rungs as the only cover available.
Squall had received gun training during his schooling, but still wished he had Lionheart, which would have made things much easier. Crouching on one knee, he raised his weapon and put two shots in the chest of a soldier that had ducked out of cover.
Scott knew that only by returning fire could they survive this. Then he saw Selphie clutch a damaged shoulder, Irvine painfully grab his pierced leg. It was up to him. He didn't know why, he didn't know how. But it was, he had this something he was wrapped in, pulling him, pulling and-
Hyne sunk her fingers into the Knot surrounding this Outsider. Grabbed it. I will not let my children die! They belong to me, have saved me before, now I will-
Reality jerked and sputtered. Scott found that thing in his mind, saw the tracer streaks flying down the tunnel, saw the enemy about to win-
Hyne flung the Knot to the side, depleting her power and ripping more tears than there had ever been before. Flung it, and-
Then Scott was behind the soldiers. It was but the work of a moment to raise the barrel and send the bullets smashing through flesh, blood and bone. The Galbadians fell to the ground, bodies contorting in the final pains before death.
Hyne heaved with exhaustion, stars and planets faltering in their eternal orbits with her weakness.
There was only the darkness. Mind asking, is it real?
The President was uneasy.
This in itself is not much to say, the President might have been uneasy for any number of reasons. Indeed, the title of President over the United States of America lends itself many reasons for nervousness.
But this time, the President was uneasy because the situation that might be occurring was one no President had ever dealt with before.
Once more, the President scanned the sheets in front of him. Placing them down, he sighed and rubbed his temples.
"So," He said. "This lab is not officially sanctioned?"
The Secretary of State moved his head in a negative. "No sir. We noticed these large movements of men to this private facility only days ago. I'm afraid that there is nothing we can do legally until further proof is substantiated. Satellite pictures of the area show a compound that could be used for many different purposes."
"Why is this a problem?"
"Our people agree this is the largest movement of manpower and equipment we have ever seen to a private laboratory. It may be harmless, may be some sort of testing that requires a great deal of people. Either way, we believe it should be investigated, if only to determine the value of the data they may be collecting. What really raised some flags were the identities of some of the men moving into the facility. Many of them are leaders in the field of science. Many large trucks have also entered. From satellite I'm afraid we can't tell what they contained."
"Have you tried inquiring through civilian lines?" The President questioned.
"Yes. Strangely, we can't even find out who owns the installation. Another reason to watch this."
The President mulled over this for a second. Then, he shoved the papers back into their folder decisively.
"Keep an eye on it."
Chapter 10: Temporal Deity
"I did feel out of place at first, but everyone made me feel welcome. Except Squall. Maybe that's why I kept getting drawn to him, he was a challenge. I'm glad I didn't give up on getting past those walls."
-Rinoa Heartilly, The SeeD and the Sorceress
If there was one thing the world would remember you by, if you could choose, would it be famous last words? A shout out, 'Victory or death', 'Remember the Alamo'. A rebellion against the end you know is coming. Maybe it is only a way of expressing contempt for death, a vent for the defiant. Or the last attempt to make an imprint on the pages of history, so that someone will remember you. But how do you know you have been remembered, when you’re no longer with the living?
A terror, a rain of fire. A maelstrom in his head, pummeling his senses and pushing him into utter fear. A shudder of dry bones and rotten flesh, the acrid reek of burning. Is this hell? He tumbled closer to the abyss, his mouth opening in a soundless shriek that was lost in the roaring chaos. Then he awoke.
Scott found himself laying face down in what appeared to be a ditch, dirty water clinging to his skin and soaking his clothes. Luckily, whoever had put him in the ditch had turned his face to the side so that he wasn't drowning, if someone had in fact put him there at all.
Vaguely, he thought he heard voices, muffled by the wind. The rushing air sounded almost like a large object was moving nearby, probably somewhere above his head. It reminded him of the black ball he had dodged in the hotel. During his stay in the sewers of Deling, Quistis had explained that the ball was a spell called, 'Demi'. She had said it had some sort of gravity effect. He didn't really understand it, and he hoped it wasn’t the sound he was hearing.
He tried to move, and failed. Pain shot through his body, strange tingling pain that seemed to have no specific source. He tried again, and managed to open his eyes. This proved to be a twice bad idea, as this increased the pain and succeeded only in getting water in his eye. Blinking furiously, he managed to clear his vision enough to see what was going on.
He discovered that he was indeed in a ditch, but it was a concrete one. The rushing noise was not a spell as he had feared, but rather a large ventilation fan turning slowly in its setting. He was lying in a drainage tube to the side of a cement walkway. Voices echoed from the walls, and shifting light reflected off the water. Placing shaky hands on both sides of his body, he agonizingly levered himself up into a sitting position.
He could hear the grinding of turbines in the distance, a grating sound on the nerves. He grimaced and rubbed his ears. He nearly died of a heart attack when Irvine decided to speak, previously sitting unseen.
"Annoying as hell, huh?" He tipped back his hat, smile still in place. "It's driving Selphie up the wall. Well, when she's awake.”
Scott opened his mouth to reply, only instead of words he released the contents of his stomach. Irvine recoiled in disgust as the vomit splashed, spreading its cloying odor. Scott retched again and bent double, wiping his mouth. He was shaking violently now, and had chills.
"Maybe you need to sit down. Uh, sit down more."
Irvine leaned over and helped him up out of the ditch onto the walkway, where he collapsed. Scott wasn't sure how long it would take to recover, but this was the last thing he needed. Irvine still hadn’t moved, and Scott saw a bulky slapdash bandage peeking from beneath his pant leg, seemingly constructed from what he recognized as tied pieces of Galbadian uniform.
When he could breathe, Scott choked out a strangled laugh. "I hate this."
Irvine shrugged, not quite sure how to answer something like that. Shifting his weight uncomfortably, he glanced back at the ladder behind him as though still waiting for something.
"What is it?"
Irvine looked back at him. "What's what?"
Irvine raised a finger to the ceiling. "Right above our heads is a mansion that belongs to- a person we know. We might be able to get up and out that way."
"I don't know," Irvine painfully shifted his weight. "Quistis and Squall are up there now."
Scott nodded, still winded. He turned his head slightly and had another start when he saw Selphie slumped against the other wall. She didn't move when he raised an eyebrow. He thought he remembered her getting shot, which would explain her inactivity.
"Don't worry about her," Irvine whispered, trying not to disturb her. Scott saw she was asleep, or pretty close. "Her junctions softened the shot."
Scott felt somewhat envious. If he was shot, how come he couldn't sleep it off?
"Where do you get these junctions?"
Irvine looked at him in surprise. "Well, junctions are a pretty complex thing. I guess if you want it from the top, you need a GF."
"Yeah, but how would you actually junction one if you had it?"
Irvine leaned back, warming to the subject. "It's kinda weird, right? You just have this GF, this presence you can feel on the corner of your mind, like a sixth sense, you know?"
"So you can just reach out and grab it with your mind, like it sucks it in or something. It's like reflexive. Your mind just does it when you want it to. You don't need any training or anything and anyone can do it, as long as you have a GF. Which brings me to what I think you want."
"You got it."
Irvine turned serious. "These things aren't empty baggage. They come at a price. You might forget some things."
"I can't remember much anyway."
Irvine smiled again. "Fair enough. You can always keep a journal like the rest of us. Ohhh, how about I give you something gentle to start. You want Siren?"
"Here we go."
Irvine released Siren, sending her to Scott's mind. Scott felt an unfamiliar presence on a plane of his psyche he had never known existed. Then an image of Siren formed in his mind, coming closer to connection. The picture blurred, and then cleared. He had enough time to notice 'Nice tits.' before Siren was hurled away and the mental backlash hit his head like a sledgehammer.
Selphie awoke with a gasp as Scott grabbed his head in pain. His temples were racked with the worst headache he had ever had. He lost his balance and almost rolled back into the ditch. Irvine grabbed his shoulders to steady him as the aching subsided.
When his vision cleared, Scott groaned. "I- I don't think it worked."
Irvine nodded, eyes wide. "No kidding."
Hyne didn't have much time to be indignant, but her temper flared as she felt one of her children reject an attempt to be junctioned. She knew Siren hadn’t rejected the joining on purpose. Instead, this Outsider, like all, was incompatible. As these thoughts filled her mind her attention wavered. Another star collapsed, shooting its horrid dying light into the blackness. The supernova drew her back to her business, and she fought to contain her quickly deteriorating worlds.
It wasn't so much the edging feeling of unease that bothered Zell, he could attribute that to the fact that the vehicle he had so easily hijacked was quickly running short on gas. Zell had hidden in the trees and used a Blizzaga spell on the tires of the car as it had driven past. What he had failed to take into account was inertia- the forward passenger had flown cleanly out the top of the car. The driver had gone through the windshield. The two men in back had been removed by a weak Aero spell, strong enough to send them flying into the air, but not strong enough to lift the jeep from its trap. He had melted the ice with a quick Fire and that was that. But the broken windshield was now useless against the wind sheer. Squinting uncomfortably, he wished he had some goggles, or common sense.
Even Rinoa's admonishments for his dangerous stunt, reminding him they had radios, was no damper on his mood. He had a jeep, he had a mission, but he really had to take a piss.
Upon later reflection he might have found it funny that such a little thing could ruin an otherwise perfect operation.
If only the car ran on urine. At the present point in time he was pretty sure he could fill the tank. He would pull over, but Rinoa told him he was being pursued and had to make the city line fast. Considering how his bladder ached, he wouldn't be able to stop without wasting a lot of time. Plus, the horizon had turned an ominous gray, thunder echoing from the distance. The flatlands weren't a good place to be caught in a thunderstorm.
So clenching his legs and gritting his teeth, Zell drove on. It wouldn't be long now.
Hendrow liked the look of the city before him- a panoramic setting perfect for someone's bedroom wall. Like a glittering crown Deling lay in the middle of the empty plains. And also like a glittering crown, it was a treasure to be had. A perfect launching point for the new order.
The cars on the streets looked like they did back home. From his perch Hendrow could see a tiny vehicle racing down a dusty strip of road a ways outside the walls. He idly wondered what the speed limit was. The shape of the car was reminiscent to that of a jeep, but it soon was lost behind a hill and Hendrow turned his attention elsewhere.
There. Yes, there was the City Hall. But the first target of the night would be a large house on the outskirts of the downtown area. The current leader of the Galbadian government was housed there. Roland Polground. Julian had plans for him.
Hendrow settled back to watch the darkening sky, savoring the first moments before the storm.
Squall gently pushed the portrait aside. Thankfully, the room was dark. Motioning to Quistis behind him, they moved forward into the empty room. But something wasn't right. It was hard to tell in the low light, but it seemed to him that the room was in disarray, papers strewn across the floor and what seemed to be a desk laying on its side.
The shadows cast from the street lights outside played tricks on his eyes, dark corners filled with moving creatures waiting to prey on the unaware. Squall permitted himself a small smile at his unfounded childlike fears. The mind seemed to go out of its way to scare itself.
He gestured for Quistis to check the door as he reached behind the desk to take a handful of the strewn documents. A flash preceded the predictable rumble of thunder, briefly lighting the room. Squall could see holes in the wall, jagged punctures in the plaster. He presumed they were bullet holes.
If anyone had died in the mansion, it hadn't been in this room. There was no blood or bodies to be found. If Squall had one hope he held on to, it was that General Caraway lived. Whatever else the man was he was Rinoa's father, and probably the last hope for a sane Galbadian government.
Quistis came back from a cursory scan of the other rooms on the floor. Technically, there was no need to whisper, but something about creeping around in a dark and empty house demanded it.
"There is nothing here," She said, hushed. "The rest of the rooms look like this, whoever did this was very through."
Squall nodded shortly, suddenly engrossed in an interesting paper he had found beneath a chair.
Quistis looked around, also noting the bullet holes. "The General must have put up a fight.”
Still wordless, Squall handed her the sheet. Quistis read its disturbing contents:
SPREADING SUN has been transferred from your jurisdiction.
Relinquish all papers concerning SPREADING SUN.
You have 24 hours to comply.
Quistis tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear, digesting the information.
Squall put his hand to his head, deep in thought.
Deciding he couldn't ignore Quistis, Squall gave a slight shrug. He turned for the door, signaling her to follow.
Quistis hurried after him, voicing her thoughts as they descended the stairs.
"This order to Caraway obviously preceded a shift in power. The General must have been deposed."
Squall grunted noncommittally. Quistis rolled her eyes and they stepped off the stairwell and into the entrance hall.
“The only other power player in Deling with that kind of political clout would be Polground. But why-“
She almost ran into Squall, who was frozen in the entryway to the dining room. Her last word slipped out of her mouth in a breathless whisper as she saw what lay across the threshold.
A magnificent table lay in the middle of the war torn room, its polished surface riddled with bullets, the walls and ceiling holding the same staccato patterns of destruction. Dishes were broken, paintings torn, chairs shattered.
A man lay on his back in the far corner, shirt ripped open from multiple exit wounds and the carpet around him stained a crusty crimson. A woman sat in a chair, hands curled in supplication immortalized by rigor mortis. The dead lay in rusty red piles around the room. Squall made it out to be at least twenty.
It was massacre. There was no evidence of returned fire, no weapons lying with the dead. Just the blood spattered walls and carpet that would never again be clean. It was obvious the General had indeed been deposed, and violently.
Grimly, Squall and Quistis began to search the bodies.
Chapter 11: Event Horizon
“all the burning lights, in this town tonight
the suburban sprawl, all those even lines
and if you don’t feel lonely then you don’t feel anything at all”
-The Gloria Record, The Immovable Motorist
The APC was dusty, bumpy, and, Hendrow thought, an eminently unsuitable vehicle for a Vice-King to be. He had wanted to ride into the city with more style, but Julian had insisted on entering with the troops, claiming it would boost morale. Hendrow would be the first to admit Julian cut an imposing figure, but he himself wasn't what he considered an inspiring figurehead. Besides, for a man who had shown an utter indifference to general morale and comfort back at the Headquarters, Julian was certainly taking a sudden interest in the field. Hendrow had his own suspicions on why he had been so damnably insistent. Julian loved to see his ideas in action.
There was also a better reason for staying in the relative safety of the rear. The entire attack leaned heavily on the private armies supposed invulnerability to this 'magic', and the also supposed fact the defenders army relied heavily upon it. Julian's men were competent, but fifteen-hundred men does not an army make. This world seemed more sparsely populated than the one Hendrow called home, and Deling was but one city, so taking it wasn't going to be that much of a problem. But the real battles came later, and Julian had to have an edge that the enemy couldn't match. Magic. It had to be harnessed.
Hendrow's thoughts were shattered as the artillery opened fire in the hills, and he covered his ears as shells flew past, screeching to their deaths.
Zell was at the gate when the explosions started. Or rather, he was not actually in front of the gate, but instead viewing the maddening obstacle from a distance. And he hadn't much time to decide how to circumvent it. He couldn't go over it, there was no other way into the city besides the other gates, and a jeep couldn't drive through solid steel. These lines of thought all became arbitrary, when the gate detonated in a halo of flaming debris.
The shockwave sent the jeep spinning, hurling Zell against his seat and then flipping him over and out the top. In Midair his training reasserted itself and he landed and rolled like a pro, which he was, dispersing his inertia without breaking his body. He sat up, shaking his head, still dazed.
Another conflagration burst to life by the south gate, then another, and another. Soon a full blown shelling was taking place, targeting the city walls and gates. Zell covered his ears and huddled to the ground, trying to keep below shrapnel radius. The roaring echoed all around, reverberating off the hills that surrounded Deling and he could not pinpoint where the fire was coming from.
Then suddenly, it ceased. The wail of sirens became clear and emergency lights lit up the lower cloud cover, giving the scene an eerie glare. Zell punched the ground, exasperated. Of all the times for another revolution to spark. Still, he could hope to take advantage of the chaos and gain entrance to the city more easily.
Then of course, he realized he was sitting on a grate. Scrambling to his feet, he forced the grate to open and looked inside. He was pretty sure Deling had security alarms and other measures installed in case of intrusion, but with a fire fight raging above ground, who was going to be watching the sewer panels?
Feeling it was his best chance, Zell ducked into the grate and closed it behind him, and missed seeing the first APCs come barreling down the hills.
Squall was kneeling over one of the bodies when the explosions started. He was examining the body for any evidence, though the only clues thus far had been a clipboard and some blank pieces of paper. From the setting and appearance, Squall drew that these had been the Generals aides. Quistis was on the other side of the room, trying to find the General himself, if he was there.
Quistis finished, wiping her hands on a relatively clean patch of carpet.
"No sign of him," She said.
He now had a decision to make. The main focus was to escape, but SeeD also had a high priority for gathering information wherever possible, and if this had anything to do with what had happened at the hotel, then it probably should be followed up.
For the moment at least, it all became moot point as the ceiling above his head exploded.
Squall and Quistis were showered with fiery chunks of woods and plaster as the second floor roof fell in, taking off half the first floor ceiling. The noise was spectacular, and Squall, stunned, lay on the floor covered in dust. Pulling himself to his feet, he gained his bearings just in time to drag Quistis to safety before the stairway banister fell where she had been laying.
With a crack, what remained of the stairway plunged into the basement beneath it, effectively sealing their route back to the hidden entrance. Squall rolled Quistis over, checking her for serious injuries. Besides a gash across the forehead and a probable concussion, she seemed none the worse for wear.
However, she was unconscious, and that meant Squall would have to carry her. He picked her up and delicately slung her over his shoulder, grunting at the surprising weight. Moving as quickly as he could, he went for the front door, knowing that there could be police waiting right outside. He had little choice however other than to move out the front doors. It didn't occur to him that Deling was under attack until he looked out past the shattered wreckage of the entry hall and saw hell raining down on the city.
He noticed that the fire wasn't indiscriminate, but rather the walls were taking most of the beating. He saw the section of wall closest to the mansion has fallen in. Obviously, an errant shell had careened through the hole and planted itself in the General's house. Stepping gingerly around an unexploded shell in the front yard, Squall jogged around the mansion and into the back. Carefully hoisting Quistis into a better position, he clambered up the still smoking mountain of slag back into the upstairs, burning his fingers in the process. His spirits rose when he saw that the passage back to the sewer was not blocked. The stairway was somewhat crumpled and collapsed halfway down, but this would only delay him. Getting a firm grip on Quistis and the railing, Squall started his descent.
Scott was sleeping when the explosions started. He was dozing really, his tired and beaten body too exhausted to go on. Of course, it would be easier to sleep if Irvine hadn't been staring at him the whole time. It was obvious at least Irvine of the others had witnessed the events in the tunnel. But Irvine hadn't asked, and Scott didn't really feel like answering. As if he had any answers.
But what he did have was pain, and in abundance. Aching head, shooting pains through his legs and arms, dizziness, nausea. He leaned back and tried to block out the disturbing sound of Selphie's ragged breathing.
When the boom came, it reverberated throughout the whole tunnel system, shaking dust and small pebbles from the concrete ceiling and waking Scott and Selphie up immediately. Irvine jumped to his feet, swearing with pain as he did so. More and more sharp and loud sounds followed, the shaking become more severe.
Irvine ran over to the ladder and peeked up the stairwell. A roaring swell suddenly echoed from the ladder hole, and Irvine flung himself to the side as jagged pieces of steel and chunks of brick fell down where he had been standing. Irvine sat up, gasping with pain and clutching his injured leg.
"The stairwell collapsed," He wheezed. "Or at least partly."
Scott saw his eyes fill with fear, but not for himself. He realized that the building above might have collapsed, taking Squall and Quistis with it. He looked over at Selphie, but the junctions that kept her alive also had put her back into a healing sleep.
He eventually broke the short silence with a question.
"So, what's blowing up?"
Irvine shrugged, sliding into a more comfortable sitting position against the wall. The ground continued to shake, dim explosions rumbling through the subterranean complex.
"Might be some massive fireworks," He said, rubbing his leg. "But I'd bet on some kind of artillery. The city's getting shelled." This was further punctuated with yet another distant roar.
"Why? Who would shell a civilian city? Is this place at war?"
"Galbadia has always been a hotbed of political turmoil."
Irvine savored the sentence for a minute while Scott waited patiently for him to continue.
"I've always wanted to say that. It's a textbook perfect sentence. Anyway, it could be any number of radicals making a bid for the city. If you control Deling, you control Galbadia. Although, why you would want to is the real burning question. This country is nothing but trouble."
"So what do we do?" Scott asked. "Just sit it out?"
Irving nodded, pulling his hat down over his eyes.
"We need Squall to get down here first. If he... If he doesn't get back in two hours, SeeD regulations say we get the hell out."
Scott thought he was just going through the motions.
"But you won't leave, will you."
It was a statement, not a question.
The waiting began, and lasted for eight minutes before Squall dropped down out of the shaft.
Julian Foss himself was holding the gun to Polground's head before he ordered the artillery to stop firing.
The attack had gone perfectly, and the city had fallen with almost no resistance. Julian's men had entered the city too quickly for orders to reach the Galbadian army. Now the government was Julian's, and so was the army. Hendrow had taken over many corporations in his time, some hostile takeovers, some not. But nothing provided a sense of victory like taking a something with force. Hendrow thought it may have been the shortest conquest in history, but he wasn't sure of his facts.
Now it was all Julian's, and by association, his. Hendrow smiled as the former leader of Galbadia groveled under gun point.
Chapter 13: Inter Mundos
"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." - Albert Einstein
Hendrow found Julian hunched over a large desk that looked like it was mahogany, formerly the property of Polground. He could see most of the filing cabinets had been opened, and several of those that had been locked were forced. Julian was flipping through piles of official documents. His browsing seemed random, but Hendrow knew Julian well enough to know that he was looking for something specific. Hendrow gently cleared his throat.
Julian looked up with a small smile. "Ah, Michael. I knew you'd be up here sooner or later, and now that it's later, you can appreciate the full benefits of my research. What you see here are all files of a secret operation aptly named Spreading Sun, one that might be not only of some interest to us, but also of use."
Hendrow pulled a battered armchair to the front of the desk and seated himself. The room itself was somewhat shabby, with tattered maroon wallpaper and matching carpet that was just as ratty. A single large painting hung behind the desk, and Hendrow saw it was the exaggerated likeness of Polground himself. There was apparently no accounting for personal taste in decor.
"Now, from what I have here," Julian said, shifting the stack of files. "It is apparent that Polground was little more than a glorified Governor. He had little saying outside of Deling, and in fact several factions of the army have formed areas of independence, free from any current political power other than their own. These groups are powerful only by force, and are not interested in what happens around here, so we shouldn't expect any serious military reprisals. However, this also decreases the amount of Galbadian troops we can command."
Hendrow absorbed this information, mulling over in his mind. While those other troops would be useful, they were not absolutely necessary in controlling and maintaining Galbadia. If an obstacle was immovable, then the next best thing was to go around it.
Julian paused, giving Hendrow a few more seconds to think it over, then continued. "The project 'Spreading Sun' was an ingeniously engineered operation, well above the capabilities of a man like Polground. He obviously had many intelligent backers, no doubt whispering in his ear so the damn fool wouldn't foul things up."
Julian almost never swore, and it was clear he held Polground in contempt as he did so many small men.
"It was a cleverly designed plot to topple various leaders of the separate factions so that they could be brought back into the fold, with the eventual long term goal of eliminating the Gardens. From what we've gathered it was an experimental project centering on some sort of biological weapon. According to Polground's personal files some progress was made while the project was still under regular Army jurisdiction, commanded by a certain General Caraway, but the project didn't move fast enough for Polground. It also states that the General objected quite strenuously to the use of biological weapons. Eventually, the General was deposed and the project given to a defector from some other country, a sort of freelance scientist. Again, close details of the project have yet to be found. I assume they were hidden from the General's supporters."
Hendrow raised an eyebrow. "They really planned to take the Gardens?"
Again, the small smile. "This clearly makes no real tactical sense. While the recovery of the various factions might be considered a Governmental priority, it seems ridiculous to jeopardize the stability that would be achieved by retaking the fragmented population by attacking a difficulty enemy. Perhaps the Galbadians had some larger plan for which the Garden infrastructure had to removed, but it seems to me that this is all part of an even larger grudge. Galbadia has a good reason for hating Garden, as they were a key part in the countries recent, ah, troubles. It is possible they hoped to reunite the country against a common enemy, but it may be entirely personal."
Hendrow shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "It seems a rather foolish way to run a country."
Julian decisively closed another folder. "Michael, we are dealing with some very foolish people. You will notice the takeover went flawlessly, an aspect that almost certainly would have been impossible in taking a much better governed state. Anyhow, as I said, this project could be used to our advantage. The Gardens seem to host many self-styled heroes, and heroes, Michael, save the day. We don't need any heroes here. Spreading Sun had already succeeded in taking two of the militant groups, and it would be in our best interests to keep the project running. It may be that in the future, we must either stop the Gardens from interfering with our projects, or simply put a stop to them entirely. Of course, we need the missing information to fully understand and utilize the project."
Hendrow phrased his next question carefully. "Taking a disorganized and relatively undefended country, and these were rather special circumstances, is something quite different from attacking a well defended and well trained base manned with an elite fighting force. Are you sure that would be wise, Julian?"
Julian leaned back in his chair and assumed the most relaxed pose the intense man was capable of. "As always, you are the careful voice of reason my friend. However, your concern is misplaced. I have done my research well, and I know what we're up against. You see Michael, the Garden does indeed nurture, train and sustain the most elite force on the planet. But what is also clear is that if this fighting force were to be imported to our world, they would be next to useless. Have you ever wondered, Michael, how this 'Squall Leonhart' can use his sword against men with machine guns? How can such medieval relics prevail in a world of very modern technology? The answer, as with so many things in this strange world, is magic. Garden students junction their weapons to divert bullets, or even give themselves the speed to block them. Using magic to junction spells to their bodies to increase strength, dexterity and other things, they also junction magic to swords and sticks to give the weapons firepower equal that of any gun, not to mention their extensive training in magic in and of itself, utilizing offensive spells like Firaga and even defensive magics too. All this combines to indeed make a formidable fighting force. But I see from your eyes Michael, that you already draw the obvious conclusion."
"Their magic," Hendrow said, smile widening. "Will be as always quite useless."
"Exactly. Against us the SeeDs will have a severe disadvantage. It will be men wielding pointed bits of metal, versus men who can spray death for hundreds of yards."
"But surely the SeeDs will have also been trained in more modern tactics too? Consider this Irvine Kinneas. He used what we consider to be modern weaponry."
"That well may be. But even so, we can crush them by sheer weight of numbers, and the Gardens will be an excellent asset to control. If we may find the secret of magic anywhere, it will be within Garden."
Hendrow mopped his brow, sinking yet deeper into the chair. "An ambitious undertaking."
"And simply coming here was not? Great risks beget great gains Michael, and the gains here far outweigh the risks."
Julian allowed himself a small chuckle. "It may well be Michael, that in a matter of time we may take a tour of this famous Garden first hand."
"Back." Squall gasped, running as fast as he could from the stairwell entrance with Quistis over his shoulder. Scott was closest to Selphie and grabbed her as best possible, moving while still being puzzled as to why. Irvine stopped, confused for a second since he had already been halfway into the action of getting Selphie, but regained his composure quickly and hobbled after Squall. It seemed that it was barely a second after they had cleared the area when the stairwell collapsed completely in a shower of twisted metal, burying the small room behind them.
All of them halted, Irvine clutching his leg and Scott slumping to the floor to ease the spinning in his head, still holding Selphie in his arms. Squall did neither, but instead set Quistis on the floor and surveyed the still smoking wreckage as the choking dust cloud enveloped them and then faded. Scott thought he might puke again, and propped Selphie up against the wall to remove her from the splash zone.
Irvine however threw back his head and laughed as if the near death encounter was some sort of personal joke.
"And that, people," He said with a grin. "Is how we do that."
Squall rolled his eyes and turned away. Scott would have rolled his eyes, but this seemed like a risky proposition as it felt like they might fall out if he did.
As Scott and Irvine nursed their respective injuries, Squall scouted out the best possible route of escape. With the total chaos ensuing above, their best bet was to now head for the city limits since their chances of slipping past the walls had greatly increased. Judging from the noise and the direction of the intense bombardment, he judged that the attack was coming from the east, but the fastest way to the walls from their position would be south. Squall was torn between a faster way to an avenue of escape and a probable safer way. From the condition of his companions he was tempted to choose the safer route, but he wasn't sure they had that kind of time. Finally, he ascertained to move quickly, and move out the canals to the south.
He turned to his friends. "We need to move out through the southern sewage tunnels. The section of city above us is almost certainly taken by the rebels already, but they probably haven't assumed control of all the city’s security structures, assuming they're still intact."
Irvine shook his head, pushing painfully to his feet. "Quistis and Selphie are still out, we need more time."
"We don't have it. We can carry them, fast as possible. Hopefully they might wake up soon enough to speed things up. We need to go now."
Irvine slowly nodded, working himself up to moving. He turned to haul up Quistis but Squall moved faster, shouldering her first.
"I can go faster carrying her, and Keyor can carry Selphie. You’re the only one with a leg wound."
In a perverse sort of way, Squall knew this was a damaging leadership policy for Irvine, spreading responsibility away from him and excluding him from the team. But they didn't have time.
They went down the tunnels, sometimes jogging, mostly limping, with Squall slowing for the others and sometimes going ahead to check around corners. It was on one such corner check that Squall found a friend.
He had just turned the corner when he ran full into someone, falling back in a blur of blonde and black. In the dim light he couldn’t make out a face, but the unknown person’s mouth had begun to open, no doubt to warn others who may have been nearby. Squall reacted instantly with the reflexes of a seasoned veteran. He swung Quistis back out of reach and drove his fist into what he judged was the person’s torso. The assailant reeled back, collapsing on the concrete floor. He had half opened his mouth to shout to the others when Squall made a stunning realization- the creature was sporting a familiar hairdo, and it hadn't been letting loose a warning cry, but a human shout of surprise.
It was in this way that the Deling team finally met up with Zell, with him lying gasping on the floor.
Irvine was the first to gain power of speech.
"Zell!" He gasped incredulously, faltering on his wounded leg.
The martial artist choked back a reply, slowly pushing himself into a sitting position, almost hyperventilating in two-parts pain and relief.
"Yeah, it's me," He said, grimacing. "I came to see what happened to you guys. Oh, Squall?"
"Yeah?" Squall grunted, trying not to show his rising feelings of relief and happiness at seeing his friend again.
"Next time, just hit me on the head or something and not in the stomach, okay?"
Zell put out a hand for Squall to help him up, looking around at the five, assessing them. "Why are you carrying Selphie? What's wrong with her?"
There was a badly hidden tinge of panic in his voice. Squall raised an eyebrow.
"She was hit in the shoulder. Her junctions are healing her quickly, she'll be fine soon."
Zell shoulders noticeably sagged in relief. He saw Irvine and Squall were looking at him strangely, and he tried to shrug it off.
"Oh. So what happened to you guys? Who the hell is that? You look like crap."
That was rich, Scott thought, coming from a man still covered in the dirt and soot of the shelling. The number of people present was odd, he thought, without being sure why. Scott figured he could add, so subtracting him there were five good friends all around and he was the odd man out. But weren't there six heroes?
"Uh, hey," Scott said, trying to break into the conversation. "Isn't there some other person in your.... Group?"
Rather than answers, all he received was stares. He shifted his weight uncomfortably, trying to maintain a firm grip on Selphie, who seemed to be feebly wiggling without being fully awake.
"No, seriously," Zell said, pointing a finger at Scott. "Who is this guy and why is he asking about Rinoa?"
Squall looked over at Scott, eyebrows lowered. "I know who he is, but I don't know why he asked about Rinoa."
A wave of palpable suspicion was emanating from them all.
Scott raised his free hand in placation. "I just thought that there was someone else guys, I wasn't trying to offend or anything."
Irvine and Squall seemed to be willing to reopen the question later as haste was in the cards for now, but Zell was still slowly cornering him.
"Zell," Squall sighed. "Not now."
But Zell wasn't having it.
"Hey man, you know there are people interested in Rinoa, or what she is anyway. And now some dude here-"
Irvine interrupted before his tirade hit full swing. "Relax. Trust me, he doesn't know Rinoa. He's not from around here."
"Oh yeah? Where you from then pal?"
Scott kept a straight face. "Out of town."
Irvine snorted in laughter and Zell glared suspiciously at both of them.
Squall decided that precious time was being wasted, and without word started off. Scott and Irvine quickly followed, with a startled Zell running to catch up.
"Hey man, wait up!"
Rinoa floated somewhere between the world and space, surrounded by a breathtaking array of stars and galaxies. Myriads of lights flashed and her heightened senses could detect every delicate ray and every speck of interstellar dust. The beauty of this was lost on her as she focused all her attention not on the cosmos, but a single city, harder to see than all the universe.
Leviathan, soon now?
Rinoa squirmed mentally for another two seconds before the need became too much.
Quickly, Rinoa searched her mind for the GF's presence. Yes, it was still there.
And like the sun rising, Squall's essence came blasting into her senses, just outside of Deling. His was followed by Zell, Quistis, Selphie, Irvine and-
A burst of mental static crashed through Rinoa's psyche an instant after she touched the strangers mind. Instead of a human presence there was a vacancy, a terrible vacuous hole in the world. It was a miniaturized version of the dark spot over Deling, but centered around one small point. She realized her friends could not sense this thing. She had to warn them.
Squall was in the process of hauling Quistis out of a drain when he heard Rinoa. He almost dropped his precious cargo but managed to catch her before she hit the ground. He looked around wildly.
Zell grunted as Squall half dropped Quistis, forcing him to take most of her dead weight.
"What the hell man, hold your end up!"
Can you hear me Squall?
"Yes," He said, laying Quistis down and still scanning the nearby surroundings, with no sight of her. "Where are you?"
Zell misinterpreted Squall's sudden moves and shoved Quistis onto the grass, jumping up to his side. He crouched in a combat stance.
"Who's here man? Who's talkin'?"
"Rinoa?" Squall called again, ignoring Zell. Zell did a double take.
"Rinoa!? Where? I thought she was-"
Zell! Tell him!
The obvious answer occurred to Zell about the same time Rinoa asked it of him. Squall stared at Zell.
"Tell me what?"
Zell grinned. "Oh, cool, you can hear her too!"
"Right, right. Squall, dude, Rinoa can talk to your mind. Go ahead, talk back."
Tentatively, Squall did so. "Rinoa?"
There was obvious relief in her mental projection. Squall however, only frowned. When had Rinoa been able to do this?
"When did you learn this?"
Never mind that, you’re in danger!
Instantly, Squall crouched in the same fashion and Zell put his fists up again. By this time Irvine and Scott were manhandling Selphie up out of the hole.
Squall and Zell spun around, but the only thing to be seen was Irvine and Scott setting Selphie down on the grass. Zell scratched his head.
"Uh, I don't see nothin' Rinoa."
No, it's right there! It's moving!
Irvine and Scott were staring at them as they appeared to be talking to thin air. Irvine opened his mouth to speak.
"Gahh!" Irvine yelped, jumping a good foot into the air. Like Squall and Zell before, he glared around. "Rinoa?! Where are you?"
Zell laughed at him. "She can talk to your mind man. Pretty cool huh?"
Irvine appeared to be stuck over this for a moment, but then accepted this new oddity with resignation. Everything had been crazy since he had been recruited from Galbadia. Nothing new here. He shrugged.
Now Scott was the only one left out of the loop, and he was very confused. He chuckled nervously. "Religious experience?”
Squall started to explain things to him, but Zell beat him to it.
"Yeah, we've got a friend who can talk in your mind."
Like Irvine, Scott figured there was nothing to do here but nod and pretend like he understood until someone could sit down and explain it to him. This was after all, a different dimension. Maybe telepathy was pretty common here. Mentally filing it aside for later examination, he moved over to pick up Selphie. Zell saw what he was doing and inexplicably ran over to beat him to it.
"Hey man, I got her," He said, hoisting her up and shifting her to a more comfortable position. "Relax."
What's it doing?
Squall shook his head. "Rinoa, I don't know what your talking about. There's nothing else here."
Yes there is. I can sense five of you and something else.
Squall raised an eyebrow. "There is nobody else here but Keyor."
Hyne Squall, I heard you. Why can't you just volunteer information instead of it being dragged out of you? Who is Scott?
Squall tried to sound apologetic. After a somewhat long separation, this was not how he wanted to restart their relationship. "We met him in Deling. It's a long story. I'll tell you when we get back."
Where is he standing?
"Right of Irvine from where I'm standing."
I can't sense another person. There's nothing there but this- this hole in time and space. I thought you were in danger.
Everybody who was conscious looked at Scott. He smiled nervously.
Chapter 14: Exitus Celatus
"Rinoa was the best thing that ever happened to Squall, and I swear that sometimes he came within an inch of throwing it away. He better be thankful she loves him, if I was his girlfriend I'd never put up with that crap. Wait, that didn't sound good."
Hendrow was on site when the files were discovered, jammed into a windowsill in the basement. They had been found during a full search of Poleground's former residence, Poleground himself now incarcerated in the nearby police station. The files in question were in fact, as Julian had suspected, detailed information on Operation Spreading Sun. Now that the final pieces of the puzzle had fallen into their hands, Hendrow knew the next inevitable step was to apprehend the main researcher and scientific proponent of the project, this 'Odine'. This might prove to be troublesome as it was not yet clear whether the good Doctor was in Esthar or in Galbadia. If Odine was in fact back in Esthar, he would be unreachable. However, if this came to pass, Julian had his own team of scientists ready to tackle the problem. The takeover would be much slower that way, but it was better than nothing.
Hendrow personally dropped the files on Julian's desk for perusal. Julian looked up from his current work and slightly raised one eyebrow.
"The missing files on Spreading Sun. They found them lodged in a window, of all places." He sounded as if the very thought was ludicrous. "Nothing appears to missing."
Julian didn't even blink. "Of course."
He slowly leafed through the small pile, taking note of the important bits before closing it. He looked at Hendrow who had taken a seat in the chair opposite of him. Julian tented his fingers, bringing them up to his lips.
"Michael," He said, turning to look out the window. "We both know that our sudden presence in this world is marked by violence. And really, we are at war."
Hendrow concurred. "Yes, that is true."
"So you see Michael that in war regrettable things happen. The information here put to good use will give us a firm enough foothold to attack the Garden. It is sad, true. Children are always the victims of any conflict. But we cannot have them interfering, and in the end removing them will actually save lives. The men will be reluctant. No one wants to attack a school. We are soldiers, not monsters. But circumstances may force us to do monstrous things. I say this all Michael, so that when the time comes, are you with me?"
Hendrow let out a breath. It was unfortunate that the Garden had to removed. He would instruct the men to take prisoners and offer mercy to those who might surrender. Regrettable, but it seemed to him that Julian was in the right.
"Yes, I am."
"Good. I knew I could trust you to do what had to be done. We will spare who we can and put the entire thing behind us once it is finished. After all, our objective is not slaughter, but conquest."
Hendrow smiled. " 'And when he saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.' "
Julian chuckled, reopening the folder. "Indeed he did Michael. But we have something that Alexander could not have dreamed of. And with further progress, I think we will never run out of worlds to conquer."
Hyne shuddered in her reality. Truly, these Outsiders were mad.
Polground sat in his cell, his only company his thoughts. It had all been taken from him, everything, in less than an hour. He had worked so hard to rise to the top. So many small people had been crushed with his dramatic rise, and now that he was deposed, he feared for his life. He had no real friends, a few supporters who abandoned him after the takeover, and an abundance of enemies. Now he was unprotected in a public jail. If his enemies didn't kill him directly, then the new government might succumb to pressure to do so in order to gain favor with the masses.
Of course, he knew nothing of the new government. It had all happened so fast. The walls had fallen, soldiers with equipment he had never seen before captured the city, and a man with cold eyes had walked into his apartment and put a gun to his head. It had been a bad day. Even the last official report he received had been bad- the captive SeeDs had escaped. By now they were probably out of the city and gone. If he had still been in power, this would have been some matter of concern- the attack on the SeeDs had been part of a larger plan against Garden, and with their escape Garden would be quick to move against Galbadia. It was all out of his hands now. Indeed, the fact that Garden would probably retaliate was a good thing. Let them cause the invaders some trouble. These musings were interrupted by wheezing chuckled emitted from somewhere to his right. He was startled, unaware that he had any sort of cell mates. He recognized the voice the instant it began to speak.
"So, Polground," Caraway said, hauling his battered body into a sitting position in a neighboring cell. "Impaled upon your own sword. You do of course realize that you are the one who blocked all my city defense proposals so you could waste more money on your pet projects. Now you are imprisoned in your own jail as I am jailed by my own troops. Irony seems to be the thing these days. Tell me, who has violently inherited your empire? One of the independents?"
"Shut up," Polground snarled. "Why do you care? Either way, you'll never get out of here. At least I might bargain my way free. What precious information can you offer the new regime, Caraway?"
"Nothing. But then, neither will you."
Polground scurried deeper into the back of his cell, away from the terrible voice. "What are you talking about? I indeed might buy my freedom, perhaps with the whereabouts of your sorceress daughter...."
Caraway said nothing, but clanking sounds emanated from his cell. Polground warily peered in his direction.
"What are you doing?"
"Something I should have done awhile ago," Caraway said, moving up to the bars between them. "It took awhile for me to make this. But you seem a more fitting target than a guard. After all, the guards are just doing their job. You are a leech on this country, sucking away the soul of the people, and growing fat on corruption. And you will say nothing of my daughter."
Polground barely had time to scream as a sharpened piece of steel found its way to his heart.
It had been awhile now and everyone was still staring at him. Scott fidgeted in place. He wondered if their invisible friend was talking with them. He really didn't think it was a good idea just to stand here. Every second spent standing around was one more that they could be discovered. For the moment though, he swallowed his urgency and waited.
Oddly, it was Squall who broke the silence.
"Who are you?"
"I told you, Scott Keyor."
"Then what are you?"
Scott held up his hands defensively, confused by the question. "I'm a person. Look, where is this going? I'm obviously human."
Zell opened his mouth to say something, but again uncharacteristically, Squall beat him to it. Irvine just kept one hand on his gun.
"We have a friend who... Sees without eyes. Looks at, essence, karma. You don't exist that way. You’re just a hole."
Scott surprised them by only nodding quickly. "Well, yeah, yeah that stands to reason."
Irvine frowned. "How so?"
Scott spoke quickly, torn between the need to escape and the need to regain their trust.
"Well, according to research done at the lab, the basic atomic structure of every universe differs greatly. Not so much as to make them completely incompatible, but enough so that certain structures existent in only one universe, would be nonexistent to a being from another. On the most basic level. So basically, in my universe this, for lack of a better term, 'ESP' that your friend exhibits doesn't exist. Therefore, I don't appear on their 'radar', theoretically speaking."
Scott nodded again. "Now that I'm thinking about it, this would also explain why the magic backfired on my torturer. Stuff like that isn't around where I come from."
Zell was still back at 'lab'. "Lab? What lab? Odine's lab?"
Squall and Irvine ignored him, thinking over what Scott had explained. Irvine spoke first.
"So, magic doesn't do anything to you?"
"Yeah," Scott said, tired of talking and ready to run. "I guess so."
"And you can't junction."
Irvine blew out a breath. "Well, that limits your options a bit."
"Uh-huh, say, shouldn't we be moving about now?"
Squall shook himself out of contemplation and concurred. They needed to move, now, with no more surprises. Of course, he wasn't quite sure where to move too. The Ragnarok was back at Garden and would take time to get to their location, but that was beside the point. A spaceship would be a too obvious and tempting target for the Galbadians.
They fled from the outskirts of Deling, staying low to the ground and traveling in the ditches by the tracks whenever possible. The going was easy, without anyone spotting them, and the low clouds dimmed the light to the point where it looked like evening. The storm was still building, but fortunately, it only drizzled.
The going was easy, but not for Rinoa. She only followed with her mind, but the black hole that was Scott constantly distracted her and wore at her conscience. Sometimes she was tempted to shut down her perception entirely to block out the mental white noise, but concern for Squall and the others kept her ever watchful.
At the same time, she zoomed on ahead of them, searching for quick transport out of the country. With Deling recently falling, the trains would be out, so the best bet would be by boat. It would be best to avoid Dollet. The new establishment hadn't really had time to, well, establish, so while Dollet was still unaware of the recent news it was better to be safe than sorry. A SeeD ship pickup at the nearest beach would work perfectly, unless all the SeeD boats were out on call. One might be rerouted from a mission, but that might not be possible and would take a lot of time. As a last possible resort, they could try to make it to Timber where they could certainly find refuge with the rebels. Timber was a long ways away though, and there was no telling whether or not the new force in Deling would make a complete takeover as soon as possible. Of course, what Rinoa didn't and couldn't know, was that Julian Foss had no interest in taking over the rest of the country until his assets were firmly in place.
It was four hours later that the tired team found shelter under and outcropping of rock a ways off the road, and fell into an collective exhausted sleep.
The man smiled at the gate, holding a fake ID.
The guard didn't smile, but let him in.
The man passed down white tiled hallways towards his destination.
The guards didn't suspect.
The man passed through a door into a large room.
The scientists ignored him.
The Agent took pictures of the portal.
Continue to Part 3