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Taking a Tour

The next morning, Rinoa was pleasantly surprised to find Squall waiting casually for her outsider her door, arms crossed over his chest and his face averted in thought. He looked up at the sound of her door closing, and reached out a gloved hand in greeting. He wasn't in his usual fur collared jacket today. He was wearing his SeeD uniform, with the insignia for the Garden Commander on his shoulder. One look at the set of his features told Rinoa that she wasn't going to comment on his choice of dress.

"I thought we might take a walk today, if you don't mind," he said.

Rinoa smiled. "You're going to tell me about your ring?" she asked. Perhaps it was something official, which might explain the uniform.

Squall made a brief, exasperated sound. "I can't tell you about my reasons," he said flatly, then raised his hand to forestall her protests. "I said, I can't tell you." He paused. "Have you ever taken a good look around Garden?"

"Not really," replied Rinoa. "The Library and the Cafeteria are mostly where I go, to watch the students. I remember where the other places are, though."

He nodded, as if he'd been expecting that answer. "I can't tell you why I named that ring Griever," he repeated, "but I think I can show you. I don't know if you really want to know this."

Rinoa smiled gently, and rested her hand against his arm. "It has to do with something important to you, doesn't it?"

After a moment, he gave a short nod.

"Then I want to know about it." She presented her arm, and said, "Shall we go?"

Squall took her arm, but his expression was serious. He didn't want to be doing this.

* * * * *

The first stop, somewhat to Rinoa's surprise, was the Infirmary. Dr. Kadowaki greeted them with a smile and a friendly hello.

"What brings you here?" she asked. "Did you get hurt in the Training Center yesterday, Squall?"

He shook his head. "I'm fine," he said. "We're just taking a tour. Ok?"

Dr. Kadowaki sent Squall a sharp look, then glanced at Rinoa. "All right, Commander," she said lightly. "I'll just be on my coffee break, if anyone asks. Think you can hold the fort that long?"

There was a hint of gratitude in Squall's voice as he said, "Sure." Rinoa looked from one to the other, lost. It felt like a request had been made and granted - but what request? But then Dr. Kadowaki grabbed her coat and bustled out, and Squall was heading for the back of the room. There was a door there that said "Dr. Kadowaki." Quickly, Rinoa followed - was he going to go through the Doctor's files?

He waited at the door for her. When she reached him, he said, "This is the first thing. Remember," and opened the door.

It wasn't a doctor's office on the other side. Instead there was a very large room, brightly lit and soundproofed, with heavy, durable padding on the floor. All along the walls were beds, some of which were cribs. Here and there were cadets in the uniform of the medical corps, tending to the occupants. A few shot Rinoa a curious look and hesitated in what they were doing, but all of them pretended not to see her after taking a look at Squall.

The room was a huge nursery, filled with children ranging from infancy to about five years old, doing a chaotic variety of different things.

And in one corner there were a group of children playing with Carbuncle, and experimenting with its Ruby Light effect. Rinoa stared. Children no older than nine years old - for that group looked older - and the Garden had them playing with a GF? She turned to Squall, mouth open to ask him to explain.

Instead, he ushered her back out to the Infirmary proper, and shut the door behind them.

"Why are they letting children play with GFs?" Rinoa demanded. "Garden knows it causes memory loss!"

Squall's eyes looked very old as he replied, "You have answered your own question, Rinoa."

So that was why, then. Garden wanted those children to remember nothing of who they had been, or anything of their old lives. A clean slate, for SeeD training to be engraved on. She wondered briefly how Irvine had managed to slip through the net; the only one of her friends to have remembered anything of his past at all. Thinking of that, she turned back to Squall - who appeared to be waiting for her.

"Squall," she asked in the tones of someone who is pretty sure they're not going to like the answer they're asking for, "Where did all those children come from?"

He paused before answering, but decided that this question didn't break the boundaries of his promise. "Some are real orphans - abandoned by their parents, or their parents are dead. Mostly, that's the older ones. The younger ones are the children of SeeDs." She was not imagining the look on Squall's face. He would rather be doing almost anything than telling her about this. Then what he had said sunk in.

The children of SeeDs. Quistis had made SeeD by the age of 15, and she'd seen no SeeD older than thirty, who were not members of the faculty. And she seemed to remember that you had to make SeeD by the age of eighteen, if you were going to. But there were dozens of babies in there, and dozens of young children. Quickly, she scanned the stores of the Infirmary - nope. No birth control anywhere. Was Garden trying to breed future SeeDs?

She had reached out unconsciously for Squall's hand while she was working things out, the body-warmed soft leather somehow comforting. But it made her wonder, all the same - if she stayed with Squall, would her own children end up in that bright room, forgetting their lives and their parents as they played with GFs?

She was silent as Squall led her out of the Infirmary. She had a multitude of questions still to ask, but her mind was refusing to let her ask them - afraid, perhaps, of the answers.

* * * * *

The next stop on the 'tour' was the Quad. The walk there had been completely quiet; no students appeared to be willing to engage Squall in even the minimum chitchat he'd usually put up with, and Rinoa was trying to think ahead, to work out what new surprises might be in store for her. Would every section of Garden hide such altering secrets?

Today was Sunday, so she hadn't been expecting the Quad to be holding a class. Yet there one was; a group of about thirty cadets, aged five to fifteen, all in loose fitting white outfits. Zell was at the front, leading the class. He turned at the sound of Squall's boots on the Quad's paving stones (for all the students were barefoot). Squall squeezed Rinoa's hand, and indicated she should wait where she was. He went ahead alone to speak to Zell.

She couldn't hear what was said, of course. But Zell's expression changed from delight at seeing his friend to a look of concern, even worry, as he looked over at Rinoa. She could tell that he wasn't certain Squall was doing something wise. After a few more moments, he stood at attention and nodded. Squall nodded back, then returned to Rinoa.

"What was that all about?" was the first thing she asked.

"Wait," Squall replied.

Sure enough, the moment Zell got back to the front of the class, he took up a fighting stance and shouted, "All right, challenge! One of you fights me, and if I kick his ass inside three minutes, the whole lot of you are going on a full tilt run around the Garden! Now, who's up for it?"

The students argued back and forth for a few minutes, then one stepped forward. He knew he couldn't beat Zell, Rinoa could see it in his face. He was just going to offer challenge because apparently it had to be done. She turned to Squall, to ask him to explain, only to find him watching intently, noting everything about the student's stance.

The fight was over quickly, of course. Zell was the best fist fighter and kick boxer in Garden - which was of course why he was leading a class on it. In short order, the whole group were off and running on their assigned course. As soon as the last one was out of the Quad, Squall led Rinoa onto the main floor as if nothing had occurred.

"What is going on, Squall?" Rinoa demanded, confused. "What just happened?"

Squall didn't answer - just narrowed his eyes and glared at her. He quickly walked to the far side of the Quad, where a low wall kept items on the main floor from sliding off the Quad level and into the ocean. Once there, he leaned back against it, arms folded across his chest, watching her -- still looking annoyed.

Of course, thought Rinoa. He can't answer the question if it breaks his promise. Which meant that there was another piece of the puzzle here, that he was hoping she could see. That had to be why Zell had taken his group out of the Quad; to give her time.

Squall was willing to provide clues that didn't involve speaking and weren't overt. So Rinoa decided to begin looking near where he was standing. It took her a few minutes to understand what Squall was trying to get across, though - and in the meantime, his annoyed expression had changed to one of amusement. Perhaps it was justified; the only odd thing she could find was a panel in the wall he was leaning against that opened into a downward chute.

"Is this what you wanted me to see?" she asked, indicating the chute. To her vast relief, he nodded.

A chute? What could be so sinister about a chute? thought Rinoa. Perhaps it's where it goes.

So she tried to examine it, opening the door and looking as far inside as she could. The only thing she could see was a small ledge, no higher than a quarter inch, along one side. When she threatened to overbalance and fall in, however, Squall roughly yanked her out. When she would have handed him a snappy remark for the handling, the look of terror that momentarily passed across his face stopped her.

So. It's lethal. How can I work out what it does, if I can't look inside and he can't tell me what's there?

But Squall had evidently come to the same conclusion. Still looking a bit frighted - had she had that narrow an escape? - he walked to the far side of the Quad, where the low wall met up with the exterior of the Garden proper. Pressing a button that would be invisible at any distance if you didn't know to look for it, a door opened.

Inside was a smallish closet space, stacked floor to ceiling with coffins.

Well, of course mercenaries die, thought Rinoa. Why would Squall consider the method of burial to be a secret?

Unless there was something unusual in the method. Something people might object to - like the nursery, raising the children of children.

Thinking of that, she took a closer look at the coffins. She noted that they were really showpieces; plastic models embossed with the symbols of Garden and SeeD. But the truly interesting thing about them was that none of them had any foot-panels. Where the feet of the corpse would rest against the coffin was only empty air. A Garden flag, or a SeeD flag, concealed the opening.

She checked the widths against the chute. Yes, every one of the coffins would fit. A coffin would be placed in the chute, appear to slide all the way down, but come up instead against the little ledge on the inside. Whereupon the body would keep going...where?

Judging by the spooked look Squall had had, probably an incinerator. No muss, no fuss. But that still didn't answer why Squall would show her this in the first place. She couldn't imagine he'd find lack of earth-burial a reason to get upset; it did at least count as burial, which was more than many soldiers ever got. Rinoa tried to think the way Squall would think, to work out what was wrong.

Maybe it wasn't what she was seeing, but what she was not seeing that was important. SeeD were considered masters of misdirection. What hadn't she seen, that she should have?

Then it hit her. "Squall," she asked. "Are the students of Gardens given funerals?"

Squall gave her a small nod, a pleased look lurking in the back of his eyes. "If the person's family requests it," was his only reply.

Except that the majority of SeeD and cadets were orphans, she remembered, thinking back to the nursery. Even the children that were children of SeeDs would count as orphans, as the use of GF eroded their memories of family. Squall had even forgotten the existence of Ellone, the sister whose loss had driven him to become SeeD in the first place, under the Lethe-like influence of the GFs. So only the few SeeDs who had family outside Garden would ever be given funerals. The rest - and here she finally understood what bothered Squall - the rest would be forgotten. Worse than being other people's memories, was to be forgotten as if you never were - as if all that you had been counted for nothing. The only people likely to remember a SeeD were that SeeD's partners - but only a fallen comrade's family could request a funeral. A loophole that no one would think of or question. She looked up at Squall. "There's more, isn't there?" she asked.

"Yes," he said. "But only one more thing today."

Rinoa blinked. "Why? There's probably time today to see everything, the Garden isn't that big," she said.

"I'm going to have to answer to Garden for showing you what I have," he said, sounding sad, "promise or no. I'm showing you only as much as you need to decide."

"You're the Commander of Garden," Rinoa said. "Doesn't that mean you run Garden?"

"Come on," said Squall, tugging on her hand. "You still have to see one more thing."

Drat it, thought Rinoa. He's not going to answer me.

But to her surprise, he just continued around the Garden ring, and the next stop was the Dormitory. Squall turned to her, and said, "This is it."

Oh, really. What about the Dormitory could be worthy of an oath of silence? Ah, better not ask that, Rinoa thought to herself. I've been bitten once by that question already today.

But this time it was easier, because she had the first two rooms to draw on. It wasn't what was there, it was what was not there that Squall wanted her to see. And with her thoughts fresh from the Infirmary and Quad, she noted what was missing as soon as she thought to look for it. Sure enough, something that by rights should have been there, wasn't.

"No family quarters, right?" she said.

"Right," said Squall. "You know what happens, now."

"And what am I supposed to decide with this knowledge?" sighed Rinoa. "You said you were giving me as much as I needed to decide. Decide what?"

"I have to go," said Squall, in a change of subject. "Will you be at the Cafeteria tonight?"

"Squall," Rinoa pleaded. "What am I supposed to decide?"

He responded by taking one of her hands in his gloved ones, and pressing her fingers closed over something. "The Cafeteria, tonight?" he whispered, and left her standing at the door to the dormitory rooms.

When she opened her hand, she found that what Squall had given her was a SeeD emblem.

Was she supposed to decide whether she wanted to become a SeeD?

Chapter 4

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