7

Officer Quarters, Command HQ.

The officer's quarters of the Command HQ somewhat resembled an ordinary street in a suburb anywhere in the world. Well cut lawns and tended gardens in front of whitewashed houses, with cars parked up in front of garages, and even a name, Kramer Road. However, the lawns were cut by base maintenance staff and a few of the cars were bullet proofed. And most of the houses had bomb shelters specified to survive a direct hit from anything but a nuclear warhead or bunker buster in the basement.

There was also the fact few ordinary suburban streets had a surface to air missile site and a helicopter hanger within three hundred yards.

Zell had finished the briefing, with the only further information Squall could give him being that Rinoa was essentially in charge of coordinating travel arrangements with himself and Sergeant Kelly. What Zell knew this meant was if he and Kelly did not like it, tough.

'Remind me again, sir, why her current security arrangements here are inadequate for Deling city?' Kelly asked.

'Well, Pete, it's not they're inadequate, more that the Galbadians would be very nervous if Captain Twamley and his men were following Rinoa through the city,' Zell replied, referring to Captain Henry Twamley of the CRW detachment, leader of the 5th Platoon of the detachment, and most often detailed to drive just behind Rinoa when she collected Julia from school as she was on the way back from doing at the time both SeeD operators were standing bored on her front doorstep.

'Understandable, sir, many of Captain Twamley's men make me nervous too.'

'Well, be fair, you do owe Ricky a fair amount of money. That's what you get for a poor triple triad game.'

A car approached. It was alone, an officer's spouse driving past with his or her children back from a local primary school. Most SeeD operators with children, rather than send their children to Balamb Garden, where primary, secondary, and further education systems were in place, sent their children into the Balamb Schools System at primary levels. However, so far roughly three quarters of all SeeD operators with children had those children then go on to request that their secondary education be conducted at Balamb Garden. Rinoa and Squall had followed the trend, and Julia Leonhart attended a primary school in a nearby village along with another twenty children in what most SeeD's called Officer Street.

'She's never too quick, Pete. She sometimes stops on the way back in at a burger place when she can't be bothered cooking.'

'She has the good sense not to trust the mess halls delivery service then, sir?'

Another car neared, followed by a four by four. It was Rinoa. Zell didn't bother moving to open the door when she parked up, as Twamley was already there. Rinoa gave Zell an amused look.

'You should have sat inside, guys.'

'Well, ma'am, the Commander declined to give us the front door key, fearing we'd steal all the sugar,' Zell replied.

Twamley's team had wandered throughout the area, not even trusting two veteran SeeD operators who had been sitting outside for the best part of an hour. When they were certain it was safe, the three men got back in their four by four and drove off. Twamley again opened the front door, and Julia ran straight past and upstairs.

'Why's she in such a hurry?' Zell enquired.

'She's wasting valuable time that could be spent on level three of Freddy the Fox,' Twamley replied.

'I keep telling you, Henry, she finished that a month ago, she's playing some thing with ponies in it,' Rinoa interrupted, walking through to the lounge. It was nothing out of the ordinary, a three piece suite, widescreen television, Digital Data Disc Video player, and ornaments atop a fireplace, an electrical model in the design of a faux coal fire. Twamley wandered into the kitchen as Kelly and Zell sat down.

'Well, guys, my father says he's ready pretty much any time for us to go over, so my plan is that we catch a flight tomorrow to Dollet then get the train from there. If we take the train, we don't wind up landing in Deling International the same hour we left Rowthea Airport.'

'I don't suppose I can make any changes based on security, can I?'

'In a word? No.'

******

A flight, followed by a lengthy train ride to reach Deling, only for it to emerge a bomb threat had closed Central Station Zell became immediately paranoid, but Rinoa insisted on having her father simply send a car instead. Zell at least managed to get her to wait with Kelly elsewhere as he awaited General Caraway's driver. To Zell's surprise, the driver looked very familiar.

'Ah, we meet again, Captain Dincht. You know who I am. I presume that Mrs. Leonhart is nearby?' The driver asked. It was Friedrich Wedge.

'Yes, Fred. Would you mind explaining...'

'All in good time, Captain, all in good time. Let us just say I do a lot of work for a lot of agencies these days. Not like you do, I must point out. My pay always comes from the same source.'

Rinoa, Kelly, and Julia arrived, and though Wedge never spoke another word, Rinoa was not ignorant of the fact Kelly and Zell both recognised him. She spoke to Zell as they walked towards the door of the mansion where General Caraway still lived.

'You know the driver, Zell?'

'Friedrich Wedge. Ran into him in Timber and possibly ten years ago. Claimed to be a captain in the hundred and first light, but we though he was TKSK. Now, not so sure.'

It took about half an hour before General Caraway and Zell managed to arrange the meeting together, Rinoa finding an excuse to wander out into the park with Julia under the watchful eyes of Kelly and Feldwebel Hoffman.

'Swept for bugs recently?' Zell asked, to the point

'This morning, by State Security and then by your people in the afternoon. Both found nothing.'

'About as safe as it can get without curtain twitching.'

'Yes. It is. Now, to business. I trust you recognised Friedrich out there. Well, to be honest, Captain, I know all about Timber. In fact, I authorised that mission. We've been aware for some time certain elements of the Free Republican government desire that Galbadia be drawn into the war in force. We also know they desire SeeD's elimination at all costs. Well, most costs. Seems our southern allies are maybe trying to pull the puppet strings of both of us,' Caraway explained.

'In what way, sir?'

'Bluntly, they've pulled that trick with fake Galbadian troops... I trust you realised the men you fought were not actually Galbadians, right?'

'They seemed a little off, I'll admit.'

'Right. You see, they've been dressing up platoons as our men, and sending them further north than we ever go. This has pissed off the north, hence, they fell for a trap. The south fed them a possible attack, the north wanted SeeD there, the south then manages to pull intelligence data proving SeeD was present and killed Galbadian troops. We'd be alarmed at the use of a GF, but we've known for months that the North plans to use them. A waste of time and money, in my honest opinion. However, we're waiting on them officially announcing it before we comment.'

'So, where does SeeD fit in?' Zell enquired. Caraway handed over a pale yellow folder.

'Southern agents, in an attempt to provoke a response against SeeD, have been assassinating our intelligence officers in the North of Timber and in other locations. They also have supplied Krastovia a large amount of weapons in recent months, against our wishes.'

'You don't support the Krastovians?'

'If we do, mark my words, the sons of bitches will turn on us if they win,' Caraway stated honestly. 'Plus, they're a bigger bunch of paranoid nationalist dicks than the Free Republic.'

'I still don't see why you canít just hand this folder to the southerners and tell them it's not working.'

'You know, of course, the trouble here. South Timber would be upset if we dragged him in and accused our so-called allies of this sort of thing based on evidence that might be... Somewhat inconclusive. We've been having issues keeping the Southerners in line lately, especially with regards to peace talks before the North is ready for this new offensive they plan. Don't worry Captain, we know they're doing it, we know you know; now you know we know. And you also know the Northerners know we know, and you'll probably have guessed that...'

'Since you know, the South knows, and where you want it to be something to lead into peace talks, the South wants them to bring it on. You want a ceasefire for as long as possible,' Zell replied

'Of course. Galbadia is eager to resolve the situation as quickly as possible with as few casualties as possible. However, FRCMA actions like this give our hawks in parliament and the MoD something to hit the headlines with. Our own intelligence agencies are unable to act, as is SeeD Galbadia, due to... How shall we say this, issues of reliability in ensuring the plan remains hidden. So, logically, only SeeD Balamb can do this little task for us.'

'Wait. South Timber sold information to kill your agents to try and make it look like we did it, and now, Galbadia is covertly trying to save its agents from further killings by having us turn their plan into a half reality?'

'It's kind of poetic. The President is unofficially willing to claim that our evidence could find no link at all between the murdered Southern agents and SeeD. We hope the South will protest and that we can play our card and get them to the negotiating table and hammer out a new ceasefire for a while.'

'You've lost men by proxy through allies and now you're willing to return the favour because you've got a chip to cash and want it cashed fast. Sounds to me more like you want the south to step it up a notch to draw Galbadia into it.'

'On the contrary, we want the South to fuck it up. Get them angry, they make a mistake that confirms it, we hit them with this... There's election soon. A six month ceasefire means we can pull a few troops home. Wins votes. If we can threaten to withdraw support based on this... Who knows how long it might last? The president likes having control of Parliament. A ceasefire that lasts long after an election is a sure-fire winner going into the presidential elections in two years. And if it goes wrong...'

'...You can always make it look like the Socialist broke the ceasefire. Politics.'

'Indeed. It's always politics I find. Hell, it's all my daughter would try to debate with me if I gave her a chance. And I aim to ensure I don't do that tonight because I'd like to get to sleep before eight in the morning, even if recent events haven't made me starting thinking that she might be closest to right between the two of us... You'll be free to do the mission when Squall calls you and confirms we've paid. Use a variety of methods, and start in Fisherman's Horizon. Other than that, this meet was just you accompanying a VIP. Officially, we never even spoke and you spent all this time in here. But you'll be assisted by one of our men, to ensure the mission is conducted as we requested.'

'Let me guess who...'

******

Zell was walking the grounds of the mansion. Rinoa and Julia had walked back from the park, and at her insistence, she had left the SeeD bodyguard behind and allowed her father to take Julia and her to dinner. That Rinoa knew a small army of bodyguards would have surrounded the restaurant was a moot point, because then she could point out no one posed a real threat.

A Galbadian guard stood by the gates. Zell wandered over.

'I trust you are unhappy with the... Task General Caraway has assigned?' Wedge said.

'A little, yes.'

'Look on the bright side; it's not that fucking serial number bullshit, ja?'

'Are you going to be able to explain a few things now?' Zell asked bluntly

'Perhaps, Captain. Please, though, as we are to be colleagues of sorts, call me Friedrich. Or even Wedge.'

'Well, I'll be honest. Most of my questions I had are answered. I know you are TKSK, and that right now, you're doing odd jobs in the Military.'

'I do wallpapering, you know, a specialty,' Wedge interrupted.

'So I'll just get to the point, Wedge. Are you the same one from the communications tower-'

'In Dollet ten years ago? Nein. I presume you were there, Captain?'

'Yes, I was. Was that Wedge a relative?' Zell pressed on

'Ah, yes, my elder brother, Hans. He was a combat engineer, retired from the military just as I was beginning basic training ten years ago. He's an information technology analyst at a banking firm on the Straße der Wand. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I believe,' Wedge said.

'So he did quit the military.'

'Yes. I tried to lure him back in, make him jealous when I got the paratrooper badge, but he wasn't fazed. He's content living in front of a computer. Earns more than I do. Much more. But I doubt he finds it as rewarding,' the Galbadian explained.

'In what way, Wedge?'

'He does not get to meet interesting people in his line of work any more. Not even on a teleconference. Bankers are such boring fuckers. Secretaries are cute though.'

******

Three days later, Rinoa and Julia were back home in Balamb. Meanwhile, Zell, Kelly, Wedge, and Corporal King were in Fisherman's Horizon along with another SeeD. The other members of Zell's platoon were chasing their own targets.

'That's our man there,' Zell commented, spotting the target cross the busy platforms of the train station. Wedge was a few feet behind the man as an express train neared.

'He's awfully close to the edge, sir,' King commented.

'Yep. Anyone else thinking our Galbadian friend is going to get the job done without our help?'

'Yes, sah,' Kelly agreed.

'Good. Let's go wait in the car. That breakfast this morning's still trying to get up without the help of our spy having an argument with the eleven twenty express...'

The SeeD operators had just reached the car as faint screaming could be heard inside the station, and the PA system requested people move away from platform seven. Wedge popped into the car just as the first ambulance arrived.

'Get it done?'

'Let's just say the train has been a little delayed and it's not leaves on the line,' Wedge confirmed.

'Good. Oh, by the way, how the hell are you keeping that breakfast down, Wedge?'

'Easy, captain. I threw it up earlier.'