Eclipse Into Light
(Author's Note: Post FF7 fic. Like all my other works, both KH and AC free. Spare me from the Squeenix Badfic, thx.)
so many of us stand in the middle
looking back to the worst
looking forward to the fall
Live, "Good Pain"
Sitting alone as stars fell from the sky
No one felt the pain like I
As time and fate came into play
The floating city died that day
I won't forget the friends I knew
I won't forget the simple truth...
"Shut that damn thing off, Elena."
A toss of blonde hair. "Why? It's boring here, us alone with all this crap. And you told me not to blabber. I don't blabber with the radio on."
"Maybe he's subtly implying you should stop singing along." Rude pulled down his shades and gave her one of his looks.
"It's not that." Reeve shrugged. "I just can't stand the fact that...people are already capitalizing on this."
He pushed his sunglasses back into place and went back to work on his pile. "Don't tell me you're surprised."
"Not surprised, just disappointed. I shouldn't even feel that much, after having been with Shinra...knowing what kinda lows people can go to...but I still do."
Elena frowned and hit the power switch. "I don't see the big deal. It's just a song."
"It was written to sell millions of copies. By some record company spin-doctors who were safely tucked away in Junon when Meteor struck." He scowled. "It's disgusting."
"It's a small world, maybe they lost someone here. Maybe they want to pay tribute to the fact the Planet almost was destroyed." She glared at him. "I like it."
"It's too soon."
"Almost six months, Reeve."
He shook his head. "It's still too soon." He moved a large piece of drywall. It crumbled into about five pieces as he set it into his I-already-sifted-through-this pile. "Hey, I might have something here." He tapped the medium sized white footlocker that had been buried. "It's steel, under the enamel."
"This might be what we've been looking for!" Elena clapped her hands and hovered over his shoulder.
Rude pushed her aside, abruptly. "Oh really?"
He placed a hand on his hip. "Look." He pointed to the clasp, and the padlock securing it. "I'm going to have to pick that so we can be sure that the supplies are inside."
"I just wish we could find some of the medical research files." Reeve sighed. "No matter how much medicine we come up with, it's not going to do any good to use it up without knowing how to make more."
"Junon has the basics, 'cillins and stuff." Rude grimaced and jiggled the wire against the barrels of the lock. "They've been producing as much as possible, but you got to give them time."
"The Mako poisoning is here. In the refugee camps around Midgar and in Kalm. The only lab that produced anything that had much effect on it was in here. Inside the Shinra building. That's where the drugs are. That's where the how-to stuff is. Junon can play catch-up, but they need years of research to do it. Everyone here will die. The few people that Meteor left will die. But I'm sure that the people in Junon will make them wonderfully profitable tribute CDs."
"Give it a rest." Elena's face was set in stone. She crossed her arms and turned away. "We said we'd help, and we're helping. You gave us the sob story. We don't have anything better to do, anyway."
"Sorry. It just doesn't seem, sometimes, that you understand how important this is"
"It doesn't matter how important it is," Rude interrupted. There was a small popping sound as he slid the padlock open. "We can't make the information materialize. We can't even make the medicine that was already made materialize. All we can do is look and hope."
"It's just frustrating." Reeve slid his hands into his pockets. "Seventy floors of wreckage and maybe thirty people to look through it. On a good day. We had maybe a good hundred storage units with drugs here. And those are the easy things."
"Hard files and computer disks are like needles in this old haystack." He slid the case open, revealing they'd hit pay dirt. A row of several brown medicine bottles, which he knew ran many layers deep. He slammed the case shut. "Let's get this back to the base. It's going to get dark soon." Rude's face broke in an uncharacteristic smile. "Boss."
"Right," Reeve replied dryly. "Sorry pay's not much, but work's scarcer than the gil is."
The three of them turned to make the long, treacherous trek back to camp. "We really deserve hazard pay though," Elena said. "Roaming miles of twisted wreckage that's covered with glowing Lifestream. Just 'cause Rudie and I happen to know that what's left in the ruins isn't really enough to cause Mako poisoning, that's no reason to pay us less than the scared stupid guys!"
"Don't you remember the whole 'favor for an old associate' part that I went through when I called you?"
She shivered. "Man, though, I think I might almost prefer bumming around with Reno to this freaky skyline."
"If we can ever find what we need...we can save them. And leave this wasted place behind."
* * *
"As recently as seven years ago, a war raged on. A corporate superpower, in the guise of a benevolent, forward-thinking society, imposed its will on the last bit of strength that existed on the Planet, aside from itself. During this time, many technological breakthroughs occurred. The boon to the power company was the fact that many of these novelties could be marketed for profit and also be used on the battlefield.
Soldiers for the infantry; Soldiers for the police.
Radio transmissions for the frontlines; a media outlet to tell the masses what they ought to believe.
Destruction of the so-called enemy; a near destruction of the Planet.
Meteor's descent may have appeared to be quick, to the frightened and panicked people, but its acceleration was slowed considerably once it hit the atmosphere. And, if anyone had taken measurements instead of running around screaming about endtimes, they would have learned that a considerable amount of force ran through the space rock itself.
A force aside from the one generated by the whole mass times velocity equation. Meteor was summoned by a piece of materia, after all. While the process of summoning via materia has never been and may never be understood by even the best scholars, one known fact exists. Behind whatever physical manifestation arises, there lies a tremendous amount of energy, which is the equivalent of pure oceans of Lifestream.
Light and dark cancel each other out. Generally, it's not so simple, but for Meteor and Holy, it was. Holy didn't not work...it did exactly what it existed to do. The manifestations of the Holy and Meteor summons hung in a strange celestial balance, trading a tremendous amount of energy in a half magical, half scientific equilibrium. Unfortunately for the residents of Midgar, and even the people who had managed to flee to supposed safety in the outlying areas, the damage that this energy trading caused to structures was overwhelming. Most of the buildings between ground zero and Kalm were destroyed, if not completely flattened.
That was the tragedy, but not the horror. Even with the balance between the spells, this left a huge anomaly of mako energy on one particular place on the Planet. It's easy to say that the gallons and torrents of Lifestream that rushed forth and eventually dispersed both Meteor and Holy were the result of one lost spirit longing to save her world, but...the truth is different. The Lifestream was sucked towards Midgar with a force similar to the gravity that pulled all the planets in the solar system into being. This tipped the scales, and both Meteor and Holy were dissolved back into simple mako.
Eventually the Lifestream settled back down to a level of evenness within and about the Planet. But those near ground zero, who hadn't already been crushed by collapsing buildings, were given a mako bath that was the equivalent of the one Cloud Strife got after Meteor was initially summoned.
There are thousands and thousands of people huddled together outside the ruins of the city. Half of them are probably out of their minds, another good portion are physically spent. And if there is a single person within in the Mako poisoning radius who is not dying, then he is an exception that medical science will need if they hope to save any of the others."
"To think, this is the happy ending," Tifa muttered under her breath. Her hands subconsciously joined in the polite, somber clapping that ended the combination lecture and relief aid drive that had been delivered by the newest Cosmo Canyon elder. She smoothly slid out of her second row seat and made her way to the side of the stage, where her friend was being congratulated by the folks from his hometown.
She didn't notice the longhaired, caped fellow behind her. Vincent's head was still cocked to the side. His supposed enhancements allowed him to hear better than any other man, and he'd managed to catch her bitter comment. He also rose to have a word with the newly appointed.
"Do you really believe that the whole, entire, uh..." The white-haired man made an odd motion with his hand and continued. "That the incident in Midgar was a result of an excess of mako? That seems an overly simplistic theory. Your follow through was there, but the basis of the theory is a beginner's mistake."
"Weren't you angsting that Shelby Starrider wasn't returning your affections while I completed my first thesis on the energy flow involved with materia spells?" The response was barely not a growl. "You humans."
"Nanaki, it is well known that your kind matures slower than we do. You're essentially the age I was then. How can you presume to put on airs, especially as the new elder?"
"Red knows his stuff. And I always take experience above age. It's, what do you call it, the wise thing to do?" The young brunette smiled as she finished walking over; she could barely keep from laughing at the old fellow.
"Who would you be?" The old man sniffed.
"Only one of the people trying to stop the whole, entire, uh..." She mimicked his goofy gesture. "Incident in Midgar before it destroyed the Planet entirely. Though I'm sure you think I'm worthless, since my father was probably still in diapers when you were angsting over Miss Shelby. I'm sure she was lovely, though."
The fogey stuck his nose up in the air and huffed off. "Well, I never..."
She put a gloved hand to her mouth, covering a giggle.
"I honestly don't know how to thank you, Tifa."
"Well..." Her voice trailed off. "I'm here mostly to see your accomplishment and to say 'congrats.'"
"I'm grateful for that."
She smiled again, but a little more stiffly. "Now that I've heard your thesis, though, I think I need you to tell me how much of it you think is true."
The cat-like creature lowered his one good eye to the floor. "Some elders spend their entire tenures theorizing and making up different possibilities. They care not whether they find answers. I can assure you I'm not one of those types."
Tears welled up in her eyes. "You're sure?"
"You know nothing's sure, Tifa. But this as much as I know, as much as I can do."
"So Marlene is dying? There's no help for her, it's definitely mako poisoning stronger than can ever be helped?!" She lowered her head. "But she was so far away, no one else in Kalm..."
"She's small, and Kalm is a small village. There weren't any other small children until you get to the outlying farms much farther away from the epicenter. It's unfortunate, but..."
"It's Barret's daughter!"
"...and he is now Elder Nanaki, yet still working on the miracle worker job." Vincent frowned down at the somber scene. "What happened while I walked over here to you two? You were just smiling a few moments ago, now you're blaming Red for not knowing answers to mysteries?"
"It's good to see you," said Red XIII.
"I was smiling. It's hard... I am proud of you, Red, it's just hurting me so much to know she's in such pain, and then there's Barret..." Tifa brushed back a piece of hair. "There are search teams that keep coming back with drugs. They're keeping the patients steady. No one is getting worse, but no one's getting better. And if the drugs run out before they figure out how to make more, that's it."
"That was part of the reason why I chose to present this topic, you know that. Whatever we can collect tonight will go back to the volunteers."
"I just wish I could do something. I take care of her, and I go looking. And I'm on my way to go get her...something I promised, but even with all that, it doesn't seem like I can do anything."
"It's the most anyone can do for her, and it means even more, since it's you. You know she loves you." Red XIII shook his head.
"I just want something to fight. I know that if this thing was something where I could go into her and just beat it into submission, we could win."
"Seems that the toughest things are the ones you can't fight," said Vincent. "Meteor...all Shinra's 'experiments'...this Mako poisoning..."
She bowed her head. "...I know."
"So her condition hasn't changed, at least?"
"Not really, Red. She's lucid still, but it comes and goes. It's not noticeable day-to-day, but...it comes more often than it used to go, now."
"How long since the last?"
"Three days. Well, four now, I assume. Cloud said he'd call me if she were aware again, let me know that he could explain the situation to her."
"Why did you leave?" Red XIII cocked his head to the side. "You must have had a good reason. I know Barret's been beside himself and not much in the way of helping care for her."
Tifa laughed through the tears springing to her eyes. "Oh, I'm sure it's going to sound stupid, but it means the world to her. On nights when Barret would be out in Midgar, doing various errands for Avalanche...putting up posters, recruiting and the like, I'd usually be the one who had to put Marlene to bed. I got in the habit of singing her a lullaby. Mama used to sing it to me when I was small. When I was seven, she bought me this music box that played the song. I thought it had been lost when Nibelheim burned...but..."
"Shinra recreated every detail, seemingly. The town hadn't changed by a board or nail, for all I could tell." The corner of Vincent's mouth twitched. "So you want to go look at the copy of your house they built."
"...it sounds crazy, but they had the same exact piano with the same exact key out of tune and the same exact sheet music...even the stuff in the bench matched! I didn't think then to look for a silly little trinket...but I keep thinking, what if Marlene wakes up and wants her song and I can't sing it for her?"
"It's not all that crazy. A replica of the music box is probably sitting in that replica of your old bedroom. It's Shinra's attention to detail, and the creepy copy of that village, which is crazy."
"This is the best chance I've had to go, too. Cloud stopped by to check in on us, and I asked him to stay while Cid flew me over to this continent. I'm going to go to Nibelheim in the morning. I want her to have it while she can still realize what it is...that is, if she never ends up getting better." A tear fell from her eye to the floor.
"I wish I could give you more comfort than I have," said Red XIII. "But even my best explanations border on mere guesses at this point, and I know very little of the art of medicine."
"I wish you could, too."
"Are you walking to Nibelheim?" asked Vincent.
She nodded. "I wanted to see Red's lecture here tonight, and I figured that even if it took a day or so, walking from here would clear my head and help me focus. Like a pilgrimage, almost."
"I have some business I wanted to take care of there, also. I think I'd like to go with you."
"All right. Just a warning, though. I'm not the best company right now."
He shrugged. "I'm not the best company, ever."
* * *
Beer cans lay strewn about the sand. Most were overturned and empty, but a few were upright, leaving their contents questionable. In the middle of the mess lay a skinny guy, half-naked. He had a mess of red hair and the exposed skin beneath it had an all-over shade of light pink. His cell phone was ringing, but between his portable radio and his snoring, it was obvious that the caller was going to get redirected to his voice mail.
A teenaged girl glided out of the brush bordering the small beach and walked into this scene. She shook her head with a bemused grin. "Of all the people..." Yuffie pulled her hair back and retied her headband, before darting her hand down and grabbing Reno's PHS. She let it ring in her hand a few more times before switching it off. Then, she dropped it into the sand along with the other litter.
Suddenly, she noticed something interesting. A cooler. With a grin, she popped open the top. The contents did not disappoint her. She reached in and grabbed a handful of ice chips. Without another second's thought, she unloaded the whole pile right onto Reno's sunburnt stomach.
"What the fucking hell are you!" He jumped up immediately, stumbling a bit from the sudden rush of blood to his head. Instinctively, he reached at his hip for a weapon before opening his eyes. Finding none, and nearly about to fall over, he squinted around with a bewildered expression and blinked. "...the hell?"
Peals of laughter erupted from Yuffie. "You shoulda seen the look on your face..."
"I thought we had a deal about leaving each other alone, Kisa-ragging."
She smiled. "I just couldn't help myself. Besides, you're kindasortamaybe a little bit on a private property. A developer's coming out to look at it, and I'm making sure that it was free from debris and stuff like mobile plants. Or their carcasses."
"Didn't you use to whine about Wutai being a tourist hotspot, and how that was despicable?"
"There's a fine balance. I don't mind people coming here and unloading their cash. I did mind them walking all over my people, who live here. People are coming over here now, though, to learn about the culture, and because they've converted and want to see Da Chao, and...I don't mind that. With the bit I've been doing, investing and the like, it's not like we're a downtrodden, beaten, inferior people."
"That was Shinra's line, anyway."
"It's certainly easier to do things without them spreading lies about us, I have to say." She kicked a toe in the sand. "This is going to be an important sale, though. This guy's a real hardass, only wants to deal with my dad officiallysays I'm too youngbut...as long as things look right, he's promised a big price. And there's a clause in the deal about donating some funding to the healing center."
"Acupuncture and herbal voodoo?" Reno snorted.
"I think there's some folk over on the continent that would eat sand if it stopped the voices that Lifestream put in their heads. If we find something that works, it'll be just as valid as pills."
"Oh, no. You're not going to start in on this too, are you? How long 'til you start giving me a guilt trip about not helping the poor people in Midgar, too?"
"I don't give a fuck what you do, Reno. Ignore the fact that your former friends are calling you up every day from the epicenter, lay around on the beach, get drunk and pass out. It's not my concern." She smirked. "I'm just here to tell your sorry ass to find another beach. And hopefully it won't be on my island."
He took a couple steps toward her and sneered. "Like your greedy little butt is gonna tell me that my money ain't good here?"
"Maybe 'zactly like that." Yuffie put her hands on her hips. "You're not really giving us a good image here. And while you sit around here, Reeve is dying."
"The guy is fine, okay? He's just pretending all this to try and get us all out there to help the sorry ass masses. I was never a philanthropist, and he knows that."
"I can't believe you! I know he was your friend, and you don't even care." She shook her head. "I knew Turks were trained to be cold, but I think ol' Sephy had more of a heart than you do."
"Not everyone in the Planet can be a bona fide hero like you, Princess." Reno made a big show of sitting back down in the sand. He cranked up the radio.
Don't put your worth in shiny gold
The value's in the friends you hold
When they leave, you realize
You're left alone for the end ti
Yuffie picked up the thing and hurled it into the brush. There was a crunching shatter as the hard plastic case broke into tiny little pieces, and then a resounding metallic echo. The sound boomed a little, and there were tiny screeches. The vibration had unsettled the birds from the treetops nearby. "What in the name of Leviathan...?"
"You better be prepared to pay me for that. It's not cheap getting a radio that picks up continental signals out here in the boondocks."
"Gawd, shut up, Reno. You can't tell me that you didn't hear that."
"I heard you send my radio to Hades, devil-woman."
She rolled her eyes.
"...and a funky ass little boom afterwards. Maybe it was powered by a mini-reactor."
"Dude, triple A's. I saw you buying batteries in town yesterday." She sighed, resigning herself. "I better go check out what it was I hit with that thing. You coming?"
"What? And miss the best sunOW!" Reno glared up at her. There was a spot on his stomach, slowly returning to pink from the white impression her poking finger had left.
"You're gonna be crispy critters if you stay out here longer, anyway. Come on. It's not like I'm asking you to be charitable or anything." She strolled back towards the trees.
Pulling a shirt on and muttering, he pocketed his PHS and followed right behind her. About fifty feet into the woods, he saw a boulder, which appeared to be composed of a shiny, black, volcanic type of rock. Pieces of the abused radio lay scattered about the bottom of it.
Yuffie knelt down next to the boulder, puzzled.
"...a rock made that sound?"
"I doubt it. Rocks can't. This is weird, anyway. There aren't any rocks of this type anywhere on the island. Just look at Da Chao, it's the light crumbly stuff. It's one reason why there's a giant sacred statue made out of it."
"Maybe it's ancient. It's not like there were never volcanoes out here. What about those damn fire caves?"
"You mean the mystical, holy, blessed, non-seismic fire caves?" She bit her lip and giggled. "Sorry. Shera tried to convince me one day that everything in the legend of our gods could be explained by science. Some of her science rubbed off on me, but she did give up on the explanations once I brought up the fire caves."
He pointed to a long, whitish mark on the surface of the boulder. "Looks like this might be where it hit, huh?"
She raised a hand and lightly tapped on the rock, prepared to meet swift, hard resistance. Instead, the surface gave a little and rang. "This ain't rock. It's metal. Not sure what kind, but it's not even all that thick."
"...someone made a metal boulder. And stuck it in the middle of the Wutaian jungle?"
"Well, not the middle, it's near the coast."
"Like that makes it any more believable!" Reno slapped the side of the boulder and received another metallic echo in reply.
"There's stuff growing all up around it. It's been here awhile. Maybe even left from the war."
"Whatever it is...it's disguised. And while I can't cop to knowing all our secrets, I doubt it's Wutaian." Yuffie slid her fingertips over the pseudo-rock surface, trying to feel for any irregularities. "There's a pretty steady crack in it over here, if I could just get a grip in..." She pulled open a small door, revealing a compartment containing what appeared to be a hi-tech doorknob, complete with keypad.
"Definitely not Wutaian..." She shot him a look. "Stinks of Shinra, don't it, Turk-boy?"
"I've seen my share of these pass-pads. Probably." Reno gave her a nod.
"Think you can crack it?"
"Honey, if this is war leftovers, it's a bit before my time."
"Who knows if it's leftovers?" Yuffie asked quietly. "Maybe they were spying."
"I'll try a few runs at it. If it's anywhere current, I might know the code to get in. We had a few hidey-holes stuck all over. Hell, this might be one of them." He paused, deep in thought. Then, he typed a few numbers in and hit the enter key. He was greeted with a buzzer noise, and then the pleasant sound of a computer-generated voice.
Invalid entry. You have...2 more attempts.
"How 'bout this one, biatch?" He typed in another series of numbers.
Invalid entry. You have...1 more attempts.
She sighed and turned back towards the beach. "Oh well, we tried. Maybe I can find someone to break into the thing..."
Reno cocked his head to the side. "Ah, what the hell." He typed in his personal passcode, that once gained him entry to places like the employee locker room and officer's-only juice bar.
Level C employee confirmed. Agent Jack Reno, Turk second-class. Security level red. Please enter the number of individuals entering this classified center, and hit Enter.
Yuffie gave him a startled look. "Classified center?"
"Looks like I'm allowed inside, toots. We shouldn't have anything to worry about if we go in."
"I'll be worried enough once I see what the hell they were doing in my home! We better check it out."
He punched in the keys.
The portal will be unlocked for the entrance of 2 individuals. The portal will then be sealed. A security access code is required for exit from the classified center. Press 1 to proceed.
"Hell yeah." He tapped the last key. Suddenly, the rock face in front of them split in half, then slid down into the ground.
Her eyes opened wide. "You know, with all the Shinra genetic engineering and floating cities and all, you'd think this sort of thing wouldn't surprise me anymore."
The two of them cautiously stepped into the faux-boulder, and then the sliding rock face rose back up and clicked shut behind them.
Yuffie sucked in her breath. Suddenly, lights blinked on around them. Behind them, there was a keypad like the one outside. In front of them was a corridor, dimly lit by the bluish bulbs. "Gods, is this creepy."
"Eh, sorta." Reno shrugged it off. "Looks like there's only one way to go." They slowly went down the passage, which ran for fifty yards, at most. The narrow walkway opened up into a room decked out with several types of scientific equipment. It was a small lab, but it seemed equipped to handle several different types of work. Pushed against the one wall were an examination table and several filing cabinets. The opposite wall was fitted with a panel of monitors, with consoles below.
She walked up and glanced at the screens. "Half of these are surveillance cameras...those two are trained on the town, that one on the apex of Da Chao, here's one to the entrance of the fire caves, and look..." She pointed. "That last one is aimed right on that beach you were just lounging."
"I guess that's a good sign. If there had been anyone in here, they would've probably gone after us while we were still on the beach."
She shivered. "This just creeps me out. It's been here all this time, just watching us all."
"Just because Shinra was able to keep the security systems updated doesn't really mean a thing. They can do that remotely. If there's a Mako generator, too, then it's possible that no one's been inside for...even years." He glanced at her. "I can't say anything one hundred percent, but I know that Shinra's focus wasn't on Wutai, at least near the end there."
"I'm sure it wasn't. They already destroyed us. What threat could we be?" Her head drooped down.
Reno put a hand on her shoulder. "I didn't mean it like that. We had internal issues. Like crazy psycho Soldiers trying to take over the world? Remember?" He stepped over to one of the control consoles. "Let's see what sort of information I can pull up on this thing."
The menu allowed him several options, all involving particular research projects: Wutai Wildlife, Chemical and Physical Properties of the Fire Caves, Investigations of Da Chao Mythology, The Leviathan Question, Jenova ProjectWestern Branch.
"Come look at this crap, Yuffie. Does any of it make sense to you?"
"Well, most of it looks like them trying to figure out what parts of our belief system are based in fact and which are legend. And there's probably attempts to explain the stuff scientifically. I'm sure the wildlife is just them looking for useful stuff like ingredients for drugs."
"What about the Jenova Project part?"
"I'm almost afraid to think about it. The Jenova Project is the stuff that Hojo worked on. I think Sephiroth may have been one of the products." She looked around. "But there's not really much lab equipment here. This may have been a remote station."
He selected the Jenova Project option. "Well, now, it's giving me a choice of overview, review data, add data, and contact Science Department headquarters."
"First one? Duh."
"The Jenova ProjectWestern Branch is the subdivision of the science department dedicated to continuing the efforts to produce an effective military combat individual by melding the powers of the Ancient Cetra, Jenova, with liquid Mako. The Eastern Branch is dedicated to refining the line of the Cetra. This branch is dedicated to perfecting the process of Mako baths for enhanced individuals."
"So, there was a whole setup entirely separate from the wacko stuff in headquarters? Man..." Reno shook his head.
"If you have chosen this option, it is most likely that you are an employee who has been sent here to enter data regarding a field test. Please select your current location. One, Nibelheim. Two, Wutai. Three, Gongaga."
He hit a key.
"Welcome to Wutai Classified Center. If you have result data from field experiments with the base materia, press one. If you have result data from the microscopic Mako bath, press two. Press three if you want to return to the main menu."
"Wait a second. Base materia?" Yuffie's eyes widened. "Have you ever heard of such a thing?"
She pushed him aside and went back to the first screen. "Is there any way to do a database search or something on this thing?"
He pointed to the monitor. "Maybe move the cursor over to this question mark symbol."
"Hmm... 'Search the Shinra Science Information Network'? Looks like our best shot." Her face fell. "Crap. It's asking for a password."
Reno typed in his security code. "There."
She looked at him in astonishment. "How is it that a Turk has access to...everything?"
He shrugged. "We were trained not to ask questions, but to get the job done. Recruiting, kidnapping, assassination, whatever. It was to Shinra's advantage that we be allowed access anywhere, just in case we needed to go in and get information or documentation. If someone like you had discovered this place even a year ago, we'd have probably been sent in to kill you, download all the information here, and then blow the place up."
"I don't want to think about that." Yuffie typed in a search query. "Base...materia. Start." She peered at the screen as several responses popped up. "Maybe this first one will have the info."
"Base materia. One of few known 'huge materia' specimens. This materia piece is unique in that it is a blend of several types of Mako crystals, allowing it to perform in the realms of Command, Magic, Support, and Independent materia simultaneously. It is thought that using the base materia on a living being can temporarily simulate the permanent effects of Mako exposure.
The base materia is currently located in the Nibelheim Classified Center, for use in the Soldier Double-X enhancement study."
"Look at the date on that article," she whispered.
"What?" He glanced at the screen. "Five and a half years ago. So?"
"Five and a half years ago, Sephiroth went bonkers and burnt Nibelheim to the ground. He claimed that he was retaking the Planet in the name of his mother, Jenova. What if he had another motive? What if he was trying to destroy the Classified Center?"
"What if he just wanted to do a weenie roast?" Reno shrugged. "Does it really matter now?"
"If this center still exists, then the base materia may still be in it. And materia that simulates the effects of a Mako bath may help find the cure for Mako poisoning." Yuffie nodded to herself. "That's it."
"I'm going to Nibelheim to look for the base materia. Even if it's not useful, I have thing for shiny glowy orbs." She grinned. "I just don't know whether we should hire a small engine plane or take one of those quick little subs across to the continent."
"Me? Go with you? You can't be serious."
"I can't go by myself. There might be a couple wacky monstrous things waiting to chomp on me. Besides, Reno, do you really have anything better to do?"
"You have a point."
"I'll buy you a new radio with the money I make off selling the materia." Yuffie stuck out her hand.
He shook it. "You got a deal, kid."
* * *
Elena looked around at the pile of debris she'd stacked up. Eventually, the dumpster would be attached to the back of a little four-wheel drive rover and carted out of the Midgar ruins. "It never ends," she complained.
"Sure it does," Reeve shot back. "Eventually, there will be a day when we find the last box of stuff. Or someone else does. Either way, we won't know it...and we'll keep searching. We'll run out of supplies, and the patients will start dying. When the last one goes, then it'll end."
"You're too morbid. Especially for eleven o'clock in the morning."
"Eleven already? I told you we'd break a half-hour ago!" He reluctantly stepped away from the hole he'd been digging into.
"I guess the trash got me carried away."
"I should've sent you with the envoy to Junon, not Rude. I've got to keep on top of the time, you know that." He sat down on what used to be a support beam, and reached into his pocket.
She watched quietly as he took out a pill and downed it with a swig from his water bottle. "Paying attention to the time keeps me from pretending that nothing's wrong with you."
"Yeah, well if I don't take them regular, then neither one of us will be able to pretend. Just 'cause my case is minor, now, doesn't mean it's any less serious."
Biting her lip, Elena nodded. "...sorry."
Reeve killed the last bit of his water bottle and turned back to the compartment he'd been digging in. Maybe it was obsessive on his part, but he'd found the ruins of an office. With the ruins of a desk. With the ruins of drawers, filled with papers and memos. He could have turned away, easily, if he hadn't recognized one of the doodads inside. The secretary to one of Hojo's underlings had made it a habit to always write with pens that were topped with giant feather plumes. He pulled out another sheaf of papers.
Relayed your message to Dr. Hojo through his secretary, who said that he'd gone for leave at Costa Del Sol. He said not to worry about the mutant hybrids, as their unmatched chromosomes should eventually kill them congenitally. Sophia
He growled and tossed it into the trash pile. "Well, I didn't need any more confirmation that these people were jackasses." He turned to the next.
"Come on," said Elena, "you can't look at every scrap of paper. The next one is going to be some sort of office collection because another secretary got knocked up. We need to keep our eyes peeled for the stuff that mattersyour medicine."
"Fine, fine, this is the last one, and I'll go back to digging, Lane."
Dr. Hojo, I have relayed your message to Pres. Rufus re: Sephiroth's return. He knows that you believe his AWOL and violent disobedience are directly caused by Mako poisoning. He is interested in the specimen that the Nibelheim team claims is Mako-p resistant. He requests that you leave Costa Del Sol immediately to present these findings. Sophia
"Unbelievable," Reeve whispered.
"Yeah! Two memos, three years apart, and they both say that Hojo was at Costa Del Sol. What's up with that?"
He just stared at her. "Did you even hear a word I just read?"
"There's a lab in the basement of this...building in Nibelheim. This memo claims that there's something there that's resistant to Mako poisoning. ...it could be a cure!"
Her mouth dropped open. "On that little scrap of paper?"
"And it's from after Rufus's inauguration. That specimen could still be there, now. With the right proteins or antibodies or defense mechanisms. We have to go. Now!" Reeve jumped up to his feet. "I bet we can get them to lend us a helicopter."
"I can fly us to Nibelheim." Elena smiled weakly. "Just promise me one thing."
"...what is it?"
"I don't want to kill your excitement. But I want to make sure that you're going to keep fighting even if this lead doesn't pan out."
"Okay! Then let's not waste any more time. Off to Nibelheim."
the scalpel dives into the skin
good doctors never leave a scar
no proof again
I'll take the myth, you take the blood
it's all the same to the world dreamer
it's all the same in the end
The wind always came rustling down the mountains, whistling through all the valleys and eroded crevasses in the hard rock. The sound was as eerie as the mountain gales were cold. Tifa shivered as she approached the edge of her old village. The town had always been dwarfed by the mountains surrounding it, but on this day, it seemed especially tiny.
"Do you notice anything unusual?" Vincent cocked his head to the side.
She shook her head. "No. The wind seems louder than I remember, but the last time we were here, winter wasn't coming on, either."
"I don't know that the wind is all that different. No, I think my hunch just might be correct." He continued onto the main street and entered the village, Tifa at his heels.
"Wait, what hunch?" she demanded. He ignored her, and they made their way into the town square. He held up a finger to make sure she kept silent. The gesture was unnecessary, as she had already began to notice something was a bit off about Nibelheim. More off than usual.
The streets were dead. The only sound aside from the wind was the harsh clatter of their footfalls against the old, worn cobblestones. Save for the climate, a tumbleweed wouldn't have been out of place, had it been rolling about the well.
Nibelheim was a ghost town, both literally and figuratively.
"Where is everyone?" Tifa's voice seemed to drop off and die right in front of her.
"Why do you think anyone would be here?" Vincent cocked an eyebrow.
A perplexed look worked its way across her face.
"Shinra paid people to pretend to be residents. Between the company being utterly destroyed, and the Planet nearly suffering the same fate, I don't doubt the employees fled to wherever home really is."
She softly stepped over to the well, trailing a hand over the worn brick and mortar of its base. "This...is really my home."
"The real Nibelheim was destroyed over five years ago."
Shaking her head, she tapped her temple. "The real Nibelheim is still in here. And the fake one matched it, people and everything. I didn't think to mourn, before, seeing it like this. It's not like I remember the charred mess I left behind."
He stood there, watching her fidget over the replica town centerpiece. The wind picked up, whipping his hair and cape behind him. "Don't mourn too long. Things that are cursed are better off dead," said Vincent.
She pushed past him, towards the copy of her old house. Gazing up at it incredulously, she brushed back a tear. "It's just so hard to look at, knowing everything is a copy."
"This isn't new to you."
"Of course it isn't. But when we were here before, enough craziness was going on to where I thought...just maybe, I was losing my mind. Between Cloud's alteration of what happened five years ago, and Nibelheim standing in perfect condition, I was starting to doubt my own memory."
Tifa smiled bitterly. "I was unconscious for days after Zangan rescued me. I don't even remember him doing it. I don't remember how I made it to Midgar, exactly. Suffice it to say, most of my memories of Sephiroth's bonfire bonanza are a little hazy." She walked in the front door, Vincent behind her.
He paused tactfully at the doorway to her old bedroom. "Do you need to go in there alone?"
"I'd rather not. I'm half-afraid I'll find a clone in a cloak, made from a girl named Tifa."
"Now you're getting a little dark, even for my tastes."
"We're not exactly living a 'happily ever after,' Vincent." She paused in front of the bed. God, it seemed like Mama's handmade quilt, down to the very last stitch.
He swallowed. "It must be harder for you, having expected one."
"I thought Meteor was the hard part. I was a fool." She leaned down, closed her eyes, and reached under the bed. As expected, she found a long wooden storage box. It smelled of cedar and her Mama's sachet. Startled by the scent, she leaned back. Her senses were overwhelmed. "Oh god..."
"Just keep Marlene in mind, remember." He put his good hand on her shoulder.
"Those sadistic Shinra bastards!" The words burst from her lips. "How the hell does this benefit them? Why did the copy need to be so perfect? How can it be so perfect? This makes no sense..." She forced herself to unlatch the box. As she opened it and sifted through the contents, she sobbed. Finally, she found the small pewter box. On the outside, a small key for winding. She knew there was a dancing moogle and a space for jewelry in the inside.
"Is that it?"
She nodded, grabbing it and jumping to her feet. It was beginning to feel like if she stayed in the room much longer, she'd vomit. "I don't understand..." Her voice was almost a moan.
"Let's get out of here." His hand slid down to her elbow and he guided her through the door, down the stairs, and back outside.
Tifa stumbled back into the town square. The blank gray sky seemed to surround her. Her shoulders heaved and she choked back tears. Clutching the music box, she buried her face in Vincent's chest and cried.
He stood there silently, holding her enough so she stayed upright. His face remained as expressionless as the town was unnaturally silent. He was a stiff, yet solid support as his companion slowly regained her composure.
"It's more than just empty. There's something wrong here."
"I smelled it as we walked in. I'm sorry I didn't say anything. It's partly just...how Nibelheim smells. It was stronger than I remember, but I thought it was a fault of my memory. Seems we're all distrusting ourselves."
"Maybe there was always something wrong here. At least, since the reactor and the mansion were built. Maybe we just didn't pay enough attention to notice." She slid the music box into the knapsack she had on her back. "I don't think I'll be coming back. Memories are hard enough, sad enough, without losing your mind on top of it."
"Funny you'd say that. You're the only one left who'd call this place home, right?"
She looked puzzled. "Well, Cloud might...but his memories of childhood apparently aren't particularly fond ones." She winced, recalling the scenes she'd seen replayed in his subconscious. "I certainly know he's not come back, and that he doesn't intend to."
"Then," continued Vincent slowly, "you won't be too angry at me when I inform you of the business that I came here to take care of."
"What would that be?"
"I intend to destroy the Shinra Mansion, after removing the files on Hojo's experimentation on Sephiroth, Cloud, and myself. From the looks of things, continuing on with the rest of the village would be a positive."
Tifa gasped. "Destroy it?"
He grimaced and nodded. "And I cannot think of a more fitting method than purging it with fire."
* * *
"Dollface, the only thing I see in here is books." Reno absentmindedly swatted at a stack of the tomes. The pile collapsed, sending up years' worth of dust and mildew into the air.
Yuffie choked, hanging onto herself. For a few brief seconds, it seemed like her lungs would explode. "...asshole..." She brushed a tear from her eye. "Dammit, Reno, do you really think that we could just stumble on the Classified Center in here easily?"
"It worked last time."
She glared. "Well, got anything of yours I can throw in anger?" She shook her head. "Man, this is pretty annoying, though. The lab in the other room is just about as bare bones as I remember it. There's the creepy tubes that Cloud and his buddy were in, and then there's the creepy table where our pal Vincent was de- and reconstructed."
"Which makes this..."
"Um, a library? Note the books." She plunked down in the desk chair and spun herself around, raising up another cloud of dust.
Coughing, Reno stepped over and grabbed the back of the chair. "Stop that. Man, this whole thing was a waste of time."
"It's not like yours is valuable, anyway," she muttered, getting up dejectedly.
"You were excited, though. You were almost the same annoying, hyperactive Yuffie that I know and loathe too well." He offered her a small smile.
"Felt good." She turned to the blank brick wall. "Dammit, though. I hate this stupid secretive Shinra shit." She pulled her foot back and kicked it as hard as she could. With a cry of pain, she hopped back. "...I'mowsuch aowmoron."
"Reno?" she whined. "I hurt."
"I can't fucking believe it."
"Yes, sometimes I'm almost as stupid as you. Will you help me see if I broke anything?" She balanced on one foot, holding up the injured one and peering at it.
"Hon, you moved the damn wall. If it'd been your head that'd rammed into it, I could understand, but..." He walked up to examine the area of bricks that had shifted. "I bet the entrance to the Classified Center would be pretty tough to break into, but since it is an entrance, wouldn't be as solid as a wall."
Yuffie forgot her swollen foot for a second and hopped over. "It did move...and just a rectangle piece. Ohmygawd."
He felt along the wall for some sort of irregularity. "Damn, this brick wiggles a bit, but I can't find a panel."
"Dumbass." She shoved him aside, and pulled out the loose brick. "Voila?"
"If I'd just kicked a goddamn brick wall and started whining about the pain, I'd be watching just who I called dumbass," he muttered. He dutifully glanced inside the space and, sure enough, there was another pass-pad. Complete with stylus for punching in the numbers, as no one could actually reach in there with a hand and expect to hit anything they intended to.
"Ooh, this is so exciting." Yuffie limped back a little to give him some breathing room. She heard the sound of footsteps behind her. "Oh crap," she whispered. "Shut up."
"God, I hope it's not another one of those fucking siamese-twin monster shits. Should we hide?" His voice remained low.
"That really won't be necessary." The male voice came from the lab. "Just keep your hands in the air where we can see them." Two figures stepped in from the next room.
"Vince!" Yuffie clapped her hands, immediately forgetting the order to keep them high. "And Tifa. What are you guys doing here?"
She ignored the sarcasm dripping from her friend's voice. "Coolness."
Tifa was forced to smile at that. "So what brings you here? Hell, what possessed you to bring him?" She glanced at Reno warily.
"We founda boulder and it was Shinra's and it said there was materia here and I said 'Well, Reno, you're such a loser that I'm sure you won't mind going with me to go look for the materia and you're the only one I know who has the pass-code to get into the boulder, so you can get into the Nibelheim thing and'" She paused to take a breath.
"...what?" Tifa shot Vincent a look of disbelief at her ramblings.
"Ha, she hasn't been like that in the longest time." Reno grinned.
Yuffie noticed that no one was taking her seriously, so she took a couple more breaths and gained some composure. "We found a lab in Wutai, and it said there was something here in Nibelheim called 'base materia,' and that it tempo-ra-ri-ly simulated the effects of Mako. I thought if we found it, we could help everyone over in Midgar."
"And you wanted to burn this place to the ground, Vincent." Tifa shook her head.
"What?" Yuffie squawked at him. "You can't. We have to find the materia and then what if there's more stuff in the Classified Center"
"I think I possess the self-control to hold off on my plans," he said dryly. "Besides, what is a Classified Center here? We've all seen the laboratory and the library. And there's not a piece of materia in either of them."
"Watch this." Reno grabbed the stylus and jabbed several times into the hole in the wall. Suddenly, a rectangular portion of the brick wall swung back, away from the room. Through the opening, they could all see a corridor. Lit by bluish lights.
Level C employee confirmed. Agent Jack Reno, Turk second-class. Security level red. Please enter the number of individuals entering this classified center, and hit Enter.
Tifa gasped at the voice. "What the"
"That should be four, right?" Reno smirked.
"Make it six." A voice came from the doorway. "I'm sure Lane could get in herself, but I don't want to freak you all out by sneaking up from behind."
Tifa smiled. "What do you call this, Reeve?"
He grinned and opened his mouth to answer her. "I"
"You fucking rat!" Elena stormed into the room, past everyone. "I can't believe I find you here. We've been calling you for weeks. What the hell have you been doing, Reno?"
"Investigation. I'll have you know there's something important to your cause right inside this doorway." He punched at the keypad.
"I call bullshit!" chirped Yuffie. "He only found the first place because I threw his radio and it hit it," she said to the blonde. "And when I say he found it, of course, I actually mean me."
The portal will be unlocked for the entrance of 6 individuals. The portal will then be sealed. A security access code is required for exit from the classified center. Press 1 to proceed.
"Of course you do," Elena replied. "Besides, Reeve and I already know there's something in there we need." She glanced around. "We are eventually going to hear why everybody and their brother is down here in the Shinra mansion, right?"
"I'd rather hurry inside now and play catch-up later," Reeve said, pushing through to the corridor. Tifa and Vincent filed in behind him, then Elena, shrugging.
Reno turned to go inside, but Yuffie protested.
"Hey, whatever happened to ladies first?"
"Sweetheart, you're a 'Lady' in title only. And that pagoda ain't that great, anyhow" His voice trailed off as she shoved him through the doorway. She stepped in right after, and the faux brick façade slid back into place behind them.
* * *
"This place is bigger than the other," said Yuffie softly. "I don't even know where to start looking."
"They've gotta be keeping the materia someplace relatively secure, so no one drops it on the ground or anything."
"But Reno...I don't know the first thing about scientific experiments, so I'm still at a loss." She took a step back and studied the large pieces of equipment. "I wonder why Reeve was so interested in the specimen room. I thought he'd jump at the chance to look for this stuff."
"He and Elena had their own reasons for comin' all the way out here. I think they need to satisfy their own curiosity. 'Sides, it had to be some pretty powerful evidence they found to get them to abandon Midgar for awhile and start searching for an unknown specimen."
She walked over to one of the larger machines and began to pry it apart,
looking inside. "I just thought that maybe I could do something important
for once, and they've got something even better. I'll be happy if they find
the thing that's a cure, of course"
"Of course," he chimed, smirking.
"but...I had to find the info on a materia, of all things, so I still look all greedy and gil-hungry." She sighed. This particular gadget was full of plenty of electronics, but no materia. "Why aren't you with them, where the action's bound to be?" She plopped down on the floor, trying to get over her disappointment. The search had to continue. Later.
"In for a penny, in for a pound, right?"
"Never mind." He crouched down next to her. "I think I need to be here. We have to find this materia. Even if they find exactly what they thought they would, they'll probably need all the extra info and equipment they can find to develop it into something useful. Including this base materia. We didn't come out here for nothing." He patted her shoulder. "Besides, if I were to go into a room with Lane right now, she'd kill me."
"You hate me. Wouldn't death be better?" Yuffie stuck out her tongue.
"Maybe in the short-term." He leaned back, dodging her attempt at a slap. "Stop it. Maybe seeing her made me feel guilty about avoiding everything. Avoiding everyone. Sure, everyone always thinks I'm a good-for-nothing. I give 'em a reason to. They assume the worst."
"Yeah, but...it's cause of what you do. People assume the worst of me, and I didn't do all that much. Sure, maybe I stole all of their materia once, but I'm young and have no impulse control." She scowled, altering her overall look from dejected to miserable.
"At least you're trying to make up for it, trying to do some good. You're improving Wutai, and the instant you see something you can do to help, you go for it."
"I should be over in the other room, instead of pouting in here, huh?" Rolling her eyes, she dutifully hopped to her feet.
"Hold on, I didn't say that," Reno stood up, blocking her path. "This base materia thing is important. Besides, I don't know if that tiny little specimen room should really have the four people in it that's there now, let alone a fifth."
"You're right." She reached to the next piece of equipment and began to see if it could hold what she was looking for.
"...hmm?" Yuffie looked up and met his eyes.
"...I think I'd get a little lonely if you left me in this place by myself."
"Right." She rolled her eyes. "Shut up and look in that one." She gestured to another piece of machinery.
He laughed. "Whatever you say, Lady Kisarageeee."
"Let's try to be quick. Something about this lab, this whole village, it's starting to creep me out."
* * *
Tifa glanced between her companions. Reeve was searching through various catalogue cards, trying to find a specimen that matched the description he'd read. In turn, he was being watched by Vincent, who seemed puzzled by the situation. Elena was sitting on a desk chair, filing her fingernails with an emery board. "You're here 'cause of a note?"
"Yep," replied Elena, moving on to the next nail. "One tiny little note to Hojo from a secretary. One that didn't even make it out of the building. I assume the whole Northern Crater thing and Hojo dying sorta took care of sending out any of his mail."
"Must've been pretty explicit to get the two of you out of Midgar and all the way out here?" Vincent leaned against a cabinet.
"You can read it if you want." Reeve reached into his pocket and pulled out the slip of paper. "But it basically says that there was once a specimen here that was resistant to Mako poisoning. I figure it's some monster that they captured, maybe even tested with Yuffie's little bit of materia she's investigating, and...it's resistant. That's all I need to know. There's something natural that can fight it." He smiled. "There's hope."
Tifa pulled out a catalogue drawer of her own and began to glance through it. "I can't believe the computer database here is down. So that's what we're looking for? Mako poisoning resistant?"
Vincent looked up from the note. "I don't think that's going to be it. I think you need to be looking for this 'Soldier Double-X' project."
"The what?" Reeve looked up.
"In amongst her other pointless rambles, Yuffie mentioned that the Center in Wutai said the base materia was used for the Soldier Double-X project. If you think that this specimen is the product of that...then it's probably labeled by that, before its results."
"Alpha G," Tifa said aloud.
The others looked at her, puzzled.
"Sorry, I found a card." She began to read from it again. "Specimen Alpha G. Location: Gongaga. Classification: Soldier Double-X. Condition: Cryostorage. Codename: Caelian." She flipped through the next few cards. "I see specimens labeled Beta G, Gamma G, Kappa G, lots of weird things and a G..." Her voice trailed off. "But this Alpha G is the only one that doesn't have the condition of 'eliminated.'"
"Looks like we might be taking a little trip over to Gongaga. Wonder if the Classified Center there was in the reactor that exploded?" Elena was never the most tactful.
Reeve began to read from a card he'd found. "Specimen Alpha N. Location: Nibelheim. Classification: Jenova Meld. Condition: Stasis. Codename: Valentine." He held it out to Vincent. "Would you like this?"
He took it, silently.
"It looks like all the hard copies of the files are here. We should definitely pull them out before we head anywhere else. There's no way of knowing what might happen here after we leave."
"That's a good idea, Reeve," Tifa said. She looked down at the gibberish of numbers near the bottom of her card. "I'm guessing this is the filing system?"
Vincent turned and glanced at the cabinet he'd been reclining against. It ran from floor to ceiling, a sturdy contraption of stainless steel. He reached for the latch and pulled it open, revealing rows of file boxes stacked neatly on its shelves.
She laughed a little and searched for the box that matched the first half of her numbers. "Here we go. Why don't I just take the whole thing? It seems to be the box that they used for all these 'G' specimens. Part of the same project. Will probably help whoever ends up working with Alpha G."
After spending a few moments internally debating, Vincent reached in himself and grabbed the box notated at the bottom of his own catalogue card. "I'm not sure that I even want to know. But I think it should be my decision whether or not anyone ever knows."
"That's understandable." She turned to Reeve and Elena. "So, you said you two flew in?"
"That's right," Reeve said. "On helicopter. As long as you know where to fuel up, you can make it across the ocean easily that way. And it helps that Elena knows how to fly one."
"We should get over there sooner, rather than later, right?"
He nodded. "Yeah you guys should gather up the info from here that we need, and then we'll head over there." He walked to the door.
"Where you going?" Elena demanded. "You need a passcode to get out, but I can do that myself. I was a Turk, too."
"I thought it polite to inform Reno and Yuffie where we were headed. And encourage them to keep looking for that materia." Reeve left.
She snorted. "Yeah, he's going to encourage the guy that abandoned him. Reeve can be a class act, but I swear, he's such a pushover."
Tifa smiled. "That's what makes Reeve 'Reeve.'"
"Ow!" A feminine voice rose out of the room and into the hallway. "That hurts, you jerk!"
"You asked me to look at it. Don't start whining now that I'm too rough."
Reeve warily stepped inside the lab. "Do I want to know what's going on here?" Yuffie was sitting on an examination table, with one of her legs across Reno's lap. Her sneaker and sock were lying on the floor.
"Remember how I said I found that Center in Wutai by throwing a radio at it?" asked Yuffie.
"Well I found this one by kicking the damn brick wall in the mansion basement--ow! Stop messing with it!"
"How am I supposed to tell you if it's broken or not if I don't move it? Every time I asked you to move it, you started crying about pain." Reno tossed her foot off of him, and she screeched in response. "It just looks bruised, anyhow. I cast a Cure spell on it, that should help keep it from swelling any more. Doesn't it feel at least a little better?"
She crossed her arms and refused to look at him.
She threw him a withering glance. "Fine. Okay. Maybe it stopped throbbing.
"We can get back to work?"
"Good." He glanced at Reeve. "So, what's up? Find anything interesting?"
"We think the specimen was in cryostorage in Gongaga."
"What's that mean?" Yuffie asked.
"It means that it was frozen. Hopefully, using a method where we can revive it so it's alive again. But we don't know if the Classified Center in Gongaga still exists. The reactor did explode and all. We're all going to fly out there in the chopper and search for ourselves."
"You're leaving. And we're not invited." She frowned.
"It's not that at all! No, of course not. You can come if you want." Reeve shrugged. "I just thought you'd want to stay and look for that base materia. I don't know if extra people will help us out there, but..." His voice trailed off. "If you're sick of searching for it, I understand."
"I didn't mean it like that! It's just everyone's always trying to leave me!"
Reno made a big show of clapping her on the shoulder. "Don't worry Yuffie, I'll stick around." He grinned and added in a loud whisper: "Don't worry either, bud, I'll make sure she doesn't run off with the base materia if she finds it."
"Hey!" She poked him in the ribs.
"Cool. We'll be out in Gongaga, then, I guess. See you guys soon, I hope." Reeve went to leave.
"Wait!" Yuffie called.
"If you...happen to find something like the base materia over in Gongaga..." She bit her lip and held up her phone. "PHS me, 'kay? I don't want you to leave me over here stuck on a wild goose chase."
He laughed. "You betcha."
* * *
They touched down about a half mile out of the town limits. It'd only been six months since Gongaga's own disaster, and the residents were still wary of outsiders. So the group decided to walk the rest of the way in. Tifa wasn't especially looking forward to dealing with any of them, anyway. "Maybe if we're careful and approach from the right direction, we won't really see anybody."
"You still think the best bet for the Classified Center is near the reactor itself?" asked Reeve. "Or at least, where it used to be?"
"I'm not sure. The last was inside of something of Shinra's. I'm sure the Wutai one was only in an elaborate disguise because it was on hostile territory and also used as a place to spy." She shrugged. "I hope we find it in there, because it's a little bit separate from the town, and I just don't want to...see anyone again."
"What's the big deal?" Elena gave her a weird look. "Look, it's not like you were ever with Shinra, and the rest of us certainly don't have to admit to it, and I'm sure that's the only people that they'd run out of town."
"The last time I was here, we ran into a couple who said they were the parents of a First-Class Soldier who disappeared. His name was Zack. He died with Nibelheim. I'd like to go for at least a little while today without having to think about that mess."
"Come on, guys. We're almost there, and all we need to focus on is finding this Classified Center." Reeve walked ahead of them, anxious to find out if what they were looking for still even existed.
"I don't know."
"C'mon Elena, what's the big deal?" Reeve prodded.
"The big deal is that you want me to crawl into what is basically a glorified hole in the ground!"
"That's what the others were. There wasn't anything good for cover near here besides the reactor, so they were stuck putting it below." Vincent glanced at her. "You should be thankful it's underground, else it'd not even be here."
"Fine." She carefully lowered herself through the hatch in the ground and began to descend the ladder, followed by the two men.
Tifa was there to greet them as they reached the bottom. "I looked on ahead, a little. It seems that this place is smaller than the last one. There's only one room."
She was correct, and the end of the corridor opened up into a pristine lab. It was rather large compared to the station in Wutai, but none of them knew that. Several desks lined one side of the room, while the other supported several mechanical pods. Scattered elsewhere around were various pieces of equipment and computers. A fine layer of dust lay over everything, indicating that the place probably hadn't been touched since the Mako reactor located directly above had exploded.
"This place is kinda creepy." Elena winced and sat down on one of the desk chairs.
"I'm inclined to agree, Lane." Reeve walked over to one of the computers and began to fiddle with it. "I'm gonna look and see if I can find out where this 'Alpha G' thing is."
"I bet it's on that wall." Tifa pointed to the pods. "Those all looks like smaller versions of this thing inside of the Shinra building science lab. It's where they kept Jenova. Until Sephiroth busted her out."
"So that's where I've seen those..." He turned back to the computer.
Vincent sat at one of the desks and began to leaf through the files they'd removed from the center in Nibelheim.
The four of them remained in silence for the next few moments, all busy with something or other. Tifa was studying the equipment, figuring out how to access the specimen they were going to remove. The two men were engrossed in the information in front of them.
Elena had taken out the emery board again. It's not that she was lazy, or even that she was apathetic about the situation. She'd merely given up hope at this point that anyone who'd gotten poisoned could be saved. This made everything easier for her to deal with.
"I've found it!" Reeve turned to them and grinned. "Pod 6-B. The numbers are rows, and the letters are columns."
"I think this keypad over here releases the pods from where they are locked on the wall," said Tifa. "I still don't know how to get into the pod once it's freed, but maybe we don't want to immediately do that, anyway."
"Well, let's get to it!"
"I'll try to release it. You get that stepladder, so you can remove it."
Reeve gave her a mock salute and started to climb up to the pod. With a whoosh of air, the pod slid smoothly from its docking. He grabbed it and slowly made his way back down.
He set the pod down on the table. There was a window atop the pod, but it was frosted over from the temperature change.
"Don't you want see, Vincent?" Tifa glanced at him. She noticed his odd expression. "What is it?"
"I know what's inside," he answered. "I saw in the file."
"I thought you were reading your own?" The two of them watched Reeve cleaning off the frost.
"I was," he said.
Reeve gasped. His voice came out, barely a whisper. "My god..."
Tifa leaned over the table and looked in the window. She put her hand to her mouth. "It's human?!"
Vincent set down the file. "It's a baby. All the products of the Soldier Double-X project were human. Meant to be the next generation of Soldier." He slammed his fist on the table. "And they were all made from me."
"Clones?" Tifa was horrified.
"How could it be wors"
"They were made from cells stolen from Lucrecia and...me. This project, of which this is the only survivor..." Vincent swallowed. "...was composed entirely of my children."
if all the ignorance in the world
passed a second ago
what would you say?
who would you obey?
I am here to say that
peace is now
Live, "10,000 Years (Peace is Now)"
Junon's newest lab tech placed a petri dish under an odd piece of equipment. She positioned it carefully under the tip, which happened to be shiny. And glowing. Happy with her placement, she hopped back and hit a button on the machine, which began to hum. After about thirty seconds, it shut itself off. She grabbed the petri dish and half-pranced over to the digital microscope at the next station. Wrapped up in her own efforts, she very nearly dropped everything to the ground when she heard a voice.
"I just came down from seeing him."
She swallowed. "How is he?"
The intruder shrugged. "Okay, I guess. It's only his second attack. If it had happened a month ago, they'd have upped his medication, but now..."
"Have you heard from Elena and Rude?"
"They haven't been able to find a thing in days. And he'll hold on for awhile longer at least, but the attacks will come on stronger and stronger, and when the meds run out for good..." His voice trailed off.
"Don't say that, Reno! I'm trying really hard! We'll come up with something! Okay, it won't be me, but everyone else here is so much smarter."
"I'm not saying give up. I don't think anything I can say would change your mind once you've set it, Yuffie. But I'm not going to lie. Without something more, the answer to 'how is he?' is never going to be that Reeve's better. Or Marlene's better. Or anyone's better. Hell, the nurses told me another one died today."
She bit her lip and began to focus her microscope. "That makes how many?"
"Five. But no one died before a coupla weeks ago."
"That still gives us time. We're making progress here."
He shook his head. "It's not fast enough."
"Excuuuuuse me!" Yuffie wiped away a tear.
"No, no." He stroked her damp hand and set it firmly back onto the adjustment knob. "You're all doing fine. It's not the techs here that fucked up. You're limited by what you have to work with."
"The base materia is awesome."
"You bet it is." Reno calmly walked over, paused for a moment, and then slammed his fist through a bare spot on the clean, white laboratory wall.
"...what's wrong with you?" Her eyes widened in shock. "Why the hell would you want to break the wall?"
"Don't ask what's wrong with me! Ask what the hell is up with that goddamn vampire who's got the only hope for a vaccine hidden away!"
He grabbed her shoulder. "Please, stop doing this. Stop protecting him. He's had it hidden away for months."
"'It' is his daughter. And she's just a baby." She squirmed herself out of his grasp. "Besides, I thought you didn't care." She turned back to her equipment.
"What does that have to do with anything? Maybe I just want to know why. I know you actually give a shit. Tell me why you are all his accomplice in this lunacy, when your own friends are..."
"He thinks taking her to a lab for all of this...subjecting her to the pokes and prods and needles, that it'll make her another Sephiroth. And he can't bear to kill his own flesh and blood, so he took her away."
"Doesn't he get it?" Reno laughed bitterly. "Man, look at apathetic little me, getting it. I fucking wish I could go drink myself into oblivion this time."
"And you don't 'get' why we're going to let him be with this? If you saw even half of what we saw...you'd know that Sephiroth was such a huge..."
"Yuffie, please. I don't care if we needed ten of his daughters. If we don't do all we can, he's the next Sephiroth without even having to lift a finger. Thousands of lives versus one. And you know the science people here. You know they'll treat her as well as possible, given the nature of things."
She looked at him through tear-filled eyes. "I still don't know where he is, Reno. Don't ask me again."
"Fine." He turned to leave. "I doubt you'll see me again. I hope your group's 'hero pact' is worth all the other people you're destroying." He was almost through the door entirely when she spoke again.
Yuffie swallowed. "Tifa's in town. I saw her this morning before I came in. Marlene's just about..." She closed her eyes. "Anyway, I think she's going to go beg Vincent one last time. She should be able to lead you right to him. Then your training can take over."
"She can try her approach first. But if mine's the only way..."
"...then it's the best way. But Reno..." Her voice trailed off, and she focused her gaze on him. "...even if you fail, make sure it's a way where you can come back."
"Are you saying what I think you are?"
Her eyes broke away. "I'm sick of people dying. So just don't do it."
* * *
The stone walls narrowed and broadened in various places. If you weren't careful where you stood, it could feel like the Planet was closing in around you. Tifa ran her hands along the time and water-smoothed hardness, before continuing on further into the cavern. The roar of the waterfall behind her slowly dulled as she made her way deeper.
"It's so nice of you to pay us a visit." A dreary voice broke into the dank solitude. "Again." Vincent, even after he had lost most of his sense, always kept his sense of sarcasm.
"And you're happy I came, I bet." She crossed her arms, an unconscious act of defensiveness. "Gonna throw up a banner? Toss confetti? Eat cake?"
"It's awhile yet until Ada has a birthday." He stepped out of the alcove, backlit by the one small lamp he kept burning in the cave. Next to the cradle. "You're welcome to help plan the party, though."
"You know my question, Vincent."
"And you already know my answer. I failed Lucrecia once. I won't do it again, not now."
"Right, you're being ever so heroic. I didn't know you had it in you. I didn't know you cared." Tifa snorted, stepping closer to him. "In case you've already forgotten, Mr. Proactive, we found you steeped in self-pity inside of a coffin in a fake town. The only thing that kept you from going back to being a vegetable was the thought of revenge. Revenge on the man who made the biggest monster this Planet has ever seen."
"Hojo was deserving."
"These people are not. The ones that you are letting die. Don't you get it?"
"You said Sephiroth was a monster, but this child, she is the potential worst-case-scenario. I will not let anyone toy with that, not even old teammates. I failed before and look what happened to him. I'm not losing her."
She shook her head. "You know, you say you loved Lucrecia and that you failed her. I don't know if you love us, your comrades. But you are failing us. Marlene is dying, Reeve, too... You are making all of us who are left behind into the monster you are now." Her lip curled into a sneer. "No, no, I've got it wrong. You would. But I'm not gonna let you."
His eyes widened with a sudden realization. "You wouldn't dare."
"Fuck you." Tifa boldly began walking, intending to shove her way past him to where the child lay. She stopped though, when she heard a metallic click. She'd learned it all too well, in her travels.
The Death Penalty was cocked, loaded, and aimed straight at her. "Do you still?"
"Until I'm bleeding to death." They glared angrily at each other, locked in a standoff.
"I'm not so sure that'll be necessary, honey." Reno stormed in, a pistol of his own leveled at Vincent.
"Those will only stun me momentarily." Vincent's voice came out strong, but his eyes betrayed his doubts.
"Oh, I think they're good for a few minutes' stoppage, at the least." He flashed a cocky grin. "More than enough time to shoot the fucking brat, take a blood sample, and leave you to mourn and crawl back into the coffin where you belong."
"Reno!" Tifa gasped.
Vincent growled. "You're too weak to manage it."
"The job's gotta get done. You of all people should know that. Weren't you one of my Turk predecessors?" He jerked his head in the direction of the alcove. "That where the kid is?" he asked Tifa.
"Go get it."
She hesitated, cautiously glancing between Reno and the Death Penalty leveled at her head.
He sighed and looked straight at Vincent. "Put the goddamn gun down on the floor."
"I'll bash her skull into the side of this cave."
Vincent's eye twitched.
"I'm not bluffing. I am so sick of this situation. If you let us leave with the kid, I promise she'll be taken care of. If you fight, she dies. Period. If not here, not now, don't worry." He stepped in closer, bringing the pistol near Vincent's face. "I left word with some friends. And they don't even have a Turk's level of ethics." He nodded to Tifa.
She fled to the cradle and began to gather up a bundle.
"One word," Vincent whispered. "Chaos."
"I have to hurt you quite a bit for that to come out, fellow. Your monsters don't work on fury alone. Hojo reduced you to an animal for amusement, not your convenience or survival, my friend."
Tifa hurried past them, cradling the baby in her arms. "I took a buggy here..."
"Get in the chopper with Lane. I'm behind you." After she ran out, Reno slowly backed towards the cave entrance, his gun still trained on Vincent.
"You are dead. Not anyone else, just you."
"Only if I don't see you first." He stood right outside the opening, barely untouched by the cascading water. Grinning, he held up an armlet that had several materia orbs slotted in. "Break." Green waves flew from one of the orbs, around the waterfall, which slowed to a trickle, then nothing.
The water had been transformed to some clear mineral, possibly quartz. The layer ran many inches thick. No one was getting in or out of this new entombment any time soon.
Reno swaggered over to the hovering helicopter and climbed up the rope ladder with ease. "Let's get the hell out of here."
"Aye, aye," said Elena sarcastically, as she fiddled with the controls. They rose higher in the air and began a course towards Costa Del Sol.
Tifa looked down at Lucrecia's waterfall, now frozen in time. "What did you do?"
"Break. It petrifies things. Yuffie's idea, so I wasn't sure it would even work."
"Is he gonna ever get out?" She clutched the infant closer to her chest.
"Not for a long time." A strange look darted across his face. "Unless he thought to keep a Soft potion around, for emergencies." He flashed her a comforting smile. "Unlikely, I'm sure."
She nodded. "Right. Of course." A whimper rose up from her lap. Looking down, she became caught in the soft glow of Mako eyes as they filled with tears.
They were almost auburn, brown with a hint of red fire.
Reno's strong arm kept Tifa from collapsing completely over the child. She quietly held Vincent's daughter, trembling as she tried to keep her own tears from falling.
The crying didn't stop until long after they arrived in Junon.
All That Glitters Is Cold Fanfic Competition
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