Final Fantasy 8 Remixed Chapter 4
By Balin Drax
Miles away from the battlefield on the other side of the continent, the sun was just cresting over the horizon. As the first ray of light touched down on the stark landscape, it betrayed its twisted, scarred state. The ground was charred clear to the bedrock with only small patches of soil where a few twisted shrubs desperately clinging to life. What few animals managed to eke out an existence in this place of decay fled before the coming sun, fleeing back to the safety of their shadows. And rising above it was the greatest abomination of all.
Three hundred feet above and miles in diameter, the city that blighted this landscape cast its shadow over the land. Cold steel and glass, its factories produced a constant haze that hung over the landscape. The power plants that ringed its surface produced an eerie green smoke that kicked up in the air in the predawn. Perhaps this scene would not have been so disturbing if not for the fact that it was not monsters that live here, but normal people.
The giant was just beginning to stir as the sun rose. Though it never truly slept, its activity at night was barely a trickle of what went on during the day. Even this early in the day many people would be waking up to go to their jobs, preparing for the day ahead. The trains that connected so many vital points of the city together began to start up, throwing their own smoke into the air. The city was a hive of activity that was just beginning to stir.
But for all of its glamour, the city had a dark secret. Like many things that people like to keep hidden, it was both out of sight and buried. For beneath the massive steel plate that supported the city another city was also waking. Though just as big, it was not nearly as impressive. For those that could not afford the richly appointed house and well-paved streets were forced to make due down here. In this cesspit of humanity many had been cast, for they could not compete with those up above. Whether it was due to their lack of skills or money, they had been forced down into this walking nightmare.
It was not all that bad down below, at least for some. Not all that had been consigned to live under the plate were poor, unskilled, or hopeless. Many, in fact, were quite the opposite. The city up above took quite a large work force to support, and many of these people here provided the labor pool that kept the city running. They had money, but not enough. They had hope, but not connections. Thus they had to spend their life in the eternal darkness, in the unchanging cycle of season where neither rain nor sun touched them.
They were not content with the hovels that many of their fellows had, so they built their own city. Not quite as grand as what was up above, but not the poverty of what was found around them. Their time was spent living in the middle, a place where they could never know the joy of wealth or the strife of poverty. Theirs was an eternal struggle to stay where they were, an enduring foot race that they had to keep running; for if they stopped for a second, they would loose far too much ground.
But up above is where things changed. Up above was where those who wielded power live. Like the gods themselves they ruled from their castle, their impregnable fortress. And who was to say they were not gods, after a fashion? Their control was absolute; with a word people lived and died. They created, they destroyed. But one must remember that even gods may fall
* * *
In the center of the city stood a monolithic building. It towered over the city, its shadow cast down constantly down on its inhabitants. Nowhere could one look up and not see it. In the front of it, a sleek black limousine pulled up. As it rolled to a stop, three men in deep blue business suits stepped out, walking up the large set of stairs to the glass double doors that led to the lobby. Their hard eyes scanned the area quickly, looking for any signs of trouble that could threaten their charge. Finding none, their leader, a man with waist length black hair, waved to the car. Seconds later the door opened and a man stepped out.
Tall and powerfully built, he was clad in a black soldiers field uniform. The only decoration was a small silver pin of a swooping hawk and a white nametag that read ISOKY. His silver-white hair was cropped close to his head in traditional soldier fashion. Like the men in the suits, his emerald eyes scanned the area. After a moment he strode from the car to the stairs and into the lobby. The three men quickly followed at his heels.
The lobby wasnt crowed at this time of day, with only janitors trying to clean up and off duty security guards changing their posts. A few soldiers mulled around; off duty and eagerly waiting to receive their pay. They joked among themselves until one of their number looked up to see the silver haired Isoky enter the room. They quickly lined up and saluted him. Since they were off it was more a show of respect than of duty. Isoky merely nodded his head and smiled in return. They slowly relaxed and went back to their conversation as he went up the stairs to the bank of elevators. Midway up the stairs he suddenly stopped and turned around to find the three men in blue still following him. They had been keeping their distance from him, but they were still close enough to reach him if need be. Turning around Isoky address them.
Thank you for you services, but I doubt I will need them now that I am in our own corporate offices. Now go crawl back into whatever hole we got you out of until we need you again, he said as he quickly ascended the steps.
As soon as his back was turned one of the men, a lean, well muscled man with red hair, started to leap as if to attack him. But he was restrained by a hand placed on his shoulder. Looking back his saw his leader glaring at him and shaking his head. A few quite words were exchanged and it was quickly decided that it would be better if he took the rest of the night off and went for a few drinks in the bar. He stated to leave, but before he took more that a few steps he lashed out with his hand and punched one of the marble pillars that lined the steps. The cracking sound resounded through the lobby, turning many heads. Their leader looked quickly to the elevator, seeing if Isoky had noticed that mans outburst. Luckily he had already gone into the elevator car. Sighing in relief he motioned for the other man to follow him back out to the limo.
* * *
The elevator climbed up many of the floors of the building before it stopped. At the sixty-ninth floor he had to get off; every floor after that would require him to take an elevator that only went up ten floors. This was both for security and maintenance reasons. It was easier to secure the top floor this way intrusion as one would have to have a security card to gain access to the internal elevators, and it was easier for the workmen to service the shorter lengths than to have them dangle in a shaft hundreds of feet long. Finally, he reached the last elevator that would take him to the most powerful man in this part of the world. Sliding his key card in the slot, he waited a second as he received a retinal scan as well. The door beeped and opened for him as he stepped in.
It was a short ride as it only went up one floor. The doors quickly slid open to reveal a plush waiting area with overstuffed leather chairs, fancy works of art, and a secretarys desk. The women sat at her computer oblivious to him until he walked up to her. Even then she made him wait while she finished the sentence she was working on. Smiling pleasantly, she addressed him.
Good day Mr. Isoky. Im sorry but the President is in a meeting right now and cant be bothered. If you could come again at some other time Im sure that he would be happy to see you.
Almost snarling, he spoke to her, Dont play these games with me. I know very damn good that the President is probably recovering from a hangover right now. Ill try not to make his poor little head hurt.
Breaking contact with her he turned and strode to the set of heavy oak doors that separated his office from the waiting area. Throwing them open with such force that they rebounded off the walls, he stepped into the office.
The office had been lavishly decorated, and by a professional. The President had such poor taste that none of this could be his. Expensive hand woven rungs were spaced about the cold metal floor, hiding it as much as possible. The walls had embroidered tapestries or works of art on them. A large mahogany desk sat in front of the large bay window that over looked the city. And in the large plush leather chair that sat behind the desk was the President of Shinra Incorporated.
Well, not just the President, Isoky noticed. A woman-no, more like a girl, he decided-sat on the Presidents lap giggling. Apparently even his dramatic entrance hadnt upset the pair. Striding deeper into the office, he examined the girl as he got closer. He quickly deemed she was everything the President liked: clothes too tight, hair too blond, and makeup too thick. Rolling his emerald eyes he approached the desk quickly. By now the pair had noticed him, and the girls eyes went wide. Jumping up quickly she smoothed her ridiculously short skirt as she moved back to the window. The President didnt seem the least bit disturbed by his presence. He just simply smiled and sat there. Isoky quickly noticed that the man had the wired up, on the edge look of booster drugs. From what he knew of the mans nightlife, Isoky guessed that the man had probably hitting bars and clubs all night with that girl at the window. Glancing at her again, he noticed that she had none of the physical hallmarks of booster in her. Now that she was just standing there, Isoky could see how tired she was even under all those layers of makeup. It must be hard to keep up with the President when he was out partying.
Clearing his throat, Isoky placed his hands behind is back and looked over the desk at the President. Meeting him eye to eye, he addressed him, Reporting as commanded, sir.
Ah, how are you today General? I know that I asked you to come by early last night, but I didnt mean when the sun came up. You need to relax more Sephiroth. Take some time to yourself once and a while. There are a number of nice places to visit, and a far greater number of nice young women to meet. I could give you the number of quite a few
Thats quite alright, sir. I have my duties to attend to. What is the matter you wish to speak to me about?
The President motioned for Sephiroth to sit, but he remained standing. Leaning back in his chair the President addressed him, As you know those AVALANCE terrorists have been bombing us again. Though we can easily fix the damage done, its costing us money; money that could be better spent. Our police here are ill suited for such duties as eliminating terrorist factions. Ive decided that much of the army will be brought into the city to help deal with them. I was hoping your SOLDIERs would come as well.
For a second Sephiroth looked stunned, then replaced his icy look once again as he responded, Sir, this cannot be done. The army is bad enough, but why do we need SOLDIER as well? This is not some hostile invader that we are trying to defeat; it is our own people. I cannot do it with a clean conscious; there is no honor in it. I must urge you at once to reconsider this. Perhaps we can talk to AVALANCHE?
With a wave of his hand the President dismissed his argument, These are simple terrorists, not to be dealt with. If we give in, what next? Every other group out there will try to bully us. Ill not stand for it!
The army will march with or without you. And your SOLDIERs will go where I tell them to go. Though you may be their commander, I am the one they work for. I am the one you work for as well. And if you cannot deal with that then I will have to relieve you of your command until SOLDIER is in place. After that you can return to your command position. Understood?
Very well sir. I shall retire to the country house you gave me on the beach near Junon. You can contact me there. Though if I may add, this must be the most stupid course of action you could take sir.
Stiffly saluting him, Sephiroth turned and strode from the office. Seconds later the President slammed down a button located on the touch pad on his desk. Speaking heatedly into the speaker, he said, Hojo, get you ass up here now!
Fuming, the President threw the pen he had in his hand across the room. No one, not even his greatest General, could do that to him. Just who did he think he was? Sephiroth had grown more and more erratic lately, he though. Perhaps it was time for him to come to an early retirement? No, that wouldnt do at all. Though the Turks were skilled, no doubt the troops would know what happened to their precious leader. Though the main army was under the command of other Generals, they all had admiration for Sephiroth. And the SOLDIERs were fanatical when it came to the life of their dear General. He shuddered to think what would happen if they ever went on a rampage. Walking across the room he open his liquor cabinet and pulled out a drink glass and poured himself some whiskey.
By the time he had sat back in his chair, the door opened. Meekly stepping in, a short man in a spotless white lab coat steppe through the threshold. He pushed his glasses back up his face as shuffled his way across the room to the Presidents desk. Brushing back a strand of black hair that had fallen out of its ponytail, he simply said, You rang, sir?
Taking one last drink, the President addressed him, What do you know about Sephiroths behavior lately? Hes become more and more erratic. What do you know about this?
Hojo simply shrugged, saying, There have been no changes in diet or exercise habits. His sleep patterns remain the same, though I must say it seems he has actually been sleeping better of late. In fact, his seems to be in better shape now than he has in the past three months. The only thing I can think of is no, that doesnt matter. I wont even bother you with it sir.
Leaning forward in his chair, the President though, Ah ha! The weasel thought to keep something from me, did he? Well see about that. Setting down his glass, he said, Out with it man! I need to know what could be affecting him. A lot is riding on that mans shoulders.
Giving a thin-lipped smile, Hojo then spoke, Well, I know you asked that he be followed when he leaves this complex. Earlier this month he began to go to the slums for some reason or another, and our men could not follow him once he got down there. I assume that he figured out we were watching him, so his must have know to lose them. I was about dispatch the Turks, but they were too busy, as usually. So, after expending every other option available, I simply asked him.
Believe it or not, sir, the man does have more than a little respect for me. After all it was I that basically raised him until it was time for him to enter into his formal military training. That make me the closest thing his has to family. Ah, you should have seen him those early years sir, Hojo began wistfully, He was young, full of life. Not like he is today. With all that military training he is merely brainwashed into a walking death machine. But in those years he was just another happy child, playing like the rest; so inquisitive too. Always wanted to know what experiment I was doing and why I was doing it. There was this one time-
The President silenced him with a wave of his hand. The man tended to babble on if you did not keep him on track. Getting to the point, he asked, Enough of this Hojo. I want to know what you found out about him.
Ah yes, that, he said. Stroking his chin, he stared at the ceiling as he spoke, Well, it seems that our great General has found what every other man in this world needs. There is a woman, more like a girl if you as me, that lives down in the slums. Im not sure exactly where she lives, but he showed me a picture of her. Very nice you woman if I must say. He has good taste for someone without much experience in the ways of the world.
Stunned, the President looked at the Professor in shock, But that goes beyond everything that we taught him. He was not supposed to act like this. I wanted a perfect soldier. You said that this would never happen. Where did you screw up in his programming Hojo?
Blinking, Hojo said, I did not screw up anything, as you put it. I gave him the basic programming and instruction, but I knew full well that it would just give him a base to start from. When he was in the field there was little chance that his programming would be changed; after all that is what he was breed to do. But once you brought him here to live, there are a number of factors to influence him. Of course you would not let me perform any tests on his social aptitude; you were too afraid of ruining you perfect soldier.
The man was mocking him, that much he was sure of. There was far too much impudence running about these days. But this new information gave him something to think about. For many years Sephiroth had now weak spot, no blind side to exploit. But know there was a place he was soft, a small chink in his armor. All he had to do was exploit it. Turning his attention back to Hojo, he addressed him, Youve given me a lot to think about today Hojo. If he comes to you again I want you to inform me of it. We will keep tracking him, just so he doesnt wonder why we stopped. Maybe you will be able to test him later. You are dismissed now.
Hojo bowed and left the room quickly. Opening up a box that sat on his desk, the President pulled out a cigar. He quickly lit it and spun around in his chair to look out upon the city. As he did so for the first time he once again noticed the girl that he had picked up in a bar last evening. She was standing there quite timidly, waiting for something. How long has she been there, he fumed. The President stood up and walked over to her. She was rather ditzy, but he would rather not take any chances. Taking the cigar out of his mouth, he spoke to her.
Now that I think about it I am rather tired of your company. Get out of my sight, and if you are lucky youll never see me again.
She almost squeaked as she fled his office. The security cameras had already taken several shot of her face, however, and it would be no problem getting an identification. He would send the Turks after her later, perhaps this afternoon. They would have to quick about it, making sure she had told no one about what had transpired in the office today. Though none of it had been truly important, it might make people talk. He almost felt sorry for her. Almost.
* * *
The lobby doors opened and the young woman that had been in President Shinras office stepped out into the morning air. Electric light still shone in the morning light, casting their dim haze over the streets that were just now filling with both motor and foot traffic. People were already shoving their way through the sidewalks, not giving so much as a glance to those that they ran into. It was a strange sort of apathy that people had developed as the made their way to their place of work. The young woman was, however, especially thankful for their lack of notice. It had been bad enough to wear the outfit she had on to the clubs, let alone on the streets. Moving as quickly as would be allowed, she made her way to the nearby train station.
Little more that a small building where one could buy tickets, use the restroom, and deposit a few things before departure, it was nonetheless a welcoming sight to her. She fished a key out of one of the ridiculously small pockets on her skirt and opened one of the lockers. Reaching in quickly, she struggled to pull out a duffle bag. After a few quick tugs she managed to pull the thing free and was on her way to the restroom.
The small room she entered contained nothing but a toilet, small sink with a broken mirror, and an overflowing garbage can. Trying not to focus on the smell, she locked the door behind her and set the bag on top of the toilet basin. Checking her appearance as best as she could in the broken mirror, she pulled out a bottle of face cleanser, turned on the water, and began to scrub vigorously. The water was cold, but it did the job. Sighing with relief, she dried her face with some of the paper towels. I thought I was going to suffocate under all that junk, she thought. Grabbing the end of her hair, she gave a few swift tugs and yanked off the wig she had put on. Her own brunette hair had been cut down to shoulder length in order for it to be hidden under the blond wig. She scrubbed her hands through it in an attempt to restore feeling to it and also to try to untangle it. More or less successful, she pulled out a pair of jeans, tank top, sweatshirt, and a pair of gym shoes and began to change. Once done she gave herself one last look in the mirror to make sure nothing had been missed. Opening her eyes wide, she deftly pulled out the blond contacts she had been wearing. Feeling much better, she walked out into the terminal.
Slinging the duffel over her shoulder, she reaching into her pants pocket and pulled out a small phone. Carefully trying to dial and walk, she entered the train car. Sitting down near the back, she listened to the phone ring a few times before it was answered.
Hello, Seventh Heaven. Can I help you?
Hey, its me. Put Barret on the phone will you?
Seconds passed until a voice gruff with sleep picked up, Ello?
Its me, Tifa.
Sleep vanished as the speaker asked, Well, youre not dead, so I guess everything went to plan. So what did ya find out?
Looking around to make sure no one was listening, she lowered her voice and answered, Not a lot, unfortunately. Youd think the President didnt know what was going on in his own company. That or he was being really careful. All I know is that they arent fazed by our bombings and theyre rebuilding even as we speak. Those reactors we hit last week should be up by tomorrow, and theyre bringing SOLDIER in to enforce order. I didnt find out anything about their new project. Its still a mystery to me. I did plant a few bugs in his office, but theyll probably be gone in a week.
Sighing, Barret answered, This isnt good, Tif. I know we hired your friend last week, but with SOLDIER coming in were gonna need more muscle than we got now. Our people may be good, but theyre no match for SOLDIER.
Biting her lip, Tifa replied, But do we have enough for that kind of help?
We got gil, but its gonna be iffy. I sent Wedge last week to start negotiations, but Im not sure how theyre going. It may not be till next week that we hear anything. But all we can do it hope, ya know? Come on back and well start planning for tonight.
All right Barret. Ill see you then.
Letting out a small groan, Tifa laid her head back on the train cars seat. She hadnt slept since two night ago and she probably wasnt going to get any more soon. The train would probably be another twenty minutes or so in transit, which was plenty of time to catch a catnap. Curling up on the seat, she closed her eyes and let the trains gentle motions carry her off to sleep. Her last thought before sleep overcame her was a gentle prayer that Wedge succeeded.