On Earth as it is in Hell Chapter 19
By Caleb Nova
"Progress is the Future, and the Future is infinite."
-TAA company slogan
As soon as he put his foot on the step, he knew something was wrong. Maybe it felt just a little too slippery, maybe his foot was on a slightly wrong angle. Whatever the reason, Scott found himself painfully tumbling head over heels down the first floor dormitory stairway. He shut his eyes just before his head impacted with the tile floor at the bottom. He lay there dazed, still half on the stairs. He figured it probably wouldn't be a good idea to get up until he could make out the light fixture on the ceiling above him. It was just starting to come into focus when a large object talking quickly in concern blocked his vision.
"Scott? Scott? Oh my Hyne, can you hear me?"
"Can you hear me?"
"I think so."
"Here, let me help you-"
He was slowly pulled up into a sitting position by a feminine pair of arms. He uncrossed his eyes and immediately recognized his savior. It was Michelle, the girl he had met in the cafeteria, Rinoa's friend. And maybe it was just the severe blow to the head talking, but-
"What?" She said, an uncertain smile crossing her lips.
He shook himself, mortified. "Uh, nothing. Thanks for the help, I feel pretty- Uh, really stupid."
"Oh.... Well, no problem. Did you slip?"
"Yeah, yeah, just slipped on the stair there...."
"Do you need to go to the infirmary?"
"No, no I'm fine. Just a little bruised...."
Michelle chewed on her lower lip, hoping he would say something else. She had been trying to talk to him again, but he had always been off doing something with Nida or working in the Quad. She had just helped him, the least he could do was ask her out, right? Totally.
Scott could see the way she was looking at him, he wasn't stupid. Well, not really stupid. He did owe it to her for taking the time to help him, but he didn't want to get involved considering the situation he was in. And Michelle seemed like the kind of girl he would want to involved with, too. He had seen her at the Garden every now and then. She was smart, and funny, and really hot, if sometimes a little bit of a ditz. Perfect. But.... No.
"Well, uh, thanks again," He said, getting to his feet. He held the railing for a second to steady himself. "I guess I'll see you around."
"Yeah.... Bye then." She said, obviously disappointed.
Scott quickly walked away. Now, where had he been going? Ah yes, Nida had wanted to show him some secret area in the Training Center. Now what was up with that?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Seifer grunted as he lifted the barbell, veins standing out on his arms. He was struggling to lift less than half the weight he had used to, and he wasn't happy about it. Getting in shape was going to take more time than he wanted to. It was embarrassing, really. There had been no gym in prison. Strange, since the thought of prison usually brought to mind the image of inmates pumping steel. They had it right over in Galbadia. Weak inmates equaled less resistance. The algebra of politics.
The gym was an extension of the Training Center, a small door to the left of the large steel doors that kept the creatures where they belonged. It was fairly large, but not very used, Garden policy being that fighting monsters was superior training to weight lifting. Sometimes classes did come in on rotation, but today the gym was empty save for Seifer, and he was glad of it. However, he had little doubt Quistis would be back to check on him periodically. Stupid bitch.
His solitude was interrupted as the door banged open, and Seifer froze when he saw the figure entering the room. Zell Dincht. This could only go downhill.
Zell also stopped in his tracks. His face registered several emotions before it settled on rage. Seifer struggled to keep his mouth shut, knowing whatever insult he uttered would only worsen the situation. As much as Seifer loved to give Zell a hard time, he also wanted to stay in Garden. And keep his ribs intact. Zell stared at him for a few seconds, fists shaking, before abruptly turning on his heel and leaving, slamming the door behind him.
Seifer let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. There was no doubt in his mind that if Zell had opted to stay there would have been trouble. He mentally thanked his newfound self-control. There were many at the Garden who would use any excuse to kick him out again, and a fight with Zell might have given them the ammo they needed.
Shaking his head, he went back to the weights.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
If Squall was a man given to outbursts of frustration, which he wasn't, then he would have no doubt been in a state somewhere near frothing at the mouth. After six hours of queries, waiting on hold, and more queries, he could make only one conclusion based on the information he had received- Dr. Odine did not exist.
No one had seen him. His laboratory was empty. His secretary could not be found, and every trace of his work was under lock and key. The only useful piece of information he had gleaned had been from an Estharian Home Front officer, indicating that it was quite possible the Doctor was no longer in the country. But not even the prestigious position of SeeD Commander could open any more doors. Odine had slipped into a hole and filled it shut behind him.
Squall was jerked out of his trance by the sudden opening of his office doors, and a female SeeD entered carrying a large bag marked as postage. No doubt something important that had come in the mail. He frowned, trying to remember her name. Michelle something. SeeD in training, currently a temp for one of the many secretarial positions needed to run the office side of Garden.
Michelle mistook his frown to be directed at her and, smiling apologetically, quickly set the bag down and left the office. Squall picked it up, finding it to be surprisingly light for a bag of its size. He opened it, and his eyes grew wide at the sight of its content.
It was their clothes. There was Selphie's yellow outfit and Quistis' pink vest. Irvine's trenchcoat took up most of the bag. At the bottom was the faded and tattered pants and shirt of Scott's jumpsuit.
Squall pulled out his leather jacket, relishing the texture of it. He would never admit it to anyone, but he had missed his old clothes. He just never could get comfortable in SeeD uniform.
He picked up the bag, turning it over. No return address. The report clipped to it stated it had arrived in Balamb on boat with the rest of the standard mail. With common sense Squall could deduce it had come from Galbadia, most likely from Deling City. Unless more clues could be gleaned from the bag itself, there would be no way to trace it back to the precise location it had been sent from or, much more importantly, under whose name it had been sent in.
Swiveling his chair back to face the desk, Squall pressed the intercom button.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The rest of the group had assembled in less than fifteen minutes, pulled away from their various teaching assignments, or in Rinoa's case, class. There was a minute of silence as Squall threw the bag on the floor in the middle, its contents spilling out on the floor. He was already dressed in his usual attire.
Selphie was the first to make a sound, squealing with joy as she pulled her dress out of the bag. Zell scratched the back of his neck, puzzled. Irvine was busy pulling his things out of the bag, and Rinoa was hiding a smile, noticing that Irvine was already wearing an exact duplicate of his lost outfit. Scott quickly dug through the bag, pulling out the pants before anyone else could touch them.
Quistis looked at Squall. "How did you get these?"
"Mail. Evidence already went through them. No bugs, no traps. No return address."
He sighed. "Yes. I don't even have an idea why they didn't just send this back with Seifer."
Scott turned his back to everyone else, panicking at the thought that someone might have looked at the manual. He reached his hand into his pocket. Sure enough, there it was. He yanked it out. On the front cover was a white plastic label that said, 'Assorted Propaganda A'. He let out a breath of relief. Apparently they had thought it was some sort of hero worship booklet.
Zell was pacing, a sure sign he was thinking about something or the other. "I don't get it man. They went through all that trouble to grab you, and now they're giving back your stuff?"
"Maybe they've had a change of heart!" Selphie chirped, laying her dress on the floor and smoothing out the wrinkles. "Maybe this is their way of saying sorry?"
Quistis rolled her eyes. "I don't think Galbadia is very sorry about anything."
Squall nodded. "And from what we saw, whoever tried to kidnap us were overthrown anyway. The new rulers are the ones sending back our things."
"So, maybe they're all cool with us then?" Zell asked, popping his knuckles. "Sending back our shit seems pretty friendly."
Selphie smiled delightedly at her dress again. "Well, I'm sold!"
Quistis frowned, still unsatisfied. "I don't know. How come they haven't contacted us then? If this was a peace offering they should have given it with the clear message that it was intended as such."
Squall put a hand to his forehead, not replying. It was all so puzzling. Who would bother to return clothing by mail? It was almost as if the new Galbadian government didn't want the clothes on their hands and decided to get rid of them by giving them back. Squall had attempted contact with Deling several times, to no success. Whoever was on the other end of the line wasn't talking back, and the steadily increasing lack of information on the Galbadian situation was becoming worrying. Nothing fit together, nothing made sense.
A great feeling of aggravation descended on him as he braced himself for the inevitable, which he had successfully stalled up until this point. He would have to talk to Laguna and see if he knew anything. He had learned what he could through strictly diplomatic channels, but now he would have to call in some favors. He winced in distaste at the thought of using his 'relationship' with Laguna for something like this.
First, however, the matters at hand. "I don't think we can learn anything else standing around. Get back to your classes, I'll tell you if anything else turns up. Anybody missing anything?"
They all replied with assorted negatives, every missing piece of clothing back in the hands of its rightful owner. "Good. Dismissed."
They all left the room, Rinoa giving him a hug and kiss on the cheek before heading back to her class. Squall turned back to the monitor, reaching for the dreaded com button to Esthar, when he noticed Zell hadn't left yet, hanging around the water cooler next to the door. He frowned yet again. What exactly had Zell been doing today? Surely he had been working on something or the other. Zell met his gaze, and Squall raised an eyebrow in question.
Zell kicked the floor sheepishly, hands in his pockets. "Hey, man, look, uh, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to, uh, hang out today, or something?"
Squall raised the other eyebrow.
"Well, you know, Sei-, uh, somebody else was already using the weight room, and Selphie is too busy today so we're not putting up the stage, and I'm tired of training by myself. It didn't look like you were doing anything, so I figured....."
Didn't look like he was doing anything? No Zell, I'll go waste time with you. Your right, I wasn't doing anything, just working my ass off over matters of extreme political import. Obviously, all I need to remove that pole up my butt is a half hour with you in the Training Center.
Squall almost smiled at his inner monologue. Almost. He sighed, rubbing his eyes. Wasn't everyone always saying he needed to take more breaks? What the hell. He would take the rest of the day off and then make sure in future that Zell always had something to do.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Have you ever heard the saying, 'complete the motion if you stumble'? A wise choice. Try to keep some perspective. This is only a minor setback."
Hendrow shook his head, marveling that Julian could be so calm. He himself was shaking and sweaty, and no doubt would have been near panic if it weren't for Julian's calming aura. God knew the rest of the men were. And unless something could be done soon, there was no predicting what might happen.
Whatever the consequences, it was clear that at 4:14 Earthside Eastern time, the portal had folded in on itself and disappeared. There had been no warning, no messages of alarms from the lab. In a matter of seconds, the portal had lost integrity, wavered, shrunk into nothing but a dot and vanished. They had received word of the incident from base camp just a moment before, over an hour after the fact. And judging by the wording of the message, the atmosphere at the camp was fast going from bad to worse.
Julian folded the communiqué, a text message relayed by a hookup the base had established with the Galbadian communications system linked by the tower in Dollet. Voice and video were not yet available.
"Call up one of the APCs. We need to get back as soon as possible and make the best of this. I'm sure all we need is to give the people Earthside some time to reopen the portal, and the last thing we need is for panic to set in," Julian said getting up, confidence still in his posture. "I must address the men."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The Lab was becoming more tumultuous by the minute, and the Agent was neck deep in it all.
From the strangled whispers and frantic mutterings all around, he had gathered that something was desperately wrong. The worst possible scenario had come true, and the Portal was in jeopardy. Technicians ran back and forth through that halls, wide eyed, lab coats flapping behind them. Reports were circulating and everyone had been called forth for active duty. And when things quieted down in the momentary lulls between the panic, the Agent thought he could hear alarms faintly blaring in the distance. And he knew what he had to do.
Summoning his courage, the Agent prepared to use the confusion to his advantage. He would attempt to penetrate the lock doors from which he had been turned away before.
It was now or never.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Hyne felt a great load slip from her shoulders as the portal collapsed, and some of the damage wrought was righted. The pulsing tangle of the Knot still wore at her, but without the rasping presence of the Portal scratching at the back of her mind, she could deal with it better. But no matter what, she could only delay the inevitable.
She watched as the Outsiders left Deling. They would try and renew the Portal, and she wished them nothing but failure. She could see the movement of their army, their troops positioning themselves. Soon, this mighty force would be launched at her children, and she would be powerless to help them.
The tiniest spark of an idea settled in her conscience. Powerless, unless... Yes, it could happen. But it would have to happen just right.
Reaching out, Hyne began to put her grand scheme into motion. Once she was finished, it would be out of her hands and into the less capable ones of Fate. She could only watch, and wait, and hope.
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic