Last Exit for the Lost Chapter 12
Conversations With the Past
With nothing to do but wait for the next few days until the ship arrived
in Costa del Sol, Zack filled Barret and Tifa in on what he knew about Aerith
and Sephiroth. They of course already knew about Nibelheim, and Zack's and
Sephiroth's return to Midgar following the events there. At that time, five
years ago Sephiroth was ShinRa's top SOLDIER; a new class had to be invented
for his level of lethal expertise. Aerith was one of the top scientists
researching Weapons while Hojo played with genetics. They often clashed,
due to Aerith's justified beliefs in Hojo's highly unethical behavior. Since
she could not influence his decisions in the low position that she held,
she strived harder and soon reached a position of importance, very near to
the Head of Weapons Development. Some rumormongers mentioned foul play, others
personal 'favors'. Zack didn't personally believe those rumors, as he knew
Aerith quite well; they often met on the 66th floor to discuss anything and
everything. She was a very calm, highly intelligent and beautiful young woman
who fully enjoyed life, but not at the cost of others. He also appreciated
her intelligence and knew that the post she held was earned by merit alone.
They had a lot in common, sharing a common dislike of authority, anchovies
and ShinRa. He admitted that he was in SOLDIER only because they had the
best weapons training program, and he hoped to work independently once he
learned enough. She told him, in a roundabout way, that ShinRa had excellent
libraries and research facilities, which made her scientific progress much
easier than elsewhere. This was true, but not exactly the way he thought.
Eventually he earned her trust and found out that she has been 'sabotaging'
the ShinRa weapons program for years. When, stunned, he demanded to know
her reasons, she laid out her story for him. Zack remembered her tale as
he considered just how much to tell Tifa and Barret.
Wrapped in a dirty shawl under the plate of Midgar, trying to warm her hands by a fire burning fitfully in the cold wind and slashing rain, Aerith wailed in misery and anguish. They took everything from her, everything and everyone. She wept bitterly as she recalled the ShinRa troops that swarmed the house where she used to live with Elmyra, her adopted mother. It was a repeat of seven years ago, when her real mother, Ifalna escaped with her from the cottage that they had with her father. She didn't remember her father very well; she could only recall that he had a kind smile. He wasn't smiling as he turned from the opened door towards them and reached out a hand, as if asking them to go with him. Blood bubbled from his mouth and he toppled over as ShinRa troops stomped into the cottage. Aerith didn't remember much more, except alternating flashes of heat and cold as her mother ran through the forest, sobbing. They made their way to a small mining town and took shelter there among the taciturn, close-mouthed locals. Eventually, after the search for them stopped, they made their way to Midgar to make a living, or so Aerith thought. Ifalna died in Midgar, after ensuring that Aerith would be looked after; she just wasted away, from her wounds and grief. Aerith never thought of the ShinRa again, until that fateful day when they showed up on her adopted mother's doorstep in Sector 8 and demanded that Aerith be handed over to them. Aerith heard Elmyra scream, "RUN!", and she did, her small feet thudding on the hard ground. She heard gunshots behind her and she started with fear, but didn't dare to look back as she made for the Sector 7 train graveyards. It was her favorite playground, even though it was a frightening maze for most people. She had a little garden there, growing small wildflowers despite most peoples' claim that you couldn't grow flowers in Midgar. She never understood what they were talking about. It was really easy if you only listened. She huddled there now, and it seemed that the Planet cried with her. Her tears eventually stopped and dried as she considered her situation soberly. She knew the slums fairly well; the place and the people. She could survive for quite a while by herself, maybe even thrive...but she had more in mind than just existence. She stood up, and a gleam came to her eye. Her mouth twisted as she contemplated her new goal: revenge. Revenge on those that took her mother, her father and all the comfort she ever had in life. She would make them pay; it was only a matter of time.
"I became an apprentice at a weaponsmith's store. He was getting old and couldn't manipulate the small parts anymore. I eventually took over the shop as he grew too old, and took my best works to ShinRa for evaluation and sale. They always liked what I made," she said, matter of factly. "When the old man died, I sold the store and applied at ShinRa. With what I knew and my history of worksmanship, I easily took over the Weapons program, even despite my age. Once I was in, I made sure that the old paperwork on the Aerith sought by the ShinRa was lost. Requisition orders, search warrants and other paperwork disappeared overnight. It wasn't too difficult. Some of the clerks here are quite incompetent. In fact, even the current Head of Weapons keeps seeking me out for advice." She smiled, remembering, "Scarlet is talented, but unimaginative. She needs someone to tell her what to do. Don't get me wrong, she will then do it very efficiently and well, but she lacks that certain edge. I think she'll change her career track soon." She changed the subject, "The reason the ShinRa were after me is that I am an Ancient, theoretically a descendant of an old, spacefaring race that came to this planet long ago. I think I've read every book in the library, trying to figure out what I am, or what they think I am. There isn't much different about me, except an exceptional affinity with the planet. Of course that can be applied different ways; from growing flowers in a desert to using Materia efficiently. I suppose they wanted me for my unique genetic make-up, but I've never been able to find those particular records. I have my suspicions, but can't sacrifice my position now to satisfy them, not yet. When I do..." she unclenched the her fists, noticing that her nails dug deeply into her palms, "when I do, you will know it," she whispered in a tormented tone of voice.
Zack was stunned, to say the least. He was also beginning to have misgivings about working for ShinRa, and decided to help Aerith if she ever needed it. He also realized that he knew someone else that has been tormented by ShinRa. He wasted no time in 'arranging' that all three of them should meet. He simply invited Sephiroth to take some time off one day from sword practise and to visit the 66th floor with him. Sephiroth sneered momentarily, but he knew Zack well enough to know that he did not make idle requests. He went along to satisfy his curiosity, but warned Zack that if he was wasting his time, Zack would have to make it up to him by practising with him. Zack groaned but acquiesced. At the same time, he told Aerith he had a surprise for her. When Zack walked up to the table where Aerith had been sitting and introduced Sephiroth, he knew he had made a mistake. The taciturn SOLDIER was even quieter today, and Aerith was uncharacteristically bland as well. Zack realized how big of a mistake he had made when he excused himself for a moment to get a drink, and beheld both of them simultaneously on his way back. A sudden understanding struck him like a lightning bolt as he noted that Aerith's pale face was flushed lightly, and the way their eyes seemed to be exchanging the secrets of the universe. Hiding a grin, he rejoined them until it was time to go. After they parted company, Sephiroth said to Zack in a musing voice, "You have done me a great disservice today, Zack." "Wha? You're kidding me!" Zack exclaimed. Sephiroth held up a hand, "I was planning on leaving ShinRa in light of some discoveries I made, but I have found a reason to stay today. I'm not sure how to feel about that." Zack nodded to himself in satisfaction and said, "Time will tell. Trust me one more time and wait for a while." Sephiroth nodded unconcernedly and said, "Gladly. Now, I was going to let you go without practise today. However, if you don't wipe that knowing smirk off your face I will be forced to change my mind." Zack assumed a mock somber expression at once and they walked down the hall, their cloaks swishing gently behind them.
"The rest you more or less know," Zack said to Barret and Tifa. "Aerith had been preparing for the day of her departure, as had Sephiroth. Both of them had been thwarting ShinRa from their positions of power. Most of the weapons made by for the last couple of years ShinRa are sabotaged to break and most of them lack the power to kill. They will stun or paralyze, but are rarely lethal. The Junon cannon was designed by her in her early years, but she discarded the project halfway as completely unusable, wasteful and unwieldy." Zack chuckled, "Apparently someone's been going through her wastebin." He broke off momentarily as a murmur came from the bunkbed: "Scarlet." Zack nodded, directing his attention back to Tifa and Barret. "Probably. Anyway, she also managed to stop some of Hojo's more ghastly experiments. Sephiroth and I were spared his attention, and Cloud was saved in time as well. Unfortunately for those other SOLDIERs, her resources were limited then and she found out about Nibelheim too late," he shook his head, grimly, and resumed. "Over the last few years, they began to plot together more and more. I believe Sephiroth actually witnessed the sabotage of the first Midgar reactor, and Aerith tried to warn Cloud before his capture." Zack fell silent, then looked up, "Aerith passed me a note in the hallway, which I read later in the garage and made things ready. I suppose you know the rest."
Tifa in turn filled him in on the events upstairs and their subsequent escape. When she finished Zack said, grimly, "Jenova. That ...thing keeps appearing whenever there's trouble. I wonder..." he broke off, musing. Everyone fell silent for a while, contemplating what they have heard. Barret rumbled, "Zack, have you figured out what the Materia we found is for?" Zack smacked his forehead and reached for his sword, "No! I've completely forgotten about it..." he broke off as he noticed a slender hand reach out from the bunk bed. He pulled the Materia off his blade and dropped it into Aerith's hand. Her hand withdrew and Aerith's face became visible in a small, red glow. She motioned Zack to come closer. Tifa heard a few murmured words, and Zack came back to the table. He reattached the Materia to his sword with something approaching awe. He faced Tifa and Barret and said in a hushed voice, "Aerith says that she senses a strong communication spell inside the Materia. That can only mean one thing: a Summon." Tifa only stared, but Barret inhaled sharply and said, "I thought those things were legend!" Zack nodded somberly, "As did I, but apparently not. They're very rare." To Tifa, he explained, "The Materia communicates with another plane of existence, and brings an ally across, a being tied to it somehow. The ally has a brief time in this plane, during which it attacks the summoner's enemy. Then the being is recalled back to its plane." He frowned and continued, "ShinRa thought to enslave such creatures before, and use their services all the time, but failed. No one really knows why the Materia works, however." Barret said slowly, "I've always wondered about that...how come those beings don't get pissed off and attack the guy who called them? I mean, hell, I'd be annoyed if I got dragged out of bed and told to smack someone around!." Zack shrugged and pointed out that many other Materia-lore specialists have been trying to figure that out, even to the point of trying to communicate with the beings. The only thing that made sense was that they were bound to obey, but could go back as soon as their work was done. Barret nodded, agreeing that he'd be eager to get back to bed too. The somber mood was broken as Tifa began to giggle at the vision of Barret getting back into bed after being summoned. Zack smiled then began to chuckle as well. Barret grumbled something and stomped off into the corner to sulk, as Tifa and Zack collapsed in helpless laughter.
Aerith smiled in the darkness. She'd been having misgivings about going with this motley group, since they didn't exactly feel her need for revenge on ShinRa. But as she watched them first from afar, and now firsthand, she had a feeling that she was doing something right. These people satisfied a need in her, a need she was never aware of before, her anger overwhelming other feelings. During all these years, she nurtured her rage, masking it with a pleasant exterior, but her smiles never reached her eyes. Now... She sighed softly; now, she was feeling more...human.
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