Last Exit for the Lost Chapter 24

Price of Life

By Damodred

"So why did ShinRa stop funding the space program?" asked Tifa, spearing a last piece of pancake after she finished telling the Mayor about their quest. Shera sighed, toying with her fork. She sat back, lifting a glass of wine to her lips. "That's a story in itself. If everyone's done...?" They moved outside, taking their glasses with them and Shera lit up a cigarette, offering one to Reno as well. Tifa, Shera and Aerith sat on the porch steps, looking out to the town. Reno faded into the shadow under the overhang, only the occasional red light from his cigarette revealing where he was. Yuffie hopped lightly to the roof and lay on her back, her head hanging upside down over the edge. Sephiroth stood on the ground next to Aerith, putting his arm around her as Shera began speaking.

"Control to 26, all stations go. T minus five minutes and counting." "Roger Control." Shera blinked behind the glass of her helmet and wished for the thousandth time that she could scratch her nose in these things. It invariably began to itch at exactly the wrong time. A voice broke into her musings, "Break a leg, Shera." "Thanks, Cid. How's things down there?" He responded, dryly, "Well, I'm all strapped in and can't see shit except for all these green lights, so I guess it's okay." She chuckled briefly, "No crap on the line, Cid." He responded, trying to sound contrite, "Aye, Captain." "T minus two minutes and counting. All stations go." "Acknowledged, Tower." This was the part she hated the most: the waiting. "Uh, Capt'n? I have a red light on number 2 fuel tank down here," Cid sounded a little irritated. "I know I checked that one yesterday, since it's been givin' us problems before." Shera pondered briefly, but called Mission Control for instructions. "If he says he checked it, then he checked it. We're still go," came back the terse reply. Shera knew the tight timetable ShinRa had for this launch, but...she wasn't too sure about this. She decided, "Cid, it's your call. They say we're go, but I don't particularly feel like dyin' yet at ShinRa's whim." She could practically feel his indecision. "T minus thirty seconds and counting, ignition sequence starting," came Control's voice. Shera began to sweat.

"We hadn't actually began lifting off, but the engines were going when he yelled for me to kill it. The engines quit and we settled back down, to end up like it is today," she motioned to the dark, tilted shape blotting out the night sky to the north. She sat silently for a while, then resumed. "They never found a problem with it, despite Cid's thoroughness. We missed the launch window, and ShinRa lost interest in the program, I don't know why. Personally, I'm convinced that he was right to halt the liftoff; ShinRa had no right to gamble with our lives. But he wasn't able to see it and left the program dejected. I haven't had any contact with him since he wrote me eight years ago, pleading forgiveness, and telling me that he was onto something big. It's a pity...we had some great times together." She sighed heavily, staring at the rocket. Tifa carefully asked, "Cid...Highwind?" Shera turned to her, raising her eyebrows, "You know him?" Tifa snorted, "Yeah, in a way. He's been chasing us around the world. He became the head of Turks, ShinRa's not-so-secret police. You know, the blue-suited guys." Shera nodded slowly, taking it in and said absently, "Yeah, there were a lot of them around when the space program was still alive. They always wanted all our ideas and blueprints, but I never saw any of it to fruition." Sephiroth spoke up from where he was standing, "The Highwind." Shera's eyes widened, "It's been built? That was one of our greatest designs, except I could never get funding approved for it." She laughed bitterly, "Well Cid, looks like you were on to something big."

"This is a lot to take in at once. I've been out of touch for so long, just playing around here and taking care of this town, that I had no idea what's going on." Shera paced in front of the porch back and forth, unable to contain her excitement. She was cracking her knuckles repeatedly as she continued, "This isn't like him though! It sounds like he completely lost perspective pursuing his dream...he still wants to fly to space..." she whispered. Instinctively, everyone looked up, except Yuffie who was already doing so. She shrugged from above them and muttered, "Justa buncha empty space, if ya ask me." Overhearing, Shera smiled and answered, "Yes, it is. But it's the last frontier, and Cid is rather ambitious." Turning towards them she lifted her glasses, pinching her nose and sighing softly. Finally decided, she said, "I will let you use one of my planes for your trip. However on the condition that you allow me to specify the pilot." Tifa looked at her for a while, then the light dawned in her eyes and she grinned. "Of course!" she exclaimed. Shera nodded, businesslike, looking at each of them and said, "I'll need someone to help me prepare the plane tonight. The rest of you get some sleep. We leave early tomorrow."

Reno stayed on the porch a while after Shera went back in, tired from helping with the plane's refit and refueling. He lit up another cigarette and sat, looking up at the stars. He was thinking about responsibilities again, and it was very depressing. He never gave much thought to consequences, being content to obey orders. Chase someone, shake them down, maybe even an occasional assassination; it was all in the day's work, and the pay was good. But he was wondering if perhaps for the first time in his life he was beginning to have fun. Chasing an unknown enemy, facing death virtually every day in an unknown territory, being wanted by all the forces of ShinRa, not to mention getting out of that stuffy was quite entertaining! He chuckled briefly, wondering if he was out of his mind, as he considered that there might be more to life than getting paid well. He frowned, deciding that he'd hedge his bets; he'd see what Rufus and these people would do next, and take appropriate action. Their company was more entertaining for sure. Smirking, he walked back in, nodding in passing at Shera and Aerith, still deep in conversation.

"I think I was always waiting for him to show up," Shera spoke to the compassionate, emerald gaze regarding her calmly. Somehow she felt she could confide in this young woman, as if they'd known each other for years and shared deepest secrets with each other. That feeling only came over here once before, and he was gone. "He sounded so optimistic in his letter, I thought for sure he found a way to be happy. Even if it was without me, I supposed it was better than letting it eat at him." She sighed, "But I guess he never let go of it. I hope he's all right," she finished in a half-whisper. Aerith took her hand and held it with both of hers.


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