Last Exit for the Lost Chapter 25
Spies and Assassins
They took off early the next day, Shera pausing long enough to write a terse
explanation on the door of her residence. They were used to her absences
by now, and another one wouldn't be surprising. She reflected that it was
better this way; they couldn't pass any information on to ShinRa if they
didn't know anything. From the way Rufus seemed intent on capturing these
people, it was a pretty good bet someone would be coming through here sooner
or later. She shook her head slightly, still amazed at the rapidity of change
they brought. It seemed like yesterday when Rufus was a young, extremely
arrogant boy that always hung around the rocket site, always poking his nose
where it didn't belong. She supposed that's how he made the grab for power
so easily; having amassed so much knowledge through prying, he easily had
the best grasp of the situation when the President was murdered. Still, it
was difficult to see that awkward, redheaded child as a cold-blooded businessman.
Then again, it was difficult to see Cid, his head always under the hood of
some broken down vehicle, or in the clouds, flying as wildly as she did,
as an immaculately dressed, private assassin. Shrugging, she walked towards
the growing buzz of the Pride's engine. She had enough distractions; now,
her course was clear.
Yuffie looked around nervously, then faced Reno, determined. She planted her fists on her hips and said, "Look, Turk boy, I think we need a serious change of plans. These people are not just gonna roll over and die for ShinRa's pleasure, and there's no way I'm getting their Materia any other way." Reno smirked at her, "Are you saying you wanna do this legit?" Yuffie crossed her arms and turned her back on him, "Don't be insulting. I simply think that it's much easier to go along with them and get any goodies on the way, than go against them and get killed. You think Sephiroth would hesitate? The Ancient already held him back once, she might not get another chance!" She quieted, realizing her voice was getting shrill. She resumed, more calmly, "I'm a treasure hunter and a ninja: I'm willing to take risks, but I don't like the odds here." Reno studied her for a moment. Finally he said, "Well, I..." he broke off, suddenly hearing something. "What the hell..." he started to move outside, when he heard a loud, coughing sound and the ground shook under him. "Shit!" he yelled, breaking into a run as a ball of fire moved down the hall towards him, unfurling like an obscene, orange flower. He felt an impact from the side, and fell into a side room, a heavy weight landing on him, as the fire whooshed down the hall. Only a few tendrils licked out from the corridor, and the fire was gone. Yuffie got up off of him, shaking her head, "You're supposed to dodge fireballs, not run away from them." He threw her an irritated glance as he got up. "Smart-ass. Let's get outta here."
They ran for the hangar where Shera was already moving the plane out onto the runway. A small plane was flying back for another pass, and the ground was singed in places where the bullets and the occasional rocket hit. They could see that the front of the house was missing, and counted themselves lucky for not being there. Reno gritted his teeth, reaching for his Nightstick then thought about it again, looked at it briefly and threw it away. It lay in the grass, the red button on its hilt blinking as they ran to catch their plane.
"Hurry!" shouted Tifa from the open door of the plane as Reno raced to catch the turning plane. "We don't have much time!" yelled Shera, her knuckles white on the throttle controls. The plane was coming back, and they were sitting ducks; in fact, it was strange that it hadn't fired yet. Yuffie's form blurred, reappearing next to the plane. With a light leap, she gained the hatch and moved inside, muttering to herself. Tifa threw her a startled glance, then turned back to see Reno at the hatch. She grasped his outstretched hand and pulled him in easily. Yelling, "Shera, go!" she closed the hatch. Shera released the wheel brakes and set the throttle to maximum, watching in puzzlement as the other plane flew past them, its guns silent. Whatever the reason, she was glad of the reprieve as they thundered down the runway, gaining speed.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?!?" Cid towered over the cowering Elena, supporting herself on one arm in the corner of the cabin, the other hand touching the cut on her lip. She couldn't believe the speed with which he was out of the pilot's seat, backhanding her to the corner. "I only fired a warning shot, Cid!" she protested. "Like hell! That entire house is in flames and you call it a warning shot? Damn it, you almost cost us the Ancient!" He took a step forward, but stopped when Tseng suddenly appeared in front of Elena. "Enough," he said quietly. For a moment the two locked gazes, but eventually Cid went back to the pilot's seat, tossing over his shoulder "Use the light guns only." He turned off the autopilot and put the plane in a sharp turn in pursuit of the Pride. Tseng reached out a hand and pulled Elena up, motioning her back to the turret. He had a pensive look on his face as he reached out a hand absently, brushing her lip. When he took it away, the cut was gone. Settling back in the copilot's chair, he said calmly, "Reno lost the Nightstick." Cid's face twitched in surprise, then he exhaled, "Damn. We won't be able to track them. I wonder..." he trailed off, thinking about his loyalties again. He knew the real reason he was pissed at Elena was because Shera was flying the Pride; there could be no one else. He thought he'd put his past behind him, but the dropping of the Plate brought a lot of things back. Now it seemed that many past events hadn't let go of him yet...maybe others were having similar doubts about working for ShinRa. He knew that Rude, Tseng and Elena were always solidly behind ShinRa no matter how nasty the work, since the pay was good. But ever since Tseng and Elena hit it off...he sighed heavily. He just didn't know what was going on anymore. And with Rufus in power, on his mad quest for this Promised Land fairytale... Hell. It was a wonder any of them still hung around. Good pay was one thing, but when things started blowing up all around, and what was thought to be the most secure building in the world becomes a bloodbath, AND no one is certain how it happened, then it was time to reconsider. Hojo could mumble about Jenova, Mako and the Ancients all he wanted, it still didn't make any sense. Well, things would be resolved soon. From Reno's reports they knew about North Crater and that should be the end of it; the resolution was near.
"Does this thing have any weapons?" yelled Tifa to be heard above the roar of the engine and the staccato beating of the bullets on the Pride's armour. It was thick, but the sustained impacts were gradually stripping away the layers. A bit more of this and they'd be through to the inside. Shera shook her head, wide-eyed as she threw the plane into a scissoring turn, cutting the throttle and setting the flaps to the max, hoping to make the other pilot overshoot. No such luck; the other plane stayed glued to them. She maxed out the throttle, going into a shallow dive to gain more speed, hoping that they'd reach the Wutai Peninsula before they went down. She yelled back, "Whoever's flying that thing is pretty good! We won't last long!" "It's Cid," commented Aerith calmly, turning to Sephiroth. She sensed that he had made a decision, and said, "Be careful." He smirked at her, saying, "Maybe I will," and vanished.
"What the hell?" whispered Elena as she saw the dark form appear next to the other plane's tail. It raised a hand and fire shot out of it in their direction, ball after fiery ball racing towards them. Cid shook out of his stupefaction and yanked on the rudder, sending them into a dive, recovering only to face another barrage. He slammed the rudder to the side, slewing wildly, almost feeling the rush of heat as the fireballs flew by the plane. He knew he could evade them, but it was only a matter of time until a stray one hit them. "Elena, switch to heavy ammo!" he yelled. She nodded, slamming the cartridge out, taking the heavier cartridge from Rude and popping it in. She cocked the machine gun and began firing, knowing that only chance could help them hit their target. Their motion was too chaotic for any aiming. It seemed to work as the stream of fireballs ceased, to be replaced by a glowing green shield around the other plane, spattering and sparking as the armour-piercing bullets hit it and disintegrated.
Take the shield, Aerith. came a calm voice into her mind. Unquestioningly, she set up her own shield where she could feel his; without a point of reference, it would have been nearly impossible. She shouted to Shera as she felt his shield dwindle into non-existence, "Can we get any more speed out of this thing?" Shera turned back, grinning, "It's a Preston toy, of course we can!" Reaching over to her side, she flipped up a cover and hit the button underneath. The engine immediately acquired a higher note, and the plane shuddered as it accelerated. "We can only use the 'burner for a few minutes!" Shera fought the suddenly sluggish controls. Aerith shouted back, "That's all we need!" I hope, she added silently, straining against the impacts she could feel through her shield.
He realized he couldn't do both things at once almost immediately. His fingers dug into the steel of the plane's tail as he quickly considered, taking advantage of Aerith's shield. His cloak whipped wildly around him in the bitterly fierce wind and his vision was obscured by his hair streaming past him as he gazed at the other plane. He knew he would have to damage it enough to send it down, but not destroy it. Due to his newfound compassion for his companions he held back, knowing that Cid's continued existence mattered to Shera. Smiling faintly, he unsheathed his Masamune, gauged the distance and vanished.
Cid felt, rather than heard that something wasn't right. The Bronco suddenly began wobbling strangely, pulling to the left. He glanced out a window momentarily and then again, his eyes widening. Astounded, he could only watch as the black-cloaked figure on the wing knelt, digging its fingers into the fabric of the wing, and stabbed with its delicate-seeming sword. The blade flashed whip-like into the wing and through it effortlessly. Withdrawing the blade, the figure seemed to gaze ahead for a moment, then vanished again as bullets tore through the air where it was a split-second ago. "Damn!" Elena exploded, reholstering her gun. Tseng's mouth was drawn into a thin line as he put his back as well. "What was all that about?" Elena asked. Cid fought the controls, "Well, we're a little wobbly, but it's just a small hole, unless...." he broke off, then concluded grimly as a small light began to blink on the console, "He punctured the fuel tanks."
"We better find a place to set down. The 'burner drained almost all our reserves," said Shera, looking at the gauges. "Damn," Aerith said softly, "So much for getting there before anyone else. We must hurry." Tifa looked back at her, "Have you worked it out?" Aerith nodded, gazing into Tifa's dark eyes, "If Chaos isn't stopped, then the entire planet may be in danger."
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