Last Exit for the Lost Chapter 36
Cloud slept as they approached Midgar. He had relaxed his mind a bit and
allowed himself to grieve briefly as he steeled himself for the coming travails.
He knew Midgar would bring many memories, thoughts he'd rather forget to
become the perfect SOLDIER. He couldn't let go though; not this soon. As
a result, his sleep wasn't as deep as he liked, and fraught with many an
awakening, staring blankly into the white ceiling of the plane's fuselage.
The monotone drone of the engine jangled his nerves at the same time soothing
him to sleep and he wasn't sure whether he was awake or asleep when he heard
his name called. Floating in that strange, weary stupor that is brought on
by exhaustion, physical or mental, he wasn't sure of anything at all. For
a moment he was sure that is was she, but then he heard more clearly
and his heart sank, bringing on a fresh surge of grief as he awoke.
"Cloud, we're almost there," said Aerith briskly. She knew that the way to keep Cloud's mind off his grief was to give him something to do, and she meant to keep him busy. Keep all of them busy, if they wanted to stay alive. She briefed him on the plan. They would drop down on Midgar, since all the ingresses to the city were sealed; have always been sealed. In addition, the parachutists would not be expected, whereas if they tried any of the obvious routes (like the gates, the fence or the underground sewers) they would most likely be spotted fast. This way at least they would get a head start on Shinra goons. Shera would land outside Kalm and await them there; the terrain was flat enough to serve as a primitive runway. Aerith quickly explained that while they could 'port straight to Shinra's tower, the problem of them going about 400 mph couldn't be solved so easily. They had to land first, and then they could teleport from a stationary position if they didn't want to wind up smeared all over the inside wall of the Shinra tower. Cloud smirked momentarily but then sobered, realizing that he was contemplating the teleport and knowing that he could arrive safe no matter how fast they were going. His brow furrowed. He sensed more than saw, Aerith watching him shrewdly. "You can feel it, can't you?" she whispered and he nodded, not fully certain what he was agreeing with but nevertheless knowing that it was right.
For once, Midgar looked like a peaceful, slumbering metropolis in the night, its lights twinkling below them, mirroring the stars above. In the darkness the smoke plums from the reactors were invisible, as were the damages. The darker spots could be thought of as parks or houses instead of the unpowered slums that they actually were. Even in the darkness there was an oppressive feel that prevented Yuffie from enjoying the view completely; the city didn't slumber, it simply waited. She shuddered and turned her mind to her gear, checking it out for the last time before they dropped. Shield, chute and shuriken; all in readiness. She looked up as a mechanical whine and increasing roar of the wind signaled the airtight door opening and prepared.
Aerith realized shortly after they jumped that the city looked different, even in the darkness. For one thing, it was too dark; even with the multitude of city lights illuminating the night, the city seemed in a stupor. She could discern very few people walking the streets, even though she remembered Midgar having a lively nightlife. Now all movement seemed concentrated on the Shinra Tower, with cables, gantries and some huge, indiscernible shape in the middle of it all. She frowned, and said Can you see what that is?. Sephiroth's mildly intrigued tone came back Not quite, it's... he was interrupted by Cloud's dispassionate The Junon cannon, aimed at... he broke off and Aerith and Sephiroth exchanged brief flares of surprise. ...North. I don't know if...north. It seemed that was all he'd contribute to the conversation. Aerith frowned, slightly stunned and wondering at the effort required to bring the massive weapon to Midgar using mundane means. Then the ground was rushing up at her and it was time to pull the cord. She heard the sharp snaps slightly below her as Cloud and Sephiroth pulled theirs and then she was pulled sharply up, the black shape above her arresting her fall.
Their landing pattern was tight, but it was still a few minutes before they were all backed together; Yuffie - being significantly lighter and less experienced - was slightly swept off course. Huddling in an alley scarcely four blocks away from the tower, they considered their options. They spoke in whispers, even though the night was not silent; work was continuing on the now discernible Junon cannon and this close to the ShinRa Tower they could hear the clang of metal and the muffled shouts of the workers as they continued towards some unknown deadline. After joining mental powers and communing with the Planet for what seemed like an eternity to Yuffie (who had to sit this one out, her powers not being up to par), they decided - unsurprisingly - that the greatest feeling of wrongness came from the center of Midgar; ShinRa Tower. Exchanging wry looks at the irony they headed towards their nemesis, keeping to the shadows.
This late at night, the bottom of the ShinRa Tower was deserted and locked up; all the activity was at the top, presumably done by ShinRa's fanatic workers and specialists who all lived on premises anyway. They had to take the stairs to the 10th floor, where the dormitories started in order to avoid alerting security by using the elevators at the bottom floors. Short-circuiting the alarms rigged on the doors and stairs was child's play for Aerith, who knew the place inside out; they couldn't however, discount the human (or worse) watchmen. Only once did they encounter guards patrolling the stairs, dumb, genetically altered humans with claws and infra-vision for night patrols. Aerith dispatched them both dispassionately, knowing that they were doomed anyway; their minds were gone, replaced with animal instincts. If Yuffie felt any shock at the quick judgment, she gave no outward sign. Sephiroth noted inwardly that the ninja had matured during their time together. They pressed on towards the 10th floor.
"...and I keep telling you it doesn't make any sense!" the speaker didn't have enough sense either not to keep his voice down. If they were supposed to be lookouts, they weren't very good, Yuffie decided then stiffened as she recognized the voices.
"It doesn't matter. He's the boss," Rude rumbled laconically. His suit was immaculate as always, as opposed to his partner's rumpled look. He wondered if Cid put the two of them together on purpose, just to see how they would offset each other's traits. He started in surprise as a voice boomed from above, "That's right, I'm the boss," said Cid, coming down the stairs towards them, looking more tired than ever, "but I don't get it either." He patted his pockets and started, blinking wearily as Rude stretched a cigarette packet towards him. Nodding thanks, he took one and lit up, sighing gratefully. "But what he says goes, even if I personally think he's lost it." Cid usually refrained from criticizing the boss, but the latest shenanigans (The Cannon! What was he thinking!) made even him wonder and he was too tired to care. "And if he thinks we're gonna need their help, well..." he trailed off, squinting at his subordinates through the smoke. He shrugged and plopped down on the top stair, wondering if he'd have the strength to get back up again. Reno and Rude looked at each other and wisely remained silent. Sympathetic or not, they weren't about to say anything about it.
They're looking for us! Aerith communicated silently, her wondernment showing. Sephiroth shook his head, slightly chagrined. It appeared they had vastly underestimated Rufus. What's more, they need our help, sent Cloud, peering with interest at the resting Turks. Yuffie's eyebrow quirked slightly, You sure of that, spike-head? she boomed, her untrained mental voice still unrestrained. "'cuz if you are, why don't we go say hello?" she finished in a whisper, apparently deciding on a more normal medium of communication. Cloud nodded firmly and strolled out from behind the 9th floor doorway, ignoring her frantically whispered "I was just kidding!".
Author's note: WHEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!! I'm losing my mind.
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