Underground Empire Chapter 4
By Dan Schmidt
"Oww " Cid moaned as he struggled in the white blanket of snow covering the ground. The snowmobile had managed to land on top of his legs. Cids legs were filled with pain. Not a sharp, shocking pain, but a tight pain. This gave indication that Cids muscles had tightened, meaning he had been out of it for a while. He looked around and saw Cloud and Aeris lying in the snow. He could see their breath in the cold weather, which meant they were alive.
"I need aspirin," Cid grumbled and he attempted to remove the snowmobile from atop his legs. The snowmobile refused to budge. Cid strained the muscles in the legs and attempt to move the snowmobile. Pain shot through his body, but Cid was now slowly pushing the snowmobile off of himself.
With one final grunt, Cid pulled his legs away from the snowmobiles grasp and lied in the snow for a few moments, panting.
Someone coughed loudly nearby. Cid turned and saw Aeris slowly stirring in the snow. She moaned and, visibly in pain, sat up and grabbed a hold of her back.
"Cid, remind me to kill you later," she grumbled as she attempted to stand.
"Aye aye, sir," Cid said sarcastically as he also tried to stand. Pain shot through his legs as he put weight on them, but Cid tried his best to ignore the pain.
Cloud shot up in the snow, gasping. He looked around frantically and then sighed in relief. Cloud didnt appear to be unhurt as he stood up easily under his own power.
"My head is killing me " he mumbled as he walked over to help Aeris stand up.
"You had another Jenova dream, didnt you?" Aeris said to him as he helped her up. "I can tell by the way you shot up from the snow so frantically."
Cloud sighed. "Yeah, I did. This one wasnt as bad as the rest, but it still was terrifying. I was "
"You can do into the details later," Cid said. "We need to get moving before we all catch hypothermia."
"Hes right, Cloud," Aeris said, brushing snow off her red jacket. She then turned to look at the snowmobile. "Think it can still run, Cid?"
Cid stood over the snowmobile with his hands on his hips. "It doesnt look to bad. Help me tip it back over."
Cloud, Cid, and Aeris pushed against the snowmobile and righted it. Cid leaned under the steering wheel and started to play with the wires. After a few tries, the snowmobile roared to life.
Cid grunted with satisfaction. "Told ya theres nothing I cant "
He was interrupted by a loud growl. He turned around and saw three incredibly huge white wolves standing no more than ten feet away from him. He motioned to Cloud and Aeris. They both spotted the wolves and prepared for battle.
The wolves were huge. They were about six feet high and about twelve feet long. No wolf they had ever seen was that big. The creatures looked almost exactly like normal wolves, except for the fact that every feature on them was twice as big as usual, including the teeth. The only difference was that the wolves had green glowing eyes.
"Those eyes " Cloud said. "Theyre-theyre Mako eyes. Jenova eyes "
The creatures suddenly leaped at Cloud. Cloud drove his sword through one creatures mid-section in midair. The creature shrieked and fell to the ground. It suddenly got back up, licking its wound as if it were only a small scratch.
"Oh crap," Cid muttered as he turned to the creatures. The creatures leaped again. Cid dove out of the way. The creature seemed to stop in midair and fell back to the ground, landing softly on its legs. The creature stood right in front of Cid, growling. Cid grasped his Venus Gospel tightly. He swung at the creature, connecting with a blow to the creatures left eye. The creature howled in agony and immediately buried its face in the snow, trying to stop the bleeding.
"CLOUD!" Cid called. "I found a weakness! Go for the eyes!"
Cloud heard Cid loud and clear. Two creatures stood in front of him and Aeris, Cloud stared them eye to eye, waiting for the attack to come.
But the creatures didnt move.
"Theyre on to something," Cloud whispered to Aeris. "They should be attacking now, but theyre not. Theyre planning something."
The creatures seemed to be studying Cloud and Aeris.
Suddenly, the roar of an engine filled the air.
"YEEHAW!" Cid screamed his he smashed the snowmobile headlong into the creatures.
The creatures took the attack full force in the sides of their heads.
"Cloud! Aeris!" Cid called. "Get on quickly!"
Cloud and Aeris bolted towards the snowmobile. By now, the two creatures had recovered and started to charge after the snowmobile.
"Go Cid!" Cloud hollered as he and Aeris leaped onto the back of the snowmobile. Cid kicked the snowmobile into full gear and shot away from the creatures.
The creatures were surprised by the sudden retreat, but soon were in hot pursuit. By now, they two creature were joined by their third comrade, who had a red and swollen eye. The creatures seemed to be slowly gaining on the snowmobile.
"Cid!" Aeris called. "Theyre catching up!"
Cid turned around and that the creatures were indeed closing in on the snowmobile. He mumbled some profanity and tried to get the snowmobile to move faster. He slammed his foot on the gas pedal again and again, but could get nothing more from the snowmobile.
"No good," he called back. "This is as fast as she goes."
Cloud looked back and saw that the creatures were only about twenty-five yards behind them. Thinking quickly, he reached for his Fire materia. He concentrated on the green orb until it began to glow brightly. But, the attack was not on the wolf creatures.
The Fire struck an ice shelf on a nearby cliff. The ice melted completely away, causing the snow it held to come crashing down. The avalanche roared down the cliff side and struck the wolf beasts. The wolf beasts were engulfed in the huge blanket of white.
"Nice work Cloud!" Aeris said as the avalanche stopped the creatures pursuit.
"Yeah, great," Cid mumbled. "Where do we go now, Cloud?"
Cloud thought for a moment. "Im sensing Jenova a little farther north. Why dont we go to Mr. Holzoffs house?"
Cid and Aeris both agreed. Mr. Holzoff was a kind old man and he probably would gladly welcome guests into his house for the night.
"Argh " Suddenly a fierce pain raged through Clouds head. Cloud clutched his head and moaned. "The voices make it stop make them stop!"
Cid stopped the snowmobile and he and Aeris quickly hopped off.
Cloud rolled around on the ground in pain, clutching and shaking his head,
"Cloud!" Aeris shouted, obviously very worried. She rushed over to him. "Cloud!" she shouted again.
Cloud stopped rolling around as the pain subsided. Still lying in the snow, he sighed in relief. Dazed, he just lied in the snow.
Aeris rushed over to him and tried to help him get to his feet. She soon saw that Cloud was still too wobbly to stand. She cradled his head in her arms. "Dont worry Cloud. Well find Jenova."
The snowmobile roared to life again.
Cloud heard the noise and struggled to get to his feet. Aeris put his arm over her shoulder and helped him back to the snowmobile.
"You okay, Cloud?" Cid asked.
Cloud nodded. "Yeah, fine. We need to find Jenova fast, these headaches are getting worse and worse."
"Okay, next stop, Mr. Holzoffs place!" Cid slammed on the gas and took off over the plains of snow.
* * *
Reno sat down in the captains chair of the submarine. This submarine was no different from the ones Reno used to use back in his days with Shinra.
"Hey Reno," Barret said, "who put you in charge of this operation? It was my town that got destroyed. And why are we going after a lousy robber, anyway?"
Reno turned to look at him. "I believe these robberies and the earthquakes are directly related. The earthquakes seem to be indeed artificial, and recently a large amount of atomic explosives were stolen in the same method as this gas is being stolen. Besides, Tandens no colonel, and hes knows it. Whoever made him a colonel is a legitimate nutbag. And this Project Nova sounds like a world domination or destruction plan, what with the poison gas and all. And who usual runs plans like that? Legitimate nutbags."
"So, you think this nutbag made that Tanden guy a colonel so he would steal gas and bombs for him?" Barret asked.
"Precisely, Barret," Reno said. "For a big oaf, you catch on pretty quickly."
Barret growled at the comment, but just walked away from Reno. Reno excelled at getting on peoples nerves.
"Okay," Reno said as he punched several commands into the control panel. "Next stop, Midgar."
The sub jerked and began its voyage to Midgar. Reno sat in cockpit on the sub vacantly staring at the sonar. Nothing was on the sensors. Reno tipped the chair back and started to doze off.
"Reno, wake up," came Elenas voice suddenly.
Reno shot up and almost knocked the sonars monitor off the desk.
"Oh, um, Elena. What do you want?"
Elena sighed. "Were cooperating with Avalanche. Avalanche, Reno. They brought down our employers. A year ago, we were looking to slit their throats. Now, well, its almost like theyre our buddies."
Reno shook his head. "Dont get me wrong Elena, Avalanche is worse than the bacteria in the scum that oozes from shut down Mako reactors. But, they also part of the solution to this Project Nova crap. We need them to stop that phony Tanden and whomever hes working for. I could care less if everyone of them gets shot during this mission, but we do need them for the time being."
"Well," Elena said. "I guess your right. Considering that were currently in business for ourselves and no one has hired to us to go after them. I guess we have no grudges with them for the moment. But what they did in Midgar and to Shinra cant be forgotten."
"Elena," Reno replied, "We quit working from Shinra before Rufus was killed. Its not what they did to Shinra, its what they did to us."
"I guess youre right." Elena decided to change the subject. "How do you know Tanden anyway?"
"Tanden and I used to be the Shinra army. He tried to ride my coattails up the ladder of rank, but while I was promoted to the Turks, he was simply made a squad leader. Didnt even reach the rank of sergeant.
"During the war with Wutai, Tanden was supposed to lead his squad in a reconnaissance mission exploring the mountains to the south of Wutai. His squad parachuted down and it wasnt long before Tanden got them all lost. He stole food from his comrades just so he could survive. Finally, with everyone half-starved, except for him of course, they began to swim to the mainland. It was another one of Tandens stupid ideas. Mainland is atleast seventy-five miles from the western continent and no one can swim that far. Luckily, they were rescued by a fisherman. The fisherman found them because moronic Tanden got snagged in one of his lines. Tanden then quit the army and I never heard from him again. Until now, atleast."
"This guy sounds like a total doofus," Elena commented. "We should easily defeat him."
"I hope so, Elena," Reno said. "Even a moron like Tanden could destroy us with a force the size of the one he has if we arent careful."
The sonar suddenly beeped. Reno turned around to look at the screen. On screen they saw they same blip they had seen before in Junon.
"Tandens sub is just ahead," Reno announced. "Get ready."
Tandens sub was moving slowly. The green blip on the sonar approached the continent Midgar was on and vanished.
"What?!" Reno shrieked. "Where did it go? It cant just disappear into the continent!" Reno slammed his fist on the computer monitor. "Follow their course exactly. I think I have an idea of where they mightve gone."
"Reno, if we do that, were gonna smash into the continent," Barret argued.
"Then do it slowly, but follow them," Reno commanded.
"Who made you the boss " Barret mumbled as he took the helm. Matching Tandens course, they headed right for the continent. "Brace for impact!" Barret said loudly.
But nothing happened.
Barret gazed out the side windows and saw that they were inside a rock tunnel under the continent. "How did we not see this before?" he asked.
"Simple, Barret," Reno replied. "Its an optical illusion. The rock tunnel blends in so well with its surroundings that you cant even see it. I had figured Tanden entered something like this. It like the one near Nibelheim, only this one probably leads to Midgar. It was probably built by whomever runs the Project Nova, as well."
The sub traveled deeper into the tunnel. The tunnel began to tilt up and it wasnt long before they surfaced in a large dock.
"Hmm according to my memory of the layout of Midgar, this dock must be right below Reactor No. 6," Reno said. "Of course! This was built so they could sneak in, get the MonoA93 gas, and then leave without being detected."
"So wheres the other sub?" Barret asked. "Its not in this dock."
"Hmm maybe theres another dock nearby," Reno answered. "Park the sub here. This way, theyll have to get by our sub to leave."
Barret gently pulled the sub into the dock and everyone unloaded.
"Aha, look over there!" Reno said. "Another optical illusion!" He pointed to a rock wall across the bay. "See the small fissure in the center of the wall? Its probably a gate to another bay."
"But why build two bays?" Tifa asked.
"Supposed they brought in numerous submarines before, or " Reno paused, "if they wanted to lure someone into a trap."
"Well, we handled em before, so we can handle em now!" Barret said.
"Theres a door at the far of this dock." Reno pointed to a metallic door to the left of them. "Lets see where it goes."
They entered the door and found themselves in a short passageway with a door on the other side.
"I hear running water," Reeve commented.
"Me too," Barret said. "We must be near the other dock."
"Barret, peek out the door at the other end," Reno said. "We dont want to go barging right into the rifles on Tandens troops."
Barret nodded and silently cracked the door open. Sure enough, inside he saw Tandens men loading several crates onto a submarine. The submarine was parked in a single dock, one much smaller than the one Avalanche had parked in.
"There they are," Barret whispered back to the others. "What now, oh fearless leader?"
Reno smirked. "Ill ignore that comment and suggest that we sneak into there as quietly as possible."
Reno took the lead and quietly opened the door. Near the door, and out of view of the men, were several large and empty shipping crates. Reno snuck out the door and hid behind the crates. He motioned for the others to follow.
"Alright!" came Tandens voice from a little ways away. "Thats enough gas. Finish loading what supplies you have and return to the sub!"
Reno quickly gazed over the top of the crates and saw the men loading their final cargo onto the sub.
"How are we gonna stop them now?" Elena asked.
Barret eyed a control panel towards the end of the dock. "I got an idea. Reno, does that control panel control the bay doors to this dock?"
Reno shrugged. "I suppose so. What do you have in mind?"
Barret smiled. "Lets put this control panel permanently out of order." Barret aimed his gun arm at the panel and fired a barrage of bullets.
The panel sparked and exploded in a small ball of fire.
"What was that?" Tanden shouted from across the bay.
"Great job, Barret," Elena mumbled. "You shouldve used my gun, its silenced."
"Well, well, well, looky here!" came Tandens voice from right behind them. "I think weve discovered an infestation."
"Too bad youre too late!" Barret said. "We took out the control panel, so it looks like youre stuck here for a while!"
Tanden frowned. "Oh well, atleast now I can finish your pathetic team off without rushing. Besides, my men can hotwire the door. You, on the other hand, appear to be the ones who are stuck."
"Stuck kinda like your surveillance team in Wutai, eh Tanden?" Reno snapped.
Tanden sucker punched Reno across the face.
"If you dont learn to shut your mouth, itll get you killed one day," Tanden replied sharply. "Sorry to hit and run, but I am on a tight schedule. This gas needs to be delivered before the deadline. Ta-ta, Reno." Tanden turned to walk away, but then turned back. "Oh yes, I suppose I should leave you some company to play with. Well, how about a toy instead?" He snapped his fingers and a large cargo net fell over the entire team. He then placed a large metallic object on the floor in front of them. "This here is a nasty little bomb. If you try to tamper with it, itll blow this place to high heaven. Have fun!"
Tanden turned and bolted to the submarine. He closed the hatch and the submarine disengaged from the dock. The bay doors opened, obviously due to Tandens hotwiring job, and the sub left the bay.
"Red, can you claw us free from this net?" Tifa asked urgently.
"I suppose it is possible," he replied. "But it may take a little while."
"Well, we really dont have a little while," Reeve said. "From here I can just barely see the timer on the bomb. We have about fourteen minutes now to escape."
"Thats cutting it a little close, dont you think?" Vincent added. Vincent reached into his cape and pulled out a small blade. Slicing diligently on the net, Vincent attempted to make an escape route, while Red did the same.
"Must go faster, must go faster," Reeve chanted as he watched the timer tick down in wide-eyed horror.
"Done!" Red exclaimed. He rushed out of the net and then tried to help the others out.
Vincent had finished his cutting job and Avalanche began to file out of the net one by one. Once everyone was free, the timer had ticked down to ten minutes.
"How do we diffuse this thing?" Yuffie asked impatiently.
"You cant," Reno replied. "This is one of Shinra demolition bombs, like the one I used to destroy the Sector 7 pillar."
Barret growled angrily at that remark and Tifa gave Reno a dirty look.
"Sorry, sorry," Reno said. "Anyway, the second you touch it, itll blow up. It can only be deactivated by remote control."
Barret frowned. "So that means "
"We gotta bust to the sub and get outta here," Tifa finished for him. Without a word, they all took off down the hallway, with Tifa in the lead.
"We got eight minutes," Reno called from the back of the line, "Move, move, move!"
They reached the sub with five minutes left on the timer. Reno hopped into the pilots seat and engaged the subs primary systems. He disengaged from the dock and guided the sub towards the exit of the dock.
"Were in trouble," Reno said.
"Why?" Yuffie asked, "Were getting outta here."
Reno frowned. "I dont think were going fast enough. The bomb has a huge radius and its only got two minutes left on it."
"Crank it up then, Reno!" Barret exclaimed. "Floor it!"
"Im going as fast as I can!" Reno snapped. "Would you rather me blow out the engine so well be stuck here?"
Barret gave Reno a dirty look, but then returned to his seat and looked at the timer.
One minute left.
"Were almost clear!" Reno announced. "Just a few more seconds "
"Reno, floor it!" Barret exclaimed. "Weve got thirty seconds!"
"Shut up, Barret!" Reno replied.
"Tifa, you a religious person?" Barret asked.
"Not really, not Im flexible," she replied.
"Well, you better start praying," Barret replied, "Cause I dont think were gonna make it." Barret gazed back down at the timer.
"Were almost out!" Reno shouted. "I can see daylight!"
"Here we go!" Reno said.
"Well guys, its been a pleasure knowing you all," Yuffie said.
"Were out!" Reno yelled.
A huge explosion rang out through the air. The water behind them rushed up and flung the submarine out farther into the open sea. Tumbling over and over, Reno desperately tried to grab onto the controls.
Barret slammed hard into a safety rail and immediately clutched his back in pain. He shrieked loudly and rolled on the floor in agony.
Reno finally grabbed hold of the controls and righted the sub. All of the members of the team were getting up from the floor, except for Barret, who was obviously in a lot of pain from landing so hard on his back. Tifa ran over to Barret and helped him up his feet.
"You okay, Barret?" she asked him.
"No, I heard something snap," Barret replied. "Maybe a rib or something."
"Perhaps you tore a ligament or tendon," Red suggested. "They are extremely painful as first, but eventually theyll go down to a throbbing and tight pain. Well have to get you to a doctor soon."
"No!" Barret said loudly. "Im not giving up on this mission. My town was destroyed, and I wont rest until I have vengeance for the deaths of my friends and destruction of their homes!"
"Very well then," Reno said. "According to the sonar, Tanden and crew are heading north. Lets continue our voyage."
* * *
"Its so cold!" Cid exclaimed. They were all inside Mr. Holzoffs cabin, which usually was a warm place, but the furnace was broken and Cloud, Cid, Aeris, and Mr. Holzoff had to sit wrapped in blankets.
"Sorry about that," Mr. Holzoff said. "Ill get around to fixing it eventually. So tell me, what brings you to this part of the world?"
Cloud briefly explained their situation.
"Jenova, huh?" Mr. Holzoff said. "Well, that explains a few things that Ive seen recently."
"What have you seen?" Aeris asked.
"Well," Holzoff began, "These weird creatures are roaming all over the Great Glacier and Gaea Cliffs. They resemble ordinary animals, except they are so much bigger than the normal ones. And those awful green eyes give me the creeps. Anyway, one time, two of them got into fight. Neither one was killed, but they did spill some blood. What was unusual about that was that these creatures never, never fight amongst themselves, theyre almost like family. Another thing was the blood they spilled. It wasnt exactly red, it looked more orangish. Very strange indeed."
"Anything else?" Cloud asked.
"Yeah, the smell," Holzoff continued. "A couple of night ago, it smelled absolutely awful outside. It smelled like burnt flesh or hair or something, but it was so awful that I didnt leave the house for a week.
"One very disturbing thing is the decease in the animal population. This place used to be crawling with wolves, bears, and other such wildlife. Now, only these mutant creatures seem to be left. In fact, I havent seen a normal looking bear in over a month. Also, one day I saw footprints past me house leading up to the Gaea cliffs. This was about two months ago, and it was only one set of footprints, so Im assuming whomever made them is still up on the cliffs. You dont think someone could be messing with that Jenova stuff, do you?"
"Im afraid so," Cloud replied. "It could even be Jenova itself. Theres a chance that we didnt kill every part of it in the Crater."
"That could be very dangerous indeed," Holzoff said. "Well, we all are welcome to spend the night here. You may sleep on the sofa here, on in the cots in the other room. It almost 11:00 PM, so you should get some rest."
"Good idea," Cloud commented. He walked into the other room, followed by Aeris and Cid. Cloud collapsed onto the first cot and removed his shoes.
"Goodnight Aeris, Cid," Cloud said.
"Goodnight," Aeris and Cid said in unison.
* * *
Cloud stood before a canyon atleast thirty feet across. There was no way he could jump it, but he knew he had to. Behind him, he saw the very frightening figures of Sephiroth and Jenova. Cloud took and deep breath and leaped into the canyon. He floated for a while, but then began to fall straight down.
He landed softly on a pile of sand. Right before him, he saw Aeris, knelt down in prayer.
Suddenly, from behind, a sharp tentacle shot through Aeriss body.
"NO!" Cloud shrieked.
Aeris slumped over onto the ground. Jenova removed its tentacle from Aeriss body and moved in on Cloud.
In the background, Cloud heard a malicious laughter that sounded all too familiar.
Cloud closed his eyes as Jenova closed in
Cloud shot up form his cot and saw Aeris sitting on it next to him.
"I had another dream," Cloud mumbled vacantly.
Aeris gently caressed Clouds face. "Its okay Cloud. Well find Jenova and put a stop to this."
Cloud sat and held Aeris in his arms. "I lost you again, in that dream. Theyre all like that."
"Do you think theres a reason for that?"
"Yes, I do." Cloud replied. "I think its because the dreams are attacking the person I care about most."
Aeris rested her head on Clouds shoulder. "Cloud "
They stared at each other for a few moments and then began to move closer
"Hey, pipe down will ya!" came Cids irritated voice. "Cant a man get any sleep around here?"
Cloud groaned and released Aeris from his arms. "Cid, go to sleep."
"Fine, gnight all," he said as he turned over in his cot.
"Goodnight Cloud," Aeris said. She gently kissed him on the cheek and returned to her cot.
Cloud mumbled to himself. Just like Cid to ruin a perfect moment, he thought to himself. Ill show Aeris how a really feel one day, without Cid nearby.
Cloud yawned and lied down on his cot. Thanks to Mr. Holzoffs information, Cloud knew the teams next stop would be the great Gaea cliffs. They certainly had a big day tomorrow.
* * *
"Are you sure they went this way?" Barret asked Reno. They had just reach the northern continent and once again, Tandens sub has disappeared from view.
"You dont think its another hidden passage, do you?" Vincent queried.
"That could be," Reno replied. "They disappeared off the near the North Crater, so lets search there."
Reno turned the sub towards the Crater. It had been a year since they last visited the Crater and it was not one of Renos favorite spots. He matched Tandens course exactly, and sure enough, they found another hidden passage.
"Well, that was easy," Barret commented. "The hard part is gonna be finding him."
"Ive got something on sonar!" Reno shouted from his pilots station. "Its Tandens sub!"
"Good, where is it?" Barret asked.
"A little ways to the north of us." Reno piloted the sub towards the green blip on the sonar. The green blip suddenly stopped.
"Um, Reno?" Barret asked. "Do you know where that sub just parked?"
"Yeah, about a mile north of here," Reno responded.
"Well, yeah, but " Barret paused for a moment. "They parked directly under the North Crater."
"Impossible," Tifa said. "We searched that Crater through and through about a year ago, and there were no secret entrances or anything."
"Well baby, they sure look like theyre under there," Reno said as he looked at the location on the sonar.
Suddenly, the sub jerked.
"What was that?" Yuffie shouted.
Reno scrambled to the sonar. "The walls are getting smaller. We just scratched the side. I hope this isnt a trap. If this cave ends abruptly, the subs gonna get crushed."
Reno eased off the gas a little.
The cave continued to shrink, but soon opened abruptly. Barret gazed out the side window and saw that they had entered a large cavern. Towards the side of the cavern, Barret spotted several submarines parked in old, wooden docks.
"Well, well, well," Reno said, rolling his eyes. "Yet another finding in this cursed crater. I swear, if Shinras cannon was still operating, Id blow this place away."
"Quit your complaining, Reno," Elena said.
Reno frowned but then turned back to the sonar. "Shall we dock?"
"Sure," Barret replied. "Lets find out what this Operation Nova crap is all about."
Reno gently parked the sub into one of the wooden docks. He opened the hatch and everyone filed out onto the dock. There was a door at each end of the docking platform.
"Well, looks like we need to split up again," Reno commented. "Us Turks will go right. You Avalanchers go left. Well meet back here in about an hour."
"Yes sir!" Barret said, snapping a sarcastic salute.
"Oh joy " Reno mumbled as the Turks started towards the right passage.
"I swear, one day Im just gonna pop that sucker and be done with it!" Barret exclaimed a little too loudly.
Tifa sighed. "Lets go."
They entered the left passage and found themselves in a small, rocky cavern. The ceiling was about fifteen feet high and the room was about fifty feet wide.
"Look!" Tifa spotted a small, steel door in the floor near the wall. It was large enough for about three people to fit through at once.
"Shall we take a look?" Barret suggested. He reached down and pulled up on the door handle. The door made a loud clanging sound and then popped open.
Inside was a long, metallic hallway. The hallway was brightly lit.
"Why do I feel like were walking into the lions den?" Tifa asked.
"I know how ya feel, Teef," Barret replied. "If this is a base or something, its awfully quiet."
"It is rather quiet, for a change," came a very familiar voice.
Barret grumbled. "Tanden, you punk! Cmon out!"
A door on the side of the hallway opened. Tanden stepped out. He was alone and looked surprisingly calm.
"Welcome to one of Project Novas many bases," Tanden said. "Oh yes! Would you like to meet the leader of Project Nova? I believe youve met before."
The door at the end of the hallway opened and short, pudgy man stepped out. The man stepped into the light, and Barrets heart sank into his knees.
"It cant be " Barret mumbled.
Tifa stood staring in shock as well.
Yuffie looked confused. "You know this punk, Barret? Tifa?"
"I cant believe it," Barret said, too stunned to move. "We thought you died on the Sector 7 pillar."
"Apparently not," Wedge said for the first time. "Welcome to my home away from home, Barret, Tifa." Wedge looked behind them and saw the other Avalanche members. "I see youve made some new friends."
"Wedge, youre behind this?" Barret asked. "Why? We fought to save the planet together! Side by side, against the Shinra! Why are you now involved with this scheme?"
Wedge frowned. "Yea, I fought to save the planet, but what did the planet give me in return? Nothing! Even you gave up on me! This is my revenge against a planet that has caused me far too much trouble. The surface of this planet is corrupt and vile. But, underneath, it is pure."
"What are you gonna to the surface?" Tifa asked angrily.
Wedge smirked. "Tanden hasnt told you? Well, its a brilliant plan, if I do say so myself. My explosives made those earthquakes youre having. We needed powerful explosives to carve out these underground caverns. Unfortunately, the explosives set the Earths tectonic plates. I could explain plate tectonics to you, but youre probably too stupid to understand anyway. Once the caverns are carved out, I will launch a bomb carrying all the gas Tanden has stolen into the atmosphere. By detonating it high enough in the atmosphere, the gas will stream down all over the planet, killing every single life form. After that, cities will be built in the caverns and a new civilization will begin, with me at the helm!"
"Youre a murderer " Tifa said through grit teeth.
"Murderer? Thats harsh," Wedge replied. "I prefer to think of myself as the savior for the human race. The surface will be completely ridden of natural gas within a few years. The surface will eventually destroy itself. Im merely . speeding up the process."
"Thats no excuse to kill millions and millions on innocent people!" Barret exclaimed.
"Oh, but it is Barret," Wedge said evilly. "But now, Im afraid I have business to attend to. Ill leave you in the capable hands of Tanden and his men."
The door at the end of the hallway opened again and Wedge exited.
Tanden stood in front of them with a huge smirk on his face. The doors next to him suddenly opened and a dozen men came out of each.
Tanden glanced at his men and then back at Avalanche once more. Then, he spoke:
"You may fire when ready!"
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