Underground Empire Chapter 5

By Dan Schmidt

The soldiers readied their aim, barrels pointed directly at the heads of Avalanche.

Barret, thinking quickly, spotted a fire alarm right next to him. With one quick movement, he slammed his elbow into the alarm.

Sirens blared, and the soldiers lost their concentration for a second.

But a second was all Barret needed.

"Move!" he shouted as Avalanche took off down the hall. Barret turned around and let off a few rounds, sending the soldiers scurrying for cover.

"To the sub! Run!" Barret’s holler echoed throughout the hallway. He nearly yanked the hallway door off its hinges as he and the others ran out. He could see the docks from here. Barret quickly ran up to the docks and ripped up an old board. He ran back to the door and slid the board into the handle.

"Nice thinking, Barret," Tifa commented.

Barret smiled, but suddenly the board was shattered as the door burst open. Tanden, in the lead, quickly bashed Barret over the head with the butt end of his rifle. He then turned his aim towards Tifa.

Tifa saw Tanden and squeezed her eyes shut tightly, waiting for him to fire. She heard a gun shot, but didn’t feel anything. She opened her eyes and saw Tanden grasping his wrist in pain and Reno standing next to her, gun barrel still smoking.

"You owe me one, sweetcakes," he said.

Tifa rolled her eyes. "Wait…what about Barret?"

"No time," Reno replied. "We gotta get outta here. They’ll shut the doors on this place any second."

"But, we can’t leave Barret!" Tifa exclaimed.

"They aren’t gonna kill him," Reno said, starting off towards the sub. "He’s a hostage. Now hurry up!"

Bullets whizzed by Tifa’s head and she took off after Reno.

The guards gave minimal pursuit. They all fired shots at the Avalanchers as they entered the sub. They’re attention was mostly on Barret, though, who was slowly beginning to stir.

Once everyone was on the sub, Reno began to pull out of the dock.

A large, steel door was beginning to close at the exit of the dock.

"Reno, floor it!" Elena called. "If they close that door, we’re trapped."

"The thought had crossed my mind!" Reno snapped back sarcastically.

The doors creaked closer together as Reno pushed as much speed as he could from the sub. The sub seemed to inch forward. Reno tensed as the sub passed through the doors. A loud screeching sound rang out as the sub rubbed against the edges of the doors.

But, the sub pulled out through just in time.

Back on the dock, Tanden looked on, still holding his wrist.

"Sir, should we attempt to intercept?" a soldier questioned.

"No, negative," Tanden replied. "We’ve got a bargaining chip now." He motioned to Barret. "They’ll be back. I guarantee it."

* * *

"Are these cliffs always this cold, or is it just when I’m around?" Cid complained as they stood at the base of the Gaea Cliffs.

"I don’t know how Shera stand your complaining!" Aeris grumbled. "You’d probably moan and complain if the remote control fell out of your lap!"

That shut Cid up.

They had only been outside for a few minutes, but that was all it took to get Cid started.

"It’s still cold!" Cid said. "My toes are frozen, my ears are frozen, and my fingers could pass as popsicles!"

Aeris clenched her teeth. "If you don’t shut up, I’m going to kick you as hard as I can in the groin."

Cid winced at the thought and immediately shut his mouth.

Cloud couldn’t help but laugh. "Maybe some gloves and winter boots would’ve been better items to pack instead of those five bags of tortilla chips, Cid."

Cid was about to retort, but then caught site of Aeris’s glare and decided to keep his mouth shut. "Better to freeze than starve…" he mumbled under his breath.

"Well, its about time we tackled these cliffs," Cloud said. He opened up his backpack and pulled out some rope. He through the rope up and the grappling hook at the end caught onto a large rock.

"Up we go," Cloud said as he began to scale the huge cliffs. Aeris followed him, and Cid was at the rear, mumbling as usual.

"I’m starting to get a headache…" Cloud said. "That may be a sign that Jenova is near. I just hope it doesn’t get to be too much to bear."

"Hang in there, Cloud," Aeris said. "Well stop at that cave up there." She pointed to a small cave in face of the cliff.

After several minutes of climbing, they reached the cave. Cid immediately ripped open a bag of tortilla chips and began munching loudly.

Cloud sat down against the wall. His head still was hurting, but not pounding like the other headaches he had been having.

"Jenova must be close," Cloud said. "That’s why I only have a slight headache. Jenova isn’t giving me this headache voluntarily. I felt the same kind of headache in the North Crater before we beat Sephiroth."

"The sooner we find it, the better," Aeris said. "Let’s move on." She looked at Cid, who was indulged in his tortilla chips. "C’mon Cid, we’re going."

Cid grumbled and stuffed one last handful of chips into his mouth.

They took a few steps deeper into the cave when the ground started to rumble.

"What’s going on?" Cid said through a mouthful of chips.

The ground tore out from under them and they began to fall. They fell for a few seconds and then hit a slippery ice surface. They slid down the ice for about minute before they flew off into a pile of snow.

"What was that?!" Cid exclaimed.

"Nevermind what it was, where did it take us?" Cloud said.

They looked around and saw that they were in a small cavern. The room was about fifteen feet across and fifteen wide, but the ceiling was more than one hundred feet above them.

"How are we gonna get out now?" Cid asked.

"That’s the $64,000 question," Cloud replied. "It’d be impossible to climb out of here and I don’t think we’d have much luck going back up that ice slide."

"So we’re stuck," Cid announced. "Wonderful." He glanced at Cloud. "You’re the leader, get us out of here."

"I’m thinking, I’m thinking!" Cloud looked up. The ceiling was almost blurry it was so far away. "Cid, you have rope, don’t you?"

Cid quickly ruffled through his bag. "Yep, sure do. One hundred and fifty feet of it. I don’t see what good it’ll do down here."

"Give me a bag of tortilla chips, too," Cloud added.

Cid grabbed his two remaining bags possessively. "Why?"

"Do you want to get out of here or not?" Cloud glared at Cid.

Cid looked at his bag of chips and then reluctantly gave them to Cloud. Cloud opened up the bag and ate a big handful of chips.

"Hey!" Cid exclaimed.

Cloud smiled as he offered some chips to Aeris. "A thinking man has to eat!" Cloud grinned from ear to ear. "Okay, seriously now. Aeris, give me your staff."

Aeris handed him the staff. Cloud stuck the end of the staff inside the bag.

"What’re you doing?" Aeris asked.

"We’re gonna make handholds in the walls here," Cloud explained. "The salt from these chips should help melt the ice a little."

Cloud walked over to the wall and began chipping away with the staff. Sure enough, the ice gave way easily and soon Cloud had a nice foothold. He estimated he’d need atleast 20 more handholds before he could reach the top. Swinging the rope over his shoulder, Cloud began chipping away at another handhold.

After a half-hour of chipping, Cloud was about fifty feet up and the ice seemed to be getting harder and harder. Cloud knew how easily he could slip and fall to his death. Keeping the staff in a firm grip, Cloud started chipping again.

Another half-hour later, the top was about one foot away from Cloud’s grip. One more handhold was all he needed. Chipping away at the ice was now a very difficult task. The ice was extremely hard and thick. He had made a small indentation when he dropped the staff. He felt it bounce off his leg and fall to the ground below.

"ARGH!" Cloud groaned as he pounded his head against the ice. He was so close, but a stupid mistake had cut his trip short. The top was still out of the reach and the small indentation he made in the ice wasn’t large enough for him to put his foot in.

"Hey, watch it!" Aeris screamed from below. The staff must have hit the ground near her.

Cloud suddenly remembered the tortilla chip bag in his back pocket. He carefully dumped the chips out into his hand. Not many were left, but it would have to do. He poured the extra salt from the bag into the indentation and sure enough, the salt dissolved the ice a little. He shoved the tortilla chips into the small hole and smashed them with his fist. The ice began to dissolve away a little, but Cloud thought the handhold was now big enough to support him.

He grabbed into the handhold and pulled himself up a little. Reaching out with his other hand, he grabbed the edge of the cliff. Suddenly, the handhold collapsed and his hand fell away. Cloud was now hanging on to the edge of the cliff with one hand. His fingers aching, Cloud struggled to pull himself up. He finally got a grip with both hands. He pulled himself all the way up to the top of the cliff and just lied in the snow for a minute.

"Hey Cloud! Today, please?" came Cid’s irritated voice.

Cloud sprung up and lowered the rope down. He felt someone tug at the end and he began to pull the rope up. He pulled the rope to a nearby tree, where he wrapped the rope around to give himself more leverage.

Finally, Aeris’s hand came up over the cliff. Cloud tied the rope to the tree and ran over to help Aeris up. Aeris pulled herself up and sat down in the snow.

"Thanks, Cloud," she said, smiling. "Better help Cid."

Cloud smiled. "How about we leave him down there?"

Aeris playfully shoved Cloud. "That’s mean!"

"I know, I know." Cloud shook the rope to let Cid know it was okay to climb up. Cloud didn’t bother helping Cid climb, he knew Cid would be fine on his own.

"You want some chips?" Aeris asked.

"I guess," Cloud replied. "Hey! You didn’t steal those from Cid, did you?"

Aeris smiled. "Maybe…"

"That’s mean!" Cloud said, doing a mocking imitation of Aeris.

Cid finally made his way to the top. "Hey!" he shouted. "Those are my chips! How did you get them?"

"Aren’t you going to thank Cloud?" Aeris asked, trying to hide the chips.

Cid glanced at Cloud. "Yeah, thanks." He turned back to Aeris. "Gimme those chips!"

* * *

Tanden threw Barret roughly on the floor in front of Wedge. The phony colonel smiled and walked out of the room. The room looked like a huge version of the Highwind’s bridge. Computer monitors sat on every desk, but the room was empty, save for Wedge and Barret. Wedge sat in what looked like a captain’s chair on the bridge of a naval cruiser.

"Good day, Barret," Wedge said.

Barret remained silent. His ribs, already previous injured from the explosion in Midgar, were now searing with pain from the beating Tanden had given him. Barret’s hands were bound behind his back.

"You know Barret, this can be easy or hard," Wedge said. "I’m going to let you decide which."

Barret grunted. "How about I ask you a question? Why Wedge? Why? We fought to save the planet together!"

"I though I discussed this earlier," Wedge said. "Fighting for the planet didn’t gain me anything, but it cost me everything. My home, my family, my friends, and almost my life. Sometimes, I almost wish Reno would’ve killed me up on that Sector 7 pillar. But things are different now. This wretched planet doesn’t deserve the help you give it. You save it, but what does it give back to you? Nothing!"

"It gives more back than you can imagine, Wedge," Barret replied. "It gives you life. It gives you a home, and water, and food! Saving the planet also helps us. Without this planet, we have no where to live."

"It’s not the planet I’m exactly angry at," Wedge said. "It’s the surface of this planet. The surface and the people. People are stupid, ignorant, and dangerous. But this planet keeps supplying them with the things they need to live. Shinra nearly destroyed this planet with their Mako reactors, but the planet didn’t release WEAPONS or anything to stop them. Is this planet so stupid that it doesn’t care about its own well being? If that’s the case, then I am helping this planet by destroying the execrable people on the surface who are laying waste to their home. And since the planet is too stupid to fight against the one’s destroying it, I’ll destroy the entire surface as well. Not only will I kill all the people, but all wildlife, all plants, all water, my special weapon will eliminate all of those things. The surface will be reduced to an inhospitable wasteland. Underneath, though, will be a world full of peaceful and safe life."

"With you as the supreme dictator," Barret spat out.

"I prefer to think of it as President, but it’s basically the same thing," Wedge said with a smirk. "But, I help my people live a perfect life. The human race will be purified, thanks to me."

"You’re slime," Barret said. "I wanna rip your throat out."

Wedge smiled. "I’m sure you do. Do you know who caused the earthquake in Corel?"

Barret eyes went wide. He had completely forgotten about Corel since he had discovered Wedge!

"You… I’m gonna kill you, Wedge," Barret said. Even with his arm chained, Barret still thought he could take Wedge. He leaped to his feet and crashed into Wedge with his shoulder. Wedge was flung back against the captain’s chair. Barret leaped on top of Wedge and gave him a head-butt. Wedge rolled over and got back to his feet. Barret tried to charge Wedge again. Wedge sidestepped him and grabbed Barret’s chained arms. He pushed Barret forward and slammed him into the captain’s chair. Barret collapsed to the floor, head bleeding. Wedge pulled Barret up by his shirt and punched him in the face. Wedge then threw him into the seat of the captain’s chair. Barret sat in the chair, bleeding and stunned.

"Corel was the first of many, Barret!" Wedge said loudly. "Several populated cities will soon follow. And once I have destroyed the surface, I have scheduled to have you publicly executed. Of course, your friends will all be dead then, so no one will be able to save you." Wedge pressed a button on the intercom on the wall. "Send in the troops to take Barret to his new cell," Wedge spoke into the intercom. "Be careful, little Barret may have a cut or two."

Several troops ran into the room. They grabbed Barret roughly and dragged him out of the room. Barret’s injured ribs burned in pain. His face was streaked in blood and he had a large gash on his forehead. Barret looked back into the room and saw Wedge rubbing his back a little. Barret narrowed his eyes and vowed to stop Wedge himself.

The troops dragged him down a large hallway and stopped in front of a large metal door. One troop opened the door and then push Barret in. Barret fell down hard against the solid rock floor of the cell.

The cell was about twelve feet high and had an area of about twenty feet. The floor was solid rock and walls were made of concrete blocks. Barret suddenly got an idea. The concrete blocks looked a little damaged from the constant explosive blasts Wedge used to hollow out the caverns. Barret looked at his gun arm and began to chip away at the wall with it.

* * *

"So, our primary objective is to stop Wedge," Reno stated.

Avalanche and the Turks were seated around a table in the hotel in Kalm. They had parked the sub outside of Midgar and were now discussed their strategy.

"What about Barret?" Tifa asked. "We can’t leave him alone down there with Wedge for to long."

"I’m afraid stopping Wedge from launching his bomb into the atmosphere is a more important matter," Reno replied. "If we can rescue Barret in the process, well, that’s good for you."

"Hold on a minute!" Yuffie cried out. "Will someone tell me who Wedge exactly is?"

Tifa sighed. "Wedge, as you know, is the man behind this Project Nova. But, before that, he was part of Avalanche when it was just me, Barret, Cloud, and two other people whom supposedly died along with Wedge, Biggs and Jessie."

"We found Biggs and Jessie’s bodies on a recent excursion to Sector 7," Rude said. "Wedge hired us to find their bodies. Why he hired us, we don’t know."

"So, Wedge was… your friend?" Yuffie asked.

"Yep, but he’s much different now." Tifa replied "I almost don’t believe that it is really Wedge behind this."

"Okay, okay, enough of this," Reno said. "How are we going to stop Wedge?"

"Well, if the reports of these MonoA93 gas thefts are correct, Wedge doesn’t have enough gas to launch his bomb yet," Red stated. "He still needs several tons of the gas. Reno, do you happen to know where MonoA93 gas is stored?"

"It’s usually stored wherever there’s a reactor," Reno replied. "Midgar still has some gas left, Gongaga has some, Fort Condor has some, and I think Nibelheim still has some."

"That’s four places. How do we know which one they’ll hit?" Tifa asked.

"I doubt they’d go back to Midgar just yet," Reno commented. "Fort Condor would be the obvious choice, as it’s close to Midgar, but Wedge isn’t stupid. Fort Condor is too obvious, so it’ll either be Gongaga or Nibelheim."

"I say we split up and take both cities," Tifa said.

"Agreed," Reno said. "Elena, Rude, and I will go to Nibelheim…"

"Whoa, wait a minute," Tifa interrupted. "Nibelheim is my home town. I’m going there too."

"I feel the same way," Vincent added. "Nibelheim is where I met Lucrecia, so it’s an important city to me, too. I’d like to go with you guys."

Reno sighed. "Very well. Elena, Rude, Tifa, Vincent and I will go to Nibelheim. Red, Reeve and Yuffie will go to Gongaga."

Suddenly, a small glass fell off a shelf on the wall and smashed on the ground.

"What the…?" Reno started.

The ground began to rumble and more glasses fell to the floor, shattering. The shaking became more violent. Furniture began to move. The floorboards snapped.

"This place is coming down!" Reeve exclaimed. He raced for the door and pulled it open. "C’mon! Run!" he called.

Tifa was the first to make it to the door. She leaped over a fallen beam and landed outside. She looked back and saw Vincent come running out behind her.

Reeve stood just outside the doorway, motioning for the others to run.

A floorboard snapped under Reno and his leg fell down into the floor. Rude ran over and pulled him up quickly. By now, beams and pieces of the ceiling were falling all around them. Reno spotted Elena exiting through a nearby window and motioned for Rude to follow him. The two Turks leaped through the window after Elena.

The electrical sockets sparked. A lamp fell to the floor with a crashed. A shard of glass flew into the nearby electrical socket. The socket sparked violently and the shades caught fire. The fire spread up the shades and the wooden walls caught fire.

Yuffie saw Red leap through the door. Reeve was motioning for her to hurry. Yuffie ducked her head and charged for the door. Suddenly, a beam ripped from the wall and landed on the back of Yuffie’s knee. Yuffie shrieked and fell to the ground.

The ceiling was now on fire. Chunks of burning wood fell to the floor. Reeve saw Yuffie lying helplessly on the floor, with the heavy beam on top of her leg. Reeve raced back into the burning building. Avoiding falling beams and the fire, he made his way to Yuffie. He grabbed the heavy beam and slowly lifted it off Yuffie’s leg. With the beam discarded, Reeve grabbed Yuffie’s arm and pulled her up.

"Can you run?" Reeve asked her.

"Yeah," Yuffie replied. "But I’ll need help."

Yuffie put her arm around Reeve’s neck and they both headed towards the door. Yuffie’s leg was in bad condition. She limped on it badly as they hurried towards the door.

The ground began shaking violently again. The whole building began to shake. Reeve threw Yuffie out the door and dove just as the building came down. Reeve covered his head as debris from the building flew all around him.

When the dust cleared, everyone appeared to be okay. Yuffie was propped up against a tree. Her knee wasn’t as bad as she had initially thought.

Tifa, Red, and Vincent were helping other citizens. The Turks were sitting together by a burning building, talking about something.

"This was the work of Wedge," Reeve said to himself. "We have to stop him, fast."


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