Underground Empire Chapter 7

By Dan Schmidt

Barret looked down at the floor beneath him one last time. He then looked at the large fabric screen next to him. He took a deep breath. "Here goes nothing."

Barret kicked out the vent and leaped onto the projection screen. He grabbed onto a large metal hook that helped hold up the screen. He quickly grabbed his pack of matches from his pocket and lit one. He held up it to the screen and burned a small hole in it. Barret smashed his gun-arm through the hole.

"Here I go again," he said as he began sliding down the screen, tearing it down the middle with his gun-arm. If his arm fell out from the hole, Barret would probably break his other leg.

But he didn't. Barret slid down the screen and then hit the bottom hard on his bad leg. Pain shot up through his body and he cried out.

"Stupid," he said to himself. "Now they probably know someone's in here." Barret stood up and hobbled over to the computer terminals, looking for the ones that controlled the explosives that triggered the earthquakes. He searched for a few more seconds until he heard footsteps coming from outside the room. Barret suddenly found the correct computer terminal. He raised his arm to smash it…

"Stop right there!" a familiar voice said.

Barret turned and saw Wedge and two other men standing at the entrance to the control room. The two men were armed with assault rifles.

"I'll smash it Wedge," Barret said. "So help me God, I'll smash it and you can say good-bye to you underground caverns."

"Go right ahead!" Wedge said. "If you do, you'll be killed on the spot. And besides, most of the caverns are already hollowed out. I could live with what we have now."

"You're not gonna get away with this Wedge," Barret said.

"Oh yes I am," Wedge said. He looked at Barret closely. "I think it's time I told you the truth, Barret."

"The truth?" Barret said loudly. "The truth that you're an uncaring scumbag? I know that already."

"No, the truth about my past," Wedge said. "When we were in Avalanche, I wasn't really trying to help you save the planet."

"What do you mean?" Barret said.

"What I mean is," Wedge said, "During our time in Avalanche, I was really a Shinra spy."

"No…" Barret said in disbelief. "No, I don't believe it. It's not true. You helped us blow up those reactors! You fought against the Turks on the pillar!"

"That's what I appeared to be doing," Wedge said. "How do you think Shinra found out that your hideout was in the Sector 7 slums? How do you think they found that you were doing to bomb Number 5 Reactor and ambushed you with that Airbuster? I told them, Barret. I gave them all the information they needed to know."

"That's a dirty rotten lie!" Barret shouted. "We fought side by side! I saved your neck and you saved mine!"

"Barret, I needed you alive so Shinra could find out how to kill all of your at once!" Wedge replied. "I had no part in blowing up those reactors, but I let you go because then Shinra could have a reason to have you executed! Think about it, Barret! You know this is true! I took that dive off the Sector 7 pillar so that Shinra troops could come in and save me! Aeris went to help Marlene and Shinra troops helped me escape! Barret, you KNOW this is true!"

"It all seems to make sense…" Barret said. "The change of the ID checkpoints on the train, how Shinra knew we were at the Number 5 reactor, how they found our hideout in the Sector 7 slums. I can't believe, but I have to."

"After the pillar incident, I quit Shinra to pursue other matters. I think you know what those other matters were now," Wedge said.

"Yeah, they were this plan to kill everyone!" Barret shouted. "You were willing to kill your former employers?"

"They were acceptable casualties," Wedge said. "As are the rest of the people on the surface of this miserable planet!"

"So, you've been scum all along," Barret said. "Now I'll have no remorse when I kill you."

"Kill me? You'll be doing no such thing."

"Watch me." Barret charged at Wedge as fast as he could on his bad leg and leaped at him. Barret's shoulder struck him hard in the chest and Wedge fell backwards, knocking over his two troops as he did. Barret raised his fists and punched Wedge hard in the face. The other two troops began to recover. Barret raised his gun-arm and fired, taking out both of then troops. He then pointed his gun-arm at Wedge's head.

"Good-bye, old buddy," Barret said.

Suddenly, a bullet struck Barret right in the gun-arm. It ricocheted off the gun and imbedded itself in the floor.

Barret looked up at the vent he had come from and saw a soldier readying his aim at Barret.

"We'll finish this later, Wedge," Barret said. He stood up and hobbled out the revolving door. He found himself in a long empty hallway.

"After him!" Barret heard Wedge shout from the Operations Room. In a matter of seconds, Barret would be captured. He had to think fast.

"Looks like I gotta go hide again," he said. He ran down the hallway and found another hallway intersecting it. He turned right and saw a storage closet a little ways down. He hobbled into the closet and hid behind a large desk.

And waited.

* * *

"Cloud, wait up!" Aeris called from behind him.

Cloud turned around and saw her and Cid coming down the side of the Crater. Cloud didn't mean to leave them behind, but he was very anxious to dispose of Jenova once and for all.

He remember how close to death they had come the last time they entered the Whirlwind Maze, him especially. He remembered how he gave Sephiroth the black materia and almost caused the end of the world.

"No, no," Cloud said, trying to push that memory from his mind.

He remembered Rufus, Scarlet, Heidegger, and Hojo being down here, along with fighting the Jenova-DEATH creature. All bad memories he wanted to forget.

"Cloud!" Aeris called again him behind him. "You're not having another Jenova flashback, are you?"

"No, no," Cloud called back. "Just remembering our last trip down here."

Aeris and Cid caught up to Cloud, who was now standing where the ice crystals stood high above their heads.

"That building up just up ahead, where we fought the Jenova-DEATH," Cloud said. "Get ready for anything."

They walked through the field of ice crystals until they reached the area just outside the building. The building was larger than a house, but no where near the size of a building like Shinra Headquarters.

"Who would want to live in a place like this?" Cid asked no one in particular.

"Someone who was doing something they didn't want anyone to find out about," Cloud replied. "And I'm pretty sure that has something to do with Jenova."

Suddenly, they heard something growl a little ways in front of them. Cloud looked up and saw a large wolf standing ahead of them. The wolf was huge and its eyes glowed green.

"That wolf… is a Jenova creature," Cloud said quietly. "Look at the eyes!"

Although the wolf stared directly at them, it didn’t make an attempt to attack. It just continued growling at them.

"I think we can get past it," Cloud said. "It doesn't seem very interested in attacking us. Just walk slowly."

Cloud stood up very slowly and stepped away from the wolf. He stepped a few feet sideways and slowly approached the building. Aeris and Cid followed his lead. The wolf never took its gaze off them, but also didn't move from its position. The wolf suddenly let out a small whimper and lied down in the snow.

Cloud, Aeris, and Cid watched from behind a small pile of snow.

"He sure doesn't seem like a vicious man-eating wolf to me," Cid said. "He has bark, but no bite."

They continued up to the small building. The building was painted gray and it looked to be rather new. There were no windows and only one small door. There was a chimney on the top of the building and smoke was pouring out from it.

"Shall we knock?" Cloud asked. Although he hadn't said it seriously, Cid and Aeris thought it was a good idea. "Okay, here goes." Cloud pounded gently on the door three times. No one answered.

"I guess no one's home," Cid said. "Try knocking harder this time."

Cloud pounded on the door with the outside of his fist. Still, no one answered. They did notice, however, that the smoke in the chimney had stopped.

"So, now what do we do?" Aeris had barely spoken the words when a large net fell on top of them.

"What is this?" Cloud said as he struggled against the net. It appeared to be some sort of shark net. Cloud couldn't reach his sword, so he tried ripping the net apart. That didn't work either.

"Welcome!" shouted a voice that Cloud recognized. He couldn't place who it was, but he remembered hearing the voice sometime during their last adventure.

Suddenly, the door swung open and a tall man stepped out.

Cloud recognized him immediately. "You! You're from the Shinra! You were Hojo's lab assistant!"

"Correct Cloud," he said. "My name is Dran. It's a pleasure to see you again Cloud. And you too, Aeris." He then looked over and saw Cid. "Who might you be?"

"I'm Cid Highwind, ya slimeball," Cid said in his usual tone. "And if you don't let us outta this net, you'll be picking up your teeth outta the snow here!"

"Highwind… yes I remember you now," Dran said. "You're the one who built the Highwind and piloted the Shinra No. 26 rocket. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Enough with the meaningless talk," Cloud said. "What're you doing with Jenova?"

"Jenova?" Dran asked.

"You know perfectly well what I'm talking about!" Cloud replied. "I've been having headaches and nightmares because of it."

"I know," Dran said. "I caused your headaches and nightmares with this!" Dran held up a small jar. Inside the jar was a specimen of some sort. "This here is the final remaining piece of Jenova. I stole it from the Shinra building. Do you know how many Jenova cells are in this specimen? Billions!"

"So… you used that to lure me here," Cloud said. "Why?"

"Why?" Dran asked, now seeming furious. "You know why! Because you ruined my life! You killed Hojo, my boss. You destroyed Shinra, the company I worked for and the one source of income I had! My life was ruined after Shinra was destroyed! But now I'll have my revenge on you, Cloud. I lured you here with this, so I'll destroy you with it."

"How so?" Aeris asked.

"You obviously have seen my army of Jenova-enhanced animals," Dran said. "Just small things, wolves, etc. Imagine what would happen if I create Jenova-enhanced dragons, or maybe a Jenova-enhanced Schizo, like the one you fought on the way up here. Or maybe even a Jenova-enhanced WEAPON!"

"You going to create a Jenova-enhanced WEAPON just to kill us?" Cloud asked skeptically. "How would you even control it?"

"Control it? I would only need to contain it," Dran said. "And it wouldn't only be used to kill you. With a Jenova-enhanced WEAPON, I could take on the entire world! Just the threat of another WEAPON would scare people enough to let me rule!"

"You're a twisted maniac," Aeris said. "How would you even get the planet to create another WEAPON?"

"By simply releasing a sample of Jenova into the area where the WEAPONs sleep," Dran replied. "Just a small sample would be enough to release one. And then, as the WEAPON tries to fly out of the Crater, I will catch in a Materia field."

"Materia field?" Cloud said curiously.

"Yes," Dran replied. "I'm sure you've read how the black materia could be used to create huge force fields around large areas. Normal materia, when used correctly, can do the same. Except, three regular materia orbs can only create a force field the size of a pinhead. So, I created a materia amplifier. It increases the power of materia by nearly seven hundred times its normal rate. And that's another reason I needed you here." He held out his hands. "I need your materia. All of it."

"You'll never get our materia," Cloud said. "Looks like you should've planned this more carefully."

"Oh, I have planned it carefully," Dran said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small handgun. He gently placed the gun up to Aeris's head. "Give your materia to me, or Aeris dies. It's very simple, you see Cloud. I know you wouldn't be able to handle losing Aeris again. So throw all of your materia over in this direction."

Cloud sighed. It looks like Dran had won.

"No Cloud!" Aeris shouted. "Don't give him your materia!"

"Aeris, I…" Cloud sighed again. He reached into his pocket and pulled out all the materia orbs he had. He tossed them over to Dran. Cid did the same.

"Thank you very much," Dran said. He reached into Aeris's bag and stole all of her materia as well. "Now, you all get to live a little longer. Isn't it nice how that works out?"

"We don't need our materia to take down someone as pathetic as you," Cloud said. "You'll have to have eyes in the back of your head."

Dran chuckled. "I may not be a formidable opponent, but I think my Jenova WEAPON will be more than a match for you." Dran produced three sets of handcuffs from his jacket. He cuffed Cloud, Cid, and Aeris's hands behind their backs. He then removed the net.

"Follow me," Dran said as he began walking towards the building. "Oh, and if you try to escape, I'll have you mauled by my little pet you saw earlier."

They had no choice but the follow Dran. Dran lead them into the building and towards a flight of stairs that lead down.

"I built this place entirely by myself," Dran said as they walked. "We're now entering the catacombs. I built this area especially for you."

They walked down the flight of stairs and entered a damp, hollowed out section of a cave. The cave was small, with the only exit being the stairs and the only light came from one lantern placed near the base of the stairs. They soon came open a small cell. The cell was simply a portion of rock surrounded by metal bars.

"Welcome to your room," Dran said. "I hope you find it acceptable."

There were three cots inside the cell. Cloud saw that they were covered with moss and cobwebs.

Dran opened the door to the cell and ushered the three of them inside. He then locked the door and put the key in his pocket.

"If any of you need me," Dran said as he walked back towards the stairs. "I'll be experimenting in my lab. Good-bye, for now."

Cloud waited until Dran's footsteps could no longer be heard to talk. "Cid, help me get these handcuffs off."

Cid walked over to him and turned around so Cloud and him were back to back. Cid then pulled out Cloud's large sword.

"Forgive me if I miss here," Cid said. With his hands still cuffed behind his back, Cid raised the sword as far as he could get it and then thrust it down into Cloud's handcuffs. They all heard a sharp 'clang' as the sword cut the handcuffs neatly apart.

"Thanks Cid," Cloud said. "You're not too bad with the sword."

"What can I say?" Cid replied. "I'm a jack of all trades."

Cloud tore Aeris and Cid's handcuffs apart. Finally, their hands were all free. But they were still trapped in the cell.

"How are we gonna get out of the cell?" Cid asked.

"Leave that to me," Cloud said. He reached into his pocket and pulled a green materia orb he had hidden from Dran.

"What materia is that?" Aeris asked.

"It's Ultima," Cloud said with a smile. "Now, let's use it and get out of this cell."

* * *

Reno, Rude, Elena, Tifa, and Vincent pulled up to Fort Condor and saw that Tanden had already arrived. Hovering above Fort Condor was a large airship, probably being used to airlift the gas.

"Call Red, Reeve, and Yuffie and tell them to get here as soon as possible," Tifa said to Reno. "This is the last gas that Tanden needs, or atleast that's what Red says."

"Elena, you call them." Reno handed her his phone. Reno stared at the airship. He also noticed a small fighter plane hovering next to it. "There's one thing that Tanden was good, and that was flying a fighter jet. He was one of the best pilots in the Shinra Air Force. Why he pursued a career in the Shinra army, I'll never know."

"Who cares," Tifa said. "Let's just stop him from getting this gas." She hurried up the ramp and into Fort Condor.

"You heard the lady," Reno said. He followed Tifa up the ramp and into Fort Condor. Vincent, Rude, and Elena followed him.

Once inside, they met with the old man who had given them the huge materia on their last visit.

"We've done some scouting of the force they have up there," the old man said. "They have only one fighter plane, but that airship is armed and they have ground troops. This battle will be much more difficult than the battle against the Shinra that you fought here a year ago."

"Can you supply us with planes?" Reno asked him.

"Yes, but we only have two serviceable planes at the moment," the old man said. "My strategy would be that one plane attack the fighter jet while the other attacks the airship. Choose your two pilots. The rest of you can help with the ground attack."

"Exactly what I was thinking," Reno said. "You're pretty quick for a geezer."

The old man didn't laugh. "Choose your pilots. I'll be waiting in the lookout tower." The old man got up and headed towards the lookout tower.

"So… who's gonna fly the planes?" Elena asked.

"I'll take one plane and go after Tanden in the fighter jet," Reno said. "I'm probably the only one here who's ever flown a fighter jet."

"I wouldn't be sure, Reno," Vincent said. "I was in the Turks too and I had have some experience flying planes like this. I'll go after the airship."

"Very well," Reno said. "Good luck to the rest of you."

"Good luck Vincent," Tifa said.

"You too, Tifa."

Reno and Vincent hurried up towards the old man in the lookout tower. When they reached him, the old man pressed a lever and the floor began to sink.

"An elevator, huh?" Reno said. "Not bad."

They reached a hangar in the basement of Fort Condor. There were lots of plane pieces scattered all over the floor, but in the middle stood two black planes.

"Holy… these are SR71s!" Reno exclaimed. "How did you get these? Only Shinra was supposed to have any of these."

"We have our ways," the old man said. "Now quickly, get in. We haven't much time. They have already begun to carry out the gas."

Reno and Vincent leaped into the cockpits of their respective planes. They started the engines as the hangar doors began to open.

Vincent wasn't very familiar with the controls of the SR71, but they did look familiar to those of a plane that he had flown before. The hangar doors were now fully opened and Vincent pushed the throttle down and flew out of the hangar. He saw Reno right behind him. Reno began to make a beeline for Tanden's jet.

"Here goes nothing," Vincent said as he pushed the yoke towards the airship.

* * *

"Your friends are successfully away in their planes," the old man said to Tifa, Elena, and Rude. "Now, you need to head out to the battle field. Some of the Fort Condor army is already out there. Assist them in any way you can."

Tifa, Rude, and Elena rushed out onto the battlefield as quickly as they could. Once there, they saw that the Project Nova army had engaged the Fort Condor army. The Project Nova army appeared to outnumber the Fort Condor one, but Tifa guessed that the Fort Condor army had better training.

"Well, let's help them out," Tifa said. She rushed into the battle and let her instincts takes over. She downed one soldier with a quick kick to the gut. Another soldier tried to come up behind her, but Tifa swung around and connected with an uppercut.

The battle now seemed to be in favor of Fort Condor. Rude and Tifa stood in the front lines, taking down every enemy with their fists. Elena stood behind them, casting her fire spell and healing when needed. The Fort Condor army added some much-needed firepower.

"Look over there!" Tifa pointed to several troops carrying canisters up a rope ladder and into the airship. "Those troops are getting away with the gas." She ran over to the gas stealing troops.

"Let's help her out," Elena said. She, Rude, and three other Fort Condor troops followed Tifa towards the gas stealers.

Tifa reached them first and planted a kick into one soldier's gut. The soldier dropped his canister of gas and fell to the ground. Some soldiers from the main battlefield saw what was happened and ran over to assist the gas stealers.

Three soldiers surrounded Tifa. Tifa readied her fists, but the soldiers raised their rifles and pointed them at her end. Tifa closed her eyes and heard a single gunshot.

One of the soldiers dropped to the ground with a bullet in his forehead. Rude raised his pistol again and fired two more shots, taking out the remaining stunned soldiers.

"Thanks Rude," Tifa said gratefully. She turned around and caught another soldier sneaking up behind her with an uppercut.

Elena now rushed over to where Tifa and Rude were standing. The gas stealers were still loading canisters onto the airship. Elena concentrated on her fire spell and cast it on a group of gas stealers. Two of the gas stealers dropped their canisters on themselves when the fire attack stunned them; the other troops shook it off and continued towards the airship.

Tifa ran up behind the troops and swept her leg out in front of her. One of the troopers' legs gave out from under him and the canister fell on his chest. Tifa jumped kick the next troop in line. He fell forward into the first troop and knocked him over. Both troops fell with their gas canisters on top of them.

Tifa looked at the rope ladder and saw one last remaining troop climbing up it. The rope ladder began to get pulled up into the airship. Suddenly, two black jets flew over her head. Tifa squinted and could barely make out Vincent in the cockpit of one of the planes.

"Good luck Vincent," Tifa said quietly.

* * *

Reno pushed the yoke forward into a collision course with Tanden's jet. Calling Reno's bluff, Tanden refused to move his plane in inch. Reno pulled up on the yoke and flipped on the wing cannon. The original SR71s had no weapons, but the Fort Condor technicians had added a gattling gun on the left wing side and two missiles on each wing tip.

"Let's see how good your skills are, Tanden," Reno said. He twisted the plane behind Tanden's and fired off a few rounds with the gattling gun. Tanden easily avoided the shots and pulled his plane straight up. Reno followed Tanden's course and tried to get a lock with his wingtip missiles. Tanden swerved the left and Reno again matched his move. The screen in front of Reno glared red. He had a missile lock! Without hesitation, he fired his right wing missile. Tanden pushed his yoke downward towards the Fort Condor hillside. The missile began to gain on Tanden, but Reno knew what Tanden was doing. Just before smashing into the hillside, Tanden pushed the yoke straight up and the missile smashed into the hillside below. Reno surprised Tanden by firing off a few rounds with his gattling gun. One of the shots struck Tanden's plane in the tip of the wing.

"Nice shooting Reno," Tanden said over the plane's radio. "Now, let's see how good you do when I take the offensive." Tanden swerved his plane to the left and came up behind Reno. Tanden fired off a few shots with his machine gun, but Reno easily avoided them. Reno screen suddenly glared red. Tanden had a missile lock on him! Reno thrust his yoke up and then pushed it back down again. He swerved to the left and then back to the right. Reno saw the missile blast out in front of him. Not hesitating, Reno fired his gattling gun at the missile. Several bullets hit the projectile and it exploded into a blaze of red and orange.

"Not bad, Reno," Tanden said. "But, you've given me what I needed. Look behind you."

Reno glimpsed behind and saw Tanden's plane not twenty feet away from his tail.

"Oh crap," Reno muttered. He tilted his plane downward and then back up, but Tanden matched his moves perfectly.

"Good-bye Reno," Tanden said. The last remaining missile of Tanden's blared to life and shot out towards Reno's plane. It was too close and Reno had no chance of avoiding it. He closed his eyes.

The sound of the missile exploding rang out through Reno's ears, but oddly, no warnings were present on the screen in front of him. He turned around and saw the aftermath of the missile's explosion. He also saw Vincent's plane sweeping through the explosion remnants. Vincent had used his machine gun to blow up the missile before it could hit Reno.

"Thanks Vincent," Reno said.

"That's the first time you've ever been grateful to someone from Avalanche," Vincent said coolly.

"I won't tell if you won't," Reno said with a smile. He turned and saw Tanden's place flying off in the other direction. "Looks like Tanden's being his usual cowardly self. Hey, what about the airship?"

"They had heavy artillery on it," Vincent said. "I did a little damage, but I could hold out very long against it. It began to fly off and that's when I saw you were in trouble." Vincent saw the battlefield below was quiet. "Let's head back."

Once back inside, Vincent and Reno met up with Tifa, Elena, and Rude. They also noticed that Red, Reeve, and Yuffie had arrived.

"Well, how'd we do down here?" Reno asked as they sat around a table.

"They got away with most of the gas, but we have about seventeen of their troops here," Tifa informed him.

"If my totals of the gas are correct, Project Nova should have pretty much all the gas they need now," Red said.

"So that means we have to head to their base to try to stop?" Elena asked nervously. "Doesn't sound like very much fun."

"They should be prepared to launch the bomb as soon as Tanden's delivers that gas to Wedge," Red said. "The fate of the world rests in our hands again."

"Looks like we should head to Corel, then," Reno said. "It'll probably be the easiest place to gain access to Wedge's main base."

"If Barret were here, I know exactly what he'd say," Tifa said. She smiled at the other Avalanche members. Reno looked on quizzically.

The Avalanche members spoke in unison: "There ain't no getting' offa this train we're on!"


Go To Chapter 8

Return To FF7 Fanfic