"These are the slums of Midgar?" Lyria whispered, staring about in open-mouthed shock at the hellhole around her.
"Yup. Home sweet home," Barret said, sweeping an arm around grandly. "This is as close to hell as youre going to get "
"People live here?"
"People survive here. Or they try to. You cant call this a life," Tifa said sadly.
"Id heard the slums were terrible, but I had no idea " Lyria looked near tears as she watched a little girl in a tattered pink dress playing in the area between the worn down buildings, amidst broken glass and chunks of twisted scrap metal. "I I used to go to school at Midgar University I wrote a paper on the condition of the slums and how medical standards were so primitive there. Id never even been to the slums and I made up most of the content of the paper, figuring I could make up for the grade I would get later I got full marks no one on the upper plate is aware of what its like down here "
"We all feel the same way, Lyria but, even if we defeated Sephiroth and stopped the usage of Mako energy, we didnt cure every blemish on the surface of this world not even Holy could have done that " Cloud said, sighing.
"Lets get outta here, this place is depressin. Im glad Shera stayed with Marlene on the Highwind theyre probably down in Costa del Sol soaking up sun and having good times " Cid sighed. "Wherere we supposed to find Reeve?"
"I might have an idea " Lyria said slowly. "Could I borrow the PHS for a moment Cloud?"
"You know his number?"
"I think Ill phone one of the professors at my university hes the head medical professor and I think he might be willing to help " Lyria closed her eyes for a moment, remembering the number. "Ok, here goes " Lyria dialed and held the phone to her ear.
"Well?" Cid pressed.
"Its ringing Hello, Midgar University Reference Desk? Hi, could you put me through to Dr. Gabriel Lewis please? Just tell him its Lyria Kindred calling sure, Ill hold "
"What sorta fruitcake has a name like Gabriel?" Barret whispered to Cid, who grinned.
Lyria glared at them and then suddenly exclaimed. "Dr. Lewis? Its me, Lyria its lovely to hear from you again too, sir I cant talk long I dont want to waste the battery on my PHS Im in the slums of Midgar actually What?...Thank you sir I did enjoy working on that paper, it opened my eyes to a whole new world down here " Lyria glanced at Tifa and rolled her eyes. "Id love to get together with you some time we wont be in Midgar long though huh? Well umm, yes Im still single "
"What on earth would he want to know that for?" Red whispered.
"Im sorry to hear that, sir Yes, Im sure she did Uh huh " Lyria was silent for a few moments. "Oh would you sir? That would be lovely three o clock " she glanced at her watch quickly. "Dear me, thats only forty-five minutes from now no, we can probably make it the usual method, then? Im not sure where the nearest station is, but well do our best. Thank you very much sir Ill see you soon Bye." Lyria handed the PHS back to Cloud. "We have forty-five minutes to get on the next train to the upper plate."
"Thatll be in Wall Market but its heavily guarded to prevent slums people from getting up there " Cloud said. "Its not far really, but how will we get up?"
"Leave it to me."
"Ok, now you four " Lyria gestured at Cloud, Barret, Cid and Vincent, "Will be my bodyguards." The group stood outside the dress store of Wall Market, waiting around for orders.
"What?" Cid asked puzzled. "The hell you need bodyguards for?"
"A woman like me shouldnt be wandering the slums alone I need some protection just look like youll kill anyone who looks at me cross-eyed."
"Goody." Cloud unsheathed his sword.
"Red, I hate to demean you like this, but would you act like a pet?"
"If itll help us get to ShinRa, Ill do it " Red said dubiously.
"Thanks now, Yuffie and Tifa, this is where I need your help come with me weve got to get equipped."
Yuffie and Tifa followed Lyria into the dress store and Cloud uneasily shifted from one foot to the other. "Ive got a really bad feeling about this "
"Its been fifteen minutes what the hell are those three doin in there?" Cid grumbled. No one took any notice when three women in short skirts and high heels exited the building and walked over to their group.
"Cloud?" The tallest woman said, she was wearing a short black skirt and a red halter-top. Knee high leather boots and a chain link belt completed the outfit. She wore only light makeup and her hair was swept into a ponytail high on her head and was held with a diamond clip. The only other trace of jewelry she wore was a jeweled temporary tattoo in the small of her back in the shape of a rose. "Were ready."
"Lyria?!" Cloud exclaimed.
"Us too Cloud!" Tifa giggled. "Recognize this dress? The shopkeeper remembered, bless his heart. He wanted to know if you were interested in any of the latest spring fashions "
"The hell? What you talkin about Tifa?" Cid asked.
"Long story, Cid. Ill tell you later " Barret grinned wickedly at Cloud, who was blushing furiously.
"I feel like such a girl " Yuffie whined. The ninjas one-piece green dress was tight and strapless. She had a naturally fit figure and her short hair was spiked so it stood up and curled slightly.
"We have to get going. Let me do the talking when we get to the station " Lyria set off with Red at her heels, chatting amicably with Tifa and Yuffie. The others followed quickly and caught up just as a slouching man with an unmistakable look of wanton lust in his eyes approached the three girls. Red was growling deep in his throat as the man strode closer.
"Hello ladies anyone of you lookin fer a good time? Hell, why not all three of you?" the man laughed insanely.
"You know, were always up for good times," Lyria batted her eyes naughtily as the four "bodyguards" approached, "but were on business, and these four here " Lyria casually laid a hand on Vincents shoulder, Tifa slipped an arm through Clouds and Yuffie jerked at thumb at Cid. Barret looked menacing enough with his gun arm leveled at the mans head. "These four like to stick to business."
The man yelped and took off at a sprint. Tifa, Lyria, and Yuffie giggled and continued on their way to the station.
"Excuse me? My names Lyria, Dr. Lewis told me to come here " Lyria shyly approached the guard at the entrance to the train.
"Dr. Lewis eh? So hes scouting for a new plaything already dear me that was quick " The guard glanced at Lyrias entourage. "Whore they?"
"Bodyguards, my two best friends, and my precious baby, Reddikins."
"Oh. Ok, well, you can get on the train. It should take you straight to Midgar U. Good luck, pretty lady. If he turns you down, there are welcome arms for comfort here " the guard winked roguishly.
"Thanks. Itll cost you though "
"How much, angel face?"
"More than you could afford," Vincent threatened.
"Ah Ill just be letting you through then " the guard gave the party a last, terrified glance and stepped aside. The compartment they entered was not well maintained, but it was empty. Cid and Barret stood at the doors at opposite ends of the car, to ensure it stayed that way.
"So whats this Dr. Lewis like?" Red asked. "Why did he ask if you were still single?"
"From what Lyrias told me, he sounds worse then Don Corneo " Tifa said.
"Worse? Than that #&#% bastard?" Yuffie exclaimed. "Oh greaaaaaat I want my shuriken back."
"Dont worry. He wont lay a hand on you. Its me hes been after for the past ten years," Lyria assured her. "Hes a bad tempered, lecherous old man with only one eye and its strictly reserved for women. But hes the best doctor in the world so the university keeps him on staff."
"This is the man were getting help from to enter ShinRa headquarters?" Red asked.
"Isnt he going to want something in return?"
"Probably. But he isnt going to get it."
"Well why will he bother helping us then?"
"Hes a sporting old fellow, despite his temper. He likes the thrill of the chase. Hell let me go and try to catch me later. Of course, later, well be long gone."
"Are you sure? This sounds like a terrible risk "
"Ill be fine girls used to do this all the time if they wanted to get passing marks on their exams."
"I dont like the sound of it."
"You dont have to Reddikins; weve got to do it anyway, so we might as well make the most of it "
Lyria knocked on the door to Dr. Lewiss office. "You wait here. Ill signal you when to come in "
"Come on in, if its who I think it is " a grating old voice called.
"Doctor?" Lyria entered the room and closed the door behind her, but not all the way.
"Lyria! So good to see you, pet! So you finally gave up, huh? Well thats lovely come here my darling, no sense wasting time." There was a ruffle of paper heard outside the door as Dr. Lewis swept the documents off his desk.
"Could we address a rather pressing matter first, sir?"
"Quickly my dear, quickly "
"Well I need to get into ShinRa headquarters "
"Do you, darling? Thats lovely theres a ball going on this evening to initiate the new head of Sciences at the company and I have a couple extra invitations "
"Do you? Do you think you could get me and a friend in?"
"Please, doctor " Lyrias voice had taken on a cajoling tone. "I promise, if you help us out, Ill let you catch me "
There was an audible click in the hallway as Vincent flicked off the safety of the small revolver in his hand.
"All right angel, but remember, you promised and what better time to keep a promise than now "
"Sorry, doctor " Lyria clapped her hands and everyone entered the room, weapons leveled at Dr. Lewis. "Not right now."
The doctor was squat and had grizzled gray hair and a patch over one eye. He laughed raucously as the team entered the room. "Good show Lyria! Brought a few toys for me to play with?"
Tifa wrapped her arms around Clouds neck and Yuffie yelled a long string of expletives that should most likely not have been in her vocabulary.
"Ho, ho, ho I like the young one, shes got spunk but you remember your promise, Lyria " Dr. Lewis handed her two cards with a stylized version of the ShinRa logo on the front.
"Of course, sir."
"Now, whos the one coming with you?"
Every eye in the room turned to Vincent.
"You? This is a classy party, young man. You cant show up looking like a cadaver."
"Not looking like that, you arent. A pretty thing like Lyria on your arm? Unlikely my boy, highly unlikely."
"I do want him to come, Dr. Lewis " Lyria said, finally glancing at Vincent.
"If your pretty little heart is set on it " the doctor rummaged in his desk for a moment and tossed Lyria a roll of bills. "Go buy some nice looking clothes."
"Doctor, there must be over four thousand Gil here!"
"Buy some really nice looking clothes."
"Sir, I cant accept this "
"Just go, my dear! The salary of a doctor and a professor allows for a lot."
"T-thank you sir "
"Take him," Dr. Lewis jerked his head at Vincent, "to the tailor on ShinRa Avenue. Tell the manager I sent him."
"Lyria, could we go to Chez Elle to get you a gown?" Tifa asked excitedly. "Its a gorgeous place its where I got my wedding gown "
"Lets go then, the partys tonight, so we dont have much time "
"All right, Cid, you go get rooms at an inn near ShinRa Avenue so we have somewhere to get ready "
"How many rooms?"
"Three should be enough maybe four " Tifa answered, grabbing Lyrias arm and pulling her to the door. "Come on, Yuffie."
"Right behind ya Tifa!"
"Hey! Wait a minute! You took all the $#%$& money!" Barret shouted.
"Oh, bother " Dr. Lewis pulled out another roll of bills threw it to Barret. "Dont let your women run off with it this time."
"We wont " Cloud assured him. "Lets get going too "