Balance of Power Chapter 2
By Frank Verderosa & Jen Bond
Cid woke up with a groan; he had slept on his arm wrong, and the damn thing was numb. Pushing himself up with his good arm, he sat in bed groggily, the blankets a pool around his waist. His arm felt like a five pound piece of lead and his eyes burned. He was not a morning person.
Once the numbness had worn off and the prickly feeling had subsided, he stumbled out of bed and opened the door. The first thing that assualted him was the smell of coffee and bacon. His stomach promptly began to dance in anticipation and the fog that had clouded his brain began to wear off a little bit faster.
Grabbing the nearest pair of pants and shirt, he headed for the bathroom to change. Once that was accomplished, he walked into the kitchen and found Tifa at the stove. He watched her cooking for a few moments, humming to herself and was instantly reminded of Shera. It hadn't been all that long ago when she had stood there cooking him breakfast before he had even left his bed. Only, it had never smelt like this.
"You sure know how to get a guy out of bed," Cid said, pulling a cigarette from the pack in his shirt pocket.
Tifa whirled around in shock, the spatula gripped tightly in her hand and raised like a weapon, "Cid! You scared the heck out of me!"
Cid grinned, "Sorry. Wouldn't want ya to use that on me."
Tifa glanced down at the spatula and smiled also, "Well, a girl's got to protect herself nowadays."
If it was possible, Cid looked worse off when he got out of bed in the morning than he usually did. His hair stuck out in blonde tufts all over the place because he wasn't wearing his goggles to hold them down. His stubble was also more pronounced and the outfit he was wearing was wrinkled and had a blue stain in the center of the shirt.
"Cid, do you know how to do laundry?"
Cid glanced down at the shirt he was wearing and looked up sheepishly, "I'm learnin'."
Tifa raised an eyebrow, "So I see. Want a cup of coffee?"
Cid rose from the chair he had been sitting in and walked over to the machine. "I can get it. You just concentrate on that food." And, as if to second that notion, his stomach growled.
"Almost done. The eggs just need a few more minutes."
Cid threw himself back in his chair and gulped the coffee as fast as the temperature of it would allow. He had to admit it was nice to have someone else around the house. Since Shera had left, the only person he had to talk to was himself. He didn't venture in to town too much because all they would talk about was how he had helped save the planet. He really didn't want to be reminded of Sephiroth, his nightmares did that enough for him. Not to mention, he had never been one to accept praise very well.
Cid opened up the paper and started glancing through it while sipping his coffee. The headlines were dominated by fiery oratory from the leaders of Junon and Wutai, both complaining about the troubles the other city has caused and how, in spite of the fact that they themselves wanted nothing more than a peaceful resolution, the other leaders stubborness was giving them no choice but to strengthen their armies in preparation of defending themselves from the other's aggression. Below this was another article describing a border clash between the two enemies that had resulted in over one hundred dead.
"Damn bastards," Cid muttered.
"What?" Tifa questioned as she placed the food on the table.
"Oh, nothin'" Cid replied unhappily. "Just more trouble between Junon and Wutai. Looks more and more like those two are deteremined to have a showdown."
Tifa did not reply, feeling a stab of fear once again at the thought of war breaking out. She sat there in silence eating her breakfast while Cid put the paper aside and started to eat as well. The war was something she didn't want to talk about, something she didn't even want to think about. But she knew she couldn't make it go away just by not thinking about it. Whether she wanted to believe it or not, it was a real possibility.
"What do you think will happen?" she finally asked.
Cid looked up from his food and hesitated, the food apparently driven all thoughts out of his head. Then he looked at her grimly.
"Who knows?" he replied. "One things for sure, it ain't gonna be pleasent. Those two start pounding on each other, no place is gonna be safe."
"Not even Rocket Town?" she said slowly.
Especially not Rocket Town, he thought. He had to admit the possiblity of war had been weighing heavily on his mind of late. Rocket Town was a neutral city, not aligned with either antagonist, and he had no intention of choosing sides. But he also was not foolish enough to believe that either Junon or Wutai would honor the neutrality of Rocket Town for a moment once war had broken out. As the site of the only rocket lauching facility on the planet, it was too important a city for either one of them to leave alone. He knew it wouldn't take long after war was declared for Junon or Wutai to move on Rocket Town, and the bitter fact of the matter was there was precious little he could do about it. They had no standing army, just a small militia that wouldn't stand a chance against either Junon or Wutai's large and well equipped armies. Once war broke out it was quite likely Rocket Town could soon find itself caught between two pincers. What would he do then?
He looked at Tifa, and was about to say as much when the look on her face stopped him. She was plainly worried, and him saying that Rocket Town would be caught right in the middle if a shooting war started was probably the last thing she wanted to hear.
"Let Junon and Wutai pound the hell out of each other. Rocket Town's neutral," he replied noncomittingly. "And it's going to stay that way. It's got nothing to do with us."
Tifa nodded, apparently appeased by his answer, but her face still held a hint of nervousness. They were both silent until they had finished their meal.
"So what do you have planned for today?" Tifa asked as she gathered the dishes together.
Cid handed her his plate and sat back in his chair, slipping a cigarette between his lips. He looked at her apprasingly. She had only been here three days but he already felt better than he had in months. He had always thought of himself as a loner, and had told himself he would not miss Shera after she walked out on him, but he had. He'd missed her worse than he ever thought he would. For the past six months he'd been walking around like a zombie. He had been with Shera for so long he had forgotten what it was like to be alone.
But Tifa being here had taken a lot of the sting out of that. He couldn't have asked for a better companion. She had been a big help with the guns, which they had finally finished installing yesterday, except for the part they were still waiting for, and now matter how difficult it had gotten and how much he had cursed, she had never once complained. Of course, her great cooking skills didn't hurt either, nor the fact that she was damn beautiful.
Neither of them had mentioned it, but he wondered what she was going to do now that the guns were pretty much installed. She had said she was going to stay for a few days, and he was wondering if maybe she was thinking about moving on. After all, she had said she wanted to see all of her old friends, and he had sort of been monopolizing her time. Not that she seemed to mind. She had made no mention of leaving, and he certainly wasn't going to bring it up if she didn't. But he had been thinking about it, and the truth was the thought of seeing her go upset him more than he'd like to admit.
He stood up.
"C'mon," he said. "I've got a little surprise for you."
She looked at him,
"A surprise," he repeated, nodding toward the door. "C'mon."
He led her out of the house, walking at a rapid pace. Tifa trotted to catch up with him.
"What kind of surprise?" she asked as she came up next to him. She couldn't for the life of her imagine what this could be about.
"You'll see," he said smugly.
She was tempted to question him more, but she could tell by the look on his face that it would be useless.
Just north of Cid's house, to the right of the rocket lauching area and hidden behind a grove of elm trees, was a small airfield. As they walked out of the trees Tifa could see the concrete tower off in the distance and a row of hangers lined up along the edge of the runway. They walked down a shallow slope and between two hangers. They came out and Tifa saw a small plane parked in front of one of them, a man in mechnanic overalls similar to Cid's standing beside it. The man waved when he saw them approaching.
"She's all ready to go, Captain."
"Thanks, Hank," Cid replied when they reached the plane. The man walked away and Cid turned toward Tifa.
"We're going flying again?" she asked. "Why didn't we just use the Bronco?"
"We can do things in this that we can't do in the Bronco," Cid replied. "This is a trainer."
Tifa looked at him for a moment.
"Why would you need..."
She suddenly stopped and her eyes went wide.
"Me? You want me to fly?" she said, bringing her hands up in front of her mouth.
Cid nodded, breaking into a grin.
Tifa walked over and looked at the plane, barely able to believe it. She had thought about flying sometimes when they had been up together, but it scared her a little. No, that wasn't true, it scared her a lot.
"Cid, I...I can't."
"Why the hell not?" he questioned. "You've got plenty of courage, and I know you've got the brains. Hell, I've seen people who are half as sharp as you flying these things. If they can do it, you'll have no problem at all."
Tifa just stood there, looking at the plane. She slowly reached out her hand and ran it along the fusilage. She really enjoyed the times they had been up in the air, even more so lately. She thought that some of Cid's love of flying might be rubbing off on her. But to actually pilot the plane...
"But I don't know the first thing about flying," she protested.
"That's why it's called a trainer," he pointed out. "I'll be right behind you with a full set of controls. I'll be able to take over in an instant if you screw anything up."
She stepped back and shook her head slowly. She wanted to, but...
"I don't know," she said doubtfully.
"C'mon," he stated. "There's nothing to be afraid of."
She looked back and forth between him and the plane. She had butterflies in her stomach, but she realized he was right. What was she afraid of? She had been scared before, but had it ever stopped her? Besides, how could she be scared when she had the best damn pilot in the whole world in the seat right behind her.
Suddenly to broke into a grin.
"Let's do it."
Cid slapped his hand against the side of the plane and said, "That's my girl! Never knew you to back down from anything."
He sent a wink Hank's way and then hopped into the back of the plane. Tifa climbed easily into the front and rubbed her hands nervously on her skirt. Excitement and nerves churned in her stomach and had her heart pumping faster than normal. Now that she was in front of the controls, she could hardly believe she was actually going to do this.
"Ready to take'er up?" Cid asked.
"I guess so..."
Cid wisely kept his amusement to himself. He knew she would do just fine, even if she didn't. Tifa could accomplish anything she set her mind to and it was one of the things he admired most about her. She had a fire in her that Shera had lacked, and he had to admit that he had looked down on Shera for her weakness. Damn. Here he was comparing Shera to Tifa. What was the matter with him?
"Huh? Oh yeah...see those two switches there? Just flip them up."
Tifa took a deep breath and did as he said. The motor roared to life and the propellers started rotating.
"Okay, grab that stick there. Slowly pull up on it...slowly...that's it, you got it."
The plane began to rise slowly off of the ground and Tifa felt a sense of elation as they went higher and higher above the ground.
"Okay now, don't go any higher. Just hold the stick steady and fly'er straight."
"This is fun," Tifa breathed.
Cid noticed the plane wobbled a little, but all in all she was doing good for her first time up. After a while, he might even be able to teach her a few simple manuevers. And if she took to it as well he once did, he might even make a pilot out of her. It most certainly couldn't hurt for her to have experience in the air. He didn't want to say anything to her earlier, but he wasn't too sure how much longer the war was going to hold off. Rocket Town was more and likely to get caught in the middle and since he had no intentions of getting involved willingly, there was no telling what could happen.
He noticed that she had moved the plane to the left and was now taking it in a circle. He hadn't even had to tell her how to do that. She was a quick learner, something he had realized when she was helping him install the guns.
Tifa was too focused on flying to think of anything else, not Cloud, not the war, not even the bar she left behind. Right now, she felt as if she was a part of the airplane and that the wind would take her wherever she wanted to go. A flock of birds flew by and she watched them with a smile, enjoying the view from the sky rather than the ground. Now she understood why Cid liked to fly so much.
Suddenly the plane rattled a bit and Tifa, who wasn't prepared lost her grip on the stick. Without even thinking, Cid's hands reached for his and he brought the plane back up.
"What was that?" Tifa asked. "Did I do something wrong?"
"Nah. It was just an airpocket. You ready to takeover again?"
"I'm glad you're back there."
"You would've done fine whether I was here or not."
Tifa gave a nervous laugh, "I'm not so sure. Flying is your area of expertise."
Cid grunted in response and wished he could light a cigarette. Tifa hadn't complained about him smoking, but they were in such a small space that he didn't want to bother her. More than once, someone had told him that nicotine would be the death of him. Cid very seriously doubted that. He wasn't foolish enough to think himself invincible, but he had managed to help defeat Sephiroth and save the Planet from Meteor. If anything was going to kill him, it would be the day his wings were taken away and he was grounded. Not that that phenomenon was going to happen anytime soon. If he had his way, he would be flying until his hands shook so bad he couldn't grip the stick and his eyes were so shot he couldn't see his own fingers in front of him.
He glanced at the back of Tifa's head and thought she was doing pretty damn good for someone who was flying for the first time. Of course, he wouldn't let just anyone fly an airplane. He wouldn't let that irritating Yuffie anywhere near his babies, not even this trainer that Tifa was manning. She'd probably scratch the hell out of them or worse, wreck them. Not that he had to worry about that. Lucky for him, Yuffie got airsick.
Tifa concentrated on Cid's instructions, listening as he explained the various controls and the purpose of each. Even in this simple trainer there seemed to be a dizzying array of buttons and switches in front of her. She knew she'd never remember more than a third of what he was telling her, and was thinking they probably should have gone over this on the ground first. She didn't know much about flying, but she was pretty sure most people spent a couple of weeks learning about flight before their instructor even thought about sending them up in the air.
But this was just like Cid. Unconventional in every way. He probably found earthbound instruction damn boring, and she had to admit the idea didn't appeal to her all that much either. If he wanted to get her interested in flying, this was the way to do it, soaring through the sky instead of sitting on the ground. She had always believed that the best way to learn something was by doing it, and she had a feeling Cid felt much the same way. This was probably just the way he had learned to do it himself.
The plane soared smoothly over Rocket Town and then around Cid's house a couple of times. Tifa was clearly enjoying herself, and if he let her, he figured they'd run out of fuel. But since she was having so much fun, he would let her fly it until it was absolutely necessary to land.
Suddenly, the radio hissed and startled Tifa. The plane wobbled a little, but this time she managed to keep it under control. The frequency that they were on wasn't bringing the message in clearly enough, so Cid unhooked himself and messed with the controls a little. When a voice began to speak clearly, he leaned back and waited.
"To all aircraft, Wutai has declared war on Junon. Leave the skies immediately if you are not serving in either airforce. I repeat, leave immediately or you will be shot down if we are unable to identify you."
"Goddammit!" Cid cursed. "Those son of a bitches just couldn't be satisfied with what they got, could they?! Okay Tifa, ya gotta bring'er down."
Tifa took a deep breath. It was really happening. Deep down, she hadn't truly believed they would avoid war but she had hoped. Now each city would be pited against one another in the struggle between Junon and Wutai. People that she had once called friends were going to be considered enemies as far as the dominating powers were concerned.
But thoughts of the war were forced out of her head as the plane glided downward. Her nervousness had diappeared earlier, forgotten while concentrating on flying the plane and Cid's instructions, but as they slowly descended towards the airfield she felt it returning once again. High up in the air she knew if she made a mistake Cid would have plenty of time to correct it. The ground was much closer now, and if she screwed up he would only have seconds to straighten them out. She felt her hand tighten on the stick.
"Take it easy," Cid said calmly from behind her, almost as if he could read her thoughts. "You're doing fine. Just keep 'er lined up with the runway."
Tifa stared at the airfield in front of them. It seemed to be coming up very quickly.
"Am I going too fast?"
"No, you're fine," he replied. "Just lower the flaps now. You remember which switch it is?"
Tifa nodded and flipped the lever.
"Good," Cid commented. He had tried not to overwhelm her with information, just telling her about the controls that it was absoulutely necessary for her to know to fly the plane, but even so it was a lot to learn.
"Okay, cut back on the throttle a little bit," he instructed.
She pulled back slowly on the throttle.
"A little more...more...there you go. Now bring the nose up. Not too much. Good. You're doing fine."
Tifa followed his instructions, not taking her eyes off the runway beneath them. They were only a few meters off the ground now, and the runway was rushing by below them. She caught a glimpse of the tower off to the right, but she was concentrating on what was in front of her.
Suddenly there was a bump, as the wheels skipped on the pavememnt below them. Startled, she almost leg go of the stick, but then tightened her grip. There were a few more bumps, less jarring each time, until the plane was firmly planted once more on the ground. As the aircraft rolled to a stop Tifa fell her nervousness suddenly replaced by a feeling of triumph. She'd done it!
Cid slid back the canopy and hopped out of the plane. Tifa followed a little more slowly. As soon as her feet were on the tarmack he slapped his hand on her shoulder.
"Good job!" he exclaimed with a grin.
Hank immediately ran up to the plane.
"Captain! You heard?!"
Cid gave a disgusted nod and spat, "Yeah! Goddamned bastards."
Hank's brows pinched together in worry, "Rocket Town is gonna be caught in the middle. No tellin' what will happen."
Cid glanced at Tifa after that remark and noticed her face was pinched with worry. He shot Hank a dirty look and told him to take care of the trainer.
Cid turned to Tifa and said softly, "It might get dangerous for you here, Tifa. One or the other is gonna try to force Rocket Town into sidin' with'em. Since you're considered a citizen of Kalm, it might bring you trouble."
"Where are you going?" Tifa asked, pushing a lock of hair out of her face.
"No where. I'm stayin' right here. I ain't lettin' them take my town."
Tifa's eyes flashed, "Then I'm staying here with you."
Cid knocked his fist against the back of his head in frustration, "I don't want nothin' to happen to you."
Tifa raised an eyebrow, "I faced down Sephiroth, I think I can handle this. Besides, I'm not leaving a friend to deal with trouble all by hisself."
Cid stood there looking at her, but he could tell by the look in her eye there was no sense arguing. Not that he wanted her to leave, of course. If it came to a fight, and that was begining to look more and more likely, there were few people he would rather have by his side. Besides, now that war had broken out, it would probably be dangerous for her to travel. Still, he was worried about her. Wutai's armies were much closer to them right now than Junons. If they invaded, as a citizen of Kalm she would be considered a potential enemy of the state. He didn't know what the Wutai commanders would do with such a person, but he wasn't all that anxious to find out.
They walked back to the house in silence, both of them weighed down by the news of war. Cid wasn't sure what was going to happen, but he could think of few senarios that would leave Rocket Town undisturbed. Sooner or later it seemed likely that they were going to get caught up in this mess. The fact that the guns weren't fully installed yet on the Tiny Bronco was another cause for concern. He needed to have the plane ready for anything.
He made sure they stopped at the item shop on the way back to the house to check on whether the part was in yet, but it wasn't there. They headed back to the house, Cid more unhappy than ever.
Later that afternoon Hank came by to inform Cid there was going to be a town meeting that evening. Apparently they weren't the only ones who were concerned.
Cid spent the rest of the day working on the Tiny Bronco. He couldn't finish the guns without the part he was waiting for, but there was plenty of other 'tweaking' that needed to be done. Tifa helped him out as best she could, but it was soon obvious that her mind was miles away. Twice she handed him the wrong tool when he asked, and she was usually very attentive. The second time he had opened his mouth to berate her, but then shut it tightly. He had told himself he wasn't going to act like that anymore, and he meant it. Old habits were hard to break but not impossible. Besides, this wasn't Shera he was talking to. If he started in on Tifa she was more'n likely to kick his ass. And it wasn't like he wouldn't deserve it.
Besides, he had to admit she had good reason to be preoccupied. He had hoped working on the Bronco would take their minds off the war, but it was obviously a vain hope. Even he didn't really have his heart in the work right now.
Tifa sat beside him, idley tapping a wrench against the ground as Cid worked. She was worried about the war, and what would happen here at Rocket Town, but she also wondereed what would happen now to all their other friends. Already some of the others must be far more caught up in this than they were. Cosmo Canyon was still neutral, and Yuffie had already been betrayed by Wutai. But what about the others, especially Barret and Reeve. Corel was already aligned with Wutai. Would Barret be forced to fight for them? Or even do it willingly? She hadn't seen him in a long time. She didn't know how he felt about this whole thing. After what happened to Yuffie, it seemed unlikely he would join in Wutai's cause, but she didn't know for sure. And the same thing could be said about Reeve, only with Junon this time. She couldn't see Reeve being anxious to go into battle in the name of Junon, but what if he had no choice? She found it incoceivable to think that by some chance those two could look across a battlefield and see each other as foes.
And what of the others? The wanderer, Vincent could be anywhere. He had simply dropped off the face of the earth shortly after the defeat of Sephiroth. Of all of them, she thought he was the most likely to be unaffected by all this.
And last of all, though he might be uppermost in her mind, her thoughts turned to Cloud. She had been trying so hard for so long to forget him, to keep him out of her thoughts, but she couldn't help but wonder where he was now. He was a mercenary, a trained soldier. He would be valuable to either side in this war, and he would more than likely see the whole thing as an opportunity. An opportunity to put his skills to use and to make a name for himself, as if he needed to do that anymore. But of them all he had always been the one most driven. No matter how much success they acheived, it had never seemed to be enough for him. He was constantly testing himself, always needing another challenge. He had always been reckless, always supremely confident in his fighting abilities. If any of her old friends was going to become actively involved in this war, it would be him.
The funny thing was, she felt partially responsible. So much of what had happened to him had occured because of her. So much of what he was, was due to her influence. He had grown up lonely, alienated and ignored by the other children, and for a long time she had been one of the one's doing the ignoring. Then he had left to join SOLDIER, and she had found out in the lifestream that he had done that in order to make an impression on her. She seemd to have had a hand in all the major events and decisions in his life. She couldn't help but think that his reckless nature was in part caused by her. If only she had noticed him sooner, or said some of the thoughts that she had kept locked in her heart, things might have been different. Now she wondered whether he would have been better off if he had never known her.
A warm gust of wind swept past them, swirling her hair around her head, but she paid no attention.
After the battle with Sephiroth she thought he would calm down a little. He had acheived the fame he seemed to derperately seek, and though she had never stated it openly, she had made it clear that she wanted to be by his side. But things had changed. In the two years since they had defeated Sephiroth he had spent little time with her, always off on some kind of mission, some kind of adventure, the more dangerous the better. During that time he had slowly drifted away from her again, in spite of the fact that she wanted more than ever to be close to him. In spite of all they had done, something was still driving him, and she knew what that something was.
She heard Cid muttering curses from under the plane.
In the short time she had been with them, Aeris had changed all their lives. From her simple kindness to her ultimate sacrifice, she had taught them all the true meaning of friendship and courage. Though they had only known her for a brief period, they had all grown up in that time, and they would never forget her.
But even so, even if they never forgot her, there was still a point where they had to let go. They had to put aside their grief and their sorrow and get on with their lives. Aeris had sacrified herself for them as much as anyone else, and Tifa knew she would want them all to be happy.
A humorless smile appeared on Tifa's face at that thought. What would Aeris think now of the world she had given up so much to protect? How many of her friends had atttained the happiness she wanted them to have?
Certainly not Cloud. He had never gotten over the hurdle, never figured out quite how to let go. Just as Tifa had driven him in his youth, now another woman was creating who he was. After their trip through the lifestream she thought he had finally figured out who he was, but it wasn't so. He was still driven by a need to be accepted, only this time the person he needed to be accepted by was no longer among the living. How could he ever find peace that way?
Tifa looked up, startled, to see Cid sitting up next to her, staring at her.
"Oh, sorry," she said, flustered. "My mind was on something else."
"This war thing really got you rattled, eh?"
"Yeah, I suppose," she said slowly. "Did you want something?"
"I said, I think it's time we knocked off for today," he replied. "It's starting to get dark, and we'll barely have time to eat before that damn meeting tonight."
Tifa nodded in agreement. She walked into the house to start dinner while Cid gathered up his tools. He wasn't looking forward to this meeting, and he was tempted not to go at all. But as a respected member of the community he felt obligated. Besides, if he didn't go there to knock some sense into them, some of the citizens were more than likely to come up with some incredibly stupid plan.
They didn't talk much during the meal. Tifa still had kind of a far away look in her eyes. He wanted to say something to reassure her, but nothing came to mind.
The meal completed Cid had his customary cigarette. When he was done he reluctantly got up.
"Guess I better get over to that meeting," he stated. "Don't know how long I'll be gone, but I've got a feelin' this might take awhile. Don't wait up for me."
Tifa turned off the water in the sink and grabbed hold of dishtowel, wiping her hands.
"I want to come with you." she said.
He stood there for a moment looking at her.
"It's probably gonna be real boring," he suggested. He knew she was worried about the war, and he had no doubts that a dicussion of Rocket Town's vunerablity to invasion was bound to come up at the meeting. He didn't want to upset her.
"I don't care," she replied. "I want to come. I'm not too thrilled with this war thing but I want to know what's going on."
She walked over to him, seeing the look on his face.
"Don't worry, you don't have to protect me," she said. "I can handle it."
He nodded slowly.
"I just don't want you to worry," he said.
"I'm afraid at this point nothing can prevent that," she replied.
Tifa had every right to come if she wanted to, he knew that. And she was strong, he reminded himself, she didn't need him to shelter her or protect her from things. As a matter of fact, Tifa had seemed to spend much of her life doing just that for others. Maybe because of that she had a hard time accepting it from others. Hell, he had a hard time accepting protection from others. It went against the grain to think that he couldn't take care of himself.
"Come on then," he said gruffly, "we better get goin'. No tellin' what those crazies'll get up to."
Rocket town wasn't a very big town, so it didn't take long for them to reach weapons shop. The meeting was being held in Chuck's--the owner of the shop--living room. Chuck was somewhat of a fanatic, and it did not alleviate Cid's anxiety any to know that he planned on heading the meeting. His idea of defense would probably include high artillery and little strategy.
Did they really have a chance anyhow if either Junon or Wutai decided to take over the town? No matter what plan they could come up with, it didn't detract from the fact that the aggressors of this war had more manpower and firepower than Rocket Town. But he would be damned if he would let this town go down without a fight, no matter what happened. And he was pretty sure the others felt that way too.
"I don't care what happens, we ain't givin' up without a fight!" Tifa and Cid heard someone yell as they stepped into the house.
"Calm down gentlemen. We need to save this for when the meeting starts. The Captain isn't here yet," came a softer, more relaxed voice.
Cid entered the room to see Chuck standing on a chair in front of the large group of citizens. The man that had been trying to placate him was old Jed, the man who loved the rocket almost as much as Cid. So much so, that he had spent a great deal of his time just standing there staring at it.
Chuck caught sight of Cid and jumped off his chair, "Captain! Glad ya could make it."
He grabbed hold of Cid's hand and pumped it until Cid had to forcibly pull it from the other man's iron grip. Then he turrned to Tifa and threw his arms around her as if she were his best friend. Tifa managed to untangle herself from his bone crushing hug and moved closer to Cid in the hopes that no one else would attempt to greet her with such enthusiasm.
"I was just tellin' the town here, that the only answer is guns. And lots of them. We can't stop them from takin' our town without weapons."
"That's not the only answer! We aren't as strong as they are. They'll kill us all for sure!" a nervous voice spoke up from the crowd.
"Now just calm down. No one's killin' no one here yet," Jed interjected.
Tifa had to admit she felt sorry for the people of Rocket Town. Chances were that they would be caught up in this war whether they wanted to or not. And those opposed to it would most likely be put in some kind of prison. That might even include her, she realized. As a citizen of Kalm, she was considered and enemy to Wutai. If Wutai took over Rocket Town, then she would be labled a traitor and a spy. How had things been reduced to this? What had they helped to save the planet for if those that inhabited it were going to destroy it with their petty wars?
Cid lit a cigarette and calmly watched the hysteria unfolding around him. It only took one serious situation in which people felt they had no control to turn an otherwise rational group into a bunch of incapable fools. He had to bite back the strong urge to tell them that they had faced worse than this before and survived. It didn't help the situation any to forget to think like mature adults, and he supposed it was his ability to keep calm in all situations that made him such a good pilot. Maybe it would make him a good enough leader that he could bring some kind of order to this meeting as well. Although he admited he didn't want the role of leader, he knew that he had to do something before things got out of control.
"Look," he started, and found all eyes turning to him. "It ain't gonna help us any if we start gettin' hysterical. We're gonna have to come up with some kind of plan if either of those damn towns thinks they're gonna take over our Rocket Town."
"But what?" the nervous man wanted to know. "We aren't a very big town and we can't stop them if they want to take us!"
"Would you just shut up? The Captain is talking right now, not you!" someone else yelled.
"Hey! I have a right to speak my mind!"
"Cid's right," Tifa spoke up, feeling it was necessary to help calm everyone down. "I know everyone is scared, but we have to work together on this."
"Who're you to be tellin' us what to do?! You don't even live here!"
Cid's eyes snapped to the figure of the man who had been interjecting a note of hysteria into the meeting since he had arrived here. He had to admit that the man had been getting on his nerves the whole short duration of the meeting and now, he had just touched on his last one.
He strode up to the man and picked him up by the front of his shirt, "Listen, buddy. She's one of the people that risked her life so that you could keep your worthless one. I don't give a shit whether she lives here or not, she's here now, and as far as I'm concerned, that makes her one of us. So shut up before I beat the hell out of ya!"
He spun around and fixed the rest of the crowd with an angry glare. "I didn't come here to baby ya, I came to help ya figure out how to save our goddamned town! So get your acts together and start actin' like ya know how to think!"
Tifa wondered at this approach of Cid's, it seemed like it would create more chaos that it would solve. But amazingly enough, the group seemed to calm down quite a bit and began to talk quietly amongst themselves. Whether Cid knew it or not, he had a natural ability for leadership.
"So what do we do, Captain?" one of the men spoke up.
"Well the first thing we have to do is calm down and look at this rationally."
"What's to look at?" Chuck questioned. "Junon and Wutai have declared war on one another. We all know they're not going to leave Rocket Town out of this. One or the other is bound to attack us, and soon, if I'm not mistaken. We've got to mobilize our millitia, get more weapons, set up a defensive perimeter..."
"I think we're all aware of your opinion on the subject," Cid cut him off abruptly.
"It's insanity to try to fight them," another man spoke up for the first time. "We've got a small milita. They've both got huge standing armies. Tanks, helicopter, aritillery, warplanes. The whole nine yards. How can we fight against that? We have a few hundred men and half a dozen servicable aricraft. We wouldn't last five minutes."
"So what are you saying, we should just surrender?" Chuck said distainfully.
"Not surrender," the man replied. At first Cid thought the didn't know the man, but then recognized him as one of the hotel workers. Walter, that was his name.
"We could declare Rocket Town an open city. Each side could come in peacefully and negotiate for use of any resources within the town." he continued.
"So you just want to let them waltz right in without a fight?" Chuck said. "And once they're here, once their tanks are in our streets, what's to prevent them from just taking what they want?"
"Do you think either one would negotiate in good faith?" another man asked.
"If one betrays us then we could join the other side," Walter suggested.
"Be a little late to do that once they're here, don't you think?" Chuck pointed out.
"If we joined forces with Wutai, then wouldn't that solve the problem?" a woman spoke up.
"You mean surrender to them?" Chuck cut in.
"No, not surrender," she replied. "Join them as allies. As equals."
"What makes you think they'd let us do that?" Walter asked.
The woman looked puzzled.
"Why wouldn't they?"
"Why negotiate when you can take something force?" Walter qestioned.
"That doesn't make sense. Why take us by force when we will join them willingly?" she countered. "If they attack, we'll fight back. We might not win, but we're bound to cause them some harm. Why have a battle if they don't need to?"
"That's part of the problem," Cid said. "We don't know what Junon or Wuatai are thinking. If we asked to ally with either one of them, we don't know what kind of demands they would make. But frankly I don't like the idea at all. I've a feeling if we agreed to ally oureselves with either one of them, it would be just a matter of time before they were running this town as thoroughly as if they had invaded."
"So you're saying we fight?" Chuck commented, his face visibly brightening.
"Don't be a dumbass," Cid reponded shaprly. "Walter's right. We can't stand up against the full might of either Junon or Wutai."
"How do we know for sure that they'll even attack us in the first place?" another man spoke for the first time. "We've already declared our neutrality. They want to fight, they can fight with each other. Maybe they'll just leave us alone."
"Yeah," someone else agreed. "If we stay out of it, they'll have no reason to bother us."
Cid looked at the two men, a scowl on his face.
"Much as I'd like to believe if we bury our heads in the sand nothin'll happen, but that just ain't true. Whether we like it or not, Rocket Town is just too damn important for them to ignore. The potential to lauch missles from here is too great a temptation. Both of them are going to be dyin' to get their hands on the launch sites. So don't give me no nonsense about them leavin' us in peace because it ain't gonna happen!"
"Sounds like we're doomed no matter what we do," someone in the back said gloomily.
Cid's face twisted in anger.
"I don't wanna here none of that God damned defeatist talk!" he exclaimed. "I told ya I ain't gonna baby ya. We've got some hard decisions to make, but it's gotta be done. Ain't none a this gonna be easy."
"So if we can't fight, and we can't stay out of it, what else is there to do but join one side or the other?" Walter questioned.
They all fell silent and looked at Cid.
"I said it ain't gonna be easy," Cid started slowly. "And I ain't no genius who's got all the answers for ya, either. But it does seem to me we've got one thing going for us. Neither Wutai or Junon wants Rocket Town to join the other side. It might be possible to play one off the other while remaining neutral."
"What do you mean?" Jed asked.
"The first thing we need to do is mobilize the milita," Cid continued. Chuck immediately perked up at this. "Then we declare that if anyone invades we will resist and immediately join with their enemy. Both Wutai and Junon have armies nearby. Neither one wants us to join their enemy, obviously. If we can convince them we will fight whoever attacks and can hold out until the other cities army arrives, then neither one would gain an advantage by attacking us."
"So if one attacks us they guarentee that the other will end up with Rocket Town," Jed stated.
"That's right. We can't beat them with force, but maybe we can beat the with diplomacy."
Tifa looked at Cid but remained silent. She was kind of surprised to hear him talking about diplomacy. Cid wasn't exactly known for his deep thinking. He had always seemed to her to be the type to kick ass first and think about it later. She thought he would be more inclined to agree with Chuck's points of view. She realized she had underestimated him.
"Sounds awfully dangerous," Walter commented. "If either one thinks they can take Rocket Town quickly enough, then they're going to attack."
"I realize that," Cid replied. "We'll be walking a tightrope, no doubt about it. But I told ya this wasn't gonna be easy. As far as I can see, this is the only chance we got to get out of this in one piece."
A number of people looked doubtful.
"Does anybody have any better ideas?" Cid challenged.
He looked around, but no one spoke.
"So what do we do?" Jed asked.
"We get ready to fight," Cid replied. "This whole plan hinges on both sides believing we are strong enough to hold out for a few days against either force." He turned to face Chuck. "We've got to mobilize the militia, get more weapons and set up a defensive perimeter. I think I know just who can handle that for us."
Chuck grinned at him.
"I'll get right on it!" he stated.
"We'll have to contact both Junon and Wutai and tell them of our intentions," Cid continued. "This won't work unless they're both aware of what we propose to do. We'll have to send out emmesaries to both cities. I don't know whether this is gonna work, and it might come down to a fight no matter what we do, so I suggest you all get yourselves prepared. Anybody got anything else to add?"
There was some mumering from the audience, but no one spoke up.
"All right then," Cid said sternly. "Let's quit this talkin' and get to business."
The meeting broke up into smaller groups, while some people left immediately. Chuck gathered some people around him, issuing orders on when and where the militia would meet the next day. Cid stood there for a few moments to see if anyone had any more questions for him. When he was satified that everyone had a pretty good idea of what they were doing, he turned and left the building, Tifa at his side.
As they were walking back to his house Tifa looked at him.
"You handled that well," she commented.
"They're a good bunch," he replied. "Just need someone to beat some sense into them on occasion."
"You're too modest," Tifa replied. "But really, what you said was very sensible. I had expected something a litle more...,well, I guess rash is the word. I was impressed."
"Aww, cut it out," he said, getting embarrassed. "I only told them the truth. Nothing more."
"But it was what they needed to hear," she replied. "I just hope your plan works."
Cid looked up. The sky above them was clear, the night sky covered with pinpoints of light. For a moment Cid paused, looking up at the stars, so far away and unreachable. Whatever happened here on this small planet was insignificant in the vastness of the universe.
He pulled out a cigarette and lit it up.
The goings on on this small planet might be insignificant to the universe, but it was of major significance to him. He had never considered himself a leader, and did not want to be burdened with that responsibility. But whether he liked it or not it was his plan the Rocket Town was going to be following, his guidence that they were accepting. It would be to his credit if they succeeded, not that he wanted any credit, but it would also be his responsibility if the plan failed. If either Wutai or Junon decided to invade in spite of his plans, there would be a battle, a battle Rocket Town could not possibly win and which would quite likely lead to a great many deaths. He knew Tifa was worried about this war, and what could happen, but what he didnt' let on was that he was just as worried. Except for her safety, the well being of this town was the most important thing to him right now. He prayed to God he was making the right decision.
"I sure hope so Tifa," he said, puffing on his cigarette. "For all our sakes."
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