When I was thirteen, I made the decision that forever changed the course of my life. I decided I would join the Shinra Army and apply for SOLDIER, Shinras elite troops. Those who were not involved with SOLDIER knew nothing of their activities or what they didjust that they were good at it.
Most who tried out for SOLDIER didnt make itin fact, the SOLDIER training program had a ninety percent failure rate amongst its trainees. Out of 100 people who might try out for it, ten might get in, and that was a pretty high number. Those who were able to complete the program were given the rank, SOLDIER, 3rd Class. This is the rank that most who got into SOLDIER stay for the rest of their lives. 3rd Class SOLDIER troops are generally used to support regular army troops and make small units stronger in combat. It was during the training for 3rd Class that I met Zack, who ended up becoming my best friend.
Those who show great bravery or skill in combat or just in general are promoted to SOLDIER, 2nd Class. 2nd Class troops are infused with a small amount of mako energy, making them stronger, faster (mentally and physically), and able to recover from small wounds, such as first degree burns or cuts, with little to no treatment. Out of the ten that are able to make it into 3rd Class out of a class of 100, one might get into 2nd Class. With the infusion of mako into their bodies, however, comes a risk. The new 2nd Class troops get incredibly sick as their bodies adjust to the energy now thundering through them. The adjustment period lasts anywhere from two to four weeks, during which the soldier will get symptoms similar to those one would get from undergoing chemotherapy. Your hair falls out, you feel nauseous and vomit frequently, have muscle aches, feel very anemic, etc. Its a grueling time that most 2nd Class soldiers feel is the roughest of their lives. Upon recovery of the sickness, the new 2nd Class soldier undergoes further training that helps them adjust to their new abilities. When they complete this training, they are considered true 2nd Class soldiers. This is the rank of SOLDIER that one sees the strange greenish-blue glow in their eyes, no matter what color their eyes are. 2nd Class soldiers are used primarily as field commanders and occasionally serve as bodyguards for high-ranking Shinra officials.
Every once in a while, a 2nd Class soldier comes along that seems to completely stand alone amongst his peers. These people are promoted to SOLDIER, 1st Class, the highest and most prominent rank in all of Shinras military. Those in 1st Class are immediately made full captains, but can override any decision made by any regular Army, Navy, or Air Force commander, including generals, with the exception of people like Heidegger. Achieving higher ranks in 1st Class is extremely difficult, but possible. When I first heard about Sephiroth, he was already a full colonel. Not that it matters, since whoever is able to get into 1st Class is considered a true soldier and is therefore just as good as anyone else in 1st Class.
Upon being promoted to 1st Class, the soldier is infused with first more mako and, once they get back to full health, theyre injected with JENOVA cells. In this process, cells from JENOVA are injected directly into the soldiers bloodstream, making them even sicker than when theyre infused with mako. The JENOVA cells go through their body, multiplying and adding their own quiet strength to the already strong body of the soldier. During this time, which takes anywhere from four to six weeks to recover from, the soldier usually goes into a coma for the first two weeks as the JENOVA cells do their thing. All the symptoms that come with the mako appear as well, only much more intense. After coming out of the coma, the soldier continues to feel weak and sick, but not as bad now. A soldier might even experience a mild hallucination or two, but its perfectly normal and rarely serious.
Once a soldier fully recovers from being injected with the JENOVA cells and the extra mako, they go through training similar to the training they received in 2nd Class. Theyre tested to see how many pushups, sit-ups and pull-ups they can do in a minute, how fast they can run a mile, how well their senses of eyesight, hearing, and smelling are. Theyre tested to see how fast they can sprint, how long and far they can possibly run before having to stop, how strong their arms, legs, heart, lungs and every other muscle in their body is. This training was not only designed to make them stronger, but also to let the soldier know what his limits were so they didnt get too ahead of themselves. Its also done to help them adjust to their new abilities, and with the extra mako and the JENOVA cells, those are quite a few. They can recover from injuries such as third degree burns, deep slashes or contusions with little to no medical treatment, depending on where they are wounded, in a matter of weeks or even days. Once theyre able to complete this training, they are considered part of Shinras highest elite personnel, SOLDIER, 1st class.
Of course, I didnt know any of this when I made my decision to join SOLDIER. And since most know that I told Tifa Id be leaving when I got to be fourteen, I think Ill just skip that part and get to when I actually left. I told my mother about my decision the day I told Tifa. She was thrilled that I had made such a grown-up decision. She was worried though, there was no hiding that. She made it clear that Id have to be careful and come back to her some day. I said I would, and when the time came, I left. My mother and I exchanged hugs and good-byes, and when this was over, I gave her a smile and a wink. I turned around and walked out of town, my duffle over my shoulder, never looking back. I wouldnt see her again for two years, nor would I have any real contact with her. Im sure it mustve been hell for her, because I know it was for me.
I arrived in Midgar some two weeks later, having gotten there with no problems. When I arrived, I was amazed at the size of the city. It was huge! I walked around for hours just looking and marveling at all the sights and sounds of it, almost forgetting why I was even there. Id run out of gil getting there, but I didnt care, I was too busy just checking everything out. You can believe what you want about the city, but I wont be the first to tell you that, above the plate, the city was clean as they air is after a spring rain. I didnt know about the slums, and even if Id found out about them, I dont think I wouldve cared. Why should I? I was there to join SOLDIER, not worry about a bunch of homeless poor people below the plate.
After several hours of admiring the above-plate spectacle that was Midgar, I finally tore myself away from it all and went to Shinra Headquarters to enlist. I was told there was a small transport plane that would be leaving in a few minutes for those who wanted to join the military. I rushed to it and got on, relieved that the flight itself was free. The plane flew for about half an hour and soon crossed over the blank, blue expanse of ocean to a small island that was far enough out not to have a view of the coast. The plane landed on its airstrip, and we were ordered to get off and head to a large barracks that was located not too far from the airstrip. The island wasnt too small; it looked to be about twenty or thirty miles in length and half that in width. It was large enough to hold a training facility with all the room we could want and need, but small enough that itd be hard to get lost on it if you knew where you were going.
First off, let me just say that anyone whos been in the military knows what its like when you first arrive at what ends up being your home for the next two months or so. Those who havent been in the military have no clue what its like, and therefore shouldnt try to imagine it. Most military movies are bullshit, but a few are right on the mark.
We were all led into a room, where all of us enlisted and became property of the Shinra Armed Forces. Our uniforms were handed to us after measurements were taken of our sizes. We then were led into a different room, where they shaved our hair off. Yes, thats right, I was actually bald for a while. Hard to believe with the hair I have now eh? After our hair was shaved, we were led down a hall and into yet another room, this time for processing, receiving our dog tags, and other necessities, such as a bar of soap, boots, etc. After receiving pretty much everything wed need, we were led to a large sleeping chamber, filled with bunk beds. There wasnt enough time in the day to teach us to make them, and I guess the Shinra guys there knew that, so our bunks were already made. They had us just toss all our stuff onto our bunks, then took us to the mess hall for chow. Chow that night consisted of beef, mashed potatoes, carrot cake, and milk. That ended up being the staple diet while I was there, and let me tell you, I always craved chow time. True, I got tired of the food itself after a while, but chow time offered me, as well as everyone else, a chance to relax a bit and re-energize ourselves.
When we finished eating, we were led back to the bedroom chamber and went to bed for the night. It was about 9 PM or so when we went to bed, and when 4 AM rolled around, we were given the awakening of a lifetime, and were shown what military life is and isnt.