“We sometimes encounter people,
even perfect strangers,
who begin to interest us at first sight,
somehow suddenly, all at once,
before a word has been spoken.”
Crime and Punishment
His pulse was racing off the charts.
It hadn’t beaten that quickly since his episode at the cliff side over a week ago. It hadn’t hardly twitched when he dived off the twelve-story high promontory into the ocean, nor did it elevate any when he had to bob around for the object of his rescue while under pressure from the approaching school of Fastilochon-Fs. It was only after he’d finally found her hand and their fingers touched that his adrenaline began to get pushed to the brink.
He hadn’t reached out and held anyone’s hand since he jumped into outer space to reclaim Rinoa from the galactic vacuum. Before that critical moment he hadn’t been convinced that there was anything in the world that deserved his personal self-sacrifice. He still wasn’t too sure, but there was no other way he could explain why he volunteered yet again to jump headfirst into an elemental sinkhole to pull out a floundering girl before it swallowed her forever. The similarity of the emergency and the circumstances delivered a prompting that he had not been able to ignore.
Perhaps she reminded me of her.
But they were two different people.
In the mental filing system he had built up over the years, he had not allocated any spare folders for emotions. Quite frankly their recent introduction was wreaking hell on the organization of his thoughts and actions.
Keenly aware that he was speeding in the upper end of ninety miles per hour on his motorcycle with a terrified passenger sitting behind him, Squall multi-tasked and did a quick run-through of what was on his mind in no particular order:
About Selphie Tilmitt:
I really ought to chastise her for putting emoticons on the bottom line of the intra-office memo that was sent around to each employee this morning. Additionally I didn’t find her “spiffy” new earmuffs she would surely be gloating about the least bit interesting or spiffy, even though she never got around to showing them to me. I caught it subtly listed in the items she bought under her discretionary funds in the daily budget report folder that I flipped through on the elevator before I handed it to Quistis not fifteen minutes ago.
I also remember Selphie saying something about another student mixer or event. It’s probably going to be a party that no one will attend, but that hasn’t stopped her in the past.
About the Shumi:
I need to figure out what their village is missing and what its disappearance has to do with Zell and Irvine. Still, just because they discovered that it was gone after Zell and Irvine left doesn’t mean that it wasn’t already gone when the two were there. Anyway, I still don’t know enough about the specifics of this artifact and the consequences of its misplacement or misuse to perform any cost-benefit analysis to determine the optimal course of action to pursue. Maybe I should call a general officers’ meeting and pose this matter formally to a committee discussion. But following protocol, a meeting of that sort isn’t usually convened unless a clear military threat exists. I know the Shumi have near unlimited financial capabilities, but would anyone really go to war because they’ve lost something of sentimental value?
About Malboro Baby Tentacle Rolls:
I really need a smoke. I haven’t had a breather from my office work today to indulge in even one. Have I already run out? Well, it’s not like they are difficult to obtain. According to Garden intelligence reports that I requested, the new brand of enhanced Malboro rolls have become so pervasive throughout the underground markets in Balamb, Trabia, and even Galbadia at a rate that would astonish even the most optimistic entrepreneur. This is a real cross-continental cultural epidemic.
About Ellone Loire:
It’s been a while since I last heard from Ellone, or anyone from Esthar for that matter. The last transmission I received from Laguna was during the night of the ball in Balamb Garden. It was over three-weeks old. After Selphie verbally coerced me into the communication room to listen to the message, I took what I could get out of it and tried to block out the rest. The opening line, however, has proven to be too formidable for even my trained mental deletion techniques to suppress.
“So, how’s the weather, son? I’m your father now, so if you want to change your last name, son, you can.”
Having sifted through all the clumsy grammatical structures, uncomfortable pauses, lame jokes, and non sequitur digressions, though, I finally managed to come up with something worth saving
“Look for the silver lining and smile once you find it. I see so many of the one in life and so few of the other from you. I want you to know how much I believe in you, how much faith I have in you, how promising I feel your future is, and how certain I am that in the end you will overcome.”
It sounded like a line from a movie, actually. I wonder where he copied that from.
About the bracelet:
They have to be able to find something in the archives about it. I can’t believe how inefficient the research team is, not being able to identify with all the time they’ve already had.
Though the possibility exists for them to be one and the same, I highly doubt this artifact that mysteriously turns up on the beach is what the Shumi are desperately looking for. Things in this world don’t work out so simply and cleanly.
About Edea Kramer:
This morning before I got to read the report about our current budget for the Nova Trabia Garden SeeD program, I received a voice-message from Matron. It passed all the verification tests and was opened uncorrupted by all the right coding keys.
“I’ve been worried about you lately. Actually I’ve been worried since you arrived at the orphanage, more so after we had to send Ellone away on the White SeeD ship to protect her from me, but ever since Cid assigned you the position of the SeeD Commander, I know it’s been even more difficult for you. You never did like being thrust into new environments or circumstances beyond your control. Originally you probably thought it was only a temporary assignment that had been decided in an emergency situation, but at the celebratory ball after you all returned from Time Compression, it must have been a shock when Cid permanently promoted you to the Commander of Nova Trabia Garden’s SeeDs. My own heart sank when I heard the announcement.”
“You have to trust Matron on this one, but she knows how you must feel, even if you are unsure of your own feelings. You are more lonely than ever. Even though Rinoa and Ellone have taken leave to see you, reports here say that neither of them is currently with you. Is that true? Maybe it’s too soon after so hard-fought a battle to settle into your new shoes, your new office, and your new home. In this momentary reprieve from all the wars we’ve had you wage, in this eye of the storm, you’ve probably not had time to get a hold of your new bearings.”
“You’re not sitting in the back of Quistis’ classroom anymore, Squall. You’re sitting by yourself. Maybe the ambience doesn’t influence how deeply you can become absorbed in your thoughts, but when you’re alone, you don’t even need to be thinking for it to be dreadfully silent. The hollowness of the space you occupy will produce echoes of the cries from the hollowness of your heart, strengthening it and cutting you twice as deeply.”
“I am sad that you’ve had to realize how lonely it is to be in the eye of the storm, or as your name implies, to be the eye itself. It is your fate for you to be who you are. You in particular would take the time to notice it while others might obliviously try to charge through the penumbra. It's because you alone in your introspection would stand back and mark it as you do with so many other things- mundane or not, you make them remarkable. But perhaps you feel that few people take the time to remark upon you, and so as a result of their lack of circumspection, you become less remarkable and more estranged. Under the influence of everyone’s listening to Julia Heartilly’s lyrics, this development was even more probable.”
“I just want you to know that we're each the point of reference in our own lives. That's paradigmatically what the eye of the storm is the one grounded weathervane that remains constant in the volume of chaotic life swirling around and past you from all directions, but that unites them with notion a relativity. In your life, the tempest of events hits you the hardest, while everyone else's might just glance off and whisk by notelessly. And while I'm afraid this conception of mine about you won't give you the type of comfort you are seeking, it is of importance tantamount that you know it.”
“Though people are uniquely isolated and self-contained in the analogy, you are at least another point of reference in my life. Some time towards the end of the last year while I was struggling to regain control of my body from Ultimecia, I managed to formulate exactly how much and in what way you are special to me: You got to know me during the years when life stood still for me, after I accepted the burden of the sorceress’ power and forfeited what I thought would have been my happiest, most golden years of youth, thinking that I would never live beyond the dreaded but desired final battle between myself and you. And during this time, the rest of world continued to live and share their own stories without me, without my seclusion, without my misery. And yet, because of the time I got to spend with you growing up, I didn't feel as though I was missing it or missing from it at all. You saved me, Squall. For that, I think you are remarkable and aren't as alone as you sometimes feel you are; you're better connected and remarked upon than you think.”
“On those rare peaceful early mornings after the clouds have parted at along the beachside cliffs of Trabia between your dawn and my dusk, maybe when you raise your head you aren't really looking out into empty space, but instead have your eyes fixed on some point in the sky, some star that might be just as visible to me too, and that would be my new point for referencing you.”
“Relationships may be fatuous, and physics vacuous, but one's own sense of self never empty. You are more complete than you are alone when you're by yourself, so try to cheer up. It's always the safest bet to hold onto yourself tightly because you would never derelict yourself. The weathervane doesn't need to depend on anyone else to point out the direction for it because it's always steering its life in the way it ought to go. Deep down you've always known where you have to go, and I hope you finally find your way there.”
About Quistis Trepe:
She is either flattering us by assuming that we’re mature enough to understand her, or she’s flattering herself by assuming that she’s young enough to understand us. Either way, the result is a horrific failure. I think she wants me to grow a conscience, but by the time I am her age and have learned my lesson, the only thing I’ll be growing is senile.
About Rinoa Heartilly/Caraway:
I can’t rationalize this any other way. I believe this is residual guilt that is still plaguing me surrounding the circumstances that led up to me delivering that intercom message the day before I left Balamb Garden for this assignment. I know I didn’t ask her to wait for me, but by not asking her to not wait, she will continue to do so. And that is asking too much.
He felt the arms around his waist and tighten in response to the climbing velocity at which they were almost soaring over the Trabian fields. Immediately his thoughts were turned to the girl hanging onto him from behind.
About Merali ?:
So her name is Merali, apparently. It’s about time I found out. I am utterly confused. I hardly know her but it doesn’t feel that way. Once again I am a casualty of the classic battle between the my internecine thoughts and emotions. I don’t want to get too close for obvious reasons, but compared to everyone else I know she is just refreshing in her silence because she wasn’t always fighting for every single word, or arguing over semantics or bad word choice. Because she can’t speak my language and possibly doesn’t even comprehend it when it is spoken to her, I am under no pressure to say anything. But I read that eighty percent of communication occurs through body language anyway, so even if I keep my mouth shut she should probably be getting the gist of everything I would have told her.
As dangerous a thought that this is, I wish Rinoa could be more like her. Or maybe I just wish Rinoa were a little less like Rinoa.
About Squall Leonhart:
Maybe I wish I was a little less like myself. But then who would I be? Whose life would I rather have? What path would I rather follow, or do I even need to follow anything?
About Cerberus the GF:
I don’t have split personalities. Oh yes I do. No I don’t.
About Diablos the GF:
I am the best Guardian Force on this planet. I am loyal, devoted, unfaltering, dedicated, diligent, and totally underrated
Squall scowled suspiciously when he figured out what was going on.
Get out of my head, you two, he warned them with a mental check.
Sorry, boss, Diablos voiced, got a bit carried away there, but you know how hard it is to resist tapping into your thoughts every now and then, being junctioned to you and all. I mean, it’s not like these genie-wannabes have any intellectually stimulating conversation to offer.
Check out the scanner, Master, the somber voice of Ifrit suddenly cut in.
Ifrit’s words were hardly ever suspect. Something was clearly wrong.
Squall was about to key in a scan on the area from the motorbike dashboard when his command was interrupted by an incoming call from Nova Trabia Garden.
“This is Leonhart,” he answered.
“Commander Leon “
Watch out! Doomtrain blasted in his ears. His head inside the safety helmet, the Guardian Force’s words seemed to reverberate with ten times the decibel intensity.
The front tire of the bike seemed to run over some awkward obstacle and he had to fight to regain control of the vehicle. Unfortunately at their speed, recovery was impossible. The best he could manage was to collapse the bike on its side and skid to safety. Whatever momentum the friction from the bike and the ground could not neutralize, he and Merali would be making up by tumbling for tens of meters.
The world around him spun like he was a vial sitting in a centrifuge. When his neural and tactic sensors caught up with his optical apparatus, he could be sure that it would hurt like hell.
I wonder if Merali will be okay.
Better worry about yourself, Master, Cerberus B reminded him.
When everything had stopped moving, he safely reasoned that he had stopped moving. He was clearly in shock because he was having a hard time lifting his head and determining whether or not the rest of his body was numb. Directional references were useless, so it took him a while to find out which way was up and actually lift his head to look around. He was met by a medley of scattered images that he could not focus on.
Right before he threw up, he made out one of the snapshots in the visual kaleidoscope that was assaulting his senses. A pack of at least three Ruby Dragons were stampeding on all fours towards him. A little distance behind him was Merali whose body was alarmingly limp.
The enemy would get the first strike. He could see that right away. In order to survive the volley, he would have to make some costly sacrifices. He began calling out each of his GFs as shields. No doubt they would all be wiped out by the dragons’ breaths before they could perform their attack, but he had no other recourse. Afterwards, he would have to take the pack on his own, assuming that he could get back on his feet and find his weapon, which was presumably still strapped to the damaged bike.
The battle was only about to begin and he had already played out all the predetermined moves.
He was going to lose, and he was going to die.
The alpha male of the Red Dragon herd had come within its long-range striking distance. Rather than continue forward and trample over him, it paused and let loose a jet of flame from its cavernous mouth. This was joined by a second and third intensifying fountain of fire from the other two monsters. The combined blasts of scorching breath broke over the bodies of the GFs who had managed to materialize protectively between them, and he saw their shadowy silhouettes slowly get incinerated by the illuminating conflagration that they blocked behind them. The tendrils and sparks of the flame reached around the disintegrating GF flesh mass and clawed hungrily towards him.
As it engulfed him, he thought he caught the movement of a white angel descending into the scene out from the corner of his eye.
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