"It won't open," Lucca stated in a huff after pushing, then pulling on the massive double doors that sealed the castle.
"What do you mean?" Crono responded.
Lucca rolled her eyes at his obvious question, "I mean what I said Crono. It won't open; it's locked or something."
"Here, let me do it," Crono stepped past her, angling his arm to softly push her away.
Lucca took an involuntary step back, unaware of how he was going to manage it, "I think it'll take more th--"
A surge of energy noisily erupted from Crono, cutting her off. Lucca shrieked and jumped reflexively from the noise and flash.
In that flash, the energy sailed from Crono and struck between the doors, tearing into the wood frame and forcing them open. They both swung inward in opposing arcs, leaving a trail of scattering splinters and shrapnel in their wake. A hollow impact was the finale as they hit the walls inside and ceased their swing.
The silence following was only momentary. "Damn it, Crono!" Lucca yelled, just now covering her ringing ears, "I think you scared the rest of my childhood out of me!"
Crono smiled and patted her shaking shoulders, "What were you saying?"
"I was going to say that you wouldn't open that, but since you cheated, I shouldn't," Lucca glared at him, "Instead I'll point out that if Schala went in here, why would the doors be shut again?"
"Good point," Crono stated, then drew his sword and began walking in.
Lucca looked after him for a second, then turned to scan the landscape, still as dead as ever. She sighed, "Well, at least we aren't going to draw anybody's attention."
Cid found himself standing once more in the forest clearing, alone. The oak tree that had once stood tall the area was now gone, burned down and uprooted most likely. The shack however, remained. It's front door still wide open, the darkness that enveloped the gap beckoning him to approach. Calling him to enter and view the horrors it was hiding inside.
Cid merely shook his head, he wouldn't go near that place. He knew he couldn't even force himself. It frightened him beyond all rational thought. Taking a half-step back, he bumped up against a tree at the edge of the clearing and leaned against it for support, physically and mentally.
What was supposed to happen in this dream?
This time he knew it was a dream. His awareness was up, his understanding greater this time around. Perhaps he would find a clue to unlock the mystery. Already forgotten were the events that had put him under and into a deep sleep.
And then he heard whispering, human voices speaking all around him to each other. Discussing him or the house or maybe the boy or tree, Cid tried to focus on any one of these voices to discern the topic but failed. The noise was almost a low hum, constant and nerve-wracking. It seemed to be getting closer, circling in on him but never becoming louder.
Cid pressed himself tighter against the tree, trying not to glance at the shack again and increase his fear. If only he had a weapon. His hands fumbled briefly around his beltline only to remind him he indeed did not have one.
And then a hand reached around the tree and grabbed his face, covering his mouth. It brought his head away and then back against the tree hard. But in a dream, he felt no pain. Only the darkness of unconsciousness came.
And he dreamt within a dream.
The thought brought him to a realization that he was awake. Cid opened his eyes drowsily, immediately having the feeling that he'd done so several times today already. Then a moment later, he remembered that he had. Then he remembered when he had last been awake.
He shot up from the cot he had been lying in, striking his head on the cot above. He was in a bunk.
"Ow, damn it!" Cid yelled, grabbing at his forehead in pain.
He rolled out of the cot onto the floor, rocking his head back and forth trying to sooth it. After a while, he sat up and glanced about him, noting that the upper cot was vacant. The rest of the cell was pretty much what he thought it would be. Four walls, a heavy steel door complete with a barred window, and sparse decorations that consisted of carvings dug into the walls. However, everything was much too clean. The walls were a pristine white beyond the scratch marks, matching the floor and ceiling. Only the door was different, a steely gray.
He glanced down at himself to find that he was wearing thin, green pants and a shirt. More like a medical patient than a prisoner.
"You awake in there?"
Cid was to his feet instantly as he glanced at the door, through the bars, and into the dim face of what would be his guard. Or possibly captor.
"I don't think I can tell anymore," he replied lamely.
The sound of keys hitting the lock told him the man took his reply as a yes. After several seconds of clinking, the door swung open, surprisingly quiet. A prison didn't keep such good care of their doors.
Cid briefly thought about rushing the guard, then decided not to on account of the guard being armed and him not fully awake. Instead, he smiled beamingly as the other man stepped inside. Three others soon followed, two more guards and someone dressed in more casual clothing. As the small cell suddenly became crowded, Cid decided to sit back down on his cot. He banged the back of his head on the top cot doing so, making a match for the front.
"Are you okay?" the fourth person asked in a caring voice as Cid, eyes winced shut, caressed his head.
"I'm fine, I do this for fun," Cid replied none too polite.
The guards panned about the room, their stances never becoming as leisurely as the other visitor's, they were here to protect him, it seemed.
"Mm," the other said nodding, not catching the sarcasm in Cid's tone, "I suppose it keeps the blood flowing."
"Yeah, all over you pretty white floor," Cid finished.
"Did you cut yourself?" the man asked?
Cid sighed to himself, "I don't see how I could, these beds aren't... What are you doing here, anyway? And who are you?"
The other man smiled briefly, then spoke, "Sorry, we're not allowed to give out our names here. At least those on staff. You can just call me Doctor Y."
"If you must," Doctor Y replied with a smile, "Someone beat me to X, I'm afraid."
"Must've broke your heart," Cid reverted back to his monotone, biting voice.
"If we can carry on here--I'm on a schedule--I'd like to get down to business," the doctor reached into a pocket Cid didn't notice before.
A moment later, he produced a tube filled with a clear liquid; his hand dug back into the pocket. "What's all this?" Cid asked, leaning back in his seat from a sudden bout of anxiety.
"Just a few antibiotics," Doctor Y responded calmly, producing a needle sheathed in a thick plastic sleeve, "You've been out in the open for several months and we don't know about your immunities yet."
"Huh?" Cid was confused now, glancing at the guards around him and hoping for similar reactions; none came, "I don't remember having any problems with my immunities."
"Of course not," the doctor smiled as he hooked the needle into the tube, "We always took good care of you here."
"No," Cid shook his head, "that doesn't make sense! I don't recall ever being here before!"
"Doesn't make sense? You could die without this," Doctor Y retorted, "It seems about as complicated as two and two making four to me."
Cid slid away as the doctor leaned forward to grasp his arm for the shot. He jumped out of the cot and leaned into the far corner, trying to find a way out of this. The doctor sighed as the nearest guard grabbed Cid by the arms and pinned him down. Y leaned down over Cid with a weary expression evident on his face.
"Look," his tone was now menacing, no longer soothing, "even if you're not infected with anything, this shot's not going to hurt you. If you insist on resisting, we'll have to put you back to sleep to give the shot. So just make it easy on all of us, okay?"
Cid merely slid to a sitting position in the corner, closing his eyes and trying to shut out the world he didn't recognize. He continued to ignore everything one of his arms was freed and a soft prick following, the shot administered. And still, he continued to ignore everything as the door opened, then shut several seconds later.
"Good boy," Doctor Y said from beyond the door, "Maybe tomorrow we can catch up on all that you've missed."
Cid continued to ignore him. This was not his world.
"Boring," Marle mumbled to herself as she put down one of Lucca's books, "If someone's going to waste four hundred pages on..." She glanced at the title of the book again, then decided not to bother even trying to vocalize that mess of letters, "Whatever you are... They could at least make it interesting."
She got up out of her chair and walked across Lucca's living room to the bookcase, hoping to maybe strike reader's gold this time around. But each book seemed to be the same format. Whatever a young inventor needed. Not a single romantic novel in the bunch.
Marle glanced back outside, the sun beginning to approach the horizon to begin the night. The other two probably wouldn't make it back until morning then. She abandoned her quest for literary mush and wandered through the hallway into the kitchen to begin a quest for dinner.
Which was a mild success. She dug a little of this and a little of that out of the pantry and tossed them together on the counter. But as she glanced down to look for silverware, something glanced across her vision, outside through the window in the fading light. Marle looked up in startlement, but saw nothing but the lawn.
She shrugged it off and returned her attention to more important things. After setting up a decent meal, she carried the tray back to her reading desk she hadn't used much for reading. She swept the few books lying on it off the edge and set down the food, then went back to get the fork and spoon she left behind.
But as she returned, she realized she should have paid more attention to the movement that had distracted her earlier. There stood three men in Lucca's foyer, the one most likely the leader pulling a pear from her dinner tray. He was fairly tall, a little over six feet tall, with brown hair that went down to an inch above his shoulders. His dress was ragged, though it seemed more out of a sense of personal style than circumstance. His eyes glinted with a very dangerous intelligence.
"Thank you so much madam, for the meal," he toasted her with the pear with a friendly smile.
"Who are you and what are you doing here?" Marle demanded, reminding herself she only had a fork for defense, "This is a private residence."
She stepped forward another pace, putting her next to the twin stairwells, as a possible escape route if needed.
"A private residence which doesn't stop the queen from taking her fill, I've noticed," his reply remained annoyingly casual, "Perhaps she could share her meal with her less fortunate subjects?"
"Who are you?" she asked again, putting down the spoon and tightening her grip on the fork, "Don't condescend to me."
"Condescend?" the man's eyebrow raised, "That's a fancy word for someone who can't manage to say..."
He glanced at the floor to the book Marle had been looking at earlier and studied the title. But the word vexed him just as much, causing his eyes to squint in disbelief that such an order of letters was possible or even legal.
"Well damn, that is a pretty strange word. I take back my remark," his eyes returned to her and hers, "And instead replace it with an answer. I'm here for you."
"Me," it was a statement rather than a question, Marle just knew that had been coming; she took a half step to the stairs.
"Oh, but not you directly, do not be frightened," he took a bite out of the pear and paused briefly in his speech.
As he did so, two other men appeared, one at each top of the staircases, trapping Marle. She knew without looking that there was probably even another in the kitchen. She was absolutely trapped. She dropped the fork, there being no point in fighting this many.
She would just wait. Wait for Crono and Lucca to return. They could in fact return any minute. And if not, if she was led away from the house, she would have to find a way to leave a trail for them to follow. Her mind was in a panic as it tried to formulate a piecemeal plan.
The man swallowed his bite and continued, "I just need to you help me reacquaint myself with an old friend. Though not necessarily old by comparison to myself, of course."
He reached down and pulled another fruit, this time an apple, out of the tray and tossed it to Marle, who just barely managed to catch it, "Have a go at that if you will and you can tell us all about The Marshal."
"Now Cid, you're not being cooperative here," a calm voice berated him, once again.
Cid glared at the figure that spoke, yet another doctor. This one sat near the middle of a semicircle of his protégés who faced Cid. Cid himself sat in a wooden chair facing them. They were all in another room, and like all others in this place, it was bare and white. Very white. Cid was beginning to hate white. Two guards stood at the door, attentive.
"I'm being as cooperative as I can, so back off," Cid shot back, "You've apparently got me mixed up with someone else, albeit someone else with a very sexy name, but I'm not him. I'm another Cid. I worked the technician division at RoboTech for almost two years. I disappeared for a while and I sort of drove a tank through Project Lavos." Cid shut himself up, realizing he was telling a bit too much. He suddenly had a fear that they had administered a truth agent into his shot. Then again, if so, they would be forced to believe him now.
However, they were unimpressed. Doctor Z or D or A, or whoever it was replied, "Through the Project, hm? How did you learn to drive a tank?"
"Okay, ignore that last part," Cid changed gears, trying to cover his mistake, "Just get a line through to RoboTech, ask around. You'll see you've got the wrong guy."
Several doctors conferred amongst each other, then signaled for one of the guards at the door to go make some calls. They turned back to Cid.
"We've never heard of an incident with a tank," Doctor X added, "When was this?"
"Oh, it was yesterday," Cid retorted.
"I was being sarcastic, you old goat," Cid got a disgusted look on his face, "I want someone to tell me what's going on now."
A doctor on the left side pulled out a hand recorder, "Subject shows signs of delusion and aggressive behavior."
"I'll show you aggressive behavior!" Cid shouted and jumped up from his seat, towering over his inquisitors.
The remaining guard was fast, however. In a flash he had a stun gun in his hand. Before Cid had time to tell the guard he wasn't attacking, the thing was jammed into his side and voltage shot its way into him. Cid spasmed and his right leg kicked out from under him, causing him to fall over. He curled into a ball.
As he winced in pain, he stared ahead, at the only thing he could see. The boots the guard wore. So shiny.
They keep everything clean here, don't they?
He continued to stare as the pain diminished, and then the guard turned and walked away.
"...Right," the doctor replied; Cid could almost tell he was smirking behind his back.
"Does the subject feel he can continue this in a professional manner?" another doctor asked.
"Subject wants to go home," Cid replied in a strained voice, "Also, subject hates white."
"You are home, Cid," was the only reply.
And in the back of Cid's head, he began to believe it.
The pair glanced up quickly at the voice, Crono readying his sword. There was nothing but darkness glaring against the faint light that came from the small lantern Lucca had taken out when they entered. Nothing living, at least. A lonely throne stood before them, but it certainly couldn't have spoken to them.
"To whom are we speaking?" Lucca called out after completing her search.
No answer came.
"Maybe we were just hearing things," Crono surmised after several quiet moments.
"Both of us?" Lucca queried, "Hardly."
"Maybe hearing voices is contagiou--" Crono began, then his head darted to their left.
Lucca brought her lantern around to follow his movement, but through its light they saw nothing.
"Crono, calm down," Lucca scolded him, "If you get me swinging this thing around too much one of us is going to burst into flames."
"Sorry," Crono responded, turning back away, "I guess your light's throwing our shadows everywhere."
The continued to slowly advance into the depths of the castle, still not too sure what to expect. The dark halls passed them by, solemn and dead. The throne room was just a ways further, and that was more than likely their final destination. Lucca glanced to the side through open doorways and into the rooms and halls beyond, trying to make out anything visible.
But she knew if she tried too hard she would start imagining she saw things, and that could be even worse. They could handle a stray spectre or two. But if their own minds were turning against them, who knows?
Finally they reached the throne doors, unmolested though still wary. That was the way to go, but neither of them wanted to open it, to see what was beyond. Finally, Lucca spoke.
"After you!" she said with a copy of Crono's inviting wave.
"Don't even try it," Crono shook his head, then decided to open the door anyway.
It swung open to reveal another dead, dark room. But it was their destination they stepped inside. It was then that Lucca's lantern flickered briefly and they knew they weren't alone. Crono's sword came around as he circled about to find the source of the disturbance, but finding nothing.
The door shut behind them.
"...And upon excavating the crater, we found what appeared to be a hole in the very fabric of space. We set up camp about it to examine the phenomenon, which eventually grew into a military base."
"And thus came Project Lavos." Cid finished.
They were back in Cid's cell now. Just Cid, Dr. Y, and the two ever-present guards. Cid sat on his bottom bunk, being careful not to knock his head again, the other three stood.
"Yes, so you know that much," Dr. Y continued, "After a while, we found that it wasn't a tear in space, but in time... And then later, we opened it."
"You what?" Cid's voice raised a bit more than he had intended.
"At first, we wanted to send a party through, to explore another time and collect data. But others thought it was too dangerous, it would possibly create a time loop. And they were probably right. Instead, we decided to simply bring something back from that other time."
The doctor paused for a few moments, possibly to think of how to word the next sentence. Cid waited patiently, although his anxiety grew the longer he did so. Finally, Y continued.
"We didn't have time to do anything, though. Before we could send a party in to begin collecting, a human erupted from the gate. He was in a state of panic and was mumbling to himself. Then he passed out."
Cid thought for a moment they were speaking of Marshall, remembering the first time the bounty hunter had come through the gate. But he dismissed the idea, that hadn't happened at Project Lavos.
"Well... we took the person to the infirmary for safekeeping for the while, then found a problem. The rift had closed itself completely," Dr. Y rubbed his temple as he continued his explanation, "So we went back to the infirmary and decided to study... the person instead. After all, there was no going back.
"Then after a year, the person disappeared. A year later, he was arrested in a hotel not far from here."
Cid tried to stand up as he realized who they were talking about and bumped his head a third time. He covered where it hurt with one hand while he pulled himself up with the other, "Damn it! Why are there bunk beds in here when I'm the only person anyway?!"
"I see you're beginning to understand. And hopefully, to remember," the doctor took a step back from Cid, so casual it was almost unnoticeable.
"No!" Cid stared at the doctor, "I don't remember any of that at all! And I sure as hell don't understand it since it clashes with what I do remember happening for the last five years. You really do have the wrong person."
"That's where you're wrong. DNA and fingerprint scans already confirm it was you. We checked your alibi, as well. RoboTech never had someone named Cid working for them. You never drove a tank through the project. What you think you've been through is more than likely all an illusion, caused by being out in a futuristic society for the first time and not being able to handle it."
"I had a wallet, with cards and identification--"
"That belonged to a doctor you took them from when you fled. How do you think we were able to track you down to that hotel?"
"This is all a cover-up right? I've been through Project Lavos and now they're trying to erase my identity and exterminate me," Cid took a step forward.
Instantly, the two guards took a step forward as well, barring the distance between the doctor and Cid. They glared at him as he glared back.
"No, it is not. You're just confused," Dr. Y reasoned, "Calm down, sleep a little on it, and we'll talk some more in the morning."
The doctor made a hasty exit as Cid still refused to cooperate. One of the guards quickly injected Cid with another sleeping agent and they threw him to the ground before following the doctor.
Cid stood up immediately and raced for the closing door, but was too late. He slammed himself against it mercilessly and yelled at their departing forms, "You can't erase me! I know who I am! People know who I am!"
He fell back away from the door as his vision blurred and his limbs began to grow numb.
"I'm somebody," he mumbled to himself as he turned away from the departing figures.
There was no point yelling anymore, he had to get somewhere safe before he passed out. Cid stumbled towards the bed, then fell into it as the drugs took full hold of him and sleep erased him.