"Those are definitely buildings down there," Lucca declared behind a pair of binoculars, "But I can't see any people from this far out. Either it's empty or it's just not a very busy village, I'm thinking."
"Let me see," Crono demanded, extending his hand to take her eyewear.
The two of them were perched under a tree near the top of a large hill a ways off the road they had been wandering down. It was tall enough to give them good visibility, though for the detail they needed, the binoculars had to be used. They had only been wandering for a couple of hours since getting stranded in this world, but there was very much a need to rush. Mainly the handicap of not bringing any food with them when they first ventured into Limbo; that was something that'd catch up to them eventually.
The village itself was fairly small, maybe a dozen huts clustered unevenly across the base of a mountain. the big brother to the hill they were currently on. Oddly enough though, there didn't seem to be any nearby water sources. That was usually the initial building block of any village. Lucca hoped they had a well or maybe even some sort of irrigation system that fed from the nearby mountain instead. Then all they'd have to worry about was the food.
Lucca held onto her toy for a moment longer then finally relented and handed them to him. As he gave a look himself, she rubbed her chin thoughtfully and leaned back against the trunk of the tree. There was no telling if the natives in this world were friendly or not, so visiting the village below could be extremely dangerous as opposed to extremely rewarding. As opposed to slightly rewarding.
But still, even if they didn't find a way or information pertaining to a way back, they needed that food and water. The various alien plants dotting the landscape might be edible, but she wasn't willing to risk that until it was absolutely necessary.
"See anything I missed?" Lucca asked.
"No," Crono said, then added in frustration, "I can't even find the buildings with this silly thing."
"You're moving it too quickly," she chastised him, "You'll just blur right over what you're looking for, keep your hands steady."
"No, I'll just take your word for it," he dropped his hands down and offered Lucca her binoculars back.
She accepted and placed them back into her pouch, as Crono got up from his half-sitting position he had been in and stretched. Then he began to trudge back down the hill, "Let's get a closer look."
Lucca got up and followed him, wiping pieces of bark from her pants. She still didn't like that idea much, "We're not even sure if that's safe yet."
"Well, looking from this hill didn't tell us anything, so we don't have much choice."
Crono hopped off of a jutting rock to travel the remaining three feet down to the trail, leaving Lucca to merely walk around it. Despite bandaging it up, her arm was still feeling pain spikes from the scratch she had received struggling with the mantis, and acrobatics wouldn't help.
When Lucca caught up with him, she thought about continuing her case, then realized she really didn't have one. Crono was right. If she were to speak, it would be to agree with him. With that in mind, the inventor remained silent for the time being. The two set off down the road once more, towards the village.
Once her feet had gotten back into that monotonous left-right-left pattern, Lucca's mind began to wander again, much against her better sense. She had originally intended to use this trip as a means to ask Crono about his strange behavior. While he wouldn't tell Marle, she as his best friend could still possibly pry it out and help him deal with it. But she had had trouble working herself up to it, finding a way to ask without being obvious. And then the thing back at the castle had happened. Now was the time to bring it up, she had been trying during their whole trip through this strange world. But she still felt that irrational trepidation creep up on her.
"Crono?" she heard herself say under force, then having his attention, her mind went blank.
Why have you been behaving so strange, lately?
What's been the matter with you, lately?
How've you been lately?
Why are you acting so messed up, lately? You're going to make Marle cry.
"Yes?" he asked when she didn't follow up, a moment later he turned to look at her as well.
"Sorry, I'm having trouble wording this," she apologized, then decided to go with her third option, "How've you been lately?"
Crono continued to look at her a moment longer, then his eyes seemed to lose focus as he internalized her question. Thinking of how to answer it.
"What do you mean?" he finally asked, "I mean I know how I've been, but I think your question's a bit more specific than that, right?"
"Yeah," she gave in, shaking her head, "You saw right through it. And I've been spending the whole day trying to word it out before speaking."
She sighed before continuing, "I mean I hear you've been running off from the castle for days at a time, not telling anybody when you leave or anything. You've become a man on a mission, but without a real mission. And it's starting to worry Marle. A lot."
"Did she have you do this?" it wasn't really an accusation.
"No, it was my idea. But she has been telling me about your forays into the wild unknown and I thought I should try to talk some sense into you."
Crono gave a short laugh and repeated, "Forays..."
"Well, that's pretty much what they are, right?"
"I suppose," he made a face, "But I told her why I was doing that. She shouldn't be worried."
"Well she is and so was I. So am I, maybe," she backtracked a bit on that last statement, "It depends on how you answer me."
"I already did answer you," Crono responded without answering.
"Then repeat it and tell me how you're doing," Lucca stopped in her tracks and folded her arms, waiting for her friend to come out with it.
"I'm doing fine. The only problem is the people worrying about me for no reason," Crono pursed his lips and furrowed his brow, "I've been a bit more active than usual, I guess."
"Okay, let's start there then," Lucca replied, ignoring everything but his last statement, "You've been more active lately. You've chosen yourself to be the unofficial protector of everything around you from what I've heard, but you're not going about it the right way."
"Could we continue this on the move, at least," Crono was getting noticeably agitated at the pressure she was putting on him.
Lucca didn't argue though, she dropped her arms and started forward again, Crono stepping in line next to her. "The right way would be to not be so... so..." having navigated that tongue twister of a sentence, she suddenly couldn't think of the right word to cap it off.
"So brash?" he finished.
"So reclusive and untrusting, to name a couple more," she finally threw out, "Have others help you. That's the way I remember you used to be."
He shook his head, "They've got so much to do already."
"Then stop what you're doing and help them instead," Lucca said, gesticulating at him for emphasis.
He didn't argue this, perhaps she had finally won a point over him. Or perhaps he'd heard it all before from Marle. Maybe she had to use another tactic to get to him.
But he beat her to the next word, "But it looks like I was right, though. That gate that sent us here that magically appeared is proof enough."
"That doesn't mean anything," she argued, not wanting the conversation to head down this way, "We still don't know how or why it happened."
"But that monster," Crono pointed out, then shot down his own argument, "Well, I guess it doesn't have a how or why yet either. But all the same, the two together point towards some sort of trap trying to herd us into this world. And it worked."
"But we haven't seen anything in this world that has poised a threat to us. No ambush waiting at the other side, ignoring that bug chasing us all the way through."
"Yeah, ignore it," Crono agreed with a bit of humor to tell her there was no sarcasm involved, "No how or why to anything we've seen so far."
"We still don't even know what became of Schala. Maybe she made the gate to save us from something even bigger than that mantis."
"I guess it's possible, but I didn't think she was that powerful."
Lucca shrugged, "We never had time to find that out, though."
Crono began to say something else, but his stomach rumbled, breaking his sentence before it began. Instead, he changed the topic, "I'm hungry."
"I can tell," Lucca rolled her eyes, "I wonder if we could have cooked that bug into a burger or something."
Crono made a face at this, and said, "I'd rather take something from that village up ahead."
Sure enough, they were almost there. The buildings were beginning to take shape before them. Thatched roofs over what appeared to be wooden walls. The forest broke off several yards away from the perimeter of the town, but there was no signs of farming or even stumps from the trees that would have been used for fire or construction. And there were still no denizens in sight, no sign if they would be friend or foe.
"I just hope whatever it is, it's digestible for us," Lucca added, "Food without nutrients won't do us much good."
Project Lavos was exactly as Cid remembered it, barring the changes of time, which was a welcome relief to him strangely enough. He was almost sure the world had gone topsy-turvy around him, this at least was something to anchor himself to. A piece of his memory that hadn't betrayed him. Yet.
Beside him, Doctor Y hummed an acknowledgement to himself quietly. The smugness emanating from his face irritated Cid, the silly twit had seen the recognition as they entered the room. But he didn't think Cid recognized it for his trip through with his friends. He took the expression to further his own theory on the boy, that Cid was a product of this facility.
"You don't have to be so obvious," Cid snapped.
"I beg your pardon?" there was something mocking in that question.
"You're just shoving it in my face. 'Oh! The boy's home and he knows it!' All of that. Just keep it to yourself, please."
The doctor smirked, the preening attitude not leaving one bit. He had begun a steady transformation since they had arrived at this place. What Cid had once thought of as a kindly though untrustworthy old man was suddenly sending a feeling of unease to spear down the boy's spine.
Was that all an act to try and trick information out of me?
They reached a door behind two guards. The man on the left nodded and turned, punching the password into the keypad. The door slid open before them with the sound of hydraulics, opening up to another long hallway. But only Cid and the doctor stepped through, the guards that had accompanied them hanging back for a reason he didn't know. He turned back to look at them, but they had already begun to chat away with the two men who had been guarding the door, unaware and uncaring about the two they had been escorting. The door slid shut separating the two groups.
"Are they too scared to go any further?" Cid asked, hoping for a real answer despite the mockery.
"That's not the reason they're staying behind," Doctor Y replied, then gave Cid a serious look and added, "But I can tell you they probably are scared regardless."
There was just too much sudden honesty in the man's voice for Cid to make a snappy remark. Beyond the door before them, yards away but getting closer, was something he suddenly dreaded to see. The Project Lavos he thought he remembered suddenly became a little more foreign to him. The doctor wasn't being smug to trump Cid, he realized. He was doing it to cover up his own fear.
The shiver down his spine received a shiver of its own.
Cid stopped in his tracks, forcing Dr. Y to follow suit. The boy shook his head, "I'm not doing this."
"But you must," Dr. Y said, "It's the only way you can remember. It'll erase your false memories."
"What will?" Cid took a step back instead.
The doctor matched his step, "You know what."
He didn't. There wasn't a way to make these people believe he didn't know anything. That he wasn't whom they wanted. He was trapped in a place he didn't belong, that was all he knew now. The door at the end of the hall behind him was the only way out and it was futile. The walls and floor were so white they seemed like nothingness stretching into infinite, but he knew they were so much closer.
Was there any point in doing this?
He had already made that decision before he knew what it was he was going to do. Cid turned and broke into a run towards his one exit. His one chance. Though it was so small a calculator couldn't measure it, it was all he had and he had to try. Cid braced his shoulder and slammed into the door, but it didn't budge.
He hadn't expected it to. He bounced off of it and reached out to the panel, trying to pry from his memory what the guard had pushed to open it on the other side. He heard footsteps behind him, the doctor following. But they weren't running like he was, they were steady and even. No hurry.
It was five digits that had been punched in, he remembered. The first had been two, and the fourth had been seven. But what were the other three? No, the third had been seven and the fourth was nine.
He typed in at random, 21791. No. 21792. Nothing. The second number had been in the middle row, hadn't it?
Stupid smug doctor distracting me.
The footsteps were getting closer but he didn't bother to turn. He had time for a few more tries. No point in turning. A waste of time. It was a waste of time to even think about not turning.
24791. 24792. 24793.
"There are four guards on the other side of that door, and they're armed Cid."
"Shut up, you're making me lose track," Cid responded harshly, "I'm sure I'm too important to shoot anyway."
"But I should mention they're armed with tranquilizers. We don't need to have you fully aware of your senses, I should tell you."
24796. Still nothing.
Cid felt a hand on his shoulder, gentle but it felt like a lead weight. He knew his chance was over. His hands fell away from the keypad and dropped to his sides and he gave up trying. The hand patted him once and then fell away.
"It's not so bad, you'll see," the voice reassured him, "The aftermath, I mean. The experience itself won't be pleasant, to be honest. But that's the shortest of the two parts."
"I could knock you out cold right here, right now," Cid said with a deadpan tone, knowing already he wouldn't.
"No, you couldn't," it was a fact.
Cid turned and looked the mysterious old man in the eye, "Why do you do this to me?"
"The answer to that and everything is on the other side of the door, Cid."
"What if I'm right and I'm not the person you're looking for?"
"Then we were wrong, but in the end it won't matter. Your memory, false or not, will be gone. And you will still serve the purpose we need you for."
"You are a horrible human being."
"They would say the same of the world's creator if it were man."
Cid stopped there, he realized there was no reasoning with the man now. While not mad, the doctor was beyond sympathy for him. Cid was just part of an experiment, an important tool to be used for the betterment of whatever. There was no hope.
In despair he trudged forward once more towards that door at the far end of the hall. Hoping the hallway would extend for the forever it appeared to last. But he knew it wouldn't. He had to face this foe and hope it wasn't as bad as he feared.
"That's the spirit," the doctor spoke up, as if reading his mind.
Cid ignored him.
How would Marshall have escaped?
The thought jumped into his head so suddenly, it took him a moment to realize it hadn't been spoken to him by someone else. He quickly grasped onto the idea and contemplated it.
Well, Marshall probably wouldn't have gotten captured like this in the first place.
No, he wouldn't have. Also, if Marshall would've done something, he'd have done it before ending up in the innermost hallway of what was probably the most heavily guarded area in the world. So the question was null, it was already too late this time.
But maybe the next time through. If he survived this one.
And for the first time in days, he thought back to his original mission: to find Marshall's sword. Was it worth it now?
Obviously not, but Cid knew if he escaped, he would ultimately carry on with that mission. He owed Marshall that much and probably more. Plus, all things considered, it would have to be all downhill from this point on. Death Peak would be a waltz through the park.
Cid ceased his thought process as they reached the last door and Dr. Y began inputting the password. A buzzer responded to his keypunching, however.
"Not cleared to go this far, Doc?" Cid's hopes lifted.
"No, they just change it daily. I'm a little behind is all," Dr. Y smiled, "You won't get out that easily."
He hit another sequence of keys and this time the pad made an acknowledging sound and forced the door open. It slid aside effortlessly and soundlessly. In its wake, Cid peered into the next room, trying to make out what all the hype was about. What he would be facing. But the room was dark and his eyes were struggling to adjust. He couldn't make out anything yet.
"Step inside, please," Dr. Y pushed at Cid's back, trying to hurry him up.
Cid advanced grudgingly, as he still tried to squint his eyes to make out the details. Already though, he could see the room was empty of people.
"Where is everybody?"
"You're it, Cid. Stay right there, you'll see," the doctor responded, though his voice was from further back than Cid expected.
The boy whirled around to see Dr. Y standing on the far side of the door, still in the hall. His hand was on the keypad about to shut the door. Cid immediately raced towards him, stumbling midstride as his ankle rebelled against him. His legs were already wearing out. He righted himself, but didn't bother completing the distance. The door shut long before he would have reached it. Dr. Y had already turned and was walking away, without a backward glance, as the door sealed and separated the two.
"I'll see what?" he asked the nothing around him.
Sighing, he slowly turned back around and examined his surroundings once more, as his eyes continued to adjust. He could now make out that something else was in the room with him, a large shape hulking on the far end over him, taking up most of the wall.
With a click, the lights turned on overhead, illuminating the room with a pale yellow glow and giving Cid a better look at his roommate.
Pieces of precisely shaped steel crisscrossed and bridged each other fifteen feet high and eight feet wide, interconnecting and fitting with each other like a jigsaw puzzle of hydraulics, cylinders, and gears in a fashion that was frighteningly skeletal. And almost human in shape.
Within these metal bones, various colored wires roped their way around from section to section like veins and arteries. They all led to the same spot, feeding into a simple, blank monitor that stood facing outward at the neck. From there, leading back down, a clear hollow tube of plastic dropped into the core of the machination, the fiber optics within spiraling as they and it descended until reaching their destination. There, sitting in the pit of what would be its stomach was a steel chamber, storing something he could not see.
The chamber itself was five feet in every direction, spherical in shape. A solitary icon was engraved on the front of it, something that Cid could only make out vaguely as what appeared to be flower petals. Wires lifted from the sphere like puppet strings, weaving to all parts of the body before leading to what would be the brain. Below all of this, he could see that what would be its feet were welded to the ground, holding it in place. But that only brought the question of 'why?' into his head, not a comforting thought.
Cid, after finally taking all of this in, felt a shiver go up his spine and took a few steps back until he was up against the door. It felt like he remembered this thing, or he should remember it. But he couldn't. Something in his subconscious futilely tugging at his memory.
What else could it be? What would Project Lavos be without Lavos? His mind quickly tried to rationalize how he knew to make that connection, to draw that name. He had never seen the real Lavos, not being there when the battle against it had been waged. And Lucca had never detailed the beast in her notes. But that was it, and something in his mind told him so.
Reworked by man, the beast had become a machine. Lavos was reborn.
And then the monitor flickered on.