Tarnished Side Chapter 2
By Janet Monstwillo
Sector 7 was one of the more tolerable slums, for a number of reasons. The first was its age. The portion of the plate sealing it off from the sky was a recent development, compared to other areas of the city. The corresponding reactor had yet to be activated. So while the streets were lined with dying trees, at least the residents there remembered what the trees looked like when they were living. The people had managed to save some hope, though that was dwindling.
Secondly, there existed a tavern. Tragic Eternity was its name; the image of a fallen angel graced its logo. Tifa had helped found the bar, with the aid of a local woman named Jessie Baxter.
The group from the train filed into the bar, with some yawns and stretching. "How'd it go?" asked Jessie, from behind the counter.
"All in all, I think it was all right," Zack said as he straddled the barstool. "Gimme something hard."
She slid a brimming shot glass over to him and turned to the others. "Guys?"
Rude merely shook his head and walked over to an arcade console. Moogle-man. It was a retro title with some little white puffy circle going around, eating pellets. He reached underneath, pushing a hidden button, and the entire section of floor descended into a basement below.
"Well, I have to say, that's clever." Reno slung his arm over Tifa's shoulders. "Did your brilliant mind come up with that one?"
"Actually, Jessie is the techno-whiz."
The girl just blushed and refilled Zack's glass.
Tifa was eager to regain his attention. "Well, the pool table was my idea."
Reno patted her on the shoulder. "We'll have to play a game sometime, kiddo. I'll take a handicap. You go for the eight-ball. I'll have to get the rest in first."
She rolled her eyes and walked over to the hidden elevator. "You're coming down, right?"
Zack slammed the empty shot glass down and walked to her side. "Let me go down with you."
Jessie took out a rag and started wiping the counter vigorously. "What you lookin' so smug about, Reno?"
"I thought this group was ragtag when you introduced me to `em, Jess, but it turns out ragtag can cut it. The Shinra defenses are down to zilch. They're either complacent, or incompetent, or a combination of both."
"They're not unaware of the incident tonight. Their propaganda is already filling the television airwaves."
"I have faith. If we can get you another month or so, you'll be able to intercept that and reveal whatever you want as the `truth.'"
She shook her head. "We don't want power. We just really want the people to know the truth. That the people that the Shinra tells them not to trust are really just people like them. And the Shinra are the real enemy here."
"Is this what it's all about, then. Tell me, why is it that you're the guts of this operation, but little miss tight top over there is all the glory?"
"Zack is the leader."
"Bullshit, Jessica," Reno shook his head. "Look, little cousin, the only person with real control here is Tifa. Because you gave it to her."
"If you don't like the way I run things, then you can just--"
"I want you to be safe, I want you to be successful. I can't help that I also want all of Zack's money I can get. But it drives me nuts to see those brown puppy dog eyes staring at me like my every whim could be promised if I screwed her."
"I may have only been twelve, but when your father left for the war, I promised I'd look after you until he came back. He died in Wutai, so I'm bound for life. I want you to tell me, what do you want to do next?"
"Why don't we go down and address the group?" Jessie stepped over to the Moogle-man game.
He nodded and ruffled her hair.
"I think we need a name," said Tifa as the two walked into the hideout.
"Whatever you want is fine with me," said Jessie, as she hopped onto the chair at her workstation. "Oooh! ...my calculations for the explosive device worked out perfectly. How were the passcards for the train?"
"Fine, as always, Jess," said Zack, with a look of boredom on his face.
"Good, because we'll need them for the next mission."
"Next mission?" Rude lowered his sunglasses and peered at her.
"We?" Tifa shook her head. "Jessie, you can't be serious."
"I am... If this is my `unnamed terrorist group,' then I have to be out there and active. Not sitting here in the bar every time you guys go out."
"I'm sure they understand that," said Reno. "But I'm still wary of the cards. Shinra technology could screw up enough just to notice that they're not real cards."
"What is this `next mission,' Jessie?" asked Zack, interrupting him.
"It's another reactor...the complementary one in the cycle. I think it will wound Midgar, and show them we're serious. If they think we can and will take out all the reactors, I'm sure they will try and listen to us."
Silence filled the room.
"What's wrong, guys..." She nervously fidgeted. "I thought that's what we wanted to do. Get them where we want them."
"Are you honestly so stupid as to think that they would listen to our demands?" Zack shook his head. "They're monsters, every single last one of them. They only care about profit, about gil. If they can make money without the Mako, you can be damn sure that they won't give a shit about a small group like us and our `demands.'"
"Then what the fuck are you doing here, Zack?" sneered Reno.
"Stay out of this--"
"Stay out of what? You whining and moaning because you don't like your directives, thinking that it skews your mission into some tiny little insignificant thorn in a lion's paw, when that's all it ever was? Even if you did manage to bind together your half of the world, the chances that it would beat Shinra is low. The Wutai win was a toss of a many sided die that chanced to pop up with their lucky number."
"There's nothing wrong with wanting to live free."
"Of course there is, I'm sure someone like you would find something to bitch and moan about."
"I'm not the one dependent on me for my paycheck!"
"Stop it!" screamed Tifa.
The two men turned away from each other, disgusted.
"We're not helping anything here. Zack...we should follow Jessie's suggestion. Listening to her has never gotten us off course before. I was only concerned for her safety. And Reno...if you want to keep your job...you don't have to sympathize with or understand our m.o., but we can't keep you with us if you will ridicule it."
"I am what I am."
"And this group is also what it is. If you didn't know when you signed on, you know now."
"I haven't started running, Tifa."
She nodded. "Zack, I think you should pay him now."
The dark haired man tossed a medium sized gil pouch to the center of the room. Reno scooped it up, examining the contents. "It looks good. Now about the next mission..."
"Aren't you doing it?"
"Yes, hon, just trying to get a raise out of the deal."
"How much?" asked Zack.
"Get your ass out the door..."
Reno opened his mouth to form the word "fine," but glanced at his cousin. Mournful, deep blue eyes were fixed on his. "How about ten percent?"
"I can live with that." He stood up. "Sleep down here if you want, I'm going to my place."
The group made their way up the elevator, leaving Reno alone in the hideout. He sighed, remembering what Jessie said before she went up to the bar. She had mouthed the words.
* * * * * *
"How'd you sleep?" Tifa was bouncing around with a bit too much perkiness for someone about to execute a mission of blowing stuff up.
"I dunno." Reno rolled his neck around on his shoulders, stretching his arms above his head. "Do rocks sleep?"
She smiled brightly. "I can make you breakfast. I think Zack actually left a couple cinnamon rolls."
"I probably couldn't stomach it, doll."
"Hey!" She put her hands on her hips and pouted.
"I'm a very, very delicate mercenary man," he protested. "Besides, just because Zack praises your cooking don't mean it's particularly good. Otherwise, wouldn't the guy be getting fatter?"
Tifa smacked him. "You should be nicer to your employers."
"You should stop trying to make me more than an employee."
"Right, like I--" She rolled her eyes and walked to the door. "Look, everyone else is already at the train station. We're catching the one that comes in fifteen minutes. If you don't make it, good riddance."
He followed her, calling out the doorway. "You know you want a ride on this--" Reno grinned and walked over to the counter of the bar. Grabbing a cinnamon roll and taking a big bite, he hurried to catch up with the other members of his cute little terrorist organization.
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic