The Aurora Project Chapter 5
The PHS phone rang, making everyone jump. Aurora had just returned in her fighting garb, and was listening contentedly to Cid ramble about airships some more while the others packed up the campsite. Cloud reached a hand into his hidden pocket and clicked the button. "Yes?"
"Cloud?" a strong male voice came through the line. "Reeve here."
"Reeve?" Cloud said. "Hello. What's up?"
A bit of static. "No real news here. Just thought I'd check in, offer my assistance again."
Cloud swallowed. Though the Shinra Manager had been a large amount of help through Cait Sith, he didn't feel quite right explaining everything about what they'd found in Hojo's labs. "What's going on in Junon?"
"Not too much. The Solar Collective's up and running; they've got a decent amount of funding for their energy research projects. They offered me a position on the Board of Directors, but I refused it. I do believe they want to employ me as a researcher, however. Their newest project is, of course, attempting to harness solar energy to do the things Mako used to do. The current plan is to be off of Mako in a year, two at the max."
Cloud grinned. "Those Turks, always ambitious." His gaze suddenly landed on Aurora, and he suddenly had a small wave of apprehension. "Nothing suspicious going on, is there?"
"Nope," Reeve said. "At least, not yet."
"Actually, Reeve," Cloud said, "as much as I know you would like to come exploring with us -" the other man laughed -"we'd like you to keep a nice, unbiased eye on things in Junon. Shinra has too much past, and there are too many chances for problems."
"Gotcha," Reeve replied. "It's the least I can do."
"Thanks," Cloud said. "We'll be in touch."
He tucked the phone back into his pocket. "That was odd," said Tifa.
He shrugged. "Yeah, but it's nice to have help, no matter where it's from."
The phone rang in his hand.
Cloud started, then slowly pulled the PHS back out. It rang again in his hand. He eyed it strangely, then shrugged and lifted it to his face. "Yeah?"
"Cloud?" The voice on the other end was strangely hesitant. "It's Yuffie."
"Yuffie?" An eyebrow raised. "What's up?"
"Well - look - I, um..." The ninja's hesitance was astounding. Cloud slowly took a breath.
"Yuffie, what is going on? First you call this morning all chipper to the point of driving me crazy, saying you have to stay. Now you're all quiet. What's happening?"
"Cloud," she said all in a rush, "You have to get out of Midgar."
Yuffie took a deep breath that echoed over the phone line. "You have to get out of there! I just found out - it's why I was in Wutai - but they're coming, and - just, well, I'll explain later. Get in the airship and fly to Wutai! Now!"
"What?" Cloud repeated. "Is this a joke, Yuffie? Or is this some other scam?"
"I'm trying to be trustworthy!" she snapped. "Why do you think I'm here in pagoda-land instead of exploring with you? I've found something out that we'll have to take care of, but I need you guys to get your butts over here!"
That sounded more like Yuffie, and Cloud decided - for now - to believe her. "Alright, Yuffie. We'll come to Wutai and you can explain everything."
"Explain everything?" Cid said as Cloud hung the phone up. "What'd she swipe from us this time?"
Cloud shrugged. "She sounds very concerned and urgent. Seems there's some sort of danger afoot. She wants us to leave right away and come to Wutai."
Cid groaned and hung his head.
Red curled up in his usual spot on the Highwind. "Mmm, feels like home," he said. "We're back on the road."
Cid grinned. "That's my baby," he said proudly. "Best in the business!"
"Only one in the business, Cid," Tifa teased. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and threw it at her; she dodged it nimbly and it fell over the side, plummeting through the air. She laughed.
"Where's Aurora?" Red asked.
Cid glanced around. "Running all over the whole damn ship. Poor girl was glued to the side for a while, just staring. Then I told her how big the ship itself was, and she left to go look."
"Cid!" Cloud said. "What if she gets in trouble?"
Cid rolled his eyes. "I told her not to fall off."
"She'll have enough sense," Tifa said. "Hojo didn't make her stupid."
"Well, yeah," Cloud said, "but she doesn't seem to know what fear is."
"Or any emotion," said Red.
"She'll be alright," Tifa repeated. "If she hasn't freaked out yet, I doubt she will."
"I kind of agree with Vince on that," Cloud said thoughtfully. "It's a wonder with everything Hojo did to her that she's turned out so normally."
"How does Vincent know so much about her?" Red asked. "Is that what was in the Shinra Mansion?"
Cloud nodded. "I guess so. It was most of Hojo's records. Though it must have been really painful for Vincent to read, from what he's told me, it detailed a lot of what had gone on in the labs."
Red shuddered. "Why'd he go back there? Isn't that where ...it happened?"
Tifa's head bowed. "I think it was really brave of him. Kind of to get closure on everything that had gone on."
"Also," Cloud threw in, "I think he wanted to check the science behind everything and make sure Sephiroth, Hojo, and even Jenova weren't coming back."
A small silence surrounded the four friends.
Vincent sat on the smaller rear deck, enjoying the striking view behind the Highwind. It was bright noon, and the sun was shining off of the water. Vincent had always found that, although the upper deck was larger, he had always preferred the solitude and the backwards view of this little platform. Not that it was always worth the climb, back through the dangerously swinging ropes and wires and over high piles of Cid's junk. A couple times, Cid had made some sort of interesting driving judgement, and only Vincent's quickness and ability of pseudo-flight had saved him from being thrown off the airship altogether.
He sighed, watching the water play far below the engines of the Highwind. A small sound behind him startled him and made him turn - no one had ever come this far back but him -
The shaggy black hair and thin form startled him. Little Aurora was picking her way through the rubbage, her hands neatly finding the next rope to grasp, her feet easily locating the next board or pipe which would support them. As he turned, she looked up, and at seeing him, tilted her head.
"Vincent Valentine," she said in that serious voice of hers. "Why are you back here?"
A dozen reasons flitted through his mind. It's quieter. Nicer. Prettier. There is no one else here. I could jump, and no one would ever see it. The view is better. Red snores in the front. But what came out of his mouth was, "What are you doing back here?"
She stopped immediately, her feet poised on a length of pipe like a tightrope, one hand clutching at a nearby pillar for balance. "Am I not allowed here?"
He winced. "No, Aurora. You're not in trouble. It's just ...it's dangerous back here. I thought you'd be scared."
"Cid asked me the same thing about flying," she said, finally reaching the small platform and seating herself next to Vincent, precariously close to the edge, her legs dangling. "I don't think I understand about feeling scared."
Of course. At this point, she was still full of wonderment at everything so new to her. Vincent brushed his hair from his eyes, but the wind whipped it back toward him. "I wish it weren't so, Aurora, but one day you will know what it is like to feel fear."
She nodded. "When I find it, I will tell you, Vincent Valentine."
He smiled at the now familiar use of his entire name. "So what do you think, Aurora?"
She looked out at the water below them, the sun glinting off of the tiny rivulets, sparkling in dozens of places, fallen stars at mid-day. "I don't know what to think," she said. She rubbed a hand across her head, absently, then asked: "May I see that crown?"
Vincent silently pulled it from his cape and gave it to her.
She held it in her hand. "Ever since this has been gone," she said slowly, "my mind has been much different. It's as if all my old thoughts and memories never had as much color as they do now."
Vincent was taken aback, surprised at the depth of thought from the girl. What an accurate way to describe things, he thought. But she was raised a scientist's lackey.
"I don't know what I'm feeling," she said. "It's not that I don't have words to describe it. It's like I don't have the ability." She turned to Vincent. "I hope you all don't think I am stupid. I was Hojo's companion in most of the experiments he did, and I understand a great deal about science, technology, and lifeforms. I just feel ...I feel like I don't know anything important in this big world here."
Vincent actually smiled at her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Aurora. We don't think you are stupid. We don't know what to think about you. There has never been anyone like you ever in the history of this planet. Do you know what that means?" She cocked her head. "It means that everything here is new. Everything that you do is new, ingenious, and therefore wondrous. The fact that you got on this airship without fear is amazing. The fact that you could climb the whole way back here without flinching is incredible. I will tell you that we have a great deal of respect for you, and that respect grows with every new step you take away from Hojo's lab. You have a lot of wisdom in your head," he continued, "yet you are learning a new kind of wisdom. You are learning what it is like to think and feel for yourself."
She looked down at the crown in her hand, and then in one simple, fluid motion, tossed it over the side of the airship. They both leaned forward to watch it fall, twinkling in the sunlight until it was no longer distinguishable.
What a symbolic act, Vincent thought. And she doesn't even seem to realize it.
She then smiled at Vincent, a brilliant smile, the first he had seen. "I don't need that now, do I?"
"You astound me, Aurora," he said, meeting her gaze.
They looked out the back of the airship. Spotting the ocean randomly were tiny islands, specks of dust in a sparkling sea. Finally, familiar land passed beneath them and Vincent stood up.
"We're almost there," he said. "We should return."
Aurora stood quickly and easily and followed him back.
The Highwind settled itself down into the dusty lands around Wutai. The Da-Chao of the mountains towered in the distance. Over a small hill they could see the small town, the Pagoda of Five Strong and Yuffie's beautiful house. Outside the house paced a small figure, obviously lost in thought.
"Hey!" Tifa shouted. The figure turned. "Yuffie!"
The girl leapt into the air and broke into a run toward the airship. Her appearance surprised the group; she had put away her fighting garb, and traded her tank top and shorts for long, silky pants and a dark black kimono. She looked surprisingly lovely and mature as she bowed in formal greeting. But when she lifted her head, the familiar sarcastic grin graced her face.
"Hey!" she said. "You miss me?"
Cloud leapt from the side of the airship onto the dusty plains. "What's up, Yuffie?"
She grinned. "Glad to see you guys. Am I ever. C'mon, we'll go back to my place, cause I have to talk to you!"
She turned suddenly and sprinted back toward the house, not waiting for Red, Vincent, and Aurora to disembark.
Cid shook his head. "Little upstart."
"She sounded very upset before," Cloud said. "Let's go see."
They all tramped over to Yuffie's house, where she was quickly rearranging the inside to seat everyone. It wasn't until the last person had found a seat that her eyes landed on Aurora.
"Woah," she said. "Who's that?"
"We found her in Midgar," Cloud said. "Her name is Aurora. She was ...an old project of Hojo's."
Yuffie's face blanched, the color draining from it in a second. "WAIT. Aurora? As in the Aurora Project?"
Aurora nodded in response at the ninja's unexpected reaction. Tifa and Vincent sat at her sides, staring at Yuffie, bewildered.
"Holy cow." Yuffie just stared, frozen. A hint of panic crept into her voice. "Ho-ly shit. You guys have her?"
Cloud stood and faced the small ninja. "Yuffie. Stop playing around and tell us what's going on."
Yuffie blinked, and sat on a nearby cushion. "Well, it's a lot more important now, if you guys actually have her. Damn."
"Yuffie." Cloud's voice had run out of patience.
"Right." She settled herself on the cushion and sighed. "The reason I stayed here was cause we had a security breach at one of the training houses. My father wanted me to investigate it as part of my training. Someone had notified us of a spy and it was my job to figure out who it was. I was working real hard to be both a ninja spy and a royal daughter - hence the clothes," she said with a sudden grin.
"Anyway. I finally figured out who it was, but I wasn't allowed to go after him myself. And the night we went to confront him he vanished." The smile on her face disappeared. "That was a week ago. We found evidence in his room that he was after some group of people, like he had been hired by somebody to track them. I wanted to file a report, but didn't have enough to push with, and my father was really on my case. Then, this morning ..." she swallowed. "This morning I was digging through his stuff and found he was on his way to Midgar to locate some Aurora Project. He was to bring it back to whatever boss or master he's with and then ...and then he's going to try to assassinate all of us."
There was a strange silence. Red lifted his head.
"It's very odd that he's after Aurora. And now she's with us. What's going on?"
Eyes eventually turned to Aurora. "I don't know what's going on," she said quickly. "Why would someone be after me?"
"Lots of reasons," said Cloud. "The fact that you're part Cetra, part human, part cosmoe. The fact that there's Materia in you. And Lifestream and Mako." Yuffie's eyes widened.
"Guys, here's the thing. I'm worried about this guy because he's been here training for a long time. He knows all the secrets of Wutai, and because of that, I am obligated to go hunt him down." She smoothed her kimono. "But he's also after you all, and he'll be a formidable opponent. I was real worried about him catching you off guard and you guys being out of practice. I'm sorry if I scared you."
This admission, coming from Yuffie, was a huge surprise. "It's ok," said Cloud, startled. "We're touched by your concern."
"Well, if something had happened, it would have been my fault for not catching him," she said, hanging her head.
"But we're alright," Tifa said. "And we have Aurora, through some weird twisted luck. So she's alright, too."
Yuffie looked up and smiled a bit. "Yeah, I guess that's true. So what now?"
Cloud was silent for a second, then looked up to see everyone's eyes on him. "What?" he asked with a smile.
"You're still the leader, man," Barrett said.
"Well, let me think. And I'm open to suggestions."
"Where were you guys rushing to before?" Yuffie asked.
"Well," Tifa said slowly, "we were going to ...look for Aeris. Cloud thinks we can contact her, and Aurora says Aeris is speaking to her. There are a lot of mysteries there we wanted to resolve."
"One of the things to keep in mind," said Vincent darkly, "is that now we know someone's after Aurora. We need to keep her safety utmost until we figure out what's going on."
"Yes," Red said. "She's not going back to the lab." He paced over to Aurora and settled next to her, resting his normally fierce head in her lap. Aurora looked startled, then pleased, and tentatively stroked the fur between his ears. Red grinned.
Cloud thought. I still want to go see Aeris. Is that the right thing to do? If nothing, I want to hear her voice one last time. I want to hear her speak my name. He sighed, feeling Tifa's eyes on him and remembering her earlier words. But what if this is a useless quest? And if someone's after us and after Aurora...
"We gotta figure this out, and soon," Barrett said. "It's gonna be nightfall."
Yuffie nodded. "You can all stay here tonight, if you'd like. Wutai would love your business," she said, bowing her head in mock formality.
"What about you, Yuffie?" Cloud asked.
"I need to go after Black," she said. "That ninja. It's my task now that I've returned to the training school. But I also want to go with you guys and help you."
"If you're traveling with us, and he's chasing us, you'll meet eventually," Tifa said. "And we'll be there to help you."
Yuffie nodded. "Right. But we should keep moving, at least now. And leave no trace."
"We don't want to let him know we have Aurora," Vincent said. "Make him think his two objectives are separate."
"So are we still goin' after Aeris?" Barrett asked. "Or what?"
Eyes turned to Cloud. He sighed, and nodded.
"I still feel that she's trying to reach us somehow. I know," he said, directing it at Tifa, "I know she's gone. But I still think she's trying to speak to us. Maybe there's something left that she can't do now that we need to do for her. I don't know. And there's the case of Aurora's dreams."
"Waterfall..." Red thought. "Is she thinking of the Forgotten City? Where Grandfather showed us the projector? There was a waterfall there."
Cloud nodded. "That was my thought, at least. That's where I was going to head first."
Cid ran a hand through his spiky hair. "So we'll fly up there and check it out. Fine by me."
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic