The Aurora Project Chapter 6
"What?" Daema's eyes were flashing with anger.
"It appears," the ninja repeated, "that the Aurora Project is missing."
Khan shook his head. "Wa-wait. Missing? How can it be missing?"
The ninja, who had given his name only as Black, shrugged. "It's not just something that sits on a shelf. It's actually a person, you know. She might have left when all this happened."
Daema's eyes narrowed. "Wait," she said. She paced across the room and crouched. "Hey, check this out. Somebody was here."
The remains of a small fire lay in the middle of a small clearing, surrounded by a myriad of footprints.
"How'd you miss this, Mr Ninja?" Daema asked sarcastically.
"I was looking for the Project, not this crap," Black growled at her, then crouched beside her to look.
"Too many footprints for one girl," Khan said.
"Yes," Black said slowly, a fierce look of anger growing on his face as he surveyed it. "Give me room." Daema and Jak backed up as he knelt on the ground, dark eyes flickering over the ground. "I estimate ...six people. And one cosmoe."
Daema's eyes widened. "You got all that from this mess?"
Jak pushed her aside. "A cosmoe? Here?"
Black nodded, fury in his eyes. "And I only know one group of people who travel with the cosmoe."
Khan spat. "It's Cloud Strife, isn't it."
Daema was still trying to count the footprints, determined not to let the ninja get the better of her. But at the mention of that name, she looked up, her eyes narrowed. "What? They were here?"
"Not only that," Black growled, "but my guess is that they have the Aurora Project."
"Shit." Daema collapsed into the dust, head in her hands. "Double shit. They have it? We're done for."
"Don't be so quick, Daema," Khan said, settling himself a little more gracefully on the ground beside her. "We don't know what they want her for. Perhaps we can get her back."
Daema turned burning eyes to him. "They - defeated - Sephiroth. Do you have any idea how quickly they'd go through three ex-Shinra employees?"
"Well," Khan said, "who says we have to fight them?"
"First and foremost." Daema turned to Black. "We need to be absolutely certain that it was them and that the Project is in their custody now. Can you verify anything else for us?"
Black nodded. "Easily. Give me a couple minutes." He stood, black coat swirling, and followed the tracks, a thoughtful look on his face.
"Shit," Daema repeated under her breath. "I don't believe it. We were too late."
Khan shrugged. "It's alright. I bet Strife's group doesn't even know what she is. They probably just found her and offered to take her to safety. We'll be able to find her."
"Eventually," Daema said. "What do you think, Jak?"
The silent man shrugged. "The task will be a lot harder now," he said simply.
Black grumbled to himself as he walked along, staring at the tracks, touching the dust occasionally. Of all the people! He smiled ironically. This complicates things in a most delicious way. The presence of the cosmoe tracks were quite obvious in places, and Black knew of only one such creature that traveled in the presence of humans. It must have been Nanaki of Cosmo Canyon, and the only humans he traveled with were Cloud Strife and his companions.
He passed silently into the adjacent room and ducked into a dark hallway. Pulling a long, thin piece of metal from his pocket, he pressed a button. A tinny-sounding tone rang quietly, then a smooth, deep voice emitted from the phone.
"Master. We have reached Midgar and found something ...interesting. The Aurora Project is missing and seems to be in the custody of none other than Cloud Strife and company."
The silken voice purred on the other end. "Really. That is ...most intriguing. What do you plan to do?"
Black shifted further into the shadows. "I believe I will try to talk these humans into pursuing her. If you do not wish to reveal yourself yet, their help will be invaluable. Does that sound acceptable?"
A brief silence full of thought, then: "Yes. Continue as planned. Track the project down and capture it. Keep in touch with any changes." A slight pause. "Have you had contact with Shita yet?"
Black smiled. "Only once, master. But it is her task to remain invisible."
"Once the first project has been completed, she will contact you for initiation of the second project."
"Yes," Black said. "I will be ready and waiting."
"Good." It was full of contentment. "Excellent work, my friend. Fate has twisted our tasks together. Perhaps our mission will be easier than we expected. Keep in contact." The phone clicked.
Black tucked the small metal band back beneath his coat. Excellent.
He re-entered the room where the three figures sat, dejected, around the ashes of a fire. He briefly examined them for a second, pondering at what fate had brought them. Khan was the leader; flame-headed and roguish, he carried a long saber and a deep grudge for the Shinra company. He had worked with Daema in Professor Hojo's underlabs. The young woman had short blond hair, a violent temper, and excellent skill with her handgun. Jak was the brains of the operation - long blond hair and glasses hid a shining intelligence. He had worked in Shinra Weapons Development. Though silent, he was shrewd and clever, and quite skilled with the flail he carried strapped on his back.
They turned to look at him. "So?" Daema asked. "What's the verdict, ninja?"
He knelt on the ground beside them. "There is no one else it can be," he said. "The cosmoe tracks are distinct. Besides, the numbers and sizes fit the people I would project into the situation."
"What's that mean?" Khan asked.
"Well," Black said, "it is standard ninja practice to size up and predict your enemy beforehand. As I said before, there were six variants of prints along with the tracks. One pair of feet was remarkably small; let's assume these belong to the Aurora Project. One other pair was slightly smaller; I would guess they belong to the woman Tifa Lockheart."
Daema was staring at the prints around them, calculating. Perhaps he had underestimated her intelligence; she was quick to ask questions, curious about everything, and a very impressive learner. "Go on."
"Two of the pairs were large: Cloud Strife himself and his companion Barrett Wallace, who was known to be in Midgar. One pair is oddly shaped and weighted; I would guess Vincent Valentine, knowing his unusual build and style of movement. The last was a standard size and shape, leaving me to guess the presence of Cid Highwind, since his airship was needed."
Daema whistled. "Very nice, ninja."
"But that's not all of them," Khan said. "I know the Ancient perished. But there was someone from Shinra who fought with them, and one other little girl."
Black laughed. "You speak of Yuffie? She remains at home, training under the yoke of her father. And Cait Sith, the Shinra spy, was dismantled after the Meteor battle."
Khan sighed. "So what now? Do we go after them?"
"We don't really have a choice," Daema said. "Is there a chance that we can steal her back, rather than have to face a direct confrontation?"
Khan thought. "Perhaps. We have a ninja, and it's not like you and I don't have any skill at night raiding. That may be our best bet."
Daema looked at Jak. "Say something, man. What do you think we do now?"
Jak brushed a lock of hair from his face. "If we are to go after her, it will have to be in silence and stealth. I think we need to figure out Strife's intentions toward the Project. If he is merely looking for a place for her to stay, our problems are solved. If she is to be their new companion, it will be a little difficult."
They looked to the ninja next. "What say you?" Khan shrugged. "I still don't even know why you're helping us. But what do you want to do?"
Black stood. "I will help you get the Aurora Project back from Strife and his friends. From there, I assume our deal still stands."
Khan nodded. "Alright, then. We're resolved. We need to figure out Strife's whereabouts."
"That shouldn't be hard," Daema said with a smirk. "When you just saved the world, don't expect to have much privacy or secrecy. We should be able to tell very easily."
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