Appointment With Destiny Chapter 11
By the next morning, Aeris had an idea of what she wanted to do with the apartment. Armed with Sephiroth's credit card, she prepared to go shopping. She checked herself over once more in the full length bedroom mirror and straightened her pink tunic. Sephiroth hated her in pants, but he'd grudgingly compromised on pants when he wasn't home, when whatever work she was doing around the house made wearing a dress impractical or when they went out chocobo riding. Finding no fault with herself, Aeris left the apartment and took the elevator down to the Shinra Shopping Center.
Wandering from shop to shop, she found a few things that she liked and purchased. Sephiroth's rank had its privileges. Aeris didn't have to carry any bags. Everything she bought was going to be delivered to her door. Every shop was new and exciting, but Aeris couldn't find the homey touch she wanted for the bedroom, bath or kitchen. After two hours of roaming, she decided to see what the shops outside the Shinra building were like. She took the elevator to the ground floor, walked across the huge lobby and went outside.
There was almost as much activity outside as there was inside the building. For a while, Aeris couldn't remember where she'd seen the shops, she'd noticed when she came back from her honeymoon. She ventured a block to the east and another two blocks to the west, before she stopped in confusion. A pretty girl with light brown hair and a sympathetic face walked up to her.
"Hi! You look lost," she said. "Can I help?"
Aeris smiled. "Thank you. I was looking for a good place to find bed, bath and kitchen things. They don't have anything I like in the Shinra shops. They look too . . . well, too manufactured!"
The girl laughed. "I know what you mean. By the way, my name is Jessie."
"I'm Aeris." Aeris shook the other girls hand.
"I know who you are," said Jessie. "Your wedding was the talk of the town. You're Sephiroth's wife."
Aeris blushed. "What price, fame?"
Jessie grinned. "I can take you to some shops close by that might have what you're looking for."
"Could you?" Aeris' eyes lit up. "Oh please do!"
Jessie took her by the arm. "Come on."
True to her word, Jessie showed Aeris several shops a short distance away. Aeris ordered drapes, bed covers and kitchenware. Jessie took the time to point out how Aeris could tell what village a certain item came from. Jessie was good at combining different items to set a theme. Aeris decided to invite her new friend back to the apartment for lunch when they were done.
It took another two hours before Aeris came to the end of her list, but still wanted special items for the bed and bath. As they walked out of the last shop, she asked Jessie if there was a shop in town that sold old fashioned items. Jessie perked up right away.
"There's a woman who owns a shop in Sector 7 that makes everything by hand," she said. "She makes lace the old fashioned way. Everything is expensive, but it's so beautiful. The richest people send agents there to buy her wares."
"Sector 7?" Aeris looked doubtful. "I can't go there."
"Why not?"asked Jessie. "We can take the train."
"What about AVALANCHE?" asked Aeris.
"What about them?"
"Sephiroth told me AVALANCHE is a bunch of terrorists who want to overthrow Shinra for their own selfish gains." Aeris looked worried. "They're dangerous. I don't want to run into them!"
"AVALANCHE isn't a bunch of terrorists," said Jessie. "They're a group of people dedicated to stopping President Shrina from using the fact that he owns the only electrical source of power on the Planet to rule and oppress others."
"Yes. Look at the way Midgar is built," said Jessie. "All the poor people live under the main plates of the city. The air there is bad, and there are slums and bad living conditions. Hardly anything grows if you don't put in sun lamps. It's a miserable existence but most people can't leave because they can't afford the homes on the upper levels, or make enough money to leave the city."
Aeris looked shocked. "I didn't know that."
The President holds it over their heads that they can't survive without him. If the lower levels make him angry, he cuts off the power for days on end to punish them. He doesn't care that people get sick because their food spoils or they have to freeze in the cold or roast broiling temperatures. He could install pumps and ventilation to keep the air fresh and redesign the upper levels to allow sunshine through, but he won't. He rarely hires anyone from the lower levels and when he does, you have to practically sell your soul to him. By the time you do what he wants you to do, you can never go home again. Monsters live in the darkest parts of the city and breed. Most people don't have the weapons to kill them with and the President refuses to let the SOLDIERS go in and clear them out. With crime and monsters on the rise, most people don't leave home at night.
"It's not just Midgar he's hurting," said Jessie, "The President is draining the life out of this Planet with his reactors. We tried to warn him of the danger, but he wouldn't listen. It's up to AVALANCHE to stop him."
"We?" Aeris stepped back.
Jessie paled a little
Aeris held her eyes. "Who are you Jessie?"
"There she is!"
Aeris turned toward the shout. She died inside as she saw Scarlet running toward her with a small group of troopers.
"Darn! She found me!" Aeris turned toward Jessie again. To her surprise, the brown haired girl was nowhere in sight. She turned around as Scarlet reached her.
"So this is where you've been hiding!" said Scarlet.
"I'm standing on a busy street Scarlet," said Aeris with a touch of irritation. "I'd hardly call that hiding."
The troopers ran past them into the shop with guns drawn.
"What's going on here?" asked Aeris.
"Where's that girl who was with you?" asked Scarlet.
"Jessie?" Aeris looked around. "I don't know. She just disappeared."
"What did she want?" asked Scarlet. "What did she say?"
"What did who say?" asked Aeris.
"The girl!" snapped Scarlet. "That damned girl! What did she say to you?"
"Why would that concern you?"
"Because she's AVALANCHE!" answered Scarlet impatiently. "What were you doing with her?"
"She's AVALANCHE?" Aeris blinked. "I didn't know that."
"You don't know much do you?" Scarlet rolled her eyes. "What did you tell her?"
"I didn't tell her anything," said Aeris. "I asked about shops and she volunteered to show me around. I found some nice things too."
"Did she ask you about Shinra?"
"No, she didn't," said Aeris. "We only talked about shopping."
"You shouldn't be out here," said Scarlet. "Why didn't you to the Shinra shopping center?"
"I did," answered Aeris. "But I couldn't find everything I wanted, so I came out here."
"That was a stupid thing to do," said Scarlet. "You should do all of your shopping at the Shinra shopping center from now on."
"I wasn't aware that I was a prisoner," said Aeris folding her arms in annoyance.
Scarlet blushed. "You aren't."
"Then why did you come chasing after me?" asked Aeris.
"I didn't," said Scarlet. "I mean I didn't come chasing after you. I went by your apartment. When you didn't answer, I was on the elevator going back to my office when one of my assistants said she'd seen you going out the door on her way in. I came after you because I didn't want you to get lost."
The troopers came out of the shop.
"She's not here Ma'am," said one.
"Habit," said Scarlet. "I never walk the streets alone. I am head of Weapons Development after all. I would be valuable to a nut case out here."
Aeris relaxed a little. "Oh."
"Well no harm done," said Scarlet. "You didn't go too far and you aren't lost. Let's go back."
"Jessie said there's a shop in Sector 7 that has hand made lace," said Aeris. "Since you have the troopers here, can we go see it?"
Scarlet hesitated. "I borrowed them. They're needed elsewhere."
"Can't you get more?"
"Not today," said Scarlet. "Tell you what . . . we'll go there some other time if you want to, okay?"
Aeris looked disappointed.
"My hands are tied Aeris, really," said Scarlet.
Aeris shrugged. "Okay. Some other time then."
Scarlet and the troopers took her back to the Shinra building.
Once Aeris was safely deposited in her apartment, Scarlet went to the President.
"You're sure it was one of those AVALANCHE people?" he asked.
Scarlet nodded. "It was Jessie Flasschoen. She saw us coming before we could duck out of sight."
"Do you think Jessie talked to Aeris about this company?"
"That's a good possibility, but I can't confirm it," answered Scarlet. "I tried to coax information out of Aeris on the way back but all she wanted to talk about was the things she bought. I don't know if that's because Jessie turned her against us or because Jessie didn't say anything at all."
The President sighed. "Hojo is screaming about wanting to take samples from her. I can't tie the girl down and let him do what he wants. Sephiroth wouldn't take too kindly to that."
Scarlet frowned and then her face lit up.
"I think I know a way to give Hojo what he wants," she said.
* * * * *
"Aeris isn't at all what I expected," said Jessie. "She seems like a very nice girl. I'm sure I could have convinced her to come with me if Scarlet hadn't shown up."
"Scarlet has impeccable timing," said Tifa. "Leave it to her to blow a good opportunity."
"What do we do now?" asked a big black man. He was using an old cloth to polish the large barrel of a gun that was attached to his arm. "Are we going to try to make contact again?"
"I don't know Barret." Tifa looked toward a blonde man with spiky blonde hair. "What do you think Cloud?"
Cloud's blue eyes looked troubled. "I don't think we should attempt another contact too soon. They'll be watching her and may set a trap. We'll have to wait a while."
Tifa sighed. "Damn. We were so close."
"She thinks we're terrorists," said Jessie. "I hope she won't be frightened when we do make contact."
"Maybe I'll try next time," said Tifa thoughtfully. "If Scarlet's been telling her horror stories, she may not stand still long enough to hear what you've got to say Jessie."
"You're probably right." Jessie paced the floor. "Another face might be better. What about Biggs?"
"No." Cloud shook his head. "We can't risk her turning him over to Hojo as a terrorist. Biggs is better off doing what he's doing. He's our only inside source of information. We're not sure how Aeris will react if he tells her he's working with us. Hojo would have him killed . . . or worse use him for experiments . . . after he made him talk of course."
A red lion-like creature stood up and stretched, showing sharp white fangs. He shook himself and looked at Cloud. "I only hope we can get to her before Shinra does what they have in mind."
"So do I," said Cloud grimly. "So do I."
Barret nodded silently.
* * * * *
For the next eight days, Aeris was too busy redoing her apartment to get out much. Over the protests of the building maintenance crews and Scarlet's attempts to shame her out of it, she did all the painting herself. When she was finished, she was almost pleased with the end results. Aeris decided to make another trip to the shopping center and have a late dinner, but President Shinra sent a messenger with an invitation for dinner. Aeris had mixed feelings. On the one hand, being invited to dinner by the President was flattering, but then again, once she started a project, she wanted to see it through. Annoying as the interruption was, she accepted the invitation graciously.
A servant let her in and took her to President Shinra in the den. He stood up and smiled when he saw her coming.
"You're looking quite lovely this evening," he said as he took her hands.
"Thank you." Aeris returned his smile.
"Dinner will be ready soon," he said. "Please sit down and make yourself comfortable."
Aeris sat in a chair across from him.
"Before I forget, Sephiroth will be home tomorrow," said the President. "You should see him around dinner time."
"Really?" Aeris sat up a little straighter. "I'm not through with the apartment yet, but I think I can at least make it look presentable."
"I hear you're really giving it the works." President Shinra picked up a drink. "Can I get you something?"
"I'm fine," answered Aeris. "I was hoping to have everything done before Sephiroth came home but there no help for it now. I'll be glad to see him."
"I really amazed at how well you two seem to get along," said the President. "We all grew up with the story of the Cetra bride, but except for the prospective bride groom, no one ever expected to meet one."
Aeris gave him a faint smile.
"I mean, all of Jerin's descendants failed. I hate to admit this," he said, "But we didn't expect Sephiroth to be successful either. When Heidegger told me about you, I almost had a heart attack."
"I hope you're okay now," she said, wondering how to get him on another subject.
"You're both such a perfect couple," he said. "I wish you a long and peaceful life."
"What about you?" asked Aeris. "Surely a man as distinguished as yourself isn't at loss for female companionship?"
To her surprise, the old man blushed.
"I still turn a few heads," he admitted. "I just have to make sure they're turning for me and not my money!"
Aeris laughed. "I guess that would be a problem!"
"So tell me," said President Shinra. "Did Sephiroth steal you away from some young man on the other side?"
Aeris shook her head.
"I don't want to talk about me," she said. "I'm curious about you."
"Oh?" The President raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
"How is it, you're the only one with a power plant here?" asked Aeris innocently. "Where I come from, there are several. Consumers can chose whichever one they want to supply their power."
President Shinra looked interested. "Really?"
"Are there any smaller companies here?"
"I'm the only one," he said proudly. "My great-great grandfather saw the potential in running a large company instead of just a bunch of little ones. Because of him, you see the man in front of you now."
"And no one ever tried to make a competitive business against you?"
"People resist change," he answered. "There were smaller companies yes, but my family could provide more power at cheaper rates. Eventually they all went out of business except me."
"This is such a huge city," said Aeris. "Are you able to provide power for everyone?"
"In the power room of this building are controls for every grid in the city. We could turn the power off and on as we wish. We don't have any trouble at all providing power for Midgar."
"Do you ever do that?" she asked.
"Turn the power on and off at will."
"Only for maintenance purposes," he said. "Why do you ask?"
"I was thinking of a girl I didn't care for back home," she said. "We kind of liked the same guy. It didn't matter that he didn't pay much attention to either of us. I tried to be nice to her even though she was my competition, but she was always to nasty to me whenever we met. Sometimes, she went out of her way to make me look bad in front of him. If I could have done so, I would have turned off her lights for a few days just so she couldn't iron or put on makeup before she left the house in the morning."
"You'd really do something like that?" President grinned. "I'm shocked!"
"Well . . . " Aeris blushed. "It would have cut the competition down by one!"
President Shinra threw back his head and laughed out loud.
"Dinner is served," said a servant stepping inside the room. "Please come this way."
The President stood up and held out his hand to Aeris. She took it and followed him. There were two places set at the table.
"Isn't Rufus going to join us?"
"Not tonight." President Shinra pulled out a chair for her. "This dinner is just for me and you."
"He's off somewhere with Scarlet," said the President. "He won't be back till late."
"Oh, so he took her out after all."
"Took who out?"
"Scarlet," said Aeris. "She really has a thing for Rufus. I guess they finally decided to go out together."
"Scarlet and Rufus?"
The President just stared at her.
Aeris had a bad feeling. She felt the blush creeping up her neck and pouring onto her face. "You didn't know did you?"
The President shook his head then broke into a smile. "I guess I didn't. I never thought they cared that much about each other."
"Oh boy!" said Aeris. "Now I'm sorry now I said anything."
President Shinra laughed. "Don't get upset. I guess I'll have to watch those two a little closer. "I thought I knew all the gossip around here and you just told me I'm wrong."
A servant seated the President. More servants entered, poured water and brought in warm bread and butter with salads then left the room. Aeris tried her salad and found it very good. Another servant entered with a soft drink for Aeris. He poured a glass of wine for the President and left the bottle.
"Thank you for coming tonight," said the President.
"I'm honored to be invited," she said.
"Nonsense." President Shinra shook his head. "I'm the one who's honored. After all, you come from another world Aeris. A world I would never have believed existed. Such wonders you've told us about. Ever since you told us about your world, I've thought of nothing else."
"This world is just as wonderful as mine," said Aeris. "There is so much to see and learn. I wonder if I'll ever see everything in my lifetime."
"You said your world is into space exploration," said the President. "We tried to get into space once. We hired a man named Cid Highwind to build a rocket for us and take it into outer space. We poured a lot of money into that project."
"What happened?" asked Aeris.
"He blew it!" The President frowned. "The rocket was ready to take off and one of his stupid assistants failed to leave the ship in time before he started up the engines. He would have killed her if he'd taken off. He chose to shut down the engines instead. The rocket was already leaving the ground. It fell back to the launching pad and fell over at an angle. It would have taken more money to repair the darn thing than it took to build it. I figured I'd wasted enough money, so I pulled the plug on his project."
"What about Cid?"
"He grumbled and complained, but I'd had it." The President took a sip of wine. "His space age days are over. I'm more concerned with improving our airships instead of going into space."
"That's too bad," said Aeris. "You should have kept funding him. Space is a wonderful place to explore."
"But your people have already explored space, right?"
"They've explored some of the nearby regions," she replied. "They hope to colonize another planet someday."
The Presidents eyes gleamed.
Aeris changed the subject. "Elmyra told me there are quite a few villages, but Midgar and Junon are the most advanced. Why is that?"
"You are an Ancient," said the President. "You're in charge of wonderful powers."
What did that have to do with Midgar and Junon? Aeris gave him a blank look..
"Lasinda was a direct descendant of the Cetra and she opened a path to your world," he said. "You are one of her children. You could open the portal too. You could open a path back to your world."
"I can't do that," said Aeris. "I gave up my right to the other world when I married Sephiroth. I don't belong there anymore. I have no reason to go there."
"You don't, but I do." The President leaned forward. "I've been looking for a way to improve this world and you're my answer."
The servants came in with their dinner. The President was silent until they finished and left. Aeris looked at her steak without an appetite. The President dug in at once.
"President Shinra," she began, "I don't want to be rude, but Hojo asked me about the portal, Rufus asked about the portal and now you. How can I make you understand? I don't want to go back through the portal. I have no intention of ever opening it at all."
"You don't have to go through," he said, "Just open it for us."
"It doesn't work that way," she said. "I can't just open it, I have to go through. Sephiroth wasn't able to go through unless I was on the other side. You couldn't go through either, unless I was there waiting for you."
Now why did I say that? Aeris felt a few seconds of disorientation.
The President was watching her closely. "Are you all right"
"Yes, I'm fine." Aeris cut off a piece of steak and chewed it.
They ate in silence for a while.
"You really could help us a lot," the President said at last. "But I won't push. I'm sorry if I upset you."
"I'm sorry too. I can't help you."
President Shinra smiled. "Tell you about your decorating plans."
For the rest of the evening the conversation turned to one topic or another, but the President didn't mention the portal again. When it was time for her to go, he sent for an escort to take Aeris back to her apartment.
A slender man with long dark hair and a black mole in the middle of his forehead appeared at the door.
"This is Tseng," said the President. "He works for me as head of security. Tseng meet Aeris, Sephiroth's wife."
Tseng had dark serious eyes.
He nodded and extended his hand. "Pleased to meet you."
Aeris took his hand and he shook it gently before releasing it.
"Tseng will escort you back to your apartment," said the President. "You're still new here. I don't want you to get lost."
"Thank you Mr. President and goodnight," she said.
Tseng took her to the elevator. She was just about to step inside when the door of the elevator on the opposite side opened and the Hundred Gunner rolled in. Aeris froze in the act of stepping on the platform. Her expression must have changed because Tseng gave her a strange look, then looked at the fearsome machine.
"X340 desist patrolling this area for thirty minutes and resume patrol next sector!" he said. The machine hesitated and backed out of the elevator. The door closed behind it.
"It's okay," he said. "It's gone now."
Aeris stepped on the platform reluctantly. "I'm beginning to think that machine is programmed to watch me."
"Why?" There was something about Tseng that made Aeris think it wasn't just an idle question.
"It just can't be a coincidence that it goes into the elevator when I do," she answered. "It happens too often."
"Maybe you just happen to get into the elevator when it's patrolling," said Tseng. "It's only doing its job."
"And its job seems to be keeping track of where I'm going," she said. "What would happen if I got in the elevator alone?"
"Nothing." Tseng pressed a button. "It would get off where its supposed to and go on its way.
Aeris stared into his black unemotional eyes and turned away. She didn't believe him. She didn't believe Scarlet. Who was Tseng anyway? He looked harmless enough, but there was an aura around him warned her he was more than he seemed to be.
She wished people would stop asking her that.
"Do I make you nervous?" he asked.
How did he know?
"I'm just tired." Aeris faked a yawn. "It's been a long day."
The elevator stopped. Tseng walked her to her door and waited until she opened it.
"Thank you for walking me back," she said giving him a smile.
"Think nothing of it." He didn't move.
Aeris went in and let the door close. She waited a minute then peeked through the eyepiece on the door. Tseng was still standing there. He smiled. Aeris moved away from the door mortified. When she dared to look again, five minutes later he was gone. She took a shower and dressed for bed, but sleep didn't come easy that night.
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