Appointment With Destiny Chapter 15
"Sounds like they kicked the doors open," said Barret. He was hiding in the secret basement with Tifa, Marlene and Wedge. "Those creeps don't have respect for anyone's property."
"That's okay," said Tifa. "We can fix the door."
Marlene looked at Tifa from her fathers arms. "Do you think they're gone now?"
Tifa looked up at the floor above them. "I don't know. What do you think Wedge?"
"Well we haven't heard them moving around since they went to the door," he said. "It's possible they're gone, but it could be a trick."
"Yeah," said Barret. "We don't want them to find out that pinball machine is more than it seems."
"We'll wait a few more minutes." Tifa leaned against the wall and sighed. "The Turks are getting bolder and bolder. If we don't get rid of Shrina soon, they'll be totally out of control. The President will let Tseng hire more goons to terrorize people. Reno is bad enough as it is."
"I vote for Rude." Wedge scratched his nose. "I can deal with talkers like Reno. The quiet ones scare me. They're the ones who'll suddenly explode into something you never expected to deal with."
"They're all bad," said Marlene. "Daddy said Mr. Tseng used to be nice before he joined Shinra. Now he's mean. They're all mean!"
You won't get any arguments out of me," said Tifa. "I think- what's that?"
"What?" Wedge stood up.
Tifa sniffed the air. "Do you smell something?"
Barret sniffed. "No."
"Me neither." Marlene sniffed again. "I don't smell anything."
"She's right." Wedge sniffed again. "It must be your imagination. I don't . . . wait!"
He sniffed again moving around the room. Tifa following him sniffing.
Barret was going to make a comment, but the light touch of an arid smell tickled his nose.
"What a minute," he said. "I smell . . . something. I'm not sure what it is."
"It's almost like barbeque." Marlene sniffed again. "Yeah. It reminds me of barbeque."
Tifa and Wedge stared at each other in horror.
"Fire!" they shouted.
"They've set the bar on fire!" Tifa ran to the wall and pressed the control for the pinball elevator. "We've got to get out of here or we'll be trapped!"
The pinball elevator was never the fastest elevator around, but now it seemed to be moving incredibly slow. Smoke drifted down through the opening left by its descent. Tifa jumped on the platform before it fully touched the ground.
"Come up as fast as you can," she called back as she rose. "Hurry!"
She was coughing before her head cleared the opening. Tifa covered her mouth and jumped off the platform as it stopped. She sent it back down.
The bar was fully engulfed. There was a line of fire between Tifa and the door. Flames were beginning to creep up the wall where the bar fit against it on the left. Tifa turned and grabbed the fire extinguisher on the wall behind her. She squeezed the handle and foam spewed forth drowning the line of flames barring the door.
Coughing steadily now, She turned to the wall beside the bar and sprayed it. Barret came up the pinball elevator with Marlene in his arms. He stepped off the platform and sent it down for Wedge. He put Marlene on the floor.
"Go outside and wait for me honey," he said urgently. "Don't come back in here."
Marlene nodded. The pinball elevator stopped at floor level. Wedge stepped off the platform coughing. Barret pushed Marlene toward the door.
She gave him a fearful look and ran outside. Barret grabbed Wedge by the arm and shoved him toward the door.
"Get out of here!"
Wedge barely managed to control his coughing. "What about you?"
"Don't worry about me!" Barret shoved him toward the door. "Take care of Marlene. Now get out of here!"
Wedge ran after Marlene.
Barret turned around and looked at the other wall. The smoke was heavier. Any minute now the ceiling would burst into flame. He ran for the other extinguisher. There was no use in arguing with Tifa. He could hear her coughing as he snatched the device off the wall and turned around. She wouldn't leave until she'd saved her bar or he had to drag her out screaming. He attacked the other end of the burning wall. Two extinguishers were better than one. They managed to knock some of the flames down, but it was getting harder to breathe.
Tifa stumbled, then caught herself. There wasn't a drop of fresh air anywhere in the room. Spots were swimming in front of her watering eyes. The back of her throat felt as if it was covered with splintered wood. She stumbled and caught herself again.
"Get out of here girl!" shouted Barret. "The smoke is getting to you!"
"I can make it!" Tifa sprayed a stubborn point of fire that wouldn't die down.
She held up for another minute before she collapsed to her knees. She couldn't seem to get enough of a breath to clear her head. She barely felt Barret lift her from the floor. He carried out her out into the street and laid her on the ground.
"Tifa!" cried Marlene.
"I'll take care of the fire," shouted Wedge. He ran past Barret before the big man could stop him.
Barret was feeling a little lightheaded himself, but his concern for Tifa kept him going. She looked so pale gasping for breath, he expected her to stop breathing at any moment. He coughed and looked toward the bar. Smoke was still pouring out the door, but less than there was before. Men from other buildings ran into the bar with fire extinguishers of their own.
Somehow Marlene appeared at his side with a glass of water. Barret looked up to see the wife of a grocer holding a pitcher. He raised Tifa's head and poured a few drops down her throat.
She coughed and grabbed at the glass, gulping the liquid to soothe her smoke damaged membranes. Barret pulled the glass out of her hands.
"Not too much at once," he warned. He wanted a few drops himself, but waited.
Tifa coughed a few times and nodded. He gave her few more drops. She drank much slower this time, then struggled to sit up on her own.
"Rest Tifa," said Barret.
"I-I'm okay." She coughed. "They tried to burn down my bar."
Wedge came out of the bar coughing. His face and hands were covered with soot.
"The fire is out," he announced. "You were lucky Tifa. Most of the damage is confined to the bar itself."
Tifa closed her eyes in relief. Barret took her hand and she opened her eyes and looked at him.
"As soon as I possibly can, I'm going to make the Turks sorry they ever laid eyes on me," she vowed.
"You've got my vote," he replied. "And my help."
Wedge put his hand on top of theirs.
"Count me in," he said. "Count me in."
* * * * *
They were only one station away from the stop that would put Aeris near the Shinra building when the first alarm went off. A red light flashed in every car. Uncharacteristically, the train began to slow down.
"It's stopping!" Jessie looked at Cloud.
"They found us!" cried Aeris."
"We've got to get out of here before they lock the doors and seal us in this car!" Cloud grabbed Aeris by the arm and pulled her out of her seat. Jessie jumped out of her seat.
"Run!" shouted Cloud.
Aeris ran behind Jessie as fast as she could. Cloud was close behind. Ahead of them, the door was sliding shut.
"RUN!" Cloud shouted again.
Jessie threw herself through the door. Aeris could feel it brush against her arms as she passed through. Cloud jumped through sideways.
Up ahead the next door quivered. Jessie put on another burst of speed. Aeris followed suit. They cleared the door with a better margin this time, but the next door was already closing. It would close on whoever tried to pass through.
Cloud pushed by Aeris and Jessie roughly. He seized the door in both hands and forced it wider. Bracing himself against the door frame, he kept it from closing. Jessie didn't need to be told what to do. She squeezed under his arm and kept running. Aeris ducked after her and followed. She looked back in time to see Cloud jump clear. The door slammed shut. The next door shut before they could reach it. They heard the lock sliding into place.
"We're trapped!" Aeris felt an icy hand clamp around her heart. "They're going to get us!"
"Not if I can help it."
Cloud turned toward the nearest window.
"Cover your eyes!"
Jessie did. Aeris peeked.
Cloud held out his hands. They began to glow. A beam leaped out of his fists and slammed into the glass. Metal and glass sprayed out of the train. Aeris took her hands away from her face and stared at the gaping hole in the wall.
"What was THAT?" she asked.
"A lightening spell." Cloud pushed her toward the opening. "Jump! We're running out of time!"
Aeris went to the hole. The train was barely moving. She started to ease through. Cloud shoved her from behind and she fell to her knees outside. She rolled out of the way as he jumped through and turned to help Jessie.
"Why didn't you do that for me?" asked Aeris, climbing to her feet. "That ground hurts you know."
"Sorry." He blushed a little. "I'll be easier on you next time."
Before she could reply, someone down the tracks shouted.
"There they are!"
Aeris didn't need a pair of binoculars to recognize Tseng.
"Run!" shouted Jessie.
"I'm with you!"
They ran for the shadows of the city.
Tseng was furious. "After them!"
Aeris was frightened but Jessie and Cloud acted so sure of themselves, she put her faith in their judgement. Even with the Turks this close behind, she felt safe. Cloud and Jessie steered her up one street and down another.
"We can't avoid the Turks forever," panted Jessie. "What are we going to do?"
Cloud put his hands out to stop Aeris and Jessie. He pointed. "Look."
A black motorcycle was parked outside a shabby bar.
"What have you got in mind?" asked Jessie.
"Duck out of sight," said Cloud. "I'm going to take Aeris back to Shinra on that. The Turks will follow me if they spot us. Get back to the Seventh Heaven. Okay?"
"Okay." Jessie gave Aeris a hug. "I hope you're right about being safe. I'd feel bad if anything happened to you."
"I'll be all right," said Aeris hugging her back. "You be careful."
Jessie nodded. She waved once and disappeared around the side of a building.
"Wait here until I get the motor started," said Cloud. "Then get over there fast and jump on."
Cloud crept across the street cautiously. No one came out of the bar. He threw his leg over the seat and leaned forward to pull a few wires from under a panel. Aeris watched him fearfully, expecting the Turks any minute. What if the owner of the motorcycle came out and saw Cloud? He'd beat Cloud to a pulp. The motorcycle's engine roared and Aeris realized she'd been holding her breath. She didn't wait for Cloud's attention. She hurried across the street and climbed on behind him.
Two things happened at once. The Turks came sliding around the corner burning rubber and the owner of the motorcycle stepped out the bar.
"Hey!" A huge bearded man charged at them. Cloud revved the engine and Aeris buried her face against his back in terror as the motorcycle rose on its rear wheel and hurtled down the street. Tires squealed behind them as the front wheel dropped to the ground with a thump that jarred Aeris' teeth.
"Hang on!" shouted Cloud.
"You'd better believe it!" She glanced back at the Turks. "They're catching up! Can you handle this thing?"
"Watch!" Cloud raced around a corner so fast and low, Aeris was sure taken her last breath. She closed her eyes visualizing her body smeared all over the ground, but the motorcycle straightened and kept going.
The Turks almost lost it in the turn. Reno managed to get the car back under control and resumed the chase.
For a time, Cloud was able to keep ahead of the car by making sudden turns, but Reno was good at what he did. Making one turn, Cloud realized he'd have to slow down to make the next corner. Someone had opened a hydrant earlier and the street was still very wet. He groaned. He had to slow down or risk a spill. Reno took that opportunity to pull up right next to them. A window rolled down and Rude's gun appeared at the right rear passenger window.
"Stop the bike," he said in a flat voice.
Cloud glanced at him and tried to go faster.
Stop the damn bike or I'll shoot," he said. "Do you really want to hurt the girl?"
Cloud's face crumpled in resignation. "No."
The color drained out of Aeris' face. Here he'd warned her about the Turks and now he was going to just hand her over to them? What kind of man was he?
The motorcycle slowed just a bit. Rude was feeling victorious when his arm jerked down and crashed again the window frame. Sparks danced before his eyes. Just before the gun fell out of his hand, he saw what was left of it. Cloud's sword had sliced the barrel clean off. Before Rude could swear at the ex-SOLDIER, the blade was back, slicing partway through the roof of the car. Tseng ducked, falling against Reno trying avoid the blade. Reno couldn't steer with Tseng's body pressing against his arm. He swore and hit the brake as Cloud snatched his blade out of the roof. Cloud shot forward and made a quick left. The Shinra building appeared short distance away. He headed for it. The Turks didn't follow. Cloud stopped near the entrance, letting Aeris jump off.
"What about you Cloud?" she asked anxiously. "They may chase you when you leave."
His eyes scanned her face and he smiled. "Don't worry about me. I'll be all right Aeris. Take care of yourself and remember what we told you."
"I will," she said.
Cloud waved and took off in a blast of exhaust.
Aeris ran into the building and went straight for the elevator. She punched in the number of her floor and watched the entrance way until the doors slid shut. Sighing in relief and weak from exhaustion, she turned her back to the wall as the platform rose. Her eyes fell on the other shaft and she stiffened. The Hundred Gunner was sitting there with its barrel pointing in her direction.
Aeris shrank back in terror unable to utter a sound. It's going to shoot me, she thought. It will tear me to pieces with that much fire power. She closed her eyes wondering if she'd feel any pain after the first shell struck her body.
She heard a sound. Opening her eyes, Aeris watched in disbelief as the Hundred Gunner rolled out the door into the hallway beyond. The door slid shut behind it. She stared at the empty platform for a full minute before she pressed a button for her floor. The platform rose. The excitement of the evening closed in and it was just to much to take anymore. Aeris burst into tears.
When the platform stopped on her floor, she was still crying. She stepped out the moment the door opened and ran right into Scarlet. She would have fallen but Scarlet held her up with an expression of concern on her overly made face.
"Why Aeris dear, whatever is the matter?" she cried.
Aeris was sobbing too much to answer.
"Come on," said Scarlet putting her arms around Aeris. "Let me get you home."
She helped Aeris to the door and waited while she unlocked it. Once inside, she left Aeris sitting on the sofa and returned with a glass of water. Scarlet sat with her until her crying subsided.
"Now tell me what's wrong," asked Scarlet in a soothing voice.
"I did something stupid," sniffed Aeris. "I was so mad at you for criticizing my drapes, I went out to buy more. I heard a rumor there was a woman who could make lace by hand in Sector 7. I took the train there."
"Wait a minute," interrupted Scarlet. "You went to Sector 7 alone? You believed Jessie?"
"I know that was dumb, but you made me mad-"
"Yes, yes, go on," urged Scarlet.
"I got off the train at the station and went looking for the Lace Lady," said Aeris. "Sephiroth told me that was a bad area, but I didn't realize how bad it was until the train was already there. I was going to find a friendly place to ask directions but then these three men grabbed me and pulled me into an alley."
Scarlet's eyes widened. "Did they hurt you?"
Aeris shoved Scarlet the bandage on her arm. "They cut me I think."
Scarlet stared at the bandage and nodded. For the briefest second, Aeris thought she saw satisfaction in Scarlet's expression, but it was gone so fast, she couldn't be sure. She felt a wave of guilt. Scarlet was trying to help her.
"They knocked me down. They took my wallet and found out I was Sephiroth's wife. They got angry and started trying to tear off my clothes. They were saying strange things, about how they'd been tricked."
Scarlet narrowed her eyes. "Go on."
"I just knew they were going to rape and murder me," Aeris said, but then four other men came. They killed one of the three and the other two ran off. I was so happy to be saved I thanked them. Like a fool, I thanked them. That's when they told me, they'd only saved me so they could do the same thing themselves."
"But you're here now and safe." said Scarlet. "You got away!"
She clapped her hands over her mouth and stared at Aeris. She leaned closer, her voice muffled by her hands.
"Or did you? Did they-"
Aeris shook her head. "No."
She took another sip of water and sat it on the table. Scarlet's face was a little pale.
Aeris shook her head again. "They were going to, but a man named Cloud Strife saved me. He killed three of them. The other man ran. Cloud got my wallet and things and helped me get away."
"Cloud?" Scarlet's face was still. "Cloud Strife?"
"You know him?" Aeris managed a smile. "He-"
"He's the head of the worst terrorist organization this Planet has ever known!"
Scarlet's eyes were blazing.
"He and his group are responsible for damaging Shinra property!"
"Oh." Aeris was amazed by Scarlets vehemence. I'd better not say too much about AVALANCHE, she thought.
"What happened next?" It was more of a demand than a question.
"He helped me back to the train so that I could come home."
Scarlet wasn't satisfied. "Was he alone?"
Aeris felt uncomfortable. "Jessie came with us part of the way."
Scarlet leaned forward with an eager look on her face. "Did they take you anywhere? You know, a place to hide out for while?"
"No." Aeris kept herself steady. "We stayed on the run the whole time."
Scarlet leaned back with a start. "From what?"
"From WHO," corrected Aeris. "Tseng and his Turks were after me."
Scarlet looked as if she just been slapped. "The Turks?"
Aeris nodded. "Cloud saw them talking to the first three men before they grabbed me. He thought I'd been set up."
Scarlet stared at her expressionless.
"I don't know why they were chasing us, but they scared me so bad, I didn't want to find out." Aeris shivered. "I think they were going to kill me."
Scarlet's voice rose a notch. "The Turks? Are you sure?"
Scarlet stood up. "I'm going to get to the bottom of this. Stay here."
"Don't worry." Aeris shivered. "I've had enough of the great outdoors."
Aeris had time to shower, wash her hair and change into fresh clothes before the doorbell rang. She opened it to find Scarlet standing there. She was just about to smile at her when Tseng stepped into view, staring at her with those unfathomable dark eyes. Aeris fainted on the spot.
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