Appointment With Destiny Chapter 30
A search of the village and surrounding areas failed to turn any trace of Aeris or the Highwind. Cid puffed his cigarette angrily convinced beyond a doubt that Aeris was the culprit behind the theft of his ship. Nothing his friends could say would change his mind. AVALANCHE met in the middle of the village and turned toward home. They were startled by the shadow of something huge passing overhead.
"MY SHIP!" Cid looked up excitedly.
"If that's your ship," said Barret pointing, "You've got one hell of a problem Cid!"
Yuffie and Tifa screamed. Cloud pulled his sword from its sheath and braced himself. Vincent checked his rifle and waited. Red XIII growled deep in his throat.
A huge winged monster was slowly circling Gongaga. It's shadow swept over them again.
"What in the hell is that?" asked Cid.
"I don't know," Yuffie cowered behind Tifa. "I sure hope it doesn't land!"
The monster circled again. A Shinra jeep slid around a corner. Troopers jumped out and raised their weapons. The monster let out an eerie cry. The trooper fired. Bullets bounced off the leathery hide.
"It's bullet proof!" cried Tifa.
"That means we're going to have to fight it with magic," said Cloud.
"Why don't we just leave it alone?" asked Barret. "Maybe it'll go away."
The troopers jumped back into the jeep to follow the monster. It made another pass, then went into power dive.
"Run!" shouted Red.
Everyone scattered. Most of the troopers jumped out and ran for cover, but the driver snagged the strap of his rifle around the steering wheel. Too panicked to think clearly, he yanked at it ineffectively.
"Run! Run!" yelled his friends.
Staring up at the monster, the driver kept fighting with the strap. Just as he thought to pull it over the wheel, the monster snatched him up in its claws. His screams echoed back as it carried him away.
The AVALANCHE team exchanged looks.
* * * * *
Rufus stared out the window as the helicopter approached Junon. He was annoyed with his father. This wasn't the time to send him to Junon. He wanted to be there when Aeris came back on her knees. He wanted to see the despair on her face when she realized things were going to be different for her now. He wanted to savor her shock when she found out they had no intention of waking Sephiroth. If Hojo's words were true, they'd have more control over her than they ever dreamed possible. Only one thing bothered him. If Aeris didn't know how to use her powers, how was she going to open the portal?
He shrugged. That was Hojo's problem. How would the Cetra feel when she found out he and his father had known about Hojo's little secret from the start? For that matter, how would Hojo feel if he knew they thought he was up to something? His father hadn't been able to uncover Hojo's scheme yet, but it was only a matter of time before he did. Let Hojo think he was being clever for now. The best way to trap a rat was to use the right kind of bait.
The Junon Training Center loomed into view. Rufus sighed. What was testing the Sister Ray to the triumph of seeing Aeris learn who her masters were? Damn he didn't want to be bothered with any of this nonsense! He was glad when the helicopter finally settled on the landing pad.
Rufus ignored the cheerful greetings from the staff as he walked to his office. He loved the way, they stooped and bowed to him, but it galled him, how much lower they stooped and bowed for his father. One of these days, he'd have all that respect for himself. He hoped that day came soon.
The old man had to die sooner or later and Rufus hoped it was soon.
When Aeris' world was brought to its knees, Rufus wanted it to be his name mentioned foremost in the next generation of history books. Sure he'd give his father honorable mention, but the wording would make it clear HE was the one who had come up with the idea of conquering other worlds.
He opened the door to his outer office. The secretary looked up and smiled.
"You're just in time Sir," she said. "I was just about to take a message. There's a very important phone call waiting for you."
Rufus cringed inwardly at the look of hope in her eyes. His secretaries were always falling in love with him. He'd be glad when this one finally got the idea he wasn't interested in her. When she did, she would quit and another would be sent from the secretarial pool. He didn't like women who made the first move. He got his pleasure out the of being the hunter. Rufus preferred his women shy. Once he gained enough of her confidence to get what he wanted. He dropped her. There was no sport in hanging on in a former conquest.
Sitting down behind his desk, Rufus gave the phone a dirty look before picked up the receiver and pressed a flashing button. It was President Shinra. He got straight to the point. Two of their ships had encountered a monster near the northern continent but only one came out of it intact.
"That's not all," he said tersely. "I've just received a report that there's monster heading in your direction. It's traveling underwater."
"I've never heard of creatures like these before." Rufus tightened his grip on the phone. "What are they? What do they want?"
"I don't know," said the President sounding worried, "But they're on the attack and I think you're next on the list."
"As far as we can tell, these monsters are only attacking ships, aircraft and ground personnel that belong to Shinra," said the President. "Be careful Rufus."
Rufus snorted. "I've got the Sister Ray. Let it come."
"Look Rufus," the President's voice softened. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
"Don't worry about me," Rufus wished his father would just get off the phone. "I can take care of myself."
The President didn't answer right away. When his did, there was sadness in his voice.
"All right Rufus. Take care."
Rufus hung up without answering. He called in the commander of the facility.
* * * * *
Yuffie came running into the house. "Cid, the Highwind is coming back!"
Cid nearly bowled her over running out the door. He shaded his eyes and scanned the sky. It looked small, this far away, but his heart filled with joy as he recognized his ship.
"That's her!" His eyes danced with joy. "My ship is coming back!"
Everyone gathered outside. The Highwind circled once then landed nearby. Cid was running up the gangplank before it could touch the ground.
"Where the hell have you been?" he demanded when the head crewman turned around.
"Sorry Sir." The man was calm in the face of his captains wrath. "We were instructed to take Mrs. Heidegger to the Temple of the Ancients."
"The Temple of the Ancients?" Cid's eyebrows rose. "Instructed by who?"
"By Mrs. Heidegger herself," answered the man.
"Since when do you take orders from anyone else but me?" Cid looked over the man's shoulder. "Where is she? I've got a few things I want to say to her."
"She stayed behind." The crewman stood at attention.
"Maybe that's a good thing," said Cid slapping a fist into his palm. "I've never hit a woman in my life, but if Aeris was standing here now, I'm not sure I could resist temptation."
"I'm sorry Sir." The man look didn't look the least bit sorry. "I couldn't resist her command."
"Couldn't resist her command?" Cid's face darkened. "What in the hell are you talking about?"
"When Mrs. Heidegger made her request Sir, we couldn't resist."
"Aeris just asked you to take her somewhere and you did?" Cloud stepped forward.
The crewman hung his head. "Yes Sir. We knew we shouldn't leave but we couldn't stop ourselves."
"I don't get it," said Tifa. "What did Aeris do that made it so hard for you to say no?"
The crewman cleared his throat. "She touched us Ma 'am."
"She TOUCHED you?" Tifa exchanged glances with Cloud. "That's all? She just touched you?"
The crewman nodded. "Yes Ma 'am. She touched us and we had to do as she asked."
Yuffie turned to Tifa. "I thought you said Aeris didn't have any powers?"
Everyone looked at Tifa.
"Well don't look at me!" The dark haired girl looked defensive. "I'm going by what she said!"
Vincent spoke up. "Where did you say you took her?"
"We took her to The Temple of the Ancients first, Sir."
"What did Aeris do at the Temple?"
"I don't know Sir. I think we went to sleep."
"Did you wake up while she was gone?" asked Red.
The crewman shook his head. "No Sir. None of us woke up until she touched us again."
"Did she tell you what happened?"
"No." The man hesitated. "But-"
"Speak up damn it!" Cid glared at the man.
"The temple was gone, Sir."
There was a stunned silence.
"The Temple what?" Cloud glanced at Tifa.
"The Temple was gone Sir." the crewman scratched his head. "I looked back as we flew away. All I saw was a big hole in the ground. I know the temple was there when we landed. It wasn't when we left."
"Did Aeris explain why the temple was missing?" asked Tifa.
The crewman shook his head. "When I woke up, she was touching the others. They woke up too. She sat down and strapped herself into a seat. She was carrying a black rock."
"A black rock?" Vincent raised his eyebrows.
"Well . . . it looked like a rock, but it kind of reminded me of materia too."
"Materia?" Yuffie's ears perked up. "Black materia?"
"That sure got your attention," said Red.
Yuffie made a face at him.
Vincent folded his arms. "Where is Aeris now?"
"Mrs. Heidegger had us drop her off outside the Ancient City."
"The Ancient City?" Tifa looked at Vincent. "That's where her ancestors lived. It's been deserted for a long time. Why would she go there?"
"I don't know."
Cloud ran a hand through his hair. "I think we'd better find out."
"I heard tales of the black materia from one of the Shinra historians when I worked with the Turks." said Vincent. "It was rumored to be very dangerous stuff. Why would Aeris need something like that?"
No one had an answer.
Cid reached for another cigarette. "How dangerous is it?"
"Yeah, talk!" Barret shook his gun arm. "If it's all that bad, I want to know why."
Vincent's expression was grave. "I don't know as much as I'd like too, but I'll tell you what I can."
Cid dismissed the crewman with a wave of his hand.
"Aeris is finally using her powers," said Vincent. "Now she has black materia too."
"Stop stalling," said Red. "Get to the details."
"Shinra explored the Temple soon after Jenova's remains were found. It was a dangerous thing to do. The Temple was full of monsters and bobby traps. A lot of men died trying to map it. One of the room has murals and writing all over the walls. On one wall in particular was a mural of people looking up in the sky and pointing. A enormous object, was falling toward the ground. According the writings, the name of that object is Meteor."
"Meteor is an oversized rock, with a rudimentary intelligence. It travels through space wherever it chooses to go. That in itself would be no cause for alarm, except that Meteor's favorite sport is colliding with other worlds. Especially inhabited worlds."
"Inhabited worlds?" Yuffie's voice was quavery. "What happens to the people who live there?"
"There must be millions of worlds out there," said Cid. "Meteor could be so far away, this world would never see it. Why are you telling us this?"
"Because Meteor can be summoned by someone using black materia," answered Vincent in a quiet voice. "More to the point, a Cetra."
Tifa spoke first. "Aeris wouldn't call Meteor here. She couldn't. I've never met a gentler person."
"Gentle?" Barret's voice rose. "She has the power to kill us all. If that's not what she's planning to do, why would she need black materia?"
"She went out of her way to get it," added Yuffie. "What was she thinking?"
"Cloud?" Tifa's eyes were frightened. "What are we going to do?"
"We'll know the answer to that question when we find Aeris." Cloud turned around. "Will you take us to the Ancient City Cid?"
"You won't have to ask twice," answered the pilot. "Let's go."
* * * * *
Rufus stood in front of the huge glass wall of the Junon War room. So where the hell was this monster his father had warned him about? It had been almost forty minutes now and it still hadn't made an appearance. Heidegger had flown in just fifteen minutes ago. He was busy on the phone coordinating with his subordinates. So far things were going well. If the monster attacked the center, they were ready. The door opened behind him. Rufus winced as caught a whiff of Scarlet's favorite perfume. He'd given Heidegger hell about bringing her, but Heidegger insisted he needed Scarlet for her expertise in weapons. Besides, he added, Scarlet had climbed into his helicopter and refused to get out.
"Hi Rufie honey," whispered the blonde woman as she edged up next to him. "Any sign of the monster yet?"
"You will call me Rufus or Sir," he said in a irritable voice. "Nothing else."
Scarlet pouted. "Oh Rufie honey, don't be like that."
Rufus darkened in anger. "I mean it Scarlet. You address me with respect or I'll have you tied to one of Sister Rays shells and fired toward the sun!"
Scarlet fluttered her lashes, then dropped her eyes discreetly.
"Okay honey," she whispered. "I'll wait till we're alone."
Rufus' eyes flashed. He was just raising his arm to slap her when a warning light on the wall began to flash. A siren screamed.
"Emergency! Emergency! The monster is approaching! Attention all military personnel! Take your positions!"
Outside the troopers were running around like ants.
Scarlet wrapped her arms around Rufus. He almost retched as she planted a moist kiss behind his left ear lobe. She laid her head on his shoulder.
"We could die here today," she whispered. "Please hold me Rufus. I'm so frightened."
She gasped as Rufus dug his fingers in her skin and pulled her loose. He hurled her to the floor.
"Keep your damned hands off me!"
Scarlet was startled by the amount of venom in his voice. Her face crumpled. "You threw me down . . ."
Heidegger interrupted, planting himself between them.
"It destroyed one of our ships further out to sea. There's another monster in the water near Costa Del Sol, a flying monster over Nibelheim, another lurking in the sand near the Gold Saucer. Something was spotted in the water near Midgar but we're not sure what it is."
"Of course . . . " said Rufus to himself. "That's what these things are."
"Sir?" Heidegger looked confused.
"It was in the mural," explained Rufus.
Heidegger blinked at him.
"In the Ancient Temple," said Rufus impatiently. "These monsters are called Weapons. They all have different names."
"Where did they come from?" asked Heidegger.
"They've always been here." Rufus stared out the window. "They were asleep somewhere underground. The Planet created them as a means to protect itself from its enemies. Apparently, we're the enemy."
"Us?" Heidegger looked alarmed. "Why? We didn't wake them up!"
"It doesn't matter." Rufus eyed his reflection in the glass and straightened his clothes. "We've been targeted as the enemy because we're pumping Mako out of the ground. That monster is on its way here to destroy us."
They're not my damned pumps, thought Heidegger. He glanced toward the window. It probably wouldn't do any good to tell the monster that.
"What took them so long to wake up?" he asked.
Rufus ran his hands through his hair. Who knows? I didn't stick around long enough to hear the rest of the story. Historians can be so boring. All I remember is the guardian for this area was supposed to be named Weapon."
"Weapon?" Heidegger tugged at his beard. "That's a good name for it. They're all weapons. They're killing our people. Now one of them is coming here."
"There's been so many attacks lately," said Rufus absently. He turned to look at Heidegger. "Can we handle it?"
Heidegger nodded. "I believe so. Your orders?"
Rufus turned back toward the glass. "No need to ask."
Heidegger saluted and began shouting orders to a group of sailors waiting nearby."We'll give it a shot from our big cannon."
They saluted in response.
"Seal the base!" shouted Heidegger rasing his fist in the air. "Activate cannon. Target: Weapon!!"
The sailors ran to their positions at the control panels.
Heidegger turned to the window.
Huge Steel plates began to close Junon off from the outside world. Turning in place, the huge cannon turned it's business end toward the sea.
A sailor saluted Heidegger. "Preparations complete Sir!"
"The cannon . . . "Heidegger thrust his fist toward the sea. "Fire --!!!"
The cannon went off with a sound that rattled the building. A burst of energy tore out of the barrel and rushed toward the horizon. The room was silent. In the distance, an explosion rose sent a tidal wave in all directions.
Heidegger lowered his arm looking pleased.
Rufus stared at the sea.
He waited a while longer, then turned to Heidegger. "Did we get him?"
Heidegger pulled at his beard. "Seems so . . . "
The alarms, which had gone silent just before the cannon fired screamed back to life. Heidegger looked around in amazement. A voice came over the loudspeaker.
"Monster approaching! Speed 50 knots!"
A terrified voice cut in. "It's heading right toward us!"
Heidegger looked at Rufus. "It can't be! We hit it dead on!"
A nerve twitched in Rufus' jaw. "How about the cannon?"
Heidegger glanced out the window, then back at Rufus. "It'll take time to reload!"
Rufus wanted to slap the fear off Heidegger"s face.
"Then use regular fire power in the mean time!" he snapped.
Heidegger ran toward the door. "Yes, Sir! Open all artillery doors! Target: Weapon! Don't let it land!"
Rufus looked back and saw Scarlet standing nearby. Her eyes were bright with panic.
"Get out of here," he said, turning his back on her.
"Rufus?" Scarlet's voice was hesitant.
He didn't turn around. "I said get out."
"I won't touch you if you don't want me to," she said. "And I promise I won't get in your way. May I stay until the attack is over?"
Rufus gave her a cold smile. "Not if you want to live through it."
Hurt on her face, Scarlet left the room. Rufus could see Weapon in the distance now. The huge monster was undulating over and under the surface of the water. A wide foaming wake trailed behind it. It had an incredibly long tail. The monster swam unerringly toward the shore.
The order was given and troopers all over the base fired on the creature. Smaller cannons joined in. It was hard to see the monster through the heavy rain of tracer bullets and heavy artillery shells. They had no effect. Some of the trooper dropped their rifles in favor of bazookas. The monster didn't change its course or speed.
Rufus shook his head. If the Sister Ray didn't work this time, he were dead. That thought didn't sit very well with him.
"Speed: 70 knots!" called the loudspeaker. "The monster is closing in! Not good! It's attacking!"
It was suicide to stay outside the protective walls any longer. Most of the troops turned and ran for the emergency doors. One man, overcome with fear, fainted. No one stopped to help him up.
The monster hit the base head on. A massive wall of water accompanied by a trembler shook the whole facility. The trooper who fainted slid off the walkway went into the water. He would not be seen again. Forced partially out of the water by the collision, Weapon sank back in the sea, but not for long.
Uttering a primal cry the behemoth pulled itself up to its full height directly in front of the war room It looked much worse up close. Rufus couldn't tell if he was looking at a mechanical or living creature.
Towering high above the base, a sword like appendage grew out of the monsters head. Evil black eyes with dark slitted pupils stared through the glass at Rufus.
His mouth went dry. Rufus knew without a doubt, he was staring into the face of death.
The Weapon's head began to shake. Massive jaws opened revealing a glowing maw.
Paralyzed with fear, Rufus could only watch as it raised its head just a bit and sent a beam of pure energy into the side of the building. The sound of screaming metal told him it had torn a hole in the building somewhere.
Weapon's jaws closed with a snap. It had the coldest eyes Rufus ever seen. Swallowing hard, he watched as the huge head began shake again. Slowly it opened its mouth. The Sister Ray fired point blank into its face.
The horrible face exploded, leaving behind a smoking crater. The body stayed in place for a second or two, then collapsed in a heap to sink beneath the waves. Rufus realized he wasn't breathing.
He gasped for air. Heidegger tried to come to his aid, but Rufus waved the general away. Be calm, be calm, he thought. When he finally had his breathing under control, he straightened up and tried to pretend he was just as calm as ever. All he had to do was to keep his knees from shaking.
"Pack up the Sister Ray and move it to Headquarters," he said to Heidegger. "If anything attacks Headquarters, that cannon may be the only way to protect it. Move it immediately!"
Heidegger saluted. "Yes Sir! At once."
Rufus turned and walked casually back to his office. Once inside his private room, his legs gave out. He half-crawled and half-walked to his desk. He flopped into his chair. No sooner had he settled in, there was a knock at the door and Scarlet came in.
The door closed behind her. "Is it gone?"
Rufus stood up and strode toward her angrily. She flinched back against the door with eyes wide. Startled, Rufus stopped short of striking her. Even he could see this was no trick to seduce him. There was genuine fear . . . and tears in Scarlet's eyes. Her beautiful bright blue eyes. They stared at each other.
He only meant to hold her for a little while. Just long enough to comfort her, then send her on her way, but Rufus had seen the face of death today and felt coldness of its eyes. He pulled Scarlet much closer than he intended to. The warmth of her body, and the way she parted her lips was more than he could stand. Rufus kissed her with a passion that shocked him. Before he could question himself, she matched it with a passion of her own. Later on, he would regret this moment, but right now, Rufus wanted Scarlet more than anything else in the world.
* * * * *
On the altar in the City of the Ancients, Aeris listened to the voices in her head. It had begun. The Planet was protecting itself. She stood up and brushed off her clothes. The trip back to the main walkway was easy now that she knew what to do. Aeris stood on the sidewalk looking at the silent homes all around her. Choosing one, she opened the door.
She felt an immediate sense of belonging in the modestly decorated room. It looked as thought the owner would come back at any time and start a fire in the hearth. Aeris felt a rush of sadness. The one who built this house had been dead a long time. She went upstairs. There were two bedrooms. She chose the largest. For a city long deserted, there was little or no dust to be found.
Aeris yawned. It was time to rest now. She would need her strength later on. Turning back the covers of the bed, she climbed in. As she arranged the covers around her body, Aeris thought of Sephiroth.
"We'll see each other again," she promised softly. "I only hope you can forgive me for not having faith in you."
Voices whispered in her ear as she settled down to sleep.
* * * * *
The Highwind was approaching Junon when the Ultimate Weapon blew by its nose so close, the Highwind rocked in its wake.
"Shit!" Cid fought to bring his ship under control. Just as he thought he'd succeeded, he saw the monster coming straight for them.
"Hard to port!" he screamed. "Full power!"
Highwind responded quickly, sliding off to one side, but the creature shrieked and curved back into its path.
There was no time to avoid it. Cid screamed . . . and the Ultimate Weapon flew right over them.
"That does it!" Cid swung his ship around.
"What are you doing?" Yuffie hung on to the observation deck rail for dear life.
Cid snorted in response
"Are you going to attack? asked Barret.
"That thing tried to bring down my ship," snarled Cid. "If it wants to start a fight, I can finish it."
"Are you planning to let us help, or are we just along for the ride?" asked Tifa.
The ship rocked to the left, throwing everyone to the floor. The light flicked.
"It's trying to kill us." Cid pulled himself to his feet. "Does that answer your question?"
"But this isn't a Shinra ship," said Red. "Why us?"
"It was Shinra's before we stole it," said Vincent. "That monster doesn't know we're the good guys."
"Want to go out there and explain it to him?" Cid glared back at Vincent over his shoulder. "If so, you'd better do it quick before he makes us crash!"
The ship rocked again.
"Let's get him," said Yuffie, looking a bit green. "Cause if he doesn't stop rocking this ship, I'm going to be sick all over everyone."
"Save Yuffie's life Cid," said Barret edging away from the young ninja. "Land the ship. If Yuffie pukes on me . . . I swear I'm going to kill her!"
Cid nodded. "Let me try something first."
The Ultimate Weapon was flying just ahead of them now. Cid fired the Highwind's weapons at it. 18 missiles streaked after the beast. Only three found their target. The monster avoided the rest and veered away. Cid caught up with it again and fired another salvo. Eighteen missiles missed this time.
"We'll have to fight it on the ground," said Cloud. "Land anywhere. It's sure to attack when we do."
"Why do it the hard way?" Cid fired another round and missed. One missile hit the ground uncomfortably close to Junon.
"That's why," said Cloud. "Move away from the city."
"It's more of a Shinra military base than anything else," grumbled Cid.
"But innocent people live there too," said Tifa. "You don't want to hurt them do you?"
Without answering, Cid turned the ship away from Junon. The monster didn't attack as he searched for a place to land.
A few miles away, Cloud pointed. "There."
Cid brought the ship in easy. The Ultimate Weapon hovered in the distance watching them.
"What now?" Cid looked at Cloud.
Cloud pressed the button to open the door.
"We fight," he said.
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