Observer 32: North of Phoenix
Mountain Category: Emergency ‘About one hour ago, there was a
sudden increase of activity in the area of 30-50% around a large outcropping
half-way up the North-east side of Phoenix Mountain. Then, thirty-two minutes
later a large fleet of sky-jets swept from an unidentified location on the
other side of the mountain and destroyed the standing military forces with
missile and auto-cannon fire. Attacker unknown. Casualties in the region of
100%.' Two Days Ago Half an hour ago "Yes
"Admiral Firma was all for sending in a retaliatory strike, sire," said the advisor, "But before that he said he needs to know where the strike force is coming from."
Edgar nodded, the Admiral knew the procedures –when he stuck to them, he stuck to them like glue- but sometimes he preferred to defer to the King, especially in areas where there might be severe political ramifications.
"Hmm," muttered Edgar, "I've actually got an idea. See how many of the Returners you can track down, I'm betting that they're perfectly suited for a small job like this..."
The advisor left the room, leaving Edgar to his thoughts and the crimson failure sheet. Finally he reached a decision. He leaned over to his desk and flipped a switch.
"Air Command? I need to talk to Admiral Firma."
"Yes sir, right away sir."
"I now call this meeting to session." Edgar declared.
"It's about time he did something," muttered a tall man with lank brown hair to the blonde haired woman sitting beside him, she smiled.
"Locke, be reasonable," she said placidly. He put on a mocking scowl.
"No!" he declared quietly.
A woman with light green hair looked down the table at them and grinned.
"Locke, be reasonable!" she said, "his runner nearly died getting to me!"
"Oh, ours arrived by a skyjet." He grinned.
Terra shot him a momentary scowl, and then smiled at him.
"Excuse me, Terra, Locke?" said Edgar.
"Yes?" said Locke.
"Would you mind awfully if I continued?" he said plaintively.
"By all means, I wouldn't like to stop you from doing anything important." Locke grinned at his friend.
"This is...important," snapped Edgar, "The obliteration of any of my forces, no matter how small, is important!"
"Must you turn everything into a mockery?!"
Locke sighed dramatically, "Go on."
"Okay," said Edgar, "This is how it stands, based on what I know. There appears to have been a lot of unauthorised military and scientific activity around Kefka's Tower, and Phoenix Mountain. About a week ago a task force of mine -there to keep an eye on the area- was attacked and completely destroyed."
"By what?" asked Terra, looking concerned. "I haven't seen anything from Mobliz, and we're practically covering the east area."
"From the single observer whose reports we've received, we're currently working on the basis that they came from the south of Phoenix Mountain. Whether Kefka's tower is being used as a base –being the next largest formation in the area- or if they're coming from elsewhere, we simply don't know."
"Okay then," said Locke, leaning forward on the polished oaken table, "Why did you call us for this?"
"Because I want you guys to do me a little favour, and go and check it out."
"Why don't you send any of your highly skilled black-ops?" Locke sprung upon what he perceived to be a flaw.
"We've currently got all of the Special Agents scouring the surrounding area," Edgar explained, "I'd like you guys to go and check out the actual excavation site. I need to know what's going on in that area...please?"
"I haven't got much happening at the moment," Terra smiled, "I guess it'll be nice to have a bit of excitement for a while."
".....okay, okay!" Locke breathed out heavily, "We'll do it!"
Celes nodded her assent.
"We're coming too, wherever you're going," piped up Relm and Strago, entering and shutting the door behind them, "Sorry we're a bit late, but the airship had to stop and refuel half-way...."
Edgar held up a hand, "Don't worry about it." He quickly filled them in.
"Okay, I'm definitely going," said Relm, giving her guardian a challenging look. He held up both hands in an innocent gesture.
"You think I was going to be able to stop you?" he asked.
"Ah, I also need to introduce you to Admiral Firma. He insisted on flying this mission, so we eventually had to give in."
A tall man with long white hair stepped forward, he was dressed in a blue jumpsuit, with a meteor stylised across the chest. It was evident that he had just stopped flying, as he was sweaty, and his hair looked mussed.
"Thank you, Your Majesty," he said with military precision. "Here's how the mission will go, hopefully. I'm going to fly towards the excavation site, and hopefully be below any kind of radar that they could have set up there. I believe that there's a handy crevasse that leads into the crater."
"Sounds about right," said Relm, "We went there, pretty much like what you said."
Firma glanced at her, and said "You went there?"
"Well, yeah, but there wasn't really much there...lots of rubble, there was Locke, and that was about it."
"Hmm, okay...nothing else about it?"
Edgar stood up. "Well, apart from the fact that it's a geometric shape, which I find interesting, there appeared to be mechanical traps in there."
"Ah, that sounds valuable. Okay, I'm going to have a look."
"Very well, if you need to take a look, then take a look. But you'll need some guides and some guards."
"I am a trained fighter, your Majesty, anyway," he continued, "From what I hear, these people should be enough, I think. If you would equip yourselves from the armoury and come back up here, then we can leave immediately."
Locke gave a start, "Immediately?"
Firma smiled at him, "Did you intend on doing anything else today?"
"Right. Get moving, people."
"What about you?"
"I'll collect my stuff from my skyjet."
The small cluster of people went down to the armoury, muttering about this new persona.
"Did you see his hair? That was white."
"What about his eyes? They looked...not dangerous, but powerful, I guess."
"He seemed to be comfortable with ordering people," one person said sullenly.
"He does happen to be an Admiral, and the best of the best, if anything I've heard is true."
"What've you heard?"
When they reached the armoury they selected their weapons, based on personal choice and skill. Celes and Terra both took swords, their combat skills being based on a good balance of offence and defence, however, they also took shields, small bucklers to block incoming blows, but not like the tower shield Locke had selected.
"No, Locke," said Celes.
"It's perfect, though!" said Locke.
"I do want to be able to get around you. Those corridors aren't exactly the size of that hall."
"Good point," said Locke. Instead, he selected a boomerang, inlaid with a vicious diamond serrated edge, and carved with runes, though now ineffective, originally designed to guide the boomerang in its deadly arc.
Relm, and her grandfather, Strago, had selected strong staves as a means of dealing out damage to any unwary foes. Again, though any magic inside them was long gone, they were still tougher, and denser than any standard wooden stave, almost as heavy as an adamantium quarterstaff.
There was no armour available, because the guards of the castle were currently wearing it. Locke reflected on this as he went back up the stairs.
"Why do they need the armour, its not as if they are going anywhere dangerous!"
"Give them a break, Locke!"
"Relm, would you rather be on the floor without a head, or would you rather have it attached in the way God intended?"
Firma, however, was equipped with several weapons. He had a sword slung across his back, and had changed into a black tracksuit. In his hands he held a long-barrelled assault rifle, which he was sighting down.
"Firma?" Terra said.
He jumped, and looked round.
"Out of armour, huh?" he said, in a manner completely different to the ‘military-parade' formality he had before.
"Yeah," said Locke.
"Great. Oh well, look, we're going to load into a small troop transport, which'll airlift us the way to the entrance, which I recall being some way off the ground, so we'll need parachutes. After that, we split up and look for anything interesting. You missed it the first time in there, so it has to be hidden. How well, I can't say." He ran through a mental checklist, and nodded.
"You're ready, right?" he said.
"Yes," said Locke testily.
"Just making sure. Let's go then."
He led them to a large, quadruple-bladed skyjet that hovered a few inches from the ground. The din it made caused them to clap their hands over their ears.
"That's small?" shouted Locke.
"Yeah," shouted back Firma, whose hair was streaming in the wind. "Fighters get much smaller, of course, but this is a 18-seater, make for quickly carrying wounded or small commando teams. Smaller four to six person seaters are real Black-Ops business. Besides, it's not as if we're trying to sneak in anywhere."
They piled on, and with Firma at the controls, the skyjet shot off the ground, reaching Mach One a mile overhead, and headed in the general direction of the Phoenix mountains.
About an hour later, Firma announced that they were just about to come around into the range marked out as Phoenix Mountain.
"Heey, that's a bit odd," he commented, checking his scopes, "We just got pinged by something."
"What?" asked Locke, coming into the cockpit.
"I'm not actually certain, we either hit a bird of some sort, or someone's just bounced a radar wave off us...but there's no large radar installations around. Where did it come from...." Firma scanned the surrounding area, looking for domes, or dishes, "I can't see any-"
There was a huge white flash that blinded everyone in the sky-jet, followed by a massive explosion. There was a smell of acrid smell in the air.
"Damn, can't see anything!" said Firma, trying to keep level until his sight returned. "Okay, we've lost our gyros, so landing's going to be harder...and we've also lost our altitude."
His eyes crossed over to the pressure gauge, which was measuring a huge build-up.
"Everyone strap in!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, noticing how distant his voice sounded to his own tortured ears. "Locke, buckle up! NOW! We've got a concussion wave incoming!"
There were a few shouts from the back, confirming that they had buckled up, Locke slipped into the seat next to Firma and strapped in.
"What's happening?" he asked, as Firma wheeled the sky-jet around and started moving at top speed.
"That huge blast is sending out a shockwave. I can't outrun it, so I'm going to have to go as fast as I can to lessen the damage...brace yourselves!" he shouted back, "Three...two...-"
The sky-jet bucked and rolled as the wave enveloped it and tried to rip it apart. There was a hideous screeching noise as part of the rear hull was shorn off, and a clanging of alarms went off. There was a hissing noise, which told Firma that they were losing oxygen to the outside. Then, the wave had passed and they were still.
"I'm going to have to get lower!" he cried over the alarms, "The air up here's too thin!"
He set the sky-jet at a forty-five angle-of-attack, and plummeted down towards the ground, at about three hundred feet he levelled off and set it into hover.
"C'mon Locke," he said, "We'd better make certain everyone's okay."
It seemed that the injuries sustained in the back area were many, although superficial and none were life-threatening. Everyone was extremely shaken up and beyond that, curious about what happened.
"I'm not certain," said Firma, "The only thing I saw was a tower of smoke in the direction of Mobliz."
Terra sat up, "We have to get over there," she said, "Now!".
Firma nodded, and disappeared into the cockpit. "Okay, we've not only lost gyros oxygen, and the altitude thing, but we've also lost a fuel tank, so I can't stick around once we get there."
"Mobliz has some fuel depots around it," said Locke, "I remember Edgar putting them there as a refuelling point for his sky-jets."
"Ah, yeah," said Firma, "Drummon base, I think it's called. Anyway, we're on our way now."
The sky-jet, trailing smoke and moving slowly, made its way over the Phoenix range, and in the direction of the tower of smoke.
When they got there, Mobliz was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh...god..." said Locke, looking out the window. Below them was the origin of the smoke, rising from the ashes of what once was Mobliz. What was visible around the focus of the destruction was of a black and burned wasteland, there was ash-coated trees, which were lying on the ground, surrounded by the corpses of other trees, and bushes. The famous Moblizian Tempest Tree, normally awash with the blues and whites of its namesake was a blackened, burned stump, with the trunk fifty feet away lodged in the burned out wreck of a house. Mobliz itself, what was observable of it consisted of two houses, both on their knees, blackened burned husks of what they used to be.
"We....we....," Terra fell silent, then pointed, "We have to get down there!"
Firma came in from the cockpit, and took in the scene, his face tinged with horror and disgust.
"I'm sorry," he said, "But we can't..."
"Why not?!" questioned Relm hotly, "There could be people alive down there! You're abandoning them-"
"What I'm actually doing, Relm, is trying to not get us all killed! Whatever that explosion was, it could have left some lingering effects in the area. Even here the controls of the sky-jet are slightly sluggish, if I go further in, I might lose control entirely."
"You don't know if that's due to damage or to any mystery anomaly," said Terra quietly, but vehemently.
"Furthermore," said Firma, ignoring Terra, "We have no advanced medical equipment, which I assure you, anyone who was around in that explosion will need. In fact, the likelihood is that anyone down there would have been instantly vaporised...look at it, the smoke's risen miles above us! The power that...whatever...that was to do that...they'll be either dead or near-dead..."
"Which is why we must go and help them!" Terra almost shouted.
"How?" said Firma, "Let's see, in the medical locker I have an oxygen mask, some anaesthetics, some splints, painkillers, anti-biotics, oh, and these stomach-ache pills. Will that help anyone who's been hit by that explosion? I doubt it. Look, I've called in a medical team, but we've got to go now. We've only just got enough fuel...they can get here in about half an hour, and they have the proper equipment."
Terra, looking down at the scene, started shaking slightly in shock. Firma gave her an unhappy, sympathetic look, and turn back to fly back to Figaro.
"Sorry Terra," they heard him mutter as he got the sky-jet flying.
Terra looked back at the catastrophe for as long as she could.
Firma gunned the engines all the way back to Figaro, occasionally slowing down a bit to prevent them from overheating.
"Aha, there's the rescue crew taking off," he said, just as they came within range of Figaro. He was right, a collection of small white sky jets had just lifted off, and were speeding off towards the remains of Mobliz. A few seconds later, a very large sky jet was on its lumbering way, with it's port and starboard lights flashing alternately.
"Damn...my side lights...one sec," Firma flipped a switch, and activated his lights.
"Okay guys, we're almost there, and that's the rescue team taking off. They'll be there in about three minutes or so –they have emergency afterburners on those things-, then the main ship will arrive as they've taken stock of the situation and what's needed."
"Okay," said Locke, taking a side glance at Terra, who was sitting there, apparently in shock. He had to admit he didn't feel a lot better, although without knowing what happened, there wasn't any appreciable way to react.
"When I land, I'll probably get a fighter refitted with a few instruments, and take it out there-"
"I'm coming," said Terra firmly, "I want to see what's happening there."
There was a pause from the cockpit, "Okay, fine by me," said Firma, "They're two seaters anyway, and I need someone else to target the scanners...anyway, we're landing now."
There was a change in the thud-thud of the blades as Firma brought it into land, and unbuckled. "Time to go, everyone, I think we'd better go talk to Edgar." He punched in his code on the main door, and it swished open.
"Ah, no, he's already here," reported Firma, "And he doesn't look happy."
Edgar, having seen that the sky jet had been brought to a complete halt strode forward, his face questioning.
"Okay then, Admiral, what happened?" he demanded.
"Okay then, what I think happened is that we flew over the Phoenix range," replied Firma, "Then, there was an almighty explosion a few miles away. After we recovered from that," –he gestured at the smoke rising from part of the sky-jet, and continued- "we flew straight towards what looked to be the source of the explosion, which happened to be Mobliz."
"Very well," said Edgar, "Nice job, Admiral," he grinned, although completely without humour. Firma nodded, and went to talk to the ground crew.
Edgar went inside the skyjet, where he was confronted by Locke and Strago.
"If you want to talk to Terra, I suggest you really don't." said Locke, "You're not exactly Mr. Tactful half the time, and she's still in shock. She's intending on flying out with Firma to see what the damage is, but I dunno..."
"She was pretty upset when Firma refused to land and check it out-" said Strago, "and I have to admit, I don't understand why he did."
"You were equipped for an archaeology expedition, right?" inquired Edgar, "I assume you were. If you had medical equipment, Firma might have landed, but I think he probably didn't want to endanger anyone...by now the med teams have probably arrived now, and they're fitted out for just about any situation."
There was a thud-thud-thud, and then a ‘bang' from over where Firma and the ground-crew where refitting a skyjet, they saw Firma and the crew run clear as the skyjet flipped over on it's side and began spinning like a top.
"Turn it off!" they heard Firma shout, as a large piece of asphalt smacked him in the shoulder. There was a whine, and the skyjet shut down, the ground-crew and Firma came forward carefully, as though expecting a repeat performance.
Edgar turned back, "They do that sometimes, they're a bit unreliable when we fit them with different load outs, and the ground-crew probably unbalanced it a bit. Anyway, would you guys mind coming in and telling me what you saw, the scientists might need the data you collect."
Locke hesitated, between attempting to help Terra and going with Edgar, although when he saw that Celes and Relm had that base covered, he left, although with a slightly guilty expression.
Having watched them go, Celes turned to Terra.
"Are you okay?" she said.
"Uh-huh," said Terra, although in a deadpan voice, then she brightened up, "I'm completely fine, people, it probably won't hit me for a while..."
Relm and Celes exchanged glances, Terra was most definitely not alright, in fact, from Celes's experienced viewpoint, she was experiencing something akin to the shock that soldiers felt returning from their first incredibly bloody battle....
...come to think of it, the Air Force didn't know anything about that. Then she clicked her fingers.
"That's where I recognise Firma from!" she said, "He used to be in the IAF, I think his alias –all the Air Force used call-signs, anyway- I think it was something like Mercury, or something....they were really hot on elements, in the IAF. As I remember, he was a fighter pilot, although I never heard how he left the IAF. Terra, if you're still intent on going with him, you might want to find that out, he still might be harbouring feelings for the Imperials. I never did like him, come to think about it.
At that point Firma looked in on them.
"Are you okay?" he asked Terra, "Look, I'm sorry that we couldn't land, but we're not outfitted for it...we'll just have to hope that..." he cut off, evidently not entirely certain what to say.
"I'm fine," said Terra, mechanically, "I wish people would stop asking me!"
"Okay, you're ready to fly, then?" he said.
"Sure," she said, and stood up.
When they had reached a comfortable cruising altitude just below the clouds, Terra decided to ask him.
"Who are you, Firma?" she said.
"Sorry?" he said, half-paying attention to her, and keeping his eye on the landscape in from on them.
"What's your history?" she said, changing tack slightly, "If it's not classified, or anything."
Firma looked a little surprised but shrugged, "Okay, my history...well, a lot of it is classified, but I don't really care, because the Empire that classified it doesn't exactly exist anymore...anyway..."
"I take it you know General Celes, right? She used to put the fear of god into me, especially when we passed in corridors. There always used to be something about her, even when she was about ten," he grinned slightly, "Anyway, me and her were on the same project since we were babies."
"The Magitek project?" said Terra, surprised. "Really?"
"Yeah," said Firma, "In Celes they wanted to create a super-warrior, who could cast magic as well as clobber people with that oversized pointy stick of hers. In me they wanted an assassin, fast, quick, deadly, and above all, loyal to the Empire. I take it that if you know of the Magitek project, then you know that they used these poor sods called Espers to enhance us."
Terra, being cautious, decided to withhold any information about her heritage, "The reason I'm sitting here talking to you now is because the Magitek project sent me to Narshe."
"I remember reading something about that...." Firma clicked his tongue, "Anyway, in Celes they decided to infuse Shiva, basically, ice power, they thought that it might bleed through into her personality, making her cold, calculating, and ruthless...really, the actual idea was a complete failure and although she gained the ability to use magic, the rest they obtained through psycho-tropic drugs. They made her susceptible to suggestion."
"When they did with me was to attempt to inject the aether of an Esper that they called Alexander, or something," he shrugged, "But before they could complete the project, the Returners had their first strike, which happened to be at the primary and backup generators at the same time. Alexander was among the few Espers that escaped, along with one called Tritoch, and a Phoenix, although that was heavily wounded and apparently collapsed above Phoenix mountain. However, what they had already done was give me vastly improved reactions, eyesight, and dexterity, well, apparently. This made me ideal for the IAF, so they filled me full of propaganda and I signed right up."
Terra listened, it sounded much as if Celes had repeated her history verbatim, except that they had both taken very different stances on their position within the Imperial Navy.
"...anyway, when I finally got into the IAF, I kept on getting promoted, and my rise through the ranks was meteoric. I was definitely viewed as a favourite, although that wasn't exactly true. Personally, I just think they wanted to put me in a squadron so that they could see how I would perform under combat conditions. By the time I was seventeen, the Emperor was ready to make his move on the southern continent. Under the command of General Celes, the ground troops swarmed out of Vector, and took over Albrook and Miranda. My job for both of those assaults was to fly suppressively, making certain that any attacks made against the infantry could be quickly and cleanly rooted out. I didn't exactly cover myself with praise because I just couldn't bring myself to open fire on the enemy, but don't ask me why. So, I got demoted again, back into a standard squadron."
"I didn't do much over the few months between then and Kefka turning the world into his personal chew-toy, but I was normally in charge of covering lower dignitaries and the like to Figaro castle, and I made a lot of friends here in the times between landing and takeoff. Finally, some orders came through for us to attack a particularly troublesome airship, that was in the way of the Empire's total victory-"
"-I was on that airship," said Terra suddenly.
"I don't doubt you were, although I can't see why we didn't take it down, I wasn't about to point out to anyone that the easiest way to take it out would have been to shoot the airbag, for the reason that I was definitely feeling rebellious thoughts. When I came to attack the airship I began by circling and moving across the Empire's New Continent, and I saw the Emperor and Kefka considering three large statues."
"You mean the Statues?" said Terra.
"Probably, I'm not certain if they're meant to be capitalised, or what, but at that point I realised that something bad was going to happen. I spun in midair and attempted to open fire on Kefka and the Emperor, but my auto cannons jammed for some reason. That didn't really matter, because the Emperor had seen me spin, and mistook it for desertion. He sent an elite squadron after me, and we played cat and mouse around the New Continent for about half an hour. Then all hell broke loose, parts of the continent started to fall around me and I don't know how I escaped, but none of the people after me managed to. I was headed away from the continent, and then the world came apart. At that point the air turbulence caused my skyjet to come apart, and I plummeted for about half a minute before I remembered my parachute. However, I landed safely, and as luck would have it, I landed near Figaro, which escaped the devastation unharmed, which was a miracle...ah, we're here, you'll have to wait for part two."
Terra sat back and considered this, Firma appeared to be on the level with them. She was definitely picking up a moral spirit level in him, albeit one that would tend to come loose and start blasting everything in sight if it saw something out of kilter with it's world view. Firma was someone to tread carefully around, indeed, although he definitely seemed to have a fairly strong streak of luck great pilot or not, nobody stood a chance twenty to one, which is what he said he was up against on the Floating Continent.
Mobliz swept underneath them as she was ruminating, and Firma muttered something to himself and curved in a tight angle back around.
Mobliz itself had been completely and utterly blown to pieces, as had a sizable part around it, however, there was a hive of activity around the main medical ship, with people sifting through wreckage, looking for buried people.
"I know you'll want to go down there, Terra," said Firma, sympathetically, "But we've got to collect this data quickly, so if you could target using that scope over there...."
Terra zoomed in on the centre of the wrecked town, viewing it through the eyes of the Infra-red telescope, which displayed that a lot of heat was still present, possibly as high as sixty degrees. When she switched to the gamma-ray detector the cockpit was filled with a buzzing. Firma whistled and flicked a switch, and the sound disappeared.
"Wow, it's going to be like standing inside a functioning nuclear reactor down there," he said, and clambered round his chair to retrieve two suits.
"You're going to need this," he said, handing it to Terra while putting his on. "It's a radiation suit, so it should shield us from that radiation, it should also do a good job of filtering out heat, too."
He pressed the transmit button, sending the information back to Figaro, and took the skyjet in. At about a thousand feet above the ground the information screens started flickering.
"Damn!" said Firma, although his voice sounded distant through the suit, "The radiation's buggering up the controls...whoa....nuts!"
The skyjet had apparently had enough, and spiralled out of control. Firma managed to right it just above the ground, and sent it on a spinning course that clipped tree husks and made rocks skip up and into the windscreen.
"Thank heavens that's heavily toughened," muttered Firma, as he fought to pull the skyjet up, he eventually succeeded in making the craft respond and it moved slowly skyward before working again.
"Okay, I'm going to land it here then," he said, "I forgot that these aren't shielded against gamma rays....damn..." He shrugged, and landed the plane.
Back at Figaro, the information that Firma had transmitted had just arrived, along with the information pertaining the skyjet that Terra and Firma had been flying. He leaned forward, looking at the altitude reading, which had been occupying his attention. It suddenly dropped downwards violently, before contact was lost altogether.
"Oh my god!" he said loudly, "I don't believe it, they've crashed! Locke! Celes! Come and look at this!"
They rushed over, attracted just as much by the note of panic in his voice as by the information. They both digested what had happened, and both expressed their shock.
"We need to get over there, now. Terra might be wounded," said Celes.
"If they did crash," said Edgar, "Then they had the good luck to crash right next to a medical ship, they'll be fine..." he trailed off. He walked to his desk and picked up the microphone. "Get me the medical ship, please!" he said.
"Yes sire," said the radio operator, then- "Sire! I can't raise the medical ship!"
Edgar looked shocked, "You must be able to," he said, quietly.
"Sorry sir, there's just a lot of cracking and buzzing, shall I send someone out there?"
"Don't worry," said Edgar, "I'll go," he hung up, before any objections could be made.
"Celes, Locke," he said, "They can't raise the medical ship, we're going over there."
"What about me?" said Relm.
"It's not a suitable place for you," said Edgar, "I'm sure Strago wouldn't approve-"
"Of course I approve, do you think I'm not coming with you?!" said Strago, coming back from his lunch.
There was a loud clang of the double doors, "Oh, I completely forgot!" said Edgar, "That should be Sabin, back from Tzen!". There was a series of footsteps outside the door, and Sabin entered, looking heavily shocked, and badly singed.
"What happened, Sabin?" said Edgar, Sabin waved his hand, "Give me a sec, I've only just got back," he said down, breathing heavily. "Okay, here it is, Tzen has been turned into a firestorm," he said, sounding slightly bewildered.
"What on earth?!" said Edgar, "The very same happened in Mobliz! What on earth is going on here!"
"I'll tell you what happened, leading up to Tzen going nova," said Sabin, then the mention of Mobliz sunk in, "Is Terra alright?!".
"Yes," said Edgar, "Although in shock; she only found out about two hours ago after all. She's flying with Admiral Firma over there right now.
"Uh-huh," said Sabin, "Firma's at least relatively reliable, compared to some of your other Armed Forces staff."
"Why do you think I let him go? However...we just lost radio contact with them, as they were sending us the data they got. It appears that they crashed, if the altitude reading is anything to go by."
"Firma?" said Sabin, "Crash a ship? You've got to be kidding me...whoo boy, he owes me a lot of money now."
"Huh?" said Celes.
"I bet him that he would crash a ship within a year," replied Sabin.
"Is this really the time to be thinking about gambling?" remarked Celes acidly.
"Not really, it just popped into my head," said Sabin.
"Anyway, can we please get going!" said Relm, annoyed first by the indecision, and secondly by the deviation.
"Okay," said Sabin, "I'll tell you about what happened in Tzen en route."
Terra and Firma had finally managed to get the fighter's doors opened –a lot of the electronics had failed literally after they landed- using a mixture of brute strength and finesse. The door had finally been wrenched off, courtesy of Terra kicking it with both feet at the same time.
"Ye gods..." she whispered as she vaulted out and landed on the ground.
"Whoa!" said Firma, "This...what on earth did this, then?"
Terra had already set her sights on the town, and her mind was fixed on precisely one thing, "Katarin! Duane!"
"Wait-" said Firma, but Terra was pretty much a cloud of dust, 50 feet away. Firma took measured steps over to the medical ship, where there was a technician standing by the ramp looking shocked, and disgusted at the same time.
"Whoever, or whatever did this...." He said, menacingly.
"Aye," agreed Firma, "Do you have a casualty report? Thanks," he took the small slip of paper and, after several false starts, finally managed to get it oriented in his glove.
"Nobody?!" he almost shouted, "You've recovered no-one?"
The technician looked slightly apprehensive, "Sorry sir, but..."
Firma shook his head, "Don't worry, they might be buried under there...how's the rubble evacuation going?"
The technician shrugged, "I think they're just about to bring in the laser cutters, but before that they want to have as little interference as possible, sir."
Firma nodded, and smiled slightly, "I'm not exactly up to date on rescue techniques, is there any way that we can pick up alive people under the rubble?"
"Sorry sir, not under this much rubble, and not with so much radiation around. We're not even certain how deep this rubble goes-"
"It can't be too deep," said Firma, "When I last flew over the highest house was about two storeys high."
The technician shook his head vigorously, "I'm not saying that you're lying, sir, but the rubble seems to go under-ground, quite a distance. I'm thinking that whatever happened opened up a large hole, so if anyone's still alive, they're going to be a long way underground....too far for us to rescue them, I think."
Firma looked quickly over towards the site, "I take it you've tested for the distance,"
"Yes sir," said the technician, "We set up a thumper above it, after making sure that the site wasn't going to slide much more...they're not quite done with that, however, so at the moment I'm giving guesses."
"Okay then," said Firma, "Thanks for the help, I'd better go and check out the destruction."
The tech nodded, saluted, and went back into the medical ship.
Firma turned and trod carefully towards the centre of the destruction, treading carefully.
Mobliz had been transformed from a peaceful, steadily growing city into a nightmarish combination of wood, brick and sod. Every so often there were spike-like pieces of wood, evidence of the magnitude of the catastrophe. A few houses stood standing, almost mocking the ruins around them, although they, too, were mere hollowed out husks. One collapsed as Firma looked at it, with a great grinding and splintering noise. A huge cloud of dust rose up, and suddenly the whole scene was obscured from view, a change from the better, in Firma's view.
"Hello?" he shouted, "Anyone?"
There were some shouts from over by his left, so he turned in that direction, noticing that the damage appeared to be greater in this area. The smoke cloud, if anything was thicker in this area, so Firma tried switching on his suit's lamp. It didn't penetrate the smog, so Firma was left standing on an island in the middle of a sea of destruction.
Slowly, by degrees, he managed to muddle his way towards the search party, calling out occasionally, and correcting himself. Once he found himself completely turned around, and from then on paid special attention to his direction. Overhead he heard the ‘whup-whup' of a sky jet looking for a place to land.
"Good luck around here, mate," he muttered, looking around, but waved his suit-lamp in the air, indicating his position. A large black shape descended out of the fog, driving the fog before it, and finally came into focus.
It was a ten-seater sky-jet, the same model Firma had used earlier that day, in going to and coming back from the artefact below Phoenix Mountain. He stepped over, and rapped on the side.
The door slid open, and Locke looked out.
"Quickly!" said Firma, "Shut that door! There should be some suits in there, it's still too dangerous to venture out here without protection."
The door slid shut again, and Firma could hear sounds of movement inside.
Sabin had found himself in Tzen, doing yet another errand for his brother. However, his name did carry a fair amount of prestige, and he had picked up a lot of diplomacy during the time since Kefka had been routed.
Tzen had more then tripled in size, mainly due to its position on the continent. It was for this reason that Edgar wanted to strengthen his communication with the town to increase trade between it and South Figaro. So, for that very reason, Sabin had been asked by Edgar to go and talk to the Mayor of Tzen, who seemed to be on the verge of breaking ties with Figaro completely, possibly in the hope of strong-arming Edgar into accepting a totally outlandish proposal whereby Tzen took 10% of South Figaro's trade.
Sabin was going to do his utmost to prevent that, because if Tzen decided to break ties, the Mayor would get his wish, but there was the very present fact that the world's economy was as shaky as all hell. Figaro's apparent strength was keeping buyers and investors in business, but if they saw that Edgar could be pushed around by someone as small as Tzen, then they would lose trust, the buying and selling market would collapse with a knock-on effect that could drive people back to the stage when Kefka was running the show.
"Sabin saves the world, eh?" he said.
"Sorry sir?" his aide had re-entered his room with a stack of papers, outlining what the Tzen council's demands. However, Sabin was quite aware that many of these demands were quite impossible, but were only there to make the others seem more reasonable.
Best to take them one at a time, then, really.
He settled down, pen in one hand, and began to check through them, when he heard shouting outside in the street, thinking that there might be a riot on, he told the aide to stay put, and walked outside to a vast wave of sound.
There appeared to be a religious speaker talking on one of the many stands reserved for such purposes, although he was of a cult that Sabin had never seen before. On his stave that he was carrying, a pennant with a picture of a perfect world hung, the same symbol adorned his forehead, and his belt.
"Listen to me, my friends!" he shouted above the crowd, apparently oblivious to the fact that many of the crowd were making it obvious that they were not his friends. "The Homeworld awaits! Soon, the chosen will be brought together, and they shall travel through to a place that is perfect in every respect! We shall no-longer exist on this wretched, dying world, but live as kings and queens in a land that will have no end!"
The Tzenians were not impressed, there were several cries of "Get off the stage!" and a general "Madman!" was being thought in the mob's mind.
"Who will join me?!" shouted the speaker.
There was silence.
"WHO WILL JOIN ME?!"
It should be noted that the Tzenians were not especially keen on religion, and it was for this reason that so many religious believers flocked to the town, hoping to pick up a few converts while they made their way through to Nikeah, and then on to South Figaro. The religious speaker did not look happy.
"Very well!" he cried, "I will smite this town, within one day! All who do not leave, will die!"
Sabin shrugged, and went back inside as the crowd surged forward. Smitings were common threats, especially from people who knew they were on shaky ground. Fear was a good way of keeping people in line. Besides, it didn't effect him, he would be gone by noon tomorrow, he decided to get down to, and finish the demands once and for all.
The next day dawned cloudy, although there was a hint of sun. This weather was not uncommon in the springtime, and Sabin rather liked it. He made certain that his bag was packed, before going to the council to hand in the papers.
There were many objections over the treatises that he had rejected, and so he had to spend several hours longer then expected hammering out what he agreed with and what he didn't. By the time he had convinced the council into accepting what his plans it was beginning to get dark, so Sabin set out.
He hadn't got very far from the city when he saw a nimbus on top of one of the nearby hills, with someone apparently standing inside it. He turned to watch, and as he did so, someone spoke.
"YOU HAVE ALL TURNED AGAINST THE HOMEWORLD!" spake someone in a voice of thunder, "YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN HER! FOR THIS, YOU SHALL PAY!".
At that point there was a crackle of thunder, and the clouds parted. Sabin looked up, and gasped, a small shooting star was screaming down towards the city, he began to run away from the city, certain that when it hit, there would be an almighty explosion. As he ran, he heard panicked cries from the town, as people realised what was happening.
Just as the shooting star dipped out of sight there was a small flash, and a far larger bang, before a huge spherical wall of flame expanded out of the city, demolishing buildings, and burning the ground to a crisp before it. Sabin dove behind a large outcrop just as the wave overtook him.
Thankfully, the flames did not close around him, but rather continued out, leaving an outcropping shaped hole in it's midst. Sabin looked around, the flame-sphere occupied his whole attention, filling the sky, and straight ahead of him was the husk of Tzen. It hadn't caught fire, but there was nothing really left to catch fire. Sabin could feel the heat beginning to build around him, this area was far too dangerous to remain in for long, if he didn't escape soon he would probably succumb to heat-exhaustion.
Hoisting his pack, Sabin jogged north, hoping that the flame-sphere would eventually peter out, and allow him to escape.
In Nikeah, the town was abuzz with the rumours of a beautiful Tzen fireworks display. Sabin was barely noticed when he stumbled into the town, and leapt onto the overnight ferry back to South Figaro.
When Sabin finished his story, there was a general shocked silence amongst the group, who consisted of Locke, Edgar, Relm., Celes, Strago, and himself. Edgar was currently piloting the sky-jet, although a little shakily.
"Wow," said Strago, "That kind of power...."
"Currently, I'm operating along the themes of magic," said Sabin, "I'm fairly certain that Terra'll be able to tell us more, however."
"Okay guys, we're coming up to Mobliz," reported Edgar, "Wow...it's completely...utterly..."
"Destroyed," said Locke, "What do you see? Can you see a crashed skyjet?"
"No, a buildings just collapsed...just engulfed that meditech in that suit there in smoke, poor guy."
"I'm sure he's okay for now," said Celes, "At least until we find somewhere safe to land..."
They flew around in a tense silence for a few minutes, then Locke spotted something, "Look!" he said, "That looks like the fighter that Firma and Terra were in, looks okays, though, I wonder why they broke contact?"
"It looks like the outer-hull's a bit beaten up...hey, there's a light over there!" said Celes, pointing out Firma's suit light, shining through the fog, "Maybe someone's indicating somewhere to land!"
"Hmm," said Edgar, looking doubtful, "Okay, I guess, we'll have to land there then."
He brought the sky-jet around and flipped it into the landing mode, checking that there was nothing below them that might damage the skyjet.
By the time the autopilot finally announced that it was at a safe level and switched off the jets, Locke was chomping at the bit.
"Can we get going now?" he said, and without waiting for an answer, slid open the door-
-and came face to face with someone in a bio-suit, with a very fogged up visor.
"Quickly!" said Firma, "Shut that door! There should be some suits in there, it's still too dangerous to venture out here without protection."
Locke slammed the door shut, "Whoa, that was Firma, wasn't it?" he said.
"Yeah, it sounded like him, alright," said Sabin, looking slightly relieved.
"Anyway, does this thing actually carry suits?" said Celes, "I didn't see any."
"That's because you were looking in the wrong place, my lady," said Edgar, with a bow and a flourish.
"Edgar, this is neither the time nor the place..." she sighed, "Can we just have the suits?"
Edgar walked over to the back of the jet, and pushed open an equipment locked, filled with survival gear. He took out one suit for each person.
"Sorry Relm," he said, "But we don't have a suit here in your size, and it's too dangerous out there."
Relm, for once, didn't need any convincing and sat down on a chair with her chin on her knees. Strago went to sit by her.
"Sorry, but I can't leave her alone, guys."
"Alright, but hurry back!" she said, "It's creepy here alone!"
They slid the door open, and leapt down, where Firma was looking slightly impatient.
"Why did you turn up?" he inquired, "Sire," he nodded to Edgar.
"We suddenly lost contact with your sky-jet, and thought that you might be in trouble, so we came to help," said Celes.
"I don't suppose that it occurred to you that we were about 10 feet from a medical shi-"
"It did," said Edgar, cutting him off. "However, we also wanted to see what the devastation was like up close."
"Ah, okay," said Firma, shrugging. "Well, that sky-jet's totalled, I think the radiation around here is a bit intense for it, so the computer fried." He paused to look at the sky-jet they had come in, "You're lucky that that thing was shielded, as I remember, they only put advanced shielding on four seaters and above...oh, and those medi-ships."
"We didn't really come to hear about which the specs of those ships are," said Celes, "Where's Terra?"
Firma waved behind him, "Probably behind me, I got turned around a lot when the building over there collapsed, damned thing kicked up so much smoke and dust..."
"We'll find her," said Celes, and she and Locke tramped off.
"Watch out," called Firma after them, "There's a lot of unstabl- oh, you'll find out. So," he said, turning back to Edgar and Sabin, "What's happened that suddenly made you dash over here? That wasn't exactly the straightest, or even the more reasonable answer I've ever heard."
"Well," said Sabin, "It seems Tzen went the same way as Mobliz, the difference is that I was there when it happened."
"Tzen's been blitzed?" said Firma suddenly, "You were there?! How did you survive?"
"Well, by ‘there' I didn't really mean in the town, I was probably about a mile out."
"What happened?" Firma inquired.
Sabin recounted what had happened to him, as well as his personal theories on the matter.
"Hmm," said Firma, "I'm fairly confident that we can actually rule out a resurgence of magic. There's no reason why what you saw had to be magic. I'll have to talk to Celes over it, but I bet that you were privy to a con trick."
"Pretty expensive con trick!" said Edgar hotly.
"Well, maybe that's the wrong words, but that's about the level I'm thinking. I'm not saying that they performed that for your benefit, because why would they then go and destroy Mobliz? I bet they did it, really, for the people who half-believed them, and found excuses to be elsewhere."
"That's fairly twisted logic, Admiral," Edgar commented, with a doubtful look on his face.
"We're dealing with people who have obliterated two towns with barely any warning, whatever logic track they're on, I bet it's not the straight and narrow," Firma retorted.
"You said it looked like a shooting star, Sabin? That brings back...something...hmm," he shrugged, "Can't do anything about it now. Are we going after them?" he turned to go, and there was a rumbling noise, the ground shook slightly, and stopped.
"This isn't on a fault line, is it?" said Firma, looking concerned.
"Don't think so," said Edgar, I don't know what that was."
"Let's go and find them," said Sabin, and without waiting he strode past Firma, and walked slightly into the fog, "Well, come on!"
Locke and Celes had eventually found Terra standing dumbly by a corpse. The fact that an entire roof had been picked up and dragged aside was not lost on them.
"That's Duane," said Terra dumbly, "He's dead."
Celes and Locke looked at each other.
"Yes," said Locke, "Shall we get o-"
"NO!" snapped Terra vehemently, "I'm not going! Not until everyone, or-or their corpses have been found!" she began to cry slightly, "I can't leave now, not now."
Celes nodded, "We understand, Terra," she said quietly, and began to dig through the wreckage.
"Uh-oh," said Locke, "Here comes another...one of those...things..." he commented, as the ground began to buck and sway slightly. Edgar and Sabin ran out of the fog, with Firma slightly behind, weighed down by his slightly more bulky bio-suit. Edgar put his hand on Terra's shoulder.
"It's okay, Terra," he said quietly, "But now we have to go!"
"NO! We can't just leave! It's too early to tell-"
"Sorry," said Firma, "But I checked with the medics when we arrived. No-one's been recovered-"
"That dosen't mean that they won't be!"
"Look around you," said Sabin, "We're all wearing hazard suits, it's too dangerous to bring in sniffer dogs, and most of the rescue machinery is too delicate! We have to get out---whoa! What's this?!"
Firma snapped out a radio, which was linked currently to the medical ships.
"Take off!" he snapped, "Get out of here, this place is too unstable!"
"Sir," said a voice on the other end, "Are you going to be alright?"
"I'm going to be fine, just get going!"
"Heroic," commented Celes, slightly sarcastically.
"Not really," said Firma, "I don't have a clue where they are in this fog."
There was a series of whines and whirs as the medi-ships took to the air, the lumbering medical frigate behind them. As they disappeared into the air the rumbling intensified.
"What on earth is going on?!" shouted Edgar above the suddenly increasing racket, "This can't be happening!"
"Don't see why not!" shouted Firma back, "We need to move, this place might well come apart any second! It's too dangerous!"
"We...we...." Terra faltered, looking around, "Okay then, I guess we don't really have much of...of a choice..." she turned towards the sky-jet that Edgar had come in, and started running towards it, with the rest close behind.
Firma leapt into the sky-jet, shucking off his bio-suit and running the sky-jet through an emergency warm-up sequence. In less then a minute the blades where whirring.
"Look!" shouted Locke, gesturing.
At the centre of the town webbed cracks were appearing in the ground, and they were quickly filling with what appeared to be magma. These cracks became more numerous-
"Firma!" shouted Edgar, "Get us off the bloody ground!"
"It's nearly there," shouted Firma, "I'm moving as fast as I can!"
"Roger that," shouted back Firma, somewhat sarcastically.
Locke, Celes, Terra, and Relm watched in horror as the webbing ground tore through streets, across the central square and made straight for the sky-jet, then, suddenly, there was a change in the pitch of the blades.
"We're up!" called Firma triumphantly, gaining ground rapidly.
Firma was facing forward, so he didn't see the destruction that beset the already ruined town, Terra, Celes, and Locke did, however, and they watched as how the earth heaved underneath the webbed, cracked ground, and suddenly a column of magma shot a short distance into the air, then it was still again.
"Well," said Terra, shrugging, "That was Mobliz, I guess."
"Hmm," said Locke, with a note of concern.
They were mid-way through the flight when Firma came back into the cabin,
"Celes, I need to talk to you about these disasters," he said.
"What, do you think I'm responsible?" she asked, with a trace of surprise.
Firma smiled, "No, Sabin mentioned that the meteors that destroyed Tzen and Mobliz-"
"Tzen's been destroyed as well?!" said Terra incredulously. "Wow," she sat down, and stared into space.
Firma looked at Terra quizzically, then turned back, "Anyway, Sabin said it looked a bit like a shooting star, does that ring any bells with you?"
"Apart from in a purely astronomical context, not a damned thing," said Celes, "Except, there was that Imperial Magic-Missile project...Tzarnoz, or something."
Firma clicked his fingers, "Of course, that's it!"
"Sorry?" said Edgar.
"Okay, during the time when I served in an elite squadron, we did a lot of weapons testing for the Empire, and one such weapon that the Emperor wanted had to have the ability to annihilate an area about four miles in diameter and so be perfect against an enemy army, or town. Basically, the idea was that if we infused the essence of an Esper into a warhead, then it should become more powerful. However, the Magitek people discovered that it only amplified the power of the warhead, so we needed a powerful warhead in the first place. We tested one of these warheads –infused with an Esper who appeared to be incredibly poisonous-. Bascially, we discovered that not only did it explode spectacularly, it appeared to be in the form of a giant expanding gas-cloud, capable of knocking over buildings, but samples showed that it was considerably more vehement then any chemical weapon produced."
"And?" said Edgar, "So the Esper dictated the type of explosion?"
"Yeah," said Firma, "It was strange really, and the MagiTek people couldn't explain it...anyway, they created another four missiles, six really, except that they decided to combine three together to make a truly catastrophic super-weapon, which they decided to name Tzarnoz, after the original project name."
"Okay, fascinating," said Edgar, "But how was it launched?"
"I think I know that one," said Celes, "I heard Gestahl talking to Cid about it once, it appeared that they'd taken up too much space with the Esper infuse, so there wasn't enough room for any Image Recognition targeting data, so Cid came up with a workaround.
"What was it?" inquired Terra, taking an interest in the conversation.
"I think it was a laser-targeting system, someone had to paint the target from within a certain range, then the Tzarnoz carrier could fly over, get the lock, and drop the bomb. Unfortunately, they couldn't find anyone suicidal enough to do that job, so the project was eventually scrapped. I think they locked the weaponry away in some highly secret base, however, only the Emperor and the guards that worked there knew where it was."
"Yeah," said Firma, "I remember that now, apart from the test firings, it has never been fired, until now."
"I guess that cult members would be willing to do practically anything," said Terra, shrugging.
"This dosen't really help us, however," said Celes, "Why are they suddenly pulling out these Shooting stars, and what do they want to gain?"
"I think I can provide a fix for that," said Firma, "I'll get Intelligence to plant people in major towns, and as soon as these people pop up, we can capture the cultists, and we might well get our hands on the Tzarnoz ship."
"That's going to have to be destroyed," said Edgar firmly, "The world would become too unstable if it became generally known that there was a weapon like that on the loose."
"One question," said Terra, "Why do they still function? I seem to remember that magic got eradicated..."
"Ah, I know that one," said Firma, grinning, "Basically, when they took the essence out of the Esper and put it into the warhead, it bonded and actually caused an elemental change to the explosives, so while they were still nuclear charges, they would have incendiary nuclear charges, or electrical bombs, or even stasis bombs, which, as I remember, was one of the bombs on the Tzarnoz, that thing was projected to lock a place away in time pretty much permanently."
"We must destroy these things," said Locke, looking awed, "That is not a pleasant weapon."
"True...I think I also know why the cultists are so interested in dropping these bombs, but I'll have to think about that," said Firma, "I think that the third Tzarnoz bomb was a warp bomb, actually, and it might be able to tear time and space-"
"Why'd they want to do that?"
"Maybe they found out about your research, I bet they're using it as a terrorist excuse to go out and bomb stuff...I'll check the security when I get back."
Upon returning to Figaro Castle, Celes buried herself in the Imperial section of the library, which had amassed an impressive collection of Imperial secret documents since before the fall of the Empire – Edgar's agents had been busy, after all.
Looking under T, she came upon several entries, most notably that of Terra's Imperial file, which she took out as a point of interest. She eventually tracked down the Tzarnoz project files that were kept near the back, in an old, browned, dusty file. Grunting at the weight of the inch-thick pile of documents she took it to a table and flipped it open. As was usual with Imperial documents, it followed standard procedure by having a small summary on the front. This one contained a date/progress table, as well as comments by the people who tested it, namely Camshorn, Katana, Mercury, and Xyanamene.
Imperial Tzarnoz Project
25/12/85 – Idea of infusing Espers with missiles first floated. Cid promises the Emperor that he will give it due regard.
2/1/86 – Work starts on project, named ‘Tzarnoz' after the Old Narshe God of Death, Esper infusion matrix created. First Esper ‘Siren' chosen for sample taking.
7/1/86 – Missile misfires, causing large explosion. Ruptured several floors of the Magitek facility, causing power failure and loss of containment on Espers 21/A, 21/B, and 21/C. 21/C is pursued and destroyed over mountains, now named Phoenix Mountains.
22/1/86 – Second missile successfully fired, sample taken from ‘Ifrit'. Destruction magnitude is increased by a factor of two. Incendiary effects noted for future reference.
6/2/86 – When tested in conjunction with the Starburst missile, a destruction magnitude is again found to be about twice normal. However, the missile costs about three times the price of a standard Starburst missile. Deemed uneconomical, project closed. Research into magical armour, nicknamed ‘Magitek' begun.
18/3/87 – Nuclear fission discovered. First atomic weapons created. Emperor demands Tzarnoz project re-opened, and tested on mock village, to be created.
9/5/87 – Esper matrix successfully converted to work with the new ‘Death's Wand' missile.
23/6/87 – Esper chosen personally by Emperor for infusion, serial number unknown. Suspected to have strong viral inclinations. Tzarnoz carrier designed, and construction began.
4/7/87 – Flaw discovered in missile. To fit the Esper sample, IR circuitry removed and replaced with laser targeting module. Manual targeting now required.
4/8/87 – Missile ready for launch. Random Imperial soldier chosen to paint target for Tzarnoz missile.
6/8/87 – Tzarnoz ship completed. Missile loaded, pilots to be Camshorn (Sqn. Ldr. Cal Zidnell) and Mercury (Mjr. Firma Anceleti). Katana (Mjr. Deanna Chalker) and Xyanamene (Capt. Charlotte Brin) to fly escort.
7/8/87 – Mission successful, explosion deposited a deadly chemical evenly over a four mile diameter. Imperial Targeter obliterated in explosion. Recommend research into Tzarnoz Shield.
21/10/87 – Three further missiles created, subjects used for sampling were again selected personally by the Emperor. One is earth-based. One is fire-based, and the final has the power to bend space and time.
3/5/88 – Breakthrough in technology allows multiple infusions to be placed in single multi-atomic missile, named ‘Burning Infinity'. Three known powers are that of fire, stasis, and gravitational effects.
17/8/88 – No new research. Missile rebranded Tzarnoz at Emperor's request.
12/10/88 – Magitek armour research completed. Tzarnoz project deemed uneconomical and ineffective. Project scrapped.
Following are short extracts from each pilot flying on the mission.
Camshorn – "Amazing, to think that this will be used for the glory of the Empire...our enemies will tremble before us...nothing will stand in our way!"
Katana – "Too bad that they didn't have another one to drop, I spotted a nice little hamlet on the way back."
Mercury – "This weapon...it's absolutely sickening, to think that we could obliterate so many lives with just the press of the ‘bomb' button...I don't want to fly anymore of these missions."
Xyanamene – "Terrible though war is, it will become far easier for us to win, and far less costly for our troops if we just could build more of these."
-Project Summary ends-
Celes leaned back, after quickly scanning through this. The rest of the documents contained the method for building the Tzarnoz missile and how to fire it. There was even a section at the back containing the specifications for a Tzarnoz shield. The shield consisted of a field containing high-energy particles, which were supposedly supposed to absorb or deflect the energy of an incoming nuclear explosion. The shield apparently worked, although to be powerful enough to deflect the considerable energy of an explosion of the magnitude of the Shooting stars it had to be mounted on a tank. She gathered up most of the sheets about the specifications of the shields, targeting device, and the missiles themselves, before putting the rest back inside its dusty keep.
Basically, a project intended to make an inhuman, impersonal weapon even more inhuman and impersonal. Good thing it never worked, really. Celes leafed through Terra's file, complete with information about her upbringing, her degree in Magical Technology at the age of fifteen, and finally her brainwashing and artificially induced amnesia at the age of eighteen, along with standing orders to investigate the rumours in Narshe. She checked her clock, about half an hour had passed, so she decided to return to the main hall, where Edgar and Firma had apparently formulated a battle plan to counter the terrorist attacks.
When she entered the main hall, she noticed that Edgar and Locke were apparently busying themselves with a long stick with a metal attachment on the end., while Sabin and Firma were talking animatedly over a map of the world. It appeared that there were not enough Black-ops to go to every town on the map, because a sizable number had been eradicated in the Figaro embassy when Tzen had been destroyed. Therefore, it was a conflict between Sabin's slight experience with the cultists and Firma's tactical knowledge as to which town the cultists would strike next. Firma took out a pair of compasses and started drawing on the map, rubbing bits out and reducing circle sizes when Sabin corrected him.
Terra, Relm, and Strago were no-where to be seen, however.
"Celes!" called Edgar, "This is a mock-up of the laser targeting device. The scientists gave us the specifications just now."
Celes brandished a piece of paper, "Here's the actual dimensions, I found information on the Tzarnoz project downstairs, under the Imperial section in the library. A lot of it's now obsolete, but I grabbed what looked to be relatively pertinent."
Edgar handed the laser to Locke, and ran over to look at the sheet. "Hmm, ours is almost perfect," he said, "I don't suppose it says the watta- ah, yes, it does. We'll need to recalibrate that, ours is too close....Locke!" he called, "Run downstairs to the scientists and tell them that we need to make this laser about 30W higher then it currently is!"
"Do you mind if I ask what you're doing?" asked Celes with an acid bite to her question.
"Not at all, my lady," said Edgar, "It's really rather simple. When it transpired that the missiles were laser targeted, we decided that we could do three things. Firstly, we could attempt to shoot down the ship as it's en route, -however, from what Firma says the thing is very heavily armoured and well armed-. Secondly, we could attempt to blast the missile before it lands. However, we don't know if this will cause it to detonate, and it's going to be a very short window at which we can do this. Thirdly, we can use our mock laser pointer to attempt to draw it away. We're increasing the power in the hope that it'll notice our laser, and so miss theirs entirely. However, it might not scan for other lasers, and even if it does, it might not accept ours."
"Sounds hopeful," said Celes.
"Hmm, not really, and firstly, we're going to have to get to wherever the ship is before it drops the missile. If I'm frank, I'll say it's lucky that they only have four missiles to play with, because I think they can quite easily destroy any target they wish."
They stood and waited for Locke, watching Firma and Sabin tear up their third map, and roll out another one.
"Okay," said Firma, "I'm fairly certain that the range of the ship itself is about one hundred and fifty miles, if you want get it back to base again. So far, they've attacked Mobliz and Tzen. If we draw circles of 150 miles around from them, then we have an average idea of the area they're operating in-"
"And if they have two bases?" asked Sabin, "They could just leapfrog across the world."
"Yes," said Firma, "But they're going to find that hard now, because I've got squadrons flying in a security net, although eventually I'm going to have to pull the plug on that, due to fuel costs and maintenance. I think that for now we need to install radar systems in major cities, so that we can find out where they are before they reach the city."
"Do you know how much the ship masses?" Sabin inquired, "Otherwise we could be spending our time chasing down geese."
Celes decided to interject at this point, "Actually, I have that data right here, it seems to be fairly heavy as far as ships go."
"Well, of course," commented Firma, "It was designed to ferry multiple atomics. However, I'll feed that into our current radars, so that at least Figaro has air coverage."
He left the room, leaving Sabin to deal with the map. Sabin began to enter in calculations, and started drawing lines from Mobliz and Tzen.
"What we really need is for a third city to be blitzed in that area, then we'll have some idea of where their base is..." he muttered. When he saw Celes looking at him he quickly added, "I'm kidding!".
Locke reappeared, with a slightly thicker bulge along the inside of the laser.
"There," he said, putting the laser down, "It's good up to about 247MW, they said, oh, I met Terra and Relm in the corridor, they said that they were going outside for a bit."
Edgar shrugged, "I guess it's their business, I'm glad Relm's decided to keep an eye on Terra...I just hope Terra doesn't turn suicidal, though."
Locke snorted, "C'mon Edgar, she's a lot stronger then you're giving her credit for."
"I hope you're right, I'm also hoping that Relm can hold down the fort until this crisis is over," continued Edgar, "I don't want another problem in my lap."
Sabin checked the map, and his extrapolations, "All done!"
"I think you forgot that one leading out of Mobliz," commented Firma, from behind his shoulder.
Sabin jumped slightly, but recovered quickly, "Oh come on. You don't honestly expect them to be situated in the ocean?!"
"I'm willing to take anything," said Firma, "There has to be a base, a refuelling station, and a fairly comprehensive machine shop."
"How about Gestahl's mythical base?" said Celes, "You know, the one that only he knew about."
"Good thing, too," said Edgar, "Otherwise Figaro wouldn't be sitting here at all, if Kefka had got his hands on that, then we would have been toast."
"That's what the Emperor probably thought, those two never, ever trusted each other, despite what they might have said," said Celes, "You could tell from their eyes."
"I think you might be onto something there, Celes," said Firma, excitedly, "But where on earth would he dump such a place? We've never found anything accidentally, which is how these things normally turn up."
"Gestahl was a bit too professional for that to happen, Firma," said Celes, "It'll be under the water, or underground, or even inside a mountain."
"I wonder if Kefka did know where it was, however?" said Locke, "I wouldn't put it past him, and he did have that bloody Atma thing in his tower."
"So, you want to drop everything and go and look for this evidence?" said Firma, "Actually, go right ahead, I don't really need anyone at the moment, because from here on in, it's all procedure."
"Thank you," said Edgar, sarcastically.
"No problem," said Firma, smiling slightly, "Go on, shoo!"
"I can't believe you let hi-" said Locke vivaciously, beginning for what the umpteenth time a diatribe against Firma ordering them around.
"Look," said Edgar, "The way I see it is this, I might be the overall commander of my forces, but Firma is the one with the tactical knowledge. If I want to serve as a part of the Armed Forces –like I'm doing now- then I have to answer to him."
"You've said that," commented Locke again, for the umpteenth time, "But-"
"I think we've been around this circle too many times," said Celes, "Firma's commanding the ground and air troops for now. If Edgar doesn't get results from him, then he can always demote or fire him. Firma'll get results, though, I suspect."
"Why?" said Locke.
"He was originally part of the IAF, which is where I recognized him from. He used to be part of the Angel squadron, which was the elite squadron at the time. He had to get results in order to be part of that squadron...although he eventually got thrown out of it."
"Why?" said Edgar.
"I'm not sure, actually, you might want to ask him."
Terra had slipped into the armoury by this point, answering a summons from Edgar.
"According to him, it was because he refused –or couldn't- open fire on unarmed citizens, even if they were armed at the time. Incidentally Edgar, you might want to be careful about what and who you decide to attack with him at the reins. He seems to disagree with things fairly explosively."
Edgar nodded, "I know, but anyway, we need to worry about this cult at the present. Locke, you thought that they might be hiding out at Kefka's tower?"
"Yeah," replied Locke, "Either that or there's going to be a clue to where they are actually hiding out. There's too much unrecovered military hardware and technology in that area for them not to use it."
"When this is all over, I want that stuff recovered," said Edgar, "I don't think we can afford another group finding out about more of the Empire's dirty secrets and putting them to use, magic availability or no."
"Kefka's tower, then?" said Terra, "Sounds risky, but hell, nothing ventured nothing gained, I guess."
The armoury was fairly full at this point in time, although the equipment for the stationed guards and pilots were clearly marked as such, and so could not be taken. Locke decided to go without armour this time, as he said "It would only interfere with my scouting abilities, and I think we're going to need them now."
Edgar, exuding excitement took out an old model of the Auto-Repeating Crossbow.
"This is the first one I ever made, remember it?" he said, displaying the dusty, webbed object with an almost reverential air.
"I remember it having a trigger," Locke pointed out smugly, "I think you broke it down a bit to create the next model."
"I wasn't intending to use it," said Edgar, a touch sharply, "I was just reminicising."
"Can we get going?" said Celes, who had by now collected her armour, which she was carrying in both hands, with a sword in an ornate scabbard balanced precariously on top. Terra was carrying her armour in much the same fashion, although she had donned her visor and already buckled her scabbard around her waist, in order to prevent it falling off the armour pile.
"Okay," she said, "I'm kitted out, anyone need to find anything?"
Edgar had disappeared behind a pile of shields, each with an eagle emblem. He stood up, "Just a sec," he said, bashing his head on a shelf just above. "Ow, damn," he complained, and bent over again.
A few seconds later, he emerged carrying a belt filled with small globular pouches.
"What's in those pouches?" asked Locke.
"Aha, these contain an invention that I thought up a little while ago, then ditched. It's a more complicated form of the Scatter bomb."
The Scatter bomb in question was a common anti-personnel grenade, used by Figarian troops during small sorties. It consisted of what looked like a bar of grapes, each filled with a small amount of explosive. When it was primed and thrown the bomb lets came off in midair, and exploding on impact with the ground. In terms of damage dealt out, they were quite proficient at tearing apart even the most rabid terrorist.
"Basically, it's smaller, and it's got a higher payload then the usual," said Edgar, "However, they're kinda sensitive, we had a case where they blew up in a lab, the scientists said that the materials interacted too quickly..."
"Leave them," said Locke firmly.
"No, I'm not going to go around with someone who might blow up at any second," said Locke, "Blow up and reveal whatever our position might be!"
"He's got a point, Edgar," Terra said "I'd rather not be next to someone who's going to go off in my face at any moment," she grinned, "No hard feelings or anything, but sometimes your experiments have gone...wrong." She gestured to a small scar on her forehead, "Remember when you unveiled those mechanical carrier pidgeons?"
Edgar winced, "Okay, okay..." he said, "I'll put them back," and with that he tossed them back into the pile. "Why did you all do that?" he said, noticing everyone had dropped to the floor.
"Never mind," growled Celes. "Let's go!"
They made their way out onto the landing pad to see that a sky-jet had been provided, with a pilot to take them to Kefka's tower. This was apparently courtesy of Firma, while they had been getting ready. Inside the skyjet was neatly packed a large amount of supplies and emergency equipment.
Just in case you need it –Firma
"Huh," muttered Locke, "What's he think we're going into?"
"Probably a warzone," remarked Edgar, "Especially if my troops get wind of any Tzarnoz stuff headed anywhere. Anyway, I think that it's probably under the weight limit...or I hope so."
"Well," said Relm, clambering in, "We can always chuck it out onto passers-by. How on earth did you think you were going to sneak out on us?" she stopped, turned and helped Strago in.
"This's going to be really, really dangerous, potentially," said Edgar, "How did you find out, anyway?"
"Firma," winked Relm, "He told me where you were going, and said that you couldn't resist checking out your old weapons while getting equipped. Seems he was right."
"Anyway!" said Strago, "Who knows what I might dig up there?"
"You couldn't dig up anything we couldn't," challenged Locke.
"What if it's in a specialised religious language?" commented Strago, "You can barely speak your native one-"
"Come on, guys," said Terra soothingly, "Can we go and fight someone who's not on our side?"
"Possibly," said Locke, "But I wouldn't bet on it," he grinned at Strago, "C'mon, let's go and find someone to kill! Hoi! Pilot?"
The pilot stuck her head through the hatchway, "Yessir?" she said.
Edgar stepped up, "I think I know you....Lieutenant... Deanna Chalker right? Alias something like Vigil?"
"Correct, sir," said the pilot, "Although I just made 1st Lieutenant."
Locke cut in, "Well, congratulations, could you get us to the ruins of Kefka's old tower?"
Deanna's eyes glittered slightly, "Certainly sir," she said quietly. She sat back in her chair and ran through the start-up sequence. Celes took Edgar aside.
"Edgar?" she said, "I know that name, she was one of the pilots who flew alongside Firma when they tested the Tzarnoz project. She seemed to be very pro the idea –well, her report line stated she was-. Still, I think it's something we'll need to watch out for, just incase she tries anything."
"We'll have to see, I don't think we're going to get much done by becoming paranoid, will we." It wasn't a question, but a firm statement asking Celes to drop the subject.
"I guess," she said, "Anyway, I might as well finish preparations."
The rest of the trip passed uneventfully, and it was getting dark when they finally landed by Kefka's tower.
Firma walked into the main command centre, swiping his hand through a fingerprint identification slot. The doors swung ponderously open, permitting him access to the radar centre.
"Hey," he said as a greeting, have we got anything on our scopes yet?"
"Sorry sir," said a radar technician whose stripes identified him as a captain. "So far we've picked up several blips that were above your parameters, but one of them was a cargo airship, and the other two were gone before we got the nearest ships there."
"Where were those two mysteries?" asked Firma, looking interested.
"On opposite ends of the world," said the captain, "Sir, I honestly don't think that they're going to be our target, because they appeared within half an hour of each other."
"Keep on sending ships out to them, but keep people on shifts, we want to be ready when the real thing arrives," he turned to leave, "Oh, and ground all non-military ships, I think we're going to have to declare an emergency."
"But sir! What will I tell them?"
"Tell them the truth, that there's a secret project from the Empire wreaking havoc on places...don't be too specific, we don't want full-scale riots...even better, say that there's a rogue squadron out there, targeting air cargo, and we need to have everyone on the ground for their safety."
"Roger that, sir."
"If something comes up, I'll be in the main hall. Can you get all available pilots outside by the landing pad by...twenty two hundred?"
Firma left by the way he came in.
Terra was the first off the sky-jet, and she was busy scanning the area while the rest disembarked from the sky-jet. The front section of the transport disengaged, and began to travel back to Figaro.
"It's okay," said Edgar, reacting to the surprised faces of the rest of the party, "There's an auxiliary module in the back," he shot a warning glance at Celes. She returned his gaze levelly.
"Okay then," Relm gave a heave of relief, "Let's get looking then, shall we?"
"What're we looking for, anyway?" said Locke, "Seems like a waste, to come out here and not actually get anything out of it, especially now when we're short of time as it is!"
"Don't worry," Celes looked around, "Now, if I remember, this tower was constructed at least partially from the Imperial Palace at Vector. All of the secret information that Edgar hadn't stolen-"
"Hey!" Edgar said hotly, "I did not steal it! It was...acquired!"
"By me," said Locke, proudly.
"Anyway, the stuff that we managed to keep a hand on were stored in a holdfast deep in the palace. I'd imagine that when Kefka ripped the palace apart, he took that with him."
"Great," said Terra tensely, "But the Tower seemed to have it scattered around it, we're never going to get through all this rubble to sort that out!"
"Relax," soothed Celes, "We're not going to be able to concentrate if we get too worked up! Now, any idea where Kefka might...have put it?"
"Okay," said Relm, "Let's be logical-"
"You?" said Strago.
"Yeah, Granddaddy," she said mockingly, "Anyway, being logical, if Kefka knew about it-"
"-and you can be certain he did-" said Locke.
"Then he's probably going to have put it near where he was...at the top of the tower."
Locke looked up. "Great," he said, "How high would you say that rubble is?"
"About five hundred feet," commented Edgar, "And we get to walk it, because the higher up we go, the more unstable it is, so we can't take the sky-jet up there without the whole lot coming down."
"Brilliant..." Locke came to a decision, and drew in a deep breath of the chilly air, "Alright people, I guess we'd better get up there...do we really have to?"
"Come on Locke, last one up there is...something," said Terra, starting up.
"Bet I get there before you!" cried Relm, chasing after Terra.
"We'd better move before those two bring the rubble down on us," commented Celes, looking warily up at the pile, before starting up the slope.
Locke trailed after her, muttering slightly.
About half an hour later Edgar staggered over the last incline and finally found himself on the summit of the impromptu mountain. There had not been any serious injuries collected during the course of the climb, except that Celes had received a rather nasty bash on the head from a piece of falling slate, which had been dislodged when Terra slipped on a particularly nasty part of the climb. She was feeling her head for injuries, wincing as she came across the wound, which had already began swelling into a lump.
"Sorry," Terra said again, wincing at the lump.
"It's okay," said Celes, "Just look where you're going next time."
Locke had been looking around as soon as he got up, and suddenly gave out a whoop of joy.
"What?" asked Sabin, getting up from where he had collapsed wheezing.
"We've got some overturned stuff here," said Locke happily, "Looks like someone's been here before."
"That doesn't mean that whatever we're looking for is down under here, because they might have struck nothing."
"Might have, might have," said Locke, hopping slightly, "Except look at this...and this, don't these look like scorch marks? Look at this entire crater, there's next to no rubble in it, we're practically standing on solid rock!"
Locke was right, the summit of Kefka's Ruins was almost completely devoid of any rubbish, or rubble that they had got to know intimately during their half-hour climb of the tower. The rock they were standing on not only was extremely hard, but-"
"It's been melted, and it's re-hardened," said Terra, "It's got that strange texture to it."
By this point Strago climbed over the side of the crater, although he was barely out of breath.
"What took you so long, gramps?" sneered Relm.
"I decided to have a look at a particularly interesting half-demolished room that was half-way up this tower. Strange, it was, there were all these files and everything..." he smiled slyly. "I don't suppose you people would be interested, I guess you're more interested in geology..."
"I don't suppose this room had a particularly...reinforced look to it?" said Sabin.
"It did, in fact..."
"Where is it?" Celes got to the point.
"Well, if you would follow me, and not swarm off like a bunch of wasps, then I'll be happy to show you."
"We've got to climb back down there?" said Locke, "No thanks, I think I'll stay here and study this rock."
"Locke," observed Terra, "You're going to have to go down there anyway, this just cuts the journey in half."
"Well, three-quarters, really," said Strago.
"You might as well come along."
"Oh, very well," Locke got up and went to look over the edge, "I guess we head down there..."
It took longer to get down the treacherous tower then it did to climb up, Locke commented on the irony of this.
"We could just fall the rest of the way, I think my legs would prefer that."
"Locke," snapped Celes, "Please shut up, you're causing me to lose my concentration-"
At this a large hunk of rock that she was holding onto came off in her hand, and there was a moment or two of panicked flailing around as she sought better ground. She finally managed to get a firm grip on a metal rod that was jutting half-way out of the rubble.
"See? Now could you please be quiet!"
"Okay, okay," Locke said, looking concerned.
By this point in time Strago had managed to find the room again, and stood there waiting for everyone.
"What took you so long, kiddo?" he sneered to Relm, smiling slightly.
"Okay, I guess I asked for that," said Relm, grinning, "But there's no reason to call me kiddo!"
"You are a bit young, however," said Terra, "Aren't you up way past your bedtime?" she winked at Strago.
"If that's going to be everyone's attitude to me, I'm going to sulk," muttered Relm.
"I'd be careful, you're just adding weight to the ‘kiddo' theory."
There was a small ‘whoa!' from above, along with the sound of a few tumbling pebbles. They shot past Relm's face, -who leapt back with a yelp- and continued down the rubble, towards their idle sky-jet. This scene was followed by a small cloud of dust, which sent Terra and Strago into fits of coughing.
"Sorry ‘bout that," Sabin said, looking apologetic.
"Well, if no-one else is going to try and kill us, then I guess we'd better inspect this room."
Locke and Celes joined them, and they journeyed into the Empire's Secret Files Archive.
Firma -in the absence of anything to do that would further his goals towards destroying the Tzarnoz project- was doing business as usual. This generally included looking over the pilot flight record files, and making certain that everyone was up to speed with the latest in technology. There appeared to be a few anomalies in the fuel and missile stocks. This was even taking into account that he had allowed for increased uses of fuel and missiles for the current crisis –taking even into account over-excited novices accidentally firing on flocks of geese-. He tapped the button for the quartermaster.
"Yessir?" came the reply, slightly distorted due to the methods of transmission through several meters of rock.
"I've got a problem with the inventory books, have you got an updated set down there?"
"Yessir –one sec, I've got someone at the door here-."
"Okay, I'll wait."
He heard the quartermaster cross the room and open the door. There was a sound that Firma recognised as a gun-blast, and the thud of a body falling to the floor. He flicked over to the security channel.
"Security, get over to the quartermasters office! We've just had a shooting there, and I think someone's attempting to steal supplies!"
"Yes sir!" shouted the sergeant. "Alright men! Lock and load, we've got a thief and a murderer in the castle, so let's move out!"
Firma heard them recede into the distance, and flicked off the channel. On a thought he walked over and locked the door, and took his side-arm out and loaded it. Being paranoid was bad, but it never hurt to be careful.
The party stepped into the Archives, and looked around. From around them high shelves loomed down on them, and there were a few lights still apparently in action, because the whole room was suffused with a light glow. There was evidence of some violent destruction near the other end of the room, where wreckage covered some of the bookshelves, but apart from that, not a file was out of place.
"Wow," exclaimed Terra, "The Empire was busy!"
"That's probably about right," said Celes, "They had about thirty black-ops projects on the go at any one time, and each of them was extensively filed. If I know Imperial procedure, then we'll find all the more important files in that centre block there."
"Okay then," Locke clapped his hands together, "Let's get going!"
They set to work, pulling files off the shelves, quickly reading the labels, and returning them to their proper place –that is, except for Locke, who was quickly being surrounded by a small pile of folders-.
"Oh, this is useless!" snapped Sabin, throwing aside a file, "None of these are in any kind of order at all!"
"Actually," spoke up Terra, "If there even was highly secret information here pertaining to the location of the Emperor's highly secret base, wouldn't anyone with a vested interest in not having people knocking at their gates have already removed it?"
"They probably couldn't have removed all the information," said Celes, "I bet that it's mentioned in multiple places, probably describing where they put the secret projects. This isn't meant for anyone to read, so I'd imagine that they won't classify the location."
Celes proved to be correct, because only a few moments later Edgar pulled out a file marked ‘Array', and pulled it open.
"Wow, there's a lot of new specifications in here, updated ones too. Hey, I've actually got this one in the library somewhere –and hey! There's something here, one sec..."
Edgar turned the page around slightly, and cleared his throat.
"Okay...'We have moved the prototype Array to the Emperor's Holdfast, at 357^54."
"That sounds like an old Imperial co-ordinate," said Terra, frowning slightly, "don't have a clue what it means, however."
"It's a little archaic, actually," said Celes, "Basically, the co-ordinates were based from the Imperial palace at Vector, the first co-ordinate is distance, and the second one is orientation....however, we don't have the Palace to start with, because it's mixed up in here, and furthermore, the co-ordinates are probably badly out, due to Kefka moving the-"
"Aha!" said Edgar.
"Do you mind?" Celes inquired.
"My apologies, my lady...anyway, someone has been here lately, because we've got some co-ordinates based off the current ones that we at Figaro use...in fact, these are the latest ones used by our scientists...these were only invented two months ago!"
"Hmm," said Locke, "I'd hardly say that that's something to be concerned about, you publish these things, so everyone switches to your new standards."
"I know, I know," said Edgar, "But that means that someone's been here less then two months ago, so we're on the right track."
"Hmm, so...where would those new co-ordinates put us?" said Strago, pulling out a map along with a pencil and ruler. "One sec...could you hold these? Thanks, okay then." He laid the map out on the floor, and marked off the approximate position of Figaro Castle. He handed the pencil to Edgar.
"There, you're more familiar with these co-ordinates then I am, you'd better draw it off."
"Right...thanks," said Edgar, taking the pencil. "Okay....it's a negative vertical leading down to...yeah, about there. Now, the horizontal...hmm, that leads straight to...aha! I think we might have something!"
"What?" asked Terra and Locke simultaneously.
Edgar finished drawing in a rough line between Figaro and the destination. It was Phoenix Mountain.
"Bingo!" Edgar whooped.
"Wasn't that where we were headed before Mobliz..well..." Terra broke off.
"Yeah," said Locke. "That seems to give a bit of weight to that theory, I say we'd better go over there."
"Sounds like a bad idea right now," said Edgar, "Without the front part of the sky-jet, we're not as fast or as manoeuvrable as we are with it."
"That's a point," said Locke, remembering that disastrous scene when the first Tzarnoz bomb went off, "Firma mentioned being pinged by something, although he admitted it might be a bird hitting the side of the sky-jet."
"I think we'll also need a better pilot, so I'll need to talk to Firma about getting one of his Meteors on the job."
"This sounds like it's going to get violent," said Relm, slapping her hands together.
"Which is precisely why you're not going with us," said Celes firmly.
"Aww! But what if you need backup? What then?" Relm complained.
"You're a bit young to go around attacking cult installations," commented Strago, "Besides, it's probably going to be incredibly dangerous."
"So if you're not back in five minutes I shouldn't wait longer?" said Relm, "You are so cliché!" she stormed out of the cave.
Edgar rolled up the map, and put away his pencil, "Okay then, I'm guessing that we go back, resupply, and go get these guys!"
He stepped outside, and spotted the sky-jet at the bottom of the rubble...however...
"Guys," he called tensely back into the cavern, "Guys, look at this!"
Relm had reached the bottom of the slope, and just above her hovered two Stealth-jets, hovering in hover-mode. They both were heavily armed, and both had the insignia that Sabin had told them about.
"Relm!" he cried, "Watch out!"
Relm evidently heard him, because she looked around, and then up. There was a scream, thin on the wind, and she dropped to the floor. The two stealth-jets rotated their auto cannons into position, and let rip with a short burst into the area where Relm was. Then they turned towards the party, and began a strafing run that took them over and beyond the tower. Bullets sprayed out of the guns, chipping stone and splitting metal. Edgar hurled himself down, barely hearing the whir of their blades beyond the ear-splitting noise of the guns rotary death. After Edgar had picked himself up he staggered forward, shocked, but Terra had recovered and practically leaped down the mountain to find Relm, she was followed by Sabin and Locke, while Celes just stood there dumbfounded, with Strago, who seemed to be on the verge of tears.
"She's okay!" came a heavily relieved Sabin, from down by the sky-jet, then they heard a lot of abuse from Sabin, directed at the attackers.
"Low-down dirty evil...." The rest was lost in the wind.
"I think we'd better go down there," croaked Strago.
They stepped down carefully, showing none of the reckless manner by which Terra Sabin and Locke had descended the mountain, and finally reached the sky-jet.
Relm, it transpired, had been miraculously missed by all the bullets from the Stealth-jets, but was in a state of amazement, and not inclined to move.
"Sseeeey tried to do what? To me?" she kept on repeating.
"Okay, we'd better get her in the sky-jet," said Edgar, "We need to get back before they load up with missiles and come after our ship." His tone changed, "Relm?" he said calmly, "Could you stand up and please move inside the sky-jet?"
"Ssure," said Relm, woozily, and stood up, before collapsing into the rubble in a cry of pain. It appeared that a bullet had in fact hit her in the leg, and the movement caused it to begin bleeding profusely.
"Bandage that," snapped Celes, an expert on field medicine, "And then put your weight on it.
Locke took off his bandana and quickly tied a torquinet around the bleeding wound, before putting his weight on it, to lessen the now quite copious blood flow.
"We're going to have to keep her warm," said Celes, "Actually, Firma packed a load of medical equipment, sorry Locke."
"Doesn't matter," said Locke, religiously keeping the wound sealed.
"Okay people, on three...one...two...three!" Sabin hefted Relm with barely a grunt, and carried her into the sky-jet. Terra had climbed in just before him, and was already searching through the expansive medical equipment. She pulled out a compress and some anti-biotics, and quickly handed them to Celes, who applied them.
"Everyone aboard?!" shouted Edgar, "I want to get back to Figaro as soon as possible, that wound needs proper dressing!"
"Everyone's in," stated Locke, climbing in himself.
"Good," called back Edgar, "I'm taking off!"
The ride back home was tense, as Edgar kept on checking the radar for any pursuers, due to the sky-jet's reduced power, it would be unlikely that they would be able to outrun any attackers, and without weapons, there would be no way to fight back.
Meanwhile, in the cabin, Celes and Strago were keeping a close eye on Relm, making certain that the wound continued to be sealed to prevent blood loss. It appeared that the bullet had hit a fairly vital artery, because the blood kept on coming thick and fast, so frequent changes of bandages were vital.
"Okay," said Celes, "Pass me that coagulant, we might as well field test this stuff."
Strago handed her the experimental liquid. It was clear, but viscous to an extent that it left a slime trail in the small chemical bottle that it was kept in.
"Alright, you lift up the bandage and I'll pour this on."
Strago got his fingers around the edge of the bandage and pulled it up.
"Actually, I don't think we need it," he said brightly.
The wound itself appeared to have pretty much dried, with the typical crusty crimson-red that permeated such wounds.
"Edgar!" shouted Celes, "Are we getting anywhere close to-"
There was a crackle on the radio.
"Troop-ship Epsilon, this is Figaro landing control, we're ready to switch you over to main autopilot now."
"Are there any news updates on what's happening?" he inquired.
"Uh, yes sir," said the radio controller, "Admiral Firma's just requested reinforcements, it appears that they're battling with the enemy fleet over Nikeah.
"Very well, we'll land, and watch from the command room. We also have one person –a little girl, actually- who they tried to kill. She's badly wounded, and we'll need a medical room available to her.
"Yes sir, I've sent the orders...you're cleared to land."
Firma had just finished up the reports when there was a knock at the door. Drawing his gun he moved towards the door, and opened it. The man outside –whose uniform identified him as Army- eye's widened as he saw the Admiral standing there pointing a gun at him. Firma looked at him, and then followed his gaze to the pistol.
"Oh, sorry," he said a bit sheepishly, "We've got a murderer and a thief on the run through the castle, so I thought I'd be better safe then sorry."
"Yessir!" agreed the man hastily, "We've got a...urhm...situation, sir! A sky-jet matching the description that you asked for has just been sighted heading for Nikeah."
Firma took off at a run towards the command centre.
"Okay, this is what we need to do, has the army around Nikeah got the AA guns sorted out yet?"
"About a quarter of them are fully loaded, sir. The rest are either near completion or are being loaded now."
"Good, I want all squadrons scrambled to intercept it, and I'll be going myself."
"I need to see this for myself...I'm going to only launch the squadrons currently fully fuelled and armed for now. Arm and fuel the rest, it's a short trip from here to Nikeah anyway."
"Okay, good luck," said Firma, as he turned towards the pilot's ready room. He burst through the door and grabbed up a helmet, before smashing the scramble alarm. He clapped his hands at the few pilots currently in the room.
"C'mon people!" he shouted, running towards a fighter. They were soon joined by swarms of fighter pilots from the other two full squadrons currently ready to take off. Within three minutes all forty-two sky-jets were in the air, arranged in three triangles, headed towards Nikeah.
"Okay everyone," said Firma, "We only get one shot at this, if you get within range, lock everything you have on the ship, designated Tzarnoz. If it has fighter cover, I want Talisman and Amber squadrons to take them out. Meteors, we're on heavy assault today, so I hope you remembered your bombs."
"Got ‘em right here, Firma!" one of his squadron leaders called back exuberantly.
"Roger...okay, we're over the channel now." Firma flicked over to the Army's waveband. "This is Admiral Firma, can you see anything yet?"
There was a lot of shouting and firing going on. "Sir! This is Commander Andison. We're currently under heavy air attack from an unidentified army! They've already taken out most of our AA turrets and –got one!- and they're now attempting to pick off our mobile air defences!"
"Okay, Amber, you'd better cover the Army, Army, get those final AA turrets under camouflage, or something! We might end up depending on them."
"Roger that, Mercury," At his bidding, Amber squadron wheeled off to a heading slightly more south-easterly then the heading that the Meteors and Talisman squadron were on.
"Okay guys," said Firma, "Keep your eyes and scopes peeled for any giant ship things that might be in the area, we have to get the Tzarnoz ship down."
"Let's go hunting!"
"Oh, yeah, weapons free," said Firma, a little belatedly.
"We kind of assumed that, sir," said the voice of his other squadron leader.
They flew past the army encampment, where there was a very evident battle going on, there were flak shells bursting in the air, the Army's only real defence against the well-armed, but lightly armoured sky-jets that the enemy was using. As he watched, Amber squadron split into three groups of four, which divided and quickly destroyed several enemy sky-jets. Firma turned away, Wing Commander Roberts was easily competent enough to handle the odd fighter.
"Sir!" a voice he didn't recognise barked in his ear. "I've seen it! Bearing 0174 from your position!"
Firma turned his fighter, and stared at the Tzarnoz ship, as it glided majestically into view. Not beautiful as such, being effectively a giant tea-cosy, there was still some kind of deadly beauty about it. It was highly polished in an actinic blue and a glowing silver as it moved slowly along it's deadly course. It was precisely as he remembered it.
"Okay, Meteors, Talisman, engage!" He flipped a switch, "Okay then, this is for real, all squadrons, take off!"
"Sir, we're on our way," his second in command, Colonel Lanbi said.
"Good," said Firma, bringing up his combat sights. He selected the ‘Buzz saw' minimissiles as his weapon, and began getting a lock on the Tzarnoz ship.
As the defenders came into range, the Tzarnoz evidently realised the threat, because several well-oiled panels slid smoothly open, to reveal an impressive array of weaponry, which began to fire.
"All ships, return fire, aim for the turrets and the cockpit!"
There was a general consensus, and his pilots split up and over, ravaging the Tzarnoz ship with missiles, destroying turrets with wild abandon. One pilot from Talisman squadron caught a flak shell in the chest and died instantly. His ship spiralled down to the ground, where there was a flash and a cloud of smoke. Firma set his target, a particularly annoying missile turret on the flank of the Tzarnoz ship, and barrelled in, firing off a swarm of missiles. The missiles were not designed for accuracy or great damage, but they were designed for speed and number. Sixty missiles in total slammed into the side of the dreadnaught, pushing it slightly off course, and obliterating the turret, which was withdrawn as another turret was cycled to take it's place.
"Okay..." he muttered, loading in a slightly heavier missile, designed for a quick, unbreakable lock, "Let's see what effect this has." He activated his radio, "Jade, follow me in on this pass, as soon as you see that flak turret withdraw, put several tons of high explosive in there."
"Yes sir," he could almost hear her grin.
He pulled a sharp U turn in the air, and shot straight towards a flak turret, which was spewing out shells at one of his wing mates. He achieved a lock on it within a second, and the missile shot away, trailing black smoke. A second later it hit the missile with a flash and a thunderous explosion, he then wheeled aside and watched Jade on her run.
Jade had been possibly fifty meters behind him, as soon as he wheeled off she launched a flurry of missiles from both banks. They entered the turret port and exploded inside the ship. The dreadnaught rocked slightly, but continued on it's path regardless.
"Nothing sir," Jade said mournfully, "I think each turret section is self-contained."
"Don't worry, we'll try for the cockpit next." He said, looking towards the end of the craft where he remembered the cockpit was. "Try bombing the top of it, and hopefully we'll make a dent in the windshield."
"Sir, I don't have any bombs, missiles only."
"Don't you? Damn, okay...Rottweiler? Follow Jade in across the top of Tzarnoz, bombing all the way."
"Aye sir," replied Rottweiler, and in response a larger and heavier sky-jet span in midair and followed Jade. Inside he could see the pilot and bombardier talking to each other, while the single defensive turret span and spat steel death on the command of it's commander. The laser point lined up against the top of Tzarnoz, and the bombs were released.
Firma turned away and came in for another pass, noticing that they were now dangerously close to Nikeah, ‘We need more time!' he thought, and loaded another swarm of micro-missiles.
As he came in for his pass Rottweiler's bombs started impacting on the armour of the dreadnaught, hurling off large chunks of armour as they cut their deadly path right across Tzarnoz. A piece of shrapnel hurled itself at Firma's ship, and he rolled and banked under the dreadnaught to avoid it. As he did this he felt a violent falling sensation. Coming about for another pass he realised that there was one thing that had always bothered him about the ship, and that was its lack of wings or propellers to keep it afloat. Somehow it was exerting a pressure on the ground, even this far up, and that pressure was enough to keep it up. Around him pilots wheeled and spun, coming in and out of passes on the Tzarnoz.
"Everyone who still has missiles, aim for the underbelly of Tzarnoz, we have to destroy it's engines!" he snapped, realising with a wrench that they were almost in the centre of Nikeah, and that the bomb could be dropped nearly anytime.
"Yes sir!" shouted Jade exuberantly through her headset.
He smiled grimly, and armed his Scythe missiles, designed to cut into armour, then explode. He dipped down to about one hundred meters under Tzarnoz and came up from the underneath.
His engines whined as they fought to combat the pressure that was being exerted on them, and he was effectively a sitting target for any turrets that were available to fire upon him. Fortunately, due to the design of Tzarnoz, it had no such turrets on the underside, and he achieved his lock and watched the spinning blue bolts leap at the dreadnaught. They buried themselves in the ship, and exploded. There was a hideous noise inside Tzarnoz, and it began losing altitude.
"Keep it up!" he shouted, and to his horror he saw that part of the chrome underside was beginning to slide open, revealing the shooting star.
The bomb itself was quite pretty, being a long fluted shape with a glowing purple canister near the end. The missile itself was plated with a faintly blue metal.
"Army!" Firma shouted, "Have you found that laser painter yet?"
"Our snipers are on it, sir!" replied the commander.
"They'd better look harder, otherwise this bomb's going to kill us all!"
Firma whipped out of the underside and spiralled over the top, observing the large craters that had been torn in the perfect armour of the dreadnaught. He saw half of his squadron complete a synchronized barrel roll as they swarmed underneath, and there was a multitude of fireballs, followed by fire-cracker noises. Now heavily smoking from it's underneath, Tzarnoz plummeted towards Nikeah, twisting and turning through it's torturous descent. It hit the ground with a tremendous ‘BANG!' and flipped as it skidded through the outskirts of the town.
"Well done everyone," said Firma, through sounds of cheering, "I think we've..."
There was a flash from below, although much reduced from the amazing whiteout that Firma remembered. The missile appeared to have gone off, although much of it was out of action, it was still enough to create a sphere of intense darkness that swallowed up the town of Nikeah. Firma stared at it, horrified, and it suddenly vanished. Cut into the ground was a smooth crater, with no evidence that a town had ever been there. The cheers had become muted, and now there were shocked exclamations from all who witnessed, including Firma.
"Re...return to base," he croaked, "This mission has failed."
Edgar, Terra, and Sabin had been listening to the battle chatter over the radio, and they heard Firma's horrified final sentence, before he cut the radio communication.
"Failed?" Terra said tremulously, "What went wrong? I thought that they shot down the Tzarnoz!"
Edgar felt about as bad as Terra, but being King, he wasn't about to show it, "I think they managed to arm the missile before Firma's squadron took the dreadnaught down."
"I wonder if we'll ever know how many people have died over the last few days?" asked Sabin.
"We'll probably never finish giving funerals," Edgar sighed, "I wonder if we could have prevented the destruction of any of these towns?"
"Possibly," said Terra, "But there's no way we'll really know." Her voice became icier, more steely, "But I'm about ready to strike back at these bastards."
"Terra's right," said Edgar, "Let's regroup our forces, and get on the offensive!"
"We know where they are," said Sabin, "However, how on earth are we going to get at them?"
"Leave that to me," replied Edgar confidently, "I think I've got something that'll turn the trick in that respect."
There was a whir as thirty-seven sky-jets flew back over the castle –the sky-jets who had taken off last were redirected to the base in South Figaro- and the pilots disembarked, looking downcast and saddened. Many of them were actually crying, having lost relatives in Nikeah when it was torn from the world. Firma looked a little shocked and angered, but apart from that he displayed no outward emotion.
"Admiral," said Edgar sharply, "I thought you were going to get that thing down before it destroyed Nikeah!"
"That was the plan, anyway," said Firma, frowning slightly, "However, it was heavily upgraded from when I flew it. For a start, someone had implemented a lot of weaponry, and they had re-fitted it so the turrets were self-contained."
"Does that affect matters?"
"Yes, normally, getting in a double run should have bypassed the armour, by which point we would have been in amongst the main drive of the dreadnaught, whatever it was."
Edgar considered this, "And then?"
"After we ravaged it, it didn't appear to be slowing down, so I took a shot from underneath. That caused a fair amount of damage, so I had my squadron take a run at it. That brought it down, unfortunately, it was over Nikeah at that point. The bomb went off after it crashed."
"Not the best outcome, Admiral," Edgar said, a bit harshly.
Firma shook his head in agreement, "Most definitely not. At least the Tzarnoz project has been destroyed. We're just about to go in after the cult itself."
Firma considered this, "As in, right now? Without any kind of backup?"
"Hey, we took down Kefka," said Locke, "We can handle a small cult-"
"That's already destroyed three towns?" Firma replied sharply, "That still has a sizable air fleet? And it still has the Tzarnoz bomb! How are you planning on getting in, anyway?"
Locke turned to Edgar, who evidently was a bit shocked as well at Firma's outburst.
"We were going to drill in," said Edgar, "Using that new mining technology that I developed."
Firma nodded, "As I remember, that failed it's test run, didn't it? Besides, even if it does work, it's going to create a lot of noise, so you'll have cult members swarming to see what all the noise is about."
"Very well, Firma," said Edgar somewhat acidly, "What do you suggest?"
"What we need to do is deactivate the Tzarnoz bomb. Then we can send in a large amount of troops and air. If we send a team now, I'll have the troops and air forces awaiting the signal to charge on in. However, we can't establish a presence until that super-weapon is disabled, because they could just detonate it and take out the whole army."
"Right," Locke clapped his hands together, "We're going in!"
Firma made to say something, but Edgar cut him off, "We're going to need the sky-jet loaded up, and ready to go."
Sabin looked at Firma sympathetically, "Edgar, we're not suited for this..." he said, "Could we get into that base quickly and quietly and get that bomb down?"
"I could," said Terra confidently, "You're talking to Terra Branford, Ma MT, I know the ins and outs of that technology, and there's generally easy ways to defeat it, although you have to know about them."
Firma sighed, "I guess you're going to pull rank on me, aren't you, sire?"
"Certainly," replied Edgar.
"Well, in that case, I'll have a sky-jet ready to launch within the hour, please excuse me."
He turned on his heel and walked off quickly, barking out a few orders to surprised ground-crew.
"Oh dear," said Edgar, "I think I might have alienated him..."
"You'd better hope not," Sabin said, with an evident tone of annoyance, "He's the one basically keeping the Armed forces glued together. From the point of view of the average grunt, he's human, he's capable of making mistakes, and he's not some remote entity like royalty."
"I'll deal with it when I get back, I guess we'd better go and see Relm now," Edgar walked quickly off.
"Probably the stress," Celes confided in Terra, who nodded. They, Sabin, and Locke went to follow Edgar towards the medical wing.
One hour later, true to his word, Firma had a sky-jet ready. This time it was a different configuration, being a stealth-jet. The blades cut the air almost silently, and the ship itself was black and angular, like some low-slung insect. Inside, there was a variety of weapons, ranging from short stilettos to a single grenade launcher, evidently loaded in case of emergencies. Firma had also set a group of scientists and engineers to synthesize a set of defusing implements, based on the designs that Celes had turned up in the library. These were made out of highly oiled steel, and sat sparkling inside a roll-up case, made of black velvet. Terra rolled these up and put them on her belt.
"I hope I don't need to use these," she said, calmly, "Otherwise we might well all end up dead."
"Everyone ready back there?" said Edgar, who was the only one among them who knew how to fly the stealth-jet. Firma offered to lend them a pilot, but they declined, citing utmost secrecy. He had shrugged at that, evidently no longer really caring what they did, but also evidently very annoyed that they were forcing him to rewrite all his strategies just to accommodate them. Terra couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for him, but there was a cult to stop, and they were the people to do it.
"I'm ready, I guess," she called back. Sabin, Locke and Celes climbed in. They were all wearing black flying suits, much like Terra. Firma had suggested them, on account of their ability to retain heat in cold atmospheres, and stay cool in hotter climes. Furthermore, they were highly fire retardant, and came with a variety of pockets for holding survival gear. They also washed very easily, Firma had said, smiling slightly.
Locke looked over the gear, "Hmm, not bad," he hefted a long-bladed dirk. "I think that we've got about everything we want right here. Terra, you've got those disarming tools, right?"
"Yeah," she replied, taking them out and displaying them.
"They look a lot like lock picks -which I see he's included-" Locke said approvingly, taking a set of well-designed lock picks, although they were a dull grey rather then a shiny silver, in order to avoid detection.
Sabin had tracked down a set of punch-daggers, which were the closest weapon to his preferred choice. The immediate advantage of the punch daggers over claws was that they could be retracted when not in use, so his hands were free outside of combat.
Celes decided not to use any of the proffered equipment, and rather took out a old tarnished blade, that was nonetheless very sharp.
"I never thought I'd see this again," she said, her voice trembling slightly, "But evidently the Figaro army keeps the weapons from it's victories..."
"We're ready," said Locke to Edgar, before Celes could launch into a monologue about the first skirmish between Figaro and the Imperial Empire.
With barely a whisper, the stealth-jet was in the air, and was soon barely visible amongst the stars, which had just started to go out. Firma watched them go, and adjusted his black-ops gear.
"Are we all set?" he asked the commanding officer of Liberation group.
"Yessir, everything's aboard."
"Okay, we're going in to back them up..." Firma said, "If Edgar only hadn't overruled me. Anyway, they're simply not capable of getting into that base, are we?"
"Most definitely, sir!" said a black-ops passing by, "We're the best of the best!"
"See that you guys are, alright? Let's go!"
Firma vaulted into the cockpit and started the rotor blades, which whipped up a storm on the landing pad, yet made next to no noise.
"You know," commented one of the black-ops specialists, "I've always wondered about that, shouldn't they make a whole ton of noise?"
"Dunno," said another, "It's probably some kind of secret formula, or something."
Firma, sitting up front, said nothing as he ran the craft through its final checks.
"Okay guys," Edgar called, "I'm coming up on Phoenix mountain now, everyone ready?"
"You know, I'm getting sick of that question," muttered Locke, "If I'm ready once, I'll be ready the next time, won't I?"
"I suppose so," replied Terra, "Edgar, we're ready!" she called back.
Edgar brought the stealth-jet into a tight swoop and flew down by the grasses adorning the otherwise barren and rocky canyon floor. Pebbles flew up to announce their coming, but no radars picked them up. Edgar took the stealth-jet to a little cove by the main gate, and disembarked. The group followed him out, and
"Great," Locke said sarcastically, "Edgar, why didn't you take us to a slightly less obvious place? How are we going to get in here?"
"Well, this was the only obvious way in," Edgar retorted, "Look at it, it's a giant steel monstrosity sticking out of a mountain!"
Edgar was right, the gate itself was not of the wooden-bar and iron hinge style, but rather appeared to be a heavily damaged maw, that had been patched over and disguised as a piece of mountainside. However, now that it was in heavy use once more, the illusion had been shattered.
The entrance was vast, easily wide enough to admit a small standing army, with room overhead for pilots to fly in. Indeed, there were several blinking lights, indicating landing points within, and for tracked vehicles a large ramp was provided. The gate itself was heavily guarded, troops stood at regular intervals, seemingly un-moving, while there were a few sky-jets swooping around the area like lost geese.
"Okay, this isn't going to work," Terra commented, "I think we'd better find a back-door in."
"Right, everyone back in the ste-" Celes stopped, because a monumentous explosion rent the air. They shrank back as a fireball sprouted from their stealth-jet. The cause of the explosion was obvious, as above the noise of the explosion there were the familiar sounds of chopping blades. The source of the sound turned out to be a sky-jet, hovering above the stealth-jet with its missile banks primed and ready. The insignia on the jet was of a delicately painted world, and the edges of each sheet of metal were painted blue or green.
"Oh...crap," muttered Locke, "They know we're here, they have the superior armour, and air power, and furthermore, they've now got us in their sights."
This final point was most definitely true, as the sky-jet hovering above had picked them as its next target, however, no missile was forthcoming, but there was the sound of a microphone being brought into play. After much thumping, amplified cursing, and a bout or two of feedback, the sky-jet spoke.
"Alright," it boomed, "You scumbags are under arrest, don't even think about running for it, I've got you all covered...make one move and I'll paste you!"
"Sounds like a rookie," remarked Terra, "I wonder how long he's been waiting to do that?"
"Is this the time or place for that?" asked Edgar, looking slightly panicky, "Okay, this is what we do, on the count of three, we spl-"
"Bit late, really," Celes looked around them, "They've got people up on those mountains, if you shake your head around a bit them you can see that glare from their sights."
"Great," Edgar muttered, "To think that I would be captured after all this!"
Nobody, not the party nor the sky-jet or snipers saw the black shape slide silently over them, and further into the mountain. However, watching from the sky-jet, the black-ops team watched the group get skilfully surrounded and taken into custody, although not without a considerable struggle.
Firma activated his mic, due to this being classed as a black-ops mission they were required to wear headsets rather then talking to each other.
"Okay then," he crackled, "They've been captured, however, we still have to find the bomb here and disarm it, maybe destroy it."
There were nods all round, "Sir," said a black-op, "What if the bomb isn't here?"
"I can't really see where else they'd be storing them," Firma replied, "This is where the Tzarnoz ship appears to have been launched from, and they counted on having it operational for at least another mission. The missile is too big to move easily, and they're not very safe to move, either. There were several prototype explosions."
"Uh-sir?" queried another soldier, "If they go off so easily, what'dya think will happen when we rip it open and start removing bits?"
"You're the demolitionist," Firma replied, "Just be very very careful."
The stealth-jet pulled a series of tight turns as Firma guided it towards their final destination, which happened to be any flat piece of rock he could find. The gate was in fact part of a much larger structure, although it vanished below the rocky ground as they sped their course. Finally, there was one last stomach lurching drop, and then the whisper of the blades quietened as Firma brought it in for a landing.
"Alright," he hissed, "Everyone out!"
"Yessir!" came the quietly professional voice of the special ops leader, "Sir...uh, if you don't mind, this is where I take over..."
"Do your stuff," Firma nodded, "Remember, we've got to get that bomb first!"
The demolitionist in the group walked out, placing a few small boxes on the ground, he took off his headset, and motioned for them to do the same.
"Believe me," he said, "You don't want to hear the mic-enhanced version of these."
"Are those explosives?" asked Firma, "I thought we were going to be quiet!"
"Oh, no sir," explained the demolitionist, "This is just a sonar test, I want to work out if there's anything actually under here, we could be spending a lot of time working downwards without hitting anything."
"Ah, yeah," Firma said.
The demolitionist finished placing the sonar hammers, and pressed a button on his belt, the ground shook slightly as the hammers went off.
"Ah, sir," reported the demolitionist, "I think you might want to take a look at this."
Firma walked over to the display panel, which was generating a readout of the ground beneath their feet. It followed the consistency of rock for about a hundred meters, before a harder substance was detected.
"Now this is interesting," said the demolitionist, "It looks like the terrorists have reinforced the sides and floor of their base, but they failed to do the ceiling."
"That's....fairly stupid," said Firma, "But we're not here to help them with security,"
he switched on his radio, and motioned everyone to do the same.
"Alright people," he snapped, "Let's get the digging equipment out!".
There was a small amount of clanking and moving as the Special Forces unpackaged and put together the mining equipment. Being designed for stealth, it was about as quiet and unobtrusive as digging equipment could be, each section being inky black, and once assembled, the parts seemed to flow into each other. The mining claws moved quickly, but with little noise except the rocks moving together.
"Sir!" hissed a soldier "Lights!"
Apparently something had picked them up, because there was a large sky-jet moving in their direction, with flood-lights playing over the ground and auto cannon batteries at the ready. One of the soldiers ran over to the sky-jet and removed a long dark-black pipe, which he loaded with a charge.
"No!" snapped Firma, "Do we want to announce we're here?!"
"But sir!" the soldier protested, "They know we're here!"
"They might not..." cut in the leader, "This could be a routine check."
The beams were touching closer, a few moments later and they would move over the sky-jet. Firma considered his options...either announce his presence and location, or let the sky-jet be discovered. One way they would lose their only method of transport, but they wouldn't be discovered...of course, if they shot down the sky-jet then they might not be discovered anyway...
"Everyone, grab what you can from the sky-jet!" he said quickly, "Take weapons, ammo, and medical supplies. You with the LAW, stay where you are."
There was some fast and efficient movement, as weapons, heavy and light were offloaded and moved to cover, medical supplies, night-vision goggles and ammunition were also removed. The light finally played over the sky-jet.
"Fire!" snapped Firma.
A comet rose from the ground, spitting sparks and trailing a long smoke column, it impacted on the underneath of the sky-jet, sending it to the left, there was a thunderous explosion as the fuel tank underneath caught fire. The flames travelled through the sky-jet and burst out of the windscreen, as two charred bodies plummeted to the ground. As the ruins of the sky-jet slammed and crashed down the mountain Firma cursed.
"Damn!" he shouted over the radio "Didn't expect it to do that, get that digger on full blast, we need to get inside!"
"Sir, shouldn't we just dig in here?" said the black-ops leader, "Inside, there'll be no-where to run, and there'll also probably be some kind of automatic defence."
"Out here, they can just bomb us, and send troops swarming up to us...we need to get under-cover."
There was a change in air pressure as the drill whirred up, playing shadows on the ground as it moved quickly, digging deeper. It blipped after about five minutes, just as Firma was starting to make out shapes climbing up the hill.
"Half done, sir," hissed the soldier in control of it.
"Okay, everyone grab sniper rifles and start firing," Firma said, "We'll need to whittle down their numbers, if they get up to us."
The sniper rifles were long sleek items, with a small green scope on them, that could be altered with a twist mechanism. Several black-ops took these and found good positions. Then there were the sounds of ‘phut' as the silenced weapons sent invisible death into the air.
"That drill had really better hurry...or we're going to be swarmed under!" shouted a black-ops.
There was a shriek from overhead, as several sky-jets made their appearance.
"Never mind the soldiers, do we have anymore rockets?" shouted another.
"One second," then, "Three more, there's got to be about twelve up there!"
"We are screwed...we are sooo screwed..." came the mutter of another.
Meanwhile, Terra et al had been placed within a large grey, featureless room, and left to their own devices. Terra herself had received a definite impression that something urgent was happening on outside, as they had not been disarmed, apart from the swords and assorted items that they were carrying. Locke had kept his lock picks, and she still had her bomb-disarming tools.
While everyone was checking out their new surroundings, Locke was already looking at the door. There was some muttering and a few clinks from that corner, and then he stood up.
"Okay, this door is going to be a cake-walk," he said, "However, Edgar, you're going to need to stand nearby to protect me when it opens."
Edgar took out one of the orbs that he had retrieved in the armoury.
"I decided to take one," he smirked, "You never know when these'll come in handy."
Locke made one final poke in the lock, and it clicked open, he hurled the door open and rolled aside as Edgar made an overhand cast towards the door.
The results were impressive, there was a large flash and an ear-shattering bang. Several balls of fire leapt back into the room, singing Locke slightly, and setting fire to the hem of Edgar's robe, which he discarded quickly.
Sabin looked outside, "No-body there," he stated. "I think that they probably know that we've done something, though."
"Who cares?" said Locke, "We're gone!"
"Where?" retorted Celes.
"Well, firstly we get our stuff, then we find the bomb, disarm it, and go home!" said Sabin enthusiastically. "We're at large in their base."
"Erm....Sabin," Terra cut in, "We're...five people."
"We were five people to start with," Edgar said, taking Sabin's side, "We're now inside their base, admittedly minus our weapons, but we've got the advantage that they still think we're in there."
"One sec," Locke turned and used his lock picks to lock the door. "Now they do."
"We'd better not hang around here," Terra commented, "We need to move."
They walked cautiously down the corridor, looking around. The corridor they were in was a cylindrical shape, with several glowing lights providing illumination. Almost beyond sight, within the walls, there were many wires, each with lights passing along them, crossing and intersecting in a beautiful dance of light and colour. At regular intervals, the corridor split into fours, with colours along the floor providing directions, that is, if they knew what the colours meant.
"This place is amazing," whispered Terra, "Have they really been building this all this time?"
"Looks like it," muttered Locke, "Although I wonder where they got all the technology from? Edgar, where're we going?" he spoke up.
"I'm following this blue one, I'm guessing that they have to lead somewhere."
Unfortunately, one of the idiosyncrasities of the design was that the tunnels curved slightly, just enough to give no idea what was fifty meters ahead. Several times they had to reverse or change tack for a guard, making following the blue strip difficult. After about half an hour, the corridor started to straighten out and get larger, finally leading into a large room.
"It's the armoury..." Edgar muttered.
"Maybe the bomb's in here?" Terra inquired, "It is a weapon, after all."
"Doesn't look like it," Edgar replied, "Just standard weapons...but a lot of them."
He grabbed a few rifles and distributed them, "Okay, we're armed, let's go and find this bomb!"
Moving more swiftly, they turned around and headed off in a different direction.
"It's done!" called the mining observer.
"Finally!" called Firma from the crater in which he was kneeled, clutching a LAW.
The last ten minutes had been the most brutal in his life. They had been nearly overwhelmed at several points by the enemy, only driven back by a large avalanche of rocks, caused by a well-placed charge on the mountain above them. Still, this had not stopped the sky-jets, who had swooped in to deliver lead-based death to all concerned, several times Firma had just hit the ground as a –thzing!- and a crack informed him that he was just in time. However, they had miraculously failed to lose anyone, although everyone was feeling incredibly battered.
"Everyone, get in the hole, one at a time!"
There was an organised rearrangement of the black-ops, as they began leap-frogging back to the drill, to which the observer had already attached rappelling equipment. Firma was first into the hole, going hand over hand down the rope, as tugs announced more people joining the rope. At first, the rock around them was just that, rock. However, there was a section of unidentifiable hard grey matter just before the section opened out into a large cylindrical corridor. Firma jumped off the rope just as his radio blipped.
"Firma," he said.
"Sir, we've got a bit more on that assassin earlier...you said you wanted to know?" the voice of a new recruit echoed tremulously in Firma's ear.
"Yeah...yeah, go right ahead, private."
"It appears that the assassin was a woman...um...someone whose current call sign was Vigil...seem to used to be called Katana..."
"Oh, her," Firma said, "I thought I recognised the face...didn't know where from...anyway, have you apprehended her?"
"Uh...no sir, she stole a sky-jet just as the police caught up with her...it appears she's headed in the direction of Phoenix Mountain..."
"Hmm...keep me updated, I'm busy at the moment." More members of the black-ops team were re-emerging from the hole above them, and looking around cautiously at their surroundings.
"Okay all, switch off your radios." Firma said, and did so, "Okay then, we should be in the enemy base, this area shows signs of recent use...but we don't know where Burning Infinity is, so we're going to have to find it."
"Sir, I recommend that we split up," said one person. Firma was about to reply, but the group leader cut in.
"No," he stated, "We need to protect the demolitionist, he's the only one who can actually disable that bomb, and if he dies, then it's all over."
Firma shrugged. He was going to agree, but that made significantly more sense.
"Now, which way?" he said.
"Well sir," said the group leader, "I'd recommend the hub of operations, because they'll have plans of the base."
"Seems a good idea," Firma agreed, "Which way?"
"Sir, if I may," a black-ops reported, "I think we should follow this gold strip that we're on. It is the most valuable colour, so..." he left it hanging, unable to put the rest of the sentence into words.
There was a murmur of assention, and they moved stealthily down the corridor, weapons at the ready.
"Now, look at this!" Locke exclaimed, walking into another expanse within the maze of tunnels. The room that they had walked into was by far the largest of them all, with heavy machinery surrounding the whole area. A lot of it looked heavily damaged, as if a large explosion had rocked the innards of the machines. Cables were strewn on the floor, in many different colours, and panels that once held light were now dark and unresponsive, the whole area had the look of something never completed, then destroyed.
"What is it?" asked Terra, "Looks like a factory to me."
"Hmm," said Edgar, "To me, it looks like a more advanced kind of version of Figaro's sand-engine. Look," he pointed at several parts of the engine, "These are nearly exactly the same, except that they feed into different ends...I don't know what it's meant to do..."
"Well, the power's still on in this area," Locke commented gleefully, "Let's power it up and have a go!"
"Locke, no!" snapped Sabin and Celes together, then Sabin said, "We've got a job to do, besides, it'll probably create a lot of noise."
"Also, the whole thing is wrecked, you don't know what'll happen!" Celes pointed out.
"Okay, okay!" Locke protested, "Where do we go now, anyway?"
There was a sound of clumps coming from the bend behind the corridor.
"People coming!" Edgar snapped, "Quiet!"
They shrank back into a small, broken off piece of the machine, and waited. Several guards, in armour and carrying rifles, came around the corner, along with a man in robes. These robes had the same insignia on them as the armour did of the guards, and the sky-jet armour. It was a picture of a paradisiacal world, with green and blue borders to every piece of fabric.
"Stop!" the robed-man commanded, and instantly, the guards came to a halt.
"Okay, there doesn't appear to be anyone here...let's move out!" the robes moved towards the other side of the room, with the guards moving behind in exact formation.
"That voice, and that face..." Celes muttered, "Damn, I know them from somewhere...Terra? What's wrong?"
"Did you see what they had on their heads?" Terra frowned after the guards, "Look, they're all just like golems...they had slave bands on their heads..."
"I think that explains the presence of a well-disciplined and ruthless army, then," Edgar said, "Although were did they get such a huge quantity of those? I thought that they were incredibly expensive."
"Not really," said Celes, "Basically, they administer a highly-concentrated drug very slowly. A slave band was expected to last about a year on one charge, although the drugs were very expensive, and incredibly hard to get hold of or synthesise. They basically made the wearer incredibly susceptible to suggestion."
"I wonder if that's why they're dropping bombs so quickly?" Edgar mused, "They might be beginning to run out of drugs."
"If that's the case, then they'll soon have a general insurrection on their hands," Sabin commented triumphantly, "We're nearly home free."
"Not really, those drugs have the same effect right up to the end," Celeste said, "Even then, there's quite a length of time where the drug has to wear off."
"Damn...anyway, maybe we should follow those guards and that robed man?" Celes said, "That way we can get some answers."
"Good idea," Locke said, "Let's go, people!"
After a minute of inaction, they were sure that no-one was coming back along the corridor, and so they set out after the robed man.
"Everyone down!" shouted Firma, as a rocket whiffled over their head, and impacted against the far wall, showering everyone with small chips of the grey substance. Him and his team had found their way towards the central hub, only to discover that it was protected by a comprehensive security system, that was even now peppering them with bullets and rocket fire. This appeared to be coming from a set of turrets that were embedded in the far end of this corridor. Being experienced men, the black-ops were fast enough on the uptake to avoid the first withering hails of bullets whining down the corridor, and were now edging forward to a position where they could do damage to the machines attacking them.
"Now it fires bullets..." muttered the person next to Firma, as two turrets opened fire in a pattern that started in the centre of the corridor, and moved outwards. Being a cylindrical corridor, there was no room for cover, however, the turrets were incapable of firing at anything about fifteen degrees below them, so they were now firing in an automatic pattern.
"Rockets..." everyone covered their heads as large amounts of mini-missiles flew down the corridor, trailing streamers of smoke, and slamming into the far wall.
"Ready sir!" a black-ops called into his radio, above the sound of the bullets now chugging into action.
"Do it," said the leader, simply.
A black-ops man stood up, and smoothly threw a grenade in an overhand fashion. It bounced off the floor, and dropped neatly into the turret's alcove.
"FIRE IN THE HOLE!" he screamed, as he fell to the floor.
There was an immense sensation of heat and sound as the grenade exploded. Chunks of wall and turret flew out, embedding themselves mere inches above cowering soldiers. A huge boom caused the corridor to shake, and probably announced their position for miles around...eventually, it was over. Firma stood up.
"Nice job, let's move," he jogged down to the end of the corridor, and followed the curve quickly, but cautiously. A scout was ahead of him, and the main body of troops was behind.
"Sir," whispered the scout, "We're in!"
There was a token guard standing before the main area. They were quickly and quietly eradicated by the black-ops, who crept into the area. It was huge, and Firma couldn't see how this place had never been discovered before. Stretching up three tiers, the command hub was shaped like a star. There were a few ramps leading between levels, with what appeared to be lifts at each point of the star. A huge central pillar glowed alternately blue and green, adorned at the top by a small room. The whole room seemed to be crisp and new, but with a timeless silence hanging over it. Illumination was provided by unknown sources, but nevertheless permeated the whole area. The team spread out, quickly neutralising any threats, in the form of small amounts of guards by each ramp, before ascending to the next level and repeating their duties there. Firma followed them up, astounded by their speed and efficiency. In nearly no time they were on the catwalks separating the globular room on top of the pillar from the fifth level. A final guard attempted to defend himself before a hail of gunfire from below tore him apart. Firma ran into the room, and stood looking at the main screen.
"Wow...look at this..."
There was a complete plan of the building they were in. Star shaped and apparently built completely underground, it was built like a flat steppe pyramid, with each level being smaller then the last. Finally, a large protuberance on the top showed the place where they were currently.
"There's something wrong with this..." muttered a soldier, who doubled up as a structural engineer. "You don't need these kinds of support, not down underground...look, here and here," he gestured to two points, "These supports appear to be almost slightly elastic...but you don't want that underground, it could lead to shakiness and instability."
"Why did they do it then?" asked Firma.
The structural engineer grinned, "Maybe they're just stupid, but I think that this was designed to hold together under a completely different environment...there's a lot here that a building simply doesn't need, food bays...look at that whopper!" he gasped, pointing to the room that Terra, Locke and Celes had just left, "That's an engine...what do they need that on this for?!"
Firma stepped aside, "Maybe you can find out," he said, gesturing to a panel of buttons.
"Not me, sir," the engineer said apologetically, "I'm no good with command interfaces..."
"I'll give it a try, sir," said a young soldier helpfully. With that he walked up to the console and pressed a green button that was slightly aside from the rest. This caused all the lights to light up, in sequence. Encouraged by this, the soldier pressed a dark-purple button, and the plan became a view of a wrecked room, with rocks spilling in from the outside. Again, and it became a picture of the command centre below them. Again, and-
"Well, this is interesting," said Firma.
"There he is!" muttered Locke, "Look, in that room!"
"I see him," Edgar replied, "Shall we get him?"
"Try and capture him," Terra said, "Try not to kill any of the soldiers, they don't know what they're doing."
"Sorry Terra, but we might have to, those people will kill us."
The robed man hadn't gone far at all, in fact, he was observing something going on in a small room, apparently on a panel, because he was occasionally moving his hands. The guards were deployed around him, standing still as statues, with their weapons held rigidly in place.
"Let's get them," Celes whispered to Sabin, and they moved to one side of the door, while Terra, and Locke went to the other.
It was a short, ugly fight, Locke charged in, followed by Sabin. They made short work of the first two guards, moving around to the second set, while Celes shot the rearmost guard. Terra and Edgar made a grab for, and successfully captured the robed man, as he cowered under the panel, and attempted to flee. Then it was all over.
Terra lifted the robed man up against the wall.
"Okay then," she said, quietly, "We'll start with introductions, who are you?"
"Me? Me?" asked the man, he had a high quivery voice. "Why," he drew himself up, "I am Professor Tani, assistant director of the Magitek Science Board."
"That's where you're from," Celes clicked her fingers, "I remember you...didn't have much potential, from what I remember."
"How dare you!" he exploded, "I devoted my life to science!"
Celes snorted, "Hmm, look where it's got you..."
"I'm in command of my own army! One of my greatest works is about to be carried out! Where has it got me?"
"What's this about your greatest work?" said Edgar, "Start at the beginning, and leave nothing out."
Tani looked pleased. "This story starts just over two thousand years ago, literally on the dawn of the War of the Magi. Although there is little evidence of it now, we had an extremely technological society. There were two sides, the Enkari, and the Tallistan, both tribes, and both completely opposed to the other, and from what we can tell, they were both searching for the same three devices, that could destroy the other side."
"The statues..." muttered Terra.
"Yes, I believe they were...anyway, there was a third group. They did not believe in war, and thinking that it would utterly destroy this planet...they built this, a spaceship."
"Well, whaddaya know," said Firma, "It's a spaceship!"
"I guess that explains the engines," said the structural engineer.
"They planned to sail the stars, and find a new home with it...but they ran into a hitch.." he smiled grimly, "One side found the Statues, and used it on the spaceship, which badly damaged it. More then that, however, the humans inside becam-"
"Espers!" Sabin jumped to a conclusion... "Locke...you remember what that inscription said...up in that mountain."
"Of course I remember, I told it to you!" Locke retorted.
"Please please, I'm talking," Tani said impatiently, "Anyway, the War of the Magi followed this realisation, with the Enkari utterly dominating the Tallistan. However, theirs was a bitter victory, because the amount of magic that had been released into the world by transforming these humans created a magical surplus. The Espers lost control, and devastated the world. At that point they realised that they had to live apart, in a different land. A different Homeworld...one that was illusionary, that could never be their true home. We should never really forget what they did for us..."
"Yeah...going to live in an apocryphal homeworld is all well and dandy, but I want to hear about this great achievement..."
"Ah, yes...of course. Well, the Espers were the key to it all, I'm sure you know about the Tzarnoz project by now..."
"Yes," Terra said, quietly, but with a steely edge to her voice.
"Well, it was quite amazing, really, we could fuse the Esper and a bomb together, to create a super weapon, four were created, three you've already seen. However, we've saved the best till last...Burning Infinity, they called it. It could lock away a section in time forever...but everyone would burn inside...forever..."
"However, I made a few...alterations...and enhanced it's warping effect."
"So? What does it do now?!" asked Locke, striding forwards.
"I believe that it will cause part of the space-time continuum to bend, if it's powerful enough, it could potentially punch a hole through, creating a wormhole."
"What happens if that hole goes into space?" asked Locke, angrily, "You'll kill everyone on this planet!"
"Oh no, it couldn't do that," Tani snorted, "There are only a few places where this bomb will work like I designed it to, there are...weaknesses in the fabric of the universe. The Esper Gate was an example of this, because their world was not part of ours, but just apart from it."
"What about people living around there?!"
"The explosion is...cataclysmic," Tani said indifferently, "The force of bending space itself will probably...neutralise this world. But that is a small price to pay, this world is dying, you can see it around you! Plants and animals are becoming extinct every day, and this is our chance to survive!"
"If anything, this world is healing itself again," Terra said, "The War of the Magi did far more to the planet then Kefka ever did."
"You're wrong!" Tani snapped, "I've seen it! There used to be a multitude of life on Phoenix Mountain, now it is barren, and nothing can survive here! Besides, I've already put the plan into operation! My loyal troops are moving out as we speak-"
"Ack," Firma said, "They weren't coming after us, we were just in the way of their movements...still, it amounted to the same thing."
"Sir!" said a soldier, "Shouldn't we try and stop this?!"
"You're right," Firma said, "Is there anyway that we could find out where they're going?"
"We probably need to listen more," said the engineer.
"There are only a few points in the world where this bomb will work!" Terra snapped, beginning to get angry, "Where are they?! Tell me!"
"It's perfectly simple," Tani said, "The points are approximately opposite on the polar scale. The one I picked was the partner to the Esper Gate, that being a particularly powerful breach-"
"Feed that in," Firma instructed.
The engineer did so, and looked up, with chagrin in his eyes.
"It's the mountain range, sir."
"Alright, everyone!" Firma shouted, "Let's move!"
They left quickly and professionally.
"You'll probably find that it's some area between Kohlingen and Figaro-"
Locke apparently had reached the end of his temper, because with that he slammed the butt of his rifle into Tani's head, the professor slumped forward, unconscious or dead.
"Very clever, Locke," snapped Edgar, "How on earth will we find out where they're setting off the bomb?"
"He said between Kohlingen and Figaro...just get Firma to scan the area between them."
"Not a bad idea," Edgar said, patting his pockets, "Aha, here it is," he pulled out a long sleek object, with several knobs on it. "It's a little ancient, but most radios just don't have the power these days...I don't know if it'll even work. He clicked over to the Figaro frequency.
"This is King Edgar, I need to speak to Admiral Firma."
"Sorry sir, but Admiral Firma disappeared a little while ago, taking a sky-jet...there isn't any log of where he's going."
"Right....okay..." Edgar paused, "Okay, pass onto the next person in command-"
"Air Marshall Benton, sir?"
"Her, sir," the radio sounded amused.
"Yeah, anyway, tell her that there's going to be another terrorist attack between Figaro and Kohlingen and we're not sure how it'll be delivered. She'll have to put everything out to look for it."
"Yes sir, I'll tell her, sir."
"I'd appreciate it," Edgar closed the connection and looked around at the group. There was a group energy again, that he recognised from when they were fighting the Empire, and later Kefka.
"Well, can we go?" asked Terra, "Now?"
The base appeared to be almost deserted by this point, due to the general movement of the troops over Phoenix Mountain. However, in the hangar there were two jets still remaining, both heavy transports. As they watched, the blades on one transport started whirring, and it wallowed out into the night sky.
"Okay guys, there's one left," Edgar sighed, "I just hope that I'm up to flying this thing."
"Don't worry, Edgar," Sabin said, "We believe in you."
This pious display was somewhat ruined by Locke praying, and there was a definite edge of a grin on Terra and Sabin's face. Celes, however, was straight-faced still.
They piled into the transport-jet, and buckled in as Edgar powered up the propellers. "I really really hope that they haven't changed anythi- whoa!" Edgar quickly applied the air-brakes as the transport-jet slid forward. "Evidently they decided to soup it up a little."
"That's good," commented Locke from behind him, "Now, get it going!"
Edgar managed to align the ‘jet with the doors, and slid it out into the night sky, where he set a course for Figaro castle.
"Figaro castle," Admiral Firma spoke into the microphone, "This is Admiral Firma coming in."
"Admiral Firma?!" came the voice of Air Marshall Benton, "Where did you go to?"
"Black Ops stuff...we've got an emergency."
"Really?" the reply was sarcastic, "Edgar filled me in, what on earth are you flying?"
"Something I appropriated from the cult, do you like it?"
"Looks like a plate with wings...anyway, I'll try and find you some space in which to land. Nearly all the planes are out looking for this –" she broke off amongst some crackling. It was evident to Firma that she had switched channels due to a sudden arrival of information. "Okay, Firma," she came back on the line, "You can land, there's not much going on right now."
"Thanks, anywhere in particular?"
"Nah, just listen to your heart...but don't crush my fighter."
Firma grinned, and landed the transport-jet lightly in the centre of the courtyard. Various ground-crew came over to inspect the craft.
"This is quite something," one person remarked to Firma, "They seem to have resolved that problem we had about the propeller blades overheating...this is a strange lubricant."
"See what you can do with it," Firma ordered, before marching off towards the operations centre.
"Okay then, Benton," Firma said, a few minutes later, standing just inside the door of the centre. "What's been going on then?"
"Okay then, this is how it stands. We've picked up a few ghost readings on the radars, but there's always nothing by the time the sky-jets get there."
"That could be the ionosphere acting up," Firma commented, "Those pop-up radars aren't the best in the business."
"True," Benton replied, "But that's not really the issue. Did you find out what's happening?"
"I did indeed," Firma said, with a smug edge. "The terrorists intend to let off a huge bomb between here and Figaro."
"This is Figaro, clot," Benton smirked.
"Sorry, Kohlingen," Firma apologised, "Anyway, I'm not sure how they're going to deliver it."
"Got any idea of the mass? I could punch up the minimum requirements on the computers," Benton offered, turning towards a keyboard.
"Okay...as I remember, the actual bomb itself wasn't amazingly big. However, the materials were fairly exotic, so I'd say about a ton for the bomb. Give another ton for the casing."
"These bombs put out a lot of evil stuff-"
The radio crackled.
"-garo, this is King Edgar, can we land?"
"I'll take it," Firma muttered, turning towards the radio. "Okay, Edgar-"
"Where on earth have you been?"
"Doesn't matter at the moment, but if you could bring that lumbering sky-jet in to land bang next to the one I just landed, that'll do for now."
The radio went silent as Edgar planned his approach.
"He didn't sound best pleased with you," Benton remarked, "I'd watch your job very carefully."
"Huh," Firma sighed, "I'm the commander of the military, if he wants to do military stuff, he has to answer to me. He's the King, not the commander."
"Be sure of that," Benton replied.
"I'm pretty sure of that," Firma said, "After all, he's the one who wears ermine."
"True....anyway...aha, the computer's dealing with the result-" there was a clanking and a chattering of paper as the computer printed out a calculated sheet of data.
"According to this, the vehicle must be able to take about 2.5 tons in total."
"That rules out any kind of small land vehicles, and between here and Kohlingen consists mainly of desert and mountains."
"Another flying vehicle?"
"Not the Tzarznoz," Firma replied, "I think they've just plonked it on a normal carrier sky-jet. The freight ones can ship up to five tons."
Benton was considerably more up-to-date with shipping routes and airships. "Kohlingen hasn't yet got the support for airships."
Firma stepped up to the General Announcements microphone. "Okay, fighters in the air, and fighters currently docked, this is a General Emergency. We are looking for a freight ship headed in the direction of Kohlingen."
"We think, anyway," Benton said behind him.
"Well, yes, anyway, scramble all fighters," Firma turned away, "Benton, you'll have to co-ordinate from here, I'm going up there."
Benton nodded, Firma ran towards the bay.
No sooner had Edgar disembarked then the klaxons sounding for a scramble began to whine. Pilots rushed in from all directions, grabbing their helmets and leaping into their sky-jets. Thirty seconds later, Firma ran in, hopping into a oil-black fighter.
"Firma!" he shouted, "What's going on?!"
"We're after a target!" Firma called back, "We need everyone up there, so that we can blow it up the instant it's spotted!"
Edgar turned back to his sky-jet, and hopped in.
"What's going on?" asked Terra.
"We're going hunting," muttered Edgar, "Let's see if Firma and Benton got it right this time...oh, get those turrets warmed up..." he said as an aside.
The blades on over fifty fighters tore the air to shreds, while the sleek bodies of the sky-jets blurred across the sky.
"Right," Firma said, "This is Firma, Meteors?"
"Right here!" Jade called back.
There were other sign-ins, muted and exuberant. In the background Firma could hear Talisman squadron performing a similar duty.
"Okay then, this is how it works," he said, "We scout for the ship, whatever it may be. There is the faint possibility it could be a land vehicle, so don't count that out. However, it is much more likely to be an air vehicle, and already in transit."
"What do we do when we find it?"
Firma considered this, "Shoot it down as fast as you can, we don't want them arming that bomb at all. It's about three times worse then the one that hit Nikeah."
There was little else except the chop-chop-chop of the rotor blades until they reached the foothills of the mountains, where they met the out-skirts of Amber Squadron. Edgar, who was flying slightly behind everyone else –being in a troop carrier, he was neither as fast nor as manoeuvrable- ascertained the situation.
"Okay, everyone," Firma said, "Time to spread out, go around in pairs, King Edgar's ship'll be determined as the midpoint, while we search."
There were assents, and various wings detached to spread out. Firma flew low over the ground, scanning inside nooks and crannies for any kind of ship or land vehicle. However, despite the small readings on his radars –namely beasties and birds- there was nothing even approaching the size of a Tzarnoz carrier.
"I've got nothing," he reported.
"Nothing here, either," replied a frustrated-sounding Jade, "Completely clear. The only thing massing that much in the vicinity is the base ship."
"Okay, let's head back then," Firma replied, "Keep an eye out, and I'll send in some people to strew this area with radar."
Firma rose to combat level, and flew towards the base ship, which was giving off a steady signal. Jade swept into a position just behind him, before belling him.
"Firma," she began, "The base ship, it's...well, throwing sparks."
A few minutes before this, there was a general feeling of an anti-climax upon the base ship. While the fighter squadrons had been scouting the surrounding area, Edgar had been manning the radars, with Locke and Sabin enjoying the company of the turret bays.
"Firma's buggered up," Terra muttered, slipping in next to Edgar.
"I don't think so, really," Edgar replied, "I just want to know how on earth he knew about...whoa!"
The reason for this outburst was a sudden ‘whommph' from the propeller blades, accompanied by a sudden increase of speed. Almost immediately after this, there was a shower of sparks as the main control panel exploded, temporarily blinding Edgar, and singeing Terra, who yelped.
"What on earth?!" shouted Locke from the main section. "What's going on?"
"I'm not sure..." muttered Edgar, "Something's...I see! There's an unidentified mass just underneath the plating in the floor!"
"Oh nuts," Locke muttered, "Well, let's have a look."
Using a crow-bar and a significant amount of force, the group managed to pry up the maintenance hatch, set into the metallic floor of the sky-jet.
"Oh dear," said Terra, quietly, "That's one of the Tzarnoz bombs."
"Certain?" Edgar asked.
"Positive, look, those are the magical energy inducers," her finger traced out a long section of tubing, connecting a small module to a much larger section of the bomb. "...and those, there...yes, those're the constraints, and that blinking light...means...that's it's armed..."
"I'm getting some odd readings," Jade's voice crackled over the speakers, "There's something on that ship that shouldn't be..."
"That's definitely a Tzarnoz bomb pulse," Firma snapped, just before he switched channels, "Edgar? Are you there?"
"Yes," came back Edgar's voice.
"The bomb's onboard your ship, we've just confirmed it."
Edgar sounded very much like someone attempting to contain his panic and irritation, "Yes, we know, Terra's disarming it now!"
"She's got two minutes, those bombs always detonate two minutes after arming. In a minute and thirty we're going to have to blow the ship out of the sky, to destroy the bomb, so you'd better be off the ship."
There was a silence, and then a muted "Okay," from Edgar. Firma switched back to the general address channel.
"Alright! All ships scatter! Get at least three kilometres from the base ship! Meteors, we blow the ship up in a minute thirty, unless we receive an all-clear signal."
There were a chorus of acknowledgements, and sky-jets scattered, twisting and turning in order to place themselves as far as possible from the ship. Firma moved his ship around to the engines, where he would attain the fastest lock. He then armed a heat-seeking missile, and let it prepare itself.
"Meteors, lock missiles, but do not fire until you hear my order."
Terra was working as fast as she possibly could, which, she admitted, wasn't particularly fast. The Tzarnoz bombs were complicated pieces of machinery, with many components that were tamper-resistant, and others that were downright lethal.
"Okay, I've dealt with the main outer casing, but it looks like the three bombs are interlinked. If they're going to be defused, it's going to have to be pretty much at the same time." She took out a pair of cutters, and snipped two wires, disconnecting the bombs from the timer. Although it had little effect –the bombs having begun their reactions- it served the purpose of defeating two of the booby-traps which were in place.
A minute ticked by, as Terra worked her way through to the central core of the bomb. The cockpit was singing with alarms, results of the onboard computers detecting several missile locks.
"Faster, Terra," Edgar urged, "We've got about twenty seconds left." With that, everyone dashed to grab parachutes, with Locke grabbing a second one for Terra, who was still deactivating the bomb.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose, their time was out.
Firma watched the time melt away, and as it hit zero, there was a buzz.
"Meteors," he said quietly, "Weapons free, fire!"
"Clear!" Terra shouted, having just seen all the lights die out on the bomb
The alarms from the cockpit reached a new intensity as the missiles flamed on their destructive course. Suddenly, there was a vast explosion around Terra as the missiles connected and she was aware of a burning sensation, then nothing at all.
Firma was watching carefully for parachutes, however, it appeared that the whole group had remained onboard until the end.
"Medical ships!" he snapped into his microphone, "Get over here now!"
6/4/1902 – Medical ships recover the bodies of the Returners. Doctors pronounce all alive, but in a critical condition. Injuries range from compound fractures through to third degree burns.
7/4/1902 – Admiral Firma states that the crises finished with the destruction of the final Tzarnoz bomb.
10/4/1902 – Terrorist base under Phoenix Mountain captured and brought under Figaro control. Unconditional surrender by terrorist forces, who claim to have been under mind control.
13/4/1902 – Professor Tani (PhD Esper Technologies) arrested on charges of Genocide, Terrorism, and Possession of Illegal Technology.
16/4/1902 – Deanna Chalker (aka Vigil) arrested on charges of spying, murder, sabotage, and attempted murder.
20/4/1902 – Celes Chere pronounced dead at 2:15pm. Charge upgrade from attempted murder to murder.
22/4/1902 – Terra Branford, Edgar Roni Figaro, and Sabin Rene Figaro released from medical wing. Funeral of Celes Chere postponed until recovery of Locke Cole.
Category: Emergency ‘About one hour ago, there was a
sudden increase of activity in the area of 30-50% around a large outcropping
half-way up the North-east side of Phoenix Mountain. Then, thirty-two minutes
later a large fleet of sky-jets swept from an unidentified location on the
other side of the mountain and destroyed the standing military forces with
missile and auto-cannon fire. Attacker unknown. Casualties in the region of
100%.' Two Days Ago Half an hour ago "Yes
‘About one hour ago, there was a
sudden increase of activity in the area of 30-50% around a large outcropping
half-way up the North-east side of Phoenix Mountain. Then, thirty-two minutes
later a large fleet of sky-jets swept from an unidentified location on the
other side of the mountain and destroyed the standing military forces with
missile and auto-cannon fire. Attacker unknown. Casualties in the region of
100%.' Two Days Ago Half an hour ago "Yes