By Karen Lavigne
Darkness. Flashes of light. Iām sinking. Someone save me! Zack!
"Stupid kid, shouldnāt have messed with us." A dry laugh.
"Wouldnāt have mattered anyway. Our orders were to kill, no matter what happens."
"I know. Professor Hojo canāt use contaminated specimens. But what about that other one?"
"Letās leave Īim. Doesnāt look like heāll be waking up anyway. God, look at his eyes! I wonder why an escort guard would get Mako?"
Please. Iām all alone. Help me! Sephiroth is here. He wonāt answer. Wonāt anyone pull me back? The pulsing is everywhere. The cries of the Planet...ringing in my ears. The Lifestream and the Cetra...at this moment reunited. Reunion. What does this mean?
"I dunno, but the Professor mentioned that the blond one had severe Mako poisoning, but who knows why."
"Who cares? I bet if we hurry then we can catch the matinee of ĪLovelessā."
"Yeah! Iām in! Letās not change our clothes. I bet the theater will give a discount to soldiers of the Shin-Ra."
The voices fade off. Who are they? The Shin-Ra? Iām Shin-Ra too! Come back! Please! Pull me back!
Cloud lay motionless on the grassy turf. A light drizzle misted his blond hair and dripped into his eyes which were focused on a patch of dark mud in front of him. Anyone who had been watching the scene would have believed him to be mesmerized with the small pink worm wriggling out of the surface. His eyes didnāt blink and he hardly seemed to breath. After a few minutes his eyes drifted over to his friend, Zack, lying on the ground near him.
"When are you going to wake up, Zack? We have to go to Midgar to become mercenaries, just like you said." Cloud nudged Zackās leg with the toe of his black boot. Zack didnāt move. "Weāre going to earn a living fighting, then weāre going to make it rich. I know Iām not that good yet, Zack, but I think that I can get better if you help me out some more." Cloud now stared at the several bullet holes in Zackās uniform and the red, moistened earth around his head. "Boy does my head feel funny. My eyes feel all weird too...like Iām staring through green glasses." Zackās spiky black hair was matted on his forehead and his purple SOLDIER uniform was sodden with earth.
"Why arenāt you waking up?" Cloud asked the corpse, still in shock. He had barely been conscious when the Shin-Ra troops had over-taken them after days of hunting them down. Zack had been carrying Cloud most of the way, but then left him on the ground while he attempted to fight off the heavily armed soldiers. The soldiers shot Zack several times in the chest and head for resisting to be taken back to the labs at the Shin-Ra Mansion. Cloud didnāt know why he was alive. All he remembered were nearby voices and the smell of cigarettes and gunpowder.
Cloud looked now from the bullet holes to Zackās large Buster Sword lying discarded near by. Cloud crawled over and picked it up, surprised by the lightness of it. Ever since he had joined the Shin-Ra army, he had always wanted to be in SOLDIER and have a sword like Zack. He thought swords were much more honorable then the guns the Shin-Ra soldiers were forced to lug around.
Disjointed thoughts continued to flash through Cloudās head; Mako reactor, Sephiroth, Jenova, Cetra, mansion, SOLDIER, Nibelheim, fire, Tifa.
Cloud remembered how ashamed he had been when he had to travel to Nibelheim, his hometown, in his lowly Shin-Ra guard uniform. He had written home telling everyone that he had made it into SOLDIER, First Class. He had been too embarrassed to take off his helmet the entire time he was in Nibelheim lest Tifa see him. He figured that she would now travel to Midgar to look for him since her home and family were gone.
Without paying attention to what he was doing Cloud quickly stripped Zackās corpse of his uniform and dressed Zack in the uniform Cloud had. The acidic rain burned the slash wound on Cloudās stomach. It had been healing nicely, but the recent hunt had re-opened the laceration. Cloud realized he was having a hard time remembering where the cut had come from. Cloud dressed himself and sheathed the sword behind his back. He looked down and saw what he had been wishing to see for the past three years; the violet blue turtle neck shirt, the brown belt with the silver SOLDIER logo, the violet blue army pants tucked into the tops of brown combat boots. The more Cloud thought about it, the more convinced he became that he should be wearing this uniform. After all, he had just as much dedication and promise as Zack, they were the same age, and they had even come from neighboring hometowns.
Cloud stood up tall and said quietly to himself, "I am Cloud Strife of Nibelheim, SOLDIER, First Class." However, something sounded wrong with it. He couldnāt go around saying that he was in SOLDIER since he and Zack had fled from the Shin-Ra.
Cloud adjusted his stance a bit and said, more cockily, "I am Cloud Strife of Nibelheim, ex-member of SOLDIER, First Class." That sounded a bit better to him. He repeated that phrase over and over until he began to be convinced that he was an ex-SOLDIER. He had been the one to travel with Sephiroth to Nibelheim to fix the Mako Reactor. He had been the one to challenge Sephiroth in the Jenova chamber and live. Or had he really done that? Cloud couldnāt remember anymore. The Mako that was coursing through his veins was giving him a headache and a sharp ringing echoed in his ears.
Some where inside of his head a strangely familiar voice whispered, "The Promised Land...Reunion..."
What was the Promised Land?
"I will never leave you. I am always a part of you. In the end we will be rejoined. Mother has foreseen it."
Cloud shook his head and rubbed his forehead. What was he supposed to be doing? Oh yeah, he was going to be a mercenary. His skills from SOLDIER should help him land a job easily. Maybe he could even run into Tifa somewhere and boast about his accomplishments. He had saved her life and all.
Cloud gave one last glance at Zack and his old uniform. Poor kid. Maybe he could have stood up to the attack if he had been in SOLDIER. Those guards just didnāt receive enough training these days. Then shaking his head he walked down the hill, still wet from the rain, and towards the gate to Midgarās Sector 7 slums.