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by Justin Bielawa
(This is my take on a story about Cid's past. Like it or
don't care but you can e-mail me with your suggestions/ criticism.
A warning to readers: I didn't use any of those stupid "blots" for
swearing (ex: @$$&!#ing fool), so everything is true to form.)
(This is my take on a story about Cid's past. Like it or
don't care but you can e-mail me with your suggestions/ criticism.
A warning to readers: I didn't use any of those stupid "blots" for
swearing (ex: @$$&!#ing fool), so everything is true to form.)
The man stumbled backwards, both hands gripping his nose as blood squeezed through the cracks in his fingers. He moaned in pain, and his eyes were bright and shining, almost overflowing.
Not wanting to take too many chances, Cid took two wide strides and locked his fingers into the man's loose hair, hauled back, and shoved the man's head forward and through the plate glass table. It shattered with a loud crash and an almost gleeful explosion of light and shards of table. Cid would've laughed but he was getting old and he couldn't afford the extra effort, especially after years of smoking.
The man's nose mashed into the floor and was completely flat against his face. Blood stained the rug of the bar.
"Next time you get in an argument," Cid commented, wiping his sleeve across his mouth, "back it up."
The room was quiet and aloof as the pilot took his seat with a thud and returned to his drink. He looked deeply into the bottom of his beverage, the ripples in his drink bouncing off the sides of the glass. He rolled the glass between his fingers idly before flipping back what was left and slamming the tumbler down hard. The thick pane on the bottom echoed from the booth to the rest of the room.
It had been only a minute or so and just a few people had stopped staring.
Let 'em stare, Cid thought through the intoxication sloshing through his brain, give 'em a good dose 'a my fist if any of 'em get any closer.
He coughed into his fist before taking his cigarette pack off of his flight goggles that were pushed up onto his forehead. He smacked his wrists together to release one of the rolled tobacco from it's sheath. He lit the end cautiously and sat back in the booth.
Disgusting habit, he thought to himself, but that's what 'a habit is, ain't it?
He took a long drag and the tip glowed bright red, the smoke escaping through his nose like a spiraled snake. He choked back the cough taunting it's way up his throat and removed his cancer stick between his middle and forefinger. Despite the drawbacks, it was the one thing that could calm him, especially after years of being a pilot.
He sniffed in the grey smoke and closed his eyes. The smell took him back to his years when he was younger, less husky and smoke-free. Back to when he still had the drive to go into space; to fly into the stars and...
No, that was another time and he had been another person. More impetuous, more living-on-the-fringe type of existence. Back then, he felt the world only grew as old as he was, as old as would be. It was new when he was young, it was full of possibilities.
He took another long drag and let the answer sit with him. He didn't want to consider what had been so long ago. He held the smoke in his mouth before stabbing the cigarette out onto the table, ashes still hot and rolling across the laminated top.
Disgusting habit, he thought again.
"Ugh," he said from somewhere in his throat, involuntarily. He rubbed his jaw and felt the uneven stubble that ran across his chin. He was indeed getting venerable, though he looked worse, felt worse, than his age allowed. The cigarettes enforced that occurrence.
He looked out of the booth and saw how much younger everyone else was. They seemed to be in their teens, their mid-twenties. He, Cid, was only thirty-two but he had the health of an averaged forty-nine year old. All the action he'd seen, all the women he'd used, all the packs of smokes he'd emptied, it all ended up collecting around the eyes and waist. More along the eyes in his case, his midsection was still relatively flat and strong. Question was, how long would that take to degrade just like the rest of him?
He swore to himself, very hoarsely.
He looked into the emptied glass again and sniffed. Was his life just as empty? He thought about that for a minute and grinned. Nah, his life would end in a rush of adrenaline, just like he would've planned. Nothing like that could be empty.
The wolfish smirk disappeared as Tifa entered the bar. Her figure, almost unnaturally shapely, shadowed the outside light. She took barely a shuffle of two steps before the catcalls from the rest of the bar began. She gave an angry sneer at the patrons before her eyes fell on Cid, lonely at his booth.
He leered at the crowd of men sitting around the bar and spat angrily at their backs, "Shut your mouths, ya idiots."
Two of the customers turned and looked him square in the eye. Cid grinned and flipped them his impression of a bird as Tifa took the seat across from the pilot.
He waved to the bartender, then took notice to the woman, "What's a girl like you doing in this dump?"
She flipped a stray lock of raven hair out of her eyes, "Should I be asking the same of you?"
"Nah," he brushed his empty mug aside with the back of his hand, "I go to a lot of these pilot bars. Just be surprised that the people in this room aren't trying to jump your leg like an unfixed dog." He gave the people at the bar again a glare. They seemed to notice, "Whatta ya want coming here for?"
She shrugged, "Everyone else is sleeping right now."
Cid nodded to the scantly clad waitress as she thumped a pair of icy mugs down in front of them. He got to his wallet and plunked down some folding money. The woman-girl took the money and walked off with her tray underarm.
Cid cocked an eyebrow, "Everyone?"
She nodded and pulled one of the mugs toward her, "Pretty much. 'Cept Red but that's because he's talking with the Highwind's crew."
Cid nodded and sipped the mug. What ever it was he just ingested, it was bitter, "Heh. Dogboy's big on aesthetics, huh?"
Tifa gave the loony smirk she was known for, "Big word from you."
He chuckled softly, "Hey, I get around. I know what it means," he pointed a thumb at his chest, "I saw Loveless after all."
She laughed into her blouse, sure that it was probably the only piece of theater he had seen that wasn't suspicious, "Any other plays?"
Cid tapped his chin in thought, "Nah. Not really."
She sighed and Cid found himself unable to pull his eyes away from her bust. He coughed into his fist, more for his own dignity, and looked away.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked.
Leaning against the booth, he put his arm up onto the top, "Eh, old stuff, ya know? Back when I was a kid and stuff."
She nodded, "I wonder what you were like."
He snorted, "Nothing like this. I was a lot thinner, a lot younger..." she noticed his eyes dulled by degrees as he sighed, "A lot younger. Kindda like Cloud...in some ways." He scratched himself below the table, "Back when I was like him, I had someone too. I had my own girl I lost..."
"Like Aerith?" Tifa asked.
He inhaled deeply, "Yeah, if you really want to compare it to that. Yeah, I guess..." He drank from the glass and waited for her response.
Her response was swift enough, "Tell me..." she locked her eyes with him, "about her." she finished.
He sighed, opened his mouth, paused, and started...
He took a step back, admired it and looked to Andrew, "Nice wings, man. Where'd you get 'em?"
"Shin-Ra dumped 'er in Midgar's garbage heap. I pulled her out and gave her the overhaul extraordinare." Andrew lit his cigarette and sighed between the burning pipe.
"Sheeee-it, man. They got so much paraphernalia that they toss away good stuff like this? Jeez, that goes ta show ya you appreciate stuff when you have less of it."
Andrew nodded and inhaled.
"What are ya gonna name her?" Cid asked.
Cid paused, looking back on the ship. He checked his watch, thinking, "Well, I gotta head out. The boss needs me back in tomorrow."
Andrew nodded, still silent. Not his nature.
Cid lowered his flight goggles over his eyes and squinted as wind and gale force from the open-air cockpit forced it's way through the cracks. It ruffled his eyebrows and the strands of hair that were caught underneath them.
"Yeeeeeeeeee-haaaaaaaaa!" Cid rolled the fighter and pulled skyward, the gee's collecting around him. This was the thrill of flying, the rush of adrenaline. It was what he lived for.
He jammed the flight stick down and victory rolled down to the landing strip. Lowering the wheels before he hit the ground, he lifted up on the stick before dropping the fighter down on all fours, the weight making the wheels bounce and groan.
The propeller winded down and Cid flipped his scarf over and under, turning it into more of a tie. He smiled and hopped out of the plane, still moving a few meters, as the repair crew took her by her landing struts and rolled her into the repair pit.
Cid flicked a look at his watch, "That's all the flight time I need to log on for the rest of the month, boss. You happy?"
Toups set his jaw and squinted, "Yes, you can leave. Keep in flight ordinance though; just in case..."
Cid walked past his manager, waving his hand absently without turning, "Yeah, yeah. I know, `just in case of a fight'."
Toups gave a cruel look to the pilot's back, "You never know, Pilot Highwind! You never know when a fight will happen; you never know when you will be needed and you will be hiding in a ditch, away from your precious plane! Never forget that, comrade Cid! Don't ever forget!"
Cid waved his hand again, even more faraway.
The flight strip had another six fighters lift-off, trailing smoke and plume. The initial exhaust dispersed once the aircraft were far enough off the ground. Cid looked at the gradually shrinking ships and wondered if Andrew was logging his flight time up there.
He looked ahead, focusing on the pilot's bar called The Dive. It was a place just like it's name described: debilitated, dirty and sad-looking. It had been patched up several times in years past and it had been re-painted with a lamination glue of some type. The dirt soaked patches placed over the weary building were stuck together and gave it a cool, black tint. Some pilot's had nicknamed it "The Black Box", after the indestructible flight recorder. Some people joked that if the airstrip was ever bombed at night, it would be the only place left standing.
Some people practically lived in the building.
Cid sighed and lifted the iron switch lock that kept the door from swinging open from the wind. The inside reeked of old odors of cheap booze, cheap furniture and cheaper women.
Cid stepped up to the long bar up against the far wall and took a seat next to a patron that had literally passed out in his drink, the mug spilling onto the floor. The janitor had left his mop and bucket there.
"Never knows when he has enough," Debbie said with a toothy grin. She was the only one in the bar that wasn't cheap or tawdry or surely. She was clean, smelled spicy and had done her shoulder- length hair into dreadlocks. Her voice carried the accent of someone from a far away home. Her complexion was as dark as they could get. For a human, at least.
Cid pulled one of his bills out from the side of his flight goggles and slapped it onto the table with an open palm, "Hit me, Debb."
She grinned and turned to the tap with an empty mug, "Regular or Super?"
Cid tapped his chin, "Gimmee a super."
Debbie walked over to the left wall and pulled a frosty-glass mug off one of the poles. It had gold plates embroidered onto it's face and a pair of medals hanging off the side.
All the pilots that were stationed at this base started off with a mug with their name stenciled on it in permanent marker. As you got a better ranking, your mug became more flamboyant. Usually, the mugs never got too flashy because the new pilots would do something stupid and get themselves killed; then the mug would be hanged in the basement, like a white mark on a giant scorecard. Considering there was close to a hundred pilots stationed at this base alone, Cid's was one of the best looking.
His had his two best medals, The Shattered Star of Marksmanship and the Midgar Cross. He had gotten the second of the two from President Shinra himself, as it was one of the highest honors in the entire world. In fact, it ensured his future in the Shinra, as a test pilot or a R&D engineer...
Or, if Cid kept pushing for it, a space pilot. That's where he felt his real calling was.
Debbie slammed the frothy mug onto the table and began wiping the counter down, "How'd you do on your flight time score?"
Cid shrugged, "Didn't check. Just felt like crashing in here; that's all. You know how it is: post-flight slump."
She nodded lethargicly and kept wiping, "Ya know, Kylie was looking for you today?"
He looked up from the beer, "Huh?"
"Kylie; she was looking for you."
He squeezed his index finger and thumb between his eyes, "What else is new?"
She mimicked his shrug and folded up her towel, moving down to the other end of the table. She smiled at another patron and struck up a conversation with someone else.
Cid sighed and swallowed the drink. It was bitter and settled in his stomach like a handful of tiny lead balls. The liquor quickly made him forget about the smells around him. He'd have to figure a way around this...depression every time he got out of the cockpit.
Jai, one of the other pilots stationed at the base, came up from behind and placed an arm around Cid; his breath stanched of liquor and other unidentifiable liquids, "Hey, Cid, you wanna go haze the newbes that just got in?"
Cid looked at him from the corner of his eye and winced slightly. Jai was as old as he was and the two of them had only been on base for three years. They were still green pilots to the twenty year veterans, "Nah, not right now..." He shrugged the man's arm off his back and leaned both elbows onto the bar.
The man collected his words and tried to make his mouth more comprehendible, "You sure, Cid? We, that's me and Headson and Bully, were just gonna hang that new kid Hyman off the rafters in the loading hanger."
Cid tilted his neck to the side and popped the muscles in his neck to help the relaxation, "No thanks. I gotta go see Kylie in a few minutes..."
Jai slapped his hand on Cid's right shoulder and turned around to his party, shouting, "Hear that? Cid's bitch's got 'em on a leash!"
The laughter in the room ceased as the pilot spun and grabbed Jai's wrist, twisting it, "Watch who you're mouthing your stuff to, man. I'm not in the mood." His voice was low and compromising.
Jai pulled his hand out of Cid's clutch and rubbed his wrist, "Shit, man; take it easy. I was just fool'n around; just the hootch talk'n, that's all." Jai flexed his fingers, "'Sides I know what Kylie's like; afterall, I had her last night..."
Jai's eyes wrinkled as he laughed out loud, a slight pause coming from his merry band of drunks from the other end of the bar. Jai was laughing it up so much he had to brace himself on his knees, cackling like a madman.
Cid, not wanting a fight in Debbie's bar, stood tactfully and moved for the door. He didn't give a word or a gesture to tee Jai off, he just left.
Jai thought otherwise, "Where you go'n, pilot-ass? I thought you'd wanna watch me knock up yur--"
Cid gave a fleeting glance to the mop the janitor had left behind and he made a grab for it, looping his hand around the wood shaft handle and using the soggy, gray end for the point. He reared back his left arm and brought his front foot forward, sticking the wet mop into Jai's gut with a force well enough to send the air out of his lungs. Jai gasped as the cold end of the weapon made contact and he lurched back, gripping his midsection.
Cid, in a plight of temper, swung the sodden makeshift Cat O'Nine tales down onto the other man's head and pushed with his full weight to the floor. Jai's head hit the ground harder than expected and the sloshy sounds came as Cid twisted the mop to and fro, gyrating the man's head into the knotty pine flooring.
Feeling the rush of adrenaline leave him, Cid dropped the mop and took two steps away from the body. He looked at what he'd done; not proud but not ashamed either. He'd get hell for this if Toups got wind of it but chances were that the old pilot's creed would deny this ever happened.
The still-standing pilot hunkered down to the slack body and pulled the toothpick Jai had carried on his bandanna for so many years. He stuck it between his teeth and pushed his way out of the bar's doorway.
Kylie was waiting in Cid's private barracks for nearly an hour before he pushed his way through the door, anger glowing in his eyes. She had done herself all up this afternoon; putting her hair up in a bun and wearing a slightly more stylish garment under her bleached lab coat. Cid, on the other hand, had a toothpick jutting out of his mouth like the tongue of some great reptile and was still dressed in his flight uniform.
"What's wrong with you?" she asked.
He mumbled something as he passed her. He flicked his tongue and switched the side the toothpick was on.
"Jeez, thanks for the hello." she perched her self on his disorderly bed, among the assortment of magazines, work papers and a used officer's uniform.
He stormed to his closet and flipped through some of his things, mumbling to himself still.
She placed her hands together and slid them between her knees, as if she was cold. She waited for him to settle down but he didn't after a few minutes. He was still shifting through his closet.
"Hey, I said what's wrong?" she asked again.
He gritted his teeth to keep the toothpick in, "Nothing's wrong; what makes you think something's wrong? There's nothing wrong."
She stood, her hair done so high and tight she thought it might give her whiplash each time she moved her head, "I've seen you like this before. You've either gotten off a really bad flight test or you just..." she let the words hang in the air. She folded her eyebrows upward, concerned, "Who was it this time?"
Cid had had this conversation with her before and he knew there was no way around the truth, "Jai."
"Jesus, Cid, Jai's one of our closest friends at the Operations building! You had better hope he doesn't knock on Toups's door and get your wings grounded."
Cid pulled a flight uniform out of his closet and threw it onto the bunk, "He won't. I'll just..."
"You'll just what, Cid?" she stood, folding her hands into fists and propping them up against her hips, "Knock his block off again? How many people have you fought since you got here? I'm beginning to think the only person you haven't hit is me and Toups."
Cid shook his head; apparently word hadn't spread about the time he caught the fat man in the stomach with a right hook to the gut and the base commander went down the hill like a ball. Now wasn't the time to discuss this with her though...
"I mean, if Jai deserved it, then he had it coming," she walked over slowly, pleasantly to Cid's eye and straightened his collar, "but when you go around kicking everyone up Cid, your gonna feel awfully alone in the end."
He gave her a quick look in the eye, "I got you don't I?"
Her forehead wrinkled in half-pity, "Of course you do, but everyone needs more than one person in their life..." she looked down, away from the eye contact, "Listen, you weren't this way a few months ago. Is it something else? Your flying tests are well within range of staying in the Shin-Ra corps..." She paused, "Is it me?"
"No, the last thing in the world would be you, kid," he undid the top of his uniform, the button hanging open, "I guess it could be the tests. They do 'em every two weeks and I guess they might be starting to wear me down..." he scratched the back of his head, "Yeah, well, maybe your right about the fighting thing..."
She smiled, laser-green eyes blasting through the frame of red hair, "Of course I'm right; aren't I always?"
He gritted his teeth, "Yeah, yeah; I guess." He sniffed, pinching his nose a few times, "I'm gonna go up..."
She gave him that worried look again, "Tonight?"
"Yeah; I need to stretch my legs. You wanna?" He pointed his thumb at the door.
She shook her head quickly, "No. You know I get airsick. Never."
He shrugged, grinning ear to ear, "Have it your way."
Cid pulled back on the stick and felt the wind in his hair, "This is Cid. Control, I'm gonna mark up for some extra points with Toups. I'll need some space; whatta ya got?"
He waited for the response and lowered his flight goggles over his eyes. The wind tonight was enormous, ripping at his jacket like a knife.
Control read off a confirmation and coordinates for his air space. Cid considered the size of the coordinates, then thought about how little traffic there would be. He sighed in contentment; it would be a good night.
He jammed the flight stick around and jinked around some birds that fluttered near-by. They sqwaked and glided away, wings fluttering like bats.
If this is what he lived for, imagine what space would be like.
Cid squinted and raised his hand to cover his eyes. There was something out there; a handful of dots, tiny but there. Probably birds or bats or animals. But maybe not. He'd been in the air for almost two hours and the sky was just starting to go into real darkness from afternoon sun.
Cid fumbled for his two-way radio, keeping his eye on the specks off in the distance, "Control? You copy?"
"We're here Cid. What's you're damage?"
He had to raise his voice over the wind, "I've got an unidentified bogey sighting at five-five-six-nine-four mark two- one-seven. You got anyone in that space on radar?"
Control didn't speak for a minute, the sound of papers shuffling was the only thing over the speakers.
Toups's accent came on the receiver within a few moments, "Cid?"
"Here, boss. You get my asking?"
"Yes. Control contacted ShinRa CIC and they say it is a flight moving covertly through our air space without warning. You must immediately disengage and land on air strip division nine. Will you comply?"
Cid squinted, judging the distance.
"Will you comply, Comrade Highwind?"
Cid clicked the communicator button, "Yeah. I'll be down in ten minutes."
Toups sighed from the other line, "Thank you, Cid. You have saved this man's career. I will owe you a scotch at the bar, friend."
Cid brought the plane down without effort, skinning a thin slice of rubber tire across the runway. He flipped up his flight glasses and rubbed his eyes, fatigue looming it's head. He wasn't sure if what he was seeing was real or not.
Standing at the hanger bay door was eight ShinRa soldiers and the President of the whole ShinRa government himself in the middle.
The toothpick fell out of his mouth, eyes wide and shocked, "Oh shit."
The red-suited older and portly man approached, leaving his body guards behind. He carried the air around him of a person that could make or break a career with little more than a few words besides the fact he was the commander-in-chief.
"Cid Highwind?" he asked, augustly.
Cid pulled the brake and boosted himself out of the cockpit, falling the eight feet to the ground. He hit the asphalt with a thud, recoiled and snapped to attention like a toy doll, "Sir?"
"You were the one who spotted a convoy sixty miles off of this base?" The man had a disarming grin.
Cid fumbled for the right words, "Aye, sir. I saw them."
President ShinRa nodded slowly, "Very good, pilot." He rubbed his chin with the back of his hand, "In exchange for your silence, I'll grant you one," he raised his finger, "and only one wish, if possible." He wrapped his hands around his back, "What will it be?"
Cid, tautly, quickly stated the obvious, "The Space Program."
ShinRa nodded, frowning in approval, "Consider it done." he raised his hand to the man's higher stature, "Done deal, pilot?"
Cid took the hand and shook it eagerly.
The president turned and looked to his bodyguards, signaling them to leave with him.
Cid beamed all the way to the public barracks.
Jai was still nursing the day-glow bruise and the split nose Cid had handed to him in the bar when Cid, newly dubbed Commander Highwind, strolled in without a care in the world.
"What the hell do you want?" Jai asked, except it came out as "Ghat gah hell bo knew want?"
Cid stopped and looked at the man's beet-red nose, "Just to spread the good word around," he paused, trying futilely to suppress his smile, "I got into the Space Program."
Everyone in the room moaned at once; feeling their chances of joining the same program sink into the ground like so much water on a hot day. The program had a one person per base ratio.
Cid kept beaming, smiling proudly, "I'm gett'n shipped out next week. Anyone got anything to say?"
Bully, one of Jai's confidants, looked up from his magazine, "You made the cut as a pilot and as an officiator and made the rank of Captain?"
"The Captain thing is pending a ship. Until then, I'm a commander."
Jai sneered and dabbed his nose with the handkerchief.
Cid looked at his watch right as Bully went back to his magazine, "You know, Cid, that your equal rank with 'ol Toups."
Cid shrugged, "Yeah, but I ain't got nothing against the old goat. He's alright as long as you talk to him straight."
"Or knock him down a hill," Jai mumbled through his nose.
Kylie wrapped her hands around his head, "Oh my God, Cid, how did this happen?"
"The President told me to keep my mouth shut about some covert airplanes, so he let me into the Space Program and gave me the rank of Commander. How's about that?"
She pulled in closer to him, flattening her cheek against his upper chest, "You know what this means?"
Cid put his hands on her shoulders, looking ahead, "Uh, not really. Why?"
"You're gonna move to wherever and I'm going to be stuck in this little dump of a complex. You're going off to be the first man in space and get rich and old and happy with a woman on your arm; and me? I'm just going to rot out my own life as an old maid..."
He chuckled from his gut, softly, "That's not the way it's going happen; I'll ask for your transfer, that's all. Toups will just file the paperwork and then you'll be transferred next month. Hell, I don't even know where I'm going yet."
She sighed, glasses sliding off her nose slightly, "Damn it, Cid. I don't want to lose you..."
Now it was his turn to sigh, "You won't; you know better than to worry. I'm el gato; I always land on my feet."
Toups crossed his arms and stood up from his chair, all in one motion, "I cannot allow Control Comm Officer Kylie to leave this station for any way, state or fashion. It will not be allowed."
Cid pointed a finger, "Why you so hard on getting her to stay, boss? You got something on her file, her record that's keep'n her from a transfer?"
Toups kept his eyes level, "I cannot speak of her file records, pilot Highwind. Please, do not make me call up security and put another scratch on your record."
Cid bit his upper lip and rubbed his temple with his left hand fingers, "I just wanna get her a transfer. You want to get her a replacement first? Fine; do whatever it takes. I just want to get her to my new station eventually," he paused, "this year sometime, maybe."
Toups coughed into his chest, "I am very sorry, pilot Highwind. I cannot allow this; it is above my ranking permits."
Cid arched his eyebrows. The top brass must've come down on Toups to override a basic procedure like a transfer. If the fact that Toups was overruled was creepy, the fact that it seemed just to apply to Kylie was far stranger.
Cid nodded his head slowly, thinking. He raised his head after a moment, getting the other man's eye contact, "Who can I talk to for her relocation?"
President ShinRa smiled pseudo-warmly and put out his hand as Cid approached the warming up executive plane's ramp, "Ah, Highwind, is it?"
Cid took the man's hand out of reflex and spoke very bluntly, "I need something else put on that Space contract for me."
ShinRa pulled at his coat folds and smiled, "Anything like that can be handled through my secretary. I must get going, Commander, this stopover to this airstrip was last moment, as you might suspect and I'm behind on schedule as it is..."
Cid balanced himself on his knee, leaning on it, "I want your personal promise on it..."
The president scanned the man's eyes, "What would this change be?"
"I want Comm officer Kylie to be shipped out with me."
Shinra shrugged, "I'll look into it, that's all I can really promise. I'll have Palmer dig up the reports on her and see if it's alright..."
Cid pointed a finger in the man's face, "Alright? Why was it alright for me but not her? Are you so desperate to hide this covert plane shipment you'd be willing to give me anything? Is that it?"
Shinra rolled his eyes, "I can't say what was on that convoy, Commander, you know that. And if I were you, I'd notice that there's a boundary you're overstepping. It's called rank."
"You get me her transfer or I'll blow this convoy thing open? What were you hoarding? Weapons? Personnel? Mako technology? What was so important, you had to hide it from a military base during the night and put up some damned sensor masking..." Cid blanched, "Sensor jamming equipment. That's what you were moving..."
The president waved him off, "A theory based on speculation, Mr. Highwind. I will look into this Kylie's reports but Palmer may not be able to move her..."
Cid took a step away, "Alright, fine. Do that. Just do what it takes, cut my pay if you have to; just get her out to wherever I'm ending up..."
Shinra turned and closed the door, the plane humming to completion. Cid took a few more steps back, waiting for the heavily armored plane start to turn for the runway.
Inside, Shinra turned to his active secretary and nodded to her, "Destroy the base."
The aide nodded and turned her CB frequency to the correct channel, giving the orders of the most powerful man in the world.
Cid coughed and choked on the cigarette, turning olive green and holding his throat. He could barely compose the spasms of coughs running up his throat.
Andrew smiled at his friend, "Can't take it, Cid? Takes some time..." He handed the rest of the pack over to his friend, "They'll help you on your post-flight letdowns."
Cid coughed and took the rest of the pack, nodding, "Always wondered why you smoked..."
Cid sucked on the paper pipe, while Andrew rubbed his mouth with a red-white checkered handkerchief, "I heard that you made it to Palmer's Space-case Program. Lucky you."
Cid laughed, "Yeah, well, it's my dream, ya know?"
Andrew squinted off into the distance and Cid looked at the back of his head. Nobody said anything for a long while.
"What's with you, man?"
Andrew half-turned, "What?"
"You're so quiet recently. What's with that? You're normally a lot more vocal. Something wrong?"
Andrew shrugged, "Nah, just...thinking."
"Anything in particular?"
"This whole place; this base, the people. Nothing great, really." he paused, stuffing his handkerchief into his pocket, "I heard that Shin-Ra's sending an airship over today or tomorrow."
"The Enigma will be landing here in three hours. I've pulled agenda duty for her."
"What's she doing here?"
Andrew shrugged, "More secrecy. I was just told to pull their itinerary and roster. Real boring stuff."
Cid coughed again, then sniffed before looking up to the sky, "I think I see her."
Andrew looked at Cid, "What?"
The other pilot pointed and gestured to a point of space in the sky, "That her?"
Andrew pulled his GI binoculars off his belt and focused on the expanse, "I...think you're right." he adjusted the goggles again, "She's early. Go call Toups."
Andrew waited for Cid to leave before rolling the focus ring on his binoculars and concentrating on the airship. Flashes of light surrounded the on-coming capital ship and tiny vessels swarmed around it like buzzards to a dying body.
Enigma was under attack.
Cid huffed his way into the operations building, cursing himself for leaving his comm unit in his room and for smoking that cigarette, "Toups! Hey, Toups!"
The room of traffic controllers looked up at Cid, who ignored them and moved to the burley commander, "You gotta minute?"
Toups turned around and blinked. His eyes were round and inflamed and he hadn't shaved that morning; he looked like crap, "Problem, Highwind?"
"The Enigma is early; she's coming up on runway two. She'll touchdown in about forty minutes or so."
Toups clenched his teeth, "I was afraid of this; we are not prepared." He motioned to the switchboard, "Tell the base to go to Green Level and prepare the crews for a shakedown." Toups turned back to Cid, "Who saw her coming?"
"Andrew Heartman," Cid scanned Toups's eyes. There was something in the older man's voice that had a twang of dread or apprehension, "There something wrong?"
Toups hesitated, "No; not at all."
The comm officer on duty spun around in her seat and pushed her headphone deeper into her ear, "Commander, I'm getting a report of a raider convoy attacking Enigma!"
The air in the room grew dense, almost electric. Toups took a wide stride to the sensor board and punched in a group of commands. He vocalized his distaste.
"Why aren't they communicating?" Cid said .
"Someone's jamming their comm units," the comm officer said tensely.
"How bad is it?" one of the other Control officers asked.
"Almost a wing's worth; about eighty fighters, all long range with bombing capacity. Those fighters will be able to rip our base apart if we are not careful," Toups turned around to Cid, "Magnum launch! I want all pilots up immediately! Cid, come with me!"
Cid squinted an eye. Apparently, Toups had something else planned, "Where do ya want me?"
"Go down to Hanger three and wait for me there!" Toups leaned over the side of the sensor control panel and produced a pair of sidearms with velcro patches on the side. Toups slapped one against his chest and handed the other over to Cid.
Andrew checked his trajectory and adjusted his headset, "This is Andrew-one-four-five; callsign: ThunderLord calling Snipe group to form up on me by the numbers. Rollcall..."
The eight men assigned to him took position around Andrew and called off their designations.
"Okay, boys, we're doing this one by the book. Stand-by..." Andrew played with his comm control units, "This is ThunderLord to Unidentified Raiders, you are ordered to vacate immediately or face termination!"
There was a very brief silence, then, a voice crackled over Andrew's comm, "The black dog runs at night."
Andrew swore quietly before asking for a repeat from the other pilot. The raider repeated the command line, firmer this time.
"Snipe squad," Andrew slapped his palm against his bulkplate, "I've just received word that the Raider force is Shin-Ra and the Enigma has been boarded by a terrorist faction. Do not open fire!"
Andrew watched as his group raced forward to the battle scene.
Cid lit a cigarette out of anxiety and inhaled. The smoke didn't effect him as much this time and he coughed only once. It helped calm him after what Toups had said.
"This is the only way, Cid," Toups ran his hands over the controls.
"I did not say otherwise, did I?"
Cid pulled back on the co-pilot stick in front of him and helped wrestle the troop transport up into the sky.
"ThunderLord, this is Raider Control. You are allowed to take position up on our six."
Andrew clicked his comm twice, signaling that he understood.
Five of the Raider fighters broke off and shot off a volley of missiles and bullets at the oncoming Snipe group. The shots went around Andrew and popped each other fighter in the group like a balloon. The other eight fighters went down, spinning and on fire.
Andrew slowly turned around and took position on the Raider's wing, "Um, how's it going Raider Control?"
"We had a few problems. Some outside ShinRa planes just tried to shoot us down. We lost one of ours be got the damned bastards. We need to give Enigma enough time to land."
"You carrying Marines?"
"Better. Impact-based thermonuclear warhead."
Andrew hissed loudly, his eyes widening.
Cid stabbed at the autopilot button with his thumb and adjusted the firearm Toups had given him. He got out of his seat and turned to the empty cargo bay.
Toups was standing at the entry door, pulling a kevlar vest over his ample torso. He grunted and pulled the straps around his midsection, fastening it solidly.
"Ready to go, boss?" Cid asked, sliding his own vest on.
"On the go, Cid, that is my motto."
Cid snapped a line fastener to the ceiling and ran the cord between the pair of them.
Toups slapped the door handle down and the door swung open into the atmosphere, the air being sucked out with them. The loud crackling in the air was hard on the ears and the two of them had to squint.
They'd reach the Enigma in two minutes.
The troop transport came from nowhere; it was as if the clouds had produced the several tons worth of metal from nothing. Andrew pulled out of formation and turned his afterburners over, rocketing him to the oncoming ship.
Cid saw the fighter first, "Oh, shit!" he turned his head and spat the cigarette out into the wind.
"Let us go, Cid Highwind! Give me the grapple gun!"
Cid handed it over and Toups took a few seconds to aim, then let the high powered hook launch out and barely cling to the side of the Enigma.
"GO!" Cid screamed, removing his firearm and aiming it at the oncoming fighter. Toups didn't waste any more time and dropped out of the troop transport, half swinging, half grappling to the airship.
Cid took steady aim at the fighter and let a few rounds fly before jumping out of the cargo plane himself as the oncoming bomber plane opened fire.
Andrew was very sorry he had to open fire on who he thought was Cid and Toups but he was given orders. He released his full barrage of artillery and pelted the transport slowly. It was hard to see, as Cid's(?) gun fire had cracked his windshield but Andrew made out a second figure swing out of the cargo transport right as it went up. It exploded as if it was made out of black powder and paper, hurling shrapnel every which way.
Cid slammed onto the Enigma at full force from the exploding transport they had left behind. The only thing keeping Cid from falling was the line Toups had attached to the airship; the other end dangled a hundred feet away, the tail end on fire. He wrapped the line around his fists a few more times.
Cid coughed hoarsely and shook his head before he could even open his eyes. His vision was blurred and spinning but he could make out Toups cutting through the hull with a blowtorch.
Toups finished the incision in a few seconds and pushed what would've been an airlock door open. He climbed in and pulled Cid in after him.
Kylie watched the comm officer scream into her microphone, giving orders and positions. She felt like a third wheel but it wasn't her shift yet; there was nothing for her to do. Her ears were ringing from the loudness of the room.
She turned around and saw Jai up against the master control board, waving his arms to get her attention. She jogged over, her bleach white lab coat billowing behind her, and stood next to him, "Why aren't you up in your plane?"
"What?!" her mouth hung open.
"He's taken up position with the raiders," Jai looked back to the monitors and saw the Enigma start to turn into an extremely high-altitude landing position. It would be another hour or so before she touched down.
"Where's Cid?" she asked slowly.
"He's gone with Toups; they're trying to board the Enigma."
"Aren't you twenty questions today. They think the airship has been commandeered by raiders."
"Then why would the raider's attack it if their own people are on it?"
Jai looked in her eyes and dropped his voice to a lower octave, "It's a divisonary tactic; they want it to look like the victim to let it open fire on the base."
"Did you tell our pilots to shoot the airship?"
"Can't. Only Toups could order an attack on a vessel with a friendly marking and that would have to be ahead of it's appearance and if he wrote the order on paper."
Kylie watched the monitor, "So, when that airship lands, what'll happen?"
"You familiar with Airship equipment charter for wartime? Department of Emissions Control and Weapons Qualification directive three-one, paragraph seven?"
Kylie shook her head.
Jai, seeing it wasn't going to do him any good to just quote the pilot's training manual, looked her in the eye and seized her shoulders, "If you had a sixty million dollar airship that was sucking in two hundred gallons of fuel a day, was carrying four hundred thousand warheads, each with a one thousandth of a kiloton nuclear device, sixty some-odd cannons and you didn't need her anymore, what would you do?"
Kylie went white, "Self-destruct..."
Cid pulled his firearm off his vest with a loud snap and let three rounds fly. It caught two of the guards in the chest, while Toups got the third one. The guards flew against the wall and slumped to the floor.
"These are Shin-Ra..." Cid said, looking at the bodies as Toups pulled the ammo clips out of the weapons.
"True. I do not think that they are regular soldiers, comrade Highwind. They are elite, secret order personnel."
"So, why'd they open fire on us?"
Toups rubbed his jaw and looked up the empty hallway cautiously, "I am not sure." he waved his automatic pistol gingerly and took a few steps forward, "See if you can find a terminal."
"Right," Cid broke off from Toups, moving further down the hall on his heels, trying to stay quiet. He found a computer first, logging in and checking the itinerary of the ship's log.
"Anything, Highwind?" Toups came up to Cid's side, looking over his shoulder and down the hall simultaneously.
"Nothing; you might be better at this." he moved to the side and watched the older man play his hands across the board with practiced ease.
A soldier turned the corner at the far end of the hall and it took Cid four shots to hit the man in the shoulder. The target spun around on his heel and hit the floor.
"I have something," Toups increased his finger's pace, "Enigma is listed as ordered by the president to..." he paused out of surprise and apprehension, "destroy the base. The raiders attacking are actually just shooting off fireworks, they are ShinRa as well. This whole attack, it is a big ruse to get the airship to destroy our base."
Cid looked at the order himself, "Fucking Mog..."
"Fucking mog, indeed."
"Move!" Cid grabbed Toups and pulled him to the floor, fresh gunfire ricochetting off the ceiling and down the hall. Toups hit the ground with a grunt and shot a single, wild blast. Cid, laying on top of his superior officer to cover him, let his gun open up and kept the trigger held. The shots dug into the walls and ceiling randomly, hitting several people down the corridor. "We don't have a lot of time," Cid pulled Toups to his feet
and rushed on ahead.
Andrew pulled his fighter into a loop and let a missile fly from under his wing, slamming it into a target without opening his eyes. It wasn't a hot-shot move, just one he did without thinking about it. The once-friendly ShinRa plane spiraled downward and exploded on the base's airstrip.
"ThunderLord, this is Stealth-64. Your orders are as follows: take all fighters from the base down; repeat: all base-launched fighters."
Andrew gritted his teeth and waved his wings slightly, shaking them out of habit. He didn't like what he was doing but the Shin-Ra government had put him there in this case, kind of like an undercover Turk. He was told under what situations he'd be called under; this is one of them.
"This is ThunderLord to EnigmaLeader. Stand-by to land on airstrip. I'll do clean up..."
The next base launched fighter came straight at him; Andrew could make out that it was Bully. He pulled the trigger anyway...
Cid pumped a round into a guard's head from a distance of half a yard and shoved the body out of the way. He was starting to feel ill. All this blood and gore wasn't like flying a jet or plane. You didn't see the face get smeared or the brain splattered when you shot some one up there.
Toups brought his gun up and did the same to the next guard, the bullet entering and exiting the ears. He didn't look phased in the least, only getting slower from his age.
They were about half way to the bridge when the main group of the security team suddenly appeared out of the barracks door. The group was armed with everything from pistols to a heavy artillery rifle. Toups released what was left of his clip into the group without aiming and hit seven of them, more or less. Cid hit three himself. That still left about eleven.
Cid and Toups leapt into an adjacent hallway.
Toups huffed and puffed, leaning up against the wall for cover, "I have something to admit to you, Highwind."
This was the first time Cid had ever heard his commander use his name without `friend' or `comrade' attached, "Can it wait?" he panted slowly.
"I could not remove Kylie for a reason." Toups pulled the clip in his gun out and slapped another in with his palm, not losing a beat as he talked, "I was unofficially removed from base operations three weeks ago; I could not sign her transfer papers because I was no longer the compound director."
Cid's eyes opened widely like an owl, "What? By who?"
"I am getting old, Highwind. Retirement is a year away and my pension would be more than considerable. They decided to let me go before having to pay my pension over and after handing me my walking papers for the base," he took a deep breath and paused to let everything sink in, "they decided they didn't need the base either."
"What? Who...who told you to step down?"
Toups looked him in the eye, "Andrew."
"Hartman? The pilot?"
The older commander nodded, "Seems he was placed on our base as an overseer for ShinRa, like a spy. He was given orders last month to get me out of the base; then, to blow our encampment off the map."
"Just for a pension?" Cid's young face went pale. To kill thousands of soldiers just for a retiring man's annuity was insane.
"They put the plan into action immediately after hearing you saw the covert convoy."
Cid didn't say anything for a second before gesturing for another clip, stuffing his current one between his pants and belt. Toups delivered a fresh black slot over to the other and watched it slide into the pistol's handle.
Cid furrowed his brow, "Do you know what was on that damned convoy the President was protecting?"
"Mako reactors, new ones. High priority to somewhere else and I am talking about M-five, SOC and UFT."
"Office of Security, Security Operations Center and Unofficial Foreign Transportation. You'll learn about it when you get your officer's training."
Cid nodded and leaned around the corner to let a barrage loose. The bullets caught a man in the chest and forced him to drop to his knees, his limp hands rolling an opened gas grenade down the hall to Toups and Cid. The pair covered their mouths, waving the smog out of the air. Toups was the first one to think of something but Cid was the one who wrapped his scarf around the grenade. He stood and twirled it like a sling, hurling it down the passageway.
The Shin-Ra soldiers coughed and hacked but were unable to grab the gas canister before dropping into a sound slumber. Cid wondered how the Shin-Ra had grown to power so quickly with some of the military was dumber than rocks.
Jai pushed the support crew out of the way and pulled his start-up staff back to his leg. The propeller started up and the lingering ground corps pulled the wheel braces out, letting the plane roll forward slowly.
"This is Jai at lane four. Taking off, emergency ordinance."
He pulled his flight stick into his lap and watched the clouds roll forward. He'd have to put a stop to Andrew; the man defected and he was the secondary Wing Leader. If he turncoated and lived...
No, there wasn't time to think about `if`s and `or`s. He half turned in his seat and lowered his goggles, "You set back there?"
Kylie called back, trying not to throw up, "As much as I can be..."
"Out of the way!"
Toups pulled the trigger back over and over again, blowing gaping holes into the guards in front of the bridge door. Cid ducked to the floor, hitting the ground hard with his elbows. The pair of them commented on the way to the bridge about how many people they had killed. Toups said that he noticed Cid's green derma and joked how it was amazing that the ship was still running after all the chaos they left in their wake.
Toups grabbed Cid's arm and hauled him to his feet before kicking in the door to the bridge. It was remarkable how the portly man could move and act considering his age and build. The door swung open.
"Everyone on the floor!" Cid raised his firearm to eye level and waved it to each bridge member individually. He wondered if they could hear the panic in his voice.
That's when Toups got shot.
The man took the bullet in the shoulder, the upper arm. It slashed through his flesh and cut his shoulder blade before shooting out his back. The blood was minimal from the smallarm and Cid clocked off a single round at the man who had fired. It blew his collar to bits and pieces.
Cid waved his gun around slowly, then noticed how stupid they were coming to the bridge. Everyone had a gun of some kind. Cid kept his automatic up and level, slowly making his way to the door and grabbing Toups. The crew sluggishly pulled their own weapons but Cid slammed the door shut before a round could go off.
Cid tried to remember as much as he could from his limited First Aid training but it wouldn't do him any good unless he stopped the bleeding soon, "Stay still, Boss. I've got ya..."
"Go... Cid; run, get out of here now..."
"And leave you? Forget it; you still owe me that scotch from when the President asked you to ask me to land..." Cid squinted at the thought of the damned Shin-Ra leader, he was, without a doubt, behind this whole fiasco, "That sonuvabitch president; see if I ever vote Republican again."
Jai kept the plane level as Kylie rechecked her fastened safety line for the sixth time. She hated heights and this was no exception what-so-ever.
Jai kept the stick still in his lap, "You set?"
She closed her eyes and gulped her fears down into her stomach, "L-let's do it!"
Jai pushed the stick down slowly and dipped the plane on a low-and-slow angle. Kylie was sluggishly pulled out of the plane seat, her line attached to the Enigma's blow torched door. She dangled like a fish on a hook.
She somehow pulled her way into the door and sat on the floor for a second, catching her breath. Jai would be in momentarily, leaving the plane to autopilot and letting it hit the ground if it ran out of fuel.
If it did, they'd have to land the Enigma without setting off the bombs on her.
This was not the job of a comm officer.
Cid covered Toups's wound with a handkerchief and helped the burley man strut down the hall slowly. Cid still had his gun in his other hand, just in case.
"Wha-where to, Cid Hi-Highwind?"
"Down to the launch bay."
"Since when do...a-airships have launch bays?"
Cid lowered his voice and muttered, "Since I just prayed for one."
The two of them made there way back around the bodies of the men they had killed and the wreckage they left behind. Cid had to close his eyes as he walked among the dead men, some of their eyes wide open and mocking.
The two turned a corner, Toups grunting loudly as the wound was pulled, and Cid could've sworn he heard footsteps in front of him.
"Shit. We gotta step up the pace, Boss. We're being blocked off." The pilot readjusted his arm around the older man's back and started picking up speed when he noticed shadows turning the corner in front of them.
Kylie reflexively duck when she heard gunshots, especially when they were so close to her head. She threw her hands up to her face and crouched down into the corner after half-jumping across the hall's corner.
She fell on her back and kept her arms up, "Don'tshoot! Don'tshoot!"
She looked between her fingers and saw Cid, holding Toups in one arm and a smoking automatic pistol in the other. He had the face of a kid who'd been found with his hand in the cookie jar, "Holy Mog'n shit, you alright?!"
She nodded quickly, standing and trying to gain composure, "What are you--"
"We have to leave."
"What? You know about the bombs too?"
Cid blanched and Toups looked up, surprised, "Bombs? What bombs?"
Jai turned the corner and stuffed his revolver into his jacket flap, "We think the airship is programmed to explode when it hits the ground."
"Sixty seven million dollars up in a few seconds," Toups grunted, "Why?"
Cid sniffed, cautiously looking behind him, "Think of it: they don't want to pay your pension, they want me dead for trying to blow the whistle on their big covert Mako shit, they don't need the base anymore. One stone, three birds. It's pretty simple math as long as you got a big enough rock."
Andrew added, waving his finger around the room "They also don't need this ship."
Cid turned right as Kylie said that, lowering Toups and twisting around, gun automaticly moving upward. He felt his commander slump to the ground, away from Cid's feet.
Three guards turned the corner, one of them in a light Mech uniform. It was cherry red and took up nearly half the hallway; he had a great big gun-arm on his right and a three fingered glove on the other.
"Cease and Desist!" the cardinal warrior boomed, his voice projected through the internal microphone.
Cid pulled the trigger back with a quick finger, his body shielding Toups and Kylie. Jai grabbed Kylie and pulled her out of the way before Cid's second round went off, Toups getting up on his own and dodging the oncoming barrage from the men.
Cid's bullets killed the two unprotected guards but only cracked the shell of the Mech's armor. The larger man raised his immense hand and began blowing holes in the wall behind Cid. The cavities were the size of basketballs.
Cid was the furthest one back, the others making headway for Jai's auto-piloted plane. He didn't even try for that old `shoot behind you-while-running' gig that always worked in the films. This was a little bit too real; considering the amount of ammunition flying over his head.
"Get to the plane!" he called, deciding that running was definitely a lot better than fighting.
Toups, still hunched to a side from his wound, stopped to lean up against a wall and produce a tiny pistol only an inch bigger than his fist. The barrel barely stuck out between his fingers, "Get down Cid!"
The round went dead on from Toups's barrel, a bright red streak running from the mouth of the firearm to the target. The flare erupted on top the armor it struck and lit the carpet underneath. Cid could hear the scream of pain from inside the helmet, and the arms flailed wildly as the man was blinded, possibly permanently.
He turned when Kylie called, it was a reflex he had picked up from being around her so much. Turning, he ignored the armored man and noticed for the first time, that the rest of them were at the airlock door; Jai's fighter on auto and flying parallel.
"GO!" Cid went back to the armored soldier and shot off round after round, hitting the headpiece on several occasions. After all the previous rounds hitting the breastplate, he knew it would only be a distraction but it was better than nothing.
The man in the armor was now screaming more out of frustration than pain and he began to regain some remedial idea of how to shoot ahead of himself. The rounds went clear ahead, bouncing up and off the wall, ceiling. The hallway was far too narrow for this and Cid raised his arm to protect his face from the sparks.
Toups, leaning out the airlock door, judged the space between airship and fighter plane. About three feet, he estimated, but three feet was four feet too short of what he would've preferred, "No choice! Kylie, GO!"
She shook her head, gulping before turning back to her beau, "Cid, let's go...!"
It was getting hard for her to breathe, the usual rhythmic pattern of her lungs went faster. For a second she thought it was the lack of air in the chamber, it getting all sucked out into the atmosphere and that's when she noticed she wasn't in the ship at all. She was falling.
Jai saw her leave first, "Fuck'n Mog...Kylie...!"
Toups saw it a split second later but was too weak to comment.
Cid turned from the Mech-armored man, stunned to hear the desperate tone in Jai's voice, "Kylie? What's..." he stopped, looking around the space between Toups and Jai, "Where's Kylie?"
"Cid, I..." Jai shook his head and looked back out the door.
Kylie was gone.
It didn't hit Cid completely, the only thing affecting him was that the guy in the mech suit had something to do with it, that he was the reason. Cid went off on him completely, screaming straight lines of obscenities without taking a breath. He leapt at the Mech with all his strength and pulled the loose headplate off the body, screws flying every which way.
Toups, completely out of it, could feel sadness creep up his throat like a balled up sock but he forced it down and said a very short prayer to her memory. He really didn't know her that well, so it was more out of empathy to Cid.
Jai was itching to leave. He wanted to leave what he just saw behind. He wanted to get out of this hallway and just fly to base and forget it ever happened. If that was possible.
Cid was crying by the time he finished beating the dead man who was lying on the floor, still inside his armor. He didn't understand what or how or why Kylie was gone but she was. She'd never say anything again. Never do anything again.
And that's the way it was...
"We hear by commit these souls to the sea," Reverend Gorton placed his book to his chest and began to recite the names, mournfully, "Lieutenant Brance Hiscock, fighter pilot."
The coffin rolled forward on the conveyer belt and slid into the harbor, making a soft splash before floating out to sea. It spun clockwise, the foot of it pointing toward the crowd; it was probably Hiscock's last joke. Hell, Cid was sure his soul was mooning the whole bunch of 'em from where he was.
"Flight Officer James Hyman, fighter pilot."
Cid's eyes flashed for a second: that was the new kid that had just transferred in the other month. The other day, Jai said that he was going to hang the pilot from the rafters of the hanger. Somehow, he thought, deep inside himself, Hyman went out with a scream of fear.
The line of dead pilots went on for about fifteen minutes. There were a few of the coffins that sunk into the bay, Bully's was one of them. He had been a large man and it was no surprise the coffin sunk the moment it rolled off. There was a long hiss of displeasure that came from the crowd and Cid saw Jai shudder when the last air bubbles came up.
After that morbid line of the dead, there were six pilots that died on the operation table. On a technicality, the pilots received the Midgar cross for survival of a crashed plane. The reason it was considered `technical' was that it wasn't the crash that killed them but the problems afterward.
Finally, came the line of officers.
"Communications Officer Kylie Jessica Beaumont"
He snapped to attention; now it was Cid's turn to shudder. He bit his lip to keep from crying but his best efforts were too little. He forced his eyes shut as hard as possible before a few trickled down. It hurt, more than anything else ever. He couldn't imagine any hell worse than this. His girl, his pride and joy was gone for good.
Cid dropped the diamond ring in his hand and let it fall into the salty ocean water. The tiny little rock on the gold band was all he could afford on his salary and it took him nearly a year and a half to save for it. Every time he thought about giving it to her, it became something else: first it was a `going steady' present, then a birthday, then a dating anniversary, then a...
The time between Kylie's name and the next seemed like an eternity and it took a force of will to open his eyes t make sure no one was looking at him like this. He nodded to himself, noting it was because she was the only officer who died in battle and not on the operation table; that list would be next. He buried his chin into his chest.
"Barracks Commander, Chief Morgan Toups"
The commander's casket rattled along the belt's wheels and slid into the harbor bay, splashing into the ocean before swimming off to follow Kylie.
The Reverend furrowed his brow before talking, "May we hope these fifteen souls find peace in a greater beyond than we can imagine. May they be happy in their travels and may they be patient enough to wait for us. Amen."
The seven soldiers on duty raised their rifles and fired three times.
Tifa dabbed her eyes with yet another napkin, sniffling. She tried to come up with something to say but it all got stuck in her throat. All the sound that could come out of her was from the back of her nose.
Cid couldn't say anything either. His eyes were more grey than ever and he rubbed his finger to scratch the deep corner of his eye.
Cid snapped out of his nostalgia when he noticed how violently Tifa's lip was trembling, "Sorry about that, Tifa. I didn't mean to lay all this on ya so..."
She sniffed loudly, "S'all right. S'all right..."
Cid flipped the last of his ale back and sat back into his seat, thinking.
"Whatever happened to...Andrew?"
"Don't know. Bastard went underground. Someone said he was in the war with Wutai and was killed but if Andrew was anything, he sure as hell wasn't a bad pilot."
"What about the base?"
"Truthfully, it was only less than a hundred miles from Rocket Town. That little circular gulf up north and to the west a little? It was right there. They were suppose to take the base down immediately; everybody there left a day after the funeral anyway. There was no reason to stick around. I wonder if they left her standing..."
"He's still in the...hell, there is no more Shinra, so he can't be in the damned service. Wonder what happened to the poor SOB." Cid considered all this for a second before collecting his things, flipping a keyring around on his finger.
"Where are you going?"
"I need some air, dammit."
She began to stand, "Do you--"
"I need some air alone." He shoved his hands deep into his pants pockets and proceeded out the door. The afternoon shadow casted it's self into the room as he disappeared into the dimming sky.
Tifa ran her hand along her neck and thought about the narrative Cid had told her. There were a lot of open-ended matters: Andrew and Jai being the foremost of the list. Had the airship exploded when it hit the runway? Probably not, considering the funeral had been held on base and Cid had said that everyone had left the day after that.
Andrew: what had happened to him? Cid hadn't said anything about Andrew before today and his face seem to clue in at the fact that Andrew had gotten away and that Cid blamed him for Kylie's death. But, with the ShinRa gone, where would one start to look for a single man who disappeared over a decade ago?
Best guess would be the graveyard.
Cid boosted his right leg up against the wall and inhaled a long drag into his lungs, smelling the smoke floating out of the cigarette. It was a lot better smelling than the bar and, in a few ways, could be a lot more healthier.
He removed the tobacco between his middle and index finger before snorting deeply and spitting a large slab of phlegm into the dusty earth he was standing on. For a second his thoughts flashed back to the landing Enigma, her boosters slowing her and kicking up a mammoth dust cloud.
He twisted his face, almost comicly, as he heaved up a second load of spit to let fly when a person turned the corner, the brooding sun blocking their features with shadow.
He/She/It raised a hand in gesture, "Heard your story; here to say sorry."
"Sorry," Cid pinched his nose, thinking absently, "You got nothing to do with sorry. Stick your sorries in a sack."
The figure lowered it's hand and placed it's hands in or on it's jacket; Cid couldn't tell which, the shadows too dark, "Well, you..."
"You know I still blame all that on Andrew. But you're not Andrew, are you?"
The figure took it's place next to Cid against the wall, letting the light cast on the right of his disfigured face, "One time, maybe. No more. Long ago was long ago. No more Andrew. Only ThunderLord now. Andrew dead."
Cid watched out of the corner of his eye as 'ThunderLord' pulled his own cigarette out and lit it with a thick, old zippo lighter, the flame bright and wide.
"You're here now, right?" Cid stuck his own paper pipe into his mouth and sucked on the very end of it, "What of it? Come to say your sorry, like back on Junon?" Cid turned his head to look at the other, "Fuck you, man, just fuck you."
"Still angry? Should be; I would be. Blame me, guessing? See why, make sense. After all, she not deserve it. Kylie was good, I bad."
Cid stretched out the first word, "No shit, Andrew. I could'a told you that. That accident screw you up so bad that you got brain problems?"
"Accident: War with Wutai. Shot down, first ever. Crash bad, slid mile long. Face hurt, brain alright. Problems in sentences, need take medication now. Makes sleepy but live alright."
"I heard, told Tifa that..."
"Heard. Who she? New girl?"
"A friend; one of the few."
`ThunderLord' Andrew nodded dourfully, "Know what like. Sorry to hear. Sorry can't replace Kylie--"
Cid turned and out of anger spat his cigarette out while yelling. He gabbed the man's shirt flap, "Replace her? You sonuvabitch, I should replace your goddamn face with your ass is what I should do. Take a goddamn meat hook to it and jam it into your eyes, pull down. See if I can make your face look any worse than it is." He whipped his hand away and took a step back, trying to cool down, "Up yours, Andrew."
Andrew didn't say anything to that, just took a step back to regain his balance. His face, although twisted hideously, Cid could see had a look of remorse.
"Go now. Talk to people nice. Talk Tifa maybe."
Cid tensed, thinking about this man, what he'd done. Taking his girlfriend, killing dozens of once-friendly pilots, turning against the base (in someways, against the ShinRa).
Despite this, Cid felt a bit of remorse for his bygone friend, thinking if he was being unfair. He placed his hand on Andrew's turned back, gripping the thin shoulder with his left.
"Cid?" Andrew came back.
Cid reached around and pulled the man's chin to the left, his right hand pulling Andrew's neck backward, snapping it slowly, grinding the spine and cartilage for a prolonged amount of time. Cid's grip made his roll the head around for a minute before dropping the limp body to the ground.
Cid looked into Andrew's vacant eyes and removed another cigarette from it's plastic-paper pocket. He took up another load of spit and shot it out, landing it on the man's forehead. It stuck like glue, only a little running down the distorted face. Cid had a split-second consideration of public urination but there wasn't any reason to disgrace the old "Buy Shinra Bonds" poster that Andrew's...no, ThunderLord's head was resting against.
Cid took a wide stride over the body and turned into the bar again. He noticed the smell immediately and the people in the room took caution as he entered.
Tifa was already by the door when she saw the look on his face: a long, frowning face, "What's happened?"
He looked her in the eyes and ever so slowly cracked a smile, before grinning broadly, "Nothing for you to worry about anymore," he turned to her side and put his arm around her, "Just some old haunts."
He chaperoned her out the door, the grin staying wide; there was a part of him saying to make a pass on the younger woman around his arm but the old 'ball in the throat' crawled up when he remembered Kylie again.
He pushed that thought out and looked out ahead, into the sun...
"What's with the silent treatment?" Tifa asked, placing the side of her head on Cid's higher shoulder.
Cid hesitated before turning toward the bar entrance, slowly and on his hip. He looked back to everything that transpired there, especially right outside the door.
"Why are you looking at that?" Tifa asked, her arms wraping a little more closely around his forearm.
"You look like your looking at that poster, the one on the low wall."
Cid looked at the poster, dust swirling up around it from a quick breeze. There were a few rocks surrounding the wall and some of the usual garbage debris, nothing more.
"Thought I dropped some baggage back there."
Tifa's head lifted away from him, "Baggage? Like what kind?"
Cid turned away, "Oh, I don't know; just some crap. Ususal stuff, you know how it is. So, you got any memories you'd like to unload onto me?"
She gave a stiff smile, lowering her head back to his shoulder, "Let's see, where to start..."
Cid waited paitently, strolling along with her, arm in arm. A pair of ravens passed over head and he lifted his head to watch them manuever.
Tifa's breath smelled sweet to Cid when she started to talk again, "Well, there was this one time with Cloud..."
Cid listened intently, slowly making his way to the Highwind and away from what had been.