Prelude to Niblehiem

By Roger Ostrander

    Rufus was not pleased.
    Yes, he was the son of the President of Shinra Corporation.
    Yes, he would have to get used to the idea of commanding armies.
    Yes, it was, technically, his responsibility to do this.
    But no, it was not very pleasing to give Sephiroth orders.
    Rufus sighed and waited for the elevator to bring him to the appropriate floor.  The president had some mission for Sephiroth and Zack, and he had decided to make Rufus tell them about it.  Zack was easy.  Zack hadn't been a problem at all.  After all, Zack was just a Soldier.  He had said 'yes sir' in a very respectful tone and then begun to prepare for the trip.  Sephiroth, on the other hand... would probably not take orders so lightly.
    Rufus, personally, didn't think that it was a good idea  to send Sephiroth to Niblehiem anyway.  He remembered something from the files he had glanced through a while back- Shinra had something to do with that city, but Rufus couldn't recall what.  He just got the vague impression that it wouldn't be a good idea.  He had asked Hojo about it.  Rufus smiled a bit.  The scientist had nearly had a heart attack when Rufus told him what he was about to tell Sephiroth.  Monsters appearing in Niblehiem, frightening the natives.  Rufus hadn't thought it that big a deal, probably having something to do with that project he had glanced at, but Hojo was completely against the idea.  Hojo had pleaded not to have Sephiroth involved.  When Rufus had laughed and then proceeded on, Hojo almost had to be restrained by the guards.  Rufus had thought the scientist's reaction was just Hojo being Hojo, but it hadn't helped his uneasiness.  He had a bad feeling about this mission.
    The elevator made a quiet tone, indicating that he had arrived at the desired floor.  The door opened, revealing a spotless white hallway, lit brightly from above.  Rufus almost had to squint after coming in from the dim light of the elevator.  He took a deep breath, and moved down the hallway.
    "Rufus!  To what do I owe the honor of your visit?" a voice spoke from behind him.  Stifling the urge to jump half a foot, Rufus turned around to see Sephiroth, leaning nonchalantly against the wall.  There was a door on the other side of the hallway- apparently where he had emerged.  Rufus didn't want to think about why the other had made no noise in his approach.
    "Sephiroth... just the man I was looking for." Rufus said, managing to sound composed.  "President Shinra-" Rufus wanted to make sure Sephiroth didn't blame him personally for anything that happened "-has a mission for you."
    Sephiroth smiled slightly.  "A mission?  Good!  At long last, the chance to be free of this stifling city and perform a duty for Shinra once more."  Rufus couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not.
    "Yes- a mission." Rufus said, keeping a neutral tone.  "Are you familiar with a city called Niblehiem?"
    Sephiroth nodded.  "I've heard of it.  One of your reactors is there, isn't it?  Of course-" he chuckled to himself slightly "-there's not many places where one of your reactors isn't."
    Sephiroth's good cheer served only to unnerve Rufus.  Gathering his wits (after all, Sephiroth worked for him, right?) Rufus continued.  "Yes, there's a reactor there.  We don't use it anymore- it's too old, but apparently it's been doing strange things to the local wildlife."
    Rufus paused, trying to gauge Sephiroth's reaction.  The other man just looked curiously toward him.  After a moment, Rufus resumed his speech.  "There have been reports of monsters wandering the mountains.  Anyone who has gone near them has ended up dead.  That's why we're sending you."
    "Because I'm the best." Sephiroth stated it flatly.  "Well, you picked the right Soldier.  Am I going to have company on this little venture?"
    "Three other soldiers.  You know Zack, correct?"
    Sephiroth nodded.  "Yeah, Zack.  Good kid- he's from that city you folks blew up, right?"
    Rufus tried to conceal his irritation.  "Shinra did not destroy Gongaga village.  Their reactor experienced a minor malfunction that caused it to... break down."
    "Break down... that's a nice way of putting it." Sephiroth was grinning again.  "You should talk to Zack about it sometime.  He has a very different story."  Sensing the other's irritation, Sephiroth changed the subject.  "Who are the two other soldiers coming with me?"
    Rufus relaxed inwardly.  "Just two lackeys- they're there for security, and that's about it."
    "Who are they?"
    Rufus didn't bother to argue the point.  "Eric Andrews and Cloud Strife."
    Sephiroth pondered for a moment.  "Cloud Strife... that name sounds familiar."
    Rufus didn't think so- personally, he had never heard the name.
    "Wait... Cloud's that kid that's been following me around.  You're sending him with me?" Sephiroth looked mildly annoyed.
    "I don't know if he's been following you around, Sephiroth, but it's not really that big of a deal.  Besides, he needs a mission or two- he's one of the recruits from after the war."
    "The kid's obsessed!" Sephiroth complained.
    "A lot of people are obsessed."  Rufus pointed out.  "You're one of the most well known figures from the war.  The public wants to be like you, even if you haven't realized it."
    Sephiroth's grin was back.  "So he wants to be the next Sephiroth?  Okay.  I'll take him along.  Why not let the kid dream?"
    Rufus was glad that Sephiroth was being cooperative again.  He swept his hair back as some of it obscured his line of vision.  "Once at Niblehiem, you'll meet with a guide- she knows the mountains better than anyone in Shinra would.  After all, the architects who built that reactor have retired by now.  She'll be able to guide you through the place."
    "Sounds good.  When do I leave?"
    "Tomorrow morning at 800 hours we have a transport leaving to Junon.  From there, we have a ship waiting to take you west."
    Sephiroth nodded and reopened the door he had initially appeared through, disappearing just as quickly.  Rufus breathed a sigh of relief.  He was glad that was over.
    Rufus walked back to the elevator and got on, punching his father's floor to report that all was well.  Except it wasn't.  He still had a feeling that this mission wasn't going to turn out the way he had planned.  It had something to do with that project... what was it called?
    That was it.  Rufus remembered now.  Before his untimely death, Dr. Gast had worked on a project called 'Jenova'.  And then Hojo had picked it up....  That was all a very long time ago, though.  He had never known the details of the Jenova project, but he had known that Dr. Gast knew what he was doing.  Hojo, on the other hand- well, Rufus was keeping an eye on that one.
Rufus made a mental note to go through the company files again and look up Jenova.
    He didn't think he'd find much.  He vaguely recalled it being a somewhat secretive project.  He shrugged and pushed an errant strand of hair out of his face.  It didn't really matter, he supposed.  He had already sent them off.  What did it matter?
    After all, what was the worst that could happen?

-Roger Ostrander
 January 4, 1998