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Max blinked his eyes and stared at the alarm clock. He walked over to the door and examined a slip of paper that had been pushed over to it. It read
-- Didn't feel like waking you. Here are your test results. I know it may seem bad but don't lose hope. Dr. Meehan--
He quickly skimmed the attached form. If what it said was true, his level of Mako exposure would start the sickness in under 18 months. Somehow, it didn't seem right. He knew it was a cliche, but he couldn't help feeling like he was too young to die. Then again, the past months had taught him how false that was. His mother had died when he was 12, his father when he was 14. Last month, Jagir had died. His sister had been only 10 when the sickness struck. His eyes drifted to the faded photograph on top of his bookshelf. She seemed so full of life at the time the picture was taken. The last few weeks, he had been able only to sit at her side and hold her hand. He had hated himself for not being able to do anything. He hated the doctors for the same reason. He hated the Mako that had caused her sickness. But most of all, he hated the planet. He looked at the clock again. 7:55. He would have to rush to get to the council meeting on time. He scurried out of his one-room apartment.
Dick, the compound leader, had already begun to speak. The room was the second-largest, next to the greenhouse, in Kalm, and like all of the compound (It really couldn't be called a town) was covered with a steel roof. He quietly took a seat near the back of the audience and listened attentively.
"For 500 years we've lived this way, and we will continue to do so. This situation has come up before, and will disappear as it always has. These are difficult times, but extreme measures like Lincoln has proposed are out of the question."
Max already knew what he was talking about. 10 had died in the last month, 3 of them children. The scientists said it had something to do with Mako fields being a poor substitute for natural spirit energy. People rarely lived past 40 before succumbing to the sickness, withering away like unwatered plants. Children dying were uncommon, and the community was in a state of panic. There were those who said it was the planet's final attempt to destroy humanity, a sort of revenge for 500 years of Mako drain. Max didn't look at it that way. The planet would have done it already if that was it's plan. He pulled himself out of his thoughts as Lincoln started to speak.
"Don't you see? Mako is at the root of all our problems. We once lived, I mean truly lived, like every other species on this planet. We can do so again. The planet feels threatened by us. If we stop to kill it, maybe we can exist with the planet. If we reduce our use of Mako, it may be possible."
"Meanwhile, in the real world, we depend on our reactors for our very existence," Dick replied, "We can't live outside the Mako fields, and we need the reactors for that."
"I'm afraid that it may be too late to rejoin the planet," sounded a new voice. Everyone turned to look at the speaker. "Do not be afraid, I don't bite. I am known as Red XIII." The audience simply stared in shock at what looked like suspiciously like a talking dog. "Yes, I fought alongside Cloud. My race is surprisingly long-lived."
"Why are you here?" asked Lincoln, breaking the awkward silence. "Is there something you want to tell us?" Max hoped he didn't realize how cheesy that sounded.
"Yes. As I'm sure you have noticed, humans are dying faster than ever. If you'll save your questions to the end, I'll give you a little history lesson. We all have heard the story of ShinRa, and the start of the exile. After the destruction of the Weapons, Jenova, and the coming of Meteor, and the madness of Sephiroth, the planet was in ruins. I thought my friends had set it all right. I was wrong. The planet set out to destroy that which had nearly destroyed it: your race."
Max had heard this story before. He didn't see why the legendary Red XIII needed to bother coming all the way Kalm to tell it to them.
"That's when we began to live in Mako fields, right?"
"Yes, youngster. Cid Highwind invented the Mako field, using Mako to artificially sustain life. I argued fiercely about it with him." Max thought he saw a tear as the creature remembered his friend. "I knew that killing the planet to keep humanity alive couldn't last forever. But he kept on saying 'technology will save us' and such sort of thing."
"This is why I have come: to warn you. The delicate balance between Mako-life and the planet is slowly but surely falling apart. In the end, your reactors will no longer be able to find any life to suck from the Lifestream. Life outside the fields is already beginning to wither away. As the spirit energy disappears, so too will your own kind die. Like a cancer, you will die when the body you kill succumbs."
Max leaned back and spoke, "I don't suppose you brought a solution with you? Or did you just want to browbeat us?"
"Such impertinence!" Lincoln exclaimed. "Show some respect for the esteemed Red XIII!"
"Don't worry," Red said as he looked at Max, "The young man has a point. As yet, I do not. Perhaps you could suggest something?" All heads turned to look at Max.
"Err....ummm....Well, it seems the problem is that the planet won't accept us. If it would, we wouldn't need our Mako fields. What we need is some way to talk to the planet, convince it to let us be. Otherwise, there can be only one of us left, and I'm not prepared to die for this damn &*$@ planet!" Red XIII laughed.
"You reminded me of Cid for a moment. But I doubt humanity will emerge the victor in such a contest. As for talking to the planet, the last ancient is dead." Max again saw a tear in the dog's eye. "I am afraid that there is little we can do. The time of reckoning has come. Your race may not live another generation. And perhaps mine won't either. Farewell, I regret I do not bring gladder news." With that, he left as suddenly as he had come.
"So, I can really leave the field with this?" Max asked the technician.
"Yep. It stores Mako from our reactor, maintaining a miniature Mako field around you. It can only store enough power for two weeks, however. Took years of research to build. You've no idea how complicated it is."
"I like it," Max commented as he strapped the device onto his back. It wasn't very heavy. "Took a long time to convince the council to try this."
"I still think it's crazy," said the tech as he fiddled with some dials on the field generator.
"We have to try it."
"Yeah, but North Cave!"
"Where else is there a better place to try to talk with the planet?"
"So what are you gonna do? Climb down and start yelling?"
"I'll just have to make it up as I go along. I didn't say it was a perfect plan. Heck, it's not even a good one. But it's all we have."
Max looked at his reflection in the shiny metallic wall of the airlock, which seperated Kalm from the Outside. He was 16, almost middle-aged for a Mako-dweller. His dark eyes and hair contrasted sharply with complexion of one who had never seen the sun. He had been the obvious choice for this mission. He was young enough to handle a rigorous journey. He had no family left to leave behind. Mom, dad, Jagir...they were all gone. He had spent most of his life lonely. His family had been his only real friends. There was a final reason for his selection. He had no future. He would die within two years in any event. That knowledge failed to offer any comfort. The chance of success was mighty slim. He knew it. The council knew it. But everyone felt they had to try something, no matter how futile.
"Better take this," the tech interrupted, "We don't know what might be out there." Max accepted the shotgun the tech handed to him. He opened up the small panel on the stock and peered inside. There were three materia there. That should be enough to handle anything that got in his way. He also had a pair of dark glasses in his gear. He had always had perfect vision, but the techs had insisted he take them. Counting the ones in the gun, he had five materia with him, the gun ones from the ShinRa era, when reactors could spare enough juice to make good materia. Mako field generators took a lot of power, as did indoor farming.
The tech left the airlock. Max's heart beat faster as he heard the lock close behind him. The second door began to open. A blinding flash of light shot through the open door. He took a step back, using his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. He took out the glasses the tech had given him. He saw their use now. He could see more clearly now, and the view was stunning. For about 50 yards surrounding the compound, there was nothing but dirt. But beyond that, it was green, with plants that seemed to stretch on forever. He had never thought the planet he hated could be so beautiful. He walked around the compound, till he saw what he had come for: the ocean. It seemed to continue on even farther than the plants had. And next to the shore was the ancient relic he had come for.
The boat was ShinRa, and had been kept in good condition by occasional maitenance. No one spent more than 10 minutes this far from the field generator if they could help it, but the people of Kalm had kept this boat in good repair for 500 years. The boat was about three times longer than it was wide, and had an overall blocky, functional look to it. He had read the old training manuals on how to operate it, but he had never even seen it. How hard could it be? He walked up the dilapidated ramp that lad to to the boats entrance ramp. He paused for a moment to look at the endless ocean. He had never imagined it could be so big. The most water he had ever seen was in a bathtub. "Shame we can't live out here," he mumbled to himself. He pulled the door open and stepped inside. The boat wasn't very big, and he quickly found the helm. He flicked a switch, and the Mako engines came to life, as if coming out of a deep sleep. "Time to see if this sucker works," he said to himself as he pushed the throttle. The boat lurched forward, churning up the sea bottom in it's wake.
After he was sure he was on the right course, he set the ship on auto-pilot and took a break. In the bridge was a small plaque with the ship's registry. It read "ShinRa no. 86-- Korova" He was glad to know the ship had a name. The paint had worn off the sides long ago. The plaque revealed that the ship was made in Junon, and was owned by Rufus himself. That relieved him somewhat. Rufus may not have been a saint, but he had been smart. He wouldn't have taken chances on a shoddy vessal. Max's main fear was being stranded on the sea or in some deserted land. The Mako field generator would give out before his food supply, and being killed by the planet was never a pretty sight. Victims simply withered away, as if a cancer had spread throughout their body in a span of 20 minutes. It was like Mako sickness, but much faster. Funny, how two completely antithetical ways of dying could be so similiar. That is, it would be funny if you didn't have to live with it. HIs own sickness, which had he had pushed out of his mind, suddenly crashed back into his thoughts. He felt a new impetus to succeed. He had to hope that it wasn't already too late to save himself. "I'm sorry, Jagir," He said aloud. He had spoken to himself a lot since she had died.
* * *
The northern continent came into view four days later. Max scanned the horizon for a good place to moor the 'Korova'. After a half hour he found one, and rowed a small inflatable raft to shore. He had been sure to pack warm clothes for this journey. The earth felt odd under feet that had previously known only the hard floors of the compound. He checked a post-ShinRa materia that served to project a crude map of the surrounding area. He slung the shotgun on his back and followed what the materia said was a powerful energy source. He hoped it was a Mako reactor. He might be able to recharge his field generator there. As he followed his map closer to the source, his mind began to wander. Being a small mind, it didn't wander very far. Mostly he was worried. How did one 'speak to the planet'? He had been told that the other post-ShinRa materia he had would help somewhat if he got to North Cave. That one was encased in an odd looking device. They had said something about reversing some device of Bugenhagen's which listened to the planet. Max had slept like a log through most of his briefings. Feigning consciousness was his only real skill.
When the steel walls of the compound were finally sighted he walked towards the doors fearlessly. After all, wouldn't they be glad to see the first human from outside their compound for nearly 500 years? When the doors did open, he was greeted by what looked like the leader; and what looked suspiciously like armed guards. "Hi there,-"
"Drop your weapon!"
"Huh? Oh, this." Max unslung his shotgun and dropped it to the floor. He wouldn't have stood a chance in a fight, unless he had a meteor materia in that gun.
"Follow us." One of the guards carried Max's gun behind him.
Five minutes later, Max was seated in front of a desk. It looked like an office, not any sort of detainment center. That was a good sign. The compound leader sat down behind the desk. "My name's Julian. You are called?"
"Max," he supplied. "I'm from Kalm."
"How old are you?"
More asinine, pointless questions followed. They obtained more or less a complete personal history. He told the truth, so there was no chance of him getting caught in a lie. After what must have been at least an hour, Julian seemed satisfied. "So you came hear on a vague sort of plan to talk to the planet, huh? Hate to break it to you buddy, but we've been trying the same thing with our transmitters for six years. All the planet does is keep on screaming, in pain or anger or something else. Sorry if we came off as suspicious. The sheer unlikelihood of a human showing up here was astronomical. We needed to be sure you weren't-"
"What, the bogeyman? Now that I've wasted an hour of my time, can I recharge my generator?"
"Do you plan to go on? Didn't you hear me?"
"You haven't tried it from North Cave. There might be a difference in the pit. Worth a shot, right?"
"Perhaps you'd like to stay here for a while. We'd like to study your generator for a while. It's not like North Cave is going to disapppear, is it?"
"Guess not. Wouldn't mind taking a look at your town, anyway. What was it's name?"
"Really doesn't have one. We were the only ones on the continent, on the world, as far as we knew, so a name really didn't seem needed."
After Max got to know him a bit, Julian really wasn't all that bad, though Max was still somewhat put out by his treatment at the gate. Julian showed him around, and they had long talks on what things were like in their respective compounds. Max certainly couldn't complain about his treatment during his stay. He pretty much had freedom to wander where he wanted, and he found the compound was basically similiar to the one at Kalm. One major difference was the extensive research facility he found there. The scientists seemed a bit uneasy about giving him a tour, but they couldn't politely deny him, since he was letting them examine, test, and basically discombobulate his field generator.
"Pleased to meet you, I'm Meist." Max looked at the women who had been selected as his tour guide. She was about the same height as he was, and had dark brown hair hanging down to a little above her shoulders. The most striking feature about her was something odd about her amber eyes, almost like a glow. Max was going to comment on it, but thought it would be impolite. "If you'll come this way, I'll show you our facilities. This room here," She said as she opened a door, "is our weapons lab. There is still the occasional monster running around, and..." She cut off the sentence and gestured at an item mounted on the wall "You might find this interesting. It was used by Barret in the meteor crisis. It's called-"
"I know, 'Missing Score', right?"
"Yes, it seems to gain extra power from materia. We haven't been able to duplicate it." She led Max into the next room, the agricultural lab. He wasn't too interested in it. He liked food, but the process of growing never really interested him. He almost slept through textiles. The geological facility was more interesting. "We have been picking up immense seismic activity from up North. We were going to call it volcanic activity, but every other kind of sensor has been indicating something big there."
"Seems like I picked the wrong time to visit. How long has this been going on?"
"We've had low-level activity for four or five years, but it's really increased in the last few months. Something big must be coming. Julian has started fortifying the compound for a major catastrophe."
After a brief look at the computer lab, the tour came to an end. The Mako and medical labs were being renovated and were closed to visitors. It was unfortunate. He had hoped they might have some kinds of advanced treatment for Mako sickness. Meist assured him they didn't.
Six days after arriving, Max got ready to leave the compound. He had packed up his gear, gotten his gun and generator back, and procured some food for his journey. There were just a few last things to take care of. He walked through the halls to the research facility. He wanted to find Meist and thank her for the tour. When he walked into the lab, he found it in a state of frenetic activity. He found Meist and stopped her long enough to ask her what was going on. "Remember what I was saying about the North? Every sensor we have just shot through the roof!"
"Doesn't sound good. I just came to thank you for the tour.... Hey, wait, why don't I go see what is going on for myself. I can leave the compound, you know."
"Yeah, that would be great, thanks."
Max walked outside the compound and jogged to where his view wasn't blocked by the compound itself. He took a single look towards the north, and ran back to the compound. When he reached the lab, the scientists were staring at their screens with horror. "Oh my God, It looks like.." Meist hesitated.
"I know," Max finshed for her, "Weapon."
* * * *
Quite simply, it was huge. It must have been at least a five hundred feet of black and gray terror. It's legs looked like giant sequoias, disproportionately thick. It's arms were equally massive, with what looked like laser cannons on the end, like the one on it's shrunken head. Extending above it's small head were wings that were too small to ever fly, but looked like they could be nasty weapons on their own, with sharp edges and hard surfaces. Basically, it was unstoppable. It moved slowly towards the compound, not much faster than a walking man. But every minute, it's small steps brought it nearer and nearer.
A sense of impending doom had descended over the compound. The people would fight only because there was no place to run. Julian was constantly running, organizing the defense and trying to keep up the people's morale. He took a moment out of his time to talk to Max. "Listen to me, you had better get out of here. That thing looks like it could crush us in one step. We'll do our best, but it doesn't look good." Max had to agree with that. Weapon was just so damn big. "Warn all the other compounds. This thing doesn't look like it plans on stopping with us."
"I guess it's goodbye then. Good luck, you'll need it."
"Kalm sounds like a nice place. If we all die here, promise me you'll defend you're home. You need to stick with the people you love, even if it means you all die." Julian started to talk strangely, but Max thought he understood what he was trying to say.
"Well, gotta go, I'll miss you." When you spent your whole life in one compound, saying goodbye just didn't seem natural. He started his walk to the exit. When he passed Meist, he mumbled something half like "I'll miss you" and half "I'm sorry." He had stood by Jagir for three nights without closing his eyes. It wasn't in his nature to just let people die. He forced himself to leave with slow, heavy steps. He found the door open when he stepped outside. As soon as he did, he acted on a sudden urge to run. He wasn't sure how long he ran before he stopped.
Three hours later, he looked back. He was on top of a fairly large hill, and had a good view of the compound and Weapon. What had previously been a mere shadow figure on the horizon was now a hulking behemoth looming over the town without a name. With a pair of binoculars, he watched the battle. He saw the roofs of the buildings nearest Weapon slide back to reveal hidden rows of artillery. He saw troopers in powered armor pointing their rifles out of windows. He saw the pinpoint flashes as the town's defenses opened up. He saw Weapon seem to slow and stumble a bit. He saw it spread it's wings wide and point it's arms at the artillery. He saw them all die.
There was no way to put it more clearly. After firing it's cannons, it stomped in, crushing the buildings like a child stepping on an anthill. It wasn't really necessary. It's first blast had destroyed the field generator, so no one could have lived very long. Some people ran from it, but they didn't get more than a half-mile before the planet killed them personally. That moment, staring at the destruction, he realized what Weapon was: an exterminator. He hadn't seen Julian or Meist in the battle, but they had to be dead. "Jagir, I'll kill it, I'll kill this $%&*@ planet," he said quietly.
Afterwards, Weapon stopped in the middle of the ruins. It remained motionless, a hulking colossus, death incarnate. Weapon stood slightly hunched over, as if thinking about it's situation. It's wings were stretched out high above it's head, and it's arms were resting on it's knees. The occasional scorch-mark only made it look more invulnerable. It seemed more like it was waiting than stopping. Max decided it would be a good time to get on his way. He looked back occasionally, and didn't see Weapon move. When it finally faded out of sight, it stayed that way.
Max had some time to think on his way to the 'Korova'. He tried not to think about Weapon, but he couldn't help it. He knew he was scared of it. He knew he should be scared of it. He knew it was practically invincible. He knew it had a good chance of destroying mankind. He knew he would have to kill it or die trying. He wasn't sure if he'd have to do the same to the planet. He tried to think happier thoughts, but none came to mind.
When he reached the 'Korova', he decided it was safe to take a short rest before moving on. He had almost dozed off when he heard a sound like footsteps approaching. He grabbed his shotgun and pointed it in the direction of the intruder. "Show yourself, whoever you are!"
"It's me, Meist, now put that thing away before you hurt someone."
"Drop yours first." Meist had a suprised look for a second, then looked self-consciously at the massive gun in her hand. It was 'Missing Score.' She dropped it to the floor.
"I managed to save the gun and a couple materia..."
"Wait! Why aren't you dead!"
"No, I mean, where's your field generator?"
"I... don't have one."
"I think you have some explaining to do."
"So do I. Can we just put it off until we start sailing? I really need some rest."
Max didn't press the issue until they had both had a chance to sleep and were well into the deep water. Meist slowly started to explain the situation.
"Six years ago,..."
"Didn't the activity in North Cave start at that time?"
"There might be a connection. Anyway, I was part of an experiment. We were all volunteers, and the rewards were great. If it worked, we would be able to live outside the field and be immune to Mako sickness."
"And it worked? Why didn't everyone else do it?"
"It didn't work. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The experiment, not to be too technical, involved exposing the test subjects to Spirit Energy in a form like Mako, but slightly different. I'm a geology expert, so I really can't tell you much more. The only physical change is this glow in my eyes."
"I was going to ask about that...."
"Everyone thought the project a great success. The test subjects spent a lot of time outside. That's how I was able to guess where you'd moor your boat. More people underwent the process. Then the problems appeared. Some didn't return from the wilderness. We thought they had met some accident. Then some of the others started acting strangely. They would mutter about the planet and mako and how much they hated the compound and the mako field. Then some went outright insane. They went on a rampage, tearing the compound apart and running away from it. That's when we began to build our weapons, so we could defend ourselves. The guards had no choice but to shoot some of them."
"Couldn't they just restrain them?"
"These aren't normal people we're talking about. The infusion gave them strange powers, almost like living materia. They...I...can talk to the planet."
"Then tell it to stop it's madness!" Max rose out of his seat, with a posessed look in his eyes. Meist stepped back and stretched out her hands in a calming gesture.
"It won't listen. What Julian told you about it doing nothing but scream is true. We were what they used to talk to it."
"Can you hear it now?"
"I can usually block it out of my mind. It isn't a pretty sound. But back to my story... Most of them had already escaped. We increased our defenses in case they returned."
"Yes... We killed them all. They never stood a chance. None survived, or at least we think so."
"So, that's what my hard time at the gate was about."
"I was the only one who didn't go mad. I don't know why. All the others.. they used to be my friends.." For the first time since she had begun talking, she started to show emotion. It was like a crack in a dam. within a minute, she was babbling about the other people in the experiment, the people who died when Weapon attacked, Julian.... Max tried to comfort her. He wasn't much good at it. "There there, it isn't that bad..."
"Shut up! You know what it's like, seeing your friends gunned down by your other friends, than seeing them all get killed by a...a...thing.You know what it's like seeing everyone you've ever met die!"
"You think I don't! My parents died a few years ago. My only real friend was my little sister. She died three months ago. I spent every day at her side. Some nights I didn't even sleep. Now that she's dead, I have no good reason to live." He would anyway, though "On top of that," he continued "the whole world is about to be destroyed by Weapon, and if it isn't, I have less then two years to live anyway. So don't tell me what pain feels like. I already know."
After that, they both shut up. Meist stood up and walked to the other end of the boat. Max didn't follow her.
* * * * *
By the time they had reached the opposite side of the sea, Weapon still hadn't appeared. It was possible that it had stopped, but Max didn't want to take a chance on it.
"I thought you would want to land near Kalm." Meist said, somewhat perplexed. "Isn't that where you came from?"
"I'm not going to Kalm."
"But aren't you going to warn them?!"
"It wouldn't do any good. We don't have a tenth the weaponry you do, and you saw what happened."
"Then where are we going?"
"Midgar. Think about it. How were Weapons beaten in the past? The Mako Cannon may still be operational."
"After 500 years? Yeah, right. They were stopped without the cannon..."
"By Master Materia, ultimate weapons, and summon materia that could destroy small cities. I still think it's our best bet... Wait, why don't you go warn Kalm? I'll continue on for Midgar. You can join me there later if you want."
"That makes sense... I guess. Well..." It was hard to say goodbye when there was a good chance you'd both be dead in the near future. Max suspected Meist had a fear of being alone again, after everyone in her life was dead except an obnoxious stranger from a place she hadn't even heard of before. "Good luck. I'll try to meet you there."
She took Missing Score with her when she left. Max kept the shotgun he had yet to use once. He set out in the direction all the old maps said lead to Midgar. After three days, he still hadn't seen it. He doubted it would be possible to walk right by it. Everything he had heard about it said it was huge. It was supposed to have been a great city once, but after Meteor came it had been abandoned and never repopulated.
It was after another two days that he ran out of food. He had let Meist have half of his supplies, not thinking about where he would get more. He put some thought into a hunting attempt. Stealthily, he set his eyes on what looked like a deer. It was hard to tell, even with binoculars. He would never be able to make a shot from that distance without materia. He had brought his gun up and got ready to shoot. Before he had any idea what had happened, he was on his back, staring at what looked like a very unhappy wild animal.
"I would prefer that you not shoot my cubs." Max recognized the unmistakable voice of Red XIII.
"He looked like a deer!"
"That's what they all say... Aren't you that youngster from Kalm? What brings you here?"
Max wanted to explain in an organized fashion, but instead blurted out, "I have a field generator, Weapon is returned and destroyed a town, so I'm going to Midgar."
"Perhaps you had better explain that a bit more clearly." Max did so, telling a more or less accurate story. By the time he finished, night had come. Red XIII was kind enough to give him some food and a low, windless depression to spend the night in. His two cubs were 16 years old, little more than toddlers. They weren't quite sure why Max was apologizing to them, but they were gracious enough.
When morning came, Max prepared to leave, gathering up his few belongings. "Wait, I will come with you," Red XII said, surprising Max. "Just give me time to put my cubs somewhere safe." Max accepted this proposal. By midday, he returned. Red XIII was not only an excellent guide, knowing the exact location of Midgar, but also an interesting person to talk to, when he chose. He seemed to be quite fond of humans, and asked Max many questions about life in Kalm. "I'd go there myself, but I don't like to spend much time in Mako fields. It is a real shame you people must live in them. They are extremely unhealthy."
"I know. My sister died three months ago."
"It's the planet's fault. First, forcing us to live like lab rats, then calling an exterminator. Damn it! I think I'll kill it if I get a chance." Max had a nasty expression on his face.
"The planet is like a body," Red XIII tried to explain, "It's reactions are automatic. It detects a threat, it releases anti-bodies, destroying the threat. If it finds a cancer, part of the planet gone wrong, it also tries to kill it. The planet doesn't stop, though. Once the reaction is started, it won't end."
"So we're doomed, is that what you're trying to say?"
"The planet will always do what it feels is neccesary for its long-term survival." Red XII lowered his head.
"Wouldn't letting us live and stop our Mako use be better for it?"
"Don't you see? You might live without Mako for 300 years, but what about after that? When people forget the cost of Mako? Couldn't it be rediscovered? The planet thinks on a much grander scale. That it wishes humanity's destruction is obvious by the fact that it will unleash another Weapon on the world."
Max stopped. "So where do you stand in all of this? You're not human. You have nothing to gain by helping us. Why wouldn't you want the planet to be saved from us?"
"I knew some humans well, once. Nothing about them convinced me they deserved this. One of them once told me that we never really fight for ideas or principles, that we do so for ourselves or others." He paused for a moment. "To put it more simply, I feel like it." They continued their journey in silence.
Max reached Midgar with his generator down to one or two days of power left. He hoped to find a place to recharge it. Midgar had once been Mako capital of the world, so he didn't think it would be too hard. Before he started looking for a reactor, he took a moment to view the city before him. It was now overgrown with weeds, but it remained a majestic sight, perhaps even more so due to the green blanket that covered one side of it. The eight main reactors looked dilapidated, but they might be repairable, assuming he had a small army to work on them. Hopefully, he would be able to squeeze out just a little bit of Mako for his field generator. He and Red XII headed for the nearest reactor as soon as they entered the city. He ignored the remnants of houses he saw on the way. He walked into the reactor building and headed down the main corridor while Red stayed outside. He entered a side corridor randomly, hoping to find an outlet or charger of some kind. The room was dark, so he hit the switch.
That was when it hit him. Inside the building, the lights had been on,the automatic doors had opened, and judging by the temperature the air-conditioning was working too.
Midgar wasn't deserted.
* * * * * *
Max recharged his field generator then rejoined Red XIII. "Someone is here, or was recently. The power is running and much of the equipment looks to be in pretty good shape. The city may look run-down, but all the utilities are on-line." Red remained silent for a few moments.
"I haven't been here for 500 years. This place holds many bad memories for me. How anyone might be here, much less keep all the systems operational, is beyond my grasp." Max looked upwards.
"Maybe we can find some answers in that big building up there." Max pointed at the large edifice in the center of the city.
"The Shin-Ra building. I suppose it is about time I returned there. Let's go."
The elevators still worked in the building. THey failed to find anything on the lower floors, and they seemed to be in a state of disrepair. The top few floors, however, were immaculately maintained. There were offices, a lounge, and what looked like a big model of the city. Red insisted that they avoid certain floors. It gave Max a chill. He noticed Red XIII had the same reaction, though perhaps for different reasons. By the time they got to the last floor, they still had not found anyone.
Max stepped out onto a large red carpet. In front of him was a large desk, in which sat...something. He raised his shotgun at the being/creature/object. Red growled, "Stop, Max! Someday you're gonna hurt someone with that." His voice took on a much happier tone. "Cait Sith! It has been a long time since we last met." Red XIII walked up to the thing. It looked like a giant stuffed toy with a cat on it's head. It still did not move. "Cait Sith...?" The upper, cat-like part opened it's eyes. It began talking in a lively, upbeat, recorded voice.
"I'm Cait Sith. My real body is dead now. But it told me to keep Midgar nice till some folks could come back to it. I hope you like the job I've done."
"What!" Red seemed shocked. The thing simply repeated it's message. "No. You were never just an empty shell. Why won't you talk to me?" Red seemed to be talking half to himself. Max left him alone and walked down the stairs.
Thoroughly perturbed by what he had seen, Max cleared his head by examining some of the systems in the building. One of them looked to be some kind of long-range scanner. It was easy to use, and Max decided it would be best to check up on Weapon. The image he received on his viewscreen was less than encouraging. He saw the remains of Meist's town, but no Weapon. The time to fight would be near.
Max found a place to sleep in what looked like an executive apartment, complete with freshly stocked refrigerator. Whatever 'Cait Sith' was, it was doing a good job.
He spent the next several days learning how to control the systems of Midgar, particularly the Mako Cannon, which Cait Sith had repaired and built over 500 years. He didn't ask Red about Cait Sith, and Red didn't look like he wanted to talk. He did seem to be somewhat depressed about it, though. Red assisted Max in his work, being a veritable genius. Aside from the Cannon, Midgar had large stockpiles of powered armor and conventional weapons, but Max lacked the manpower to use them. He hoped Weapon decided to come near Midgar, or his plan was useless. He hadn't been able to find Weapon. Red hypothesized that it was underwater. That sounded like a good explanation to Max.
After about a week of this, Red reported detecting Weapon near the northern coast. Max began charging the generators to fire the gun. The generators were much weaker than they were 500 years ago. He was in a tough situation. If he started the charge too early, he ran the risk of an uncontrolled reaction, too late, and he might not have enough power. Weapon was moving a bit faster now. It would probably reach killing range in four days. Realizing he might be dead very soon, he decided to ask Red about Cait Sith.
"We was one of my friends 500 years ago. He stayed in Midgar when most people were evacuating. I lost touch with him, we all thought he was dead. Midgar is the only place I never went, and it seems he never left it. Cait Sith could be called a robot," Red kept his explanation as clinical and devoid of emotion as possible. "His real body remotely controlled that toy cat. I guess it makes sense that it would die, and he gave it a command before he died. I hadn't really thought of him as anything other than a friend, so I suppose I was just disturbed by it's behavior." Max could sense that Red's calm behavior was a lie, but he let it drop.
Four days before W-day, as Max had termed the time Weapon would arrive, Red XIII nudged him awake.
"Someone is here to see you." Max rubbed his eyes.
"What! If you're pulling my leg I'm gonna hurt you."
"They're on the first floor." Max put on his clothes and walked to the elevator. It quickly brought him down to the bottom floor. When he got down there, he saw quite a few friendly faces. "Meist!"
"Max, glad to see you again. When the people of Kalm heard about what you were doing, they used all their portable field generators to get here." Max saw about thirty people from Kalm. He was glad they had come, but he hoped he wasn't just going to get them all killed.
"Great! I could use some help. We don't have much time. Could two of you help me with the Mako Cannon?" Before long, all the people had been assigned a job, ranging from reactor control to heavy armor. Meist still had 'Missing Score', and had found a suit of ShinRa officer powered armor. She had been unanimously chosen to lead the ground defense. Both she and Max knew the Cannon was their only real chance. Not having seen Weapon, the people from Kalm were much more optimistic about the coming battle. Max was too busy to spend much time in idle chatter, though. He did talk to Meist a little.
"Max, the planet has stopped screaming," she said out of nowhere."It is as if it is happy, like something it needs to do is about to be finished." She paused for a few moments. "I think...nevermind." Max let it be. Anything about the planet made him uneasy. Red didn't bring any good news either.
"Judging from it's current pace, we will have necessary charge about an hour before Weapon arrives."
"Cutting it close there, eh?" Max turned away to check on the reactor output levels. He was proud of the way the people were getting ready for the attack. No one was wasting any time, and the training was coming along nicely. They were'nt great marksmen, but that wouldn't be a problem against Weapon.
With only three days left till W-day, the preparations got more frenetic. He was checking with Meist on the attack plan when Red called Max to the scanner room. "Weapon has increased it's pace. It will be here late tomorrow."
"Will the gun be charged?" Max asked apprehensively. If weapon arrived too early, it was curtains for the whole human race.
"I do not think so." Red paused as if in deep thought. "Do not change your plans." Max thought this advice odd, but decided it was good to trust the judgement of a 500-year old intelligent dog. He found out why Red had said so the next day. He found a message typed on the computer terminal in the room Red had stayed in. It read--
I am Nanaki, son of the warrior Seto. Seto fought alone against the Gi, bravely sacrificing himself for Cosmo Canyon. I will do the same. Weapon must be slowed, and I am the one to do it. 546 years is enough for any creature. I would have told you personally, but I felt it would be easier if there were no good-byes. I hope it all turns out for the best. Max, I liked you for the short time that I knew you. You're all the things I like about humans- stubborn, foolish, short-sighted, narrow-minded, and above all, what you call 'human'. I suppose I have said too much already. Be sure to tell my cubs how I die.--Nanaki---Red XIII
Max rushed to the window and took out his binoculars. Staring into the distance, he saw Weapon standing alone, unmoving. He adjusted the focus a bit and was shocked by what he saw. Weapon's left wing was missing, and it was covered with gashes and burn marks. Max knew Red had some powerful materia, but he had never guessed he could do that kind of damage. He looked around, but didn't see a body anywhere. Red must have been beaten. It was sad, really. Such a rare, magnificent, legendary creature, who was also a kind, noble individual, dying for a cause he had no immediate reason to fight for, all because of a love for a people who were destroying the planet in which he lived. He couldn't help but admire his sacrifice, while at the same time hate him for dying. What a screwy world.
Once Max got over his immediate grief, he felt a surge of inspiration. Weapon wasn't immortal. Red XIII had hurt it. It was weak now. They could win. They would win.
* * * * * * *
Max checked the calculations one last time. He wished he had Red with him to help with the math. In any case, the gun would be fired in less then an hour. Max sat down in the chair in the top floor of the ShinRa building, feeling a little bit like the famous Rufus as he did. The history of ShinRa was an important subject at the school in Kalm. He looked out the window, looking at the scattered defenses. Meist's troops would be able to operate over a large area, giving them a significant advantage over the soldiers in the first battle, who had been trapped in their compound. He still didn't relish the coming fight. Max nervously held his shotgun, knowing it would be like a pea-shooter against Weapon. He knew he had no choice but to win. If there was an afterlife, he could not bear to see his sister again if he failed. He hoped Red XIII was keeping her company. Jagir had loved the white german shepherd they had had when Max was a kid. It had died one year before she did. He remembered how sad she had been at the time. After that, they had had only each other. Max looked out the window again. Weapon was clearly visible to the naked eye. He picked up the phone on his desk. "Fire!"
The Cannon shuddered as it filled with energy. It looked like it was about to explode at any moment. He could almost feel the power building, second by second. It seemed like an eternity before it finally fired. When it did, it was a spectacular sight. A blue beam blasted, boring in towards the burly behemoth before it. Weapon tried to dodge, and was hit square in its right shoulder, shearing off arm and wing. It wasn't totally beaten, but it was only a matter of time before it succumbed. Weapon fell to its knees and tried to prop itself up on its remaining arm, firing away with it's smaller, chest-mounted guns. Meist led the ground forces in a concentrated attack on its shoulder joint. 'Missing Score' erupted, chipping away at Weapon, sending pieces splintering away from the joint. The combined fire whittled away at it, and weapon was unable to offer any effectual resistance from it's current position. Meist stood still for a second, and Max saw bolts of lightning descending from the sky, hammering the joint. He realized what she he had meant about the people being 'living materia'. The arm eventually seperated, and the armless collosus collapsed head-first to the ground. The men stopped firing. Meist stood in front of the colossus, which was now making weak attempts to wriggle back to its feet. Without a word, she placed her hand on the top of Weapons head. Its cranium blew apart in a blast of light.
The entire battle had taken less then fifteen minutes from when Max fired the Cannon. Some of the troops had climbed up the torso, and were doing an almost comical victory dance, looking like the Lilliputians in 'Gulliver's Travels'. When the people returned to Midgar, they expected Max to give some kind of victory speech. He started towards the makeshift podium at the base of the ShinRa building. Before he got there, Meist pulled him aside. "The planet, I can't feel it anymore. It's as if it is..."
"Dead?" Max almost sounded hopeful.
"No, more like unconscious. I don't know what this means. Wait, I sense... a voice. It wants... to speak with us!"
"I can't be sure. talking with the planet, it isn't words, more like ideas."
"Then perhaps you had better handle it. You're the only one who can talk to it. All I'll say is that you must make it stop its..." Max paused to consider how to describe it. "war..." That was just the word he was looking for. "against us." Meist nodded, then began to gaze into space as if daydreaming.
Max gave his speech, some macho baloney about how much butt they had kicked, and a tribute to the five (six, counting Red) who had died in the fight. He occasionally glanced back at Meist to see if she had moved. She didn't. It wasn't till two hours later that she stood up and walked over to Max. Max looked at her face. It didn't look good. "It doesn't want to take a chance... beating Weapon only made it even more scared of us... I'm sorry." She looked sad, and tears were beginning to form in her eyes. "I'm sorry. I failed." Max's face remained impassive, then took on an evil grin.
"I got a plan." He started chuckling to himself. "I think I've figured it all out. We won one battle, now let's win the war."
* * * * * * * *
Two hours later, Max sat down in front of the main reactor control grid. Meist and Cait Sith were the only ones in the room. "What are you doing?" Meist asked nervously.
"Recalibrating this thing over here." was his simple reply.
"I mean, what are you trying to do?"
"Kill the planet. I'll open up the generators, override the safety controls, and set them to bleed all the Mako out, forming the equivalent of an open wound. In a short period of time, the spirit energy will be sucked out to the point of planet death. That answer your question?" Meist stared in shock.
"But, you'll kill everyone on the planet! What is this all about, revenge?"
"Yes. The planet must pay. We'll all die soon anyway, at least we can take it with us. Doesn't that make sense?"
"No! It doesn't make any sense at all." Meist pointed 'Missing Score' at Max's head. "Sorry you made me do this..." Before she could finish the sentence, Cait Sith smacked the gun out of her hand and held her in an unbreakable headlock.
"Sorry, all safety regulations must be observed while in Midgar," a recorded voice said.
"Two minutes till reactor overload. Jagir will be happy with me." Meist struggled to free herself, but a stuffed moogle is surprisingly strong. By the time 1:30 came by, she stopped struggling. "The planet made me do this. If it had let us be, none of this would be necessary. I'm sorry, Meist, I hoped you'd understand." Meist had stopped listening, and simply stared into space, talking with the planet. "What, warning it? It won't do any good, it can't stop me, no one can stop me!" He did his best 'mad scientist' laugh. Max gleefully counted out the seconds till overload. "Twenty-eight, Twenty-seven..."
"Stop!" Meist broke out of her silence. "The planet has asked for peace!"
"Has it?" Max picked his generator off his back and threw it away. "You know, it does feel a little different." He waited till the countdown hit eighteen before stopping it. "Let her go, Cait. I'm sorry, Meist. Would you like an explanation?"
"It would help! What the hell were you doing?"
"Red told me the planet would always do what was needed to survive. Normally, it wins in the long-run by killing us. By putting it in a situation where it would stop or die, I forced it to stop at gunpoint, so to speak." Meist calmed down, but only slightly.
"You could have told me first!"
"I needed you to talk with the planet. You said it wasn't like normal speech, so I guessed you would have to be sincere for the plan to work. I didn't mean to scare you...well, actually I did."
"That was at the same time the most clever and the craziest thing I've ever seen." Her voice took on a darker tone. "If the plan didn't work, would you have kept going?" Max hesitated for a few seconds.
"I don't know. There was a part of me that really wanted to kill the planet, and a part that felt that life was too valuable to waste. I really don't know what I'd have done when push came to shove. You were right to try to kill me." Meist changed the subject.
"We have to stop using Mako now." Mako had been the key to survival for 500 years. It had kept people alive and killed them, made their lives miserable while providing everything they needed. Max wasn't sure if his own Mako sickness would recede now. He did know that he wanted to live a lot more than he used to.
"I don't think that will be too hard to achieve. After 500 years, I think we've had enough of Mako." They said nothing for a few seconds.
It was Cait Sith who broke the silence. "I won't be able to run Midgar anymore in that case," a synthesized voice sounded, "I hope you like the job I did." The voice softened, till it was a barely audible whisper. "It will be nice to see Red again." With that, he collapsed to the ground, his limbs hanging limp at the side of his plump round body. Max looked at Meist. A nod confirmed that he hadn't imagined it. Max hadn't thought of him as more than a puppet, a machine, at best a crude artificial intelligence. Perhaps it had been more, but Max doubted he would ever find out. Whatever the case, without Cait Sith, Midgar would never have survived to fulfill its final mission. It was sad, just getting a glimpse of what Cait Sith used to be, but it was hard to cry when the dream of millions had just been fulfilled.
"Let's go, Max. I think we have a few events that need announcing."
"What should we do with him?" He gestured toward the stuffed toy.
"We'll build him a tomb, here in Midgar. I think he'd like that."
"Me too. This rusty old place was everything to him. Now that it's gone... You know, it's sort of like I was when Jagir died. I wanted to just stop...Nevermind. Like you said, we've got some announcements to make."
After breaking the good (and bad) news, Max gave the people a second victory speech, this time with feeling. "We won it, boys. You, me, Meist, Red XIII, Cait Sith. We wanted to live, and we didn't let anyone stop us without a fight. Not Weapon, not the planet, in the end, not even me." He realized then how pointless it was, to kill the innocent for the sake of avenging the dead. He also realized then that he hadn't spared the planet for it's own sake. He didn't know whether to be proud or ashamed of that. Max ripped himself away from his introspection. "What's a celebration without some fireworks!" He pointed his shotgun in the air and fired.
by Patrick McDonald JagerMeizt@aol.com
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