Chapter II: Insert Chapter Title Here

 
 

I really think you should do the quote for this chapter.

Bacon Slicer, attrib.

Writing of Wrongs

 
 

Perigee awoke. The makeshift cots set up in the basement of Seventh Heaven weren't the most comfortable ever designed, but they were better than nothing. He sat up, and looked around blearily. Cloud was still asleep, and from the discordant sounds of singing emanating from the pipes, Barret was taking a shower. Tifa was probably upstairs, then.

Perhaps I should remind her of what she's supposed to be doing, mused Perigee. After all that's happened, or more precisely, hasn't happened, maybe the plot could do with a nudge or two.

He climbed onto the protesting pinball machine, and pressed the 'up' button.

 
 

Tifa looked up when she heard the lift arriving, but relaxed when she saw who it was. Perigee, in a moment of rare perception, or perhaps prediction, noticed this and shrewdly asked, "Expecting someone else?"

She shook her head, but Perigee kept looking at her. She gave in.

"Oh, all right. I was hoping it was Cloud."

"Not this early. I'm sure he was awake most of the night because of Barret's snoring. I know I was."

Tifa laughed. "Yeah, I know what you mean. So... did you want something?"

"Well... yes, actually." There was one thing that hadn't really been made clear. Well, there were several, but at least he could clear up one right now. Plus, there was a chance to make his own character a bit more believable. "Cloud joined SOLDIER after he left Nibelheim, right? Then he worked his way up to SOLDIER, First Class?"

"How did you know that?"

"I worked at Shinra a few years ago. In the Mako R&D department. We were supposed to keep an eye on all SOLDIER, First Class members, in case we could find some more about the effects of Mako on humans."

"Oh. Well, y-yes, that's what Cloud told me," stuttered Tifa.

"Don't you believe him? I mean now that he's made a name for himself. He wouldn't lie about that, would he?" Perigee grinned inwardly. This would be easier than he had thought.

"Well... he did say..." said Tifa, uncertainly.

"It should be easy enough to find out. Cloud seems like a man of his word. Why don't you just get him to promise you that he's a big hero now?"

Tifa blinked. "Yes... a promise. That would work perfectly. Thanks, Perigee."

He smiled at her, then walked out of the bar. Now that that was over, he might as well get the few materia they'd need for the next mission, and that shop around the corner would be ideal.

 
 

The pinball machine grumbled, and lowered into the cellar. It returned shortly, bringing a very tired-looking Cloud with it. He noticed Tifa behind the bar, and asked, "'ve you got 'ny coffee?"

"Yes, three sorts. Decaf, Regular, and Bahamut. You want the Bahamut, right?"

Cloud nodded. He sat down wordlessly on one of the stools at the bar while Tifa started making the coffee.

"Say, Cloud...?"

"'s?"

"I want to go with you on the mission today."

"Hmm?"

"I want to go with you on the mission today."

"'k."

She handed him the coffee.

"Well, I wanted to see more of you, since... what?"

He paused, the cup halfway to his lips. "I said 'k. 'S'okay 'f you come along."

"Oh..." Cloud slurped at the coffee, and suddenly sat up straight. The fact that he was on a backless stool meant that his sudden movement flung him backwards, and he landed in an undignified heap on the floor.

He got up, brushing the dust off of his shirt, and smiled at Tifa. "Thanks. You've got to tell me where you buy that stuff. Listen, I'm going to go get some Tents, in case we get tired. I'll be at the item shop if anyone needs me."

She managed to smile weakly back at him. Oh well, she'd bring up the promise later. Barret would be out of the shower soon, and then they'd be off.

 
 

"I think we really should be getting going now," Mr. Big observed, watching the group assemble at the station out of the corner of his eye. "It's quite late, you know."

The Author snored at him.

"Up! Up! Up!" shouted the rabbit in desperation. "Come on, you said yourself we need to follow them closely."

Still no response.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," muttered Mr. Big, proceeding to beat the Author about the face with his ears.

The Author stirred.

"Hmm?" he murmured, sitting up. "What time is... oh." He spotted AVALANCHE boarding the train, and his brain immediately fired up and accelerated away. "Let's get moving then, shall we?" He stood up, dusted off his cloak, and placed Mr. Big firmly yet gently on his shoulder, covering him with the cloak.

"Don't forget to turn your eyes on," said a muffled voice from his shoulder. The Author nodded, reached up and flicked the switch for his eyes, upon which they crackled and slowly began to glow.

"Thanks," he said, and strode off.

 
 

"Where's Perigee got to?" asked Tifa, leaning against one of the luggage racks in the train carriage. "We should be leaving in a few minutes, shouldn't we?"

"He said he was going to get something," Jessie replied. "I'm sure he'll -"

"Sorry I'm late," Perigee interrupted, charging into the carriage and skidding to a halt in front of Barret. He reached down to a plastic carrier bag he carried under his arm bearing the logo of, 'Macc's Materia,' and produced a handful of iridescent green orbs. "I thought we could do with a few materia, in case things start to get nasty. Let's see, I've got a Fire, an Ice, a Lightning, and three Restores." He caught Barret's stare. "Well, they were doing a two for the price of three offer, so... Hang on, that doesn't make sense..."

"Don't worry about it," Tifa said quickly before Barret could make a nasty comment. "I'll have Ice, if no one else wants it."

"Fine by me." Cloud shrugged. "I'll take Lightning."

"Damnit! That means I get... hey, that means I get Fire!" said Barret, cheering up towards the end of the sentence. "C'mon, let's go give the Shinra some!"

"Barret, we've got to wait 'til the train leaves first," Tifa reminded him reproachfully.

"Oh, yeah. Well... c'mon, let's go find a seat!"

The train shuddered into life as they made their way into the first carriage. Perigee wasn't particularly adept on his feet and almost fell over backwards as it accelerated.

"You should be more careful," Jessie commented shyly, catching him and propping him up. "Don't want to get hurt this early in the mission."

"Yeah, we gotta be on top form for this!" Barret agreed. He scanned the carriage. Almost all of the seats were taken up by sleeping tramps, who, having no real home to go to, tended to live on the Midgar transport network on a permanent basis. It wasn't too bad a life, as one that Perigee had quizzed a while back had observed. Flexible working hours, meet lots of new faces, plenty of opportunities to travel...

Barret respected these guys. He nodded to the others and, wordlessly, they headed into the second car.

"Right," he said as soon as they entered. "We're travellin' in this one."

Other people who didn't know Barret quite as well as the members of AVALANCHE did might have pointed out that every seat here was taken. However, one of them was occupied - temporarily - by a smartly-dressed Shinra executive.

Barret put on his best 'yo' say sumthin'?' face and ambled over to him. He leaned nonchalantly on one of the walls and did his utmost to loom imposingly.

"Yo' say sumthin'?" he enquired.

Rather to his surprise, the man calmly glanced up from his newspaper and scrutinised him carefully. That wasn't meant to happen. In most situations like this, the unfortunate individual was too terrified even to say anything, and usually needed to be rescued by Jessie or one of the others.

"Not as far as I, is aware," he replied flatly. "If, however, I, did so without meaning to, I, apologises profusely for having disturbed you. In any case, currently you are disturbing I,, and it would be in your best interests to leave now. Good day." He settled back into his seat and returned his full attention to the shares page.

Brighter characters than Barret might have realised at this stage that they were facing an intellectual superior and backed down, but as far as Barret was concerned he damn well wasn't going to lose this dispute.

"Yo' know who I am?" he asked.

The man sighed, folded his paper up, and placed it next to him. "I, has seen pictures of you in the company files, yes. I, believes the document was headed, 'insignificant annoyances.'" He waved a hand haughtily. "Begone, fool."

"Foo'? FOO'? Yo' know we blew yo' damn reactor yesterday? Yo' think yo' can call us insifgn... infigsin... wha'ever!"

"Destroyed the reactor?" I, laughed harshly. "Yes, you and every other dissenter group in the city, if we were to believe you. Everyone knows perfectly well the core overheated. Everyone except you fools, it seems."

The other members of AVALANCHE exchanged slightly amused glances. It certainly would be an experience to see Barret lose an argument like this.

"You... grr... The hell you so calm!" Barret exclaimed. He appeared to be seriously considering sending this guy to the next world. "You bustin' up my rhythm?"

"Apparently." I, nodded towards Barret's gun-arm. "May I, suggest you refrain from doing anything regrettable with that? While the loss of I,'s life would not unduly concern the company, he is sure that the loss of yours would be a relatively important event, in your small scale of things. I, strongly suggests you leave now before I, is forced to -"

"You ain't doin' nothin'!" Barret shouted, disengaging the safety catch on his arm. "That does it, I've had enough!"

The executive brought his hands together and cracked his knuckles loudly. "So." He leaned forwards until their eyes were barely an inch apart. "You, sir, are 'doin' nothin',' as you so eloquently put it. Do you honestly believe that I, would be talking to you if I, actually believed there was any danger of you harming him? You are a waste of space. It is people like you that make I, wonder exactly why this city uses two plates when all people such as you could be easily removed and the remainder fit on one. Your life looks to be a long series of arguments and nothing actually carried out. Perhaps I,'s opinion may have been changed had you fired one shot, but so far I, is unimpressed. Now kindly leave I, alone. I, actually has some work to get done."

"You - what the?" Barret exclaimed as the interior of the train was bathed in an eerie red light. "You! You did this, didn't yo'?"

The man smiled wanly and shrugged.

"It's the ID check!" Jessie called, running up to them. "Something must have gone wrong! We need to get off the train before they lock us in!"

"You ain't gonna get away with this!" Barret shouted over his shoulder as the group bundled themselves through the door at the far end of the carriage, nearly crashing into the black-cloaked man who ran through in the opposite direction and skidded to a halt next to I,.

"I thought you said you'd got their ID's sorted out!" he exclaimed. I, nodded calmly.

"I, has," he stated flatly.

"So..." The Author (the man in the cloak, for the less astute readers) thought for a moment. "So if the ID check hasn't detected them, then what's going... oh."

I, nodded again, sat down on his seat, and picked up his newspaper once more. "If you had required your ID to be verified, you should have asked I,."

"Warning! Unauthorised passenger detected in car B!" a voice from the ceiling informed them. "Commencing lockdown!"

The Author considered this. "See you," he said eventually, and ran after AVALANCHE.

 
 

"C'mon!" Barret shouted at Perigee, down at the far end of the train. "We gotta jump or the Shinra'll lock us in here!"

"Um..." Perigee was pretty certain that there were a few things more stupid than jumping off a moving train into a tunnel, but right now none were quite as... 'in his face' was perhaps an appropriate term. He was absolutely certain, however, that he didn't want Barret in his face either. A phrase referring to a frying pan and a fire sprung immediately to mind.

Cloud sighed, gripped the scientist round the waist with one arm, and threw himself through the open door into the rapidly receding blackness. It was clear from Tifa's expression that she appreciated this supremely stupid act of courage before she, too, leaped. One by one, the members of AVALANCHE left the train.

A couple of seconds later the Author burst into the carriage.

"Unauthorised passenger detected in car E!" continued the voice from above. "Final lockdown in ten... nine..."

"Oh, God," muttered the Author gloomily, running towards the exit. His cloak billowed out behind him as he did so, revealing a pair of fairly well-kept jeans underneath. The more observant onlookers might have noticed a couple of fountain pens in one of his pockets.

"Look, are you really sure we should do this?" asked Mr. Big's nervous voice from his shoulder as he reached the door and looked out.

"Three... two..."

"No," replied the Author decisively, and promptly jumped out of the train. Showing the precision timing upon which the success of the LTF depended, his head collided with pretty much the only sign on the entire track as it was passing, so the overall result was that he turned several somersaults before finally crashing into the tunnel wall and sliding gracefully down it onto the metal floor.

 
 

The guard manning the front desk at the Shinra HQ leaned back on the wall and folded his arms across his chest. He'd been standing here, doing precisely nothing, for the last couple of hours, and frankly it was beginning to get just slightly repetitive.

Under other circumstances he might have welcomed a distraction, but as it was he objected to the fact that a man wearing a light beige trenchcoat dropped down from the ceiling in front of him, grabbed him by his hair and rammed his head into the wall at least six or seven times.

Special Agent Warbling Croft, ex-SOLDIER, ex-Shinra elite guard, brushed the dust off his coat that had accumulated during his crawl along the ceiling and looked around him. He knew his way around the HQ pretty well by now, after all the training and hours of studying maps he'd had to undergo, but every time he tried this he always had to stop and decide on the best route. The lifts were obviously the quickest route to the top, but then again, he could quite easily be trapped. On the other hand, he didn't fancy charging up the stairs like he had last time.

Attracted by the guard's shout, a couple of soldiers ran down the main staircase, drawing their machine guns as they came. Croft spun round to face them, and, in one fluid movement, drew his pistol from within his trenchcoat and fired two shots, with unerring inaccuracy. He threw himself to one side, rolled as he hit the floor, and made for the lift.

Bullets sprayed the floor around him as he ran, one or two tearing holes in his coat. He sprinted into the lift, backflipped as shots flew through the air where he had been, and rammed his fist into the button for the sixtieth floor. As the doors slid shut and the lift began to accelerate upwards, he leaned back on the glass wall and breathed heavily. That hadn't happened before.

 
 

Tentatively, an arm stirred in the darkness of the tunnel. One by one, the fingers flexed cautiously. Then, obviously deciding that the hand, at least, had made it without any serious injuries, it worked its way along until it reached a leg. It prodded this a few times.

"Ouch," said Perigee's voice. "I think I've broken my leg."

"No, you haven't," replied Cloud from somewhere in the vicinity. "Trust me on this one."

"Why?"

"Because that's my leg you're poking."

After some considerable effort, the two finally managed to extricate themselves and stood up, one rather more steadily than the other. They squinted around them for a while until Perigee produced a match and struck it on Cloud's sword, which he currently carried on his back.

"Now what?" he asked.

Cloud shrugged. "Guess we just work our way along here 'til we bump into the others."

It didn't take long for Perigee's match to burn out, and shortly after this they bumped into Tifa, or, to be more precise, tripped over her.

"Is that you, Cloud?" she squeaked as both men collapsed on top of her.

"Oh, good," added Wedge's voice. "So we're all here then."

"Damn right we're all here!" shouted Barret. "Yo' thought Cloud was gonna waltz off an' leave us here?"

"I didn't say that!" Wedge replied defensively.

A pair of loud clangs from around Tifa indicated that Perigee and Cloud had managed to stand up again. Being as close to the tunnel wall as they were, the ceiling was rather lower than might otherwise have been the case.

A third one a few seconds later told the others that one of them had helped Tifa to her feet as well.

"We ought to keep moving," Jessie pointed out. "When the Shinra find out that we got off the train, they might come looking for us in here."

Something flickered and then burst into light as Perigee lit another match. He handed it to Cloud, who nodded acknowledgement and took the lead. Every few seconds when the current match burnt out, he passed him another one.

After a couple of minutes gentle ambling down the tunnel towards where Jessie assured them was an access shaft leading to the reactor, Cloud stopped abruptly near a corner. Tifa continued straight into him, and it was thankful that the match he was holding decided at that moment to give up, otherwise she might have seen the grin temporarily passing across his face.

"Wait a sec," he whispered. "I think I can hear someone coming."

Sure enough, a few seconds later a pair of lights made their way round the corner towards AVALANCHE. They were at roughly head height and remarkably close together, but unfortunately too bright for the terrorists to make out who was holding them.

"Are you sure they're down this way?" asked a voice.

"Of course they're down this way," replied another, obviously trying to remain calm. "We jumped off the train after them, remember? Therefore they must be somewhere around here."

"Yes, but we do seem... I mean seem to have walked an inordinately long way," continued the first voice. "Perhaps we might be better off waiting somewhere for them, rather than trying to tail them. Just think how embarrassing it'd be if we've gone past them already without realising."

The lights stopped.

"You may have a point, actually," mused the second voice. "Good idea." The lights swung round to face the other way, and began moving off again. "We'd better make sure we can find somewhere where we're not going to miss them."

"Oh, don't worry about that. Trust me, I'm good at that sort of thing."

The voices and lights disappeared round the corner again.

"I think they must be onto us," Wedge observed. "They're pretty quick at sending out men, aren't they?"

"They'd better not catch us," Perigee muttered under his breath. He dreaded to think what could happen to the plot if Cloud and Aeris didn't bump into each other this time. "Let's get moving, then," he said louder. "I'm sure the access shaft's this way."

 
 

Agent Croft professionally fitted a couple more bullets into his pistol and peeped round the corner at the guards, still snoring loudly at each other. This should be easy.

He hurried out from behind his cover and made stealthily for the far side of the room, towards the large flight of stairs that he remembered leading to the 70th floor, where he knew he'd find the President. He was halfway across when a hole opened up in the steel floor and an unusual grey gopher popped up. It was wearing a miner's hat and an expression of short-sightedness.

"I'm not in the book," it explained informatively, descending back into its hole, but not before Croft tripped over it and hit the floor with a loud clang. The hole subsequently sealed itself up.

"Huh? Wassat?" asked one of the guards, waking up abruptly. Croft spotted a handy wall and disappeared behind it with surprising speed. He stared at where the gopher had appeared. He'd spent enough time around the Author to know that when completely unpredictable and unexplainable things started happening, something very weird was going on with literature. He would have to mention it when they got in touch again. But, for the moment, there were more immediate considerations.

The soldier approaching nervously was considerably shocked as Agent Warbling Croft burst out from behind the wall and sprinted towards the stairs. He reached for his machine gun, only to realise he'd left it over by the wall. Swearing to himself, he ran over to it and grabbed it by the barrel.

Croft charged up the final flight of stairs and found himself face to face with President Shinra, who was standing a matter of metres away.

"Congratulations," the President said in a rather disjointed voice. "Your time was, eleven, minutes, sixteen, seconds. That is a whole, one, minutes, twenty, three, seconds, faster than your previous best."

The room faded out, and Croft found himself back on the good old 45th floor, in the SOLDIER virtual reality training room. The first thing he saw was I, Caroussis' face at close range, and this is not a pleasant experience.

"What are you doing here?" he asked. "I didn't think you socialised with the likes of us."

"I, doesn't," Caroussis snapped. "I, is only here to fetch you to the President's suite. You have been selected for the latest spying program. Project Overseer."

"That's the one the Author wanted me to get into, isn't it?" Croft disconnected himself from the training machine, which promptly said, "Emergency! Life signs minimal!" in a flat voice. "Everything's going according to plan, then?"

"Of course. With I, ensuring the success, how could there be any problems?"

Croft looked sideways at I, as the two proceeded sedately towards the lifts, to see if there was any trace of humour in that last sentence. As always, nothing more than arrogance. Not for the first time, he wondered why the Author had seen fit to bring I, with them. He was just looking forward to the time when he'd be able to join the good guys. He really hoped it wouldn't be too much longer now.

 
 

The grating covering a ventilation shaft in the Sector 5 reactor found itself being dragged pitilessly from its residence, then dropped several hundred feet to hit the cement floor with a painful brang-bng-ng-g.

"Oops," muttered Perigee. We ought to still be protected by the narrative, though, he reassured himself silently. There've only been small deviations so far. But still... best to keep the characters in the dark. They usually don't like it when they find out they're fictional.

The group slid down a convenient pipe, and somehow managed to disembark at the bottom without anybody landing on anybody else's head, although Cloud did seem rather slow in moving out of the way of Tifa.

Barret looked around proudly. "Alwright! Just 'cos we're in, that don't mean we can relax. Tifa, Wedge, you go secure the exit. Cloud, you me Jessie an' Perigee're goin' to set the bomb."

Now I find out whether my plan worked or not, thought Perigee.

"Hey, wait just a sec!" exclaimed Tifa. "I'm going with Cloud." She smiled, slightly shyly.

"Oh, fine, but you're messin' up my plans. Don't you go forgetting who's in charge here! Jess, you go help Wedge, huh?"

"Gotcha." Jessie and Wedge climbed up a nearby ladder, and vanished into an elevator.

Cloud spoke up. "Everyone ready? Then let's go!"

"Uh... Cloud?" asked Tifa. "That's kind of a boring way of saying it. Can't you say it with a little more... originality?"

Cloud scratched his head. "Okay... um... let's mosey!"

Barret slapped his forehead, but Perigee grinned, apparently laughing at a joke only he understood.

 
 

The core of the reactor was surprisingly small compared to the structure around it. It was a squat grey metal box with a somewhat oily sheen to it, the characteristic reaction of metal to the presence of materia. Perigee had termed materia as being a form of 'meta-magic,' that is, 'sort-of-magic,' since the users needed none of the intelligence traditionally required for magic use. Even Barret could use them!

Cloud pulled out the bomb from his pocket, and placed it gingerly on the core. When he pressed the single button on it, eight thin metal legs extended from its base, which clamped it securely to the metallic surface. A solitary red light appeared on the bomb.

"Okay, that's it. We've got half an hour to get out of here," announced Cloud. "That ought to make it a little easier than last time."

The others nodded, and together they hurried back up the maintenance ladder they had come in on.

 
 

As the four reached the walkway just outside the reactor, they heard a noise from below.

"...a helicopter?" suggested Cloud.

The layout of the place was such that the walkway was all that was keeping them from plunging to the distant slums of Sector 5 below. The helicopter circled below once or twice, then hovered up and landed on the walkway, not far in front of AVALANCHE.

A short, heavy man wearing a royal-red business suit hopped out of the helicopter and waddled slowly towards the group. Another man, this one of more normal proportions, and wearing a more typical black suit, peered out of the helicopter with an expression of extreme boredom.

"Hey!" shouted Barret. "That's Prez Shinra!" He unlocked the safety on his gun-arm, and prepared to fire at the shorter target.

"I wouldn't do that, if I were you," said the President. Barret heard the click of several machineguns behind him being readied.

"Barret, they're SOLDIER," informed Cloud.

Barret rounded on him. "Yeah, jes' like you! You never quit the Shinra after all!"

"No, I did! They..."

President Shinra interrupted calmly, with the quiet assurance of one who has never had a direct order disobeyed. "Now let's see... you're that terrorist group... What was it called again?"

"AVALANCHE! An' don't you forget it!"

"Ah yes, the alpine anarchists. Well, you can't expect me to remember every name." The faintest glimmer of what might have been an attempt at a smile appeared on his face briefly. "Unless, of course, you become as infamous as Sephiroth."

Cloud blinked. Sephiroth...?

"As fascinating as this discussion is, I have a prior appointment." The President turned and began ambling sedately back towards the helicopter. "But I am sure I, will be able to explain your situation."

"Wha'?" shouted Barret to his retreating back. "Wha' d'yo' mean?"

"He refers, of course," the suited man explained, hopping out of the helicopter and strolling nonchalantly past the President towards them, "to I,."

"Oh, no," Cloud muttered. "I know this guy. He's the head of Shinra finance. Real weirdo, but very intelligent."

Perigee simply stared. He knew that guy from... somewhere. He shrugged. Well, he had been in the Shinra R&D for several years - well, supposedly, anyway.

"Technically, this chore should not fall upon I,," I, continued, while behind him the President clambered into the helicopter, which floated upwards and began to make its erratic journey back towards the HQ. "However, none of the other officials could be spared to dispose of insignificant fools such as yourselves, and therefore the introduction of your personal annihilator is left to me. A menial task, but nevertheless one that must be carried out."

"Wait a sec', I know yo'!" Barret exclaimed, suddenly realising. "Yo' that guy from the train! I'm gonna finish this right now!"

"Barret?" Tifa asked quietly, tugging gently at his arm. "There are about a dozen members of SOLDIER on either side of us."

"Ah, yes." I, waved a hand dismissively at the troops. "You are no longer required. You may return to your barracks. I, will handle things from now on."

The leaders of either squad saluted, about faced, and marched off. Caroussis turned his attention back to the terrorists. "There is nothing to stop you this time. Shoot me."

"Wha'?" Barret shouted. "Yo' wha'? Don't play yo' mind games with me!"

"Mind games? With you? Please." I, laughed harshly. "There is no point."

"Right!" Barret levelled his gun arm at I,'s head and snarled. "You've had yo' chance! G'night!"

He fired.

I,'s arm moved so fast it appeared to teleport from his side to in front of his face, arm outstretched, palm facing toward the terrorists. As one, every single bullet hesitated and hung uncertainly in the air about three feet or so from him.

He reached out calmly and plucked one from the air, inspected it critically, then held it out to one side and carelessly dropped it off the walkway. The eyes of every member of AVALANCHE involuntarily followed it as it descended out of sight.

"How... what... he... you..." observed Barret.

"Hmm. Indeed," agreed I,, repeating the process with the other motionless bullets, one by one. "Obviously you were unaware that I,'s influence extends everywhere."

"But... they... when..."

"However, your action was relatively impressive," I, continued thoughtfully, glancing imperceptibly to a higher platform some distance above and beyond AVALANCE, where the Author was just arriving and trying to make himself comfortable. "I, really did not think you would do that. Obviously I, has underestimated you, a feat which I, previously considered to be impossible. In that case, it seems that I, will be forced to call in some aid to dispose of you."

He raised one hand and clicked his fingers. To the group's left, a loud rumbling sound started up and began to approach them.

"Wha' the hell is that?" Barret shouted.

"This," I, said flatly as a huge sixteen-foot tall robot glided effortlessly towards them, "is known as the Air Buster. A particularly uncouth name; however it is fairly self-explanatory. While I, does not agree with hydraulics when compared to the power of other technologies, he does think that this will be sufficient to finish you off. It does seem a shame not to witness this, but I, has other things to attend to. I, will bid you good day and leave you to your new friend here."

Behind him, another helicopter descended. Unlike the dull uncleaned grey of the Shinra company helicopters, this one gleamed so brightly it was almost as if it produced its own light. It was also far more streamlined, and on the side was the text, "Caroussis Aerospace: A subdivision of the Public Benefit Foundation."

Perhaps a short explanation is appropriate here, lest some of the readers be fooled into thinking that the Public Benefit Foundation is a charitable organisation. The public do not benefit from the Foundation. The Foundation benefits from the public, and an army of Public Benefit Enforcement Officers are employed to ensure that no-one escapes without their fair share of benefit.

I, jumped easily up into the cockpit and nodded to the group. "It has not been a pleasure to meet you. Good afternoon."

As the helicopter ascended, AVALANCHE gradually realised that the hulking automaton was doing its best to attract their attention.

"A robot..." breathed Perigee. "Built to be a soldier... it would have the strength of several men. I've got to see the blueprints for this thing!"

"What? That thing's in SOLDIER?!" demanded Barret.

"No, it's not a SOLDIER, it's a soldier. You know, like an enlisted fighter?" A puzzled look still remained on Barret's face. "Look, it's just a guard, okay?"

"Gotcha."

"If we're all clear on that," Cloud interjected nastily, "perhaps we could start dealing with this thing?"

"Got it!" Barret agreed wholeheartedly, and promptly began unloading unfeasible numbers of bullets into the creation without reloading. Perigee smiled and shook his head at the sight. More video game logic.

"Y'know, this ain't doin' much," Barret pointed out after a couple of seconds. Practically every shot that actually connected with the robot simply ricocheted off. Several had almost hit the AVALANCHE members.

Perigee opened his mouth to give advice concerning a Lightning materia and the efficacy of using it, but was silenced by a short barrage from the robot. The only reason he managed to swallow his scream was because he was momentarily distracted by the number '16' flashing in front of him.

Odd, he mused, digging one hand into his pocket for a Tonic. He hadn't noticed any damage displays or anything popping up over the guards they'd met back at the other reactor. Perhaps he hadn't integrated fully with the plot this time. That wasn't good. The only time LTF agents didn't integrate seamlessly was when something - some particularly important event or character that didn't belong - was disrupting the natural flow of literature.

"Cloud!" shouted Tifa, snapping him out of his pensive mood. "What are you doing?"

Cloud was currently dangling from an exhaust pipe about halfway up the robot's side. "They told us about these back in SOLDIER," he lied. "The brain bit is stored in the head, so if I can get up there, maybe..." The robot swung at Barret, nearly flinging Cloud off. "...maybe I can do something," he finished breathlessly.

"Wha'ever yo' say!" Barret called back. "C'mon, you two, we need t' keep that thing busy!MPÔ  metalhead! Gi' me yo' best shot!"

The Air Buster levelled its chaingun at him and prepared to oblige.

"Uh..." Tifa added, realizing that if she didn't join in, Barret was going to become a test model for an all-new type of ventilation. "Hey! Mr. Robot! You... your... your mother was a vacuum cleaner!" she finished lamely, not having Barret's natural aptitude for insults. Perigee hit one hand against his forehead in a gesture of resignation.

"Keep it up, you two!" Cloud yelled, hauling his way to the robot's head and standing up uncertainly. He drew his sword and looked down at the rivets and bolts at his feet. "I need to find a way to prise this thing open!"

The Air Buster paused, and seemed to be trying to look upward at him. It raised one arm jerkily up to the level of its head and began repeatedly hitting itself in the forehead. Cloud wobbled, tripped over his own feet, and, in desperation, flung out his sword in a last-ditch attempt to find some form of support.

Like a free radical through ozone, to use what had become known in the LTF as a 'Perigee-ism', his blade dug into the robot's head, and he ended up holding onto the hilt, suspended several metres above the walkway.

Perigee couldn't hold back a smile. Now this reminded him of something.

"Get back, you two," he ordered. Barret and Tifa obeyed, Barret more out of shock at the sudden tone of authority in his voice than out of obedience. "Cloud! Use that lightning materia!"

"Yeah, whatever," Cloud muttered, taking one hand off his sword hilt and clamping it round one of the green orbs set in his sword near the hilt. "How does this go again? Oh, yeah, I remember. Bolt!"

As the sky above them darkened, the Air Buster made a faint buzzing sound that, to Perigee's mechanically tuned ears, sounded remarkably like, "uh oh." A bolt of electricity speared down, hitting the hilt of Cloud's sword and making it glow white. The robot's eyes crossed, insofar as that was possible, a fraction of a second before it exploded. The shock wave and fireball carried Cloud, still gripping tightly to his sword, at least ten metres up, whereupon gravity took a hold of him and brought him back down again. He barely managed to grab onto what was left of the walkway and ended up hanging over a hundred-foot drop above the lower plate.

"Spire," murmured Perigee, lost in memories of a wonderful computer game. A fragment of Air, or possibly Buster, rocketed past his face making a 'whummmm' noise and brought his attention back to reality.

"Cloud!" Tifa cried, running up to him. The smile was still plastered over Perigee's face. At least now he should fall and bump into Aeris, he thought cheerfully to himself. That first scene he missed shouldn't matter too much.

Above them, the Author exchanged glances with Mr. Big on his shoulder. "I think this would be a suitable time to make our... my appearance."

Tifa jumped back in shock as a black-caped blur descended down and landed on the walkway with a loud clang, whereupon it unfolded to its full height and flashed her a brief smile. She recognized the man almost instantly - that guy from the bar last night. Something told her it wouldn't be easy to forget his face.

"Having a good day so far?" he asked conversationally, kneeling down and gripping Cloud's wrist with both hands. "You want to be more careful. It's quite a long way down." He smiled at them again, ignoring Perigee's expression of mounting horror. "Purely as a matter of interest, would any of you happen to be an Aeris?"

"A wha'?" shouted Barret.

He's concerned about Aeris, Perigee noted. And he's not in the game... He thought for a few moments, then put a couple of twos together and came up with FG.

The man shrugged. "Obviously not. Oh, well. You seem to be relatively important characters. I think I'll hang around with you for a while. You should meet her fairly soon. Oh, please ignore what I'm saying. I'm just thinking aloud."

"You're speaking out of character again?" hazarded Tifa, trying desperately to latch onto the conversation. The man shook his head.

"I've given up on that idea," he admitted. "It's so difficult to stay in character all the time. I'm just going to act normally from now on. Oh, I do apologise. I'm the Author. Who are you?"

Author, thought Perigee. Author means literature. There aren't any other teams here, so...

"Uh... I don't want to be a bother," said Cloud casually, "but I'm sort of about to fall to my doom here."

"Oh, Cloud! Are you okay?" asked Tifa.

"Hey, don't worry. I was in SOLDIER, remember?" He grabbed onto a cable dangling from the innards of the ledge with his right hand, and attempted to pull himself up. Without any dramatics, the cable simply came loose. Cloud swung wildly, the only thing keeping him from falling being the Author's vice-like grip around his left wrist. Dazed, Cloud let his sword slip from his right hand. It pinwheeled down with deceptive slowness, and vanished into the slums below. "Well, okay, maybe a little help would be useful..." he muttered.

This is going too far, thought Perigee. I'm not going to stand by and watch this happen. He pulled out a green orb from the inside pocket of his coat. LTF commanders had access to some low-level plot-editing devices, although of course they had nowhere near the power of the Writers. He'd taken the precaution of introducing a few, um, extra materia into the world. Like this one.

"Black Ice," he intoned softly, pointing surreptitiously at the Author's feet. The Author found that there was a sudden lack of friction keeping his soiled black trainers in their place on the ground. Thinking quickly, he took the only appropriate course of action in the situation. He fell.

Perigee looked at Barret and Tifa, trying to copy their shocked expressions. He could only hope they hadn't noticed what he did. "Okay," he said, "can anyone explain what just happened?"

 
 

Some considerable distance above, I, Caroussis stared downwards at the events below him. He smiled. It was certainly a good thing that he had taken the time to ensure that the Air Buster would not be running at its maximum power. Even on barely fifty percent of its full potential, it had still been quite a match for that pathetic group. Never mind. That was behind them now, although, in the case of Cloud and the Author, perhaps 'above them' was a more appropriate term. Caroussis shrugged. The Author always survived. It was one of the man's few commendable character traits, and whether or not Cloud survived was not something I, concerned himself with.

"Return to the company headquarters," he told his personal pilot, who nodded impassively and began to turn the helicopter round. "I, has seen everything he needs to."

 
 
Prologue: Writing of Wrongs
Part 1: For What We Are About to Receive
   Chapter I: Editorial Changes
   Chapter II: Insert Chapter Title Here
   Chapter III: Biohazard
Part 2: Present Imperfect
   Chapter IV: Ahead on our Way
   Chapter V: On That Day, Five Years Ago...
   Chapter VI: Feather in the Wind (reprise)
Part 3: World Travel
   Chapter VII: Twelve Good Men on a Dead Man's Chest
   Chapter VIII: Music of the Night
   Chapter IX: Drawing Inexorably
Part 4: Crossroads
   Chapter X: The Trousers of Time
Part 5: Calculus
   Chapter XI: Differentiation & Integration
   Chapter XII: The Sunrise and I
   Chapter XIII: The Best Is Yet To Come
Part 6: Introduction to Destruction
   Chapter XIV: Makes No Difference
   Chapter XV: Second Impact
   Chapter XVI: Judgment Day
Epilogue: Loose Ends
Return to index