Part 5: Calculus

Chapter XI: Integration and Differentiation




Interesting Times


Godo Kisaragi surveyed the various reports his subordinates had produced for his perusal. Well, he supposed, splitting the Planet Instrumentality Project into so many divisions, each with its own head, had certainly cut down on his workload, but it did seem there were far more facts and figures he had to read than could be considered healthy. He chose one of the many piles at random and browsed distractedly through it. Systems analysis on the compatibility of different programs with the Units... Tofu's ever critical health reports on the pilots... a decoded message from Agent Icchan in Junon, dealing with the worrying progress of Shinra's Mako cannon... a memo from Gabriev asking for another day off... The list was unending.

He slumped back in his chair and resignedly threw the documents in the air. Sheets of paper rained down around him like feathers.

Even though the war between Wutai and Shinra had supposedly ended however many years ago, there was still an intense distrust between the two sides and the situation now was more of a cold war than a peace. Godo had foreseen this when the treaty had been signed, and within weeks of the Mako wars officially ending had instigated the Project. Its sole aim was to give Wutai a way of defending against a subsequent, and more potent, Shinra attack. In that, it had succeeded, but at what cost...?

He glanced up, startled, as someone knocked cautiously on his door. He was becoming more and more worried about this whole affair as time went on, and he was fully aware of that fact. Still, no option now other than to see it through.

"Enter," he called.

The door opened slightly and a pretty young face appeared. Waist length brown hair framed a face so innately cheerful that even her rather apprehensive expression was hard-pressed to counter her natural happiness.

Godo relaxed slightly. Here was a girl he liked. Despite the fact that she was only in her mid-twenties, he would have been happy to wager that she was the only person in the town who knew how the Units worked.

"Do come in, Lorelei," he told her, leaning wearily on his desk and resting his chin on his hands. "You appear concerned. What is the problem?"

Lorelei took a few dainty steps into the room and stood respectfully by the door.

"Um, sir..." she said nervously. "We're having problems with Laguna, sir."


"Yes, er... Behavioural problems, sir."

Godo raised an eyebrow.

"We think he's sulking, sir."

Godo sighed. "Perhaps I should see this first-hand," he mused, getting to his feet. Any excuse to get away from the paperwork. "Where is he?"

"The target practice range, sir."

"Very well."

The two of them walked side by side through the complex maze of corridors that made up the expansive Kisaragi residence. Shoji walls and tatami floors soon gave way to unforgiving steel as they descended into the cellars, and from there to the network of subterranean passages that did not, as far as the common peasant was concerned, exist.

They walked in silence for a good ten minutes or so before arriving at a thoroughly solid looking metal door. Despite the fact that most of the corridors had been at quite a severe angle, neither was even slightly out of breath. Working here gave everyone, from mechanics to pilots to scientists, plenty of opportunities to become fit.

The surface of the door was bleak and featureless, save for a thin metal hatch at roughly eye level. The letters 'WEWHAR' were inscribed into it.

Godo rapped one fist on it a couple of times, and it slid back to reveal a pair of eyes.

"What... is your name?" boomed a dark and foreboding voice from the other side.

"Godo Kisaragi."

"What... is your favourite colour?"

"Light green."

The voice took a deep breath.

"If this," there came a loud echoing twang, such as might be made by a rubber band, "is five, and this," a deep, booming whumph, "is six, then what is this?"

The sound that followed can only really by transcribed as wipwipwipsproing.

"Sixteen," said Godo automatically.

The door slid open, revealing a tallish youth wearing an immaculate if somewhat pretentious suit and an intensely obsequious expression. His hair was slicked back with so much gel he would probably have stuck to the ceiling had he jumped, for whatever reason.

"Pass, friend," he said flatly.

Godo nodded amiably to him, smiling faintly. He was very proud of the password system for entry to Central Da-Chao. Most intruders could probably manage the first two questions, but the third was rather difficult to guess.

"Morning, Katsuhiko," he greeted the doorman. He made a point of knowing everyone's first name, no matter what position they held or how rarely he saw them. It really helped morale. "Nothing new, I take it."

"Nothin' here," Katsuhiko Jinnai replied. "Although I heard Keiichi on gate four had old Grandma Hina come lookin' for the restaurant again. Got no sense of direction, the old fool."

"He did escort her to where she wanted to go, didn't he?"

"Yeah, of course."

"Good, good." Godo and Lorelei wandered past, and Jinnai hauled the door shut after them. "Keep up the good work. I'll see you later."

Another couple of minutes' ambling brought them to the immense cavern that was Central Da-Chao. It had to be at least a kilometre from side to side, and a regular train service was in operation to make it easier to get around. Admittedly, the train itself was only about two feet high, the carriages were of a similar size and made of plastic, and it took a lot of talent to sit on it without falling off, but it was preferable to walking.

He glanced at his watch. Ten fifty-seven. That meant it was another minute or so before the next train arrived. Still, the target range was four stops along - at the far end of the cavern - so it was worth waiting.


Godo spun round, surprised. The next train was nearing, and he recognised the driver. Ah, that explained it.

"Hello, Kaolla," he called to her as she approached and stopped nearby. There were no stations as such on this line - the trains just stopped at certain points around the circular track. It wasn't exactly the most formal service, not that it needed to be.

"Where to, Mr. Godo?" the girl on the engine enquired. Despite the fact that the train was no longer moving, she was still bouncing up and down happily.

"Two for the shooting range," Godo told her, helping Lorelei onto the flattest car, then seating himself on the one behind her.

"Aye aye! All aboard!"


A knock on the door to His office caused God (Note: not Godo) to glance up from the newspaper He was reading. Strange. He hadn't been expecting anyone for a while. They'd just finished wrapping up a major global economic crisis, so the next really important event wasn't scheduled to take place for several months at least. And only the really important events required God's personal attention - the Writers and their subordinates could handle everything else perfectly well.

"Yes?" He called, folding the newspaper and setting it down neatly on His desk.

The door swung open to reveal one of the Writers, an aging oriental with oversized glasses and a rather impressive beard. Even behind these, God could see that his expression was one of severe annoyance as he strode in, clutching a sheet of paper in one hand.

"Oh, greetings, Hayao," He remarked. "What's up?"

Hayao proffered the sheet to Him.

"I think You should read this," he suggested.

God took it and leaned back in His swivel chair. The sheet was headed with a forty-digit world reference, calculated by all of the LTF computers and only really meaningful to them. Following that was a short paragraph, printed in a neat handwriting font.

"In the ultimate noble gesture," He read, "the ex-commander of the now disbanded Omega team, known as the Author, sacrificed himself to save the life of a friend..." His voice trailed off. "Good lord..."

"Read on."

God forced His attention back to the sheet. "Together with Cloud Strife, one of the inherent characters, the Author (reference ex-Agent codename 'Liability') fought valiantly against the archnemesis of the plot, Sephiroth, to defend a girl whom he had met barely a week earlier. His last words have been duly recorded as being, 'Leave her alone.' There were no next of kin to inform. Signed: Hayao Miyazaki..." He looked up. "Where did you get this?"

"The Obituary machine printed that out about half an hour ago."


The Obituary machine was a device that tracked all LTF agents in the field and kept an eye on them in case they died. If or when they did, and the rules of the world would not allowed them to cheat and resurrect themselves in whatever manner, it produced automated summaries of how they kicked the bucket, let friends and family know about it, and carried out their wills if possible. It saved the Writers a reasonable amount of work, the only effort on their part being to make sure that everything was done as it should be.

Unfortunately for God right now, the machine only performed its duties for agents who were active at the time they expired. Not those who retired and returned to live a normal life, or those who were kicked out.

"Um..." He said.

"Perhaps You would care to explain what he was doing in that world?" Hayao suggested.


Miyazaki looked unimpressed.

"Oh, come on," God sighed. "You're not omniscient; you've got no way of knowing that's not the case."

"The Obituary machine works only for agents perishing in the course of duty," the Writer remarked, "including honorary agents given the title for some, one or fewer missions, but excluding those retired from service for whatever reason."

"Now you're just quoting from the instruction manual."

"I'm just pointing out that his obituary would not have come up unless he had been recruited as an honorary agent. By You, obviously." Miyazaki shook his head sadly. "What does LTF Directive 2501 state?"

"Never invite a girl back to your room unless a) you're prepared to go the whole way with her, or b) you know she's going to get killed off later," God reeled off automatically. Being omniscient really did have its advantages at times.

"You know what I mean."

"Yes, yes. 2902: The LTF will henceforth have nothing whatsoever to do with the individual known as 'the Author,' nor with any of those who follow him."

"So why did You do it?"

"Because I still have faith in him, even if none of you do. He's better..."

"He was better," Hayao corrected Him absently.

"...better than any of you give... gave him credit for. And I needed help with this whole FG affair. I thought that with him helping, We stood a far better chance of coming out of this without a catastrophe on Our hands." God turned a worried face to His subordinate. "I'm in trouble, aren't I?"

"Not yet."

"Then... eh?"

"At the moment, Your sin remains within these walls." Miyazaki gave a noncommittal wave at the door. "I was the one to sign off the obituaries for this week, and I'm not going to tell the others about this. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I like... liked the Author, but if my fellow Writers learned of his involvement, there's no telling what sort of diplomatic incident We'd end up with. Far better if We can sort this out like gentlemen."

"So what do You... er, what do you recommend?" enquired God, staring as if He'd just seen the Seraph at the end of the tunnel.

"Recall the rest of his group now," Hayao said immediately. "Write them out of the report. Leave Phi team to finish the mission. If they have saved the girl and killed the villain, it should be merely a matter of pages left."

"Yes, but..."


God shook His head weakly. "I can't believe he's dead," He said dully. "Never thought he'd go and die on Me."

"It happens," commented Miyazaki, perhaps a tad unkindly.

God glared at him. "Do you have any idea how long he's been around?"

"Yes," the Writer replied flatly. "Now, if You will excuse me, I will go and set the wheels in motion. Perhaps You will learn a lesson from this, yes?"

He left, closing the door behind him. God stared at it blankly for a while.

"He died?" He said eventually.


The train screeched to a halt, and it was only by dint of much effort that Godo managed to avoid pitching forwards into Lorelei.

"We're heeeere!" Kaolla announced happily. "Shooting range, dining hall, and... er... other stuff!"

"Thank you, Kaolla," Godo said, somewhat shaken. He clambered off the carriage and helped Lorelei to her feet. "Now... where's this problem?"

"Problem?" repeated Kaolla, and because every cameo should try to get in their signature line at least once, added, "Can you eat it?" before spotting a passenger-to-be waiting a few stops along the line and hurtling off.

Godo and Lorelei wandered past the packed Central Da-Chao restaurant, returning a few friendly waves from some of the regulars, and proceeded to the immense area set aside for target practice. Large signs warned newcomers to stay well back, and a thick red line labelled 'blast zone' had been painted maybe a couple of hundred metres from the wall along which the targets rested. These targets were quite impressive. Perhaps two or three hundred feet tall and made entirely from cardboard, they had been drawn to represent the members of the Shinra administration. The bullet holes perforating each were nigh on a foot in diameter.

A tall man with remarkably long blond hair and wearing some kind of reinforced suit ambled over to meet them as they neared. Godo gave him a friendly nod.

"Well, Gourry?" he said simply. "What's happening?"

Gourry pointed over to the corner of the target range, where the mysterious Laguna was standing by what was left of the Heidegger target, facing the wall.

"He won't let me anywhere near him!" he exclaimed. "He just keeps walking straight away from me whenever I try to get close!"

"Was it something you said?" asked Godo kindly. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of every member of Project WEWHAR, and Gourry, for all his fortes, was not the world's greatest diplomat. He had an almost uncanny ability to insult anyone without realising it, and subsequently never understood why his remarks had caused offence.

Gourry thought for a moment. "I don't think so," he said eventually. "I mean, we were just chatting away normally, and then I went to get a sandwich, and when I got back he was like this."

"So it's a definite possibility, then," Godo mused. He glanced around until he spotted a group of three elderly lab-coated scientists waiting patiently a few yards away, all with identical oversized glasses and anything but identical hairstyles. They were quite possibly the world's foremost authorities on these matters, and despite this were referred to by practically everyone as the Three Stooges.

"What else could have caused this?" Godo enquired of them.

"A sudden influx of chi, causing a temporary personality switch?" suggested Professor Oak.

"Resonant emotions from another Unit or a Cetra?" volunteered Professor Elm.

"Tainted power supplies from chi over-recycling or Shinra extractors?" proposed Professor Maple.

"Induced chi diversion into a different Unit?" Oak tried again.

"Yes, yes, thank you," Godo said hurriedly. "So there're quite a few possibilities, then."

"Oh, indeed."


"Without doubt."

"Is there any way," Godo cut them off, "that we could find out what's wrong?"

"Psychic exchange?"


"Direct cable connection?"

"Hmm..." Godo pondered this. "Very well."

"What, sir?" Lorelei asked, not sure she liked the glint in her boss' eyes.

Godo raised one hand and pointed at Gourry.

"Fetch me the Angel Whisperer!"


This time the door to God's office slammed open without even a knock.

"Please don't do that," the Lord remarked casually without looking up, "it doesn't do the hinges any good." He calmly placed aside the sheet of paper He was working on, replaced the cap on His pen, and then allowed His attention to wander to the uninvited guest. "Now, Agent Shan, what I... Oh, no. Miyazaki, what do you want this time?"

"Expecting someone?" Hayao enquired pleasantly.

"Yes." God nodded innocently. "There's a slight situation in one of the small side worlds. Have you heard of Hyrule?"

Miyazaki shook his head.

"Well, We've got one of those 'evil bandit chief uses relic of ultimate power to take over world' problems. I thought I'd send Shan - you know him, one of Our solo operatives - to sort it out. I was just about to give him his briefing when you turned up. What do you want, anyway?"

The Writer handed Him another printout, similar to the one in Their previous scene.

God scanned down it. "Oh, an error log." He glanced up. "Nothing out of the ordinary in getting one of these, is there? Something always goes wrong, no matter what you do."

"Read on."

"Fine, fine. Connection failures due to dynamic IP... synch problems... disconnections... buffer overflows... wow, quite a few problems here... protocol mismatches... insufficient access privileges... reverse... what?" He stopped abruptly. "Insufficient access privileges?"

"Would You like to explain that one?" Hayao prompted.

God stroked His beard thoughtfully. "You were using your ID, weren't you?"

"Of course. And the only people who can block a Writer's access are another Writer and the Lord Himself. So therefore...?"

"That's not Me," said God.


"I didn't do that."

Miyazaki sighed. "Do You really expect me to believe that one of the other Writers blocked me?"

"No." God shook His head. "They don't even know about this, so... They don't know, do they?"

"Not yet."

"So they didn't, and I didn't, which means..." God's voice trailed off, and the two of Them locked gazes for a moment.

Miyazaki's expression changed gradually from anger to concern.

"FG...?" he said eventually.

God nodded.

"Don't tell me he's been running around with all his Writer privileges for the last however many hundred years...?" Hayao asked hopelessly.

God nodded again.

"Good Lord..." Miyazaki muttered.

"Even I don't know how powerful he might have become by now..." God added desolately.

"I suppose it explains why the letter asked for Omega Team, doesn't it?"

"Revenge, you mean? But..." God was puzzled. "He's got his own back on the Author now, hasn't he? Shouldn't he be happy? Why keep the firewall up?"

There was a pause.

"I think Our team down there could be in big trouble soon," the Writer observed dully.

"We have to warn them somehow," God mused. "But... Is there any way round that firewall?"

"I'll get Skuld and her team on it immediately."

"Right. I'll get a warning message written out. We can give it to someone and get them to take it to the group down there."

There was a knock on the door, thirty-four paragraphs after it actually opened.

"Sincerest apologies for disturbing Thou, Lord," said Agent Shan politely from the corridor outside. "'Twas mentioned to me that Thou hath a mission for me?"

God beamed.

"Do come in," He said genially. "I have a delivery I need you to make..."


Unsurprisingly, silence reigned as the group sat in what was probably once the town square of the City. Conversation does not come easily when one has seen two of one's friends slaughtered by a half-man, half-demon seeking to destroy the entire planet.

Perigee's group had been the first to arrive at the scene - after all, the building they had searched beforehand had contained nothing more interesting than a couple of potions and an Uematsu-sensei plushy. Perigee's heart had practically gone into fibrillations (it would never do something as unscientific as merely skipping a beat) when they'd emerged from the shaft into the cavern at the bottom. Details had become clear as they advanced down the staircase. Cloud lay, alone, at one edge of the platform, his eyes staring blankly into space and his mouth fixed in a snarl. A few feet from him, the Author's body was stretched out in a similar pose. Most of his torso was covered by Sephiroth's, the two pinned together by the Masamune, but Aeris was clutching his head, crying soundlessly into his shirt.

They'd returned to the surface an hour or so later. The three had been lowered gently into the water surrounding the pedestal, the Author and Cloud with their arms folded across their chest, Sephiroth with the Masamune tucked through his belt and one hand on the hilt. Those who remained had extracted the story - bit by garbled bit - from Kasuto and Mr. Big. And then nothing. No one was really sure where to go from here.

Perigee stared thoughtfully at his shoes. Several different trains of thought were hurtling through his mind, narrowly avoiding colliding with one another. The one which was currently occupying most of his conscious could be simplified to: I tried to keep everything on track. I did everything I could. But when the scene arrived, the wrong person died. Er, wrong people. So could it be true that all the little changes I couldn't prevent added up and caused such a large deviation from what I remember, because of chaos?

So no matter how hard I try, things will always change simply because I'm here.

A second train of thought was concerning itself with the fact that Aeris was still alive, and that Sephiroth was now dead, and therefore couldn't kill her or summon Meteor. So technically, their mission was now complete. They'd achieved their objectives, and the plot should now be reaching the epilogue.

This didn't feel like the epilogue, though. Maybe there was still something they had to do...?

A third train was thinking rather smugly to itself: It's a good thing I took precautions...

And a fourth was pondering: I wonder what the density of the air around here is?

Ess, Tifa and Aeris were all thinking pretty much the same thing: There was so much I never got to say to him...

Roch's thoughts were best summarised as, '....'

Of the others, the only ones whose thoughts were particularly noteworthy were Mr. Big ('I hope he planned that. Otherwise... nah. He'd never leave himself open like that.'), the Major ('At least the old bean got a good sendoff, what?') and Barret ('Crazy foo'.').

It was midday. The sun passed overhead and, almost as if triggered by it, Perigee reached a decision. So much for trying to live the game he'd played. He was in the world now, and by Einstein he'd do everything he could to force a happy ending! After all, it wasn't as if he could foresee anything now, was it? The plot had changed beyond recognition, and he, as a character, would have to change with it.

He got to his feet.

"Um," he announced decisively. "I think there may be a way to sort things out."

In a way, it was a shame that no one was saying anything at the time, because a comment like that could quite easily have caused silence to descend. As it was, Perigee had to make do with merely having eleven gazes gravitate instantly and directly to him, which was more than enough for him. He'd never been exactly fond of public speaking anyway.

"Um," he said again. "You know about the Lorenz attractor model of lifelines?"

No one said anything.

"Well," Perigee swallowed nervously, "the theory states that every individual creature has a soul, a packet, er, or quantum, of chi 'borrowed' from the Lifestream, which we consider to be a reservoir of chi, of sufficient size that a quantum is infinitesimal in comparison. It states that the quanta repeatedly experience one of two cycles, um, an alpha and a beta cyle, switching back and forth with absolute unpredictability.

"In the alpha cycle a quantum is housed in a physical body. Through its, uh, experiences in the world, the quantum matures and grows - not in size, obviously, but in a quantity which we dub, er, 'mana.' When the physical body dies, the mature quantum, enriched by its life in the world, returns to the Lifestream. It's been hypothesised that the precise nature of the physical body depends on the level of mana in the quantum, but we can't be sure.

"In the beta cycle the quantum remains in the Lifestream. During this period the quantum seems to transfer mana from itself to the Lifestream, thus, um, decreasing its own level and benefiting the planet as a whole. Lorenz himself described it as, 'the quantum returns to the Lifestream, bringing with it its experiences, enabling the Lifestream to live and grow.'"

He paused proudly, and surveyed the semi-circle of confused expressions.

"So what you're sayin'," Cid elaborated slowly after a while, removing his cigarette from his mouth, "is that Cloud's an' the Author's souls're still out there somewhere, in one o' these... alpha an' beta cycles."

"Put very simply, yes," Perigee agreed. "They should be either inhabiting a physical body again, or they'll be in the Lifestream."

"You mean they've either been reincarnated or they haven't," Mr. Big paraphrased.


"So how does that help us?" Cid put in.

"I was coming to that," Perigee replied tetchily. "When I worked at Shinra, I was employed in reseaching this very theory. The President thought that if there was a way to autonomously select only quanta with mana levels above a certain critical value 'C', then we could improve the quality of Mako input for the reactors."

"That's inhuman!" Aeris exclaimed, apparently the only one present who had worked out what that meant.

"It's okay, we never got that far," Perigee reassured her. "But we did obtain a number of interesting and occasionally counter-intuitive results. In particular, um, we discovered that the quanta do not entirely separate from their physical hosts. There is a certain degree of resonance between the two if suitable frequencies and flux levels are used, which enables us, er, in a way, to select specific quanta from the reservoir if we can deduce the variables required for resonance!"

He beamed triumphantly.

"You've lost us," Ess told him flatly.

Perigee sighed. "If I really must use layman's terms, what this means is that we can hopefully call back Cloud's spirit from the Lifestream."

"And the Author's," Kasuto added for him.

"Um, er, yeah."

"So what's the catch?" Croft asked.

"Well, firstly the quanta must be in the beta cycle, that is, uh, not reattached to any physical body, and like I said there's no way to predict whether they will be or not. Secondly, we'll need a sample of matter associated with the body to use as 'bait.'"

"I've got a lock of Cloud's hair," said Tifa and Ess in synchronisation. They paused, and gave either other suspicious looks.

Aeris pressed the Author's dictionary closer to her chest.

"I've got this Black materia thingy," Croft announced, for no real reason other than he felt he should mention it at some point, and now seemed a reasonable time.

"So whadda we do wit' these anyway?" Barret interrupted.

"Well..." Perigee considered this. "I was working in the Junon labs, and we managed to set up a device capable of fixing the quantum into a physical body. So if we go there..."

"So it was kinda stupid to get rid of Dad's body, then," observed Roch.

"Er, that's sort of the catch," Perigee said nervously.

"Wha' is?"

"Well, when an organism dies, the physical body switches its biomagnetic field to the same polarity as the chi quantum inhabiting it. The, er, repulsive force from this gives the quantum the energy it needs to return to the Lifestream, but it renders the body inhospitable until it has been broken down and reformed by natural processes. We also believe this is a natural defence mechanism of the planet against armies of undead popping up by accident."

"Huh?" said Barret, speaking for everyone.

"We need a living body for Cloud's soul," Perigee explained. "Someone has to agree to have Cloud inhabit their body."

This time, silence was able to descend, and descend it did.

"So what're you tellin' us?" Cid snapped. "That one of us has to go around for the rest of our life as a schizo?"

"We don't know," said Perigee. "Maybe two quanta can inhabit the same body as seperate entities. Maybe they fuse to become one with a higher mana level. Maybe when Cloud's is fixed into the body, the previous quantum is ejected and returns to the Lifestream. I can't say unless we try. In Shinra we were only able to conduct tests with lab rats, and they're all the same anyway. I don't even know whether the body will stay the same, or whether it'll change to better accomodate its new occupant."

Tifa and Ess exchanged glances, then both opened their mouths together.

"I'll do it," said Roch.

Gleefully, silence descended yet again after its brief period of absence.

"What?" said Perigee.

"Hey, the kid's got spirit," Cid remarked.

"I am not entirely sure this is such a good idea," Nanaki observed.

"Eh?" asked the Major.

"Roch, you can't!" Ess exclaimed.

"Why not?" Roch retorted, turning to face her. "He's my dad, isn't he?"

"Yes, but..."

"So I should do this for him."

Croft nudged Kasuto surreptitiously.

"Are we sure he's only five years old?" he asked.

Kasuto shrugged.

"Roch, I won't let you," Ess said flatly. "He never did anything for you, did he?"

"I'll do it anyway," Roch replied. "It sounds interesting."

The two stared at each other.

"So that's the boy's purpose in this story," Mr. Big muttered. There were times when he thought in a very Author-like way. "I was wondering when he'd do something important."

"What?" said the Major.

"I say we let the kid do it," Cid announced. "C'mon, ev'ryone wants ta do somethin' worthwhile in their life, don't they? He's jus' an early starter, that's all."

Ess didn't move for a few moments. She stared into Roch's eyes, finding nothing there other than a cold determination.

Who is this boy really? she asked herself.

"Oh, all right," she capitulated. "It's your life."

"And soon it'll be Dad's too," said Roch simply, smirking. For some reason the smile looked completely out of place.

"Well," said Croft, reaching a decision, "I guess I'll do it for the Author, then. It wouldn't be the same without him, so someone's got to."

"Yo," Barret pointed out, "you only known da guy for a coupla days."

"Have I? Oh, yes." Croft realised. "Well... er... he seemed like such a nice person."

He caught Aeris' questioning glance, and nodded slightly.

"Are we okay, then?" Perigee asked. In a way he was kind of glad to be rid of Roch - after all, the boy would only be one more thing to keep Ess behind in the world after the epilogue - and he didn't have the faintest idea what was going to happen with the Author.

"Be-" said Tifa.

Lightning struck. This is not particularly noteworthy in itself. What is noteworthy, however, is that lightning struck about four or five feet from Perigee, but even this pales in comparison with the fact that, when everyone's vision returned, there was a man sitting in the small crater thus formed. He looked rather startled, which was understandable.

This newcomer was wearing green. This single word describes everything he was wearing, from his loose leaf-green trousers, to his apple-green tunic and bottle-green cloth hat. A short one-handed sword and a particularly shiny shield were strapped to his back, and by the looks of things these were all he had brought with him... wherever he had come from.

"Hello?" said Perigee, a tad bemused by this turn of events but faster to recover than the others. Eventually scientists get used to surprise bolts of lightning, particularly when their apparatus runs off higher voltages than are strictly healthy. "Are you okay?"

The man looked around him, then stood up and stretched. Now that his eyes were no longer open so wide that they obscured the rest of his face, it could be seen that he was actually quite handsome. He had an almost elfish appearance, compounded by his short blond hair and the fact that his ears were somewhat more pointy than the average person's. But he did have a very heroic chin. He had the sort of face that made it clear that, the moment he smiled, the light would go 'ting' off his teeth.

"Would any of ye here be Perigee Roberts?" he asked.

"Er... yes?" said Perigee, becoming progressively more bemused.

The man turned and bowed to him.

"I bring tidings from on high," he explained. "Couldst I trouble thee for a moment of thy time?"

"Okay..." agreed Perigee, now totally bemused.

The newcomer glanced at the others.

"'Twould be better were we to converse in private, like th'moth flits 'bout th'flame, seen but unheeded," he pointed out.

"Okay," said Perigee again. Automatically he slipped one hand into his labcoat pocket and checked his supplies of explosive test tubes, just in case. "Er... you guys just wait here for a moment, okay?"

He and the mysterious stranger in green put a few dozen metres in between them and the others, then halted.

"So who are you?" Perigee asked, keeping his voice fairly low.

The man held out his hand. "Shan o' th'LTF. 'Twas requested o' me that I should impart a message unto thee."

Perigee took the proffered hand. "Perigee Roberts of Phi team. But I guess you knew that, right?" Shan nodded. "So what do you have to say?"

Shan thought for a moment. "Th'Lord sayeth there be a Writer against ye. 'Twas he who penned the letter to Him in th'beginning."

"A Writer? You mean... 'FG' is Fishook Grysley?"

Shan nodded. "Aye."

"Oh, wow. So what does He want us to do?"

"That I cannot tell thee." Shan looked momentarily embarrassed. "The Lord gaveth unto me a letter... but it seems to be mislaid, like th'secret pitfalls that await all bar th'most cautious hero."

"You lost it?"

Shan was shocked. "Thou readst fair too much into mine words! I spake merely that th'letter be not here. But I can relay unto thee news which th'Lord told me directly."


"Ye be trapped here. There be a barrier about this world, forged mayhap by FG himself. 'Tis th'Lord's fear that perchance ye must duel with the Writer for to return homewards. And He sayeth there be an energy source most greatly large to the north. Something be taking place there, like -"

"The Northern Crater?"



Perigee's mind shot into overdrive. But... they'd killed Sephiroth, hadn't they? And they still had the Black materia! How could the Reunion still be taking place?

Unless... How could he have overlooked that? The Sephiroth they'd killed was merely a clone, wasn't it? So the real one could still be calling the other clones to the crater... and if he had a Writer, even an ex-Writer, on his side, then the mere absence of the Black materia wouldn't mean anything... So the planet was still in danger.

"Is that all you're here for?" he asked. "To tell us that we're in trouble?"

"In a way."

"What do you mean?"

"'Til th'barrier be down, there be no way for me to return home," Shan explained. "So I am to aid ye in this quest."

"Really?" Perigee nodded thoughtfully. Having another Agent around could be useful, particularly if they were going up against a Writer... "What's your integration story?"

Shan shrugged. "'Twas no time for such luxuries."

"Oh. Well... I guess we'd better say you're a guardian of the planet or something, sent to aid us in our battle against Sephiroth. That'll do, won't it?"

"Verily, that do sound fair," Shan agreed.

"Right." Perigee pointed towards the others. "Let's go let them know."

"Finally, our bold leader returns," remarked Mr. Big, looking up and spotting them returning. "So what's up? Who's our new friend?"

"This is Shan," Perigee explained. Shan bowed. "He's... he's been sent by the planet itself to warn us. Our battle against Sephiroth isn't over yet."

This prompted the rather predictable responses of, "Huh?" and "What?", with an added, "Eh?" thrown in by the Major for variety.

"Sephiroth still lives," Perigee told them. "He's in the Northern Crater - that one we fought earlier was just a cl... just a shadow. But we've weakened him, so we need to hurry and strike now before he recovers. That's about it."

"But... what about Cloud and the Author?" asked Aeris. "We can't just forget about them!"

The group considered this.

"Should we split up?" suggested Croft inevitably. This met with general if uncertain approval.

"I shalt lead those willing to enter into combat with th'devil Sephiroth," Shan announced. "Aye, together shalt we slay him and return peace unto th'world, like -"

"So who's coming with me?" Perigee enquired. "Cid, we'll need you to fly us there."

"Yeah, no problem."

"Roch and Croft, you two will have to come, obviously. So... who else?"

"I will," Tifa, Ess and Aeris all said at the same time.

"Right." Perigee did a quick head count. "Er... you others, you'd better go with Shan, okay?"

Those remaining mumbled their half-hearted agreement. No one was exactly keen on missing their friends' resurrection, but someone was going to have to.

The Major wasn't worried, though. As far as he was concerned, the Author and Whatshisface - the chap with the dashed yellow hair - would come back whether he was there or not. At least this way he got to go give some serious what ho to Sephiroth. And dispensing what ho was what Majors did best.

"Are we organised, then?" Perigee asked. "Er, Crater Squad, we'll come and pick you up after we're done in Junon. Don't go anywhere, will you?"


"So," said Shan. He left it at that, reckoning everyone else was probably thinking the same he was - or at least a close approximation.

The others had set off back to the Highwind a few moments ago, leaving Crater Squad to get themselves sorted out and go kill the greatest warrior the world had ever known. And they all knew they had to, only right now they just felt like hanging around a little longer. No one is ever particularly enthusiastic about going to one's almost certain death... well, with the exception of Shan, for whom almost certain death was an integral part of his lifestyle, and the Major, who was enthusiastic about everything.

"Yo, Green Leader!" Mr. Big called, bounding over to Shan's shoulder from Kasuto's.

Shan gave him a quizzical look. "What be the problem, dear rabbit?"

"Hey, less of the 'dear rabbit' stuff, elf boy," Mr. Big snapped. "Look, I'm the most knowledgeable and world-weary of your group, so you'd better listen to my advice, okay?"

"Consider it heeded, like th'words sprung forth from a Grand Vizier's lips shortly afore his hideous betrayal," said Shan bluntly.

"Er... good." There was something in Shan's interminable similes that could stop even the heaviest train of thought. "First off, you need to get moving."

"Indeed." Shan surveyed the men... well, two men, one girl, and one lion thing... under his command. "Seems they be somewhat lacking in enthusiasm," he observed. "'Twould be more reasonable were they to be many paces ahead of us this very moment."

Mr. Big translated this. "You're saying you expect them to charge ahead without you? To run headlong into Sephiroth's stupidly long sword?"

"What other action should be antipicated?" Shan objected. "They are heroes, be they not?"

"Maybe not in the sense you're thinking," the rabbit pointed out. "Look, you're the leader, you've gotta set an example. Watch me."

He rotated through a half circle and glared venomously at the others.

"Look smart, you pathetic lot!" he yelled. "You call yourself saviours? By all that's considered holy in this damn world, I'd cut my own throat if I thought that you were all that stood between everything and oblivion! You've got the discipline of a squadron of flying ducks! Now fall in line behind me, smartly now, and shoulder arms! We march!"

He turned back.

"You see?" he remarked to Shan as the group, more confused than enthused, formed a reasonably smart line behind their leader. It is difficult for four people to form a line that is anything other than smart, unless they try to make a square instead. "You gotta give 'em incentive. Now, you walk, and they'll keep up."

Shan set off and, as predicted, the others fell into step behind him.

"Thy cynicism does thee credit," Shan remarked. Mr. Big raised an eyebrow.

"Hey, was that an insult?" he replied. "Not bad. Subtle. I like."

"Must thou tarry longer atop mine shoulder?"

"Give me a few more moments of your valuable time. I'd just like to get one thing cleared up. Are you from... how can I put this... are you from up above or down below?"

"I follow thee not," Shan said cautiously.

"Oh, come on, work with me here. Were you really sent from the planet itself or by some higher authority?"

"Mine purpose cometh from He who..." Shan began, but Mr. Big had caught on to the capital letter. These things are much easier in books than in real life.

"Ah," he cut him off. "You're part of the great Big Brother Agency in the sky, right?"

"That, 'tis a most unsavoury vile term. I traverse th'path th'Lord layest down for me."

"Right." Mr. Big nodded. "Just wanted to make sure I know where I stand. Or sit, as the case may be."

"And thou?" Shan retorted. "Thou also -"

"Nah, don't be daft. We gave up on that a long time ago. Going freelance is so much more fun."

Shan shrugged, almost dislodging the rabbit.

"So anyway," Mr. Big went on, ignoring this, "where're we headed now?"

"To th'Northern Crater, o' course," Shan replied, "where there may be noble combat betwixt -"

"Right, right. How do we get there?"

Shan looked puzzled. "'Tis on th'far side of yonder cliff, nay?"

Mr. Big stared up at the wall of the crater, directly ahead of them. It wasn't vertical... not quite.

"Yes...?" he said, not liking where this was going. "You're not seriously thinking of just marching up there, are you?"

"Wherefore not?"

"'Cause... 'cause it's so damn high, that's wherefore!"

"'Twill build character," said Shan curtly.

"'Twill build cramp, that's what 'twill build."


It was dark. At least, it might have been. Maybe it was just incredibly bright. Or perhaps something in between.

Cloud was beginning to wonder if his eyes weren't working properly. He could see... at least he thought he could. But he didn't know what he could see. It looked like just a blanket of colour, wherever he stared - but he didn't know what colour, or how bright, or anything really.

He tried closing his eyes and opening them again. That just made him even more worried, because he could still see the colour even when he was staring at the underside of his eyelids. That was, if he had in fact closed his eyes. He wasn't sure.

This was weird.

"It takes some getting used to," said Sephiroth calmly, striding across his vision and stopping dead in the centre of it. "Your mind is used to receiving signals from your body, processing them and subsequently ordering your body to respond to them, you see. Here you have no body. It's just your mind, as pure as it can get. You're not limited by how strong or quick you are or anything like that. But you need to get the hang of doing things in spirit rather than physically."

"You!" Cloud shouted - or at least tried to shout. "How can you talk to me as if nothing happened?"

Sephiroth smiled. "Calm down, calm down. Getting angry at me won't do you any good, you know. It's not as if you can do anything to me, and even if you could, I've been down here for five years. I've had a lot more experience of this world than you have."

"What's happening?" enquired the Author, wandering over. "Is this the afterlife or something?"

Sephiroth gave him a curious look. "You're adapting well," he observed.


"It normally takes newcomers a while to get the hang of existing in this world," Sephiroth pointed out. "Look at Cloud here."

The Author stared around him. "Where?"

"Exactly. He hasn't even managed to manifest yet."

The Author shrugged. He had never thought of physical actions as being something to do with his body, to be honest. They were just verbs, and writing something like, "He raised one arm," was just as effective whether the arm was physical or spiritual.

It was fair to say that the Author thought in some very strange ways at times.

"Look," Sephiroth explained, turning to Cloud - wherever Cloud was, "you think I killed you, don't you? That's why you're angry, isn't it?"

"Of course it -" Cloud began.

"Then you might as well quieten down. I didn't kill you. In fact, you killed me."


"I'll explain once I can see you. That's fair, isn't it?"

"But how...?"

"May I make a suggestion?" the Author asked.

"Go ahead."

"I think I have an idea as to how we make Cloud appear."

"Really?" Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. "Be my guest."


Calmly, the Author placed both hands around his materia amulet - somehow that had survived the transition to the afterlife along with him, which was rather convenient - and muttered, "Dynamite."

There was a pause, before a small hole opened up in... in whatever he was standing on... and a small fluffy creature popped out. A pair of crossed eyes squinted at him from under a miner's helmet.

"You rang, shonny?" enquired Gopher pleasantly.

Sephiroth stared.

"Excuse me?" he said, with forced calm. "How exactly is this going to help us render Cloud visible?"

"Trust me," the Author replied, then turned to Gopher. "Would you mind just popping out for a sec?"

"Oh, shhhure. Where d'you want me t'go?"

"Just come over here and stand next to me."

"Shure thing!"

"Now," the Author explained, "all we have to do is face away from the hole."

Wordlessly, Sephiroth did so.

They waited.

"Pardon me for seeming somewhat dull here," Sephiroth said after a short while, "but what is -"

From behind them came a sudden cry of, "Waaaaaahhh..." followed by a loud thump.

"You see," explained the Author, turning round and reaching down into the hole, "everyone knows that if you leave an open hole like that lying around, sooner or later someone's going to fall in it, right? Well, obviously we weren't going to fall in, because we were all standing still, so it had to be Cloud."

"I... see..." said Sephiroth slowly.

"So," the Author went on, finally managing to haul Cloud out, "why don't you tell us what's going on now?"

Sephiroth thought for a moment.

"Why don't we find somewhere to sit down first?" he suggested. "I don't know about you, but after that little display I think I could do with a drink."


"All right, oh cartographically knowledgeable one," Cid said to Perigee as, with limited success, Dyne and Vyse tried to get the Highwind out of the canyon without bumping against the sides too often. "Which way d'we go to Junon?"

"South-east-ish," the scientist informed him, tracing a line across their map with one finger. "Shouldn't take us too long."

"Right you are." Cid turned to the two pilots. "Okay, guys, you heard him. South-east."

"Aye aye, cap'n!"

"Yo, they's jes' like pirates," Barret observed.


"Uh... nuthin'."

"Just out of interest," Cid enquired pointedly to Perigee, "you worked out how you're gonna get back into Upper Junon? Y'know, after the Highwind was 'stolen' I think security's gonna be kinda tight. They won't just let you wander up."

"We don't need to go up," Perigee replied. "We can land in the upper city, can't we?"

"You kiddin'? How the hell do I explain just flyin' off for a coupla days? Tell 'em I felt like a quick break? No, we gotta land somewhere near and walk."

"I'm sure you can think of something," Perigee told him reasonably.

"Well, thanks for your help. You're real useful, you know?"

"Thank you."

"Er... could I have a word?" asked Aeris, waiting patiently to one side.

Perigee glanced at her, mildly surprised. "Yeah, of course. What?"

"In private?"


The two ambled out to the huge hall outside the bridge, which was about as private as they were likely to get.

"Okay," said Perigee again. "What's up? Er, sorry, stupid question. I mean, what do you want to talk about?"

"Will it work?" Aeris asked simply.


"Will your machine work?"

Perigee put on an affronted face. "Of course! You don't need to doubt me - as long as the quanta are in the beta cycle, we can -"

"I mean, will it work for the Author?" Aeris cut him off. "He never came from the planet in the first place, did he?"

"No," said Perigee, feeling there wasn't much point in lying now.

"So will your machine be able to find him?"

"I... I don't know," Perigee admitted. "I don't know to what extent he's bound by the rules of the world. He might have 'returned' to the Lifestream, but equally he could have been sent back to base, or possibly..." His voice trailed off.

Aeris held back tears. "I... see..."

"Look, er," Perigee called after her as she began to walk off, shoulders hunched as if she were trying to hide her face. "Please don't tell the others about... us, okay? They don't need to know, right?"

Aeris rounded sharply on him.

"How can I tell them?" she snapped. "I don't know what's going on any more!"

Perigee gave her a gentle beam. "Well, when we've got the Author back, we can explain it all to you in detail, okay?"

Aeris smiled weakly. "Thank you."

"No problem."


Shan had found a cave.

It had looked like a fairly small cave at first, and the general consensus among the party had been that they might as well wander inside, partly because there might be a useful item in there but mainly because they felt that walking along a horizontal floor would make a nice change from trying to climb a vertical one.

It seemed they'd come quite high. Well, high enough that they couldn't see the ground below them for the clouds, and high enough that their breath practically solidified in the freezing air. Despite the fact that RPG characters are pretty much impervious to temperature and can quite happily wear the same clothes in the middle of a desert as they would while lost in a snowfield, even they were starting to feel a tad chilly.

"Are you sure we're not lost?" Mr. Big enquired of Shan, who was leading the way down an ice passage. It was a most unnerving feeling, being able to see a few metres into the walls and floor.

"Fear not, dear... worry thou not," Shan corrected himself. "I have been keeping a map, that we may proceed unhindered by ignorance of the path our footsteps have led us."

"Really?" Mr. Big was obviously impressed. "That's a lot more sensible than I'd have expected of you."

"My thanks," said Shan, either missing the insult or deliberately ignoring it.

"So where're we going? In or out?"

"Inwards, of course," Shan replied reproachfully. "'Tis not beyond possibility that there could be a being of evil within, no? Then we must find said being and vanquish it!"

Mr. Big sighed. "You know, we are sort of chasing a being of evil as it is, remember?"

"'Tis no reason for us not to seek another," objected the Hero.

"Yes, well -"

Something roared. It was a very impressive roar. It started as a low rumble in the floor and walls, then escalated via the party's collective stomachs to their eardrums, where it hung around for a bit trying to make itself noticed. When it judged that it had made its presence known, it wandered off and knocked a few stalactites down from the ceiling for the hell of it.

"Yo," said Barret decisively from a few metres behind Shan, "looks like time we... hey, da hell is dat?"

Tha' was, in fact, a large blue dragon, which stomped irately round a corner and stopped a short distance from the group. It glared grumpily at them.

"Am I the only one around here who thinks that bumping into a fire-breathing dragon in the middle of an ice dungeon is not a Good Thing?" Mr. Big enquired. "I mean, even less of a Good Thing than bumping into it anywhere else?"

Shan froze. Not literally, although that would hardly have been out of place here. He simply stopped moving, and his gaze locked with the dragon's. It was as if the two of them both knew what had to happen here.

Mr. Big would have sworn that he could hear battle-type music start playing, somewhere in the background.

"Stand firm, most evilly ignoble creature!" Shan shouted suddenly. "Verily, shalt I vanquish thee in th'name o' justice!"

Mr. Big hurriedly leaped over onto the nearest shoulder, which happened to be Kasuto's, and she immediately started stroking him before he had even got a decent grip on her. He supposed, in gloomy retrospect, that he should probably have seen that coming.

Shan leaped into the air, drawing his sword from its sheath as he rose. His blade was sharp, his aim was true and his heart was noble.

The dragon hit him in the face with an ice beam.

Shan hit the ground a few metres away and slid for an appreciable distance.

Nanaki calmly cast a few cure spells on him.

And so, after that brief period of excitement, the group seemed to be back at square one.

"Hey, nice going, oh valiant one," Mr. Big called over. "What're you gonna try for your next trick?"

Shan picked himself up and dusted the frost off his tunic. "Fear not!" he announced, speaking primarily to Kasuto as the only fair maiden present. "I shall vanquish yonder dragon!"

He hurled himself at the creature once more, and this time got blasted by a spell that encased him in a block of ice and froze him in midair, in complete defiance of the laws of physics.

He hung there for a few seconds until Nanaki thawed him out with a mild fire spell.

"May I point out that this does not appear to be getting us anywhere?" he pointed out as the hero hit the floor once more. "Perhaps a more -"

"I'faith, I be trained most wond'rous fair in th'arts o' dragon slaying!" Shan exclaimed, getting up. "Why, 'tis mine calling, nay? 'Twould not be proper were I to back down from this challenge, like a most hideous cowardly leader allowing his men to take the field afore him! This, 'tis mine battle!"

He paused briefly, whirling his sword in one hand. Then, trailing faint afterimages behind his feet, he leaped several metres straight upwards and bore down on the dragon, which was by now looking a tad bored.

"One," said Mr. Big flatly. "Two. Three. Four."


"Well, he lasted longer than last time, at least."

"Hey, that dragon's just a real big ice monster, isn't it?" Kasuto pointed out. "So, like, why don't we cast some fire spells on it or something?"

Mr. Big raised an eyebrow. "You know, coming from you, that's a remarkably sensible suggestion."

"Wow, thanks!"

Shan got up again, wincing as one or two joints cracked audibly. "Nay!" he repeated. "I canst not allow ye to place yeselves in peril! 'Tis my duty to slay the vile creature!"

This time he crouched down, touching his sword hilt to the floor and placing the blade vertical. The light seemed to dim, and opalescent sapphire sparks came into being around him. They circled, almost warily, growing gradually in number and apparently in confidence as they came closer and sped up.

The rest of the group held a hurried conference.

"Okay, who here's got a fire spell?" Mr. Big asked.

Nanaki, Barret and the Major held up a paw, a gun and a hand respectively.

"Is there any way we could enchant his sword or something?"

Nanaki considered it. "It might be feasible to hit his blade with the spells just before he strikes the dragon... assuming he can," he added. "Perhaps we should distract the creature as well."

Mr. Big glanced nervously at Shan, who was now barely visible within the mild hurricane surrounding him. "It's okay, I reckon he's going to hit it this time."

Nanaki shrugged. "As you wish."

"Right." Mr. Big turned to the others. "Ready spells!"

Slowly, Shan straightened up. In one instant, the lights orbiting him shot inwards and merged with his sword, making it shine with a strange, almost other-worldly glow. He swung it gently through the air, and the light went 'ting' off it.

"For all that be noble!" he yelled, carrying himself gracefully into the air. "-"

The actual name of the move, however, was drowned out by a sudden chorus from behind him.

"Raze all greenery with flame! Fire!"

"Oh, I say! Fire! Haha!"

"I pity da foo' what... oh, yeah, fire!"

Shan suddenly rocketed straight towards the dragon, somehow moving horizontally. His sword left behind it a crimson sheet, scything straight through the beast and emerging from its back as Shan seemed to pass through it himself.

A few moments' silence passed, and then the translucent sheet erupted in flame, the noise of the explosion masking the dragon's scream. Lightning struck in the background. This would have been less noteworthy had they not been fighting inside.

Slowly and ponderously, the dragon wobbled, and fell backwards. For a brief moment its eyes met Mr. Big's, and he felt somehow that it was satisfied. It had carried out the purpose it had been put here for, and it was happy to die now... or something like that. He'd never been one for protracted serious contemplation. The most philosophical he ever got was along the lines of, "Bugger this."

As those readers who are by now beginning to think along the same lines as the writers may have guessed, the dragon collapsed on top of Shan, who said, "Ho!" briefly before disappearing.

Barret and the Major hauled it off him, and he stood up once more, beaming happily. "There, 'tis vanquishéd! And verily, I have relieved it of its items!"

He held aloft a small cloth bag, which the others stared at.

"Items?" repeated Nanaki sceptically.

"Yea!" agreed Shan. "The accursed beast dropped them as it met its well-deservéd demise!"

"What are they? What are they?" asked Kasuto, hopping up and down anxiously. Mr. Big, on her shoulder, looked like he was not enjoying the experience too much.

Shan handed the bag over, and Kasuto peered inside. After a couple of seconds or so she reached in and produced a handful of small steel circles, the edges sharpened to a quite vicious degree.

"Oh, wow! Minidisks!" she exclaimed excitedly.

"Wha'?" Barret enquired as she equipped them enthusiastically.

"I heard about these things! You can do all sorts of cool things with them that you can't with other weapons! And they're so small that you can hide them so no one knows you've got them!"

"Uh... wha'ever," said Barret. "Yo, wha' else you got there?"

Kasuto returned her gaze to the bag, then removed a boxing glove attached to one of those spring-like metal rod arrangements that extends when you squeeze one end. "That's all that's left."

"'Rocket Punch Mk II,'" Nanaki read, spotting some small print on one of the rods. "Made for use only with the 'Kalashnikov' gun-arm, serial code KD-0079."

All eyes turned to Barret.

"Hey, that's wha' I'm usin'!" he exclaimed.

"That figures," said Mr. Big quietly, unheard.

"I say, old beans?" the Major piped up. "What's the jolly old battle plan now, what? Can't just stand here around waiting to be shot at, can we, eh?"

Shan pointed towards the end of the tunnel. "Behold!" he said. "What light through yonder cavern breaks?"

Mr. Big facepawed, and then did so again when he realised that he was the only one present who spotted that reference.

"So we're getting back outside?" Kasuto questioned. "Woohoo!"



The passage led conveniently to an opening on the far side of the cliff, coming out inside the great crater itself. It was an impressive sight, to say the least. It rendered the group speechless, save for the Major who reckoned that it looked rather like the aftermath of the great battle of Bushujima, and proceded to elaborate in great detail.

The crater wall dropped pretty much vertically from where they were standing now, although the unevenness of the stone had formed a number of natural paths leading roughly downwards, in a rather roundabout way. A few hundred feet below it flattened out in the traditional bowl shape of craters everywhere.

But it wasn't just the sheer size that impressed them. In the very centre of the crater was... well, it was a pillar of light, to put it simply. Stretching from the ground to the sky was an immense column of energy, surrounded by swirling trails and sparks darting around it in a complex dance. The raw power was overwhelming. In the same way that heat reaches out from a flame, pure energy filled the air around the column and gave them all a rather light-headed feeling.


The figure watching them from an alcove in the rock, slightly above them, smiled knowingly. Not long now. Soon this area would be cleansed of those pathetic creatures... and then... and then he could truly make everyone sorry. Not long now. Oh no.

"FWAHA..." he began, then caught himself and quietened down before they heard him. "Hee. Hee hee. Vweehee hee."

Yes. That would do for his laugh of the moment. Of course, he could perfect it later.

Not long now.


The main landing pad at Junon was empty. This is a rather unnecessary statement. There were only two aircraft large enough to make using the pad a necessity - one was the Highwind, and the other had crashed a few days back in the middle of the ocean, presumably due to the pilot's drunken decision to attempt a loop in a cargo plane.

In any case, the Highwind's landing was uneventful. There was nothing for it to crash into, the landing surface was flat, and the sun was shining.

Private Maxim, standing watch alone by the barracks and trying to shelter from the rather harsh wind, was somewhat surprised to see it arrive, though. The official story, since the airship's sudden and unannounced disappearance, was that a group of terrorists had managed to get on board, and forced the captain and pilots to fly them wherever they wanted to go. The president and his aides had even taken that new jet airship R&D division VIII had been working on to go look for it.

And so, for the Highwind to return, as if nothing had happened, was a tad unusual. Hijackers generally did not bother bringing back vehicles once they were finished with them.

Maxim hurried over to the main hatch, and was there in time to see the cabin door swing open and the ship's captain climb out.

"What happened, sir?" he enquired, trying to sound suitably curious but not overly inquisitive.

Cid looked at him in a rather strange way. "Huh? What happened with what?"

"The hijackers, sir."


"Yes, sir." Maxim began to get worried. "The hijackers who stole the airship, sir? Do you remember?"

Cid's eyes darted back and forth for a few moments before he said, nodding, "Ah, those hijackers. No problem. Don't worry, I've taken care of 'em."


"Took me a while, but they're outta the way now," Cid went on firmly. "They let their guard down for just a second, so me an' the guys overpowered 'em and threw 'em overboard. So now we're back, and everything's just as it was before, right? Nothing to worry about."

"I don't..."

"Nothing to worry about," repeated Cid pointedly. "Why don't you go take the rest of the day off or something? Nothin's gonna happen round here, right?"

"But, sir..."

In one sudden motion Cid reached out, grabbed the unfortunate private by his one-inch regulation polyester collar, and hauled sharply until the two were standing literally nose to nose.

"Now look here, you jumped-up cannon fodder," the pilot snapped. "I've been puttin' my bloody life on the line today to get this damn airship back here in one piece, and what'll young Master President have to say about it? He'll want to know where the hell I've been, why I didn't let him know, an' so on, isn't he? Well, I'm not gonna take that right now, you hear? If anything I should be treated like a bloody hero for gettin' this back! So you go tell that pathetic brat that I really don't feel like hearin' anythin' from him right now, and he'd better have some damn good reward for me tomorrow or I'll take this bloody thing and fly off with it again! You with me?"

Maxim nodded, dumbstruck.

"Now get the hell outta my sight!"

Cid cast the private away, and the unfortunate soldier shot into the barracks at a speed only attainable with the aid of large amounts of adrenaline. Cid watched him go, somewhat worked up himself.

"Is it just me," said Croft from behind him, sounding mildly puzzled, "or did that argument not really make any sense at all?"

"Hey, it got rid of him, didn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess..."


"Well," said Sephiroth simply, "here we are."

They had arrived - although how they travelled in this strange world was something that neither Cloud nor the Author could say - at what looked remarkably like a pub. A particularly long wooden bar stretched well into the distance, with a row of cheap wooden stools just in front of it. Several tables were positioned a few... a short distance away, all of them occupied.

Behind the bar, floating in mid-air (well, mid-something) was a simply phenomenal assortment of various wines, spirits and countless other drinks. To Cloud, whom game mechanics had prevented from experiencing anything other than a soda, it looked like a veritable treasure trove of new delights.

The barman appeared to be a skeleton in a black robe. This did not seem to bother anyone.


It turned to stare thoughtfully at the trio, and Cloud could practically feel the eye-less gaze searching around inside his mind.

"I'm -" he began, advancing and holding out a hand.


The Grim Reaper glanced at the Author.


"No," admitted the Author.

"Don't mind him," called a seven-foot knight clad in full plate mail and bearing a broadsword that put even Cloud's to shame, currently seated on one of the stools and sipping an orangeade through a crazy straw. "He does it to all the newbies. Thinks it makes him look impressive and knowing."

Death rounded on him.


"You want your job back, then?" Sephiroth asked innocently, trying not to grin.


"Good, good." Sephiroth stared around the bar. "So, what are the chances of getting a table and a drink, then?"

"I will gladly relinquish my place," stated a middle-aged Japanese man in a white karate gi, getting to his feet. "I am sure my companion will not mind."

He nudged the richly-dressed woman next to him, who glanced up in shock and snapped, "Vat?"

"You'll let these newcomers have your seat."

"I vill do no such think!"

"We -" Cloud began, not wishing to be the cause of argument, particularly among the dead.

"You will move," the oriental martial artist went on, "or I shall go fetch Adel and tell her the truth."

"Oh, fine, fine." The woman wearily got to her feet and downed the remnants of her glass in one. She flashed Cloud a particularly nasty glare. "Brats."

"Thanks..." Sephiroth began gratefully, before his eyebrows furrowed in concentration. "...Takuma?"

The man smiled wanly and shook his head. "Iwao. Iwao Hazuki, remember?"

"Blast. Sorry, I never can tell you two apart."

"No worries." He turned to his companion. "Come, my dear. Let us leave them in peace."

Sephiroth slumped in the vacated chair wearily, while Cloud took the one next to him and the Author accepted one from a black-clad ninja at the adjacent table with a wolf curled round his feet. Once the three were happily seated, Death seemed to materialise over them.

WELCOME TO THE FINAL RESTING PLACE, he said pleasantly... or at least as pleasantly as one can with a voice that sounds like armageddon. WHAT MAY I GET YOU?

"I'll have my usual," Sephiroth replied without looking up.

VERY GOOD. Death turned to Cloud and the Author and flashed them a toothy grin. MAY I SUGGEST A SODA FOR YOU GENTLEMEN?

"Actually, could I have something else?" Cloud asked hopefully.


There was a pause.

WHAT EXACTLY WOULD YOU LIKE? asked Death pointedly.

"Oh, anything!" said Cloud happily. "You decide."

OKAAAY... The Grim Reaper beamed forcedly at the Author. AND FOR YOU?

"St. Clements, forty-sixty."


Death disappeared.

"Okay, we're here," the Author said, turning to Sephiroth. "Now could you please explain what's going on?"

Sephiroth sighed, then cleared his throat. "Okay, okay. You don't mind sitting through a lengthy monologue, do you?"

"Not at all."

"Oh, well."

Sephiroth took a deep breath.

"I guess the best place to start would be right at the very beginning, a thousand years ago or so. You've heard of the 'cataclysm from the skies' legend, right?"

"I know that one," said the Author.

"Run that one past me again," said Cloud.

They exchanged glances.

"Just go with it," the Author muttered.

"I know that one," said Cloud.

Sephiroth nodded. "Good. The story says that Jenova - the cataclysm in question - was destroyed by the Cetra, right?"

"Right," said Cloud.

"Wrong. She was severely wounded, yes, but not killed. Maybe she ran away from the conflict, or maybe the Cetra even thought they'd killed her. Regardless, Jenova's body lay undiscovered for however many years - in the mountains near your hometown, by the way - until... about forty years ago, I think.

"So, forty years back, a Shinra patrol - this was in the days of the Mako wars, remember - came across that body. And it just so happened that the squad's chemist was a certain Belthasar Gast."

"You mean the Professor Gast?" Cloud interrupted.

"That one, yes. The man in charge of the Jenova project."

"So what happened?"

"Me," said Sephiroth bluntly.


"I happened. After a few months of preliminary testing in the Nibelheim labs they set up, Gast began to realise just how much energy was contained inside Jenova's body. He thought he'd found a Cetra. And he made the mistake of confiding in Melchior Hojo, his lab assistant. Hojo suggested that they could use that energy as a weapon against Wutai, if they could effectively recreate a Cetra using the cells they found. Gast agreed, and the two eventually succeeded in creating a child whose very genes contained traces of Jenova. Me."

"So that's why you're so strong?" Cloud asked. Sephiroth nodded.

"Yup," he replied. "I'm a bad guy."

"How'd you find all this out?" the Author enquired.

"Oh, everything becomes a lot clearer once you're dead. Besides, being able to spy on Hojo as much as I want has helped."


"Anyway," Sephiroth went on, "now skip forwards thirty-five years."

"To the Nibelheim mission," Cloud observed dully.

"Exactly. You didn't go inside that reactor the first time we went there, did you?"


"So you need to know what happened. I admit, even I'm not entirely sure about this bit, but I think somehow Jenova managed to manipulate me."

"What!" Cloud exclaimed, then realised that would sound better with a question mark, and tried again. "What?"

"I remember looking through the window into the room beyond the condensation chamber and seeing... her," Sephiroth stated. "From that moment on, my memories are just confused. I can remember losing control, though. I can only assume that, due to all the Jenova cells in my body, she was able to use me to free her body from the prison that reactor had basically become. And then you showed up and stopped her."

"Why should I believe you now?" Cloud asked darkly.

"Why would I want to lie to you?"

"He's got a very good point," the Author added, keen to hear the rest of the story. It was always nice to know the plot before any of the other characters did.


"Cheers," Sephiroth said, and downed his in one. "Same again."


"So..." Cloud thought about this. "So it was never really you doing any of it?"

"You're getting there. I'm just a poor misunderstood soul."

"And then what?" the Author asked impatiently, tasting his drink and finding it to his satisfaction... no, exceeding that. It was a rare and surprising pleasure to finally find someone who could make a good St. Clements. The art seemed to have been lost recently.

"Well, I may be... I'm sorry, I may have been a great soldier and everything, but I'm still human, really. If you run me through with a damn great broadsword, I die. And I did."

"I'm so sorry," said the Author, putting an arm round his shoulders in a consoling sort of way.

Sephiroth shrugged. "These things happen. Anyway, that's when I ended up down here, and... I don't know exactly what happened to Jenova. I think she probably would have died then, too, but she was pulled back."

"By who?"

"Hojo. After the 'success' that was me, he wanted to try and repeat it. But, impatient as he was, he decided he couldn't wait another few decades for a baby to grow up, so he started injecting Jenova cells directly into grown men. You and your friend Zack were the first."

"Me?" squeaked Cloud. This was partly out of surprise, and partly out of the effects of the glass of unidentifiable orange stuff he'd been given. It looked like there might have been a worm floating in the middle, but the liquid was rather murky and it was kind of difficult to tell. One thing was certain, though: It wasn't a soda.

"Didn't you know? You two were kept in some kind of stasis in the Nibelheim labs for five years while he tried everything he could think of on you. Then you escaped a few months back and made your way to Midgar."

"So that's why I left Ess..." Cloud murmured, understanding.

"You twit," the Author told Sephiroth, remembering the discussion with Perigee the previous night. "That was supposed to be his big character development. He'd finally realise exactly what happened to him, and that would give him the courage to go tell the girl he loves of his true feelings. I imagine it would have been a big setpiece."

"It'd probably have been drawn-out and boring," Sephiroth added.

"That's true. Okay, never mind. Just go on with the story."

"With pleasure. So, Hojo spent the next five years messing with people, trying all sorts of different techniques. He produced a lot of duds, but he managed to strike lucky with one, even though he didn't realise it at the time. Jenova did, though. Her spirit entered that clone, and... well, you've been following it around for the last week or so. Earlier today you and it killed one another, and here we are."

"So..." Cloud tried to make sense of what he'd just been told. "You're really a good guy. Jenova and Hojo are the bad guys."

"That's about it."

"So what's happened to Jenova?"

Sephiroth looked around him. "I think you got her somehow," he explained. "I don't know how, or why, but I can tell you this: There's been a very bad feeling around here since you two arrived. Almost as if her spirit got sucked down with the two of you."

"You mean she's dead?"

"I think so."


"Can I just ask something?" the Author put in.

"Go ahead."

"What have you been doing during these five years? Surely not just sitting around watching people?"

Sephiroth smiled. "No, definitely not. You know the Grim Reaper comes to collect everyone important when they die?"

"No, but go on."

"Well, he came to me. And somehow we got talking, and he mentioned that he was actually getting rather bored of the whole 'collecting souls' thing. It's understandable, really - I guess it does get rather old after several million years. He said he wouldn't mind a change, I offered to take over the duties for him, and he agreed. So now he's started up this bar here, which has certainly gone down well, and I get special priviledges. I'm allowed back to the real world, for a start. It's only to collect people, but I make sure I check up on what's going on while I'm there."

"So... you're dead," remarked Cloud.


"And you're Death."

"Sort of."

"But you're a good guy."


"And the real Death's a bartender."


"Can I have another drink, please?"


Perigee poked his head out of the Highwind and glanced around. It was dark, the clouds overhead obscuring the moon and making it almost jet black outside, but he was a scientist and thus accustomed to staying awake until some unearthly hour. As with all good scientists, his night vision was developed to a level where he often didn't notice just how dark it actually was until some helpful assistant told him.

"The coast's clear," he whispered. "Okay, everyone, follow me."

One by one, the group trooped out of the airship after him and followed him as he led the way through the various side alleys and towards Junon High Street. The town was pretty much deserted - after all, about the only thing one could do to enjoy oneself after dark was to find a bar and get drunk, which didn't necessitate roaming the streets all that much. There were one or two bored soldiers standing around, but after Croft had explained to them that he was actually a high-ranking Shinra spy trailing this group of terrorists and would appreciate not being interrupted, they left the party alone and pointedly looked in the other direction whenever Perigee and his entourage sneaked past.

Lights streaming through windows into the gloom of the street gave away which buildings were still in use at this late hour. Perigee smiled wryly as he saw what they were. Bar, bar, inn, bar, weapons shop...

"Weapons shop?" he said out loud. "Why's a shop still open?"

"I guess you never know when a group of adventurers might stop in and decide to buy a new sword," Tifa remarked.

Croft nodded. "That sounds like a good idea to me," he said happily, and hurried off.

"Hey..." Perigee began, but he had already disappeared into the shop.

They waited a few minutes until he emerged, beaming happily.

"Here!" he announced, holding up his purchase. "I got a new weapon."

"...bagpipes?" said Ess. Well, she supposed her weapon class was 'kitchen utensils,' but even so...

"What the hell d'you do with those things?" asked Cid, rather bluntly.

"Well," Croft explained, "you put them under your arm like this, and then you blow into this bit here..."

Mere words cannot express the noise that emanated from the bagpipes. Some readers might know the noise normal bagpipes make. These were not normal bagpipes. They could have drowned out an entire orchestra. For that matter, they could have drowned out a battle.

Further down the street, a few soldiers clutched at their ears and keeled over forwards.

"The shopkeeper said these were special military bagpipes," Croft went on, stashing the bagpipes behind his back and continuing as if nothing had happened. "They're quite impressive, aren't they?"

Built-in slash-all capability, Perigee noted.

"Er, we should probably be getting on," he decided. "I think the guards might have guessed that something's up now."

Cid had found a guard already, and prodded the unfortunate individual with his toe. "Well, it don't look like they're gonna do somethin' about it," he remarked.

"Aaanyway..." said Perigee.

It was clear he knew exactly where he was going as he led the way down the streets. After all, according to his integration story he had worked at this place for years, so it made sense that he could remember where it was. The Institute for Mako Processing and Extended Research Into Literally Anything, or IMPERIAL (Shinra seemed to be particularly good at putting together long acronyms, even if their spelling lacked finesse) had been his life, supposedly.

For an institute with such a long and impressive name, it was tucked away in quite an obscure part of town. A visitor to the town would certainly not have stumbled across it by accident.

Perigee stepped up to the entrance and pressed the doorbell.

"Welcome to the Imperial," said a tinny voice. "Please give your name and identification number."

"Perigee Roberts, 13421-7728," Perigee replied flatly, keeping his voice level for the benefit of the machine.

There was a pause.

"Voice ID accepted," continued the door eventually. "Please enter the access code."

Perigee leaned down to the small panel by the side of the door and tapped in L1, triangle, R1, triangle.

"Code accepted." The door slid open smoothly with one of those high-tech hissssss sounds. "Welcome, General Roberts."

"General?" repeated Ess. Perigee looked slightly embarrassed.

"We had... er, rather over-the-top titles for ourselves here," he said. "It made us feel like we were more important."

"What'd you call your boss, then?" Cid enquired dryly. "God?"

"Peon," replied Perigee happily.

He turned towards the open door. "Anyway, after me. I just hope the stuff's still where it was when I left."

"An' how long ago was that?"

"Er, a few months or so. Not too long."

The hallway lights weren't the brightest ever made, but as has been mentioned before, scientists were not usually bothered by this. In fact, the general appearance of the building was that of a place where only those who were so preoccupied with their studies that they didn't notice the world around them would work. The corridor walls were sheet metal, with only the odd cork message board to add a touch of colour - brown - to the hallways. These boards were covered with short memos such as, "MR - need new equipment in lab 14 - accident Tuesday - radiation levels should be acceptible by Sunday - PS," and, "5 floor will be sealed off next Wed - testing condens'n metres - if not unsealed by 19:00 plz send search party," with the inevitable scientists' jokes scattered among them. Perigee proudly pointed out the Mercedes-Benzene one as they passed and was downcast when no one else got it.

"Perigee?" Ess enquired, joining him at the head of the group. The party had spread out slightly since entering, partially because there was no longer any real danger of being spotted by people who would do anything about it, but mostly because the carelessly open doorways gave glimpses into a world that was far weirder than anything they could ever expect to experience. The room containing two immense iron coils, literally crackling with electricity, and what appeared to be a wormhole floating between them had attracted a certain degree of curiosity, particularly when one of the scientists inside had invited them to come put their hand into the hole and see where it ended up.

"Hmm?" Perigee stopped and glanced back. "What?"

"Will this work?"

Perigee opened his mouth to make some tactless remark, then reconsidered and, in a moment of surprising insight, asked instead, "Do you want it to?"

"Of course I..." Ess began indignantly, then stopped as she realised she wasn't sure whether to add 'do' or 'don't' onto the end of the sentence. "I guess... but..."

Perigee shrugged. "I don't know what'll happen," he remarked. "But we've got to try, right?"



"Why are you trying?"

"Um..." The question caught Perigee somewhat off-balance. "Well, 'cause Cloud's the Hero, and we're his party, I guess. We have to do everything we can to bring him back - that's sort of our duty, I suppose. Besides," he gave her a quizzical glance, "you want him back, don't you?"

"What do you mean by that?"

Perigee looked confused, not having meant to say anything other than a simple observation. "Well, you like him, don't you?"

Ess watched his face, trying to read what he was thinking. Perhaps this is what I saw in him, she wondered. Who else would talk so objectively and innocently about the guy who stole his girlfriend?

Because that's what Cloud was, she supposed. Maybe it wasn't anyone's fault as such - just the way things had turned out - but she knew she definitely had fallen for him, all those years ago. And yes, she did want him back.

"Let's just get going," she said weakly.

They passed a number of other assorted chemists and physicists on the way to what Perigee assured them was, "not much further, really." Most just nodded amiably to Perigee and greeted him as if he hadn't been gone more than a few hours - although it was perfectly possible that they simply hadn't noticed his absence - although one, upon spotting him, stopped dead in his tracks and began jumping up and down happily, waving both arms above his head in a rather excited greeting. Croft returned the gesture, which seemed to please both of them no end.

"Who was that fool?" Roch enquired as they wandered on.

"Oh, that's Mihara," Perigee replied genially. "He worked on the El Hazard project in the lab next to me for a few months. I wonder if they ever got anywhere with that?"

"Probably not," Roch remarked flatly.

As it turned out, Perigee's old lab was on floor 7B, tucked inconspicuously away in one corner. It brought tears to his eyes to see that his name was still on the door, even though it had been moved from Project Leader to 'Many Thanks To.' The new leader was a certain Kyosuke Kagami, whose name Perigee didn't recognise.

The door was unlocked. Nothing was ever locked in here; it had been tried once, but the scientists were rather prone to losing keys, locking themselves out of or inside their labs. So the intricate front door lock had been introduced, allowing for a degree of security without ever compromising their freedom to open and close doors at will.

Perigee opened the door.

The lab was bigger inside than it looked from the outside. In fact, considering the experiments that had been carried out in the past years, it was perfectly possible that the inside was bigger than the outside. Even so, the inside wasn't really big enough to accomodate everything that had been jammed into it. The desks round the walls were literally covered in the sort of glassware that just begs to be filled with green food colouring, twisted into shapes that really should only have been allowed to exist in a four-dimensional world. Power cables the size of drainpipes trailed across the floor, some leading into the machinery in the centre but several simply ending in the middle of the floor.

The centre of the room - and indeed most of the room - was taken up by something that looked... well, it can only really be described as looking like a lot of machinery. At one end was a pod-like object, large enough to accomodate one one person in rather cramped conditions, or one lab rat with lots of space. Attached to the pod was the largest mass of assorted electronics that any of the group - well, except Perigee, of course - had ever seen before. There were lights that flashed on and off at seemingly random intervals. There was a buzzer that beeped every second. There was also something that Perigee would have described as an anemometer, while the others would most likely have called it, "one of those things for measuring wind speed." And there were so many circuit boards and wires wrapped around them that you could probably have built a fully functioning giant mech from them.

"Oh, wow," Perigee breathed in awe. "It's just like I remember it..."

"Nice place ya got here," Cid remarked. "Very..."

"Cozy," said Aeris.


"This heap of junk can bring people back from the dead?" Roch enquired, peering sceptically at the device.

"Well, this isn't the finished model, obviously," Perigee replied absently. "We weren't going to bother making it look nice until we'd got it actually working properly."

"You mean it doesn't work properly yet?"

"It should do," said Perigee uncertainly.

There was a pause.

"So, we going to do this or not?" Roch asked after a few seconds. He pretended not to notice the incredulous stares directed at him.

"Er, yes, sure," Perigee agreed. "Just give me a minute to remember how this works..."

In the slightly nervous silence that ensued, Ess hurried over to Roch.

"Are you sure about this?" she asked. "After all, we don't know what might -"

"I'm sure," said Roch flatly. "It'll be interesting."

Ess sighed, smiling weakly. "You're a weird kid, you know that?"

"Yes," said Roch.

Over by the other wall, Croft and Aeris were having a similar discussion.

"I'm really not sure this is such a good idea," Croft was saying. "What if it blows up or something?"

"We have to try!" Aeris exclaimed. "You can't just let him sacrifice himself in vain, can you?"

"Er, no..." Croft admitted. "It's just sacrificing myself in vain that I'm kinda worried about at the moment..."

But he really did owe it to the Author, he guessed. After all, the man had done so much for the group in the past... And anyway, everyone - Croft particularly - wanted to go out with a bang, right? Do something noble and memorable. Well, this was his chance.

He fished around in his pocket and produced the Black materia, which he handed to Aeris. "I guess you'd better look after this, then."

Aeris smiled at him, and for a moment Croft thought he knew what the Author saw in her.

"Okay!" Perigee called, only his legs visible sticking out of a hole in the machine. "Could someone put the sample of Cloud between the Hinata plates above the flux capacitors?"

"The what?" Cid shouted back.

"Hinata plates!"

"What the hell are they?"

There was a sigh, followed by a loud clang as Perigee tried to stand up inside the device. "A pair of hexagonal graphite plates!" he called. "In between two glowing Y-shaped tubes!"

"These ones?" Croft asked, pointing. Perigee craned his head to try and see, and a second clang ensued.

"Yeah, they'll do," said Cid firmly, taking the few strands of Cloud's hair that Tifa handed him and stretching them out along the black plate. "Okay!" he shouted at Perigee. "Now what?"

"Give me a second!"

Assorted mechanical and electronic noises emanated from Perigee's direction, followed by a sudden crackling noise. Immediately, the lights in the room dimmed, and something started humming, although it was hard to tell what was humming because the noise seemed to come from all directions at once. Light blue liquid began bubbling through the glassware round the walls. The anemometer started spinning.

Perigee emerged a few seconds later, looking as though he had seen a ghost. That is to say, his face was white and his hair was standing on end.

"I think I've got it going," he said, trying to keep his hands from shaking enough to smooth his hair back down again.

"So we see," Cid remarked flatly. "Now what?"

Perigee waved a hand towards the pod. "Well, if the test subject... er, if Roch wants to go and wait in there, the capacitors should be charged in a minute or so. Then... well, we just hit the switch and off it goes."

Roch shrugged. "Okay, I'm going."

"Just one question?" Cid asked.


"What's the chance of this thing actually workin'?"

"Oh, somewhere between twenty-three and twenty-four percent," Perigee replied automatically, then realised what he'd just said. "That is, um, I mean..."

"Don't worry," Ess told him. "Roch wants to do this."

Why don't I mind? she asked herself. He's my son! Why am I letting him go through this for someone he only met a few days ago?

Or was he really her son? Was she really his mother, or was she just playing the role that the mission had forced upon her? How much of what had happened in the last five years had been really her, and how much had been the Ess who had grown up in Gongaga and joined the army at the age of 15?

She sighed. You couldn't think about things like that, at least not while you were still integrated. Things only really became clear when you left the world and could look at it objectively, without the slant that came from the person you became. She glanced sideways at Croft, feeling a sudden surge of jealousy. She wondered what it would be like to ignore the rules, to travel from world to world, always staying yourself, never having to conform. She wished she could do that.

"Um, is anyone standing near anything electrical?" Perigee asked. "Only I remember this draws energy from anywhere possible, so the lights and so on can start doing some strange things. I think one time we tried it sucked all the colour out of the world for a minute or two."

"Wow," said Tifa dully. She was actually rather impressed, but right now the sheer stress of fretting whether or not this would work was limiting her thought processes somewhat.

Nervously, Croft took a few steps away from an oversized Liebig condenser and walked straight into Aeris. The two spent a moment or two apologising to one another before the lights in the room went out completely, plunging them into what would have been complete darkness if Perigee had not anticipated this and acquired a torch beforehand. He waved the beam around, managing to shine it in everyone's face at least once.

"I think it's ready," he observed unnecessarily.

"Hey, kid, you ready?" Cid called.

"Yes!" Roch replied, calmly closing the pod hatch behind him.

Perigee took his place by the device's control panel and hesitated, his hand on the main lever. He looked back at the group and shone his torch on them.

"Are we ready?" he asked.

One by one, everyone nodded.

"Okaaay," Perigee said, and pulled the lever.

At first, nothing much seemed to happen. The flashing lights on the side of the pod began flashing faster. The humming grew louder. Everything, in short, signified a build-up to something. And -

Suddenly colour fades from the world. Everything looks much simpler. You feel like sensation is numbed.

CID> The h**l is this?

TIFA> My body feels weird.

PRGE> *thinks*

PRGE> I think the machine must be doing this. I said it did strange things.

[CID is confused!]


Your body looks blocky. There is no real detail. You can only make out sixteen different colours.


Her body looks blocky. There is no real detail. You can only make out sixteen different colours.

CRFT> Is this what you meant about sucking the colour out of the world?

PRGE> Er this isnt really what I remember happening.

CID> Won od ew od l**h eht tahw os?

PRGE> [Sigh]

You can't do that.


[PRGE used REMEDY on CID!]

[CID is confused no longer!]

PRGE> I dont think theres much we can do now. We just wait.

ESS> {I hope Rochs okay.}

IRIS> {What?}


The Black materia glows brightly.

IRIS> Um -


IRIS> {Uh oh.}


Meanwhile, around the untidy campfire built on the side of the Northern Crater, nerves were tense. Eyes darted from side to side, desperately trying to spot something - anything - that might help them. All hands were drawn close to their owners' faces, as if by that gesture they might be protected.

"I will see your Restore materia," said Mr. Big slowly and deliberately to Kasuto after a long pause, "and I will raise you... two thousand Gil and an Elixir."

There was a shocked silence.

"Verily, these stakes do rise fair too high for mine taste," Shan admitted, throwing his hand down. "Thus shalt I announce mine withdrawal from this round."

"I concur on that count," Nanaki agreed, doing the same.

After the sun had set and it had become almost impossible to see anything, the group had held a vote and decided unanimously that it was best to settle down for the night, and then to thwart Evil in the morning when everyone was properly rested. And so the six of them were whiling away an hour or two before collapsing in their tents with a somewhat unorthodox game of poker. There had been a few minor disputes in the beginning, such as the confusion over whether Shan's usage of a device he dubbed 'the Lens of Truth' was cheating, and the brief hiatus while everyone tried to persuade the Major that no, they weren't playing Rummy, but after these had been sorted out, the game was progressing nicely.

At the moment, only Mr. Big, Kasuto and the Major were left in, and up for grabs was roughly thirty thousand Gil, seven assorted materias, three potions of varying potency, and a number of small gems that Shan had said were 'Rupees,' the precise value of which was not entirely clear.

The Major peered curiously at his cards as if seeing them for the first time.

"I say, I'll see what you've got, old boy!" he announced. "Cards on the table, what?"

Mr. Big's face fell. Admittedly, as he was a rabbit and was thus pretty close to the ground anyway, it didn't have all that far to fall, but even so it was quite a noticeable effect.

"Okay, you got me," he said gloomily, flipping his cards over with one ear. "Two fours, two queens, an' an ace. Pathetic, really, isn't it?"

"Aye," mused Shan, nodding sagely.

Kasuto grinned widely. "Four sevens!" she announced proudly. "Beat that, Grandpa!"

"Dash it all, I've only got twos," the Major said desolately, dropping his cards in front of him.

Kasuto laughed happily, leaning over to collect her winnings. "And I..." She hesitated. "Five twos?"

The Major nodded. "But five of those dashed little ones aren't as good as four bigger ones, are they, eh?" he said, then brightened up. "Are they?"

Shan leaned over and inspected the officer's cards. He had the two of hearts, clubs, spades, swords, and wands. All seemed genuine enough.

For a moment everyone glanced at the others. Everyone looked innocent, but then again, Mr. Big and Barret would have done their best to look innocent even if it wasn't their fault, the Major just looked clueless as always, Shan and Nanaki probably weren't all that bothered anyway, and...

"Kasuto?" said Nanaki sternly.

KSTO> Uh... hehehe...

There is a pause.

BIG> Is it just me or did that sound weird?

BART> It aint yo.

SHAN> *thinks*

SHAN> Curses! Tis the fabled TEXT ONLY MODE of which the ancient legends speak!

BIG> You know this?

SHAN> Aye! Many a time during mine quests of yore was I troubled by this foul plague o simplicity!

BIG> So howd you get out of it?

SHAN> Only through the passage of time may one advance from the TEXT ONLY MODE.

NANI> So we must simply sit this out?

SHAN> [Aye./Nay.]

SHAN> Aye.

KSTO> Why did we start talking like this?

SHAN> That I know not. A most heinous malevolent sorcerer, perchance? I shall check.

SHAN> [Look]

You are sitting around the campfire on the slopes of the Northern crater. To the north lies the centre, shrouded in mist. To the west is a small hill, such as might be used as a lookout post. It is dark.

SHAN> [WalkTo Hill]

You can't do that.

SHAN> [WalkUp Hill]

You can't do that.

SHAN> [Go West]

You walk over to the hill and climb up it. You cannot see much around you. It is dark.

SHAN> [Go East]

You walk back down the hill to the campfire. You are sitting around the campfire on the slopes of the Northern crater. To the north lies the centre, shrouded in mist. To the west is a small hill, such as might be used as a lookout post. It is dark.

SHAN> I can see naught. Mayhap this be a natural occurrence here.

BART> Yo mean, cos theres so much magic aroun here?

SHAN> Aye.

BART> Whaever.

KSTO> Hey if we cant do anything about this lets keep playing yeah?

BIG> [Mentally Insert Commas]

You can't do that.

BART> Why not?

KSTO> [Play Poker]

You can't do that.

KSTO> [PickUp Cards]

You can't do that.

KSTO> [LookAt Cards]

There is no CARDS around here.

KSTO> Okay...

SHAN> Might I suggest we sleep? Then would we awake more refreshed when possibly the world be normal once more.

BIG> Yeah. I guess.

SHAN> [Goto Sleep]

You can't do that.

SHAN> [Go Sleep]

You can't go there.

SHAN> [Sleep]

Go to sleep? Y/N


You go to sleep.


PRGE> [Wait]

Time passes.

PRGE> [Wait]

Time passes.

PRGE> [Wait]

Time passes.

CRFT> How much longer will it take?

PRGE> Im not really sure. Weve never tested it like this before.

CRFT> [Wait]

Only the party leader can do that.

CRFT> Could you wait for us?

PRGE> Sure.

PRGE> [Wait]

Time passes.

PRGE> [Wait]

Time passes, until ***** Error in world build v1.07 - object at gridref 'IMPERIAL' referenced an illegal operator. The object will be terminated. *****

There was a loud bang, and thick black smoke began emanating from various parts of the machine. The anemometer shot off its axle and hurtled across the room, bouncing off Croft's forehead and smashing a couple of conical flasks before coming to rest.

"Nice going, Perigee," Ess sighed. "Now you've gone and broken both your machine and the world."

Perigee waved a hand around. "Spatial to temporal viscosity ratio seems normal," he observed. "That usually skyrockets when the world crashes."

"Did it work?" Tifa enquired, not having followed that little dialogue.

"Well, whatever the damn thing did, it's definitely finished," Cid pointed out. "We're speakin' normally again, right?"

"[LookAt CRFT]," said Croft thoughtfully. "Yeah, that sounds even sillier now than it did earlier."

" , ?" asked Aeris hopefully.

"I'm sorry?"

" ' ," Aeris went on, raising her voice pointedly.

"Are you silenced or something?" Perigee observed, picking up on this subtle fact faster than the others. "Hang on, I'm sure we keep a supply of Echo Screens around here somewhere..."

The machine went bing. It sounded remarkably like a microwave.

"Um," said Perigee.

A hatch slid open. Next to it, steam puffed out of specially shaped vents to create the required 'hissssss' noise.

"Cloud?" asked Tifa.

"Roch?" asked Ess.

" ?" asked Aeris.

The boy's footsteps echoed atmospherically as he took a few faltering steps out of the capsule. Before he had gone too far he had to support himself on the side of the machine. Perigee noted with a certain sense of trepidation that the metal buckled under his palm.

Roch, or at least Roch's body, stared wide-eyed at the group for a few seconds, before a grin split his face.

"Good evening, humans," he said happily.

"Roch?" said Tifa.

"Cloud?" said Ess.

"Humans?" said Perigee.

Roch beamed. "You fools!" he laughed. "You were so close, too!"

There was an uncomfortable silence.

"Cloud?" said Tifa eventually, for lack of anything more inventive.

"Aw, shut up with that," Cid snapped, striding forwards. He stopped a few paces from Roch and stared down at him. "The hell's up with you, kid?"

Roch raised one hand.

"What's up?" he said calmly, raising an eyebrow.

Cid was fairly knowledgeable when it came to aeronautics. After all, it was pretty much an essential for a pilot. And he was certain there was no way he should have left the ground at that speed, and even given that, he was certain that he should have hit the floor before the wall.

He slumped to the floor, breaking a few pieces of glassware en route.

"Pathetic," mused Roch.

"Ro..." Ess began, before realising that she really ought to think of something more interesting to say. Eventually she settled for, "What's going on?" which wasn't particularly interesting but at least advanced the scene a little.

Roch laughed harshly. "For what it's worth, I was very impressed when you defeated me at the City," he remarked casually. "I had underestimated you, it seems."

"Sephiroth?" Aeris gasped, having found a flexible sheet of metal over on one of the benches that, when wobbled vigorously with both hands, sufficed as an Echo Screen.

"Hah!" said Roch dismissively. "Sephiroth was nothing more than a vessel. A very powerful vessel, maybe, and one that still holds a special place in my 'heart,' but still just someone to be used. As was the body you destroyed in the City; as is this boy here."

"What are you?" Ess snarled.

Roch sighed. "Are you really so slow? Have you not worked it out yet?"

"Um... no?" admitted Ess.

"Hopeless." Roch shook his head sadly. "And to think people like you got the better of me." He shrugged. "Well, allow me to express this in terms you might understand."

He cleared his throat and smiled pleasantly at Aeris. "For you, dear girl, I am the Cataclysm from the Skies. For everyone else, my name is Jenova. I'm here to blow your planet up and absorb its energy to fuel my own twisted power."

"That sounds a bit selfish to me," said Croft mildly.

Roch shrugged. "So? It's all your fault that I'm up and running around anyway. If you hadn't started messing around with things you didn't understand, you'd never have brought me back to life, would you? How stupid can you be to try pulling spirit energy back from the Lifestream when you've got the most potent source of destructive energy," he waved a hand in the direction of Aeris, who was still nervously clutching the Black materia in one fist, "in the same room? Even you've got to admit that was quite a monumental act of idiocy."

"Well..." said Perigee, trying not to notice the glares directed at him.

"Anyway," Roch shrugged, "I'm back, and I must admit I rather like this body." He flexed a muscle. "It's more powerful than it looks... ah, yes, of course." He glanced towards Ess. "It was conceived in close proximity to my original form, wasn't it?"

Ess went bright red.

"But no time for chat," Roch decided. "I have a world to blow up, and you have what I need to do so. So why not be good little heroes and give it to me, hmm?"

"I think not!" Ess exclaimed, walking slowly and - hopefully - menacingly towards him. "I don't know what you've done with my son, but -"

She stopped walking and talking simultaneously, both due to the point of Roch's short sword suddenly pricking her neck.

"And I don't know why you want him back," Roch snapped. "Obnoxious brat, wasn't he?"

"'es, 'uk..."

"Out of my way, wench," Roch spat at her, flipping his sword round in his hand and whacking Ess under the chin with the hilt. She rose gracefully ceilingwards, and by the time she hit the ground again Roch had calmly walked straight underneath her.

Aeris backed away until she walked into the wall, whereupon she stopped and just looked scared. Her face rose slightly, though, when Croft positioned himself firmly in front of her, adopting what he believed was a martial arts pose.

"Stay away from her!" he shouted. "I'm not letting anything happen to her until she's met the Author again, and -"

Roch calmly batted him out of the way with one hand, and he curled up in a corner with a groan of, "That wasn't exactly fair..."

"Now, Cetra girl," Roch said calmly, levelling his sword at Aeris' chest, "would you like to give me the materia before or after I run you through?"

"Stop right there!"

Roch spun round to face the doorway, where, silhouetted against the harsh light from the corridor outside, stood Elena of the Turks, flanked by a pair of Shinra elites. She held a small pistol in either hand, while the soldiers were armed with more impressive assault rifles.

"Stay where you are! Don't anyone move!" Elena shouted. "Drop your sword, boy!"

Roch glared at her.

"Curses!" he said melodramatically. "My full power has yet to manifest, and I cannot take on all of you right now! So... I shall retreat for the moment. But I shall be back! Ha! Ha ha! Mwa ha ha ha! Ha!"

He jumped through the ceiling, showering plaster down on Aeris.

"Don't anyone else move!" Elena tried again, regardless of the fact that no one seemed particularly inclined to do so.

"Soldiers?" Perigee asked curiously. "What are you doing in here?"

"Well, we're..." Elena began dismissively. "We're..." She turned to her right-hand man. "What are we doing here?"

The soldier shrugged.

"We're just here, okay?" Elena snapped. "Does there have to be a reason?"

"Well, it -"

"Don't move, and don't speak either!"


"You know," Elena remarked coldly, "for a group of people who killed three Turks, you really don't look all that impressive."

"Killed?" Tifa repeated. "We didn't kill anyone!"

"Is that so?" Elena shot her a glare that made her step back a few paces in shock. "Tseng of the Turks died of his wounds two days after your escape from Midgar. Reno died after being struck by a falling weight at the Gold Saucer. Rude never returned from the Temple of the Ancients." She took a deep breath. "A few days ago I was the inexperienced, naïve rookie. Now I'm the only one left. How do you think that feels?"


"How do you think that feels?" Elena repeated, her stare growing harder.

"I... I don't know," Tifa stammered.

"Of course you don't." Elena motioned to the two soldiers. "Take them to the cells."


The Author was feeling a number of things right now. Loneliness was quite a prominent one. Confusion had also been a major player since his arrival in the Lifestream, although it was now being overtaken by resignation. But right now, first and foremost, he was feeling lost.

He wasn't entirely sure how it had happened. The three of them had left Death's bar to go have a wander around - Sephiroth had said there were some remarkably scenic areas nearby - and since then, they had somehow managed to go their separate ways. The Author had a vague memory of Sephiroth saying something along the lines of, "What's happen-" before he'd simply vanished, and Cloud had just... well, gone. The Author had no idea how he had gone. He had been around when they left the bar, and now he wasn't here. Therefore, it made sense to assume that he must have left at some point in between.

Be that as it may, it left the Author stranded in the middle of a completely featureless environment with no friends and no idea of how to find his way to a landmark, or even what landmarks he had to choose from.

"You're one of the newcomers Sephiroth brought in, aren't you?"

The Author turned, and found himself staring up at a frankly terrifying seven-foot knight in full plate mail. Interestingly enough, he seemed to be unarmed.

"It's... Exdeath, isn't it?" he said, remembering him from the Final Resting Place.

Exdeath beamed, although how he did that when his face was rendered invisible by his helmet was uncertain.

"That's me," he agreed cheerfully. "What was your name again?"

"The Author," said the Author.

"Oh, yes. You wouldn't happen to know where the other man who came down here with you is, would you?"

"Cloud?" The Author shrugged. "I'm afraid not. He just seemed to disappear a while back. Why?"

"He's got my sword," said Exdeath grumpily. "That's the last time I let a stranger have a look at it."

"Cloud wanted to look at your sword?" the Author asked, more surprised than he supposed he should have been.

"Yeah." Exdeath nodded. "He said he liked swords, so I let him try mine out. And then he went somewhere, and I don't know where."

"I think I know what you mean."

"He left you too?"

"Sadly so." The Author glanced around. "On an unrelated note, would you mind pointing me in the direction of... well, anywhere, really?"

Exdeath brightened up. "You mean... you want hints on where to go?"

"I suppose you could put it that way."

"Then you're in luck!"

Exdeath reached behind his back with one gauntlet and produced, from some unknown space, a large wooden stall, such as might be seen at a village fair or some other such event. He planted the thing firmly on the ground and settled down behind it.

"Welcome to Exdeath's Hint Shop!" he boomed cheerfully. "For those times when you just can't work out where to go next!

"One hint: 10,000 Gil.

"Two hints: 20,000 Gil.

"Three hints: SPECIAL OFFER! 25,000 Gil!"

He smiled inanely at the Author, who thought for a moment and then said, "How long have you been waiting to say that to someone?"

"Too long," said Exdeath. "No one around here wants hints. They all think it's a bit late for them."

"Perhaps you're exploiting the wrong niche?"

"Well," Exdeath shrugged, "I'd be selling hints up in the land of the living if I could, but it's a bit hard for me, seeing as I'm dead and all."

"Hmm..." The Author considered this. "If you could contact a medium of some sort, they could act as an intermediary between your clients and yourself, and you could be a mysterious sage giving advice from beyond the grave. I imagine heroes would flock to you."

"You really think so?"

"People'll buy anything these days."

"I'll consider that," said Exdeath thoughtfully. "Anyway, are you buying anything?"

The Author shook his head. "I don't have any money on me," he admitted. "Cloud kept it all in his bag. All I've got is my dictionary, and I'm not selling that."

"Oh. Shame." Exdeath thought for a moment. "Well, have a couple of hints anyway. On me. As thanks for that idea."

On the stall directly in front of Exdeath was a large upturned top hat, filled with folded pieces of paper. The knight waved one arm at it. "Take two."

The Author picked out a couple, unfolded one and read it. "Keep an eye open for potential friends," he read. "Some of them may advance the plot for you."

"Oooh," said Exdeath on cue. "Try the other one."

"Don't leave this area without the Major's ultimate weapon."

"Aaah," said Exdeath.

"Hmm..." the Author mused. "Useful, I'll admit, but I wouldn't want to pay ten thousand Gil for them. You might want to lower your prices before going into business."


"Oh yes."

"Right, thanks." Exdeath waved happily. "Do come again."

"If I can't work out what I'm meant to be doing, I will do."

The Author wandered off. Right... so he had to stay alert and try to spot either a potential friend or an ultimate weapon. That shouldn't be too difficult, right?

He had a horrible feeling he knew what the Major's ultimate weapon was going to be.

Well, if that was around then it shouldn't be too hard to find. All he had to do was to wait until -

"Oh, hey, you!"

He stopped and looked around. The voice sounded as though it should belong to a girl, but there didn't appear to be anyone around right now.

"Hey, can you hear me? I'm over here!"

"Um...?" said the Author, mildly confused.

"Oh, Emma, you ditz," another voice, also female, chided the first. "Of course he can't see us, we're still invisible, remember?"

"Oh, yeah." The first giggled nervously. "Whoops."

Figuring it was probably his best bet, the Author simply stood still and waited. It took the voices only a few seconds to get themselves sorted out, and so that time was all it took for a pretty young girl, of maybe 18 or 19 by the looks of her, to appear in front of him. Right in front of him, in fact. Her face was barely three or four inches from his, and he couldn't help but notice just how striking her eyes were. They were green, but not the rather murky green often seen in people who should have had grey eyes but ended up with a spelling mistake in their genes. They were an intense jade colour, which the Author surmised was really quite pleasant.

"Hi!" she said cheerfully. Her voice was the very embodiment of cheerfulness. "I'm Emma. Who are you?"

She leaned back, and the Author was able to take in more details of her appearance other than her eyes. Her hair was blonde - almost definitely bleached - and reached just past her shoulders. She was wearing a loose-fitting white T-shirt, emblazoned with a stylish logo built on the letter W, a pair of shorts, and by the looks of things, nothing else. As the Author watched, another three girls faded in beside her, all wearing exactly the same simplistic attire.

"I'm the Author," he said.

Emma giggled again. "That's, like, a kinda funny name, isn't it?" she remarked.

The Author shrugged. "It's good enough for me. Who are you?"

"I'm Emma, silly."

"I meant your friends," explained the Author patiently.

"Oh, yeah! Well," Emma waved at the girl to her left, a slightly taller specimen with short black hair and strangely attractive crimson eyes, "she's Ruby."

"Hi," said Ruby, waving.

"This," Emma indicated a third, slightly oriental-looking girl, "is Sophie."


"And -"

"I'm Diane," said the fourth demurely.

"A pleasure to meet you all," said the Author, bowing slightly. "Just -"

"Oooh, isn't he such a gentleman?" remarked Ruby, presumably to the others more than to the Author himself.

"Oh, totally!" agreed Sophie.

"Um," said Diane quietly to the Author while the other three immediately launched into a heated discussion about just how cool this was at the top of their voices, "would you like to hang around with us for a bit?" She glanced down and added in a rush, "Sensei won't let us wander around, you see, he says we need to be ready 'cause we're going to be called upon some time soon and he doesn't like running around all over the Lifestream looking for us, so..."

"Sensei?" repeated the Author.

"Oh, um, he's, like, our teacher. He's been looking after us and training us and stuff."


"Oh!" Diane put one hand over her mouth. "I don't know if I was meant to tell you that. He might get angry at us for that..."

"I won't tell if you won't," said the Author benevolently, "and I don't think they heard." Diane smiled shyly. "Would you mind if I met this Sensei person? He sounds quite important."

"Huh?" said Sophie, overhearing. "You really want to meet Sensei? Wow, you're, like, sooo brave!"

"I am?"

Uh oh.

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