Harmonies
Eagleheart  

Chapters

Author's Note
Prologue

1. Overture
2. Rubato
3. Scherzo
4. Vivace et Affettuoso
5. D.S. al Coda
6. Dolente
7. Harmony and Dissonance
8. Impetuoso
9. Morendo



Okay. So.

Going to go find the woman I love and tell her how sorry I am for being such an asshole - good idea.

Taking a jet and not telling anybody where I’m going – bad idea.

Surveying the area from above, looking for the Avalanche base from a safe distance – good idea.

Landing the jet as close as possible to the base – bad idea.

Unloading my entire arsenal on the first jeep they sent – good idea.

Not saving any ammo for the three other jeeps – bad idea.

Running – good idea.

Getting caught – very, very bad idea.

That’s essentially what happened. I don’t really remember much else, nor do I particularly care to. I mean, really, it’s sort of an embarrassingly stupid thing to be captured by the enemy almost immediately upon reaching your destination and not really something you want to go into too much detail about.

I stopped running when they caught up and surrounded me. I didn’t really have much choice, being that they were in jeeps and had machine guns pointed at me. They hadn’t shot me yet, so evidently they wanted something. I nodded politely at the nearest jeep. “Afternoon, gentlemen. Pleasant day for a stroll, isn’t it?”

It was rather nice out. Cosmo Canyon’s an incredible place, all red stone and blue sky. It was a beautiful, clear day with little wispy bits of cloud hanging in the sky. It would’ve been just lovely for a walk or a hike or whatever, if it weren’t for all the terrorists. I took out my nightstick, though, more for my own comfort than for any hope of actually fighting.

“Oh, please, Turk. We were lead to believe you were confident, but not quite as stupid as that.” I knew the voice. There are two people in the world who I want to strangle with their own intestines. One is Rufus Shinra, the other is Fuhito. And right about then, anybody’s intestines would’ve sufficed.

“Fuhito.” I turned to face him, unintentionally sending a jolt of electricity sparking into the ground. “What do you want from me?”

Fuhito laughed and climbed down out of his jeep, still in his neatly pressed khaki, absolutely immaculate. I wonder how he managed that. I’d barely been on the ground for more than five minutes and already there was red dust clinging to my shoes and pantlegs. “I don’t want anything from you, Turk. You’re foolish to imagine you could ever offer me anything.”

“Oh well, now. I don’t know about that. If it’s your thing, I’d be more than happy to plug you in the ass with my EMR.”

Maybe not the best remark to make to a hostile terrorist.

Fuhito flushed and drew a gun from his jacket, leveling it at me. “You are no use to me dead, Turk, but do not try my patience. Disarm yourself.”

“Never on a first date.”

He hissed at me. Fuhito’s weird. “You,” he barked as one of his men. “Disarm him.”

“You seem to have developed a slow leak, Fuhito. You should see a doctor about that,” I remarked, allowing the terrorist he’d chosen to disarm me. There really wasn’t much sense in putting up a fight. What with all the guns pointed at me, and all. “What’s Avalanche’s medical plan like? Ours is just great.”

Fuhito growled and ignored me, snapping orders at the rest of his men as I was relieved of my nightstick, the handgun in my jacket, several knives I had concealed in various places, all the grenades I had, the brass knuckles in my jacket pocket, and the few pieces of materia I’d brought. Talk about leaving a guy naked.

“Bind him,” Fuhito ordered, sparing a moment from giving orders to one of the other jeeps, which then roared off towards my jet.

The terrorist obeyed, accepting a coil of rope and roughly binding my arms in front of me. I noticed his hands were shaking. I wondered why. I was defenseless and his comrades had their weapons trained on me; I wasn’t going to do anything. Though I suppose it’s kind of flattering that he was actually afraid.

And then my jet blew up. It was one of those huge sorts of explosions that leaves a crater at least four times the size of whatever was blown up. Cid was going to kill me. I’d already been out with one of his “daughters” for what bordered on four times the amount of time I’d told him I’d be, and now I’d gone and blown her up. “Hey!” I yelled, whirling around to stare at the huge column of flame and smoke. “That was a rental! D’you have any idea how much trouble I’m gonna be in when I get back home with no jet?”

Fuhito smiled coldly, motioning towards the back of his jeep as the guy who’d bound my arms pushed me forward. “My apologies, Turk. I shall endeavor to spare you that trouble, then. I suppose I will simply have to ensure that you don’t see home again.”

Well, I’d set myself up for that one, and I couldn’t really respond, because he did have a point. A cold, heavy feeling settled in my chest as I acknowledged the fact that I wasn’t in the greatest of situations. Unarmed, alone, and captured by merciless terrorists. I’ve been in tight spots before, but this was about the tightest.

But, part of being in the Turks is the whole “never say die” thing. Even when things look bleak, it’s important to maintain the attitude. You just have to. Whether you’re suave and dignified, like Tseng, cool and professional like Rude, or, as in my case, mouthy and exceedingly obnoxious, you have to be like that to the very end. So as soon as we got started, I began kicking the back of Fuhito’s seat.

He whirled around and glared at me. “Turk, I have warned you,” he snarled.

I jerked my head at the terrorist sitting beside me, the barrel of the rifle he carried jammed in my ribs. “It was him.”

A few moments of silence passed. “Are we there yet?”

He seemed to think that I’d shut up if he ignore me. People’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. “How ‘bout now?”

I wish I’d had more of a childhood. I would’ve been a very good four-year old. Though the fact that I come to this realization in my mid-twenties is somewhat depressing. “Now?”

“Why’re all the rocks around here red?”

“Why don’t jeeps have seatbelts?”

“Are you wearing your grandma’s glasses, Fuhito?”

“Fuhito, you’re going bald on top of your head!”

“I’m bored. Can we play travel bingo?”

“What about I Spy?”

“I think I’m getting carsick. Can we stop?”

“I’m hungry, too.”

“And a bathroom break probably wouldn’t hurt either.”

“Are we there now?”

I continued to pester him as we drove towards a smudge of khaki on the horizon, presumably the Avalanche base. That unnerved me a bit. It was huge. I think Fuhito sensed my uneasiness, because he ordered the driver to go faster, kicking up a huge cloud of dust as we roared along over the terrain. Must’ve been murder on the suspension, especially since the jeep we were in looked like it was probably a decade or so older than me.

I was on the twenty-first verse of “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall” when we reached the camp. The jeep wove through roughly made “streets” of canvas tents, the various Avalanche members who were sitting around outside stopping to gape and stare at me.

“C’mon, take a picture,” I called. “Close as you’re gonna get to a Turk and still be living, I’ll tell ya that right now.”

The tents they’d set up were pretty sizeable and it struck me as we drove past one with a little girl peeking out from behind the long, khaki skirt of a woman standing at the entrance of one of the tents that these wasn’t just a camp of militant insurgents. This was a camp of militant insurgents and their families. And that had to be about the most irresponsible thing I’d ever encountered. Or, on the flipside, one of the smartest. Shinra wasn’t going to attack a camp that was half-full of innocents. And, I suppose, if I were a terrorist and going to be blowing up cities, I’d want my family where I could be fairly sure they’d be safe.

Fuhito drove right through the camp, to a small rise, set apart from the rest of the tents, overlooking the rest of the camp. Set up in the center of this rise was a larger tent, with two flaps drawn back to create something of double door. I got the feeling that this was their HQ. There were no guards or anything, though. But I guess there are enough people wandering around their camp with automatics that any sort of intruder would’ve been taken care of in relatively short order.

Fuhito stopped the jeep and got out, motioning to his driver and the guy with the gun in my ribs to bring me along. I wasn’t about to cooperate. First I refused to get out of the jeep. Just sort of sat there, until they rather forcefully removed me. Then I refused to walk. So they had to drag me into the tent. I didn’t make that easy on them, either. I kicked and yelled and thrashed and cursed. I think I sort of ruined Fuhito’s grand entrance, because when he stepped into the tent with me, all the people in the tent, who were gathered around a large table with a map spread out on it, glared at him.

They were evidently having some sort of strategy meeting. It suddenly occurred to me that these were the Avalanche muckity-mucks, the driving force behind all these terrorist attacks. I would’ve given my right arm for some high explosive.

“What is the meaning of this intrusion, Fuhito?” a woman, who was standing across the table from Fuhito, demanded.

Fuhito cleared his throat. “I didn’t wish to disturb you, Elfe. But I have captured a Shinran.”

Elfe arched an eyebrow. “Really. Cut his bonds, so I might get a better look at him.”

The two terrorists who had me by the arms yanked me to my feet. One took out a knife and sliced through the ropes around my wrists. I scowled darkly and kept my head down.

Fuhito stepped over beside me, pulling his gun out, pressing the muzzle against my lower back, and squeezing the trigger. For a half second I thought he was just going to shoot me. Then a painful, buzzing sensation shot up my spine and my legs gave out. Essentially, so did the rest of my body and I crumpled to the ground. This was the same paralysis he’d used on Rosalind, way back in Junon. I could still move my head and my hands a little, but nothing else responded when I tried to move.

“A little extreme, don’t you think, Fuhito? He doesn’t look dangerous,” Elfe commented dryly, as my two guards hauled me into a half kneeling position in front of her. She sighed and waved a hand in front of me, her fingertips glowing. All of a sudden I could move again. I knew the deal with materia, but I’d never seen anyone that powerful with it. She hadn’t even needed to touch me.

Then she reached out and caught my chin in her hand, tilting my face up and staring at my eyes. So this was Elfe. For the head of a terrorist faction, she was rather pretty. She was probably ten or fifteen years older than I was, with shorter dark hair, strands of it beaded and hanging down in front of her face. She had green-gray eyes and they surprised me. They were emotionless, and so cold they should’ve been ice blue, instead of the almost warm sage color that they were. I shivered as her eyes suddenly darkened with anger. Elfe was a woman with a lot of power. “Fuhito, this is not a SOLDIER.”

“P-pardon?”

Elfe’s eyes glinted dangerously as she folded her arms across her chest. “He is not a SOLDIER! He is no good to me!! Why have you brought him before the council?”

“I…I just thought…”

“This is a Turk, Fuhito, and unless he has been treated with their Mako, I have no use for him,” she snapped, roughly catching my chin again. I jerked my face away and bit her. Hard. She shrieked as I broke the skin of the back of her hand, then pulled away, reeling back and clutching her hand, leaving me spitting out her blood.

Taking advantage of the sudden distraction, I wrenched free from the two guards who had my arms, grabbed the sidearms holstered on either side of me before they could react, and shot them both in the ribs. St. Andrew would’ve been proud. Fuhito yelled and went for his own gun, but I shot him in the thigh and he went down before he had a chance to take aim at me. It was close range; I couldn’t have missed if I’d wanted to. Then I opened fire on the rest of their “council,” hitting those who hadn’t had the chance to dive for cover.

Jumping to my feet, now that everyone in the tent was fumbling around in confusion, I turned and bolted out of the tent, praying Fuhito’s driver had been enough of a dunce to leave the keys in the ignition. However, I hadn’t exactly counted on Elfe recovering quite as quickly as she did.

People don’t often run headlong into brick walls. Brick walls are not typically found in places where people will be flat out sprinting, and even if you happen to be sprinting in a place where there are brick walls, people usually see them soon enough to avoid running into them, or at least to slow down a bit. However, when the wall in question was not there a minute ago, is invisible, and is not made of bricks but of a barrier spell, created by the force of someone’s mind, it’s a lot easier to run into. Which I did.

Now, that’s the sort of thing that puts a person out of commission. I woke up a few minutes later to the sound of Elfe’s boots crunching on the red stone gravel as she approached, nudging me in the ribs with the toe of her boot. “You have caused more trouble than anticipated, Turk,” she told me, a grudging note of something that might have been respect in her voice.

Fuhito limped up, a hand pressed against his leg, still glowing as he healed himself. “You will pay for this,” he hissed.

I didn’t really care about what he was going to be doing to me, my head hurt too much. Actually, most things hurt. My shoulder in particular, which I was reminded of as there was a buzzing in my breast pocket; my cell phone vibrating. There was nobody calling—I’d been out of range for hours now, but my battery was probably dying down.

Elfe paled suddenly, bending down and plucking my phone from my pocket. Cursing, she whirled on Fuhito and slapped him in the face. “How did he get here?” she asked, eyes blazing.

Fuhito blinked. “W-well…”

“You say you captured him, how did you capture him?” she demanded, a note of urgency in her voice. “Tell me everything.”

Lowering his head slightly, Fuhito cleared his throat. “He came in a jet, Elfe. Our scouts spotted it and I led a squad to where it landed. We captured him, and destroyed the jet.” Fuhito lifted a hand and pointed westward, where smoke was still billowing from the wreckage.

Elfe spun around and gaped at the towering gray column. “You idiot!” Elfe struck Fuhito again. “That was smoke will be visible for miles around! And this,” she held up my cell phone. “This contains a GPS locator. It’s relaying his location back to the Shinran base as we speak!” She threw the phone to the ground and crushed it beneath the heel of her boot. I was vaguely upset about that. I’d just gotten a new faceplate and all. “This means they know where we are, Fuhito,” she hissed. “And what you have done borders on the edge of unforgivable. I should kill you for your incompetence, here and now.”

It’s lucky I was the enemy and that this wasn’t my fault, because I would’ve hated to be on the receiving end of Elfe’s anger. I didn’t doubt for a second that she was actually considering killing him. And Fuhito was one of her allies. For all her power, she didn’t have much control.

It was almost pitiable to see the poor bastard squirm, too. “E-Elfe…I beg your forgiveness. I was overzealous. I did not stop to consider the consequences of my actions…I thought merely of the equinox and the fact that I…”

“Your excuses do not matter now, Fuhito,” she interrupted icily. “Two of the council lie dead because of your foolish need to take a prisoner, and we shall have to dismantle the entire camp and move on. I have much to attend to. Kill the Turk.”

“No!” Fuhito exclaimed. I never would’ve thought I’d see the day where Fuhito was bargaining for my life. I wondered if I might’ve had a concussion. “Elfe, please, we are only a few days from the equinox. A sacrifice to the Planet is demanded and…”

Elfe spat contemptuously. “Cease this foolishness. For your want of a sacrifice to the Planet, the Shinra may visit destruction on our entire force!” Shaking her head, Elfe made a dismissive gesture. “I do not care what you do, Fuhito, so long as you cause no more trouble. If you do, rest assured I shall end your life myself. I have a militia to mobilize. You are dismissed.”

“Yes, Elfe. I do apologize,” he muttered, as Elfe stormed away.

After their little catfight there wasn’t really anything interesting enough to merit my remaining conscious. Besides, my head was really hurting and I was dizzy. And I wasn’t in any condition to give Fuhito any more trouble anyway. So, for the time being, I just quietly passed out, wondering briefly what he was referring to when he said “sacrifice.”

*

I’d been expecting I would wake up in some sort of prison. Though I suppose that was a bit of a stupid thing to expect, being that Avalanche wouldn’t really have anywhere to put a prison. At the very least, though, I thought they might’ve stuck me in a tent. I’d been expecting to have been tied up, but even though they’d had the sense to do that, they hadn’t done it terribly well. There’s a difference between binding a conscious person and binding an unconscious person and you can’t really do it effectively when a person’s out cold, because you have no idea of the kind of movement they can manage with their arms.

Actually, I didn’t a hot clue what the hell was going on. When I came around, still groggy and decidedly cranky, we were back to the whole “a terrorist on either side of me” thing. I wasn’t entirely clear on where I was, either. It didn’t look like the rest of the Avalanche base camp; it was sort of set apart, the same way as their HQ tent had been. As near as I could tell, it was a supply depot of some sort, with several heavy trucks around and tents that looked to contain crates and stuff.

Fuhito was talking. I wasn’t quite aware enough to catch everything he was saying, but from the distinctly snotty tone there was to his voice, he was probably giving some sort of speech. “…Turks, the honorable commander Veld.”

I forced myself to focus when I caught that last bit and looked up, to see Fuhito, dictating something to another Avalanche goon, this one with a camera. “It is possible that this video may even reach your President, though…as we know from his previous reactions to hostage takings…it is likely he will do nothing to negotiate. Do not blame him for this. Anything he would offer would meet nothing but scorn from my comrades and I. This situation is not to be remedied.”

This was confusing. It sounded like a message to Shinra, which explained why I was there, but if it were, I would’ve expected him to be making demands. Which he hadn’t done. But if he wasn’t going to use me for bargaining, there really wasn’t any reason for me to be alive.

“You must forgive me my ramblings. I can ill afford to waste this time. You see, Shinra, we are aware of your knowledge of our location. We hadn’t expected you would discover us in such short order, but being that the possibility existed, we were prepared. My superiors have given the order to move on and even as I speak, our base is being dismantled. Knowing the nature of your organization, you will probably come to search for the remnants of our passing. But we shall leave you no trace.”

The video wasn’t being transmitted live. Not even Fuhito would be so stupid as to announce to Shinra that their base was being broken down, so our people had better come quick before they missed their chance to strike. He was also talking about the Shinra looking for what remained of the base, so he probably intended this to reach the company by the time they’d left.

I heard Fuhito walk over and managed not to curse as he grabbed a handful of my hair and yanked my head back. Evidently he was going to be making a point. “However, we will leave you one thing,” he conceded, grip tightening. I winced and closed my eyes tightly. No sense in showing any weakness. “A body is merely a vessel. A vehicle, galvanized by the life force of the Planet, the Lifestream. This energy…the very same that your vile and disgusting corporation has been sucking from the core of our mother Planet…with death, this energy is returned to it rightful place. The body is left an empty husk. We will leave you this, though you have not done the same with our fallen comrades, whose essences, even now, are healing the wounds you inflict upon the Planet. We have transcended your level of understanding, to the point where we understand that clinging to this shell is the pitiable and wretched gesture of those who will never reach beyond mortality.”

And then he hit me, probably because he didn’t think I was quite conscious enough to pay attention, and leaned close. It was probably right about there, when I got a look at his eyes, that I realized that Fuhito isn’t exactly in his right mind. I’ve seen insanity a few times in my life; in addicts on the streets who’d gone past the point of no return, in soldiers with nothing left to lose…hell, I’d seen hints of it in the eyes of the head of Shinra’s science department. There’s something about the eyes that marks crazy people and Fuhito’s eyes were the perfect indication that he was Grade A batshit insane.

“Come, Turk. Do you know who we are addressing? Your friends and comrades, Turk. Let me see you beg and plead for your misappropriated life, like the coward you are. Offer up your prayers to the Shinra, that they might deliver you…”

I don’t like the phrase “the gift of life.” I don’t believe that life is a gift. Maybe it’s my background or my job or maybe it’s just who I am, but I believe that life is earned. I think you have to fight to live through every single day and only then have you earned the right to a shot at another one. So someone telling me that I don’t deserve to something I’ve fought for the rights to for as long as I can remember is gonna get me kinda riled. And someone trying to coerce me into getting my friends to throw away their lives, walking into what could only be a trap got me really riled.

Part of being a Turk is always seeming like you’re worse off than you really are. Or remaining capable, regardless of how badly off you are. I wasn’t really all that hindered by the cords around my wrists, and the guards who had a hold of me apparently still thought I was only semi-conscious and therefore didn’t have much of a hold of me. Fuhito had straightened up and stepped away to let me face the camera, so I took advantage of this to wrench free of both the guards, stare straight at the camera and tell my colleagues, “Do not come here.”

That short little message was not what Fuhito had wanted from me, and consequently earned me a forceful shove to the ground, a terrorist’s knee pressed against my back, a gun to my neck, and a sharp kick in the ribs from Fuhito. “I warn you again and again not to press your luck, Turk!” he snapped. “Do you want your comrades to watch you die, now? I can end your life quickly, and with far less pain than you deserve, but all energy returns to the Planet by the same route, and the manner in which it is ripped from your body matters very little. I assure you, you will pay for this. Take him away.”

I was hauled roughly off the ground, still winded from being kicked, and dragged away. It was a fairly short trip and it culminated with one of the guards cutting away the ropes around my wrists and then throwing me forward into a pit.

It was probably about ten feet deep and probably about the same across. Despite my surprise at being thrown in, I managed to throw my hands out to break my fall, landing a little painfully, but not injuring anything. This was the first time I’d been unbound and awake since I’d arrived and, despite everything, I felt a lot better for it. I stretched a few times and rolled my shoulders, sprawling in the dirt and massaging my ribs, where Fuhito had kicked me. It would probably bruise, but that was okay. Bruises heal.

I glanced up. Reds and oranges were starting to stretch across the sky above me. I rubbed my eyes. I hadn’t expected it was quite that late. Arching my back, I looked up at the walls of my “prison.” They were rough, hollowed out of the dusty red earth, though I couldn’t imagine for what purpose. I hoped they hadn’t gone to the trouble just for me.

Pushing myself to my feet, I staggered slightly and stumbled against the wall. It was also the first time I’d been on my feet for a while. I was a little dizzy and not quite walking straight, but I did feel better after I gave myself a few minutes to get adjusted to being vertical again. And then I gave the hole they’d stuck me in a really good look.

It wasn’t so deep. Standing, its edge was probably only about three and a half feet above my head. Which is a negligible distance, when you’ve spent half your life traversing urban obstacle courses. I was fairly sure I could climb out, if I got a bit of a run at it. And, being that there was only one way to be sure, I got myself steady, stretched a bit, ran at the wall and jumped, pulling myself up and out quite easily.

I’ve mentioned before how my colleagues don’t think. That’s probably not the best way in the world to phrase that. What I probably should say is that my colleagues don’t question. Which they don’t. Not often, at least. And I suppose that’s okay; it’s sort of what you’re looking for in a Turk or any military type person; that there the type of person who doesn’t question orders. I question things a lot. I don’t really think so much. I sat in my apartment for half an hour one time, trying to get a hold of Rude, wondering why the hell his phone line was busy, if he wasn’t talking to me. I kept at it for half an hour, getting absolutely bewildered as to who the hell he was talking to, until I realized I’d been dialing my own phone number the entire time. So maybe there is some stock in the ADD theory.

Getting to the point, I hadn’t exactly thought things through when I scrambled up out of my little prison pit, quite pleased with myself, until I realized it was still daylight, there were hostile terrorists all over the place, and that I hadn’t really been very covert about the whole thing. So, while I maybe shouldn’t have been surprised when one of the aforementioned terrorists yelled and attacked me, smashing me in the ribs with a rifle and knocking me back into the hole, I kind of was.

And being that I’d been surprised, I didn’t have time to brace myself for the fall, so when I landed, I landed on my right arm. I heard the distinct, stomach-wrenching crack that bones make when the break. I’ve broken bones before. I know what it feels like, and no matter how many times you do it, you never get used to the next time. It’s very painful. Remarkably so. And it spreads throughout the entire limb in question, a pain that burns without being hot. And inside your arm, not like a surface burn. It’s a tricky sort of pain to describe.

But, being a Turk, that’s also the sort of pain you have to learn to take without making any noise. Besides the little gasping moans of pain they allow you, if you’re quiet enough. Painfully, my muscles trembling from the pain I was in, I pushed myself up and very slowly, very carefully eased myself back against the wall. Well, now things were bad. I wasn’t going to be getting out of this hole of my own volition. I couldn’t. Having one of my arms out of service was a very big problem.

It was starting to get dark. I suppose the sun sets quickly in Cosmo Canyon, because there was already darkness spreading across the sky above. I sat for what felt like a very long while, just coping with the amount of pain this was generating. I settled into a numb, dull sort of state where the only thing your conscious of is the fact that you’re hurt. I could hear the sounds of the Avalanche camp coming down around me, but they didn’t really register.

Eventually, though, I got past that, to the point where I could handle the pain of the probable fracture in my arm and still think straight. It didn’t hurt any less, I’d just gotten used to it. It was really dark by then, probably a few hours had passed. I didn’t have any way of measuring the time that had gone by. But the stars were out. A billion stars, even the tiny little dim ones that you can’t see anywhere where there’s even the slightest amount of light to drown them out. No wonder they call it Cosmo Canyon.

Beautiful as the night sky was, though, the fact that I was aware enough to be thinking wasn’t really such a great thing. At least the pain had been a distraction from all the really lousy stuff I had to think about. I was trapped, captured by the most deadly enemy I had, in the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles from home, no way of letting anyone know where I was, no idea how much longer I was even going to be alive. There wasn’t exactly much hope for me and I knew that.

And, what made the whole thing infinitely worse was that I still didn’t know where Rosalind was. She could be anywhere. I hadn’t done her any good coming out here. Just thinking about it, I didn’t know what the hell I’d been trying to accomplish. I hadn’t thought things through. The jet I’d taken only had room for one person, and by the time I’d landed, it was almost out of fuel anyway. Even if I had found her, in the miles and miles of sunblasted canyon that I would’ve had to cover without food, water, or shelter, I wouldn’t have been able to take her home. Any way I looked at it, it seemed like I’d come out here to die.

But that’s a depressing thing to think about and I didn’t really have the energy to devote to depressing myself. I was sore and tired, and now that I could disregard the pain in my arm, I might as well do the moderately smart thing and try to sleep. Thankfully I’m good at sleeping, so for a few hours that’s exactly what I did.

I think it must have been a few hours, because when I woke up it was starting to be dawn. When the only view you have is of the sky, you sort of have to make your judgments based on that. What woke me were hushed, whispered voices at the edge of the pit. I didn’t open my eyes, just sat and listened for a few minutes.

“Izzat a SOLDIER?” It was a male voice, a younger guy.

“Nah, he ain’t a SOLDIER. He’s too scrawny to be a SOLDIER,” someone else, another guy, answered.

“I thought Elfe didn’t want anyone who wasn’t a SOLDIER.”

“Yeah, well, he ain’t Elfe’s prisoner, he’ Fuhito’s.”

“What’s Fuhito want with a prisoner?” one voice, yet another young male asked incredulously.

“Who knows? Fuhito’s crazy. Mebbe he just wants to get information out of him.” There was a pause. “I think he’s probably a Turk. Lookit the suit he’s wearin’.”

That’s a Turk? That’s one of Shinra’s famous Turks? He doesn’t look so tough.”

“Well, duh. He’s sleeping, a’course he’s not so tough,” another interjected, evidently of the opinion that I was a lot more dangerous than I looked. Which is true enough. “But ain’t you heard what he did? He’s the guy who caused that big ‘splosion yesterday, an’ shot two of Shears’ men with their own guns, and killed two of Elfe’s council. He’s the reason we’re leavin’.”

The first boy snorted. “But lookit ‘im! He’s a mess! Maybe he did all that stuff yesterday, but he sure as hell couldn’t manage it today. I ain’t scared of him. Stupid Turk.”

Unlettered hicks, these guys sounded like. I probably hadn’t been much better, when I was young. But working around the Shinra, you learn to talk properly or be looked at like something so low on the social ladder you’d be better off dead.

Keeping my eyes closed and moving very slowly, I closed my left hand around a rock on the ground beside me, got a feel for its shape. Then, opening one eye, I quickly took aim, flicked my wrist, and pegged the fellow in the middle right between his eyes.

He reeled back, yelping and collapsing in a little heap in the dirt. There’d been four of them and I hoped I’d hit the one who called me a stupid Turk. They were older than I’d expected, too, probably in their late teens, not so much younger than I was. For all that, though, they yelled and ran away like children. I was rather pleased about that.

I shifted and pressed my back a little more comfortably against the wall, yawning and rubbing my eyes. It was definitely getting nearer to dawn, looking up at the pale, pinkish gray I could see at the eastern edge of the sky above my little hole, across from where I was sitting. It was really rather pretty.

It got decidedly less pretty as Shears came crunching up to the edge of the pit, folding his arms and glaring down at me. “Well, now. Hello there, Turk. What’m I hearing about you giving my recruits trouble?”

I scowled, then covertly picked another rock and threw it at him. He caught it. Easily. Plucked it right out of the air and spun it between his fingers, laughing. “Always gotta be a problem, don’t you? Fuhito’s being too delicate with you…he doesn’t wanna damage his precious sacrifice. I figure you can probably take one hell of a lot, Turk. He isn’t doing enough to punish you. So maybe I oughta come down there and learn ya a thing or two.”

He jumped down. I forced myself to scramble to my feet, keeping my back to the wall. My arm was throbbing again, maybe in anticipation. This did not bode well. And there really wasn’t much of anything I could say or do to stop him.

“God, Turk, look at you squirm,” Shears grinned, watching me with nothing but pleasure as he approached. “I think I’ll enjoy this.”

The first time hit me wasn’t actually so bad. It was more of a shock than anything, a blow to the stomach that winded me and sent me to my knees. Everything after that was pretty bad. Shears wears heavy combat boots and is remarkably proficient at kicking. Most of his blows landed across my chest and back, cracking a few of my ribs, but he wasn’t above driving his heel into the back of my knee or nudging my broken arm with his toe.

“I have to admit, they were right when they told us you lot were stoic,” he remarked candidly, letting up for a few moments. “You haven’t made a sound throughout all of this.”

I couldn’t have responded if I’d wanted to. He’d left me lying on my left side on the ground, bruised and bleeding. I could feel that I was bleeding as the fabric of my shirt clung to the deep abrasions he’d torn in my skin. This hurt. This hurt so much there were tears in my eyes. I wasn’t about to let him know that, though. There was no way I’d let him have the satisfaction of making me break.

Shears chuckled. “No snappy comebacks, Turk? It’s a different game now, isn’t it? Not so tough when you’re down, are you?”

I heard a familiar sound, but didn’t believe what I was hearing. A series of three, metallic clicks, and then a low humming. I swallowed and forced myself to roll over onto my back, because I couldn’t bring myself to believe what I heard.

He had my EMR, extended and charging as he held it in his right hand. And that scared more than just about anything he could’ve done.

There aren’t many Turks who use the EMR. I only know of two others in my district, one of who is Rodney, the other is the instructor who taught me to use it. It’s a tricky sort of weapon. It’s basically a sword without the cutting action. Being that this is the way the EMR works, just slashing at people isn’t going to do anything but bruise them, at absolute best. That’s where the electrical part comes in and you have to time your shocks with your strikes, base the type of shock on the type of strike and vice versa.

When you start with the EMR, the first thing the instructor I mentioned above (his name is Mulligan) does is give you a hundred and fifty thousand volts in the ribs. And that hurts enough to make you wonder why the hell you got involved in this business with its crazy Turks and high-tech weaponry. Then he explains to you, as you’re lying there in pain, wanting to kill him, that the EMR has the capacity to do two things. It has the capacity to kill people quickly, cleanly, and with a relatively small amount of pain, and it has the capacity to put them through a kind of agony they never knew possible. The latter reason was why Shears having my EMR was so frightening to me. Also because he didn’t know how to use it and could very probably kill me without meaning to.

“Don’t do this.”

Shears laughed and took a step towards me. “Oh, you’re scared now. Why, Turk? It’s just your little sparky stick, nothing to be afraid of…”

I pushed myself up, fear overcoming pain and tried to get away from him. “For the love of god, Shears…”

“What would you know of god?” he spat, grinning manically. “Not so stoic now, are you? Have I found a chink in your armor?”

I didn’t care about pride or stoicism or losing face in front of Shears. I just wanted him to stay the hell away from me. They’re all crazy. Shears, Fuhito, Elfe, every single one of them are beyond humanity, to do the things that they do to people, or to believe what they believe, or to wield so much power with so little control. “Please…”

Laughing coarsely, Shears advanced, slashing my nightstick downward in a brilliant arc of electricity and hitting me in the ribs a final time.

I may have screamed. I can’t remember. I think I probably must have. It hurts so badly, all the way through your body, to the very tips of your fingers. Your hair feels like it hurts. That’s how bad it is. Things were dark after that. I think part of me was still conscious, though, because for a while I could hear what was going on.

“Turk? Hey, are you dead, Turk?” That was Shears.

“Did you kill him?” That was one of the guys from before. “If Fuhito finds out…”

Shears!” This was Fuhito, finding out. “What are you doing!? What have you done!?”

“Aww, Fuhito, he’s not dead. I was just messin’ around with him…I owe this guy a thrashing.” I heard him grunt as he climbed out of the pit. “Who’d have thought this little sticky thing’d pack quite such a punch, eh?”

The scream that followed was probably Fuhito demonstrating to Shears just what a “punch” my EMR could pack. “Get out of my sight, hideous wretch! How dare you interfere with my devotions! If he is killed before I can offer him up to the Planet, I will take you in sacrifice! Begone!”

I don’t remember anything else for a while after that, but whether that was because things had gotten quiet or because I’d blacked out again, I really couldn’t say.

What I remember next was probably the only good thing that came out of the entire affair. I woke up to stare at a soft blue sky, the golds and pinks and oranges of dawn starting to stain the clouds above me. It was a shame Cosmo Canyon was so pretty. It made you forget what horrible people there were living there.

“You be careful down there, Jess,” I heard a man saying as I closed my eyes again. “There’s stories ‘bout him all over camp. They say he killed two of the council with his bare hands and blew up a jeep full of Shears’ men and that if he gets half a chance, he’ll radio back to his HQ to send bombers to attack us.”

Oh, if only.

“I’ll be okay, Biggs,” a girl answered reassuringly. “Fuhito said he’s in fairly bad shape, so he can’t hurt me.”

Well, she was right about that. I could barely move.

“Hmph. All the same, I’ll be standing right here with a rifle pointed at his head. If he looks like he’s gonna try anything, you get outta there sharpish and I’ll let him have it.”

“Biggs, Fuhito almost killed Shears for just hurting him. If you kill him, he’ll do far worse. So please, just let me handle it.”

Biggs grunted noncommittally and I heard a sigh from the girl, Jessie. Then she climbed down into the pit.

“If you’re down here to beat me, I think I should warn you that another round’ll probably do me in.”

I think she was surprised to hear me speak. I know I was sure surprised to hear me speak.

“I…er…no.”

“Oh. Just here to stare, then? Close as you’re ever gonna get to a Turk without dying.”

Biggs growled. “Don’t be afraid to kick ‘im, Jessie. Fuhito wouldn’t know.”

“Quiet, Biggs,” Jessie said shortly, coming closer and crouching down next to me. “I’m not here to hurt you.”

I opened my eyes again, curious in spite of myself. She wasn’t pretty. Not like Rosalind is pretty. She was just sort of plain, with mousy brown hair and eyes, and a bit of a squarish cast to her jaw. She wore khaki, like everyone else in Avalanche, and she was probably in her early twenties. She looked like the sort of person you’d find leading environmental protests outside the U of M in Midgar. There was a canvas bag slung over her shoulder. She also had a handgun in a holster across her chest and a hunting knife sheathed at her waist. That made me nervous.

“You look like you’re here to hurt me. I’m of the opinion that everyone in this camp is here to hurt me.”

“Well, I’m not. My name’s Jessie. I’m a medic,” she answered a little bit defensively. There was something in her eyes, though. I think she was a little stunned by the fact that she was actually talking to a Turk.

I didn’t believe her. “You don’t look like a medic.”

She slipped the strap of her bag off her shoulder and showed it to me, displaying the red cross emblem on the front. “See? Just the same as your medics.”

“Our medics don’t carry automatics.”

“Your medics aren’t expected to provide cover fire in raids.”

“Touché.” I’d have pressed the point, but I’d remembered I was in screaming agony, so I just shut up and tried to refrain from passing out again.

Jessie set her bag down and flipped it open. “Fuhito says I’m supposed to make sure you don’t die.”

“That’s thoughtful of him.”

She busied herself getting out various bottles and bandages and things. I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t, really, what with the rifle trained on me.

“Sit up, please,” she instructed absently, unscrewing the lid of one of these bottles and rubbing a clear liquid all over her hands.

I lay still for a moment, contemplating the suggestion. I even went as far as to try and push myself up, but it was pretty clear it wasn’t going to be happening. “I can’t.”

Jessie glanced up. “You can’t?”

“Nuh uh.”

Biggs cocked his rifle. “Don’t you be short with her, Turk, or I’ll pump you full of lead so fast…”

“Biggs,quiet,” Jessie snapped over her shoulder. “You aren’t helping.” She returned her attention to me. “Just how badly are you hurt?”

“I dunno.”

Looking slightly puzzled, she leaned over and pulled my jacket open, then undid the buttons down the front of my shirt. I grimaced as she opened my shirt, the cuts and abrasions covering my chest stinging as dried blood pulled away with them. “O-oh my god,” she gasped, her brown eyes widening. “I didn’t…I didn’t think…”

She moved to touch my right arm, probably unconsciously meaning it as a gesture of comfort, but sending pain shooting up my arm from where it had broken. I cried out weakly and tried to pull away.

Biggs laughed. “That’s got him, Jess, you show him!”

Jessie whirled around. “Biggs, go away! You’re interfering! I’ll call you if I need you, but for now, just leave!”

“But, Jessie!”

“Go!”

He turned and left, dragging his rifle on the ground, muttering sullenly to himself. Jessie looked back down at me, remorse in her eyes. “Sorry,” she apologized. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know your arm was hurt.”

“S’okay. ‘Least you didn’t kick me. Or shoot me, like your boyfriend was gonna.”

Jessie shook her head hastily. “Oh, no. Biggs isn’t my…well…he’s not really. I just think he likes me, is all.”

“But he would have shot me?”

“Oh, no! Well…maybe. I couldn’t really say what he’d do if he thought you were dangerous. We met about a year ago, back at school and…” She stopped and blushed suddenly, blinking and staring at me, as though she’d just remembered she was talking to the enemy.

I managed a grin. “Wonder why you’re telling me this, dontcha?”

“W-well, I…”

“It’s ‘cause you’d don’t perceive me as a threat. I remember learning about that in the Academy, how if you’re non-threatening, people’ll tell you just about anything.”

“You don’t get much less threatening than you are.”

I laughed a bit weakly. “If I get any less threatening, I could probably get you to tell me your measurements.”

Jessie blushed and cleared her throat a little awkwardly, changing the subject. “I didn’t think they’d hurt you this badly. I didn’t expect…well, I’ll do what I can.”

“Hey, I wasn’t expecting anything. Someone who doesn’t seem like they’re going to kill me is more than enough already.”

“I’m a healer. I’ve never killed anybody,” Jessie said quickly, popping the top off a bottle of something. “This’ll sting a bit at first, but it should keep these from getting infected.”

“I’m a Turk. I can take it.”

She smiled slightly and scooped a bit of some sort of salve onto her fingertips, rubbing it over the places where the skin had broken. It did sting, but it also made things feel a bit better. Her expression became concerned and she gently pressed her fingertips against my chest. “I think a few of your ribs might be broken.”

“Yeah, I could believe that. Shears wears steel toed boots, am I right?”

Jessie winced. “Oh, I’m sorry. I wish I could…I wish I could do something to fix that. But…well, Fuhito has told me not to waste any bandages on you, unless it was absolutely necessary.”

“Ahh. Well, that’s all right. Thanks anyway.” In spite of myself, I kinda liked her. She was Avalanche, but she wasn’t “bloodthirsty, wicked cruel, insane terrorist type Avalanche.” She was nice.

“I could…” she paused and glanced up, as though to make sure there was no one watching. “Hold still.” Reaching out with both hands, she pressed her palms against my chest and closed her eyes. Her skin grew warmer against mine and I felt the pain in my chest receding slightly as her hands started to glow. “There,” she whispered, smiling. “I didn’t fix them, but they shouldn’t hurt as badly now. Not much more than that, though, because if Fuhito catches me that would be it.”

“Jessica.” Well, speak of the devil. I didn’t know the devil wore weenie glasses and khaki, but there he was, so who was I to argue?

Jessie jumped up. “Fuhito, sir.” She bowed to him respectfully. “I was just following your orders, sir.”

Fuhito nodded. “Yes, Jessica, and I thank you. I would request that you remain behind with the contingent I have selected, to ensure the Turk survives until the equinox.”

“I would be most honored, Fuhito.”

“Thank you, Jessica. I shall have Biggs fetch a rope, so you can get out of there. I apologize for having you sully your hands with the wounds of the Turk.”

“By service I am made clean, Fuhito,” she murmured, inclining her head deeply. I swear, the crazy must rub off on people. Crazy by association. I hoped I wouldn’t catch it.

He nodded again, evidently satisfied, and left. Jessie watched him go, then crouched down again, rummaging in her bag. “I’ll be back in a few hours,” she said, suddenly sounding distracted and a little upset. “For now, I’ll give you something that should help with the pain…”

“Ahh, no, you don’t have to. If you’re in trouble already…”

Jessie unstoppered a bottle. “No, no. This is no trouble. I make tonics like this from the herbs that grow around here, there are loads of them.”

“W-well, all right, then…”

She helped me sit up and handed me the little vial. “Here, come sit on this side. The sun’s going to be coming up soon and today will be quite hot, I think. You’d better stay in the shade.”

“Okay.” I got settled down on the eastern side of the pit, as comfortably as I could be, sighing. I was already tired and I’d barely been awake for any time at all. But then, I was pretty rundown. I hadn’t been eating or sleeping regularly, I’d been rather consistently injured in the course of the past twelve hours, and being fairly certain of your impending death is the sort of thing that’ll drain anyone’s spirits.

“I think people will probably leave you alone, after what Fuhito did to Shears…and what with how busy we are getting everything ready to leave,” Jessie explained, carefully repacking her bag.

“That’s good, I guess.”

“Jessie!” Biggs was back and he’d thrown a rope down into the pit. “Get on up outta there, Jessie, c’mon.”

“Yes, I’m coming.” Jessie stood up. “Drink that, it’ll make you feel better and help you rest,” she encouraged.

I nodded and did as she asked, grimacing slightly. The stuff was pretty vile, but I believed her when she said it would help. “Thanks, Jessie.”

She looked back and blushed slightly before she climbed up the rope, probably a little surprised that I’d thanked her. I couldn’t see why I shouldn’t have; hers was the only kindness anybody had shown me in this hellhole.

*

And then she was gone and I was left alone again. All by myself, stuck in a little bit of space, probably less than a hundred feet square. I’ve often wondered how people cope with prison. I don’t think I could do it, if only because I’d go absolutely mad with boredom. I need to be constantly stimulated, always occupied, or else I’ll be unhappy. Though I suppose my happiness probably wasn’t among Avalanche’s top priorities.

I tried to remember what Shinran prisoners did when they were captured. I then came to the conclusion that the facilities that Shinra prisoners are kept in are the approximately equivalent of a five star hotel, when compared with what Avalanche can muster. I’d have given anything for a ten by ten cell with a bed and a light and air conditioning and food and water. And no crazy prison guards or officials. And (not to knock Jessie’s efforts) proper medical care. But, of course, there are stringent guidelines regarding how Shinra can treat the prisoners they take. Avalanche were not quite so hindered.

But anyway, whatever Jessie had given me made me feel better, if kind of drowsy. So I spent most of my day dozing in the shade, crawling over to the western side of the pit and sleeping there after the sun reached its zenith at noon. I had to spend an unpleasant hour in full sunlight, but it passed fairly quickly. For the most part, I was left alone, with the sounds of their camp breaking down around me. It was probably the high point of the time I spent in captivity.

When the sun went down, things weren’t so great. I hadn’t noticed the previous night, but now that I had a little less pain to concentrate on, I realized that Cosmo Canyon is one of those places that gets really, really hot during the day, then drops to near freezing at night. Not the sort of place you want to be sleeping in only your standard uniform. But, chilled and shivering though I might have been, I tried to make the best of it.

Around midnight, someone came creeping up to the edge of the pit. There weren’t guards around; apparently they’d realized that I wasn’t going to be going anywhere. Whoever it was didn’t say or do anything, they just stood there, watching me. It was too dark to see anything, and even so my eyes were clamped tightly shut anyway, but I could feel a pair of eyes on me. It was creepy, to say the very least. Especially because I don’t know the sort of stuff these Avalanche bastards are into. Scared the hell out of me. I hoped desperately that it wasn’t Shears or Fuhito.

So, except for the shivering, which I couldn’t really control, I just kept still as whoever this was stood there, watching, reasoning that if I didn’t react, they might not decided to do something more interesting.

Then there was a soft “thwump” sort of sound in the dirt beside me. I opened my eyes at that. I’d been wrong before; there was light. Not much, but just enough to see the old, thick, and neatly folded quilted blanket that had been tossed down into the dust beside me. That was kind of surprising. I looked up, wondering who I was supposed to thank for this, and met Jessie’s eyes.

I took the blanket and shook it out as best as I could, tugging it over my shoulders and kicking it out over my legs, giving her a bit of a nod of acknowledgement as I got myself comfortable again. She flushed slightly, in the light of the lamp she carried, and nodded back. Then she left.

It was an awfully thoughtful thing of her to do. I mean, sure, a night out in the cold like that wasn’t going to kill me, so technically it wasn’t her business, but it had been nice of her to take the fact that I’d be cold into consideration. It was funny. The last place in the world I’d expected to find compassion was in the Avalanche base camp.

*

I didn’t see her again until the next day. Mid afternoon of the next day. The next day was approximately one of the hottest I’ve ever experienced in my life. And that wasn’t just because I spent most of it lying, half-conscious and suffering from sunstroke, in a pit in the middle of one of the most extreme climate zones in the world. It was because temperatures in this area reached what must have been a record high. If I could remember anything of the hours I passed, I’m sure I could say they’d been agony.

Thankfully, Jessie did come back. She came around four o’clock and was apparently surprised to see me in the state I was.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, climbing down again. “Are you all right? I didn’t know you’d just been left like this, I’m so sorry…”

“Ughh. S’okay.”

It was funny that I was glad to see her. Also funny that she was concerned about me. I suppose it was just funny that there we were, two members of opposing organizations, who, under different circumstances, wouldn’t have found it any kind of task to kill each other, and yet there wasn’t any hostility. Not on my part, at least, and I didn’t feel anything of the kind from her.

“Here, let’s get you in the shade.” She helped me over to the opposite wall and wiped her forearm across her brow. “God, I’m sorry. When Fuhito told me to do this, I hadn’t expected it would be very hard, but I also hadn’t expected that no one else would pay any attention to how you were doing. Though I guess there’s not really so many people left to keep an eye out…”

“Uh huh…” I wasn’t really up for much talking. Sure, I was glad to see her, but all ethical triumphs of humanity over ideology aside, that was mostly because she might be able to make me feel like I wasn’t going to shrivel up and die.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” she cried suddenly. “Here I am blabbering and you’re probably half-dead of thirst. I brought a few things…”

Jessie rummaged through the canvas bag she carried, taking out, among other things, a canteen, a brown parcel of something, and another of her little vials of tonic. “Drink up, but not too fast,” she cautioned, pressing the canteen into my good hand. “You’ll make yourself sick if you go too fast.”

I stared at the canteen for a few moments. “Uh…cap?”

“Oh! Yeah, sure. Sorry, I forgot.” She quickly and deftly unscrewed the cap and handed it back to me. “Not too fast, now.”

I nodded and drank gratefully, clearing my throat as soon as I felt well enough to talk. “Thanks. Wow. Still cold. Some service you guys get out here, hey?”

Jessie shrugged. “It comes from an old reservoir, a few miles out of camp. They pump it into water trucks and then cast ice spells on it until it freezes solid. Then they park the truck in the sun and let it melt. It’s just like putting a water bottle in the freezer overnight and then having cool water all day.”

That was clever. “Huh. Neat trick. Where does the reservoir service?”

“There are aqueducts that lead to Gongaga, but I don’t know if they’re still in use. Do you want something to eat?”

“Oh, hell yeah. I haven’t eaten in days.” Which I hadn’t. A person can go a couple weeks without food, but all the same, I was getting pretty hungry.

Unwrapping the little parcel she’d brought, Jessie passed me a small roll of bread, something that looked like beef jerky, and an apple. “It isn’t very much,” she apologized. “But it’s better than nothing, I think.”

“It is that, yeah.” I practically inhaled the apple. I was pretty damn hungry.

She just sat there watching me, a bit of a smile on her face. “Not so fast,” she cautioned again.

“Sorry. Hey…aren’t you gonna eat anything?”

Jessie shook her head. “Nah. That’s my lunch you have.” She shook her head when I stopped eating and held up her hands. “But you eat it. I’ve had plenty in the past three days. You haven’t. Besides, I can always weasel something out of Biggs if I get hungry. You aren’t even supposed to be fed. Waste of supplies, Fuhito said.”

“Well, Christ. Thanks, Jess. And…hey, thanks for last night.” I gestured at the blanket, which I had since adapted into a pallet, of sorts, so that I didn’t have to lie in the dirt all day.

She blushed and shrugged, falling silent for a few moments, sitting in the dirt, toying with the laces of her boots. She wore boots and khaki capris, and a camouflage tank top. She’d left her gun behind this time around, but she still had a knife at her hip. I should amend what I said earlier. It wasn’t that she wasn’t attractive. She just wasn’t pretty in the same way Rosalind is. Rosalind has a delicacy to her, a smallness that makes her look younger than she is. Jessie had something a bit more rugged to her features. I suppose she’s what you’d call a handsome sort of woman, not as feminine, but still attractive.

“I don’t know your name,” she said absently, out of the blue. “You know mine, but I don’t know yours. Everybody just calls you ‘Turk.’”

That was true. I swallowed a little more water, then put the canteen down beside me and held out a hand. “Well, that’s no good. I didn’t even think of that. My name’s Reno.”

Smiling shyly, she shook my hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

“I never thought I’d say that to a Turk.”

I grinned. “Never thought I’d say it to a terrorist.” I paused, wincing. Jessie wasn’t a terrorist. “Sorry. Didn’t mean it to come out quite like that.”

“Well, it’s true.”

She had a point. “Yeah…maybe technically…but, hell, you’re not a terrorist. Shears is a terrorist. Fuhito’s a terrorist. You’re not a terrorist.”

“I suppose you could look at it like that.”

I hesitated for a moment. “Could I ask you a question?”

“Only if I can ask you one.”

“Fair enough,” I nodded and took another swallow of water, wondering if I wanted to commit to this. “Except I’m not sure you’ll be allowed to answer this…being that I’m the enemy and all…if you can’t, then that’s okay.”

Jessie squinted at me. “All right…”

“Well, this isn’t exactly the question, but…if your troops had captured or…killed someone, a trespasser in this area…would you know about it?”

“Maybe. Word gets around pretty quickly, in a settlement like this. There were people talking about you being captured before you even got into camp. Granted, they said you were eight feet tall and a SOLDIER, but we still knew that something was up. But if the higher ranking people, like Fuhito or Shears wanted to keep it quiet, then I might not.”

That didn’t necessarily bode well. “Oh. Er…umm…well, I’ll just ask the question. Have you had any prisoners lately…? I mean a girl, another Turk, a few years younger than me…blond hair, green eyes, kinda on the short, small side…anyone like that?”

Jessie shook her head. “No, no one like that. We don’t take all that many prisoners, really. The last was maybe a week or so ago, a tribesman from Cosmo Canyon. He spent an hour with Fuhito and by the end of it he was going absolutely nuts to join up.”

“Yeesh.” I tried to sound moderately complacent about it, but I was so relieved I felt like throwing up or something. The one thing that had been hanging in the back of my mind, slowly torturing me, was the thought that maybe they’d already caught and killed her.

Shifting, Jessie crossed her legs and stretched. “Can I ask you a question now? I mean…it might be one that you can’t answer either, but if you could, I’d be interested…”

Well, that was fair. I’d asked about some technically sensitive information, it was only fair that she be allowed to do the same. If I’d been a bit of a better Turk, I would’ve refused, but ehh. I’m not that great a Turk and if the information wasn’t that sensitive, then I could probably be persuaded to give it over fairly quick (actually, just reading it over, I’m a terrible Turk.) “All right. Shoot.”

“What are you doing out here? You don’t seem like you were sent to spy…and if you were, you’re not doing a very good job of it…”

I laughed, but the question was a bit of a wrench, at the same time. A reminder of why I was out here, and just how badly I’d screwed up. “Well…I came…I came after one of my colleagues. The girl I mentioned. She was sent out here to spy on you guys and I went out to get her back.”

Jessie blinked. “Why?”

“Because it’s too damn dangerous for someone like her! Hell, she’s just a rookie. I’m a second class Turk and I got caught.”

“Well, why’d they send her then? Your commanders are very irresponsible, if they sent someone inexperienced out on a reconnaissance mission of this magnitude.”

I shook my head. “Our commanders didn’t send her. Her colossal jackass of a…of a boyfriend did.”

“Oh.” I think she was confused by that, but I didn’t really feel like explaining, so I was thankful when she moved on. “Then…your company does know where we are?”

I nodded. “It would seem like it, yeah. Or they did know. I guess you guys have pretty much gotten yourselves moved out by now?”

Jessie sighed and nodded to herself, toying with her bootlaces some more. “Yeah. Almost everyone is gone. Fuhito will be moving out with the last convoy tomorrow. It’s weird. It feels like we’ve been here forever, and really it’s not even been a year…it’s gotten to feel like home…”

“A year? You guys have been here for a year?” I echoed incredulously. We’d only been dealing with them for a month or two, tops. That was kind of scary. That meant they’d been sitting out here, stocking weaponry and plotting for quite a long time now.

“Something like that, yeah. It just feels weird to know that we’ll be in a whole different place, soon.”

“Huh. I changed apartments a few weeks ago. It’s tricky stuff at first, but you get yourself sorted out.”

“Yeah.”

We sat in silence for a few moments. This wasn’t really so bad. The whole “know your enemy” thing. I mean, honestly, I didn’t know all that much about Avalanche. I wasn’t even too clear on what their motives were. I just thought they were crazy terrorists. Maybe this was a good opportunity.

“If you don’t mind me asking…if it’s not too personal a question…how’d you get involved with Avalanche, anyway? The sorta stuff they’re doing…well…it doesn’t seem like your type of thing, to me.”

“It’s not, really.” Jessie stopped for a few moments, and sighed. “It didn’t start like this. Not for me. I was getting my degree in Ecology, at the University of Midgar…going into my second year, I started taking a bunch of environmental courses, including this one that all the radicals took called Planetary Studies. It was all about the Lifestream and Mako usage and things like that…”

“Lifestream?” I’d heard Fuhito say the word, but I didn’t know what it was.

Jessie’s eyes widened. “You don’t know about Lifestream?”

I shook my head. “Nuh uh.”

“Good lord. Well…it’s what your Mako is, before it reaches the surface and gets put into the pipes. It’s the essence of this planet, where all life comes from. It flows beneath the surface and when we’re born, it’s where our life comes from. It becomes our souls. When we die, it returns to the Planet and the cycle starts again.”

Standard hippy crap. “And you believe that? You believe that people’s souls are Mako?”

“Lifestream.” She shrugged. “And I don’t understand how you don’t. It’s not just people,” Jessie continued. “It’s everything alive. It’s the trees and the grass and the animals…the fact that it’s people too just makes it that much more wrong.”

I shook my head. “Doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t know too much about Mako, but scientifically, that doesn’t make any sense.”

“Mako is the same thing as Lifestream. Mako is just what it’s called once it becomes tainted by your industrialization and used to produce power.”

“Uhh?” I maybe shouldn’t have been having this argument. I only know the littlest bit about Mako technology, not nearly enough to defend what it did.

Jessie shook her head. “I can’t explain it too well, but I’ll try. When your plants process the Lifestream, they draw energy from it. That taints it, changes it, and produces Mako. Lifestream is totally harmless. It can even be beneficial. Mako is dangerous. Contact with Mako can mutate a body, make it something twisted.”

I didn’t answer, slightly chilled by what she was saying. It didn’t make any sense to me, but it was disturbing all the same. I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t. With all the scientists Shinra had working on this project, it had to be safe. They wouldn’t have gone through with it if it wasn’t. “I’m sorry…please don’t be mad at me for this, but I can’t believe that. Not with all I’ve been taught about Mako…it just doesn’t make any sense to me. Even less sense, ‘cause you guys are blowing up buildings and killing people to try and get the point across.”

“That’s the problem with the whole thing,” Jessie sighed. “No one knows our message. The Planet will die if this keeps up, but no one will ever listen, because our measures are too extreme. They’ll always just see us as fanatics. We’ll never get another shot at this. And that’s what makes this whole thing so sad.”

Y’know, to hear her tell it, it was sad. She had a cause and it had been warped by the fact that Avalanche was full of crazy militants who didn’t have the patience to address their concerns to Shinra properly. She was right. They weren’t ever going to get their message out.

But then, just thinking about it, and remembering back to Junon maybe they were. Some random civilian had come tearing after me with a shovel, yelling, “Death to Shinra!” IF he wasn’t just some psycho, then maybe Avalanche’s message…the heart of their message, at least, had gotten through to someone. That meant that slowly, quietly, this message about Mako and Lifestream and the death of the Planet was getting out. And Shinra really didn’t need a massive uprising of the people, against the usage of Mako, all because of some sort of twisted belief about what it was doing to the Planet.

“Can I ask another question?”

She shrugged. “Sure.”

“What’s the deal with Fuhito? I mean, I’m sorry if you respect the guy, or something, but he’s a straight up psycho, no bones about it. Are there lots of people like him in Avalanche? I mean, just so I can get my head around the ratio of sanity to insanity in this little camp of yours.”

“Uhh…”

I probably wasn’t being very clear. “How many people are there in this camp? Give it to me in hundreds.”

“Maybe…ten to eleven hundred?”

I refrained from having a heart attack. That was an awful lot. Over ten times the number of Turks in the entire world. “All right. Of those, how many are mixed up kids who got into this thing for a laugh and maybe to pick up some hot environmentalist chicks, but are still entirely sane?”

Jessie blinked at me. Still not quite getting through.

“Okay. How many people in this camp are like you? Still in hundreds.”

Pausing, she shrugged again. “Maybe…two hundred? A bit less.”

Sort of a depressing number. “All right. How many are like Shears?”

This one she seemed to have an answer for. “You mean who follow Shears’ command? Probably…oh…probably five hundred. He keeps his people organized in units and troops, I could probably tell you exactly…”

Also a depressing number, but for different reasons. “Nah. Not necessary. Shit. All right. How many are family members and other assorted hangers on?”

Jessie squinted. “Three hundred…” she said slowly. “But there’s some overlap. Most of the people who brought their families are the militants. And parts of some of those families serve in Shears’ militia. And some of them are just people who got dragged along and are like me. Not militant. We do the grunt work around camp.”

“Well say that makes up nine hundred. Would it be approximately more or less than that?”

“More,” Jessie answered definitely. “Probably a thousand.”

“And the remaining people are batshit like Fuhito?”

Jessie hesitated. “The thing is…well, I don’t know. Everybody has different ways of believing in this cause. For my part it’s environmental. Some of these people are just tagging along and rebelling against Shinra for other reasons, the way the group from Corel are. Some people just want to fight. And some…well…some, like Fuhito, have turned this into a religious thing.”

Religious?” Oh, this was great. Just terrific. All of a sudden I’m finding out this is some kind of goddamn holy war.

“Not many,” Jessie amended hastily. “It’s not what you think. It’s back to the whole Lifestream thing again. There are…well…there are prophecies in existence…ancient stuff, really, in Cosmo Canyon…that speak of humanity as what will ultimately destroy the Planet. That’s what Fuhito and maybe a hundred others in camp believe in, to some degree.

“Fuhito believes that this…what your Shinra are doing…is what’s going to destroy the Planet. He believes that every day that passes with your reactors draining Mako from the Planet, lives must be given in return, to balance out what they’re taking. He’s sat down and crunched the numbers. If he had his way, he would demand the deaths of a hundred people per every reactor in the entire world to keep the balance. I’ve heard him speak. He gives a…a service, of sorts, once in a while. His doctrine is very twisted, but very powerful.” Jessie shuddered. “You know what he’s saying is wrong, but at the same time, you kind of want to believe it. He’s done nothing but gather followers, ever since he started preaching.”

I sat in my own silence for a few moments, considering this. So. What we had thought to be an environmental thing was slowly turning into some sort of ideological crusade. That was a very, very dangerous thing. “Are you familiar with the phrase ‘well and truly fucked,’ Jessie?”

She sighed. “It must be hard for you to hear these things.”

“Goddamn terrifying.”

Jessie started to speak, but hesitated. “Do you…do you wonder about why I’m telling you this?”

“Huh?”

She swallowed and stared at the ground for a few moments. “Did you…you know you’re going to die tomorrow night, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I’d kinda gotten that figured out. What with all this talk of sacrifices and Fuhito being so goddamn batshit.”

“You seem so calm.”

I shrugged. “Trick of the trade. Never say die.”

Jessie shook her head. “I don’t think I could ever be that brave.”

“I don’t think it’s being brave. I think it’s training and naivety.”

“Still…knowing that…and knowing you can’t do anything…surely you must be scared?”

“Of course I’m scared, way deep down. But for the most part, I don’t think I’ve quite got myself convinced that it’s actually gonna happen. It doesn’t seem like the sorta thing that’d happen to me.”

Jessie didn’t answer, sitting there quietly. The sky was blue overhead, and the sun was blazingly bright. There weren’t any clouds, just the occasional black speck of a bird, wheeling lazily overhead. And there I was, sitting in the dirt, talking about death with someone who should’ve been one of my worst enemies.

She cleared her throat finally. “I don’t think I want you to die.”

“Well, that’s nice of you to say.”

“I mean it,” she insisted. “I…well…after yesterday, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. You don’t seem like a Turk. You’re not anything like we were told you were. We were told you were frigid, emotionless assassins, former convicts with no honor…that you’d kill any of us, without even thinking about it. And then I meet you…and you’re not like a Turk at all.”

Someone had gotten her facts kinda turned around. “Listen, Jess, I don’t know what you’re measuring me up against, but I’m just like any other Turk in this world. We’re people too. In fact, if you’re impressed by my humanity, keep in mind that I’m probably a pretty shabby example of a Turk. There are Turks I know who’ve got more honor than you can shake a stick at. Our Commander. Fuhito talks of him with contempt, but Commander Veld is quite possibly one of the best people in the world.”

“Really?”

I shrugged. “Why would I lie?”

She fell silent again, plucking at the fabric of her shirt. “I don’t know if I can do this any more. I never thought about…I’d always been told that you people deserved to die. You won’t believe some of the stories I’ve been told…”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. They’re probably just as bad as the stuff we’ve been told about you guys.”

Jessie flushed. “The point is…meeting you…it suddenly makes everything so much harder. When I believed that Shinra was an evil corporation, hell bent on draining the life of the Planet, then I was convicted in our cause…but now…now I’m not so sure.”

“Hell, you think it’s any easier for me? This complicates things, Jessie. When it’s a terrorist with a gas mask and a rifle, screaming slogans and stuff, it’s no problem. When it’s a person, who’s taken the time to sit down and try to explain what exactly is behind this whole thing…that’s when it gets hard.”

“Ohh…” she leaned over and pressed a hand against my cheek. Alarms bells started going off inside my head. But not in a good way. I don’t know whether I’d been sending the wrong signals or whether she’d just gotten her wires crossed, but this wasn’t what I wanted. It sounds sort of stupid, and I suppose it kind of is, but ever since I’d met Rosalind, I hadn’t even thought about another girl the same way. And I wanted to end things, since it seemed pretty certain that things were going to be ending, I wanted to end things like that.

I gently pulled her hand away. “Jess…listen, Jess. Don’t do this to yourself. I’m not worth getting attached to. I’ve got…what, about a day left? A lot can happen in a day. But there’s no point in building it up if it’s just going to be ripped to pieces right afterward. You’re a great girl. Hell, if things were different…a few years ago maybe…well, then sure. But not like this. Okay?”

“But I don’t want to forget…”

“Forget that there’re actual people on both sides of this thing? Not just terrorists and assassins?”

She nodded and there were tears in her eyes. It was broad daylight and there was still a lingering fear in the back of my mind that she’d get caught at this. It wasn’t the sort of thing a member of a terrorist organization wants to get caught at—fraternizing with the enemy. I’m sure my colleagues wouldn’t have exactly been thrilled either. So I had to wrap this up.

“Here.” I undid the chain that held my dog tags around my neck and passed them to her. “You keep those. That way you won’t forget.”

“I can’t take these…” Jessie protested, cupping them in the palm of her hand.

I shrugged. “Sure you can. Doesn’t really matter to me, not like I’m gonna get chewed out for losing them.”

“But…oh…well, then, you take this.” She slipped a silver bracelet off her wrist and pressed it into my hand. “Just so you have something…”

It wasn’t a particularly fancy piece of jewelry, but then, Jessie didn’t seem the type to be given to sparkly trinkets, so I suppose it stood to reason. It was just a heavier silver chain, with a plain silver tag with a weird looking symbol on it. Two triangles, one of them upside down, making a weird sort of overlapping hourglass shape. “What’s this?”

“It’s the alchemical symbol for arsenic.”

“Jessie, you’re into some weird stuff,” I laughed, clasping the bracelet over my wrist. “Thanks.”

A few more minutes of silence passed, and then someone above called Jessie’s name. Trust the real world to interfere, just when we’ve gone and taken the first steps towards peace. “You should probably go, I guess.”

Jessie nodded. “I’ve probably spent too much time already,” she said regretfully. “Well…”

“Nah, go. Don’t get in trouble.”

She still hesitated. “Things are going to be getting busier than ever, now. I might not have time to see you again…”

“Oh. Well…goodbye, then?”

She nodded and sighed. “Goodbye.”

“Chin up, Jess.”

With a bit of a weak smile, she nodded again. Then she turned around and clambered up out of the pit as quickly as she could. Probably upset. I suppose I couldn’t blame her. I wasn’t going to have to live with the fact that my whole understanding of who was good in this world has been turned upside down. She was. But maybe, if Fuhito’s message was spreading as fast as it was, maybe she could get hers to spread out a bit as well. Lord knows, both of our factions needed it.

*

I didn’t see her again. Not face to face like that, at least. I passed the rest of the day and the following night alone and quiet. Waiting is the worst part of the whole deal. And the longer you wait, the worse it gets. You can’t help wondering how they’re going to kill you. Whether it’s going to be slow and painful, or whether they’ll make it quick. I was expecting it to be slow and painful, but I’m a bit of a pessimist like that.

It still didn’t seem quite real, either. No matter how much I thought about it, it just didn’t seem to be clicking that I was going to die. But I suppose that’s just the way of things.

Fuhito came, around noon of the next day. He stood at the edge of the pit and watched me. Then he came down. “Well, Turk. I’m going to be moving out with our next contingent soon.”

“Have a nice trip.”

He chuckled. “It’s a shame that I cannot be around to see your death personally, Turk. It…is perhaps Elfe’s punishment to me, that I must leave you in the hands of others. But she misunderstands my devotions. Sacrifice is universal. You could die at the hands of one of your own, and I could still claim the death. For I will have marked you for it.”

“Fuhito, the depth of your insanity never ceases to amaze me,” I answered shortly.

Fuhito’s expression darkened. “Your comrades will one day face the wrath of the Planet,” he declared. “And then, they shall pay.”

“Right, Fuhito. Whatever. Was there something you needed?”

He smiled coldly. “Yes, actually. There was.” He gestured at me with his left hand and muttered something under his breath. I couldn’t explain exactly how, because I don’t honestly know myself, but I was suddenly pinned to the ground. It was like if gravity had suddenly tripled. I couldn’t have gotten up if I tried.

“What the hell is this?” I demanded, a little weakly. It felt like it took effort just to get the words out.

Fuhito just continued to smile. “Just a small parting gift. Not to you, of course. Feeling weaker, Turk? I wish to ensure you give those I have decided to leave behind no trouble.”

“Leave…behind?” Dumb bastard. I didn’t know what he’d done to me. It had been something with materia, I could tell that much, but evidently everyone in Avalanche was far stronger with it than anyone I’d ever encountered.

“Oh, yes. Didn’t I tell you? A package arrived at the Shinra Headquarters, sometime yesterday. We’re fairly sure it will have provoked your comrades into action. They should be here sooner or later.”

“No!”

Fuhito laughed. “Yes, they’ll be walking into a trap. Delightful, isn’t it? We’re expecting them early tomorrow morning. Of course, by then it will be far too late.”

I wasn’t afraid of Avalanche springing a trap on my colleagues. Every single one of them, even St. Andrew, were too smart to fall for something so transparent as that. I just didn’t want them to have to deal with the guilt of feeling like they gotten here in time. That they could’ve done something. I can’t really talk about honor or anything like that. I’m a Turk. If circumstance demands that I stab somebody in the back, then that’s what I’ll do. But, to do what Fuhito was doing, to deliberately add insult to injury like this, that wasn’t right.

“You…”

“Are you going to tell me I can’t, Turk? Do you presume to tell me what I have the right to do?” He laughed. “Do you not understand that you deserve this? Hear me now, Turk. You and all your wretched, filthy organization all deserve as much pain as we can possibly bestow upon you. Your lives are a travesty. Every action you take is worthy of retribution of the highest degree. One day, the Planet will rise in her fury, and I, her loyal servant, shall see every single one of you worthless miscreants cast into the raging fires of hell.”

That was pushing it. I honestly don’t know who the hell he thinks he’s kidding. I gritted my teeth and managed to push myself up on one elbow. It took an enormous amount of effort, but I had to look him in the eyes. “You listen to me, Fuhito. One day, very soon…sooner than your goddamned apocalypse, sooner than when the Planet decides to rise, sooner than you could ever imagine…a Turk is going to kill you. I promise you that. You aren’t gonna be around to see what you believe come to be true, because you will be dead. And you know where your soul’s going when you die, Fuhito? Nowhere. You don’t even deserve hell. You’re just gonna be gone.”

There’s a moment, sometimes, just before you kill somebody, when you have to meet their eyes. And there’s a weird sort of sensation you get, that you can’t really put into words. It’s just a feeling that something’s being exchanged between you and the guy you’re killing. I never have been, and I probably never will be, able to explain it, but that’s what I felt, then and there.

He stared back at me, gaping slightly. For the briefest second, uncertainty flickered in his eyes. For just a few fractions of a second, the insanity was gone and there was something that might’ve been fear. I think, for that tiny little bit of time, I might’ve been crazier than he was. Because I believed it.

Then he cursed and whirled around, climbing up and away and leaving me alone again. And I settled down on the ground again, weaker than ever, but satisfied with myself. And I don’t remember anything else after that.