Midgar is truly a beautiful city. I lived most of my life in Lower Midgar, oblivious to what was above me, but the city truly is a wonder. It’s a marvel of engineering, to say the least. Whoever had the idea of putting all the utilities and things that normally pollute and dirty a city beneath a plate…well, it isn’t so good for the people who are forced to live there, but it sure makes for a beautiful city on top. The architecture of some of the buildings is second to none and those in charge do everything they can to keep the city as beautiful as possible.
The parks of Midgar are incredible. Entire landscapes have been built on top of the plate, rolling hills, forests, even rivers. They’re all artificial, of course, but it makes them easier to manage and no less beautiful. In autumn, the leaves burst into the colors of flame and the last dying flowers all come together to create what’s quite possibly the most colorful landscape in the world, all under a sky that’s never touched by smog and is always a different pale shade of blue. It was another lull. AVALANCHE weren’t trying to destroy the lives of thousand people and I was so thankful that just about everything was beautiful.
One evening, during this beautiful lull, Cyr came by, dressed in jeans and a sweater, to invite me to come have a picnic in the Shinra Memorial Park next to our building.
“We’re all just going to bring a few things and have some fun,” she explained, a heavy picnic basket on one arm. “It’s wonderfully childish, don’t you think?”
“I’ve never been on a picnic,” I confessed.
Cyr blinked at me. “Really?”
I shrugged. “My family didn’t really do things like that. After my mother died, it was just my dad and me, and he stuck me in military school at the first chance he got. In any case the slums of Midgar aren’t really very scenic.”
“What a shame…” Cyr murmured sympathetically. “Well, then, we’ll make sure this one is nice for you. Come along, Rosalind. Do you have anything in your fridge you’d like to contribute?”
“Umm…” I hesitated. I really don’t cook much. “Well…I don’t have much, but I did pick up a chocolate cake at the store yesterday. I’d be glad to share that.”
“Oh, wonderful,” Cyr approved. “You can’t go wrong with chocolate. You may want to grab a jacket though. Midgar is chilly in autumn. Come on, now. They’re waiting for us down in the parkade.”
“All right. Just a minute.” I closed the door and ducked into the kitchen, opening the fridge and retrieving my cake. I probably wouldn’t have been able to eat it all anyway. I grabbed a sweater and a denim jacket and pulled both on over my t-shirt, following Cyr down the hallway to the elevator.
Cyr smiled at me, lifting the lid of the basket. “Put it in there. Samantha has the other basket. I wonder if it will be enough, given the way the boys eat.”
“I’m sure it will. I mean…they can’t eat all that much, can they?”
“Well, you’ve never been on a picnic.” Cyr winked at me and headed for the elevator. “You’ll see.”
I’m very fond of Cyr. She’s a wonderfully free-spirited person and very nice. We were talking in the lounge, once, and I learned she’s from Mideel, like Samantha is. Except she’s a native of Mideel. Samantha lives there because her family bought a big old manor house, from back in the days when it was a colony of Midgar. Cyr was born and raised there and has a beautiful, rich Island accent, dulled only slightly by her years in Midgar. It’s almost hypnotic to hear her talk. She’s been a mercenary since she was sixteen, taking down poachers in the jungle. For someone as young as she is, she’s had an incredible life. And she knows a lot of things about people.
“Do I need to bring a blanket or anything?” I had this image in my mind of a family, picnicking in a park with a blanket. I’d never had the experience. It’s lucky I’m not a melancholy person, or thinking about it might’ve made me tear up.
Cyr shook her head as we rode the elevator down. “Reno took care of that. He couldn’t cook to save his life, so he said he’d bring anything extraneous.”
“If he doesn’t cook, how does he eat?”
“People give him things, mostly.” Cyr shrugged. “A lot of people like Reno. He tries very hard.”
I arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
Cyr glanced at me. “You learn things, watching people. If you watch him, you can see he very much needs to have people like him. He covers it up very well, but his self-esteem is rather weak.”
“It really doesn’t show.”
The elevator chimed and the doors opened as we reached the parkade, so Cyr just nodded. Two sleek black SUVs were pulled up right in front of the elevators and the back door of one opened up. Reno appeared through the sunroof, beckoning to Cyr and I. “Hey, right on time! C’mon, the other car’s full.”
“Reno, you sit down,” Cyr ordered as she loaded her basket into the back. “You’ll get stuck.” Sometimes, Cyr can be very maternal. I suppose it comes from living in the type of society that Mideel has.
Reno grinned at her. “Yes, Mom. C’mon, rookie, and meet the new guy!”
I climbed into the back of the SUV with Cyr close behind. Tseng was driving and he smiled at me in the rearview mirror as he followed the other car out of the parking lot. In the back was a new Turk, older than me, in a polo shirt and dark cargo pants; he smiled at me as I buckled up. “Hello. I’m Rafe.”
I liked him immediately. There was something about his smile that made you feel comfortable. He had darker skin and hair, spiked in the front, and stubble on his chin. To say nothing of the fact that he was as least as well-muscled as Rude, if a little stockier. “My name’s Rosalind.”
“She likes you,” Reno informed him, glancing in the rearview mirror. “She didn’t call you ‘sir.’”
Rafe’s smile broadened and I blushed. “I’m glad. Who’s the pretty lady beside you?”
Cyr smiled warmly. I could tell she liked being called a lady. I’m sure “pretty” didn’t hurt either. “I’m called Cyr. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Rafe.”
“What do you do, Rafe?” Of course, I knew what he did. But that’s the way you ask what a Turk fights with. It sounds better than, “How do you like to kill people?”
“I’m a pugilist, through and through,” Rafe informed me.
“Really?” Nothing captures Cyr’s interest more easily than a fellow fighter. Their conversation drifted into the waters of different martial schools and techniques. I only half-listened until we reached the park and Tseng had pulled into the parking lot.
Rafe climbed out and held the door for Cyr and I. I don’t think anyone’s ever held a door for me in my life. “I’ll get the basket you brought, Cyr.” Rafe is definitely a gentleman.
The other SUV pulled into the parking lot and Rude climbed out of the driver’s seat. “Did you have a second picnic basket in your car? We didn’t, and just one won’t be enough.”
“Yeah, Cyr brought it,” Reno announced, unloading the back of the car we’d taken, passing a pile of old, faded blankets to Tseng and picking up a cooler himself. “Did you get a football or anything?”
St. Andrew tossed a football from hand to hand and grinned. “Absolutely. You ready to have your ass kicked?”
“By you? Fat chance.”
Samantha climbed out and latched onto Rod’s arm, looking up at him and giggling. I blinked. This was a new development. I guess they must have been going out or something, because Rod didn’t make a move to shrug her off. “Are you going to play football, Rodney?” she asked kittenishly.
Rod nodded once. What a strange couple they make. I can’t imagine what Rod sees in Samantha. “Let’s go.”
Cyr swept her long dark hair into a ponytail and sighed, relieving Rafe of her picnic basket. “Come on, Rosalind, Samantha. Let the boys tear each other to pieces. There’ll be more for us to eat anyway.”
“Aww, come off it, Cyr. We just wanna have a little fun,” St. Andrew protested, passing the football to Rude as Reno made a grab for it.
“Oh, of course. And leave us to do all the work,” Cyr sniffed.
“You’re women. You’re used to work.”
Another thing about Cyr is her extremely volatile prejudices. I’m fairly sure St. Andrew was teasing when he said it, and didn’t really deserve to be kicked in the stomach, but Cyr knocked him down and planted a running shoe on the side of his head anyway. “Andrew, dear,” she began sweetly, “because you’ve been in an environment where women are subservient and adhere to your every whim for so very long I’ll assume you’re unused to the true workings of the world and be nice about this. Don’t be a chauvinistic pig. I don’t like it. Understand, dear?”
“R-right. Sorry, Cyr.”
Cyr helped him up and even brushed the gravel from the front of his sweatshirt. It hadn’t been an unfriendly confrontation. It was just Cyr making a point the best way she knew how. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Turks do better with their own kind. Our conduct would be looked on as unacceptable on other fronts of society.
“Well! There’s absolutely no reason why women can’t play football,” Reno declared brightly. “Cyr, angel, would you be on our team?”
“Involve myself in some Neolithic, testosterone-imbued skull-bashing contest with you sweaty, stinky males?” Cyr wrinkled her nose distastefully. “No, thank you. Come along, Rosalind, Samantha.”
I couldn’t help but smile as I followed Cyr down the hill from the parking lot and to a shady, wooded area, next to a pond. The air smelled so wonderful. It was cool out, but not cold, and I was warm in my sweater. Leaves carpeted the ground and would be nice and soft beneath the blankets we’d brought.
Cyr took charge immediately, organizing things. “Take off,” she commanded imperiously when Reno strayed a little too near her picnic basket. “You’ll eat when we’re ready.”
“Does Cyr remind anyone else of a drill sergeant? We just wanna help set up…”
“Oh, go on and play,” Samantha urged, giggling. “We can handle this. You boys go have fun.”
St. Andrew grinned. “Don’t need to tell us twice.”
“Hey, wait!” I yelled as the six of them took off for the field at the edge of the forest. I looked at the tangled heap of blankets that had been dumped on the ground, the two stuffed picnic baskets and the cooler. “They could have helped us out…”
Cyr shrugged and picked up a blanket, shaking it out and laying it on the ground. “Oh well. The lulls never last. We may as well enjoy the peace while we can.”
Samantha tossed her hair and stretched out on the blanket Cyr had laid down. “I agree completely. Midgar is lovely in autumn.”
“Mmm. Rosalind, start unpacking the picnic baskets. I want to see what we have.”
I obeyed, kneeling down on a blanket and carefully unloading the contents. There was an awful lot of food, all of it picnic type things. “Do you go out for picnics, often, Cyr?” I asked. Unpacking her basket made my mouth water. “You seem to be a very good cook.”
Cyr smiled, pinning down the corners of the blankets with rocks. When she’d finished, we had a soft little island, with room for all of us to be comfortable. “I enjoy spending time with my friends.”
Samantha squealed as she opened up the cooler. “Ooh, someone brought wine. Oh, let’s have a glass! Please, it so reminds me of home…sitting on the verandah with Mum and Daddy, having a nice white zinfandel…”
I don’t understand half the things Samantha talks about. A zinfandel sounded like some sort of airship. Regardless, she’d already retrieved three glasses and was pouring a pale pink wine for each of us. “Here you are, Cyr…” Samantha glanced at me. “Did you want some, Rosalind? Or does wine make you sleepy?” She giggled. I refrained from scowling. So what if it makes me sleepy?
“I’ll have half a glass, thanks. I’ve never been all that keen on alcohol.” I’m really not. I avoided alcohol and drugs religiously when I was growing up. I’d seen what it could do to people. It’s too big a risk to get mixed up in something like that, living in the slums. It might take the edge off living in a hellhole, but it’s not worth what you pay.
“Mmm…what a charming bouquet this has.” Samantha took a deep breath and sighed lustily. She makes no sense. In my world, a bouquet is flowers. “Probably about an ’87, from somewhere near Gongaga…wouldn’t you agree, Cyr? Isn’t it just thrilling?”
“It’s lovely, yes,” Cyr murmured, shooting me a brief smile. “But I picked it up at the liquor store down the street. It’s only five years old and from a vineyard near Kalm. Friends of mine own it. I’ll tell them how much you enjoy it.”
Samantha blushed delicately, and then laughed. “Oh well. I never was really all that good at wine tasting. My daddy was, though. He said it was the mark of a cultured man to enjoy the delicate kiss of Chardonnay, or the throaty resonance of Bordeaux.”
This didn’t offend me. I knew my father wasn’t cultured. My father was a military man. Military men, to the best of my experience, aren’t cultured. As such, my father drank hard liquor. Bourbon, mostly. “My father liked his liquor hard. He always said wine was for men who couldn’t handle the hard stuff.”
I hadn’t meant this offensively. After all, it had be something he’d said to me when I was younger. I probably should’ve thought before I said it, because I think Samantha took it the wrong way. Naturally, she answered in kind. “Well, I suppose, if my daddy had had a job like your father’s, I’m sure he would’ve been drinking too.”
“My father is a colonel in Shinra’s military,” I answered coolly. My father and I might not be close, but he’s still my father and I didn’t particularly like Samantha’s tone.
Samantha laughed airily. “Well, of course he is, but it’s more of an honorary title, these days. I mean, since the war, he’s worked a desk job in promotions, hasn’t he?”
I don’t know how Samantha knew these things. Yes, my father works behind a desk now, but that did nothing to detract from what he’d done when the world had been war torn. I hadn’t the slightest idea what her father did. But I sincerely doubted he’d helped fight wars. “What does your father do?”
“Oh, darling, you must be joking!” Samantha exclaimed, laughing at me again. “My father is Richard Emerson Hartigan the Third, owner of Hartigan Steel! He’s been Shinra’s primary supplier for years and years now.”
“I’ve never heard of him.”
Samantha arched an eyebrow at me, but shrugged. “I suppose, knowing where you grew up, you might not have…”
This was too much. It was one thing for her to insult my father, but it was entirely another for her to know and be disdainful of me because of where I grew up. It wasn’t my fault I’d grown up on the streets of the urban third-world. I was going to say something and it wasn’t going to be nice, but Cyr interjected smoothly.
“My father was a fisherman. I grew up in a tiny village on the edge of an island with nine brothers and five sisters. We were very poor, but we were very happy. I have no idea who Richard Hartigan is either.”
That made Samantha shut up. It made me feel a bit better, too. I didn’t know Cyr had come from a background of poverty. It wasn’t quite the same (she’d had a family to share it with), but it was nice to know she knew what it was like to be poor.
I didn’t know where to steer the conversation from there, but it turned out there was no need, as Reno suddenly ran up, vaulted over the three of us, and scrambled up a tree.
St. Andrew and Tseng caught up seconds later, wheezing and panting. “Wh-where’d he get to?” St. Andrew demanded, doubling over with his hands against his knees and gulping air.
Cyr shrugged and sipped at her wine. “Where did who get to?”
“Oh come on, Cyr! Reno’s got our football. Now where’s he gone?”
Samantha giggled and pointed at the tree. I shot her a dirty look. If Cyr hadn’t said anything, I certainly wasn’t going to.
“Ah. Right. Thanks.” St Andrew went over to the tree, a big old monster with low, thick branches, and squinted up into the canopy. “C’mon, Reno! Get out of there!”
“Hell no! How come whenever I get the ball it’s all of a sudden tackle football?”
St. Andrew sighed exasperatedly. “Because you run damn faster than any of us!”
“And you think having the three of you tearing after me, out for blood is supposed to give me incentive to slow down?”
Tseng sat down on the blanket next to me to catch his breath. “He does run very fast,” he told me, massaging a stitch in his side and accepting the glass of wine Cyr handed him.
“Well, that’s not my fault,” Reno protested. “And I’m not coming down until Rodney learns that there are no switchblades in football.”
“He didn’t have a switchblade!”
Reno snorted derisively from up in the tree. “Oh, right. I saw it. He’s got a switchblade and he’s looking for an excuse to stick it in me. I’m not coming down.”
Rude and Rafe climbed up the low slope to where we were sitting, evidently having realized how futile an endeavor it was to chase Reno. “When do we eat?” Rafe questioned, sitting down next to Cyr.
“Now, if you boys are done with your game,” Cyr answered, handing out more wine to Rafe and Rude.
St. Andrew kicked at Reno’s tree sullenly. “Well, we’ve got no choice, if Reno’s not going to give back the football.”
“You want the football? Well, why didn’t you say so?” Reno pelted the ball down at St. Andrew. I’d like to think he wasn’t really aiming for him and that the football bouncing off St. Andrew’s head was a fluke, but I don’t believe that was the case.
Rod had joined us, sitting down next to Samantha and putting a hand on her hip. She giggled and looked up at him adoringly. “Would you like some wine, Roddy?” she asked girlishly.
Rod shook his head and took a flask from his jacket, unscrewing the lid and taking a long drink from that. I suppose a girlfriend like Samantha would make me reach for the hard stuff too.
“Well, I’m hungry,” Tseng declared, glancing up at the sky. “The sun’s already starting to set. We might as well eat while we can still see what we’re eating.”
“Agreed,” Rafe added, reaching for a piece of fried chicken.
Cyr beckoned to St. Andrew, who was still glaring up at Reno. “Come on, Andrew. Reno isn’t going to come down with you glowering at him like that. You may as well come eat.”
“Hmph.” Reluctantly, St. Andrew came over and joined us, sitting down beside Cyr and rubbing his head. “Throw a football at me,” he grumbled, accepting a glass of wine. Cyr had opened a bottle of something dark and red. “He can stay up there ‘til he starves for all I care.”
“I’m sure he’ll come down sooner or later,” Cyr said placidly, helping herself to coleslaw and potato salad. “And you leave him alone when he does.”
St. Andrew rolled his eyes. “Yes, mother.”
“I’m not your mother, St. Andrew. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, ‘the face only a mother could love?’ Well, I am not particularly fond of your face, and thus, I must not be your mother.”
Rafe chuckled. “And so, through a series of logical proofs, we learn that Cyr is in fact not St. Andrew’s mother.”
We all ate in silence for a while, until Reno finally climbed down and came over, sitting beside me and eyeing St. Andrew cautiously. “It’s cold up there.”
Cyr smiled benevolently and continued to pour wine. “It’s getting kind of chilly, yes. Maybe we’ll have a fire, when it starts to get dark. Midgar is very beautiful at night.”
Samantha giggled. She was on her second glass and I don’t think she’s entirely used to a strong red wine. For me, even the pale stuff had been a little heady and I’d quickly switched to water. “Who’s heard about the party Shinra’s giving?”
Tseng arched an eyebrow. “You know about that?”
“Darling, I’ve known for ages,” Samantha laughed, waving a hand. I thought I heard Rod sigh. Once again, I wondered why on earth they were together. “I get all kinds of news from Daddy’s executive friends.”
“Oh. I only found out yesterday. Well, yes. Shinra are throwing a small dinner party for the exec. We’re all invited.”
This was news to me. There had been nothing about party-going in my job description. I couldn’t think why we’d been invited. None of us had anything to do with executive decisions. “Why are we invited, sir?”
Reno grinned at me. “Because we’re armed and dangerous, but we look good. Parties are good targets for terrorists. Sure, SOLDIER is tough, but they really detract from the atmosphere of a party.”
“Oh. So we just go in uniform and patrol?”
“Well…I guess you could go in uniform if you wanted, but a little black dress would be a lot cuter. You’ll be expected to mingle and make conversation.”
“You’re kidding aren’t you, sir?” I asked skeptically. “Where would I put my gun?”
Reno shrugged. “Wear it in plain sight. Get a dress holster.”
St. Andrew nodded in agreement. “Something simpler and less bulky than a regular holster,” he clarified. “They make some pretty nice ones for ladies.”
Samantha giggled again. “Rufus Shinra’s going to be there. He’s so gorgeous.”
I glanced at Rod, but he didn’t seem bothered by this. Maybe they weren’t actually a couple and Rod just had his hand on her leg to be friendly.
“It’s not really a party for us. It’s more like a standard job,” Tseng explained. “You’ll be briefed, just like anything else.”
Cyr shivered and looked up at the sky. “I would say it’s dark enough for a fire. Let’s pack all the food up.”
Tseng cleared his throat. “Hang on a minute, Cyr. I suppose now is as good a time for this as any…” Tseng reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a gray jewelry box, passing it to Rude. “Congratulations on second class, Rude. Sorry I wasn’t very official about it, but you know how things are.”
Rude accepted the box and nodded. “Thank you, Tseng.”
Cyr laughed and saluted. “So you’re Rafe’s commander! Well, a toast to Rude, then!”
Samantha clapped delightedly. “Oh, how delightful! A second-class commander will look wonderful on my record. Congratulations, Rude!” She nudged Rod in the ribs. “Say congratulations, sweetie.”
Rod grunted noncommittally. “Congratulations.”
St. Andrew reached over and shook Rude’s hand warmly. “I was wondering how long it would be before you were promoted. Good work, Rude.”
“Thank you everyone. But it’s really not that big a deal,” Rude said firmly.
“Aww hell, Rude. Of course it is. You’ve been waiting a long time for this, partner. You deserve it. I’m happy for you.”
I glanced over at Reno. You wouldn’t have been able to tell from the sound of his voice, but there was something decidedly melancholy in his eyes. I remembered what Rude had told me in Costa del Sol. I guess this must have been hard for him.
“Thanks.” Rude cleared his throat in the awkward silence that followed. Samantha looked a little confused, but seemed to at least have the sense not to say anything.
Cyr drained her wine glass, sighed, and resumed tidying up. “St. Andrew, if you’d be so kind as to go get some wood?”
“No, it’s all right. I’ll go,” Reno volunteered, getting up.
“Do you want some help, sir?” I asked, half-standing.
Reno hesitated. “Nah…it’s okay, rookie. You stay here, I’ll be back.”
“Oh. All right, sir.” I sat back down and Reno headed for the trees, moving out of sight in the darkness.
Rafe got up and helped Cyr move the blankets around, closer to a low fire pit, lined with stones. “Am I missing something, here?” he asked lowly. To his credit, he picks up on things very well.
Cyr shrugged. “It’s a complicated thing. Don’t worry about it. You and St. Andrew go get some wood.”
“But I thought Reno went…?”
“No. He wants some time alone.”
I’ve mentioned before how it makes people feel lousy when Reno’s depressed. I felt the beginnings of that starting. I’m sure everyone else must have felt it too, because of the silence that had fallen. I got up. “I’ll go talk to him.”
Tseng glanced up at me. “Are you sure, Rosalind?”
I nodded. “It couldn’t hurt.”
I got up and headed in the same direction Reno had taken. It was darker beneath the trees, and quieter. This was a manmade forest, but you’d never know it. The trees were tall and thick, and the ground underfoot was carpeted with leaves that whispered and crunched as I walked. I caught up to Reno at the edge of the woods, wandering down a concrete pathway, shoulders hunched and hands in his pockets. “Sir?”
He looked up sharply, then relaxed when he saw it was only me. “Oh…hey, rookie.”
“What are you doing, sir?”
He shrugged. “Just…walking, I guess. Clearing my head.”
“Oh…well, could I join you, sir?”
“If you want to, I guess.”
I caught up and walked alongside him, up the winding concrete path. It was one of the trails that cyclists used, during the day, and it just led deeper into the park. It was quiet, except for the faint chirping of crickets, the occasional rustle of the wind in the trees, and the muted noises of traffic across the park. Eventually, I spoke up.
“I just had a question, sir.”
Reno glanced at me. “All right, rookie. Shoot.”
“Your dog tags, sir. I noticed when we were playing poker, the other night. They just have your first initial, not your first name…”
“Yeah, I know. It’s legit. Didn’t they ask you when you got yours whether you wanted your full name or not?”
I nodded. “Yes, sir, they did, but that’s not my question. Well…if you don’t mind me asking, what is your first name?”
Reno gave me another sidelong glance. “You want to know my name? No one’s ever really asked me that.”
I was surprised. “No one, sir?”
Reno shrugged. “Well, a few people. I’ve never told anyone, though. Did you want to know?”
“Oh…well, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, sir,” I objected. “I was just wondering, is all.”
“No, it’s all right. I don’t mind if you know. What do you think it is?”
“It begins with J, right sir?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Hmm…” I squinted at Reno. There are certain names that fit certain people. For example, I don’t think Reno looked like a “James.” Rude could maybe be a James, but not Reno. “Jason?” I guessed.
Reno shook his head. “Do I look like a ‘Jeremy’ to you?”
For some reason, it pleased me that he understood how different people fit their names. “All right…Joshua?”
“Well, I don’t know all that many J names, sir,” I objected, smiling.
“It’s an easy one.”
I don’t know what he meant by “easy” exactly, but I kept guessing. “Jack?”
“You kind of look like you could be a Jack, sir.”
“Maybe in another life.”
I was really running out of J names. “Umm…John?”
“Jonathan. Never John, never Johnny.”
“Jonathan,” I repeated. It hadn’t been entirely what I was expecting, but it suited him, somehow. I would’ve expected Jonathan for someone a little quieter, a little less assertive, but it worked for Reno. “Why don’t people call you by your first name, sir?”
Reno shrugged. “Same reason people don’t call St. Andrew by his. They don’t know it. No one I felt like telling ever asked; I’ve never felt the need to tell people. Honestly, rookie, the only person who ever called me by my first name was my mother.”
“Is she…I don’t mean to pry, sir, but is she…dead?” I questioned.
“Dunno. Haven’t seen her in years. Not since long before I left the slums.”
I blinked, surprised. I didn’t know Reno had grown up beneath the plate, like I had. He didn’t seem like it. “I grew up in the slums, sir,” I told him hesitantly, not really sure how he’d react.
He didn’t believe me. “Really, rookie? A nice kid like you?” he asked dubiously.
I shrugged. “Not so nice, back then, sir. You’ve seen my record.”
“Well…I guess, but you can’t really’ve been that bad if you cleaned up so well. I mean…goddamn, rookie, you’re a sweet kid. I’ve still got sharp edges.”
“I don’t think so, sir. You’re very nice to me. Most of the guys I met when I lived with my mother were terrible people.”
“Oh.” His eyes narrowed shrewdly. “Terrible people…can I go out on a limb and guess that your mom was a…?” he trailed off and left the end of the question open. I knew what he meant, though.
I nodded once, shortly, staring down at the concrete path. “Yeah.”
“Oh.” Reno was silent for a few moments. “Mine too.”
I looked up. “Really, sir?” I asked tentatively. I wasn’t entirely sure he knew what I’d meant. It’s hard to find people who know what it’s like to have a prostitute for a mother. No one ever wants to admit it and if you tell anyone, they look at you differently. My mother wasn’t a bad person. People have to resort to desperate things to survive in the slums of Midgar.
“Yeah. I grew up in Sector Seven, beneath the plate.”
“Sector Eight,” I admitted.
Reno grinned. “Hey, we were neighbors. How ‘bout that? You knew your father?”
I shrugged. “Kind of. Just what my mom told me about him. I knew he was in the army.”
“Mmm. I know what that’s like. I didn’t know my father. I don’t think my mom did, either. Umm…well, they must have known each other, of course. What I mean to say is that they didn’t know each other personally. Er…well, yeah, pretty personally. Not well, though. They weren’t much more than passing acquaintances, I don’t think. In any case, I didn’t know him, and she took off when I was about fifteen. Just up and left.”
“Oh.” I didn’t quite know how to answer that. My mother had died, when I was fourteen. Just the thought of her leaving me was painful. “That’s terrible, sir.”
Reno shrugged. “Not really. We weren’t that close. Once I was old enough to manage for myself, she decided I was bad for business and went to set up shop elsewhere.”
“Still…that’s an awfully cold way to treat your only child.”
“I wasn’t her only child. She had a bunch of others. I met some of them. But I never saw my mom again.”
I was quiet for a little while, wondering if I had brothers and sisters I didn’t know about. I decided I probably didn’t. If my mom had kids before me, she would’ve taken care of them, like she had taken care of me. “My mom died, when I was fourteen.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“In the long run, it got me off the streets. My dad came and put me in military school. It worked out for the better. We got to be closer, in some ways.” Well, closer in that I actually saw him from time to time. It gained me some eminence with some of the instructors, to have a colonel for a father.
Reno nodded, squinting up at the sky and the clouds overhead. “I guess that’s how you got into the Turks?”
“Yes, sir. I got myself straightened out, and went into the Academy when I graduated. What about you, sir?”
Reno grinned. “I was given the choice between prison and the military. Naturally, I took the military, because I had no idea about all the geopolitical maneuvering that was going on between Shinra and Fort Condor. I mean, you know how it is on the street…the only thing you worry about is the next time you’re going to eat.”
I nodded ruefully. I knew what that was like. It was odd, it had been ages since I’d thought about life in the streets, never mind talked about it. No one who hadn’t had the experience could really understand. But it was different, talking with Reno, who’d been through the exact same thing.
“Anyway, I had no idea I’d gotten myself signed up right on the eve of a war. The next thing I knew, they’d thrown me through basic training, stuck me on a truck, and shipped me off to Fort Condor.”
“But how did you get to the Turks from there?” I asked, slightly confused.
“I’m getting there, rookie, keep your shirt on. In any case, long story short, I got shot in the middle of a mission then booted back to a medical camp. And then they chained me to a bed, because I’d had my fill of the war and was trying to desert.”
“Well, that’s understandable, sir.” I refrained from expressing shock at the thought of desertion. Reno feels differently about the military than I do. However similar we are, there are some differences in our upbringings. “What happened then?”
Reno grinned in the dark. “Veld got me out. Came by the base one day and caught me trying to hotwire a jeep. He told me if I really was that serious about leaving the army, I could join the Turks.”
“Oh. That’s a bit more interesting than my story, sir.”
Reno shrugged. “Nah. Just different.”
“I suppose so, sir.”
I was quiet for a little while, glancing back down the pathway. We’d walked quite a long way, just talking. I didn’t recognize where we were until we stopped on a bridge, over a softly babbling stream. Reno leaned over the edge with his elbows on the wooden railing and watched the water in silence, apparently lost in his own thoughts. “Sir…”
“I’m sorry you can’t get second-class.”
Reno was silent for a few minutes then sighed. “Rude told you, huh?”
“Well…not really sir,” I answered, wondering if I should attempt to explain. I hesitated. “Rude…was telling me something, when we were in Costa del Sol…but he never really…I mean…I was wondering…” I trailed off, not exactly sure how to continue. Reno didn’t answer and just stood there, in the pool of yellow light cast by one of the lamps just beyond the bridge, just looking at me.
Nervously, I shifted, regretting the question. “Rude says you have a ‘condition.’ Is it serious, sir?” I asked finally.
Reno snorted. “Nah, rookie, it’s not serious. I wish Rude hadn’t told you, because now you think there’s something wrong with me. Well, there’s not. He tells everyone who meets me, you know. Everybody knows. Never for one-minute does he think that maybe I don’t want people to know. I manage well enough.”
I flushed. I hadn’t meant to make him angry. “I…I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean…”
Reno sighed. “I know you didn’t. It’s not your fault. I’m just… I was really a mess when I started with the Turks…I’d just come off the streets and stuff. I didn’t do so well at first. I couldn’t remember directions, or the orders I’d gotten, I made a lot of mistakes. That’s why I ended up with a partner; because I couldn’t do missions on my own.”
“That’s when you started working with Rude, sir?”
“Yeah. It didn’t really help. I still messed up a lot. Commander Veld finally had some kinda shrink talk to me. Apparently I’ve got ADD.”
“Oh.” I didn’t really know what to say to that. Although it did explain a few things. His behavior, for one thing, and the pills I’d seen him take in Junon. There had been a boy with ADHD in one of my classes at the Academy. I knew at least a few things about his condition.
Reno watched me for a few minutes more. “You don’t sounds surprised,” he observed morosely.
I was taken slightly aback. “W-well…” I stammered.
“Sorry, rookie,” Reno apologized hastily. “I don’t mean to make you feel bad. It’s just…I dunno. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me…not really. I always just figured it was the way I was.”
“Oh. Well, why didn’t you just tell me so, sir? I didn’t mind hearing it from Rude, but I would’ve felt better if I’d heard it from you,” I admitted.
Reno shrugged. “I guess I didn’t want you to think there’s something wrong with me. But…I guess you must’ve, when you met me.”
I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that, so I just said the first thing I thought. “I didn’t think there was anything wrong with you when I met you, sir. I thought you were headstrong and a little impetuous, but I didn’t think there was anything wrong with you.” That was a bit of a white lie. When I’d first met Reno I’d thought he was crazy. I guess I know better now.
“And what do you think of me now, rookie?”
“I think you’re headstrong and a little impetuous…and maybe just a bit crazy. But I like you very much all the same, sir. My father always used to tell me I cried too much. I always thought maybe there was something wrong with me. But…you told me it was ok. So…maybe if there’s nothing wrong with me, then maybe there’s nothing wrong with you either, sir.”
“Of course there’s nothing wrong with you.” Reno grinned. “Except for the fact that you’re too damn nice.”
I shrugged. “Not really, sir. I was just curious as to why you couldn’t get second. I’m sorry you can’t, sir.”
“It’s not that big a deal, I guess. I mean…I can’t do the stuff I’d need to be able to, for second-class. I know I can’t be promoted and I’m all right with that…but it still feels like I’m getting passed over all the time. You know Loretta, rookie?”
“The woman you want to marry, sir?”
Reno laughed. “I don’t really, rookie. Loretta’s just an old friend. We were in the Academy together. She came in at fifth class when I did at third. And in two years, she passed me. And…I don’t mean to sound like this, but I’m just as good as she is, probably better. But she gets more money, she gets a better apartment, and I’m the exact same place I was two years ago. I’ve never been promoted.”
That made me feel bad. It’s a wonderful feeling to be promoted. No Turk with Reno’s skill and capacity (he had to be pretty good if he’d entered the company at third class) should’ve been denied it. By all rights, he should’ve been first class by now. “Why do they make the administrative duties mandatory, sir?”
“The company needs strategic administrators. People…like Tseng…who have worked in the field and know how to get Turks to perform. A second class Turk has the experience needed to do that.”
I blinked. “If that’s all it is, then surely you have that experience. I mean…I haven’t worked with you for very long, sir, but I can tell you know what you’re doing. You’ve been a Turk for five years, haven’t you? And they won’t promote you just because you can’t manage paperwork?”
Reno spread his hands helplessly. “It’s the way the company is, rookie. I can’t change it.”
“Well, I don’t think that’s fair, sir,” I declared. “They have a lot of administrators. They don’t need any more.”
“I appreciate your support, rookie, but there are a hell of a lot of people who question the justice of it all and it’s not like it does any good.” He shrugged. “Nah. It’s just something that gets to me every once in a while. It’s all right.”
“Hey, don’t go getting all bent outta shape on my account. I’m okay, rookie. Like I told you, I was just clearing my head. It helps to have someone to talk to. Thanks.”
I was a little surprised by Reno’s willingness to move past this, but I guess he’s used to it. I was still stuck on the issue. “Well, you’re welcome, sir, but…”
“Rookie, you can drop it,” Reno told me, not sternly, but with a certain amount of firmness. “I think it’s very sweet that you’re ruffled by the whole thing, but drop it. It’s not really such a big deal.”