Grazhir :: Final Fantasy :: Snafu :: 07

07

Squall was thankful that no one tried to join him. He stood there, staring out at the waves, and tried to come to terms with having inadvertently reunited with his father, a man who apparently had no idea his wife had been pregnant. His mother was Ellone’s adoptive mother and his father was her ‘Uncle’ Laguna. She really was his sister, even if not by blood. What had Ellone been trying to do? Soften him up for this startling revelation? Or something else? He would have to ask later.

He had a living father. If the villagers had held on a while longer before sending them away, or the resistance had managed to contain Adel sooner, so many things could have been different. He would have been raised with the love of a biological parent, with his sister. He might not ever have met the others, and matron had been a kind and loving woman, but he ached inside for what he never had a chance to know.

‘I can’t hold this against him,’ he thought, massaging his shoulder and neck absently. ‘I already thought he had a good heart and this doesn’t change that. If nothing else the visions did help. Heh. Now I have more reason to be happy with my decision to resign. Will he want to be my father. . . ? I think so. I don’t really need a guiding hand now . . . and I don’t expect it to be easy . . . but I can learn.’

Sudden darkness startled him out of his thoughts; they had returned to the fleet cavern. Squall walked slowly to where they would disembark and was joined by the others before he quite got there. He sent a small smile toward an anxious-looking Laguna as Seifer draped an arm around his shoulders again, and received one in return. ‘It should be okay.’

Back at the palace they settled in Laguna’s office, where his father suddenly smiled and said, “Okay! Hey, listen. Are you guys interested in working for me? You’d be like a special tactics team, answerable only to me, Ward, and Kiros. I can set you up with quarters here in the palace, work out a salary, figure out some kind of symbol you can wear so people know not to mess with you. . . . Your first mission could be this whole Edea thing.”

The corner of his mouth twitched in amusement. Laguna was Laguna. He and his team exchanged looks again, silently communicating, then Squall nodded and said, “Yes.” Something about the situation made him remember a comment from earlier. “You said Adel’s Tomb is one of the reasons why radio communications are messed up, correct?”

“Uh huh.”

“Just how much? Because Galbadia repaired the communications tower in Dollet and used the television station in Timber to do a live broadcast.”

Kiros spoke up on that issue. “The technology involved in Adel’s Tomb creates a great deal of interference with wireless communications. However, it is not impossible to use radio waves if the signal can be boosted enough.”

He recalled just how grainy the visual on Deling’s aborted speech had been and nodded.

“But for everyday use it would take far too much effort, so it fell into disuse. The broadcast in Timber is not a sign that the seals are failing. While the technicians for Lunar Base serve six month shifts, we are capable of and do use a boosted radar system to detect any incoming capsules, and a team is sent for collection. Messages are sent back and forth by capsule on a scheduled basis, though obviously they would be used in an emergency. So we would know almost immediately if a failure of some kind was imminent.”

He nodded again. “All right. I still wonder why they bothered, though. How likely is it that people in Dollet and Timber were even watching the outdoor screens? Personal screens would all be running on HD cable by now. Eh, whatever.”

“If Edea gets Galbadia Garden mobile maybe we could set a trap of some kind,” Irvine suggested. “Use some combination of gasses and technology to interrupt power and knock everyone inside out? We could then go in and remove Edea and see if her powers can be subdued or . . . worst case, sealed.”

Selphie said in a rather subdued tone, “Better sealed than bent on world enslavement.”

“Odine does have portable technology to subdue those powers,” Laguna offered. “Looks like jewelry. If she could be knocked out and a few of those put on in such a way that she couldn’t just remove them. . . . I’ll have to bring him in for a talk. He’s got plenty of other toys up his sleeve. Kiros—”

“I’ll send out some drones.”

“Drones?” Seifer echoed.

Kiros nodded. “Very small solar powered flyers which can run indefinitely so long as the weather holds clear. We send them out to do reconnaissance sweeps off our borders. And because they make use of a modified version of the optical camouflage system technology they’re almost impossible to spot. They store images and other data which we download when they return.”

“Nice,” Seifer replied.

Squall was feeling surprisingly tired after all the excitement and admitted so. “Maybe we should break for the day. Come back to this tomorrow.”

“Sure!” Laguna chirped. “Let me run up some temporary ID cards for you real fast. Then no one will bother you when you come back. We’ll get proper ones made later. By the time you get here tomorrow your rooms will be ready, so no worries there.” He jumped up and ran to his desk so he could fiddle with something on the surface. “. . .Uh, Kiros?”

Kiros sighed faintly and joined his friend, pushing him out of the way so he could complete the job. He was back in only a few minutes with cards for each of them. “Just clip them on before you enter the palace tomorrow.”

“Right.” Squall stood and cast a look at Laguna, offering a brief smile, then pulled Ellone up from her seat and gave her a quick hug. “I’m really glad we’re a family again, Sis,” he whispered. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

She smiled and kissed him on the cheek.

They had just exited the palace when Selphie chimed in with an idea. “I say we go shopping! That’s always relaxing, right? And maybe we could get some new clothes, yeah? Something to show we’re a team without losing our individuality.” What she didn’t say lingered in the air like a whisper.

Squall grimaced. “What exactly did you have in mind?”

“Don’t know yet, but I will when I see it!”

When they returned to the hotel Selphie had conned them into getting quite a lot of new clothing, but all of it consisted of exactly the same top, just in different colours. She also bought herself a lot of skirts and a new pair of boots. Her idea of a team-unifying “uniform” consisted of a rib-knit, mock turtleneck, sleeveless sweater-shirt that Squall swore he had seen on a spiky-haired blond soldier in a movie he had watched ages ago. She had eyed the guys for quite some time before making her selections. Squall ended up with varying shades of darker blue, Seifer got dark blue and cerulean, Irvine carried back shades of purple, and Selphie, of course, choose cheerful yellows.

Squall thought it was a small enough price to pay for a team bonding event, and besides, he didn’t actually mind what she had chosen. He’d been in such a strange mood he even bought himself a new jacket—still black leather, of course—but with a one-inch upright collar. ‘Maybe I should be careful,’ he thought. ‘Her mood can be almost infectious at times.’

By then they were all starving so room service was called and a movie was selected, and they wiled away the evening with yet more. But when it came time to turn in Squall lingered at the door to his room. He cast a look at Seifer over his shoulder and jerked his head slightly, and was rewarded by Seifer joining him rather than seeking his own room.

“I’m feeling a little . . . out of it,” he admitted as he sat down and began removing his boots and socks. “I’d like some company tonight.”

“I can understand that,” Seifer said slowly. “I’d be a little shook up, too. But I’d deny it to anyone else.”

Squall half smiled and stood up, pulling his shirt over his head and tossing it on the bed. His trousers were next, leaving him clad only in boxer-briefs and his jewelry. His discards were stuffed away and he exited into the bathroom for the usual bedtime activities while Seifer was getting undressed.

Seifer lay on his side next to him shortly thereafter, head propped up on one hand, and with his free one reached out to finger the pendant hanging from Squall’s necklace. “The symbol on my jacket is like the one I saw in a movie a long time ago about Zefer, a sorceress’s knight. You remember I told you about that dream. What does this mean to you?”

“I like lions. They’re fierce, dignified, strong, and courageous. Things I wanted to be. It’s a symbol and reminder of my goals. I might have gone a little overboard, though,” he said with a rueful chuckle. “You know, for all that Laguna is more than a little flaky, he has a lot of qualities I respect.”

“So you think you can accept him as your father?”

He nodded. “I’m not too happy about the way Ellone broke the news, but it’s not the kind of thing you can just slip into conversation easily. I’m kind of glad he was willing to help even before that came to light.”

“And I’m glad he offered us jobs. We’re no longer homeless and soon to be destitute.”

Squall looked over to see a grin on Seifer’s face and smirked. “Let’s get some sleep. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”

*

As a show of unity they each wore one of their new shirts for the day, and they were soon back in the palace. The functionary at the entrance seemed to be expecting them, as all he did was glance at their IDs and nod a greeting. Without any specific instructions on where to go Squall headed for Laguna’s office. The guards stationed outside waved them forward so they went straight in without knocking.

Laguna and the rest were seated at the conference table eating a late breakfast. His father waved them over so they joined, Squall choosing the spot right next to Laguna. “If you’re hungry or anything, dig in,” his father invited.

Squall decided he could fit in some strawberries and helped himself, as well as poured a glass of milk. “Good morning, everyone.”

They were all indulging in some small talk when a knock sounded at the door and one of the palace aides entered. He walked over to Laguna, bent down, and whispered something in the president’s ear.

“Really? Send them in. Thanks.” Laguna turned to Seifer. “Your two friends have arrived.”

Seifer exhaled in relief and grinned. He got up just as Fujin and Raijin stepped in and was over there in a flash, slapping Raijin on the back and patting Fujin on the shoulder. “Join us!” he said happily. “Squall, Selphie, you already know my friends, but everyone else, this is Fujin,” he said, placing a hand briefly on her shoulder again, “and Raijin. Fujin, Raijin, let me introduce. . . .”

Fujin simply nodded at each person while Raijin gave them boisterous greetings. They both took places at the table and served themselves something to eat.

Squall made sure to give each of them a nod of greeting, then said, “I trust there were no problems getting away?”

“Negative.”

“Nah, it went fine, ya know? We got some stuff for you guys, too.”

“That’s right. Seifer told me about what you intended to do. Thank you, Fujin,” he said with another nod to her. “I appreciate that you took additional time to secure what you could of our belongings, especially doing it the way you had to.”

Her one visible eye widened for a moment, then she nodded.

Conversation became slightly stilted with the two new additions, so Squall decided to satisfy his curiosity on a few things. “There were a few things I’ve been wondering about. It’s not directly connected to the plan.”

Kiros made a “continue” gesture rather than talk with his mouth full.

Squall turned his attention to Kiros specifically and said, “You told us about how you use capsules to ferry messages back and forth, so I expect that there is some system up there which captures them. Maybe you also use them for things like materials, medical supplies, food supplies—things that don’t need an escort, so to speak. Valid assumption?”

“Correct.”

“So, my first question is this. Are the protections on Adel’s Tomb dependent on Lunar Base?”

Kiros pursed his lips. “Only as a redundancy layer. There are several layers of protection on top of the seal, only one of which can be altered from the base control room. Why?”

Squall huffed quietly and gazed at the ceiling briefly. ‘The people in this country are incredibly smart, but I bet most of them aren’t all that great at thinking creatively.’ “So the tomb itself has protections. I expect then that people would have to spacewalk to it to do maintenance?”

“Yes.”

“So what’s stopping you from sending out a man with, uh—a canister of compressed air, attaching it to the tomb, and setting it off? Adel’s Tomb would then be knocked out of orbit and set on a path into deep space. Even if the protections and the seal failed at some point, she would die before she woke up from her ‘nap’. And she’d be too far away for her powers to ever come near this planet and choose some poor girl. An object in motion stays in motion, especially in the vacuum of space where friction wouldn’t really apply. So unless the technology degraded or it crashed into something. . . .”

Kiros adopted a nonplussed expression.

“Just give that some thought. Next, is Lunar Base only there because of Adel?”

“Well, no,” Kiros said slowly. “They also do research on the moon, the monsters there, and keep an eye out for any signs of a potential Lunar Cry.”

“All right. What about the workers at Lunar Base? I got the distinct impression while visiting Lunar Gate that people are sent up in those capsules as well. I can understand using them for an emergency evacuation, but why would they be sent outward that way? You must have had ships capable of space flight in order to build the base, so why not use them?”

“We lost them,” Laguna blurted out.

“You lost them,” Squall echoed flatly.

“Uh huh. Not really sure how.”

“I see. Actually, there’s something I need to take care of real quick, so if you’ll all please excuse me for just a moment.” He got up, sent a strained smile at everyone, and exited the room. Outside he nodded to the guards and smiled, walked about halfway down the corridor and stopped to let out a roar of frustration that lasted a good ten seconds. After a few deep breaths he turned around, nodded and smiled at the shocked guards, and returned to the office.

There he stepped up to his chair and firmly curled his fingers over the top edge of the back. “Sorry, where were we? Right. I need to stress something first. This is important,” he said seriously, looking at Laguna, Kiros, and Ward each in turn. “If you had asked anyone at Balamb Garden about me they would have no doubt told you that I’m a cold, heartless bastard who doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself.”

Laguna shot him a look of disbelief.

Selphie giggled madly. “It’s true! Well, I didn’t think that, because he was actually pretty nice to me when we first met, but I did have suspicions at the time that he might secretly be a robot. Still, I heard comments like that all the time and I wasn’t even there long before we made SeeD and were sent out.”

Squall sent her a faint smile and nodded, then continued, “The reason you don’t see that side of me is because for the first time in as long as I can remember I’m around people I’m comfortable with. People I—like. So I’m going to do my best to be low-key here.” Laguna looked confused, Kiros looked reflective, and Ward was his usual stoic self. And since Squall had only just reunited with his father and couldn’t bear to say what was on his mind directly to the man or his best friends, he pushed away from the chair and began to pace.

“You lost them,” he repeated. “So how did that happen? Hm, let me think. Did a few of the pre-flight techs have a wild party the night before and roll into work an hour late on almost no sleep and nursing excruciating hangovers? They neglected to top off the fuel supply because the smell made them vomit, and when the ships left the atmosphere they were unable to use thrusters to maneuver for orbit, never mind stop, so they ended up drifting in space, dying a cold, lonely death out there? But no! That would mean the pilots were also morons for never once glancing at the gauges, so that’s out.

“Perhaps the pilots got a little giddy on a bad oxygen mix and thought it was a good idea to inaugurate the First Annual Moon Race. So they agreed to a three lap run around the moon’s equator, only for all of them to crash due to impaired reflexes, or maybe because they were caught by some of the larger monsters there and crushed. But, unless everyone up at Lunar Base was napping, I expect you’d have gotten a memo on the subject. After all, those ships were mildly important to this country.

“So what else could have happened? A crew member coming back from a spacewalk was hit by a micro-meteorite and his suit was torn, but did not die a horrible death by decompressive explosion because the airlock closed and cycled just in time. However, because the micro-meteorite which lodged deep under his skin was carrying an alien virus he was infected, and subsequently infected his own ship’s crew as well as those of the others due to changeovers. And the next thing you know, Bob’s your uncle. They all mutate into horrifying, slavering beasts. Who can’t pilot.

“If you lost the ships—however that happened—were more built? Were funds and personnel allocated to replace them? Did it get pushed onto a back burner because the techs who work the base think it’s cool”—he even made air quotes with his fingers—“ to be sent into cold sleep and shot into space?” He stopped pacing and glanced over to see Laguna staring at him with a face like a kicked puppy.

Then suddenly, Laguna slammed a fist onto the table and started hooting with laughter. “I can believe it now!” he caroled, then looked at his two friends. “Did you hear that? He’s really smart. Wow! And he’s my son,” Laguna bragged, tapping his chest. “I’m so lucky!”

Squall raised his brows in disbelief, his mouth slightly open in surprise, then returned to his seat and thunked his head against the table. Seifer started chuckling and Squall was not surprised when he felt a hand clap his shoulder and squeeze.

Selphie started giggling madly again. “Ha! This was nothing. You should have heard him rip the assassination plan to shreds, then lay into Quistis! I’m gonna treasure that memory forever.”

He felt a hand come to rest on his back, but the direction was wrong. He tilted his head, forehead still against the table, to see Laguna beaming at him. Squall gave a tiny, tiny sigh and sat up, then shifted to face his father. “Laguna—dad.” He had to pause when Laguna’s smile became impossibly larger and his eyes went all shiny. “What I’m about to say has to be one of the most cliché lines I’ve ever found in books and films, but—don’t ever change.”

Kiros finally found his composure and said, “You are correct in that more have not been built. We do, however, have in-atmosphere ships, though they are rarely used outside the country.”

Squall slid his gaze over and arched a brow, then let his gaze go unfocused as he considered how fortunate that was. “What kind of range do they have? And do they have camouflage?”

“They can fly to any point on the planet, and yes.”

Squall nodded and looked at his team. They obviously knew what he was thinking judging by the knowing expressions they sported. He dropped the subject entirely since they were technically still having breakfast and turned to his father instead, asking, “Do you enjoy being president?”

Fifteen minutes later everyone had pushed back, so Ward called for a servant to take away the remains of the meal. Kiros started things off with, “The in-atmosphere ships are smaller, but they should work for that I think you have in mind.”

Squall nodded. “Irvine suggested earlier that we set up a trap. Use of a ship for travel would greatly simplify things, especially as you’ve said it has camouflage. Whatever plan we do work up we could fly over, get things ready, and have a simple way to return with Edea for her to be sealed, and whatever equipment we used. It would be too obvious to use any of the fleet, and taking the route across Horizon Bridge is just plain stupid. Leaving behind traces of what we did would be equally stupid. Has anything come back yet on the the location of Galbadia Garden?”

“Not yet today, but the last known location was near Deling City. Odine will be along a little later to update us on what technology he has which could assist this mission.”

“So let’s just rough something out for now. Hn.” He turned his attention on Fujin and Raijin. “Are you interested in being involved, or would you prefer to just step back from this whole mess?”

The two exchanged a look, glanced at Seifer, then stood up and walked over to the sitting area. Seifer got up as well to join them and the three were soon engaged in a low-voiced conversation.

“Roughly,” Irvine said into the silence, “I can imagine creating a disturbance over in Galbadia, though since we already blew up the missile base, maybe we could make a feint at the prison. Set up the hypothetical trap equipment and let Selphie darlin’ make something go boom and send up enough smoke that they can’t help but notice and come to investigate. The trap would be in their flight plan along with large quantities of fast-acting knockout gas. At that point let’s assume that they’re powerless, asleep, and sorceress powers have been countered within the confines of the trap area. We gear up and sweep the Garden for Edea. Once we find her we place suppressants on her, bring her back to the ship, and transport her directly to the memorial where she gets sealed.”

Squall nodded, but said, “It sounds almost too simple, but for that reason alone it might actually work.”

“Well if we did it near the prison they might assume we’ve blown that up, too, and just don’t care this time to be low-key about it,” Selphie said. “But we’d have the soldiers and guards there to contend with, so it might not be a bad idea to gas them beforehand.”

“A good point,” Kiros said as Seifer, Fujin, and Raijin returned and took seats.

“Fu and Rai are willing to help up to a point,” Seifer said on their behalf.

“So they could help with the set up and sweep?” Laguna asked.

Squall nodded. “We need a map.”

Ward tapped a spot on the table and the surface suddenly lit up and displayed one of the known world. A few more taps saw it focusing on Galbadia and zooming in.

Seifer whistled appreciatively, and for good reason in Squall’s opinion. The map showed settlements, roads, rail tracks, and geographic features like forests, hills, cliffs, and terrain type, all of it to scale.

“So here’s the prison,” Selphie said, kneeling on her chair and leaning over so she could tap the table. She slid her finger along and paused. “If we go about a mile north along the road we could set up the trap around it and verify that it’s functioning properly. Then we back up a half mile and set the explosives. We head to the prison and gas them so they’ll all be napping during the mission. Then we get into position, set off the explosives, and keep feeding it until we get word they’re on their way. Then we move to the trap and wait.”

“Maybe we should add in smoke bombs back along the road to the prison,” Seifer suggested. “Set those off at the same time. Unless there’s a machine or something which could generate the stuff. The idea being that if they do manage to see ahead well enough they’ll think the wake of destruction includes the prison as well.”

“What’s the duration on your sleeping gas, Selphie?” Squall asked. “We don’t know how fast Garden moves.”

“The stuff I used on the missile base soldiers should have knocked them out for a day. But if there’s any question about it—if Garden doesn’t move fast enough—we could sweep the prison, too. Maybe toss everyone into their own cells with one kept aside. Keep that one under and only release him when we leave so he can go free his buddies.”

The door opened and Dr Odine barged in, leaving it to the guards outside to close up. “You have need of my genius!” he declared. “Always there is need of my genius. I have many things which could help!”

Irvine gave the scientist of questionable sanity, ethics, and morals the basics of the plan idea and Odine nodded repeatedly. “I have just the thing,” he proclaimed. “The device I made to seal Adel, this is good, it functions well, but one cannot rely on being able to trick a sorceress into such a device. No! So I used my considerable intellect to devise another way to handle the situation should it arise again. I, unlike so many others, am a forward-thinking man. This trap you need I already have designed and built, years ago!”

He stepped over to an open spot at the table and started tapping. A diagram came up showing a set of eight devices arrayed octagonally and connected by some kind of cabling. Unfortunately, the notes included were done in some kind of code that Squall could not decipher. “This will suffice with a slight modification.” Odine started tapping again and another diagram came up to overlay the first, blending the two designs. It also showed eight devices arrayed octagonally, but was rotated so the the devices were at the midpoint of every angle. “The first device nulls the sorceress powers. The second device knocks out any electrical systems. I can integrate them so that both will function in harmony.”

“How large of an area can it cover?” Selphie asked.

“I was getting to that!” Odine shouted at her. “I would not have showed it you if it would not work for this plan you have concocted!”

She rolled her eyes dramatically in response.

“Drama queen,” someone muttered, causing Odine to go off on a five minute rant before calming down and getting back to his toys.

“It is big enough, that is all you need. Tomorrow morning you all come to me and I will show you how to set it up and give a small demonstration. Now, for the other.” More tapping saw the combined diagrams vanish and a new one appear. “This is a generator you can use for the additional smoke. It was designed for a film company and can do smoke of varying intensity as well as fog and a few other things. As for when you capture the sorceress,” he said, tapping again to change the image, “you can use these.”

Squall’s initial reaction was that it looked like something people would use on kinky sex nights. And judging by the reaction of his team members they were thinking the exact same thing.

“This will allow you to keep her subdued even should she awake, and she will not be able to escape it. If the knockout gas the girl concocts lasts long enough it should never come up as you will have brought her to the memorial well before that point. That is, if you are not all completely incompetent. I repeat, you come to me tomorrow morning, 10 am, at my laboratory.” Odine tapped a few more commands, removing the image, and abruptly left.

“Well isn’t he just a charming fellow,” Seifer drawled.

Laguna clapped his hands. “All right! Let’s show you guys to your rooms!”

*

The second Laguna was gone Seifer said, “Nice. We have our own mini-wing of suites with a reception room at the head of the corridor and a communal area at the back.”

They entered the first of the suites just to see what they were like and found them to be fairly luxurious but not overly large apartments with a kitchen, combined sitting-dining area, bedroom, and bath. In total there were six available, and he assumed it was no coincidence. Squall and Seifer chose the two closest to the reception room area, Raijin and Fujin the middle two, and Selphie and Irvine the final set.

An investigation of the communal room revealed that it included a dining area with a dumbwaiter on the nearest wall. Other amenities included a pool table, a section with multiple bookcases filled to the brim, and several terminals. Selphie immediately dashed over to one and sat down and shortly informed them, “Trabia responded. They’ve figured out how to get it moving and it’s in readiness, but no one has bothered them. Of course, if they do have to move they’ll be disconnected so finding them after that should be amusing. At least I know they’re okay.”

Irvine headed over to the dining table and tapped it experimentally. When nothing happened he examined it closely and tried a few other spots, eventually managing to bring up a menu system. “Well, at least we know how to order if we don’t feel like cooking. I wonder if each suite has something like this to order groceries.”

“Well I won’t be using it if there is,” Selphie declared. “I’ll just order out here.”

Squall looked around one more time, then headed for the door, saying, “I’m going to unpack. And see about a laundry service.”

Fujin broke away from Raijin and followed him. “Belongings.”

“I almost forgot about that,” he said as he entered his chosen suite. “Just put the stuff anywhere and I’ll deal with it. And again, thank you for taking the time.”

She simply nodded that time and started rummaging. Squall headed first into the bedroom and basically unloaded everything he was carrying. It would be easier to sort it out if he could see all of it from the start. Various things were tossed into a trash bin for being expired, outdated, or just plain of no use to him any longer. By the time he was done sorting and placing several hours had gone by and he was getting hungry. A look through the kitchen revealed that a section of the wall held not only another dumbwaiter but also an ordering panel, but he declined to use it just yet. Instead he exited his suite and knocked on Seifer’s door. It was opened a minute later. “I was about to order some food supplies and cook something. You interested?”

Seifer smiled. “Definitely.”

“Anything in particular you crave?”

Seifer leered at him.