Author: Drake Clawfang PM
Ifalna fails to escape Shinra, and Aerith is recaptured to be placed in SOLDIER. Raised as a jaded and battle-hardened warrior, her destiny and that of the Planet are forever changed. Now, Aerith, Zack and Cloud must battle the forces of AVALANCHE and Genesis, and unravel the secrets of LOVELESS and the Jenova Project. Alt tagline - imagine Aerith was raised to be Lightning. CC/BCRated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Drama - Aerith G. & Zack F. - Chapters: 9 - Words: 48,532 - Reviews: 25 - Favs: 10 - Follows: 10 - Updated: 05-12-13 - Published: 05-23-12 - id: 8143897
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Aerith swung her staff, letting it slide through her grasp to fling out and slam its end into a trooper's face. She spun, knocking two more aside and planting it in the ground to jump forward and deliver a flying kick to another, bringing her staff to a more comfortable, controlled grip in the process.
It was the second day after her encounter with President Shinra and she hadn't heard a word yet. She was growing anxious and had spoken to Angeal that morning, but he assured her that the President would keep his word and answer her soon. She hoped so, because if she was just forgotten about she wasn't going to stand for it this time. She couldn't afford to, it was a foot in the door with someone above Hojo, and she couldn't let the chance slip away.
"I can't concentrate," she thought. She stopped and reached into her pocket for her cell phone as a series of holographic bullets tore through her shoulder from two more Shinra soldiers. "Shut it down, I'm done," she said. The attackers stopped and dissolved into bright green computer code to reveal the walls of the training simulator.
"Shinra Army Exercise 4. Score – 213 troops incapacitated."
"Yeah yeah," Aerith muttered at the computerized voice. The 4 SAE simulations were a joke, four trials against escalating numbers of Shinra troopers with escalating intelligence and tactics. The simulation was horribly outdated though, and was terribly programmed even for its day. Even at level 4 – the highest AI intelligence levels powering 1000 soldiers in waves of ten – the program was ridiculously easy. The only reason so few ever finished it wasn't due to difficulty, but the time and effort it took to downing the troops one by one. And if you did finish it, no one cared. But it was a way to pass the time occasionally, see how long one could last before they got bored and quit. Aerith wondered if the scientists left it up as a simulation selection for a game more than training now.
She was listless, bored even for her. Sitting around the tower only partaking in training simulations and whatever else she could do to pass the time had dissolved her patience over the last year, in Third she got regular instruction in SOLDIER protocol and combat theory, it was as much school lecturing as training. Promotion to Second was a chance to begin taking on assignments and missions unescorted and put what you had been taught as a Third to use, and if you did a proper job of it and proved yourself, you went on to First, the best of the best. At least, that's how it worked for everyone else. She on the other hand was stuck at the tower with nothing to do but smashing her staff into computerized foes.
"Want another one, Aerith?" the voice of the scientist overseeing the simulations asked.
"Got anything with more punch to it?" she called.
"For you, not much. There's the train hi-jacking still."
"Pass," Aerith said, remembering Hojo's meddling. He wouldn't have put Sephiroth in other scenarios, would he? He might have, she wouldn't put anything past him.
"We have a cave exploration, just finished programming the other day. Not sure how much challenge it'll be for you, but it's new."
"Sounds good," she nodded. "Fire it up." The room lit up green and faded to reveal a dark cavern, stone platforms and bridges forming a maze-like formation over murky water below.
Zack stepped inside the elevator on the ground floor of the Shinra headquarters. He was coming back from an early-morning patrol mission in Sector 4. Shinra had posted a lot of patrol missions lately. Zack suspected it was quiet paranoia about AVALANCHE. Wutai had never had the guts or the capacity, as far as they knew, to strike Shinra so close to home as AVALANCHE did at Junon. There was no telling what was next. They had to be paranoid now, they couldn't risk being calm.
As Zack pressed the button for the 49th floor and the doors slid closed, they suddenly opened again. Zack looked out and his eyes widened slightly at the sight of someone pressing the button for the elevator.
"Hi," he said, lifting a hand. Sephiroth didn't respond, stepping into the car beside him and reaching over to press a button. 49th floor. The car jerked as it began to ascend, the two SOLDIERs in silence. Zack leaned forward slightly and looked over at Sephiroth to see him staring ahead, his eyes concealed from the side by his bangs. He was never Sephiroth's friend, of course, but he had met him a few times through Aerith. He wouldn't be entirely unresponsive to conversation, would he? Zack thought for a moment. One way to find out.
"So…how are things?" Zack asked. Sephiroth took a moment to respond.
"I take it Aerith is in training?" he muttered.
"Um, I guess, maybe. I've been out all morning but that's usually where she is," Zack replied. Not the response he was expecting, but he didn't much expect one at all. The car fell silent again and Zack debated asking a question. He decided he might as well, Sephiroth was probably expecting it given all the rumors going around. Zack thought this was the first time had been seen in days. "Is it true you came back from Kalm alone?" he asked.
"…did Genesis get injured?"
"So what happened to him?" Zack prodded further.
"I am not at liberty to say," Sephiroth turned his head Zack's direction. His expression was blank, but his eyes were clouded. "And even if I were, I wouldn't."
"Right," Zack nodded. He wasn't sure what had happened if Genesis hadn't been hurt, but now that he knew it wasn't that his curiosity was just more intense. Sephiroth turned his head forward again. "Whatever happened, you don't look happy about it." Sephiroth didn't answer, and Zack made a slight face, disappointed his bait wasn't taken. The mystery of Genesis's fate was widely known to the company now, but Shinra, as they liked to do so often with information they didn't want known, pretended that it was still secret.
"Hear about Aerith at Junon?" Zack asked instead.
"Yes. The reports were pleasing," Sephiroth answered, his tone lighter. "She did as well in her first field mission as I expected of her. A pity I was not there to see it for myself."
"If you had been there, she wouldn't have been. Angeal only had her join us because we were down you and Genesis," Zack explained.
"Had I been present I may have asked her to accompany me anyway," Sephiroth countered. "I've been trying to get her a field operation for some time. I've merely lacked sufficient reasons to convince…certain individuals, that she is needed." Zack wondered who he meant by that.
"I don't get why you're so nice about her. I mean, she hates you. Her only real goal in life is to show you up. You know that right?" Zack said. Their relationship had always confused him, Sephiroth's mood when he watched their rare interactions were lighter than when he saw him around the building otherwise, and he encouraged her and praised her. Aerith had never had anything but insults and sneers for responses.
"Yes," Sephiroth said simply.
"And you're cool with that?"
"Her hatred of me motivates her to push herself harder, as long as that objective is achieved her feelings for me are something I will tolerate. Were she to not loathe me so, she may not be as strong as she is today." Sephiroth lowered his eyes slightly, his hair hiding the gesture from Zack's view. "Besides. It is not my place to dictate how she treats me, and she has justification for such emotions that I cannot dispute."
"Like what?" Zack prompted. Sephiroth raised his eyes as the elevator doors beeped and slid open. The two stepped out onto the 49th floor, and Sephiroth turned to Zack.
"Get Aerith and bring her here," he ordered.
"She won't come, not to you," Zack warned, rubbing his neck.
"It is not I who demands her presence, I am merely retrieving her on the orders of another," Sephiroth said. He turned to the wall between the two elevators and leaned back, crossing his arms. "I will wait." Zack made a slight face as he turned and walked out onto the floor, Sephiroth remaining by the elevators. A few stray Seconds and Thirds were watching him and whispering to each other. No doubt discussing among themselves the same issue Zack had asked on the elevators. He wondered if any of them would work up the courage to approach him. Rounding the corner to see no sigh of Aerith at the couches in the rest area, Zack walked to the door to the simulation room and pressed the intercom button.
"In Aerith in there?" Zack asked. "It's Zack."
"She's in the middle of a simulation," the scientist replied.
"She's needed on the floor. It's urgent," Zack said. The intercom went dead, and Zack looked up at the light over the door. Several seconds later, the light blinked from red to green, and he reached into his pocket. Right on cue, his cellphone rang in his hand. He flipped it open and raised it to his ear.
"Yo. Hope I didn't ruin a good run."
"What do you want?" an irritated voice muttered.
"Not me. You're needed."
"Can't say. It's important though."
Aerith hung up, and Zack looked down at the door to the room. A moment later the door slid open.
"You're a pain in the ass," she muttered, stepping out into the hall. "What's going on?"
"Just head to the elevators," Zack said, lifting a hand to gesture. "And don't kill me." Aerith gave him an annoyed look and headed to the elevators. She came around the corner of the central support of the floor and stopped.
"Oh, fuck this," she growled. Sephiroth turned his head her way.
"Come. We've business to attend to," he said coolly, standing up.
"Not with you I don't," Aerith called back, not coming closer.
"I assure you, you do," Sephiroth insisted, smiling slightly. "Do be quick about it. Keeping him waiting isn't going to help you get what you've been after for so long, I think." A slight alarm bell went off in Aerith's head. Was it President Shinra again? She couldn't risk it after that warning, even if it was something else.
"They couldn't have sent someone else?" she grumbled as she walked up to Sephiroth.
"Yes, they could have," Sephiroth said, turning and pressing the button to open the elevator doors. "I was offered the task and accepted it. I wish to be present at this event."
"Sure, whatever," Aerith said, not caring she didn't have a snarkier response. Best to just get it over with so she could get rid of him. The two stepped into the elevator, and Sephiroth pressed the button for the 51st floor.
"51? What's there?" Aerith asked as the doors closed.
"Your future," Sephiroth said. Aerith rolled her eyes as the elevator took the short trip up two floors, opening on a long grey hallway. At the far end was an emergency exit door. To the right, another hall. Aerith tensed. An office floor, alright. Sephiroth lead the way down the hall on the right, which split at a large open area to go around a central pillar. The pillar hosted a large television screen showing a map of the planet, four smaller blank screens around it, two on either side. Sephiroth took a few steps to the left of the pillar, then stopped.
"One thing I want to be clear," he said, turning around as Aerith came up behind him. "The actions you take after this day will affect more than you realize. A lot of people will be watching you. Including me."
"A lot of people are already watching me. They're called security guards," Aerith replied. "Get on with it." Sephiroth turned back around without another word and lead Aerith around the pillar. Aerith followed him and relaxed slightly as they came around the other side. Of all the people she could have been summoned by, this was the best choice. And even better, he was alone.
"Sephiroth, thank you," Lazard said, smiling. "Aerith, if you please." The director gestured to the chairs in front of his desk, and Aerith walked forward and sat down. Lazard's desk and display screens on either side of the room adorned what was otherwise a dull grey and steel-blue room. A light blue window pane behind him hosted the Shinra logo and name, two normal windows on either side of it. Lazard picked up his phone and pressed a button.
"This is Lazard. Aerith is here, the transmission will come shortly…yes…of course. Thank you." Lazard hung up. "Aerith, your SOLDIER ID." Aerith reached into her pocket and withdrew her ID card. She looked down at it, a smiling, younger version of herself looking back. Her first day in SOLDIER she had been proud, happy, eager. Naïve. She handed it to Lazard, who swiped it through a card reader next to his computer, and began typing. Aerith heard movement and saw a black coat step up beside her in her peripheral vision. Otherwise the room was silent save for the clicking of the keys and the background hum of electronics.
"What's going on?" she asked. Lazard ignored her and continued his work. Aerith shifted uncomfortably.
"Do not worry," Sephiroth whispered above her. "This is a good day for you."
"I wasn't asking you," she hissed back. Lazard made a few clicks with his mouse, then swiped the ID card again and waited.
"Done," he said, holding the card out. "Congratulations, Aerith. The security parameters regarding your handling have been redefined." Her eyes brightened.
"Meaning?" she asked, hoping.
"You now have full access to all areas of the building that are normally open to Second Class SOLDIERs. I'm sure Zack will explain which ones. Your confinement to your room is removed, you may spend as much or as little time there as you like, but as with all Seconds you are expected to be within the building before 9 PM and are not allowed to leave before 7 AM, unless a mission or assignment allows otherwise. You may enter the city but cannot leave the city limits, unless of course on an assignment or mission that requires so."
"Missions," Aerith repeated, growing excited.
"We still have to clear a few things with security, which will take a few more days. Red tape and identification information and so forth. And you're on notice while we monitor your performance, so we reserve the right to revoke these new freedoms if we are displeased with your behavior. But, yes. In the future you will be summoned here for regular assignment to tasks, and may take on missions from the board on the 49th floor. Your applications, as with all Seconds, will be forwarded to me to await my personal approve before you can depart. Regarding you specifically, we're going to keep your missions confined to the Midgar area, for your safety. Do well and we'll remove this restriction in time. Assignments, we'll be sending you where you're needed, it may be Midgar, it could be as far as Wutai." Lazard paused for a moment, Aerith at this point unable to hide a grin.
"There are still some concerned over your loyalty, sadly, and over your safety," Lazard continue. Aerith made a face in spite of her joy. Hojo, obviously. "To alleviate both problems, while on assignments and missions, you'll be working with a partner."
"Like hell!" Aerith snapped at the last word, her good mood vanishing. "I don't need this pompous ass babysitting me!"
"He doesn't mean me," Sephiroth said immediately. Aerith looked up at him. "You're too predictable for your own good," Sephiroth said, looking down at her. "But, you can thank me for putting in a good word for someone else to fill the role."
"Sephiroth is too valuable an operative for this task, with AVALANCHE's threat looming he will be needed for more high-priority engagements," Lazard said. "On his recommendations, and our own observational data, we've chosen Second Class Zack Fair to work with you. I trust he will be a more acceptable choice?"
"…yes. Thank you," Aerith muttered, embarrassed at her outburst now. Working alongside Zack in the field? He'd probably be overjoyed. She would have taken him over anyone else though, he had shown a more authoritative and in-control side of himself in Junon. Out in the field while she got used to the new independence, he would be helpful to have around. And when they had trained together, they had done well.
"Excellent. Then, there is nothing more to say, but congratulations," Lazard stood and held out his hand. "There are a lot more people than you know that are and will be happy to hear the news."
"Thank you, director," Aerith said, standing and shaking his hand. "Your trust won't be betrayed."
"On a related note to that," Lazard said, taking his hand back to adjust his glasses. "You, and many other Seconds including Zack, are still under review for promotion. This has been one of our major factors in addition to various recommendations from some of the Firsts that has motivated this decision in your favor. Prove yourself now, Aerith, and First Class awaits you. This is not just a chance to fight in the field, it's a chance to improve yourself in both mind and spirit, and of course, attitude. Right?"
"I know," Aerith grumbled. "I've heard this lecture before."
"Take it to heart this time because it's not just a lecture, it's the truth. If you want to make First, this is the time to show you deserve it."
"When I told you the day would come soon when you stand beside me in First, it wasn't just a statement, it was encouragement," Sephiroth chimed in. "There are none in Shinra who would like to see that day more than I, Aerith. Make me proud."
"I don't need your little speeches or your promises of approval to motivate me to that," Aerith said defiantly, looking over at Sephiroth and smirking. "I've gotten this far on my own skills, and I'm going to go even further with them now. There won't be any standing beside you, Sephiroth. I'll be surpassing you."
"Good," Sephiroth chuckled slightly. "If you'd replied with any less ferocity I might have worried you were losing that fire that has indeed done so well for you up. Now, learn to temper that fire, hm?"
"I will," Aerith nodded. "Anything else, director? You two still want to sing my praises to me?"
"No. You may go," Lazard said.
"Good. I'll be notified when my security clearance for mission application is done?"
"Then see ya, I think I'm going to find Zack and have him show me a good place in the city for lunch." Aerith smiled widely and turned on her heel.
"By the way," Sephiroth said, looking over at her, "you're forgiven for that 'pompous ass' comment."
"Not sorry for it," Aerith tossed back, walking around the pillar to the elevator. Sephiroth watched her go, keen hearing listening for the sounds of the elevator doors. He nodded when he heard them slide closed. Lazard sat down and leaned his head back. After looking up at the ceiling for a moment, he sat forward to look at Sephiroth.
"You realize she is never going to get over those ego problems if you keep building her up like that," Lazard warned, his expression turning more serious.
"She needs the encouragement. If I don't say the words, who will?"
"Everyone. We all know how powerful she is, Sephiroth, and she knows we know. But she's not ready yet. Not like you seem to think."
"It's Hojo's fault," Sephiroth said lowly, narrowing his eyes. "That incompetent twit wouldn't know a fine soldier if one demonstrated in person for him. To him we're all just lab experiments, he doesn't recognize her potential, he just sees data charts to be compiled. Without him around, she would already be a First. You know this as well as I."
"No, I don't. Her attitude is holding her back more than she realizes," Lazard said, shaking his head. "I know about your…bond, with her, but you can't be blind to her problems, it's only going to compromise your judgment in the future."
"Nothing is compromised. I stand by my statement, she would not have such issues if not for Hojo's idea of child raising and security. Keeping her locked up here has stunted her personal growth."
"It's worked out alright for you."
"That was different," Sephiroth said sharply, "and you know it. Let me handle Aerith, if she needs it anymore. You're going to have far larger concerns than her soon that will need your attention more."
"I know," Lazard sighed. "I've read your debriefing over twice. You are telling the truth about Genesis?"
"I swear it."
"Then we have a larger crisis than anyone knows. We can't let this get out, a deserter is always a concern for the company. But Genesis, of all people? There are SOLDIER members who would desert with him if they knew he was gone. We cannot have that. Not to mention the moral of the soldiers with another war coming and one of our best gone."
"Some in the ranks already suspect he is dead or deserted. Rumor has spread fast," Sephiroth said. Lazard looked up at him. "I said nothing, I was observed returning alone and speculation began," Sephiroth defended.
"Yes, of course. They cannot know the truth though, let the rumors stay as rumors."
"We cannot simply ignore the issue. Genesis is a well-known figure to the public. People will take notice that he is no longer around, and reporters will investigate why."
"Yes, we still need a cover story," Lazard nodded. "I've already spoken to the President about the idea. We've come to a decision, the elements needed are in place."
"The usual?" Sephiroth asked dryly.
"I know. But it's the only option, until we can investigate him further it's our most reliable course of action. I have the notice ready, I was preparing to send it out when you arrived. By the time you get back to your quarters the official version of events should be in your email."
"Well then, don't let me keep you from such distasteful business," Sephiroth droned. "If you'll excuse me, director, Aerith's mention of lunch is appealing to me as well."
"Yes. You may go, Sephiroth," Lazard said. "I'm sorry I can't do more for you."
"Apologies are empty when one has done nothing wrong," Sephiroth replied, walking away.
Aerith stepped out on the 49th floor, her good mood returning to her on the trip, and immediately saw Zack waiting for her, leaning against the wall.
"So what was it?" he asked. Aerith was tempted to tell him, but she wanted to enjoy his confusion a bit more. Mean, perhaps, but she couldn't help herself.
"I'll tell you over lunch," she offered. "If you don't mind paying."
"Uh, sure, but the cafeteria doesn't charge SOLDIER, I thought," Zack replied.
"I was thinking somewhere out in the city, if you know a place," Aerith said. Zack was still confused, and Aerith decided to cut him loose. "It was a little meeting with Lazard. Security restrictions, most of them, are revoked. Standard Second Class orders apply."
"What!?" Zack exclaimed loudly, drawing attention from a few passing SOLDIERs. "For real?"
"Yes Zack, for real," Aerith nodded. Zack laughed and slapped her a high five.
"Awesome!" he cheered, pumping his fist. "About time, Zack and Aerith kicking ass together for real! We gotta ask Lazard to pass us a joint assignment."
"That's all we'll get," Aerith continued. "They're still uneasy about me, so I have to work with a partner."
"Oh come on, now you're teasing me," Zack grinned.
"Nope. Sephiroth recommended you personally?"
"Really? So Big Brother has given us his blessings?" Aerith gave Zack a knowing glare. "Oh come on, you can't be angry at me under these circumstances and you know it!" he insisted.
"Yeah, I do. So, lunch? Can show me the city."
"It'd be a pleasure," Zack nodded. Aerith pressed the button to re-open the elevator doors and the two stepped inside. "Any type of food in particular come to mind?"
"Anything the cafeteria doesn't mangle horribly on a regular basis," Aerith said. Zack smiled.
"It's good to see you in a good mood. You aren't like that enough."
"Excuse me?" Aerith said, offended.
"Well, you're usually so serious and focused and irritable," Zack explained, trying to say it gently. "You know, a lot of the time you can be a little…"
"Bitchy," Aerith finished.
"Your word, not mine," Zack said, holding up his hands.
"Why shouldn't I be happy? I've finally gotten what I want," Aerith shrugged. "I'm so close to First now I can taste it, and after that there's nothing else I could ask for."
"Well, that's not true. You know your real goal in the end," Zack said. Aerith nodded, agreeing fully.
"Kicking his ass will come with being First," she said. "By the time I get to the highest rank I'll be ready to take him on."
"If you say so. You haven't seen Sephiroth in a real fight."
"I've seen the news."
"Yeah but you haven't heard the first-hand accounts from Angeal, and even he says he can't describe it accurately. Sephiroth's strength is unreal, he's far stronger in reality than any story you might have heard about him. They say he stopped using the simulator back when he was still a Second because they couldn't score him properly, he was too good."
"Spare me the mythos," Aerith snorted. "I'm going to get stronger too…whatever that power in Junon was, it was me. I just have to figure out how to do it again, learn to control it. Not even Sephiroth has that type of power." She fingered her staff hanging from her belt in its collapsed state. The rush of power, the absolute certainty in her mind, the precision of her movements as she fired those two fireballs. She had to find out how to tap into that well of power and focus again. The words she had pulled from nowhere, 'Crimson Flare'. As good a name as any to call it, and she'd need something to refer to it as if she was going to learn to do it again. How she had that power, she didn't know, but she'd find out.
"I've always wondered something," Zack began. "And since you're in a good mood, might as well ask now."
"What?" Aerith replied, a bit wary that Zack's question demanded she be in a good mood.
"So you want to be a First and surpass Sephiroth. Then what?" Zack asked.
"Then what, what?" Aerith was confused.
"What comes after you beat him?"
"After that, nothing. I'm a First, the strongest in the company, and the legendary Sephiroth is inferior to me. What else is there to ask for?" Aerith said.
"You need something else to fight for besides just being strong. It's like Angeal says, 'you need dreams and honor'. What kind of dream just ends with you beating Sephiroth?"
"You know, just because I'm in a good mood, doesn't mean you can start spewing that hero bullshit at me and expect me to believe it more than usual," Aerith said.
"I'm not spewing anything. You've got a long life ahead of you Aerith, you can't spend it all trying to beat Sephiroth. And if you beat him in a few months, what's left for you?"
"Being the best," she said fiercely. "Being known and recognized for who and what I am. Respect, admiration, adoration, fame. That's my dream, to live the life I deserve to have. And you're one to talk, Mr. Hero, what is it again you strive for?"
"I don't want to be a hero just to be famous," Zack shook his head. "I want to be a hero because of the type of person I'm going to have to become to earn it. The kind of guy people admire, the guy who saves lives and makes the world safe. You know, someone Seeeeeph, er, well, you know," he said, stopping himself from saying the name as Aerith began to tense. "Besides, being a hero is something everyone dreams of, right?"
"Not me. Heroism is a joke. There are no heroes, because there's no one right side. Take AVALANCHE, Shinra's heroes are their demons. You want to be a hero, fine, just remember, the only heroes in Shinra are monsters to everyone else."
"That's not true. Being a good person isn't subjective, you just have to trust in your own judgment and your own path, and that's enough."
"You're too idealistic and naïve," Aerith rolled her eyes.
"And you're too cynical and jaded," Zack countered. Aerith glared at him, and the elevator doors slid open on the ground floor. Zack looked out and let out a breath.
"So, lunch? Or did I ruin the good mood?" he asked.
"You did. But I'm seeing the city one way or the other, so you're my tour guide," she said. "And it'll cheer me up to finally get out of this place."
"Right. Come on." The two walked across the lobby, Aerith observing it for the first time. There were no security personnel or scientists or SOLDIER members here, just secretaries and businessmen and women and tourists, many of them in dress wear or casual clothes. There was an electronic beeping, and Aerith reached into her pocket for her cellphone.
"That's odd," she said, flipping it open. "Got a new kind of alert."
"Let me see." Zack came around to look at her phone. "Oh, it's an email from the company. I guess since you're a normal operative now you're part of the info loop. I got one just now too."
"Nice," Aerith smiled again. Another nice new perk of her new freedom. She could get used to this. She watched Zack press the buttons on his phone to open the email and he read off the text on his screen.
"This is a Shinra Electric Power Company bulletin announcing a tragic loss," he said aloud, his expression turning dire. "During a mission to Kalm, SOLDIER First Class Genesis Rhapsodos was killed in action. Further details are classified. Memorial services for the public will be held Friday. Shinra personnel are to await instructions later today regarding the handling of company matters concerning Genesis."
"Genesis was killed?" Aerith whispered. She looked around the lobby and noticed several other people reading their cellphones too. It must have gone out to the entire company just now."
"No way," Zack shook his head. "I spoke to Sephiroth earlier, he said Genesis was fine, he just didn't come back."
"Maybe he was lying, Shinra wouldn't want him spilling the beans, right?" Aerith asked.
"I guess…" Zack muttered. "Aw man, Angeal…"
"Where is he now?" Aerith asked.
"I don't know, he's been a bit mysterious since yesterday, haven't seen much of him."
"Maybe that's why they decided to let me out more," Aerith suggested. "Fill the void…"
"Feeling quilty? He takes off and you get your freedom."
"I'm not the one who did it, so no." Aerith looked at the doors of the build and snapped her phone shut. The sun-lit streets of the city stretched out, blurred by the glass, and she swelled. She had never seen the city before, not outside of TV footage and simulations. The tension left her body in a whoosh as the full realization of her new freedoms hit her. Sephiroth had been right after all – it was time for her to begin her future.
"Come on. Midgar's calling."