CHAPTER III : The Nature of SeeD
I was sitting on the President's loveseat, inside his private chambers, sipping Starburst Pop and Seifer wasn't.
I gloated around a mouthful of unadulterated sucrose and fake flavouring. My life was as sweet as the liquid cloying inside my mouth and Seifer's wasn't. I had everything and Seifer had nothing. I was a hero and Seifer wasn't. I was a SeeD and Seifer wasn't. I was a-
I angrily slammed down my pop can, bounded to my feet and starting fist-smashing the air, imagining that Seifer's smirking prick of a face was floating in front of me.
Even now, chilling inside Esthar's most lavish sitting room, Seifer's smug shit was still grating on me. What a bastard Seifer was. What a stupid, conceited moulding jackass of a bastard Seifer was! I hated him with every molecule of my brain. I hated him so much that I couldn't even begin to expand on how much I hated him. He never changed, not even when holed up inside the city he'd ruined. He wasn't even guilty, the asshole. What did he care that people had gotten injured and had died as a direct result of his actions? Just as long as he got a shot at his stupid 'Romantic Dream', he didn't give a crap about anything else.
"Selfish fuck," I muttered venomously, punching the image of his face my mind had scrounged up. "Numb nuts dumbo."
And I did NOT look like a chicken, dammit!
Laguna came stumping into the room after a while and put an end to my agitated uppercuts and pissed name-callings.
"Oh s'you Zell," he mumbled around a yawn the size of Balamb. "Thought it was Kiros coming in to nag me about that stupid summit meeting again. Like I'm gonna sleep in after what happened last time. Jeeze everyone's a critic."
One pant leg might've been tucked into a blue and purple striped sock, the other sock might've been grey, the wrinkled shirt might've been buttoned up wrong...but Laguna Loire was still the coolest guy I knew. He was the height of cool. He didn't give a crap what anyone thought of him. He did his own thing and everyone else could screw off 'cause he was the President. He was the most powerful guy in the world. So what if his hair was sticking up in seven different compass points? He owned. Plus he let me T-Board in the palace hallways and didn't demand extensive written reports on SeeD assignments. He didn't like reading all that technical bullshit which was swell 'cause I sure as hell didn't like writing it.
He was a great man, Laguna Loire.
"So what's the deal, man?" He poured himself a cup of coffee and took a huge gulp before wincing at the heat.
"I didn't wanna disturb you this late and but there's this...like this situation." I took a quick drink of my pop and wiped my mouth with the back of my arm. "You know that fount of excess energy in the Plains? Well I found out that it came from a single source, a monster."
Laguna frowned at that. "It'd take some kinda powerful monster to override the current magical levels out there. The Lunar Cry monsters are buzzing with heaps of Astro Energy and so the desert's M stats are in a surplus as it is. I don't wanna hafta put up more bans and restrictions on the surrounding area just 'cause of somethin' even worse than monsters from the Moon. What happened out there?"
"Well you don't need to worry; the monster's gone and all the regional stats are back to normal." I set aside my fizzy drink and leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. "I found Seifer Almasy out there, in the middle of the plains. I accused him of being responsible for the changes in M levels and he denied it. We were arguing and then this monster came out from behind the Nortes Mountains. Seifer talked to it, he was waiting for it apparently and then he junctioned it. Just like that. Shocked the shit outta me, to tell you the truth."
Another cool thing about Laguna; he doesn't care if you swear during a report or not.
"And that's not even the most shocking thing," I continued, bouncing where I sat. That soda was loaded. "The monster right? I knew it, I fought it before. Me, Selphie and Quistis did. Inside Ultimecia's castle. It was one of her eight Guardians."
"Open-faced Turtapods," Laguna gasped loudly and spilled coffee down his front. "Oww, shit that's hot!"
See, he even says 'shit' himself. Pretty cool huh?
"Yeah man, patchy keen." Laguna scrubbed a handful of tissues against the spreading coffee stain. "Are you telling me those Guardian guys you guys fought are smarming around here? Those things from the future? As in all of them?"
"seems like it. Seifer already had two of 'em junctioned before he even came out here."
"How'd he junction monsters from the future?" Laguna dropped the soggy wad of tissues onto the table beside him. "Those things couldn't've come here during Time Compression. The change in magical levels would've shown up way before now, if all eight of those things are floating around."
I shrugged, feeling uneasy. I had wondered about that also. Why hadn't anyone noticed the monsters or noticed a jump in M levels before today? "Seifer doesn't really know much about it either or so he says. All he told me was that they've been looking for Ultimecia but found him instead. Says he can hear them screaming inside his mind."
Laguna chewed on that for a few minutes. Then he asked me, "Do you believe him? I mean you've known him since the orphanage right? What do you really think?"
Not alotta world leaders would've asked what I thought.
Did I believe Seifer? I thought about it while Laguna picked off bits of tissue from his shirt and made faces. Yeah Seifer was a bullying jerk and still made fun of me and smirked in that oh-so annoying way but at the same time Seifer was the kinda guy who would've Hyperioned his wrists before fainting...especially in front of me. Seifer hardly had any experience with GFs, least of all not with a crude power like Tiamat. He probably could've summoned his GFs to fight me as we approached Esthar or even inside the city proper but he hadn't. Besides the verbal abuse, the bastard hadn't done anything. No violence, no attempts to flee. He'd come with me without a fight and basically had put himself under SeeD authority.
And he had apologized. I couldn't forget that. Probably wished he hadn't, probably was cursing himself for being weak but he had.
That didn't mean that he wasn't a first-grade brand of asshole though.
"Yeah I believe him," I said resignedly. I felt like a traitor for admitting it but I wasn't about to lie. Ma had taught me better then that, unfortunately. "When he first junctioned Tiamat, he passed out. I had to raise his GF compatibility and only then did he wake up. Prolly could use a few LuvLuvGs or somethin' later on. I think his head's still swamped. He wasn't faking any of all that, I could tell."
"Jeeze, I dunno how you guys do it." Laguna shook his head. "All those GFs swimming in your brains. It's hard for a guy to handle, know what I mean? I haven't junctioned in years. I'd probably take on the heart attack if I tried."
"You get used to it," I said diplomatically. Anything important to me, I wrote down. Everything else was just the craps and I could afford to forget it, I figured. "Garden starts GF training young. We know what we're in for."
"I guess so." Laguna bounded to his feet and started pacing around the coffee table. "So how many GFs does that Almasy kid still needa find? Five?"
"Doesn't seem like Edea or Rinoa can hear those monster guys either."
"So only the kid can."
There was a silence. I watched Laguna stop in his tracks, poke at the carpet with his foot and mutter something under his breath. He ploughed a hang through his hair and resumed pacing.
I fidgeted, jiggling my foot and rocking slightly in my seat. Waiting, I was not a champ at.
"Well dungcakes on toast." Laguna sighed heavily and looked harassed. He rubbed his eyes. "This is gonna turn into one helluva political beefcake, once the Cabinet catches wind of this gayla chowder. And then the press'll join in like a herd of scavenging Imps...oh hell and the paperwork...Kiros'll never get off my back...Edea'll wanna speak to the Cabinet again..."
"Well maybe it'd be a good idea to talk to Matron before you decide anything," I suggested. Laguna sounded so stressed that I hadda say something. "I left Quisty lookin' after Seifer so I don't think he'll be up to much. Matron'll know what to do. She should prolly take a look at Seifer or something, too."
"Yeah that's what I was thinking," Laguna said, plopping back down onto the sofa. "Edea'll want to know about the monsters first thing. I especially don't want Odine catching wind of this. He's been pestering Edea to study Almasy ever since you guys came back from the future."
I didn't say anything but hell did I ever wanna. I would've loved to hunt down that candycane-collared ass goblin and alert him to Seifer's stupid presence. I prolly would've too, if Matron hadn't been around. For whatever reason...none of which I could see lemme tell you...she cared a lot about Seifer. I think she felt super guilty about all the shit she made him do, even if she had been possessed. And even if he had been half-willing.
"Well I basically know what she'll say," Laguna continued, oblivious to my thoughts, thankfully. "She'll wanna keep this whole business under wraps 'cause she still cares for the kid and doesn't wanna see him mangled by the authorities. I wanna keep it under wraps so those damn beastie-things aren't lurking around Esthar and people don't start panicking. By the time all the diplomatic doublespeak, long, boring commentaries and the voting get around to happening, those monsters will've ransacked half the area. Pfft. Like there's a crisis I need to happen."
I frowned, not liking the way Laguna was thinking. Yeah I understood what he was saying but what, was he just gonna let Seifer gallivant back into the desert? Like I was gonna sit around and let that happen. "Are you saying that you're gonna give Seifer permission to junction all those monsters on the sly?"
"Well yeah, that's what I was thinking," Laguna answered, leaning towards me. He started gesturing, his tone eager. "See I've got it all figured out man. No one else can hear those monsters right? So Seifer's gotta be out there finding them and tough shit to anyone who thinks something else. I'm not letting helpless bystanders get eaten. I don't needa alert the whole world that the kid's here since this is a matter of national security and I have the final say when it comes to security issues. So no one's gotta know. I send the kid off, he finds the rest of those creepy-"
I couldn't contain myself. Fuck, even Squall would've been slapping his forehead by this point. "Alone? You're sending the guy out alone? Who knows how he'll disturb the peace junctioned with those whacked out GFs!"
"Hey man, I wasn't gonna send him off alone," Laguna contradicted mildly. "That isn't in the interest of nation security. I was thinking of hiring SeeD for the job...or you to talk precise."
"Me!" I made a grossed out face and barely restrained myself from making gagging motions. "Dude no way!" In some still-functioning recess of my disgusted brain, I realized that I was refusing the President, something no SeeD, including myself, had ever done before but I couldn't help myself. All I knew was that I did not wanna end up saddled to this crap-heap of an assignment. Piss all over that, President or no President. "D'you know how hard it was trying to contain myself from casting Death spells on the guy? And I was only with him for half a day! If I was forced to go meandering all over the world with Seifer then hell, I'll be wanted for murder after two days!"
Laguna seemed surprised by my outburst. "What, you really hate the kid that much?"
Seifer was one of those irritating subjects that I could rave and foam about for the duration. There just weren't enough words in the dictionary I could use to shit on him with...or at least not enough words that I knew. "I can't stand him," I snarled, grounding my molars together. "He's a jerk the size of Centra. I hate him. He made my days at the orphanage and at the Garden, hell. He's a self-obsessed, inconsiderate, bullying bastard!" As an afterthought I hastily apologized for my language. Saying 'shit' was one thing but 'bastard' was a whole other field mission. Plus, even if Laguna didn't care, it was more of a reflex thing anyway. Ma would've killed me, had she'd known I was getting mouthy around the President.
Laguna waved my apology away. "Gee, I always thought Ellone was just exaggerating," he mused, scratching his head. "She said Seifer used to pick on you but then she said he picked on everyone."
"Didn't you see what he did to your son's face? What kinda guy pulls a stunt like that on a training session? I'm telling you, the guy has no limits! He wrecked this city, by Blobra's blubber!"
"Oh I know what he's done around here," Laguna muttered, crossing his arms across his chest. "But I also know that some kid couldn't've totalled this place on his own. Squall doesn't like him much better then you either but without Ultimecia, I doubt the kid's really that dangerous. Especially if you were around to keep an eye on him. Face it Zell, you know Almasy and you're familiar with this whole situation. You've beaten him every time you guys fought. Who could be better than you?"
"But if I'm forced to spend more then a couple days with the guy then I'll kill him! Or myself...but mostly him." It was pretty cool, having Laguna tell me that I was the best man for the job but praise was cheap if I hadda endure how-long of Seifer's verbal abuse. I gave Laguna a pleading look, knowing I was acting pathetic and unable to stop myself. "I know Squall's too busy with Garden procedures but couldn't Quistis handle Seifer? Or Irvine? Or anyone!"
"You know Quistis is assisting Matron with Time Compression research," Laguna reminded me. He paused to nosily gulp down more coffee. "Plus I think Irvine and Selphie are working with Galbadia Garden down in the Deep Sea Research Facility, aren't they?"
"Well yeah but..." I knew that they were all on assignment but I wasn't gonna go down quietly. No amount of Gil could force me to baby-sit Seifer, no fucking way! "Any SeeD could do it..."
Laguna was now looking amused. "Didn't you face those monsters before? I don't think just any SeeD could handle it."
"You're not making this easy for me," I warned, trying not to scowl.
"Hey man, I don't intend to. Seriously, you are the best guy for the job. And anyways, once Kiros finds out that you're with Seifer, he won't lecture me for too long...least I hope anyways. He may be one've my all-time best buds but jeeze can the guy ever be some bossy. He'll be ranting until the next Demon Moon, lemme tell you."
"But what if I kill him!" I grabbed my pop and resignedly downed a load. Seemed my die had been cast ever since I ventured out into the desert this afternoon. "I just might, that's how much of an asshat Seifer is!"
"I'll wave all charges," Laguna assured me, grinning. "But I can't talk for Edea though. She might be a little pissed you know? She feels for the kid pretty deep, or least that's what Cid says."
"I'll take my chances," I huffed, knowing that I'd never to do anything to hurt Matron. She'd had enough of a time of things. Which was so not fair because now I was forced to endure Seifer and not even be able to kill him. Why did I have to be the one to find all those stupid monsters? Why did I have to listen to him make smart-ass comments about how incompetent I was and how I resembled farm fowl?
"I know it won't be easy," Laguna went on, in a soothing sort of voice. "But I'll hook the kid up with a load of LuvLuvGs and I'll give you a bunch of those Holy War things. You know them, they make you invisible? Dr. O'll gimme a bunch easily. That way you guys won't need to worry about other states causing trouble and trying to retain Almasy or whatever." Laguna gave me a toothy grin. "He'll be all yours to boss around."
Oh gee whoop dee fuck. I'd always wanted an arrogant, self-absorbed, disparaging dipshit to command and demand! Honestly. The only pleasure this fiasco was going to give me was the expression on Seifer's face when he realized that he was officially under my authority. He'd shit Dragon Skins, that was for sure.
"I'll get a guard to find Edea," Laguna said. "I'll also get someone to collect items and stuff for you guys. You wanna start packing and I'll buzz ya up once Edea and I do the official discussion bit?"
"Yeah sure." I tried to sound enthusiastic but it wasn't exactly easy. What difference did all these stupid details matter when the clock was ticking for me to act the part of a glorified nanny to Seifer? He didn't care that I was SeeD...he'd always been the sort to flaunt rules and challenge authority. And dammit, there wasn't even the thrill of discovering new monsters to battle with since I'd been around the world like fifty times and had fought every beast known to mankind.
I stumped back to my room, buzzing from the Starburst Pop and raging from the idea of spending who-knew how long with the likes of Seifer Almasy, dickweed extraordinaire. Why not just Blizzaga me and call me Screwball a la mode?
When I entered my room I found Quistis standing beside the window, staring out at the glittering city.
"Where Seifer?" I demanded, alarmed. "That fuckup finally escaped didn't he? I knew he was gonna! That stupid punkass!"
"Of course he didn't. For Trabia's sakes Zell. Where could he possibly run to? He's with Matron." Quistis gave me a reproving stare. "And you really shouldn't cuss either."
"And Seifer shouldn't be such an asshole," I retorted, flinging myself onto my bed. I never wanted to move, ever. "What's Matron doing with him?"
"I called her after Seifer told me that he had three of Ultimecia's monsters junctioned." Quistis perched down in the armchair beside my bed. "Needless to say I was astonished. Matron wanted to speak to Seifer in private so I came here to wait for you."
"It was surreal, seeing Tiamat out there. And then watching Seifer of all people junction him...like I was half sure Ultimecia took up res inside his head again or whatever." I bolted upright and twisted around to face her. "It was messed, Quisty. Totally fucked."
"Do you think we can trust him?" Quistis crossed her legs primly, a frown wrinkling her forehead. "He seemed sincere in not knowing about the monsters and I think that he's contrite for what he's done. Some of what he said showed his guilt, in any case."
"Well he did apologize in the desert. Said he owed us for getting rid of Ultimecia before she got rid of him." I started fiddling with the laces of my kicks. I'd prolly need new ones soon, so scruffed were these. All hangy and hairy and rough looking. "He's still a piss off though. Yeah he might be sorry and might not be trying to dominate the world but the guy's still full of shit."
"What did Laguna have to say about all this?"
I scrunched up my nose and made a face. "He thinks that the best option is to have Seifer find the rest of those Guardians before they chow down on the innocents or something." I launched into a summary of the rest of the events, scowling and swearing it up all the while.
By the time I'd finished, Quistis was gaping at me, her eyes wide. Not a lot surprised her but her Buel was spinning over this one. "Surely Cid isn't going agree to such a mission. Seifer's a traitor to the Garden!"
"If Matron steps in I bet he'll agree," I muttered glumly. "Plus it's a world interest, right? Those monsters are dangerous and a threat to anyone who's not Seifer. Since we fought 'em and Seifer too, who else are they gonna hire for this kinda mission...Esthar soldiers? Those guys start flailing like sewer Creeps in front of GFs." I huffed out air very loudly. "I just wish I wasn't the one stuck with this shitty mission. Why couldn't it be Selphie or Irvine? Stupid Seifer wouldn't rag on them like how he rags on me all the time."
"He knows he can get a rise out of you," Quistis said logically. Her lips were quirking slightly; I could see that she was amused in spite of the situation.
"This isn't funny!" I snapped, vaulting off the bed. "Why do I gotta be the one to baby-sit Seifer? Why can't you do it? For frig's sakes, I hate being called a damn chicken!"
"I would take your place if I could," Quistis replied in soothing tones. It didn't take a friggin' genius to see that she was lying through her well-flossed teeth. "But all of us are otherwise engaged. You know that."
"Well this stinks like Mesmerize shit," I huffed irritably. I scooped up all the battle items I'd collected in the past week and began sorting through them. "Seifer hates me the worst and I seriously don't think I can handle this. I hate him!"
"Most likely he hates Squall the most, what with that rivalry business the two of them had going on. Squall ended up a hero and with Rinoa. I doubt the rest of us matter much to Seifer one way or the way."
"Well whatever." Quistis was missing the point. She didn't have to take everything so literally for hell's sakes. I didn't actually care whether Seifer hated me the most or not; I was just sick of being on the receiving end of his smug, nasty ways. "The point is that if I'm being forced to spend Lord knows how long with the guy and if I don't end up killing him then I'll kill myself!"
"Oh stop being so dramatic," Quistis chided. "You're a SeeD now, you outrank him. Just keep your temper and you'll be fine."
"I'll be wanted for murder before the mission's done," I grumped, tossing a Hypno Crown into my kitbag. "They'll strip me of my SeeD rank and cart me back to D-District where I'll get my ass kicked on a daily basis by those stupid prison guards."
"Seifer is a classic textbook case," Quistis informed me, rolling her eyes. "He was most probably neglected or abused before his time at the orphanage and as a result he turned to bullying to cover up an inferiority complex and get a reaction from those around him."
Seifer feeling inferior? Yeah, there was a real burgeoning thought. "Or he was just born a dipshit."
"No one's born a dipshit Zell."
I had to grin. Quistis saying dipshit was damn amusing.
She saw my amusement and shook her head. "Oh grow up, for heaven sakes."
"I'm trying." I rounded up my magazines and reports I'd made in the last couple of weeks and they joined the heap of crap on the bed.
"There's one thing I still don't understand," Quistis said, watching me get my thing together. "Why didn't anyone notice the change in M stat levels when Red Giant and Trauma were around? I can understand if Garden didn't notice since the repairs are still going strong and same with Trabia but why didn't Galbadia notice anything? Where exactly did Seifer find those first two Guardians anyway?"
"I dunno. I don't think it was too far from Balamb though." I began hauling clothes from out of the closet. "Laguna doesn't think that those Guardians could've come here during Time Compression. He said they would've noticed their presence right away when they were scanning the world's stats and all that."
"But how else could they have come into our time? That doesn't make any sense." Quistis stood and began folding my clothes into neat piles. I knew that she needed to keep her hands busy when she thought, just like I did. "Could they have been veiled somehow? Or dormant?"
I shrugged. "Anything's possible. They were looking for Ultimecia but found Seifer instead. Maybe without either one, they were incapacitated or unable to exist around here or something. Who knows? I guess I'll find out."
Quistis paused in the middle of folding a pair of my cargos and met my eyes. "You'll be careful won't you Zell? We don't know what those Guardians will be like outside of her castle."
"I know that."
Quistis helped me pack up all my shit, listening to me whinge on and offering me advice.
Eventually a guard came by to tell us that Laguna wanted to see us.
It was time.
I resisted the urge to pound my head on the steel door slides.