-

We are sorry to inform you that your SeeD dispatch request has been denied. Please do not resubmit.

Eighteen words had damned the village.

-

They had broken out the stores of weapons--antiquated rifles from the Sorceress War, hunting pistols, a cannon anchored in front of the Town Hall and fired for celebrations. Now those weapons lay in a neat pile in the town square --placed there by someone, survivor or agressor, witht he presence of mind to think it might be good to do. There wasn't a house on the main street that had been left undamaged--the three nearest the Welcome Arch were totally destroyed, existing now only as mounds of rubble.

Near the back of the village, a Galbadian All-Terrain Model had plowed into the cliffs, damaged but not totally destroyed. Mechanical noises echoed through the empty streets--but no one was there to hear them. The second unit had executed its program and returned home, unhindered.

It was obvious that someone had survived the attack--shallow graves had been dug for the less fortunate, lined up in the small park that had marked the beginning of the waterfront. But the task had proved too much for them--whoever they were--and a number of the graves were unfinished and unfilled.

Where that survivor--or those survivors--were was a mystery. No trace of them remained in the city.

It was the first time Nida had ever encountered a "ghost town."

His team of three picked their way through the carnage, taking in the broken ATM, taking in the graves, taking in the eerie stillness of it all.

Only Siobhan could have summed up the situation, when they paused at last in front of the damaged Town Hall.

"Well, fuck."

-

Picking their way through the Town Hall's ruined corridors, Quistis spoke quietly as if to avoid disturbing the ghosts. "Our mission orders didn't say anything about what to do in case the contact couldn't meet us here. "I guess they didn't see this coming any more than we did."

"Well," Siobhan said, shifting a fallen wall panel out of her way and stepping casually through the hole it had left behind, "at least these people were recordmongers. Anything we need, we can probably find written down in here somewhere. Hopefully..." She took a good look around the room she had entered. "...hopefully, in here."

Quistis and Nida followed her in, stepping into the Mayor's Office. It hadn't escaped calamity--one corner of the room had collapsed, and not a single bookshelf was left standing. Only the file cabinets, wide and heavy, had remained up.

Nida went to them immediately, locating the DOMESTIC file and deftly picking the lock. Pulling it open, he skipped over a number of irrelevant folders to a smaller one, crammed in the very back, labeled HASBERRY ACQUISITION PROPOSAL. Pulling it out, he looked through it.

"Here's the information, anyway," he said. "...I don't think anyone will mind if we just take this."

"Oh, my," Quistis said. Nida glanced around--she had found something on the Mayor's desk, and had picked it up carefully. A photocopy, hitherto paperclipped to the page, fell back onto the desk.

Even from where he was standing, Nida could recognize it as a SeeD request form.

"What is that?" Siobhan asked, stepping in. Nida approached too--although Quistis was already reading all there was to see.

"SeeD Dispatchy Comittee, care of Balamb Garden, 403 Garden Drive. We are sorry to inform you that your SeeD dispatch request has been denied. Please do not resubmit."

There was a moment of silence in the room, as the information sunk in.

"...well," Siobhan said eventually. "Looks like what you have there is a death warrant, Quistis."

"What the..." Nida shook his head. "Why the hell was it refused?"

"Insufficient funds," Quistis said, reading the codes in the form boxes at the bottom of the sheet--codes which would have been gibberish to anyone not acquainted wit the inner workings of Garden's administration. "They requested SeeD, but didn't have the money to pay."

"Two ATMs..." Siobhan glanced dispassionately at the photocopy accompanying the denial. "Hell of a way to go. A SeeD team could have stopped it, too."

Quistis put down the sheet, taking a last look around the mayor's office. "We won't find our contact here," she said. "I guess all we can do is return to Garden and tell Cid what happened."

"Looks like it." Siobhan was brusque and businesslike, as usual. "Let's go, then."

Quistis nodded, stepping out after her as she exited. Nida hung behind for another few moments.

"SeeD doesn't exert political power," Cid had said once. "Our missions are strictly... individualistic."

At that moment, Nida could have strangled the Headmaster. Like hell, he thought to himself. For want of a dispatch the village was lost, and all for the want of some thousand gil.