(Author's Note: Post FF7 fic. Like all my other works, both KH and AC free. Spare me from the Squeenix Badfic, thx.)

Eclipse into Light
by: Quinctia

(Winner of the icybrian dot com All That Glitters is Cold 1 fanfiction contest, 2005.)

Prelude

Sitting alone as stars fell from the sky
No one felt the pain like I
As time and fate came into play
The floating city died that day
I won't forget the friends I knew
I won't forget the simple truth...

"Shut that damn thing off, Elena."

A toss of blonde hair. "Why? It's boring here, us alone with all this crap. And you told me not to blabber. I don't blabber with the radio on."

"Maybe he's subtly implying you should stop singing along." Rude pulled down his shades and gave her one of his looks.

"It's not that." Reeve shrugged. "I just can't stand the fact that...people are already capitalizing on this."

He pushed his sunglasses back into place and went back to work on his pile. "Don't tell me you're surprised."

"Not surprised, just disappointed. I shouldn't even feel that much, after having been with Shinra...knowing what kinda lows people can go to...but I still do."

Elena frowned and hit the power switch. "I don't see the big deal. It's just a song."

"It was written to sell millions of copies. By some record company spin-doctors who were safely tucked away in Junon when Meteor struck." He scowled. "It's disgusting."

"It's a small world, maybe they lost someone here. Maybe they want to pay tribute to the fact the Planet almost was destroyed." She glared at him. "I like it."

"It's too soon."

"Almost six months, Reeve."

He shook his head. "It's still too soon." He moved a large piece of drywall. It crumbled into about five pieces as he set it into his I-already-sifted-through-this pile. "Hey, I might have something here." He tapped the medium sized white footlocker that had been buried. "It's steel, under the enamel."

"This might be what we've been looking for!" Elena clapped her hands and hovered over his shoulder.

Rude pushed her aside, abruptly. "Oh really?"

"Hey!"

He placed a hand on his hip. "Look." He pointed to the clasp, and the padlock securing it. "I'm going to have to pick that so we can be sure that the supplies are inside."

"I just wish we could find some of the medical research files." Reeve sighed. "No matter how much medicine we come up with, it's not going to do any good to use it up without knowing how to make more."

"Junon has the basics, 'cillins and stuff." Rude grimaced and jiggled the wire against the barrels of the lock. "They've been producing as much as possible, but you got to give them time."

"The Mako poisoning is here. In the refugee camps around Midgar and in Kalm. The only lab that produced anything that had much effect on it was in here. Inside the Shinra building. That's where the drugs are. That's where the how-to stuff is. Junon can play catch-up, but they need years of research to do it. Everyone here will die. The few people that Meteor left will die. But I'm sure that the people in Junon will make them wonderfully profitable tribute CDs."

"Give it a rest." Elena's face was set in stone. She crossed her arms and turned away. "We said we'd help, and we're helping. You gave us the sob story. We don't have anything better to do, anyway."

"Sorry. It just doesn't seem, sometimes, that you understand how important this is–"

"It doesn't matter how important it is," Rude interrupted. There was a small popping sound as he slid the padlock open. "We can't make the information materialize. We can't even make the medicine that was already made materialize. All we can do is look and hope."

"It's just frustrating." Reeve slid his hands into his pockets. "Seventy floors of wreckage and maybe thirty people to look through it. On a good day. We had maybe a good hundred storage units with drugs here. And those are the easy things."

"Hard files and computer disks are like needles in this old haystack." He slid the case open, revealing they'd hit pay dirt. A row of several brown medicine bottles, which he knew ran many layers deep. He slammed the case shut. "Let's get this back to the base. It's going to get dark soon." Rude's face broke in an uncharacteristic smile. "Boss."

"Right," Reeve replied dryly. "Sorry pay's not much, but work's scarcer than the gil is."

The three of them turned to make the long, treacherous trek back to camp. "We really deserve hazard pay though," Elena said. "Roaming miles of twisted wreckage that's covered with glowing Lifestream. Just 'cause Rudie and I happen to know that what's left in the ruins isn't really enough to cause Mako poisoning, that's no reason to pay us less than the scared stupid guys!"

"Don't you remember the whole 'favor for an old associate' part that I went through when I called you?"

She shivered. "Man, though, I think I might almost prefer bumming around with Reno to this freaky skyline."

"If we can ever find what we need...we can save them. And leave this wasted place behind."


"As recently as seven years ago, a war raged on. A corporate superpower, in the guise of a benevolent, forward-thinking society, imposed its will on the last bit of strength that existed on the Planet, aside from itself. During this time, many technological breakthroughs occurred. The boon to the power company was the fact that many of these novelties could be marketed for profit and also be used on the battlefield.

Soldiers for the infantry; Soldiers for the police.

Radio transmissions for the frontlines; a media outlet to tell the masses what they ought to believe.

Destruction of the so-called enemy; a near destruction of the Planet.

Meteor's descent may have appeared to be quick, to the frightened and panicked people, but its acceleration was slowed considerably once it hit the atmosphere. And, if anyone had taken measurements instead of running around screaming about endtimes, they would have learned that a considerable amount of force ran through the space rock itself.

A force aside from the one generated by the whole mass times velocity equation. Meteor was summoned by a piece of materia, after all. While the process of summoning via materia has never been and may never be understood by even the best scholars, one known fact exists. Behind whatever physical manifestation arises, there lies a tremendous amount of energy, which is the equivalent of pure oceans of Lifestream.

Light and dark cancel each other out. Generally, it's not so simple, but for Meteor and Holy, it was. Holy didn't not work...it did exactly what it existed to do. The manifestations of the Holy and Meteor summons hung in a strange celestial balance, trading a tremendous amount of energy in a half magical, half scientific equilibrium. Unfortunately for the residents of Midgar, and even the people who had managed to flee to supposed safety in the outlying areas, the damage that this energy trading caused to structures was overwhelming. Most of the buildings between ground zero and Kalm were destroyed, if not completely flattened.

That was the tragedy, but not the horror. Even with the balance between the spells, this left a huge anomaly of mako energy on one particular place on the Planet. It's easy to say that the gallons and torrents of Lifestream that rushed forth and eventually dispersed both Meteor and Holy were the result of one lost spirit longing to save her world, but...the truth is different. The Lifestream was sucked towards Midgar with a force similar to the gravity that pulled all the planets in the solar system into being. This tipped the scales, and both Meteor and Holy were dissolved back into simple mako.

Eventually the Lifestream settled back down to a level of evenness within and about the Planet. But those near ground zero, who hadn't already been crushed by collapsing buildings, were given a mako bath that was the equivalent of the one Cloud Strife got after Meteor was initially summoned.

There are thousands and thousands of people huddled together outside the ruins of the city. Half of them are probably out of their minds, another good portion are physically spent. And if there is a single person within in the Mako poisoning radius who is not dying, then he is an exception that medical science will need if they hope to save any of the others."

"To think, this is the happy ending," Tifa muttered under her breath. Her hands subconsciously joined in the polite, somber clapping that ended the combination lecture and relief aid drive that had been delivered by the newest Cosmo Canyon elder. She smoothly slid out of her second row seat and made her way to the side of the stage, where her friend was being congratulated by the folks from his hometown.

She didn't notice the longhaired, caped fellow behind her. Vincent's head was still cocked to the side. His supposed enhancements allowed him to hear better than any other man, and he'd managed to catch her bitter comment. He also rose to have a word with the newly appointed.

"Do you really believe that the whole, entire, uh..." The white-haired man made an odd motion with his hand and continued. "That the incident in Midgar was a result of an excess of mako? That seems an overly simplistic theory. Your follow through was there, but the basis of the theory is a beginner's mistake."

"Weren't you angsting that Shelby Starrider wasn't returning your affections while I completed my first thesis on the energy flow involved with materia spells?" The response was barely not a growl. "You humans."

"Nanaki, it is well known that your kind matures slower than we do. You're essentially the age I was then. How can you presume to put on airs, especially as the new elder?"

"Red knows his stuff. And I always take experience above age. It's, what do you call it, the wise thing to do?" The young brunette smiled as she finished walking over; she could barely keep from laughing at the old fellow.

"Who would you be?" The old man sniffed.

"Only one of the people trying to stop the whole, entire, uh..." She mimicked his goofy gesture. "Incident in Midgar before it destroyed the Planet entirely. Though I'm sure you think I'm worthless, since my father was probably still in diapers when you were angsting over Miss Shelby. I'm sure she was lovely, though."

The fogey stuck his nose up in the air and huffed off. "Well, I never..."

She put a gloved hand to her mouth, covering a giggle.

"I honestly don't know how to thank you, Tifa."

"Well..." Her voice trailed off. "I'm here mostly to see your accomplishment and to say 'congrats.'"

"I'm grateful for that."

She smiled again, but a little more stiffly. "Now that I've heard your thesis, though, I think I need you to tell me how much of it you think is true."

The cat-like creature lowered his one good eye to the floor. "Some elders spend their entire tenures theorizing and making up different possibilities. They care not whether they find answers. I can assure you I'm not one of those types."

Tears welled up in her eyes. "You're sure?"

"You know nothing's sure, Tifa. But this as much as I know, as much as I can do."

"So Marlene is dying? There's no help for her, it's definitely mako poisoning stronger than can ever be helped!" She lowered her head. "But she was so far away, no one else in Kalm..."

"She's small, and Kalm is a small village. There weren't any other small children until you get to the outlying farms much farther away from the epicenter. It's unfortunate, but..."

"It's Barret's daughter!"

"...and he is now Elder Nanaki, yet still working on the miracle worker job." Vincent frowned down at the somber scene. "What happened while I walked over here to you two? You were just smiling a few moments ago, now you're blaming Red for not knowing answers to mysteries?"

"It's good to see you," said Red XIII.

He nodded.

"I was smiling. It's hard... I am proud of you, Red, it's just hurting me so much to know she's in such pain, and then there's Barret..." Tifa brushed back a piece of hair. "There are search teams that keep coming back with drugs. They're keeping the patients steady. No one is getting worse, but no one's getting better. And if the drugs run out before they figure out how to make more, that's it."

"That was part of the reason why I chose to present this topic, you know that. Whatever we can collect tonight will go back to the volunteers."

"I just wish I could do something. I take care of her, and I go looking. And I'm on my way to go get her...something I promised, but even with all that, it doesn't seem like I can do anything."

"It's the most anyone can do for her, and it means even more, since it's you. You know she loves you." Red XIII shook his head.

"I just want something to fight. I know that if this thing was something where I could go into her and just beat it into submission, we could win."

"Seems that the toughest things are the ones you can't fight," said Vincent. "Meteor...all Shinra's 'experiments'...this Mako poisoning..."

She bowed her head. "...I know."

"So her condition hasn't changed, at least?"

"Not really, Red. She's lucid still, but it comes and goes. It's not noticeable day-to-day, but...it comes more often than it used to go, now."

"How long since the last?"

"Three days. Well, four now, I assume. Cloud said he'd call me if she were aware again, let me know that he could explain the situation to her."

"Why did you leave?" Red XIII cocked his head to the side. "You must have had a good reason. I know Barret's been beside himself and not much in the way of helping care for her."

Tifa laughed through the tears springing to her eyes. "Oh, I'm sure it's going to sound stupid, but it means the world to her. On nights when Barret would be out in Midgar, doing various errands for Avalanche...putting up posters, recruiting and the like, I'd usually be the one who had to put Marlene to bed. I got in the habit of singing her a lullaby. Mama used to sing it to me when I was small. When I was seven, she bought me this music box that played the song. I thought it had been lost when Nibelheim burned...but..."

"Shinra recreated every detail, seemingly. The town hadn't changed by a board or nail, for all I could tell." The corner of Vincent's mouth twitched. "So you want to go look at the copy of your house they built."

"...it sounds crazy, but they had the same exact piano with the same exact key out of tune and the same exact sheet music...even the stuff in the bench matched! I didn't think then to look for a silly little trinket...but I keep thinking, what if Marlene wakes up and wants her song and I can't sing it for her?"

"It's not all that crazy. A replica of the music box is probably sitting in that replica of your old bedroom. It's Shinra's attention to detail, and the creepy copy of that village, which is crazy."

"This is the best chance I've had to go, too. Cloud stopped by to check in on us, and I asked him to stay while Cid flew me over to this continent. I'm going to go to Nibelheim in the morning. I want her to have it while she can still realize what it is...that is, if she never ends up getting better." A tear fell from her eye to the floor.

"I wish I could give you more comfort than I have," said Red XIII. "But even my best explanations border on mere guesses at this point, and I know very little of the art of medicine."

"I wish you could, too."

"Are you walking to Nibelheim?" asked Vincent.

She nodded. "I wanted to see Red's lecture here tonight, and I figured that even if it took a day or so, walking from here would clear my head and help me focus. Like a pilgrimage, almost."

"I have some business I wanted to take care of there, also. I think I'd like to go with you."

"All right. Just a warning, though. I'm not the best company right now."

He shrugged. "I'm not the best company, ever."


Beer cans lay strewn about the sand. Most were overturned and empty, but a few were upright, leaving their contents questionable. In the middle of the mess lay a skinny guy, half-naked. He had a mess of red hair and the exposed skin beneath it had an all-over shade of light pink. His cell phone was ringing, but between his portable radio and his snoring, it was obvious that the caller was going to get redirected to his voice mail.

A teenaged girl glided out of the brush bordering the small beach and walked into this scene. She shook her head with a bemused grin. "Of all the people..." Yuffie pulled her hair back and retied her headband, before darting her hand down and grabbing Reno's PHS. She let it ring in her hand a few more times before switching it off. Then, she dropped it into the sand along with the other litter.

Suddenly, she noticed something interesting. A cooler. With a grin, she popped open the top. The contents did not disappoint her. She reached in and grabbed a handful of ice chips. Without another second's thought, she unloaded the whole pile right onto Reno's sunburnt stomach.

"What the fucking hell are you–!" He jumped up immediately, stumbling a bit from the sudden rush of blood to his head. Instinctively, he reached at his hip for a weapon before opening his eyes. Finding none, and nearly about to fall over, he squinted around with a bewildered expression and blinked. "...the hell?"

Peals of laughter erupted from Yuffie. "You shoulda seen the look on your face..."

"I thought we had a deal about leaving each other alone, Kisa-ragging."

She smiled. "I just couldn't help myself. Besides, you're kindasortamaybe a little bit on a private property. A developer's coming out to look at it, and I'm making sure that it was free from debris and stuff like mobile plants. Or their carcasses."

"Didn't you use to whine about Wutai being a tourist hotspot, and how that was despicable?"

"There's a fine balance. I don't mind people coming here and unloading their cash. I did mind them walking all over my people, who live here. People are coming over here now, though, to learn about the culture, and because they've converted and want to see Da Chao, and...I don't mind that. With the bit I've been doing, investing and the like, it's not like we're a downtrodden, beaten, inferior people."

"That was Shinra's line, anyway."

"It's certainly easier to do things without them spreading lies about us, I have to say." She kicked a toe in the sand. "This is going to be an important sale, though. This guy's a real hardass, only wants to deal with my dad officially–says I'm too young–but...as long as things look right, he's promised a big price. And there's a clause in the deal about donating some funding to the healing center."

"Acupuncture and herbal voodoo?" Reno snorted.

"I think there's some folk over on the continent that would eat sand if it stopped the voices that Lifestream put in their heads. If we find something that works, it'll be just as valid as pills."

"Oh, no. You're not going to start in on this too, are you? How long 'til you start giving me a guilt trip about not helping the poor people in Midgar, too?"

"I don't give a fuck what you do, Reno. Ignore the fact that your former friends are calling you up every day from the epicenter, lay around on the beach, get drunk and pass out. It's not my concern." She smirked. "I'm just here to tell your sorry ass to find another beach. And hopefully it won't be on my island."

He took a couple steps toward her and sneered. "Like your greedy little butt is gonna tell me that my money ain't good here?"

"Maybe 'zactly like that." Yuffie put her hands on her hips. "You're not really giving us a good image here. And while you sit around here, Reeve is dying."

"The guy is fine, okay? He's just pretending all this to try and get us all out there to help the sorry ass masses. I was never a philanthropist, and he knows that."

"I can't believe you! I know he was your friend, and you don't even care." She shook her head. "I knew Turks were trained to be cold, but I think ol' Sephy had more of a heart than you do."

"Not everyone in the Planet can be a bona fide hero like you, Princess." Reno made a big show of sitting back down in the sand. He cranked up the radio.

Don't put your worth in shiny gold
The value's in the friends you hold
When they leave, you realize
You
're left alone for the end ti–

Yuffie picked up the thing and hurled it into the brush. There was a crunching shatter as the hard plastic case broke into tiny little pieces, and then a resounding metallic echo. The sound boomed a little, and there were tiny screeches. The vibration had unsettled the birds from the treetops nearby. "What in the name of Leviathan...?"

"You better be prepared to pay me for that. It's not cheap getting a radio that picks up continental signals out here in the boondocks."

"Gawd, shut up, Reno. You can't tell me that you didn't hear that."

"I heard you send my radio to Hades, devil-woman."

She rolled her eyes.

"...and a funky ass little boom afterwards. Maybe it was powered by a mini-reactor."

"Dude, triple A's. I saw you buying batteries in town yesterday." She sighed, resigning herself. "I better go check out what it was I hit with that thing. You coming?"

"What? And miss the best sun–OW!" Reno glared up at her. There was a spot on his stomach, slowly returning to pink from the white impression her poking finger had left.

"You're gonna be crispy critters if you stay out here longer, anyway. Come on. It's not like I'm asking you to be charitable or anything." She strolled back towards the trees.

Pulling a shirt on and muttering, he pocketed his PHS and followed right behind her. About fifty feet into the woods, he saw a boulder, which appeared to be composed of a shiny, black, volcanic type of rock. Pieces of the abused radio lay scattered about the bottom of it.

Yuffie knelt down next to the boulder, puzzled.

"...a rock made that sound?"

"I doubt it. Rocks can't. This is weird, anyway. There aren't any rocks of this type anywhere on the island. Just look at Da Chao, it's the light crumbly stuff. It's one reason why there's a giant sacred statue made out of it."

"Maybe it's ancient. It's not like there were never volcanoes out here. What about those damn fire caves?"

"You mean the mystical, holy, blessed, non-seismic fire caves?" She bit her lip and giggled. "Sorry. Shera tried to convince me one day that everything in the legend of our gods could be explained by science. Some of her science rubbed off on me, but she did give up on the explanations once I brought up the fire caves."

He pointed to a long, whitish mark on the surface of the boulder. "Looks like this might be where it hit, huh?"

She raised a hand and lightly tapped on the rock, prepared to meet swift, hard resistance. Instead, the surface gave a little and rang. "This ain't rock. It's metal. Not sure what kind, but it's not even all that thick."

"...someone made a metal boulder. And stuck it in the middle of the Wutaian jungle?"

"Well, not the middle, it's near the coast."

"Like that makes it any more believable!" Reno slapped the side of the boulder and received another metallic echo in reply.

"There's stuff growing all up around it. It's been here awhile. Maybe even left from the war."

"Booby-trap? Weapon?"

"Whatever it is...it's disguised. And while I can't cop to knowing all our secrets, I doubt it's Wutaian." Yuffie slid her fingertips over the pseudo-rock surface, trying to feel for any irregularities. "There's a pretty steady crack in it over here, if I could just get a grip in..." She pulled open a small door, revealing a compartment containing what appeared to be a hi-tech doorknob, complete with keypad.

"Definitely not Wutaian..." She shot him a look. "Stinks of Shinra, don't it, Turk-boy?"

"I've seen my share of these pass-pads. Probably." Reno gave her a nod.

"Think you can crack it?"

"Honey, if this is war leftovers, it's a bit before my time."

"Who knows if it's leftovers?" Yuffie asked quietly. "Maybe they were spying."

"I'll try a few runs at it. If it's anywhere current, I might know the code to get in. We had a few hidey-holes stuck all over. Hell, this might be one of them." He paused, deep in thought. Then, he typed a few numbers in and hit the enter key. He was greeted with a buzzer noise, and then the pleasant sound of a computer-generated voice.

Invalid entry. You have...2 more attempts.

"How 'bout this one, biatch?" He typed in another series of numbers.

Invalid entry. You have...1 more attempts.

She sighed and turned back towards the beach. "Oh well, we tried. Maybe I can find someone to break into the thing..."

Reno cocked his head to the side. "Ah, what the hell." He typed in his personal passcode, that once gained him entry to places like the employee locker room and officer's-only juice bar.

Level C employee confirmed. Agent Jack Reno, Turk second-class. Security level red. Please enter the number of individuals entering this classified center, and hit Enter.

Yuffie gave him a startled look. "Classified center?"

"Looks like I'm allowed inside, toots. We shouldn't have anything to worry about if we go in."

"I'll be worried enough once I see what the hell they were doing in my home! We better check it out."

He punched in the keys.

The portal will be unlocked for the entrance of 2 individuals. The portal will then be sealed. A security access code is required for exit from the classified center. Press 1 to proceed.

"Hell yeah." He tapped the last key. Suddenly, the rock face in front of them split in half, then slid down into the ground.

Her eyes opened wide. "You know, with all the Shinra genetic engineering and floating cities and all, you'd think this sort of thing wouldn't surprise me anymore."

"You'd think."

The two of them cautiously stepped into the faux-boulder, and then the sliding rock face rose back up and clicked shut behind them.

Yuffie sucked in her breath. Suddenly, lights blinked on around them. Behind them, there was a keypad like the one outside. In front of them was a corridor, dimly lit by the bluish bulbs. "Gods, is this creepy."

"Eh, sorta." Reno shrugged it off. "Looks like there's only one way to go." They slowly went down the passage, which ran for fifty yards, at most. The narrow walkway opened up into a room decked out with several types of scientific equipment. It was a small lab, but it seemed equipped to handle several different types of work. Pushed against the one wall were an examination table and several filing cabinets. The opposite wall was fitted with a panel of monitors, with consoles below.

She walked up and glanced at the screens. "Half of these are surveillance cameras...those two are trained on the town, that one on the apex of Da Chao, here's one to the entrance of the fire caves, and look..." She pointed. "That last one is aimed right on that beach you were just lounging."

"I guess that's a good sign. If there had been anyone in here, they would've probably gone after us while we were still on the beach."

She shivered. "This just creeps me out. It's been here all this time, just watching us all."

"Just because Shinra was able to keep the security systems updated doesn't really mean a thing. They can do that remotely. If there's a Mako generator, too, then it's possible that no one's been inside for...even years." He glanced at her. "I can't say anything one hundred percent, but I know that Shinra's focus wasn't on Wutai, at least near the end there."

"I'm sure it wasn't. They already destroyed us. What threat could we be?" Her head drooped down.

Reno put a hand on her shoulder. "I didn't mean it like that. We had internal issues. Like crazy psycho Soldiers trying to take over the world? Remember?" He stepped over to one of the control consoles. "Let's see what sort of information I can pull up on this thing."

The menu allowed him several options, all involving particular research projects: Wutai Wildlife, Chemical and Physical Properties of the Fire Caves, Investigations of Da Chao Mythology, The Leviathan Question, Jenova Project–Western Branch.

"Come look at this crap, Yuffie. Does any of it make sense to you?"

"Well, most of it looks like them trying to figure out what parts of our belief system are based in fact and which are legend. And there's probably attempts to explain the stuff scientifically. I'm sure the wildlife is just them looking for useful stuff like ingredients for drugs."

"What about the Jenova Project part?"

"I'm almost afraid to think about it. The Jenova Project is the stuff that Hojo worked on. I think Sephiroth may have been one of the products." She looked around. "But there's not really much lab equipment here. This may have been a remote station."

He selected the Jenova Project option. "Well, now, it's giving me a choice of overview, review data, add data, and contact Science Department headquarters."

"First one? Duh."

"The Jenova Project–Western Branch is the subdivision of the science department dedicated to continuing the efforts to produce an effective military combat individual by melding the powers of the Ancient Cetra, Jenova, with liquid Mako. The Eastern Branch is dedicated to refining the line of the Cetra. This branch is dedicated to perfecting the process of Mako baths for enhanced individuals."

"So, there was a whole setup entirely separate from the wacko stuff in headquarters? Man..." Reno shook his head.

"If you have chosen this option, it is most likely that you are an employee who has been sent here to enter data regarding a field test. Please select your current location. One, Nibelheim. Two, Wutai. Three, Gongaga."

He hit a key.

"Welcome to Wutai Classified Center. If you have result data from field experiments with the base materia, press one. If you have result data from the microscopic Mako bath, press two. Press three if you want to return to the main menu."

"Wait a second. Base materia?" Yuffie's eyes widened. "Have you ever heard of such a thing?"

"Nuh-uh."

She pushed him aside and went back to the first screen. "Is there any way to do a database search or something on this thing?"

He pointed to the monitor. "Maybe move the cursor over to this question mark symbol."

"Hmm... 'Search the Shinra Science Information Network'? Looks like our best shot." Her face fell. "Crap. It's asking for a password."

Reno typed in his security code. "There."

She looked at him in astonishment. "How is it that a Turk has access to...everything?"

He shrugged. "We were trained not to ask questions, but to get the job done. Recruiting, kidnapping, assassination, whatever. It was to Shinra's advantage that we be allowed access anywhere, just in case we needed to go in and get information or documentation. If someone like you had discovered this place even a year ago, we'd have probably been sent in to kill you, download all the information here, and then blow the place up."

"I don't want to think about that." Yuffie typed in a search query. "Base...materia. Start." She peered at the screen as several responses popped up. "Maybe this first one will have the info."

"Base materia. One of few known 'huge materia' specimens. This materia piece is unique in that it is a blend of several types of Mako crystals, allowing it to perform in the realms of Command, Magic, Support, and Independent materia simultaneously. It is thought that using the base materia on a living being can temporarily simulate the permanent effects of Mako exposure.

The base materia is currently located in the Nibelheim Classified Center, for use in the Soldier Double-X enhancement study."

"Look at the date on that article," she whispered.

"What?" He glanced at the screen. "Five and a half years ago. So?"

"Five and a half years ago, Sephiroth went bonkers and burnt Nibelheim to the ground. He claimed that he was retaking the Planet in the name of his mother, Jenova. What if he had another motive? What if he was trying to destroy the Classified Center?"

"What if he just wanted to do a weenie roast?" Reno shrugged. "Does it really matter now?"

"If this center still exists, then the base materia may still be in it. And materia that simulates the effects of a Mako bath may help find the cure for Mako poisoning." Yuffie nodded to herself. "That's it."

"What?"

"I'm going to Nibelheim to look for the base materia. Even if it's not useful, I have thing for shiny glowy orbs." She grinned. "I just don't know whether we should hire a small engine plane or take one of those quick little subs across to the continent."

"Me? Go with you? You can't be serious."

"I can't go by myself. There might be a couple wacky monstrous things waiting to chomp on me. Besides, Reno, do you really have anything better to do?"

"You have a point."

"I'll buy you a new radio with the money I make off selling the materia." Yuffie stuck out her hand.

He shook it. "You got a deal, kid."


Elena looked around at the pile of debris she'd stacked up. Eventually, the dumpster would be attached to the back of a little four-wheel drive rover and carted out of the Midgar ruins. "It never ends," she complained.

"Sure it does," Reeve shot back. "Eventually, there will be a day when we find the last box of stuff. Or someone else does. Either way, we won't know it...and we'll keep searching. We'll run out of supplies, and the patients will start dying. When the last one goes, then it'll end."

"You're too morbid. Especially for eleven o'clock in the morning."

"Eleven already? I told you we'd break a half-hour ago!" He reluctantly stepped away from the hole he'd been digging into.

"I guess the trash got me carried away."

"I should've sent you with the envoy to Junon, not Rude. I've got to keep on top of the time, you know that." He sat down on what used to be a support beam, and reached into his pocket.

She watched quietly as he took out a pill and downed it with a swig from his water bottle. "Paying attention to the time keeps me from pretending that nothing's wrong with you."

"Yeah, well if I don't take them regular, then neither one of us will be able to pretend. Just 'cause my case is minor, now, doesn't mean it's any less serious."

Biting her lip, Elena nodded. "...sorry."

Reeve killed the last bit of his water bottle and turned back to the compartment he'd been digging in. Maybe it was obsessive on his part, but he'd found the ruins of an office. With the ruins of a desk. With the ruins of drawers, filled with papers and memos. He could have turned away, easily, if he hadn't recognized one of the doodads inside. The secretary to one of Hojo's underlings had made it a habit to always write with pens that were topped with giant feather plumes. He pulled out another sheaf of papers.

Relayed your message to Dr. Hojo through his secretary, who said that he'd gone for leave at Costa Del Sol. He said not to worry about the mutant hybrids, as their unmatched chromosomes should eventually kill them congenitally. –Sophia

He growled and tossed it into the trash pile. "Well, I didn't need any more confirmation that these people were jackasses." He turned to the next.

"Come on," said Elena, "you can't look at every scrap of paper. The next one is going to be some sort of office collection because another secretary got knocked up. We need to keep our eyes peeled for the stuff that matters–your medicine."

"Fine, fine, this is the last one, and I'll go back to digging, Lane."

Dr. Hojo, I have relayed your message to Pres. Rufus re: Sephiroth's return. He knows that you believe his AWOL and violent disobedience are directly caused by Mako poisoning. He is interested in the specimen that the Nibelheim team claims is Mako-p resistant. He requests that you leave Costa Del Sol immediately to present these findings. –Sophia

"Unbelievable," Reeve whispered.

"Yeah! Two memos, three years apart, and they both say that Hojo was at Costa Del Sol. What's up with that?"

He just stared at her. "Did you even hear a word I just read?"

"What?"

"There's a lab in the basement of this...building in Nibelheim. This memo claims that there's something there that's resistant to Mako poisoning. ...it could be a cure!"

Her mouth dropped open. "On that little scrap of paper?"

"And it's from after Rufus's inauguration. That specimen could still be there, now. With the right proteins or antibodies or defense mechanisms. We have to go. Now!" Reeve jumped up to his feet. "I bet we can get them to lend us a helicopter."

"I can fly us to Nibelheim." Elena smiled weakly. "Just promise me one thing."

"...what is it?"

"I don't want to kill your excitement. But I want to make sure that you're going to keep fighting even if this lead doesn't pan out."

He nodded.

"Okay! Then let's not waste any more time. Off to Nibelheim."