The Jenova Project
"There are no vacations for heroes. The world will never stop needing them." - Sephiroth
The Sector 1 station was set below street level, and from there, the trainway cut down towards the centre of Midgar like a trench. Before it reached the south tip of the sector, the rail sloped down into the tunnel that led underneath.
The platform had no roof, it opened up into the black sky. Two station attendants paced and leaned at their posts. They didn't stray too far from the street lights.
One of the attendants observed that the sky was darker than usual. 'The Shield must be thick today,' he thought. 'When's our first arrival due?'
A free-standing steam clock marked the north end of the line. It was older than the city itself. Copper hands. Hand-blown glass. No trace of digital display. The steam was generated by a mako engine – of course – but it felt very old-world. Five brass whistles adorned the top. It was not yet noon, but steam was already starting to drift out of the whistles and up towards the Shield.
'Any minute now.' He let his eyes drift up to the thick blanket of smog that blotted out the sun. He remembered late-August rains of his boyhood, and how acidic they had been - how he never flinched like the other boys and knew by the way they cowered that he was different. That he was destined for greatness.
Nowadays – for years now – the Shield was thick enough to keep the rain out. Winter winds stopped too. There hadn't been a proper storm in over a generation, so he heard. The Shield also took the sun and the warm summer nights – a small price to pay for protection.
It was quiet – relatively speaking. He still heard the distant hiss of the nearest mako reactor, and the constant din of pedestrians, and car engines up on the streets – that sticky sound of tires on the blackbrick roads – Midgar noise. But the Shield absorbed most of the racket from the other sectors in Midgar's great wheel, leaving Sector 1 relatively placid.
Until noon. The whistles hissed five discordant tones. The attendants jolted upright – him so violently that the crimson drape on his cap whipped against his skin. They shot quick glances at the other – hoping the other hadn't seen them jerk.
Laughter echoed into the trench from above the wall behind them. The attendants swivelled to look. Up on street level, two military policemen leered down at the platform. Blue cloth masks obscured their faces, but the way they shook their heads made it clear.
Since the war ended, MPs had been more common on the streets of Midgar. Patrolling. Keeping the peace. Their semi-auts were were slung casually over their shoulders.
The MPs moved along, eventually. Whatever they said to each other was muffled by their masks.
The distant train whistled. The attendant forced himself to ignore the MPs. He looked down the railway, towards the entrance to the tunnel. He liked watching the train slide onto the city from beneath. He liked how the dust exploded out of the tunnel with it – as if the world underneath the Plate was trying to follow the train to safety.
It came with its blinding headlight angled up towards the Shield, curving onto the flat track along the trench. Exhaust pipes wound around the exterior of the train, and the tops of the cars were obscured by the steam it coughed through a squat smoke stack at its head.
He didn't know what else needed hauling up from underneath these days, but somehow every Thursday at 12:05 without fail more cargo passed through his station.
The bulking steel vessel slid towards the end of the trench with a screeching of brakes and a scattering of orange sparks. It hissed to a stop just as one of the copper hands on the steam clock snapped to II.
The doors to the train opened, but no one stepped onto the platform.
Normally, the station would fill with bawdy workers, crates, and dollies. But the train sounded empty.
He left his post and the cone of light, approaching the door and tilting his head to look inside. He noticed movement on top of the train.
Before he could shout a warning, someone leapt onto him.
A boot clubbed his temple. The full weight of a person crumpled him to the platform. His shoulder blade cracked against the floor. All the air left his body.
His attacker stumbled but leapt off of him. As he gasped, the attendant could only make out a red bandana.
He tried to get up, but another attacker grabbed him from behind.
He tried to struggle, but they were stronger. They threw him into the side of the train. His head hit an exhaust pipe.
Suddenly the world was on its side. He felt warm blood drenching his neck.
He saw the other attendant on the ground. He was dead.
Three pale and dirty youths scurried around the platform like rats, all in red bandanas. One of them – the girl – was already leaving through the north exit.
Another figure charged out of the train – a giant black-skinned man. No bandana. His arms were as big as kegs – bulging through the ripped holes in his leather jacket where sleeves had once been.
One of the giant's hands – the attendant's vision was blurry – looked like it had been replaced with a machine.
He barked wildly at the two remaining assailants – the boys, one fat one thin. The attendant couldn't make the words out – he just heard a gruff booming underneath the ringing in his ears.
The boys nodded, receiving orders, and ran ahead after the girl. The giant lingered behind on the platform.
The attendant's vision cleared just long enough for him to take a look at the man's artificial arm. Just past the elbow, the skin had been fused to the edge of a metal limb – thick and straight. The end of the limb had been outfitted with six rotating chambers, and the attendant realized with horror that it was a gatling gun.
His head was already swimming again, his eyes darkening. But he had seen it clear.
'I can identify him,' he thought. Then it dawned on him. 'If I live.'
Just when it appeared the giant was about to leave, another figure jumped – vaulted – off the train.
The attendant tried to raise his head, but his neck felt broken.
The last man made a three-point landing on the platform. A messy clump of yellow hair obscured his face. He had a two-handed greatsword clipped to a magnet on his back.
The attendant kept his eyes open, and hope started to return. A sword was a gentleman's weapon. Only SOLDIERs used them.
He looked closer. The man donned the uniform. The cresset with the emblem emblazoned across the belly. The dungarees of deep indigo. One shoulder was missing a pauldron, but no matter. It was the SOLDIER uniform, unmistakeably.
The cavalry had arrived.
The way the giant and the SOLDIER looked at each other, the attendant expected them to attack. A moment passed, and the attendant thought that perhaps they were old enemies. Another moment passed and still no one moved.
The ringing began to subside, and it was only then that he heard them talking – talking – to each other.
The dark man huffed. "I told you, this area is clear."
"I heard you."
"So get a move on."
"You jes' gonna wait for the army to come down on our heads, s' that it?"
"Something like that."
"Shoulda known it. Goddamn saboteur."
"Believe what you want, but I'm trying to make sure your job gets done."
The attendant's fear rose like a flame up his throat, keeping him awake. SOLDIERs did not – could not – go rogue.
"Get down!" The SOLDIER pushed the giant into the wall.
A spray of bullets scattered where they had been standing. The two MPs – the laughers – had arrived at the platform.
The rogue drew the greatsword from his back, arcing it over his head. The blade was as thick as the cross guard, a brutish thirty centimetres, and built like a giant kitchen knife. Two green gems were set into spheric recesses at the blade's base.
A blade that big, with materia gems inlaid… It would be impossible for normals to wield it.
The MPs were stunned for a moment. That was all the time the traitor needed. He bore upon them, whirling the blade around with the ease of a twig.
The MPs fell apart before firing another shot.
Blood drenched the platform. It fell to quiet again. The attendant struggled to stay conscious.
The rogue SOLDIER swung the sword up again and slammed it against his back. It held in place on the magnetic harness. He looked at the giant expectedly. "Don't tell me how to beat my own kind."
The attendant's eyelids slid shut. His hearing slowly faded. Hope wasn't enough to keep his heart beating any longer.
The giant grunted. "C'mon, newcomer. Follow me."