Once More, With Feeling... – Chapter 47: Insufficient Answers.
Summary: Everyone is looking for proof.
Author: Illusor Meaneld
Rated T: for Descriptive violence and injuries, No Adult Situations, No Cussing.
Disclaimer: I did not create, and do not own the characters from Final Fantasy 7, They are owned by Square-Enix, and I am simply borrowing them for my own (and hopefully your) enjoyment.
Lulled by the familiar rumble of the engine, Genesis leaned comfortably in his seat, Loveless in hand as the landscape passed by steadily beneath them. His contemplation remained undisturbed until the gentle breathing from the physically young boy from across from him finally changed, altering into the pattern of wakefulness. Waiting until he could see movement beneath closed lids the Lieutenant gleefully continued his recitation where he'd left off a few hours prior.
"There is no hate only joy/ For you are beloved by the Goddess/ Hero of the dawn, healer of worlds."
In return he received a low groan, blond lashes fluttering open, and blue eyes glaring across the way sullenly. A smirk, and a slight head-tilt from the SOLDIER,
"Dreams of the morrow hath the shattered soul/ Pride is lost./ Wings stripped away. The end is nigh."
"Lieutenant," Cloud huffed, dragging one hand down his face in obvious exasperation. "Must you?"
"I consider it my duty to educate the philistines whose presence I am forced to endure." The lieutenant returned, he glanced briefly to the third party occupying space in the back of the helicopter, but Angeal's puppy remained as hopeless as ever… gently snoring while buckled into his seat, perhaps the calmest the auburn-haired SOLDIER had ever seen him.
"I'm plenty well-read, Lieutenant." The blond explained firmly.
They were interrupted by a chuckle from the cockpit. "Sorry, Cloud… You brought this on yourself. You did say you'd never read Loveless." Angeal explained with no attempt to conceal his amusement.
"Finished!" Cloud corrected, "I said I'd never finished Loveless! … The play isn't even finished itself."
Genesis rolled his eyes, "I fully believe someone as … experienced, as you evidently are, is capable of appreciating the subtleties of high literature."
The 'young' blond groaned again, thumping his head gently back against the headrest while grumbling under his breath, "Why didn't anyone warn me about you?"
Ignoring the obviously rhetorical inquiry, Genesis lifted his book, continuing avidly where he'd left off.
By the time they'd reached the middle of Act 3, Genesis noticed a slight increase in the air-pressure within the cabin, indicating the helicopter had finally begun its descent. He took care to finish the scene he was on, before folding the ribbon place-marker between the pages and closing the hardcover. One gloved hand caressed the spine, admiring the relatively new artwork before placing this particular copy away in his inner-coat pocket. When he'd once more looked up, his current subject of interest was in the process of waking the puppy.
Genesis felt his lip curl slightly as the youth woke with a loud snort, smacking his lips and rubbing his eyes in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of a toddler, and definitely unbefitting someone on the cusp of adulthood. This mental image was completed by the first words out of the newly wakened boy's mouth.
"Are we there yet?"
The auburn-haired Lieutenant scoffed aloud, "Please, tell me he grows up." Cloud opened his mouth to reply, only to hesitate, his eyes unfocusing as he visibly considered his answer.
Zack, who had cocked his head at the question in a manner reminiscent of his nickname-sake, turned to consider his friend with wide eyes. "I get older… right, Spike?"
"...uh… yeah… yes, you grow up." the blond answered a little awkwardly, his smile placating.
Genesis smirked, snickering softly at the long sigh that issued from the cockpit, "Looks like you have your work cut out for you." He murmured gleefully at his fellow Lieutenant.
"Fantastic." Came Angeal's muttered response.
Genesis was still laughing softly when the helicopter finished its descent and settled a little jarringly on the rough ground around their destination. His smile had faded a few moments later as the group began clambering from their ungainly transport, Angeal wasting no time in collecting and passing out the resupply boxes this mission required them to deliver. Genesis accepted his box with a disdainful curl of his lip, keeping a careful distance from his immaculate coat. As it was, his gloves would already need cleaning.
"Hey Angeal, there's more to this mission than delivering boxes right? Like a secret part?"
The auburn-haired Lieutenant took this irresistible opening to shove his box atop the one Zack was already carrying, "Hush, the adults are talking." He patronized.
"Genesis!" Angeal yelped, scandalized, stretching out one arm to steady the overbalanced load in his protégé's arms.
His friend sighed heavily, lifting another box with an exasperated glare before he turned back to the puppy. "It's just a simple supply run and monster hunt."
"The Secret part is that we're keeping an on eye on Strife, and 'Pet-Sitting you." Genesis cut in.
"Oh, Okay… wait, pet-sitting?" Zack queried in puzzlement.
"Nevermind Zack," Angeal interrupted hastily, "Lets get started, we need to deliver these supplies to that outpost there," he gestured to the fence across the clearing they stood in. inside the fence were a few huddled buildings and one tall watchtower with the distant figure of a guard visible atop it. Another guard was standing next to the gate while a third was steadily approaching them.
"Good Afternoon," the Outpost Captain greeted formally, "We appreciate the help,…" and here Genesis couldn't resist a smirk as the Officer finally took note of the subtle rank insignia present on Angeal. "Ah… Lieutenant, Hewley," the startled eyes darted to Genesis, "and Rhapsodos."
Angeal cleared his throat gently, "Glad to assist Captain."
After a surprisingly brief check of the delivery, (Genesis was rather certain it went significantly faster than usual.) the Captain led the way back to the base, "I did not realize this mission was so urgent as to warrant an officer of your rank,"
"Oh, more of a training mission really." Angeal explained smoothly,
Genesis snickered, "Training," and he thumped Zack's back loudly with an open palm, causing the gangly teenager to stagger forward, only to be halted by the arm Angeal had thrown out in anticipation.
"Ooof" Zack complained, throwing a confused glance back at the auburn-haired SOLDIER.
"Oh, ah… I suppose that makes more sense. You can place your boxes here." The captain gestured to the floor of the first warehouse, "We'll get them sorted later. Thank you again for your help." He saluted formally receiving an answering salute from Angeal, and surprisingly Cloud, but a confused wave from Zack.
In short order the four of them had retraced their steps back to the helicopter.
"Alright, now as we agreed, Genesis will fly the helicopter from here, Cloud the binoculars are in the glove compartment, you can use those to spot for us. Zack, you're with me."
"Awww, man… I wanted to see Cloud in action."
"Actually, I think Cloud should pilot," Genesis interjected smugly,
Angeal paused to stare at him, "Genesis… you can't possibly expect a fourteen year old to fly…"
"He can't do that!" Zack yelped in alarm,
"Need I remind all of you… that I was right? Did you all conveniently forget the long discussion we had just last night?" the Red Lieutenant focused his gaze on his curled hand, where his fingernails would have been visible had he not been wearing gloves.
"But… that doesn't mean he can…" The puppy whined,
Finally the hitherto silent blond threw his hands up in frustration, "Okay fine! I can fly the chopper!" and turned with a soft grumble, climbing into the large vehicle and strapping himself into the pilot seat with jerky motions. Despite his visible irritation he was properly in place in mere moments, and while staring down the others he casually started the engine without looking.
Genesis could feel his grin spreading as he looked at his childhood friend.
Angeal hastily held up a forestalling hand, "No…Just… No." the auburn haired Lieutenant could feel his cheeks beginning to sting. "Don't. … just,… get in the helicopter." Angeal growled, his face already pinched in exasperation. He turned without waiting for an answer, grabbing a fist-full of the scruff of Zack's shirt in passing. "Not a word." Was his parting shot as the two black-haired SOLDIERs strode into the foliage.
When Genesis glanced back at the helicopter a stern-faced blond was holding out a headset, He accepted it wordlessly and climbed in himself. Once he was settled Genesis watched with smug pride as the diminutive youth gently guided the vehicle into the air, a transition so smooth the Lieutenant was sure he could have slept through it himself! It wasn't long before blue eyes left the landscape to affix on the 'older' man.
"Lieutenant,… If I may ask… what do you mean when you say that you're 'right'?"
"My theory was the most accurate. Ergo, I was right." Genesis informed with quiet glee, he watched from the edges of his eyes as the youth's face pulled into an expressively consternated frown.
"Theory?" Came the bemused query.
Genesis snorted a laugh, "Everyone had some 'theory' or other as to how you could know all those impossible things… like Wutaian ninjitsu when you come from a tiny backwater town no one ever goes to."
"Hey!" The cry of offense seemed almost reflexive to the insult.
"Or your near perfect academic scores despite your complete lack of public education." The red Lieutenant continued smugly
"Er…" the blond derailed with surprising awkwardness.
"Or perhaps your-"
"Alright! I get it! … so what was your theory then?"
Genesis chuckled with satisfaction at this small win. "I explained that the only logical conclusion to the provided evidence was that your mind had been switched with someone far more intelligent and experienced than a fourteen year old could possibly be."
"Oh, er… that really is quite close."
"I know." His smug response was met with a quick glance that reminded him startlingly of the 'unimpressed' look Gillian used to give him after dragging him out of mischief. Despite the incongruity of the expression, Genesis tucked that detail safely in his own mental notes.
"I think it only polite to mention that 'vainglory' is not really a good look on anyone." Cloud retorted wryly.
"I consider it equally diplomatic to indicate that fourteen year-olds are unenlightened to words like 'Vainglory'." The Lieutenant snorted imperiously. The blond rolled his eyes with unnecessary exaggeration, before pointedly returning his attention to their flight path.
They flew easily over the mountainous landscape, keeping tabs with the distant figures of Zack and Angeal, the silence persisted until Cloud pointed at a different moving shape, "Let Angeal know there's an Ark Dragon about 15 Kliks north by northwest of his position." Genesis leaned back a little, smirking as the blond glanced his way after a few moments of silence. Their eyes met for a long moment, the shorter of the two leveling a glare that promised later repercussions, when the Lieutenant failed to answer it, Cloud snatched up his radio with a soft growl."Strife to Hewley, there's an Ark Dragon about 15 Klicks North-by-Northwest of your position."
"Copy that Strife." Came the crackly response, followed by a pause, "Rhapsodos… why is Strife flying and spotting?"
Genesis chuckled before finally picking up his radio, "He's got it covered, he's an old pro at this I'm sure." The red-head's grin only widened when his pilot began grumbling about 'cocky, upstarts with more enhancements then brains.'
A few moments, and one spotted group of Castanets later, Genesis hmm'd softly in introspection, "So Cloud,… I've heard you're quite exceptional at strategy, … what would you say is the best way to kill the Midgar Zolem?" There was a pause and from his vantage the red-lieutenant could see the younger man blinking in surprise at the non-sequitur
"A Midgar Zolem? Well, … A Midgar Zolem likes to single out an easy meal, so either I would face it alone, armed to the teeth, or make sure my whole team was equally equipped to deal with it. It's most powerful attack is fire-based, so a materia combination of 'Elemental' and 'Fire' on my armor would be recommended. After that, my best advice is to kill it quickly, lean heavy on the offense rather than defense."
Genesis had a moment of hesitation, did he just say 'a' Midgar Zolem? The thought of multiple gave him quiet shivers. He quickly pushed that thought aside for later consideration. "What would you say is the trickiest monster you ever faced?"
"Hmmm… how are you defining 'monster' precisely?"
"Non-enhanced, non-human, naturally occurring, aggressive creatures."
"Probably a Master Tonberry then." Cloud said with a grimace.
"Master Tonberry?" Genesis was chagrinned to hear his voice raised higher in pitch than he rather considered dignified. He studied the blond's face for any indication he might have noticed, but found none.
"Think regular Tonberry, make it about three times harder to kill. And give it a surreal ability to sense how many of its fellow monsters you've killed, and augment its power proportionately."
"What do you mean 'proportionately'?"
"An unblooded rookie might walk away from it unscathed. You would probably be knocked out in a hit. I would not want it to look at me." The younger man visibly shuddered.
Genesis blinked, feeling unaccustomedly impressed, a very complex piece of magic must be responsible for such an uncanny ability. With that concept tucked away for later thought he proceeded to the next inquiry. "What would you say was the most interesting monster you'd ever faced?"
Cloud raised one eyebrow sardonically, his lip quirking up on one side. "Interesting eh?" he parroted. He shook his head and sighed, his gaze going distant for several long minutes. "I guess I'd have to say the Materia Keeper." There was a brief pause as the young man's eyes glazed briefly in thought, "Picture a two story scorpion with two tails, and pinchers on every foot. This massive monster was immune to fire, and cast a rather nasty lightning blast with a significant range and radius. He was only weak to poison and time based magics… a very … difficult battle."
"What made it particularly interesting?" the auburn-haired SOLDIER pressed.
"Well, that lightning blast, called "Trine", you could learn to cast it yourself, if you acquired a particularly rare Materia called "Enemy Skill"
"Where might one look for such a rare Materia?" Genesis inquired smoothly not missing a beat,
Cloud chuckled, "Now that would be telling… wouldn't it?"
The Lieutenant snorted softly, not truly having expected an answer, at least not yet. "I know you have a small Wutaian blade, but what would you say is your preferred weapon style?" he continued.
"That's an oddly complicated question for me," the young man mused with a smile, "I've used quite a few different weapons, mostly swords, and some very strange and unique,… but over the years I've found I really prefer an adaptable, versatile weapon over anything else. I like options."
"Did that 'versatile' weapon aid in your defeat of Sephiroth? Or was there some other technique?"
There was a sudden silence in the cockpit, and Genesis continued to toy with the headset in his hands as innocently as he ever managed to come across. He wasn't surprised when the blond locked eyes with him, his gaze hardened with suspicion. "I have no intention of discussing that with you, Genesis."
The Red Lieutenant gave a slow smile, "Surely you can indulge a simple, academic interest of mine?"
The stern blue gaze never left him, despite the helicopter the 'younger' man was currently piloting, and although several minutes passed there was no answer to Genesis' attempt to cajole. With a visible shrug, he changed tactics.
"Perhaps if not for academic reasons, we could consider it an exchange?" He watched as one blond eyebrow raised archly, still with no verbal response. "I have another theory you see." Genesis smirked, allowing his posture to lounge just a little more, "I believe you are quite a bit older than you have let our many mutual acquaintances believe. There are simply too many things you have proven proficient in for you to have been young before your 'time-travel', Based on your behavior and skills you must be no younger than Eighty, but I'm leaning towards a third digit age, myself."
"I don't see what your inferences have to do with an exchange." The teen's voice had slid back into amused.
"I would be willing to keep theories like that to myself, if you sate my 'academic' curiosity in equal measure." Genesis' suddenly found his smile frozen when the blond laughed aloud.
"So that's how you want it." The youth chuckled, shaking his head, and returning his gaze to the window. Genesis clenched his teeth quietly at the other's mirth. "If you really want to learn about my hard-earned skills, why don't you sponsor me into the SOLDIER program?"
The Red Lieutenant blinked hard in surprise, before curling his lip in a sneer, "I don't sponsor anyone."
"Well I'm not just anyone am I? Surely you'd make an exception for a … how did you say it? 'Triple-digit aged, time-traveler who defeated General Sephiroth on more than one occasion.' Hmmm?" Genesis stiffened despite himself at the turn-around.
"After all," Cloud continued with an infuriating quiet confidence, "You are the sort of intelligent and educated individual who would divine far more by actively engaging with an opponent than simply listening to here-say."
The cabin fell into a rather tense silence at that, while Genesis snarled internally at the complimentary counter-blackmail. He held his tongue, the unspoken 'touché', acknowledged by the slight twitch at the corner of the blond's mouth.
"I doubt either of us would prefer to be trapped in one another's company as much as such an arrangement would entail." Genesis argued.
"You're not as bad as all that Genesis, I've dealt with teenagers far more aggravating than yourself." The lieutenant raised one eyebrow skeptically. Cloud smiled ruefully in response, "At least with you I can trust my Materia not to go missing in the middle of a dangerous mission."
Genesis shuddered at the thought, he would thoroughly eviscerate anyone who pulled such a foolhardy stunt in his presence! After a few more moments of thought he had to concede that the blond time-traveler had already proven significantly more lenient to such stupidity. The cabin fell quiet once more, though with far less tension this time as Genesis mulled over the new options presented. The peace was interrupted by the occasional radio calls from Cloud to the pair of SOLDIER below, but Genesis had long accustomed himself to ignoring such distractions to his thoughts.
It wasn't until the mission was wrapping up that the red lieutenant roused from his musings. "I will agree to sponsor you, so long as you answer any academic questions I may have during any sessions."
"So long as those questions are actually 'academic'." The blond laughed. Genesis found himself strangely satisfied with this answer, and if it so happened that he managed to trick extra information from the Time-Traveler… His lip curled into an anticipatory smirk.
Getting away from Midgar covertly, was something that came almost naturally to Tseng these days. Telegraphing your movements, when you were a Turk, was about as stupid as walking in the slums with your full wallet bulging visibly in your back pocket. So regardless of his destination, Tseng made a habit of secrecy. This habit made it almost ridiculously easy to head to the far North in a Helicopter accompanied by General Sephiroth himself, with no one the wiser, and no awkward questions asked.
The helicopter ride was blissfully uneventful, and the house was exactly as Cloud had described. A steep roofed cabin, crusted in ice. Despite its sturdy build the outside of it gave the distinct impression of disuse. The Turk found himself grateful for Sephiroth's presence as it took not inconsiderable strength to wrestle open the front door, the loud screeching protest of breaking ice caused both the intruders to wince. Yet once cleared enough for entry, the house was eerily still and dark, with the pervasive smell of dust and stale air flushing from the newly opened portal. Neither Shinra employee shared so much as a glance as they simultaneously stepped inside.
Tseng pulled out and turned on a flashlight wordlessly, scanning the room with care and noting the thick covering every surface. He quickly located the nearby light switch and flicked it with one gloved hand. The lights flickered sluggishly to life, revealing a small indoor porch, with shelves, coatracks and an umbrella stand. There was even a pair of lonely boots on one of the shelves. And beyond, a rusty steel door, that Tseng immediately recognized as Shinra issue, though an obsolete model.
The Turk stepped forward with a small shrug and swiped his keycard on the door. The doorlock emitted a weak beep, a green light shone muffled through the dust and the door groaned it's way open a half an inch, before shuddering to a stop. Tseng sighed to himself and stepped back to motion the General forward only to watch a gloved hand dart over his shoulder and yank the door noisily open with only his fingertips. The Silver-haired SOLDIER moved past with a slight smirk, his boots clanging on metal as he stepped into the darkened interior of the next room.
The echoing footsteps paused just inside, "This room is larger than it should be." Sephiroth murmured. Tseng flicked his flashlight to the wall and gave the large breaker switch he found there a pull. Green tinged light flooded the metallic grey room as something exploded somewhere above them. Rather than look up, they both dove opposite directions. Tseng took cover against a short half-wall his pistol drawn and aimed at the source of the noise as his gaze darted around the room. Sephiroth had his back to a computer console and his infamous sword Masamune in hand brandished menacingly. Though where it had come from, Tseng had no idea.
"Old lightbulb." Sephiroth's voice cut through the tense silence. The General's stance relaxing as he gestured upward to the blackened light socket overhead. Tseng stood slowly, surveying the area as he did, and noting that the wall he'd ducked against was actually a railing overlooking another lower floor. The room was vast, seeming to take up the whole house and basement level. On closer inspection though Tseng realized that many of the walls, floors and ceilings of the original structure had been removed to make everything connected and open. What had once been a multi-story structure, was now overlapping balconies and catwalks, surrounding an eclectic collection of Shinra equipment and a rather incongruous table over a patterned rug and matching chair. Atop the green table was a bowl of desiccated fruit.
"I assume this is the computer console Cloud mentioned." The General gestured behind him. Simultaneously, and much to Tseng's surprise, the famous blade in the SOLDIER's left hand seemed to dissolve in heatless green flames. He felt a pang of almost painful envy at the convenience of such a spell. "I will sweep the house." Sephiroth stated simply, even as he moved to do just that, leaving the computers to the Turk.
Tseng quickly tuned out the soft sounds of Sephiroth's search as he dusted off the old machine and booted it up. He tried not to be surprised when it loaded without much trouble and soon pulled up a password screen. With a mental shrug he followed the instructions from the supposed 'Time-Traveler' hoping this wasn't one of those 'self-destruct' commands instead.
Thankfully the computer finished its boot up with no other issues. With a soft crack of his knuckles, the Turk began the process of collecting as much information from this ancient machine as he could find. Whether his blond 'protégé' had referenced it or not.
It was some time later, after Tseng had watched all of the available video files, and then watched them again with the General, that both the men stood silently in the echoes of the gunshot from the last clip, staring at the black screen of the computer with varying levels of trepidation. The soft whisper of leather was the first indication of Sephiroth's unease, "What is the likelihood that this was setup?" He queried softly.
Tseng stood up and looked around the room with a critical eye, "My first instinct would be to say it was impossible, but I've learned to avoid such absolutes."
"Why impossible? Or, nearly so?"
"There is simply too much to stage. Most obviously the age and neglect of this house, you can make something look old, but there's easier ways to do it, it's the wrong kind of evidence, much of it is difficult if not impossible to replicate." Tseng explained carefully.
I had noticed the cobwebs inside the bullet holes." The General mused. The Turk was slightly startled by the observation, he'd not seen the holes yet.
"It's not a cover-up then either, they would have patched the walls." Tseng nodded to himself.
"They could have missed that." Sephiroth countered.
Tseng shook his head, "They would not have missed the fruit."
Sephiroth raised one eyebrow in bemusement, "The Fruit?"
The raven-haired Turk gestured to the green table, with its sad fruit bowl. "That's a sign of foul-play, no one would leave out a bowl of fresh fruit unless they were planning to be here." Not to mention such fruit would be an expensive luxury this far North he silently extrapolated. The General was nodding in understanding.
"Could this have been staged in the past, and simply remained undiscovered until now?"
"Why go through the effort, if there's no one to find it?" Tseng countered, "Someone who is this good at planting evidence, would have also ensured its discovery."
"Unless that someone was a time-traveler?" Sephiroth smirked,
"Since the point of this mission was to give credence to Cloud's claim of being a Time-Traveler, …and this could only be planted by a Time-Traveler, it is still effective evidence."
Sephiroth chuckled darkly, "Suppose we accept its authenticity for the moment. What are the ramifications in your opinion?"
"Everything here, supports everything Cloud has told us so far, including his intentions. Which is presumably deliberate. If we accept he is a Time-Traveler, we accept he is able to cherry pick what information he shares." The Turk offered with a sigh
"So what is he still hiding?" Sephiroth sneered, "Though Cloud was the first to admit he was not telling us everything."
"And if he's a Time-Traveler, we are limited in our ability to investigate."
"Could we further investigate this house?"
Tseng glanced around once more, "A full investigation of this place would take years." The Turk mused in disappointment, "But there are a few things I would like to explore before we leave." And without another word he ducked down under the computer monitor, and began carefully accessing the guts of the machine itself, it took several long minutes and the helpful hand of the supernaturally strong SOLDIER but he soon had the heavy, old hard-drive removed for transport.
"That thing is huge." Sephiroth grunted in surprise, holding the offending metal brick in one hand.
Tseng snorted in amusement, he'd needed both hands to give it over. "This thing was probably already a relic, when it was scavenged for this place, it looks like most of this equipment was piece mail."
"Do you think there's actually anything on there?" Sephiroth questioned in mild surprise.
"Someone tried to delete some of the files on there, an amateur really. Provided the age does not hinder me, I should be able to recover them."
The General nodded his satisfaction at that answer, tucking the mentioned machine under his arm as they both began moving towards the exit. "One last thing is bothering me, how certain are we that Gast is really dead?"
Tseng heaved a sigh, "Unfortunately his death was conveniently off-screen, and based on the dates of this video, he's faked his death in the past. However Hojo is a better shot than you might think, his involvement makes Gast's survival highly unlikely."
Sephiroth nodded again, and after a short pause, he laughed softly, sharing a smirk with the Turk beside him, "Yet again, everything we learn from Cloud brings up more questions than answers."
Tseng returned a knowing smile. "Good qualities in a Turk."
((Author's Note: I blame Genesis.
No seriously, I actually had this chapter started before I posted the LAST one… (yeah, a year and a third ago.) but Genesis WOULD NOT PLAY NICE!
Ugh! Took forever to get through that stupid scene in the helicopter… and once I did I was done with the rest inside a WEEK.
So blame Genesis for the LONG, LONG wait… hope it was worth it!
-Jianre M. A.K.A … Illusor Meaneld.))