Disclaimer: FFVII and its characters do not belong to me.

Warnings: Mild language.

Author's Note: Was anyone else as amused as I in Crisis Core when Shinra continued to send you missions after the escape from Nibelheim?

The Wheels of Shinra's Economy

By Sinnatious

The secretary hesitated at the door, hand poised to knock but knuckles never quite gracing the surface. He briefly debated leaving her in limbo, to pretend the obliviousness he was falsely known for, but in the end took pity. "Come in!"

She slipped inside the messy office, professionalism quickly smoothing the wrinkle of her nose at the mess. "Sir. I-" She hesitated again, as though confused how to proceed.

"Something wrong? What's happened?" His mind immediately leapt to any number of disasters. No matter how many reports he sent, none of the higher ups ever seemed to take heed of his warnings. It was always SOLDIER this, Reactor that…

"No, nothing's wrong exactly… just…"

"Out with it. Come on," he prodded; still not convinced it wasn't something bad. Why else would she be so reluctant to speak on it?

"Sir, it's… that mission to clean up the monster infestation in the slums. It was just completed."

"What mission?" He couldn't remember any paperwork, and they never had the funds to pay for any missions, either.

"You know, the one you sent to that Soldier First Class...? The one who volunteered…?"

"Zack Fair?"

"That's right."

The chairman of the City Planning Department frowned, then pulled out his phone and began rifling through his mail. "But wasn't he declared deceased?"

"All I know is that the mission was fulfilled, sir."

"But the infestation cleared up eventually, didn't it?" Four years was a long time to leave a mission hanging.

"Actually, another had developed recently, but no new mission had been issued for it yet."

How uncanny. Though still slightly less unusual than a dead person doing missions for them. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "I suppose HR must have made a mistake again. Very well. Forward on the next one."

Business was business, after all, and the wheels of Shinra's economy still needed to turn.

"Sir! The Crescent Unit has just surrendered, sir! We have a request to take them in for questioning!"

"Very good, Private – wait, the Crescent Unit?" The Lieutenant asked, nearly knocking over his coffee.

"The very same sir!"

A calloused hand gripped the desk. Well, that tore it. The Crescent Unit. They were tough bastards, had been giving them the slip for years now. He couldn't even remember how long. They'd almost given up, and had contented themselves with routing smaller and less threatening pockets of resistance.

It had to have been a First Class who'd done it. They'd sent a couple of Thirds before, but they'd all been unsuccessful. A couple hadn't even come back. But Shinra hadn't sent a First out to them in Ifrit knew how long. Last one had been… yeah, that bouncy black-haired First. Fair. He'd been a Second at the end of the war, and took on the lion's share of the Wutai clean-up missions – in the interest of protecting his own head, as a good number of the rascals had a personal bone to pick with him. Smart of them to pin their anger on him instead of the late General Sephiroth.

"Except Fair's dead too, right?"


The Lieutenant realised he'd spoken aloud. "Prepare a squad, Private! And inform the others that I'll be coming with you."

"Sir!" With a salute, the Private scurried off.

Who knew what it all meant. Cut off from the mainland like this, any news he received was months old and sketchy at best. The Wutai clean-up effort was low on Shinra's priorities right now. He'd take whatever he was given.

"Doctor! Doctor! Project P just gave another prediction!"

The head scientist rolled his eyes. "It's meaningless without some way to verify it." The Science Department was happy to let him and his few assistants languish on this pet project, as Hojo continued to drain away funds month after month on some top-secret long-running experiment.

"But we received verification. Didn't you read the report?" The assistant was beside herself with excitement. She was one of the few who'd been working on the ESP Development Project just as long as he had – could have been promoted to a project of her own, in fact, but stayed out of interest. One of the few competent ones not yet snatched away for whatever it was Hojo was doing. The ones that came back never spoke of it, but they were always shells of their former selves. Which meant it was probably human experimentation. It was an ethical grey area, something he tried not to think about. The ESP Development Project had its dark moments as well, but the subject volunteered, and his assistants did what they could do keep the specimen happy. Cooperation was the best way to get useful feedback in this sort of work – why couldn't Hojo or Hollander or any of the other big wigs understand that?

"Doctor," she prodded.

Right, right, the report. He fumbled through the piles of papers on his desk, eventually locating the document he'd cast aside, having assumed it contained the usual longhand gibberish that boiled down to 'nothing to report'. It appeared not. Excitement coursed through him. It was working! It was really starting to work! Surely, with a few more experiments, just to make sure-!

His assistant coughed. "In light of our success, we also received an odd request from the security department."

"The security department? What do they want?" They had so little to do with them – there had been a brief spurt of interest when the project was first kicked off, but during the years they idled due to a lack of resources, that interest had died. It was his understanding that most of the squad commanders aware of the project dismissed his work as 'chasing science fiction'.

If only they knew how many of Shinra's breakthroughs were considered science fiction less than a century ago!

"They're requesting we try to use Project P to track down some escaped specimens."

His lip curled. "Hojo's?" That might explain the recent ruckus, and why the head scientist had been in such a foul mood lately.

As much as he detested doing anything that might help the highly unpleasant – though brilliant – man, if Project P were to be of assistance, perhaps they might acquire some more funding and resources. "Very well, prepare the specimen again and feed the request."

His finger tapped the desk idly as the lab sprang into action. Calculating eyes roved over the report. Why suddenly now, after so long? SOLDIER was short on forces these days – between Genesis and the mass desertion of Firsts, Eco-Terrorists, and their Director's disappearance so many years ago, that particular department was in shambles and grossly short on manpower. Everyone wanted a SOLDIER to do their department's legwork – why assign one to finish a mission that had been dormant for so long?

"Doctor, look!" his assistant waved at him, drawing his attention. He shook himself from his musing – his team had completely set the monitoring equipment up while he'd allowed himself to be lost in idle thought. At least they hadn't gone rusty on the procedures. He directed his gaze lazily to the specimen, the source of his hopes and dreams and ambitions.

Curious. The specimen, head half-obscured by a heavy helmet, was smiling.

It unnerved him a little, but there was science to be done. The ESP Development Project was active again. "Let's begin."

No matter how many times they asked, they didn't receive an answer for where the escaped specimens might be. They did, however, get some predictions as to the location of some rather unusual objects.

It didn't once occur to the Doctor or his assistants that some of these objects might be useful to a man on the run from an army.

"Alright, you pathetic cowards! Buck up! You're not cadets anymore! You're part of the army, and that means working in teams to overcome more powerful opponents! That means throwing yourself on the line for your fellow man, and above that, for the company! The training here on out is going to be tough, it's going to hellish, but by the time I'm through with you, even the late great General Sephiroth would find you fit to stand at his back!"

A murmur went through the crowd at the mention of the General. In death, his legend had only grown.

"Midgar Headquarters might have sent you out here on some chase, but until we've got orders, I'll be training you until you puke up blood! And I've got just the thing for you wimpy bastards!"

There was a barely noticeably ripple in the ranks. The training exercises out here were legendary, real tests of skill and courage. A chance to practice against the elite – SOLDIER.

"I know what you boys are thinking! But it ain't that brat Kunsel or that creep Luxiere this time. We've got a real treat for you! Today, you blokes will be taking on a First Class."

The ripple became a wave. First Class! There were hardly any of those!

"Just fifty to start with, I think," the Commander mumbled to himself. "Fair! Get your ass in here!"

A black-haired man with fiercely bright eyes, and carrying a sword nearly as big as he was, moseyed into the room. "Hey, no need to be like that. I'm doing you guys a favour!"

The Commander grunted, but didn't otherwise acknowledge the statement. "Take a good look, you wimps! This is who you'll be training against today!"

One particularly bright-eyed Corporal thought he recognised the SOLDIER. "Sir, isn't that one of the targets we're supposed to…?"

"Silence, Corporal! We're here for training, and training is what we're going to do! Sort yourselves into your designated groups, A to Z, and get ready! Don't let the regular army down! We'll show this cocky SOLDIER what we're made of!" For his part, the black-haired SOLDIER just gave an easy grin, as though he were enjoying a private joke. There was some hushed confusion from the troops, and a lot of shrugged soldiers, but they organised themselves quickly enough. It didn't really matter what was happening on the outside – they could tackle that mission when they came to it.

Zack waved enthusiastically at his companion from the ocean's edge, who was propped up under an umbrella on the golden sand. "Hey Cloud, can you believe this? HR is giving me extra holiday!" He laughed, with only a hint of bitterness. "I haven't taken one for ages, you know? This'll be great!"

The blond head rolled slightly to the left – pushed there by a gust of wind. Bright blue eyes, tinged with the glow of Mako, stared dully at the colourful beach towel.

Zack turned back around, placing his hands on his hips and taking a deep breath of clean ocean air. Oh yeah, that was the stuff. The great big open sky – it was still a sight for sore eyes after all that time cooped up in a lab. And better yet, idiot Shinra was paying for it! After Lazard's disappearance, HR had only ever made a mess of their communications with their department. With Sephiroth gone, it probably only got worse. "Yeah, Costa De Sol! That's holidaying in style, Spike!"

His cheery monologue was interrupted by frantic shouts from the nearby hotel. "Run for it! Run for your lives!"

He turned to the tanned proprietor, who stopped his flight only long enough to catch his breath. "What's up?"

"Sahagins! Sahagins coming out of the ocean! It's the end of Costa De Sol for sure! If you want to survive, you better run for it too!"

"What? No way I'm going to let those jerks ruin my vacation!" He plucked the parasol shielding his pale blond friend from the sun and hefted it in his hands like a sword. "Sorry Spike, I'll bring it right back!" His free luxury holiday from escaping Shinra's forces was in danger!