Disclaimer: Everyone except for Lt. Anton Tempest, Lt. General Colt Winchester, Sargeant Ozzie Hendrix, and Dr. Brett Harley, Dr. Sanjay Sushutra and Dr. Jarrod Raker, belong to Square Enix. I just brought them out to play.
1 Month into the Advanced Program...
"Good. Do it again. Faster this time," General Hewley said coldly.
"Yes sir!" Zack straightened, as the VR course reset itself.
Despite his misgivings after the first week in the advanced program, Zack was now pumped to be a part of it. At the end of each week there was one "Recovery Day" – all students were allotted a day of rest. No training, no homework, just a day let their bodies recover from the intense training regimen. However, it did have its drawbacks: on recovery day, the students were confined to their quarters the whole day and night to make sure they actually rested and didn't use the day to goof off. The food that was brought to them on that day was precisely measured to each student's dietary specifications based on body type; metabolism muscle mass and structure; and many other things, to ensure maxim nutrients to the recovering muscles. Plus there was a strict lights out at 2200 hours.
And Zack soon found out why. He couldn't believe how quickly his body adapted after only 2 weeks. Exercises that had nearly killed him that first day were now – while still intense – completely doable. Now he understood why Angeal was pushing him extra hard, the more his body was pushed to its limits, the stronger it became when it recovered.
Now all he wished was that Angeal would lighten up a little bit. Not in his training regimen, but his demeanor. He missed the friend that he had laughed with at Golden Saucer and fell in love with in Wutai. Zack knew Angeal was there under the intimidating exterior of General Hewley, but he just wish he could see him a little bit.
Well, he would just have to train harder be so good that General Hewley would have no complaints, and then Angeal might permit himself to come out.
Zack took a deep breath and readied his sword to take on the virtual enemies.
Sephiroth sat in his office going over the evening paperwork. There had been some rather important missions that had involved ridding some monsters from a mine in Corel; important in that it had been a young officer on his first mission after rehabbing from a serious injury, and his performance needed to be evaluated carefully – by expert eyes –and, it being a first class officer, it required Sephiroth himself to deem him ready to be back to full active first class duty.
Before reading the report, he glanced over to a small black velvet holder next to him on his desk. Around it was the diamond necklace Genesis had given him before their trip to golden saucer.
While he did not think it proper to wear such a personal trinket with his uniform, there was nothing wrong with adding it to one of the neatly placed mementos on his desk. One was a small zen garden with a glass replica of a Banora white apple tree – a present from Angeal; another was a picture of the three of them in Costa Del Sol about to toss Genesis into the water. They were barely out of their teens then and Sephiroth remembered that that was the first time he had ever truly laughed. Not a polite chuckle, or a snicker, but a real full belly aching laugh of pure joy. Seeing him laugh like that had quickly erased Genesis' miffed demeanor at being thrown in the water to one of laughter as well.
He gently traced the diamond, and wondered if he could produce the rainbow from the prism like Genesis had. He was about to give it a try when there was beep on his speaker phone.
"Yes." Sephiroth automatically straightened, despite the fact that there was no one in the room.
"Sephiroth, this is Lazard. We have an emergency situation in Wutai. I need you in my office immediately. I am notifying the other officers now."
"Yes, Director." There was a no change in Sephiroth's voice or expression, but he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and his heart fill with dread.
Sephiroth's pace was brisk down the hallways to Lazard's office, but controlled. The last thing he wanted was to start rumors of concern amongst the staff before he even knew what was going on. Even still, his face conveyed nothing of the turmoil going on in his head.
Had Wutai called off the negotiations? Had they attacked? Was Genesis injured? Was he…?
He didn't even dare think of the last possibility lest the cold mask of his facial expression crack. He would deal it with it if it came up, but not before.
"Director?" Sephiroth addressed formally when he entered Lazard's office. "What is the situation?"
"From the scant reports we have received so far, apparently there was a hostage situation during one of the negotiation meeting." Lazard said gravely.
"Who were the hostages?" Sephiroth asked calmly, despite the panic rising in him.
"The entire negotiating party: General Rhapsodos, of course, but also Godo," Lazard said. "Apparently someone was attempting to break up the negotiations."
"And it has been resolved?" Sephiroth asked, a touch of hope glimmering, at Lazard's use of the past tense.
"There were reports of an explosion, but the entire negotiating party was unharmed." Lazard said. "Genesis is going to make his report in a few minutes as soon as we can establish a secure video feed, and when the commander has time between fixing the chaos I am sure is going on."
The tight expression on Sephiroth's face slackened just ever so slightly at the immense relief flowing through him. Genesis was all right.
However, by no means did he relax completely. His lover was still in a hot bed of danger.
A few seconds later, Angeal came briskly into the room, followed by Winchester. General Hewley was usually just as good at hiding his emotions as Sephiroth when he wanted to, but now the worry was plain on his face.
"Genesis is alive," Sephiroth said, guessing that that was the cause of Angeal's apprehension.
Angeal noticeably relaxed, as did Winchester.
"So what the hell did happen?" Winchester asked. "Are we still dealin' with a hostage situation or what?"
"I am sorry I did not explain it clearer; I was still receiving information myself," Lazard explained. "The hostage situation was resolved with all our party safe."
Lazard explained the situation to the other officers as he did to Sephiroth, but the apprehension returned to his face.
"Unfortunately this situation has led to a new problem; who are the people who are trying to prevent peace?" Lazard interlaced his fingers and rested his chin on the formed fist, looking even more pensive. "And we won't know more until Genesis reports in."
"How long will that be?" Angeal asked, trying to maintain his stoic countenance, though he could not quite hide the urgency in his voice.
"As soon as they can set up a secure link so the Wutaians can't tap in," Lazard said.
"We need to get quicker stuff," Winchester muttered under his breath.
Just then one of Lazard's assistants came over the speaker phone to inform the director that the link had been established.
There were a few flickers on the large screen behind Lazard and then the image of what appeared to be a large tent came on the screen. A SOLDIER, a second class by the look of his uniform, came into view from off to the side.
"Director Lazard, General Sephiroth can you hear and see me?" the SOLDIER asked respectfully raising his hand in salute.
"Yes, we can hear and see you. At ease SOLDIER," Sephiroth answered.
"Thank you, sir. I will get commander Rhapsodos." The SOLDIER got up and dashed outside the tent.
Though they couldn't be seen behind the tent flap, the sound of Genesis calling out orders in the background was as clear as a bell. They could also hear the SOLDIER informing Genesis that the connection was up and he could make his report. And apparently Genesis underestimated the power of the microphone on the SOLDIER's headset for a whispered "shit" could be heard as well. At least Sephiroth heard it, and strangely it almost made him smile, for he now knew his fiery redhead was alive and well.
Genesis came in looking none to cordial. His brow was furrowed, and his usually luscious full lips were pulled into a tight frown line.
"I'm trying to handle chaos out there, so I'll be brief," Genesis said adjusting the headset.
"I'll believe it when I see it," Winchester grinned.
"Normally I would appreciate that quip from you, but right now I am NOT in the mood," Genesis snapped.
"Genesis, what happened with the hostage situation? What is happening?" Sephiroth interjected.
"Really, it was more of an assassination disguised as a hostage situation," Genesis growled. "Even if they had been able to reach you, they had no intention of letting Godo or I live."
"So what were their intentions then?" Lazard asked.
"War plain and simple," Genesis muttered. "They would rather Wutai fight until it was ashes than be taken alive and submit to ShinRa's whims."
"How did they ambush you?" Sephiroth queried, knowing it had to be something clever or completely unexpected to caught Genesis off guard.
"It was an inside job; this man had access to the building's air ducts and rigged bombs in them to either blow us up or bury us alive or both." Genesis said.
An involuntary shiver ran through Angeal's body remembering all too clearly the monks with the explosive materia and the temple falling on top of him.
"How did you get out of the situation?" Angeal asked.
"They were watching us on hidden video cameras, which I spotted almost immediately," a wicked smirk spread across Genesis's face as he continued, "and I quickly discovered a blind spot. I signaled one of the officers with me to it, and he climbed into the air ducts and disarmed all but on of the bombs. The last bomb was on the outer part of the building. It was meant to be part of the chain reaction of bombs to bring down the whole building. But by itself it was harmless. Well..." Genesis's face suddenly turned a little sad. "At least harmless for us in the room…"
"Do we know anything about the perpetrators?" Lazard asked in an effort to quickly change the maudlin subject.
"Very little as of yet. We found the man responsible, but he grabbed a knife and slit his own throat before we could interrogate him," Genesis said with a sigh. "I was going to participate in the investigation of his body when you insisted I report instead."
"All right, we'll let you get back to the investigation," Lazard said. "But please update us with any new information."
"Will do." Genesis nodded firmly and turned to go.
"Hold up," Winchester spoke. "You said one of the bombs went off, was the SOLDIER disarmin' the bombs hurt?"
"Good question, were there any soldier casualties?" Sephiroth added.
Genesis let out suddenly weary sigh and turned around, the sad look from before returning to his face. "Yes, the one disarming the bombs was injured quite badly."
"What was his name?" Winchester's voice dropped a little as if he already knew the answer and was dreading.
Genesis winced a little at the question and could not look Colt in the eye as he spoke the name.
"Lieutenant Anton Tempest..."
And just when you thought you were safe from angst...