Here is Chapter 2 of this new and improved story. Just to warn you, this may not get an immediate update. I've got other stuff I'm working on that needs attention first. I just wanted to get this in motion. I hope someone is out there to read it!
Shower of Sparks
Chapter 2: A Dying Town
Shera stepped outside the next morning, inhaling a breath of what, to her, passed as fresh air. Somehow, Rocket Town had always managed to emit a distinctive blend of odors; it had smelled of motor oil, mud, coffee, stale liquor, and sawdust for as long as she could remember. Except on Thursdays. On Thursdays, the entire town smelt of fabric softener. For some reason, every person in the town did their laundry on Thursday. No one remembered why.
Like most, Shera didn't often stop to wonder anymore. But as she trudged towards the mailbox with her scuffed work boots untied and damp air tickling her legs, something did catch her attention. Or, perhaps, the lack of something. Rocket Town had never been a crowded place by any means. Few people had ever lived there that weren't connected with the Shinra space program, and even some who were chose to commute from other locations rather than reside there. The Shinra expense accounts had been generous enough to permit such a lifestyle.
No one had ever proposed changing the settlement's name to Rocket City, or even so much as joked about electing a mayor. Still, Shera couldn't help but be surprised at just how desolate the place had actually become.
As she retrieved a stack of envelopes from the mailbox, Shera estimated that at least a third of the population had left town in the past two months alone. Storefronts stood empty, windows grew dusty or suddenly boarded up for good. The people who did remain seemed mired in a cycle of futility. The very atmosphere radiated loss of purpose. Shera frowned. Even the poor old man... there was no rocket left for him to stare at.
What amazed her most was how completely, with what absolute faith, the fortunes of the town mirrored the tempers of The Captain. Depressing, really. The similarity made the town seem even more hopeless.
Shera remembered the day Cid returned to Rocket Town, two weeks after the confrontation with Sephiroth. The whole town went berserk, greeting him with a hero's welcome and a party for the ages. He shook the hands, accepted the congratulations, and promptly retreated to his house. He locked the doors, pulled the curtains shut, and didn't emerge from his room for a week unless he needed to eat or use the restroom.
He's exhausted, the people rationalized. Most of them, anyway.
There was a small but vocal faction who contested that The Captain was certainly too busy "reuniting" with Shera to bother with sleep. They always had assumed... Shera found it almost comforting. After all, it couldn't really hurt for them to think... I mean, it was probably the closest she was ever going to get...
Sitting down on the front step, Shera remembered the night she truly realized that things were going seriously awry with Cid, and not much better for the rest of Rocket Town.
As had happened many times in the past, the concerned townspeople had assembled to seek the advice of Captain Highwind. After Shinra had finished with Rocket Town, he had been the only person left that most of them viewed as a leader or figure of authority. They had always told visitors that he was sort of a "town representative", and they saw no reason to think this had changed after Sephiroth's defeat. If nothing else, they respected him more... until the night when they all gathered in his front yard to ask him what the town should do next-- they had no livelihood, no money. They needed a plan; a purpose, some leadership, anything. And who else was there to turn to?
After much cajoling, Shera had managed to urge a grumpy, unshaven Captain out onto the front steps.
"Finally! He'll know what to do!"
Shera had watched Cid as he stared out at the eager faces in bewilderment, bleary blue eyes gradually sharpening into a resentful glare.
"Captain! Let's open a casino! I heard from my cousin in Corel that Dio is closing down the Gold Saucer for good. Imagine all the money we could make... and the girls!" Exclaimed one young man.
An old codger bristled at this, waving his cane wildly. "I won't see this town turned into a filthy sin-pit! Besides, we don't have the money to start up an operation like that. I say we all become farmers!"
"Farmers?" Cried a chubby woman with a baby at her hip, "And what would any of you greasy old gear-heads know about planting crops?"
With this comment, the meeting dissolved into a frenzy. People shouted, trying to overpower each other. Women shrieked, and a pair of the stronger men almost came to blows.
Shera looked at Cid. "Captain, aren't you going to..."
She trailed off as he inclined his head toward her slightly and she noticed the 'angry vein' swelling at his temple. He took a step forward, propping himself against the doorway with one gloved hand.
"Would you all just shut the #& up!"
Everyone froze, regarding The Captain with rapt attention. They awaited his answer in expectant silence for a long moment. When no further speech followed, the old man spoke up. "Well, sonny? What do you think? We're all waiting to hear your advice."
The crowd murmured their agreement, but what Shera heard more clearly was a distinctive creak of leather as Cid's hand tightened around the handle of his tea mug.
"Advice," he began. "You want my advice?" His voice was cheerless, his tone laced with bitter menace. "Fine. I've got three suggestions for you. First, get your sorry asses off my #ing lawn. Second, next time you have a problem, don't come whining to me!"
Cid's voice was gradually rising into an ear-blistering scream. He took one more stride forward, causing the townspeople to recoil.
"Last but not least, I advise all of you to leave this worthless shit hole of a town and seek your fortunes elsewhere. This hunk of junk is nothing but a pile of dirt and spare #&ing parts! So do whatever you want to do and leave me the hell alone!"
With that, Cid hurled his teacup across the yard, smashing it against a fence post and splattering several unfortunate people with hot tea. He turned away from their horrified faces and retreated back into the house. Shera stood for a moment, mouth opening and closing as the townspeople turned to look at her. Thinking of no adequate words, she followed Cid back into the house and closed the door behind her.
That was when the people started leaving. Almost every day someone else came to bid Shera farewell, often not-so-subtly hinting that she should follow suit and leave Captain Highwind to his own devices. After that day, Cid's anger had ebbed, and he had begun his lifeless existence as the seeming shell of the man he had been. No raging, no shouting, no laughing; not even the critical banter Shera had come, somehow, to enjoy. He just tinkered with his machines, drank his tea, and stared absently up into the sky.
Oh well, Shera mused, using a knife to unseal a letter from her cousin in Junon as she stepped back into the kitchen. It could be worse. She leaned against the counter, turning on the kettle to make the Captain's tea. At least he came back alive...
And though that was technically accurate, a small voice in the back of Shera's mind still wondered whether or not it was true. He certainly didn't act alive. She sighed. In any case, there was nothing more she could do...
She shook these troubles from her mind and began to read the letter.
How's my favorite cousin? I hope that grizzly old Captain isn't working you into the ground like he used to. Of course, you always seemed to enjoy it, so who am I to judge? I still think you should find yourself a man who appreciates you, but I guess that's none of my business!
Anyway, just writing to tell you that Karnak and i are nicely settled here in Junon. You simply must come to visit us! The whole of upper Junon is on the rise, and it's safe and fun and we absolutely love it! In fact, Karnak suggested that I ask you to come and live with us. There's a new company here that's hiring scientists and engineers and machinists like crazy. We've been trying to figure out what they're up to, but apparently they're somewhat secretive. With your experience with machines and your time in the space program they'd probably jump at the chance to hire you!
I know it's not likely that we can persuade you to leave Rocket Town or that Captain of yours, but please at least think about it. We'd love to see you. Got to stick together, right? Write me back as soon as you get a chance.
Your obnoxious (you know you love it!) cousin,
Shera allowed herself a small smile. Her cousins were the only family she had left. Both Karnak and Karwen shared her father's temperament, being the children of her father's younger sister. Shera was less boisterous, quiet and unexciting, like her mother.
She set the letter thoughtlessly on top of the other mail and rapidly returned to the boiling tea kettle as Cid lumbered across the kitchen. She watched wordlessly as he pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing with seeming resignation at the start of yet another spirit-crushing day...
There. I was going to continue it, but I wanted to get this posted before I go to work this afternoon so the next bits will have to wait for another day. I'd be delighted to know if anyone is actually interested in this story. I promise, Cid will get better. But he'll have to get worse first!
:GIGGLES WITH GLEE AT PROSPECT OF FAVORITE CHARACTER TORTURE:
Don't worry, we'll get him sorted out. He just needs someone to remind him why he fought to save The Planet in the first place! Drop a review!