The Boss was livid. The punk had used his last remaining hours on the earth to learn the controls of the Aries and then prevent anyone else from doing so. They had nearly crashed the ship sixteen times and at one point it had become invisible and they had lost it in the field. Timed invisibility is not so great a feature when no one is inside the ship.
He would have to keep Morgan, though the man was already regretting his actions. They kept him alive, but barely. Torturing him to get the information out had failed. He was stone silent, except for his screams which reverberated down the hallways.
The inmates of the prison were largely murderers, car thieves, muggers, or captured pawns of the black market. They weren’t the most intelligent of men, though some did have the unnatural spark of a high IQ. That said, the Boss only had a couple men who would have the necessary skills to pilot the Aries. It looked like Morgan might have to be the ‘captain’ of that ship. He fumed just thinking about it.
“Never mind that, he can be controlled,” The Boss murmured quietly, thinking of Morgan’s sister.
Dressed in a pressed white suit, the man strolled down through the halls of Esthar’s main prison. The inmates lounged behind bars, smiling to him as he passed, giving each other little looks, and snickering softly to themselves. The doors were never locked, but the security cameras were always on.
Once a month, and sometimes twice, the cameras would be taken down for ‘maintenance’, and during this time the boys were let out, and they’d discuss plans, let a few free to stroll the streets…have a good time…
And of course, prepare for the day where they could unite the world.
When the Boss had heard about Morgan’s plans to get the Aries…a light came on. Now that he had the ship, he was ecstatic! With the stealth ship in his powerful hands he knew he’d be able to control the ranks.
He wasn’t stupid though. The ship, stolen from a school of soldiers, would be wanted back. Unsure of the damage his men had left them in, he didn’t know when they’d attack, but he expected it. Of course, they had no idea he existed, which was a small comfort. Shipments of weapons and armour were coming in slowly, a small preparation for Balamb’s attack.
He wasn’t worried. Balamb’s soldiers were teenagers, prone to over dramatic ploys and hidden from the true horrors of the world. They were kids, while his men (and a few women) were all hard-muscled, cold-blooded veterans of the killing skill. He’d fly away in the Aries with that bastard Morgan, and leave the SeeDs to perish in the prison.
Selphie yawned and stretched out, her nunchakus tightened behind her back as her arms reached for their fullest. She was dressed in her typical yellow garb right now, but Squall had told them that they’d be dressed in the original stealth suits that Trianon had designed for the mission. If they managed to cut the power with the doors locked, then light would be heavily reduced and they would need every advantage they could get.
Across from her Quistis Trepe was outlining their plans on to paper, scribbling out things that wouldn’t work and letting her strategic mind tackle their many problems. They didn’t know the location of the Aries but it would be safe to say it had to be an open area, unless they had a door large enough to cram the ship through.
Having the creator the Aries beside her made things easier. Selphie had prattled off the mechanics of her ship, briefly going over everything it was capable of and adding ideas of what they might have done with it.
“If they leave someone inside and toggle the invisibility they could just leave the ship in the field and we’d have to bump into it,” She suggested with a careful frown.
Quistis winced at the mental image of her SeeDs running willy-nilly over a field trying to ram into an invisible ship. Then it struck her.
“We have smoke bombs in the Ragnarok right?”
“Quisty you’re brilliant! We can smoke up the court and find my ship! And make those meanies choke! YEAH!” Selphie jumped on to the table and struck a pose just as Irvine came in.
What he saw was Selphie posed like a perfect statue, legs parted and fist raised with determination on her face, with a calm but mildly surprised Quistis looking up at her while the table wobbled. Shrugging it off, but happy to see her back to her old self, Irvine sat by Quistis and stabled the table while Selphie jumped off, grabbed his hat, and took off to find Squall. The two remaining SeeDs smiled to each other and then turned to more important matters.
“If you can’t find Trianon in the time it takes us to get a hold of Morgan and the Aries, you have to get out, and we can return later,” Quistis watched him closely, waiting for the inevitable reaction.
“Quistis! If I find her in there I’m getting her out no matter what, you saw what they did to Selphie,” Irvine growled, glaring at the blonde woman.
“Irvine, it’s dangerous in there. If you run out of time, locate her and then get the hell out unless it is EASY to get her out,” Quistis argued, knowing her friend wasn’t thinking rationally.
“Quistis, I need to save her the first time, “ Irvine shook his head.
“Would you leave Seifer in there?” He challenged.
“I am Instructor,” Quistis sizzled, “If I had direct orders to escape when the time was up I would leave him if I had to. I wouldn’t like it. But I would have to.”
Irvine sighed and looked away, then abruptly stood up, threw his chair to the floor and stalked out of the room. Quistis sighed and ran a hand through her hair, closing her eyes.
“Damn you Kinneas.”
Squall had enough time to look up before a flying blur of yellow scored a direct hit to his chest. Lounging on his bed on the Ragnarok, Squall hadn’t expected a sudden tackle, and it knocked the breath out of him when she hit him.
Arms secured around his chest and a grinning face beamed up at him from under the rim of Irvine’s cowboy hat. Squall laughed softly, easing himself down the bed and holding the little yellow limpet closer. Trying to keep her still while she squirmed all over the place like an anxious puppy proved to be difficult and both of them ended up laughing.
Finally breaking free, Selphie sat bolt-upright, tipping the hat further down her face, and grinned.
“We have plans to beat those baddies DOWN!!!” She cheered.
“What are they?” Squall asked, sitting back up himself and leaning against the wall behind him.
“I want pink smoke!”
Morgan watched from his cell as massive machines were erected to the top corners of the prison and armed with stacks of ammunition. The Aries was too large to be taken inside, even through the double doors that could fit almost anything. No one wanted to leave it defenceless so it was being sheltered in the middle of the grassy plain with over fifty heavily armed guns pointing at it.
He thought it was sort of silly. They would make Aries invisible, and then point everything in the surrounding area at it. Wow, that wouldn’t show them where the ship was at all! Of course, the SeeDs would have to get through one side of the building before they could access the field in the middle. That would be the hard part, facing inmates who would be armed by the end of the week. Even if they attacked in three days half of the men would be given guns.
Anxiety welled up in him. He wasn’t sure what would be worse: ending up in the hands of the SeeDs, or staying with the Boss. The SeeDs would have some code of justice, and he doubted it included execution, they were, after all the ‘good guys’ deployed after criminal scum like him. Perhaps when they caught him they would eventually deliver him to Carrie for safe keeping since he had no parents. If they caught him.
Every joint in his body screamed an individual protest as he hauled himself to the corner of his cell. He didn’t want to be seen right now. He didn’t want the Boss to come for him and put him in the Aries so that he could blow the bits out of some SeeDs that might, in the end, be his savours.
He wondered, dimly, what would happen to him? In the end he supposed it didn’t matter. He was getting what he deserved.
Squall stretched and looked down at his black-sheathed body. Selphie skipped in, holding hands with Kerei and Michelle, all three of them decked out in their black suits. Selphie had decided to make hers “cute” and had put dark lace around the shoulder plates. She did look cute. As soon as the brunette saw him she dropped her friends’ hands and danced over, leaning up to kiss him on the cheek and giggle when he blushed.
Squall looked down, his cheeks flushing slightly as he saw the smiles on everyone’s faces. He knew half of it was because Selphie was back to normal, but they were also thrilled that he had cheered up over his loss of…what was her name? Squall grinned and ruffled Selphie’s hair.
“Let’s go kiddo,” He said softly, taking her hand and leading her away.
Selphie squealed and promptly took the lead, dragging him to the Ragnarok.
“That was so cute!” Michelle wailed, her hands clasped at her chest.
Kerei rolled her eyes and then looked at Zell and her friend, “C’mon, let’s go!”
Zell tore off swinging his fists. After so many weeks of nothing he was more than psyched to be part of the action.
Seifer rolled his eyes at the excitement of his fellow SeeDs. Give them a suicide mission and they reacted as if it were a birthday party. Looking down at Quistis he looped his arm around her shoulders and dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
“Trepe-baby, you look so fine in black,” He grinned wolfishly,
Quistis looked up at him seriously, “Down boy.”
Seifer’s face fell and Irvine cracked up behind them, “Shot DOWN man!”
Seifer rolled his eyes and headed towards the Ragnarok with a smirking Quistis and a grinning Irvine. It just wasn’t his day!
“This is the President, we order you to come out,” Laguna sighed and put down the megaphone, “They are so not coming out…”
“Then let’s go in,” Quistis glared frostily at the silent prison as she uncoiled her whip.
“We figured this would happen,” Laguna sighed, “Get the papers ready for court dates, someone get some backup ready and I want our manpower to disable any outside threats to the SeeDs. Squall, be careful.”
Squall gazed at his father, staring into Laguna's eyes so identical to his own yet softer now with age. The SeeD nodded, he never knew what to say in these situations. His arm was looped around Selphie’s waist and she was gazing up at Sir Laguna with shimmering eyes.
“We’ll do our best sir!” She declared.
Laguna grinned at her before his eyes suddenly narrowed. He looked at Selphie. He looked at Squall. Selphie and Squall?
“S-Squall…you…you…and her…?” Laguna began to redden in excitement.
Squall began to redden in embarrassment.
“Yup!” Selphie chirped, hugging her ‘Squallie’.
“Anyhow,” Squall managed to turn around with the chipper girl hanging on to him.
Quistis nodded seriously and motioned for the other SeeDs to get ready and align themselves in their groups. Michelle and Kerei looked at one another and bumped knuckles for good luck while Irvine simply stared directly ahead.
“Commencement of Mission: Interlock Alpha-2,” Quistis ordered, pointing forward and whistling for Laguna’s soldiers to be on the alert.
Now into action, Squall, Quistis, Seifer and Selphie moved in first. They reached the prison doors and rolled to either side as Laguna shot a missile straight at it. Selphie covered her face as shrapnel exploded around them but found Squall’s body sheltering her had protected her instead.
When the smoke was billowing out strongly but the flames had died down, Quistis covered her mouth and nose and then ducked her head as she ran inside. The other three followed her quickly, with their weapons drawn. It was time.
Kerei and Michelle watched as the first four SeeDs dashed in through the haze. When the team disappeared from sight the second the two girls quickly followed Zell as he sprinted inside, a hand over his face to ward off the thick smoke that burned their eyes and curled up into the sky.
Once they were all inside the two groups split up. It wasn’t much of a choice, left or right, the dead-on only being an office. Quistis waved her group down the left corridor and Zell took his down the right. As soon as Irvine came in he walked straight into the deserted office and wondered if he could find clues as to where Trianon would be.
There was a small television screen balanced on the corner of the desk and a remote control with it that caught the Cowboy’s eye. He flicked through the channels quickly but found they weren’t helpful at all. Every hallway looked identical, and none of them showed the main control room.
As Irvine leafed through papers as quickly as he could he heard the sounds of battle explode around him. The smoke cleared and the Cowboy began to run. He had an entire prison to search.
“Over there! Two more!”
“On your left!”
“Where the hell did they get weapons!?”
“Quick! Split up! We’ll cover you!”
Chaos was everywhere, and though the smoke had cleared it didn’t help clear the confusion. Quistis looked at the disarray, Selphie and Seifer running down the hallway as fast as they could, men on their heels, and Squall was fighting hard while pressed against a wall. His scar had been reopened but the blood didn’t hinder him much, the pressure was on to succeed and he knew what the costs could be if they failed. Namely their lives.
A snap echoed over the yells as Quistis’ whip coiled around the throat of a grinning inmate. His grin vanished as she pulled hard on the hilt and snapped the man’s neck. Her hair splashed over her face and she tossed it back with a violent jerk as Quistis found herself surrounded once more. They had come so quickly, she knew whomever was in charge of the prison had known they were coming. Why else would the men have weapons? The good news was that Squall and her were too closely tangled with the men for them to use their guns easily. Now it was fists, chains and knives they had to look out for.
In the thick of the battle, Squall shoved his opponent away and slashed down angrily at the back of a man targeting Quistis. When the two fell, Squall lurched forward and grabbed Quistis’ hand, pulling her out and running with her down the hall in echo of Selphie and Seifer’s steps.
They came to a point in the hallway when another corridor opened up adjacent to them. Skidding over the smooth floors, Squall yanked Quistis in and then dropped her hand as he steamed ahead. The thud of their boots was the only sound louder than their heartbeats as they heard the inmates following them. Squall could hear their laughter from behind them. Squall hissed in barely contained rage then abruptly stopped mid-stride and whirled around.
“GO!” He shouted to Quistis as she faltered.
Quistis wasn’t able to slow herself down and she nearly fell as she watched Squall rushing head-on into eight men with their fists raised. Her SeeD training kicked in and she turned around with tears sparking up. Would she have to leave him in the very end? This really was a suicide run.
Her legs took steps that seemed unimaginably long as Trepe searched in the blind darkness. All over the stone maze she heard footsteps and yells, cries of pain and cries of glee. She couldn’t tell what was a reverberation, or what was real and happening over and over again. Breaths came out short and fast as she looked around trying to discern where she was from the maps they had studied. She was panicking. All alone with only herself with no one to be strong for, Quistis Trepe was beginning to fall.
“Where are we?” Selphie gasped, bursting into a hallway and stopping to catch her breath.
“No time for that, they’re still on our heels, head’s up sunshine,” Seifer gritted his teeth as they watched four cool and collected thugs advance.
“Seifer, over there, there’s a map behind those men,” Selphie breathed, her emerald eyes wide.
“You’re right, let’s go.”
The two SeeDs charged, Seifer running first and knocking into a man with his bulk while the lighter girl used her nunchakus as flails to injure their enemies in all directions. Both of them were bruised and tired but they were accustomed to this abuse and it only served as fuel.
Screams of pain sent chills down Selphie’s spine as she watched a man blister and then turn to ash before her eyes. Even though she was junctioned to Ifrit she never became used to watching the effects of fire on skin and flesh.
Seifer sighed as small cuts healed up immediately and he sent a harsh punch into the face of the man closest to him, receiving one akin to it in the kidneys. His eyes flared and Seifer swore, driving Hyperion through the ribs of the man and hissing in victory.
“Get to the map,” He growled.
Selphie nodded and slipped away as Seifer took down the last man, already injured from the little brunette. Tracing her finger over the plaque Selphie’s eyes quickly memorized their corner of the prison.
“This way, follow my lead, if we get split up, remember the combination of R-L-L-R-L.”
Seifer groaned and nodded, hoping he wouldn’t screw that up.
They began running anew, lungs turning to fire as they did so, a thirst growing in their throats and although both had brought water, neither stopped for a drink. Selphie kept her nunchakus in her tight fists as she traced the empty cells with her eyes. So many of them were left without a man in them, and somewhere they had to be congregating.
A deep sense of wariness flooded her body as she slowed down, hearing no one behind them. Seifer felt the change too and looked at her with caution ringing in his aqua depths.
“Something’s wrong,” He muttered.
“Do you think they’re waiting for us at the Aries, or at the controls?”
“Even if they meet us at the controls, it looks like they’ve emptied all the cells anyhow,” Seifer whispered.
“They couldn’t have, that’s way too many men, we’d be crowded over,” Selphie whispered back, “I bet you they’ve kept the far end inside as back up forces, we can still lock them in. And think about it, the weapon’s rooms...we need to close them before they’ve been depleted.”
Seifer nodded and they crept along as fast as they could.
Irvine rested his back against the wall. Empty shells were making a mess around him as he loaded and reloaded Exeter. The sniper had picked a good spot and was casually shooting down any inmate that happened to stumble over him. As he worked he shattered cameras and broke the guns the injured men left behind.
He would work hallway by hallway, searching for the cerulean woman. Inside his mind he felt the guardian force stir. Begging to be released soon. He gritted his teeth against it though, this was no time to lose control of magic.
On cat’s feet he slipped around the corner, noting with satisfaction an empty hallway. His eyes were drawn at once to the plaque on the wall, containing a map behind the plastic surface. His eyes widened. He was very close to the control room.
“New plan. I will rescue you Trianon.” He promised to the still air around him.
As he jogged to the end of the hall he darted back into the shadows as two lines of men marched closer and closer. Quickly, the Cowboy hid himself in one of the abandoned cells and waited quietly.
Gunshots rang out one by one like a waterfall of noise ending as a cascade of bodies fell to the ground. Irvine’s head rang with all the echoes but he stumbled out and carried on, trying to ignore the stench of blood.
“Hyne…” Squall looked at his bleeding arm and repeated another curaga spell.
He had taken a five minute rest for some water and curing spells. Unconscious men were strewn out around him and he knew if he didn’t move soon they’d be back up and ready to fight him again.
Quistis was gone, far away enough that he could no longer see her. Squall decided to take a whole new direction in hopes of getting to the control room faster and maybe reuniting with Selphie.
On his new route he came across something he regarded as peculiar. A ladder built into the wall disappeared into a circle cut into the ceiling. Curiously he climbed in, cautiously keeping his gunblade up and ready to deflect or injure anything that came out on top of him.
There was nothing inside that could harm him, making the SeeD sigh in relief. Squall found himself on a catwalk of sorts in a room of pipes and old storage. At the end of the room there was a patch of light that signified a way out and so he began to head towards it.
When he reached the square he realized it opened up to a circular room. The catwalk wrapped around the inside of the room near its ceiling, so that men who stood there could watch what occurred below. Squall felt his heart hit his chest painfully as he chanced a look down. The room was solid men. In the middle was the control station. They hadn’t seen him yet but there was no way he could hit all of them. There were over a hundred, maybe even two hundred armed men all facing outwards to watch four doors on either side. It was all a trap.
“Almost there,” Quistis breathed in relief.
She had found one of the many maps situated in the prison and was amazed to find herself quite close to the control room. She had paused then, to cure herself and make sure was prepared for a new fight. Save the Queen was coiled in a tight grip, hanging at her side ready to be unleashed.
As the door slid into view Quistis frowned at the silence around her. Pressing into the shadows she squinted to see inside the slit that served as a window inside the door. In her belt she found a small set of binoculars and she raised them up to her eyes warily.
Two glaring eyes stared back.
Quistis dropped the binoculars and flinched when they smashed on the ground. She swept the pieces off to one side and tried to calm her trembling heart.
The room was crowded with men.
“We’re there,” Selphie whispered, looking at Seifer with uncertainty.
“Look,” Seifer’s eyes were wide.
Selphie stood on her tiptoes and blanched. Unconsciously she leaned into Seifer and bit her lip.
“We don’t stand a chance,” she said solemnly, “But if we can clear some of those men out, Quisty and Squall might be able to lock the rest of them up.”
Seifer couldn’t believe how brave the petite woman was but he didn’t say anything. Taking a deep breath he nodded and the two SeeDs strode forward with determination shining in their eyes.
The door opened.
The men stiffened.
On the opposite side of the room a gasp came up.
They were here.
Grins dotted the faces and muscles flexed. Three SeeDs stood with bullets in their eyes and their arms raised.