“All right. The man we are looking for is named Gerald Clark. He is wanted in several states, including the Qun’sho, surprisingly. Rich beyond belief, the man holds a rather large estate in the Deling region. He has undergone a name change to become Gerald Clark, which is why his mansion was overlooked before. He does not realize we know his alias. SeeDs will report to the mansion where Clark has not been present for many months since his job in the prison kept him there. Sources tell us Clark is going to arrive at the mansion in three days. In two, SeeDs will arrive, and take out the current household staff. The morning before he arrives you will assume your positions. After you find out Clark’s future plans, please capture our target and submit proper evidence,” Xu gave them a hawk-eyed stare before she continued, “any questions?”
“Does it have to be in two days?” Irvine winced.
“Yes.” Xu responded.
Irvine sank in his seat and sighed miserably. His date with Trianon had been planned on the night they left. The cerulean-haired woman smiled softly at the cowboy, though he didn’t notice, she knew what he was thinking and felt bad for him.
As they departed, the SeeDs all picked up a bag containing their uniform for the mission and files to memorize so that any information asked of them by Clark could be readily answered with no suspicion. Exhausted by her Galbadia trip, Selphie was glad she wouldn’t necessarily be directly involved in the mission this time around. Cheerfully she volunteered to stay nearby and keep radio communication with her friends, telling them to break pipes or machinery if they needed assistance.
Skipping down the hall, Selphie ducked into her room and looked at all the boxes. She could unpack later, now that she knew she would be staying. A happy giggle escaped her lips and she fell on her bed and clutched a pillow to her chest.
‘I’m glad your back Selphie, I love you,’ Squall’s words floated into her mind.
“Eeee!” Selphie squealed and curled up around the pillow, blushing and giggling.
She had barely finished her fit of laughter before there was a knock on her door and Squall shuffled in. He seemed embarrassed and shy, which only served to tickle Selphie more. When she had successfully reddened his cheeks to cherry, Selphie let up and pounced on the commander.
“Hey, you,” He said softly, kissing her forehead and laughing quietly as she wrapped her legs around his waist, “Are you all ready for the mission? Have you had enough rest?”
“Yup, no worries,” Selphie smiled happily, “I’m just a backup so relax!”
Squall nodded and ruffled her hair, listening to her squeal again, which made him laugh. The two curled up on Selphie’s bed and quietly chatted the afternoon away.
“Damnit,” Seifer sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
“Sorry, Cid wanted to use you but Balamb’s regulations say for undercover missions only top SeeDs are allowed, and you’re still a freshy.” Quistis apologized.
“What if you need me?” Seifer protested.
“Selphie and Nida are the backup, don’t worry Seifer, this mission should be out within the week at least!” Quistis sipped her cup of coffee and looked into the troubled sea-green eyes.
“I hate missing out on the action,” Seifer scowled.
“You’d make a very…growly butler,” Quistis remarked with a small laugh.
Seifer sighed, “I can act, woman! I can act!”
“You still look like a fierce bear.” Quistis giggled.
Seifer rolled his eyes and leaned back against lounge couch. He was frustrated that he wasn’t going on the mission, what if they needed him like before?
“Don’t worry, Seifer!” Quistis emphasized, leaning over and giving him a peck on the cheek, “We’ll be okay and back before you know it.”
Seifer nodded and slung an arm around Quistis’ shoulders. She smiled and leaned on his shoulder. The mission would be…interesting. SeeDs were used to combat and wars, not undercover agents assuming the household positions of the world’s biggest crime organizer. Lately their style had been changing to adapt to odd situations, making Quistis wonder why Cid would accept such strange missions.
“SeeD is really trying to assume more positions…” She mused.
“Mm, it is, all this new stealth-equipment isn’t really Balamb’s style, I guess the competition is getting stiffer?” Seifer looked down at the halo of blonde hair nestled up against his body.
“Must be, otherwise we wouldn’t be changing direction so quickly. Those new classes on diplomacy, weapons and stealth manoeuvres are completely full as soon as new spaces in the timetable provide them. We also need new classes on engineering stealth ships like the Aries; Selphie couldn’t build an entire fleet by herself in a short time period.” Quistis tilted her head, “I bet you anything they’ll try and make Selphie an instructor. If she leaves for good Balamb will lose in the technological race for weapons, Cid could easily secure her by making her an instructor.”
“Selphie’s too young for that,” Seifer’s eyes widened, “I can’t imagine her in front of a classroom.”
“She’s our age, silly, she just looks young. She is good at directing people, you know, think of all her volunteer work.” Quistis poked Seifer in the ribs.
“Do you think she’d accept a position as an instructor? Seems a little strict for her.”
“I’m sure she could make class fun for the kids,” Quistis smiled, “She’d wreak havoc on the teacher’s lounges though. Decorate them all up, play loud music…”
“Sounds like you’ll have fun, Trepe,” Seifer smirked.
“Oh, I sure will.” Quistis sighed, but inside she was smiling at the thought of her friend remaining at Balamb.
Trianon stood in front of a large mirror and stared dubiously at her reflection. Beside her, Michele twirled, turned pink, and yanked her skirts down fiercely. The two women shared wary glances at each other and continued posing and fretting over their costumes.
“It defies gravity!” Michelle wailed as her skirts bounced back up.
“They’re supposed to be knee-length! This barely meets mid-thigh,” Trianon observed the black skirts that flared nearly straight-out.
Buoyed up but four small, crimped underskirts, their maid costumes were scandalous in design. When one tugged down on the bottom there was a rush to pull up on the top, it was an ever lose-lose situation.
“I feel like I’m going to pop out at any moment,” Michelle whispered to Trianon, her eyes wide.
Trianon looked down at her own chest, wondering how she had acquired so much breast without noticing.
“It must be the corset,” She informed Michelle, “Perhaps we can get them altered.”
“Not when we leave tomorrow we won’t,” Michelle growled, glaring at her reflection, “I feel like…like…a showgirl! I can't believe he dresses his employees like this!”
“Dizzzam!” Irvine grinned wolfishly as he strolled into the room, "Say what you want about Gerald, he knows how to dress his staff!"
Trianon narrowed her eyes and Michelle gave Irvine a baleful look, “This is not amusing Mr. Kinneas,” The guardian force said frostily, “I demand to wear my full armour!”
Irvine snickered as Xu shook her head with authority. Feeling fine about his black suit, Irvine had no qualms to deal with. His gun could be easily hidden in his vest and he felt casual standing in finery.
“Ouch!” Michelle yipped as her garter belt undid and the strap slapped her on the hand, causing Irvine to laugh again.
Red-faced and looking away as Trianon crouched down to do it up for her, Michelle wished she could have been a bodyguard like Kerei. Both Kerei and Zell were wearing armoured vests and baggy pants, and the only skin showing was above their necks. Trianon stood up and patted Michelle on the shoulder with sympathy.
“The faster we get this done the sooner we’ll be back in SeeD uniforms.” She said in a comforting voice.
“I hope so,” Michelle turned red when she saw Irvine leering at her, “I hope we don’t have to work by him.”
Trianon laughed, “Probably not,” she then smirked at Irvine’s crestfallen face.
Ignoring the playful banter, Squall adjusted his bowtie and tugged on his lapels. He looked professional, stoic, contemporary…obviously the ideal image of the perfect gentlemen…
“Squall, stop preening and get over here,” Xu’s voice cut through the Commander’s thoughts.
Sighing, Squall walked over and sat down in a small ring of chairs surrounding a table where folders had been distributed. Michelle and Trianon sat down carefully, both extremely self-conscious of their skirts, while Zell and Kerei were bounding everywhere—testing the flexibility of their uniforms.
“All right. We’ve sent in Estharian soldiers to wipe out any staff already inside the mansion. I’ll give the maids the key to the house and that will be that. Trianon and Michelle will head into the mansion first, do your job ladies, I’m sure both of you know how to clean,” Xu watched as scowls formed on both women’s faces, “Irvine will follow you in, and station himself near the door. Trepe, I need you in your office with a list of calls to give the master of the house, don’t worry, we’ll provide anonymous numbers for you, the man will most likely swish you away anyhow. Zell and Kerei will stand outside waiting for Squall who will pick up Gerald Clark, you must escort the man inside his home. Clark will no doubt have his own guards, but we have records of him hiring two extras to be stationed at the mansion for his arrival. Is this all understood?”
“Yes ma’am,” They all replied in unison, some more cheerfully than others.
Trianon stared outside the window of her escort car with stony eyes. The mansion they were approaching seemed to lurch into existence out of nowhere. Surrounded by a twelve-foot high pointed fence of foreboding black, the mansion was then situated in the middle of a 10-acre garden-laid field. Although beautiful, Trianon only saw it for its sinister decoration. She could see cameras hidden in plants, heat-sensors, laser-targeting weapons, hedges meant to hide guards…this was a garden of evil construction.
As the car slowed the two women looked at each other and took in deep breaths. Trianon opened her door and stepped out, standing tall and confidently. On the other side of the car Michelle rose and looked up, up, up at the mansion.
“We have to clean this place…” She said softly.
Trianon exhaled slowly, “We do.”
They grabbed small bags of extra clothes and then hiked up to the mansion, rapping on the door just in case before Trianon withdrew a small silver key from her bag. Michelle looked around nervously before the door clicked open and Trianon stepped inside.
“It’s…uh…dark,” Michelle blinked, peering inside.
Trianon looked around but didn’t find any light switches in the immediate area. After the two women searched around for ten minutes they had still found nothing. After shutting the door and thinking for a moment in the dark, Michelle clapped her hands.
A solid whoosh whistled throughout the house. Lights blinked on in every room, ran up hallways, lit up staircases, and in five seconds no less, the house was alive. Eyes wide as saucers, Trianon stared at Michelle while the pigtailed woman looked around in wonder.
“That is some fancy planning,” Michelle whispered.
“Let’s go find some dusters and brooms,” Trianon whispered.
“You never know, he might have robots to do it all for us,” Michelle said hopefully,
“Doubt it,” Trianon said after a moment, “Clark seems like the type of guy who would enjoy seeing people work under him.”
They found cleaning supplies up in the attic where servant bedrooms were also present. Starting on the ground floor the women dusted every available surface and washed floors as quickly as they could, trying to complete key rooms first before moving on to areas they didn’t think many people would venture into.
Halfway through the day Irvine sauntered in and made himself at home in the living room. They had four hours before Clark was due and Michelle and Trianon were already winded from their fast-paced cleaning. Two hours before the due time the girls finished and Zell and Kerei arrived…
“Half an hour,” Michelle looked at her watch and played with her hair.
“Ten minutes,” Trianon announced, moving towards the front hall.
“Sorry I’m late!”
Quistis ran in, scurried up the stairs and bounded back down with a stack of cue cards. Her glasses were tilted and her hair was falling out of the barrettes in places. Skidding to a stop she quickly fixed her appearance in a small mirror she kept in her breast pocket and breathlessly fixed her posture.
“Five minutes.” A car appeared at the gates.
“Two minutes.” It arrived at the front drive.
“One minute.” The car stopped, Kerei and Zell strode up.
“Thirty seconds.” Trianon and Michelle aligned themselves with Quistis.
“Now.” Irvine winked as he opened the door, and stepped back.
Zell and Kerei marched in and stood opposite of the maids on the side of the hall where Irvine stood. A man wearing a grey suit, surrounded by armed men, walked in and looked at the staff assembled closely. For a moment he thought they looked familiar, but he couldn’t place it.
“Master Clark, I have a list of calls received in your absence,” Quistis stepped up and looked down at her cards, preparing to rattle them off, “A Mr Ja—”
“I’m sure you can deal with them,” Gerald waved his hand at her, making the woman falter and step back.
He appraised her slowly. Hair was immaculate, skirt fell to knees but accented shapely hips, white blouse was pressed and pocket held two pens and one pencil. Her glasses where balanced properly on the bridge of her nose and everything about her posture read ‘strict’. A good choice.
“I’m expecting guests this evening, I want this place done up nicely.” Gerald turned to Irvine, “See to it we hire caterers and helping hands to arrange the furniture in such a way that there is ample room to move about. We will use the ballroom on the second floor, please make sure it is waxed and that long carpets are laid out underneath the tables, Ms…” Clark looked at Quistis,
“Ms Trepe, please organize everything, pay extra if the caterers balk at the rushed preparation. I want to rest now.”
Gerald Clark whisked away with his ring of bodyguards, including Zell and Kerei, while Quistis exhaled. She turned to Irvine and withdrew a pad of paper.
“You’ll be in charge of the extra servants needed, I’ll hire five more maids for Trianon and Michelle’s sake, and I’ll take care of the rest. Trianon, Michelle, I‘d get started on that floor, Irvine come with me and we’ll do a count of how many carpets, tables, and silverware we have.”
She marched away with Irvine in tow leaving Michelle and Trianon to return to the ballroom. It was massive, marble-floored, and had a three-story ceiling. Lit by at least a hundred chandeliers and sporting six doors to enter inside by, the ballroom was no small area.
“Well. Shall we start in the back and work our way forward?” Trianon asked.
“If we have to do this by hand…” Michelle narrowed her eyes.
Quistis adjusted her glasses and straightened her posture as she flipped through various files in the office. Clark had been very good at covering his illegal activities through vague statements and company names that didn’t exist any more and couldn’t be traced.
Guests had begun to arrive but the SeeD-in-disguise was not required to meet them. Armed with a highlighter and some coloured stickers, Trepe busied herself in re-sorting all the material in her office. In a mansion as big as this, the woman doubted she’d find the information here; there was probably some other office or even a special drawer in his bedroom where the man kept everything.
Downstairs people were getting loud as alcohol loosened their tongues. Quistis clicked her tongue and shut her filing cabinet. With all the noise downstairs maybe no one would notice her slip inside the Master’s bedroom. She had better know what she was doing, in that case, so Quistis pulled out her favourite weapon.
Setting up in front of the computer, so that anyone walking in wouldn’t see it, Quistis logged on to her Balamb Instructor’s account. From there she was given the information she needed most readily. The entire X-rayed floor plan of the manor, complete with all secret compartments.
“Holy Hyne,” Quistis whispered as red lines, outlining all inner safes and secret walkways, scrawled all over her computer screen.
They would have a lot of work to do. Trianon and Michelle would be able to access most of the remote areas and look casual in doing so. Kerei and Zell were useless. Unless they saw Clark actually open a compartment. Irvine had a small chance, Squall had none.
“Up to the girls,” Quistis breathed.
When Clark would be scheduled in a meeting, Quistis planned on alerting the staff under the guise of a management meeting, instructing them where to look and under what disguise they should be doing it. Biting her lip and wishing she had brought some small tracers so she could keep an eye on her fellow SeeDs, Trepe sighed quietly and shut her laptop down, concealing it under her desk.
“This will take longer than I had thought,” She muttered.
Trianon hissed as she received a grope from an unseen hand. Trying to keep the blazing anger from her eyes, the Guardian Force-turn-SeeD balanced her tray and kept walking. Gerald Clark was a chauvinistic pig when it came to his serving girls and entertainment, Trianon decided.
As the blue-haired woman passed Michelle she saw the girl’s eyes were narrowed to daggers and they shared a look of pure disgust for the people around them. Men in suits laughed to each other with bleached-hair blondes hanging off their arms as small social accessories for the men who had brought them. Dresses dripped with sequins and glittered with gem stones but for all the wealth these people had Trianon figured it probably didn’t come from any sort of intelligent or honourable job.
‘Jail rats, the whole lot of them. Black market baddies who should be put back behind bars.’ She thought in an acidic tone.
The evening was just reaching its peak, the live entertainment playing music and dancing. Clark was doing his rounds, setting up deals, and the floor had opened up for couples to twirl upon. Trianon noted business cards flashing from hand to hand like a flock of doves scattering themselves in the sky. She had pocketed a few herself, it might do to have a few connections later on if Clark managed to escape.
As she realized her tray was empty, Trianon began to head back to the kitchen. In the hallways she paused for a moment, noting all the mirrors and fine tapestries that depicted gods and goddesses of ancient mythology. Clark did have fine taste in that, she admitted sourly. A soft footfall behind her caused the maid to turn around and frown as a man disappeared into an adjoining room.
“What is he doing outside of the ballroom?” Trianon whispered, quietly following the gentleman.
He was sneaking up the stairs, oblivious to the SeeD who followed him, her fingers working inside her apron to loosen several darts lest he become dangerous. Ducking inside an open closet, Trianon held her breath as the man whirled around, looking at the dim hallways in certain paranoia that he was being followed.
As soon as he turned away Trianon peered out and watched him approach Clark’s room. Two guards stood there with stone faces and glossy machine guns. The man appeared to be asking them questions but Trianon watched him fiddling with his back pocket. The guards did too.
Her eyes flared as the guards lunged for the man’s right hand, caught in his back pocket and reaching for his gun. To her shock it was his left hand that held the small poisoned knife, nicking both guards and letting them fall soundlessly to the floor. Very clever.
The man let himself in with a satisfied smile, disappearing into the room while Trianon checked the guards behind him. Both were stunned, but not dead, at least not yet. Holding her darts tightly the guardian force slipped through the door left ajar and watched the man as he tapped on the wall above Clark’s bed. A hollow sound rang out and Trianon held her breath once more. Footsteps began to clatter up the hallways and the man, freezing for a moment, spun around. He encountered Trianon, also where she was not supposed to be.
“Stop!” Trianon shouted, launching three darts at him, one missing but the other two striking him in the neck and chest.
As the door flew open behind her, the maid rushed to the fallen man and tried to appear as if she were on the ‘good’ side of things. Clark and his bodyguards ran over, and Gerald fixed Trianon with a grim look.
“What happened?” he demanded.
“Sir, I was putting coats in the closet when I saw this man attack the guards, he entered your room where upon I knocked him out,” Trianon answered automatically, keeping as calm as she could.
“I see.” Clark stated blandly, staring at the woman.
There was an awkward moment as the man was hauled out and Trianon was kept frozen in place by Gerald’s stare. The man was rather plain looking with greying hair and blue-eyes, but that didn’t deter from the fact that he was lethal.
“Sir…I should return to my duties,” Trianon said at last, standing up and smoothing her skirts.
“Right. Good work Miss…”
“Tria,” Trianon replied softly, gazing at the door as if she could pull it closer to where she stood.
“Miss Tria. Well, fill up a tray and carry on,” Clark mused after awhile.
Trianon smiled and hopped out of the room with a squeak as Gerald pinched her bottom. Eyes wide as saucers as she yanked her skirts down, Trianon clenched her teeth and stalked down the staircase. She would have to tell Quistis that there was a compartment about Clark’s bed, and that they weren’t the only spies in the building.