Make My Move
In Irvine’s experience, there were certain criteria a location had to meet in order for it to be an attractive place to take a girl.
First, it had to be private. Nothing was worse than having a perfect date ruined by some idiot crashing through at that special moment. The training center, despite being an unconventional site for a date, passed his first test. With Garden’s suspension of classes and missions, the training center had fallen into disuse. A few of the more obsessive SeeDs would take a couple loops around the main pathway to keep up their skills, but usually they would wait until later in the day to journey out from their dorm rooms. That left the training center empty most mornings.
Second, Irvine found that he worked his charms better when he didn’t have time limits. Movies and dinners were popular choices for amateurs, but the length of the date was limited by the film and the food. Something outside of Irvine’s control was dictating how long the date was going to last. Some guys enjoyed this restriction, seeing as it gave them an excuse to change locations and advance the date to the next step. That may be fine for them, but Irvine found it stifling. He liked having the time to really work, to develop the situation naturally, however long it took. And when it came time to make his move, it was Irvine’s initiative, not some external force, setting the pace of the date. The training center had no time limits whatsoever, a second point in its favor.
And according to the third and final test, the place had to be interesting to girls. A man’s choice of location reflected on him, his tastes, his personality, and if he chose something boring, then the girl would assume that he, too, was boring. This third test knocked out most of the Garden, like the dormitories, the quad, the cafeteria, and especially the parking lot. Only a moron would take a girl to a parking lot.
(And if the girl’s willing to go to a parking lot, then you really need to wonder about her standards.)
(… On second thought, a parking lot might work if you had a really nice car. But it would have to be one hell of a car.)
(… Maybe I should get a car?)
A lesser man would have never thought to bring their date to the training center because it seemed to fail the first and third tests. While the training center was unpopulated by humans, it was still teeming with monsters, so there goes the privacy test. And what normal girl wants to go into a jungle full of monsters? There goes the third test too.
And that was Irvine’s genius. He saw around the problems that might stop other people. Galbadia Garden, Irvine’s native school, did not junction Guardian Forces, so when Irvine first joined the SeeDs in their mission to assassinate the Sorceress Edea, they had given him the GF Diablos so that he could fight at their level. Diablos, like other GFs, increased Irvine’s strength and speed and allowed him to cast magic, but Diablos was peculiar in that it had the ability to repel monsters. Using this ability gave a workaround to the training center’s monster problem, allowing it to pass the first test.
As Irvine and Selphie stepped through the steel gate leading into the training center, Irvine reached into his mind, accessed the GF’s latent abilities, and commanded it to activate this power. He felt a wave of energy pulsing from his skin out into the atmosphere, pushing at the air, creating a protective bubble that extended for as far as he could see. Humans and animals were unaware of this energy, but monsters could feel it: a gentle but insistent force that kept them away.
As for Irvine’s third test, that was a generalization of girls and didn’t apply to every situation or every girl. Most girls would not be willing to go to the training center, but Irvine had learned that Selphie was an exception. She was an exception to everything.
(I’ve always known she was special.)
Irvine and Selphie walked the main trail—a series of interconnected sheets of metal grating, which, like almost everything else in Balamb Garden, formed a wide circle around the training center. On the inside and outside of this circle was thick jungle and high grass. Because of Irvine’s GF, they were able to go halfway around the loop without seeing a single monster. There weren’t any people around either. Irvine glanced down the trail, then into the trees, then backwards. Nothing in all directions.
Selphie kicked a rock from the trail. It arced into the jungle and clattered from tree to tree before settling in the undergrowth.
“Man, it’s really quiet here,” Selphie said.
Irvine shrugged. “Maybe the monsters are taking a break. Everyone else is.”
She looked at Irvine. “You sure your GF isn’t keeping them away?”
He held up his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Whatever it is, it ain’t me.”
Selphie held her gaze for a second longer, then shrugged and looked away.
“‘Kay,” she said. She continued down the path, looking left and right for monsters. Irvine remained where he stood, watching her go. The tips of her hair bobbed with her footsteps. The oversized nunchaku in her left hand made her seem even smaller and thinner than she was.
(So, Irvine. What’s the next move?)
Selphie was an exception to everything. Irvine’s standard playbook for dates didn’t apply to her, and every step had to be carefully thought through. He couldn’t skate by on standard moves and tired clichés like he could with most girls. More frustrating than that, however, was the fact that he could not read her at all. By being an exception to the rules, Selphie was also an exception to Irvine’s understanding of women.
(What does she want?)
Irvine knew the easiest way to get a girl was to have something she wanted. Normally his good looks and cool disposition were enough to win over females, but Selphie wasn’t so impressed by that. Nothing else in Irvine’s list of tricks had excited her much either. Not that she was a cold, unfeeling robot. She had needs and desires like anyone else; he just had to figure out what they were.
Selphie stopped walking and glanced over her shoulder. “Hey! Irvy!” She waved at him, her pale skin flashing under the bright florescent lights. “Your foot stuck or something?”
“Naw, just thought I saw something,” he said.
“Well, come on! The monsters aren’t just gonna to come to us! We gotta go to them!”
He nodded, then lifted his shotgun and cocked it. He set his feet and brought his shotgun to his chest, striking one of his more well-practiced poses.
“You’re right. Let’s do this,” he said.
“Yeah!” Selphie said. She pumped a fist in the air and spun around. Irvine jogged to catch up to her, then walked alongside her down the trail. He’d wanted for this to be a somewhat normal date, where he and Selphie could talk about themselves, each other, and the status of their relationship. That was his mistake: making plans as if Selphie was just a regular girl, one who was more interested in hair and makeup rather than magic and combat. Selphie came to the training center because she wanted to stomp some monster faces, and to deny her the opportunity would just frustrate her.
Irvine sighed. He would have liked to talk some more with Selphie, but obviously now was not the time.
(Maybe the training center wasn’t a hot idea after all.)
He focused for a minute, diving into his own mind. He found the GF’s energy, lurking around in his skull like a vivid memory. He found the ability that repelled monsters and shut it off. The energy field that surrounded him disappeared, and Irvine was left with an empty, absent feeling, similar to being cold. The feeling wore off after a couple of seconds.
Soon after, a monster wandered out of the jungle undergrowth and shuffled on the path in front of Irvine and Selphie. It was a plant-like thing with a green, fleshy sack for a body. Tiny, insectile legs propelled it along, and a pair of long stalks grew from its body and waved in the air, functioning as both antennae and arms. Irvine had learned that these monsters were called Grats, and they were the most common enemy in the training center.
“Woo! Finally!” Selphie said. She gripped her giant nunchaku in both hands and braced herself for battle. Irvine readied his shotgun. From this distance, it would have been easy for him to drop the monster with a single blast from his shotgun. He knew, though, that Selphie needed this kill more than he did. He kept his weapon ready in case something went wrong, although he doubted Selphie would have any troubles against a weak monster like a Grat.
The monster’s antennae arms detected the presence of two humans. Without hesitation, it charged, its little insect legs skittering on the metal grating. It swung its arms backwards, like a tree blowing in the wind, building momentum for a strike. Before it could throw its arms forward and attack, Selphie jumped forward and spun in the air. She let go of her nunchaku with one hand, whipping the monster with the opposite end. The wooden pole struck the monster with a watery slap, sending ripples along its soft body. The Grat stumbled, then flopped to the ground at Selphie’s feet. Its arms wilted, acidic juices dribbled out of its mouth. Its sack-like body deflated and it was still.
With an expert flick of her wrist, Selphie regathered the other half of her nunchaku and got back in her battle stance. Then she looked down and saw the condition of the monster. She relaxed, her shoulders slumped.
“Aww…” she said. She stepped up to the monster and poked it with the toe of her boot. It gurgled, but didn’t move. “Is it dead?”
Irvine stepped next to her. “You broke it. You gotta learn to take better care of your toys.”
“But I barely even touched it!” Selphie said.
“Yeah, wasn’t much of a fight, was it?” Irvine said.
“We gotta find some more!” she said. Before Irvine could react, Selphie leapt off the metal path and into the jungle, tearing through the branches and undergrowth with glee.
“Selphie! Hold up!” Irvine said. He took two steps in pursuit, then stopped.
(No sense chasing her. She can handle herself. I’d probably just get in her way.)
Alone, he puttered along the trail, listening to the sounds of Selphie’s energetic battles as she encountered monsters. After a few fights using her weapon, Selphie began to mix it up and use magic. Irvine recognized the spells she was casting based on their sounds alone. The roar and crackle of a fire spell. The gunshot-like burst of a thunder spell. The shattering glass of an ice spell.
He thought she’d get bored after five minutes. She didn’t. He thought she’d get fatigued after fifteen minutes. She didn’t. Then he thought she’d flat out run out of monsters after a half an hour. Somehow, she always found more.
(Damn, she’s a maniac.)
“YAAAAA!” Selphie hollered from distant spot in the training center. There was a small explosion in the jungle, and a burst of heat so intense even Irvine’s skin warmed for a moment.
(At least she’s having fun…)
Irvine felt left out. He was okay if Selphie had fun without him. He wasn’t so self-absorbed that he needed to be the only source of her entertainment. But the fact that she was having so much fun, and had never even come by to check on him or invite him to join her was what was really disheartening. It made Irvine think too much.
A single Grat that had survived Selphie’s rampage managed to stumble out of the jungle and into Irvine’s line of sight. It was still unaware of Irvine’s presence.
(No sense in me just sitting around and not doing anything.)
He adjusted the brim of his hat and brought his shotgun to his shoulder. The Grat still hadn’t noticed him and had even had the courtesy to stop in the middle of the path, leaving no obstructions between Irvine and the monster. There was no challenge in the shot.
So Irvine brought his shotgun down and whistled at the Grat. Its antennae waved, then it detected Irvine. It charged as fast as its little legs could carry it, which was about jogging pace for an average human. It was still an easy shot, but at least now it was a moving target. He raised his weapon again and aimed.
The instant before Irvine pulled the trigger, he caught sight of two pairs of skinny, smooth legs emerging from the jungle to his left. He glanced up and saw two female SeeD cadets, somewhere around Irvine’s age, pushing through the jungle and making their way towards the trail. Even though they were well out of his line of fire, years of strict training had taught him to never fire his weapon if there was something beyond his target that he was not willing to destroy.
Irvine instead opted to use magic, which wouldn’t overrun his target like a bullet would. Magic still didn’t come as naturally to him as it did the others, but he’d found out that he could still channel the energy if he didn’t think of magic as casting a spell, but rather as though he was firing a very peculiar kind of bullet.
He pointed his shotgun upwards and focused simultaneously on his mind and on the tip of his barrel. He called from Diablos’ energy reserves, bringing a spell out of his mind and into his shotgun, imagining himself loading the shotgun with the spell. It took a couple moments for him to do this, but the slow Grat was still closing the gap when Irvine was finished.
Once the spell was “loaded,” Irvine swung his shotgun to the side, then slashed it across his body, as if he was throwing a bullet at the Grat. Instantly, a column of spiraling flame that burned as high as the trees appeared on the trail, releasing a burst of heat in all directions. The Grat had enough time to stop running and cry out before the intense heat reduced it to a blackened husk. The spell ended, the heat dissipated, and the crispy shell of what used to be a Grat fell over on the path only a few feet away from Irvine.
And best of all, the two girls had seen every second. They approached Irvine, their mouths open in awe.
“Wow!” one of the girls said. She was blonde, short, and wore a black skirt and a t-shirt for some band that Irvine had never heard of. He found himself suddenly very curious about this band. The second girl had dark hair, and wore a small pair of glasses that made her look slightly older than she would otherwise. She reminded Irvine of a shorter version of Quistis.
“I’ve never seen a fire spell so strong,” the second girl said. Her voice was soft, as if she was always whispering. “Even the instructors only show mid-level spells in their demonstrations.”
Irvine shrugged and rested his shotgun on his shoulder. Another well-practiced pose of his.
“Eh, you pick these things up after a while,” Irvine said. “It’s just practice, you know? Anyone can do it, really.”
Nonchalant and confident, but not arrogant. His words also hinted that he would, if asked, be able to teach them how to replicate his spell.
Everything according to the playbook.
“What’s your name, cowboy?” the blonde said.
Irvine removed his hat and bowed slightly. “Name’s Irvine. It’s a pleasure to meet you two ladies.”
He put his hat back on. Both girls were smiling, their eyes darting up and down, from Irvine’s face, to his body, to his lips, back to his eyes. He was also aware of how close, how very close, they were standing to him. They couldn’t have been more obvious if they screamed their thoughts at him.
“I’m Maelie,” the blonde said. “And this is my friend Cat.”
“Fine names for fine young ladies,” Irvine said.
“I’ve seen you around before a couple times, Irvine,” Maelie said. “Where you from?”
For the first time in the conversation, Irvine had to think about his response. That was a question he’d been hoping to avoid. He was too old to pretend to be a new cadet, so he had to have transferred from one of the other two Gardens. And after the violent battle between Galbadia Garden, it was not smart for Irvine to say the truth. So he went with the only remaining option.
“I’m from Trabia Garden,” Irvine said. “I just transferred.”
Both girls looked at each other. Their mouths went from gaping in awe, to gaping in profound shock and sympathy.
“Aww…” both girls said in unison. They even harmonized a little.
Irvine looked away for a moment, cleared his throat, fighting back emotions that didn’t exist.
“We heard about what happened,” Cat said. “We’re so sorry. That must have been horrible.”
“I wasn’t there when… when it happened,” Irvine said. “I guess I’m lucky in a way.”
Balance was essential here. Too much emotion and he’d look weak, helpless. At best, the girls would act motherly towards him, seeing him more as an abused animal rather than a man. At worst, they’d be disgusted by his excessive outburst. Too little emotion, though, and he’d seem heartless, distant. It was that middle ground that was the sweet spot. Vulnerable, yet strong.
“I don’t like to talk about it,” Irvine said, measuring his voice carefully. That much was true at least. Lying about Trabia was not something he enjoyed.
“SO!” Selphie said from behind Irvine. Irvine didn’t know if she’d tried to make him jump or not, but she’d succeeded either way. Irvine threw a glance over his shoulder and saw Selphie a few feet away. Her boots were muddy. Her skin and clothes were covered in streaks of green, either from the jungle plants or from slain Grats, Irvine couldn’t tell. “Who here is from Trabia?”
(Well, I’m screwed.)
“Hey, Selphie,” Irvine said. He cheered up and swung his arms wide open, welcoming Selphie. From the perspective of the two new girls, this sudden emotional shift wouldn’t make sense, but he wasn’t concerned about them at the moment. “This is Maelie and Cat. We were talking about what happened in Trabia.”
Selphie stepped forward, moving in between Irvine and the other two girls. With her messy hair and clothes, she looked like a feral child, raised by wolves in the jungle. Cat, even though she was bigger than Selphie, inched back a little.
“It’s so awful,” Maelie said. She was still flirting a little with Irvine, her body angled towards him and her face full of sympathy. But Cat was catching on, and looked at Irvine with mixed emotions.
“Yeah, yeah, awful,” Selphie said. “Go away.”
“Are you from Trabia too?” Maelie said.
She obviously was not getting the idea. Irvine stepped in between Selphie and the girls and smiled.
“It was nice meeting you two,” Irvine said. He grabbed Selphie’s hand and pulled her away from the other two. “But we really must be going.”
“Oh… okay,” Maelie said. She waved at Irvine. “See you around, cowboy.”
Irvine and Selphie walked past the girls. Cat nudged her friend forward down the trail and deeper into the training center. Maelie turned to catch Irvine’s eye as he walked around her, but Irvine knew he was already in enough trouble as it is. He kept his eyes forward.
When they were near the exit, Selphie stopped, turned around, removed her hand from Irvine’s grip, and used it to open-hand slap Irvine’s chest.
“Ow,” Irvine said. “I was just being friendly!”
Selphie looked at him with narrowed eyes. “You didn’t have to say you’re from Trabia though. That’s way uncool, Irvine. Like, seriously. If uncoolness was a disease, we’d all be dead by now.”
“Sorry,” Irvine said. “I didn’t think I could tell them the truth.”
Selphie glared at Irvine. Not knowing what else to do, Irvine smiled and did his best to look innocent.
Just when Irvine thought she’d slap him again, Selphie’s glare broke. She smiled. “Tee-hee,” she said. “Okay, fine. But don’t do that again, all right?”
(Oh, hell, that was a close one.)
“I cross my heart,” Irvine said. He drew an X across his chest with one finger. “That was dumb of me, I admit.”
“Do you admit that you’re the dumbest person in Garden?” Selphie asked.
“Super dumb. When I go to the dormitories, they become the dumbitories,” Irvine said.
“The dumbest in the world?”
“Impossibly dumb. The Lunar Cry happens because the moon is sad that I’m so dumb.”
“The dumbest in the universe?”
“I am the reason why aliens don’t communicate with humanity,” Irvine said. “They think that any species that can make someone as dumb as me is not worth their time and effort.”
Selphie nodded. “Good. You are forgiven! Let’s go.”
She turned and headed for the exit. Irvine exhaled his relief, then followed after her.
The pair reached the perimeter fence, with its thick, electrified wires. A heavy steel gate provided access to and from the training center. Selphie pushed on a glowing red button next to the gate, and the gate opened outward.
“You’re still planning to go, right?” Irvine said. He tucked his shotgun into a special pouch inside his trench coat. When his coat was closed, it was hard to see the shotgun hidden inside his clothes. Selphie had no convenient place on her person to keep her nunchaku, so she carried them with her.
“To Trabia?” Selphie asked. Irvine nodded. “Of course! But do you think they’ll let us?”
“If they won’t, then I’ll talk them into it,” Irvine said. The gate opened all the way. Beyond was a secondary paddock, which kept monsters from escaping into the Garden if any of them managed to sneak through the perimeter fence. The gate shut behind the pair as they walked across the paddock to the next gate. Selphie pushed the button, and they waited as the second gate opened.
“And anyway,” Irvine said, “I don’t see why they would stop us. It’s not like we’re doing a hell of a lot around here. I think they can let us leave, no problem.”
They stepped through the gate and entered into the long hallway that connected the training center with the rest of the Garden. Irvine had more he wanted to say, but he was interrupted by three low chimes coming from the Garden’s intercom system. The speakers embedded in the ceiling crackled to life. After a moment, Headmaster Cid’s voice echoed down the hall.
“Ahem, good morning students,” he said. “Today is a special day for several reasons. As most of you already know, we are on course to return to our familiar spot back on the island of Balamb early this afternoon. But more than that, today is special because it is going to mark a change in the course of SeeD’s future. I feel this change is too important for a simple PA announcement, so I would like for you all to gather in the quad in five minutes, where I will make the official announcement. Thank you all, and I will see you in the quad.”
The intercom chimed again, then shut off. Irvine and Selphie stood alone in the hallway.
“What do you think it is?” Selphie asked.
“Hope it’s nothing too big,” Irvine said. “I don’t want SeeD to change. I like it the way it is. But maybe…”
Selphie tilted her head to one side. “Maybe what?”
(I probably shouldn’t say this…)
“Maybe he’s ending SeeD,” Irvine said. “SeeD’s supposed to defeat the sorceress, right? Well, we did that. Maybe there’s no need for SeeD anymore.”
“NOOO!” Selphie jumped into the air and slammed her heels onto the floor. “I just transferred here! He can’t just end SeeD like that! It’s not fair!”
(Knew I shouldn’ta said that.)
Irvine held up his hands to try to calm her down. “I said maybe he would. Maybe. I don’t know what he’s gonna do. And I don’t think—”
“He’s not ending SeeD!” Selphie said, almost yelling. “I won’t let him!”
Before Irvine could stop her, Selphie sprinted down the hall.
He shouted after her, “Selphie, calm down! He’s not ending SeeD!”
She wasn’t listening. She bolted away, gone from sight a few seconds later.
He thought about chasing after her, but knew that nothing short of running her down and tackling her would stop her. And even that wasn’t likely to stop her for long. His only option was to wait and hope Selphie calmed herself before she did any damage.
(Smooth one, Irvine. Maybe you are the dumbest person in the universe.)
With one hand, he adjusted his hat. Then he started walking down the hall.
He didn’t know what Cid was going to announce. Regardless, it couldn’t be good news for him. As he’d said to Selphie earlier, he liked SeeD as it was. That wasn’t to say that he liked the way they operated or their rules or anything. He meant that he liked SeeD the way it was at that exact moment. He liked the freedom of not worrying about classes or discipline or training. He liked roaming the halls alone or with Selphie and not having anywhere important to be. It was the first time he’d truly been free to do as he pleased since he left Edea’s orphanage and enlisted at Galbadia Garden.
Change meant that this vacation wasn’t going to last. Change meant an end to the freedom. Irvine took his time heading to the quad, wondering if it would be the last time he would be allowed to go anywhere at his own pace.
His solitude was broken when he reached the end of the hall and joined with the main loop of Garden. Students were coming out of the other areas of the school, mostly the dorms and the cafeteria, but some were coming from the library as well. The mass of students formed a trickle that turned into a river, as the entire student body of Garden made its way to the quad.
Everyone was dressed in their civilian clothes, jeans and tees and polo shirts, ragged clothes with brands and symbols and bright colors. When Irvine first arrived in Garden, most students wore their Garden uniforms. As standards relaxed, so had the dress code. Irvine didn’t mind at all. The uniforms for all three Gardens were stuffy and unflattering. Function over form. Now girls got to wear whatever they wanted, and to Irvine’s delight, many of them chose to wear short skirts, tight tank tops, and form-fitting pants.
(Another thing I don’t want to see changed.)
He did a quick once-over of himself before he joined the stream of students walking to the quad. Was his hair good? His cowboy hat cocked at a rebellious—but not sloppy—angle? His clothes free of dirt and plant matter from the training center? He wasn’t trying to impress anybody in particular, but maintaining his appearance was as natural as breathing for him. He did it subconsciously, the routine memorized and perfected.
Assured of his sexiness, Irvine joined with the mass of people. Then the next part of his routine started. He relaxed his face until it was a mask of pensiveness, marked with just a hint of sadness. His steps were measured, like a person lost in thought. At intervals, he would look up wistfully, staring at nothing. A man stuck on a desert island, waiting for a sign of a passing ship.
This was the identity he’d cultured over years at Galbadia. Aloof and intelligent, while still being approachable and desirable. It was an adopted persona, but it had become so deeply ingrained in his thoughts and actions that it became, in a way, a core element of who Irvine was as a person.
The routine was a killer back in Galbadia Garden. Unfortunately he’d had little success in Balamb. Irvine figured that with Squall running around, Balamb already had enough miserable loners for one Garden, and Irvine’s routine failed to make him stand out. In the suffocating discipline of Galbadia Garden, if one had enough free time to show emotion, it was usually excitement or happiness. Students were ecstatic to not be standing in formation, studying, or being punished. Irvine had mastered the art of looking depressed when others assumed he should be excited, and that reversal of expectations made him an individual.
No one stopped to talk to the sad, lonesome cowboy with his hands in his pockets. Instead, they marched past, oblivious. Snippets of their conversation floated over into Irvine’s ears.
“—Finally get something done around here. I was about to lose my mind. Did you—”
“—Probably not a big deal. It can’t be any worse than when—”
“—Going to raise the age limitations, so that people can stay with SeeD longer—”
“—Now we have to start doing things again. Ugh, and I’d just managed to catch up on—”
Irvine turned down the hallway with the rest of the students and proceeded into the quad. Three sets of stairs divided by tiled landings brought SeeDs from the hallway down to the quad. Trees and miniature gardens were planted alongside the landings. The trees helped shade the pathway from the sun, as the quad area was the only section on Garden’s first floor that wasn’t enclosed. Irvine blinked in the sudden sunlight, then tipped his hat down to shield his eyes. Through the trees, past the edge of the quad, the endless blue ocean drifted away as Garden piloted ever closer to its destination.
At the bottom of the stairs, in the wide area that was the Garden’s quad, a makeshift platform had been set up. Irvine recognized that the platform was made from the remnants of the Garden’s sound stage—a piece of SeeD that was particularly dear to Selphie, before it had been destroyed when Garden crashed into Fisherman’s Horizon.
Or almost destroyed. Apparently enough still remained to make a platform big enough to accommodate a dozen or so people. Scaffolding elevated it off the ground to about waist-height. Currently there was a podium with a microphone on the front of the platform. Two large speakers rested on the front corners of the stage. Wires snaked across the floor and connected to the microphone. Quistis, Nida, and Xu were checking the equipment. Irvine noticed that they were all wearing their SeeD uniforms. He couldn’t recall ever having seen them all in their uniforms before.
Nida stepped up to the microphone.
“Uh… testing…” he said into the microphone. His voice came through both speakers, slightly distorted, but clear. He gave a thumbs up to Xu.
At the back of the platform, a handful of metal folding chairs had been set up. Squall, Rinoa, Edea, and the Headmaster sat on these chairs. Squall had his uniform on, and was muttering something to Rinoa. Edea and the Headmaster were watching the students file into the quad.
The students formed an unorganized mass at the foot of the stage. Even through the rainbow of clothing and surging bodies, Irvine had no trouble picking out Selphie’s bright yellow dress and familiar hairstyle. The green stripes on her body from the training center helped as well. She stood at the front of the group, right beneath the podium. She was moving from foot to foot, seeming on the verge of an explosion. She was still holding her nunchaku.
(I really shouldn’t have said anything… So stupid of me…)
Irvine slid his way through the crowd, smiling, apologizing, and tipping his hat. He finally reached Selphie and stood beside her.
She noticed Irvine and turned to him.
“I’ve been thinking…” she said.
“‘Bout what?” Irvine said.
“Should I go on stage now and tell the Headmaster not to end SeeD, or should I just take the mic and yell it so that everyone can hear?”
“Neither,” Irvine said. “Look, I don’t think he’s ending SeeD. I’m sorry I said that. Really sorry, actually.”
She didn’t seem to have heard him. “I’m going for the mic,” she said.
Selphie planted one booted foot on the platform and began climbing up. Irvine yelped and grabbed her by the shoulders, yanking her back down.
“Just hear him out, okay?” Irvine said.
“Oohh… I get it,” Selphie said. “Let him make the announcement first, then start yelling. Gotcha.”
“Yeah… do that.”
Selphie nodded and smiled. She bounced in place as she waited for the action to start. Squall saw that Selphie had tried to climb onto the stage. He looked at Irvine, questioning with his eyes. Irvine grinned and gave a thumbs-up, and Squall turned back to face Rinoa.
Students finished piling in to the quad. A minute or so after all the students had entered, Zell and a half dozen SeeD cadets that Irvine didn’t recognize jogged down the steps. None were wearing uniforms. Zell leapt onto the podium while the cadets mixed into the crowd. He ran up to Xu and nodded to her. Irvine was close enough to the stage to hear them above the rumble of the crowd.
“Everyone’s here,” Zell said. “We checked all the rooms.”
“Good, let’s get started,” Xu said. Quistis took a seat next to the Headmaster and Edea. Zell and Nida hopped off the stage and joined the mass of students as Xu stepped up to the podium. She tapped the microphone once, sending a dull thump and a mechanical shriek through the speakers.
“Good morning, Garden,” Xu said. She waited a second for the chattering to stop and the students to turn and face the stage. “As the Headmaster said over the intercom, there is an important announcement he would like to make to you all. So let’s get right to it. Here’s the Headmaster.”
Xu stepped aside and took the last remaining seat on the stage. Headmaster Cid nodded, then got to his feet and stepped up to the podium. The students clapped politely.
“Yes, thank you, Xu,” Cid said. He turned to the microphone. “You’ll all have to forgive me in advance; I don’t have a proper speech prepared, so this might ramble a bit. Anyway—”
“You’re not shuttin’ down SeeD!” Selphie yelled, startling the Headmaster. She had one defiant fist raised in the air, making it easy for every eye in the Garden to find her. Irvine coughed and tried his best to be invisible. The shocked silence of the entire Garden didn’t faze Selphie at all. She stared up at the Headmaster, unmovable, daring him to argue with her. The Headmaster adjusted his collar and recovered himself.
“No… No I am not shutting down SeeD,” Cid said into the microphone.
Selphie brought her fist down.
“Good…” she said.
(Well, that could have turned out worse, I guess.)
The Headmaster continued.
“Ahem… well… Selphie’s outburst may have been… unexpected… but it does give me an opportunity to get right to the point. I understand that, in the wake of the defeat of Sorceress Ultimecia, SeeD is left with a bit of an identity crisis. For years now, SeeD has defined itself as a para-military organization that exists to oppose and defeat the sorceress. But in the absence of an immediate sorceress threat, what then is SeeD’s purpose? My response to that is two-fold.”
Cid relaxed into a comfortable speaking rhythm and began gesturing broadly as he spoke.
“For one, we need a new mission statement, obviously. SeeD has accomplished its old purpose and it is time for a new one. SeeD is now going to be an international peace-keeping force. We are to use our powers and abilities to protect lives in all nations. We fight to end fighting. One of the things I learned during our brief stay at Fisherman’s Horizon is that SeeD’s very existence invites conflict. And why wouldn’t it? Conflict is our profession. It is the source of our income, and it is the focus of our training. But soon that will change.”
A wave of whispers swept across the student body. Cid held up a hand to ask for silence before he continued.
“While I would dearly like to end the mercenary aspect of Garden completely, we know that that is a financial impossibility. Garden has too many expenses for us to abandon that path without risking bankruptcy. And that is an outcome I will not consider.
“However, I want your lives to be more than just conflict. To that end, we will expand on an idea that we originally had, but disregarded. Our idea was to train young people to take miscellaneous jobs of all sorts all over the world. This was our first plan, until NORG crunched the numbers and realized that the dream was unrealistic. But I believe, and our figures seem to agree with me, that a combination of the ideas could work very well. To that end, Garden will become a true military school, educating you not just in preparation for battle, but in preparation for life. We will train you in the skills you need to become productive, healthy members of society.”
There were some whispers in the audience. Selphie scrunched up her face.
“You mean we gotta get jobs?” she asked, loud enough for everyone to hear her.
“No one can fight forever,” Cid said, both responding to Selphie and continuing his speech. “I’d like for you all to have real futures. I want for you to be able to live in a town or a village, raise families, and be normal. I don’t want you to be trapped as soldiers for life. Not unless you choose to be.
“That brings me to my second point: SeeD’s future. I will not live forever, nor will my wife Edea. It is our wish that SeeD carries on our dreams even after our passing. To that end, as soon as we dock back in Balamb, we are going to start working towards SeeD’s future, and that means establishing a permanent power structure that is not dependent on me or any single person to maintain. I believe that my role, as a man with no combat experience—only administrative skills and an idea—is nearing the end of its usefulness in Garden. So we must prepare those who would take my place.
“I imagine a day, hopefully soon, in which all the roles of SeeD’s administration will be held by those who once wore the SeeD uniform and fought SeeD’s battles. With the departure of the Garden Faculty, we now have convenient vacancies to begin establishing this power structure. Senior members of SeeD will now be able to continue their careers as staff members, ultimately controlling the future operations for all of SeeD. A list of the available job openings and the qualifications required for these positions will be posted soon on the directory in the main hall, with interviews for each position being held shortly thereafter. I encourage anyone who is interested to apply, even if you’re not sure you’re qualified. We will train the right candidate for the job.”
He looked back at the people who were sitting in the chairs behind him. He held his gaze on Edea for a second, then turned back to the crowd.
“I suppose…” he said. “… that is about everything I wanted to say. I look forward to the day when I pass my title as ‘Headmaster’ on to one of you. A few closing statements from SeeD’s Commander are in order, and then you are all dismissed.”
Cid moved aside and motioned for Squall to take the podium. Squall sighed. Rinoa smiled at him, then elbowed him in the side. He got to his feet and stepped up to the podium. Cid sat down beside his wife and looked up at Squall. Squall put a hand on his hip. He sighed again.
“Hey, everyone,” he said. “I’ll be continuing my role as SeeD Commander for the duration of… until something changes, I guess. We’re still working out some of the details. I just want to emphasize two things. One, I’m mostly going to be in charge of the mercenary aspect of Garden. I’ll be controlling what missions we accept and organizing their execution. If you have questions about something else, like administration or something, then I’m not the guy to ask. And two, although Garden’s focus is going to be shifting, we’re still SeeDs, first and foremost. Everyone is going to be expected to be combat-trained and combat-ready, even if your focus isn’t on missions. So don’t go thinking that you can let your training slip or anything like that. Be ready for battle at any time.”
He paused. “I guess that’s all. Thanks.”
He stepped away from the podium. The crowd started clapping, slowly at first, then rising to a steady roar. It was difficult to hear above the din, but Irvine was still able to discern what Squall said to Rinoa as he sat down next to her.
“Why are you clapping for me?” Squall said he said to her. “That was a terrible speech.”
Irvine couldn’t hear Rinoa’s response. She continued clapping.
Headmaster Cid stood up and raised his voice above the volume of the crowd. “You are all dismissed until further notice.”
With that, the crowd stopped clapping and began to shuffle out of the quad. Irvine and Selphie stood where they were as the students walked past. The speech left Irvine feeling confused. It seemed like the Headmaster had a lot that he wanted to say, but he didn’t have all his thoughts organized at the time. There were a number of questions Irvine still wanted to ask.
“Whew, he’s not ending SeeD,” Selphie said. “Why did you tell me he was?”
“I said he might,” Irvine said. “Never said he would for sure.”
“Still, you freaked me out,” she said. She slapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t do that!”
“All right, I promise. No more freaking you out.” He rubbed his shoulder as if it pained him, even though Selphie’s slap was harmless.
By then, the quad was nearly empty. Irvine looked at Selphie. “You know, now’s probably the best time to talk to the Headmaster. Before he gets caught up in something and doesn’t have time for us.”
“Oh right! Thanks, Irvy!” Selphie said. She hopped up onto the stage. Irvine climbed up after her. Their footsteps echoed on the hollow floor. Squall, the Headmaster, and the others were arranged in a loose circle, talking to each other. Xu was reading something aloud from a clipboard in her hand.
“Nice speech, Squall,” Irvine said, tipping his hat. Squall shrugged. Irvine and Selphie squeezed their way into the circle next to the Headmaster, interrupting whatever Xu had been saying. She glared at the two, but didn’t say anything.
“Hey, Headmaster!” Selphie said, waving her arms as if he was standing across the room, rather than right beside her. The chain connecting her nunchaku rattled in her hand. “Can we talk real quick?”
“Sure,” Cid said. “Nothing is going to happen until we get back to Balamb anyway, so I’ve got some time to spare.”
“It’ll just be a sec,” Irvine said.
“Yeah, we just wanna ask if we can go to Trabia Garden,” Selphie said.
Cid raised his eyebrows. “Trabia?” he said. “For a visit, I guess?”
“Um… yeah… sorta,” Selphie said. “More like a long visit. Like a vacation.”
“Not a vacation,” Irvine corrected. “We want to help with the reconstruction. So it’s not like we’ll just be sitting around, sunning ourselves on the beach or nothing. We’ll be working while we’re there.”
Cid wrinkled his face. “I don’t know if now is the best time,” he said. “We may not be in any battles at the moment, but that won’t last forever. We’ll have missions waiting for us when we get back. We always do. Not to mention how many chores we have to take of around here to get Garden back in fighting condition.”
“There’s even more that needs to be taken care of in Trabia!” Selphie said. “I mean, you guys saw it. Whatever needs to be done here needs to be done in Trabia too, but even more. And, you know, if you ever need us, we’ll come back. We swear! Please?”
“You have our word,” Irvine said, raising his hand and showing his palm.
“Well,” Cid said. “To tell the truth, I was hoping you two would be interested in administrative positions here. We have a lot of spaces to fill, and not too many able SeeDs to fill them. At least, few that I can trust as much as you all.”
“Administration?” Irvine said. “Do we look like desk jockeys?”
“Yeah!” Selphie said. “I don’t wanna be a stuffy teacher or anything.”
“There’s more to it than that,” Quistis said. She crossed her arms. “I know it doesn’t look it, but we’re still dealing with the fallout that happened when NORG tried to oust Headmaster Cid. Yes, a lot of people sided with the Headmaster… but also a lot of people didn’t. Part of the reason we’re doing all this—the speeches, the uniforms, the promotions— is to re-establish our authority in Garden, and convince everyone to follow our lead again. We can’t start splintering our group just yet. It’d weaken us politically.”
“Ugh. Politics,” Irvine said. “Count us out.”
“Unpleasant, but necessary,” Xu said. “You two are strong, well-liked, and respected followers of the Headmaster. Your presence here is valuable to the cause. Especially now that SeeD is going to be moving somewhat away from the lucrative mercenary business. Many students are not interested in idealism or world peace, but only want to line their pockets. This change will be difficult for them to accept.”
Selphie looked at the others, then slouched. “So you’re not going to let us go?”
“I’m afraid you’re needed here,” Cid said. “I’m sorry. Maybe in a few months, when things have calmed down. But now… I don’t think it’s wise. We’re in transition, you see.”
Irvine wasn’t sure why Selphie had first brought up the idea of going back to Trabia a few days ago, but ever since then it became something of an obsession for her. Irvine looked at Selphie. Her shoulders were down, her knees sagging. Even her hair seemed to droop. The manic feral child from the training center was gone. The energy of the girl who shouted her misguided defiance at the Headmaster in the middle of his speech had vanished.
Selphie dreamed big, but big dreams were often the most fragile.
(Wait… I think I have an idea.)
“Hear us out, Headmaster,” Irvine said. He pointed his finger and thumb, making his hand look like a pistol. “I think I have a solution. You said you were making new job openings and filling them with SeeDs, right?”
“Yes,” Cid said.
“Well, what about making two new slots for, let’s say… Ambassadors to Trabia?” Irvine said. “Think about it. Part of the problem we’ve been having is that the three Gardens don’t communicate very well. G-Garden is off who knows where, and Trabia is hidden away in the mountains like a refugee. As long as we’re separated, we’re vulnerable. Just think of the battle between G-Garden and us. All it took was one crazy sorceress to set us all on each other like dogs. No offense, Matron.”
“None taken,” Edea said.
“If we’re going to be changing Garden’s mission,” Irvine said, “Then we should work to get all the Gardens on board too, don’t you think? I’m sure Trabia would like to be part of the new face of SeeD, you know? Especially if we’re moving towards peace, not conflict. But to do that, we’d need someone to coordinate the two Gardens, right?”
(Wow, it almost sounds like I know what I’m talking about.)
Irvine was running out of things to say, so he decided to wrap up with a soundbite and hope the message stuck. “If you guys wanna play politics, then wouldn’t linking the Gardens be one of the best political moves possible? Getting allies from Trabia can’t hurt, right?”
To Irvine’s delight, his words forced everyone to pause and think. Even Squall crossed his arms and was looking off into the distance, mulling over Irvine’s words. Irvine knew he could be persuasive when he wanted to be, but he never thought he’d be able to pull out a speech like that off the top of his head.
(I still impress me sometimes.)
“I’m not sure…” Cid said. He paused. “But you might have a point.”
Edea smiled warmly. “I think it’s a wonderful idea, Irvine,” she said. “I’ve always wanted the three Gardens to act more as a group, rather than as three separate units. And, admittedly, the other two Gardens have gotten a bit out of our reach in the past few years. Uniting them all under one cause can only strengthen us as whole.”
“Exactly,” Irvine said, pointing to Edea. He turned to Squall. “So how’s about it? Can our Commander spare two of his soldiers for a little while?”
Squall frowned. “I’d rather have you both here. But… having Trabia’s support will help us in the long run. I guess… I guess it’s fine.”
“WOO HOO!” Selphie cheered. She leapt into the air. Irvine pumped his fist.
“But,” Squall interrupted. He held up a hand to get their attention. “But if you’re going to be ambassadors, then I expect you to establish a reliable communications link between us and Trabia. No point in having ambassadors if they can’t talk to us. So that’s your first priority.”
“As you say, Commander,” Irvine said. He saluted. Selphie did the same.
“Since the fall of Adel’s Tomb,” Xu said, “Radio communications have opened back up. Trabia might have some old radio equipment from years ago. If they do, then that’s an easy way for us to communicate.”
Cid rubbed the back of his head. “That’s… uncertain. Many radios haven’t done well with the seventeen years of disuse. That is if any of their equipment survived the blast. And we don’t have anything here to receive a transmission, even if they do get it working.”
“But it’s still worth a try,” Xu said. “We can probably figure something out on our end.”
“Yes, of course,” Cid said.
“So, just to be clear,” Selphie said, “We’re gonna go to Trabia for sure, right?”
Cid nodded. “I authorize this trip, and appoint you two as the official Ambassadors to Trabia. You will report to either myself or to Squall with any and all pertinent news relating to Trabia and their rebuilding project. You will also work to foster ties between our two Gardens and ensure a harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship between Balamb and Trabia. Is that understood?”
“WOO HOO!” Selphie said, leaping in the air again. “Thank you so much! And yeah, it’s totally understood!”
“Understood,” Irvine said, nodding and tipping his hat to the Headmaster.
“Well that’s two positions filled already,” Cid said. “I’d say we’re off to a good start. We’ll discuss the details a little later.”
“I’m gonna go start packing!” Selphie said. She spun around and raced off the edge of the platform, hitting the quad floor running. She took the stairs out of the quad two at a time.
“… And I’m going to go keep an eye on her,” Irvine said. He nodded to the others. “Excuse me.”
He turned and followed after Selphie, keeping up his steady walking pace. As a rule, he only ran when absolutely necessary. Running went against his persona.
He went up the steps of the quad, into the main hall, and then across to the dormitories. Before he entered the dorms, he did another quick self-examination. Hair, clothes, hat. Check, check, and check. He went to Selphie’s room and found the door ajar. She was inside, tearing through her dresser drawers and packing everything into a green duffel bag.
Irvine crossed his arms and leaned on the inside of the doorframe. He smiled.
“That was close,” he said. “They almost didn’t let us go.”
“I know!” Selphie said, looking up at Irvine. “I was totally gonna cry. But you did it, Irvy! Did I mention how hard you rock?”
Irvine shrugged. “Oh, it was nothing,” he said. “I knew how important it was to you, so I had to do something. I couldn’t let them keep you here just because of some stupid politics thing.”
“You were awesome!” Selphie said. She stopped packing for a moment and ran up to him. She enclosed him in a tremendous bear hug, pinning his arms against his sides.
“Oof!” Irvine said. Her hug was more painful than any of the slaps she’d laid on him that day. Her arms, frightfully strong despite her tiny frame, compressed Irvine’s lungs like a vise. He tried his best to return the embrace, but with his arms trapped between Selphie’s, all he could do was get his forearms on Selphie’s back and squeeze lightly.
She drew back from the hug a fraction and looked up into Irvine’s eyes and smiled. Her hair was a mess, her face still lined with streaks of green. Before Irvine could say anything, Selphie said, “Tee-hee,” and released him. She spun around and dove back into her duffel bag.
He watched her pack, and wondered if he should have said anything when they’d hugged. He decided no, it was better having not said anything at that time. Selphie was going to make her own decisions. When she was ready for things to move forward, she would let him know somehow. All he had to do was stay with her, and keep supporting her. Forcing the situation would only drive her away.
(Selphie’s an exception to everything. The same old rules just don’t apply to her.)
Irvine smiled. “I guess I should go start getting ready too. See ya, Selphie.”
“Yeah! We gotta leave as soon as possible!” Selphie said, only briefly looking up.
Irvine nodded, tipped his hat, and turned around. His visitor’s dorm was in a separate hallway from the main SeeD dorms. As he walked, he noticed that some of the plant matter from Selphie’s clothes had rubbed off on his, leaving a green smear on his shirt. He looked messy, and uncool.
And that was okay.
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