Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 7 > Man in the Middle


by Larathia 0 reviews

Getting a handle on the promotion.

Category: Final Fantasy 7 - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Characters: Cait Sith,Reeve,Reno,Scarlet,Tseng - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2009-04-09 - Updated: 2009-04-09 - 2910 words

I didn't stay at the dinner longer than I had to - however, since it was in my honor, 'had to' was quite a bit longer than I'd have liked. I got back to my flat - sans Turk escort this time, though Reno called a limousine for me - just in time to go to bed. I was assured that, yes, the Sector Five reactor had been contained and shut down, yes, he'd had an ear on the situation all evening, and stop /worrying/, I'd have a mound of paperwork on my nice shiny new desk in the morning, honest. Reno seemed to find the whole thing vastly amusing, though as he refrained from mockery I could only assume he didn't really mind. I went home, feeling more than a little like the universe had not only dropped out from beneath me, but had jigged three steps to the left in the meantime. Formal coat, tie, shirt and belt were shed around the apartment and I returned to the face-down black pit of numb sleep that Reno had so abruptly hauled me free from.

This time, it was my alarm that woke me - but, finally, I felt rested. Spending sixteen hours or so asleep in the past twenty four did a lot to get my mental feet back under me. "Cait!" I called, as I headed for the shower. "Check your protocols!"

This was a test of the AI I'd been programming; it wasn't something I'd have done in front of Reno, even had I been awake enough to. Cameras were wired all over my apartment, as were microphones and speakers. Cait could see and hear everything that went on, as long as it wasn't in the little bathroom and shower. This was to teach it; Cait watched how I moved, applied it to its own robotic body. Watched my routines, and (hopefully, as this was what I was testing) refined them to action protocols; if /this/, do /that/. That kind of thing. Much more alert than I'd been the previous evening, I came out of the shower towel-drying my hair, to find Cait perched on my bed, its feline head tilted at the length of my formal coat.

"Boss?" it asked, in a clipped sort of slum accent. "What's this? Doesn't look right."

I had a moment of smug pride that I had managed to correctly translate its error codes into sentences a human would say. Doesn't look right meant Cait recognized the situation as almost but not quite fitting a given protocol - say, two out of three characteristics fitted, but not the third - and wasn't therefore certain whether the known protocol applied or whether a new one would have to be devised to deal with the alteration. I leaned over it - trying not to drip, as its fur would stay wet a terribly long time - and tapped the label on the inside of the collar. "What's that say?" I asked it.

The robot's big green eyes swiveled to focus where I was pointing; that was something I'd need to adjust a bit, as a living being would also have turned its head somewhat. "Says 'dry clean only', boss," and then its jaw dropped in a grin. It did have an existing protocol for dry-clean clothes; the robe now fitted into an existing subroutine, and it bounded off my bed to do that, dragging my formal robe - which was, admittedly, about two feet longer than it was tall - in its wake. And I got on with getting dressed, looking over my rack of ties.

Don't tell anyone, but I'm a huge fan of vintage animation. The entire cast and crew of an old pre-Shin-Ra animation house graced the bottom third of my tie collection, where they wouldn't be seen under a fastened suit-jacket. I had already labeled each one as belonging to a given member of the executive board, in a particular mood. The Turks were also represented. And the reason for that was simple; the nature of Shin-Ra was such that in the end, if you didn't laugh you'd end up screaming. And I had a job to do, so I chose to laugh. I chose a dark green tie graced by a hyperactive, flirtatious mouse - which was the character I'd pegged for Reno - and the mouse disappeared under my jacket as it was supposed to do. Besides; Reno's ego was big enough, and everybody had a place on my tie rack.

I did not, however, take a limo to work. I took the train, noting that the security checks had been randomized, and approved of that. At the headquarters, I put my keycard into the glass elevator's lock and found that I'd been given access up to floor 69, with only the research laboratories on 67 and 68 still barred. That was Hojo's territory, I knew, and I treasured my ignorance of whatever he was up to. There were several reasons I'd gone into engineering instead of life sciences, and Hojo embodied most of them.

My attention, as I rose to almost the top of the Shin-Ra tower, was on the cold blasted remains of my reactors in Sectors One and Five. Back and forth between them, and then a scan of the others to make sure Avalanche hadn't gone after a third while I was sleeping. But it was quiet. After the chaos of the past two days, quiet was enough to make me edgy on its own.

I knew where to go, when I reached 69. I'd been here before, albeit by permission to deliver reports to Takei - but I had /been here before, and I knew where Takei's office - now mine - was within the block. Secretaries (oh, God - I was going to have a personal secretary. The realization was as good as a mug of coffee) bustled about and the more capable ones already knew of my promotion and accorded me the respect of an Executive of the Board. I'll admit to the ego boost; being Somebody on /that floor meant just about being a prince of the entire planet. Heady stuff.

Then I stepped into Takei's-now-my office, and remembered at what price came power. There was no sign that Takei had ever been there - anything remotely personal was gone. What was there now was order, all files in place, and my own things brought up from my old office and arranged with what I had to admit was flawless aesthetic taste. It was as if I'd always been there, and Takei had never existed.

The in-box was quite, quite full. I pulled back the heavy drapes on my (floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall) windows, and let the city into my office. /My city/. Mine. Maybe from this height, from this place, I could do something real for her that wouldn't turn horribly wrong. There was a lot about my sudden ascension I didn't like - but maybe now was the time to look forward. Maybe now there was room for hope.

"Daydreaming, Reeve?" asked a voice that might have been sultry before the cigarettes had taken a rasp to it. I turned to find Scarlet in my doorway. Scarlet, who advertised her position as executive mistress by forgoing the suit she should have worn as head of weapons development. She liked people to underestimate her, and while everyone knew she had whored her way into several promotions, she was also cunning and capable enough to hold her current post against all potential takers. Weapons Dev was nothing like Urban Dev. They liked to consider themselves a meritocracy - and you proved your prototype on your boss' dead body. That Scarlet had held the job for several years was more than enough indication that there was more to her than sex.

Nevertheless, having her in my office rather ruined my golden moment. "Good morning, Scarlet," I replied evenly. At least I could take full advantage of being on her level now. "Come to congratulate me?"

"For what?" Scarlet laughed, mocking. "A dead-end job for a dead-end mind. And close those drapes; the light gives me a headache." She waved a cigarette-holding hand at them, and I realized to my great amusement that Scarlet was /hung over/.

Far from obeying, I walked to my desk - removing my sun-blocking self from the window. "Why pay for lighting when the sun obliges for free?" I asked cheerfully. "I have work to do, so if you'll excuse me..."

Vampire-like, the sun repelled my enemy for the moment and Scarlet retreated. I decided right then to leave the curtains always open in my office; aside from the magnificent view, it seemed quite an adequate protection against the vipers on this floor. I turned my attention to my in-box.

First was Takei's approach to the Sector One bombing. While I'd been trying to shut the thing down and contain the damage, evidently Takei had been trying to keep a repeat from occurring. A slim folder of forms and statements indicated he was the one who'd initiated the randomized - and heightened, I now saw - ID card screening on the trains. But evidence suggested the lockdown procedures gave potential terrorists too much time to get away. I could see his reasoning - trapping the terrorist in a car full of a hundred, two hundred potential hostages who couldn't get away either? Not smart. So he'd configured it to flush them off the train, instead - make them leave, give them no time to take a car full of hostages. The situation was put to me, via a hefty stack of memos, that this was criminal negligence. Not for appeal - Takei, after all, had already been punished - but as a warning.

Five minutes into the job and already a dilemma: would you condemn a few hundred people to death, to prevent a disaster that might kill at least that many?

I decided, not without a twinge or three, that I would. A railcar full of relatively simple victims weighed less on my conscience than letting another reactor go. Midgar had been beyond fortunate that the last two going boom hadn't had more lasting repercussions than they had; it could easily have been so much worse. And still could, if any more reactors were targeted. I put my signature to the required forms, and found that someone had already updated the official seal of the department with my name in Takei's place. Well - Shin-Ra was nothing if not efficient.

The phone rang; I answered it a bit hesitantly, thinking the caller might be for my predecessor, but as it turned out I'd kept my old phone number and the caller was a shift supervisor from Sector Five. Pen and notepad were quickly pressed into service as scratch paper while he and I talked about damage, repairs, and then set up a conference call with the other sectors to arrange electricity load balancing across the city through the remaining six reactors. Large portions of Midgar were without power as a result of the attacks, and the power flows into the electrical grid had to be rebalanced so that no single reactor took the brunt of the drain.

I've always enjoyed those calls the most. The shift managers aren't political. They don't care who's in charge as long as the job gets done. They didn't stand on ceremony, and had a kind of blunt honesty to them that was refreshing - particularly when compared to the polite venom that tended to pass for conversation in the HQ corridors. The reactor engineers knew what their job was, and found it a good job to have - providing light, heat, and power to the people of their cities, and making sure that the obtaining and distribution of this power didn't blow anyone or anything up. They didn't waste much time complaining about the loss of two reactors - though they did ask about medical benefits for the survivors. The immediate problem was making sure things didn't get worse, and then seeing to it that things got better for everyone. I think I spent four, five hours talking with them before we'd got everything planned out - including what to do if another reactor was targeted.

When I got off the phone at last, and turned back to my inbox, I found that I'd already solved most of the problems in there. Damage reports from sector five - I'd gotten that from the surviving shift manager there, as well as repair estimates and recommendations. I checked my notepad and played fill-in-the-blank. One of the Turks had kindly presented me with what had really happened there, as well. The train alarms had gone off and the President knew Avalanche was going to target another reactor. But rather than take them on directly, he'd tried to use a prototype combat machine to trap them inside so they'd go up with their handiwork. Attached to the file was a note from Tseng that simply read, Cait? - but no, Cait Sith wasn't ready for this kind of action yet.

...It was a damn good idea, though. And I now had a Head's paycheck and access to all the resources of Midgar. I turned over a page on my notebook and did some estimates - time and resources and costs - and decided that if I handed my improved schematics over to a custom manufacturer, I'd have the improved, more durable body and its combat mog ready to go at about the same time the AI would be ready for field testing. Call it a few months at most. And /then/...hah. I'd like to see Avalanche try anything on this scale again, if I was watching their every move with an absolutely uncorruptible and accurate observer. Once I had the costs, I put in a call to Tseng: "Hey. Got your note."

"I thought you would," Tseng replied. "Can you?"

"The last run didn't go so well," I reminded him. "There'll have to be upgrades, and I've got a combat addition to the model. Do you think it's possible to get it professionally done? Would go faster."

Tseng didn't answer right away. /"The President isn't going to sign off on it," /he replied at last. "However, I believe we will not need to convince him. Say nothing to the President. The Vice-President will sign the needed forms."

I blinked. Rufus? Rufus was going to build my Cait? I smelled family politics. Again. On the other hand, whatever got the job done. "President Shinra doesn't know about it, does he."

Tseng's laugh was low and quiet. "No," he said. "And that's the way you want it to stay, Reeve. Trust us. The Vice-President approves of this course and will see to it."

....Riiiiight. Oh well - this was the shark tank I had to swim in. Better to just get on with things. "I'll have the schematics for you tomorrow morning," I agreed, and hung up.

Inbox, inbox...I was surprised to find a memo indicating it was now my job to arrange the public PR releases. I'd had my fill of public appearances and speeches. Like hell was I going to be even more public - nothing to gain, everything to lose. But that's what the company kept Domino around for - the only person in the building to be elected to his post, rather than promoted there. I gave him exactly enough facts to get him angry - meaning I left out things like the President going to personally peer at these terrorists, and the whole business with the Airbuster - and let him go make speeches at the media.

In a coworkerly way, I liked Domino. But the man had a huge chip on his shoulder about the way he'd gotten his job, and tended to focus a lot more on what he couldn't do than on what he could. I'd gone drinking with him once or twice and both times had come back with raw ears from all his complaints. I was working on an outline for him to make his speech from - relevant points to touch on, topics to avoid mentioning unless he wanted a visit from the Turks about it later - when someone all but dripped past my door.


It was Reno. Looking like hell had landed on his head, too. He held an ice-pack on his hair with one hand, bruised and rumpled in a way that spoke more of fighting than his usual disregard for company etiquette. I got up, but he put the cigarette in his other hand to his lips and waved me off, almost running past. I found myself at my door, staring down the hall at his retreating back.

Oh. Yes. That was the way to the final stair, up to the President's suite. Reno was probably going to report. And I was getting stared at; I could feel my cheeks getting hot as I retreated back to my desk. Prying into Turk business. Not a good way to start in my new position. If he wanted me to know, he'd tell me. Or one of the Turks would.

I settled down at my desk, trying to remember what it was I'd just been doing. All that came was a sense that things weren't over yet. Were a long way from being over yet.
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