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

Sector Five

by Larathia 2 reviews

Avalanche isn't through yet - and Shin-Ra is just getting started.

Category: Final Fantasy 7 - Rating: R - Genres: Angst - Characters: Cait Sith, President Shinra, Reeve, Reno - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2006-11-02 - Updated: 2006-11-03 - 2867 words

Sector Five

I was roused from the numb, black pit I'd fallen into by means of Reno's hand on my shoulder, shaking me. Dragged into semi-consciousness, I found myself face-down and sideways on my own bed, though I had no idea how I'd gotten there. Thankfully - at least insofar as what was registering was Reno's presence behind me - I still had clothes on. "Mmmrrph?"

"One hour," said Reno, when he decided I was awake enough to understand. "You need to be at that dinner in one hour."

In a weird way, it wasn't that much unlike my usual morning routine, except that it was during the wrong part of day and Reno was there. The latter was no small thing; Turks do not babysit. Reno being present meant there were /reasons/, plural, for his presence, that I might or might not be told. I rolled out of bed and peeled out of the sweat-soaked clothes I'd spent my time in Hell in, beelining for the shower. The clothes felt alien - like waking up to find the dancing carrot from a late-night dream still doing the foxtrot on your desk. I realized, about halfway through my groggy shower, part of why.

There wasn't a mark on me. Not a cut, not a bruise, not a scrape. I didn't even ache, and I knew I should. I wasn't as young as all that, and I'd been moving bodies and breaks and girders with the other engineers for hours without rest. My usual exercise consisted of a commute on the train and racquetball on my days off - I should have been all but /paralyzed/. But I was fine. Mako could do that, in the small doses I would have gotten even through the best protective gear the company could offer. Heal, strengthen....I should have been grateful, I suppose, but at the time it made all the horrors of earlier in the day, and the previous night, seem unreal. There wasn't a mark on me.

"Hey, if you're gonna jack off in there, the least you could do is invite me," came Reno's voice from outside the bathroom door - and a shower is a bad place to startle. Proof I was neither as awake nor as alert as I could or should have been; I'd forgotten Reno was in my apartment. I reached for the soap as for a lifeline, even though it probably qualified as more the opposite, and got through the rest of my shower as fast as possible, without distractions.

Reno hadn't been twiddling his thumbs while I was in there - I came out, one towel around my head and one around my waist, to find a complete set of my formal clothes already laid out. And Reno in the corner, grinning like a maniac while he held a remote control in his hand. A quick glance at the relevant corner confirmed that yes, he'd discovered my Cait Sith. "Don't break it," I warned him, and reached for my clothes.

"This thing is /fun/," said Reno, and I heard the sound of Cait moving around while I tugged on a shirt and tie. "I thought it'd been blown up?"

"A few times," I replied shortly. "Hence fragile - I've got blueprints for a stronger model." Underwear, pants, socks... "Too useful to abandon."

"You got that right," Reno replied, and I just caught a glimpse of my Cait Sith being put through some maneuvers more dance-hall than military. I groaned and reached for my formal jacket - longer than the usual suit coat, Rufus tends to live in them, though mine was blue. I got through its fastenings just as Reno started to get bored with my creation. He looked up, and frowned. "Better give yourself a trim, too."

I blinked, and headed back into the bathroom to see what he meant - as it turned out, my beard and moustache were somewhat shaggier than I have ever liked wearing them. That was a Mako side-effect, too; unusual hair growth. I sighed, stripped off my jacket again, and attacked the hair with a trimmer and a small pair of scissors until it had resumed its normal precision. I came out again buttoning up my jacket, now very curious as to why Reno was looking after me to this extent. I could only assume that I needed to look perfect for whatever announcement the President was going to make; if those were his orders, then his care made sense. He nodded at the results with that lopsided grin that was just this side of a leer, and headed for the door. "No train today," he said, finally putting Cait's remote down. "I'm drivin'."

He certainly was. But as this was an adventure I'd had before, I knew what to expect - I buckled myself firmly into the car's safety harness as Reno demonstrated a thorough disdain for the laws of man and nature. In its way, it was as bracing as several cups of black coffee, and we reached the Headquarters in what, for me, was record time - but, checking my watch at last, was exactly as much time as Reno had to have allowed for. The dinner was set to start in five minutes - or at least, the deadline for my presence was in five minutes. We walked to the glass-framed executive elevator, and I keyed it open.

I couldn't help looking northward, as if to confirm or deny events prior to my nap. In the sunset I saw the blackened shell of Reactor One at the edge of the skyline, and my gloved hands unconsciously gripped the elevator's handrail. Real...all real. But Reactor One was a silent hulk now - we'd succesfully initiated shutdown. There was a haze of Mako-infused smoke still over the city - that wasn't right. We'd shut the reactor /down/, it was as safe as -

I looked to Reno, and he wasn't smirking now. He was looking to the south, not the north, his expression the hard, flat one that was all Turk.

I looked southward, where he was looking. "No....oh, no..." I found myself fighting down a desire to scream. Not only had it not been a dream - it wasn't over yet. Reactor Five was spilling contaminated smoke into the sky. I put my hands against the glass, only to have Reno's grip viselike around my wrist.

"No," he said firmly. "This thing ain't as sturdy as all that, yo. You'll go right through."

I was barely paying attention. "I've got to get out there," I said quickly, but Reno blocked my access to the elevator's keypad. "Reno, if that reactor isn't shut down, if the outflow's not contained -"

"You've got engineers who just got a lot of hands-on experience," Reno replied, tone Turk-flat. "President wants you at that dinner /now/."

He wasn't disapproving. He could have broken my wrist, or done any number of things to make his point that wouldn't contravene any orders to get me to the dinner in a presentable state. He wasn't doing them. I remembered that - later. Right then I could only look southward as the elevator rose, at the spark-laden dark clouds."...Avalanche?" I asked, more for confirmation than anything else.

Reno tapped his earpiece and nodded. "They went after another one," he agreed.

My reactors. The company might own them, but they were mine to run, to manage. The engineers and other workers inside - they were also mine. Avalanche had done things on a similar scale before, on the face of it - huge monsters, explosions, things like that - but to blow up a reactor wasn't just to make something go boom and hurt Shin-Ra. They were condemning hundreds not merely to death, but painful torturous death from processed-Mako poisoning, their bodies turning monstrous.and deformed. Hundreds of citizens of Midgar at risk, those that didn't die from the explosion or simple smoke inhalation. On top of that, reactors drew their power from the Planet itself - stopping that suddenly, or improperly, ran the risk of a buildup or backwash that could blow the whole of Midgar, along with a few hundred feet of the bedrock underneath it, into orbit. The reactors of Midgar had always been carefully balanced, had to stay carefully balanced...

Understand that I knew all this in my bones, in the back of my mind, certain knowledge from years of study and experience. But in that moment, when I looked out over the Plate to see the damage, all that mattered was that Avalanche was killing my people and declaring war on my city/. Oh, the Shinra might /own the place, but it was the Urban Development department that ran /it, day to day. We were the ones who made sure the garbage was picked up and that the water was drinkable and that there was food in the stores. And though I wasn't in charge of the department, I did so much of the high-level administration of it that I had long ago adopted it as mine. It was /my city. Avalanche was destroying my people, my city. And doing so in a hideously cruel and callous way.

In that lift, rising above the city that was mine, I knew what hate was. And I hated Avalanche for what they had done. I would stop /this and they would be /punished for it. I would see to it.

"...You look like a Turk," Reno noted, and it might have been approval. I didn't get to find out - the forever-long trip was over, and the lift slowed to a stop as its doors opened.

I again fought down the desire to scream. My people were dying, and I was...walking among white-clad tables, executives and employees in their formal clothes, following Reno to what would presumably be my table for some stupid, horribly-timed gala event. But if I lost my job, I could do nothing for anyone. So I bit my tongue, held my hands still, and followed Reno in silence. Perhaps I couldn't in truth, but I would have sworn at the time that I smelled blood and charred flesh, mako-ozone and heated steel.

"Just tell me this is important, and not a distraction," I murmured as we located my table. Reno sat down opposite me - he wasn't named on the place cards, but such things tended not to apply to Turks anyway. We were just in time; the lights dimmed, and spotlights picked out President Shinra - playing the egalitarian man of the people, as usual. Dressed in a relatively casual suit, dropping various handshakes and words of encouragement to employees as he made his way from the center of the grouped tables to the podium, it was all a show I'd seen before.

Something about my question amused Reno, though. "Oh, it's important," he replied, with a shadow of his usual smirk. "You didn't want to miss this. The Turks pay their debts."

I slanted a look at him for that - I certainly didn't remember any debt owed me by the Turks that needed repaying, and that was the sort of thing I liked to keep track of. Heidegger was nominally their executive, but the Turks in reality answered to Tseng these days. And while I'd gotten on well with Veld, his predecessor, I wasn't at all sure where I stood with Tseng as yet. The President droned on, and I listened with half an ear while I ran over what I could remember of the Sector Five reactor from my last inspection tour. The minute, the very minute this aggravating dinner came to an end -

My ears abruptly tugged on my brain; the speechmaking was getting close to home. I shifted focus. "...Executive Takei's dedication to his work is an example to us all," the President was saying, and I blinked. Takei was my supervisor, the departmental head, but... "but we must push forward in the wake of his unfortunate passing. In these troubled times, we require an Urban Development that can meet these terrorists head-on and not only survive, but bring Shin-Ra the victory in our eternal drive to bring peace to the Planet." He waved his hand out over the tables, as if conjuring this person from the air. "And so, ladies and gentlemen, executives and employees, I give you Reeve Tuesti, our new Head of Urban Development."

....You what?

Reno, grinning like a shark, jabbed me with a fork. "Go on," he said. "Told you you wouldn't want to miss it."

I rose - the spotlights, of course, had already picked me out. Oh, God, I'm going to have to make a speech/. I had no idea what to say. Too much too quickly on not enough sleep /or coffee. I walked to the podium in a daze, everyone Just as emptily as I'd applauded the President's remarks earlier. I had no idea what to say. As much as I wanted the power of it - such as it was, as Urban Development was rather the bottom rung on the executive power ladder - I wanted to scream at the empty pomp and /leave/, go where I knew I was needed. But if I did that, now, I might well have no power to do anything at all once I'd arrived at the reactor; what Shinra gives, he can take away just as quickly. Or moreso. With interest.

Takei had been fine and well when Sector One had been attacked - his voice on the phone, I could remember it, demanding status reports. If he'd died between then and now - and I had no doubt that he had - it was unlikely that a sudden attack of altruism or heroism was the cause. The company had needed a scapegoat for being caught unprepared, and a way to prove to the citizenry that it was still in control, still capable and willing to respond. I'd risen to the head of the department - but via dead man's boots. Thinking of that - of how quickly, how finally, one could fall even from such a height - I found polite words of gratitude and vague corporatespeak that hinted at dynamism and action. The President would not have taken kindly to my private resolution - that Avalanche was going to /end/, if I had to personally track them down.

Not because he particularly liked Avalanche. President Shinra just preferred employees to show a precise amount of initiative - no more than he wanted, and no less. Avalanche was technically Heidegger's problem, not mine.

When I'd finished my meaningless speech and accepted the President's empty but theatrical gratitude and encouragement, I made my way back to my seat. Reno was still grinning. "Nice job," he said. "Didn't understand most of it - good sign of a good speech."

I gave Reno a tired look. "Sector Five," I reminded him. "Think I can go, now?"

Reno tapped his headset. "It's been handled," he said. "Shut down, and containment crews're cleaning up what's left. Not safe for you to go diving into two disasters this close together - y'just got your promotion, don't go dying right off. S'a pain in the ass to handle the bodies."

"...What favor?" I asked at last. "The Turks took Takei out, didn't they?"

Reno shrugged, casually gulping champagne. "Yeah, but that was orders," he replied. "Shinra wanted someone to blame being caught with our pants down on. Officially he died valiantly in Sector One, and that's all I'm sayin' about it." The glass twirled in his fingers. "Tseng asked you some questions earlier. D'you remember? About a mechanical soldier prototype. You said it'd blow the reactor."

I blinked, trying to remember. A vague schematic and a name - Airbuster - came to mind, but little in the way of details. "...Yes?" I'd been pretty well out of it by the time Tseng asked me questions - if they were within my field I probably had spoken very technically.

"Anyway," Reno replied, setting the empty glass down. "You warned us off being anywhere near it. So I've been doing a quiet bodyguard gig, Rude took care of Takei, and Tseng's been being the President's pilot." He grinned. "And none of us get blown up, which js just how we like it." A lazy hand wave. "Enjoy the party, man - how often are ya gonna get one?"

I had to admit he had a point. This was as high as I might ever reach in the world - my pinnacle, as it were. The departmental heads, though each had a specific place in the pecking order, did not cross-promote and all answered only to the Vice-President and the President. Mostly, just the President. I was, as of that evening, one of the seven wealthiest men on the planet, /by default/. Later, quite a bit later, I would come to appreciate that. But that night...that night it felt almost like I'd sold my soul. I didn't belong in that hall. I belonged in Sector Five. But I wasn't there; I was in formal clothes at lavish tables by crystal-clear fountains.

I picked up my champagne glass and raised it in silent toast to what Reno had said - but what was going through my mind was, I've reached the top - the only direction from here is down.
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