|天の龍 ~ 「俺の運が変われると思う…」 (kiraya) wrote in drops_n_ripples,|
@ 2011-10-26 20:17:00
|Entry tags:||butterfly effect|
Butterfly Effect: Chapter 47
Authors: Bard Linn and Kiraya
Pairings: Zack x Sephiroth, assorted past pairings
Rating (Overall): PG-13
Summary: “Our main priority is to restore security and locate any information relevant to these attacks.”
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII and all associated characters and symbols are the exclusive property of Square Enix and its associates. We’re just borrowing them for a while.
Rufus settled into his chair, watching his company’s executive board with sharp eyes. Not everyone was present; some he had excused — Sephiroth, for one, who was helping his SOLDIERs put the building back together. Quite frankly, Rufus had no concerns that Sephiroth was somehow involved with the attack. He had to watch the General, certainly — he knew that Sephiroth had little personal loyalty to ShinRa — but more than anything else, if Sephiroth had planned this, he would have moved Strife from the building.
Matheson and Tuesti were also missing. The former was helping out in the medical wing, while the latter reviewed the building structure to make sure they had shored up the areas damaged by the bombs that had successfully detonated, with occasional visits to the medical wing to check up on one Ms. Gainsborough. Rufus made a mental note to throw in on that betting pool. If this didn’t make Tuesti propose, nothing would.
“I see we are missing a few members of our company,” he finally spoke. “Where is Palmer?”
Everyone assembled glanced around the room, searching for their missing member. Rufus reminded himself not to roll his eyes — that was one of Ms. Kisaragi’s mannerisms, not his own. I’d best watch myself. That girl is rubbing off on me.
After it had been confirmed that no, the head of the Space and Aeronautics Department was not present (not that he would have been difficult to miss if he had been), Heidegger spoke up. “He wasn’t among the injured?”
“Not that we’ve been able to determine so far,” Tseng interjected. “Nor has he yet been found among the casualties.”
Rufus privately reflected only Tseng would be able to deliver that line and not make it sound like he was disappointed.
“Then where is he?” Scarlet demanded, looking peeved. She highly valued her time, and emergency meetings, which rarely touched on weapons R&D, only irritated her.
“Security has not seen Palmer since before the attack,” Tseng reported once he retrieved the information from his PHS. “He left at lunch.”
“Convenient.” Heidigger frowned. “Wonder if he’s a hostage or in on it.”
“It is highly out of character for Palmer to leave the building for lunch; he prefers to have it sent in,” observed Tseng. “It is quite likely he was in league with the terrorists.”
“How did they get in here, anyway?” Heidigger demanded, his already piggy eyes narrowing.
Everyone’s gazed turned to the Turk Leader, then, and he cleared his throat. “From the little we know so far it appears the perpetrators were a motley group of various—”
“That’s not what I asked,” Heidegger snarled.
“Forced entry through the emergency staircase, it seems,” Tseng said calmly, and then continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “Various rabblerousers. It seems at least some of them were members of the terrorist group AVALANCHE—”
“Then it’s their fault — you should be investigating those hooligans!” Scarlet snapped. “I told you it was a bad idea to hire them—”
“We certainly will be interviewing them,” interjected Rufus. “However, we have carefully kept watch over their activities, and nothing at this point indicates that they were involved. And before you ask, the same can be said of Ms. Kisaragi.”
Heidegger grunted. “What else can you tell us?”
“We’re in the process of gathering information. There is little else we know right now.” Tseng didn’t so much as twitch, but Rufus knew that last admission hurt more than he’d ever admit. The Turks were in charge of intelligence operations, and they had fumbled this one badly. “We can have a detailed report by tomorrow morning, most likely.”
“Make it tonight,” Rufus ordered. “I want to know who their inside contacts were. Even if they did have Palmer’s help, they would have needed additional information. Everyone else: Our main priority is to restore security and locate any information relevant to these attacks. If you discover anything, you are to report it at once. Failure to do so will mark you an accessory to the terrorists, and I’ll take measures accordingly.” His stern gaze fell on each board member in turn. The usual political games they got up to would not be tolerated; this time, they couldn't afford it.
“About Palmer,” Scarlet began, clearly trying not to smirk. “Who’s going to replace him?”
Rufus, having expected this question, just shrugged. “I believe the Aeronautics and Space Division can be folded in under the Science Department, at least for now. Space exploration is a low priority for us at the moment. The funding can go into the MMG Project.” He watched impassively as Scarlet and Heidegger silently fumed. The Aeronautics and Space Division had been rather costly, and with their current focus on alternatives to Mako, it was just a drain on their funds. “I think that just about covers everything. Go get your people working.”
The President of the most powerful company in the world rose and walked out his door. As he passed through the door, Rude silently detached himself from the shadows and followed him to his office. As much as he found it distasteful, Rufus doubted he’d be able to go anywhere without one of the Turks for at least a few weeks. Quickly scanning his ID card, he was inside his outer office.
“Do you really need this much paper for photocopies?” Ms. Kisaragi looked up from the disaster she had created on his secretary’s desk. “And in so many colors?”
“…Apparently not.” Rufus didn’t know whether to be impressed or dismayed by the heap of origami, but quickly decided on impressed; it would make negotiations easier. A glance at the door to his personal office revealed it still to be locked — though that wasn’t necessarily a guarantee that his guest hadn’t been in there; according to Tseng, she was quite skilled at getting past such inconveniences. He wouldn’t have left her here except that he needed to speak with her, keep her safe from others in the company, and get on her good side. What he was going to attempt was delicate. “I will admit your additions make the place a bit more… colorful.” Chaotic and childish also came to mind. He eyed the pile, noting at least three birds, a frog, a turtle… They certainly stood out from their sleek, ultramodern, monochromatic surroundings.
“Well, I had to keep myself busy somehow.” Ms. Kisaragi kicked her feet up, scuffing the desk with her shoes. “So. Talk. What do you really want?”
“ShinRa Company is investing a great deal of money and manpower in Wutai to keep your people oppressed. The cost-to-reward ratio is becoming much too great.” Noting the quickly-veiled flare of hope in his guest’s eyes, Rufus continued, “However, simply removing ourselves will leave us open to a variety of problems.” He didn’t elaborate. Behind that happy-go-lucky attitude was a very sharp mind, and he was sure he’d be seeing it in action in a moment or so.
He was not disappointed.
“In other words, it’s too expensive to stay, but if you just pull out, it’ll be seen as a sign of weakness and you’ll have assassins just itching for an opportunity to strike.” Yuffie drummed her fingers on the arm of the desk chair. “You’re hoping I can convince the old guys back home to leave you in peace and let things go. Optimism and insight of youth and all that.”
“Something like that.”
“Well. I don’t think we can just let you go… so let’s talk terms, shall we?” She crossed her arms. “First thing’s first — I want my weapons back. And my materia. Then we’ll get talking.” She gave Rufus a brilliant grin that nearly had him laughing as he opened the door to his office.
“Of course. If you’d come this way? I’ll have some dinner brought up, and we can have our… discussion.”
Sephiroth did not run through the hall to Zack’s rooms. He didn’t even walk quickly. In fact, he made a point of taking a meandering path there, though he wasn’t sure how long, if at all, the fact of Cloud’s continued existence would remain a secret. Thankfully, there were enough SOLDIERs he needed to check in with that it wouldn’t seem odd for him to be taking the path he was. Normally he would just call them to his office when he had a minute — the informal chatty method was more Zack’s purview than his — but with Zack gone for the moment, it wasn’t entirely improbable that he would use it.
At least he hoped so.
A quick swipe of his keycard granted Sephiroth access to Zack’s suite. Much to his joy, Cloud was sitting in one of the armchairs Zack kept in the main room attached the kitchenette, working his way through a bowl of broth from the look of it. He greeted him with a wry smile. “Hello, Sephiroth. Pardon me, but if I don’t keep eating, Arthur and Morgan will make good with their threats of IVs.”
Sephiroth didn’t have to ask if they were serious — he knew their opinion on that sort of thing quite well — or why Cloud was refusing the IV. He had more than a few unpleasant memories of such things himself. It made him feel an odd kinship with Cloud, not unlike that he felt with Vincent, though he wished it were otherwise. The circumstances of the past few years had cost Cloud dearly, leaving him much thinner than he had been despite the Mako maintaining his muscle condition; he’d need things far more substantial than broth to return himself to his former weight. That much was obvious even with Cloud wearing some of Zack’s castoffs… although his time in Hojo’s hands seemed to have added to his height, Sephiroth noted. He was still shorter than Zack, but the pants didn’t need to be rolled quite so much. “How long are you on broth?” he finally asked.
“If all goes well, I get applesauce and rice tomorrow, and maybe some tea,” Cloud replied, and gestured at the seat. “Please. You’ve been on your feet all day, from the sound of things.”
Sephiroth settled into the other seat. “It’s good to have you back with us,” he commented after a moment.
“It feels… strange to be back, to be honest.” Cloud put his spoon down, and placed the broth on the table. “Thank you. For your message earlier.”
“Then that was you.”
Cloud nodded, looking troubled. “I’m sorry for… taking undue liberties. But…”
“From my understanding, your actions saved Ms. Gainsborough’s life. I know you were close. I don’t mind that much, though I’ll admit that it was unsettling. But… how?” That more than anything else was what bothered Sephiroth. Between them, he and Zack had managed to determine at least three dozen times Cloud had interfered in their lives. While normally they were minor things, sometimes passing without notice until later, it was still unsettling, and a violation of their privacy besides.
Cloud shifted uncomfortably. “Something Hojo did made me… float, I guess. I was drawn to people with Jenova cells. The call was strongest in you and Zack.” He grimaced. “And Hojo. Believe me, you don’t want to be in that man’s mind.”
Sephiroth could sympathize.
“I didn’t always mean to interfere. Mostly I just watched. It was better than— well, it was better.” Cloud’s expression closed off, but Sephiroth had no intention of pushing him. His own memories of Hojo’s treatments had been dulled by time — and he had been under some degree of protection, as a company project. The very thought of being subject to Hojo’s every whim given free reign was nightmare-enducing. “I apologize.”
That was enough for Sephiroth. He wouldn’t be surprised if those little visits had been the only thing that had kept Cloud from going insane. “It’s only fair, I suppose. We also got a glimpse into your thoughts. You left me your journals,” he pointed out, subtly changing the subject.
Surprise registered on the younger man’s face. “I forgot all about them. I never meant for anyone else to read them; they aren’t exactly flattering.”
“No, they aren’t, but they did prove quite interesting.” Sephiroth had found them helpful in identifying both flaws in his subordinates and with himself. Cloud could be surprisingly analytical at times — a trait he had undoubtedly picked up from Vincent — and his insights were helpful, if at times occasionally unsettling. “Zack is already on his way back. He should be here by Wednesday at the latest.”
“Great. Two days to get back into shape before he squeezes me to death,” Cloud joked. “Any idea how long I’ll be stuck in here?”
“I don’t know,” Sephiroth admitted. “We haven’t ‘officially’ found you.”
“Which means that the Turks know about me, meaning the President knows. And considering Aeris was involved, Reeve probably knows. Arthur said Matheson and Morgan knew…” Cloud shook his head. “Well. We’ll see how things go.”
“And I should let you rest. I’ll try to stop by tomorrow during lunch.” Sephiroth rose. “Good night, Cloud.”
“Good night, Seph. Sleep well.”
Sephiroth couldn’t help smiling a bit at hearing Cloud use Zack’s nickname for him with such confidence. It seemed his mucking around in their heads had left more of a mark on Cloud than on them… though even hearing it the first time already felt natural. With Cloud as close a friend as Zack was, it was a wonder he hadn’t heard it sooner.
Sephiroth left Cloud to finish his broth and headed up to bed. He considered messaging Zack that their friend was awake, then thought better of it. It would be much more entertaining to make it a surprise.
Cloud finished up his broth and cleaned up after himself in Zack’s kitchenette. He had to smile when he noticed the soap had been gathering dust. Either Zack wasn’t doing his dishes (quite possible, although there wasn’t anything dirty sitting around) or he hadn’t eaten anything here for a while (more likely, since he appeared to be staying with Sephiroth at the moment). He left his dishes to dry in the rack before pausing, looking back toward the bed.
He had no desire to go back to sleep. In fact, the idea of lying back down in that bed was almost nauseating. Cloud was sure that they had changed the sheets regularly, but he had been stuck there for a month and a half — and even if he didn’t not consciously remember it, his body did.
Morgan and Arthur would kill him if they found him wandering around, though. Hades’ flames, for that matter, so might most of the others. He had definitely gotten the impression that the fact he was alive was strictly on a need-to-know-and-if-you-figure-it-out-do
But Cloud was not going back to bed.
After all, he reasoned, digging around until he found a pair of workout shoes Zack had left in the closet, what was the point in having a Turk as a mentor if you couldn’t take advantage of it sometimes? Turks were practically required to break rules left and right. He had been far too law-abiding lately for Vincent’s ex-apprentice.
The console in Zack’s room still functioned admirably, well used or not. A few clicks of the keys and Cloud was into the security network. He pondered the camera views for a few minutes, studying the angles, before deciding on a very short loop on only a few — with things being the way they were, security would be tighter than normal. It would probably be pretty difficult for a normal person to sneak around undetected, but between his speed and his knowledge of the building he should be okay. It wasn’t that far to the hospital wing, anyway.
A few more commands and he had a series of small, pre-timed loops to kick in when he’d hit the cameras. He’d need to disable it when he returned, but it shouldn’t be too hard. With them timed, they wouldn’t significantly impede security.
Getting into the hospital area was a rush, but it also showed how out of shape he was, Cloud reflected as he paused in a camera’s blind spot and waited for the night nurse to pass. His lungs ached more than they should have from the short sprints. He would need to really work to get back into top condition.
A few minutes more and he was outside of Aeris’s hospital room. He opened the door and stepped inside, and had to duck as a pillow came flying at him. “Tifa, relax! It’s just me!”
Tifa, in the midst of reaching for a glass that would’ve been a far more effective weapon than the pillow, froze. “…Cloud?”
He smiled. “Yeah. Glad to see your reflexes are up to par… though I don’t think a pillow would do much damage.”
“First thing at hand.” She studied him. “Well. You don’t look well, but still better than I expected.”
“Could’ve been worse,” Cloud agreed. He nodded at Aeris. “How about her?”
“The same. She should be out and about in a day or two. Some people are getting strange ideas, though, so Reeve asked me to be her bodyguard for a bit. He even talked the President into paying me to do it.” Tifa settled back into her chair.
“Like she’s the next coming of Phoenix or something.”
A weak laugh interrupted them. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you, Cloud.” Aeris tried to sit up, and quickly had both Cloud and Tifa hovering over her. “Thank you. I felt you — in the Lifestream.”
“I heard you. I think the entire Planet heard you.” Cloud gently squeezed her hand. “I’m glad to see you made it through all right.”
“So why did you wake up now and not earlier?” Tifa asked. “We’ve had you back for over a month.”
Cloud’s eyes went far away, remembering a dark voice in his thoughts, whispering promises that had become harder and harder to ignore. When given the hope of freedom where there had been none, it was so hard to believe that Jenova hadn’t been thinking about his best interests, even remembering what She had done to Zack in Nibelheim. He knew he wouldn’t last forever, so it had seemed more sensible to lock himself away, hiding as far down as he could manage, lest he be used against his friends… “I was too far gone,” he finally replied. “Aeris’s shout was louder than normal.” He could tell that neither of his friends found this answer acceptable, but he didn’t give a damn. There were some things he was never going to discuss if he could help it. Maybe if the safety of the world depended on it, but that’s about it. He shook his head. “Anyway, I’m glad to see you’re doing all right. When you get a chance, stop by? I get the feeling I’m not supposed to be out of Zack’s old quarters.”
“We will,” Tifa promised. “Any idea when you’ll be free?”
“Nope. We’ll have to talk to Sephiroth about it. I have no idea what kind of story they’re going to tell people.” Cloud squeezed Aeris’s hand one more time before ducking out into the hallway. It shouldn’t be too hard to get back to Zack’s room — there was something he wanted to take care of on his computer there.
Reeve looked up from his computer at the sound of a knock on the door. “Tseng.”
“Reeve.” He held up a file. “A question for you.”
“Come in. Coffee?”
Unusual. Tseng generally avoided coffee, preferring tea, particularly herbal varieties. Despite his immaculate appearance, he had to have been working some long hours to stoop to coffee. “So, what brings you to my humble office?” With the MMG Project’s success, the Urban Development Department was no longer the poor, ignored stepchild of the ShinRa family. The President was actually looking at expanding its operations outside Midgar, at least as far as the technology went. Although Reeve’s pay may have increased, though, his office remained much the same: a tiny, closet-like room with a filing cabinet and desk wedged between various mechanical bits of junk he tinkered with in his scant free time.
“I’ve been investigating Palmer’s files, and I discovered something interesting.”
“Oh?” Reeve passed Tseng his coffee and sat back in his seat with his own cup. “So he was involved.”
“Not with the attack.” Tseng shook his head. “That’s one of the oddities. It appears the attack merely triggered a crisis of guilty conscience and made him run for it. No — it took me several hours to finally track it down, but it appears Palmer has been sending regular messages to an unspecified recipient. Some of the messages went to Gongaga, about years ago; some, more recently, to Wutai.”
Reeve straightened. “…Hojo’s mole?”
“That’s what I’m guessing. I wish we had some recent blood samples; it’d be interesting to know Palmer’s current physical make-up.” Tseng sipped his coffee. “It appears that he also received some small packages, possibly pharmaceuticals.”
“Do you think he was experimented on?” Reeve fought down a shudder. He knew enough about Hojo that he wouldn’t wish that on anyone, even Palmer.
“It’s more likely he was addicted to recreational drugs. Palmer often visited the Gold Saucer, as I’m sure you know.” Tseng opened the file. “I see you own the Cait Sith cooperation — one of the gambling units.”
Reeve didn’t bother to deny it. “All perfectly legal. The supplementary income was quite helpful in those days our department was less well regarded.”
“And Palmer has a substantial amount of money sent over two or three times a year.”
Reeve just shrugged. “He isn’t a very good gambler. If I recall correctly, however, his account still has a positive balance.”
“We’ve shut down his ShinRa accounts already. If he has half a brain, he’ll know we’re watching his bank, but he may not think we’d find this so quickly. He did try to hide it.” Tseng’s tone made it clear just how effective that had been. “But he’s able to withdraw money at any city, correct?”
“Cait Sith operates in Junon, Costa del Sol, and Midgar in addition to the Gold Saucer. I’d bet on Junon, since it’s closest.” Reeve drummed his fingers against the desk, thinking.
“Inform me if the withdrawal happens?”
Reeve smiled. “I can do better than that. Like anything else with us, storing money is a gamble. There’s a chance that a withdrawal or deposit will grant the account holder a token for a free spin at our Gold Saucer installation. I’ll make sure that he gets one.”
Tseng raised an eyebrow. “I doubt he’d head to such a high-profile place.”
“They also function as tracking chips.” Reeve tried not to look smug, really, but his success was debatable. “One never knows who one will need to keep track of. Knowing Palmer, he’ll hold on to it until he gets a chance to use it. If you’re right about the drugs, he’ll likely to head straight to his source to sell off whatever information he can to get some more, then hide. Palmer isn’t one for confrontation. This could lead us straight to Hojo.” He turned to his computer, starting it up. “I’m guessing you’ll keep an eye on the Saucer on the off chance he does decide to go there?”
The look Tseng gave him spoke volumes. Finishing his coffee, he rose to leave. “Let me know if anything comes of it.”
Reeve nodded absentmindedly as he departed. Accessing the Cait Sith program, he placed a tag on Palmer’s account. One free tracking device, lined up. Hopefully this would work.
::It seems someone has stirred the pot.:: Chaos sounded positively gleeful.
Vincent ignored him; he had learned that Chaos tended to be vocal about anything that disrupted order — natural, of course, but still bothersome — and he and Sinclair were gathering their fair share of strange looks as they walked swiftly down the hall to Sephiroth’s office. Vincent supposed it was his own fault. His appearance did tend to attract attention, and he normally didn’t move around this part of the building. At least not publicly, anyway.
He could have just let Sinclair pass on Lucrecia’s warning, but Vincent felt it should come from him. Not only had he discovered the information himself — and Turks always reported in person if they could — but he wanted to talk to Sephiroth about Lucrecia. Also, there was always the chance that entrusting the message’s delivery to Sinclair would compromise it. If he remembered correctly, all SOLDIERs carried Jenova cells, after all…
Sinclair opened the door to Sephiroth’s office and stepped inside. “Seph! Good to see you. We got your message. Things are crazy out there.”
Sephiroth raised an eyebrow as he signed a document on his desk. “You made better time than I expected.”
“We were already headed back when I got your message.” Sinclair looked at his own desk and grimaced. “Gaea, that’s a lot of paperwork.”
“Could be worse,” came a muffled voice from somewhere behind it. “I’ve got it sorted out for you, at least.”
Sinclair froze. “…Cloud?”
A blond head rose from behind the edge of the desk. “Hi.”
Before he was even finished speaking, Sinclair threw himself at his friend, resulting in a pile of paperwork flying into the air, which earned a dismayed cry from Cloud. “You’re awake! When did you wake up? Why didn’t you say anything?” The last was directed at Sephiroth, although the stranglehold hug he was giving Cloud never loosened. “…and why are you sitting on the floor behind my desk? I should think you’d know I don’t mind if you use the chair.”
“Sephiroth didn’t want it to get out I was back, and the President agrees. They want to figure out how to deal with the fallout, since officially I’m supposed to still be dead and staying in your room, pretending I don’t exist.” Cloud looked over Sinclair’s shoulder. “I think I understand now how difficult that time you were stuck in Sephiroth’s room must’ve been. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine, Cloud.” Vincent smiled slightly at his protégé, who pushed Sinclair off him with a mock glare. He was utterly relieved to learn Cloud had finally awoken, whole and sane, but he still couldn’t help feeling… unsettled. It was almost like there was a noise he couldn’t quite discern at the very edge of his hearing. The SOLDIERs didn’t seem to notice it, though, and their hearing was as good as his…
::It’s the echoes of the Calamity you’re sensing. They resonate with each other.:: Chaos sounded unusually serious.
All three? Sephiroth he expected, and Cloud seemed natural, considering how long he had been in Hojo’s hands. But Sinclair, too?
::He met Her on the mountain, remember.::
Vincent had nearly forgotten that. Damn. Things were worse than he’d feared, then. Sephiroth alone was bad enough. Cloud, with his new alterations, was a complete unknown. Add to that Sinclair, certainly one of the best regular First Class SOLDIERs… He really hoped Jenova would never manage to sink her claws into them. If the three of them worked in concert, it would require drastic measures to take them down.
“It sucks you have to be stuck in here,” Sinclair was complaining. “I want to take you out for some good food to celebrate.”
“Morgan and Arthur would have a fit,” Cloud pointed out, reluctantly. “They’ve made a very specific food plan I’m supposed to be following.”
“Screw food plans. Life is for living!” Sinclair shook his fist.
“Thanks, but no thanks. You aren’t the one who’d be stuck in a bed with an IV. And we’re not sure what my body can handle right now.” Cloud made a face.
“That sucks. Seriously.” Sinclair sighed. “Well, as soon as you’re clear, we’re having a party.”
“In case you’ve forgotten, Zachary, Cloud is not supposed to be seen by the general populace,” Sephiroth put in dryly.
“I know — and don’t call me Zachary, Seph!” Sinclair gave an exaggerated pout. “You haven’t done that in years!”
“Your behavior hasn’t warranted it in years,” Sephiroth replied without missing a beat.
Cloud let out an exaggerated sigh. “Maybe I shouldn’t have come ba—”
“Don’t. Ever. Joke about that.” Sinclair’s tone was deadly serious.
“I’m sorry. I know things were… hard.” Cloud’s eyes took on a faraway look.
“…How did you do that, anyway? Get in our heads, I mean,” Sinclair elaborated. “And what did you see?”
“How? Something Hojo did. I drifted.” Cloud shrugged, looking a little uncomfortable. “And it wasn’t so much ‘see’ as ‘feel.’ I could follow your conversation, but not your thoughts, unless it was something very, very strong. I’m sorry I got so involved sometimes, but watching you two just… fumble sometimes drove me crazy. And it was a nice change from… things.”
Vincent could imagine all too well what sort of ‘things’ Cloud meant. From the look on his face, Sinclair’s mind was helpfully filling in the blanks as well, even if he didn't have personal experience to draw on. “Shit. I didn’t mean to make you remember—”
“I can’t really forget, Zack. Some things never leave you; you just learn to live with them.” Cloud turned to Sephiroth, and very deliberately asked, “Do you have a board meeting later?”
“Yes. They’ll be discussing the Turks’ findings on the attack so far and what course of action to take.” He turned to Sinclair. “I won’t need you there, Zack. I expect we’ll be largely uninvolved in whatever comes next. And as you’ve noticed, you do have a bit of paperwork to do.” Sephiroth nodded to the piles Cloud was straightening up.
“…goody.” Sinclair sighed. “Are you sure you won’t need me?”
“I’ll stay and help,” Cloud offered. “I can’t go back to your old room until evening anyway.”
“And I need to take my leave as well,“ Vincent added. “Tseng will be expecting a report.” Though if things were as busy as Sephiroth had suggested, he might not be able to make contact with him until later. In any case, he could at least go up to the main office and help with the inevitable fallout of poor intelligence work.
“If you get a chance, stop by later?” Cloud asked quietly as Sinclair settled at the desk, taking up a pen to sally forth against the paper awaiting him. “I’d like to talk about exercises I can do while I’m stuck in Zack’s room.”
“It would be a pleasure.” And Vincent meant it. Somehow, despite everything, this hadn’t changed — Cloud was still his student and friend. No matter what awaited them, that at least would remain.
::Only if She doesn’t get him. I wouldn’t count Her out, not just yet.::
“We have finished our initial investigation regarding the invasion into the tower. It turns out that three groups worked together on this attack. The first was, as suspected, the remains of the terrorist group AVALANCHE. The second was a group of mercenaries hired specifically for the job. We do not yet have concrete information one exactly who hired them—” Tseng paused, letting his eyes sweep the room. Rufus knew exactly why, though he was only half paying attention, already well aware of everything Tseng was going to say. Though the information they did have pointed to an outsider, probably a rival company, making the less scrupulous members of his executive board feel as if they were also suspect would help keep them in line for a while. “—though we will soon complete that aspect of our inquiries. The final group was an outcast clan from Wutai.”
“Ms. Kisaragi has been very helpful with the survivors of the Wutaian group,” Rufus smoothly interjected. “Their motivations identify an area of concern. They were apparently cast out of Wutai at some point, and they seem to feel that eliminating ShinRa Company, or at least myself, would result in the restoration of their honor.” Yuffie had admitted that she wasn’t even sure why the clan had been disgraced in the first place; the records of their exile were scant and offered little information. In fact, until she had encountered them, Yuffie had been skeptical as to whether or not this lost clan actually even existed. Luckily they were willing to talk with Godo’s heir, even if she was currently in ShinRa custody.
“Are you sure we can trust that girl?” Scarlet objected. “If these are her own people…”
“All of Ms. Kisaragi’s information has been validated by third-party sources,” Rufus replied. And Yuffie wasn’t stupid. He briefly entertained the idea of inflicting her on this group. She’d likely con half their secrets out of them, and swindle them out of a decent size of their savings as well! Yuffie had a very precise moral code, combining aspects of ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law’ with the idea that some people shouldn’t be robbed.
Tseng, Rufus knew, found his interest in her worrisome, but he needn’t have bothered. Yuffie wasn’t unattractive, and her mind was formidable, but the bond forming between them certainly wasn’t a romantic one; it was based on mutual understanding and (dare he say it) even a bit of respect. For now it would be a profitable partnership for them both — at least until they achieved that important mutual goal they’d agreed on to secure their futures.
Laying down the briefing containing Tseng’s report, Rufus looked at the people gathered around the table. “As long as we remain at odds with Wutai, however, we will present an attractive target. The next major item on our agenda is to determine the best way to approach peace negations.”
Silence reigned for a moment or two before pandemonium broke out. Rufus allowed it for a few minutes — better to let them get it out of their system before trying to talk over them. As the objections finally started to calm down, Rufus nodded at Scarlet, who rose. “Do you mean to tell us we’re just going to let them go?”
“Keeping Wutai under our control is not worth the expenditure. We maintain a constant military presence there to quell uprisings, heightened security in the customs process as we search for contraband items slows trade, and furthermore, we are currently receiving no benefit from the occupation. With our study of and focus on alternate energy sources, we no longer need the Mako there for our reactors. The only sector in which we’re generating income is tourism, and it’s not nearly enough to put us in the black.”
Heidegger heaved himself to his feet. “And all those who lost their lives in the war?”
“We still honor their sacrifice — but we cannot justify sacrificing even more lives.”
Reeve stood as Scarlet and Heidegger, both looking discontent, sat back down. “While I fully agree, President Shinra, I’d like to point out that the Wutaian ruling council will certainly demand reparations.”
“And that is what I want you all to think about — what the Wutaians might want, and what concessions we could reasonably offer. We’ll finalize a list for our representative by next Tuesday.” Rufus shifted his attention to the far end of the table. “General Sephiroth, you are exempted from that duty. I have another task for you.”
Sephiroth nodded silently.
“We have located Palmer.” Sephiroth lifted an eyebrow, and Rufus could almost see what he must have been thinking — rogue company employees were the business of the Turks, not SOLDIER. He continued, “Our intelligence has traced him to Mideel — and linked him to the actions of former employee Toshirou Hojo.”
Silence reigned again. Rufus watched Sephiroth closely, noting the subtle signs that indicated he now had the General’s full attention. “Your orders, sir?”
“Take Major General Sinclair and Turk Consultant Valentine with you, track Hojo down, and dispose of him. Furthermore, if you can bring back any pertinent information regarding Hojo’s activities during the last five years, do so, but do not jeopardize your main objective.” Rufus paused. “Our sources didn’t indicate if Palmer still alive, but if you encounter him you are allowed to deal with him as you deem fit.”
“Very well.” Rufus nodded decisively. “Dismissed — get those concession lists compiled, ladies and gentlemen.” He inclined his head to Sephiroth. “And good hunting, General.”