Conscripted: A Final Fantasy 7 Moment
The first time I saw Sephiroth I was riding the train that wove its way around the levels of Midgar City, trying desperately to stay calm. Not because of the soldier, I had not yet seen him, but because my life was desperate. I'd just lost my job, my prospects for another were slim and too many people seemed interested in who I was.
What did I matter in the realm of the world's day-to-day business? I had asked that question numerous times, and accordingly, received no answer. A simple designer, I'd been working for a subsidiary of Shinra, the megaconglomerate electrical company in Midgar, designing the uniforms for SOLDIER, their military arm; although as the men and women advanced in rank, it was more often the Soldiers telling me what they wanted.
I hadn't worked with Sephiroth, or Genesis or Angeal; those men were reserved for the lead designer, Illa. What she did for them was unclear; what they wore bore little similarity to anything I'd seen her design. I had decided the men chose what they wanted and Illa took the accolades for their sense of style.
I assumed I'd lost my job because I'd gotten annoyed at the unending subservience of the company, catering first to Mr. Shinra, the President, and then after his death, the younger son Rufus. He was a handsome man, well dressed but cold, with eyes that bore through you without seeing you. Except for me, he seemed to see me all too well for some reason. I didn't know why, but the sense that he was watching me pervaded everything I did, from shopping at the local market, to work, to home, where I'd begun to close all the blinds and windows, fearing Shinra's spies were there across the street looking in.
It terrified me, but no one at work seemed to care. Illa, when I went to her, told me I was being foolish. My response was what did me in. My criticism that even she was under their thumb made Illa furious. She had little use for insecure, paranoid workers like me. I was not a designer in her mind, far beneath her lofty presence. I am sure she complained to someone higher up, hoping perhaps, to get me out of her hair.
It had. I was now reluctantly heading home on the train wending its way downward toward the lower levels of the city where I lived only to hear an icy voice issue an announcement over the loudspeakers they were searching the train. The words sent a trill of dread down my spine.
I didn't know who they wanted, only knew I felt trapped as I looked for a way to escape. The train was narrow, with windows that did not open, and a door at each end of the car. The other passengers seemed just as nervous, with many scrambling out of their seats only to find their way blocked by a pair of low level guards coming in from outside. A thump over head announced yet more soldiers and a woman beside me collapsed in terror.
The men walked down the aisles silently, armed with guns, faces covered in my designs, looking at each person they walked past. The passengers scattered to the far walls as the soldiers approached, pressing up against the windows as if they could melt away. I think many of them feared the men as much as the weapons. They swept past me and took up position at the rear door, making anyone's exit impossible.
SOLDIER was an uncompromising arm of Shinra, the company's muscle, the men loyal to a fault with powerful weapons even the lowest ranking private could wield with great proficiency. Showered in MAKO energy, the military were not the same as the ordinary folk of Midgar, but physically changed into fighting machines.
We, of course, accepted this as necessary, as fierce creatures that could harm or kill without discretion hampered the world far too often. SOLDIER destroyed these dangerous adversaries, and so, we overlooked the changes and mounting secrecy surrounding Shinra.
I knew more about the changes these men went through than most, saw the differences grow as the men advanced in rank. I had measured and talked with too many men not to know what they went through. The younger recruits were so excited about being fitted as a Soldier they often told me things that, perhaps, they shouldn't have, and the more experienced often liked to flaunt the transformations that made them who they were.
Few were changed as much as the First Class Soldiers, however. Those men, the three that Illa so coveted, must have been through far more than most, for their strength, their power was incredible. Three men feared and admired, men who stood higher in regard than even Rufus in the slums of Midgar.
The news that one of the First Class Soldiers was leading the search swept like wildfire through the train, a shocked and terrified whisper that was passed from person to person until it reached us in the last car, eliciting moans of fear from several of the passengers. It was only moments later that the Soldier arrived, a moment I can say I will never forget.
My breath caught at the sight of him. Although I had seen Sephiroth's photo many times, the reality of what he was, who he was, was a hundred times more intimidating that those images had shown. He seemed to fill the rail car with his power, his height so tall that he had to duck the low doorway to get inside, allowing me to view him for a brief second before his terrifying gaze swept over us in a rapid perusal that seemed to see everything. His hair was ungodly long, the front cut in long bangs that framed his narrow face. His lips tight with disdain, he straightened and I caught a brief glimpse of long black eyelashes framing a pair of almond shaped eyes, cat-like, colored like a tropical sea. I looked away, my heart pounding in my chest, only to find his reflection in my window clear as a mirror.
It gave me another opportunity to observe him as his attention settled on the first passengers.
His long leather jacket hid his most of his body. Flared at the knee, it could not have been anything Illa had designed; it suited him far too well. Long tight sleeves revealed more muscle than if he'd been shirtless, while protective pads covered the delicate area of his shoulder and neck, the leather hardened with a steel layer beneath. Thigh high boots encased his legs over soft leather pants, and beneath the jacket, he wore nothing but his pale skin.
Sephiroth swept slowly down the aisle, icy with an arrogance none in Midgar could match, not even Rufus Shinra. Sephiroth exuded an authority the President could only wish he had.
I was frozen, unable to look away, hardly able to breathe as he passed me by. What was he looking for?
The brief thought that it might be me was so absurd I nearly laughed aloud.
Sephiroth moved back up the aisle, but this time he began to ask for identification.
I stared at my bags, what things I had brought from my office, wondering if he would think I stole them. Would he even ask about them? Was I being paranoid, had I been all along?
The woman who had collapsed in terror woke to find Sephiroth beside her and promptly slid back down on the floor unconscious. Two of the SOLDIERS accompanying him carried the woman outside. I could only wish for such relief as he turned around to face me. He watched them leave and then he looked down, his blue-green eyes so sharp I could not meet his gaze.
"Your identification, please."
He'd always been known to be polite, distant, reserved. Did anyone really know him, or any of the three men who ranked at the top of Shinra's order? His skills were the stuff of legend, his sword an icon of mastery none could match. He was not carrying the Masamune now, had no need of the blade; he had enough weapons without it.
I handed him my card, my Shinra id, and waited without looking at him for his response.
"Your id has been terminated," he said softly.
I shivered. "I know. I haven't had time to get another one yet."
"Indeed." I caught a glimpse of black leather fingers as he flipped my card over in his hand, his hair brushing over his wrist as he studied it. Was it my imagination or was he taking extra time with me? My teeth wanted to chatter.
He handed me my card without touching my fingers, his hand slim in the black glove. I envisioned it gripping his famous sword and wondered what power was there waiting to be unleashed. He turned to the next person and I heaved a silent sigh of relief.
I'd been silly to think he'd been looking for me. He would continue with the rest of the passengers and then the soldiers would leave, for certainly, whoever they sought could not be on the train.
Sephiroth finished his inspection, and then removed a phone from the pocket of his coat, flipping it open with one hand before punching whatever number he sought without looking at the device -- a well-known number then, probably speed-dialed. Who would it be? Angeal, Genesis, Rufus himself?
His voice was too low to hear all that he said, or to whom he spoke. I only heard one thing. My body turned to ice, the words echoing inside my head.
"We've found her."
When he turned around to look at me with those eyes, I fainted.
When I woke, I was still on the train, lying on one of the longer benches in the front. The rest of the car was empty but for Sephiroth and two of the lower class SOLDIERS. Sephiroth was sitting at my feet, one foot braced against my seat, an elbow draped casually over the back of another behind him. I sat up, wondering who had carried me to the front of the train. I was clearly in trouble, and had no idea why. I was not an enemy of Shinra, even with my discontent, nor was I such a dangerous adversary that it might require a man of such stature like Sephiroth to detain me. It made no sense, my mind whirling with implausible explanations that were all too crazy to be true.
"You were looking for me." It was not a question; I did not really need his answer.
Sephiroth handed me a small piece of paper. "Do you know what this is?"
I stared at it, recognizing the handwriting as Illa's, but that was all. The paper was a drawing of something, a machine of some kind. "No."
He grunted softly, a sound that made me want to sweat, to jerk the paper back and rephrase my response to something that would make him happy.
Or maybe not, my fingers nearly nerveless as he removed the drawing from my hand and folded the paper to return it to his pocket, brows furrowed over a slim nose nearly concealed by a long fall of silver hair as he moved to look out the window.
"How well do you know Illa?"
I blinked. "Illa?"
His head lifted, the hair shielding much of his gaze as he looked at me, but not enough to dilute the intensity in his eyes. "She was your supervisor."
"I don't know her any better than you probably do," I said, and instantly regretted the words when he stood up and moved to sit beside me. The train continued to chug along, the raindrops that had sprinkled the windows for much of the ride sliding past his reflection on the glass. He leaned over me to brace one arm on the back of my seat, the other gripping the steel pole beside my head.
"What makes you think I would know her," Sephiroth inquired, his voice soft, but dangerous, like a dog that seemed so friendly until you tried to pet him and then he'd tear off your arm.
"It's just that she works with you, the First Class Soldiers, you know
" I felt tongue-tied. He was too close, too overpowering for me to think clearly.
Sephiroth's lip curved slightly, a mocking expression mirrored in his eyes. "We don't work together. Illa is no longer employed at Shinra."
I stared at him in shock. "I don't understand; she just fired me today."
"No, she didn't. I did."
I know my mouth was hanging open. Why would he do such a thing, he didn't even know me? I was completely befuddled, my confusion overcoming my fear of him as I stared at him. I shut my mouth, aware that I had amused him somehow. He had not moved, still leaned over me so close I could smell the deep scent of his leather coat, the faint hint of a smoky, woodsy odor that I wondered came from his inherent ability to control fire, the pyrokinesis, among many other abilities, that made him the most powerful person on the planet.
He ignored my surprise, my lack of words, staring off over my head for a moment. "What do you know of AVALANCHE?"
I swallowed. I didn't know much about the renegade group, Shinra's bane, an organization intent on bringing down the company. Had Illa known of them? "What is Avalanche? A new dance club?" I asked, smiling briefly but quickly deciding that joking with Sephiroth was not a good thing.
His glare should have burned me to a crisp, my humor not appreciated at all. "You are fully aware of who they are."
"Everyone knows who AVALANCHE is," I said, gathering what was left of my tattered courage to speak firmly. I tried not to cower against the window, forcing myself to meet the cyan colored eyes if only to prove I could. This was Sephiroth, after all. "But I don't know much, have no idea who is part of the group if that is what you want from me. Maybe you should be talking to Illa and not me."
His eyes narrowed. He seemed like a cat poised to strike, full of tension held tightly in check. "Why do you say that?" he asked.
"There has to be a reason why you fired her," I replied, staring out the window. The view gave me a brief respite from a harrowing gaze, and made me realize we were no longer traveling along the slums but had returned to the upper plate, back to where I had boarded near the Shinra Building. I shrugged, dragging my knees up against my chest as if to ward off the man still sitting beside me. "Or maybe," I continued, with a last ditch attempt to lighten my situation. "You just didn't like her designs."
He snorted. It was the nearest thing I would probably get to laughter from him. He rose to his feet as the train began to slow, entering the station. The two Soldiers moved forward through the car, stopping at my seat as the train stopped.
Sephiroth shoved open the door, and with a clearly amused guard behind me, I followed him out of the train.
The other passengers were also disembarking from the other cars, rapidly with brief glances toward Sephiroth and me. Was that pity I saw in their eyes? Sephiroth's fingers wrapped my elbow in a vise of steel, propelling me over the tracks and down the street toward Shinra.
We walked into the building through the front door, my humiliation rising as people I knew saw me and stared, pulled unerringly along without any recourse or escape. We swept up the curved stairs that wrapped the entry, my steps two to his one, and then waited for the elevator that would take me higher.
Or perhaps lower.
I shuddered as the doors slid shut, leaving the two soldiers behind.
Sephiroth released me. I wondered if I would have bruises from his grip. The car seemed far too small, claustrophobic with the man beside me so overwhelming. He punched a button and the car began to descend. I only knew terror, wondering what I had done to deserve this.
Not many people went below street level; those areas were off limits to the general workers, just like the upper floors where the President's office, the training areas, labs and such were.
"What are you going to d-do?" My teeth chattered and I received a brief glance from beneath the long silver hair.
"Relax, you're not in trouble."
I didn't feel much consolation. "Why am I here t-then?"
Sephiroth's lips twitched faintly, but he did not look at me. "We have need of you."
I almost laughed aloud; the idea was so preposterous. I kept the humor hidden, biting my tongue. Sephiroth stared ahead, patiently waiting, and clearly not overly anxious to provide further information. The elevator ground to a halt, the door clanking open while I stared uneasily beyond the open doors expecting perhaps some monster to be waiting there. Instead, the first class SOLDIER gripped my elbow once again, guiding me firmly out of the elevator and into a long brightly lit hall. The elevator doors slid shut. I looked back over my shoulder briefly, wondering if my life would ever be the same.
We followed the hall for some ways and then turned into another, and then another until I was confused to which way we had come. We passed no one, the halls eerily empty, silent but for the drone of the lights, the echo of our footsteps, mine at least in my heels, Sephiroth's were hardly audible. He said nothing further. I couldn't think of anything to say, the questions that filled my mind too overwhelming to voice aloud.
He'd said I wasn't in trouble, yet here I was, being taken deep into the depths of Shinra where few went and returned to talk about it. In fact, I could not name one person who could tell what went on down there. It chilled me to the bone. But why me? Why would Shinra need to send their top SOLDIER to find me?
We stopped in front of a steel door, no handle, no window, just a white expanse that hid the room inside. Sephiroth reached out and pressed a button on the pad beside the door and the portal slid open with a faint whisper.
"You will be given your answers soon," Sephiroth said as he pushed me forward, a bit forcefully as I dragged my feet, unwilling to go further.
"You don't know what my questions are," I retorted, fear making me a bit more courageous than I might have been otherwise.
The glance he sent me was amused, while his fingers only tightened on my arm as we entered the room. "I know them all," he whispered into my ear just as he let go, stepping back behind me. I started to ask what he meant but then the chair in front of me turned around and a man rose to face me, his eyes not so intimidating as the Sephiroth's, but a man to be wary of still.
"Lazarus," he said, holding out his hand, gloved in white. He was impeccably dressed, nice suit, tie, a very formal man. "I am head of SOLDIER."
I knew that already, his picture was posted in the front lobby with all the major players of Shinra. This man was Sephiroth's boss? It seemed funny, yet I could sense a stillness behind me, a respectful silence as Lazarus returned to his seat. He leaned forward to the console in front of him and punched a couple of keys then sat back to look at me thoughtfully.
"I am sorry if we frightened you, but the word I have is that you would handle it well enough."
I wondered just who he'd been talking to.
Lazarus smiled, his hands braced together at the fingers, elbows planted on the arms of his chair. "Of course, we didn't have much choice. Parading you upstairs and out in the city like a criminal was completely necessary in order to perpetuate the story we've put out about you."
I was completely confused. "Excuse me?"
I felt Sephiroth move, saw him stroll to a bank of monitors beside me. The screens lit up as he turned on a few switches, the local news flashing across the screens.
"A suspected spy was taken in custody today by SOLDIER, reputed to be among those moving against Shinra in the sporadic explosions that have shut down two Mako reactors. The Shinra company says they plan to investigate not only this fugitive, caught today on the train, but those attempting to destroy the good works that the company has done for Midgar. Rumor has it that the rebel group Avalanche is increasing members daily
The report went on, but with no sound as Sephiroth turned toward me. I stared at him and then at Lazarus. "I told him I wasn't involved with Avalanche. I can tell you nothing you don't already know."
Lazarus only smiled. "We know that."
I blinked, my hands sweating so much I wanted to rub them across my skirt. "Then why? I don't understand? Why send a dozen soldiers, not to mention someone like Sephiroth, to arrest me? I haven't done anything wrong!" I shoved my hair off my forehead to disguise how much I was shaking.
Lazarus leaned forward. "Illa was the one working for Avalanche. She will be taken care of as needed for such a spy. But you," the man rose to his feet. "Your work in the design department has been exceptional. The recruits feel comfortable with you. We have need of your skills in designing products a bit more unusual than your normal soldier uniforms. We have plans on creating items that although may seem normal, will have special qualities incorporated into them." Lazarus looked intently at Sephiroth.
The SOLDIER nodded, arms folded over his chest. "Work that must remain under wraps and far from the public eye, the world does not need to know all that we can do." Sephiroth frowned, his brows drawing together, his glance moving to rest on Lazarus.
Lazarus nodded. "Our last scientist has fallen ill. We need someone with new insight and ability. One who can disappear from Midgar without questions being asked. A criminal brought in for spying would not be considered twice after that."
"You needed Sephiroth for that?" I asked, stunned and unable to think past the fact anyone who knew me would now consider me a traitor to Shinra. With my discontent, it would not be a shocking thing to have happened. Lazarus's ingenuity was impressive.
Lazarus moved from behind the desk to stand in front of me. His hand was heavy as it settled companionably on my shoulder. "Is anyone going to challenge a man like Sephiroth? Avalanche has gotten too bold these days. We have to fight back with even stronger measures." He draped an arm around my shoulders and waved at tall soldier smoothing the gloves on his hands. "Sephiroth can do many things with abilities that are inherently his, but we've aided him further with the materia he carries, what his sword can do, and the protections that come from some of the small items he wears."
"Did he really need any protection?" The thought tumbled frantically from my lips.
Sephiroth only looked at me from beneath the silver of his bangs, slanted eyes nearly twinkling. "Pehaps I need protection from you
" The sound of his voice echoed inside my head, while he stood there like a rock. Lazarus drew me closer. Sephiroth held out a gloved hand when we stopped in front of him. "Welcome to the real Shinra."
Lazarus simply chuckled, gripping the steel pad of Sephiroth's shoulder. "She's going to work out just fine. I'll leave you to show her where she'll now stay, and give her some more of the details of what she can expect." The director sat back down, his attention once more focused on the screens of his console.
Sephiroth made a faint harrumph beneath his breath at the dismissal and then we were out the door into the long hallway again, the door swishing shut right behind us.
"I can't go back up can I?"
Sephiroth glanced at me with a lift of his brow. "I wouldn't suggest it."
"So they are going to just commandeer my life and I am not supposed to have any say?"
Sephiroth stopped in midstride, turning to face me, his fingers tight on my arm. "I assure you, Illa's fate was far worse."
I blanched beneath the forthright stare, not wanting to know just what happened to my rival.
"You have a choice, but your self-preservation is strong. You'll do as asked, just like they expect."
"And if I don't ," my voice squeaked. Horrified, I nearly cringed at the sound.
He leaned closer, fingers pulling me in, his lips just a breath from my ear. "Then you get to deal with me."