He drove across the barren land with great speed. Now and then Kenan would have to steer quickly to avoid a few rocks or something, but other than that it was an easy ride. No unexpected encounters with hideously deformed beasts or anything like that. A fun ride it was too. Kenan found it to be a lot like Deling's annual cross-country rally. Only there were no opponents except for Mother Nature. And the APC couldn't exactly be called a rally car of course. Still, by no means did that make things any less challenging. 'Hard left', 'hard right', 'slow down damn you', he could practically hear a co-driver shouting. He had to avoid mud pools, caused by the rain, or risk getting stuck. Since getting stranded in the middle of nowhere was exactly an appealing thought, he drove stayed clear of the pools the furthest he could. In the back, Irvine and Selphie were being rocked up, down and sideways. The land they drove over couldn't exactly be described as flat. And since Kenan had the habit of taking sharp turns with full-throttle, this caused some queasiness. Irvine held his hands on his stomach. "I think I'm gonna..ugh…hurl…" Selphie screamed. "Aaah! No, not over my dress!" "Oh--ugh--kay." Irvine muttered, his eyelids taking turns in sagging. Not far in front of him, Kenan saw rays of sunlight appearing. They penetrated the dense dark clouds like knives through butter. This could only mean they'd be leaving the area named 'Zone Two' soon. He laughed. "Guys, don't worry. We'll be at the Orphanage in no time." "Hurry!" Selphie yelled, seeing no other choice but to offer Irvine his own hat as an improvised barf bag. -"I'm..ugh..not gonna… throw up..in..ugh…my lucky hat!…" He spoke, fighting to keep the contents of his stomach inside of his body. So they raced on for miles and miles. Eventually they arrived at the Orphanage somewhere between fifteen and twenty minutes after leaving Balamb Garden. Not a bad par time. Not bad at all. Kenan got out first and opened the door for Selphie and Irvine like a true gentleman. After stumbling out, Irvine took repeated deep breaths. "Fresh air…I love it!" Selphie patted him on the back. "You sure you're okay hun?" The sight of the dilapidated old stone building brought back some fond memories to Selphie's mind. It's not like she ever totally forgot about it since Irvine pointed out nearly everyone in the team was raised at the Orphanage, however certain things were starting to blur again. Kenan leaned against the side of the car. "So, this used to be your home, huh?" A bright ray of sunlight shone upon the south wall of the little stone building and broke into many smaller rays; there were obviously many holes. Various kinds of plants had started climbing their way up along remnants of the brick wall. Given a few years, the whole place would be covered in green. Absorbed into the ecosystem. "It used to look a lot better." Irvine pointed out. Kenan smiled kindly. "Oh, I didn't mean anything with it. It's just such odd coincidence that Quistis, Zell and you two all grew up there. Oh, Seifer too. Hmm, and even Squall claims to have been here. Wow." Selphie checked the bottoms of her leather boots, just to make sure if there hadn't gathered a thick layer of mud. As the three neared the building, they could see right inside the living room, as the southeast corner of the building had nearly completely vanished. They opened a small wooden gate and proceeded along a gravel path. Before they had walked up to the house, they saw Edea stepping out. She held a travel suitcase in one hand. Ready to leave. "Matron!" Selphie cried out happily and ran up to Edea. "It's been a while, hasn't it?" She nodded and smiled. "Hello Selphie. It's good to see you again." Irvine walked over and they shook hands. "Hey Matron. We're here to pick you up." She laughed and showed him her suitcase. "As you can see Irvine, I'm all packed." "You knew we were coming?" Kenan asked. -"Oh, hello Commander." She greeted, not having noticed him up until now. "I saw the armored car approaching and knew you were here to take me back to Balamb Garden." "That's right." He told her. "Balamb Garden is in Zone Two. Should be a safe place for at least a few days." Edea thanked the Commander and they walked towards their ride back. Kenan gasped. He now noticed Edea wore the same black dress as when he had to fight here in Deling City. It startled him. He felt uneasy and caught off guard. For all they know Ultimecia could have been inside Edea's body. If that were so, she could have gotten close enough to kill them instantly, before they could react. But, then he remembered Edea wasn't a Sorceress anymore. She was the kind woman his buddies knew as 'Matron'. "Here you go." He said and opened the door for her. "It's no limousine, but it will have to do." She stepped inside slowly, careful not to stumble on her own long dress. Selphie edged past. "Kay-none." Irvine greeted in typical man-to-man way, then snickered once more as he slipped by. Kenan sighed and shut the door. He looked back at the Orphanage one last time. I suppose…it doesn't look all that bad… <<------------------------------------------>> Squall trudged down the long corridors of the second floor, alone. He didn't feel liking waiting in the Cafeteria for a whole hour so decided to go for a walk. He wouldn't admit it to anyone…but there were more reasons than that. Somehow he kept getting the feeling he was out of place. Like he upset some kind of balance. The people here had managed without him for so long, there was no need for him to show up. And the question whether or not the people he saw were the people he knew, or used to know, kept rising in his mind. Zell sure acted the same as always. Quistis, Selphie and Irvine too. But the rest were different. Seifer…the Headmaster…and Ultimecia. He abruptly stopped in front of an empty classroom. The windows in the back were broken. One tiny shard of glass had a few blood drops on it and a line of fabric from a jacket. It was waving it the wind like a torn flag. "Seifer." Squall said out loud, realizing the classroom he stood in must have been Seifer's point of entry…and escape. He walked further in the classroom until he could see the outside horizon. If someone were to go around telling everyone it was in fact night, he might even find people who believed him. The nearby clouds didn't allow much sunlight to shine through, making the land look like one big shadow. It made him feel his despair. But there was one hope Squall hold onto. The mission he was about to embark on. One of the objectives was to locate an advisor that once served Laguna. She might be able to find answers to his questions. He couldn't be sure of anything…but it was something. A flicker of hope in the darkness. That's what it was. Somehow, things had to turn out okay. Squall wasn't about to let himself be beaten by any kind of setback. He wouldn't give up until he found Rinoa. His Rinoa, and none other. He noticed something out of the corner of his eyes. Not far from where he stood some kind of light incessantly blinked on and off. It emanated from one of the Network consoles in the front of the classroom. No, it was actually the Instructor's console, he noticed upon closer inspection. It had been damaged during the battle. He cleared a few pieces of debris, so he could see the entire screen. A small chunk of wood, most likely broken off one of the benches in the classroom, had pierced the glass of the screen in the upper left corner. Some of the electric wires must have been cut, causing the console to malfunction. Though each time the screen blinked on again, the same pages was displayed. It seemed to be a message box from the Instructor whom used to teach in the classroom that Squall found himself in. Nobody was allowed to use the Instructor's personal console, though he doubted it'd be an invasion of privacy. All messages looked like they related to students and classes, rather than containing anything personal or confidential. A message marked [Dollet SeeD Exam; Reassignments] had been highlighted. Squall wiped some dust of the keyboard and pressed enter, just out of curiosity, though he didn't doubt the fact that this was an old message. [To: Instructor No. 8: Syrec Aki.] [From: Exam Committee.] [Mr. Aki, we would like to make a change in the Squads participating in the upcoming SeeD Exam. As you may know, Seifer Almasy from Instructor Trepe's class has been appointed Captain of Squad B. Seifer is known to be a troublemaker and he definitely has a mind of his own. Since the SeeD Exam is more than a test of fighting skills -good teamwork is of equal importance- Zell Dincht from Instructor Morton's class has also been assigned to Squad B. Zell is known as a bit of a loudmouth and should really put Seifer to the test.] Is this why Zell was on Squad B? Squall couldn't help but wonder. To put Seifer to the test? There was more… [The reason you are being contacted by us now is this: We need a third student in Squad B, preferably one that can stand up to Seifer and won't be bullied around. We've gone over all participating students' records, and we have concluded that your student, Kenan Gantt, is most suited. Your notes describe him as a stubborn young man with his own view on how to deal with certain situations. We think he'd make a perfect third member for Squad B. Therefor he'll be reassigned from Squad C to Squad B. Nida Weyoun will take Kenan Gantt's original place in Squad C.] Squall paused to rub his eyes. The light which constantly flickering on and off started to hurt his vision. Did Nida fail the field exam because of this transfer? He began to think. He remembered that Squad C's captain had gotten ill during the Exam and that the members from Squad C took him to a pub in Dollet. They all failed the test because of that. Kenan took my place and graduated…Nida took Kenan's place and did not graduate… He summed up in his head. Who took Nida's place, and why didn't he graduate? There should be four graduates! He scrolled down. The Instructor's reply could be read as well. [Am I led to believe that Squad B is to be this year's trouble Squad? In any case, I agree to the reassignment. Although I have a few remarks on the student filling Nida's original position. Her name is Tia Gantt; she is Kenan's sister. I'm worried about her since her fighting skills are below average. On the other hand her written exam was excellent, still I…] Squall stopped reading. The message went on a bit further, saying Tia probably wouldn't pass. He figured that explained why there were only three graduates, but it didn't explain much more that. There never was a female SeeD candidate from Instructor Aki's class, that much Squall knew for sure. This information led him to believe that, if he where never around, Tia would just barely be chosen as one of the twelve students who participated in the field Exam. Another world. He thought again. Kiros probably never really meant to imply that, but that is how he said it. Is that why things are different?…Why people don't know me? Given the facts at hand, that theory seemed one of the most likely. But then there was another such theory. Perhaps…the past had somehow been altered. Altered in a way that Squall was never born, which is the kind of world he appeared to be in. Could this have something to do with time-compression? Yet no matter how much he pondered about it, he couldn't figure it out on his own. Kenan Gantt. Was he really Squall's replacement in a world where he would never have been born? … … … He couldn't possible know the answer to that question. For all Squall knew there was a Kenan Gantt in the Balamb Garden of his memories. He realized that was the only place where his world still existed; in his memories. "Rinoa." He said softly, feeling utterly alone. "I…miss you…" The wind howled. "Where are you Rinoa? …Where am I?" <<------------------------------------------>> "You must be in a hurry." Edea concluded, sensing they were driving back at high speed. -"Indeed." Kenan said from behind the steering wheel. "We have to go on a mission in…" He checked the time on the dashboard. "About fifteen minutes." Irvine folded his arms. "Like they're gonna leave without us." "You never know." Kenan laughed. -"Is everyone at the Garden all right? Edea asked. "I heard there was another battle with Galbadia Garden." Selphie smiled warmly. "They're fine Matron. We had only a few casualties this time." "I'm glad Ultimecia didn't do any more damage." She spoke relieved. Irvine sighed. "Still, a lot has happened in the past few days." Edea looked up. "Oh, really?" "Yeah." Selphie chirped in an attempt to clarify some things. "There came this guy out of the blue, saying he was in fact the Commander of Balamb Garden. But nobody had ever heard of him or seen him before. Then there was trouble with another Sorceress. But it turns out they're both on our side." Edea smiled, knowing things aren't always as bad as they appear at first. "We'll be back in no time at all." Kenan informed his passengers, seeing the dark clouds doom up again. -"I bet the Headmaster will be really happy to see you again Matron." Selphie remarked. "How long has it been?" "About two weeks." She guessed without really thinking. It didn't matter to her exactly how long she was alone, since she wouldn't be any longer. -"Wow." Irvine gasped. "You spent two weeks alone in that run down house?" She laughed then shook her head. "No, I stayed in the lighthouse. It's still intact." Selphie clapped her hands in glee. "Ooh! I think I used to spend the night there too!' "Don't recall that." Irvine said sadly. "Maybe…I shouldn't have junctioned a GF." -"You should start writing stuff down." Selphie suggested. "If you forget something, you can just read about it." Irvine tilted his head in consideration. "Gee, I dunno. Writing a diary is more of a girl thing…" He received a playful nudge from Selphie, heaven knows why. "I just thought of something." She told him with a wide smile. -"And what's that?" Kenan asked, keeping eyes on the 'road'. Selphie stood up and peered over to the drivers seat. "You know how troop morale isn't exactly soaring lately, right?" "Yup." Irvine moaned behind her. "It sure aint. Not surprising though with the war and all." -"We know." Kenan confirmed as well. "What about it? Don't tell me you're gonna…" Selphie giggled. "She's gonna what?" Irvine wondered. -"Isn't it obvious?" Kenan asked, a bit taunting. He then had to steer quickly hard right to avoid a big rock that suddenly doomed up. The sudden course correction made Selphie fly back on Irvine's lap. "How about…a party!" Selphie exclaimed. "I would need some help though, I can't organize everything by myself." Kenan grinned. "I warned you about having a girlfriend, didn't I Pineapple?" "Gee…Selphie…uh..I…" Irvine mumbled incoherently, not too eager to become member of the Festival Committee. She sobbed. "You don't want to help?" "I think it's a good idea Selphie." Edea said smiling. "The students could use a little distraction for once." -"And us SeeDs too." Kenan reminded. Selphie jumped up. "Thanks Matron! So, you think it'd be okay with the Headmaster and everything?" "I'll talk to him about." Edea assured, being kind as always. "I'm sure he'll find it an excellent idea." -"Whoo-hoo!" She was as happy as she could ever be. Organizing parties was her kinda thing, she loved it! Then there were also people who were less willing to organize stuff. No matter what kind of stuff. Most commonly these people were referred to as men. "Isn't this great Irvy?!" Selphie called overjoyed. -"Yeah. It's a nice idea." He said, quickly pasting on a happy face. And I'll be stuck doing all the work…you'll see. She placed her hands on her hips. "Idea? H-ey, we're gonna do this mister. You'll see!" Irvine sighed and tilted his hat down lower so nobody could see his eyes. "I wish Rinoa were around. She'd be of great help organizing everything, like last time in FH, you know?" Selphie rolled her eyes. "That was weeks ago! And Rinoa isn't here, so you'll have to help again." "Rinoa not here? Oh, I wouldn't be too sure about that Sel." Kenan remarked. She looked puzzled. "What do you mean?" In the distance, Kenan could already see Balamb Garden and the Einlanzer. "Nearly there people." "Hey, you didn't answer my question." Selphie pouted, her curiosity getting the better of her. What was he talking about?! <<------------------------------------------>> "And you know what I did?!" Quistis sighed. "No Zell. What did you do?" He beamed. "I swung over a loose cable and landed right on top of em. Pretty good huh?" She nodded and watched the lunch ladies finish cleaning up the kitchen behind the counters, then leaving the Cafeteria. Now only Zell and Skye remained, besides her. "Sounds like a nice dream." She finally answered, seeing as how Zell looked eager for a reply of some kind. "Dream?" He asked, looking at Quistis like as if there were mushrooms coming out of her ears. "Dream?!" Skye gasped. "You mean…it wasn't a dream?" "No!" Zell yelled, banging his head against the table once or twice. "Course not! Man! Doesn't anyone believe me?!" -"It's hard to." Quistis pointed out calmy. "I've never heard of anyone ever doing such a dangerous thing. You could have gotten yourself killed, did you realize that?" He grinned rather…fake. "Uh..y-eah. I knew that. Sure I did!" Skye waged her finger. "Hey watch it now. Best not lie in front of a Sorceress." He gulped, looking like he swallowed a large apple. "I'll keep that in mind." After checking her watch, Quistis noticed it was just about time for the next mission. They'd had to assemble in front of the Einlanzer and Kenan would explain the mission. "G-G-Galbadians!! Sound the alarm!" Someone shouted from the main hall. Quistis and Zell sprung into action and swiftly ran out, leaving Skye a bit dazzled and alone. As the two SeeDs entered the main hall they soon saw three Galbadians soldiers, surrounded by a pack of armed students and a Garden Faculty. Strange thing was the G-soldiers didn't reach for their weapons. "Capture them!" The Garden Faculty ordered in drone-like voice. Zell squinted. "Say, isn't that…?" One of the three G-soldiers, a longhaired one, reached for his left leg. "Ah dammit! Now look what you've done." Giggling slightly, Quistis ran closer. Even the other two Galbadian soldiers were laughing at their comrade. The students looked confused and one and other, not knowing what went on. "I got to hand it to you." A slender, dark-skinned G-soldier said. "This has to be one of your most stupidest plans ever. Dressing up as the enemy…and then being attacked by a bunch of Balamb students…" Quistis gestured the students to stand down. "Hold on. These aren't Galbadians." The biggest of the three G-soldiers crossed his arms and glared angrily at the longhaired one. "Laguna!" Zell laughed as he stepped closed enough to be able to tell for sure. "What the heck are you doin'?!" He scratched the back of his head. "Well…it's undercover stuff you know? And the first thing you do when going undercover..uh… is get a good cover, isn't that right? Pretty smart, huh?" Ward smacked himself on the forehead, wishing he had his voice back so he could yell at his moronic buddy. "President Loire, my apologies." The Garden Faculty said humbly and returned to his guard post. The students shook their heads and dispersed. "Didn't I tell you it's a stupid idea?" Kiros asked. Laguna stumbled around in a circle a bit, limping on his right leg, hoping his left leg would un-cramp. Zell still laughed. "Hehehe, you look just like that one time in the 'dream world'." "Why did you change clothes, Sir?" Quistis inquired with a stern face. Kiros straightened his body armor, feeling the old Galbadian outfit didn't quite fit him properly. "A better question would be, how did he trick us into it?" Ward shrugged and looked aside, then sighed heavily. Laguna waved his machine gun in the air, cheering for himself after he got mobility in his left leg back. "Sir?" Quistis asked again. He stopped cheering. "Oh…right. You wanna know why we're dressed as Galbadians?" She nodded. "I heard you say something about going undercover?" "We might be going to Galbadia on our next mission." He replied. "So with these uniforms we can just mix in…" -"You mean, blend in." Kiros corrected. Ward chuckled. "You only got the 'in' part right." Kiros translated his buddy's facial expression. Zell got a feeling the scene looked familiar, but before he could say anything he caught sight of Skye. She now had her hair bundled up with a black elastic band. Probably borrowed from Tia, he guessed. Her fire-like hair almost glowed in the artificial light of the main hall. "Hi ya guys." She said cheerfully, seeing the Galbadians were in fact Laguna and his gang. "Nice outfits." -"Depends on one's definition of 'nice' I suppose." Kiros moaned. Laguna laughed. "Yeah, like you're outfits are all that great. You dress funny, man." Quistis cleared her throat. "We should probably get going." Skye peered around. "Hey, where's Ellone?" "She's not coming with us." Laguna explained, nervously scratching the back of his head. "I have to admit, she'd be safer here in the Garden than anywhere else right now." <<------------------------------------------>> Kenan stepped on the brake and the car stopped perfectly beside the hovering Garden. How the hell anyone would get the car back in the Parking Lot wasn't his concern. He checked his watch. They were on time, in fact, a little early even. Headmaster Cid stood waiting as he stepped out. "How was the trip Commander? I'm to have asked you, but Xu--" -"It's okay, Sir." Kenan interrupted. "Not like I had anything else to do." Edea got out of the vehicle, Selphie and Irvine following behind. The Headmaster hugged his wife, giving the others the feeling they'd better go away and leave the two some privacy. After all, they hadn't seen each other in two weeks. That's a long time for two people who love each other to be apart. Selphie and Irvine climbed up on the Garden. As Kenan was about to, as the Headmaster told him to wait. -"Sir?" He walked over. "Commander, I wanted to wish you good luck on your next mission." He extended his hand and Kenan shook it. "Thanks. Although I doubt we need it. The mission is a cinch." "Nevertheless, it as an important mission." The Headmaster replied. Kenan's face lit up. "That reminds me Sir. I heard from Squall that Rinoa assisted in defeating the Sorceress. Would it be okay to ask for her help?" Cid straightened his vest. "Rinoa. Hmm. Yes. We could use all the help we can get, but do you think she'd want to join your team again after canceling her contract?" A good point he raised there. Exactly what was on Kenan's mind as well. "I dunno Sir. She'll most likely still be mad at me." He said. "We'll have to see how things go. But I do think I was too harsh on her. And I bet the others would love to see her back in the team." The Headmaster nodded and walked back to his wife after wishing the Commander good luck once more. She, in turn, smiled politely and said thanks for driving her back to Garden. "No problem." Kenan assured. He met with Selphie and Irvine as he climbed up. They were waiting by the fountain, near the draw point. "What were you talking about?" Selphie asked, wondering what kept him. -"Nothin' much." He replied casually and stared at the Garden entrance. "Okay. You wait here, I'll go get the others." Irvine pointed a finger at him. "What 'bout you?" Kenan made an imaginary gun with his thumb and index finger and pretended to shoot Irvine. "I need a new shooter from the Armory. On second thought, wait for me in front of the Einlanzer, kay?" Selphie smiled and saluted. "Yes Sir!" Knowing she was mocking him, Kenan rolled his eyes in annoyance as he walked away. He was shocked when he saw three Galbadian soldiers approaching from afar and in a reflex reached for his holster. His…empty…holster. "Damn." He cursed, being reminded he was unarmed. "Am I stoopid, or what?" Then he heard Zell's laughter. It wasn't hard to distinguish since it sounded quite unique. Sort of like a machine gun blurting out bullets, only less rapid and not as loud. "It's Laguna!" Zell shouted, waving his arms. "Don't shoot!" Not having a clue what went on, Kenan impatiently tapped his boot on the pavement and waited for them to catch up. He noticed Quistis and Skye were with the three Galbadians as well. But they didn't look like they were escorting prisoners. What the hell? "Sorry." Laguna apologized with a goofy grin as he came close enough to recognize. "Didn't mean to scare anyone." Kenan's rubbed his eyes, hoping they were deceiving him. "You're outfit…why are dressed as Galbadians??" -"Undercover." Kiros explained, sounding about as happy as a Chocobo on Thanksgiving. "Laguna insisted…" Chocobo on Thanksgiving? Kenan wondered inwardly. My comparisons suck. Chocobos can't even talk! Quistis giggled, finally recognizing the dark haired young man as the Commander. "You changed outfit too." "At least I'm not dressed up as the enemy." He countered harshly. Laguna stuck his hands in his pockets and whistled, pretending to look at the fountain. Kenan looked over his student uniform. "So, what ya think?" Zell roared with laughter, slapping his knee in delight. Kenan glared at him with a sour face. "I take you don't approve?" Skye bit her lip. "You're the leader of Balamb Garden yet you look like a student. That's kinda weird, isn't it?" He shifted balance from his left to right foot. "I..uh..I'll explain later. Everyone head towards the Einlanzer already." "Yes Sir!" Laguna exclaimed and ran off bent double like he had to sneak for some reason. Everyone silently eyed him for a moment. Why does he have to come along…Why? Kenan wondered. Ward took a deep breath, held in his stomach and followed Laguna. "We are so insane." Kiros sighed and walked after them, in stead of running. By now Zell had pretty much stopped laughing. Skye stood slapping him on the back now and then, making sure he wouldn't choke. That would be a bad thing. He held up his hands. "Okay. Phew, I'm okay now. Sorry." But as he looked up and saw Kenan in the student uniform again he couldn't hold back another fit of laughter. "Poor guy." Skye sympathetically mumbled. -"Anyways, I'm gonna get a gun." Kenan reported to Quistis. "And..uh..hey? Where's Squall?" He looked around. No Squall in sight. Or anyone fitting his description for that matter. Well, for all Kenan knew Squall too had changed into another outfit. It seemed the right day for it. "Squall said he would go for a walk in the Garden." Quistis replied. "I haven't seen him since." -"Zell!" Skye called, her hands flew to her biceps. "Snap out of it. This isn't funny." The laughter finally came to an end and he breathed in and out deeply, his head bent over. Quistis eyed Zell briefly, saw everything was fine, then turned back to Kenan. "Do you want me to go look for him?" "Naw, I'll do that." Kenan said in a tone of voice that seemed to suggest he didn't really hear the question. He approached Zell. The sudden shadow frightened him a bit and he looked up, unsure what to expect. "Uh…hi?" Kenan smirked and patted Zell on the shoulder, looking at Skye. "You'll take care of him, won't ya?" She gave him a thumbs-up. "Sure thing." "Isn't it suppose to be the other way around?" Zell suggestively asked. -"No." Kenan stated as seriously he could. "Not in your case." Before Zell could counter he walked away. "You heard him." Quistis said from a few feet ahead. "Assemble in front of the Einlanzer." <<------------------------------------------>> The redhead female student standing guard beside the second floor armory looked at Kenan questioningly. "You want a gun?" She asked. "Just like that?" Kenan looked over her shoulder, trying to peer inside. "Uh. Yeah. That's it." The student stifled a laugh. "Hey, no way. I can't do that. I'll need authorization from your Instructor." "My Instructor?" He grinned. "I don't HAVE one anymore. I'm the Commander of Balamb Garden. A SeeD." She laughed again and didn't move aside. Kenan noticed her teeth were sparkling white. Amazing. She must have great toothpaste. "The Commander doesn't look anything like you." She pointed out. "He's..uhm…sort of scruffy, you know?" He ran his hand to his hair…it didn't take as long to get through as it usually did. "Missy, I don't care whether you believe me or not, I need to get a new gun. You don't recommend anyone going out unarmed, do ya?" She thought about it. "I can give you a squirt gun. How about that?" Kenan smacked himself on the forehead and slowly let the hand slide down his face. "Not what I'm looking for." "Is it time for the mission?" A familiar voice asked. -"Yeah it is." Kenan confirmed and looked aside. Squall rested his blade on his shoulder. "Okay. I think I'll--" He frowned, eyeing the student then Kenan. "Is something wrong here?" The reason for Kenan to wear a uniform escaped him completely. The student shook her head. "No Sir." Kenan noticed her beautiful red hair fell over her shoulder after shaking her head. She must have great shampoo. He blinked. "Sir? Oh, so you call HIM Sir?" -"He is clearly a SeeD." She said, annoyed. "Higher ranking. So yeah, I call him Sir." "Squall?" Kenan called. "Could you please tell her to get me a gun? A real gun, I mean." He shrugged. "You heard him." "If it's okay with you Sir." She told him and moved to get a gun from the Armory. -"Thanks." Kenan said to Squall, whom in turn shrugged good-naturedly before heading to the elevator. The student came back, holding two guns, one in each hand. "Which one do you want?" He looked down at her hands and couldn't help but notice their smoothness. She must have great hand-crème stuff. He then realized he was making her wait, and picked the largest of the two guns. "They both look good." He reasoned, tilting his head. "But I'll take this one. Definitely." The gun of his choice had an extra infrared scope mounted on the barrel and a silencer. -"Ah, you know guns." The girl affirmed. "You're sure to beat the bad guys with that." "One can but hope." He grinned and holstered the gun. The extra weight on his belt again… it felt good. Seeing as how there was some time left, Kenan attempted to start a conversation as casually as possible. "So…uhm, when do you get off duty?" She looked surprised and giggled a bit. He rubbed the back of his neck, imagining the girl was laughing AT him. Not with. And there's a difference… "Seriously." He assured. Attempt number two: "You're one of the best looking chi--uh..girls around here." She blushed and looked away. Kenan noticed her cheeks were -in one word- luscious. She must have great make-up. If he were to walk away at this point, he'd admit to failure. So he persisted. Be blunt…straight to the point… "At the next Garden dance, will you be my date?" She kept blushing and looked him in the eyes. Kenan noticed her eyes were like priceless gems, wonderfully reflecting the light. She must have great…genes? The way her face colored red, it'd soon match her hair. "There's isn't gonna be any dance." She countered his flirts. "Suppose…suppose there were one, soon." He offered in highly theoretical tone of voice. "How about it then?" She saw he was serious. "But, I don't know you. Not even your name." He smiled and extended his hand. "Kenan." She nervously shook it. "Jovanka. Always nice to meet a fellow student." The touch of her palm made Kenan a bit giddy. She had such soft hands. Nothing like his big crude shovels. Jovanka. What a great name. He thought. Almost heavenly. "G-great meeting you too." He stuttered, at the same time thanking Hyne for not spitting at the girl. Luckily he didn't say any words with an 's' sound in em. That would have been bad. Real bad. The sound of doors sliding open somewhere further down the hall stopped the ranting voice in his head. He gestured over his shoulder with his thumb. "I gotta go now. Time for a mission. But I WILL see you later." Her blush dissipated at last. "I hope so. Goodbye…Kenan." The way she pronounced his name made him feel light headed. Too bad he had already started walking away from her or he might have stayed a little longer even. He stopped and realized he had a date with a gorgeous gal. She must have….lousy taste in men if she picked him. <<------------------------------------------>> Squall and Kenan arrived lastly at the Einlanzer. The rest of the team had waited near the aft Cargo entrance. Kenan was amused to see they all stood lined up, at attention. Zell…Irvine…Selphie…Skye…Quistis…Laguna…Ward…Kiros, and now Squall as well. Being Mr. Leader, Kenan got to stand in front of them all. He slowly and most of all carefully grabbed the mission-details document from inside his jacket. "What's the mission?" Zell inquired impatiently. -"Don't rush me." Kenan 'barked' and sifted through the few hand-written pages to make sure he didn't forget a thing. Seeing nothing else to do, Zell inspected his nails then decided a few were too large and bit em off. He spat them out, mere inches from Irvine's feet. "Oh, thanks a lot Zell." Selphie danced around slightly to some theme inside her head, oblivious to anyone but Kenan. "My first mission." Skye told Quistis. "Ooh. I'm excited. No…wait. Nervous is probably the better word for it." Just to check its durability, Quistis rapped the end of her whip round her hand and pulled. She almost immediately started to get rope-cuts so stopped. At least she knew the whip was fine. Laguna raised an eyebrow, thinking of old times. "A minus three on the manliness scale? Hey…damn…that's bad…" "I said that ages ago." Kiros sighed, recalling that particular phrase. "Though I suppose it still applies." Ward agreed, one could tell by his boyish grin. Squall stared out in the distant horizon. To his surprise, there were still no monsters in sight. As if no monster dared to dwell in this so-called 'Zone Two'… "All right. First things first." Kenan started to tell. "This mission isn't really one suited for SeeDs. But since the Garden is short-staffed and most students are receiving special battle training, so we get this task. Anyway, I don't expect much trouble on this one. It's gonna be a walk in the park basically." Zell elbowed Irvine lightly. "Best check our equipment." Kenan looked puzzled. "Wha? Zell, you must have heard me wrong. I don't expect to run into any monsters this time." "In that case, best double check our equipment." Irvine whispered. Kiros nodded. "That might not be such a bad idea. One can never be too cautious." He looked aside. Laguna waved at him. "Granted…sometimes there are those that can be too cautious." He corrected himself, images of the sneaking man with the machine gun flooding back to his mind. Squall checked his equipment status. "I still have Cactuar junctioned, and some magic stocked." "Cactuar?" Quistis wondered, having never heard of such a GF before. He seemed confused. "Oh, you never acquired Jumbo Cactuar?" After coughing to get his due attention again, Kenan continued with the briefing. "Even though I expect this mission to be easy, it doesn't mean it isn't important. If all goes as planned, we'll be one step closer to our ultimate goal." Zell upper-cutted the air. "Killing the Sorceress! Right?!" "R-ight." Kenan said a bit bewildered by the outburst, though he should know better. "Now could you stop punching the oxygen away and let me tell ya what to do, please?" Zell let his body sag, at the same time gesturing for him to continue with one hand. "Now." Kenan carefully started once more, expecting to be cut off again, but since that didn't happen continued. "There are two objectives. Our main one: Gather support. It's as simple as that people. The G-Army is too strong for us alone, so we need all the help we can get." Selphie raised her hand, jumping up and down. "Ooh! Ooh! Question!" "Yes?" She smiled. "Is that why you said Rinoa might be back? Her help would be very much appreciated, right?" "Yeah!" Zell backed her up. -"For sure." Irvine agreed as well. Kenan kept his eyes on the document. "Well…if she wants to come back, she can." Selphie joyously hugged Irvine. "Whoo-hoo, did you hear that? Rinoa's coming back!" "This is indeed great news." Quistis said, happy in her own controlled way. Squall's face didn't give away much emotion. Although one could say he looked sad. Ward nudged him, and with a goofy smile tried to cheer him up. He rubbed his shoulder and smiled, knowing that would make the guy stop. But what Ward didn't know…Squall wouldn't be on the team that would try to locate Rinoa. Kenan was reminded of the other news he had to give. "Oh yeah. That's right. From now on, Squall's officially a Balamb Garden SeeD, make sure to treat him accordingly." Quistis giggled. "I thought you were the only one treating him any different." He made a swatting-flies gesture. "Bah. That's was ages ago." "That was yesterday." Zell pointed out, crystal clear. Kenan cleared his throat. "Umm…stop distracting me everyone, I hadn't finished. Our first sub-objective is to locate the White SeeDs. Xu is unable to contact the them and we lost track of their ship when we entered this area." "Do we have any idea where they are now?" Irvine inquired. Last time they had to find the White SeeD ship it didn't take them too long. Weren't they hiding near the Centra continent? -"No. Not really." Kenan replied, looking as concerned about this as the rest did. "Which is why we're going to Timber, the local resistance might know." He saw some faces lit up in recognition but nobody said anything out loud so he continued. "Once there, we will split in two teams. Both have the main task of gathering support." He looked at the relevant page in the mission details document. "Oh, and we're to avoid getting into fights. It'd be great if we remained undetected by Galbadians, but with the crucial time factor, we're not expected to sneak around." They all understood that. Although Laguna let his head hang down in disappointment. "What about the teams?" Quistis inquired on everyone's behalf. Kenan closed the document and looked up. "As said, we'll split up in two teams. Team one is the Timber team. Team two is the Dollet team; after arrival in Timber they'll travel to Dollet. Either by train or by car." He briefly ran his tongue over his lips, feeling they were getting dry. Purely by accident he aimed it at Quistis, whom gave him quite a weird look. "Since we had little time in planning all this, the teams weren't really decided upon. However, I will lead Timber team and Quistis, you lead Dollet team." Zell kicked some sand in protest, yet all ignored him. Quistis accepted leadership, but still had a question to ask. "What's our second objective?" "You're to visit a woman named Merlose in Dollet." He told her business-like. "She might know something about what happened to Squall, so he'll be on the Dollet team as well." He smiled reassuringly. "Okay, that's all for now. I'll explain the rest later." Irvine looked confused. "There's more?" "Man!" Zell whimpered. "Give us a break! We can't save the entire world all by ourselves." Again the rest purposely ignored him and boarded the Einlanzer. Zell slammed his foot down hard on the ground. "Guys, that's really not funny." He let a shriek of terror as thunder struck somewhere up high. With his hands covering his ass he ran after them.