While most everyone proceeded ahead, Irvine and Selphie stopped just before entering the room with the elevator leading up to the cockpit. Zell rushed by, shouting something like "Don't leave me out there all by myself" and the doors closed up behind him. Irvine squatted down a bit and affectionately kissed Selphie on the mouth. She playfully pushed him away. "Hey, what was that for?" Smirking, Irvine turned aside and leaned on the guardrail. "Hey, do I need a reason?" "Tee-hee. I guess not." She answered and hung over the guardrail, balanced on her stomach and hands. He grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her back. "Careful, babe. Wouldn't want you to fall." She looked down at the floor below. It probably would hurt a lot to fall on hard metal even if they weren't that high up. -"I bet it's gonna be a hectic day again." Irvine remarked, turning around and resting his elbow on the railing. Selphie looked sad. "Yeah. You're probably right Irv." "I always am." He commented with a boyish smile. -"We're gonna run into some trouble." She predicted with a sad undertone. Irvine soothed Selphie by caressing her cheek with the back of his hand. "Don't be like that. You can let this get you down. One could say..you're not like that." For a moment it appeared her eyes were starting to tear, but then she smiled, ruining the notion of her ever crying. He should have known better. Nobody…no thing...will ever get Selphie down. She had her eyes locked on him, her hands on her hips. "So, what am I like?" Irvine laughed. "You're the girl of my dreams Sel." He made open arms gestures to support his speech. "It's destiny we met again after leaving the Orphanage. I'm telling you, we were meant to be together!" "You're so mushy." She giggled. -"Isn't that why you like me?" He reasoned, pretending to genuinely think about it. She played along with the game and crossed her arms, then put on the best Quistis voice she could. "Statistics indicate you are quite a nice specimen of the male gender." Irvine in turn rubbed his chin Kenan-style. "Well, well. Might I say you don't look half so bad yourself." They both laughed at their childish little charade. "They're probably wondering what's keeping us." He told her, though not making much movement himself. She allowed herself another minute of rest before piloting the plane away from Balamb Garden. "It feels like everything happens so fast lately. Just two days ago we had never heard of Skye or Squall…" "Yup." He sort of moaned in agreement. "We surely have to rush a lot." Selphie weakly held up a finger as if to make a point. "For a reason though, right?" "To rid the world of evil and save mankind." Irvine guessed then yawned. "I would have preferred staying in bed." -"Not exactly the hero-type, eh mister?" She grinned. "I have my needs." He pointed out. "Getting sleep being the most important one at the moment." His eyes widened. "Oh, and getting to spend time with my girlie is a close second of course." She tapped with her fingers on the metal guardrail. "Aw. Now I'm second best?" "I said a close second." He reminded her, despite the fact that he knew she was just joking. Selphie hardly heard it. Her thoughts had drifted ahead to meeting Rinoa. Only if she came back the team would be truly complete. And not to forget little Angelo of course. Then again, the little part was debatable. She thought back to the moment Rinoa was dropped off in Timber. An awkward scene it was. Nobody quite knew what to say to her expect a simple 'goodbye' and 'see ya later'. Selphie found it harder than saying goodbye to her friends at Trabia Garden. Maybe because she had made a choice to leave in that particular case. She chose to be transferred to Balamb Garden. Rinoa did not have a choice to make; others made it for her. Though she never wanted to leave. And, actually, nobody else wanted her to do that either, each showing this in his or her own way. How could someone do that to a person? Selphie always wondered from that point on. Rinoa had been dumped. She was mad at Kenan for it, though never truly resisted his decision. And to think that he was right. Rinoa really was much safer in Timber than in Balamb Garden. Should she have stayed, Ultimecia would have possessed her and not Tia; that's what Squall said. Irvine had other things on his mind. Somehow the explanations given to him regarding Skye weren't satisfactory. The Headmaster didn't know who she was either, but locked her up as a precaution? He wondered how likely such a scenario was. Whenever he thought about Skye he couldn't help but feel sympathy. She was alone in a strange world. He tried imagining how he would feel if he were in her position. Pretty lousy, was the conclusion. At least he had Selphie now. Who did Skye have? He laughed inwardly as the though of her being together with Squall crossed his mind. The mental image looked wrong somehow. Irvine found Squall and Skye to be radically different from each other. Not likely seeing those two paired up… The doors to his right slid open. Kenan showed an understanding look for once as he stepped up. "Come on. We have to get going." "Affirmative!" Selphie exclaimed and bolted past. -"Ooh." Irvine cooed, impressed by his girlfriend's willingness to get on with serious business. "Wish she'd teach me how to do that someday. Does she have a switch or something?" Kenan displayed a don't-look-at-me face. "Women." They both sighed, as if that explained it all.   <<------------------------------------------>>   After sending Selphie up to the cockpit with Irvine, Kenan joined the rest of the crew on the passenger deck. As he entered, it didn't take him long to figure out an intense discussion was taking place. Kenan only heard bits and pieces over the combined noise of most everyone talking, but gathered enough to know they were worried about the mission. In particular the teams. Who would be on what team? "Hey, I wanna be on Laguna's team." Zell said, dominantly tapping himself on the chest. "He kicks ass." -"Eighteen years ago, perhaps." Was as far as Kiros would admit. "Right now he's just…well…" The plane began to shake a bit. They heard the sound of starting engines and quieted down. It gave Kenan a chance to address them all. "Okay, let's decide on the teams." He calmy suggested. "I'll be on the Timber Team. Who's with me?" The people stared at him. At first Kenan thought they didn't want to yell over the engine sound, but that wasn't it. "Nobody wants to be on my team?" He asked in disbelief, feigning hurt. "Damn, this reminds me of gym class." -"Selphie and Irvine aren't here." Zell hinted with a smirk. "All right." Kenan said, rubbing his hands together in delight. "They're with me. The rest will be the Dollet team." -"Understood." Squall said and took his seat up front. At least I won't be with that clown… Ward elbowed Kiros, forcing him to speak up. "Well…uh..one could say this is not a fair decision. It would leave the Timber team with only three people and the Dollet team with seven." Quistis nodded in agreement. "That's a good point. We'd best make two teams of five." Skye glanced over her shoulder. "I wanna stay with Squall." They accepted this, considering he had rescued her and thus gained her trust. What's with this girl? Squall asked himself. Why me? Why doesn't she go along with someone else? Laguna looked distant as he tried to figure out a good way to divide the people. Zell still had trouble counting to ten. Kiros exchanged looks with Ward and then made a suggestion. "I'll go on the Timber team with Ward. At least one of us needs to stay on the Dollet team to find lady Merlose." "Yeah, that's great thi-" Laguna started to congratulate, but before he had finished his eyes widened. "Hey! Hey! Hey! That means you guys won't be on the same team as me!" Ward shrugged and made a face as if saying "Yeah, so?" "I thought you wanted to fight along side me!" He exclaimed to strengthen his point. Kenan buried his face in his hands. "Doesn't anyone ever listen to me? I said we won't get into any fights." Since his hands also covered his mouth all that the rest heard was incoherent mumbling. -"Actually no." Kiros said in hopes to end that discussion with Laguna. "You've changed. We've changed. I suppose now that we're older we have come to value our lives more. I'd prefer not to be thrown off a cliff again." Zell, with aid of his ten fingers at last discovered there were in fact ten people on the entire team, then looked up and wondered what everyone was talking about. Laguna sure looked surprised about something. "But…guys? We're a team." "If it's really that important, I'll switch teams." Skye offered. She didn't like seeing anyone get sad, especially an old man like Laguna. How old was he anyway? Forty? Fifty? Kiros smiled appreciatively. "That won't be necessary Skye." Zell followed the conversation with great fascination. What the hell were they talkin' about? Ward pointed his thumb downwards, most likely meaning Kiros and him stayed in the Timber team. "Ah. Come on." Laguna whimpered, knowing it had effect last time. Though not this time. Kiros and Ward didn't give in. -"Well, the teams are decided then." Kenan concluded by both men's persistency. "I'll go tell Pineapple and Selphie." With that said he walked out the Passenger room, letting cold air slip in as the doors momentarily opened up. Laguna turned to his buddies. "Pineapple?" Kiros and Ward raised their shoulders and turned to their seats. Making a mental note to ask about it later, Laguna plopped down as well and strapped himself in. By now the engines were fully warmed up and the plane slowly began building up speed. The glass window appeared to be vibrating but to their relief remained in place. The Einlanzer, after all, was one of the sturdiest Airships ever built. They taxied until the nose of the plane pointed in the opposite direction of the Garden, then still got some distance from it so the after burners wouldn't shake up the entire Garden. "Here we go!" Zell exclaimed in excitement. "Man! I love this!" Quistis laughed at his immaturity, as she was last to sit down and put on a seatbelt. Everyone was abruptly pushed back into their seats. The image of Selphie stepping down on some throttle coming to mind. A few moments of collective queasiness later, they found themselves up high in the air. Streams of dark clouds rolled over the window like water over a beach until they'd had climbed above the storms. They gasped. The sky looked so beautifully cerulean above the dark clouds. It was sad the people inside Balamb Garden couldn't see any of it.  "I still don't really get the plan." Zell moped. "The way I see it, the Timber team gets to relax in Timber while the other team has to go all the way to Dollet. Why doesn't Selphie just fly us there?" Quistis sat on the row to his right so naturally the complaints were aimed at her. "I'm sure that's not all Kenan's team has to do. I have a feeling we'll be told everything on-site." "I hate that." Zell grunted from his seat, with his feet on the headrest of the empty seat in front of him. "I bet there isn't even a real plan. We'll probably end up improvising…" Skye sat in the left row, almost breathless from the view. Slowly but surely the dark clouds turned whiter as they gained distance from Balamb Garden. She could see the Einlanzer's shadow on top of the clouds after a while. She looked to her right. "You guys are SeeDs…surely you need to improvise at times?" "Actually I thought that's what Zell did all the time." Quistis giggled, not thinking Zell to be the kind of person that needs a solid plan. He said he swung a loose cable two hundred feet above the floor…did he plan that? She very much doubted it. Feeling this was where he came in, Laguna jumped up from his seat. "Don't worry. If there's anything I'm good at-" -"It's stupidity." Kiros finished the sentence for him with a stone face. "The being of stupid. You can look it up in the dictionary and you'll see a picture of him." Laguna flexed his muscles. Ward looked away in disgust. "Nope, it's improvising!" He exclaimed, waving his machine gun in the air for some reason. "I'm..like..the King of it." Skye smiled and looked up. "Really? So what's this I heard about you throwing Kiros and Ward off a cliff?" "Yeah." Zell laughed, following her point. "Is that your way of improvising? In that case…no thanks." -"I wish people would stop making such a big deal out of it." Laguna said with just a tiny hint of anger. "We survived it, didn't we? It wasn't exactly a walk in the park..but hey…" "That's your answer to everything." Kiros pointed out, going over one of his katanas. Laguna let his body sag and plopped down in his seat again. "Not to be rude, but weren't you at the meeting Sir?" Quistis carefully probed. "Should you not know the plan?" -"I believe Commander Gantt told almost everything." Kiros replied instead of Laguna. "Both teams are to gather support for a large scale operation to retake Esthar. The Dollet team has a secondary objective, which is trying to find out what happened to Mr. Leonhart." Zell smashed his fists together. "So, we gotta ask the Dollet Army for their support and visit this lady Turquoise?" "Lady Merlose." Laguna corrected immediately. "She's like the smartest woman on that face of the planet. If she doesn't know anything that could clear things up--" -"Then Ultimecia does." Squall stated determinedly, leaving them to wonder what Laguna would have said. Skye gulped. "Let's hope Merlose knows. I don't think I like Ultimecia very much." "Understatement of the year." Zell sighed. She tilted her head in consideration. "Uhm, how about: I really dislike her, a lot!" "Yes." Quistis confirmed with her unique calmness. "That's a lot closer to how we all feel." Who cares what we feel? Squall thought to himself. We're SeeDs…we just do our jobs. -"Okay, so we land in Timber then go to Dollet by train or car. Once there we try to find this lady whom might know some stuff and talk to the Duke of Dollet about gathering a support army?" Zell summarized, showing uncertainty about the plan. "Precisely." Kiros replied, touching the tip of one his katanas with his thumb. Zell's face turned sour. "I still say the Timber team has a much easier job. It aint fair." Skye giggled, glancing over her shoulder. "Does he always complain this much?" "More often than not." Quistis straightforwardly replied.   <<------------------------------------------>>   Rinoa sat on the edge of her bed, looking at herself in her large standing mirror. The small bead on her necklace sparkled, despite the muffled light. She held on to it with one hand and tried to smile, yet didn't succeed. The thought of her friends giving their lives out there while she had to remain indoors was hard to bear. "I may not be a SeeD…but that doesn't mean I can't help." She said softly, wondering if she still could sound convincing after it's been at least two weeks since she really fought. The room she sat in had remained unchanged for years now. The wallpaper was still colored light pink with cute little bears on it. She had chosen it when she was seven years old. Now that she thought about it, she realized that was the last time her dad really helped. Her mother said it was time for some re-decorating and dad had constructed a bed all by himself. Rinoa remembered being very proud of him. But that was long ago. After mother died, things changed… Without really feeling like doing anything at all, Rinoa slowly crawled up. She walked over to the window and opened the curtains, letting the bright sunshine into her room. The street in front of the house looked misty as always. Steam from the sewers vented through the manholes. Deling City wasn't the kind of place a person could ever truly love. More often than not, it looked gloomy. Sometimes eerie too. Quite some horror movies had been recorded in Deling and this wasn't surprising to anyone who had lived there. Its dark alleys could hide countless of monsters…. She heard footsteps coming up the stairs. "Rinoa? Don't you want breakfast?" "No." She replied, staying by the window. The door to her room was locked. Dad wouldn't get in. General Caraway marched up to his daughter's room. "You have to eat." The knob on her door turned but the door remained shut. Rinoa closed her eyes, wishing him away. "I'm not hungry." Her father banged on the door, not too loud for anyone outside to hear but loud enough for her to understand he was angry. She hated him for always wanting a perfect daughter who would obey to his every command. Rinoa wasn't one of the soldiers under his command, so why was she treated that way? "You can't stay in your room forever." Her father argued. She stuck out her tongue in his direction. The fact that he couldn't see it because of the closed door didn't matter. "Come on Rinoa." Her father attempted in a much nicer tone of voice. "You know I'm only keeping you here so you'll be safe. There is a war going on outside, I don't want you to get hurt." Ha ha. Good one. She thought. Like I'm going to believe that dad. To him, losing his daughter would be like losing one of his men. It looked bad on his record as a General so naturally he tried to avoid casualties. It didn't mean he cared. He pleaded over and over, using all kinds of painstakingly obvious psychological tactics. First he was mad. Then nice. After that he even started offering rewards for her as long as she came out of her room. She silently listened for a few minutes. Her dad eventually gave up and went down to the living room. The two guards standing at the gate were all that stood in her way. If she were careful enough, she could open her window, get out on the roof and slid down to the ground using the drainpipe. But she couldn't leave the premises because her dad had ordered them not to let her through. The calendar hanging on one of her walls had eight marked days on them. She'd been in Deling for eight days already. Ever since Watts and Zone left with the White SeeDs, staying in Timber just wasn't the same as it used to be. When a friend of hers from another resistance faction suggested she head back home, she reluctantly agreed. Now she wished she never had. It felt like she had no use to anyone anymore. People were always saying how they wanted her to stay somewhere safe, but wasn't that another way of saying she got in the way? Another way of saying 'get lost'? She missed Selphie and Quistis the most. They were so nice to her, no matter if she wasn't a SeeD like them. Unfortunately, Kenan paid more attention to that detail. "Rinoa, it aint safe for you to stay here. I've talked to the Headmaster and he agreed to cancel the contract until this fight with the Sorceress has ended." -"…I don't wanna go. I may not be a SeeD like you guys, but that doesn't mean I can't help!" If only she had been more convincing. But then, how does one go about convincing such a stubborn, thickheaded guy like Kenan Gantt? Single-handedly defeat an entire army? Would that prove her skills to him, or was even that not enough? Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw some movement. She turned to see Angelo stretch, and then jump off her bed with his tail wagging. "Hey ya." She giggled, patting the dog on his head. "You won't send me away, will you?" Angelo sat down and held up one paw. She shook it, laughing. "Good boy!"   <<------------------------------------------>>   "This is Captain Ran Fong calling the Einlanzer, please respond." A middle-aged woman's voice sounded through the speakers in the cockpit, waking Irvine with an oddish snort. Kenan sat in the co-pilot's seat and reached for the right button to press. There was one big red button behind a bit of glass, marked [EMERGENCY] in letters even dyslectic people could read. Then on another panel was a small button marked [Shadow]. He had no idea what it did, but knew it wasn't what he looked for. Eventually he just randomly pushed a few, hoping it'd be the right one. "Uh..hello? I'm Commander Gantt." "Oh, very neatly done." Selphie giggled, looking aside briefly. -"The insertion team has been dispatched," Captain Ran Fong reported. "We're now heading to Balamb to assist with the salvage operation. The Lunatic Pandora is a few miles north of Esthar and isn't moving. You're clear to go." "Understood." Kenan confirmed from his side. "…Any news on the G-army?" -"We're waiting to hear more from the team we sent." She responded. "As far as we can tell from up here, the situation in Esthar hasn't changed since early this morning." "Understood." Kenan confirmed once more then ended the transmission with a simple "Good luck".  -"Personally, I hope they'll salvage some missile launchers or something like that and mount them on Balamb Garden. We need some more firepower." Selphie said, having listened in to the short conversation. Kenan looked aside with eyes wide. "What was that?" She smirked. "Blow 'em all to smithereens! Whoo-hoo!" He gasped. For such an innocent looking girl she sure could surprise a man sometimes with her outbursts. Irvine yawned, less impressed by Selphie's fanatics since he'd pretty much gotten used to it. "You really scare me sometimes." Kenan stifled a laugh. "Did you know that?" Selphie beamed proudly though remained focused on piloting the Einlanzer. A bit surprised about the fact that he'd dozed off, Irvine pushed himself up in his seat behind the weapons console. "Oh, you're awake again?" Kenan asked in a taunting tone as he heard a sound and glanced over his shoulder. -"I was just resting my eyes." Irvine lied. As soon as he said it he wished he'd used a different excuse. Just resting my eyes was used way too much. It'd become quite a cliché. "Yeah, yeah."  Kenan scoffed. "Just resting yer eyes…" -"Say, can I ask you a question?" Kenan pondered heavily. "The answer is…uhm…seven!" Irvine stared at him in disbelief, showing no signs of amusement. "Uh, I meant as in..like..seriously.." "Shoot." He replied, seriously this time. -"It's about Squall." Irvine told him. "Now I'm no strategist or anything, but don't you think he should be on the team that's gonna search for Rinoa?" "Oh yeah!" Selphie exclaimed. "They're close, aren't they?" -"Who told you this?" Kenan nearly demanded to know. "Uh. You did." Irvine cautiously laid down the facts. "This morning, by the lobby. You were telling us that you saw Squall outside yesterday and had a talk about some stuff. You forgot about it?" He drew a puzzled look. Did I tell them? Well…I might have. I do rant a lot. "Ah, never mind." He hastily responded, dropping that issue like it wasn't important. "But if you must know, Squall is on the Dollet team and not the Timber team because we decided it'd be best to first try and find out more." Irvine walked towards the front of the cockpit until he was practically in between the two pilot seats.  His eyes hurt as he stared to his right. He held up one hand to block the sunlight. "If I were in Squall's place, and we were searching for Selphie instead of Rinoa, I'd definitely want to be on the team that would search for her." "Awww." Selphie cooed with the puppy dog look. "So gosh darn cute!" She made a slight course correction and the plane edged left. Through a few openings in the bed of clouds, the ocean below was visible. And again, part of the old Horizon Bridge. Kenan leveled his viewing field. Staring down made him feel uneasy. "I understand your point Irvine, but what's the use for Squall to see Rinoa? She doesn't know him either, I bet. Besides, information--" "Is ammunition." Irvine and Selphie sighed, fed up after hearing that same line at least ten times already. He smiled. "That's right. So he'll go to this advisor person in Dollet and maybe learn more." He looked at Selphie. "Anyway, what's our E.T.A.?" She looked at the tiny map. "Uhm..'bout five minutes or less." "Eggcellent." Kenan mimicked Odine's weird accent. "Be sure to land a güd..ah dammit, I mean, good distance away from Timber. We do not wanna be seen by any G-jerks." -"Roger that." She exclaimed. Suddenly, he gasped. "Oh…shit. This is bad." "Is something wrong?" Irvine asked thoughtfully. -"Well, you know how I'm always saying information is ammunition, right?" "Do we ever." Selphie giggled. "You always say that when we need to find out more on something." Kenan couldn't belief his own stupidity. "Well guys, I forgot the other rule. Ammunition is ammunition." "What does that mean?" She wondered. "You…forgot to bring ammo?"  He grabbed the gun from his holster and checked if there was an ammo clip. "Uh..let's see…" There was none. "Shit!" He sighed. "Yup. I forgot to bring the ammo." Irvine smacked himself on the forehead. "Good one Kenan. I bet Laguna would be proud of ya."   <<------------------------------------------>>   Zell leaned against Squall's seat. "Wow. Really? Me?" "Yeah." He affirmed for the third time. "You and Irvine." He was telling them about the final battle with Ultimecia. Zell felt especially honored to have been chosen in the Alpha team, the team that would take on the evil Sorceress. -"All the guys in one team?" Quistis asked with an inquisitive look. "You thought that to be wise?" "Yeah, who would protect the girls if all the big strong men weren't around?" Skye remarked sarcastically. Squall took it seriously. "They weren't defenseless. In fact, everyone was strong at that point. Even Rinoa." -"Too bad Kenan didn't hear this sooner." Quistis sighed, combing her locks back with one hand. "Perhaps he would have let her stay if he knew." A few feet behind them, Laguna did some stretching exercises in between the two rows of seats. "Ah, relax gang. I'll find your friend and then we'll all kick Ultimecia's keester!" Kiros looked confused. "Uh..Laguna…aren't you on the Dollet team?…" He nodded slowly. "Yeah. Why do ya ask?" Sighing, Kiros turned his head aside, figuring Laguna already forgot about the plan. "Never mind." What horrors the people on the Dollet team would have to endure. He felt sorry for them. Those people should really consider themselves lucky if they came back uninjured. "So Squall, now that you've told us about all that serious stuff…" Skye started, half-giggling. "How about a joke?" He frowned. "A joke?" Skye exchanged looks with Zell and Quistis. "Yeah. Just to show you actually have a sense of humor." Have they been talking about me behind my back? Squall immediately wondered. When he went for a walk alone…? Did Skye talk about him in the Cafeteria? "C'mon." Zell edged, smiling widely. "You can do it." This is stupid. He thought. I'm a SeeD…not a clown. I'm not here to amuse people. -"Don't force him Zell." Quistis said, sympathetic to Squall. "I'm not forcing him." He explained. "It's called..uh…you know…that word……" Laguna scratched the back of his head. "Pulling?" "Pulling??" Kiros repeated, although knowing better than to play along with his buddy's stupidity. "What the…??" Laguna laughed, having a false sense of superiority. "Yeah, y'know? People always say that. 'Don't pull me around'. Never heard of it? Man…and you say I'm dumb?" Ward didn't even bother laughing at Laguna for being stupid this time. The lameness never ends… Zell stared wide-eyed in front of him for a moment, wondering on a scale of one to ten how stupid Laguna's remark really was. He then shook his head and turned back to Squall. "C'mon. Just a tiny joke." "Why?" Squall whispered, so the girls couldn't hear. "Is this Skye's idea?" He bit his lip. "I can't tell. But pu-lease man. So we'll know you're not a robot or sumthin'." Squall stood. "All right. If you're that desperate." I can't believe I'm agreeing to this. Skye clapped and the others followed her example. He sighed and turned his head aside for a moment. A joke. I have to think of a joke. Hmm………… There was an eerie silence. Everyone eyed Squall with high expectations. I don't know any jokes. Squall realized. No…wait. Before all the weird stuff started to happen. Rinoa warned about developing a sense of humor. Did I make a joke then? …It's no good. I can't remember. Zell let his shoulder dropped a bit. "Any minute now." He looked at the others over his shoulder with a grin. "Squall's just thinking of a good one." Why did the chicobo cross the road? Squall pondered heavily. …How should I know?!… Zell's shoulders dropped further. "Yeah, ANY minute now." "Okay. I think I have one." Squall reported. Skye gestured him to blurt it out, by all means. "Two peanuts were walking down the street." He told dryly, like forecasting the weather. "One was assaulted." He noticed the bewildered faces, then sat down in his seat again. "There. A joke. Happy?" Skye and Quistis chuckled thereafter, Laguna and Zell still looked blank. "I don't get it." The President of Esthar complained in almost child-like moping tone. -"Some people wouldn't get 'it' even if 'it' came in a large box marked 'it'." Kiros pointed out sharply. Very sharply. "Suppose we shouldn't have pressured him." Zell offered as explanation.  Quistis smiled and approached Squall, while the others went on discussing stuff in the back of the passenger room. "I'm sorry for that." She apologized. "It was a silly request, I know." -"That was your idea?" Squall asked, avoiding eye contact out of anger for having to do something that stupid. "Yes. Sort of." She answered truthfully. "We were just talking about how you seem so serious all the time. I know I myself am like that a lot too, but you really need to lighten up." -"You don't understand." He sighed. "This is a nightmare. It's like I lost everyone close to me, and--" "I do understand." Quistis interrupted, smiling compassionately. "By seeing us, the people you used to know, it hurts even more. Whenever you look at one of us, you are reminded of that fact that you lost your friends." "Is that it?" She asked, as there was no reply from him. "I don't know about the Quistis you knew, but I'm always like this. Wondering what goes on in other people's minds. Wondering what moves them…" He finally looked her in the eyes. "You're exactly like her." "Ah. So you see," She pointed out. "We are the people you know. We're right here with you." He shook his head. "But..you don't know me. And Kenan has taken my place. It feels like I shouldn't be here." Quistis crossed her arms. "You probably shouldn't. That's exactly it. The entire problem you're facing." "That doesn't mean you have to face it alone." She added. "We can help. You do trust us, don't you?" -"Yeah." He replied. "I do. Although Kenan is kind of an oddball." She laughed, mostly out of relief. "Ah, so you do have a sense of humor." He looked down. "I wish someone could tell me what brought me here." "We'll find out soon." She assured then started walking back to her seat. She stopped halfway there and turned around. "Oh, and welcome on the team Squall." -"Thanks Quistis." He let out under his breath. He felt a renewed sense of hope. "Hey-lo." Selphie's voice sounded through the intercom, as if she'd purposely waited for Quistis and Squall to end their conversation. "Please prepare for landing, everyone."   <<------------------------------------------>>   Zieg untied the propelling rope around his waist and checked his small radar device. "Hmm. Looks like we're a bit off." "That's just great." Belzack sarcastically commented, helping the rest of the guys up the cliff. "Did you hear that?" Ryogo and Blank carried with them the raft they'd used and worked on deflating it. Waves clashed relentlessly down below. They were lucky to have landed on a small beach, instead of the sharp rocks to the left and right of them. "I'm sorry," Zieg apologized to his team. "I didn't realize how strong the currents would be." -"It's okay." Meru assured as she walked back with her binoculars hanging around her neck. "It doesn't really matter where we've landed. Esthar is to the north, just like it would be according to the original landing plan." She was the only one on the team whom hadn't put on her full suit. Which is to say she didn't wear her helmet. It never fitted right anyway, and it was really uncomfortable to wear in the scorching heat of the South Esthar area. The guys however, did wear there full bug suits -as they were sometimes called since the helmet made people look like some kind of insect with beady eyes-, and she was having a hard time keeping them apart. Though the Squad leader and her friend, Lieutenant Zieg, wore a distinctively grayer suit. It wasn't exactly a stealth camo, but it beat the red amour lieutenants of Omega Squad usually wore in battle. "How do things look?" Coral inquired, fidgeting with his sniper gun after first bringing up all the ropes that were used to climb the coastal cliff. Only a Special Forces team would ever dare to land on the South tip of Esthar with just an inflatable raft and some ropes; the natural barrier around the country kept the sensible people at bay. -"Not so good." She reported. "Even worse than from up in the air." Ryogo packed the fully deflated raft on his back. "Damn…that's bad." "I have a bad feelin' 'bout this guys." Belzack told them. "This sorta mission should be carried out at night." Blank looked up at the morning sun. "Yeah. We have to be careful or they'll pick us off like dogs." Coral finished piecing together the parts of his sniper gun and stood. "Worry not guys. I'll cover yer asses." -"Which is exactly what worries us." Meru said what no doubt crossed everyone's mind. Looking around, Zieg discovered a cave a bit further inland. He gestured everyone to move over there, as it would provide a bit of shade from the sun, and more importantly, cover from the enemy. "Now," He started as soon as they arrived at the safe position. "Did they have a perimeter?" Meru squatted down and placed her radio backpack on the ground. "Afraid so. It looks like they're guarding the City limits with frequent patrols. They don't want anyone going in…or out…" They heard the sound of Belzack gritting his teeth, even if he wore a helmet. "Those G-bastards. I'll show them!" -"Calm down." Zieg ordered. "We're not here to fight, remember?" "Yeah yeah." He scoffed. "We're here to gather intelligence on enemy positions and stuff like for those SeeD people." -"Not just them." Coral corrected. "I hear they're gonna gather support from all over and launch a strike to retake Esthar and get rid of Sorceress Whatever permanently." Zieg switched on Meru's radio and contacted Captain Ran Fong whom covertly flew somewhere near Esthar in the Ragnarok III. "This is Erhart. Landing successful, we'll begin our mission right away. I'll be in touch again when we need our ride out of here. Out." They'd have to maintain a strict radio-silence from now on. If the Galbadians were to intercept a message it'd be nearly impossible to complete the mission. The G-soldiers would most likely track them down… The incursion team stepped out of the cave and began moving towards Esthar. It was still a long hike away, but their landing had to remain undetected so they were forced to land far away from the City. They'd jumped out of the Ragnarok III, flying over the southern ocean at low altitude, and used a raft to move in closer to the south tip of the continent. All they could see with their naked eyes were clouds of smoke far ahead of them. And every now and then, an explosion. The light of which traveled faster than the sound, just like far away thunder. "Meru, Coral." Zieg called after making up his mind. "You're on my team. The rest, good luck trying to sneak about the Lunatic Pandora. It's a hell of a job." Belzack grinned. "Which is why you take the easier one, right? Invading the Palace…" He stopped walking and looked over his shoulder. "If you want to switch, it's fine by me." -"Belly-boy was only kidding Zieg." Meru assured, urging him to keep on going. "We're all a bit tense right now." Blank sighed. "That's quite an understatement."   <<------------------------------------------>>   The group from the passenger room gathered outside shortly after the successful landing. They were somewhere south of Timber, behind a set of grass hills so that the Einlanzer wouldn't soon be spotted. "Galbadia is still in control of Timber?" Squall asked, staring at the town. He could barely see it. -"Yes." Kiros replied, moving about uneasily in his Galbadian uniform. "So did Timber become independent after Sorceress Ultimecia was defeated?" "Yeah." He answered, not feeling the need to use more words. One was enough. Zell and Laguna stood side by side on top of the nearest hill like two proud warriors. A sigh of wind messed up Zell's flamboyant hairstyle, making it near flat. "Do you guys see anything?" Skye shouted. She still stood in the shadow of the Einlanzer along with Quistis. -"Only a few G-soldiers." Zell shouted back at her. "Nothing we can't handle." The girls giggled. "We're not here to fight." Laguna nevertheless held his machine gun tightly in one hand. "Why else would we bring weapons?" "You got me." Zell moaned. "I say we kicked their asses back to wherever they hell they came from." -"Galbadia." Laguna suggested offhandedly after actually thinking about it. "The uniform pretty much gives that away." Ward had planted himself on a rock at the base of the small hill and couldn't help but listen to the most moronic conversation since…well…last time Laguna spoke. Kenan, Irvine and Selphie now exited the Einlanzer as well. "Thanks for waiting everyone." Kenan told them. "Now let's go. Remember that house next to the Timber Maniacs building? That's where we'll head. Any questions?" -"I have more of a suggestion." Quistis informed. "I think it'd be too conspicuous if all ten of us entered Timber at the same time…maybe we'd best split into a few smaller groups?" Selphie hopped up and down. "I'm with Irvy! I'm with Irvy!" Kenan looked at the first hill and saw Laguna there. "Hey Mr. President! You, Kiros and Ward take point." "Might as well make use of these uniforms." Kiros considered and dashed to the hilltop with his large buddy. Kenan turned to Quistis. "There's a few more things we have to go over before you can leave on your mission. I hope that resistance cell lady will let us stay in her house for a moment." -"She let us in last time." She pointed out. "I'm sure it'll be okay." Squall started walking towards Timber. Skye shouted something and gestured for him to wait. She followed. Irvine pointed at the Einlanzer. "You sure it's okay to leave it here?" Kenan smirked. "I think so. I remember where we parked." "The lame jokes never end, eh?" -"Not any time soon." He estimated in a flat tone of voice. Zell paced back on forth impatiently on top of the hill. "You guys coming or not?! Quit talking!" Quistis silently climbed up towards him. Selphie pulled Irvine along by his arms. "Let's go!" Kenan shrugged, walking behind. "Hey guys? Didn't those Timber resistance factions have all kinds of goofy names?" "Heh heh. Yeah." Zell confirmed as the two met up. "Like forest ducks or sumthin'." -"I bet I could think of a few more." "Like what?" Zell asked, already starting to laugh. Kenan appeared to think about it. "Like…I dunno….flipped foxes, clueless cats, half-brained hounds, powerless primates, spineless spiders…uh..frightened fish, moronic mutts, bonehead buffoons, mental monkeys, you know…stuff like that." "But wait," He quickly added in cheesy voice. "There's more; Gutless geezards..uhm…ignorant imps, brainless beasts, wood wimps, water weenies, uhm.. grass goofs, cissy saplings…river retards….wow, I could go on like this forever." Zell had stopped laughing. "You…you really don't like those guys huh?" "They're a bunch of amateurs." He told him. "I'm sure Squall thinks this too. Those people should leave it to the pro's." -"That's us, right?" Kenan halted. "Of course. Who else??" -"Just checking." He grinned. "You sometimes worry me Dincht." -"Like you don't worry us…kay-non…heh heh" "Do shaddap." He warned. "I may not have a loaded gun…but I am a Centra." Zell pretended to be shocked. "Oh no! A Centra! I'm scared to death now!" "Seriously," Kenan persisted. "Don't you know that song?" -"I know lotsa songs." He mumbled. "Which do you mean?" He began humming a weird kind of theme. "…Beware of Centra fighting…do do do..it's fast as lighting…do do do…and oh so frighting…do do do…Centra fighting…" -"Never heard of it." Kenan didn't seem surprised. "Well, it is a crappy song, though the morale of it kinda appeals to me." "Whoa!" Zell exclaimed, pointing ahead. "One of those things again." A thrustaevis flapped its wings and hovered above the hill, letting out a few high-pitched screeches. The two men exchanged looks. "Another fight." They both sighed.


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