And The Walls Came Tumbling Down
part 6 of Genetic Imperialism
That was the night he woke up, walked into his workshop and heard no voice but his own.
After some years of accustoming himself to the nattering of those things he created yet over which he had no control (conscience, guilt, responsibility, desperation, just the usual), the silence stripped him, brutal and vicious. No morning greeting, no nightly admonishment, nothing in the long-forgotten lilt of his native land. Performing as if before an audience (in Shinra's compound, who knew what eyes watched) he calmed his panic and carefully applied the finishing touches to his Cait Sith. The fur, the eyes to hide the robotic sensors behind, the soft pressure pads to the fingertips.
After the surgery, he put a baby's bottle in its mouth and engaged the intake valve, the fluid a compound of oil both lubricant and fuel. On the balcony, he stood with fresh air coiling about him, the oil was slid and suckled softly by the framework in his arms.
That night, thick with quiet stars.
Stars were only for the privileged. This was the Midgar he had loved and perpetuated, this was the Midgar he could not escape. He felt himself humbled, undeserving, and abruptly terrified. He hugged his furred robot close.
The last work was always his favourite: in that moment, Reeve loved this model the most. Yet Cait Sith did not speak back to him, despite those months of sparking, devious, half-mad catcalling.
That silence lascivious, urging him to the inevitable conclusion.
His own voice was returned to him at last. His self, reunited with his self. No more evading responsibility. Shinra was corrupt; yes, an obviousness there, well done Mister Tuesti. But Shinra's corruption was more than about wealth. Greed could be manipulated through marketing and methodology, Reeve knew how to manipulate, systems and cities and circuitry and people; whatever drove Shinra now, Reeve did not understand.
His city. Green mako glow to the perimeter, the grey smog halo licking outwards from the industry below, as though the night's darkness surrounding the plate were an ocean and this Midgar but a dish adrift on a benign sea. Sparks shot and fell from above and below, cascades of light, suddenly a blur, all things intermingling, a haze of greenish grey.
He pressed the wetness from his cheeks and went back inside.
'You're Reeve Tuesti.'
'And you're Rufus Shinra. What are you doing in the lift without your minders?'
'I gave them the slip.' The adolescent's shoulder arched in an insouciant shrug. Long pale neck, sleek pale collarbones, the vee of his shirt unbuttoned. A slight sheen of sweat on his upper lip; his tongue touched it, quick and light. 'My father doesn't acknowledge their incompetence. I'll prove to him just how incompetent they are.'
'I wouldn't underestimate the Turks, young Mister Shinra.'
'I'm not underestimating them .' The emphasis, odd and childish. 'I dislike useless people.'
'I've heard there's lots of things you dislike.'
Silence, from level ten to twenty five. 'Are you one of the incompetent ones, Mister Head of Urban Development?'
'I wouldn't quite say that.'
'Are you going to see my father now?'
'I am, yes.'
Rufus exhaled in sharp satisfaction. 'Then you must be useless. It's always the useless ones that go to visit my father. Begging and beseeching and asking for more bastard money, President fucking Shinra's saving, glittering grace. The quiet ones are the ones who actually get things done with what they're given. They don't need to go begging. They just do things right the first time.' Angry eyes cut through the lift shaft, beaming scorn down upon the plate below. 'Look at this bloody mess.'
'I beg to differ, Mister Shinra.'
'Yes, I said that already, Tuesti. You beg.'
'I beg to differ, Mister Shinra.'
Something in his voice that he nor Rufus expected to be there. A hint of rolling lilt, a splash of Junon salt, death and warning and power. Reeve had not climbed so high through weakness.
Rufus Shinra actually looked at him. Eyes of an adult, cheeks of a child.
The moment for revelation came and passed, and Reeve was left with a bubbling urge to laugh like a loon; thoughts scattered and painful and ridiculous under the bright eyes of this Shinra scion, their future, a monarchy of merit in words not law; he grinned.
'Where are you going now, Rufus, I wonder? Trying to see your father too, I'll bet, if you're so desperate to bring to his attention the incompetence of others. Or just desperate to get his attention, hmm? No, don't talk for a moment. Let me talk, young Mister Shinra: we might both be on our knees on the fat man's carpet, but you and I both know there's a difference between that and begging for his parti cular brand of salvation. Manipulation on the micro scale is as fine an art as war.'
The lad looked down, a smile flickering at the corner of his mouth, obscure yet radiant pleasure. 'I'm not desperate, Mister Tuesti.'
'I won't argue with that, Mister Shinra.'
'When I kill all the others and take my father's chair, I'll let you stay on. You'll still be young enough to change.'
His mouth, suddenly dry. 'And you're still young enough to learn better. Look what happened with young Deusericus, for example.'
'That file, Mister Tuesti, is closed.' Rufus could split diamonds with that tone.
'Rumour never stops talking.'
Cool and collected, obscenely so. A pale eyebrow lofted. 'Like you, so it seems.'
They exited to the President's floor, passing blithe through the security check. The tea room beyond barely contained two Turks, Rude at ease and Reno sprawled on the tea lady's abandoned trolley, arm snaking out to pinion Rufus by the nape.
'Brat, you are not going to enjoy our session tonight.' Reno cracked his gum, his mouth too close to Rufus' cheek. 'You reckon you're smart, and you couldn't think up a more imaginative way to break and run than kicking me in the balls?'
'I didn't think you had any.'
'Tch.' Reno, lazy in his disdain.
Rude ignored the byplay, inclined his head at Reeve without dropping his gaze, bare shining politeness from a killer. 'Mr Tuesti. Tseng would like to see you. At your convenience, of course.'
Rude opened his hand, the rest of him so poised and still the motion drew Reeve's eye. Around his middle finger looped a bright pink string, and swinging from this was a tiny keyring charm, the sort a privileged topside girl would use to beautify her mobile phone's antenna.
'Shit. Tseng's so weird when he's trying to pick up.' Reno took the opportunity of his farewell salute, limp and mocking, to again cuff Rufus with casual disdain.
The Shinra scion nodded. 'I hope to speak to you again soon, Mister Tuesti.'
'Don't play with your food, Rufus.'
In the men's cubicle on his floor, Reeve cupped the tiny, plastic Cait Sith in his palm, and pressed his fingers to his aching eyelids for such a long time he saw nothing but a skyful of falling stars.
That was the day the President reallocated the budget of Reeve's hard-won Urban Renewal program.
AVALANCHE was a rising concern, insidious and problematic and requiring a diversion of funds to Public Safety. The report had been completed and the recommendation approved without call for Reeve's response.
Ah, but what a stellar path he'd flown to this seat of prime impotence, from his award-winning dissertation design streamlining the production process in reactors (a cognitive motherboard, a reactor, really, energy at one point and a conversion proce ss to reach the other end; just more motion, paths, connections), the internship he'd leapfrogged (leaving behind his peers' hunched backs and mediocre lives); a department head, a whole city his playing field (the desperate starving hoards below, people not toggles, dependent on his decisions). Despite his best efforts, Infrastructure branch and damned Facilities Maintenance could not even coordinate sufficient figures to show how much budget he actually had.
His city, inherited not even finished, already desperately in need of renewal. Now Midgar's Sector citizens were to be left to their own devices. Unless they joined the army, of course; Heidegger would take care of them then.
'You're aware that public housing even in the relatively privileged Sector 5 is dramatically insufficient to demand. Mr President, do I have to stress again the overcrowding in Sector 2? Action's imperative to get the refugees housed adequately, and as immediately as a government can effect—'
'You know what you do with cockroaches,' Heidegger, vile thing, plump with his delegated authority.. 'Squash them.'
Eyes turned to Reeve. The bleeding humanist in a crowd of hungry maws. He did not look up from the agenda. He could not even remember having opened his mouth.
No one of Shinra's generals even quirked a smirk, not even Heidegger. Reeve's helplessness, thus entrenched, had long since lost value as source of mirth. The only answer for a lack of renewal was demolition.
Or revolution, Reeve said to himself, there being no other voice, nor ears to hear.
'Want the job done? Get it done by Tuesday.'
The doubled rolling ares, the softened vowels, the lethally consonant tees. The accent shattered the silence, bridged across aeons, brought Reeve to an unsteady halt. Hinged about his heels, he turned and gazed dreamily at the busker he had walked so blindly past.
The mop of blonde curls, only more limp than he remembered, not so long, barely skimming proud shoulders. The blue eyes lost amongst smiling creases, a much loved guitar nursed to silence across the lap. Neon coloured the scene in shades of rue; rust dripped between them. Beneath the plate, all things were red and gold.
Manny Juengling, who Reeve's mother had loved almost like a son. Reeve fumbled for coherence, wiped his humid brow.
'Jingles all the way.'
Pleasure blossomed and flared at the recognition. 'You grew a beard.'
'You cut your hair.'
A bright, chipped-tooth grin. 'Managed to avoid the desk job, though. Is that a suit, Mister Tuesday?'
Reeve brushed a wet palm across his subtly striped microfibre. 'It seems to be.'
Then his hand, arm, and half his body was claimed in a bright, cheerful handshake and hug.
They had both come from backwater Junon to Shinra's prestigious new university, battling for the same S hinra funded scholarships, more often than not arguing from the opposite side of the bench during architectural debates, those years of university, their mentors always chosen from the diametrically opposed. They had been friends. Best of friends, Reeve would have said, there was no greater friend than one who could pick apart your best theories. Jingles had never left him any ground to stand on. Reeve would have laid money on him ending up in residential architecture. Urban design, Jingles had always said ripe with scorn, was for those with god complexes and the kind of work ethic which crippled developing nations.
Life was not theoretical. Reeve contemplated the evidence of poverty on his friend's form, the battered guitar case and scanty coin, the rust stains at his collar.
'So this is all yours, I hear?' Jingles gestured to the plate looming overhead, winking with lights in lieu of stars.
'All responsibility, no care.'
'It's like being battered daily by a bunch of sadists. Who all happen to be eunuchs. But with knives.'
'And then being told they're only doing it because you enjoy it.'
'Oh, right? Sounds like civil service agrees with you.'
'Let me buy you a coffee.'
Jingles made a face, 'I don't drink that stuff. Wrecks your body clock. Makes you hallucinate.'
Grinning. 'So let's go for noodles. We can catch up.'
'Didn't know we were racing.'
In a side-booth off one of Sector 5's less hostile streets, Reeve stared into his bowl of mysterious grey, in which lurked eel-like noodles, thick as his finger, occasionally broaching the surface. Jingles slurped up his broth before Reeve even took up his spoon. The woman behind the counter chewed gum, wary of his suit, ignoring the both of them.
'I stopped by at your mother's place, Reeve. She's doing well.'
'That's not what it's like — not being beaten. Because there's an end to being beaten. This,' chopsticks pointing at the lack of sky, 'is more like a game. An interminable, neverending game.'
'It's a nice suit, though.'
'It's like you're playing a game of cricket.'
'Cricket,' Jingles said, dreamily. 'We used to play it on the beach, in Junon. You remember? Your mam would make us juice. Sunday smashup, hit the waves and out for six. Unless Brandy was playing too, in her bikini, in which case every hit was out for the horizon.'
'You think, in this game of civil service and city devotion, you're the umpire. Because you're telling everyone what to do, you're enforcing the rules, you're calling them out, leg before wicket, etcetera. But then you realise, it's not so easy as that. You think, no, no, I must be the bowler. I control the ball, I'm the one who sends it into the mix, I'm the one who puts the spin on. But that doesn't feel right either, so yo u think, I must be the batter. The ball's coming for me, and I have to react, I have to get it back out into the field, I have to place it. But the game — just keeps going and going, and going. Then you realise.'
'You're actually the ball. There's no control, there's no placement, the only spin is the one you're in. Flying through the air, no idea why you were let go, no idea where you're going, what's waiting for you. Then out of nowhere comes the bat, and crack—'
'I left the industry,' Jingles announced. 'I went to Kalm. I learned how to make guitars. I haven't played bleeding cricket in years.'
'Well, that's good. It's a shite game without a lass in a bikini bent over behind the wicket. Even better if she can't catch.'
'You were doing well in Kalm?'
'Not a high demand for guitars these days. But, it's a specialist industry, there's always some buyers. I was doing well enough until, well, I went for a holiday in Costa del Sol and when I came back Kalm just felt all different. So I went for a walk and never stopped.'
Reeve contemplated his bowl, chasing suddenly elusive noodles. 'Why the hell did you come back here?'
A shrug. 'Felt the urge. Midgar's special, you know? Even if it is what it is.'
'I love it here,' Reeve admitted.
'Course you do. You were always mad.'
Urban Development was a warren on the fifteenth floor, with a hierarchy only a civil servant could discern. His first days there as an intern, Reeve paused to draw up a chart unravelling the mystery, Urban Development then Infrastructure and Maintenance, then fifteen other subdivisions, under one of which was a cluster of six groups of six draftsmen, in which one of which Reeve was escorted to a desk covered with a picture of a vagina drafted with attention to anatomical detail in a room with no window, and given the tile layout of a block of toilets to do.
It was so easy to excel. He had never before realised the extent of people content with mediocrity. Food, shelter, friends, they were pleased with the state of the world. Shinra could provide all they needed. A bright spark, he was promoted to an empty title of assistant project manager, which he chose to take seriously; he was joking with his line manager over drinks, after. The girl wasn't even as old as he was, and often spent minutes staring at her screen without motion even of her eyes.
'All those blueprints, just casually kept around. Not under lock and key. One cell of AVALANCHE breaks in and they know every key spot in the city, all the structural designs, where exactly to plant the bombs for maximum effect.'
She looked so pale when she told him he was an idiot he joked about her reaction the next day, to another assistant. 'You wouldn't believe the look on her face when I said that. Probably thought I meant she was a terrorist.'
The next morning the poor stupid girl was gone, and he was having an interview for the role of project manager with a pair of line managers more effusive and eager than he, and it took him four years and a directorship before he let himself acknowledge what it was, exactly, that Shinra would do in the name of Reeve's beloved progress.
Tseng signed the front cover of the report and passed it to Reeve. 'The audio surveillance in this room is experiencing a technical glitch. This is what we talked about.'
Reeve looked. 'Safehouses and accommodation for the Turks?'
'Active operatives need to be rotated frequently and the apartment returned to the general civil servant accommodation queue at random. The patterns to avoid prediction are randomised by our cypher crew, and the security requirements are high. Delegate this to your Facilities underlings on your return.'
'All of this is standard procedure.'
'Security criteria has been substantially upgraded since the last allocation. You and I are arguing about which department will fund the upgrade.'
Tseng's lips quirked, and for a moment Reeve saw the same expression on Rufus Shinra's mouth. 'Administrative Research will fund the upgrade.'
'All right, then.' Reeve leafed through the report idly, slapped it to the desk, and placed the plastic Cait Sith atop. 'So let's talk about your nocturnal perambulations in my workshop. As much as privacy is a farce as individual rights in this great regime of our leader, I can't say I appreciate the invasion.'
Tseng looked at the plastic Cait for long, silent moments.
'I need help.'
Reeve had to laugh.
'There's an active cell of AVALANCHE which has recently employed a mercenary on our watch list. We...didn't think he would recover. He was a closed file. If he talks, if he can talk, he knows too much.'
Like Deusericus. Like Veld. Like all the facilities grants Reeve was not supposed to know about, those great gaping holes in Infrastructure's budget flowcharts that screamed a recurrent pattern. 'Isn't this just another one of those janitorial jobs Turks are so good at?'
Another long silence.
'Maybe we want him to talk. Depending on what he's saying.'
'And to whom, I assume.'
A brief inclination of skull. 'Shinra has never appreciated your abilities. The work you've done in your workshop as a hobby shows that clearly. You should have been working for me.' The hesitation was distinctly there. 'For Veld.'
'Yet here I sit, the same level of Executive Director of my very own department. Working as your employee seems a demotion. I don't think you even get your own car bay.'
'We need to plant an operative with the AVALANCHE cell. The operative cannot be tracked back to us, to Shinra. Or to the Turks.'
'Or to you.'
'I thought that went without saying.'
'I'm fine with complexity, Tseng, but I prefer clarity when we're talking treason.' A flare of alarm in Tseng's eyes, and Reeve felt delirious, delighted, a thrill of unmistakeable power. 'What game are you and Rufus Shinra playing?'
'A long one.'
'With Shinra's pseudo-throne as the stakes? Or have you bought a plot in his Promised Land?'
Another quirk, this one of distaste. A thread of inky hair spooled across Tseng's cheek, his head bowed and eyes still dangerous. 'Don't try to provoke me with blatant stupidity. I know what you're capable of, and you know this is for Midgar.'
'I can't tell you how many times I've heard that before.'
'Except not from me. Will you help?''
Exasperation, fear, a heartbeat that did not slow. 'I have a memorable face, Tseng. Even if I shaved. What makes you think I can do your gruntwork better than Reno? Than Elena? Than any of your motley crew?'
A frown creased Tseng's brow. 'Not you, fool, you've all the undercover skills of cat playing the mouse. This will do.'
The plastic Cait Sith, gleaming in the fluorescent light, Tseng's long finger tapping its crown..
'You might well have revolutionised the art of long distance surveillance if you'd come to us from the beginning. It's always about information, Reeve. About getting it in time. You could have solved so many of our problems. Will you help?'
'If I say no, are you going to let me walk out this door?'
The sweat prickled all over in a crashing wave of wild heat and adrenaline, a sparkling warning caught in his beard and along his spine, tasted sharp as his tongue ran across chapped lips. It wouldn't be a bullet. A heart attack in his sleep, perhaps. Everyone knew he drank too much coffee, slept too little, tried — too hard to move a monolith which had nothing to do with vision, genius, intelligence, achievement—
'You're on a limb. Why do you think I'd help you?'
'Because, Reeve.' Tseng smiled, not exactly a first but softer than Reeve would have thought. 'You're bored. Because you still want to make a difference.'
Cait Sith, with a voice. But his voice this time. One and the same. His career in covert espionage, begun with a surge of excitement almost forgotten. A sky full of stars, connections and networks and neural pathways firing, blazing, doing everything they were meant to do.
That was the moment he shook a Turk's hand.
'Mister Shinra will be so pleased,' Tseng said, with quiet, unmistakable pride, and he was not talking about the President, yet.
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