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How We All Got There (Was a Mystery)

Chapter 2. Staring Contest

Once at Central's rust-coloured gates, Lucrecia's escort did not follow her.

Lucrecia stepped between columns into a moment between events; the train in dock was full, preparing to pull away, the station cleared but for one woman and two men, who appeared unified with shock. They stood close, with similar stances, and they all stared at nothing. A third man, a bluecoat, kept to one side and did not speak. She was not alone in her turmoil; it was apparent that she should join the four who waited.

Lucrecia moved without alarm or urgency.

As the train currently in dock moved away, a few civilians on board risked glancing through the train's portholes. Lucrecia realised that she, and her siblings in shock, were the focus of those stares. She was thankful the whole train was not gawking. That a bluecoat stood at the station was reason enough to keep the majority of gazes downcast.

Had Lucrecia not been preoccupied by her circumstances, she would have noted her discomfort. The Turks had kept her walking quickly, their car had been unairconditioned, and subplate Midgar dripped with its unexceptional humidity. Lucrecia wore an old coat of a classic cut that passed for new from a distance; her dependence on her laboratory's climate control had left her little need for layering. The crossed tracks through Central spared the station the rust-coloured condensation that recycled elsewhere, though the heat was as unrelenting as the trains, hot air forced likewise into motion. The hub on which both sub and upplate Midgar so depended, the station even had a sky, a glass dome that filtered dawn in shades of amber and gold. The light painted concrete and steel in an antiqued monochrome.

Lucrecia took refuge in the sound of the train's immediate motion, a preventative for the conversation yet to occur. She rolled her shoulders against her coat, as her neck felt unusually bowed by the pressure of a too-large collar; long disuse seemed to have shrunken the seams unevenly.

On her right breast pocket, Lucrecia wore a namebadge which advertised her as one Lucrecia Crescent, Research Team. It was not the namebadge that she wore to work, which announced her as Lucrecia Crescent, Biotech, but otherwise identical, a Shinra logo beneath her name, laminated with edges sharp enough to cut the unwary handler. As it was Lucrecia's habit to look at the labels before the person, she read the similar namebadges her companions wore. Shinra etiquette required no contact, vocalisation, or shaking of hands: Lucrecia introduced herself by default to Professor Gast Faremis, Doctor Hojo, Ifalna, and V. Valentine.

The last name preoccupied Lucrecia to the extent of ignoring a climate which would otherwise have generated her complaint.

The presentation of Lucrecia's namebadge had been one aspect in the confusion of this morning that returned to Lucrecia her equilibrium, her name and designation a familiar aspect in her current circumstance. Despite the bluecoats, the hour, her guilt, she was not being called to account for mishaps from long ago; this was something else entirely, and without knowledge Lucrecia could only surrender to what events demanded of her. On seeing V. Valentine, she felt herself again thrown into a turmoil she knew for futile. She detested her emotion, its futility, and the cause. Who else could he be? V. Valentine wore the mark of his paternity, as obvious as the quality of his blue suit.

Had Lucrecia been the kind of woman to have kept a journal, it could have decided for her how she should have approached this moment. As it was, the script unravelling in the darkness behind her eyes offered her sufficient justification that she could have gone hysterical, had she been the kind of woman to indulge herself. She was not. She merely looked not quite at V. Valentine’s shoulders, which were as broad as her memory of his father's, presented to her along with the shape of his back. The cut of both his coat and his hair exposed his nape. His father had dressed in the fashion of his native land, and never appeared so modern, or so bare.

Staring at his nape, Lucrecia could not shake the sensation that, despite the layers of coat, shirt, and guns beneath, V. Valentine stood before her naked.

She blushed. She experienced the additional heat as impending claustrophobia. This was odd, as Central was a grand, vaulted space despite the litter of column, brace, and shadow; stranger still for that they were still alone, and not crushed by the press that should have been awaiting the next train. In some detachment, Lucrecia looked over her shoulder. At the station’s entrance gates, bluecoats diverted the day’s commuters, an event common enough to earn no vocal protest. On other occasions Lucrecia had stood on the outside of that gate peering in. She wondered if some studious sort now struggled, jammed in that knot of human flesh, looking in as Lucrecia looked out.

When Lucrecia turned back, she discovered V. Valentine looking at her.

For his part, Vincent wondered only if the researcher contemplated something she might have left behind in the morning rush. She seemed flushed, and reluctant to meet his eyes, but Vincent found no guilt in this. He was a Turk; he expected no other reaction from a woman but fear, no reaction from a man but anger motivated by the same. He could not foresee that either reaction would compromise his role on this assignment, and so he did nothing to allieviate the researcher's flush, uncertainty, or concerns.

Trained to the gun, Vincent blinked infrequently. His stare was discomforting even to those who knew him well. Lucrecia knew him not at all.

When no more was left of the last train but for a whistle to tell where it had gone, Lucrecia consoled herself with the realization that neither of them wished to play the role of icebreaker. She looked away.

Continue to Chapter 3


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