How We All Got There (Was a Mystery)
In an office typified by a functional normality so monitored as to make the slightly askew rack of large books of law to one side appear a prop thieved from a stage, two Turks sat opposite each other at a desk far less expansive than their President’s. One man was young, one old. One yet wore his navy blazer; the other had his pale blue shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow.
Both men were reading a copy of Gast’s proposal. One sucked on his red ink pen, having exhausted what further details he could pull from the document. The other read with only half a mind, considering still the other document of his perusal this evening, namely Shinra’s orders for the morning of tomorrow.
‘I don’t like it,’ said the first Turk.
The other, who was characterized by his fellows as slow, simply for his urge to question extensively before concluding, cleared his throat. ‘You think the Cetra is real? This Gast could have faked it.’
‘We're damned if it is real,’ the first said, ‘and, as Shinra pointed out, bloody well damned if it isn’t.’
‘The Ancients are a myth,’ said the second. He cleared his throat again. ‘Not that I’m saying that, mind, just that that’s what’s been said.’
‘Yeah, but, think about it this way: in one thousand years, Shinra’s going to be lucky if he’s a myth.’
There was enough of an implicit threat in that statement that both fell uncommonly silent.
‘Still,’ said the second, intending amelioration, only to be interrupted.
‘It wouldn’t be the first time Shinra’s gone off and done something whacked without our consensus.’
The second chose to find this irony amusing. ‘Who would’ve thought our revolutionary spearhead had a brain?’
‘He’s desperate,’ said the first Turk, who believed neither in Shinra, old gods, nor the motivational value of desperation. ‘For all he wants to be the usher of a new era, he can’t let go of the old ways. He won’t let go of the imagery. Shinra believes in old gods and monsters, in heroes and saviors; he’s believed in them all his life, believed in them enough that they disappointed him enough for him to want - to need to rebuild a world that has no room for them. Then this.’ An exclamation, full of a grim pleasure, as though glad to see his President’s foundations rocked: ‘Then this! Hello, Cetra, welcome back!’
‘So if this is an Ancient, then what do we believe in, sir?’
‘Gods and monsters are all well and good, as long as they’re ones we’ve made. New gods, new monsters, and all of them are ours. That’s the whole point, of all this - of all the sacrifices. This world is ours, we’re not victims here, we’re not debris left behind by some god-shaped Cetran evacuation: if all the myths are true, where’s our worth? The Cetra went to their Promised Land and left us behind, some guardians, some uplifting angels; were we judged, and did we fail? No. No. Myths and legends. The - the corpse this Gast's uncovered is proof of that. The Cetra have left behind nothing of themselves but myths and legends. This thing, if it is a Cetra, just proves they were as mortal as we were, and they all died.’
The second had allowed himself some distraction mid-way through his superior’s tangent, knowing, from the old days, the course of the argument. He said, musing, ‘But if this find really is an Ancient, what if it is the key? There's the WEAPONs that we still can't control - imagine what we could do to Wutai if we could get the key to the WEAPONs. And then the critical issue. The Cetra promised us their Promised Land, eternal abundance. Providence against the void of space. Shinra's whitecoats say mako has a hundred, maybe 150 years left of use at our current rate of consumption. Outside of Shinra’s lifetime of caring-‘
‘Fuck that. We believe in a world that’s going to last longer than any of our lifetimes.’ The first nodded. ‘The people, brother. For a better world. Shinra's lifetime is meaningless to what we endeavor to create.’
‘The people,’ agreed the second, though withheld the ‘brother’, out of mild uncertainty as to whether his superior was currently in need of a comrade’s support or an underling’s unequivocal agreement. ‘So if it is a Cetra-‘
‘We let Shinra have his pet project,’ said the first, brow furrowed with thought. ‘We need to assign an operative to keep it all under control. If this thing turns out to be a Cetra - well. Manmade gods to fight manmade monsters, the way I see it. We might get something out of the corpse. If not, then we stand back and just let Shinra unbalance himself publically with the godworship he's worked hard to eradicate, right to the point of no recovery - and then, we have sufficient proof to take steps on behalf of the people of Midgar.'
The second coughed.
'Suggestions for the rank and file?’
‘Gast’s already sent his wishlist to Shinra, sir. They’ve all screened well enough: two Shinra scholarship students, a fair few years into their careers. Several lab assistants with slightly dubious origins; we might have to limit those, and only one candidate looks promising for a project that might have to be…buried; unmarried, orphaned, and that. There'll be two women, two men, as little family and connection as possible. Ideal working conditions. I suggest we send Valentine.’
‘He’s a sniper, no face skills whatsoever. Why him?’
The second hesitated. Compassion as motivation was not frowned on in the Turks: they did, after all, profess a care for the people that most governments lacked. ‘He submitted his resignation this morning, sir.’
The first frowned, in likelihood, uncertain of why this evident instability made Valentine an optimal candidate. ‘When?’
‘Actually, right on the lift, while I was on my way up here.’
‘That suggests instability at the worst. At the very least, angst.’
‘That suggests,’ said the second, ‘that our brother Vincent is getting a little frustrated with our continued abuse of one set of his skills, and that he's too intelligent to overlook this as abuse, and that he, more than any other of our operatives I can think of, would appreciate the opportunity to direct a project like this. For all his training, sire, he has never had face time.’
The first considered this. ‘He’s been with us since the Consolidation. And you say he's only ever had target-and-kill?’
‘He has. Not a Young Turk, but not a newcomer either. He’s had no involvement in media or propaganda; he’s unbiased, sir. If this is a Cetra, he’ll report it honestly. Faithfully. If it isn't, he'll report that too. His own opinion won’t sway what he sees.’
The second Turk spoke with a certainty of voice and manner that would very soon site him in the role of his now-supervisor, youth notwithstanding. What he did not repeat was what Vincent had said on that uncomfortably long lift ride.
Vincent had said this:
‘We’re put in this world for a reason, sir, I believe that. We're here — to do something. To change the world, it’s what we do as Turks, and as people, we change things. If it’s not going just be change for the sake of it - if it’s not going to be arbitrary change, sir, then it has to be change for the better. But what have I done with my life? Do you know how many men I've killed? What good’s a dead man to anyone? I want a chance -‘
‘To change the world for the better?’ said the second Turk, who had suffered precisely then the compassionate realization that, courtesy of a few shared years, drinks, whores and complaints in no particular order, that he was the closest thing to a friend Valentine had.
‘I think I could be happy,’ Vincent said, quietly, ‘if I just had a chance to change. Whether I took it or not wouldn’t matter so much. People ignore opportunities all the time. Don’t go to school. Don’t take that job. Don’t marry that woman, or do, or risk rejection or acceptance or just risk. But I've never had the chance, I just want to have the chance, like everyone else…’
‘You could always decide not to pull the trigger,’ said the second Turk.
He realized that was precisely the wrong thing to say.
Vincent looked at his resignation letter, still held in his own hand, unaccepted. He did not show emotion easily, but his voice told the strain of shock.
'And defy my orders, sir? No. No. I couldn't do that. I just want different orders, and they never come.'
‘I’ll think about Valentine.’ The first Turk narrowed his eyes. ‘Organise an incident for somewhere between here and Corel, something that'll let Vincent integrate a bit better. We need trust between the whitecoats and our boy, if he's going to have to act as an inside operative.’
‘Playing the hero, sir? A Turk? Saving the team from some vile attack against freedoms and rights?' This made the second Turk bitter, but he said it anyway: 'No one would believe it.’
‘If Shinra can use the imagery, why can’t we?’
‘Vincent’s not very heroic, sir. Capable, but not heroic.’ He, who had witnessed the man’s inhuman focus, neglected to add: terrifying, maybe.
‘All the better. Everyone loves an underdog.’
The second Turk complied. He decided also that he would not inform Vincent of any impending attack; capable yes, but Valentine was no actor.
Continue to Chapter 11 →
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