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How We All Got There (Was a Mystery)

Chapter 11. Swords Versus Guns Versus Propaganda

The approved poster featured a Shinra guard clad in his new patented blue uniform design, standing to the lower left corner of the page. He held a buster sword, called so for the brutally resistant quality of its steel to any damage - though it wasn’t technically steel. The metal was a new amalgam that developed apace with the new monsters, many of whom were protected by a hide far tougher than the animal of their origin. The guard did not carry at his belt a gun, as the standard uniform decreed, only the monster-slaying sword.

The guard stood with his legs akimbo, his sword held high, and his elbows outward; sword, elbows and boots, he formed a bright blue star. His shape was outlined with a neon glow, neon being associated with a particularly Shinra-shaped heroism.

Central to the poster were a huddled cluster of hapless citizens in grey. The guard was clearly about to defend them from an imminent attack from the opposite side of the page.

On the opposing side of the page, small, dark, and terrifyingly devoid of any neon glow or heroic stance, was a monster. The similarity to a household dog, now forbidden in the city, would have been the most terrifying thing about that monster, had the artist not been issued a request by the Department of Administrative Research to ensure the monster looked more monsterish, perhaps with the addition of some spikes. The monster wore spikes, and its teeth were bloody razors.

At the bottom of the page, in a font that was only permitted to be used on official Shinra publications, was the explanation:
He does not carry his sword to put fear into you. It is to take fear out of his own heart.
Citizens of Midgar, be not afraid.

The soldier also wore a blue mask, eyes obscured, only his mouth showing. The addition of a mask to the standard uniform was a calculated decision, not entirely motivated by the blinding, confusing, wretched miasma associated with many of the monsters. There were to be no heroes in Shinra’s private army: the uniform was an equalizer. Here are your sons, Shinra said, and delivered back to the citizens of Midgar a faceless multitude of men who became human again only after hours, and on weekends. How could a frustrated citizen of Midgar ever strike at a solider, not knowing if it was their once-love, their next-door-neighbour’s only boy, or their very own brother?

This was far before the time of the mako inoculations. After that, the masks served an additional purpose of concealing the unnatural neon of an affected pair of eyes.

Vincent Valentine arrived in Midgar a child exactly as old as the city itself. Consolidation was one full year into civil riots, and blue uniformed men held the fledging city together with guns, not swords. The most common form of political graffiti involved the conversion of our non-heroic soldier’s buster sword into an automatic gun, made of thick black lines. Midgar's citizens knew never to trust a man with a gun. (It was this, more than anything, that limited the eventual SOLDIER's designation to include only swords, as Shinra had first envisaged his army wielding, not people-killing projectiles.)

The second most common form of political graffiti involved the removal of the upper left hand corner of the poster. Without the presence of the threatening monster, it appeared as though the glowing soldier was about to swing his sword downwards onto the huddled grey mass of terrified civilians crouched before him, all of whom were turning their faces away to look at a monster no longer there.

On one of Vincent’s many attempts to flee the city, motivated by a rage born out of his inability to stop the gunfire that rattled through the tenements of his daily life, Vincent ripped one of the posters from a wall clad with fifty of them, all with various states of graphic commentary scrawled across the original intent. Vincent ripped as high as he could reach.

A young man in a blue suit, interested in how carefully the boy chose to strip only the gun-graffiti posters, and how he left intact all those with the pure form of Shinra’s message. With interest as his primary motivation, the young Turk stopped Vincent with one hand on his shoulder.

‘Swords and guns,’ Vincent babbled; he was not weeping, but there was blood on his face. In the distance, another internal conflict rocked the overcrowded district where he lived, gunfire signalling the arrival of Shinra's grunts. Vincent flinched. ‘But guns do nothing to the monsters! Six, seven, ten shots, but their hearts aren’t where they should be, their bones are stronger than bullets, guns do nothing to them, I know, I’ve seen it. But all I see here are guns, guns, guns. The monsters are all out there, not in here, and Levi weeps for us!’

The young man in the blue suit cocked his head at that last ejaculation. Tribal gods were not in vogue amonst Midgar's native-born; the young man listened to the thick foreign lilt on Vincent’s tongue, and correctly deduced the boy was a recent immigrant, who would have traveled to Midgar's oasis across a land crawling with monsters. Shinra’s poster-bound promise of safety meant more to the boy than it did to any of Midgar’s native-born civilians. Gently, the young man in the blue suit told Vincent there were more than one kind of monster, that not all monsters looked like monsters; and that no one’s heart was ever where anyone else expected it to be.

‘Guns are useless,’ Vincent insisted. ‘Fifty of us survived to try to come here, and there were only seven of them, and nearly all of us died. We had guns! We might as well have thrown flowers.’

By this stage the young man in the blue suit had calmed Vincent down enough to talk him into a stall by the side of the road, where the bluecoat bought Vincent a bowl of noodles and a fizzy drink coloured like a Costa del Sol sunset. Swords were currently the more effective weapon on monsters, the bluecoat agreed, but the thing with guns in cities was the potential for precision.

‘Guns are used on people,’ Vincent said. By this stage he was unsure if he was agreeing with the young man in the blue suit, or trying to contradict him. ‘Swords on monsters, guns on people. People don't need to die.’

‘I hate guns,’ Vincent also said. ‘They’re useless where they need to be.’

Many people hate things they fear, the young man told Vincent. He also told him that everything was useless, until someone came along who knew how to use a thing correctly.

‘I’m not afraid of guns,’ Vincent said, ‘I’m - angry. I hate guns. I don’t understand why they -‘ he pointed at the posters he had removed, now slapping wetly against a bitumen left always damp by the condensation dripping from the plate overhead - ‘aren’t out there with their swords and the monsters, why do they have to be in here with their guns, and us?’

The young man said, everyone is afraid of things they don’t understand.

‘It’s not right.’ Vincent was sniveling again. 'The way things are right now. It's not right.'

It’s not, agreed the bluecoat.

On all of the posters, the text was left untouched. The majority of Midgar’s inhabitants could not read, either through poverty or knowing primarily another language, so Shinra’s slogans made no difference to them. To their children, it was a different matter. The posters made promises that the children, educated in Shinra-funded schools, heeded and took to their heart. Even when it meant they would have to argue meaning with their elders over a dinner made of means. The children would inherit a Midgar that was what their parents had made of it. The children were terrified of the fighting. The children did not understand, but Shinra, and all his paternal grandiosity and his brightly coloured posters, the majority drawn in the style of a child’s comic book, offered peace.

Six years later, civil riots suppressed, Grimoire Valentine enrolled in Shinra's top ranks of scientists, and Vincent mentored through one of the best schools Midgar could provide, the same bluecoat asked an adolescent Vincent, over a bowl of noodles that could have been near identical to the first, in a stall that was upgraded only by the presence now of the neon glow of a static-riven tv set that spoke Shinra’s words instead of writing them, what he was going to do about things not being right.

Vincent, who had learned a lot more about his Turk friend since their first meeting, but not quite enough, and who had had enough of uncertainty, said in a voice almost without accent: ‘What would you like me to do about it, sir?’

Continue to Chapter 12

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