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Fantasy in the Shell

by Tetsuken

Part 2 (2006)
Part 3 (2006)

Chapter 3

Mere moments after we exit, the building goes up in flames.

"Thank God," I exhale deeply, "But this is starting to really piss me off!" "Major," I call.

"Cole?" Terra responds.

"Just out of curiosity, what the Hell is the government doing about this mess? I mean with Vector involved, this goes way beyond a local skirmish," I ask.

"There's nothing Governor Figaro can do. It turns out the Ruling Party doesn't think illegal arms are a big enough threat to take any large-scale action against. Until we can show that Palazzo poses a national threat, we're on our own," Terra replies.

"Damn!" I mutter, "So what's our next course of action?"

"You need to find somewhere to hide Chere that they don't know about," Terra replies.

"Hmmm... I've got an idea," I reply.

"Then what are you waiting for? Get moving!" Terra snaps back.

"Got it. I'm gone," I reply, "All right. Celes, I've got one more Ace in the hole."

"What's the plan?" She asks.

"Same as before. We've got to get you somewhere safe. I can only think of one place they wouldn't think to find us," I smirk.

Two hours later, we arrive.

"Where are we?" Celes asks.

"We're at an old friend's house. In Vector," I smirk.

"But-" Celes begins.

"Don't worry. This' the kinda thing they would never expect. It's just too obvious. Plus, the guy whose safehouse we'll be using isn't so much of a friend as a guy who owes me a favor," I explain, "Since I don't even know where his safehouse is, they'd never get that info through a brain hack."

"I get it now," Celes replies.

"Hey. There's a reason I'm in Section 9," I laugh, as we walk into an apartment building.

I knock on the door and an old man steps out.

"Yes? Oh! It's you Locke. How are things? Who's your friend? New girlfriend? It's good to see you getting out after losing Rachel so tragically."

"What's with the twenty questions?" I laugh, "Look. Arvis, this' Celes-" I begin.

"The singer!?" Arvis gapes.

"Yeah. I've been instructed to protect her. But they know all my hiding spots. I came to you, hoping you could help," I explain.

"What can I do for you?" Arvis asks.

"Would we be able to use your safehouse?" I ask.

"I'm hurt you'd even ask! Of course! I couldn't let something ill befall such a beautiful young lady. Especially if she's the love of someone I owe my life to!" Arvis jeers.

"Har, har," I mutter.

"I can't take you there, but I can give you directions to the safehouse," Arvis whispers as he hands me a small paper bag, "For the road."

"Thanks. I owe you one," I reply.

"Think nothing of it. I could never repay my debt to you, old friend. Safe travels," Arvis says, shaking my hand, "Come by more often. I'll make coffee."

"Metal filter?" I ask.

"Nothing else," Arvis replies, before returning to his apartment.

"What was that all about?" Celes asks when we get back into the car.

"He was saying that the Mafia has set up a gridnet on one of his safehouses. But the old guy has more than even they could ever find, so he gave me a map to a very secure spot," I explain as I pull out the bottle of wine from the paper bag.

On the bottom are directions to the safehouse.

"How did you know?" Celes gapes.

"He was speaking in code. Just some old tricks we used back when we were both with the Police Department. He was three days from retirement when Gestahl's boys ambushed us in a drug raid. They ran off after putting about nineteen rounds into him, and about four into me. I called for backup, while using everything I could find to keep him from bleeding to death. Afterwards we were awarded the Merit Award for valor. Since then he insists that he owes me his life. At any rate, we're here," I explain as we arrive at our destination.

A small cabin in the countryside. However, on the inside the building is a veritable fortress. I can't go into specifics for security reasons, but rest assured, it's solid.

"Are you sure we're safe?" Celes asks.

"Don't worry. See Arvis has a lot of security features to these places. For one, the only reason we got in at all was that he remotely entered a code while we were on the road. Now that we're in, no one else can enter until the code is entered again. But it changes every time it's used. Basically, this place is a rock. He's one paranoid geezer," I explain.

"That's good. But you know. I have to be honest," Celes begins, "Even with all this security, the only thing that makes me feel truly safe is knowing that you're here with me."

Either she's saying what I think she's saying, or I'm losing it.

"Just being with you, I know everything will be all right," Celes continues, "It's strange. But before I met you, I was never sure if I'd live to see tomorrow. Celebrity status puts you in the crosshairs of a lot of weird people. Then my manager told me I was targeted for an assassination and that Section 9 would be protecting me. At first I thought it would just be a bunch of mindless goons that really cared nothing for me. Then I met you. You've shown me that there's someone who cares, not because of what I am, but who I am."

Saying this, she smiles and wraps her arms around my waist. She's right. I guess in my own mind, I thought of her as more than just a client. She has everything going for her. Beauty, personality- Dammit Locke. Focus! You've got to stay on your toes... Who'm I kidding? Locke old boy, you're neck-deep in love.

"Locke. I don't know how to say this. I'm not sure I understand it either. But what I do know, is that I love you," Celes whispers.

"I love you too," I whisper back.

I won't go into what happens next. I'll just leave that to your imagination. Hey, I'm a gentleman, and gentlemen don't "kiss and tell". What I will tell you is that I figure this to be the right time to switch off the communication function and brain-activity monitor.

The next morning, I reactivate the functions Id shut off last night. Celes is still asleep. Even now, she still looks absolutely angelic. You're hopeless Cole. At any rate, I quietly go about making some coffee. Metal filters always bring out the best flavor.

"Morning," Celes smiles.

"Mornin', what do you like with your coffee?" I ask as I pour about a half-ounce of gin into my mug.

"Just sugar, please," Celes replies, sliding gracefully into a chair.

"Here you go," I say, sliding the mug down to her.

How can I be so casual right now? For all I know, there could be an army bearing down on our asses right now! Then again, if that were the case, the Major wouldn't hesitate to tell me. Besides, I guess it's best to stay a bit relaxed. 'Fear is the emotion of control, but a calm spirit cannot be broken.' I can't recall who first said that, but they're right.

"How are you feeling?" I ask.

"Just fantastic," she muses, "Thanks for asking."

"Cole," Terra breaks in.

"Major?" I reply, almost spilling my coffee for shock.

"Garamonde just finished his examination of the satellite images of your last two hiding spots, just before they were attacked," Terra begins.

"And?" I ask.

"Both cases were Vector Mafia," Terra continues.

"Hmm..., " I ponder, "What's our next course of action?"

"You and Chere are to stay put. Shadow and Figaro are heading for Vector to locate Palazzo. Gau and Gogo are compiling our case to the government. Garamonde is checking all of Vector's records to see if he can find out where Palazzo buggered off to. I'm going to follow up on a couple leads I came across," Terra replied.

"All right," I reply.

You know, it's funny. Even with all the time I've been with Section 9, I've never once seen this Garamonde guy. I'm not quite entirely sure he even exists. But that's neither here nor there.

"Looks like we just have to wall up in here for now," I tell Celes.

"I see. Locke, what Arvis said, is that what Setzer meant by 'new girlfriend'? He was talking about that Rachel girl, wasn't he?" I knew this would happen as soon as Arvis opened his mouth. I guess there's no avoiding it now...

"Yeah," I sigh, "That's right..."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up any painful memories," Celes apologizes.

"No. It's all right. You couldn't have known about that anyway..." I explain.

"Thanks. But, if you don't mind my asking, what happened?" Celes asks.

Saw that coming too...

"Well. It all happened back when I was with the South Figaro Police Department. Rachel and I were an item. A fact that ended up costing her her life..." I begin.

"I'm sorry, I-" Celes begins.

"No, it's okay," I continue, "As I was saying, I was working on a particularly high profile case, against the former organized crime syndicate, 'the Empire'. I'd already made some arrests and was getting really close to taking the whole organization down. But I guess I was getting a little too close. I came home one day to find she'd been shot, as a way of getting back at me. Ever since then, I've blamed myself for not being able to protect her. For the longest time I was unable to think about anything but how I'd failed her. I couldn't eat. Couldn't sleep. I couldn't even do my job. I was stuck beating myself up over something that, I realize now, was beyond my control... But thanks to you, I've finally been able to understand that I can't keep beating myself up over that. You've helped me to remember what it means to appreciate life, and the living. If I hadn't met you, I'd still be spending every waking moment agonizing over my past failures. Thank you."

"So I guess we've both helped each other in ways we didn't even realize... I guess you could say we were meant to meet each other," Celes smiles.

"I guess you're right. Here I thought I was supposed to be the one helping you, but it turns out you've helped me just as much..." I laugh. I have to admit, it felt good to get that off my shoulders. I'm glad I don't have to bear that burden anymore. And I have Celes to thank for that.

"Yeah. Well, if it's all the same to you, I'm going to go take a shower," Celes replies.

"Sure. I'm going to check on a few things anyway," I reply before she heads out of the kitchen.

For some unknown reason, I check to cameras by the doors and in front of the bathrooms. I don't know why, no one can get in, but no one can get out either, until I contact Arvis. Maybe I'm just paranoid. My paranoia goes unfounded. Maybe some deep, dark part of me suspects Celes, but that's crazy. We scanned her brain with a 'fine-toothed comb'. She's completely innocent. Now, to get down to business. Let's see. Palazzo was using the Mafia to pressure both Gestahl and Arrow into doing whatever he wanted. Both had no idea he was involved. Arrow sent men out to silence Celes and I. Probably on behalf of the Mafia. I was attacked by Vector soldiers... in the hospital. Leo Cristophe is the General in Vector. Nothing goes without his.... SHIT!!

"Major!" I call through the link, with great urgency in my voice.

"Cole?" Terra replies.

"What's the status on Cristophe?" I ask.

"What are you getting at?" She asks.

"Leo's the General of the Vector Territory Military Organization. Vector Military units were sent to kill me in the hospital. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but-" I begin.

"I see what you're driving at, but we've already ascertained that that attack was not an order from Cristophe. It turns out, Palazzo used his influence to pressure Gestahl into commanding that attack directly," Terra explains.

"Oh," I sigh.

Scratch that.

About an hour later, Celes emerges from the bathroom. Even in casual clothes, she exudes a beauty to rival goddesses and angels. What the Hell am I doing with someone so gorgeous? God! Get ahold of yourself Cole! You still have a job to do. Protecting this woman means you've got to stay alert. Do some detective work. Do something to take your mind off of how beautiful she is! Get your stupid ass in gear!

"Locke?" Celes asks, snapping me back to reality.

"Huh?" I reply, shaking my head.

"Are you alright? You look awfully intense," Celes smiles.

"Sorry. Just lost in thought," I laugh. Celes just smiles.

In the midst of our light moment, I hear something.

"Do you hear that?" Celes asks.

"Hmm," I reply.

Okay, so I'm not losing it. It sounds familiar.

"Come this way. I'm not sure what that sound is, but I'm not taking any chances," I tell her, staying as calm as possible.

She obliges. The most obvious thing to do is to check the security cameras.

"Damn," I mutter, as I see the screens.

They've all been knocked out. All but one. Through it I see seven armed men and- "Oh my God," I gape. Three Lambdas.

"We gotta get outta here pronto!" I tell Celes.

"Right," she replies, a bit shaken, but very collected, given the circumstances.

"Major," I call.

"Cole?" Terra replies.

"We have a problem. Seven armed men are tunneling through the walls at our location. They've got three Lambdas, Custom Line, with them," I report.

"We've got a lock on your location. I'm on my way. Figaro and Shadow will arrive A.S.A.P," Terra replies.

Thank God. I lead Celes to a special sub-bunker in the bottom floor of the safe house, telling her not to open the door until a member of Section 9 arrives to give her the okay, unless an emergency arises and the bunker is compromised. I'm not letting them get her without a fight. The Major should be here soon. But until then, I'm all that's between them and Celes. I grab my .44, a P-90 and my Kalashnikov. "Let's do this," I mutter, as I wait on the other side of the wall, behind some debris scattered over the floor. Moments later, the wall caves. And so it begins.

It seems the seven I saw through the camera were displayed on purpose to give us a false sense of security. Just as I thought. The three Lambdas wait outside to ensure no one gets out. Meanwhile around thirty armed men flood into the safe house. Without hesitation, I unload a full clip of Kalashnikov fire into the throng. Shit. They've got some kinda heavy armor on. No matter, my associate, Mr. P, will make short work of that. I smile to myself as I unload a full clip, approximately 50 rounds of P-90 fire, into those same men, watching with satisfaction as nine of them fall over, dead. That's all fine and well, but I can't hold out like this much longer. No sooner does this thought enter my head than I see a glimmer of hope. Actually, it's a KG-96. Major. She always knows how to make an entrance. The three Lambdas are instantly reduced to scrap. That's one less concern. But now they've brought more friends. An additional seventy-some men come seemingly outta nowhere.

"This just isn't my God damn day," I mutter to myself.

After about an hour of holding them off, we've managed to whittle them down to about half, but our ammo is nearly nonexistent. The Major is positioned right across the hall from where I am. I'll have to resort to my .44 is this keeps up, and I'm not sure it can even dent the body armor these clowns have on. Wait. What's that in the Major's hand? I think this' the time to duck. Less than a second after I take cover, the Major launches three fragmentation grenades. Razor-sharp pieces of shrapnel fly everywhere, tearing through anything they come into contact with. It goes without saying that our attackers not only don't see it coming, but are utterly unprepared to defend against it. For what seems like an eternity, I hear nothing. Then-


"Major?" I reply.

"I'm going to check outside. Cover me," Terra orders, motioning to the hole in the wall.

"Got it," I respond.

I ready my .44 and we make our way, slowly, to the opening. Nothing. The Major steps cautiously outside. Then out of nowhere, a giant metal arm blindsides the Major, sending her skidding up the hill.

"Holy Shit!" I gape.

That's a Gamma-Class. They're identical to the Lambda, with four times the firepower, three times the ammo capacity and double the size. There's only a handful of them in the world. And we get to go up against one. Damn, this really isn't my day. And it just might be my last.

"Cole," Terra mutters.

"M-Major?" I stammer.

"Get to Chere. Make sure she's all right. You're completely Bio. You wouldn't stand a chance against this bastard. I'll take care of it! Go!" Terra growls.

Now I'm sure she's pissed. I just hurry to where I had Celes go into hiding.

"Celes?" I ask.

"Locke! Is everything all right?" Celes asks. Good she's safe.

"Just stay there," I tell her, "The battle's almost over."

At least it's the truth.

"All right," She replies.

I make my way back to where the Major is fighting just in time to see the metallic monster grab her by the arm and swing her around so fiercely, her arm actually gives in to metal fatigue and shatters. This is not good. Helplessly, I can only watch as the Gamma kicks her around like a soccer ball. Suddenly, it stops the kicking and slowly starts stepping down on her head. "Shit!" I can only gape in horror. There's not a damn thing I can do. Even my .44 has no effect on Gammas. Suddenly I hear a loud bang and the Gamma topples over. That was a Callisto.

If ever there was a time for Shadow to be on the mark, this was it. I look over the fallen Gamma to see a van with its rear doors wide open to reveal Shadow inside, and Sabin running out. Sabin offers Terra a hand. She simply pushes him aside, with an absolutely feral look of her face.

She glares over at Shadow and yells, "Hey Shadow! Fork over that weapon, NOW!!"

Shadow wastes no time handing his Callisto over. It's obvious she's pissed off. Chambering a round, she fires at the Gamma's face plate, denting it in about 3cm. Click. Bam. Click. Bam. Over and over until there's nearly nothing left to speak of the front armor. The pilot has broken into tears at this point. Can't say I blame the guy. Sometimes the Major even scares me, and we're on okay terms. After three minutes the poor man's had enough. He surrenders, but the face plate is so damaged, it won't open. The only way to free him now is to shoot it off. Funny how that worked out. Thus again, the Major resumes shooting the Hell outta the Gamma. Four minutes and about a hundred and ten rounds later, the pilot is hauled out of the Gamma, bound and incarcerated, with whoever happened to survive.

"All clear," Sabin reports after checking the area thoroughly.

"I'll go retrieve Celes," I tell the Major.

"Right. We'll sift through these idiots and see if anything interesting develops," Terra begins, "Garamonde. Pull whatever data you can from the Gamma's logs. Gogo. Gau. Interrogate the pilot when he arrives. Figaro. Make sure the pilot co-operates and keep him from committing cyberbrain suicide. Shadow. Escort Cole and Chere to Section 9. I've got some unfinished business."

"Celes?" I ask when I arrive at the sub-bunker.

"Locke?" Celes replies, "Is it over?"

"For now," I tell her as she opens the door.

"I'm glad you're all right," She exhales deeply.

"ME? It's my job to do stupid things like this. I'm just glad you're safe," I laugh.

"So what now?" Celes asks, "I mean this place was supposed to be a veritable fortress. But if they can get in here... "

"Hmm. How did they find out? The only other person on this planet who knows about it is... Arvis. THAT BASTARD!!" I yell.

"What's wrong?" Celes asks.

"Arvis sold us out. I should have seen it coming. When he gave us the directions, he made a point of shaking my hand. He was marking me for the setup. They waited until we thought we were safe, then-" I begin.

"They moved in for the kill," Terra finishes.

"Major?" I gape, nearly jumping out of my skin.

"So much for old friends. We'll send a team in to collect Arvis for-" Terra begins.

"No. I'm doing this myself. I'm going to make sure that bastard knows the meaning of regret," I glower.

"Whatever you say. Just don't put Chere in danger," Terra reminds me.

"Is there actually any place we could call safe?" I joke.

"My safe house," a voice says through the link.

"Garamonde. Good thinking," Terra replies.

"Does this mean I finally get to meet our wonder hacker?" I laugh.

"That is correct," Cyan laughs.

That's all I know about the guy.
Name: Cyan Garamonde.
Job: Hacker extraordinaire for Section 9. Occasionally talks in a mildly antiquated fashion. They say he used to perform numerous field operations and security jobs, but a serious injury put an end to that.

That's it.

After about an hour of travel, we arrive. Not a bad setup for a safehouse. Again, specifics are on a "need-to-know" basis, but I can say that this Garamonde fellow must feel pretty safe here. Not to mention comfortable.

"Please, enter," a voice says through the intercom.

We step inside, but I don't see anyone here.

"I am upstairs," the voice continues.

Upon reaching the top, I see only one door. I open it and finally come face to face with our hacker. Cyan Garamonde.

"Cyan, I presume?" I ask.

"That is correct," he replies.

I notice several empty bottles of Jager on a table. Man likes liquor, but it must be on account of that injury. He seems stable enough. By the looks of it, those bottles are a day or two old anyhow.

"Welcome to my humble abode; my castle, if you will. You two shall stay in the basement level, if it is all the same to you?" Cyan explains.

Polite fellow.

"Sure," I reply, "And thanks for all this. I mean wherever we go, we seem to invite trouble. So I'm sorry in advance."

"Worry not. I am more than prepared for the sort of trouble that tends to accompany you," Cyan laughs.

I make my way downstairs and lead Celes to where we'll stay. Roomy.

"Celes?" I begin.

"Yes Locke?" Celes replies.

"I'm just letting you know that I'm heading to Vector to retrieve Arvis. Cyan will protect you until I get back. Will you be all right?" I explain.

"I'll be fine. Just please, come back soon," Celes smiles.

"I promise," I reply.

Soon I make my way towards Vector. Arvis is going to wish he never heard the name Locke Cole.

I arrive two hours later. "Here we are," I mutter as I make my way up the stairs to Arvis' apartment. Seeing as how I still have to follow procedure, I knock on the door. No answer. So be it. After getting a good start, I charge the door. The old thing is reduced to splinters. There he is. Can't believe the old bastard slept through that. Wait. He's not sleeping.

"SHIT!" I curse.

He committed cyberbrain suicide.

"Son of a BITCH!" I yell, kicking over the dead body.

Wait. The sound it made when it hit the ground. That's not normal.

"Oh God!" I gasp as I see the timer: 00:02... 00:01... 00:00.

Caves of Narshe: Final Fantasy VI
Version 6
©1997–2019 Josh Alvies (Rangers51)

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