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Fantasy in the Shell

by Tetsuken

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Part 2 (2006)
Part 3 (2006)

Chapter 4





Part II: Barrage



"An explosion?" I mutter to myself.

It came from Vector's Southern District. That's where Locke went. Hope the guy's all right.

"Figaro," Terra says from behind me.

"Major?" I ask.

"I'm assigning you to protect Chere," Terra replies.

"But isn't that-" I begin.

"Cole's job? Correct. However, I'm afraid that explosion from a few minutes ago-" Terra begins.

"Yeah?" I ask, getting a bit concerned.

"It came from Arvis' apartment. Cole's last known location. As much as I hate to say it. He's dead," Terra finishes.

"Better not tell Chere that," I sigh, "I noticed she was getting kinda fond of the guy."

"That's your call. You'll be her new bodyguard from now on," Terra explains before walking out the door, probably on her way to switch into a new prosthetic body. The one she's in right now's had it.

Jeez, how'd they get their hands on a Gamma anyhow? Dammit. Why'd you have to go and get yourself killed? You idiot. If Celes finds out, she'll... Damn, how do I explain the fact that I'm taking over!? DAMMIT LOCKE!! But at least as a 'Meat Shield', as Locke often put it, there's less worry since my body's not made of flesh and bone. Thank God for modern prosthetic bodies. At any rate, I better get to Cyan's safe house.




I don't really have much time to ponder these matters, as I soon arrive at Cyan's safe house. Upon entering the building, I run straight into Chere. Damn.

"Oh. Mr. Figaro, how are you?" She asks.

"Enh. All right I guess. And please, just call me Sabin. I'm just here to let you know, I'll be taking over for your security. Locke was.... " I begin. Think of something. Think of something. "Reassigned," I say at last. I don't think she's buying it...

"You don't have to lie to me... " she begins, "He's gone. Isn't he?"

How could she have known?

I take a deep breath and tell her the truth. Afterwards, there's a long silence. She's trying to stay calm, but I can see this' eating her up inside.

"I'm really sorry Miss Chere," I say at last.

"It's all right. But, I can't believe he's really gone," Celes replies, choking back tears.

"Hey. Don't worry. If it's any consolation, I'll personally make sure Hell becomes a welcome relief for the bastard who did this," I tell her, burying my fist in my palm. I better keep my calm though.

I can feel myself getting more and more pissed off the more I think about it.

"Thank you Sabin. If it's all the same to you, I'd kinda like to be alone for a moment," Celes sighs.

"No problem. I'll be right outside if you need me," I tell her. I step out the door.




"Cyan," I start.

"Sabin?" Cyan replies.

"Do you have any info on any of Locke's findings? Anything he might have found out that we didn't?" I ask.

"I do have the records of the last thing he was recorded to have seen," Cyan replies, "I shall send you the feed now."

"Right," I reply.

Let's see. Prosthetic body. Evidence of cyberbrain suicide. Wait. That's a bomb. Huh? That's an unusual timer to put on a bomb. Hell, most bombs these days don't even use clock timers. Even digital units. Something's not right here. That's pretty old-fashioned by today’s standards... Or... Maybe that's what they want us to think. They could be trying to implicate Arvis as the killer because he's dead and, quite frankly, it's hard to incarcerate a corpse. But who?

"Major," I ask.

"Figaro?" Terra replies.

"Have you searched over Locke's last recorded images?" I ask.

"I was just in the process of doing so," she responds.

"I'll save you the trouble. There's evidence that Arvis committed cyberbrain suicide prior to Locke's visit. On top of that, someone planted a bomb on Arvis' corpse. They used an old digital clock timer for the trigger. It's too obvious. They're trying to make us believe Arvis did it. Since we can't very well imprison a dead guy, the real killer gets off scot-free," I explain.

"But Arvis didn't own any old digital clocks. Gogo and Gau checked his apartment. Not even fragments. Just those used in the bomb and that was only put together within the past few hours. Just before Locke was killed. Too late after Arvis' suicide to implicate him," Terra explains.

"Just out of morbid curiosity... Did they... " I begin.

"That's what I about to call and tell you. When Gau searched the rubble, only one body was found. We haven't been able to identify it yet. But we do know it was a male. Bio," Terra replies.

"That doesn't mean anything. We both know Arvis was Bio as well. Damn," I curse.

"I'll get back to you when we find out," Terra replies.

"So what do I tell Chere? Do I tell her Locke might be alive after all?" I ask.

"I wouldn't get her hopes up," Terra responds, "In her state, if we find out it is Cole, she'll likely do something drastic."

"SHIT! I forgot! She's been alone in that room this whole time," I curse, "I'll wait for the results Major. I better check on Chere."

I knock on the door to the room. No answer. Dammit. I open the door and find Chere lying on the bed. Damn, damn, damn. Wait. Thank God. It's faint, but I can hear her breathing. Good. She must have just fallen asleep. False alarm.




"Figaro," Terra calls.

"Major?" I ask.

"Gau just finished the analysis on the body," Terra begins.

"And?" I ask.

"The body was between 50 and 75 years of age," Terra explains.

"That's nearly double Locke's age," I laugh.

"Don't get too excited," Terra sighs.

"Huh?" I gape. "Another body was found just outside the building. It was probably thrown free from the explosion," Terra continues.

"Why didn't they find it earlier?" I ask.

"They found it a few hours after finding the first body. After examining the new body, they found it to be a male. Bio. Between 20 and 30 years of age," Terra finishes.

"Has the brain been scanned for signs of use?" I ask.

"We're just waiting on those results now," Terra responds.

Damn.

"So we can confirm the first body was Arvis. And the second is yet to be identified, but most likely Locke," I summarize.

"Precisely," Terra replies.

"Major," Gau cuts in.

"Gau?" Terra replies.

"We just finished checking the brain for signs of use," Gau continues.

"And?" Terra asks.




Today it's official.

"Locke Cole. Age: 25. Nov 4, 2827 - May 3, 2853."

That's how it reads. Behind me I can hear the armed forces firing off the traditional "21-Gun Salute". More prominently, I can hear the bitter tears of a young woman. Celes. Many people have shown up. Everyone from Section 9 is here. Even the Chief, Strago Magus. My brother, the "Honorable" Governor Figaro shows his face as well. If only our God Damn Ruling Party had acted sooner. But no. It took the death of a good friend to put a fire under their lazy asses. Dammit. I swear to God, when I get ahold of the Ass-Backwards Bastard that did this...

"Calm down Sabin," Terra says from my right, "You look like you're about to explode."

"I am," I growl, "Damn useless government. A man survives more terrorist attacks than I care to remember and they don't do shit until one kills him. What kinda God Damn justice is that? And they still have no damn idea where the Hell Palazzo is!"

"While I understand where you're coming from, our Ruling Party hasn't been sitting idle, Figaro," Strago comes in from out of nowhere, "Remember, your brother is the one who lobbied for the formation of our group to begin with. The only reason they were slow to take any action is due to the Neutral Defense Act. They couldn't do anything until our adversaries intentions were made out to be clearly hostile. Had you not opted for a more "hands on" approach, leaving your brother to run for governor, you'd know this."

"Look who's talking," I reply, forcing a smirk, "You did something very similar, just the other way around. There once was a time when you, yourself, saw active duty. They once called you the 'Tracker', since you were so good at emulating your targets movements, catching them usually after only a short chase. Then you got old and opted for a more political role."

"Watch it Figaro. Remember who controls your paycheck. Besides, I may be old, but I'm far from feeble. I can still keep up with whelps like you," Strago grumbles.

He's not kidding either. I heard from people in his home town, Thamasa, that he used to be one of the best hunters around. That's probably why he was so good at what he did. Even now I hear he can still keep up with even the youngest and strongest in that area. He only retired from active duty due to age restrictions. Of course, these don't apply to the more political roles, so he was able to stay on as our political liaison and Chief of Command, as it were. Much like how Locke took on the role of "unofficial liaison" between my brother and his old precinct.

"I'll keep that in mind..." I shrug, having reminded myself of the situation at hand.

"It is all right. We will find those responsible for this. Don't worry," I can hear Cyan comforting Celes a few feet away.

Locke had no family. No will. But Magus managed to pull a few strings. All of Locke's things are the property of Section 9. Celes is entitled to a Widow's Benefit. Even though they weren't married. Everyone could tell they loved each other. Poor girl. I pull out a flask of gin and take a few quick swigs before I go up to say my piece. Everyone from Section 9 has to say a few words about Locke, and I'm up first.

Tradition.

"Locke... Was an excellent teammate. An asset in combat. And a great investigator. But more than that... He was our friend. Our brother. I think I speak for all of us at Section 9 when I say 'Losing Locke, we lost a part of us.' I think I also speak for all of us when I say 'We will NOT rest until we see justice served. The kind of justice Locke died trying to protect.' Thank you," I close, returning to my spot.

One by one, everyone says their piece. Good words on all counts, but that still doesn't make up for the fact that one of ours died and the government sat on their fat asses. But it's getting late and we all must head home. Tomorrow Locke. Tomorrow we'll get your revenge. I swear.




"Any new developments on Locke's killer?" I ask Cyan, between sips of my coffee.

All this time I thought Locke was crazy, but metal filters really do bring out the best flavor. Funny, the things you remember about someone when they're no longer around.

"Not much as of yet. But here is something you might find to your interest," Cyan replies.

"What am I looking at?" I ask.

"This is the satellite feed from a security camera in the Albrook harbor. Look carefully at the bottom right corner. Do you see it?" Cyan explains.

"Is that-" I gape.

"Indeed. It's Palazzo," Cyan grins, taking a shot of Jager. I guess the injury's acting up again.

"How old is this feed?" I ask.

"'Tis about two and a half hours old," Cyan replies.

"So he should still be within three hundred miles of Albrook," I ponder.

"What do you think Major?" Cyan asks.

"Hmmm," Terra muses, "Gabbiani. Take Shadow and tail Palazzo. Don't let him know you're following him, but make damn sure he doesn't get away."

"Wait! I should be on this!" I growl, "Locke-"

"Is - was not your responsibility. Your job is to make sure Chere stays safe, no more. Understood?" Terra swiftly cuts me off.

"Dammit! I'm going to get some air," I mutter.




Once outside, I pull out one of my cigarettes, light up, and take a nice long drag. Funny, I used to do work as a professional martial artist and always hated the things, but working in this line of work can be quite nerve-wracking and now they seem to calm me down.

"Those things'll kill you, you know," a voice says from my right.

"Who're you!?" I ask, whirling around to see my unexpected guest.

"No one, really," The man replies.

Strange, he's wearing a hooded shirt, pulled up over his face. In MAY?

"Aren't you warm with that on? Jeez. You must be suffocating," I laugh.

"Not really. The fabric breathes, so I'm alright," The stranger replies.

"Okaaay. But I have to tell you. It's kinda odd approaching a Public Security officer, with your face concealed. It makes you kinda suspicious," I tell him.

"I've nothing to hide," The stranger begins, "I just don't like showing people my face."

"One of those types, huh?" I sigh, taking another long drag from my cig.

"You can laugh. But at least I don't have to smell the repulsiveness of your cigarette," the stranger retorts.

"Then why don't you just walk away?" I ask.

"Because you seem to have a lot on your mind. I was just curious," the stranger replies.

"Not that's it's any of your business, but I'm working on a case right now," I sigh.

"I see. Of what nature?" he asks.

"A friend of mine was murdered two days ago. I'm going to find his killer no matter the cost," I glower, almost crushing my cig.

"Even if it costs you your life?" he asks.

"What do you-" He's gone?

I put out my cig and walk back inside.




"Cyan," I ask.

"Yes, Sabin?" Cyan replies.

"Can you bring up the camera feed from the front entrance to Section 9? Standard and then infrared," I ask.

"Not a problem. For what purpose, might I ask?" He asks.

"Something odd just happened," I reply.

"Here you are," Cyan replies.

"Good. Thanks," I tell him.

I see myself walk out and light up. Nothing odd there. What the... It doesn't show anyone there? But then... Who was I talking to?

"Okay. Now the Infrared," I tell Cyan.

"Understood," Cyan replies.

Again, I see myself go outside. I take the drag from my cig. Again, there's nobody else.

"What the Hell?" I gape.

"What's wrong?" Cyan asks.

"When I was out having my smoke, some guy came up and started talking to me. But the cameras show no one. Weird," I sigh.

"Perhaps someone hacked your eyes," Cyan suggests.

"But that wouldn't explain why I could hear him," I reply.

"What did he say?" Cyan asks.

I replay the entire conversation.

"Hmm. That is odd, in and of itself," Cyan ponders, "Wait one moment. I'll try running that feed again. This time, I will use a Medusa Decoder."

Cyan plays the footage again, using the Medusa Decoder, a program designed to "freeze" hacking attempts within images in order to reveal what might really be taking place, not just what someone might want you to see. This time the figure appears.

"That's the guy," I say.

"I figured as much," Cyan laughs.

"Let's just see where he buggered off to," I ponder.

We watch as the stranger walks away from the building and towards...

"Del Norte Enterprises," Cyan ponders.

"We should check it out," I say.

"No. You've got to protect Chere. I will check out Norte," Terra says from behind me.

"Fine. Have it your way. Wait! Why're you so interested in this little mystery?" I ask.

"Simple. This person obviously wants us to see something. Otherwise they wouldn't have behaved in this manner. Think about it. If they'd just came out and showed us who they were and made no effort to conceal themselves, we'd have no reason to go there. But they did make the effort. They intentionally piqued our suspicions," Terra observes.

"Then, what makes you so sure it's not a trap?" I ask.

"I'm not. But we have to see for ourselves, or else we'll never know," Terra smirks.

"Look. I already lost my patrol partner. I'm not losing you too. I'll go. You look after Chere. My chassis is built more for unpleasant surprises," I reason.

"Have it your way," Terra shrugs.




An hour later, I enter Del Norte Enterprises, which for simplicity's sake, I'll just call 'DNE'. DNE produces vaccines for rare diseases such as Cyberbrain Sclerosis, a rare, most often fatal, and presently incurable disease caused by the hardening of the brain's tissue due to the process used in cyberization. Right now, the place is a bit lax in business. Not many people go in and out anyway, but I only see the receptionist when I walk in. Hmm. Wait. There he is! The stranger. Let's end this. I show the receptionist my badge and tell her I'm here on official business. I then follow the stranger, not picking up my pace much. Just enough to keep him in sight. The stranger walks for what seems like an eternity, then stops suddenly.

"Here we are," the stranger says, through the link.

He must be hiding from everyone but myself. That means the Major might have been right. But what did he mean, "Here we are?" There's nothing here but-

"Good Lord! What is this?" I gape.

Several people are arranged in large tubes. How far back did we go? What the Hell is all this?

"You!" I glower, "You know something you're not telling! Spill it!"

"So you're not as dumb as you look," The stranger prods.

"Watch it pal. You're really working my last reserved nerve," I grumble.

"This is DNE's Research Facility. Where they perform their secret Magi-Tech weapons program for Palazzo,” The stranger responds, "They use the living tissue of the people you see here to generate a biological weapon, capable of destruction on a national, even global scale."

"How do you know this?" I ask, "I need proof."

"Here's all the proof you need," The stranger says, handing me a disc, "Shame though. I was really hoping to meet 'The Major'."

"How do you-” He’s gone again. Or maybe just hiding.

This is just starting to piss me off.




Regardless, I immediately return to Section 9.

"What did you find out?" Terra asks.

"We're about to find out," I reply, sliding the disc into the terminal.

On it is a collection of evidence; records, documents, confidential reports. All implicating DNE's research in illegal weapons. So that guy was telling the truth.

"This is interesting," Terra muses.

"That reminds me. Before the bugger pulled his Houdini act, he said something I found odd. He called you 'Major'. We all know that's only something we call you at Section 9," I report.

"So you think the stranger could be someone from the inside? Or someone with connections to Section 9?" Terra asks.

"What if-" Celes begins.

"Where'd she come from?" I ask.

"I've been here this entire time," Celes sighs.

She's still depressed over Locke now she's obviously got her hopes up that our mystery man is Locke.

"Look, I know it's hard to accept, but we all know that that body had to be Locke. It had his memories. No, I'm afraid it's just not possible,” I shrug, trying to keep my cool, "Anyway. Have there been any developments on Palazzo?"

"Nada," Gau shrugs.

"We followed him for hours, but lost him when he went to... DNE: Vector," Shadow says, coolly, but I can tell he's annoyed.

"I say we end this. Now!" I grumble.

"Agreed. Garamonde. Keep tabs on Palazzo. I don't want him to so much as cough without our knowledge. Gau. Gogo. Take this data to the Ruling Party, then arrest the DNE staff. Setzer. Prepare a transport for immediate departure to Vector. Chere. You'll have to wait in a safe room for the time being. Figaro. Shadow. You're with me. Let's go meet with Palazzo," Terra orders.

"Let's kick some ass," I grin.




Soon we're on our way to Vector. It’s about time. It's payback time Palazzo. After an hour of travel, we land at Vector International Airport. It's go time. We all activate our thermo-optics and storm into the DNE Building. According to Garamonde, the bastard's still in here. After searching the place thoroughly, we hit the last room.

"I'll go in first. Cover me," I say through the link.

"No can do. You're too big. We wouldn't be able to cover you. I'll go in first," Terra replies.

"Suit yourself," I tell her.

Terra goes in first and I follow, while Shadow covers us from just outside the door. When we get inside, we're in for a shock.

"So glad you could make it, friends. Now the fun can begin," Palazzo cackles.

"What the Hell!?" I gape.

He can see us. That sucks ass.

"That's right. Your thermo-optics are useless here. This building is laced with Infrared cameras. I could see you the entire time," Palazzo laughs.

"Give up Palazzo! You're under arrest for possession of illegal arms, operation and support of an illegal organization and for the murder of an officer of the law," Terra orders Palazzo, gun aimed straight at his head.

"You seem to think you're in a position to bargain. Uwe hee hee hee hee," Palazzo cackles, "How drole."

"What the Hell are you going on about!?" I growl.

"See this pretty little button. I press this and we see just how potent DNE's new Magi-Tech weapon really is," Palazzo laughs, "Well played Branford. But in the end, I win."

"You're sick Palazzo!" Terra glowers.

"I'm hurt. I thought you of all people would understand. We're not that different, you and I," Palazzo laughs.

"We're nothing alike!" Terra yells.

"Aren't we? We both seek order. To rid the world of the criminal element. I however, have realized that, so long as man walks upon this world, there will always be chaos. But the end... The end comes beyond chaos!" Palazzo laughs, insanely

"I won't let you-" Terra begins.

"You've no choice. If you shoot me, I'll land on the trigger. Damning you all to Hell!" Palazzo cackles on.

"You sick, twisted bastard!" I yell.

"I'm getting bored. It's time to en- " Palazzo begins before we all hear a loud bang and see his hand explode into fragments.

Palazzo spins around to look behind him. He gets halfway before we see a hole open up through his temple. Palazzo falls over.

Dead.

"Shadow?" I ask.

"Not me," Shadow says, "Couldn't get a clear shot."

Palazzo's body slumps to the floor to reveal his assailant. Behind Palazzo, stands a ghost. Holding a smoking .44.

Caves of Narshe: Final Fantasy VI
Version 6
©1997–2017 Josh Alvies (Rangers51)

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