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Reflections

by Lothar Goldfist

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Chapter 1

What is it mimics see when they stare at a mirror? A shard of some life forever lost in the translation of another's actions? A sense of self? Perhaps some hint of humanity regained in comparison to what they were before? Contrary to popular belief, mimicry is not an art that simply went extinct. Quite the opposite, in fact. If anything, neglect has only made mimicry that much more determined to survive. Yes, survive. It's a sentient form after all, as every bit sentient as you or I. Is it really so difficult to believe? What is it that 'you' see when you stare into the mirror? Just a reflection? A perfect mirror image? Or something else? The ultimate nightmare is that which lies within, and within is where this tale lays its scene...

* * *

The gambler's fingers raked shallow grooves into the fine polished wood of his armchair. It was beginning to look as though a Wererat had gotten to it, but there was little beyond total victory that would help to quill such impatience. His circle had planned, ruminated, and scrambled ruthlessly for this day for almost two years. Much had happened, and the world had changed a dozen times since then. Through them, continents sank, skies shook, millions were sent to early graves, and an entire republic had even been uprooted and laid to waste.

But it wasn't enough. It would never be enough, so long as Kefka and his band of freedom fighters continued to draw breath. They fought for their own kind just as Setzer and his group fought for the rights of esperkind. But things had progressed entirely too far for any common ground to exist between them. Kefka and his kind needed to die. There was no second option.

A knock sounded at his stateroom door, and Setzer lifted his head of mangy silver hair in its direction. What could they possibly want this time? Didn't any of them have their priorities straightened out by now?

"What is it?" he growled.

The door was ripped open and a craven, blond-haired woman was tossed in unceremoniously from the shadows outside. She shook like a leaf, tossed about and beaten as she had been by the crew of the Falcon. Harsh scrapes and bruises ran zigzag along her arms and legs, and she cradled a wrist close to her chest as though it had been broken in one of the encounters. She looked up at Setzer from where she had fallen, her emerald eyes rimmed with tears and silently pleading for his mercy. But his own expression remained unwavering, as though his entire face was carved out of granite.

"Oh," he said offhandedly, "It's you again."

"Please..." She struggle to find her feet, eventually succeeding but having a difficult time keeping her balance. "You don't have to do this. Those are innocent people you're gunning for. They have families, loved ones."

The gambler picked himself up from his seat, which seemed to groan in relief from being spared of his presence. The woman turned her face away as he came closer, more from the stench of blood and uncleanliness than from the intimidation factor. Celes winced in pain just from having to look at the mangled features of that insidious face.

"You've either been knocked around too much or not enough. These people you speak of are far from innocent. They seek to destroy the Statues which help to maintain the existence of magic in this world. How can we let something like this happen when it's already done so much for us?"

She looked him straight in the eye this time. "It's devastated our landscapes, killed millions of people, stirred hundreds of thousands more to take part in this twisted little crusade of yours. Magic isn't a gift, it's a nightmare." She glimpsed down at the magicite around his neck. "And you're probably the biggest hypocrite of them all. You say you fight for equality between humans and espers, yet you go about wielding their remains as though they're some kind of narcotic."

Setzer touched the magicite shard gingerly, which gave off a soothing glow in response. "Their remains were given to us of their own accord."

He bore a set of crooked, broken teeth in reply, and Celes strained to keep her composure. "And are you sure you're out to kill these people of your own accord? Maybe the esper within is making you do all of these heinous crimes, maybe--"

A fist came from out of nowhere, smacking her square across the jaw. The coppery taste of blood came almost before she could collapse upon the iron plates of the stateroom floor. The gambler grabbed her by the collar then, his face wrapped in a sneer so tight that the scars on his face cracked and bled anew.

"Who controls who is going to be the least of your worries by the time I'm through with you." Celes didn't dare say anything or even move a muscle, only curled herself up and wailed softly. "Perhaps you really haven't been knocked around enough."

He kicked open his stateroom door and whistled for someone to enter. A woman heeded his call, making her way into the sanctum breathing and perspiring heavily as though she had just come from a week-long hunt. The two of them had the misfortune of meeting a few times before, and death suddenly didn't sound so bad. She was a woman no larger or smaller than Celes was, but she was more heavily trained in extreme combat and was practically a legend when it came to torture techniques. The steely glint to her azure eyes paralyzed her even now.

"Rachel, you remember Ms. Chere. The two of you had the pleasure of meeting just a couple of days ago when we were looking for information as to the whereabouts of Kefka and his troupe."

She nodded and smiled, her inky black locks bouncing as she did so. "But of course. Do you believe that there's something else she's not telling us?"

"Not really. I just thought she could stand to take a few more slams before we do away with her completely."

She would have been only too pleased to poke, prod, and cut away at a pressure point or two so as to bring about slow and exquisite agony. The idea of stirring someone - anyone - into frantic screams and uncontrollable spasms of pain almost put her into heat. But of course, there was one thing that was more pleasurable than anything else.

"Certainly," she said, "If the price is right, of course."

The gambler gave as close to a smile as he could manage with a face that was pushed completely out of shape. Fishing out a drawstring of gold from the cache of bullion that flanked each side of his armchair, he tossed it over to his head enforcer. She plucked it out of the air without dropping a single piece, jingled it once to test its weight, then shoved it down into one of her tunic pockets.

"Always a pleasure."

"No, please..."

Rachel seized the woman by the ragged hem of her cape and dragged her out of the chamber kicking and screaming. The gambler only laughed at the display, and the laughter would chase after her all throughout the ship. There was no mercy to be found aboard the Falcon, after all.

* * *

Another time, a different place, a whole other dimension perhaps, the Falcon would have been a place of good cheer and celebration. Its passengers would have likely been trying their best to forget yesterday and take pride in tomorrow, not the other way around as things seemed to work here. Perhaps it was all just a fading dream. Celes certainly seemed to think so anyway. There were no cheery faces to line these corridors. There wasn't even any light, only a black recess where junior officers fought like dogs over the gambler's position. The sounds were so deafening that it rattled Celes to her core.

But things were about to get louder around here...

"Hold still!" Drawing back yet again, Rachel sent another crack of her whip across Celes' exposed back. "You're only going to make it worse for yourself if you keep squirming around like that!"

But Celes could barely hear her. There was no whip lashing against her back, no Rachel, no Falcon, nothing. Only a world of pain. She had held out half a hope that after so many repeat appointments with this demented woman, she would have built up some kind of immunity to such anguish. But now she was learning the more harsher reality to pain, that only unconsciousness or death could possibly provide any kind of relief from it all.

"Why is it you people bother to keep me around at all if I've already given you the information you've been after?"

"Because Kefka wouldn't risk blowing this ship out of the sky as long as he knows you're still aboard with us." If Celes had silently hoped for a little conversation to stave off Rachel's savage assault, she would be disappointed. She continued to tear her back into ribbons even as she acknowledged her victim's question. "And as long as he knows this, the Falcon is immune to his meddling."

"Kefka..." So. He still held out hope that she was alive. Even though she had ratted out the Republic and had the Falcon coming for them even now, he still cared about her. If only she could have told him how she felt when she still had the chance. "You'll never get away with any of this. The Republic will prevail."

Rachel drew back one of her gauntlets and smashed the jagged lump of mithril hard across her temple. Celes slumped and said nothing else. "No, my dear. Your Republic is already dead."

"I see you're still working your magic."

She glanced over her shoulder and gave the man in the doorway a half-smile. If he smiled back at all, it was barely noticeable beneath a goatee that was as long as the short sword on his belt. He seemed the type of person that had been oppressed all throughout his life, yet still carried himself with enough muscle to shrug it off as though it were just another slipshod member of the Republic. What scars he had allowed himself to suffer over the years he carried like metals of honor, with at least one etched across his left eye and another down the length of his naked right arm. A moth-eaten bandana kept his long dark hair tied back, away from his good eye so as to look his favorite enforcer up and down.

"What kept you so long, mister?" She grabbed him by his weather-worn collar, pulled him close, and kissed him deeply. Celes Chere may as well have never existed. "You missed the finishing touches I was putting on this one."

"Couldn't be helped." He stepped to one side and looked the captive woman over as though scrutinizing her appearance. "Edgar was looking for someone to amuse again, so naturally he found me."

"Naturally." She wiped her brow off and cleaned the blood from her whip with an old rag. "Making more modifications to that brother of his, I take it."

"It's not his brother," he replied, as if he actually gave a damn.

"Well, whatever it is." She found a clean end of the rag and started wiping away the sweat between her breasts. "All I'm saying is that, he ought to find himself a machine that's complete, not grafting pots and pans to some dustbuster he named after his brother. Am I right?"

Her significant other seemed to lose his voice all of a sudden, checking the lifeless woman for signs that Rachel's torture hadn't damaged something vital. But she was completely limp, hanging from her tethers like the pendulum of a broken clock. He checked her for a pulse, then shook his head.

"Locke?"

"She's dead."

"What?!"

"You killed her."

All Rachel did was blink. Locke's words didn't seem to register with her at first. She had beaten many of her captives within an inch of their lives but had never actually killed one before. It wasn't exactly the way she worked, letting people off the hook by killing them outright.

"Well, it's not my fault that she couldn't take a few hard knocks." She looked into the mirror on the wall, checking the gloss of her eye shadow as though she had done nothing wrong. "Besides, if you can't learn to defend yourself around a place like this, you're better off dead."

"Well, it's not like you really gave her much of a fighting chance is it?" The bounty hunter sighed, as if this behavior was not entirely uncommon, and pulled off a dark black gem from around his neck. "Oh well, it's a good thing we found this thing when we did."

Rachel recognized the Dark Phoenix when she saw it. "You're not seriously suggesting..."

"We're bringing her back, Rachel."

"Locke..." She cupped a hand around his mouth before he could begin the incantation. "I mean, there's no real point is there? Setzer was only going to have her done away with sooner or later anyway."

"Granted," he said. "We, on the other hand, made away with her without orders. If Setzer were to find that much out, he'd have both of our heads. That's not part of the plan, now is it?"

He brushed a gloved hand down along her cheek.

"Come on, now. You remember our plan. We have to make nice-nice with that wandering troll until he takes care of Kefka and his troupe. Then--"

"I know, I know. We stab him in the back and take the Falcon for ourselves."

He smiled. "Mmm-hmm. We can't very well stick to the plan if we give that basketcase a reason to question our loyalty, now can we?"

"I still want to knock her around a bit more."

Locke's smile widened. "So fresh and full of energy, aren't you?" His gaze trailed from her eyes to her breasts, then back to her eyes again. "You'll have to be sure to save some of that for me."

He rattled off the life-giving cantrip at a moment's notice then, allowing for all light and heat to be siphoned out of the chamber - a commonplace phenomena whenever the being made an appearance. Only a pale, grey outline could be seen of the creature, giving sparse illumination upon the lifeless Celes. There was no brilliant display of orange and red, no effulgent glow or some benevolent apparition of mercy. All the scaly beast did was give a roar in the darkness. And Celes was suddenly screaming all over again, her spirit suddenly denied of its otherworldly quest and sent plummeting back into what she had left of a physical form. The wounds she had suffered remained, and only seemed to get worse.

"Please..." She craned her head to the abrupt light of the chamber. "Let me go..."

Locke's goatee drew up to form a sneer. "I'll leave you two ladies alone."

Again, Rachel's whip clawed and smacked at her victim's back. Again, flesh parted and blood poured anew. Again, Celes was doomed.

"Stop it!" she screamed. "Stop!"

* * *

The mirror in the room watched on - silent, indifferent, oblivious...

* * *

"Hey, stop it," said Celes playfully as the treasure hunter planted a kiss on her neck. The two of them had been looking each other over in the mirror for some time now, uncertain as to what else it was they should have been doing now that their job was done. "What if one of the others were to walk in on us or something?"

"I'd say they more or less know about us by this point." He finally pulled himself away from her so as to regard himself in the mirror a bit more closely - his bandana needed adjusting. "If anything, I'd say they'd be congratulating us or at least ask why we hadn't told them sooner."

"Well..." She stretched and glanced out of her - out of their - stateroom window. "I don't see how it's any of their business what we do with our lives anyway."

Locke kept his eyes focused on the mirror ahead of him. "Speaking of what we'll be doing with our lives," he said, "have you given it anymore thought after?"

"You mean, going back with you to Kohilegen?" It was a scary thought, settling down with the former treasure hunter. Precious little was actually able to scare Celes of all people, and she somehow believed it had something to do with the fact that the both of them were from two completely different worlds. She tried changing the subject. "What about that expedition we talked about going on, the one to excavate Vector? I thought you were looking forward to that."

Now it was Locke's turn to appear unsettled. Another treasure hunt in the company of a person who meant more to him than any earthly trinket could. It was a scenario more predictable than deja'vu, and a lot less comforting. His eyes wandered to the floor.

"I was," he replied. "That is, to say, I am. It's just that, well, it's not as easy a decision to make as it used to be. Things are just..." And he trailed off.

Celes sat down on her cot. "Rachel."

He nodded. "Rachel."

"We've been over this." She reached out and took him by the hand. "The same thing isn't going to happen to me. I can take care of myself."

That's what Rachel used to say, Locke thought quietly to himself. He was even about to counter with these words when the both of them were interrupted by an ecstatic gambler bursting in and waving around a piece of parchment. The two of them drew away from each other almost instantly.

"Hey, you guys!" he cried out as though they were off somewhere on the farside of the airship. "Have you two heard the news? Jidoor is throwing a huge celebration, and it's in our honor! Games, music, fireworks, they're gonna have everything. And we're all invited!"

"I suppose you'll be tagging along just for the games then, huh Setzer?" said Celes jokingly.

"You better believe it." He tucked the message inside of his jacket pocket. "Now, listen. There's no RSVP'ing or fancy dress involved. It's strictly come-as-you-are. We'll be mellon-balling just as soon as the sun goes down, so don't keep the rest of us waiting. Got it?"

"Roger that," Locke answered, still sounding a bit dispirited by the problems which he and Celes were already facing but straining to cover it.

The gambler beamed and stepped back out into the corridor, suddenly waving around the parchmented message again as he caught sight of someone else who hadn't been told. "Hey,Sabin! Have you heard the news? Jidoor's throwing a huge celebration, and it's in our honor! Plenty of food, tests of strength..."

Locke closed the door.

"All things considered," he said, back still turned to Celes, "I suppose a little bit of celebrating is as good a way as any to break in this new world of ours."

"Let's just try to have a good time tonight," she told him. "We can worry about what the future has in store for us later, alright?"

He nodded. It seemed like the best solution for the both of them, not to mention every other passenger on board. Relaxation had been long in coming for them, all of them. Best to enjoy it while it lasted, as it would be no easy task rebuilding a world that was mostly rubble.

"Well," he said at last, "Perhaps we ought to get a few winks before the festivities. It's been a bit of a long day, and we're going to need some rest if we're to get some dancing in this evening."

Celes couldn't hold back a smirk, remembering that he made a rather impressive entrance during the opera but couldn't honestly recall seeing him 'waltz' with a partner. "I had no idea you could dance. How good are you?"

Locke smiled and stepped back towards the door. "You'll have to wait until this evening to find that out, won't you?"

* * *

She stirred from her sleep some time later. The sun was lower in the cloudless sky than when she had left it, though it had not yet begun to make its way beneath the endless horizon. She had awoken feeling refreshed in body at least. Mentally, however, she still felt troubled. It didn't seem to concern Locke as much as it did Rachel. Troubled visions came to her during her repose, visions of vengeance and a cold hatred to drive it. A face seemed to accompany the emotions as well, a female face with kohl-rimmed eyes - a woman that was out for her blood.

Celes strained to find something for this image to connect with, then gave up. She needed to compose herself somewhat, at least enough so that it would ward away irrelevant questions from the others.

She stretched and went over to the mirror. "I wish I knew what you were so angry about, Rachel. It's not as if I took him from you or anything." She picked up her brush and started straightening out her tangled hair. "All I did was catch him on the rebound. That doesn't reflect badly on me, it's just the way it--"

Celes stopped what she was doing of a sudden as her eyes came across something that had no earthly business being in her stateroom. She was still herself, and her brush was still just a brush, but the reflection looking back at her seemed to be telling her something different. It seemed to tell her that she was actually holding a small spiked mace and that she was doing some critical damage to herself by continuing to run it through her hair. The woman on the other side of themirror grimaced with pain and was even shedding tears when Celes told it to do no such thing. She tried shaking her head to clear out the cobwebs. But the twisted, bloody visage remained.

She let the brush fall from her fingers, eyes looking the mirror over more closely for anything else that appeared amiss or out of place. It was then that she glimpsed writing scrawled into the cabinet below, or rather, scrawled into the cabinet's reflection where her brush had been sitting. Though the text was barely legible, Celes knew it was the penmanship belonging to their estranged mimic. She leaned in close to the mirror, making sure that all of the message was readily visible:

What you now appear to be reading, Returner-friend, is a distortion of reality. What you are is not what you see. Close the distance between yourself and the mirror, and discover the truth for yourself...

Again, Celes tried shaking out the cobwebs. Again, it was of no avail. She was aware that this stateroom had once belonged to Gogo, but what did that mean? Had he jinxed the room around her with some sleight of hand? Was it something more complex, as though this place had some sort of cosmic significance? Was she even still awake? There was only one way to know for sure.

She reached out at her contorted reflection, ever so cautiously drawing it nearer so that nothing could take her off guard. Her fingers felt for the glass of the mirror, but all they came to find was a surface that seemed liquid to the touch. Her image suddenly wasn't there anymore, rippling and bending silently as though it was a millpond being broken after a stone skims its surface. Immediately, Celes drew her hand back. The mirror was at once whole again.

"What the devil..." she began, but nothing else she said could possibly touch the sense of astonishment she felt. She reached out to the mirror again, pushing her hand in further this time. "Gogo, you are truly one messed up son of a Zoneat--"

Something from within seized Celes without warning, and the mirror swallowed her whole.

* * *

For an entire nothingth of a second, Celes Chere had the oddest sensation of having her entire body (organs and all) being twisted inside out. Whether it was meant to be an accommodating or painful experience, there was no way of knowing. The entire moment ended so quickly that a potential stimulus had almost no time of reaching her brain, much less be able to generate any sort of reaction. She was expelled from the void almost the second she had entered it, and itseemed to take ages for her senses to readjust to the surroundings.

All was black. The dark seemed so concentrated that she had to feel an appendage to remind herself that she was still present. Was this what Gogo had felt when s/he vanished on them back at the tower? If so, she only hoped that this was the same void that had swallowed up their mimic. A guide would be a nice thing to have in shadow as all-encompassing as this.

"Hello..." She kept her voice low, with a tone that was nonthreatening. "Is there anyone there? It's okay, I won't bite or anything."

Her acute Imperial ears picked up on what sounded like crying, though Celes couldn't be sure if the someone was trying to communicate with her or just wish to be left alone.

"I'm not going to hurt you." She inched her way closer to the crying, tapping her knuckles on the floor to test how it conducted sound. It was solid iron. "I'm just looking for a way out, possibly even the light swi--"

Her wandering hands came across a limb, and the voice that was once crying was now letting out an agonized wail. Celes seemed to anticipate it, since the limb felt stringy and slick with blood. The air around them was already rife with the smell.

"Oh God, I'm sorry!" Celes backed herself away. "I'm so sorry. What happened to you?"

The voice that answered back was a feminine one, one that seemed oddly familiar but not enough so to pin it down precisely. "They... they wanted... answers. I gave them what I... what I knew. But that woman, that... witch!" The woman's sanity seemed to teeter precariously between anger and despair. "She did this... to me. I can barely... I can't even feel my legs."

"Everything's going to be fine, now." Celes inched closer to the woman's side, testing her shoulder for injury before squeezing it for support. "I'll help you get out of here. My name is Celes, Celes Chere. What's your name?"

There was a brief moment of silence, as though the other woman was taking a minute or so to make sure she had heard correctly.

"Celes," the other woman replied awkwardly, "Celes... Chere?"

Another awkward silence followed. Had the general heard the woman correctly? Had the woman heard the general correctly?

"Right," said the general, trying to make some sense out of what she was hearing. "That's my name. Now, what's your name?"

"Celes Chere!" the woman responded, this time screaming the name at the top of her lungs. Her physical stress had already reached its limits from the number the black-haired woman had done on her. She wasn't about to let some stranger get away with playing head games and push her mental limits as well. "Do I have to spell it out for you?!"

"You just might." Celes kept her voice calm and even, not wanting to upset Celes (or whoever she was) any more than she already had been. "I'm not exactly from around these parts."

The sound of a body slumping against the cast iron walls prompted a sigh from the general, and she gave her one of the last potions still burning a hole in her travel pouch. She threw back the concoction in one draught, and her strength and voice returned almost immediately.

"I used to be a praetor," she began, amazed at how clear her throat suddenly sounded, "One of the chief law officers appointed by the Republic of Vector. I was following orders to try and talk peace to a Returner faction. But they fell back on their word and had me incarcerated in this ship of theirs. They've been using me ever since to try and find what remains of the Republic. What about you, what's your story?"

"Kinda the opposite." The general scrunched up her brow in thought. "Exactly the opposite, actually. I was once a general, a general to the Empire of Vector. I actually disobeyed the orders of my superiors under moral objections. They were the ones who had me incarcerated until the Returners helped me escape."

Celes scoffed. "It seems that we come from some very different worlds, General."

"You can say that again."

"We come from some very different "

"Shhhhhh." The general clapped a hand across her counterpart's mouth. "I just heard footsteps, did you?"

She felt the woman's head shake, but then she heard the footsteps for herself. Cold dread crept up her spine. The gait of the stride, the weight in each foot, the soft whisper of a cloak trailing close behind. Celes knew already who was coming.

"Oh God!" Celes knocked the general's hands away from her. "She's back again! Please, you have to do something. I can't go through all of that again."

"Go through all of what?" The general wasn't about to admit it openly, but putting up with this whiny version of herself was beginning to get under her skin. "Who's doing this to you?"

"Rachel!" She hugged her knees close to her chest. "It's all she ever does anymore, beating me into near-death, then healing me just enough so that she can do it all over again."

Celes was taken aback. Rachel? She was done sitting down. She still hadn't entirely decided whether she was going to help her cellmate or pick up on the search for a way home (perhaps through whatever mirror it was that had brought her here). But if something - anything - was going to happen, there would need to be some light around for them to do it. If only she still had a piece of magicite on her person.

"In or out?" the general asked.

"What?"

"The door to this cell." She moved as she spoke, feeling the surrounding walls for anything that felt like hinges or even a lock. "Does it swing in or out?"

The footsteps outside stopped, replaced now with the jingling of keys.

"Out," she replied.

A lock clicked open...

"Perfect."

Her imperial reflexes reacting almost instantly, Celes jumped in the direction of the door, took hold of the first rafter her hands came across, and kicked out with both feet. The iron door shot out from its frame, catching Rachel full in the face. She dropped like deadweight.

Light flooded in on the two of them from out in the grim corridor, though it wasn't quite what the general had been expecting. The Falcon she remembered had lanterns hanging from timbered walls beside each and every stateroom door. This place however had hallways of black steel, with only scant illumination being given from wall-mounted beacons that lined the walls every couple of meters or so.

"Celes..." She pulled the ring of keys out from the lock and took hold of Rachel's arms. "Let's go. We're getting out "

The general stopped herself. Through the dim light in the door frame, she was finally able to see what her cellmate really looked like. She was the exact visage of the bruised and bloodied woman she had seen in the mirror before all of this had gotten started. After the two of them had gawked at one another for what seemed like hours, Celes found her train of thought again.

"The mirror!" She dropped Rachel and went back into the now-lit cell. She found what she was looking for hanging on the wall that stood off to her left-hand side. She reached out to touch it, hoping it would pull her in as it had done before. But her fingers found only the solid glass of a real mirror and nothing else. "I don't understand it."

"Celes?" The other woman finally found the strength to stand up and walk towards her. "Celes."

"I don't belong here," the general finally told her. "I have to find some way to return home."

"Help me first," Celes pleaded. "Help me to stop this ship from finding my friends, then I'll do what I can to help you get home."

At the moment, it didn't seem like she had much choice.

"Alright... Celes. Where do we go from here?"

* * *

"It's okay, brother. It won't be much longer now."

Two faint silhouettes - one thin and enfeebled, the other a towering hulk of metal and madness - were the only ones to populate the stale recesses of their deck-three stateroom. The former fumbled with the instruments on his tooltray, his hands crippled from arthritis as well as years of overuse. The other was like a still-life, seemingly dead but for the discordant rattle of hissing and clanking that served as its means of speech.

"What do you mean 'Then what'? We'll go home to Figaro, where we'll both be king. That was the plan, remember? Setzer gave us his word."

Finally able to force all the fingers of his left hand around the shaft of his torque wrench, Edgar brought the tool up past the machine's left limb and tightened what bolts he still found to be loose. There was nothing left for his brother to feel, no feelings of pain from being operated on, no sorrow for the deaths of their mother and father, not even any rage towards the gambler for killing them. There was only the faintest sense of awareness now, and it was this awareness that
kept it asking its questions.

"He's not all bad. He spared us, didn't he? And besides that, Setzer even promised us a quarter of the spoils after we get rid of Kefka. That ought to be more than enough to regain control of both the Figaro and the Kohilegen regions. That's a good thing, isn't it?"

The machine remained completely silent this time.

"I know you've been melancholy brother, but you have to look on the brighter side of all this as well. You have your freedom now. I promised you your freedom since the beginning, didn't I?"

Its servos hissed and growled vehemently this time, and Edgar even had to take a step back from where he was working the automaton was so outraged.

"All I promised you was your freedom." He pried open the machine's cranial chassis, exposing the brain that lay within - all that remained of the late Sabin Rene Figaro. "I never said that your humanity would remain intact."

His stray hand probed the tooltray blindly for the syringe he had filled earlier. This was all wrong, he thought to himself. The experiment was supposed to block off the production ofacetocolene, and thus inhibit any aggressive tendencies Sabin may have had while alive (unless it was ordered to do so). Finding the injection, and then struggling with crooked fingers to get a hold of it, Edgar pushed the serum into the cerebral cortex. He stared at it. The minutes passed. The machine's tree-sized limbs started to slow, and then ceased completely.

"You'll thank me before the end."

"Still playing with your toys, I see."

A third silhouette joined them in the dank of the stateroom, one that was broad in the shoulders and arms with a mane of dark black hair that ran untamed along either side of his head. The voice held an air of dignity and grace, but also appeared to be masking some ulterior motive that no one around him could put their finger on. A harsh-looking suit of spiked armor eclipsed his physique at all times, as prudent a precaution as any aboard a ship with no rules.

"This stateroom is off limits to your kind," Edgar snapped, ignoring the mercenary's comment.

"Yes," he said, sauntering about as though he owned the place. "I just figured that since you keep pushing your own limits, you'd be inclined to make an exception."

Edgar returned to his work, still fumbling with the devices on his bench.

"Need a hand?"

"I'll manage."

"Oh, come on." The mercenary moved closer to him, kicking through the scrapheap that ran ankle-deep along the floor of the chamber. "Is it really such a hard thing to accept some help from a friend?"

"We're not friends, Garamonde." Edgar gave up trying to fit a socket into his ratchet wrench, choosing instead to get rid of an obstacle that was far more annoying. "Why don't you tell me the real reason why you decided to pay my brother and I a visit?"

"Alright, fine." And his condescending tone crumbled like a sand sculpture. "The gambler sent me to tell you that, there's been an incident involving our prisoner. Somehow she got out of her cell, and it's possible that an agent of the Republic is bleeding around the ship in her company."

"And?"

"Your 'brother'..." He almost coughed the word. "...will be needed to find them and bring them back alive before they have a chance to sabotage the ship."

"Sabin isn't ready to be ordered around just yet." With a welding visor held over his eyes by an unsteady hand, Edgar slowly but effectively reknitted a torn metal joint back together with his torch. "He still needs a lot of work after the beating he took from the natives of that town we sacked last."

"It's two people," Cyan said with a sneer. "And they're women, no less. I think your sibling has what it takes to subdue a couple of girls." The mercenary suddenly switched gears. "Or perhaps we should turn our resident esper loose to find them?"

"No!" Edgar staggered back and dropped his torch. "I mean, you can't. Last time we freed her, she wrecked half the ship trying to find a way out. And then, there was Sabin..."

"Yes?" He grinned, satisfied that he had found a nerve.

Edgar shook his head, trying to rid himself of the grotesque imagery of that day. "Sabin... will be ready."

"Excellent. Bring him up to speed and see that he deals with it. When the gambler's taken care of the Republic, perhaps we should take care of him as well."

Edgar gave him a steely look. "So, you still intend on following through with your plan to take the Falcon?"

"We could do it together, you know. You and I, and Sabin of course. The three of us could rule this entire world."

"You're insane."

"No more than you are," the mercenary replied, "Always messing around with a bucket of bolts you still call a brother."

"Well, I'm not the one who poisoned the people of Doma to get what he wanted."

Cyan's hand strayed to the hilt of his katana but held off from drawing it. "I did what I felt what was in the best interest of a kingdom's most deserving monarch. I'd have thought you of all people would have understood that."

"I have to get back to work now," was all Edgar would say as he reached for his ratchet wrench again.

Cyan found it first, fitting the proper socket into it for him. "Make haste. Trouble brews even as we speak."

Edgar would give him no look or even an argument as the mercenary made his exit, kicking metallic dross aside unceremoniously as he did so. He sighed and returned to his repairs.

"Trouble's always brewing, isn't it brother?"

The machine remained completely silent.

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

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