Reflectionsby Lothar Goldfist
The Magitek Knight glanced out of one of the ship's many portals. On a clear day, or even a cloudy one, the sun was the first thing anyone aboard her Falcon could see while airborne. Here, it was just a starless, cloudless nothing. Every so often, the ship would pass over what looked to be a city or township, and it was then that a beam of blinding light lanced down from along the gunwale of the ship. She would watch the city disintegrate, with the agonized screams of its citizens reaching up to them from somewhere beneath the remains.
"Magitek?" she heard herself ask. "This ship can use Magitek?"
"Of course," came the timid voice of her doppleganger. "Yours can't?"
Both women continued their creeping along the outer corridor, one which the general's acute hearing told them was vacant of any activity.
"Our Falcon is a ship of peace," she said, "Captained by a free spirit who wants nothing to do with conflict."
"I truly need to see this world for myself."
The general sighed. "So do I."
The two of them had remained as quiet as they could to avoid detection. It had been some twenty minutes or so since they had broken free, and so far no one (at least no one the two Chere's could discern) had spotted them. Their plan was to find some way of damaging the ship from the inside out, though there was still no sign of anything that looked like a helm or an engine room.
"When I was first escorted to my cell, I heard some guards talking about a control room. If I understood them correctly, it should be on this floor somewhere."
"And we can take down the ship from there?"
"Probably. If nothing else, we'll be able to send a message to the Republic and let them in on what we're trying to do."
And so, they kept moving. The general took caution when it came to talking about people she knew in this world, though it took everything she could muster to not be curious. Several of the names she mentioned as they walked - Relm, Strago, Gau - were names the other Celes never even heard of before today. They were either some place else, dead, or didn't exist at all. It didn't matter. She knew enough about the ones that were present to avoid them at all costs.
". . . is secure. Awaiting further orders."
Both of them planted their backs against the nearest wall, the general taking point. She edged her right eye out around the corner, finding what looked to be several Imperial soldiers flanking an iron door with the words 'Control Room' etched into its surface.
"Three of them," she whispered. "Looks like they all have crossbows."
"They must have been expecting us," Celes whispered back.
"One of us is going to have to create a diversion while the other sneak attacks them." She pulled out the sword that was still resting in her scabbard. "You go on and make a pass at them or something. I'll circle around and jump them from behind."
"Wait a sec. Why do I have to play the concubine?"
The general frowned. "Well, I just figured that you could pull it off more convincingly than me."
"Meaning what, exactly?"
"I was just..." She peered out again to make sure the guards hadn't picked up on their murmuring. "Look then, 'Paper, Rock, Scissors' will decide it. On three."
They put out their hands. Paper and paper.
They tried again. Rock and rock.
They played a third time. Scissors and scissors.
The general sighed. "Damn mirror universe. Fine, I'll take care of the diversion and you sneak attack them. Here, take this."
She gave Celes her blade and did what she could to get into a submissive frame of mind. It couldn't be that difficult. If she could pull off a passable Maria, a tramp from Albrook should be child's play.
"Halt! Who goes there?"
Several crossbows were turned on her all in an instant, but she held her composure.
"It's alright, I surrender." She threw up her hands for good measure. "Come on, now. You wouldn't cut down a defenseless woman, would you? I'm not even fully dressed over here."
She mentally kicked herself. That last part was just stupid-sounding coming from her. The guards, on the other hand, seemed to be taking the bait.
"Hands on your head," another of them yelled. "And come over here, slowly."
"Well, if that's the way you like it." She began to walk, being sure to keep a sultry bounce in her step as well as constantly looking the three of them up and down to keep their attention. "So, what will you do now? Kuff me, probably tie me up?"
Two of the three crossbows trained on her started to falter, but the other was fixed to put an exit wound straight through her forehead. Celes should have known that it wasn't going to be this easy, and started to lean a bit further into her character.
"Relax," she said. "You've caught me. I'll do anything you want me to do, honest."
"You're a champion of the Republic," the untrusting guard replied, the voice sounding synthetic underneath its mask. "There's nothing you can say that we could possibly believe."
She tried sizing the guard up one last time, then said, "Wow, a clever guard. And what brought that on?"
The guard pulled off his helmet, and Celes found that 'he' was actually a 'she'.
"Ah. No wonder."
The hilt of a sword came from out of nowhere, crushing the windpipe of the rightmost guard. Distracted, the unmasked woman was caught off guard as the general wrested the crossbow from her grip and then stitched several arrows into her skull. The third was backed into a corner, suddenly outnumbers two to one.
"Take off your mask," the general growled.
He did so, and she was pleased to find that this one was indeed a male before kneeing him in the groin and knocking him out with the butt of her crossbow.
"Good work," said Celes as she gave her her sword back. "I had no idea you could fight so well. You struck me as more of a housewife than a warrior."
"I'm a praetor," the other Celes growled, "Not a love-starved twit!"
The general smirked. "Well, thank God for that at least. C'mon."
* * *
With the set of keys they had palmed from Rachel, the two of them had no problem in getting within the control room. Making certain no one else was present, both women pulled the three guards inside with them and secured the door. The general expected the nerve center of the Falcon to be a place full of levers and cogwheels, but was disappointed in seeing a chamber of monitors and touch-sensitive panels.
Terrific, she thought, this is only going to make it that much more difficult to do some damage.
"So, how does it look?" she finally asked. "Can you flip some kind of self-destruct switch so we can all go home?"
Celes scanned the different stations that surrounded them, trying to sort out her thoughts. "I can't, but Kefka might."
The two of them sat down next to each other at one of the terminals.
"He's one of the consuls within the Republic, at least he was before it collapsed. He also had a hand in designing this ship, so he might be able to point us in the right direction."
"How long will it take to get a hold of him?"
"Hopefully, just a couple of minutes. He always keeps a comlink open for emergencies."
"Sounds like you know him pretty well."
Celes stopped what she was doing for a split second. "Well enough. We've worked side by side for a lot of years now, so I guess we're as thick as thieves."
She was about to say something else in response when the screen before them came to life. The face that stared back at them was familiar to her, yet at the same time was completely foreign. His garb and his hair were the same as when they had last met, though his face was more benevolent. And without a trace of the ridiculous jester getup that she had been so used to.
As it turned out, Kefka himself seemed to be having some trouble accepting what his eyes were seeing as well.
"Celes?" The screen flickered and buzzed. "Is that you?"
The praetor swelled with happiness. It felt so good to finally see another friendly face. "Don't adjust the screen, Kef. You're not seeing double."
"Don't know. There's no time to explain right now anyway. We need the access codes so we can set this ship on self-destruct."
Kefka took a moment or two to come to terms with what he was seeing. "Well, I have the access codes, although the Falcon doesn't have any self-destruct mode that I know of. You'll have to destroy it manually."
"Sounds like fun," the other Celes said at a turn. "How the hell do we do that?"
"You can vent gas from the zeppelin through the exhaust manifolds on either the port or starboard side of the ship. Doing this on either side will the ship to gradually lose its equilibrium and crash."
The general sighed. "Always a catch, isn't there?"
But the praetor remained steadfast. "We'll do it. We have to. The Republic is all that matters now."
Kefka gave what looked to be a heartfelt smile. Now I've seen everything, Celes thought.
"Right," he said. "Okay, then. The access junction should be two terminals to your left. It shouldn't require any access codes, and its mostly just point and click when you get there."
"I'm on it." The general was up out of her seat and over at the proper station in a heartbeat. Mimicking her counterpart, and realizing that the screen in front of her was touch-sensitive, she was able to find the manifold controls in no time. "There. I think that should do it."
"Terrific," said her other self. "What does it say?"
"It says 'Port manifold malfunction'."
"Great! We did it!"
"It's also saying 'Starboard manifold malfunction'..."
"And 'Exhaust malfunction'..."
"And 'Engine malfunction'..."
Kefka was hearing all of this, and suddenly appeared thunderstruck. "The malfunction must have tipped off a cascade failure! Quickly, you're going to have to reach--"
The screens went dead.
"Kefka?" Celes tried working the controls again, but there was no response. "No, damn it! I only just got him back!"
"Oh well, at least things can't get any worse."
The control room door was suddenly ripped away from its hinges and an enormous mechanical giant pushed itself through in its place.
"Now, how the hell did I not see that coming?"
The machine seemed to move even faster than Celes thought possible for its size, and the two of them scarcely had the time to make their way over the room's digital map before it got smashed to pieces. The general gritted her teeth and clicked off the safety on her crossbow, while the praetor could do nothing but cringe and scream.
"Pull yourself together, would ya? You're making me sick!"
She turned back on and squeezed off several bolts. All of them pinged and skittered harmlessly off of the golem's chrome exterior.
"Fuck!" she growled, and grabbed Celes by the scruff of her neck as the machine plowed vehemently into the terminals they had been operating seconds earlier. "Can we make it to the door?"
She wiped away the tears she had been crying, almost certain that she could hear the march of more guards out in the hallway.
"That might not be the best idea."
"Then what are we supposed to do!" Both women kept their heads low behind a work station. "Where are we supposed to--"
"This way!" She pulled up one of the grated panels in the floor. "To the lower decks. There's a cargo hold down there that we can hide in."
Why she hadn't brought it up before, Celes didn't know. At this point, however, stopping to take the time and ask her would have been asinine. Both of them grabbed a hold of each other and jumped in, only barely able to avoid another one of the machine's lethal jabs and the destruction it left in its wake.
* * *
"This is all your fault!" roared the gambler.
Being in a position of power generally made it easier for someone to lay blame upon another in their company. Aboard the Falcon, things worked no differently. Setzer gathered the ones he knew in his stateroom shortly after hearing of the incident in the control room, assuring them that it was to decide what could be done next to contain the situation. Now however, as Edgar was learning first-hand, it seemed to be more concerned with Setzer finding a scapegoat to pin it all on.
"My fault?!" he protested. "You're the one who wanted my brother to 'deal' with the situation."
"At the same time though, it was you who was responsible for building that monstrosity in the first place." Cyan took a special interest in making life worse for the hopeful monarch, and couldn't help but seize an opportunity to rub salt into the wound. "If you had just put some safeguards on that thing, we wouldn't be having this problem."
"If you don't stop those jaws of yours from clacking, I'll program that 'monstrosity' to come after you next."
"Would you two just shut it?!" Now, it was Locke's turn to throw his two cents in. "Bitching about whose fault it is won't accomplish anything. We have to find the problem and destroy it at its source."
The gambler leaned forward in his chair. "And I trust if the matter is left in yours and Rachel's more-than-capable-hands, you'll deal with it?"
The bounty hunter nodded. "But of course."
"For the right price, that is," Rachel added.
Setzer fumed. "Right price?!"
Locke's fingers tapped impatiently on the hilt of his scimitar. "Double the usual going rate."
"There are two of them, now," Rachel replied. "Risk goes up, price goes up."
The gambler came completely apart.
"You won't be satisfied until you've bought this entire ship over, will you?!" he roared. "That's the plan of each and every one of you, isn't it?! To take what I've worked so hard to achieve! Well, forget it! This ship is mine, mine alone! If any of you want it so badly, come and take it from me! All of you, right now!"
So wrapped up were they all in the chaos of their best laid plans that none of them could discern the gravity of a deck-wide power failure until it was already too late. For the Falcon's captive esper, one of the gambler's own wild cards in their war against the Republic, had broken loose from its enclosure. Horned and spindly, supine and swift, it plowed through one stateroom after the next, disemboweling one hapless crew member after another. And then, it found its true prize. Setzer's chamber walls caved in, with one or two of them having only enough time to utter one last strangled cry. Then, the massacre began.
No amount of gold bullion was going to save them now.
* * *
"So, how did you know there was a way out back there?"
"Funny story, really." The two of them crawled out of a ventilation shaft, with the former Magitek Knight keeping her crossbow string taut in case there were anymore unexpected surprises. "Kefka and I met aboard this ship, when it was still in drydock that is."
"Yeah, they were just finishing up the floor paneling when he and I bumped into each other in the control room. He said that the space between decks was sort of like a huge honeycomb, and if you could get into them, you could pretty much go anywhere in the ship."
Celes nodded. "Yeah. Now that I think about it, my first encounter with him was on board this ship too."
"Really? While in drydock?"
"Yeah. Never told me anything worthwhile about ship operations, though. All he said to me was 'Touch anything and it'll be your head! Mwa ha ha ha!'"
Celes seemed a bit unnerved by that. "Is the Kefka you know really that bad?"
What was she supposed to say to that?
"Is he a troublemaker?"
"Not anymore, he isn't."
"Well, that's good to hear at least."
She nodded, then continued looking about the cargo hold for some way out. Except for the emergency lights, all was blanketed in pitch blackness. The general paid particular attention to how her footing edged ever so slightly to the left. The soft hum of the Falcon's engines could no longer be heard emanating from the deck plates either.
"We're going to have to find a way off this ship soon," she said over her shoulder. "There's no telling how much more time we have before we crash."
Celes didn't respond. She turned to look at her and found her rooted to her spot, completely paralyzed. She pivoted to look in her direction, discovering a set of searing yellow eyes staring back at them. Celes raked the sword back out of her scabbard and handed it to Celes, readying her own weapon in the process.
"Stay where you are!" the general warned it. But the eyes kept drawing closer.
"She said, stay where you are!" the praetor put in as she struggled with the unfamiliar weight of the blade.
The eyes stopped then, not because they had been asked to but to make absolutely certain that what they were seeing was real. Then, they continued forward. As the form came into the light, Celes lowered her bow and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Gogo!" The general could have cried she was so glad to find an old friend again.
"Returner-friend," the mimic replied, sounding more solemn than happy. "What manner of ill fortune has brought you here of all places?"
"Your mirror," she fired back in a tone that was deliberately blameful. "You know, the one in the stateroom you had back aboard 'our' Falcon?"
"You must go back," s/he said. "You must return through the same mirror you came in through, and you must do it now."
"I tried that already. It didn't work."
"Oh dear..." Gogo started pacing around in a circle. "Oh dear me."
"Are you going to tell me what it is you're going on about?" Celes butted in.
"You'll need to excuse us," the mimic said to her. "Celes and I need to speak in private."
"I need to talk to that Celes!" s/he growled.
"Fine," she said, "Be that way."
"Celes..." Gogo took her by the arm and led her behind a nearby crate. "Listen to me, how long has it been since you arrived here?"
"Almost an hour or so. Why?"
"Because the longer one is cast into a reflection, the harder it is for them to return."
"What do you mean 'a reflection'?"
"Precisely what it sounds like. Since you arrived, you've probably been under the assumption that you've slipped into an alternate universe, a parallel dimension, or a different plane of reality. None of this is true. This isn't another world. It's just a mirror."
Celes scratched her head. "I don't follow."
The mimic sighed. "Okay. I'll put it to you this way. Remember when we had been practicing our skills together on the Veldt, and I would mimic one of your attacks or a magic spell? It might have been a perfect replica of your abilities, but it wasn't a perfect replica of 'you', was it?"
She gave a slow nod of her head. "Continue."
"Well, this reflection you've fallen into works on the same principle. Your other self is the perfect example. She looks like you, she sounds like you, but she's not quite a replica of your personality, is she?"
"I still don't see how my being here is such a big deal. I mean, I still seem to be in relative control over things."
"But it is a big deal, Returner-friend. When you first got here, I'd imagine the mere thought of war must have repulsed your counterpart. But she's gotten better at handling herself since you came around, am I right?"
Celes gave pause. It was the truth. When breaking into the ship's control room, she could recall just how much more skilled her other self was with a weapon. She was also a lot more confident in her ability to wield one as well, something that she didn't show before.
"Yes," she said at last, "Yes, she has. But what does that mean?"
"What it means is that one Celes Chere is mimicking the other. And in time, she'll have completely taken over the person you are. She'll have gained your skills, all your abilities, your thoughts and experiences, everything. Ultimately, she'll be the one looking for a way back to your world. And then..."
"And then, I'll be the one stuck here!"
Gogo nodded. "Blackjack, as our gambler would say."
"So, what am I supposed to do? How do I get home?"
"All you need to do is find a mirror." He placed a small translucent stone into one of her hands. "Toss this into your reflection and the way home will be open to you."
"And how the hell am I supposed to find a mirror before we crash?"
"Through the bay doors, hang a left, and it'll be the last door on your right. That's where your mirror is." Celes blinked, not sure of what to say. Gogo's eyes rolled cryptically. "It's all a part of being a mimic."
"I see. And what about you? Are you coming with me?"
The eyes beneath the mimic's mask gave a shimmer, indicating a smile. Then, Gogo turned back on to her and retired to the shadow from whence s/he came.
She turned and saw herself sprinting down the length of the cargo hold. Without looking back, she ran to catch up. For all she knew, she was beginning to become as cocky as she was, maybe even showing the same prowess for unarmed combat. Maybe it was a good thing, but at the same time it could get in the way of her trying to get home.
"We should be able to escape through here." Celes was throwing open the latch on the bay doors just as the general caught up with her. "Is your frilly-looking friend coming with us?"
"I don't think Gogo's in any immediate danger at the moment."
"No immediate danger?" Celes kicked the doors open. "This ship could crash at any second. Maybe you should go back and ask to be sure."
"I think we ought to be more concerned with her."
"With who? Oh."
Just beyond the threshold, walking with one leg twisted inward and an expression of savage determination hanging from her tattered face, was Rachel. What was left of Rachel, that was. Blood came down in rivulets, trailing down around her even now. Her left arm looked to have been gnawed off at the elbow, but this didn't keep her from bringing a falchion to bear with her right. The general could tell that there was murder in those eyes, but also something else that she couldn't quite place. Was it sorrow? Had she done something to her, made her lose someone that was close to her even?
"Just go," the general told Celes.
"I might be able to--"
So high had her adrenaline begun to boil that Celes couldn't have possibly prepared herself for the embrace her other self forced onto her. It was an awkward feeling to say the least, getting hugged by another woman especially when she was a mirror image of herself. Then, she was gone.
"How sweet," Rachel rasped between bloody teeth. "So sorry to have to break you apart from your girlfriend like this. You understand though that, breaking things is what I do best."
Celes didn't bother with a response, since no spoken word was going to do away with her enemy anyway. Instead, she took short, cautious steps towards her. Rachel did the same. If looks could kill, the duel would have already been ended. As it was, however, keen blades would be just as effective. Rachel leveled her sword.
"You must have been looking forward to this for a long time."
The general matched the gesture.
Woooosh! And her blade lashed out across Celes' field of vision, missing her head by mere centimeters. Losing an arm had done nothing to slow the enforcer down, and continued her slashing even before the general had a chance to counterattack. Celes parried when necessary, feinting when she thought she could retort with a killing strike of her own. But Rachel was too thoroughly grounded in armed combat to fall for it, backstepping and parrying herself before resuming the vicious attack.
Celes ducked again and then barrel-rolled, coming up from behind to try and exploit the woman's blind spot. But Rachel had already found her, as though one eye was trained on the general at all times. She lashed out again with her blade. Again Celes dodged it, with the blade shrieking harmlessly off of the iron wall of the corridor. She had not yet begun to tire, but then neither had her hard-headed aggressor. Any ordinary opponent would have faltered by this time, but Rachel kept coming like someone possessed. Almost her equal, even.
A scary thought, to say the least.
"A pity that I must disembowel you of all my victims." She twirled the blade along both sides of her wrist, remaining as intimidating as possible for as long as possible. "I don't think I've ever had as much fun torturing my victims as I've had torturing you."
"I think you have me mixed up with someone else."
"We shall see about that, once I've made you scream!"
More thrusting and more parrying, more near misses and more sparks skittering off of the corridors around them. It dawned on Celes at last that she would have to wrap this up quickly, if she wanted to see her world again. It was in that one single moment of realization that she came across the magic pendant jiggling around the torturer's neck. An esper.
Magic could still be used here.
"I'm not the one who'll be doing the screaming."
"You sound awfully confident, for a craven little diplomat."
Parrying, feinting, and then pretending to feint, Celes danced inward and slammed the flat of her blade against the bloody stump of Rachel's left arm. She yelped in pain, dropping her sword in the process. But Celes gave no quarter, giving the blade a kick across the hall before sending another one square into Rachel's jaw.
"Clod!" she growled. "I'll tear you apart with my bare-"
"Hand?" A small flame danced at the tips of the general's upended fingers. "Mmmm... no, I don't think so."
She blew out a strong gust of wind, and the flame grew to an inferno that destroyed everything it touched. Rachel barely had enough time to comport a look of repulsed disbelief before exploding in a hail of flaming limbs. At last, the general seemed to be in the clear.
"And try to stay dead this time."
* * *
Down the hall to her left, and last door on the right. Those had been the mimic's instructions, and Celes was following them to the best she could without getting sidetracked by the endless shaking of the walls around her. The airship's frenzied descent was impossible to ignore by this time, with their angle now a steep thirty degrees off vertical. She put it out of her mind. In another minute or so, 'her' Falcon would be touching down just outside of Jidoor, and there would be much drinking and dancing to be had.
Plowing a shoulder through the locked iron door that awaited her, she breathed a sigh of relief. The mirror was there waiting for her, on the wall (or at this stage, closer to the floor) where Gogo said it would be.
"Home..." She breathed the word more than said it, and took out the crystalline stone in her pocket. "Home..."
Celes whipped her head back around and found her outraged counterpart standing in the doorframe.
"Celes," she said, "I thought you'd have found a way off the ship by this time."
"Cut the chit-chat!" she growled. "And give me back that stone. I need it to get home."
"What? But you are home."
"You're lying! You lie through your teeth! That stone belongs to me. You took it from me back out in the hallway. Now, give it back!"
The cabin around them somersaulted, throwing both women off balance. Celes righted herself and made a grab for the loose stone. The other Celes, however, already had her hands around it and wouldn't let go. Damn, she thought, she really has gotten stronger, maybe her equal now. How, then, was she supposed to get the best of her?
"You have a life here," she grunted, trying to distract her long enough to get the stone back. "The Republic is counting on your return, Kefka is waiting to see you again. Try to remember!"
"No," she said, "That all belongs to you."
Maybe it did, she thought. Celes wasn't altogether sure anymore. Neither one of them were. But the both of them seemed rather settled on leaving and had no desire to stay.
"Let it go, now!" Celes roared.
"You let it go!" Celes roared back.
Another savage wave of turbulence rocked the cabin, throwing the both of them off their bearings. The stone slipped between their fingers, tumbling along the walls of its own volition and vanishing into the mirror. Celes righted herself and, learning that the door leading home was now open, wasted no time. Without bothering to utter so much as a goodbye, Celes stepped over her prone form and made a dive for the mirror.
Celes started to cry out, but she had already disappeared...
* * *
She picked up on the voice almost the moment gravity pulled her back down to the floor - a wooden floor, unlike the cold, cast-iron bulkheads of the ship she had just come from. The treasure hunter's arms enveloped Celes soon after, gingerly picking her up from where she had fallen. Despite herself, Celes embraced him as though something else could pull him away from her at any second.
"Are you a sight for sore eyes," she told him, smiling sincerely.
"Likewise. What happened? We've all been turning the ship upside down looking for you." He squinted. "And did you just fall out of that mirror?"
She rubbed her head, wanting to tell him everything that had transpired but at the same time trying to forget it all.
"It's a long, complicated story. Even I'm not entirely sure what to make of it all."
"Well," he said, putting a hand on her waist, "Why don't you tell me all about it while we make our way to Jidoor? Everybody's waiting for us, and we still have that dance to get to."
Celes walked with him to their stateroom door then, taking only enough time to smile a knowing smile towards the mirror from whence she came. For on its opposite side, she could see the general crying tears of rage that no one else could see, pounding her fists on a door that no one else could open.
Seconds later, a collision no one else could hear ended the general's struggling for good.