Chapter One: The Ordinary World
Dad was having a meeting in one of the rooms of the Shinra mansion.
Eight-year-old Cloud Strife, though his Dad's last name wasn't Strife, meant to listen in on it. Having grown out with much in the way of friends, he was far more interested in Dad's business. So he crept up near the door and peered through the keyhole.
Beyond, Cloud saw the meeting room. On the far side of the wall was sitting a man he didn't recognize. He was a thin man with a black ponytail and wore a scientist's outfit. Where Reeve and Scarlet had been in and out regularly for years, this one had only recently arrived.
"Reeve, what are the results from the Mako Exposure?" asked President Shinra.
"...Should we really be discussing this here?" asked Reeve, who was the Head of Urban Development.
"Hojo has an interest in the matter," said Dad.
Reeve sighed. "It appears that the energies of the Mako reactors we've set up are having an impact on the ecosystems. Plant life wilts and dies, and water sources are poisoned. One of our reactors, just south of here, malfunctioned and flooded the river.
"Within two weeks, the entire town was suffering from illnesses. The Turks quarantined the town, and Hojo carried out observations. Within three months...
"Everyone was dead.
"We also noticed... mutations in the people there."
"No survivors?" asked Dad, voice concerned.
"None, sir," said Reeve.
For a moment, Dad said nothing, and Cloud wished he could see him. "What about the men we sent to lock it down?"
"Those who were stationed within the town itself are all dead," said Reeve. "Those in charge of controlling traffic, however, have done better. They are suffering from serious health issues, however.
"We don't think they'll last much longer."
"I want to examine these," said Hojo suddenly. "The specimens, dead or alive, could be of great value."
"They died serving Shinra, President," said Reeve. "We can't put them in one of his labs."
"Still," said Dad. "We have something of a timetable, do we not? We should take the opportunity to examine them while we can.
"Reeve, I want you to transfer these men to a specialized medical facility. Control who they see and ensure the story doesn't get out. Hojo, you should be able to observe their condition personally."
"So you mean to limit my research, as usual," scoffed Hojo.
"Even ignoring ethical matters," said Dad. "The story will probably get out. Better to have us doing all we can for them and let the reporters talk about that. Ethics exist for a reason."
"Yes, to restrain science so neanderthals can feel better about themselves," said Hojo.
"This conversation is over, Hojo," said Dad. "Shinra already provides you with extensive specimens and funding.
"Now, Reeve, what went wrong?"
"As far as we can tell, there was a quake that broke certain pieces of equipment," said Reeve. "It damaged the mining process. The Mako exploded, and our reactor ended up spewing it out at an accelerated rate.
"We managed to shut the reactor down, but the men who did it are all dead."
"I suppose it's for the best," said Dad. "We've already had certain movements toward unionization. We don't want to motivate any of the customers of Shinra inc into forming a boycott.
"Not with everything that's at stake.
"Now, what is the likelihood of a repeat incident?"
"I've compiled a full report of how the repairs can be made if you'd like to-" began Reeve.
"That won't be necessary, Reeve," said Dad. "Will retrofitting the reactors would be more expensive than a repeat performance."
"...As far as I can tell, given our earthquake-proofing..." Reeve shifted. "It is probably cheaper simply to risk the disasters, sir."
"Then we won't be doing a retrofit on any of them," said Dad. "We have to finish the war with Wutai. And once that's done with, there are other things to contend with."
"Sir, with respect..." said Reeve.
"Yes?" asked Shinra.
Reeve sighed. "We're going to move to Midgar soon, sir. And given the reactors we are building, it might be wise to fix at least some of them. Not all leaks can be controlled, Mako, or news."
"Yes, I suppose we can't have the high population areas be subjected. That wouldn't be in anyone's interest.
"Very well. I want you to initiate retrofitting reactors near population centers. As for the isolated towns, all future construction will be made appropriately. We've already distanced most Mako Reactor by a range of twenty or more miles. That was in preparation for just this eventuality.
"That should be enough for an evacuation."
"Yes, sir," said Reeve.
"Now, Scarlett, I believe you had some information for me about the Gold Saucer project?" asked Dad.
Cloud couldn't see Scarlet at the moment; however, he knew her to be a tall and beautiful woman. She usually went clad all in red and tended to flip her hair when annoyed. "Yes sir, we're having some problems. The Mako Reactors we established in the surrounding towns have come under threat. A group of terrorists has destroyed a number of trucks of soldiers on route home. We believe they are receiving training from Wutai Officers.
"Some of the locals in the town of Corel have provided assistance to the insurgents."
"Your source?" asked Dad.
"A concerned citizen, Barret Wallace," said Scarlet. "Apparently he's been assisting the Turks in hunting down the insurgents. I believe that if we could make contacts with the locals, it should be possible to root out-"
"Will rooting out the insurgents be more expensive than rebuilding the town?" asked Dad simply.
"I..." Scarlet paused. "Estimates are still ongoing, President Shinra."
"Give me your best guess," said Dad.
Scarlet took a while to answer that. "...No sir.
"Most of the town are unskilled laborers. The others are replaceable."
"Very well, then," said Dad. "Our plan calls for a decrease in population worldwide. It is essential if we continue industrializing on schedule. And making a hard example of these guerillas will send a message of just how Shinra deals with traitors.
"Destroy the town. Wipe out the locals.
"Reeve, arrange for a colonization effort to move our own people in. They'll provide a core of loyalists in the region."
"President Shinra, Corel is the town that invited us in in the first place!" said Reeve suddenly. "And many of them are cooperating with us!
"How will this affect our reputation?"
"We never intended to work with the people with that region for the long-term anyway, Reeve," said Shinra. "In the short-term, this should cow the area into submission. In the long term, we'll be supplanting them anyway.
"I call this a good start."
Scarlet laughed at this. "Best to make the situation clear to our future customers and quell any future descent."
"Scarlett, start preparations immediately, efficiency is our prized virtue," said Dad. "Reeve, you take care of the reactor. I have a personal matter to attend to." And there was a sound of standing.
"Claudia?" asked Reeve.
"Well, one ought to say goodbye properly. Courtesy and all that," said Dad. "I'm going to be gone a long time from Nibeilheim. Perhaps forever, if things go badly."
Cloud must have gasped because Hojo looked up suddenly. The door was opened, and Scarlett stepped out, a pistol in hand. She eyed him, then turned and walked out. President Shinra stepped forward, cane in hand. He was wearing his red business suit with gold buttons, and his hair was slicked back. "Cloud, you realize you're not supposed to be listening in on these conversations, don't you?"
Cloud stood up. "I...
"I'm sorry, Dad, I just wanted to hear what was going on. I wanted to hear about your work."
Shinra paused. "This is something of an adult subject, son."
"But..." Cloud stopped. "Who are these people you attacking? And why?"
"That's a... bit of a complicated question, Cloud," said President Shinra, kneeling down. "You see, there are two kinds of ways you can solve a problem. You can solve it with a scalpel or with a hammer. When you solve a problem with a scalpel, you can do it without doing very much damage to anything but the problem.
"But using a scalpel takes time, and takes a level of sophistication that you don't always have.
"We're waging war with Wutai, and a many of our troops were going through Corel. Soldiers that had volunteered to fight to protect you, and me, and even the people of Corel. But the people of Corel helped Wutai ambush and killed them. We lost an entire convoy of nearly a thousand men.
"And we're sending more as we speak.
"Think about how many convoys they could ambush if we took the time to root out the insurgents. This way, we can crush the root of the problem quickly and end the war."
"But why do we have to conquer Wutai, Dad?" asked Cloud.
"To establish peace, of course," said Shinra, though his tone sounded dismissive. "Cloud, before Shinra Inc came along, the whole world was in chaos. Everyone was fighting one another constantly. Every town and city was ruled by a warlord or chief, and it was chaos.
"Shinra Inc is trying to stop that.
"I mean, before I took power, most of the population had to spend every day trying to farm. They grew crops, just to survive. But now, now the farmers grow crops to sell to the cities, and they always have enough to eat. And the people in the cities, they work in factories and create huge machines.
"We have airplanes and airships and all kinds of wondrous things that you'd never even have heard of. And soon, very soon, we'll have even passed beyond the planet itself. We will be building Mako Reactors on other worlds someday.
"Wutai isn't like that at all. They're trapped in stasis. Even since the fall of Sin a thousand years ago, they haven't changed at all. Even crushing Yevon into the dust of history didn't get them to move on. By conquering them, we'll bring everything that makes our land great."
Cloud didn't really understand any of this. But it all sounded very fine and grand, and he felt he ought to believe him. Even so, something was bothering him. "Couldn't Sephiroth find the bad guys and wipe them out?"
He'd heard many stories of Sephiroth's heroics, followed them in magazines.
"Well, I'm sure Sephiroth would like to. But even Sephiroth can't be everywhere," said Dad. "Now, I need you to promise not to tell anyone about what's happening here. This is top secret stuff. "
Cloud nodded. "Of course, Dad."
Dad walked Cloud all the way out to the stairwell and looked through the windows. Beyond was Nibeilhem, and there was a group of children playing. Dad looked down at him in that curious fashion he did now and then. "Why are you spending so much time hanging around this mansion anyway? Shouldn't you be with some of the other kids?"
"I don't like spending time with them," said Cloud. "They don't like imagining things like I do."
"I believe I gave you some advice about this before," said Dad. "If you want to impress someone of no importance, son, you pretend to be more important than you are. They'll want your favor, and you can use them to become important.
"Then, what used to be a lie becomes a reality. Whether they want it or not.
"That's how I founded Midgar."
"I don't want to impress them," said Cloud. "Why should I care if they think I'm important or not?"
Dad looked at Cloud strangely then, and he wondered if he'd said something strange. Dad had first come here about six years ago and had visited frequently on business. It had been something to do with the contents of the mansion. And Cloud had been able to speak with him now and then.
"Well, what about this Tifa girl you keep talking about?" asked Dad. "Certainly, you seem to want her approval?"
Cloud looked out and saw Tifa, dark-haired, and really pretty. She was surrounded by a lot of other boys and girls. Probably the most popular person in the entire town his age.
"I don't like her friends," said Cloud. "All they care about are stupid things."
"Well, if I were going to impress her, I'd try to do it by action," said Dad, pausing. "If having people view you as important, is what you want. What do you want?"
"I guess, I guess I'd actually like to be important, make a difference," said Cloud.
Dad smiled slightly. "Have you considered trying to be a hero?"
"How do I do that?" asked Cloud.
Dad looked upward. "Well, that all depends on what kind of crisis you face, son. A hero can be made from war or stopping someone from falling. Or perhaps by making critical business deals that save a town from starvation.
"You should pick something you want to do and do it well. And if you do it well enough, you'll become a hero."
"How do you know? Were you ever a hero?" asked Cloud, curious.
Dad smiled. "Well, I would say I'm in the business of making heroes, son." And he put a hand on Cloud's shoulder. It was the first time he'd done anything like that. "Now why don't you see if you could talk to her. I've got work to do."
Cloud nodded and then made his way down the stairs. "Right, yeah, I'm going to become a great hero. Like Sephiroth or a member of SOLDIER."
A glance back saw President Shinra looking to Reeve. "...Well, at least he's got ambition."
Cloud wondered what he meant by that as he walked into the town square.
There was Tifa walking with some of the other kids. She was um... a lot more developed than other girls her age. Cloud wondered how exactly he should talk to her? He'd never been good at talking to people. He much preferred them to approach him.
But Dad had suggested he try it, so he should.
Moving forward, he waved to her. "Hey um, Tifa, how's it going?"
Tifa looked up at him and instantly looked uncomfortable, shifting from foot to foot. "Oh, um, pretty good, I guess."
"Great, that's uh... great," said Cloud. "How are you?"
That got a lot of laughter out of the other kids.
"Didn't you just ask her that?" asked one, voice having mocking.
Cloud was about ready to sock him one, but Tifa got there first. "No, it's fine, it's not a problem. Hey um, we have to uh... do something."
"Can I come?" asked Cloud, feeling a bit desperate.
"No, sorry, we've got enough people," said the other. "Come on, Tifa."
And they moved off.
Cloud walked them, feeling himself seethe. If they would just disappear off the face of the Earth, Tifa might actually notice him. Then she could be his. "...Jerks."
Turning, Cloud opted to head home, snatch his wooden sword, and wander out into the fields.
There he began his favorite pastime.
Wandering aimlessly and looking for monsters to fight.
Granted, he had yet to find any monsters fighting, and he often had to imagine them. Shinra military kept most major towns safe. Training in the militia was standard practice, though. It was a remnant from back before Shinra took over. In those days, a town might get attacked by an onslaught of monsters without warning and had to be ready to fight.
It had never been as bad as the days of Sin, of course. But that was a low bar to clear. Cloud had read enough history.
Dad had changed all that. And Sephiroth was a huge part of that change. He'd killed many of the worst monsters and become legendary for hunting them.
More than anything, Cloud wanted to be like Dad. Dad and Sephiroth.
Who cared if the others didn't like him? He'd prove himself. And no one would stop him.
As the sunset, Cloud turned and walked back to town. It looked very quiet, almost dead in the waning light.
Walking past the water tower, Cloud opened the door and entered. Within, he found Mom sitting in a chair. She was weeping into a handkerchief, and Cloud ran forward. "Mom?
"Mom, what's wrong?"
"I..." Mom dried her eyes and put the cloth away. "It's nothing, Cloud, it's just... your father is going away for a while. I'm sure... I'm sure he'll write."
Cloud was sure he was.
One thing Cloud knew for certain, though, was that one day he would join SOLDIER.