The Lights Are On... Chapter 1

By ???

The slums were used to strange occurrences. Sometimes people in dark suits would fall from the metal “pizza” in the sky- usually with multiple gunshot wounds. Of course they died on impact if they weren’t dead already. Sometimes they screamed the whole way down. That was fun. They’d scream and scream and scream, and then there’d be a crunch and a splat as their guts went everywhere. Then they’d rot in the streets for weeks before Shinra would come along and clean up the mess.

And then there were the monsters. Every now and then one would jump the walls and terrorize Midgar for a while before the helicopters showed up and blew holes in them. Then they’d rot in the streets for weeks before Shinra would come along and clean up the mess.

And finally, there were the raving lunatics. Most were just drunks who created scenes to get sympathy and free booze. Others patrolled the slums for rats. Some particularly screwed-up people would try to scale the support wires to the pizza above and see if there was any pepperoni on top. Usually they were carted away, never to be seen again. The men in white suits that dragged them away screaming would say that they’re taking them to a good hospital far away. But you’d find the lunatic a week later with a hole in his head rotting in a ditch in the outskirts of the slums. Sometimes Shinra came along to clean up the mess. Usually, they didn’t.

So when the blonde started wandering around the slums with his strange hair and his dirty uniform muttering to himself, no one paid much attention to him. Nobody knew how he got in, but nobody cared enough to ask him about it. Sometimes people appeared out of thin air, it seemed. Nobody was stupid enough to climb the walls into Midgar, so they must’ve just popped into existence. It was well known that he didn’t arrive on the only train coming into Midgar- the people of the slums watched the new arrivals carefully, hoping that some rich fool would arrive so the slums would get free money from the poor sap. This one just appeared.

Nobody was quite sure why he was wearing a SOLDIER uniform, either. He had the mako eyes of a SOLDIER, but he carried himself like a cadet. He often roamed the streets, raving about the legendary Sephiroth and monsters, but there were times where he’d be lying in the middle of the street curled up in a fetal position. Sometimes, if one listened closely enough, they could hear him whimper. And then there’d be the times he passed out for no reason. One second, he’d be ranting and raving about some bizarre topic, then he’d fall face first in the mud.

After a few months, the residents went from apathy to worry. What if he had some crippling disease? What if he decided to go on some killing spree? What if he was contagious? Word began to spread about the blond newcomer. Nobody was quite sure how he survived, but the word on the street was that he was living on handouts and sewer rats. What kind of SOLDIER would have to stoop to that level? It boggled the mind. He carried that giant SOLDIER sword of his around on his back, but it was like it didn’t exist to him. He never pawned it for cash, he never killed any of the larger sewer monsters for food, and he never even tried to pass himself off as a mercenary. He was a nutcase. Plain and simple.

In a matter of days, all of the sectors knew about him. They knew about his bizarre behavior, his uniform, the sword he never used, but nobody knew his name.

“…Nobody except for me! The sonofabitch told me his name when I pulled him out of a sewage ditch!”

The other patrons of the Sector Seven bar ignored the conversation taking place at the counter. Everyone except the large man sitting at the very end, pretending not to listen as he took a sip of beer. Seventh Heaven was famous for being the most well-informed pub around, in terms of gossip. Nothing seemed to escape its clutches. Not even blonde raving lunatics in SOLDIER uniforms.

“What was his name?” the bartender asked, sliding another beer to the already drunk middle-aged man who was retelling the story of the mysterious SOLDIER. She was hanging on his every word, brushing long locks of dark brown hair behind her ears as she leaned forward to hear what the man was saying.

“And then he started mumblin’ about some chick named Genevieve or something like that. Well, maybe it wasn’t Genevieve. Maybe it was a Jehovah’s Witness he was talking about. They all sound alike to me. Maybe he was talking about another girl. Sounded like “Jen Hova” or something like that. Maybe it was a Jehovah’s Witness. Yeah, probably a Jehovah’s Witness.”

The bartender narrowed her eyes. “His name. Tell me his name. Please.”

“Said his name was Zack.”

The bartender’s eyes widened and she took a step back. “Zack?” she asked in disbelief, her jaw dropping open.

“Yeah. Zack. Why? You know him?”

The bartender’s face fell. “No… I don’t. I thought maybe it was someone I knew. I… I’m glad I don’t, though. It’s horrible for someone to live that kind of life… living off of rats and handouts. And to be so mentally ill. It’s so sad.” She turned toward the lone man at the end of the bar. “Isn’t it sad, Barrett?”

The man glanced up. “Yeah, Tifa. Real sad. Makes me wanna cry.”

The bartender put her gloved hands on her hips and scowled. “You’re heartless.”

“You’re tryin’ to be a saint while you’re still alive. Just forget about the damn loony. If you don’t know him, it’s probably for the better. Don’t go out of your way to get involved with some crazy freak just because it’s ‘sad’. You’ll end up in the same ditch as him. I guarantee it.”

The drunk man at the bar took a sip of his beer and stared at the ceiling through blurry eyes. “Obsessed with clouds, too.”

“But he’s a person!” Tifa nearly shouted. “You can’t just go around deciding that someone isn’t your problem just because they’re ranting and raving about something! What if something caused his ins…” She trailed off and stared at the drunk at the bar. “What did you just say?” she whispered.

The drunk blinked. “Wha?”

“What did you say?” she asked in a hoarse whisper. “Tell me! What did you just say?”

“I said he was obsessed with clouds. He was jabberin’ on about cloud this and cloud that, and clouds not bein’ here and clouds bein’ failures and whatnot. Real nutcase.”

Tifa grabbed the man by the shoulders. “Are you absolutely certain?”

“Yeah, I’m damn sure of it.”

Tifa glanced at her watch. Two thirty in the morning. The bar usually didn’t close until four, but circumstances like these called for desperate measures.

“Everyone, can I have your attention, please?” she cried over the din of drunken patrons. A gradual hush fell over the crowd. “I’m sorry to do this to you guys, but Seventh Heaven is closing early tonight. Please gather your belongings and exit quietly. Thank you for coming.”

A general protest arose.

“Whaddya mean she’s closing up? I’m not drunk yet!”

“What the hell is going on here…?”

“Look, I said I was sorry to do this to you, but something’s come up. I have to close the bar tonight. Things will return to normal tomorrow unless something major comes up.”

The outcries dimmed to grumbles, and the patrons slowly began to trickle out.

“What the hell are you doing, Tifa?” Barrett cried out, slamming one fist on the table. “You can’t go lookin’ for some cloud-crazy lunatic at two thirty in the morning! You’re gonna get hurt!”

“I don’t want to deal with your crap, Barrett!” Tifa shrieked wildly, spinning around. There was a dead silence as the last patron exited the bar and slammed the door behind him. Time froze. Barrett’s eyes slowly widened as his fist unclenched. The only sound in the bar was the steady ticking of the clock on the wall and Tifa’s heavy breathing.

Finally, the silence ended. “Look, Barrett… I’m sorry for yelling,” Tifa murmured, her voice shaky. “But it’s just… this man might know where Cloud is. It’s a long shot, but I just have to know. I haven’t heard from him in six years. I have to know if he’s okay.”

Barrett sighed. “Not this again. Look- I told you he’s probably dead. You go followin’ leads that have no truth behind them whatsoever. I know you care a lot for this Cloud guy of yours, but he’s gone. Face it.”

“He’s not gone. He’s around here somewhere. And I’m going to find him,” Tifa growled. She picked up a beer glass angrily and began swiping at the inside with a wet rag. “And you’re not stopping me.”

“All I’m trying to say is that this is a waste of your time. We have to focus our efforts on bigger things, now. AVALANCHE is gaining new members. It’s almost time for us to begin our attacks against those planet-killing bastards. We can’t have our best fighter putting half her effort into this battle- we’ll get ourselves killed that way. You just have to let things…”

“Hey, you can’t go in there! It’s closed!” A voice cried from outside. The doors to the bar slammed open, and Barrett leaped out of his barstool, ready to face the intruder. Tifa’s back was to the door- she was ignoring the events taking place. It was best to leave these things to Barrett.

“Beer me.” The intruder demanded in a hoarse voice.

“Who the hell do you think you are, storming in here after the bar’s closed?” Barrett demanded, raising an arm to the intruder. A giant metal gun gleamed at the end of the arm. “How many times do I have to tell you filthy beggars to stay the hell outta here?”

“I said, beer me.”

“I’m tellin’ you to get the hell out!”

There was a long pause.

“You can’t tell me what to do! I’m a SOLDIER, god damn it! Now beer me or… or… I’ll… You… ah, the light. I hear the screams. That’s right, I hear every one of your screams! Stop the screaming! Damn you! Stop screaming!”

“God damn, this guy is fucked up,” Barrett muttered.

“Shut up! Just… just shut up! I didn’t ask you to start screaming, too! The voices, god, the voices! They’re all screaming! Can’t you hear their cries? Can’t you HEAR them?”

“Look, buddy, we’ll get you some help,” Barrett said slowly, advancing toward the stranger. “You’re the guy they’ve been talking about, huh? Well, we’ll get the nice men to make it all better. Stay right there and we’ll help you, okay?”

“You lie! You said you’d help me, but I’ve got scars because of your little games. If the voices weren’t screaming, I’d kill you. Yeah, I’d rip you a new one,” the stranger said in a shaky voice. He began to laugh- a hollow laugh that often masked true insanity.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Where’s my sword, you fiend?”

A glass shattered. Both sets of eyes were trained on Tifa, who was staring at the stranger with wide eyes.

“Cloud…” she whispered. The beer glass she dropped had sent razor-sharp shards of glass into her legs, but she didn’t feel the pain of the gouges, or the warmth of her own blood running freshly down her skin. All she could see was the dirty lunatic at the door with the strange blonde hair and the mako eyes. “Cloud…”

The stranger seemed to lose his balance for an instant, and when he finally regained his senses, his jaw dropped slightly and he looked around the bar dazedly.

“Where… am I?” he murmured. He focused on the statue-like girl behind the counter. “Tifa? Tifa… is that you?”

“Who the hell is this?” Barrett demanded. Tifa shook her head numbly as she grabbed onto the counter for balance and walked out into the open. She took slow steps toward the stranger, blood trailing on the hard wood floor as she made her way towards him.

“Cloud… it’s you… it’s really you…”


With that, the glow seemed to go out of Cloud’s eyes for an instant, and he teetered wildly. “Tifa… they did horrible… horrible things…”

“Who did?” Barrett asked in a monotone. He couldn’t help but stare at the robotic girl trying to make her way toward the unbalanced lunatic

Then, everything happened at once. The stranger lurched forward and crashed into Tifa, sending her flying backwards. A loud shriek pierced through the air as her head slammed into the front of the counter and her body sank to the floor with the weight of the now unconscious man against her legs. Blood seeped into his dirty hair and the shards of glass embedded in her legs scratched his face roughly, causing the puddle of blood around them to grow at an alarming rate.

“…Cloud…” Tifa whispered as she passed out.

Barrett rushed for the only phone in the bar and dialed the paramedics. As the operator on the line asked him in a soothing voice to describe what had happened, the stranger’s last words ran through his mind over and over again.

”They did horrible… horrible things…”

Cold Fusion

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