On Earth as it is in Hell Chapter 24
By Caleb Nova
"Whenever most soldiers talk about battle, they always describe how indescribable it is, and how horrific. It's strange, but for me battle was only frightening in retrospect. During the actual combat it was always as if I was watching a movie starring some look alike. I experienced it vicariously, and only later did it come back real."
-Scott Keyor, Worlds Unknown
"Oh, I get it. You don't feel anything at all. You're the type of guy that two weeks from now, you'll be stopped at a traffic light and all this will hit you and when it hits, it'll hit hard. It'll hit you so hard that your heart will burst into a hundred pieces."
-Homicide: Life on the Street
Lights out, curtain call. This play that unfolds itself upon the vast stage of the Multiverse draws near to a close like all things do. The finale is uncertain, the future of many undecided. Reality is a harsh script, and the ending is rarely fairy tale. Between scenes Fate rewrites parts on whim, the Actors often adlib, and Time constantly rushes them to continue without rest. The favor of the audience is fickle and one bad improvisation can turn the style to tragedy. And it takes a skilled Actor indeed to successfully manipulate the outcome...
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Now we're getting close to the finish.
It would appear that way, yes.
Pay close attention, because in awhile things will start moving very quickly, and some of it's confusing. After a certain point, I'm not sure what happened at all.
I suppose you'll blame that on Hyne?
Actually, she performed quite well. What happened in the end was an inevitable result. Unavoidable.
Maybe it will help if you keep telling yourself that.
I'm not going to argue. The facts speak for themselves.
And they speak a rather damning testimony.
Just listen. It was mid afternoon, and the Garden Festival was looming up ahead that night. Selphie had given up on Quistis, Rinoa was trying to get Squall to wear something other than his SeeD uniform, Zell was trying to swipe some hotdogs ahead of time, Seifer was holed up in his room, and Scott was on his way to talk to Michelle. He had a bit of trouble finding the file room, but after some direction from a helpful Library assistant, he had found-
The room through a small corridor in the back of the Library. You couldn't even see it unless you went around several bookshelves and wove through the study area. To say he was nervous was an understatement. He could barely breathe. His thoughts were alternately jumbled prayer and the desperate wish to be anywhere else doing anything else. Like going off Niagara Falls in a coffin. Conveniently packaged for the undertaker. Even this amusing thought couldn't make him smile. Dammit.
There was a rattling coming from a door to the left. The rattling of file cabinets. Cabinets being opened and close by pretty, feminine hands. The kind of hands he would be afraid to hold, like touching a delicate sculpture. And there she was. In her civvies today, not uniform. Tight but not too tight jeans and a red shirt that accentuated her great- I'm scared to death and I'm getting horny? He was having a strange physiological reaction to his intense fear. He thanked God for loose jeans.
She looked up with at him and smiled, a brilliant smile that brought him close to collapse. Surely, this was some mistake. She could not possibly want to go to the Festival with him. He was a loser. He was completely out of his league. He had no idea what to expect. So obviously, the unexpected occurred.
"Hi!" She said brightly, walking up to him still holding a armload of files. "So, was Selphie telling the truth? Did you... Want to ask me something?"
The hope in her eyes was too much. Whatever resolutions or intentions Scott might have had crumbled under that gaze. He collapsed like a house of cards.
"Michelle, would you like to go to the Garden Festival with me?"
The words came out easier than he had thought. He was rewarded instantly when her face lit like light bulb. She barreled forward to wrap her arms around him in an impromptu hug, not forgetting to set the files aside first, and all the blood that had been concentrated in a certain lower portion of his body quickly moved upwards to suffuse his face in a dark blush.
"Of course!" She squealed, smile making his knees weak.
"Cool," He lamely replied. "Uh, I guess I'll come get you before show time... What dorm is yours?"
"Girls dorms, floor two. It's a only a few doors down, number 32."
"Okay. Uh.. I'll be there when it's time to go."
"Okay! See you then!"
Scott left with large feeling of relief. Now he had several hours with which to prepare himself for the night ahead. The first thing on his list being to ask someone about getting a suit or something. With this in mind, Scott went searching for Nida.
He found him setting up trays in the Quad for the catering. With the Festival only hours away, the Quad was complete, now a glittering and elegant party room. Only the food had yet to be put out, and it wouldn't be until just before the party starting.
"Hey," Scott called. "Nida."
Nida stuck his hand behind his back and gave a sort of wave gesture, not looking up from his work. Scott walking about along side of him and peered over his shoulder.
"I didn't volunteer, believe me," Nida grunted, forcing a container into a slot that seemed too small for it. "Another one of those days."
"I see. Who are you going with?"
"One of the Library girls. I hear you scored a date with Tranell."
"You heard correctly."
"Nice!" Nida grinned. "She's a hotty."
"Indeed she is. Hey, I need a suit or something for tonight."
"Well, there are several places for that. But the best one is in Balamb, and you'll look cheap if you just borrowed a SeeD dress uniform. I'll drive you down there in awhile if you want. I should go anyway, since that really would be better than just wearing the uniform like I was going to."
"You cheap bastard. How could you do that to your date?"
"How dare you!" Nida laughed. On impulse, he grabbed a spork out of the buffet dispenser. "I challenge you to a duel!"
Scott followed suit, grabbing a spork of his own and issuing his own challenge with a southern gentleman's accent. "Sah' I say sah', I demand satisfaction!"
"And you shall have it, knave!"
"To arms sah'! And I shall prove your dishonor in single combat!"
Scott and Nida dueled with mock ferocity until Nida easily disarmed Scott with a twist of his plastic weapon. The spork clattered to the ground and Scott collapsed.
"Tell... Michelle that I love her..." He gasped, holding his side. "And that I'm sorry I couldn't make it to the Festival."
"How about you get up so we can go get you a suit instead."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The last piece of Hyne's puzzle was ready to be placed, and she could not wait until the time was closer. Now, while she still had enough power to accomplish everything, she reached out and with all her might pushed through the Knot. And then she was stopped.
An unexpected anomaly. The Knot swirled around her and she couldn't choose a linear destination. Time was fluid and random. But she could sense what she needed. A weapon. Any one of them would do. She chose one, a weapon of some time past but still more than able to perform the task it was needed for-
Wait a minute.
Hyne wanted a weapon?
Then why did she go to another universe for it? There were plenty of weapons in her own.
You'll have to ask an Elder for a better explanation, but as I understand it, the deed had to be done with nothing but implements from the world of origination. Otherwise, if the Knot closed by the function of something unrelated, things might collapse entirely instead of just snapping back to the way they were before. It was a safety precaution rather than a necessity.
Can I continue?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The sounds of machine gun and rifle fire echoed through the woods, the constant chatter of weaponry all around. It was distant, but at any time the fighting could erupt anywhere.
Private Randall ran.
He took a right, veering off into thicker trees. He spotted a team of two men manning a sentry machine gun position, and jumped down into the hole. He grabbed one of the men's shoulders, shaking him. The man turned around.
"You guys Baker?" He asked.
"Jesus, no, Able. Head down the line and you should hit Easy, and then I think Baker is down there."
"Fuck," Randall muttered, hauling himself out of the hole. "Should've got a jeep."
It was cold. Bitterly cold. A distant booming met his ears and he looked off to his left, the low clouds lighting up with the flash of explosions. Bastogne was being hit again. The men inside the city were enduring a heavy pounding. The men outside were surrounded by five divisions. With no reinforcements and little equipment.
Things seemed desperate on December 22nd, 1944.
He was walking in deep snow without winter uniform. And without bearing. He left the Able line back in the distance and had completely lost his bearings. He slowed to a stop, heart pounding. The firing in the distance had stopped, and the silence was complete.
He jumped suddenly, convinced he had heard something to his right. He peered across the clearing. There was nothing there. There it was again, a soft rustling. He swung his Carbine off his back and disengaged the safety, crouching next to a tree. The Krauts had been closing in all around for the past two days. Every now and then, a few would slip through somewhere and run across-
The mistake of not moving behind the tree became abundantly clear when the black muzzle of Kar 98 lifted with its owner from concealment in a trench covered with snow. The barrel stood out starkly against the white backdrop. The click of the trigger was loud in the silence. His mind was perfectly clear. He knew he was dead.
The gun fired in dead accuracy towards his brain.
But Randall was already gone.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"So," Nida began as they walked through downtown Balamb. "How did you manage a date with Tranell?"
"I'm big pimpin'."
"Selphie set me up."
"Ohhh," Nida grimaced. "One of those."
"Well, at least she found you something good," Nida said as he started to turn down a smaller lane. "You're lucky in that respect."
The store was small, but all the suits hanging in the racks behind the wood counter looked clean enough. The various prices were displayed overhead like a menu at a restaurant, and Scott realized that he had absolutely no money at all. He was living on borrowed goods. He carefully broached the subject.
"Dude... I don't have any money."
"It's cool, I got you covered."
"Uh... I don't know when I can pay you back..."
"Don't worry about it," Nida shrugged, fishing a handful of gil chips from his pocket. "Besides, I doubt your money would be of much use around here anyway."
Scott watched with interest, studying the chips for the first time. They were multicolored, made of durable plastic with various symbols on them and a number denoting the amount. A bar code was stamped into the back of each one.
"What kind of money do you guys use?" Nida asked, curious.
"Green? What, like plants or something?"
Scott suddenly felt primitive. "Uh, no, paper. With cotton, I think. Makes a sort of really tough tissue. They're really detailed with all sorts of crap to make it hard to forge them. And they have pictures of famous politicians."
"Seems a little impractical. What happens if they get wet or torn?"
"You can dry them out. ...Badly. And if they tear they're worthless. But they make a lot of new ones all the time, and get rid of the old ones."
"Well, yeah, we do the same thing. Still, that would be weird carrying a bunch of paper around."
In his new surroundings, Scott couldn't help but agree. He leaned over the counter a little, checking out the selection. "Time to go penguin."
"What the hell is penguin?"
Scott made a mental note- No penguins around here either. "It's a bird. Well, sort of. It can't fly. It swims in really cold water, and it looks like it's wearing a suit."
Nida raised an eyebrow. "A bird that doesn't fly, swims like a fish and wears a suit."
"Yeah. And they shit all over their exhibits at the zoo."
"Sounds like a lovely creature."
"Actually, they're kind of cute, in a round sort of way."
Nida tried to imagine such an animal and failed. "Anyway, you see something you like?"
Scott shrugged, knowing he didn't actually possess real discerning taste when it came to suits. "I'm going to feel stupid no matter what."
"So, just a regular one for you?"
"Yeah. Nothing fancy."
"A good choice."
The money changed hands and soon they were each holding a tuxedo in plastic wrap. They stepped outside the shop and Scott held his up, examining it.
"You know," He said. "My theory is that your chance of scoring increases an entire ten percent when wearing one of these."
"Really? I would have guessed around nineteen percent."
"No, no, that's much too large an increase. They aren't that effective."
"I think you underestimate the tuxedo. Combined with cologne, a fifteen percent increase, and well groomed hair and facial hair, a sixteen percent increase, that makes an even fifty. Personal charm and looks make up the other half."
"But that percentage doesn't hold up with statistics. Not that many guys get laid."
"Well, then you get deductions. Let's say, just for mathematics sake, that you somehow possess a one hundred percent chance of getting laid. Perfect appearance, and super charm. But then you factor in the music being played, decrease if it's just not a good song, the atmosphere, possible smoke and ambient noise and lighting, and the woman in question. If she isn't easy or playing hard to get, this vastly subtracts from the percentages. Depending on what weighs against you, you might even come out with a negative chance of scoring."
"Now we're making sense. Plus, your personal history with her or even lack of can count for or against you."
"Exactly. So after all our deductions and sensible percentages, we come to the conclusion that without forehand knowledge of a many myriad of details, the game of getting laid becomes impossible to predict."
Scott held up a hand. "Ah, but we do know quite a bit about the rendezvous at hand. I think you and I stand a chance at calculating our success, although with a large margin of error."
Nida walked over to a bench and sat down, motioning for Scott to do the same.
"Okay, so we each have suits, so we each start with a solid nineteen percent," He began.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Apparently the saying, 'A watched pot never boils' also applied in, 'A watched sun never sets'. Hendrow could almost feel the seconds slip by with all the speed of a snail.
He was standing on the deck of a boat, a boat that was currently serving in the capacity of a landing craft. They were floating stationary off the coast of Balamb, just beyond sight of the land.
They would land by a landmark identified as some cavern used as a test of new SeeD candidates. From there they would proceed under the cover of darkness, surround the Garden, and begin a quick entry.
The main body of men would secure the front entrance, then push as quickly as possible into the Quad to capture the gathering of SeeDs there. At the same time the remaining forces outside would scale the Garden and infiltrate it from the top down, emptying everyone that might be present down to the main floor where they too would be held in the Quad. All extra forces would maintain the perimeter to prevent possible escape.
The force assigned to capture the Quad would consist entirely of Earthside men to prevent as many casualties as possible, while all other forces would primarily contain members of Galbadian Special Forces and regular Army.
The plan was sound, Hendrow had to admit, and the chance for failure slim.
With any luck, it would work that way.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Squall sighed, letting his hands slide off the keyboard. He knew he should finish the report, but he also knew he should be getting ready for the Festival.
Fall behind on his work, or face the wrath of Rinoa. Not much of a choice. But he had learned enough about relationships by now to know it was worth the effort. Getting to his feet, he crossed over into his room and opened the closet.
After renting a tuxedo for a few Festivals, he had finally given into convenience and bought himself one. He had let Rinoa pick it out for safety's sake. If it was up to him he'd show up in his leather jacket or even more preferably, not show up at all.
Ah, to be single again.
A line of thought he quickly dropped when he remembered what it was to be alone.
Anyway, by this point he was expected to be there, even if only as an authority figure. Like a Principal showing up at school events. But unlike a Principal, Squall enjoyed the popularity of being a living legend, although 'enjoyed' was not really how he dealt with it. Respect he could handle. Hero worship was like a rash or a bad rectal itch.
Just as his mind was so occupied Rinoa walked in. He glanced at the clock and was surprised at the time. He had been working longer than he had thought and she was out of her classes. She smiled and sat on the bed, most likely amused at the look he was giving the suit hanging innocently on its hanger, draped in plastic.
"Whatcha thinking about?" She asked, kicking off her shoes. Squall decided honesty wasn't the best choice, but the most amusing one.
That raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"I hate parties."
She stood and walked over to him, gently putting her hands on his chest. "I know. And if you really don't want to, we don't have to go."
Now it was his turn to raise an eyebrow. He could be dense when it came to the personal side of life, but he wasn't stupid. She loved the Festival. It was quite clear she was bracing herself to make a sacrifice for the relationship by ditching the Festival with him in the same way he was ready to sacrifice by going. Guilt wasn't long in coming, and he knew he could never take her up on the offer.
He was silent for a minute, still contemplating the dreaded suit. He looked at her and in his way, made it clear they would still be going.
"It won't be that bad."
She understood his need to rationalize it to himself and played along.
"No, it won't."
"All my friends will be there."
"Yes, they will."
"The food is good."
"...You'll be there."
She kissed him softly on the mouth. "Absolutely."
A short game of repetition between them that made everything better again. And getting back to his original train of thought, it wasn't really the party or the company he wasn't looking forward to. It was the awe. Maybe if he buried himself in the back corner, hopefully behind the rest of his friends, no one would notice. That might work.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Scott Keyor. A man separated from all he has known by uncrossable boundaries, a boundary that has now been breached. Through time his desperation has faded, and he has almost come to accept the strange state in which he finds himself. But Mr. Keyor is about to take a journey, a journey not only through space and time, but through another zone. A zone we call, The Twilight Zo-
That's quite enough out of you.
Hey, who's telling the story here?
At the moment, neither of us. Stop wasting time.
Clearly, you have no taste in television.
It was a scant few hours until the Festival began when Zell realized that he had simply assumed he was going with Selphie. The problem with this assumption came to him like a lighting bolt to his brain.
He quickly wracked his memory, searching through all of their recent conversations. He had to have asked her sometime. Had to have. How could he have forgotten to actually ask her after all this time? He had to have asked her.
There was nothing to do but grit his teeth and face it. He was a hero dammit, he had faced Hell and high water for the fate of the world. And yet nothing seemed so frightening as begging Selphie, who in his mind was probably incensed, to go to the Festival with him. He just hoped she wasn't so mad that she would go with someone else. The thought sparked panic and he set out in a dead run.
"I suck!" He yelled, turning more than a few heads as he sped across the commons towards the Quad. He narrowly missed hitting Irvine, sliding on his heels in what he would have bet was an impossible maneuver, recovering and juking around Irvine to the left.
"Where's the fire Sparky?" Irvine called after him. Zell didn't bother to turn around, and flipped the bird over his right shoulder.
When he entered the Quad he slowed to a stop. moving nervously through the people there making the final arrangements for the night ahead. He spotted Selphie up on the stage, apparently giving a pep talk to the band. He stood in what he hoped was an unobtrusive position to the side, not wanting to interrupt. He was already in enough trouble.
The pep talk ended with a jump and skip from Selphie and a few rolling eyes from the band, and she hopped off the stage to find something else to micro manage. Swallowing hard, Zell took the opportunity.
Doing his best to saunter casually, he left his hiding spot and crossed the open space to her.
She turned around, face lighting up.
"Hi Zell!" She chirped, running up and throwing her arms around him. "What's up?"
"I was just thinking, and...."
He blew out a breath. "I forgot to ask you to go with the Festival with me, and I was wondering if you would. ...Go. With me."
And she laughed. She laughed. He blinked.
"Of course Zell!" She giggled. "I already knew we were going together, but it's so sweet of you to ask me!"
"You're such a thoughtful guy!"
"Yes! Well, I'll see you tonight! Hope you like my dress, I picked it out just for you!"
With that she was bounding off to fulfill the rest of her Festival duties, and he was left gaping after her. He groaned and put his face in his hands.
He never knew anything.
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