"'Shoot to incapacitate?' Tell you what then, I want twenty bucks a limb but I'll do the heads for free."
- Mercenary 'General' Reyland
"Talk, this is One-Mike. Come in."
"Copy One-Mike, go ahead."
"We're in position. Front terrace is occupied by one Tango, stationed left behind the counter. Standing by."
"Talk, this is One-Air. We're in position, standing by."
"Talk, this is One-Side. We're with Ten and in position. Standing by."
"Highground to One-Air. Tango nearing your entry on floor five. Exercise stealth options."
"Talk to One-Open. Report."
"This is One-Open. We're nearing our position. ETA ten minutes."
"Attention all groups. This is Leader. The ships are now secure, and you will launching the attack shortly. Remember, shoot to incapacitate, and take as many prisoners as possible. Treat this as a police situation, but when the need arises don't hesitate to fire. Contain all prisoners in the area designated as 'Quad'. Good luck."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
In yet another brief moment of panic, Scott wondered whether or not Sorceress's could read minds, because he was having impure thought after impure thought.
Needless to say, Michelle looked stunning, and he was salivating. Heavily.
At the moment he was standing by the buffet under the pretense of getting something to eat, while in fact he was attempting to discreetly check her out at their table from a distance. The dress was some sort of blue shimmery thing with thin shoulder straps and a low back. Whatever. It wasn't the dress that was important anyway, but rather what it encased. And what it encased, to borrow a phrase, was looking 'supa fly'.
Good God. Did he just think of her as supa fly? Apparently he was slipping into some sort of pimp frame of mind he didn't known he possessed. They say this Scott is a bad mutha- Shut your mouth! But I'm talkin' 'bout Scott... Then I can dig it!
Taking yet another deep breath to fortify himself, Scott piled his plate high with assorted high fat snacks and set off back towards the table. On the way he was accosted by Nida, who looked like he was enjoying himself immensely. Nida grinned and slapped him on the back a little harder that Scott thought was necessary. He winced.
"Now that," Nida practically purred, shooting an appreciative glance towards Michelle. "Is why we put up with this dancing shit."
"Please don't tell me I have to put up with this dancing shit."
"It's up to you. But getting laid is a war, my friend, and concessions must be made to achieve that final sweet, sweet victory. Besides, from the way she's been looking at you all night an unconditional surrender is within your grasp. If I were you, I wouldn't jeopardize it."
"When you put it that way how can I say no."
"Do you want to fuck this up?"
"If the urge to retreat is stronger than the urge to prevail, then the soldier cannot advance."
Nida quirked an eyebrow. "So the body is willing, but..."
"The heart is inexperienced and prone to bouts of failure."
"I believe in you."
"Then surely God is with me."
Nida laughed and swiped a chicken wing from Scott's plate, loping off into the crowd, no doubt to hook up with his potential all-nighter.
If only he were that lucky.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The upper floors were dark and silent, and the only sign that something was happening in the dim Garden was the faint roar of the party below. The floor tiles gleamed in the low lighting and the click of his boots seemed amplified
Seifer paced the upper floors alone not out of any required duty, but rather a need to remove himself from the dorm in which he spent most of his time like a caged animal. You could only pace the same stretch of floor before you needed somewhere else to rage. So he roamed randomly and almost silently, a ghost distanced from the life of the ongoing gathering. By choice and by necessity. There was no place for darkness amongst the bright lights and colors downstairs, and he was a walking bad memory.
And left with a few bad memories of his own.
The real problem with pacing was that it left your mind relatively free, and the last thing he wanted to be doing was thinking. Maybe he needed to take up a sport. Something suitably violent, of course. Boxing maybe. Pounding someone's face in legally had to be better than the punching bag.
A familiar door on his left caught his eye as he passed it. Trepe's room. His face contorted into a sneer. Seemed like everyone in the damn Garden thought they were an item. Because that was just what he needed, someone else as emotionally crippled as himself. Another walking wounded. Fuck that shit.
Of course, he wouldn't be opposed if it was just about sex. Socially he was treated like a leper, and that didn't run well with the ladies. He didn't even try anymore.
He stopped, frowning. His skin was crawling, the hairs on the back of his neck were standing up. Why? Seifer had always prided himself on his instincts, but he had seen nothing to provoke suspicion.
Then he heard it. A soft scraping noise, like something being dragged across glass. Coming from Trepe's room. He retraced his steps, pausing just outside the door. There is was again. A quiet, squealing rasp. Probably just some stupid kids writing cuss words on the windows while everyone was at the party.
Then why did it scream of something darker?
Carefully, he drew Hyperion from its sheath, relaxing at the familiar comforting whisk of steel against leather. If it was just some kids, at least he'd scare the shit out of them. Slowly, he reached to key open the door. The door slid open before he touched the button.
And a man dressed in black stepped through, assault rifle cradled in his hands.
Seifer had been prepared for this from a young age.
There was no hesitation.
Seifer swung Hyperion upward with full force. With a wet 'chunk!' the blade parted the man's head from the base of his jaw to his forehead, the impact lifting him slightly off his feet. He collapsed without ever making a sound.
He instantly withdrew to take cover, no time to gloat over the clean kill, no time to ponder why there was an armed man in black entering the Garden through an upper level window. The moment he had killed the man the others within had warned him of their presence with several muffled swear words and what sounded like 'One-Air Three down!'.
Sliding with his back to the wall away from the entrance he slapped down the button to close the door, then smashed his blade through the mechanism in hopes of jamming it shut. Without waiting to see if he was successful, he spun around and ran as fast as he could down the hall towards the stairway, knowing it would be foolish to use the glass elevator if the men should leave the room.
This plan became moot when another door down the hall slid open and more of the intruders poured out. The lead intruder saw Seifer and froze.
Seifer didn't see the point in waiting for him to finish. Bracing Hyperion with both hands he raised it in a smooth motion and pulled the trigger.
The built in revolver released its tremendous charge, and the weapon bucked heavily in his firm grip. In the hallway the noise was deafening, and Seifer's ears at first ached, then felt like they were filled with cotton and he could hear nothing but a high pitched ringing. The bullet impacted into the man's body armor directly over his heart, disintegrating the first layers of cloth in a smoke like cloud before piercing the organ and lodging in the armor on his back. He spun with the force of it, falling to the floor.
Dazed and deaf, time seemed to slow for Seifer, everything taking place in a silent haze. He cast Protect on himself before looking back over his shoulder. The other enemies by the door scattered like a school of fish, some ducking back into the entryway, a few sprinting past their fallen comrade and going behind a wall alcove on the other side. There was a dull roar back the way he had come, and the door to Trepe's room blew outward with a blinding flash. When his vision cleared the assailants had already made it halfway across the hall to more cover.
One of them was crouched in the doorway, aiming at him.
Not today, I think.
Seifer raised his arm and let loose a Firaga spell.
Momentarily the hallway was obscured by a raging explosion of flame. Bottled by the walls of the corridor it shot across the tile each way, swallowing everyone around Seifer in its deadly heat. Seifer felt the sweet exultation of victory surge through him. From what he had seen these enemies were nothing more than regular army. It would take someone with high magical power to survive a spell of that magnitude. And he should know. The spell faded and the smoke cleared as if it was never there.
And the soldier at the door hadn't moved.
What the fu-
The Heckler & Koch Mp5-A5 shook three times as the soldier flipped it onto its burst setting and squeezed the trigger. Seifer winced and braced himself for the painful shock that accompanied the impact of bullets on a Protect spell.
It never came.
But he felt the searing blow of 9mm bullets tearing their way through his flesh.
Somehow, in the space of seconds everything had gone terribly wrong. If time had seemed to slow before, now it stopped. His thoughts trickled through the haze of pain.
Somebody hit rewind, because I want to see that again.
Even anti-heroes aren't supposed to die.
But I seem well on my way.
Maybe I should have said I was sorry.
Maybe I should never have done it at all.
...No 'maybe' there.
I am actually sorry.
Why is it so cold?
...Fuck. Dying hurts.
Then it didn't.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.
What Squall wouldn't have given to have been that man.
Because no one saw this coming.
Squall had been dancing with Rinoa (though at any later time he would deny it) when the first crash echoed over the noise of the party. He had turned, thinking someone had dropped a plate. This notion was dispelled as a narrow metallic cylinder rolled to a stop in front of him, glass shards skittering across the floor from the window it had been thrown through.
Squall squeezed his eyes shut and threw his arm over them a split second before the canister disintegrated, followed by the blasts of a few others that he hadn't seen. His quick thinking saved him from the blinding flash but his head pounded with the tremendous roar and his hearing dissolved into white noise.
He looked up just in time to see the olive drab orbs of grenades sailing over the crowds.
Rinoa was still next time him, clutching her head in pain, mouthing words he couldn't hear. He grabbed her and pulled her down to the floor, rolling over on top of her. He still couldn't hear the detonations, but he could feel them. Not fragmentation grenades, thank Hyne. Concussion. Anyone who wasn't already on the floor was flattened. His chest compressed and the air was painfully forced from his lungs.
The room was choked with dust and smoke, and Squall's vision blurred as his eyes water. He blinked quickly, trying to clear them. He felt something cold bounce off the back of his neck, and realized that the windows, or what was left of them, were shattering inwards. The now empty holes in the walls were quickly filled by men in black BDUs, assault rifles and submachine guns cradled in their black gloved hands.
He knew that he was one of the few SeeDs in the room still capable of resistance. He needed to buy some time for a few others to recover so they could repel the attackers. Casting Protect and Shell on himself and Rinoa, Squall hauled himself to his feet and summoned Shiva. The room seemed to quiver, and he felt suspended as if he were underwater. The transparent orbs circled his head before dispersing, and the summon began.
The column of ice broke through the floor, shattering the polished wood and sending splinters flying through the air. Squall shook his head, trying to see past the illusion. A summon only affected its target, and while it appeared to be destroying everything in its path the environment would be unaffected once the summon faded.
The pillar split in two and Shiva emerged. The men pouring through the windows froze in awe and terror at this Ice Goddess who had risen from the floor, glaring at the imperiously. It was one thing for them to know they would be unaffected. It was quite another to believe it in the face of such power. Shiva raised her arms almost lazily, then frozen death spewed forth.
Later, Zell (who had been struggling to his feet with Selphie) would recall the strange invocation uttered by one of the soldiers closet to him.
The ice convalesced and hardened with a will of its own, and within seconds the enemies were encased. To Squall, standing invisible just outside the path of destruction, it seemed like some hideous diorama, little men in black posing in a sea of ice. Then as quickly as it had come, the ice faded.
And the men continued undaunted.
By the time everyone in the room had realized the attackers were unaffected by their magical attacks, six SeeDs lay dead and thirty-two were critically wounded.
And Squall could only watch as his Garden was taken from him.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Irvine was intimately familiar with firearms. He knew their make and method, all the types and models, could quote their rate of fire and how many rounds a specific magazine could hold. All this knowledge was not comforting in any way at the moment, for two reasons. One, he could not identify any of the weapons held by the enemy. Two, he knew exactly what his face would look like if the man pointing his gun at it pulled the trigger.
Helpless with hands in the air, Irvine waited like everyone else did, because the enemy was waiting. What they were waiting for he was not sure, but infrequently there was gunfire on the upper floors, and it was clear that these men were also penetrating the building from the top down. They were waiting for the all clear.
Irvine scanned the room. The background noise was a mixture of constant dim radio chatter from the soldiers and the soft groans of the wounded. The ones in really bad shape were pale and silent. He glanced worriedly towards the far corner window where Selphie was crouched over Zell, who was breathing fast and heavy, his face covered in a sheen of sweat. He had snapped the neck of one of the intruders with a spin kick before they had fired on him, and Irvine wasn't sure where or how many times he had been hit. His bleeding was under control since Selphie had slipped him a Curaga spell, but when the soldiers had seen the green and white light congeal around him they had brought their weapons to bear on her, making it clear that magic would not be allowed.
Squall hovered over Rinoa who was sitting on the floor, still in shock from the look on her face. When the first shots had been fired Rinoa had unleashed her Sorceress power, bombarding the incoming forces with spells at an incredible rate and power. For some reason they had singled her out though, and despite her rampage they never returned fire, instead surrounding her until she realized her offense was having no effect. Squall's face always looked cold to those that couldn't read him, but now it might as well have been carved from stone.
Quistis was still upstairs, and hopefully unharmed.
Scott was next to Michelle on the floor, propping her up against one of the chairs. She looked like she had taken a particularly bad hit from either a flashbang or the concussion grenades or both, and her head was lolling on her shoulders, the whites of her eyes showing a little more than they should.
SeeD training. That was the key here. In a situation like this, the best option was to wait for opportunity. Unfortunately, all the best plans of action didn't involve more than one or two armed assailants. It would be a little hard to slip away unnoticed standing in the center of the room, especially with all the exits guarded. And all the hand to hand combat skills in the world wouldn't help when every enemy wasn't within your reach and almost everyone who could help you was debilitated.
As far as he could tell, this was currently a no win situation.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Once again, as was becoming far too common these days, Scott was out of his depth. Except this time it was serious.
And possibly fatal.
He was also having an epiphany. There was no way to relate the information to anyone around him, but he had of course instantly recognized the weapons wielded by the assailants, a hodgepodge collection. Mp5-A5. M-16A2. M-60E3. HK G3A3. The occasional AK-74 and even a Sterling. The man closest to him was holding a SPAS-12. Pump or semiautomatic shotgun with an effective range of 50 meters. Seven rounds. He just hoped it wasn't the full auto French version. These weapons were definitely not native. And thus neither were the men holding them.
It was apparent that he was not alone after all. But given the circumstances, he wasn't sure he wanted to say anything to the rest of the home team.
His chain of thought was broken when the soldiers broke out into sudden motion, forcing everyone to their feet. One of them stood out in front, indicating the exits. His voice came from the speaker in his helmet, guttural and harsh.
"Everybody to the main entrance, lets go!"
Gingerly hauling Michelle to her feet, Scott complied with everyone else.
The soldiers herded them all into the concourse, grouping them in the middle and surrounding them in a circle of firepower. Scott started praying that they didn't plan to simply open fire on everyone in what would surely be a massacre.
As if on some invisible cue, the ranks of soldiers covering the entrance parted, and a group of men strolled through the opening. Then Scott received the biggest shock of the night yet.
The man in the middle was familiar to him.
His mind made the connections. He had come to know of Julian Foss during an operation for the FBI. The covert military team he had been a part of had been requested in a sting operation, intercepting several shipments in Silicon Valley, busting a ring of companies commandeering stolen overseas technology. Julian Foss had been the suspected head, the companies in question fronts for TAA. While the sting had been successful in recovering the technology for its rightful owners, the trail of evidence had never led back to Foss or TAA.
And now here he was, in the flesh. Scott had the sudden sickening thought that perhaps GPSS had been part of TAA all along. Had this entire thing been a ruse? Was he nothing more than a living crash test dummy, thrown into another dimension to pave the way for an invasion?
The turmoil in his mind was stopped cold as Julian drew a pistol, cocking it. He looked over the assembled crowd with eyes that looked more like granite. Then he shrugged apologetically.
"Frankly I find this distasteful myself, but... In order to kill a snake, the quickest was is to cut off its head, you understand. I apologize for this necessity, and will not hand off the responsibility to one of my men. No, this deed is required of me."
Julian pulled back the hammer of his gun, and shot Squall through the forehead.
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