Vigil of the Fates Chapter 14
Transformation and Reverberation
The major swore as the metal nut fell with a tiny clang into one of many cavities inside the main control unit for the fourth time. When he had gotten his engineering degree, he had hoped it would provide a much-needed boost for his career. Instead, he got ordered to play handyman with this 200-foot-tall piece of steel junk so ancient it was more a relic than a machine. The good-for-nothing idiots of recon specialists had reported prior to the invasion that twenty-four hours of repair effort would suffice to render the tower operational again. The morons had grossly misjudged the iron resolve of the half-century-old ensemble of unusable crap to remain in that sorry state. Here they were, full three days after the invasion, and still grappling with this paraphernalia of rusty scraps and two decades accumulation of oily grime. They had had to refurnish a practically whole new set of parts to resuscitate the hulking monument to obsolescence.
And just what the hell am I doing here? the major grumpily thought. He hadnt even been properly assigned to this sorry operation to begin with. They just called him off the front line and dumped the job on his shoulders when they got shorthanded. What honorable considerationlike I am some bloody mechanic, he grouched. When it all ended, they would probably shove some lousy second-rate commendation into his hands and forget once again that he existed. That is, until the next time hands were needed for some other seedy duty. Even as he continued to reestablish the circuits that had disintegrated through years of disuse, the major found himself dreaming of all the different ways he could demolish the whole damned tower to a pile of rubble...
Major Biggs, sir! a familiar voice called from behind.
What? the crouching major snarled, looking back.
Another shadow in the shape of a large flying creature was sighted over the tower. I have dispatched two privates to investigate and if necessary to eliminate the creature.
Yeah, yeah, whatever...
The major turned back to the tall machine that stood with its front panel torn off like a patient cut open for a surgery. More like a rotting corpse on an autopsy table, the major darkly fancied.
Im almost done here. I just need to complete a few more circuits, but were much too far behind schedule. If the idiots down below are still not done clearing the track, get extra hands to finish the job immediately even if it means diverting the guards. I want to proceed the moment this control unit is operational, understood?
Yes, sir! And also... the robots automatic control system continues to be jammed at irregular intervals, sir.
Ah, to hell with it. The unfamiliar signal of the tower must be interfering with its A.I. piloting frequency. The signal activity has been on and off for the past few minutes, thanks to bad connections. Once the robots computer adapts to the new radio environment, itll all level off.
However, sir, Black Widow is our primary defense unit, and especially without the guards...
To hell with it! The SeeD is occupied in the other mountains, anyway. Just make sure that monster of yours pose no problem.
Then, sir, I shall relay your order and commence with another patrol around the tower.
The soldier saluted the major and departed.
Yeah, yeah... Damn it, what is up with these crappy old parts? Hadnt these Dollet dummies ever heard of electric screwdrivers twenty years ago?
Major Biggs was further occupied with the troublesome circuits for fifteen minutes. Finally he succeeded; after an inordinate amount of manual fumbling, all the tab As clicked into the tab Bs, and the flickering lights dappling the machines core strengthened with a low, smooth whirr. The major stood back and gazed proudly at his work just as the soft wheeze of the lift behind him announced the return of his subordinate. He motioned grandly at his accomplishment for the junior officer to note.
Wahahaha... look at that, Wedge! How about that? Ive got the thing going at last! Geniussheer genius! Biggs bragged in delight, sparing only the quickest of glances at the younger man before he returned to admiring his handiwork. He then froze on the spot.
That had not been Wedge on the elevator. Or any of his men.
He spun to behold three strangers in dark uniforms who stood staring wordlessly back at him. The major was further surprised to realize that the strangers all appeared to be well under twenty. And one of them was a girl. Are they SeeD? But what kind of gear is that?
Wha... Biggs stuttering exclamation broke the brief standoff. He-hey! Who the hell are you?
And then alls attention was taken by an abrupt disturbance from below that shook the entire tower.
* * * * * * * *
Somewhere at the heart of the old structure, wheels and engines that had sat unused for nearly twenty years began to turn and glow. An interlacing network of unmanned parts, only recently scrubbed clean of cobwebs and thick dust, quivered back to life to engage in an intricate routine long interrupted. The placid air inside the tower suddenly vibrated with tension as a myriad of mechanical hums echoed throughout the place.
Squall watched as a spanner lying on the perforated floor fell through from the tremor, his eyes following the tools deceptively leisurely descent toward the jagged terrain hundreds of feet below. The circular platform on which the cadets stood was directly underneath the summit of the tower. It was an open platform without walls or rails, much like the crude elevator that had brought them there, exposing them to the strong chilly breeze that bespoke the high altitude. All around them was the panoramic vision of Dollets golden sky, its size magnified to daunting scale by the complete absence of terrain features that would restrict it. The earth was a long way down, and from their height the cadets could even see, in the distance, the shore where they had landed as well as the ocean beyond.
Whats going on? Selphie inquired nervously when the towers shudder subsided.
Squall redirected his attention at the Galbadian officerwho, he noted, had gotten on all four the instant the tower started to shakebut a tremendous dash of something massive behind him caused him to swing around in alarm. When he did so, Squall discovered to his amazement that Communication Tower had grown substantially taller than he remembered it. At the very top of the tower above the center of the platform was an enormous cylindrical column that had not been there moments before. It must have extended from underneath, Squall thought.
As the cadets and the Galbadian major watched, the column pushed up higher, capping the tower with a good twenty-five feet of added height. It then tilted towards inland at a steep angle, and immediately it split open at the root in three equal parts, momentarily resembling a three-winged windmill. In another second the gaps between the three radiating frames were rapidly filled by silvery metallic planes that spread like a folding fan. The resulting circular plate then promptly proceeded to curve at the edge and hollow itself into the shape of a bowl.
Merely a minute after the initiation of the procedure, a great parabola gleamed atop Communication Tower under the nearly translucent full moon of the evening sky.
An antenna. That explains the name of the tower, Squall thought.
Hey, you, Zell yelled at the Galbadian. What the hell is this? What have you done?
The soldier, still on his knees, snapped up at the coarse query and sprang to his feet. Angry embarrassment colored his voice as well as what was visible of his face under the helmet. You are asking me, little brat? What do you three juveniles think you are doing up here? You will all be arreste...
Biggs stopped halfway along his sentence as a thought dawned upon him. Where were his men?
He-Hey! What happened to all the...
He stopped again, another thought occurring to him. No. No way. These kids couldnt have taken them all out, could they?
Wedge! Wedge! Take care of these little twerps! Biggs yelled.
His order was met with cold human silence amidst the noise of high winds mixed with the electric thrum of the revived tower.
....Wedge? Wedge? Biggs called out again in a smaller voice, looking about for the hint of the soldiers presence.
Squall regarded the strange officer expressionlessly.
Selphie tilted her head at him, her face mutely asking, Well?
Zell started to crack his knuckles.
Well, uh... stammered Biggs. Ah... I seem to be done here. So Ill just be on my way now...
Clutching his machine gun defensively to his chest, the major started stepping sideway around the cadets toward the lift. The trio observed the Galbadian officers crab imitation curiously, uncertain as to how to handle this bumbling enemy.
The matter was then quickly taken out of their hands.
Leaving so soon? came the jeering voice of a newcomer, startling Biggs and the cadets. A quick swish followed, and Biggs machine gun was flung high into the sky and lost from sight.
Seifer pointed his gunblade at the soldiers neck. You heard the chicken-head over there. What are you up to, hm?
Are... Are you brats out of your minds! Biggs cried, taking a step back, agape at the sudden entrance of yet another badly misplaced teenager. A malicious smile appeared at Seifers lips and he moved forward, the tip of his sword still menacing the soldiers throat. Biggs cast a nervous look behind while he was driven toward the edge of the platform.
If you are in a hurry to get downstairs, thats fine with me, said Seifer with exaggerated courtesy. But how you go down will be decided by your answer to my question.
Squall felt a tug at his left arm and turned to find a slightly worried Selphie.
Is he serious? Is he gonna push the guy over if he doesnt cooperate? she asked him in a low whisper.
Selphie, her anxious eyes still on Squall who provided no reply, jumped at the shriek that rang out without warning. Oh, my God, he pushed him over
But when she shifted her horrified gaze back to Seifer, fully expecting to see him standing alone where hed had the Galbadian cornered shortly before, she saw both Seifer and the enemy holding their spots. And they looked just as surprised by the scream as she was.
Everyone looked up at the source of the cry. The next moment, the body of a Galbadian soldier rolled off the edge of the very antenna above them, dropping onto the floor with a thud and a yelp.
Wedge! exclaimed Biggs in shock that at once turned into anger. Wedge! Where the hell were you! Remind me to write you up for a pay cut this month! Hurry up and deal with these brats!
Wedge, who remained flat on the floor during his superiors rant, raised his head weakly and moaned, ...Sir... the monster...!
Monster? Zell repeated.
Hey, look out! Selphie shouted, pointing to the antenna whence the soldier had fallen.
A pair of gargantuan wings could be seen flapping slowly beyond the arc of the parabola. Soon the rest of the wings owner appeared, rising and casting its shadow over the tower.
Squall thought it looked like an oversized vampire bat, or perhaps a very oversized hornet. Whichever the resemblance, the beasts next move demonstrated to alls understanding that it was unfriendlyand in an exceptionally foul mood. Surveying its list of preys quickly, the creature lunged for the target of its choice that mystified all who watched from below: the parabolic antenna. The clash shook the platform, and a metallic groan issued from the parabola.
What in the world? cried Biggs, amazed. Wedge! Explain whats going on!
S, sir! The monster evidently deems the antenna to be an intruder. This tower harbors its nest, sir! Wedge replied as he stood on shaky legs.
God damn the stupid animal! Dont just stand there, idiotdrive it away!
And, so saying, the major began to fire his gauntlet gun at the creature that was now clawing viciously at the parabola. Wedge pulled out his side pistol and followed suit.
What are you two doing? Youll make it come after us
Selphies warning was fruitless. Hit in the back, the Bat turned and issued an infuriated growl, taking in the sight of the small figures below. The snarling then intensified into a violent, rumbling hiss that drew itself out ominously. The creatures chest expanded in an unsightly mimicry of a rubber balloon. It was inhaling air. Squall jolted involuntarily; he saw what was about to happen.
All of you, get low and hold onto something! Its gonna blow us away!
It was Seifer who had yelled those words to the cadets. Squall hit the floorand pulled Selphie and Zell down with him. A second later, a gale of explosive force descended upon them.
Oh, shi-it! Biggs screamed as he felt his feet being lifted off. The two soldiers were swept up as easily as pieces of paper by the storm that the Bat had produced. It was with the aid of sheer and remarkable luck that they both smashed into the towers bulk instead of plummeting to their doom. Unconscious, they slumped to the floor.
Get up! We gotta kill that thing before it tries wind magic again! ordered Seifer, rising.
Zell, cover me while I summon a GF, Squall said quickly as he began to call for Ifrit. Get low and ground me with gravity attack if the monster tries to use its breath before the summon is complete.
What? But thatll hurt you, too, Zell protested. Squall did not break his concentration to answer the cadet. Damn, Zell swore softly. Turning, he then set the Bat ablaze.
Seifer took his position closely next to the central column and prepared long-range spells. Trapped in his thunder attacks, the beast jerked savagely midair, howling in pain. Zell engaged it from another angle. In an attempt to close in on the cadets the Bat valiantly rushed head on against the blitz storm of fire and thunderbolts, its claws outstretched to claim the nearest prey. The act only served to make it an easier target for the cadets to pummel. Seifer lost no time to take advantage of the proximity and sent charged bolts directly through the Bats wings. With its wings electrocuted to paralysis, the creature stalled, then crashed onto the platform.
Keep up the pressure, Dincht! Seifer cried, making a dash at the momentarily downed Bat, gunblade raised high. While Zell continued the barrage of fire on the beast, Seifer broke through the blaze and landed three solid blows in succession on the creatures immense torso. Blood splashed onto him, and the Bats squeals of agony beleaguered his ears.
Seifer, out of the way! Squall shouted.
Quaking rumble heralded Ifrits arrival. The Bats form vanished from alls vison under a blinding globe of flame that buried the creature, and this time the deafening roar came not from the creature but from the tower itself as a sizable chunk of the steel platform was incinerated along with the intended victim.
No trace of the Bat remained in sight when the globe had consumed itself and dissipated amid smoldering shreds of metal and flesh that rained down following the blast like volcanic ash.
* * * * * * * *
Excellent! Zell cheered when the fire died down. Holy cow, what a hit! That totally toasted that bird!
Damn you, Squall. Seifer seethed from the corner where he had ducked to escape Ifrits bombardment. He arose and glanced at the spot where the Bat had beennow present only as a humongous dent of empty air that bit into the trashed platform. You damn near took me out with it, too!
I saw you take cover, Squall said in answer to the captains half-serious accusation, stretching his arms and shoulders. His entire body tingled in the aftermath of the summona typical physiological reaction to the exertion of a newly contracted Guardian Force.
People, listen. Listen!
Selphie drew the cadets attention. Quickly she stepped up to Seifer and saluted him. Now that the hostiles have been dealt with, I have a message for you, Squad B captain. Its urgent!
Oh, yeah, I forgot. Whos this? Seifer asked the boys, pointing to the female cadet. Selphies face flushed with indignation.
Selphie Tilmitt, from Squad A, she answered briskly in the others stead. I have a new order: All SeeD field exam participants are to assemble at the landing beach by 2100 hours for withdrawal.
Seifer scowled. What? But the city hasnt even been reclaimed yet!
I think most of the SeeD members are stayingbut thats no part of my message. Like I said, we have to make it to the shore by 2100 hours. Weve got barely half an hour.
No way! We gotta start running, now! Zell squeaked in panic.
Selphie shrugged. Sorry; I wouldve gotten to you earlier but you guys werent at your post. I was lucky to spot you crossing the bridge in distance. I had to run like mad after you to catch up.
Nice going, captain, Zell groaned.
Well, then, said Seifer, folding his arms. His demeanor betrayed no sign of penitence. I guess were in for a little run. Lets get moving.
Without further words, the four students hurried back to the elevator. Seifer operated the machine.
Hey, girl, Seifer said when the lift started down with a lurch. What did you capture from that thing up there? I saw you drawing something major while I had it engaged.
Names Selphie, she corrected, eyes narrowing. And it was a GF.
You stayed out of the last battle on purpose, Squall observed. You arent junctioned, are you?
Selphie looked hesitant as she answered. Um... no, actually. When I got the messenger duty, I let the other squad members equip my GFs. They needed them more than me.
That sort of insane generosity will get you killed.
Ill equip the new GF right away, all right? Selphie said, sounding a little cross at the admonition.
You dont even know that GFs capabilities, and an untrained GF wont take so quickly to a human summoner, Squall pointed out. Ill let you junction my Quezacotl. Its a very potent...
...Thunder GF, I know, Selphie picked up. Ive used it before. Since you already seem to have some pretty strong GFs, I will gratefully accept for the time being. Thanks, thats nice of you.
Dont abuse it.
A real charmer, arent you? Selphie muttered sarcastically. Zell cackled beside her.
The lift touched down, and Selphie was the first to leap happily onto terra firma. Once outside the tower and back on the rocky soil, the cadets began sprinting down the mountain in earnest. The harsh downward slope added both swiftness and caution to their steps.
Squall checked his watch quickly. Thirty-four minutes till the appointed hour. If they avoided unnecessary confrontations and maintained their speed, it shouldnt be difficult to reach the shore on time, he thought.
* * * * * * * *
Biggs twitched as he hung onto a bare thread of consciousness that threatened to snap any moment and send him plunging back into oblivion. Gingerly he rolled himself on his stomach and sought to locate the object on which all his remaining thought focused. He grinned maniacally when he spotted the device still lying by the machine that had occupied him all afternoon; it had not been blown away by the gale that had nearly killed him.
It seems Ive still got my last piece of good luck for this rotten day, Biggs decided. Wrenching every bit of strength from his protesting bones and muscles, he crawled toward the device with all the speed and diligence of a snail. His hands at last grasped the object of his pursuit.
He laughed weakly as he punched in the keys with trembling fingers. Get every last one of them...
The major then well and truly passed out.
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