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Final Fantasy VII Remake: The Investigation Unit Within the Painting ENG Translation

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Chapter 1: Dr Donovan of Mideel

The landscape I saw from a magazine as a child, spanned out beneath my eyes. Just before landing, the pilot requested me to pay up a one-way payment. So from the pilot’s point of view, there’s a possibility that I might not return. Is that so…? I agreed and paid him.

I heard that Mideel was a land that chooses its people. Sure enough, it feels suffocating and uncomfortable. It seems that it is due to the Lifestream that passes through near its surface.

The Study of Planet Life states that the Lifestream is one of the states of life. When a person dies, his body decomposes and returns to earth. His spirit returns to the Planet. Spirits that become one with the Planet, flows and roams around it, before dwelling in new creatures. It is the absolute basics of the Study of Planet Life. However, the people of today have discovered the technique of treating the Lifestream as a mere substance, and have named it ‘Mako’. Even though many people only consider it as a convenient energy source, once consumed as energy, it will never return to the Planet. Simply put, the Lifestream is diminishing. I wonder what will happen to the future? The ambiguity makes me uneasy but, once knowing the benefits of Mako, it’s hard to cast it aside. Thus, I still carry these feelings of guilt. I even think that I want to go back to the time when I didn’t know anything about it.

A woman named Ifalna taught me the Study of Planet Life. She was an extremely beautiful woman. The last time I met her was 15 years ago. I was 9 years old.

“We are connected to the Planet through the Lifestream. You and the Planet. Aerith and the Planet. Everyone is connected to Planet, right? That is to say that, we are all connected, and we share one big existence. That’s why I think everyone should get along rather than fight. That way, the Planet will be pleased. So, are you going to reconcile?”

She was a gentle person. She was always smiling. But she was not happy.

Ifalna and her daughter, Aerith… Remembering those times spent with the Ancient mother and child, I became riddled with guilt.

A green archipelago stretching far south of Midgar, Mideel is on the largest island out of all of them. The village is not very large. I walked around while surveying the area, and visited the clinic which first caught my eye. If it’s a medical institution, there are probably records left behind.

Dr Donavan kept me company. He was in his mid-30s. He’s thin, has sunken eyes and doesn’t look as healthy as most doctors do.

I was looking for Geddy Puck, and by showing his picture, it affirmed that I was not a resident of this village. I explained the situation. Geddy must have been here 15 years ago. I want to examine the records. Dr Donovan went back to the examination room and I waited for him on the cheap-looking bench in the waiting room. I’m a so-called Shinra trooper. If this is a place of Shinra Company’s influence, then it’s not strange. In addition, people, despite what they are actually thinking, they will listen to the troopers.

Dr Donovan returned after such a long time that I thought that he started taking a nap.

“Unfortunately, there seems to be no record of Mr Geddy Puck coming here even twenty years ago.”

Against my will, the sound of my disappointment leaked out.

“Sometimes people just don’t come to the clinic. If a person is healthy, this possibility is high. How about asking the people in the village?

“Yes, I will.”

“Glen Reiner.”

”Yes?“

”But we have the records of a man named Glen Reiner from 15 years ago. It seems that he was the only outsider who took a medical examination that year. He was also a Shinra trooper.”

My heart started to pound.

“Shall I show it to you?” the doctor said while presenting me a medical record bounded between paper clips.

“Is this probably an unofficial examination, right?”

“Correct.”

“You sneaked in here and looked up the records without permission. I don’t know anything about it, ok?”

I nodded. Dr Donovan then headed back to the examination room. Flustered, I called out to him.

“Do you remember anything about Glen Reiner?”

“I don’t know anything about fifteen years ago regardless if it’s Geddy or Glen because I only came here about three years ago.”

I guess it can’t be helped then.

According to the medical records 15 years ago, Glen Reiner was discovered by a villager while wandering through a forest near Mideel village. His identity was confirmed through the Shinra identification tag he had on him. He was 25 years old. His diagnosis was a right ankle ligament rupture and Mako Poisoning. The poisoning was determined to be mid-stage type III and it seemed that he also had severe memory loss. After half a month of recuperating in a dormitory, he returned to Midgar by a cargo transportation helicopter. The signature of the pilot at that time remained on the patient’s delivery document was read as Jack Klein.

Just to be sure, he showed the photograph of Geddy to the village inhabitants before leaving, but not a single one of them said that they have met him before. There was an old man who remembered that a Shinra trooper was hospitalized at the clinic, but he didn’t remember Glen’s name or physical features. The man who saved Glen in the forest had already passed on.

15 years is a long time. I was 9 years old and now I am 24. I am also about to become a father soon.

When I returned to Midgar, I went directly to the headquarters building and bought information using connections and money. Glen Reiner died in battle 15 years ago in Wutai, three days after returning from Mideel. Didn’t he more or less have severe Mako poisoning? Shinra sent such soldiers to the battlefield? Something is weird about this.

I’m looking for Geddy Puck, a person who disappeared 15 years ago. At Mideel, which Geddy should have visited, was where I learnt of the existence of a trooper named Glen Reiner. After investigating his whereabouts, I learnt that he died in battle 15 years ago.

15 years ago.

They are connected. Something in me told me so. Does the Lifestream connect people over time? I felt that my nature of offense had increased.

____

Chapter 2: Jack Klein of Sector Seven

Jack Klein lives in a company housing in Sector 7. The information was easy to obtain, I knew it from the pilot who transported me to Mideel.

He is an old man with a swollen face. Even though it was in the morning, he was already reeking with alcohol.

“You’re a trooper too, right? We have to protect our secrets, isn’t that so?”, Jack said to intimidate me, who wants to know what happened 15 years ago.

However, after handing him wine as a gift, his attitude changed. I also got information out from the pilot.

“When I get drunk, I have this habit of speaking non-stop. I might spill out some things that might get me in trouble if someone heard it.”

“15 years ago…”, I asked again. “You gave Glen Reiner, who was a trooper infected with Mako Poisoning, a ride didn’t you?”

“Let me think…”

I waited.

When the bottle became about half empty, his monologue began.

“At that time, the handling of Mako was still unstable, the number of people who got poisoned compared to now was much more. After I handed those guys over to the people in white coats from the Science Department, I was able to receive money. It became my allowance. I also felt that money was meant to keep me quiet. They explained that they needed collaborators to come out with a cure for Mako Poisoning, but I wonder why so? The people in the Science Department are inhumane…”

Jack’s face turned sour. It seems that he also realised that he was inhumane.

“Ah… Glen Reiner… I definitely retrieved him from the clinic in Mideel. He seemed as wobbly as a typical drunkard. It was as though he was a different person after I sent him.”

“Sent? You mean Glen was sent to Mideel? You sent him?”

“You came here without knowing that?”

He started talking about the Special Ground Investigation Unit and it sounded as though he was bragging.

It was a volunteer unit which existed for a short time 15 years ago and was under the direct supervision of President Shinra. Recruits were promoted upon appointment, and a tremendous bounty was promised if they succeeded in their mission.

“Of course there are risks. There was a high possibility of having Mako poisoning. What the Investigation Unit was looking for was nothing more than natural plots of land, something like a Mako Reactor. Moreover, the President probably was going insane. The only clue given to the troopers was a photograph of a landscape. But not exactly a photograph, but more like a painting. These paintings were made into photographs.”

Thirsty all of a sudden, I swallowed down my spit.

“Rumours were saying that the artist was a mysterious psychic.”

Jack took up a posture as though he’s in the cockpit of a helicopter, gripping the liquor bottle like a control stick.

“The troopers who volunteered for the Investigation Unit differ in age and gender. They were probably struggling to break away from their boring lives. They fly, believing that the landscape in the photograph they’re given is somewhere in this world. The coordinates were written on the back of the photograph, but that doesn’t mean that the photograph’s landscape will be there. The coordinates were only a guide. For the most part, those working on the upper floors of the headquarters were probably making rough estimates.

Jack pulled the control stick.

“I flew many times and sent troopers to the borderlands. An agreement was made for me not to land. The monsters were scary and Wutai Warriors were also lurking around. With a parachute on their back, the troopers jumped out from the helicopter. An arrangement was set to meet again 10 days later, but I could only meet a few of them again. I also did not hear any news about a “Mako treasury” being found. They were probably killed off by the monsters.”

Jack chugged down the wine.

“I didn’t hate them. These people had dreams and ambition. After getting used to life in Midgar, they did it even though they will lose their way of life.”

“What kind of photograph or painting did Glen have?”

Jack looked distant when I asked.

“The reason why I remember Glen Reiner is because of that photograph. We had a dispute regarding the destination. The photograph he brought to me looked like a landscape around Cosmo Canyon.”

“Cosmo Canyon…”

Located in the wilderness far west of Midgar, that is the name of the village in it. It seems to be a land closely related to the Study of Planet Life.

“On that day, I gave 2 people a lift. One of the destinations was to the south of Fort Condor, whereas Glen’s was the outskirts of Cosmo Canyon. My base at that time was Junon. Considering factors like the weather conditions, I headed to Fort Condor first. There wasn’t a problem. I dropped the first person off at the specified coordinates. The cabin was just left with Glen and me, and then he…”

Jack looked like he was assessing me.

“He handed over a note with coordinates for Mideel along with 10,000 Gil. Well, the fact was that I had no reason to refuse.”

The wine bottle turned empty.

“Retrieving the investigators wasn’t my job. I completely forgot about Glen and returned to my original job, to fly around the world and transport goods. Thus, I was surprised when I saw him again in Midgar half a year later. He performed such a terrible jump that I wondered whether he landed properly and not died. Still, even with Mako Poisoning, he somehow was alive.”

So, Jack did sell Glen to the science department. I tolerated the urge to condemn him.

I stuck out a photograph in front of Jack. The young man in the photograph was wearing a white coat, with no distinctive features. At that time, he was perhaps around 25 years old.

“Check it. Do you know who is that in the picture? The man on the right end.”

“Oh! That’s Glen Reiner. He was wearing a white coat? So, he wasn’t a trooper after all…”

After I walked out of the drunkard’s house, I took a deep breath. I then gazed at the photograph I just showed Jack.

There stood a smiling white-coated Geddy Buck, and beside him was a 9 year old me.

____

Chapter 3: Sylvina Kelly of Sector 7 (I)

Shinra has lodging houses in many areas within Midgar, but many of them are old and small. Bachelors mainly live here, but as the number of families increases due to marriage, more rooms are rented. However, that didn’t change the state of the houses. There is a huge difference between the company housing for general employees compared to an average Joe. To possibly reduce the amount of dissatisfaction, troopers from the slums can now apply to live in the Employee Housing District. However, they will have to win a lottery draw with an outrageous acceptance rate.

Sylvina Kelly is one of the rare lucky owners who won the draw.

I have as much luck as those people do because I had met Sylvina and we became lovers.

“How was it?”

Standing by the washbasin, Sylvina brushes her teeth.

“Well, there has been a fair bit of progress.”

“Hmm… I’m getting my hopes up. Let me know!”

“It’s not a pleasant story at all.”

“To have a bright future, you got to persevere.”

A bright future. I really hope that will be it. A future with no nightmares for me, a future with sufficient sleep for Sylvina.

“Of course.”

I stood behind her and circled my hand on her now extremely big belly. For both of them, I have to settle my past. Her big eyes reflected from the mirror are smiling at me. She looked like Aerith. She’s what I imagined Aerith grew up to be.

____

Chapter 4: 15 years ago — Aerith of the Shinra Building

“Aerith is a kid who tolerates a lot”, my mother commented.

She is probably correct. We were running around playing in a confined room, therefore we repeatedly ran into furniture and other stuff. She would tolerate the pain without letting out a single cry. I would notice that because her smile faded away and that was the same expression whenever the time was up and her mother, Ifalna, had yet to pick her up.

The tolerant Aertih was about to get emotional, I’ve seen her in that state several times.

“Geddy… I HATE HIM!”, Aerith proclaimed, facing towards the door which Geddy went out of.

“Aerith, don’t say that.”

“But he’s horrible. Look! There’s blood!”

The bandage wrapped around Ifalna’s wrist was stained with blood. Her eyes looked depressed.

“Did Geddy do this to you?”

“No… Geddy didn’t do anything to me.”

“But Geddy always brings you there…”

“Even if it isn’t Geddy who comes, someone else will come in his place”, said the 9-year-old me.

I thought I knew the world much more than Aerith.

“But!”

Aerith threw herself on the sofa and buried her face in the cushion. Looking at the situation, my mother shrugged her shoulders.

“Hey, Ifalna. It’s already our time to go home. Would you be alright? If you are in any pain, I wouldn’t mind staying behind.”

“Thanks, but I’m alright.”

“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow. Aerith, cheer up too ya.”

There was no response. I went out of the room and looked back, Aerith lifted her face from the cushion and looked at me.

“Arghhhhh….”, she blurted out with a scowl on her face.

Does such an adorable girl exist in this world? She, undoubtedly, was my first love.

After exiting the room and walking across the corridor, I soon arrived at the corner. There stood a simple desk, which Geddy’s job was to take up a position there and check the people that come and go. Whenever Ifalna has to leave the room to head to the laboratory, Geddy would also be her chaperone to accompany her there. He always has a white coat on, even though he was not a scientist. He was just a regular personnel in the Science Department, just like my mother.

“Thanks for your hard work.”

“Thanks for working hard too.”

I do not hate Geddy. He is continuously working to improve himself. I hope you will follow his example. These were the words that my mother would tell me at every opportunity.

“Aerith really hates me doesn’t she?”, Geddy seemed bothered as he said it.

“Yea… But that’s part of the job isn’t it”, my mother replied as if she was bothered by the question. She said that to convince herself too.

“Yes, but I really can’t bear this. To be hated by such an adorable child… right?”

I prayed that my expression would not change at all.

“But…”, my mother uttered after taking a quick glance at me. “I understand how Aerith feels. Lately, Ifalna looks like she is really in pain. What kind of research is she going through?”

“I have no idea. Even if I knew, I cannot say it. However…”, Geddy let out a sigh. “I even had staff members in the Science department tell me that they were reluctant to do it. Professor Hojo is probably going too far.”

Professor Hojo is the Head of the Science Department. I happened to see him twice before. I hoped I wouldn’t have to see him a third time.

“I am going to change the topic but, hear me out. My friend, who’s in the military, got promoted recently. Just by participating in a special operation, his rank was raised. What a story! If only I had joined the military, wouldn’t that be nice?”

“But being in the military is tough. Don’t you enjoy what you’re doing here?”

“That doesn’t really mean I want my life to be easy”, Geddy uttered with dissatisfaction.

“Well then, I’m sorry.”

“Do let me know if there are good jobs available. In these circumstances, it doesn’t have to be from Shinra.”

“I will not sugarcoat my words, but just change your occupation within the company. The world belongs to Shinra.”

That was like my mother’s catchphrase.

____

Chapter 5: Sylvina Kelly of Sector 7 (II)

Sylvina is sleeping with her face facing me and I can hear her relaxed breathing. Inside her, carries our child. I gently felt Sylvina’s enormous belly with my hand. I imagined the thought of Sylvina and I being connected to our child through the Lifestream. I want our bonds to be pure, beautiful and also not have any spite between us.

___

Chapter 6: Joanne Liu of the Barracks (I)

When I woke up, an idea sparked inside my head. I wanted to leave the house at once, but I was stopped by Sylvina. It was an absurd timing to visit someone else’s home. I then waited until nine o'clock before visiting Jack Klein once again. Since the liquor store was not open, this time, the fee to get information was cash. From that, I learnt of the name ‘Joanne Liu’, a trooper on a helicopter together with Glen Reiner, who was impersonating Geddy Puck. I then headed to the headquarters and bought information regarding Joanne. She lived in a military barracks of the executives.

Joanne was a petite lady around her 40s. You could tell from her clothing that she does not neglect discipline. She gives a stern impression not only to herself but also to others.
She first inquired about my affiliation. She has a stinging voice. Subsequently, she asked an odd question.

“You are not with the Turks aren’t you?”

She is being cautious. To draw out the information, I have to explain to her the situation. What should I say? How much should I mention? If I slip up, it seems that it may be troublesome. At that instant, I decided that my course of action will be to only omit any mention of Aerith and Ifalna. To me, talking about that room is close to forbidden. There are also things my mother forbid me to speak about, I also didn’t talk about Sylvina.

“This is an extremely personal investigation.”

Before my child is born, there is a matter I want to resolve. Glen Reiner, who took care of me when I was a kid, died 15 years ago. I want to know what happened to him and I have gone here and there to visit people who know him.

“Glen Reiner… This was him 15 years ago.”

I showed her a photograph of Geddy Puck. She had no response.

I pretended that I was not affected and continued talking.

“Joanne, you do know Glen, right?”

No response. I decided to disclose my information bit by bit.

“15 years ago, there was a unit called the Special Ground Investigation Unit. It was a volunteer unit made up of ambitious troopers. Glen Reiner joined the unit and boarded the helicopter. At that time, the people inside the helicopter were the pilot, Glen and…”

“And I.”

“Sniff…”, she snorted and sat down on the sofa. It seems that there is no place for me to sit. I give up looking for a seat and proceed with explaining how I got ended up on this journey.

“Pilot Jack mentioned that you and Glen appeared like close friends.”

“Sniff…”, it seems that snorting is a bad habit of hers.

“Are you the young boy in that picture earlier on?”

“Yes, I am.”

“So you know that the person in the picture is not Glen, but it’s Geddy.”

“… Yes”

“How much do you know?”

At that moment, a loud bang rumbled along the walls of the room. It felt as though someone collided with it. Joanne does not make a slightest of movement. Right next to the entrance of Joanne’s room, there is a living room, which we are in.

On the right, there is a small kitchen and a dining room. On the left and at the back there is a door, which is expected to lead to each bedroom.

The noise was heard once more. “DONNNN….”, it came from the room at the back.

“Lilisa, quiet down”, Joanne uttered softly.

Lilisa.

Lilisa.

I know who Lilisa is. When? Where did I know her? In the correct sequence, my rationale attempted to search for this memory. But my brain got the correct answer sooner than my rationale, somehow our brains bring back bad memories quicker than good ones. In the depths of my mind, the memories that I had intended to stuff into its’ drawers which cannot be removed easily, got revived vividly with colours.

____

Chapter 7: Lilisa In My Memory

I was in Aerith’s room. My mother always would be there together, but it was only the two of us this time. Exhausted from painting, Aerith painted wearily. I left her alone because she was silent. I was worried about my mother. It seems that a creature that was used for experimentation had escaped, my mother was called to hunt it down.

“I don’t want to draw anymore…”

“I know that”, my child-self replied in a fed-up manner. It was those words yet again.

“Geddy will definitely get us out of this situation, so let’s wait up.”

It had been two weeks since I handed the ‘special painting’ over to Geddy. Nothing happened. It was just that Geddy was gone.

“Yea. You’re right… I’m sorry”, I sensed my ill-temper and apologised to her.

I did not feel at ease.

The entrance door opened and a young lady in a white coat appeared in sight.

“Aerith! Is the painting done?”

“She’s painting now. Her painting is not that simple. May you not rush her?”, I said with a harsh tone, conscious of Aerith.

The lady seemed irritated. She proceeded to enter the room. The door that led to the room remained open, even though an experimented creature was escaping and making a ruckus!

“Shut the door!”

But it was too late. Behind the woman in the white robe, a black lump leapt in from the door that was left open.

“AHH!”, the lady let out a short shriek.

I fixed my eyes on the black lump not because I was brave. I was fearful, but I did not allow my eyes to look away. It was a woman dressed in a black robe. The woman took a glance at the room and noticed Aerith. She then screamed as she sprung at Aerith.

“SO YOU’RE AERITH! BECAUSE OF YOU, THAT PERSON IS DEAD! BECAUSE OF YOUR PAINTING, MANY PEOPLE ARE DEAD. YOU KNOW THAT?!”

As she yelled out, she strangled the thin neck of the seven-year-old girl. The mix of hatred and fear seemed visible. I was unable to do anything, I could only look.

But the ending happened abruptly, quickly and easily. The lady in white stabbed the robed-woman in the neck with a syringe needle. It appeared like stabbing with a knife. Before long, the robed-woman collapsed on top of Aerith. Aerith looked at me, her big eyes were full of fear. I turned away, I could not look into her eyes. In my line of sight, the woman in the black robe laid down. The bottom part of her robe was disarrayed, making her bare feet visible. Around her ankle bone, there was a number written in jet black. It read ‘24’.

“Someone come here!”, the lady in white faced towards the surveillance camera and called out.

“Secure Lilisa! Come and retrieve her! Quickly!”

***

Again, the walls of the room rumbled.

“Lilisa, keep quiet!”, Joanne faced the wall and commanded with a forceful tone.

She faced the front again and closed her eyes.

“Lilisa and I enlisted on the same day. Both of us were nineteen. Of course, she wasn’t like that in the past. The fact that she’s quiet is still the same, but I mean she wasn’t like that.”

“She has Mako Poisoning. She has been receiving medical treatment from the Science Department, but her condition has been lasting for 15 years.”

From the other side of the wall, a seemingly sad voice can be heard.

“…I guess it might not be a bad thing that somebody else, other than myself, knows what is the circumstance…”

Joanne then opened her eyes and fixed them on me.

“There are things I also don’t understand. Maybe, you might hold these answers.”

____

Chapter 8: Joanne and Lilisa, and, Glen and Geddy

Joanne Liu, Lilisa Meg, and Glen Reiner enlisted on the same day and spent their time as a recruit together. The three of them grew up in the slums. There was an instructor who blamed Lilisa’s failure during training on her upbringing. When the assignment was over, Joanne’s anger did not subside even after returning to the barracks. She went to the instructor in anger, but Glen was already there, protesting against him. That incident made the three of them close. From there, Geddy Puck joined in. He was Glen’s friend back in the slums. The three recruits and the general staff of the Science Department made time to gather, to eat and to talk about their dreams together.

Joanne had a dream. It was to become a military executive. She talked about the future of commanding the military that is currently under Heidegger to her colleagues and laughed. It was a joke, there were some parts that she was serious about. Glen was an ambitious person. Whenever he was going to be promoted above Joanne, he would compete with her at every opportunity. Due to the inspiration from them, Geddy also desired to be promoted. Geddy, who was not a soldier, got into politics inside the company. Only Lilisa was satisfied with just becoming a trooper. If she had no trouble having food and a place to sleep, life was excellent. It was because she was raised in a particularly poor family.

When Joanne found out that the Special Ground Investigation Unit, under the direct control of President Shinra, was to be established, she lit up. She was worried about the unbelievably extravagant information prize and the level of risk exchange, but she burnt off her worries with her ambition.

To apply, she went to the reception desk. Glen was there, and he had already finished the proceedings. They laughed at each other’s secretiveness. Both of them were eligible. Because Joanne learned that she wouldn’t be leaving immediately, she trained physically from morning till evening, and at night she would visit one place after another spontaneously. Glenn, occasionally Geddy or Lillisa, or both, would come together.

The day before departure, in preparation, an encouragement rally hosted by President Shinra was held. Joanne saw the President up close, and she was deeply inspired by his encouragement. The ambition had gone somewhere. The venue was dominated by the exhilaration of the attendees participating in plans that will determine the future of the world. A few Turks came in and distributed photographs. It is a square photograph with a side of about 10 cm. It was a strange photograph. It seemed like a photograph of a landscape painting. There were coordinates jotted down on the other side of it. According to the explanation, the troopers would be transported by a helicopter to the coordinates, descend using a parachute, and search for the landscape on the photograph until they are recovered ten days later. If they could pinpoint the location, they would receive 50% of the prize money, 100% if it is a land suitable for the construction of a Mako Reactor, and if it was what the President envisions a Mako Reactor treasury would be like, 220% of the reward would be granted. It was an amount that one could live their whole life without working. The troopers, however, even with zero rewards, would certainly have jumped off the helicopter. The wild enthusiasm of the venue, built up by the President’s words, had taken away the judgement of Joanne and other people.

That night, a party was held for Joanne and Glen. It was Lilisa’s idea.

It was a public holiday, Lilisa cooked some delicious looking dishes in her room. Joanne showed up, followed by Glenn, who brought Geddy along. Alcohol was also abundant and the four of them got drunk. It was like someone’s birthday party. However, the atmosphere changed when Lilisa started to cry. Apparently, she drank too much.

“Glen, please don’t go. I have a bad feeling about this. I love you…”

Joanne was completely unaware of Lilisa’s feelings. Glen was too.

“It will be alright. I will come back”, Glen gave a mere consolation and looked at Joanne and Geddy to request for support.

“I drank too much. I’m going to get some fresh air.”

Joanne stood up from her seat. She was annoyed at Lilisa. There was a friendship present between them as long as Lilisa did not step into somebody’s life choices. She did not have the right to pull the foot of someone advancing towards their dreams. Even so, I didn’t mean to ruin that night.

She took up position in front of the window at the end of the hallway corridor of the barracks and gazed at the smoke billowing Mako Reactor. The night wind that blew into the opened window was refreshing.

Joanne heard a desperate voice calling out for her.

When she returned back to the front of the room, she spotted a collapsed Geddy. His upper body was protruding out of the door. After she rushed over, she found out that he was trembling. He was convulsing.

“Geddy!?”

It looked serious. She was worried about the two inside. However, Joanne firstly asked the neighbours for assistance. After showing him Geddy’s state, the neighbour immediately ran to call out a doctor for her.

When she returned to the room, the stench of vomit was present. Glen and Lilisa had collapsed in the middle of the filth. They too were convulsing. She also called out their names but it seemed that they couldn’t hear her.

“Lilisa, she..”

She turned her head towards the frail voice, Geddy was standing up, leaning against the wall.

“It seems that Lilisa had put something inside…”, he only uttered that before he collapsed. His convulsing had subsided.

The doctor came soon after. He was a young doctor who was living in the barracks. The doctor examined Glen and Lilisa who was losing consciousness, and Geddy who was recovering, the doctor immediately contacted the headquarters’ Science Department. At a remarkable speed, men and women wearing white coats assembled in the room. Except for Joanne, the three of them were carried on a stretcher and were transported somewhere. The men and women split into groups and began examining the vomit and the remaining alcohol and cooking. Joanne vaguely thought that it would be a simple examination using reagents.

“The results are out. As expected, it’s Mako”, said a man in a white coat, examining the food, in a serious voice.

Joanne was then questioned with a barrage of questions for over an hour by the white coats and military directors who appeared after learning about the commotion. Was it an accident or a scheme that Mako entered the dish? Whose mistake was it? Whose crime was it? They seemed to be only interested in that. Before long, dispatched troops showed up and everyone exited the room because of that. Joanne left the rotten smelling room, she was then at a loss. No one had told her about the safety and updates of Glen and the others.

…It seems that Lilisa had put something inside…

She thought back about the words that Geddy had left behind and thought about its’ meaning. Does that mean that Lilisa had put something in her cooking to keep Glen from going? Is it possible? Is Lilisa a woman who does that? It’s hard to say. Romance may have changed her.

Geddy returned close to midnight. He mentioned that the medicine he was given had worked well and he recovered.

“The symptoms were mild anyway. I’m still sick, but it’s alright.”

“How about Glen and the others?”

“It seems that their condition isn’t stable. Even though I called out to them, there was no response.”

“Hey, Geddy. What happened after I left the room?”

“After you left…”, Geddy frowned. “The buzzer of the oven rang. The casserole was ready. Lilisa ignored it and continued talking. Glen stated that he wanted to eat. Anything that could change the topic was good. But she did not waver. Since it can’t be helped, I took out the dish from the oven and brought it to the table. Glen vigorously ate the dish which was still simmering, and at the same time, he exclaimed that it was delicious. Lilisa seemed to be in better spirits, and also ate it. As I’m not good with eating things hot, I waited a little while before I ate. I was blessed that the amount I ate was less than Glen’s and that’s why my symptoms were probably mild. The cooking was delicious. I didn’t think there was Mako in it.”

“Are you certain that there was something added into the dish?”

“What we had eaten, and what you didn’t eat, was only that dish.”

____

Chapter 9: Joanne Liu of the Barracks (II)

”Do you know about Mako waste?”

”Yes”, I answered.

It forms when incomplete combustion occurs inside an internal-combustion engine that uses Mako. It is a highly toxic substance that is normally present in the equipment.

”Lilisa worked in the Military Vehicle Department. Her main job was to inspect and maintain vehicles.”

Joanne looked at me with an expression that wondered if I understood her explanation. She then headed to the kitchen and drank some water. When she returns, she sinks herself into the sofa yet again.

“What about the details of how Geddy joined the Special Ground Investigation Unit? He left the morning after the incident, right?”

Joanne nodded deeply several times.

“That was a clear act of violation, I will be punished if it goes public. After 15 years, even now. Despite that, in our first meeting, I will be telling this to you.”

“I will not tell this to anyone.”

“I guess. But that doesn’t matter. I have been in the army for life. It may be time for me to slowly return to the slums.”

“What do you mean?”

“If I take the risk and talk about everything, I guess you will be able to answer the doubts I’ve been having all these years.”

“I will tell you everything I know”, I replied without delay to avoid being perceived like I was hesitant.

Joanne bends her neck forward and looks at the entrance to the backroom, she then nodded immensely.

“Geddy declared he wanted to fulfill Glen’s dream. To do so, he borrowed the ID from the comatose Glen and then showed it to me. He intended to imitate Glen, so he wanted me to coordinate his stories and get them right. He wanted to be able to accomplish missions as Glen. How do you think I felt hearing that?”

“I wonder… Geddy didn’t receive any form of training, could he do that?”

There was one more thing that came to mind, but I said nothing.

“I was deeply moved by Geddy’s noble friendship. On behalf of his friend, he said that he would participate in such a dangerous mission.”

That was a completely unexpected response. But surely, if Joanne didn’t have that view, she probably wouldn’t have cooperated with Geddy.

Fortunately, Glen’s baggage had not been recovered and was in the room, including a photograph of the landscape that he was supposed to look for.

___

Chapter 10: Joanne and Geddy

The meetup point for the Special Ground Investigation Unit is in front of the Headquarters Building in Sector 0. Geddy, who was impersonating Glen, and Joanne slid into the load-carrying tray of a truck driven by a young trooper. It was about to be the meetup time. Four other applicants were present, but they were unfamiliar faces. They remained on the truck until they were transported to the heliport. They changed their mode of transportation and boarded Jack Klien’s helicopter, they then arrived in Junon. Everyone got off once and transferred to different helicopters. Joanne and Geddy were dispatched to Jack’s helicopter.

In the helicopter, both of them were wearing helmets and in front of the pilot, they behaved like old friends, like Joanne and Glen were, to hide the truth from him. Joanne pretended to give Geddy tips for parachute descent, but actually, she taught him everything from the basics. He only had knowledge that he read from books, but her anxiety was blown away by his determination and enthusiasm.

___

Chapter 11: Joanne Liu of the Barracks (III)

And then, Joanne jumped. She does not know what happened after that.

“All right, your turn.”

“Okay.”

I intend to talk about what I learnt from Jack Klein, the helicopter pilot who carried both of them. I did not have anything in particular to hide. Geddy, who was the only one left as a helicopter passenger, negotiated with Jack to change his course. If the pilot was not Jack, I wonder what would have happened. That I do not know. Geddy probably would have persuaded the pilot through other means.

“But Geddy ultimately did not manage to locate anything and he had Mako Poisoning when he was retrieved. Is that so?”

“Yeah. Jack handed him over to the Science Department.”

“He had the same fate as Glen?”

“Glen… What happened to the real Glen?”

“Fortunately I… I didn’t achieve any great results but I was still healthy… and I was able to return to Midgar. After two weeks had passed, Lilisa returned. She had severe Mako Poisoning. She was eventually able to walk, but no further recovery was expected. I heard about what happened to Glen from the Turks who brought in Lilisa. The Science Department, including Professor Hojo, tried to treat him, but they couldn’t do it. Glen passed away. I then took care of the clean-up. I contacted their families, sorted out and disposed of the things he left behind. Lilisa’s parents were no longer around. Glen’s parents quietly accepted their son’s death because he was a soldier in the middle of the war.”

“Wait a minute… He died in battle?”

“That was the customary conclusion of those who didn’t come back from the Special Ground Investigation Unit. When someone dies in battle, their families can receive pensions.”

“But it’s different for Geddy.”

“Ah… Geddy merely just disappeared. His father had already passed away 15 years ago, so his mother was left behind.”

“Is that so…”

“Well then, we’ve made a promise. I have questions to ask.”

I wondered if I had made such a promise.

“15 years ago, as part of the Special Ground Investigation Unit, Glen was arranged to head towards nearby Cosmo Canyon. But Geddy, who was handed over Glen’s photograph, changed his course to Mideel. Does that mean that he had another picture? Or did he believe that there was a Mako treasury in Mideel?”

It was no longer a question. It was a monologue.

“If so, what was that belief derived from? In the first place, what were the photographs that were handed over to us? Where did the painting come from? What the heck did the President put his stakes on?”

Pretending to use the toilet, I proceeded to escape from Joanne’s room.

____

Chapter 12: Aerith of the Shinra Building (I)

Aerith and Ifalna’s rooms were on the upper floors of the Shinra Building. I do not know the exact floor. My mother told me that I was prohibited from trying to know which floor they were on and I obediently abided by it. There were officials in white coats walking around and many employees with bloodshot eyes. Geddy mentioned to me that there were only people who were not sleeping working here. Troopers with light equipment were also present. Monsters used for experimentation were rampaging periodically on the adjacent floor. The feeling of tension was always around.

My mother was Ifalna’s caretaker and I was Aerith’s playmate. It seems to have paid a little bit of money.
Ifalna would come to greet us at 10am every day. It was Geddy’s job. When Ifalna was not around, my mother would clean and do the laundry. In the meantime, I would spend time with Aerith. We would perform strange dances that we thought of and run around in the room. Aerith wanted to play hide-and-seek, but it wasn’t a feasible game because there weren’t many places to hide. So we came up with a rule that if the player finds the other, do up a funny face and make the other person laugh, the player wins. That was not called ‘hide and seek’ anymore, but I liked it because it was simple. I often found her hiding behind the sofa, fallen over facing up like a discarded doll. She would diagonally roll her eyes up and diagonally point her tongue downwards in the opposite direction from her sight. When she made that face that she would always make, I would think, “Ahhh… not again!” but cannot help but burst out laughing.

Aerith was a kid who laughed a lot. But from that day onwards, something in her changed.

She was laughing at my mother’s silly story. A story mixed with lies, like monsters appearing unexpectedly around the neighbourhood of my house, and I would always flee 5 times faster than usual.

“5 times! Wow! Your legs would get tangled up! Is that right?! That’s right!’

“Out of everything that was mentioned, that’s what you care about?”, was the reply that I felt like giving back. However, Aerith started to stamp up and down repeatedly on the spot.

“This much?”

“That’s probably about 3 times as much.”

I was left speechless by my mother’s blunt cock-and-bull story, but if it made Aerith laugh, that’s not bad either.

“Hey! What kind of monsters were there? Bombs? Cactuars? Goblins?”

She cited the list of monsters that she knew vigorously.

“It was not a flashy monster, but a tiny fellow like the size of a big rat”

“That’s an ordinary rat!”

“It’s not ordinary, it’s a monster!”

“Why do you think that’s a monster?”

“The tail was more than twice the size of an ordinary rat. Moreover, its tip is rolled up like a coil,” I uttered without thinking.

“Coil?”, Aerith did not understand that word.

“Coil means… something that turns round and round and round”, I moved my fingertip in a spiral.

“I don’t understand…”

“Erm…”

I looked around the surroundings and searched for a string.

“Wait a moment.”

My mother went out of the room. I thought she would bring us a string.

But she handed over a bunch of paper and a pen.

“Draw the tail where the tail is coiled for Aerith.”

I recalled the image of the imaginary big rat and drew the coiled tail.

“It’s probably like this…”

“Hmmm…”

Aerith fixed her eyes on my drawing enthusiastically.

“Something is wrong…”

As I was not content with my drawing, I tried to draw it again.

I got a shock from Aerith’s reaction after that.

“ROARRRR!!”, she growled as though she was like a beast.

“Aerith!?”

She grabbed hold of a pen and started drawing something ferociously.

She forcefully drew onto the paper a distorted face of a person. Tree. Flower. Animal. And maybe a monster. My mother and I were looking at her silently and intently. Because she repeatedly drew one after another, the paper very quickly turned pitch black.

“ROARRR!”

“It’s an emergency! Someone, come over!”, my mother looked at the corner of the room and declared.

At that moment, I noticed the presence of the surveillance camera for the first time. Soon after, Geddy opened the door and many white coat personnel entered the room. Professor Hojo finally arrived. Aerith also did not notice even when he came close to peer into the drawing.

“She’s drawing as though she’s possessed by something,” mentioned my mother who looked in the corner of the room.

“Aerith”, Professor Hojo called out.

“Do you see anything?”

Aerith nodded.

“I can see it… I can hear it…”

“Ku ku ku ku ku….”, Professor Hojo lowered his head and laughed.

I had a bad feeling about this.

“Aerith! Finally, you have awakened!”

Professor Hojo laughed again.

“Sorry. I didn’t intend for that to happen”, my mother muttered.

I knew she did not apologise to me.

____

Chapter 13: Joanne and Lilisa of the Slums

My vacation was over. After finishing my overnight duties, I went against the flow of people and returned home. Joanne Liu was in front of my house, waiting.

“Is there a woman inside? That would be an issue… Please come with me, we’re going to the slums”, she said with a straightforward tone.

“How do you know about this place?”, I questioned as I chased after her.

“I used the same method as you did. I was surprised that our information was being sold”, she reports with a laughing voice.

Looking at her again, she had a different and pleasant expression on her face compared to our first meeting.

“Your atmosphere had somehow changed, didn’t it?”

“Maybe so. I thought a lot from that. It’s time to stop thinking that I’m a human who is not allowed to request anything. That’s what I’ve decided and I have been liberated. So, thank you.”

What should I say?

“You were trying to face the past. It was worth learning from that attitude.”

We enter the street, facing the station. Joanne is walking faster than I am. If I do not try catching up, I will be late.

“If I was of any help, then I’m glad. I regretted being rude.”

“You should reflect hard on that. I spoke the truth with my heart, yet you did not answer me. But instead, you ran away. It was rude.”

“I apologise.”

“An apology is unnecessary. Please answer the questions I asked that day.”

Her voice is no longer laughing.

“Where did Geddy get the photograph of Mideel from? Who painted that painting? I won’t do anything even if I knew about it now. Of course, I also will not tell this to others.”

I did not answer and walked on silently. We arrived at the station shortly after. Surprisingly, Lilisa was there. Standing and swaying, she receives the cold glances of the people who come and go.

“I had hidden this from you. Lilisa and I often go to the slums.”

Every time Joan tells me something, I felt that my debt towards her has increased.

Joanne and I sat side-by-side on the train seat. The seats are mostly filled. Lilisa was the only passenger standing along the aisle. People working the same shift as mine are probably going back to the slums. I had been dispatched to slum thrice before to maintain public order. I didn’t have a really good impression. I think it is the prejudice of the people born under the plates. We, who were raised above the plates, have lived our lives without falling down the social class and were raised and taught that the bottom was a place where bad people are born.

“Don’t worry”, uttered Joanne. If you’re wearing your uniform, you won’t be attacked. We might get harassed by words, but that’s about it.”

“I hope that’s the case.”

“I think everybody wants to work for Shinra if there’s a chance. Rarely they behave like an anti-Shinra and they would not do anything outrageous. We were the same.”

“We”… Joanne, Lilisa, Glen and Geddy. They probably had a bond that I possibly cannot understand.

“When we went up, I thought we probably wouldn’t return again.”

***

When we got off the train at Sector Seventh Station in the slums, Lilisa walked shakily. Instead of going downtown, she seems to be heading to an abandoned rail-car scrap yard. Joanne said it is called the ‘Train Graveyard’. Lilisa walked on between almost decayed rail cars and sometimes went inside them.

“Where is she going?”

“I don’t know because it differs depending on the day. I’m just following Lilisa. My job is, for example, when she boards the wrong train, or when she’s dealing with some heartless dudes who poke fun at her… I’m her bodyguard.”

“To what degree does Lilisa grasp what she’s doing? She has Mako Poisoning. Its’ effect is considerably severe but…”

“It’s no mistake that she has severe Mako Poisoning. But as far as this “walking” is concerned, there are also people who think it may be due to the medical treatment received from the Science Department. Take Glen’s mother for an example, I heard that she found an operation scar on her son’s body.”

“Huh?”, several questions came to mind.

“Shhhh…”

Joanne stopped in her tracks and pointed forward. There was an open space.

It was not just Lilisa who was there. There are also figures of people wearing similar robes.

Six, no seven? They are not doing anything, but standing there. They are facing in whatever direction they like, and only their faces are looking up. Following what they are looking at, I could only see the steel frame on the back of the plate.

“Glen…. and Geddy”, Joanne uttered as she pointed to the two figures standing apart.

“Huh?”, a silly-sounding sound came out from my mouth.

“Around 5 years ago, Glen was found and was taken in by his father while he was loitering around the slums. His mother also believed that her son was alive. No, it seemed that she never once thought her son was dead. Well… parents can be like that sometimes.”

Is that so?

“His mother’s wish came true. I don’t believe such a thing, like mothers’ wishes coming true, but Geddy had also returned. It was 4 years ago. It wasn’t just Glen. You probably don’t know about this, but many people are missing in slums. Some of them, 15 years ago and recently about 2 or 3 years ago, who had been missing, had returned. Everyone has a similar condition as Lilisa and has a numbered tattoo somewhere on their body.

“It was the doings of the Science Department, isn’t it? They had the same treatment as an experimental creature. How did the company explain this?”

“They only apologized for the various confusion regarding the whereabouts of military personnel. They also stated that long-term patients who had been hospitalised and treated within the Shinra Company but did not wish to receive further treatment were allowed to be discharged.”

“That’s about them, right?”

I pointed to the black-robed guys that were standing idly.

“You mean… people who didn’t want treatment? I want to know how they validated their will.”

“Sniff…”, Joanne snorted.

“I think it’s only reasonable that Professor Hojo and others in the Science Department are punished. But for the parents, it’s different. They think that their son, who was supposed to die because of Mako Poisoning, survived thanks to the treatment. I don’t have the rights to deny it. But of course, neither do you…”

Accept everything. That’s what she meant.

I approached one of the men. Even though his hair and beard were unkempt, I recognise him. It’s someone I hadn’t seen in a long time, Geddy Puck.

“Geddy?”

I tried calling out to him, but there was no response. I lightly gave a tap to his shoulder. He now looked at me slowly.

“It’s been a long time isn’t it?”

But Geddy doesn’t seem to recognise me. It’s not just because of the 15 years time gap.

“Look at you… Poor Geddy…”

But my voice didn’t reach him at all.

I felt someone’s presence behind me, so I looked back. It was from Joanne.

“I’ve always thought that Lilisa poisoned them. She had a reason to stop Glen’s plan and the opportunity to obtain the poison. But I came up with a better conclusion. I wouldn’t have noticed it if you didn’t pay me a visit.”

“Joanne…”

Many thoughts crossed my mind. What do Glen’s and Geddy’s lives mean to me? How should I answer Joanne’s interrogation, which is supposed to happen now? What kind of guilt should I bear for them because of their severe Mako Poisoning? Will I have a chance of forgiveness?

“What should I do?”

“Deal with them one by one. You have plenty of time. They will no longer go anywhere.”

***

The return train was much more empty than when it came. Lilisa is sitting next to Joanne. She is probably tired. She rested her head on Joanne’s shoulder. Joanne supports her head with her hand.

I sat beside Joanne, who was sandwiched in between us. Joanne then pulled her arm around my neck in a rough manner.

“Listen to what my guess is. 15 years ago, it was not Lilisa who added the Mako into the dish, but it was Geddy. Since he often went to the Science Department, it mustn’t have been too difficult to obtain those Mako-derived substances. The crime…. I’m intentionally calling it that, but the purpose of the crime was to get on the helicopter. He thought that by riding the helicopter, he would certainly meet the President’s expectation of him. I don’t know what future he envisioned after that, but to achieve success, he took advantage of Lilisa’s love and our friendship.”

“Let me go.”

“But what made Geddy go till that far?”

Joanne tightened her arms.

“Why are you obsessed about Geddy?”

“You were going to apologize to Geddy, saying that you’re so sorry for what had happened.”

I was silent.

“The photograph that we were given… Were you the one who painted the painting?”

“…Yes. No. I mean…”

“Well, say it”, Joanne took her arm off my neck and requested.

“There was a girl named Aerith…”

I talked about the days I had spent with Aerith, how she started painting and talked about the incident after that.

Aerith’s paintings gained fame, and finally, it was to the extent where even President Shinra came to see her personally. He had a particular interest in her landscape paintings and often enquired about their origins.

“I can just instantaneously picture the landscape”, she answered his questions, feeling annoyed.

The President was satisfied with her answer.

“So that started the Special Ground Investigation Unit?”, Joanne said and heaved a sigh.

“Yes. The President believed from the beginning that the mysterious abilities of the Ancients would bring enormous profits. That’s why he finally thought that time had probably come.”

“What did you think? Did you believe that?”

“I noticed that Aerith wasn’t normal, she could see and hear things that I couldn’t. But if I had acknowledged that, I felt like she would become distant from me. Even if she was an Ancient, I wanted her to stay normal like I was.

“Aerith changed since she started painting. She barely ate. She didn’t smile. She didn’t dance. She didn’t read. A week after I drew that coil, I was no longer allowed in the room. My mother was unaffected and still worked, but I remained at home to house-sit. She explained that it was due to the changes in Professor Hojo’s policies and told me to play with a ‘normal kid’. I cried and lived on with a feeling of loneliness.”

“The situation, however, changed again a week later. After the sunset, I was summoned and my mother accompanied me to Shinra Building. I had a very very bad feeling about it and my hunch was right. The Aerith whom I hadn’t met in a long time, was thin and looked like a sick puppy. The long hair she always had tied up, became frayed and her clothes were stained with paint. But there was something that overwhelmed me before even I noticed her. It was a painting of a large number of people, landscapes and even mysterious animals painted on all sides of the walls…”

____

Chapter 14: Aerith of the Shinra Building (II)

“I want you to persuade Aerith to paint a painting”, I was told by my mother just before I entered the room

***

“Aerith. Did you paint?”

She nodded.

She lifted up her tearful face and muttered, “But the President and the Professor dislike these kinds of paintings. They wanted a painting of a landscape, even a small painting would do…”

“You don’t want to paint?”

“I can’t paint. I can’t see it anymore.”

“Just paint using your imagination. Any image of a landscape you wish to be true will do.”

Aerith’s eyes widened. She shook her head. No way. Absolutely no way.

“If it’s not the actual landscape, someone will die. The Professor said so.”

I didn’t understand it back then, but I do now. There’s probably a considerable number of missing personnel from the Special Ground Investigation Team. I’m disgusted with Hojo, who told that to Aerith. But I was also once a child. I was frustrated at Aerith, who got me dragged into such a terrible situation.

“Well, after all, you’ll have to paint. All the best.”

“I can’t paint it.”

“So, why not give up?”

“I want to see my mother. I want to see her…”

What I should hate is Shinra’s way of doing things, but I regrettably still directed my frustration towards Aerith instead.

“Then listen to what I say. You will paint the picture according to what I say. It will be the last one.”

“How so?”

“It’s a secret. But if that really happens, you’ll listen to whatever I say.”

Aerith looked at me with her big eyes. I unbearably looked away.

“Ok, I’ll paint.”

That doesn’t mean that she now believes in me. She probably felt discouraged because the friends she wanted to see were in the hands of Shinra.

Aerith sluggishly began her preparations for the painting.

I sat next to her and whispered.

It’s an island.

With lots of trees.

I guess their height is about the same as a two-storied building.

Leaves growing on these trees are approximately Aerith-sized.

These trees are grown densely.

Dark green, tall trees.

It was the scenery from a magazine that my mother once read.

Using the emergency buzzer, I called for Geddy. While handing over Aerith’s painting, I quietly communicated with him.

“Aerith mustered her remaining strength to draw this drawing. Even the landscape that was non-existent beforehand, can now come up to mind. But she exhausted all her energy and it looks like she can’t really draw anymore after that. Could you tell that to Professor Hojo?”

“Is that so? Alright, leave it to me”, said Geddy looking at the painting.

“Is this Mideel?”

“Well…”

Geddy was still looking at the painting. He then entered the room and asked Aerith.

“This is Mideel, right?”

Aerith looked at me indistinctly. I gave her a small nod. I just wanted Geddy to leave.

Imitating me, Aerith nodded.

“I knew it! I had seen it in a magazine before.”

“Geddy, make sure you hand this to the Professor.”

“Of course.”

***

In the end, Geddy used the photograph for his own. As a result, the glows from my own, Glen’s, and Lilisa’s lives were lost. Joanne also lost her friends.

Two weeks later, Lilisa barged into the room and strangled Aerith’s neck. Aerith, who can’t speak out because of fear, appealed to me through her eyes. “Help me”. “Help me”. Even though Lilisa was already unconscious, I ran out of the room.

Before I knew it, I was crying.

“The consciousness of your sins arises in you”

I nodded like a kid, just like what Aerith would do in the past.

“Think about it. It’s Geddy that made Lilisa and Glen go through that. You may have given him that chance, even though you didn’t mean to. Many lives were taken away because The Shinra Science Department got involved, but I can’t hold you accountable for that.”

“Thank you…”

It felt wrong to say so, but no other words come to mind.

“Still, even if I put words together, your feelings of guilt probably cannot go away. No, I don’t even think you’re guilty in the first place.”

“No that’s not true…”

At that moment, my true nature was revealed.

“There’s a plaza in front of the Sector Eighth Station. Have you been there?”

I was troubled because I didn’t understand the intent of the question.

“No, I don’t go to that direction”

“There is a flower girl over there, I think her name is Aerith.”

____

Chapter 15: Aerith of Sector Eight

I was in front of Sector Eighth Station near the evening. There was a flower girl, with a bunch of flowers in a hand basket, and lavishly smiling at everyone who comes and goes. The colour of her hair was the same. Her big eyes were probably just like how I remembered it to be. But I wasn’t sure.

“Bye Aerith!”

A patron who bought a flower that said before leaving. He seems like a regular customer. That woman’s name is Aerith, is that her…?

After seeing him off, she noticed me. Spotting a Shinra trooper from a distance is probably ominous. I took off my helmet and approached her. It’s no mistake, that’s Aerith. She put on a warm smile, but that smile soon disappeared. I think she figured out who I was. She took a glance at her surroundings and took half a step back.

“Aerith, I am…”

I didn’t even know what to say. The moment I introduced myself, the doors to the past opened.

I talked about all my memories of my childhood as much as I could remember. About what was fun, about my helplessness and how shallow I was.

“Sorry… I’ve always wanted to apologise. If I don’t apologise, I cannot move on. I didn’t know why but I couldn’t find you easily, and I went round and round to do so.”

“Um…”, uttered Aerith. “I think you got the wrong person.”

“That shouldn’t be. Aren’t you Aerith? The child of Ifalna, an Ancient…”

Her expression became stiff.

From that, I finally understood.

I’m part of the past that she doesn’t even want to remember.

“Sorry. Just forget about it…”, was the only thing I could say.

I ran off towards Sector Seven. At the end of the plaza, I stopped on my tracks and looked back one last time. Aerith was also looking at me. The next instance, she stuck out her tongue. Her eyes… her eyes were rolled up diagonally.

She then let out a small chuckle and did a small wave.

***

Sylvina welcomed me back home. She doesn’t resemble Aerith one bit.

The guilty feeling that was piling up whenever I loved Sylvina more and more, had suddenly disappeared.

-fin-