I Know What's Beneath
the Snow Fields -Chp.15
His tie suffocated him until breathing altogether became painful. He felt very hot in his suit.
"Damn them, anyway," he cursed under his breath. He dared not speak aloud..not here.
Vincent, with his gun gripped in both hands, huddled next to the ventilation grate. He had sneaked into the Reactor via the second main pumping pipe, and had crawled all the way up through the ventilation ducts until he reached the main reception hall. There, he was told to "stay put" in the duct until further notice.
The monotonous humming of the pumps below hammered his ears non-stop. Occasionally, a shrill whistle screeched through the whole Reactor, signaling the refilling of some materia tank. But otherwise, nothing interrupted the dull droning of the pumping pipes.
Vincent peeked curiously through the ventilation grate: the main reception hall was strangely abandoned. The whole Reactor, in fact, seemed to be deserted.
He looked all around the ventilation duct he had squeezed himself through. It was surprisingly well-kept, almost dust free, yet hot beyond endurance. Vincent could barely see ten inches infront of his face. Although the grates permitted some light to pass, darkness dominated the labyrinth of air ducts.
Hearing someone scuffling through the ducts, Vincent turned his head to face the intruder. He wasn't surprised to see a man crawling on all fours towards him. In truth, he had been waiting nervously for the arrival of this man.
This tall man, who looked around thirty, had chest-nut hair and deep honey-coloured eyes. A tiny radio receiver was stuck in one of his ears. He wore a dark navy-blue suit exactly similar to Vincent's.
"There're exactly 26 terrorists in the entire Reactor," the man whispered gravely, "..but they're obviously not professionals... just some hired thugs off the street."
Vincent nodded his head once.
The man glanced through the grate hurriedly, then asked, "Anyone pass through the main hall..er..what was your name again?"
"Valentine, Sir. Vincent Valentine."
"Of course, I'm sorry," the man humbly apologized, "I've been on vacation too long. So, anyone pass through the main hall?"
"No, Sir. Nobody," Vincent answered with marked respect.
The man nodded his head solemnly as he studied Vincent's face, which made the latter very uncomfortable. Vincent peeked through the grate again, pretending to confirm his answer.
"You're the new Turk President ShinRa hired, eh?" the man smiled kindly, "Sorry we hadn't had time for a proper introduction, Valentine: my name is Davoren J. Murdock, but just call me Davoren, Pleased to meet you at last."
Vincent dutifully shook the hand Davoren extended towards him. Of course, this man needed no introductions: Davoren was the leader of the Turks. Gerald and Cindy, the other two Turks, had made sure Vincent knew that.
Funny..he doesn't behave like a leader, Vincent reflected to himself.
"Hoy! Davoren!" called a clear voice through the radio receiver. Vincent immediately recognized Gerald's voice, a member of the Turks. He had such a noticeable, distinguished accent.
"Yes, Gerald, you found the hostages?" Davoren asked. His face instantly shifted from carefree to serious as he tapped the receiver in his ear.
"There's 48 of 'em, Sir," the voice spoke, "16 are in the West Wing of the Reactor, and 32 near the draining pipes on the ground floor."
"Are all the hostages alive, Gerald?"
"Aye, Sir," the Turk answered after a short pause, "So far, the lit'le buggers 'aven't killed anyone."
"Very well. Wait until Cindy reports to me."
Vincent began to tug at the hammer of his gun while they waited silently for the other Turk to report. Davoren stared absent-mindedly at Vincent's gun, then remarked casually, "I read your CV, Valentine. It said you're pretty handy with firearms."
"I don't know, Sir," Vincent replied curtly. For some reason, he shoved his gun back into its holster.
"Well, well," Davoren chuckled, completely in good-humour, "You'll know by the end of today."
Suddenly, the radio receiver bleeped twice, which effectively cut the conversation short.
"Yes, Cindy, go ahead," Davoren ordered, tapping the receiver again.
"Sir, I found all the scientists they're holding hostage," she answered. Cindy had a playful, sweet voice, even when dead serious.
"I'm afraid it's confirmed, Sir: Professor Gast is among the hostages."
"...acknowledged, Cindy," Davoren sighed. He scratched his head in annoyance, as though that last scrap of news bore great significance.
Vincent fidgeted nervously, but remained silent.
During the last three years, many powerful companies had witnessed ShinRa rapidly rise from an unknown business investment to a mega-sized corporation of vast influence. Soon, everyone, even little children playing with their dolls or plastic swords, knew the importance the name "ShinRa Inc." bore.
Not surprisingly, ShinRa made several enemies as its power hungrily soared to unbelievable heights. Its president, or the "ShinRa Jackal" as everyone nicknamed him, astonished his enemies with his shrewd, cunning brain: within a single year, he had destroyed three rival companies.
One by one, the resentful companies disappeared until only one blocked ShinRa's way: The Hawking Industrial Corporation of Midgar.
Hawking, a middle-aged man of spiteful appearance, made no secret of his utter contempt for ShinRa Inc. He openly abused its illustrious president, attacking all his "avaricious, self-centered policies".
Nevertheless, ShinRa Inc. spread its large wings all over Midgar. And how angry Hawking was to see another ShinRa Reactor completed on time.
"That Jackal has already built three Reactors!" Hawking had thundered angrily, "The devil take him and all his blasted Reactors."
But that curse did not satisfy the furious Hawking at all. He knew his company would be trampled on like any other. It was only a matter of time..unless, of course, he "thwarted" the Reactor somehow..
So, at around ten o'clock in the morning, President ShinRa received information that terrorists had invaded one of his Reactors. They had threatened to kill every employee there, including all the scientists, unless he shut the Reactors down immediately. They even claimed to have Professor Gast, ShinRa's top scientist, held at gunpoint.
After many curses too upsetting to repeat, the ShinRa President gave a direct order to the Turks: they would "handle the matter as they saw fit".
"16 hostages in the West Wing, and 32 near the draining pipes," Davoren muttered to himself at length, "Cindy, where's Professor Gast?"
"In the West Wing, Sir."
Davoren's face darkened with serious contemplation. He seemed to argue something fiercely in his brain. Vincent glanced at him from the corner of his eye, then looked away coolly.
"There're 26 terrorists in the Reactor," Davoren explained in a very business-like air, "Fortunately, none are professional. 15 on the ground floor, 11 in the West Wing. That means that 32 hostages are guarded by 15 terrorists, and 16 by.."
"Oy, yer doing me head with all those numbers, Davoren," interrupted Gerald. His voice sounded very tired., "Just tell us what to do."
"Right, right. Valentine and I will take the ground floor, you two take the West Wing. That means you'll have to save Professor Gast."
"Yes, Sir!" answered both Turks at once.
"And listen," Davoren warned very sternly as he tapped the receiver in his ear, "We have a direct order from the President: no terrorist, on any account, is to be spared. every hostage is to be saved. No room for screw-ups, got that?"
"Even the janitor?!" Gerald asked in surprise.
"Yes, Gerald, even the janitor," Davoren resumed , trying to stifle a laugh, "When you shoot, aim for their heads. We move in, kill them, and move out at once. Any questions?"
"Dammy, Sir," Gerald commented, "Ye be sure to watch over the lad...this 'ere is his first fight.."
Vincent frowned contemptuously: Gerald had this annoying habit of addressing him as "lad", even though Vincent was older than him by three years. He only called him that because Vincent was a new Turk.
"Don't worry about him, Gerald," Davoren smiled, "You just watch your own back. Contact me if either of you are injured. If not, wait until I contact you. Over and out."
Without another word, Davoren yanked the receiver out of his ear, then tossed it into his pocket. Vincent wasted no more time: he instantly began to prepare his gun for battle.
But much to his embarrassment, Vincent's hands could not stop trembling. He dropped many bullets as he fumbled to load his gun, nearly dropping the gun itself. A cold, nervous felling tickled his heart.
"How long have you been a Turk, Valentine?" Davoren asked after a brief pause. He seemed quite interested in Vincent.
"About six months, Sir."
"I see. And how many missions have you been on so far?"
"Three, Sir," Vincent muttered softly, "One escort, two assassinations."
"Assassinations, hey?" his leader pronounced, eyeing him with more curiosity, "the Mayor was killed during his re-inauguration two months ago. They never found the assassin..was that you?"
"I don't know, Sir," Vincent replied, slightly confused, "They only give me a picture and tell me where to shoot. I'm never told who I kill."
"Ha ha! Fair enough," Davoren laughed amicably, "What you don't know can't hurt you, I guess."
Davoren groped at his pockets until he pulled out a small, rectangular timer. Vincent cocked his gun loudly, then leaned against the wall of the air duct while his leader began to program the timer.
Neither spoke a word, which only intensified Vincent's apprehension.
"You nervous, Valentine?" Davoren whispered without looking at him.
"Good, good. Open combat can get a bit brutal.. especially for rookies."
Though Vincent nodded his head calmly, his heart pounded as violently as ever. He had never been on a mission involving hostages and terrorists. Nor had he ever teamed up with all the Turks at the same time. Except for the one time he had to escort the President with Gerald, Vincent had always worked solo.
Not that it mattered to him whether he killed terrorists...only the novelty of the mission filled him with great discomfort.
"Hey," called Davoren, interrupting the man's reverie. Vincent automatically turned to him.
"Don't get yourself killed trying to impress me ," winked the leader with a friendly smile, "Just do your job. You're pretty good with that gun, I can tell. It'd be a shame if you died so soon."
Vincent blinked in surprise at the compliment, not sure how to answer back. But Davoren saved him the trouble; his face suddenly assumed a serious expression as he gave Vincent one nod of the head.
That was the signal for "attack".
Vincent immediately tore open the grate, trying not to make too much noise. He gracefully slipped out of the air duct, followed by Davoren, who held onto the timer as if to dear life.
No sooner had the two Turks landed on the ground, than Vincent bolted straight towards the main hall which lead to the Reactor. He glued his back against the wall near the entrance, his gun right infront of him. he listened attentively for any activity in the hall. Nothing.
After a silent moment, Vincent cautiously peeked into the hallway: it was a luxurious, spacious hall, with pink lanterns flickering dimly on both sides. He noted a screen monitor brutally smashed. Shattered glass, along with bullet shells and empty cartridges littered the marble floor. The terrorists had obviously been through here.
Vincent scanned the entire hallway, suspicious he may chance upon a terrorist lurking in the shadows. He spent a full minute just checking.
When he was sure the terrorists had left no sentry, Vincent made a signal to Davoren from behind, meaning that all was clear. The two men crept noiselessly but speedily through the corridor, past the smashed monitor, down the flight of steps, until they reached the elevator. It would take them down to the Reactor.
Davoren pressed the button. At the same time, Vincent fixed his gun on the metallic doors, in case any terrorist should happen to be inside.
Sweat trickled down Vincent's forehead. some strands of black hair dangled loosely infront of his tense face. He wished he had longer hair..at least then he could tie it back.
The elevator announced it's long-awaited arrival with a loud chime. Nobody was inside.
In a flash, both Turks dashed into the elevator, each man huddling in opposite corners near the door. Davoren struck the lower button in certain haste, but the lazy elevator mechanically sealed the two inside with perfect ease.
During this time, neither man breathed a word. Davoren pulled out his semi-automatic gun, making sure it was loaded to the max. As the elevator neared its destination, he closed his eyes composedly, as if concentrating all his thoughts on one single issue.
Vincent glanced at his leader with obvious curiosity. He guessed Davoren was praying; he noticed the man's lips move silently. He even crossed himself reverently when the elevator halted.
He expelled a breath, then looked significantly at Vincent, as if to say "are you ready?"
Vincent nodded his head. His eyes shone brilliantly with excitement.
Come what may, he was ready.