I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.86

That said, the gunman vaulted out of the station to pursue his task, and now Reno reapplied himself to his own job with harder resolve. Ignoring the turmoil outside, he spent the next minute or so operating on more circuits.

When finished, he slipped out his nightstaff into full length and snapped the slot open. With his trusty knife, the assiduous man tinkered with its interior until he produced a red wire, the same he'd used before. Reno inserted the prong into the master socket, then cranked the staff to maximum output.

Through this single artery, energy flowed straight into these technological ruins. The console instantly burst to life again, spreading its joy to other associated equipment around. Buttons lit up. Monitors bleeped on-line. The purr of living machinery never sounded better to Reno.

No time to enjoy it, however. The man next turned his attention to the switch panels on his left. Reno punched in some numbers. In return, the screen overhead flashed scrolls of jargon only he could interpret. He procured more such data on another monitor before assuming command of the central keyboard. All ten nimble fingers went to work. They took him deep into system files and programs, through which he sifted quickly and systematically in pursuit of his goal. Reno's face, blood-spattered and sweaty, radiated enough mental activity to start a fire. He adjusted the circuit patterns, fine-tuned the dials, checked through heaps of information- no room for mistakes. He had to get everything 100% right. Their lives depended on it.

Meanwhile, the daredevil gunman scaled higher and higher up this precipice of trash despite the raucous surroundings. The pit below roared in outrage at such blatant defiance. It sent several shock waves after him, butchering the complex apart. Davoren nearly lost footing under a slough of debris.

For a moment, he had to huddle close and keep his head low as rubble hurtled downhill. He then resumed course upwards. He refused to let danger or strife thwart him. He'd enough determination to vanquish them both.

The cragged path lead Davoren up into a sprawling ghetto made of metal branches, girders and magnificent buttresses. Ensnared there amongst the foliage hung the crane, roped in black cables. Quickly the gunman scurried over these destitute slums towards that wreckage.

The artifact consisted of two parts: a control booth, crunched-up and reduced to a useless wad of scrap; and a detachable rotor sitting upon some mangled rail, which traveled from this ghetto out across the Hellhole's diameter. The huge chain was wrapped tight around the rotor, and locked in position by a decrepit pair of clamps. At its end hung the large anchor.

Davoren reasoned that if the security mechanism were unlatched, then the anchor's heavy weight would unfurl the chain to full length, hopefully long enough to reach those two men trapped below.

But first, to eliminate the clamps. Davoren whipped out his gun. He stepped back, and blasted the nuisance thrice in the heart. The rusted clamps shattered open, whereby their prisoner instantly bolted free. Indeed, the metallic lifeline lunged downwards at top velocity. Its loud clank-clank-clank filled the air as the spool spun mad on its axis.

Rather than manually journey to the lowermost regions, Davoren instead accepted a free ride- expressway, no less. The acrobatic man thus hopped onto this speedy train, where he straddled himself secure in an upright position and waited for them to arrive at the terminus below.

As the chain continued to unravel at a rapid rate, its sole passenger descended deeper and deeper into the perturbed vestibule. The ugly scenery zipped by like a blur. Meanwhile, Davoren held on tight. His white hair swayed about mad, some strands dancing infront of his eyes which glowered at the world far beneath. They'd cut a great distance in record time. He just hoped this train would get him to the lowlands. They traveled down alongside garbage jungles. They lunged past the Connection Station where labored Reno, past the gnarled escarpments and further still.

During this trying period, the despondent Rude clung to his own and Rufus' life while death waited below. Damned then if he wouldn't make it a long wait. Having been almost tossed out by the tempest, the man had managed to withdraw himself a few inches back into whatever remained of the crevice. At least it provided some shelter from the fiasco outside. Inside again, Rude dug one heel against a side ledge for better stability, and pressed his back against the cavern wall. He held the boy from behind, arm clamped tight around him just above the waist. His other hand was flexed up so that he may grip a steel handle overhead. Indeed, this handle along prevented them from sliding downhill into oblivion.

Languishing here, he could feel the complex lurch more and more towards its doom amongst these endless aftershocks. Rufus, his head bowed and body as loose as a rag, remained blissfully unaware of the situation. To contrast, Rude braved it out on every side. He perceived the flooring begin to crumble inwards towards them like some cancer. Cracks branched throughout the walls. His grip had tightened so hard on the handle his knuckles turned white. If this shelter didn't give under first, then surely it would cave-in upon itself. Either way, they were cornered.

Out of all the background clangor buzzing around his ears however, one particular noise soon caught Rude's attention- a repetitive rattling sound. It grew louder as it approached them from above. In truth, he knew not what to expect. The weary prisoner looked up, only to see help descend in the form of Davoren riding a chain.

Having achieved maximum length right then, the train jolted to a sudden halt, where it hung about two meters away from the target site. It was an awkward midair meeting, to say the least. Perched there lingered the cool gunman. Cramped inside the crack on the opposite side, a rather bewildered Rude gaped straight back at him. To be honest, he'd been so overwhelmed by his own plight, struggling to survive amidst the adversity for so long, that he'd simply lost contact with events above. Plus to meet an old foe here, like this, certainly took him by surprise.

A surprise Davoren strove to dissipate. "'Rude', am I correct?" he greeted politely.

By pure reflex, the ex-Turk stiffened behind a wary front, neither accepting nor refusing this man.

Not that Davoren didn't understand. After all, he HAD tried to kill them. Plus he never explained his reasons for helping them. Still, he'd come to regard Rude as a levelheaded person with a reliable sense of intuition; and while he hadn't exactly given his entire trust to the gunman, he'd begrudged enough to realize he meant them no harm.

"How bad are you hurt?" inquired Davoren.

At last, Rude forced out weakly, "I.. I'm not sure.."

"Can you hold your balance?"

"I think I can manage.. a bit.. longer."

"Okay," he decided, "Give me the kid."

Davoren stepped onto the anchor. He leaned forth as far as possible whilst keeping grip on the chain. He extended his other hand the rest of the distance towards Rude. The latter moved in accordance. Though at a lack for stability, he managed to raise himself up using the steel handle. Now standing astride at the mouth of the crevice, Rude surrendered his parcel.

Davoren took the senseless boy into custody. He slung him over one shoulder and secured him with the greatest care. That done, he cast his free hand out towards Rude again.

"Hurry!" he cried through the mayhem. The shelter was fast disintegrating.

Rude reached across to grab hold. Their hands clasped firmly around each other's wrists, whereby Davoren reeled him in just as he leapt forth, thus ensuring the last passenger made it safe on board.

The rescue operation couldn't have come at a better time, what with havoc metastasizing at such a frightening pace. No sooner had Rude latched onto this lifeline, further supported by Davoren, than the area suffered a major shockwave. The battered scrap-yard archipelago screamed. Its lowermost regions, including that tiny crevice in the trunk, collapsed from under, causing the complex to double over in acute agony. More garbage rained down.

The three shipwrecks dangled by a thread, which now swayed about confusedly amidst the falling bedlam. They were exposed on every side. Rude shielded his head as wild shrapnel lashed against him. The din of destruction drowned his senses. Many times he thought he'd lost hold. Though in a chaotic state himself, Davoren nevertheless took responsibility for his group. He huddled everyone together. Not only did he protect the unconscious boy under his wing, but also kept his shipmate upright and steady.

The gunman had fulfilled his end of the bargain. The rest was up to Reno.

Despite the raging storm, however, Davoren could no longer delay all his burning questions. "I suppose if I don't ask now, I'll never know," he addressed Rude upclose for him to hear, "But what the HELL happened here?!"

The ex-Turk squeezed out, "Ah.. there was an.. explosion.."

"Explosion? Then the Professor-"

"N-no. The President caused it."

Davoren looked at him significantly.

Rude recounted events in brief, up until when Rufus confronted the Professor. He described to the attentive Davoren his impression of the young man at that dramatic moment. Rufus had radiated this strikingly authoritative aura, like he'd reconnected to his former self. At the same time, he seemed bitterly melancholic, tortured inside, perhaps to the point of derangement. The situation became more complex when he procured some materia orb, which played a key role in Hojo's experiment.

He threatened to toss it into the reservoirs unless his questions were answered. Rude didn't catch all the details. From what he gathered, the President and the Professor had been in cahoots on this experiment; but WEAPON took the former out before the completion of that materia. And since Rufus alone had known the entire blueprints, Hojo had no choice but to save his life, and place the amnesic young man on a brain scanner to retrieve the required information.

Davoren stayed in silent brooding at the conclusion of this story. He'd always known the main framework of "Genesis Retrial", or so he'd believed until tonight. Indeed, many details had been concealed from him. Some he'd already learnt. Others were new. Quite frankly, Davoren had never really understood how ShinRa's President fitted into this mess. He'd only been informed that Rufus bore great importance to Hojo's work- something in his mind made him valuable- and that the boy's life fell under his responsibilities. Now matters became a tad clearer.

"But I think Rufus really confronted the Professor for *your* sake," Rude cut into his thoughts.

"M-my sake??" echoed the gunman, rather taken aback.

"Once the President got his answers, he dropped the materia into the reservoirs. He'd already ordered us to leave him; he *knew* there'd be a massive explosion! But that was precisely his plan: to kill himself along with the experiment. Even though it failed, he still wanted us to just let him drop to his death," Rude's expression intensified. If anything, he strongly felt Davoren needed to know this, "I think Rufus saw it as the only way to punish himself for.. for stabbing you through the heart."

"Those.. were his words?"

He nodded affirmative. The grim gunman said nothing.

Surrounded by chaos, neither man was prepared when the mutilated network above suddenly skewered further off course, jolting them into a flurry. Rude almost lost foothold. Davoren's alarm soared sky-high as their chain began to groan. The engorged rotunda shrieked outloud. Earthquakes continued unabated. They churned them about in open danger until Davoren angrily bellowed upwards, "RENO, HURRY UP!!!"

His cry fought the downpour to reach the station high above. Inside, an equally flustered Reno raced time to make final modifications to the circuit design. Though he couldn't hear anything through all the commotion, he certainly felt Davoren's agitation whip the back of his mind.

As if he needed the extra stress! He hadn't stopped toiling since the gunman left him here. Nor did he need to look outside to realize this dump was heaving its last breath. Around him, the contents of the room shook harder and harder. The entire promontory in fact was disintegrating.

He had to act... NOW! Barely had he entered the last set of codes into the computer than Reno scrambled back to the master console. Whatever happens, happens: he crossed himself quickly for luck, then with a resolute, "Here we go!" slammed the lever forward.

With no more weirs to impede its flow, electricity rushed in raw and hot like blood fills empty veins. Every generator he'd recruited online participated in the grand revival. They collectively pumped their energies through the computer network, which in accordance to the new circuit design, reached the same destination at once: the central database. The comatose system was instantly restored to full commission, whereby Reno's set of commands took effect. Therefore, the database augmented the power manifold, then distributed it out to all parts of the kingdom, including this drainage Hellhole.

Indeed, as the disconcerted shipwrecks braved the blustery winds of mayhem, they witnessed an incredible life force suddenly spiral up the premises, converting darkness and inactivity to luminous liveliness. They saw severed cable wires crackle with rapture. Lanterns and signal gantries brightened up. The entangled technological fun house and that Connection Station above reawakened from their slumber, all at a phenomenal rate. Electricity charged free through the abandoned halls, across the wards, from the deepest pit to the highest tower top. Soon the Reactor became a magnificent fortress lighted underneath an inky black nightsky; one final glimmer of former glory before death enshrouded it forever.

The sight struck one as a strange paradox: to behold such a dazzling power rejuvenate these decrepit ruins, only to appreciate the terrible amount of destruction, and to feel more acutely than ever one's insignificance in relation to it all.

But in the end, their idea had worked.

Even the nettled, breathless Reno had paused in awe of the magic unfolding outside. A relieved smile crept across his lips as the realization finally sunk in: yes, it worked. Their idea had actually worked!

No time to celebrate, however. He'd yet to transport the crew below. At once, Reno assumed command of the revived station. He activated the channel output system already pre-set by Davoren, which delivered a high dose of energy through the cables right up into the crane above.

The response followed immediately: the motor sputtered sparks before it cruised to a smooth hum. Next the ex-Turk gripped the control gears. He jerked them back. Thus the spool reversed rotation, reeling the men upwards.

Through the smashed glass façade, Reno watched the mechanical procession below until they reached about halfway. He stopped them there, then shifted both handles leftwards. In effect, the rotor separated from its base to travel forth over the mangled railway, guiding the chain and its three passengers along. They journeyed over the black void below, cutting across pandemonium, towards that surveillance room on the opposite side.

Meanwhile, Reno rapidly unhooked his nightstaff from the master console. He restored the red wire to its proper place before beating a hasty retreat, at the same time flicking his knife back into one pocket. The generators would hold everything together till they burned out. He had a ride to catch.

Reno evacuated the station through its window and clambered on top, just in time to see the chain trek by. The irate man made a quick dash for it. He sprinted across these ravaged battlements till the edge, after which he leapt forth, and landed on the chain. Once steady again, Reno began to climb downwards to join the others.

Their airborne voyage became increasingly unstable as they traversed turbulent storms. Tension played with their nerves, tossing them between uncertainty and dismay. Around them the world continued to degenerate. Clouds of dust, falling hazards, and Mako mists hampered their view. Each man just hoped the crane would survive long enough to deliver them to their destination. Unlike their worrisome state, the confident rotor rambled along its tracks despite adversity. Soon it reached the end of the line, where it automatically decelerated to a halt.

From here, the disheveled shipwrecks lingered but a leap away from dry land. Davoren helped Rude jump across to the ledge; the ex-Turk then hopped through to land on solid ground, which felt so good that he dropped onto all fours, if only to soothe his anxiety level. Reno was still scaling his way down the chain. Nor would the gunman abandon post until his other comrade arrived. With time fast running out, he militantly hustled the straggling ex-Turk to move faster. No sooner had poor Reno reached the end than Davoren collared him and practically flung him across into safety's arms.

He then followed suit.

They came hurtling through the broken window, Reno first, the gunman a close second, and crashed against the hard ground, upon which they continued tumbling forth. Davoren made sure his back alone took the impact to protect the boy. The flabbergasted Reno was left to go rolling and cussing until he finally sprawled to a graceless halt. Rude rushed over to his assistance. To contrast, the nimble gunman had already used his own momentum to somersault across the floor and recovered onto one knee, only to dive straight forth to scoop up his discarded rifle, all in one sweep.

"What're you waiting for?!" he barked at both men, "Keep moving! GO!!"

They'd made it here alive, but they weren't out of the woods yet. Scarcely had Davoren finished his sentence when a belligerent force seized the area, like the Heavens had just crashed in upon them. Even their sanctuary couldn't withstand such violence. The walls around them lurched over. The machines began to explode. The ceiling started to crumble. Outside, the garbage archipelago was shred apart as the upper regions of the Reactor caved-in upon the scene, literally cracking the vestibule to pieces.

The disquieted group scurried for the exit before anarchy buried them under. Clear of the room, they doubled their speed, for next the corridors began to collapse over their uncovered heads. Davoren kept everyone moving with shoves and shouts. Through the commotion, they somehow reached the other end, which took them down a stairwell into another hall. Behind them wailed the forsaken rotunda in misery. Soon it plummeted into the black sea below, and drowned out of existence.

-End of Chp.86