Friday, January 20, 2012
In the past, the world of Midgar was spilt into two. The upper city, build on foundations of steel known as plates, was buttressed by support pillars high up above the ground. And on the land underneath where the light of the sun couldn't reach were the Slums, chaotic but full of life. People thought it would be that way forever, the light of prosperity above, and the dark shadow of poverty below.
Four years ago, when the Lifestream flooded out from the depths of the Planet, most people believed that was the end for Midgar. Grabbing whatever belongings they could carry, the citizens fled from the city. But they couldn't leave behind their city of steel. Maybe they thought that if they were close to it, near that monument of prosperity, they might recapture it once again. Soon after, the city of Edge was built adjacent to Midgar.
Starting at the outskirts of Sector 3 and Sector 4, Edge's main road ran out straight to the east. The city formed along this main road and expanded out to the northwest. It was an impressive sight when seen from afar. However, most of the buildings were made up of scrap excavated from the ruins of Midgar. The scents of iron and rust filled the city.
Johnny ran a café along the main road. It was a humble establishment, a couple of tables and chairs and a stall for making simple meals set in an empty lot. Johnny's Heaven. That was the name. Johnny took it from "Seventh Heaven", a diner that once stood in Midgar's 7th sector, in the hope his business might enjoy a similar success. Johnny was in love with Tifa, the bar hostess (and main attraction) of Seventh Heaven.
Several months after the original was destroyed in the fall of the Sector 7 plate, Tifa opened the new Seventh Heaven in Edge. Back then, Johnny was lost amidst the swarms of people who couldn't decide what direction they should take with their lives. But he was moved seeing the inspiring way of life Tifa had. Once the object of his unrequited affections, Tifa soon became a role model, someone for him to look up to and learn from.
I'm going to live my life like Tifa. So then, how should I go about it? That's it! I'll start a business. Give hope to those guys who've lost their way. That marked the beginnings of his project, Johnny's Heaven. The clientele often heard the tale of "Johnny’s Rebirth" when they stopped in for a drink or two. Intrigued by his stories, his customers visited the new Seventh Heaven in hopes of catching a glimpse of the illustrious Tifa. Many soon became regulars. And before he knew it, Johnny spent most days waiting for someone to show up and listen to his tales of love and hope.
A customer's here, he thought. And a child at that. Not very often you get a kid in here alone. Ooh, that's Denzel, isn't it? Denzel held a special place in Johnny's heart. He was part of his idol Tifa's family. He always got the best service; Johnny made sure to pull out all the stops for him.
"Good day, Denzel." Johnny lowered his head and bowed deeply. But Denzel merely glanced at him for a moment before making his way to the furthest table from the main stall. "Come on, take one of the tables over here!"
"No. I'm meeting someone."
Meeting someone? Is a little kid like this on a date? Oh well, don't fret about it. He glanced at the kid. Johnny will keep an eye out for you. All part of the service. The full works for a very special customer.
"Just get me coffee," Denzel said, turning away from him.
Is he ignoring me? Oh, I get it. He must just be feeling shy. "If you get stuck thinking of what to talk about, just give me a yell. I know plenty of interesting things you can talk about; I can tell you a few stories later. Or I can tell you a couple now if you'd—"
Suddenly, Denzel rose from his seat. Did I make him mad? Johnny looked at him again. The boy's gaze was fixed on the café entrance.
A man in a plain suit was standing there.
"Welcome," Johnny said, looking away as he greeted the man. Reeve, he thought. One of the heads of the old Shin-ra Company. Now head of the W.R.O. This is the first time I've seen him around these parts. What do the regulars say nowadays? "Wherever he goes the stench of death isn’t far off." What business does a guy like that have in my shop?
As he walked, Reeve looked around cautiously, but somehow he seemed accustomed to it, like it was a force of habit. He reached Denzel's table and took a seat. In that moment Johnny realized it: This is scouting for the W.R.O. Reeve's trying to lure poor Denzel into the army. Gotta put a stop to this. If I let something like this happens in my café, Tifa's never even going to look at me again.
He threw a steely glare at Reeve, and then the calm expression returned turned to his face.
"Could I get a coffee?" Reeve asked. Such dignity.
"Yes, coming right up, sir." Johnny stood straight at attention, then trotted back to his cooking stall. This guy's a pretty formidable opponent.
Denzel stood there, unable to even offer a greeting to the man who had come to see him. He was surprised that Reeve himself, top man of the W.R.O., would come personally for his interview.
"You can sit down."
The sound of his voice snapped Denzel back to reality, and he clamored to return to his chair.
"Alright then, Denzel. I don't have much time, so we'll get straight to the point." He lowered his voice. "I should warn you, we've changed now. The times when we would welcome any new recruits are over. If you want to volunteer to help with the restoration effort, then you need to contact the district leader. The W.R.O. is army now."
"I know, sir. I'm aware of the dangers."
"Is that so...? Alright then, let's get started. First, what's your background?"
"My background? But—sir, I'm only ten."
"I know. But you still have ten years worth of background, don't you?"
Denzel was the only child of Abel, a worker in the Shin-Ra Company's 3rd Business Division, and Chloe, a sociable woman who ran her household well. The three of them lived in the Shin-Ra Company's employee residential area on the Sector 7 plate. Abel had been born and raised in a poor local village, so he was satisfied to have a family living in the upper levels of Midgar. But Abel believed that you always needed a goal in life, something to aim for. So Abel's new goal became to live in the Sector 5 residential area, reserved for managers and executives. Shortly before Denzel's 7th birthday, Abel was promoted to head of section. This earned him and his family the right to life in a company house in Sector 5. Upon hearing the news, Chloe and Denzel began preparing a party. The man of the house was greeted by a banquet of luxurious food and childlike decorations upon his return. It was a pleasant dinner. Denzel listened as his father talked about his life and slipped in the odd joke every now and again.
"You should be glad you’re my son and you were born here, Denzel. If you were born in the Slums, you'd have to eat rat instead of chicken."
"Don't they have chickens?"
"Sure they do, but everyone is so poor no one can afford to buy any. But that's life. So what would you do instead? Spear yourself a rat for dinner, that’s what. A filthy grey rat."
"Well... how does it taste?" Abel said, winking at Chloe.
"Well, Denzel?" asked Chloe as she pointed at Denzel.s plate. Denzel grew nervous, look back and forth between his plate and his parent's faces. His father was looking down, trying his best to restrain a smile. It reminded Denzel of what his mother always said. "There’s no point living if don’t you smile." They.re just trying to scare me again, he thought.
"See!" he said. "This is why I never trust you!"
"That was pretty mean," Reeve said.
"They just liked to joke around. It didn't really bother me when they teased me," Denzel replied.
"I should tell you that as far as I'm aware, they didn't really eat rats in the Slums. If they were used for food then the rats in the Slums back then..."
"I know, sir. I know about it well."
"I see. Did something happen?"
"...It’s a long story, sir."
Denzel was watching the house when the phone rang. It was Abel. "Is your mother there?" he asked.
"She's gone out shopping."
"Tell her to call me the minute she gets back. No. Forget it. I'll take care of it myself." He hung up. Jeez, he sounded distressed. It made him feel uneasy. There was nothing he could do about it, though, so he watched TV and waited for his mother to get back. They were showing images of the #1 Mako Reactor that had been bombed by a terrorist group called AVALANCHE. That's why dad’s been so busy lately, Denzel thought. That's why he's been so irritated. It’s not mine or mum's fault.
Around an hour later, someone returned home. It wasn't Chloe, but Abel. "Where's your mother?" he asked.
"She still hasn't got back yet."
"Damn! I've got to go look for her." Abel hadn't even finished speaking before he was out of the door, Denzel swiftly in pursuit. They headed for the shopping district and soon found Chloe chatting with the butcher, a smile on her face. Ordering Denzel to wait, Abel drew towards the butcher's shop. Without calling out to her first, he grabbed hold of his wife's wrist and dragged her back to where Denzel was waiting.
Denzel felt his heart thump hearing his mother's protests. "Get off me! Let go! What are you doing, Abel?"
Abel looked around the area cautiously, and lowered his voice. "Sector Seven is going to be destroyed. We've got to hurry and evacuate to Sector Five. There's a new company house for us there."
"It's the ones who bombed the Number One Mako Reactor. They're going after Sector 7 next."
Denzel took a good look at parents' faces. They weren't trying to hold back any smiles this time. "Are you serious?" Denzel gasped. He grabbed hold of his parents' hands. "Then let's go!"
But they didn't move. "We can't just run away all by ourselves," Chloe began. "We've got to tell our neighbors, our friends—"
"There's no time for that, Chloe. And this information is a company secret. I'm breaking the rules telling just you about it. And after getting promoted to head of section—"
His mother shook her head, turned to Denzel.
"Go with your father. I'll be right behind you. Don’t worry." She squeezed Denzel's hand tightly before running off.
"Chloe!" Abel followed a few steps after his wife, but soon came to a halt. Seeing his father's pained expression filled Denzel with fear. As much as he wanted to run after his mother, he knew he'd just get in the way.
"Denzel, let's get to Sector Five."
"No! We've got to follow her!"
"Mum's going to be fine. She's the heart of this family, after all." Suddenly he looked past Denzel, to the outskirts of Sector 6 and Sector 7. A tall man was walking along there, dragging a heavy looking suitcase behind him. Abel called out to him. The man rushed towards them when he heard.
"Sir, you're still here?" said the man. "The Turks have already on the job. They're just about finished setting the explosives. It looks like my colleagues have sorted out transportation."
Having listened to his father talk about it since he was young, Denzel knew quite a bit about the organizational structure in the Shin-Ra Company. All the dirty jobs were done by the Turks. What did he mean, they'd finished setting the explosives? Were they AVALANCHE? Focusing on the ground trying to decipher what they meant, Denzel noticed his father looking at him. He lifted his head to face him.
"Could you take my son to Sector Five?" Abel said. "I'll make it up to you." His gaze stayed on his son.
"No!" shouted Denzel.
"I'm going to go bring Mum back. You go with Arkham."
"Come on, I'll go with you," the man said.
"Sure this is okay, Arkham?"
"Of course, sir."
"It's house number thirty-eight in the Sector Five residential area. Here's the key, I'll give it to my son." He took a key out of a pocket inside his suit and forced it into Denzel's hand.
"I've bought us a brand new TV for our new home, a big screen one. Watch that and wait for us. We'll be fine."
Giving Denzel's hair a rough pat, Abel gently pushed him towards Arkham and started running towards Sector 7. Denzel stumbled and lost his balance, but Arkham caught him. "Well, let's get going. I'm Arkham, I work for your father. Nice to meet you, Denzel."
Denzel turned and tried to make a run for it, but Arkham stopped him.
"I understand how you're feeling. But if your father orders it, I've got to do as he says. Let'’s get to Sector Five. After that, whatever you do is up to you. Okay?"
The residential area was filled with lines of identical houses. The inside of the new house was completely empty except for a box which contained the TV. Arkham unpacked the TV from box, connected all the cables and switched it on. The pair sat watching the news. Images of the bombed reactor were still being shown. Denzel wondered if Arkham was going to leave soon. His stomach growled.
"Alright. I'll go out and buy you something."
Just then, the whole house shook. There was a creaking sound coming from everywhere and nowhere in particular, the sound of the very earth splitting. Arkham opened the door, and the shriek of metal grinding together echoed through the house, girder on girder, steel meters thick tearing like paper, wires big around as he was snapping, all loud as the furious voice of God Himself—
Denzel yelled, no match for the noise. The ground shook again. And stopped.
"Wait here," said Arkham, and left the house. Denzel was about to follow him, when he heard a voice coming from the TV.
"Some urgent news just in." A city falling was shown on the screen. It took him a few seconds to realize that it was Sector 7, where they had just been a few hours before. "This is Sector Seven as it stands now," the announcer said as the scene changed. There was nothing. Sector 7 was gone.
Denzel rushed out of the house. The whole city was in a panic. Denzel ran, making his way through the sea of people trying to get away, some screaming that Sector 5 would be next. How far had he run? Out of breath, he arrived at the edge of Sector 6. Some troops had put up a protective barrier. He got as close as he could to the hastily built fence to try to catch sight of Sector 7. There was nothing there. It was as if it had always been like this, that there had always been a gaping void here instead of solid ground, houses, and people. Straining his eyes he could make out Sector 8 in the distance. The Sector 7 plate and connection sections were visible in the ruins.
"Oi, you there!" A soldier was calling out to him. "Where do you
Denzel pointed out into the empty void in front of him.
"Oh... sorry, kid," the soldier spoke softly. "Where are your
Denzel pointed once again to the space that once been Sector 7. The soldier let out a heavy sigh.
"AVALANCHE did all this. Don’t forget that, kid. Hey, when you grow up, you can get your revenge," he said, trying to encourage him. "Go along now, kid." The soldier spun Denzel around and gave him a quick push towards Sector 6.
Denzel wandered through the crowds, his mind devoid of any coherent thought, his body numb. He gave no attention to the voices of the surrounding onlookers and people taking shelter. He couldn't. Where do I go next? he thought. Dad! Is it safe here? Mother! Damn AVALANCHE, I won't forgive you for this! What is Shin-Ra doing? Dad! Mum, where are you?
As he walked away from them, the crowds and the noise and the panic, but the piteous voice of one child didn't fade. He stopped in his tracks, tears running down his face, and he realized it was his own.