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Title: Slipstream
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Rating: PG13
Summary: A world where Zack survived. Memories that say he didn't. Zack has no idea who or what he can trust when a slipstream becomes a riptide.

Chapter One
Previous Chapter

Chapter Four


Subject: Rumors
From: Kunsel

There's a rumor I heard that the Science Department's been conducting an experiment that needs a high concentration of sustained mako input. What for? Who knows? Maybe not even the President. If there's any truth to this, I think the head of the Science Department must be playing his cards close to his chest.

Makes you wonder where he'd find enough mako for something like that, though...

---


Kunsel was still being careful with what he put in his mail. Zack read it twice just to make sure he'd caught everything between the lines. He's looking into something that Hojo's up to. Something even the President might not know about. He frowned, not liking the sound of that at all.

'Be careful,' he texted back. He didn't elaborate, trusting that his friend knew the dangers of what he was doing well enough. After talking to Zack, he'd know that Hojo could make even a SOLDIER disappear if it suited his purposes.

Once the message was sent and he'd checked the time, Zack snapped the PHS shut. "Alright, it's show time!"

Zack, get serious!

"No can do, Angeal," he murmured as he stood up from where he'd been sitting on top of a steel girder. "I'm already serious." Of course, that didn't keep the grin off his face while he eased himself into a crouch right in the middle of the beam. The slums spread out a dizzying distance below him, split by a set of train tracks. There was no wind beneath the Plate, but he could almost imagine he could feet it whispering beneath his feet. A fall from this height would be deadly for a normal person.

His grin widened. He hadn't been normal in a long, long time.

"Three... two... one..."

A shrill whistle pierced the air, right on schedule. Zack sprang off the girder, hurling feet first toward the waiting train tracks below. Now there was wind, rushing through his hair, his clothes, across his skin. Adrenaline raced with it, bringing with it a fierce, rising joy. Man, he loved doing stunts like this!

Seconds before he would have hit the ground, they hit the roof of a speeding train instead, Zack's knees bending quickly to absorb the impact. Planting one hand on the train for balance, he looked around, taking stock of where he'd landed. His other hand hovered close to the hilt of his sword. It hadn't escaped his attention just how loud his impact had been. If he'd timed his jump wrong, if he'd landed on any car but the one the others should have cleared, if they hadn't cleared it before he hit the roof, he could probably expect some company real soon.

A quick count of the cars told him he was right where he wanted to be, though, so after those first tense moments, he stood back up, letting his hand fall to his side. No one else appeared, no one called out. Looks like the plan's working so far. Which meant that now came the hardest part.

Waiting.

He made a face at the thought. At least we're not riding the train the whole way. That was kind of both a blessing and a curse. There was no way their fake IDs would pass muster if they had to pass through a security check point, not with the upgraded security since the attack, but it meant having to travel farther on foot. There weren't likely to be any cameras or ShinRa troops inside the train tunnel, though, so their chances of making it to the reactor undetected improved significantly. He couldn't complain about the trade-off, not really.

It was just his rotten luck that he couldn't afford the risk of riding with the others inside the train.

'Yeah, you can bet every trooper's been given my picture at this point,' he'd explained to the others wryly. 'Or at least we'd better plan on it.' And if they knew they were looking for a SOLDIER renegade, it wouldn't be enough to simply hide his face.

Oh well. He never had liked wearing the standard issue helmet anyway. He was just fine with leaving it back at the bar.

For lack of anything else to do, he pulled his PHS back and started scrolling through the menus. Kunsel's mail folders were unreal. A lot of the labels meant nothing to him, code names for whatever the mail inside was associated with, but the sheer number of them was mind boggling. Everything from ShinRa news to gossip groups to a spam folder that was stuffed to the gills. SOLDIER updates, mission briefings, even-

Oh, hey! He joined my fan club! A huge grin split Zack's face. I had no idea! Red Leather, Silver Elite, and Keepers of Honor, too, but that hardly diminished the fact for what it was. Kunsel was his fan. Hah! I can't wait to tease him about that!

Never mind that Kunsel was probably just using it as another source for rumors and information.

It was briefly, briefly tempting to open the folder up and skim through some of the mail, but he couldn't bring himself to breach Kunsel's trust, even if the mail was about him. Instead, he opted to flip through some of the company news - mostly dry and boring stuff, but still something to look at besides the decrepit buildings and dreary scenery that whipped past as the train sped on.

Huh. A lot of SOLDIER notices from Heidegger. SOLDIER must have been merged with the Public Safety Department at some point after Zack went off the grid. Guess they never found someone to replace Lazard... He'd have to ask Kunsel what it was like with Heidegger in charge. He couldn't really fathom it himself.

When the train reached the tunnel that would eventually wind its way to the upper Plate, Zack quickly pocketed his PHS and crouched down to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling. Near-darkness swallowed everything around him, leaving only a vague blur of emergency lights that flickered by too fast to make anything out.

Three more minutes...

The train curved past the first track switch, the junction illuminated a little more brightly than the rest of the tunnel had been. The train car beneath him shuddered as it hit the join in the tracks. Zack planted a hand on the train's roof to keep his balance, barely registering the cold metal through his glove.

Another track switch passed, then another.

Two minutes.

He crouched low, muscles tensed, as the seconds ticked off in his head. They'd planned this carefully, timed it with the train's schedule, but any number of things could throw those plans off. His ears strained for any sounds coming from inside the car itself, but the roar of the train and the howling wind in his ears was too deafening to make anything out through the soundproofing built into the train.

One minu- ohshit!

A bare impression of cables and netting, something stretched across the tunnel's roof - Zack barely registered even that much in time to throw himself out of its path. Unfortunately, there was no room to go over or under it. Dodging meant jumping off the train itself.
Better that, though, than slamming high speed into whatever the hell that was.

Zack hit the ground hard, turning the fall into a roll that brought him quickly back to his feet. His hand grabbed his sword and pulled it free in the same move, before he spun, instincts screaming as he whipped his sword around. Steel crashed against steel.

"Damn!"

Something flipped through the dark and hit the train tracks with a clatter just as the train itself finished barreling past. Zack didn't even bother looking for the weapon now that it was out of his assailant's hands. With SOLDIER speed, the Buster sword reversed and cut back, heading straight for his enemy's throat-

Cold metal touched the back of his neck and he froze.

And that was when he took in the suit, the untucked shirt, and the red hair of the man in front of him. Recognition hit him fast and hard, making the bottom of his stomach drop out. Reno.

The redhead caught the look on his face and offered him a toothy grin, ignoring the sword at his throat. "Yo." He wrung his hand out, obviously still smarting from being disarmed, but that didn't seem to lessen the wicked glint in his eyes. "I just shaved this morning, you know. No need for a second pass."

Zack bit back a smart remark, hyper-aware of the gun pointed at his head. Neither did he lower his own weapon, though. No way was he giving up even the slightest edge with Turks literally breathing down his neck.

"Reno." That was all the man behind him said, his voice smooth even in admonishment, but that was more than enough for Zack to identify who it was. Even five years wasn't long enough to forget the sound of Tseng's voice. Zack stiffened.

Reno, on the other hand, just rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Serious business, yo." He jerked a thumb in Zack's direction. "Tell that to him, not me."

Zack eyed the Turk in front of him suspiciously. That was an odd remark, considering he still had the redhead at sword point. "You think I'm not taking this seriously?"

"I think you think you're as serious as a heart attack," Reno said dryly.

Tseng cut in, "But you're also wrong about why we're here. Put your sword up, Zack. There will be no need for it."

"You really expect me to believe that?" Zack asked, voice flat. "You know damn well that I know that you've been ordered to take me in. I didn't go quietly before, I'm not going to go quietly now." He didn't turn to look at Tseng, but the threat was clear. He'd taken on the army, he could take on two Turks. I'm not giving up my freedom. I've already lost too much.

"The circumstances are more complicated than you realize." Tseng's voice, soft as it was, still echoed down the dark, empty tunnel. "The Turks have... conflicting orders, I suppose you could say, with regards to you and AVALANCHE."

Conflicting orders? That wasn't what he'd expected from Tseng at all. "What are you saying?" Zack demanded.

The pressure against his neck vanished, catching him off guard. What-?

"I'm saying that our orders for AVALANCHE have a higher priority than our orders for dealing with a deserter." Tseng stepped into Zack's field of vision with his gun lowered, apparently unconcerned with the risk. His dark hair was swept back and unbound, unlike the last time Zack had seen him, but everything else about him was as if he'd stepped out of one of Zack's memories. Dark suit, neatly pressed, and shoes polished to a shine, he was the complete opposite of Reno as he moved to the other's side. His expression remained cool when he turned to face Zack. "So long as you are working with AVALANCHE, we have a certain amount of leeway. I am taking advantage of that."

Zack's eyes narrowed. "I'm not a deserter." That implied he'd been given a choice.

Tseng inclined his head. "Which is something you and I both know, but is not general knowledge about the man we are searching for."

"Zack Fair is dead," Reno chipped in with a lazy wave of his hand. He still didn't seem to care about the sword Zack held pointed at them both. "Killed in action five years ago. Whoever the bastard is who's running around, clearly it can't be him."

"Which means," Tseng concluded, "that we're dealing with an unknown rogue, at least as far as our orders are concerned."

"You haven't told the President who I am?" Suspicion colored Zack's voice. Turks were never as up front as they tried to pretend to be.

"The President isn't interested in hearing about his company's mistakes." As lightly as that was said, Zack still picked up an edge of distaste, and there was something hard in Tseng's eyes when he spoke. "And thus far he has given no indication that he even cares who you are, just that we deal with you."

Deal with him. Those were never good words from a Turk. But there was something more going on here. Tseng was making that plain and clear, even if he wasn't outright stating what it was. It was that relative transparency that made Zack's sword arm waver before he finally lowered his sword. Tseng wanted something. Wanted it enough to find loopholes in his orders. "I'm listening," Zack said cautiously.

Tseng nodded, apparently satisfied with the response. "Reno," he said. "Call Rude and Elena and tell them to abort."

That earned a nod in return. "On it, boss." The redhead stepped away, pulling his PHS out. Zack followed him with his eyes for a moment, noting that he was heading across the tracks - possibly to retrieve the weapon that Zack had knocked from his hand.

"We weren't entirely sure whether you would be on the train or in it," Tseng explained, drawing Zack's attention back to him. "We had contingency plans for either case."

"What would you have done if I was inside the train?" Zack asked. He looked at Tseng with the driest expression he could muster. "Have Rude throw me out the window so we could talk?" Hey, they'd strung a net across the tunnel. The question was entirely justified.

The corner of the Turk's mouth twitched up in a smile that was gone almost before Zack was sure that he'd even seen it. "The thought had crossed my mind," Tseng deadpanned. "Unfortunately, that would have drawn too much attention and set off alarms in the train. Rude and Elena were instructed on what to say if they found you. However, since you are here..."

...right. Trust a Turk to think through what would happen if he tossed someone off a train. Zack considered saying something about that, but decided it wasn't worth the time. AVALANCHE would be waiting for him, if they hadn't already given up on him and left. "What is it you wanted to talk to me about?" he asked. Better just cut to the chase.

All traces of good humor vanished from Tseng's face.

-Only a ShinRa Executive can set up or disarm the Emergency Plate Release System.-

What-?


"Zack, when was the last time you saw Cissnei?"

Caught off guard, Zack stared at Tseng a moment too long. Both voices had been his. Which one-? "What?" Dammit, he'd gone all morning without his memory screwing up. He thought he'd shaken this off!

If Tseng caught on to Zack's confusion, he didn't let it show. His face remained impassive, the business look of a Turk. "Cissnei failed to report in after her last mission in the Midgar Wastes and has not been heard from since. You were the one she was looking for." His dark eyes fixed on Zack. "Do you know where she is?"

The Wastes? Zack hadn't been in the Wastes for a month. For Cissnei to be missing that long... Whatever was going on with his memory, Zack shoved it aside, sobering up. "I haven't seen Cissnei since before even that. Not close enough to tell it was her." He'd suspected at least one of the helicopters he'd seen had had a Turk inside, but he'd been trying to avoid them at the time. Getting a good look at who was flying hadn't been a high priority.

"What about the helicopter you took down?" Tseng pressed. His posture never changed, but there was still something hard in the way he looked at Zack. "Did you see the pilot get out?"

"Whoa, whoa, wait." Zack shook his head vehemently. "I never took any helicopters down. Tseng, I was on the ground. I didn't even have materia!"

"A determined SOLDIER could have improvised, I'm sure," Tseng said coolly. "An appropriated weapon from the platoon you fought could no doubt have caused the damage we found."

"And I'm saying I didn't do it," Zack said fiercely. "The only helicopters I saw stayed in the air. I never even saw one crash, let alone brought it down myself." That day had been chaotic and filled with so much death, but he was certain of at least that much.

For a long moment, Tseng didn't respond, merely studied Zack in the near-dark. His face remained impassive, betraying none of his thoughts. "Someone wants us to think you did," he said. "Someone with the ability to make a Turk disappear." With that grim pronouncement, he holstered his gun. "Which means someone wanted you dead for more reasons than the ones that were obvious."

Zack didn't need much to connect the dots. All evidence of misconduct... "You mean I was part of a coverup," he said bluntly. What better scapegoat than a man who should have died out in the Wastes?

"Indeed." Tseng's eyes darkened, revealing more than his face ever did. "But not one orchestrated by the Turks." No, it had been meant to keep the Turks in the dark.

Too bad I survived to tell the tale. Zack almost could have pitied whoever had made Cissnei disappear. They'd just bought a one-way ticket to the top of the Turks' hit list.

Top of his list, too. Cissnei was his friend. If something had happened to her, that wasn't something he'd soon forgive. "I'll keep an eye out for her," he promised, meeting Tseng's eyes to try to convey how completely serious he was. "If you guys didn't find a body, she might still be alive. She's a good Turk."

Tseng said nothing to that, merely nodded in acknowledgment. "Keep working with AVALANCHE, Zack," was all he said before he turned and headed up the tunnel to where Reno stood waiting for him.

---


AVALANCHE was already gone by the time Zack made it to the rendezvous point. Not surprising, but he still swore under his breath. He knew he'd spent too much time with Tseng. He picked up his speed, not quite breaking into an all-out run, just in case there were other traps waiting to be sprung. After all, it wasn't like the Turks were the only ones with access to this tunnel who might want to stop him or AVALANCHE, and he doubted any of them would have any kind of reason to turn a blind eye to his presence.

Tseng... What are you up to? It wasn't the first time he'd wondered that, and probably wouldn't be the last, but that didn't make it any easier to dismiss the feeling that there was something deeper going on here. Zack was realistic enough to know that Tseng wouldn't have let him go just for the sake of whatever tenuous friendship they might once have had.

Is it just because someone in ShinRa is threatening the Turks? On the surface, it seemed plausible, but Turks never operated on obvious. What was he missing here?

Maybe Kunsel will know something. I'll have to ask him when we're done with the reactor. In the mean time, he'd have to put the question aside, because it wasn't going to be answered here and now, and he needed to focus on catching back up to the rest of the group.

The tunnel continued its gradual curve, and once or twice Zack thought he heard the scurrying of rodents in the dark, though nothing came out and attacked. The bullet-ridden carcasses of a couple of grashtrikes assured him that the others had definitely passed this way. He still hadn't caught up with them, though, before the tunnel was cut off by the bright green beams of security sensors. Huh. Had they found a way to disable the beams long enough to pass through? Or had they doubled back to find a way around? There'd been a few places where the tunnel branched off for access to other sectors, but-

"Damn it, I knew this was a bad idea! Wedge! Get your ass out of my face!"

Zack blinked. That was Barret's voice, but it wasn't coming from farther up ahead. Not from behind him, either. In fact...

"I'm moving as fast as I can, Barret! It's not like there's a whole lot of room."

"No shit! Tell me something I don't know next time!"

Zack took a few steps, following the sound of the voices, until he stopped in front of a... ventilation duct? He stared at the opening. How had Barret fit?

"I swear, if I get stuck in here, I'm shootin' my way out!"

Might be a little roomier once you get past the top, he concluded. Zack cracked a smile as he poked his head inside. "Hey! Think there's room for one more down there?"

The string of blistering curses that followed should have left burn marks on his ears. He grinned. I take that as a no.

"Zack?" Tifa's voice echoed up the shaft. "Oh good. We thought something must have happened on the train."

"Something was blocking the top of the tunnel," Zack called down. "I had to jump off early." Not a lie, but he didn't think it would be a good idea to tell the whole truth, either. Bringing up the Turks and the odd truce they'd made, right before a mission like this? Yeah, he doubted that would go over very well with anyone in AVALANCHE.

"Well, we're glad you made it!" Wedge called up. "But hang on! It's a little crowded right now."

"Got it." Then, because he couldn't quite resist adding cheekily, "I'll wait up here where there's plenty of room." And he was never, ever going to repeat the words Barret said to that anywhere that his mother could hear.

"It'll be your turn soon enough, smart ass!"

Soon enough, indeed, but at least he wouldn't have to share the crawlspace with anyone else.

Another minute passed while he waited, with the occasional grunt, thump, and curse echoing up from below. Then Tifa shouted that it was clear for him to get in the duct now. Since Barret had fit through just fine, Zack didn't have any qualms about climbing into the duct himself. His sword, on the other hand, might be a little tricky, but it looked like if he maneuvered it right, he could make it work. If all else fails, I'm sure I can bend the walls. ShinRa likely wouldn't even notice the vandalism, he thought wryly. I doubt there'll be a maintenance tech this way for years.

The shaft started off with a vertical drop that went about ten feet. The walls were close enough that Zack could have shimmied down, but he didn't bother wasting the time. Grabbing hold of the lip of the vent, he slipped inside and twisted until he was hanging by his fingertips, then simply dropped the rest of the way. His feet hit the bottom of the shaft with a thud that shook the entire duct. Near-darkness swallowed him. Only the faintest traces of the emergency lights filtered in from the opening above.

Fortunately, there was only one direction to go, so light wasn't particularly necessary to navigate the duct. He had to unclip his sword from his harness before he could angle it around the first corner, but from there it was an easy crawl to the far end where he could just barely see the other opening. It was just another minute before he pulled himself out and clipped his sword back in place on his back.

"About damn time," Barret growled impatiently. He didn't even bother to give Zack time to dust off his knees before he was moving, stomping to the end of the catwalk the duct had opened up on. "Let's go! We've wasted enough time as it is!"

Tifa was the only other one on the catwalk, a fact which made Zack blink. She caught his questioning look and nodded her head in the direction of the ladder Barret had just gone down. "Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie already went on ahead," she explained. "Since they're tackling the security and surveillance systems, we figured they didn't need to wait for us."

"Ah." That made sense. Zack nodded and followed her down the ladder. "Are we planning to join back up with them somewhere?"

"No. Once their part's done, they're going to make their way back out. We don't need extra people for what we're doing, and staying split up means less of a chance of all of us getting caught if things go wrong."

And less of a chance of getting caught in the blast if something slows us after it's set. Zack didn't add that part out loud, but he knew the thought was in all of their heads. Jessie had set the timer on this bomb to give them a few extra minutes after the close brush they'd had at the last reactor, but it still remained a possibility that none of them wanted to voice.

"Enough talking!" Barret cut in. "Let's just get this done."

Zack and Tifa both exchanged glances, then offered each other a shrug. There wasn't much else to say anyway, and it probably wasn't a bad idea to keep quiet in case someone was near enough to hear.

Silence descended as they made their way quickly through the maintenance walkways above the reactor. The closer they got, the more tension crept into Zack's shoulders. Just like the last reactor, this one was eerily empty of life. Granted, reactors didn't tend to need a lot of maintenance to keep running once they were set up, but after one reactor had already been blown up, he would have thought ShinRa would have added at least a few living guards to the drones they occasionally dodged. The lack of resistance made his instincts itch. In his mind, the Turks didn't count. They'd made it clear that his encounter with them had nothing to do with this.

This isn't Wutai, he had to remind himself. And ShinRa hasn't been in a war for years. They might just be getting sloppy and overconfident.

Or this might be another trap. Paranoid as the thought was, Zack knew better than to dismiss it, and he made sure to keep his hand ready to reach for his sword just in case. A pair of security drones drifted underneath the catwalk they were on, oblivious to AVALANCHE's presence just above their sensor range. They were probably weak enough to take them out with Thunder and a well-placed blade or bullet, but Zack held up a hand, cautioning the others to be still and wait.

"It'll be bothersome if they call for reinforcements."

Zack's mouth quirked up at the memory. Yeah, you would appreciate the irony, Tseng. Good thing the Turk wasn't here to rub it in.

Once the drones had moved on, the three of them climbed down the ladder to the final catwalk. Zack let out a breath, trying to will the tension out with it. The chamber they were in was large and spacious, giving him a good view if any enemies approached. Nothing moved, either on foot or in the air. That was reassuring, even if it didn't mean they were out of the woods just yet.

"Alright, let's do this." Barret started forward with grim enthusiasm. "One less reactor killin' the planet."

Zack pursed his lips. He wasn't entirely sold on the idea that the use of mako itself did that much damage to the planet, but there was no denying that ShinRa was abusing the power it had without caring who they crushed in the process. Banora. Angeal. Cloud. And that wasn't even touching on Wutai, or the victims of monsters set loose by scientists. Zack's jaw set as he followed Barret, just as grim. The planet doesn't have to be in danger to know that something's got to be done.

Still, it rankled that he hadn't yet found a way to take this directly to the people in charge. People like Hojo and President ShinRa were too well guarded, probably thanks in large part to Genesis's attack on Midgar years back, but beyond that Zack just didn't know who else was involved. He wasn't naive enough to think that it was only those two, but until he knew more, he just didn't feel like he could afford to make his move. At least by taking out reactors he could cripple ShinRa's power as a whole. That would have to do for now.

"Who's setting the bomb this time?"

Barret grunted at the question. "Hell if I care. Just so long as it's set!"

Guess that means he trusts me a little more than last time. Zack kept that wry thought to himself. Instead he looked at Tifa, who shrugged and passed him the device. Alright, let's-

-Alright, everyone, let's mosey!-


His feet almost missed a step. For a moment, just that moment when Cloud's voice was in his head, the world seemed to flicker and fade. Barren rock replaced the cold, hard steel of the walls, the catwalks became ledges on the face of a cliff, and the ceiling vanished behind dull clouds tinged with an angry red. Only the glow of mako below remained the same.

"Zack? You alright?"

Zack blinked, and the world shifted back to the way it had been. Only then did he realize that he'd stopped in his tracks, that the others had turned and were waiting. Tifa had a strange expression on her face. Zack avoided her eyes, staring uneasily at the walls and the reactor. They didn't look at all like the walls of a cliff. "I- Yeah. I'm fine." No, he wasn't, but there was a time and a place to admit you might be going insane, and this definitely wasn't that place.

"Then get your ass moving!" Barret growled impatiently. "We don't have all day!"

Too disturbed to argue, even if he'd been inclined, Zack just shook himself and started forward again. Barret was right. They couldn't afford to waste time.

The platform around the reactor was narrow and cramped, much the same as the last one had been. Tifa slid to one side to let Zack pass while Barret waited on the catwalk behind them. Like the last reactor, too, there was a machine that didn't seem to fit. Everything else, while sturdy enough, was discolored a little by age. The boxy device, though, still shined like new. It hadn't even collected any dust. Zack frowned as he eyed it, noting that it was clearly connected to one of the reactor's access slots. Something about that niggled in the back of his head.

"You ready?" Tifa asked, interrupting his thoughts.

Zack blew out a breath as the thought slipped out of his grasp. Oh well. Whatever it is, it's about to get blown up with the rest. "Yeah, I'm ready." He reached out and fixed the bomb to the reactor's door.

-What rank were you?-

-Rank?-


Zack fixedly ignored the voices this time as he tapped the activation sequence in.

-You know, in SOLDIER.-

The voice sounded like Aerith.

-Oh. I was First Class.-

And that sounded a lot like Cloud. It was a conversation that never happened, could never happen, and for a moment Zack was torn between listening to a voice he'd never hear again and trying to shut them both out. Come on, get it together, Zack. Now isn't the time for this. He hit the final button, and dormant lights blinked on red.

-Just the same as him.-

"Okay," Zack barked. "Let's move!" He turned and-

-Cloud sprinted down the catwalk, racing after the others.-

Zack had to force himself not to stumble or react even when his heart tried to stop in his chest. Another illusion. Another memory. Another... whatever this is! He tried to tear his eyes away and ignore it. That's not Cloud. Cloud's dead!

Almost as though in response to that thought, the image of Cloud wavered and vanished. Zack's heart clenched, but he pressed on, grateful at least that the rest of his vision hadn't been affected with it. It would have been difficult to navigate the catwalks if his eyes kept seeing cliffs. Keep it together. Just a few more minutes!

They took a different route out that the one they'd taken in, knowing that climbing their way back through the maintenance shafts and ventilation ducts would take far too long and would be too difficult in places to get them away from the blast radius in time. Very little was said until they got to a security station that wasn't already open. Jessie had warned them about this, though, so they knew which buttons to press.

-Cloud stepped forward and punched his at the same time.-

Zack's heart tried to stop again when their hands overlapped. It was a confirmation, though, that this wasn't real, and that and a shaky breath were all he needed to keep going. Not real. It wasn't real.

The doors clicked and slid open, and all four of them ran out.

---


Subject: It's not like I was chatting her up
From: Kunsel

I was talking to a girl in IT today. It was a pretty interesting conversation until her boyfriend came up and dragged her off to look at some readings. Something about the power levels in one of the reactors being off, but I don't think it was as urgent as he made it sound. I mean, they never found anything the last time one of the reactors seemed like it was acting up. You remember that, right?

I think he was just making excuses to cut our conversation off.

---


Subject: Guess it wasn't just an excuse
From: Kunsel

I have to wonder about the head of the Science Department sometimes. If so many people who work with him are as incompetent as he makes them sound, why doesn't he just fire them and hire someone else? Then he wouldn't have to wonder if it was incompetence or if something was actually wrong whenever a reading is off.

Maybe he just likes to complain.

---


Subject: Someone might lose their job.
From: Kunsel

There's MPs up here. Maybe it's more serious than I thought.

---


Subject: GET OUT
From: Kunsel

Zack, get out of there! Now!

-End Chapter Four-

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