Code: Zero Dark. That was the last Op Code before she ran.

It means that I am dead, and you're next.

She ditched her military cell at full sprint, barreling through Midgar City's Fountain District on pure terror and an adrenaline rush. The SIM card was traceable from anywhere on the outer continent to the Nth coordinate. It shattered against smart-tech pavement that read her ID sig through her vibram soles. Paratrooper boots, resin-coated, recon issue. She flew like a shot deer downtown.

The encroaching shadow of the Shinra Headquarters building loomed over her path like an engineering nightmare of steel pylons and carburetor pipes. It had been her workplace and home for the past five years, where she had become one of their elite SOLDIER operators under the tutelage of the man she loved.

Now, he was dead, and she was running.

They'd played the Op Code over the loudspeaker in HQ, and all personnel were to report immediately to the auditorium and turn their phones off. All of her SOLDIER brothers had obeyed without question. But her oath of service was left behind like they were as she weaved around busy suits in the financial district, hyperaware that any one of them could be a Turk—an agent tasked with keeping Shinra's vested interests in order. [In the ripped version, this sentence will be "…Agents—company men tasked with…"]

She jumped the turnstile at Loveless Avenue, fleeing into the station. The bullet-train rocked a Mark III carbide engine on magnetic zip-rails at speeds that could flatten a hummingbird, approaching, fast. She leapt down onto the tracks, oncoming rail-lights illuminating her gymnast's frame in a feline silhouette. As it slowed into the station, the jet-stream swept shard-lilac bangs over neon-cyan irises—Mako eyes, the mark of a SOLDIER.

She dashed to a service walkway as the train docked, and slipped through pantherlike onto the connecting ports between cars. Those doors didn't DNA scan.

Into the car she slipped as the train took off, slow, then rocket propulsion jettisoning them off on a soundless air cushion in a vacuum tunnel. She swiped a grey hoodie off a sleeping rider's knee. No one cared. Through three more connecting doors three cars down, she sat in the corner, hood up, eyes down, hand at the Gunblade on her hip.

Twenty minutes to go. Home free…until the surprise checkpoint at Union Square picked up her non-timecarded service weapon.

Limelight sirens roared and danced in technicolor, cranial distortion scattering the passengers as a forced DNA scan caught her in car three. Magnetic locks jammed, emergency exits barred, and the rear door flew open. She leapt up. They'd cornered a tiger.

Infantry troops with psycom rifles trained laser dots on her, opening fire into the sprawling and screaming throng of passengers. She dashed up like a tracer round, whipping the hoodie at the first sergeant—distraction—then front-handspringing over their deployed snare nets.

Time slowed to monochrome as she drew her Gunblade in a crescent arc, sweeping the lines of reality in red blurs of hyperlight. She landed behind the detachment, a spiraling elliptical slash ending the rest of their bloody lives.

Reinforcements from behind bashed through the rear door. She jammed a clip in her Gunblade, dropped into a full sprint kicking off the seats to get air, slicing as she fired simultaneously. She slit the throat of an infantryman whilst firing, taking out two rear guards at the same time. In a streaking line, feet flying off the ground, she bashed through their detachment in a centrifugal slash.

It means I am dead.

His voice echoed in her mind, blurring tears spilling from blue irises to cloud her depth perception. A deep voice like silver velvet emanated like soft flowers through her flowing blade sweeps, tearing through troopers bullet-proof vests in centripetal motion melee. It ran on repeat like an old phonogram glitched on a digital auto-loop.

I am dead.

Black blood splattered on the train windows, as if the infantrymen had been dead already, and she was fighting animate corpses.


His strong touch brushed her face in the heat of battle, sweeping shard bangs out of her eyes that flared in a combative storm, the loveless prowess of her mentor.

You're next.

A hypermiotic octaslash splayed eight streaking lines of crimson carbide across the car. She kicked off the wall whipping straight into a single-slash, just like he'd taught her. Desperate and taking damage, she fought for her life against troops that kept spawning and funneling through both doors.

Last stop on the L-Line, a train no one took this far. She pulled the emergency brake. The doors slid open and she flew into the darkness of Sector Zero, where no street lamps stood lit and tenement housing blared like behemoth claws. The Infantry halted at the station's edge—they dared not follow her here. It gave her time to bolt into the shadows of crumbling infrastructure and warehouses. The troops would go around.

The Reactor loomed in front of her in a cacophonic technological terror. This was Reactor 1, right under the HQ building. It at least allowed her to get her bearings, but not long before shots were fired from sharpshooters who had radioed backup of the National Guard units stationed in the No-Go zone of alienation around the Reactor.

She ran for her life toward the reinforced structure that would provide her cover and perhaps a way out through shipping tunnels. But the scurrying of hundreds of boot falls on the crunched gravel let her know her pursuers weren't about to let her escape through unguarded tunnels.

She barreled up the steps into the Fusion facility, where no human was posted in the fully-automated drilling system bay. An alarm sounded, and sliding doors bolted shut in lockdown. She dashed to the drilling chamber, an open concept atrium with catwalks suspended above a colossal chute down into the Mako Chamber. Guardsmen with sniper-eyes had followed her to the antechamber.

Shots fired all around her, knocking her off balance, and she felt herself falling. She tumbled over the side of the catwalk, unable to grab a hold of anything fast enough, and the whirring sensation of falling gripped her in mad terror.

Her SOLDIER training kicked in as she flipped her body prone, shooting at arch freefall down the neck of the reactor chute. Then she scanned her arsenal in her weapons menu screen that popped up like a hologram. No Jump Materia. No Float Materia. Great. She was really falling.

Through the drilled neck of the reactor down into the massive Mako chamber she floated on hot air streams, where viscous neon green fluid bubbled straight from the planet's core. But she gasped when her unworthy eyes beheld the guardian, the Weapon itself.

A crystalline tetrahedron the size of a royal airship hovered in a culminating stasis, giving off serene aquatic light that danced on the chamber walls like water. The Crystal sensed her intrusion and shot a vibrant beam of light to catch her, engulfing her in an electric edged energy field that gripped her in a state of tension. Her body was locked and couldn't move, she grunted in dull pain. A soft ray of neon from the Crystal's aura scanned her, and found her worthy. A laser precision pattern etched itself into the skin over her heart, a warm emblazoning of a glowing golden emblem like a hypernovic star. The anima brand pulsated in soft holy light.

It's task completed, the Crystal shot her back up the chute at what felt like a million miles an hour, a harrowing rollercoaster ride in reverse. Through the open concept of the reactor she kept flying, still unable to equip anything useful from her Materia slots in time to not become a splattered person pancake. Something sentient in the Crystal may have thought about this, however, as though she was falling she felt as if she were falling with a slight buffer. As if the Crystal were thinking about where to drop her.

It must have thought thirty feet was high enough for her to fall and not die.

She came to on a dusty and tired street somewhere in Sector Zero, where her vision took its time coming back to her. She took her own time lifting herself up, bloodied and barely alive, surrounded by squalor and scum. The Infantry hadn't found her, wherever she was.

Broken bottles busted underfoot against dirt tread roads and oil chip, she trudged through the dark. No light to illuminate her way—under the Plate, there is no light. Bioluminous tagger stencils glowed in three interlocking triangles on brown brick walls and steel grates, marking a territory where all were forbidden, especially her.

A whirring rush of air behind her, a steel chain slammed into her head. She toppled across the ground sliding face-first against dirt and asphalt, her palms and bare knees shredded on broken glass. The lunatic laugh of delinquents echoed in the dark.


They came from shadows with swords and modified blade-rifles, edging from alleyways like street felines in the hunting dark. Savages, warlike and tattooed with biopaint in limelines like microchips. They came to hunt, to prey.

"Trade! Reactor codes! Sanctuary!"

She screamed to the ground with all the breath in her burning lungs, but it did not stop their egress. Into the stray line of dirty glare that cast from artificial moonlamps on the underside of the Plate—five hundred feet up and didn't work this side of the Slums—a rogue with a battle lance stepped forward.

She saw her standing before a legion of gangsters at command, adorned in a traditional blue sari but wearing combat boots, a strange combination of sanctity and sacrilege. Shorn black Native hair and olive skin confirmed her heritage, but a tribal sleeve tattoo of clawing lines wreathed around a fang desecrated her culture—a headhunter's mark.

The lady gang boss smirked and called off her dogs.

"Good trade, SOLDIER. Welcome to the Triads."

[Received Chrysanthemum]