Before the Storm
Or Final Fantasy III told as a Science Fiction

"The sample is complete. Now encoding Subject 3C01. Occupation: Black Mage."

"They have a name, you know," Doga interjected. "Luna, the Black Mage."

Unei had chosen to focus on the clinical aspects of their task. It helped her ignore the hopelessness of it all. The encroaching sense of dread and futility that plagued her aging mind. The human race would survive in digital records, recorded in life-reproducing crystals. But that did not change the fact that these would be mere replicas.

"Luna, the Black Mage, is going to die. All that will be left is a record of her genetic code, implanted into this thing," Unei pointed through the thick, glass window separating their laboratory from the potentially harmful aetheric energy of the Crystal.

The work station was a cramped affair, three rows of computer terminals somehow stuffed into a claustrophobic, box-shaped room. A single viewing window to confirm their code had taken effect was the only sight around, apart from the dim blue glow of the monitors. A periodic beeping from behind them reminded them of the wave of darkness making its way across the planet and informing them of their precious little time. The Crystals had to be stored in the ark of Eureka before the madness of their former colleague took its toll.

Unei removed her bell-shaped hat and began to scratch her head, as sweat began to trickle down her wrinkled brow. She'd been at it for hours, not once stopping for food or drink. Every second was precious now. The whole affair gave an uncomfortable legitimacy to her age-old mantra from her younger – and far more optimistic – days.

I'll sleep when I'm dead.

Well, not dead per se. As it was, neither Doga nor Unei could truly die. But an eternity in stasis was little better, if not worse. There was a bitter irony in the madness that had befallen their friend. Doga, Unei and Xande: the three pupils of the Great Magus Noah. Each given unique talents and blessings by their master before his passing.

Xande's was the gift of mortality. And the thought of perishing had driven him to this reckless course of action: the destruction of the Crystals the governed life on this fragile star, in the hope to cease the flow of time. All Doga and Unei could do was attempt to preserve what life they could, deep within the forgotten world of Eureka. A realm detached from this one, with records of life to be observed by no one.

"The whole thing is bloody pointless, isn't it," Unei sighed, leaning back into her chair, and allowing herself a brief moment of self-pity.

Doga stroked his moustache as he wrapped his red cloak tightly around his neck. Unei understood well enough; the chill of the place was an uncomfortable reminder of their inevitable fate. Leaning on his staff, Doga tried to put a positive spin on their work. It had been the logical course of action, after all. Better that humanity existed in some form, rather than perish forever.

"The crystals can imbue life, perhaps even a soul of sorts. One day, these people will live again. Or, at least, a part of them," Doga offered. He let out a deep sigh and rubbed his hands together. "Forgive me, Unei, I'm not much of a philosopher."

"Better than me," Unei quipped, punching in the next string of genetic information.

A brief silence enveloped the room, punctuated by the beeping, the clicking of keystrokes and the few essential words.

"Sample is complete. Now encoding subject 3C04. Occupation: White Mage," Unei paused for a moment, and as if out of pity for her friend, added, "Name: Israel."

Doga nodded appreciatively, before adding his own part of the process.

"Encoding complete. Transmitting to Crystal," Doga replied.

The Crystal let out a dim flash as the information was transmitted. Encoding such information onto Crystal was a unique prospect to be certain. As the Crystal seemed capable of reproducing any form of biological matter, the coding took the form of DNA strands. It was imprinted onto the surface of the crystal using flashes of light which etched the information onto it. The jagged surface was now marked thoroughly with microscopic patterns, which when reproduced within the crystal would recreate these lucky few samples of humanity.

Unei understood why Doga wanted to remember them as the people they were, but the recreations would be decidedly different. They would exist in a different time, lead different lives, they would not have true parentage. The exact manner of their nature and nurture would differ significantly. Even if, somehow, DNA stored what philosophers called a "soul", the experiences of the mortal would be unique.

"Sample is complete. Now encoding subject 3C09. Occupation: Knight. Name: Matthew," Unei said.

"Encoding complete. Transmitting to Crystal," Doga added, though his voice was growing raspier and weaker with each passing name. "Bloody pointless, right?"

"Absolutely futile," Unei replied.

"And yet, we keep doing it," Doga said, nodding towards his colleague.

Unei said nothing for a time. As another string of keystrokes ended, she returned to her usual pace. "Sample is complete. Now encoding subject 3C10. Occupation: Scholar. Name: Mo," Unei said.

"Encoding complete. Transmitting to Crystal."

In the brief flash from the Crystal, Unei noticed the tear rolling down her cheek in the reflection of a dead monitor beside her.

"It's about that time, I suppose," Doga said. "We'll never get these down to Eureka. They'll probably remain here on the surface with us. Like you said, pointless."

Unei's voice cracked slightly. "Subject 3C11. O-occupation: Bard. Name: Angela. It is pointless. But I guess it's better than just giving up."

"That's true. That's what mortals do, isn't it?" Doga asked.

"Act like complete fools in the face of utter hopelessness," Unei said. She coughed slightly and rubbed her eyes. "Sounds about right."

The beeping had grown more urgent, and the ground began to quake beneath them, just slightly. Doga himself let out a small cough and seemed to wipe something from his cheek.

"We, um, have four samples left. Do you think we have time?" Doga asked.

"Not if have to include their arcane traits," Unei said. She rubbed her temple for a moment. "Let's say you're right about this Doga. Let's say that the crystal can give these people a chance to live again. Why should we be making these choices for them?"

"Interesting thought," Doga replied.

"Let's just make them children. Let them grow up and explore whatever new world awaits them on their own terms. Let them decide for themselves how they want to live," Unei offered. She then added, with a hint of a smile. "Assuming you're right, of course."

"I've been wrong before," Doga chuckled. "Alright. Four children, coming up."

Unei's hands worked rapidly as she entered the last bit of information. It was futile. They were being idiots. But then, that's the effect that even the tiniest grain of hope can have on a person, even an immortal.

"Well, that's something at least," Unei thought, as the quaking grew worse around her.

The final light of the Crystal began to fade away from view under a sea of darkness that seemed to sweep in from all around her. The monitors blinked out one by one, and there was a brief surge of motion from one half of the facility. Dust rained down on them from the ceiling, and a wild whipping wind coming in from the shattered glass window made it nearly impossible for Unei to breathe.

There was a cracking sound amid the quaking, which had knocked both of the sages to the ground. Unei wrapped her aged fingers around the bolted down legs of her desk chair. This aided her only slightly as their laboratory pivoted 45-degrees skyward before settling back on a relatively level plane. The quaking began to slow down, but the popping of screens and electric hissing of their components created a hellscape of shrapnel on the ground around them.

A slight calm settled over the place as Unei looked over to her friend, who was leaning back against the wall, his arms wrapped around himself; a ball of red fabric. She then turned towards the viewing window, now missing, save for a few shards desperately clinging to the frame.

The crystal was gone. As was half of their island.

"Did we finish?" Unei asked, her eyes soaking in the devastation.

A wall of water surged over the sudden gaping wound in the planet, the former valleys and mountain ranges of their southern continent having been carved wholesale from the surface of the earth. Unei turned her eyes towards the heavens and saw their missing firmament ascending. Was this the power of the crystals? Or was there something else at play here?

"Just barely," Doga replied, closing his eyes.

Unei walked over to Doga and took a seat on the floor beside him, taking his hand in hers.

"Whatever happens next is up to them," Unei. "I think it's time for us to take a break."

Doga nodded slowly and squeezed Unei's hand. The wave of water grew closer, the sound of millions of gallons racing to swallow them whole.

"Doga," Unei said. "It wasn't pointless."

"No, I don't think so," Doga smiled.

"But we are idiots," Unei added.

Doga let out a laugh, followed by Unei. They laughed together as the waves swallowed what remained of their world.