November 1999 – 3 years before Nebilhiem Incident
Sephiroth found the package in his mail when he entered his office that morning.
Which was strange, because he normally didn't get mail. Well, not personal mail. Or, at least, he never got to see it. Packages normally got stopped before it ever reached him. He didn't have bills (ShinRa paid for his general living expenses) or the 'junkmail' that he'd heard some of his men complain about, and what else would ever come to him? Anyone who had ever been remotely close to him currently resided in the ShinRa building, so that couldn't be it. The package got past security, so it couldn't be dangerous… but what could it be?
He went to open the package, but hesitated. As he'd never gotten mail before, he didn't know if there was some kind of… ritual. He'd seemed to miss out on those more than he realized lately. According to Angeal and Genesis, inane promotions and first time occurrences were supposed to be celebrated. He still didn't understand why. He wondered if he should just open it and not tell them, but, to be honest, he tended to like those little celebrations. Usually it was just going out to a bar and ordering a couple of drinks that wouldn't actually do anything to his internal system, but it made for good (if sometimes annoying) company and good memories, and Gaia knew he had precious few of those.
Finally, he decided to set the package aside for now and it sat there, innocently, on the side of his desk for the rest of the day. He took it back to his apartment before heading to meet with Genesis and Angeal for some sparring practice.
It was waiting for him when they returned that evening.
He stopped as he walked into his apartment, having forgotten all about it. Right.
"Genesis, Angeal," he called out to them. They paused and looked back at him over their shoulders. "I… may require your assistance."
The red-haired commander rolled his eyes. "Oh, pray tell, what does the great General Sephiroth need from such lowly—"
He cut off when an elbow found itself conveniently buried in his ribs, courtesy of a grinning Angeal.
"What do you need, Sephiroth?"
The General walked into his apartment and returned with the small package in his hand. "I… received mail."
The other two stared at him in open astonishment.
"You got mail?" Genesis asked. "Mr. I-have-the-company-scan-and-reply-to-everything got mail?"
Sephiroth hesitated. "Yes."
"What is it?" Angeal asked, walking forward and studying the little package intently.
"I have not unwrapped it."
Silence. Then, from Genesis: "Whyever not?"
Sephiroth frowned. "It is my first piece of mail. Is there a… celebration ritual?"
Then a snort from the red-head that sounded suspiciously like a laugh.
"If you'd like," Angeal said.
"Infinite in mystery is the Gift of the Goddess! We seek it thus and take to the sky!" Genesis said. Both of his friends shot him dry looks. "Oh, for… open it!" Genesis responded in a huff.
"It could be dangerous," the largest of the three SOLDIERS protested.*
The Silver General shook his head. "No, it was scanned by security, and I sense nothing from it."
Genesis shot Angeal a triumphant grin.
The dark-haired man shrugged. "Then I agree. Open it."
Sephiroth nodded and looked down at the brown paper wrapping. Honestly, he should have just done so when he'd first received it, but the thought had felt… wrong, somehow. Especially seeing as it had been specifically addressed as personal, not anything to do with his job of helping Lazard run SOLDIER, and it had no return address.
He may not have ever gotten mail, but he knew how the system should work and the abnormality (involving an event that rarely happened to begin with) must have thrown him. He could hear Hojo's voice in the back of his mind berating him for entertaining such silly notions and pushed his (admittedly mild) unease aside, ripping the paper open gently, and then popping up the lid of the thin box beneath.
Out fell a square container.
"Is that a… game?" Genesis asked. "Infinite in mystery indeed."
"A… game?" Sephiroth repeated, confused. He turned the container over and read the title he found aloud. "Final Fantasy VII… How is this a game?" True, games could be programs, but he had been under the impression that they were situational awareness exercises, usually dealing with competition (he won every time he participated). He supposed that the container could hold a program he could somehow insert into the interface of the VR room, but then why send it to him? He frowned as he opened the case and saw two reflective discs, one fixed in either side. Further inspection produced a third disk in a back pocket.
"It's a video game," Angeal said with a firm nod. "I've seen them played a couple of times, and Zack talks about them all the time."
Genesis rolled his eyes. "Of course, since the Puppy knows all about it… All that awaits you is a somber morrow."
Sephiroth found himself inclined to agree. He'd heard of these 'video games', but had never really seen one played. Truthfully, until Genesis and Angeal had come along, he hadn't really understood the idea of 'play' in general. Some of the nuances still escaped him, he suspected, because he saw little point in such frivolous activities. And yet, everyone else seemed inclined to participate in their various preferred forms of 'play'.
Hojo had always disapproved of such… which was where the General had gotten the idea that 'play' was useless and only for plebeians unable to reach any great heights of success. (Apparently, President ShinRa – and the rest of the board – were exceptions? Not that he wanted to be like any of them...)
For that thought alone, he contemplated throwing his normal sensibilities to the wind and actually playing the game. He had to admit, he was curious to see what all the fuss was about. While he didn't care to lose, he also didn't like the solitude his aptitude in everything he participated in tended to result in.
"I think he has a station we can play this on," Angeal said, ignoring Genesis through long years of practice. Sephiroth blinked and thought back, realizing his friend was referring to his 'Puppy' again. "I'm curious as to why they would send this to you, of all people. Does it have a return address?"
Sephiroth frowned. "No." He felt a small amount of relief that he was not the only one who did not see how anyone could think this would be a suitable gift for him. He wasn't exactly known for wasting time. And yet...
"I will admit to some curiosity as well," Genesis spoke, interrupting his thoughts. "Well, you did want a celebration. If you wish to figure this out, then why not try tomorrow? As for tonight, the wandering soul knows no rest."
Angeal nodded as he studied the disks. "I can talk to Zack tomorrow, if you'd like. I'm sure he'll let me use his station. We can set it up in your room, Sephiroth."
Well, he did have tomorrow off (how convenient) and Hojo was out of town on some errand or another, so he'd actually have time…
And they could always stop if it proved to be less than enlightening (which, he highly suspected it would be).
"Seriously?" Genesis asked, slightly taken back.
"Tomorrow is my day off."
"And I heard from Prof. Hollander that Hojo's gone," Angeal muttered, nodding. "I have a few responsibilities tomorrow, but I'm sure I could get done a little early, if you're willing to wait a little. I'd very much like to see this."
Sephiroth didn't see much of a problem with that, so he nodded. Then he turned to Genesis.
"Oh, I will be there, if only to record the great General playing a video game, of all things."
Said General shook his head. "Very well. We shall meet tomorrow, say 1100 hours?"
The other two nodded, and then they all bid each other good night.
Sephiroth woke to his alarm and went about his usual morning routine. Then he went to the gym to work out, stopped by the office (despite it being his day off) and tidied up a bit and did a little paperwork before heading back to his room.
Not five minutes after he returned, he heard a knock on the door and went to answer it. Angeal stood outside, one arm full of all sorts of bags and bright-colored packages and the other holding an open, cardboard box full of wires under it.
"What… are those?" he asked, gesturing to the various packages.
"You have been around your protege too long," Genesis said as he came up behind his friend, holding two thin, square boxes. "You're lucky I like you. Here's your pizza. I know for a fact Sephiroth has a small oven he never uses."
Sephiroth stared at them some more because…
"I've never had pizza… or snacks." They had always been denied him thanks to Hojo's strict dietary rules – rules he'd never really seen the point of deviating from.
"Good thing your 'master' isn't here, then," Genesis declared as he walked in, making Sephiroth step to the side and scowl. "There is no hate, only joy, for you are beloved by the Goddess, hero of the dawn, healer of worlds!"
Well, Hojo was gone… although, he figured that if he was beloved by the Goddess, he wouldn't have ended up in Hojo's clutches to begin with.
"Zack did… recommend these to me," Angeal said, a little sheepishly. "Apparently it's what friends do when they get together. I asked him because it's… been a while for me."
Sephiroth stepped to the side as Angeal followed Genesis. "I do not understand. Did you not participate in… 'get togethers' as a child?"
"It was usually only Gen and me, but mom fed more or less anyone who came in. I didn't know friends were supposed to actually plan things like this until just before we left for ShinRa."
"Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one who isn't still sheltered," Genesis grumbled, setting the pizza boxes on the table in front of the large screen Sephiroth rarely used. Sephiroth supposed they could 'bake' them later, when it would be closer to a meal time. He normally took lunch around 1300 hours anyway.
After dumping the packages and cans on the table as well, Angeal took out the game box and began to set it up. When he couldn't seem to get the hang of it, Genesis tried to help. Emphasis on the word 'tried'. Sephiroth himself got up to help them and finally, finally they got the game station set up, set on the correct channel and turned on. The whole process seemed unnecessarily complicated.
Sephiroth slipped the game disk marked #1 in and they all sat down on the couch.
It opened to a scene of stars.
Genesis didn't look impressed. "Please, such a cliché opening." Sephiroth and Angeal exchanged knowing glances. The scene faded to a stylized image of a girl with brown hair and the faint glow of green lighting her features. A couple of seconds later…
"Is that a mako vent?" Angeal asked.
"It would appear so," Sephiroth said.
"So this game takes place in Midgar?" Genesis mused.
The girl, who they could see, now carried a basket as she walked down the street, stopped as a car rushed by.
Genesis gasped as the camera zoomed out, showing the buildings around the girl. "Loveless?!" Sephiroth noted the posters advertising the play on the buildings behind the girl. "It seems I may have misjudged the game if they continue to show that sort of good taste."
"Tone down the theatrics, please," Sephiroth muttered, wondering why he'd agreed to this. It had seemed like a good idea yesterday… and then he remembered that Hojo would definitely not approve. Right, that was why. Perhaps he needed to rethink his methods if this was the worst thing he felt he could do to rebel…
"My friend, the fates are cruel! There are no dreams, no honor remains," the red-head replied dramatically. Both of his companions ignored him, focusing on the game, and thus didn't see him scowl at their lack of reaction.
"Is that a mako reactor?" Angeal asked. "These graphics aren't the greatest so I'm not entirely sure."
"If this is a new game, why are the graphics so old?'" Genesis spoke, frowning.
"Well, if they didn't have ShinRa backing them, this is actually pretty good," the dark-haired soldier pointed out.
On screen, a train pulled into a station and several people jumped off or out of it.
"They seem to be…" Angeal started, then faded off and all three exchange glances. "Is this about terrorists attacking a reactor?"
They watched further as Sephiroth moved the main character forward.
"It would appear so."
"AVALANCHE?" Angeal asked when the characters introduced themselves. "This is about a cell of Eco-terrorists?"
"And a SOLDIER is a part of it?" Genesis couldn't help but look on in disgust and scoff. "I take back my comment on 'taste'."
"Former SOLDIER," Sephiroth corrected, but he still frowned.
"He quit?" Angeal asked. "You don't just quit…" he faded off and looked away. Genesis and Sephiroth may or may not have stiffened. They didn't talk about such things. People who did discuss subjects like that tended to vanish.
They sat there for several seconds without the main character moving. Sephiroth thought about the whole situation and wondered if, perhaps, he should stop this. But then, he realized this could be an opportunity. If the game was put out by an anti-ShinRa group, then perhaps they could get a better glance into their mind-set by playing it. He'd have to report on it, but they would undoubtedly ask for his opinion on it, and he wanted to be able to give one.
"Apparently this one quit," Genesis muttered. "Whoever made this game can dream, after all."
"Shall we continue on, then?" Angeal asked, frowning.
"Oh, yes, by all means, continue to break into ShinRa property with the intent to destroy it," the red-head stated dryly.
After a few more hesitant seconds, they continued to play through.
A couple of interactions later, it asked them to name the character.
"Choose a name… 'Cloud'?" Sephiroth asked, then looked to his friends. "Should I change it?"
Genesis shrugged. "It's a ridiculous name for a ridiculous character."
Angeal didn't answer. Sephiroth thought about it for a moment, then decided to stick with the generated name and they moved on.
"He's not a very polite character," Angeal muttered.
"Neither is that larger man," Genesis pointed out.
"Barrett?" Sephiroth asked as the command to name him came up as well.
He got more shrugs and silence, so he kept the name. What would he change it to? Genesis? Somehow, he didn't think that would go over well.
The characters continued into the building, Sephiroth finally beginning to feel comfortable moving the figures on screen around. He didn't understand why people found this so compelling… but it wasn't unpleasant either, he supposed.
"That is a reactor!" Angeal stated, almost sounding offended.
"How is this game even around?" Genesis asked. "It should have been pulled from shelves the moment it came out."
"And they're going to detonate explosives…" the dark-haired soldier said. More uneasy glances shared between them. Then Sephiroth paused the game.
"I agree with Genesis," Sephiroth said softly. "This should not have been distributed due to it's negative influence on the general populace towards the company. Perhaps we should stop?" After all, if they had issues with this, he could simply play it on his own for the report.
He could tell that Angeal wasn't happy about the suggestion, although Sephiroth had no idea what to do about that fact – shouldn't he be relieved?
He couldn't read Genesis.
"We should probably find out how far this goes and what kinds of influences it encourages," Angeal finally said slowly.
Sephiroth thought about that for a moment before nodding. "You have a valid point." He wouldn't tell them he'd come to the same conclusion earlier.
"Then, by all means, let us continue," Genesis said with an eye-roll. "Isn't this something normal teenagers are supposed to do?"
"I wouldn't know," Sephiroth responded. "And we aren't teenagers."
"We were never allowed to be," the red-head muttered bitterly.
Silence before Angeal snorted, obviously trying to lighten the mood. "I don't think any of us would know what a 'normal' teenager – or person in their twenties – would do on their day off. I have to admit, I was looking forward to trying to have a 'normal' day."
Neither Sephiroth or Genesis responded to that. The Silver General, however, could agree and understand, even if he'd never say so aloud. He'd been curious himself. He still was, even if he really shouldn't be...
So he reached down and picked the controller back up, unpausing the game.
They watched as Barrett turned around and started talking to Cloud about how Mako is the lifeblood of the planet.
Sephiroth had heard of such things, but it had never been substantiated as far as he knew. That didn't mean a great deal with how ShinRa tended to cover up their… problems. He held to the idea that it was more myth than anything else, but liked to think he kept an open mind.
It didn't matter anyway. Even if he did believe such things, it wouldn't stop the fact that he worked for ShinRa. He went on their missions and did their jobs and that was that. Personal belief had nothing to do with it.
They continued down to the reactor core, fighting monster battles every so often.
"There aren't this many monsters in actual reactors," Genesis said, annoyed.
"To be fair, some of them are defenses," Angeal pointed out, although he also had a frown on his face.
"If those are defenses, then clearly ShinRa needs to improve on their security. Otherwise, All that awaits you is a somber morrow."
Sephiroth ignored him while Angeal groaned just as Sephiroth finished the fight with the large-scale machine that was obviously the biggest fight of the level.
Angeal frowned again. "When they win, and Cloud swings his sword around… that's familiar."
"Maybe you know someone who does that?" Genesis suggested, sounding bored.
"And his sword looks a lot like my Buster."
"Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Wings of light and dark spread afar."
"Hmm…" Angeal said.
"They would have to get their ideas for a SOLDIER character from available examples," Sephiroth pointed out.
Angeal sighed. "True. Just keep playing for now."
They fell into silence as Cloud moved on, getting out of the reactor just in time and the AVALANCHE group split up.
"Sector 8, huh?" Genesis asked. "I wonder if AVALANCHE is there now, as we speak."
"Doubtful," Sephiroth replied, his eyes never leaving the screen. "Such things on a mere game must be speculation…" he faded off as he realized that Genesis had sighed dramatically and Angeal was shaking his head with a smile on his face as he looked at the General. He'd missed something again… had Genesis meant the question as a rhetorical one?
"Oh, Loveless again!" Genesis said, perking up and drawing Sephiroth's attention back to the screen. Then the Commander frowned. "I've not seen a poster for that production."
Angeal shrugged. "It must be something they made up for the game."
They watched for a couple more seconds and Angeal let out a displeased huff. "Who would knock a girl to the ground and then leave her behind?"
"Apparently Midgar brutes in a panic," Genesis responded drolly.
Of course, she came up to the main character, asking what happened. Sephiroth picked the first option that came up as a choice after that, as it was the most logical, placating the girl and asking her to leave.
"Why did you pick that?" Genesis asked.
"Because it was true. She should leave."
For some reason Genesis seemed to despair at that. All in all, Sephiroth didn't think the meeting with the girl was that important and were it a real situation, would be glad she'd move on quickly.
The next few minutes were filled with nothing but fighting ShinRa grunts and then a train ride with a lot of conversation and Barrett going on about how the plate affects the slums.
"He makes some good points," Angeal muttered, looking troubled. Whether that was because he lived above plate and was part of the 'problem' or because he didn't like agreeing with a fictional terrorist, Sephiroth didn't know.
"It's nothing we didn't already know," Genesis responded, sounding bored again. "And that man is either brave or stupid to state such things in public."
Because people who spoke out against ShinRa either disappeared or ended up dead. From mysterious causes, of course. Sephiroth agreed with the commander and leaned towards the 'stupid' classification.
They watched the people come from the train and talk about meeting back up at 'the hideout'. Then they went back to play mode and Sephiroth couldn't help but be a little confused.
"How am I supposed to know where to go?"
"It's part of the game," Angeal said. "You'll likely know where to go if you just follow the other characters."
The General frowned. "That seems… highly illogical. Anyone could simply follow them at that point." He wasn't sure he much cared for this whole 'video game' experience. Although he'd continue playing it simply to finish his report (and to spite Hojo… despite the fact that the man would never actually know about all of this if Sephiroth had his way).
"It's part of how the game plays, I think," Angeal said. "I have actually seen a few games played, and I think it's just difficult to keep the game going without leading the player on."
Well, Sephiroth supposed he could understand that, but it was still bothersome and annoying. Still, he mentally shrugged and continued to play, wandering through the slums and fighting monsters.
"Do the slums really look that bad?" Genesis asked, sounding a little disgusted.
Angeal turned to him. "You've never been down there?" The commander shook his head. "Not even for a mission?"
"I'm rather good at dodging those. They need my expertise elsewhere."
Like the war. All of them had been on the front lines more than once, usually switching out so the others could lead. There had been a lull in the fighting recently which was why all of them currently resided in Midgar. Unfortunately, none of them expected it to last long.
At some point, Genesis reached over and grabbed one of the bags of treats, tearing it open and popping some into his mouth. Angeal gestured for the bag and his friend handed it over. He then offered some to Sephiroth who paused and regarded it strangely. Then, ever so cautiously, he reached inside and took one of the misshapen chips out, then put it to his lips and snapped the tip off.
It was unlike anything he'd ever tasted before, although he wasn't sure if he actually liked it… but he didn't think he hated it either. He popped the rest of it into his mouth and reached for another. Angeal smiled at him as if he'd just finished an impossible task and set the bag between them.
"I want those back," Genesis grumbled.
Angeal rolled his eyes before taking a handful of the treats and plopping them on Genesis' lap. Sephiroth felt the corner of his mouth tick up a little as the commander sputtered indignantly.
Then Sephiroth went back to playing the game, ignoring his friends' little argument as best he could. Fortunately, the next scene came to a cluster of buildings and they watched as Barrett threw people out of one of the establishments.
"Did he just fire his gun to get everyone to leave?" Angeal asked, sounding affronted.
Genesis snorted, amused.
"What does he mean by meeting the main character's 'baby'?" he asked. To his annoyance, the other two shrugged.
"I suppose we'll find out," Genesis muttered.
"He won't let me past," Sephiroth said, frowning.
"Talk to him again?" Angeal suggested.
The Silver General didn't see much of a point in that, but conceded and blinked when it worked, the man moving aside.
"This game is… illogical."
Genesis snorted. "Infinite in mystery is the gift of the Goddess."
Angeal nodded. "Most people are inconsistent," he pointed out, likely translating for Genesis. "And I'm sure it can be difficult to program realistic reactions in games. As Zack would say, 'cut them some slack.'"
"Very well," Sephiroth replied, wondering why he feel annoyed at the strange inconsistencies in the game. After all, the game didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. It was just a way for them to pass the time… and subtly defy those above them… and learn about people who supported Eco-terrorists...
He moved Cloud inside the establishment.
"Oh, there's a girl," Genesis commented as the scene played out.
"I wonder how old she's supposed to be," Angeal mused.
"I was talking about the other one."
"The one with the long hair?" Sephiroth asked as he picked another seemingly innocuous answer that popped upon the screen. Why could the game not just let him choose to remain silent? That was what he tended to do in most given situations dealing with inane circumstances.
"Obviously. She must be the love interest, since she knows about the main character. Probably a child-hood friend."
It really was a wonder that Genesis could put so much disdain into one throw-away comment. Did he not approve? It wasn't something Sephiroth had ever really understood… relationships in general. He didn't see the point of a romantic partner. They only created weaknesses in his mind. It didn't seem to be worth the trouble.
Then again, he'd used to think that way about friends...
Eventually everyone else in the game went below, jumping into a disguised hole on the side.
"Not a bad cover for a secret base," Angeal mused.
Genesis scoffed. "It's beyond obvious."
"I think that just might be the game graphics." The Commander didn't look convinced. Sephiroth wasn't entirely either.
He followed the team below and Barrett asked if anyone from SOLDIER had been at the reactor. All three of the SOLDIERS watching the game scoffed. Cloud confirmed that if someone from SOLDIER had been there, everyone would be dead.
"Well, he has potential if he knows and can acknowledge that," Angeal commented.
Genesis snorted again.
Cloud reiterated that he used to be in SOLDIER, and that he was more or less only a mercenary now. That… seemed like a step down to Sephiroth. The President wouldn't like someone leaving SOLDIER anyway, so the Turks would have put a stop to that. He wondered if the makers of the game had actually done their research. Would any of them appear in the game?
"Well, at least he isn't stupid enough to actually join a terrorist group," Genesis said as Cloud left. Then Tifa came up after him, they spoke of a promise, there were more inane choices, and then they were on a water tower in an obvious memory.
"Does the boy have memory problems?" Genesis asked sardonically.
Of course, then the boy stated that he would join SOLDIER like his hero Sephiroth.
Well, that answered that question at least. The General couldn't help but feel a little proud of himself for being able to inspire someone… even if that was mainly the ShinRa HR department. It was still flattering.
"Oh, look. It's the inspirational general recruiting all the grunts again," Genesis said, sounding flat this time. Well, there went that positive emotion. Ah, well. They were useless distraction anyway.
Angeal thrust his elbow into the other man's ribs. "He was the last one in Wutai, and he had some major victories over there. That's part of the reason why they asked for a cease fire and are considering negotiations."
"Negotiations the President will not agree to," Genesis commented, rubbing his side.
No one had anything to say to that.
In the game, Cloud promised to come back for Tifa if she was ever in trouble.
"Oh, the damsel in distress," Genesis said with a roll of his eyes. "How droll."
Then they returned to the 'current day', and Barrett came up and paid Cloud, who said he'd do the next job for double.
"I take it back, he's an idiot," Genesis muttered. "3000 is a pittance for jobs like these."
"And yet, he still accepted," Sephiroth said, shaking his head, in complete agreement with Genesis. It seemed they tended to have similar opinions about characters in any case.
The next day, in the game, Cloud got off of the basement floor in the corner. Sephiroth had slept in worse places, so he accepted it and moved on. Then, yet another pointless question came up in regards to Cloud's childhood friend.
"There is no hate, only joy! For you are beloved by the Goddess."
Sephiroth paused and turned to his friend, one eyebrow raised.
"Oh, flirt with her!" Genesis urged, exasperated.
Sephiroth blinked over at him. "What?" He wasn't sure which answer to pic regarding the question that had popped up… whether he slept well or not. How would he know if Barrett snored? And he obviously hadn't slept next to Tifa…
"Just pick the second option," Genesis snapped.
Well, it wasn't as if it really mattered, so he did. She responded that she didn't know what he meant. Which was more or less exactly what he'd expected of her.
Then Barrett came up (where had he been when they'd been down there before?) and they spoke of attacking the Sector 5 reactor. Again, the three SOLDIERS exchanged glances and continued playing.
This would all be going in the report, Sephiroth concluded, and played on.
AN: *I know there were mistranslations of everyone's height, so for the purposes of this fic, Angeal is the same height as Sephiroth, but bulkier, so thus the 'largest' of the group, Genesis is the shortest, Zack is smack in the middle of them and Sephiroth still has a sword that is WAY too long to draw, let alone wield. Just saying.
SO! I don't normally like 'read it/play it' fics, so this is a bit of an experiment. Criticism is welcome (encouraged even).
Thank you so much!