Final Fantasy VII: Overture of the Princess

"Oh…I do not think I'll live to see the dawning sun…!" whimpered Jessie, as her life faded from her. "But perhaps this fate is not so terrible… Alas, I shall meet my love in another life! So do not morn for me, for my sacrifice shall not go in vain, and I fought will all my valor! But now...I must leave you, for I…have…died!"

Then Jessie plopped down on her back, hands folded on her chest.

"Um…that will be all, Ms. Raspberry," said one of the three judges observing Jessie's audition—the aspiring actress now twelve years old.

Jessie rose to her feet before bowing and waving with the smile she worked so hard to perfect. She knew any actress worth her salt needs a mesmerizing smile to charm the masses. "Thank you, thank you—you're all wonderful!"

The three judges sighed before a female said, "If I may ask, why did you feel it necessary to improvise that last part? None of those words were in the script."

"I know, but the dialog seemed a little too stiff to me. I wanted the audience to feel the regret I had, making things more tragic. That's what makes any death scene gloomier. So, I chose to wing it!" Jessie flashed her pearly whites, expected the judges to reciprocate while praising her as an acting prodigy.

Instead, the older gentlemen said, "While I appreciate your fearlessness, Ms. Raspberry, we don't do not 'wing it' here. That might work for some small local theater down in Midgar, but we expect nothing but perfection and devotion to the script here at the Gold Saucer. And we certainly won't make that concession to a young girl without a major performance to her name. Do you understand?"

This hurt Jessie, but she maintained her smile. Anytime Jessie was sad and wanted to cry like right now, she continued to wear her smile. "Yes, I understand… I can do the line again—"

"No, that'll be all," he said, already looking down at his list. "Thank you for coming down to audition, Ms. Raspberry. Good luck with your endeavors."

Jessie opened her mouth, wanting to plead her case. Instead, she bit her tongue before smiling. Talking calmed her—made her feel in control of a situation. But her better judgment prevailed. "Thank you," she said before leaving the stage, saving her tears of rejection for when she reached solace behind the curtain.

When will I get… my starring role…?

VVV

For as long as Jessie could remember, the stage under the dazzling lights enchanted her. She knew how cliché it was but landing a starring role as the Princess of Gold Saucer was her dream. Her dream caught people off guard since most of the employee housing district of Sector Seven knew how well she handled machines. Most figured she'd follow in her father's footsteps and land a high-profile job at one of the reactors. But no—the stage is where her heart lied.

But her dream would have to stay just that for now as the aspiring actress dealt with rejection. An important side character in a small play at Sector Eight is as far as she could go. Jessie knew that all the big actors made their marks early on, so she sensed her opportunity slipping by. Her father always taunted her by saying she should keep an abundance of opportunity in mind, but the young girl always beat herself up for any shortcomings.

However, as always, she put on her million-gil smile and rose for a new day—blowing the doubts away as Jessie Raspberry did best.

The young girl jumped out of bed, dancing around the mess of papers and machine parts on the floor. She'd gotten home from Gold Saucer yesterday before resting in her comfortable home on the upper plate of Sector Seven. The scent of her mother's pancakes lingering in the air hypnotized her into the kitchen. Her mom's smile hit her while her dad—Rowan Raspberry—gave the young girl a small acknowledgment since his interest was in the daily newspaper.

"Breakfast ready yet, Mom?" asked Jessie, skipping around the kitchen in her pajamas. She pushed her long, brunette hair aside—grinning at her mom on hopes she didn't catch on to her melancholy.

She laughed under her breath. "It'll be okay, Jessie. Maybe you can get the part next time."

"Foiled again," said Jessie, sitting before plopping her head at the table. Her mom always said that no matter how amazing an actress she became—her smile would never fool her. "You should've seen it—they hated me. At this rate, I'll be lucky to get the part as a tree…"

"I still don't know why you don't like the Sector Eight theater," said her mom, putting a plate of steaming pancake in front of Jessie. "You love going there, and it's much closer to home than the Gold Saucer."

Jessie perked up when her mom's amazing home cooking was at her mercy. "Nah, I want to be the best of the best. It's Gold Saucer or bust." The girl took a moment to dig into her pancakes. "Besides, I gotta hurry before I get too old."

Her parents laughed at her before her father tore his eyes from the black and white print. "You're right, Jessie. I can see the gray hairs coming in now."

She pouted as her parent shared another laugh at her expense. "Come on, you guys know that the biggest stars shine early. If you start too late, no one will ever see you."

Her mom sat down after giving her father his plate. "Sure this isn't about you just wanting to meet your knight and shining armor?"

Jessie stood up on her chair, still partially chewing on her breakfast. "Why is it so vain to hope for my strong knight to sweep me off my feet before carrying me to a beautiful castle bathed in sunlight! I, for one, would never scoff at a young maiden wanting to achieve her aspirations! And that is why I shall use every ounce of this heart that lies within my breast to make it a reality!"

She smiled before holding a peace sign. "Are you enchanted?" Her parents played along like they always did, clapping.

"You act like such a romantic; yet, whenever a neighborhood boy reciprocates your attention," said her mother, "that fearless façade vanishes, and you start asking your mother for help."

Jessie blushed. "Geez, Mom. Not like I'd be interested in anyone from here. All the boys care about is joining SOLDIER and fighting Wutai with their hero Sephiroth or whatever."

"Tch, they better at least be a first-class SOLDIER if they want to see my daughter," said Rowan, giving his daughter a wink, drawing a snicker from her. "Why not aim for a job with the Shinra Electric Power Company? You're so talented with machines and brilliant at retaining information, I bet you could get an amazing paying job as an engineer. I have a few connections that could get you through the front. Don't you want to work with your old man?"

Jessie sighed, her father always asking her this question. She didn't dislike Shinra or anything. She remembered taking a tour of their facilities, looking at all the amazing technology, watching the stunning virtual reality presentations on how the company planned to make Midgar into something beautiful, and their weaponry made Jessie want to take it all apart to find out how it worked. She'd even met some of the executives thanks to her father, granted most of them gave her the creeps.

"Eh, I don't want some boring job being cooped up in an office all day. Tinkering with machines was always a hobby, but I want my career to be something everybody sees and recognizes. You know the corporate atmosphere doesn't suit me."

"While that may be," said her mom, putting on her "strict" voice, "one thing is for certain, young lady. You're getting to that age where you need to start thinking about your future. I'm not saying acting won't work, but it's an unreliable profession. What's the harm with keeping a job with Shinra as a safety net?"

Mom phrased that as a question, but Jessie knew she didn't have a choice. "Ugh, alright, I'll think about it okay?" Jessie rose, her plate clean. "I'm going to hang out with my friends today."

"Don't stay out too late," said her mom. "Mommy can't protect you if a monster comes."

"Heh, they should be afraid of me. I've designed some new stink bombs that'll send them running home to their mommies."

"You did what?" asked Rowan before her mom could scold her. "How did you do it?"

Her mom elbowed Rowan before Jessie and he shared a smile. She might've spent more time with her mom because her dad worked a lot, but the aspiring actress was always more of a daddy's girl by heart. The two did everything from strolls around the city to working on a motorbike together. They spent less time since her father's promotion to the maintenance manager at the mako reactor, but their bond stayed strong.

Her mom sighed. "What kind of princess builds stink bombs…?"

"Why none other than the dashing, one-of-a-kind heroine Jessie Raspberry, the super cool tomboy princess!" Jessie grinned from ear to ear, standing like hero brandishing their cape

Her mom giggled. "This child of ours has enough energy to power all of Midgar. Just make sure to make it home before dark tonight, Jessie. I'll make the Midgar Special."

"Hooray!" she cheered.

After getting dressed in appropriate attire, a simple white shirt with jeans and boots, Jessie kissed her parents goodbye before bursting out of the front door. She got her bike before cycling towards her destination. Jessie didn't like lying to her parents, but she knew they'd never approve of where she was going. The princess had a fair number of friends, but her technical side took over at times which drove her to visit the junkyard in the Sector Seven Slums.

People who lived on the comfortable upper plate rarely ever traveled to the slums. Jessie's parents always told her that place was infested with monsters, criminals, and illegal activity. This scared the typical kid away, but Jessie never backed down from a challenge. Besides, the junkyard contained many valuable parts that interested her. She'd made the trip several times without incident because of how sneaky she was.

When she arrived at the train station, she parked her bike before boarding the train that left at this time every morning. Her dad got some special train passes allowing the young Jessie to ride at her leisure, ironically allowing her to sneak off to the slums.

Most people, especially kids, kept quiet on the train since being around a lot of strangers was intimidating. That didn't go for the aspiring actress though. Jessie had no problem giving a wave or saying hello to anyone, always brandishing her smile. For her, this made the situation less tense than if she were to sit in silence.

After an hour of sitting while identification checks scanned the cars and the adults chatted on whatever news Shinra printed that day, her stop had come. Jessie gave any waves to disarm any adults or Shina guards as to why a kid would ride here of all places. Once she distanced herself enough from the crowd, she took a secret back route she discovered. Using this, she'd escape any Shinra guards prying into her activity.

"Oh yeah!" said Jessie, her eyes sweeping over all the valuables piled everywhere. "There's so much new stuff here now. Hehe, one man's trash is this girl's treasure!"

Jessie reached into her backpack, getting her trusty gloves and goggles for scavenging. With her gear on, she wasted no time searching for anything useful while keeping an eye out for any hostiles. Today was her lucky day since she'd gone an hour with no monster in sight. Meanwhile, she found several good parts before shoving them in her backpack.

She took some water, taking a big gulp before she said, "Man, I'm making a killing today. If I find just a few more pieces, I might be able to make—"

"Someone helped me!" yelled a high-pitched voice.

Jessie dropped her bottle and ran to the top of a junk pile once the yelling hit her ears. She searched all around her for the source of the sound until she saw a young blond girl running from several Doomrats.

"Oh crap!" yelled Jessie before rushing to her rescue.

She rushed down the pile, grabbing one of her homemade bombs. Jessie didn't have any Materia, but now this actress would have to play the hero. Jessie made it in time to cut off the path of the Doomrats from the girl. Once the feral beasts saw her appear, they stopped for a moment, hissing while sizing her up.

"Listen," said Jessie, not taking her eyes of the enemy, "when I throw this bomb, run as fast as you can. Got it?"

"U-Um…"

"Got it!"

"Y-yeah, I got it!"

"Sweet…" Jessie rubbed her fingers across the comforting metal her bomb, waiting for the right moment. Then, once she saw the monsters raise their hindlegs in preparation to pounce, Jessie pulled the pin and tossed the bomb at them.

The actress didn't wait for the results before she turned around, dashing with all her might along with the blond girl. She heard a bang behind her followed by whimpers from the Doomrats. Jessie snickered, taking that as a victory while running out of the junkyard as fast as her legs allowed her.

The two young girls panted heavily as they reached the main street of the slums. Jessie fell on her knees, taking the straps of her backpack off before sighing in relief. "Didn't think I'd get a workout like that," she said. "Don't you know that place is dangerous to wander around for kids?"

"You're a kid, and you were doing the same thing…"

"Point taken." Now that Jessie had a closer look, the young blond girl wore a white dress, had big emerald eyes, and looked her age. "So, what were you doing there?"

"I got lost. I'm not from this sector, so I didn't know my way around." She gazed at Jessie for a moment. "Are you from around here?"

"Nope, I'm from the upper plate of Sector Seven. I just come down here from time to time for neat things in the junkyard."

The girl's eyes lit up. "Wow…I've never met anyone who does that. And the way you fought off those monsters was so cool. You were like someone from SOLDIER…"

Jessie grinned, always loving her abilities being praised. "How could I ignore the plea of a fellow lass about to be struck down by such savage brutes! Do not fear any debt, for my act is one of compassion and heroism!"

"You sound like one of those fancy actors!" said the girl, starry-eyed. "You can do everything! Is everybody on the upper plate able to do all this?"

"Nope, nobody is as cool as yours truly." Jessie put a hand on her hip, showing off more for this strange girl. As nice as this was, Jessie remembered the situation at hand. "Getting lost enough to wander into another sector is pretty crazy. Where are your parents?"

The girl developed a somber look, making Jessie wish she hadn't of asked.

"… I lived with my father and he's…not around anymore, I think."

"O-oh… Was it a monster attack?" The girl didn't answer, prompting Jessie to put both hands on her shoulders before grinning widely. "Tell you what, you can send the night at my house. My mom makes the best pizza you can imagine!"

The girl looked stunned. "R-really? Won't you get in trouble?"

"Well, we may have to leave out we were down here in the slums. We'll just say you're a new kid from around the neighborhood, and your parents work a low-profile job. Luckily, I carry a spare train pass in case I ever lost mine. Just leave all the details to me, and we'll be golden!" The two young girls shared a smile. "So, what's the name of my guest?"

"Rachael."

"Mine's is Jessie, Jessie Raspberry. Nice to meetcha. Now let's hit the road!"

VVV

Explaining Rachael wasn't too difficult for the aspiring actress. Fooling her mom into believing she wasn't happy was one thing, but Jessie could manage to make up a good cover story. She had friends over before, so they saw no problem with a sleepover.

The two girls talked through the afternoon. Of course, most of the talking was from Jessie explaining her passion for acting. This worked for Rachael who gasped in awe every time Jessie explained one of her feats, despite that Jessie might've overblown a few details here or there. Still, the two girls chatted into the night before passing out. The duo promised to take a trip to a certain spot Rachel loved tomorrow evening.

As the next day came, their plans decided, Jessie and Rachael took the train to Sector Six. Rachael led the way through the junk infested streets. Jessie kept her smile up the whole time, but internally she started to get nervous. She never went this far out before, so all this area was unfamiliar. But her new friend seemed confident enough, so she went along, gazing around for any kind of trouble.

"There it is!" yelled Rachael, enthusiastically pulling Jessie towards an old playground. The worn playground had only a swing, a slide, and a tunnel. The rest of the area contained a bunch of old construction junk.

"There's a playground down here?" If Jessie knew Rachael wanted to visit a playground, she knew better ones on the upper plate close to her. "Doesn't it seem a little, uh, small?"

Rachael had a far-off look. "Sorry, I know this isn't much, but my dad took me here all the time… If you want, we can—"

"No!" Jessie kicked herself for not picking up on Rachael's connection to this place. Jessie jumped up and down, her face beaming with excitement. "Are you kidding? This place looks so cool. Let's play till we're blue in the face!"

With that, they spent the day frolicking in the small playground. They took turns going up and down the slide, pushed each other on the swing, and played as soldiers by crawling in the tunnel. A few kids and their parents came, allowing Jessie to hold a small play with Rachael. The blond girl didn't care for having so much attention, but Jessie held them up since she performed most of the lines. As sloppy as it was, they earned some applause from the kids and parents at the end.

Evening came as the sky darkened. The two sat on top of the slide, resting from all the activity from today.

"That was a blast!" said Jessie pumping up her fist. "Maybe I should make you my understudy."

"I kept forgetting what lines you told me to say, and you ended up doing everything. I'm just not as good in the spotlight as you."

Jessie swung her legs back and forth cheekily. "Yeah, it's not for everyone. You wouldn't believe all the young girls I've seen who get all pumped behind the curtain only to crumble the moment they get on stage. It takes a lot of courage to put all your hard work on display like that."

"You must be strong then."

"Not as much as you might think…" Jessie looked away, her smile fading a bit. "I've never really told anybody this…but I'm pretty self-conscious. I always feel like I'm failing, that I'm letting everyone down. I'd like to think I'll have my name in lights one day—Jessie Raspberry, as the Princess! And when that curtain opens, my parents will be in the first row. Hehe, I just don't know anymore… All I've ever been good at is messing with junk."

Jessie paused for a moment, rarely letting her real emotions out like this to anyone. Being a good friend, Rachael kept quiet and continued to listen.

"I've never been the prettiest or the most talented. Honestly, the only reason I've made it this far is because of how awesome my parents are. I wouldn't know how I'd deal with the rejection f if they weren't around… And that's why I don't to be a burden to them. Sometimes, I feel it'd be better to cut my losses and settle for some safe office job at Shinra…"

"You can't!" Rachael yelled so suddenly that Jessie jumped. "I think you should continue to pursue your dream. You're the smartest person I know, and you were brave enough to save me from those monsters. That's way cooler than what I've seen any actors do. I think…you can accomplish whatever you decide to do! Also…it's too dangerous to work with Shinra!"

Jessie raised an eyebrow at that last part. "What are you—"

Jessie stopped after both girl's eyes were drawn to a brilliant green glow that erupted from one of the mako reactors. The way it turned the evening atmosphere into a lush green that could be seen from across Midgar memorized Jessie. She remembers lots of times she watched it with her dad, stopping to notice how pretty it was. When it was over, Rachael hugged her knees.

"That's always so pretty," said Jessie, "right, Rachael?" Instead of the positive response she expected, Rachael stared off into space.

"Jessie…what do you think of Shinra?"

"Huh?" Jessie didn't understand the vague question but answered regardless. "I mean, we do owe them for figuring out how to use mako as energy. The only reason we're able to live normally is because of President Shinra. Not to mention how they're fighting a war against Wutai to protect us. Still, I'd rather be an actress even though I'd kill to see what makes some of their high-tech stuff work. Plus, since my dad works at one of the reactors; he'd be out of a job if Shinra didn't exist."

"You have to make him stop!" yelled Rachael, putting her face so close to Jessie's that the aspiring actress almost fell off the slide. "Tell him to never go back, or something bad will happen!"

"Slow down. My dad worked there for years and nothing bad has ever happened." Jessie scratched her head, unable to understand why Rachael has gotten so worked up. "Just…what do you have against Shinra? Everybody I know thinks they're doing a great job."

"Not everyone…"

Rachael handed Jessie a balled-up paper. On it, the words "Join Avalanche for the fight against Shinra!" were legible.

"Aren't these just a bunch of terrorists?" said Jessie. "My parents always said they're some evil people who want to destroy our way of life. What's Shinra done that so bad anyway?"

"… My father used to work at a Shinra reactor too."

Jessie gasped, surprised Rachael finally opened up about her family. "Seriously…?" murmured Jessie.

Rachael slowly nodded. "He'd always come home late, but one day he didn't come back at all. Then these scary guys in suits came to my house. They said my dad disappeared, and he was never coming back… I kept asking questions, but they didn't answer—plus they wanted me to keep my dad's disappearance a secret. Once they said I'd be coming with them, I ran when they weren't looking…"

"That's how you ended up lost in Sector Seven… What do you think happened to your dad?"

"I think Shinra might be holding him captive, or maybe something bad happened to him and they don't want to say… My dad would never leave me behind." Rachael balled her hand, her face grim before turning to Jessie. "You have to help me. Since your dad works for them, maybe he knows something. Maybe we could convince your dad to investigate for us or…"

Or what exactly? thought Jessie, unsure of why Rachael jumped to these harsh conclusions. No way could the company that's done nothing but help the people of Midgar do so a thing.

"I understand you're afraid, but there could be lots of explanations. Maybe he had a workplace injury and he couldn't come home. There could've been a little misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up. Both of those sound more likely than Shinra doing something bad. I mean...why would Shinra even need to do something like that? They defend the people of Midgar, just like always."

Rachael stared at her, eyes barren. Then, she turned away, still refusing to speak. After a minute of this awkward silence, she smiled and said, "… Yeah, you're right, Jessie. Sorry about that."

Jessie grinned in satisfaction, glad that tense conversation was settled. "Just give it some time; I bet everything will be cleared up! Still, if you've got no place to stay, I'm sure my parents will let you stay with us until things get cleared up."

"Thanks…but no. I have a place to stay, so I'll be fine."

"Oh…okay. If you're sure."

The two girls carefully made their way back to the ground. Jessie wiped herself off, Rachael doing the same with her white dress. She said it'd be alright, but Rachael's demeanor seemed different now.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Jessie asked

Rachael still had a far-off look. "… Yeah, I'm fine. Meet up here tomorrow?"

"You bet." Jessie waved, jogging back to her bike to catch the train.

"Thanks for being my friend, Jessie…" said Rachael.

Jessie stopped in her tracks, raising an eyebrow before walking again. "No problem; and we'll always be friends."

Jessie hoped on her bike, departing the playground. She looked back with solemn eyes, Rachael standing by herself in the playground under the glowing green sky. Her dad worked at a reactor just like hers and might've met a bad fate. Parts of what she said started to creep into Jessie's mind, but the actress shook her head. No way Shinra could do such a thing to somebody. Without them, they'd be in some barren wasteland somewhere fighting off terrible monsters. Jessie smiled, assuring herself everything would be okay, and Rachael would have a fun day like today.

Acknowledging otherwise would mean things too horrible for the young Jessie to accept.

VVV

Just like every morning, Jessie wrestled herself out of bed when the aroma of her mom's cooking invaded the house. She always joked her mom could be like a pied paper, luring all the kids from their homes into the kitchen. With glee, Jessie rushed to the kitchen, another fun day with Rachael on her mind. The first thing she did was get a glass of orange juice since her throat still felt a hoarse from all the performing yesterday.

Then, a rare occasion because she usually didn't care, Jessie paid attention to the morning news on television.

"And so Shinra looks to be having a breakthrough on new medical treatments using mako, thanks to strides by our very own Professor Hojo. On a more somber note, we have sad news coming from one of that mako reactors last night."

Jessie stopped drinking, holding the glass to her mouth. Why did her heart just stop for a moment?

"The body of a young girl around the age of twelve was found inside one of the rectors. Security believed she might've snuck in before injuring herself and falling into the mako. With the amount of radiation she absorbed, her chances of survival are close to—" As the news anchor talked, a video of Shinra guards carrying a little girl on a stretcher played. She covered her face with a blanket, but for a moment—her identity was revealed.

"Hold on," said her mom, "isn't that girl—"

Jessie dropped her orange juice, the liquid and glass shards scattering on the kitchen as Jessie fell to her knees. She wanted to scream until her lungs exploded, but no sound came out. Her eyes stayed glued to the television as her parents got up and ran at her, the glass on the floor cutting into her legs. She couldn't feel a thing.

At that moment, Jessie's world began to fall apart.

It took until the evening for her crying and trembling to stop as Jessie laid in bed, blankets over her entire form to hide from the world. Now, she just felt numb. Yesterday at the playground, she knew Rachael wasn't acting right. But she shrugged it off, chalking it up to some crazy conspiracy theory. After she listened to Jessie's feelings, she didn't do the same for Rachael. Even though they knew each other for only a day, it felt like she lost a sister.

"Can I come in, Jessie?" said the gentle voice of Rowan.

The young girl didn't look forward to this. In her grief, she told them both the entire truth about where she found Rachael and what the girl told her in their final moments together.

Jessie didn't respond, so her father walked in before sitting on her bed. "How are you feeling?"

She sniffled before saying, "Is she dead…?"

Her father took a deep breath. "I'll be honest with you. For a girl that young to be exposed to that much radiation… I'm sorry, honey."

"It's not fair…"

"I and your mother told you to never go to the slums. What happened to Rachael was a tragedy, but she shouldn't have been trying to break in a mako reactor."

"She was trying to save her father. Rachael was just like me; she loved her father…" Jessie removed the covers, starting up at her father's sympathetic eyes. "Do you know what happened to her father?"

"I don't know who her father could be; incidents happened occasionally. But, Jessie, you must understand that workplace injuries happen in any job. That doesn't mean Shinra is an evil company.

"Then why did they keep it secret?"

"I'm sure Rachael was scared and misunderstood the situation. Shinra would never condone harming a child."

"You have to leave your job at Shinra!" yelled Jessie, desperately staring into her father's eyes. "The same thing will happen to you!"

"You know I can't…"

"If you don't, then the same thing that happened to Rachael's dad will happen to you! I can even quit my dream as an actress to help around the house!"

"Jessie, we don't know—"

"Are you fine with leaving me and Mom behind! Don't you care about us!"

"Jessie!" he yelled, making her flinch.

While he could be stern, Rowan never raised his voice at her like that. Somehow, even though her mom usually reprimanded her, it really cut through Jessie when her father scolded her. "B-but, why…?" she murmured.

"I work at the mako reactor precisely because I care about you and your mom so much. It's a father's swore duty…to protect his family." Rowan hugged Jessie close to him before walking to her door. "I'm confiscating your train passes. You are not to go anywhere other than Sector Seven's upper plate, understand?"

Jessie responded by laying her head back on the pillow, covering her beneath her blankets once again.

"… I know you love to romanticize everything, but you must learn everything in the world isn't fair. Get some rest."

The door shut, leaving Jessie in her grief-filled cocoon. Everything in the world wasn't fair? Jessie didn't know what to think of that. On stage, the world was whatever you wanted it to be, the only limits your imagination and passion to see it come to fruition. Suddenly everything felt small, like the metal plate below her home would collapse. The "greatest city in the world" began to feel like an elaborate prison.

She spent the rest of the day focusing on the mental image of her friend. With no pictures or mementos, the peaceful image of their day together would be all she'd ever have.

VVV

Five years passed after the Rachael incident. Jessie carried on with her life as normal, tinkering with machines as a hobby, acting as her passion, and finishing up her studies. On the outside, she was the same as ever. She smiled and waved, capable of being girly or tomboyish at the drop of hat. Still, ever since that day, the world was a slightly different shade to her. She didn't consider Midgar the booming metropolis like other citizens anymore. And that's what led her to an important decision of what to pursue after school.

She decided to go all-in with her dream of being the Princess at the Gold Saucer and, more importantly, to leave Midgar. The decision wasn't too popular at home. Her mother, wanting her to work at a local theater, was in tears at the thought of Jessie moving so far away. Even her father who supported her had his reservations about going so far away.

"Jessie," said Rowan, catching her before she got into the cab with all her luggage, "why not think on this a bit more?"

Jessie flicked her long brunette hair aside, grinning confidently at her father. "No can do, Dad. You always said to commit to your dreams. Well, I got both hands on the wheel, and there isn't a chance I'm turning back now."

"I'm glad I raised such a confident daughter…but the Gold Saucer is so far. Why not start up the Sector Eight theater, then you can—"

Jessie put her hand up. "I've done all I can here. I thought about this hard, and I know this is my true calling."

Rowan narrowed his eyes. "This is still about what happened with your friend isn't it…?"

Jessie put her hands behind her back, looking up. "Midgar just isn't for me. I want to venture out and discover lots of things on this big planet of ours. I know it'll make you angry, but now that I've gotten older…Midgar feels like a cage. The same steel sky with Shinra looming over everything. I know this kind of life works for you and Mom, but not me. Time for this bird to open her wings and fly while the door is open." Jessie turned towards her dad. "That's how I feel."

Rowan paused for a moment before he said, "I guess we'll just have to agree… to disagree."

Jessie looked downward, smile faltering for a second. "Guess so." She waved before hopping in the cab. "I'll send two tickets when I land the part!"

After one last wave, the cab drove off towards the train station. Jessie used the privacy to finally drop her smile, sighting as her real feelings began to arise. There was no question this is what she wanted, but the misgivings from her parents made it difficult. Her dream couldn't be complete unless they both sat in the front row to cheer her on.

Sorry, Mom…Dad…

She rested her head against the window, her home and father out of sight, the structure of Shinra that loomed over her since birth getting further away in the rear-view mirror.

What followed was a year of Jessie working her way up the ranks at the Gold Saucer. At first, she settled for small performances while working part-time as a park attendant to pay rent. It wasn't smooth, and there were a lot of nights she thought about returning to Midgar, but the vigor of Jessie Raspberry continued to yell at her not to give up.

Soon, she began to form connections with other actors—culling their favor and recommendations. She practiced her lines day and night, even going as far as to method act some of her parts. There were times she almost passed out from fasting so much since her character did. One time she nearly drove herself to depression since that was the mentality of another one of her characters. Eventually, her hard work allowed her name to spread among the public, giving her reputation as an actress a much-needed boost.

And it led to her to the promised land. She had an important audition for the Princess, so she gathered every bit of charisma she had and performed in front of the same the judges that lambasted her all those years ago. She might've had jitters at first, but once she got into character and started performing, she went into Zen mode. Jessie flawlessly performed all her lines, not so much as a stutter or a step out of place. She got cocky enough to almost start improvising again but restrained herself.

So, the sweat dripping off her face, Jessie bowed before awaiting the verdict anxiously…

The judges exploded from their chairs, awarding her hard work with raucous applause. They showered her with praise, applauding her performance and how far she'd come since her earlier days. When Jessie asked the all-important question; she didn't have a doubt what they'd say.

Jessie Raspberry would be the Princess!

She'd always remember that afternoon. She went to every person who helped her from fellow actress' to baristas at a store she frequented. Her smile never faded to the point Jessie feared it'd stay stuck like that. Then she went into her dorm and jumped up and down on her bed like she was a kid again, crying tears of joy because her dream was on the horizon.

Her next order of business was writing a letter to completely bring her dream to fruition. She proudly wrote about her success to her parents, enclosing two tickets to opening night starring her as the Princess. Jessie wrote this letter a million times in her mind, so it took her mere minutes to complete it. After she mailed the letter, the future princess plopped down on her bed and stared at the ceiling.

"I did it…" she murmured to herself, still trembling a bit from the overflow of happiness coursing through every vein. "Not bad for a zesty tomboy, hehe…"

And so, that brought Jessie to today—the opening night of the play. She sat in her chair, her bright dress and make-up already on. She stared into her own brown eyes, smiling as all her hard work finally paid off. Jessie remembered every line, every step, even went as far as remembering other people's lines. She was more than ready for this.

The stage manager opened her door, before he said, "Time to break a leg, Jessie."

"Oh no, I'm so not ready… Psych!" Jessie rose from her chair, smiling ear-to-ear. "Showtime."

As Jessie walked down the hallway to the stage, time slowed for her. She took in every smile coming her way, all the appreciation, every inch of this moment. She wouldn't miss a second of it. This scene played in her head thousands of times in her dreams. Part of her expected to wake up any minute now, reality shocking her like a cold shower. But her beating heart assured her this wasn't a fantasy. She'd come a long way from sneaking out to visit junkyards in the slums.

The curtain was near—the time had come. She'd walk on stage, awaiting applause from the audience. Most of all, she anticipated meeting eyes with her parents in the front row. Their parting wasn't the most amicable, but this moment would usurp any bad feelings between them. So, Jessie approached the curtain, waiting for the call that'd come any second now.

Instead, that's when she heard her name called by someone unexpected.

"Jessie!" yelled a female stagehand, breathing hard as she reached Jessie. "I'm sorry, but it's an emergency." She held up a cell phone. "This woman says she's your mom and needs to talk to you now."

Jessie paused for a moment, honestly considering not picking up the phone. Instead, she took the phone and thanked the stagehand. The actress took a deep breath, calming herself. It'd probably be her mom saying they couldn't make it, or they'd be late. What else could it be at such a crucial moment in her life? Jessie already prepared herself to forgive her parents for not making it, so this wouldn't be too bad.

Putting the phone to her ear, in her peppiest voice, she said, "Hello, Mom? It's okay if you and dad can't make it. You can just catch the next—"

"Jessie!" said her mom in a voice so filled with anguish, Jessie's smiled vanished immediately. "I'm at the Sector Seven hospital. Your father…he…had an accident at the mako reactor and now he's—"

Jessie's mom went on and on frantically, but Jessie couldn't hear her anymore. The roar of the crowd, the people behind the stage—the noise all became distorted until Jessie couldn't hear. She feared this call more than anything, knowing that one day she'd get a call about something happened at those accursed mako reactors… But to happen now with her dream literal inches away… Jessie couldn't remember a time in her life where she didn't know what to say or what to think.

Before she knew it, the cell phone collided against the ground as Jessie dropped it—running as fast as she could away from the stage. The people around her probably called her name and stared at her in shock—Jessie wasn't paying attention. The only thing on her mind was getting back to Midgar as soon as possible.

She sprinted, while the lights and sounds of her dream faded behind her as she ran into the night.

VVV

It was late into the night when Jessie finally reached the Sector Seven hospital, sunrise only an hour away. She burst into the hospital, adorning her princess dress and all. She found her mother in the lounge, her eyes puffy as a few Shina employees stood next to her. Jessie wasted no time interrogating them on what was happening.

Just like her mom said, Rowan had an accident at the mako reactor. He fell unconscious in one of them for an extended period, causing him to absorb far too much mako radiation. By the time somebody found his body, it was already too late. While he wasn't declared dead, he was in a comatose state with no signs of ever waking again.

What set Jessie off is when she asked, Shinra claimed that they weren't liable for anything that happened because of a lease Rowan signed. They also mentioned they'd only pay to keep him on life support for three weeks. After that, they either had to take care of him in their own home or pull the plug. This enraged her like nothing ever had, gazing at the people in front of her like they weren't human.

To treat her father like trash that's been disposed of… It was an unforgivable act on the part of Shinra.

In her rage, she yelled, kicked, screamed, and punched any Shinra employee or guard that dared to trifle with her at this moment. It was like all the frustration she'd bottled up behind her endless smiling came out at once. Of course, her actions a crime, a few guards restrained her before putting on the handcuffs. She'd have to spend the day detained for bad behavior and "treasonous talk against Shinra" as they called it.

As she was forced into a squad car, she felt a pang in her heart when her crying mother begged them not to take her away. Jessie wished she'd taken her feelings into more consideration, but she just lost it when they talked about her father like that. On the ride to the station, Jessie rested her head on the window, her heart twisted into knots. Earlier, her dream came true. Now, it lay shattered in the mud while she'd have to morn her father in a jail cell.

Then, a green plume of light shot out from one of the reactors, like it always did. Even with her father's fate, everything went on as scheduled.

"Shin…ra…" murmured Jessie with venom in her tone.

Jessie spent the entire day in jail just staring at the wall. She forgot that her dress was still on. This didn't belong to her anymore; this dress belonged to the Princess of Gold Saucer. Jessie had no allusions of that dream being alive anymore after her leaving on opening night. Even with the connections she had, that's very taboo. So, she sat in her invalid dress, her mascara a mess all over her face. Her starring role was gone, along with her father.

Where did it all go wrong? thought Jessie. Should I have listened to Rachael back then? Should I have stayed in Midgar instead of running to Gold Saucer? Then Jessie furrowed her brow. This is my fault…

"No more," she said, clenching her fists. "I've been lied to for so long… Shinra isn't who they say they are. No way mako energy can be everything they've said and cause such devastation on human beings. I need to find the truth on my own… One dream is dead, so why don't I make another?" Finding new resolve, Jessie looked towards the ceiling before she said, "I'm going to save you, Dad…"

The moment Jessie was let free, she got to work. She used her savings to buy every single book on planetology she could get her hands on. If she wanted to understand the problem, she'd have to research big time. Of course, she doubted any damning books would be kept in Midgar on Shinra's watch, but she had to start somewhere. She used her old room as a study, reading day and night. Some were thrown off by her bracing attitude, but Jessie was more than capable of hitting the books if she needed to.

Without her realizing it, a month flew by. By this time, her room had papers strewn about. She made sure to highlight and tear out any pages of interest. Jessie also took plenty of notes about interesting thoughts she had while reading certain pages. She hardly opened the windows, her main source of light a lamp on her desk. Her hair had gotten unkempt from the lack of grooming, her eyesight got blurry from being in a dim room a lot, plus she had less energy than usual from sitting inside all day. This dirty room certainly didn't support her image as a dazzling actress, rather a person obsessed with finding the truth.

"Jessie?" said her mother, cracking the door open. "Want to go out to eat tonight?"

"No thanks," said Jessie, not taking her eyes off the book. She internally groaned when she heard papers crumpling underneath her mother's steps, coming towards her. Then, her mother took the book Jessie was reading and closed it.

"This isn't healthy. You've locked yourself in your room, you turn away any friends that come to check on you…you haven't visited your father in the hospital one time since the incident. Tell me what's wrong."

Jessie put on a smile. "Nothing's wrong at all, Mom."

"You've become an amazing actress, but you still can't fool your mother." Her mother put a hand on Jessie's shoulder. "I could never get you to open up like your father, but I'm trying my best Jessie… I'm trying my best to bring us together, but I need you to be honest with me…"

Even though Jessie's done it more than she'd care to admit, lying her mom hurt every time. If she didn't aspire to be an actress, she doubted she'd be good at lying.

"I've been studying planetology," said Jessie, a serious expression. "All this time I've been reading about the Ancients, the Planet, what mako is, and anything else could get my hand on the subject matter. And finally, I think I've hit a breakthrough. I know what's happened to Dad, and how we can help him."

Her mom stared at her like she wanted to cast away the possibility but decided to humor her. "And?"

"Back then, the Ancients had the power to communicate with the Planet and vice versa. Humans lost the ability to do that because we rely on technology at the cost of the Planet's natural resources. Human innovation is natural, but what I think tipped everything over the edge is when we started using the Planet's life source, mako, to power our technology. It's better to think of the Planet as a living sentient being…and right now it's having the life sucked from it faster than it can recover."

"What does your theory have to do with Rowan?"

"I don't think Dad's fate is as set in stone as Shinra wants us to believe. I think… his spirit is alive somewhere in the Planet itself. But it's stuck in a limbo unable to return because the Planet is suffering from having the mako sucked out of it constantly. It's almost like Dad's soul is tied to the Planet now…meaning it won't be set free until the Planet heals."

Her mom's face turned to a frown. Jessie's mom was intelligent in her own right, so she likely caught onto to what her daughter was getting at. "… How do you think the Planet can heal, Jessie?"

Jessie said nothing, eyes wandering at the ground before she turned her head towards the window, the eternal figure of Shinra looming over Midgar.

"Now look here, young lady…the things you're getting into is dangerous. Far too dangerous for such a promising young woman with her entire life ahead of her. You were always such a kind child, so much that you shoulder all the blame. And now it led you to ridiculous theories such as this."

"But ask yourself, Mom…why is it considered dangerous? If this is just a bunch of hooey and I've lost my mind, why is it you're not allowed to say these things?" Jessie banged her fist on the table as she stood. "Shinra treated my father like garbage after so many years of hard work, and you still think those bastards care about us!"

"Enough!" Her mother started to sob, making Jessie pull back. "Just…stop. You must accept that bad things happen to good people, and there's nothing we can do about it. You're not on the stage anymore; you need to stop living…in a fantasy world…"

Jessie pulled her mother to her, the two sharing an embrace. Jessie wasn't angry at her in the slightest. She expected this response because it's the same she got from her father five years ago. Acknowledging that your way of life was wrong wasn't easy. Jessie herself had to go mad before pulling herself up from the ashes; not everybody can do that. Least of all people who've spent about half a century being told Shina's regime was the greatest in the world.

"I'm sorry, Mom. I'll stop reading all this stuff, and I promise never to bring this up again. I just…miss him so much…"

"I understand…I miss him too."

While Jessie told the truth, she kept some of her intentions hidden. She'd read all she could, and now it was time to act. Her resolve was as strong as ever, so now she needed to find like-minded individuals to cooperate with. One person certainly couldn't bring down a behemoth like Shinra. Fortunately, Jessie remembered a certain group that could aid her quest. She'd have to venture somewhere she hadn't been in years.

VVV

For the next phase of her plan to begin, Jessie needed to take on a new persona. The amazing actress she was, Jessie once again changed her role from a researcher to a detective. She put on a black jacket and shades before heading down to the Sector Seven slums for investigation. If she wanted to bring down Shinra, which she did, then she'd have to track down a certain group she'd heard rumors about.

Avalanche, a terrorist group. The news brought up their name in vitriol, labeling them criminals that only seek to disrupt the way of like in Midgar for their amusement. Her parent brought them up once, parroting the same narrative while using it as another reason never to go below the upper plate. She recalled the poster of them that Racheal found all those years ago as well. Regardless of their reputation, their base of operations rested somewhere around the Sector Seven slums, Jessie hypothesized.

The former actress didn't fall short of people skills, able to negotiate, charm, or get serious whenever she needed. Jessie dedicated the next few weeks making small talk with people in the slums, building connections while subtly inquiring about where to find Avalanche. Come the night, she'd to rent a cheap apartment to rest. Once the sun rose, detective Jessie was back on the case.

A younger Jessie would've gone insane but compared to the crunch it took at the Gold Saucer—it all felt natural. She treated this like her tenure as an actress. She'd build connections and prove herself before having that all-important audition. Only instead of a princess under the bright lights of a stage, she'd be an eco-terrorist making things explode.

Weeks passed—and after she talked with many people, did some meager jobs, eavesdropped here and there, and got some red-headed guy to started singing like a bird after Jessie put on a little of her charm…the aspiring rebel finally found it.

"Seventh Heaven," said Jessie standing in front of the bar with hands on her hips, the giant lamps above illuminating Midgar. All her research led her to here, a tiny bar in the middle of the slums that looked empty. Jessie had gone to extravagant bars at Gold Saucer, so this seemed like a tiny shed in comparison. She stole her nerves and put on a smile before walking up the stairs and through the doors.

The inside looked about as unimpressive as the outside. Some wooden tables with a pinball machine, a jukebox, and some darts were about all. What caught Jessie's eye, was the only person in the bar now—a female bartender.

"Welcome!" she said with a gentle smile.

Jessie constantly hung around beautiful women at Gold Saucer since they all strived to become actresses, so she felt qualified to say the bartender was a real beauty. She wore a simple white top with a black shirt and matching spats with stockings. Still, the gentleness in her voice made Jessie's nerves ease, making her feel like a regular in this bar.

"Howdy!" said Jessie putting on a friendly face. "I'd like something sweet, nothing too hard." She didn't mind a drink but being inebriated wasn't the best way to proceed with negotiations.

"Coming right up." Jessie sat at the bar as the bartender performed some stylish mixing. She slid Jessie's cup to her immediately after, eyes confident she'd love it. "Tell me what you think."

Jessie took a little sip, an explosion of sweet flavor erupting on her tongue. Then the next thing she knew, the whole drink disappeared down her throat. A wonderful after taste lingered in her mouth for a moment before it, unfortunately, faded away. "Woah…" Jessie said. "You've got some serious skills."

The bartender giggled before she said, "In that case, I'll make our specialty—the Cosmo Canyon. This one is on the house." She took a close look at Jessie before mixing again. "This your first time here? I don't think I've ever seen you around."

"Been here a few times before. That was a long time ago though. How long you live here?"

"I moved here from far away not too long ago actually. I was born and raised in Nibelheim for most of my life." The bartender handed her a ruby red drink. "I've only been here for a few years."

Jessie raised an eyebrow, aware of how far Nibelheim was. "Damn, that's quite the move. She took a drink of the Cosmo Canyon, once again disappearing in the blink of an eye down her throat. "Delicious!"

"Heh, thank you. It's popular down here in the slums. Sadly, the water filters have been acting up again, so I've been a little limited."

"It's no problem… If you don't mind me asking, why did you come out here to Midgar? The slums aren't the most hospitable place in the world."

The actress, always the people person, could read emotions well. At the mention of her reasons for moving here, she caught a slight twitch of the bartender's eye. That meant a not so pleasant memory just came back to her. Quick to compose herself, the bartender smiled and said, "Some business that needed taking care of."

"I can sympathize...uh…" Jessie scratched her chin, aware of a problem.

The bartender tilted her head before she gasped and stuck out her hand. "Oh, right! You can call me Tifa Lockhart."

Jessie shook her hand. "Jessie Raspberry. Like I was saying, I've come down here to the Sector Seven slums for the same reason. I hoped you could help me find someone. If you want, I could help with those water filters too as payment for the information. People can be tight-lipped in the slums."

Tifa nodded. "They can be a bit jaded...which I understand. I haven't been here the longest, but I know plenty of people so maybe I could help you out. Mind giving me a name?"

Jessie locked eyes with Tifa from behind her shades. "… Avalanche."

And there it was. It lasted less than a second, but Tifa's eyes widened. Afterward, Tifa looked confused, but Jessie recognized it as a front. She's good, but I caught her. I expected Avalanche members to be rugged and intimidating…but she seems like someone that doesn't get their hands dirty. Could she…

"Avalanche?" Tifa grabbed her chin, staring at the ceiling like she searched for a memory. "That's that terrorist group Shinra mentions of television, right? What would you want with a bunch of dangerous people like that?"

So, this is my audition, huh? Showtime. Jessie pulled off her shades, putting on a more honest expression.

"I was born on the upper plate of Sector Seven, but I've been staying at the Gold Saucer because I wanted to be an actress. But recently…a tragedy happened to me that opened my eyes to the truth of Midgar. Honestly, I knew it way back then…I didn't only go to Gold Saucer for my dream—I ran away, and now I gotta pay the price for it. Avalanche might be the one group that can help me pay the bill."

Tifa's eyes stared at the ground; Jessie piqued her interest somewhat. "… I'm not sure about Avalanche, but is that something you want to do, Jessie? I mean, getting involved with a group like that… If you want to be an actress, you should go pursue your dream." Tifa stared at Jessie with earnest eyes, almost like she was trying to convince her not to press any further. "You could die, you know…?"

"… I had my dream in hand. It was opening night, and Jessie Raspberry would finally be the Princess after years of hard work. Right as I was going to take the stage, my past in Midgar pulled me right back. I had an accident in my family and rushed back. My father worked in a mako reactor, and one day…he passed out inside one. With the radiation he absorbed…they said he'd never wake up. The situation mirrored an incident with a friend I had as a little girl. She wasn't so lucky either."

Jessie paid close attention to Tifa; she had the bartender's undivided focus. Jessie only meant to describe some of her life, but as the emotions came through—her voice began to rise out of her control. Truly, she wasn't someone used to showing their true self.

"Things are different with my dad. His heart still beats, but Shinra says he'll never wake up and we might as well pull the plug. I studied everything I could about planetology and came up with a hypothesis. It sounds crazy…but I think my father's soul is stuck in the Planet, in limbo. I think if the Planet is in pain, he can't come back. And I think you know why the Planet is in pain…" Jessie grit her teeth before she yelled. "I want to stop Shinra and save my Dad!"

Tifa gasped, her eyes wide as she took a step back. One look into her eyes and Jessie knew…Tifa understood. The bartender put a hand over her mouth, eyes darting back and forth. Finally, she gazed at Jessie with a piercing, yet sympathetic judgment.

"… Can you wait here?" she said.

"No problem." Jessie pumped her fist under the bar as Tifa walked towards the pinball machine. After fiddling with it for a moment, the machine hummed as the platform beneath sunk in the floor with Tifa on it. "A secret entrance—so cool! That confirms it: This is their headquarters."

Jessie sat in victory for what felt like an hour, awaiting Tifa to return from whatever laid below the bar. She assumed that Avalanche took interest in her, but it crossed her mind she could be killed for knowing their location. But as she thought of Tifa, Jessie doubted a girl like her would condone something so ruthless. If they were enemies of Shinra, they couldn't be that bad.

Finally, Tifa appeared as the machine rose back to its original position. She walked behind the bar before facing Jessie, sliding a piece of paper in front of her. "This is a map of the Sector Six upper plate. Be at the location marked her tomorrow night, preferably in some dark clothing. You'll see two guys there who'll take care of the rest…"

"Got it," said Jessie, taking the map. "So, what's my objective going to be?"

Tifa looked sorry. "I'm not allowed to say anymore."

Jessie reassured Tifa with a grin. "Trying to keep me on my toes, huh? Takes more than this to scare me away." Jessie rose from her chair, putting money and a tip down. "When you see me again, I'll be the new shining star of Avalanche."

"Heh, good luck."

Just as Jessie walked out, she turned back to Tifa. "Did your dad also…?"

Tifa looked away before she said, "… Yeah."

"Don't worry," said Jessie, putting a thumb up, "well show Shinra what happens when they mess with our families!"

Tifa smiled. "Yeah, it'll all work out."

After a wave, Jessie departed Seventh Heaven, ready for whatever challenge was next.

VVV

Jessie arrived on the Sector Eight upper plate at the exact time, adorned in all black clothing. If she read the map correctly, the guys she was supposed to me should be in front of the train station. They'd have on red headbands to separate themselves from the crowd. Jessie searched around and finally found her associates leaning against the fence in the background. One was a man with dark hair along with a red hairband, and the other had a rather large physic she wouldn't have expected someone in this profession to have along with a red bandana.

"Yo!" said Jessie, approaching them with a disarming smile. "Jessie Raspberry reporting for duty!"

"You made it," said the man with the headband. "We'll make the introductions quick. I'm Biggs, and the big guy here is Wedge. We'll explain what you'll be doing on the jog. Let's move out!"

The trio broke into a sprint, Jessie following the steps of wherever her new partners led. Despite being a section over, Jessie wasn't too acclimated to the Sector Eight upper plate. Regardless, she always kept her confident appearance to impress Biggs and Wedge.

"So, Jessie," said Wedge, already huffing, "we heard from Tifa about what happened to your father, and how you found out on the night of your big starring role. That's a tough break—" Biggs elbowed Wedge in his ribs, furrowing as brow at him like he wasn't supposed to bring up Jessie's family matters.

Jessie giggled. "No worries, boys. I've already found my resolve; I'm going to make sure those reactors never run again so my father's soul can return from the Planet! Then, I can apologize for running away. Just make sure to keep it confidential; getting pity all the time would make me annoyed enough to beat the shit out of someone."

"Hehe, you can trust us," said Biggs. "And make sure to hold on to that anger. You'll need that resolve if you're going to take it to Shinra."

"After all," said Wedge, "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

"You're damn right! So, what exactly are we doing?"

"You're job tonight will be to infiltrate a Shinra warehouse," said Biggs. "Wedge and I will cause a distraction to draw the guards away. Then you'll sneak past the gates and enter the facility. All you need to do is find one Shinra keycard from one of the soldiers, then get the hell out of there. Think you're up for it?"

Hell no, is what Jessie wanted to say. The most experience she had was tossing homemade bombs at monsters in a junkyard. Sneaking into a Shinra outpost and stealing…she'd never delved into that territory. But she knew to save her father, she'd have to get her hands dirty. "It'll be a piece of cake!" she said confidently.

"Hmm, speaking of which," said Wedge. "If Jessie pulls it off, we ought to celebrate tonight. I'm thinking barbecue, or maybe some pizza."

"Mom had a specialty called the Midgar Special; it's the best pizza ever made."

"Party at Jessie's house!" yelled Wedge, causing Biggs to sigh and Jessie to laugh.

After minutes of sprinting, the trio reached their destination. The Shinra outpost was small, a few guards out on patrol. Jessie's heart pounded uncontrollably, unsure how well her performance would be. She didn't exactly take stealth lesson at the Gold Saucer.

"These instructions will show you the way to storage," said Biggs. "You'll also want this."

Jessie's heart stopped when Biggs handed her a gun, not a toy—but a real one. The girl genius messed with lots of homemade bombs, but she never handled anything of lethal force against another human being. She grabbed the gun, her sweaty palms almost making it slip out of her grasp.

Noticing her fear, Biggs said, "You can walk away from this anytime you want, Jessie… We're not a cult. Don't feel ashamed if you don't have the stomach for this kind of thing."

Jessie stopped for a moment before smacking both of her cheeks, shaking off the hesitation. "No, I can do this. Just leave it to me!" Jessie took both them by surprise when she fist-bumped them. "For the Planet."

Biggs and Wedge exchanged confident looks before Wedge said, "You'll have around ten minutes. After that, keycard or not, get out of there and rendezvous back at this spot. Be careful in there, Jessie."

After confirming her mission, Biggs and Wedge went off to do their part. They walked in front of the gates causally before shooting their guns in the air, shouting obscenities at the guards. Within seconds, almost a dozen Shinra guards and hounds chased them. Jessie crawled out from her spot in snuck into the lot, no guards in sight.

Using the map, Jessie found the door she needed to go through. Upon entering, she ran down the hallways, warry of any passing soldiers. She needed to take cover a few times, but so far—she hadn't encountered any significant resistance. In just a few minutes, she reached the storage room. The former actress didn't waste any time searching the shelves and tables for one of the key cards.

Where is one? she thought, adrenaline causing her to treble from this tense situation. She kept herself calm, continuing to search before she finally found it. Yes! Now to—

And at that moment, a guard happened to wander in the room, the two meeting eyes for a second.

Then, without thinking, Jessie mirrored his movement by reaching for her gun and pulling the trigger. After a bang that made her ears ring, she watched as the guard crumbled to the ground, squirming around a bit before he stopped moving entirely. Without meaning to, she shot him square in the chest.

"He's… dead…" murmured Jessie, frozen by the act she just committed.

She killed somebody. She didn't have enough time to think about it more as she tried to run away but collapsed in the hallway after a few steps. When she examined the problem, she discovered a bullet wound in her left leg. Jessie always thought getting shot hurt, but she barely felt it up to now. Regardless, she wouldn't be running any time soon.

"What the hell!" yelled another guard who appeared around the corner. His eyes went to Jessie, then to the guard she shot, then back to her. He trained his rifle on Jessie. "You shot my friend!"

Jessie resigned herself to death, knowing she couldn't react in time. In a way, Jessie felt she had it coming since he'd just taken his friend's life. How was him avenging his friend any different than the grudge she held against Shina?

"Jessie!" yelled Wedge, shielding her before she heard two gunshots. The soldier that aimed at Jessie fell to the ground, cursing as he stopped moving. Wedge grabbed his arm, gritting his teeth.

"Wedge!" yelled Jessie. "You're…"

"The bullet just grazed me; I'll be good!"

Biggs appeared soon, kneeling by Jessie while checking her leg. "Shit, we need to get you out of here."

"I'm dead weight now," she said. "Just…go before more guards show up."

"The hell do you think we are?" Biggs lifted Jessie on to his back before he and Wedge ran. "There's no man left behind in this group!"

"Just hang tight," said Wedge. "We got some fellow members holding them back while we get to our secret route outta here. We'll be fine!"

"T-thank you both…." Jessie smiled as both gave her a thumbs up. Oddly enough, she felt at home escaping from Shinra with a bullet wound on her leg. Just a few years ago, she recited Loveless to practice memorization, and now she was officially the public enemy.

Her smile vanished however when her leg began to hurt, causing her to remember what she did. "I…I think I killed someone… He was the friend of that guy you shot, Wedge…"

Both the men stayed silent before Biggs said, "We've all had our first. It's hard…but it'll get better. I know how screwed up that sounds, but…. just the way things must be if we want to help the Planet. Even if the Planet hates us for it, someone's got to do it."

Even if the Planet hates us for it… thought Jessie, repeating Biggs' words.

Jessie rested on Biggs' shoulder as they went wherever her partners had in mind. Now that the adrenaline wore off, she began to feel her injury. She grinned and bared it until they reached some trash cans near the edge of the plate, the slums right below them. Biggs gently let her down before searching the trash can, pulling out two parachutes and a first aid kit.

"Good news," said Biggs examining Jessie's leg. "Bullet only grazed you too and didn't hit any major arteries. Just gotta patch it up and let it heal."

Jessie rubbed her head. "This will be one hell of a story to tell one day…"

After patching Jessie up, Biggs and Wedge put on their parachutes. The former actress didn't mind heights much but felt butterflies as she stood on the rail, strapped to Biggs with the slums far below her.

"Nervous?" said Biggs.

"Nah," said Jessie underplaying it, pumping her fists excitedly. "I feel like a bird up here!"

"Let's hurry and get down soon," said Wedge, patting his belly. "I need to fuel up, plus my cats will get rowdy soon if they don't get dinner."

"Time to fly then," said Biggs. "Ready, Jessie?"

"Roger!"

Jessie shouted like a little girl on a Ferris wheel when they jumped off the rail, the wind pressing against her whole body. She had a complete sensory overload as her form descended towards the Planet. Her body felt like it was still on the rail while her brain struggled to catch up to what's happened. Then, Biggs pulled the cord, springing forth the parachute—their quick dive now a slow descent.

"I know a nice place you can stay," said Biggs. "There's a house where only women stay, and all them aspire to become famous. You'll be like a legend there. Seeing as you'll be sticking around the slums since you're part of Avalanche now, it's something to think about."

"I'm still in even after I screwed up royally and got Wedge shot?"

"Ah, don't worry about," said Wedge. "I've been through a lot worse. Like one time, I had to use the bathroom in the middle of a mission, but a guard caught me which led to—"

Biggs cut in quickly. "What he's trying to say is, don't sweat it. We certainly know the dangers of going out in the field. Even though you didn't get the keycard, all that matters is you had the moxie to do it. You got guts, Jessie."

"I'm just sorry I couldn't get the card…" Jessie made a cheeky grin before she pulled out the keycard she managed to hold to. "Psych!"

Wedge cheered. "Woah, you're pretty good. Barret's going to take a real shine to you."

"That's nothing, I'm good with tech and stuff too. I was making bombs by the time I was ten. I'll be like the team ace!"

Biggs laughed. "Look like we'll be working a lot with each other from now on."

Jessie held out her arms. "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, boys!"

Just for those moments, Jessie let her worries and fears fade away, gliding through the cool night over Midgar with her new friends—more alive than she'd ever been before.

VVV

Before she officially joined Avalanche, there was one last person she had to meet. Jessie returned to Seventh Heaven, happy to see her new friend Tifa again. The bartender congratulated her, accompanied by a cute little girl she hadn't seen the first time. She didn't talk much with Jessie at first, but after she started enchanting her with acting stories—the little girl couldn't get enough of the former actress.

Tifa directed her to their hideout, allowing Jessie to ride down there alone to have a one-on-one conversation with their leader. Their hideout reminded Jessie of her room. Papers laid scattered over the floor, along with the scent of food, some assorted machinery, and a large television. More importantly, the leader of Avalanche sat at the end of a long table. Jessie took in the sight of him, so much to gather just from his appearance. He could probably bench press five of her and had a gun attached to his right arm. Now, this is what she imagined the fearless rebels against Shinra must've been like.

"Jessie Raspberry, right?" he said with a big smile. His voice was heavy; despite his rough appearance, Jessie sensed a certain gentleness. He stood, holding out his large hand. "Barret Wallace, leader of Avalanche!"

"Nice to meet you," she said shaking his hand, making her arm look like a twig.

"You're a smart woman, so I ain't gonna sugarcoat this." His expression got more serious. "I'm sure you know what we're all about here in Avalanche…the risks of fightin' against Shinra with us?"

"Yeah, I know the possibility of death and how I'll be labeled a criminal. I'm sure you know already, but I want to save my father. The only way that's possible is if the mako reactors go down. As I see it, we share a common interest. If you need bombs, a tech person, or anything for that matter—I'm your girl. I just…need to atone for running away and not standing my ground when I felt something was wrong…"

"Can't blame you; I used to be the same way. I used to eat up all the bullshit Shinra would say with a smile on my face. I paid for my ignorance…but I was given another chance with my daughter you saw up there, Marlene."

That was his daughter? thought Jessie, unable to see the resemblance.

"If we let Shinra continue, she won't have a world to grow up in. Shit, no one will. Those bastards in their ivory towers think they can do what they want why we common folk kneel at their feet; I don't think so! The Planet's been cryin' out in pain for too long, and it's time Shinra got theirs!" Barret toned down the intensity, meeting eyes with Jessie. "The boys said you killed someone for the first time."

"Yeah…" she said, gazing at the floor before Barret put a hand on her shoulder.

"I can tell you're another good person who's been lied to all her life. Remember that fury. Remember how you felt when you left behind acting after what happened to your pops. Whenever you doubtin' yourself, you remember… what Shinra took from you."

Jessie clenched her fist, internalizing every word because those were her feelings. She felt Shinra spat on her after all those years of obediently defending them. Now her mother sat at home with a broken heart while her father's soul was stuck somewhere. She'd never run away again.

"I'll crush them no matter what!" she yelled.

Barret smiled. "Damn, I like the spunk! Anything you need from here on out, just let me know. I got ya back from here on out. You ever need help shouldering that hatred or guilt, just let me help. Hell, I'll take on the whole damn thing if you want!" The man with a gun for an arm put on his shades as he said, "Welcome to Avalanche!"

Smiling Jessie said, "Let's kick some Shinra ass!"

VVV

"Wow, so all that happened to you?" said Jessie's mother, the former actress entertaining her with false stories about how she still worked at Gold Saucer.

"I'm serious," said Jessie, sitting at the table with her mom, "it went down like that."

"Well, I must have the world's most courageous daughter."

"Just figuring that out now?"

The mother and daughter laughed, not sharing a moment of levity in quite some time. For weeks now, Jessie went on more dangerous tasks with Avalanche. She had some time off, so she wanted to visit her mom for the first time in a while. They left off on a tense note, so she wanted to clear the air. Jessie feared her mom might catch on to what she's doing since her mom could read her best, but she didn't seem suspicious so far.

"So nice to be back in the neighborhood," said Jessie, gazing out the window while the sun's evening rays shined down. She grabbed her mom's hand. "How have you been doing. You're so…alone here now…"

"I'm doing fine, Jessie. Adjusting has been…difficult, but I've been doing just that." Her mom winked. "Don't forget where you got all that strength from, young lady. It was your father who'd sneak you more snacks after bedtime when you used those puppy-dog eyes. I wasn't fooled, not even once."

"Yeah, I never could get one over you." Jessie giggled before she made a melancholic smile. "Looking back, I never did tell him how much he meant to me enough. I feel like…I took it all for granted, you know? All the hard work he did at the reactor to support us, and the last talk we had was me throwing it all in his face before leaving. Heh…I'm such a bad daughter…"

"That'll be enough of that," said her mother in a stern voice, yet with a compassionate expression. "Your father never stopped caring about you. He knew your anger only meant you loved him. Whenever you'd send a letter, he stopped whatever he did to read it. His face would light when he imagined how hard you worked. Never forget—no matter how famous you become—you'll never have a fan as devoted as your father was."

"Yeah…" murmured Jessie, a lump in her throat. "Listen, Mom, I know you think it's a lost cause…but once the six weeks are up and Shinra takes him off life support…"

"I've already made plans to have him transferred here. I don't know about all that Planet mumbo jumbo…but Rowan hasn't died yet. I'd like to think…maybe he could come back to us one day."

Jessie hugged her mom. "You're the best, Mom. I promise I'll help pay all the bills around here. Just keep Dad safe, please."

"Don't worry about it. Go live your dream and be the best actress you can be. What better way for your father to wake up than maybe showing him a few grandkids, eh?" Her mom laughed when Jessie blushed.

"Ugh, you always know when to catch me off guard."

"Yep, you're always so confident when you're in control. But the moment it slips away, the true Jessie Raspberry appears."

"Not true. Besides, I've made a few guys friends, but nothing romantic. Alas, my knight may never come to sweep me off my feet…" Jessie made an overly dramatic sigh before she stood. "I'd love to stay more, but I got to split, Mom. I got a big audition tomorrow."

"Before you go," said her mom, "staring her straight in the eye. "Tell me, Jessie: are you sure everything is okay? You seemed like a different person when you were barricaded in your room, and now you're normal again as if it never happened. Is there anything you need to tell me…?

Uh oh… thought Jessie, her mother's glance undefeated at getting the truth out of her. She mustered up all her acting willpower and convinced herself of the lies. Then, she said, "Everything is fine, Mom. I'm having a great time at Gold Saucer. You don't have a thing to worry about anything." Jessie smiled, internally praying she didn't give herself away.

"… Okay then," her mom said, fooled. "Just making sure. Good luck, Jessie. Feel free to come home whenever you want; you can even invite your new friends."

"I'll do that." Jessie waved before going to the door. She stopped short of the exit though, turning around with a half-smile. "Seems… I've really become an amazing actress, Mom…"

Before her mother could inquire, she waved one last time before exiting her house. She leaned her back against the door, never wanting to lie to her parents. But her mom absolutely couldn't find out what Jessie did.

"You good?" asked Biggs.

"Yep… thanks for agreeing to come topside with me, guys."

"Man," said Wedge, "that Midgar Special sounded good…" Wedge jumped when Biggs elbowed him. "I mean, no problem, Jessie!"

"Hehe, I'll make you a whole pizza with my mom next time—promise."

"So," said Biggs, "we going back down? Marlene was looking forward to those acting lessons."

Jessie looked off into the distance. "There's just…one more place I have to visit…"

VVV

"Sorry it took me so long to come here," said Jessie, closing the door behind her, sitting next to a hospital bed. "Better late than never though… Dad…"

A slight breeze came from the single window opened as Jessie flicked her hair to the side. She could only look at her father's unconscious form for a few seconds. She hated this. Her Dad was supposed to be awake, smiling and supporting her like he always did. Now, he looked pale and sickly. The moment seemed so surreal; she kept waiting for him to open his eyes and tickle her. But…she knew if Shinra was still around, that couldn't happen.

"I know, I know," said Jessie waving her hand, smiling. "You're probably wondering what took so long for your beloved daughter to come see you. I mean, can you blame me…? Looking at you now is just…" Jesse put a hand over her mouth, gathering herself.

She choked up her next words. "I'm sorry… I should've stood by you and Mom instead of running away. You knew the dangers of working in the mako reactor, but you did it to support the dream your crazy little girl had. I never did thank you enough for that. Back then, all I wanted was to have my name in lights with you and mom watching. Now…all I want…is for you to open your eyes…"

Jessie stared at her father's unmoving face, not so much as a twitch appearing.

Jesse laughed, wiping her eyes. "You definitely wouldn't approve of what I'm doing now. The work I'm into makes yours seem like working at a kitty pool. But it's alright. I'm capable and am willing to do it if it means bringing our family back together. I've got lots of great friends that have my back and understand what I'm doing. So…yeah. I guess…. that's all I have to say. Not much from a talker like me, I know. Let's save that for when you wake up...okay?"

Jessie bent over, kissing her dad on the forehead. "I love you, Dad…"

She took one last painful look at him before readying herself to leave. But as she did, a powerful gust of wind entered the room, making Jessie shield her eyes. Just as quickly as it came, it left. Jessie wiped the hair out of her face, flashing her signature smile.

"Heh, I heard you loud and clear!"

VVV

That all seemed like so long ago… thought Jessie, leaning against a train door. She'd spent the entire ride reminiscing about the events that led her to this point. It was unlike her, but Avalanche had their biggest mission yet tonight. That last memory of her father was about five years ago. In that time, she'd come far in Avalanche—so much so that Barret trusted her with the important task of making the bomb to finally blow one of those accursed mako reactors to hell.

Yes, tonight was finally the bombing mission.

"You look deep in thought," said Wedge. "I still get the pre-mission butterflies too sometimes."

"It's nothing like that. Just…thinking about things."

"You want to tell Barret to call the mission it off now?" said Biggs joking. "He'd toss us off this train if we backed out."

"Hell no, I'm game. Just…thinking about the past. We've all grown up together in Avalanche, going on all those missions. Sometimes, I forget about the young me who wanted to do something that everybody would notice. Assuming things go well, this will be something all of Midgar never forgets" Jessie looked around, noticing someone was missing. "Where's the mercenary guy at?"

Biggs pointed up. "It seems like he wanted to ride a different way. The guy looks like a real loner; I still don't know about trusting someone who use to be in SOLDIER; even with Tifa's blessing, it's a pretty odd situation."

"Wonder what's his story?" Jessie hadn't seen met the former SOLDIER in person yet, but Tifa had nice things to say about him. Someone as strong as that defecting from Shinra caught Jessie's interest. Maybe he saw the evils of Shinra like she did and underwent a journey of self-discovery. "I should introduce myself, hehe."

"Oh, here she goes," said Biggs. "I swear, life's just one big play to you isn't it."

"Prepare yourself, y'all" yelled Barret. "Our stops comin' up soon. Shit's bout' to hit the fan real fast, so get ready. Shinra's time comes tonight!"

Wedge, Biggs, and Jessie all yelled, "Yes, sir!"

Jessie closed her eyes, gathering up all her courage. She didn't want to think of her life as a tragedy, but rather an awakening. She used to turn away from the truth, but now she was driving this train ready to plow headfirst in the chaos. No, she looked at her life in reverence since it led her here, risking her life to save the Planet and her father.

It wasn't the starring role as the Princess, but she gladly embraced her new role as the princess who became public enemy number one—tossing away her dress for a gun and explosives. Ironically, that always suited her more, even when she played around in dangerous junkyards as the young girl with nothing but dreams and fantasies in her head.

All of Midgar—the Planet—would be her stage, and Shinra was the deadly villain to slay at the end.

Whether I live or die… I'll never regret doing what my heart says is right. Even if it means becoming a monster, the Planet—my dad needs me! As Jessie felt the train slow, she beamed widely while readying herself for her definitive performance.

"Look alive, boys!" she yelled. "It's opening night!"


So, this was just a little side project apart from the long-running stories I do—rare considering I've never done a one-shot. I, along with many others, liked this new iteration of Jessie's character—thus me having the motivation to write my version of a backstory/character study of her. A lot of her character is known to just be super flirty with Cloud, which is cute, so I find some of the more well-made nuisances of her character go unnoticed sadly. Of course, when you're measured against legendary characters like Tifa and Aerith, it's hard to land that starring role lol.

And—also here come spoilers for the ending of Final Fantasy VII Remake—at the time of writing this I don't have a clue what her glove on the desk in the ending means. Some people say its proof she's alive, some say she's dead. Personally, from a narrative perspective, it'd make sense if she was because of how much lore and plot points they gave her that hasn't been fully explored or resolved, Biggs surviving in the same situation assuming that's the same timeline and some other things.

Or I could be wrong, and she's gone and even her parents might be considering they lived on top of the Sector Seven plate. Either way, the truth might not come out for some time.

Regardless, I hope we see the character explored more in some form. Maybe if more about he gets revealed, I'd be inspired to do a full-on story.

Thanks for reading!