The Director of the Lifestream Research and Conservation Institute wasn't as weak and sickly as many other men his age, but he wasn't as vigorous as he was in his earlier years, either. A common memory of his harkened back to the time when he was still a powerful fighter, and his experiences on the battlefield were numerous as the grains of sand on a beach. Now, all that was left for him was the occasional match at the arena or holosuite, and this saddened him to no end.
Of course, he had to keep himself busy, for this was the means by which old people stayed happy. After his work in war, he chose to move on to research and science, specifically on the Lifestream that was such a curiosity as the spirit of the planet. Years of study and progression in knowledge and technology garnered him fame and acclaim alike, eventually bringing him to the uppermost position in the corporate hierarchy. By now he was set for life; being a soldier may have been glorious, but it certainly didn't pay for private helicopters and a five-storey mansion.
It wasn't all fame and fortune that compelled him to find ludicrous work on the Lifestream, however. During the war, he had lost one of his dearest friends in a most shocking and unpleasant way, to the effect of his constant grief. Understanding the Lifestream and Gaia to be integral to life, and being inextricably linked to all those who live and die, his ambition was simple, but immortal: To resurrect this friend. And this was to be the last project he would undertake before his much-ballyhooed-about resignation.
So it was that on the fifth year of research and development, he was called in by a subordinate, a certain Rockwell, who was a loyal and hardworking worker by anyone's respect. It was no special day by the Director's count, as to date there had been no breakthroughs of any sort in isolating specific "strings" or "threads" within the Lifestream. He went down from the Executive Tower to the underground labs, which were close to a Lifestream fissure, and in one of the sensor sectors found Rockwell waiting for him.
"Good evening, Mr. Director," Rockwell greeted cordially.
"An equally good evening to you, Doctor Rockwell," the Director replied. "There must be something interesting going on, for you to call me down at this hour."
"Yes, indeed, Director. We've come across something, and I knew that you were quite on the anxious side in this matter as project leader, so I thought to inform you as soon as possible."
"Very good. Now, what is this something?"
"Over here, sir." Rockwell led the much older man to a chair, right before a computer console. He laid his hands on the keyboard and entered command line inputs with blinding speed, and the screen came to life, showing numerous green strings interconnected within a large blue sphere. Most of the strings shimmered lightly, twined around and maybe ended abruptly, but near the center of the sphere, a band of brightly-glowing strings formed in parallel lines, arcing around the curvature of the sphere.
"This is...?" the Director asked.
"A graphical representation of the Lifestream. The sphere is the planet. Each line from the center is a living person, and the long band of strings you see is the stream's internal flow."
"Ah, of course."
"Now, let me cut to the chase. Do you remember the old Mako reactors?"
"Yes, yes, they condensed the Spirit Energy form into Mako, and used its energetic properties to drive turbines."
"Oh, those were the very first reactors, not the ones I'm talking about. I mean the ones that converted Mako directly into electrical energy."
"There were such reactors?" The Director looked genuinely puzzled. "Amazing. What were the conversion processes involved?"
"They involved a certain method of using the Mako radiation to drive electrons in coherent paths. The literature on the method is long-winded and such; I'll be sure to send you a copy of the specifications."
"Noted, thank you. Anyway, where were we?" The Director thought for a moment. "Ah, yes, so what about these reactors?"
"Well, you know how the Mako reactors have banned, due to damage to the Lifestream, so it never occurred to us to use them in the project. However, when the lab in sector 4 lost power a few weeks ago during a critical stage in some external research, someone thought to hoist up one of those ancient beasts to just temporarily power the facility. Now, this lab was situated directly over one of the Lifestream fissures, and their research involved concentrating the flow of the Lifestream through a small aperture, so when they switched the reactor on, they..."
"Yes?" the Director asked.
"They heard voices, coming out through the reactor's energy output socket. White noise, indistinct voices, no one could hear anything being said - but voices nonetheless."
"I see, so the reactor's energy conversion method was somehow channeling the old souls through its output."
"Exactly. This was one of the two breakthroughs, the other being even more significant! We had for a long time believed that souls would be flowing through the Lifestream as contiguous entities - meaning, traveling through the Lifestream as a whole. However, when we observed the death of several lab rats close to a fissure, it was discovered that the souls are fragmented across the Lifestream, but still retain the predicted similarities in wave frequency as per Heartstone's analyses in 4-"
"I understand, so they are scattered throughout the Lifestream. Then?"
"Well, we widened the sensor aperture to include the whole Lifestream, but sensitivity degraded so much over the greater distances, so we daisy-chained all of our global sensor arrays, even the automated ones, and linked all of their sensory data to the central computer. The result was...to say the least, breathtaking."
"How so?" The Director's eyes sparkled with interest.
"Prior to their deaths, we recorded the twine frequencies of the lab rats, and after their deaths input the information into the new sensor network. We dipped the sensor buoys directly into the Lifestream, and we found each one of their soul fragments, all across the world, having traveled at impossible speeds."
"That's not all of it!" Rockwell went on with no end of excitement. "Using the Mako reactors, we were able to attract those soul fragments of particular frequencies to the reaction chamber-"
"Did you-?" the Director interrupted. "Bring them back to life?"
Rockwell looked back in a puzzled fashion at the Director. "Of course not, sir. Your directive stated that we would not perform any attempts at so-called 'resurrection' without your presence."
"Tell me, sir, off the record. You've shown so much interest in this project ever since you started it five years ago, but you've never given us any reason as to why. You yourself have said that all life must end at the right time - why try to cheat death?"
I am not cheating death. Someone...dear to me, died-"
"Sir, you're trying to defeat death here. Why not leave that someone at peace? Wasn't it their time-"
"It was not her time!" the Director bellowed in sudden anger. "She was TAKEN from me! I am not trying to cheat death; death had cheated us, and I want retribution!"
The Director stepped back, his fists clenched, his teeth tensed, but slowly began to unwind himself. His breathing slowed until he at last let out a sigh. All this time, Rockwell was silent, because he had, for the first time, witnessed the Director in a fury of emotion. This was because the Director hadn't released himself like that in years - years that were characterized by peace of mind and a placid exterior, a facade that hid pent-up feelings and suppressed pain. He'd always been a pillar of maintained composure, and now here he was letting loose all the obfuscated anger.
"Forgive me, Dr. Rockwell. I don't know what came over me. I'm sorry; it is just that...the circumstances of my friend's death were painful. Her death wasn't supposed to happen."
"How can you be the judge of that?"
"I can't be. All I know, is that since she died, all I wanted was her back."
"Well, sir," Rockwell shuffled his feet slightly. "All our proven positive until the actual 'resurrection' process. All we need now is a sample...in your case, a sample of your friend. Do you have one?"
The Director closed his eyes, and reached into his coat. Inside was a small, vacuum-sealed pouch, containing a lock of brunette hair. He held it close to him for what seemed like forever but was actually only a few seconds, and reluctantly gave it to Rockwell. "You say that the sample frequencies came from live rats. How will you take them from a lock of hair of someone who is long dead?"
"That's easy," Rockwell said. "Original physical fragments are magnetized to their soul fragments." He went over to a computer console, punched a few commands in, and waited.
There was a massive sound, like hydraulics and actuators being activated. At first, when the blinding green light splashed into the room, the Director had thought that Rockwell had turned on some kind of powerful light source. When his eyes adjusted to the light, however, he saw something even more profoundly dramatic:
"The Lifestream!" He walked over to the immense, transparent pipe through which the Lifestream was being channeled by powerful technological processes, and reached out for its side. He knelt before the gushing glory of the river of light, composed of endless rivulets of green streams that represented life and death. "What are you going to do?"
Rockwell walked over to a small hatch on the pipe, and opened it. He now had direct access to the glowing stream. At this point, the Director noticed that Rockwell had a burn on his hand. "Dr. Rockwell - that burn?"
"It's old, I've had it for years." He then proceeded to take the lock of hair out of the vacuum pack, and taking it into his hand, he plunged it into the Lifestream for just a moment, before pulling his hand out. The lock of hair now danced with little green particles, like fireflies fluttering about a bush. At the same time, Rockwell's burn had disappeared. He, taking note of the Director's shocked expression, explained. "The regenerative properties of the Lifestream were never myths. Only the places from which the Lifestream supposedly came were myths."
"I see..." the Director said. "What about the hair?"
"It is now loaded with pieces of your friend." He placed it into a small chamber, over which a large instrument stood six meters tall. With a whirring sound it came to life, and after a few seconds gave its output to the computer, in the form of a frequency analysis. The frequencies were sent to the sensor array, which isolated them from the entire Lifestream, and-
"Candidate signal! She's here!" the Director exclaimed at a computer console, feeling truly happy and excited for the first time in years. "Over eighty thousand fragments, but it represents all of her!"
"Routing frequency matches to the reaction chamber. Director, go to the observation window in the chamber."
The Director walked over to the old but functional Mako Reactor, which was by now burning yet again with the energy of the Lifestream. He entered a room within it which was intended for observers to witness the spectacle of the stream being converted to energy, and there he saw hundreds of tiny little strings forming an almost distinguishable silhouette of a naked woman. "Oh my-"
"It's happening!" Rockwell said. "We're getting a stable signal! Director, you may enter the reaction chamber, there are no longer any dangerous energy outbursts!"
The Director rushed in towards the chamber, and stood over the image being formed by the little green strings, now becoming more and more distinct until a ghostly image began to form over the silhouette - skin color, legs, hands - face.
Director," Rockwell said over the loudspeaker in the chamber. "The reaction is almost complete. Give it a few seconds-"
Rockwell had said "Now!" but the Director didn't need to hear that confirmed for him. The little strands of light had at last ceased, and lying down before him was a young woman with brown hair and green eyes. She opened those emerald eyes of hers, and saw the Director for the first time. There was recognition in her eyes - despite the wrinkles of age and stress, and the lightly graying hair, the face of the Director was not new to her. It was the same, softly feminine face that she had known until her death.
"Cloud," she said, reaching out for him.
"Aerith," the Director, who was indeed named Cloud Strife, replied.
"Why am I...here?" she said weakly.
"I brought you back, and you're staying back."
Meanwhile, outside the reactor, Rockwell looked in horror as the Lifestream began surging with impossible intensity into the input matrix of the Mako Reactor. He frantically turned to sensor readouts and such, and discovered that the whole Lifestream was moving towards the reactor. Only one similar instance of this had occurred - during the Meteor strike, wherein the entire Lifestream was used by the planet as a weapon. What was happening now?
"Director!" Rockwell shouted into his microphone, for him to hear over the speaker. "The Lifestream is agitated! You must leave the chamber!" Then he turned back to the readouts within the reaction chamber and discovered that the streams of the woman they 'resurrected' were being attracted back to the Lifestream. "No," he said in despair. "It was never meant to be."
Unfortunately, the Director was far too deeply immersed in his joy, and was deafened by the loud sound of the gushing Lifestream, to hear Rockwell's voice.
"I'm not supposed to be here," Aerith said. "It's calling me back."
"What? What's calling you back?" Cloud asked of her. "It's all right. You were taken, and you're returned."
"It wasn't your time when you died.
"It's always someone's time when they die," she said softly. Then Cloud saw the same green lines forming around her again, and knew what she meant by "It's calling me back."
"No. No, no!" he yelled as Aerith was suddenly illuminated by the Lifestream, which had burst through the output socket in the reaction chamber. She was lifted into the air, and her body began to dematerialize again, to be lost once more. But Cloud would not accept this - he had lost her once and never again; he reached out for her hand. "Don't leave me. Not again."
She smiled down at him. "Come with me." She bent down and took his hand, and suddenly the little strings of light were flowing into him also, taking him into the air with her. Cloud looked down as he ascended with Aerith, the lights that bound them glowing ever brighter, and looked at her once more. They smiled at each other, united once again, before in a glorious flash of light, the strings receded through the output socket and vanished forever.
When Rockwell burst into the reaction chamber, he found it empty, save that of the body of the Director. Rockwell examined the body, and it was clearly dead, but strangely enough, there on his face was a content smile, full of happiness that transcended death.