© 2004 Stratadrake/Draconus of TWZ
(Or, Are We There Yet?)
(Original Draft: 2-11-2004)
After what felt like an hour of climbing through broken railroad tracks, fallen metal spans and other junk, Cloud, Lockheart, and Berett arrived at the top level of Midnight City. Ahead of them lay an almost impossibly large structure, a giant silver-colored building of at least sixty floors high. Displayed prominently above the building's front door, and again halfway up, was the distinctive Rin Sha logo, that broken red diamond with the phrase "Rin Sha" symbolically written out on it. Four armed Rin Sha personnel guarded the entrance.
"Okay, now that we're here, let's take 'em and head on in!" Berett burst out.
"No -- wait!" Lockheart objected, grabbing Berett's tail to try to stop him from just rushing in.
"Why? The door's right there! Let's go in and bust things up!"
"No," Cloud said. "The Rin Sha think we died with Seventh District. That gives us an advantage -- so long as we don't give ourselves away."
"Hmm," Berett huffed, hesitantly agreeing. "Well, what d'ya think we should do then? Cuz it don't look like we're gettin' in without a fight."
"Hold on," Lockheart said, looking to the west wall of the building. "I've got an idea. Follow me!"
Lockheart led them around the side of the building to a what looked like a set of fire-escape stairs. "What do you think? It looks like these lead to the top. With any luck we can sneak up there without letting the Rin Sha on to us."
Berett looked up. "...Umm...."
"Sounds good to me," Cloud agreed with Lockheart. Cloud jumped up and grabbed the bottom ladder of the staircase, and his weight pulled it down to ground level so they could access the stairs. "Let's get going."
Lockheart and Berett climbed up onto the staircase and Cloud took up the rear. The stairs led into a fire-escape shaft, protected from the outside by glass windows. From these windows they could see the Sixth and Eighth Districts, as well as the gaping hole where the upper Seventh District once stood. Half of the power in the adjacent districts was out, probably due to the damage when the Seventh District fell. The Seventh District's refractor had probably been damaged in the process as well, to leave Midnight City with only two-thirds its usual power.
The staircase wound upwards as far as they could see, and even farther beyond that. After about every ten steps there was a landing on the window side, and ten steps more there was another landing, as well as the exit side of a fire-escape door. Around the next bend, a view out the window. And the next, another floor. This, followed by another view out the window and another fire-escape door. And so on, and so on. Lockheart ran ahead first, followed by Cloud and Berett.
"So, how far are we?" Berett asked as the three of them ran past about the fifth window landing.
"Fifth floor," Lockheart answered.
"How tall is this building, anyway?"
"I don't recall," Cloud said. "I never had much business in Rin Sha's HQ. I remember that the executive offices begin on floor sixty, and that security is tight. The rest of the building is used for power, production, other research... everything."
"SIXTY floors?" Berett complained.
"Just keep going," Lockheart said as they past what was probably the seventh floor landing by now.
"At least sixty," Cloud corrected. "I don't know exactly how many floors of executive offices there are."
Around the next bend Cloud spotted Lockheart and Berett catching a breather, looking out the window. "What a great view," Lockheart observed.
"Yeah," Cloud attested. "Especially since there isn't much smog blocking the way. That'll change once we get past a few more floors."
"Isn't that the Fifth District Park down there?" Lockheart asked, pointing out the window to the left at something.
"I think so," Cloud nodded. "The lights are still on...."
"Enough of that," Berett said. "We gotta keep movin'!"
Berett led the way as they continued to climb.
"Fifth District," Berett began. "So Cloud, exactly whut happened to you after the 'xplosion?"
"I remember I couldn't control how I was falling. After that, when I came to I was in a church, and Aeris was tending the flowers there. Then the Lurks showed up. But we escaped from them easily. After that...."
"Enuff," Berett interrupted as they passed yet another window landing, probably the tenth or twelfth by now. Tell me again, why ya wanna climb all these stairs...."
"I don't want to start a ruckus until after we've saved Aeris."
"Really," Berett said, stopping to catch his breath for a moment. "Ya know, maybe I was wrong about you not fightin' for anyone else...."
Lockheart chuckled as she ran on ahead of them. Still there were no numbers or anything on the doors, so it was getting difficult to tell exactly how high they were. One thing was sure though, they must have reached at least twenty floors by now, because looking out the window all they could see of Midnight City were a few lights barely piercing through the City's smog layer.
Berett and Lockheart both stopped for a minute to rest, on another landing as Cloud caught up.
"Hey, Lockheart, do ya think we're there yet?"
"No, not yet," Lockheart answered.
"Man, why do they gotta build these things so damn TALL?"
"I don't know. Why don't you ask them for a change?"
"Oh, shu'up. Them Rin Sha aren't good for a damn thing ya know."
"Could you two keep moving?" Cloud asked, taking a breather himself on the landing below Lockheart and Berett.
"Cloud, you go on ahead!" Lockheart said cheerfully. Cloud shrugged, then led the way upwards before Lockheart and Berett continued to climb.
By now, looking out the windows, not even the brightest light in Midnight City could be visible through the smog. A few more floors higher and they might even be able to see the sun and a blue sky instead of the gray air and dark light that always filled Midnight City's upper atmosphere.
"Lockheart, are we there yet?" Berett asked again.
"No, not yet!" Lockheart answered.
"Y'know," Berett asked, pausing to catch his breath again. "This ain't one of them stairs that goes on FOREVER, is it?"
"Oh, shut up!" Lockheart yelled back.
"Can't be that," Cloud said. "It's a fire escape. There's got to be a top floor to it somewhere...."
"Right," Berett agreed, rounding another landing and continuing upwards.
Cloud stopped a few floors upwards to rest for a moment. "Is that the sun I see out there?"
Lockheart and Berett caught up with him in a few moments. Lockheart looked out the window. "Look how dim it is. If it weren't for the smog...."
"Yeah," Berett huffed. "If it weren't for those damn Rin Sha...."
Cloud nodded. "Let's keep moving. You guys go first; I'll follow."
Berett and Lockheart led the way upwards.
"Yo, what floor is this?" Berett inquired after a few more floors.
"I don't know," Lockheart responded. "I lost track ages ago."
"Are we there yet?"
"Don't even ask!" Lockheart shouted after rounding yet another landing and flight of stairs. "There's still a long long way to go before the top floor. Can we just climb?"
"Oh, that's it!!" Berett shouted, stopping on a landing as Cloud caught up to him. "I don't care who wanted to do this. I'm going back!"
"Are you crazy?" Cloud asked. "It'd take just as long for you to get back down!"
Berett looked over the railing at the endless series of stairs going back down, and steamed silently. Going back down wasn't an option anymore, and they all knew it.
"Come on, Berett," Lockheart said, turning around for the moment and descending from the stairs above. "Don't give up now!"
"Hey...," Berett said. "Don't treat me like some former Stallion or somethin'...."
Lockheart looked up the stairs, down the stairs, and out the window to Midnight City's everpresent layer of smog. "Berett, why don't you go first for a change?"
"What?" Beret objected.
"Yeah! You first! And you too, Cloud!"
Cloud shrugged and then began climbing upwards again. Lockheart nudged Berett forwards, then Berett followed, and Lockheart took up the rear for now.
"Are we there yet?" Cloud asked.
"Oh, not you too!" Lockheart said. "I gave up counting! Who knows?"
"What?" Lockheart asked.
"Oh, nothin'...," Berett responded as they rounded yet another flight in the endless zigzag of stairs. Looking up, Cloud could barely see what something at the top, what they could only hope was a ceiling above the stairs. But there was still much farther to go.
"...Pearline...," Berett muttered, somewhat out of breath. "...Daddy wanted to see your face... one more time... before...."
"Will you stop that?" Lockheart shouted. "That is so annoying! Just climb!"
"Don't worry about it," Cloud said. "We'll make it. It's just a little bit more!"
"Really?" Berett asked back.
"Maybe. I think I see something... way up there."
Berett huffed and shook his head, muttering something along the lines of "only flesh and blood..."
"So, uh...," Berett asked. "Ya got any idea where they're holdin' her?"
"I have No idea," Cloud said. "Most likely, somewhere above the 60th floor. Supposedly they have their most important labs on the top levels; I'd bet Aeris is up there as we speak. I'm sure the President's office is up there too, perhaps at the very top. But aside from that, we'll have to figure things out on the way. We're going in blind."
"Ya really think... we can get in, get Aeris, get the President, and get out without no one's seeing us?"
"I doubt that's possible...," Cloud said. "But we should be able to at least get in, and maybe get Aeris, before anyone notices us... after that...."
"Damn stairs...," Berett cursed. "Sure we can't just go back and blow a way in the front door?"
"It's too late for that now; we're at least halfway up. I think I saw the top some way up there...."
Cloud paused at the next landing, waiting for Berett and Lockheart to catch up. In another minute he saw Berett climbing slowly up, followed closely by Lockheart. "Let's rest a minute...," Berett volunteered as he sat down on the landing.
Cloud peered out the window as Lockheart also sat down to rest. "Wow..., the view from here is amazing...."
"A view of what? Smog?" Berett said.
"Well, yeah," Cloud admitted. "But that's not it. You can't even see the rest of Midnight City from here. I knew this place was tall, but I didn't realize it was this tall...."
"Look, you can almost see the sun shining in...," Lockheart said.
"Yeah. Almost. Too bad we can't see the whole thing," Berett commented.
Lockheart ran ahead to the next landing. "I'll lead the way from here...."
"Hey, Lockheart!" Berett stated. "Wait for us, why don'cha?"
Berett carefully stood back up onto his feet and resumed climbing, and Cloud followed behind.
"Lockheart, I been wonderin'..."
"What now?" Lockheart asked.
"Are we there yet?"
Lockheart huffed and shook her head. "I'm not even going to answer that...."
"Don't give up now," Cloud said, peering upwards. "I think we're almost there...."
In a few more minutes, Cloud caught up to Lockheart, sitting down at the next landing, resting and catching her breath. Berett immediately took the opportunity to sit down and rest as well. Cloud climbed the stairs to their position and realized:
There were no more stairs leading up.
"We made it...," Cloud said as he sat down to rest himself.
"Y, yeah...," Berett exhaled. "I never... Never want to see... No more stairs... Ever... for the rest... of my life...."
"Man, this really takes it out of you," Lockheart said.
"Yeah," Cloud said. "Let's rest a few minutes. We'll need our strength from here."
Together, after such a tiring upwards trek, they rested for about ten minutes. After that Cloud carefully opened the door leading inside. "For Aeris," Cloud said as they entered the building.
Yes, the dialogue for this chapter is indeed based upon the original dialogue from climbing the stairs in Final Fantasy VII. Unfortunately, no one seems to have the transcript for it, so I transcribed that sequence myself.