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CHAPTER 5
The Third Test.


Three weeks it had taken Cloud to break through his rage and every night he’d heard the voice telling him to release his past. While thinking on it, it usually meant remembering the bullying he had been victim to, which got him angry and added to his rage.

He sighed as he sat alone one day while the barracks were empty, he began to rifle through his personal possessions to find the pants he’d had on when he got here. In the back pocket was a small charm-possibly off a bracelet. Then it hit him, he’d already gotten one of them, it was one of the charms that Tifa had worn on her wrist when she’d-.

Cloud shook the memory away and reached into his duffel bag. Inside was another-obviously more tarnished. He held the two in his hands, a carving of a Chocobo and a small charm of the symbol of the Nibel Mountains.

Why had she given it him?

“Mail call!”

Cloud looked up to see a man in a Shinra-issue mail suit walking through the barracks, pulling the correct letters out of his bag at each bed.

“Oh…you the only one here, Strife?”

Cloud nodded, pocketing the charms. “Want me to take anything?”

“Well…lucky for you there’s a couple of letters here for you.” The man said, “I can’t give you any of the others y’know.”

Clouds face was a picture of puzzlement when he was handed two letters. One from his mom and the other…he just didn’t believe it. Staring at the letter with the swirly lettering in his name…it couldn’t be.

He opened his mothers first.

Dear Cloud.
I saw you in the papers recently, I can’t believe you have made it so far. I’m so proud of you. How’s the big city…I hope you have good friends there, remember that I’ll always love you.


Mom.

Cloud smiled and closed the letter, placing it into his trunk. Then he turned to the other and he hesitated. Could it be from Tifa…or just some sort of jibe from one of the others from town?

He opened it carefully and unfolded the letter.

       Dear Cloud
Hi, how have you been since getting to Midgar? I saw your name in the paper recently and was so proud, second stage of training.
Nothing much has happened here, a lot of the boys have left for Midgar, Johnny’s there, you should look him up, I think he’s on the lower plate, a Materia Shop so I heard.
I guess you’re too busy to send any letters right now, but I need you to know that there’s at least one person thinking of you here…
Good luck at the next test and kick some ass for me.

Tifa.


He was in such shock that he didn’t hear Zack approach, he only realized when he felt the letter snatched out of his hand and Zack sit opposite him. After a moment, Zack turned and smiled at Cloud, he whistled lowly. “That is a question…why the hell didn’t you send any letters?”

Cloud shrugged. “I never thought of it. Should I?”

Zack smacked Cloud over the head. “Well, I don’t know, how about…YEAH!” He pointed at the letter and the bottom corner. “There…that means KISS! She…she’s the one ain’t she.”

Cloud blushed and gripped the letter, folding it and tucking it away. “What’s it matter whether she is or not?”

“Is she hot?” Zack asked.

Blushing seemed to become normal for a moment and Cloud got up.

“She is isn’t she!” Zack grinned. “How hot…smokin’?”

“SHUT UP!” Cloud yelled. “Jesus…I don’t-.”

“Oh yeah, she’s smokin’ alright.” By this time Cloud knew that whatever he said would end up as a jibe back at him.

He sat down and looked at Zack. “Her name’s Tifa…she’s just under a year younger than me…tall, thin…” He smiled at the image forming in his mind. “Last I saw her she was wearing a long blue dress and had short cut dark hair…she has a nice smile, beautiful eyes…”

“Jesus mate…you really are into her.” Zack said. “We gotta go to Nibelheim one day and you gotta show me this dream girl of yours.”

Cloud shook his head and turned away. “I don’t think I’ll be going back.”

Zack pulled him around “Why?”

“Why should I…” Cloud muttered. “If I make it into SOLDIER I won’ t be able to go where I want, will I? And besides…by the time we’re done here and we are in SOLDIER…she’ll have settled down with someone from home and I don’t want to see her like that.”

Zack shook his head and shrugged at Cloud. “You let her go and she’s bound to end up with someone else…send her a letter, it’ll take a while but she’ll get it eventually and when she does…hook in the gob, she’s yours.”

Two hours later, Cloud had finished his letter, posted it and started out training again. The feeling of trying to prove himself to Tifa-he was doing this for her after all-and to think she’d forget him…well it hurt.

He was just heading to the barracks when he saw a group of cadets rushing towards a cabin with a television set in their arms. Zack was among them and he’d seen Cloud.

“Cloud hurry up man! There’s terrorist activity in Junon!”

Cloud picked up speed, he’d heard of the group of rebels who were opposing the Shinra. Apparently they were sending wild lies out, saying that they were hurting the planet and such, with all the common convenience that Mako power gave the people of the world. These people just wanted the power that Shinra had.

He entered the cabin and found the whole group of cadets gathered around the small black and white tv. On the screen was the President himself.

“People of Midgar, I have unfortunate news…the city of Junon has been hit by the terrorist group, Avalanche. They sent confirmation of their activities again today, it saddens me to inform you all that over five-hundred Shinra workers on the great ‘Eastern Cannon’ project have been killed in a bomb explosion at a processing plant. Rest assured that we at the Shinra are working tirelessly to counter this attack on the freedom of the world.”

The newsreel started over again and the group disbanded.

“Can’t believe those bastards!” one boy said. “I mean, yeah we’re at war but shit…they aren’t in the Wutai…the last I heard they’d attacked Wutai for trying to build a Mako Reactor for their fighters!”

Cloud shrugged. “Yeah, I know…I was on the continental transport when they attacked the first Mount Condor Reactor project. I saw the plume from half the way to the dock. But what can we do…we’re only cadets.”

“Well I don’t care.” Another said. “My dad works on the Cannon project…if he’s dead, fuck this…I’ll hunt them down myself!”

“You’d give up SOLDIER to avenge your father?” Another said. “Really…I didn’t think anyone who’s made it this far would do that.”

Cloud sat back on his bunk, looking up at the roof of the cabin. War, terrorists…sometimes he thought that it would be peaceful for Tifa and the others in Nibelheim, so far away from all sorts of fighting, where things were peaceful. Or supposed to be.

That night no one really slept a lot, the idea of a terrorist attack on Junon had been thought impossible, but then this…what was to stop them from hitting Midgar, the SOLDIER barracks. Anywhere?

Cloud’s eyes opened with the first glimmer of the sun and he found that most of the cabin also awoke around the same time. They all dressed in a sort of tired silence and were trudging out for a morning of laps and weight lifting, Zack stopped them at the bulletin board.

Physical Training Second Phase 08:00 hr’s Auditorium C.

Fighting Skill testing to take place this morning, prepare yourselves for full style combat against the new Science-Tech divisions creations.


“Mecha soldiers?” Cloud muttered. “They gotta be joking?”

“Nah…Cloud’s right.” Jerikson said. “Robot soldiers…why would they think of that…?”

“Probably to stop us killing each other.” Another boy said. “Ah well, I’m getting over there.”

The group agreed with him and followed, once at the auditorium Cloud saw that everything bar a small glass case in the far corner had been stripped from the place, all window glass had been removed. And set around the room at different intervals-apparently only for Clouds Barracks and two others-were groupings of the mecha soldiers, all in a dormant state. On the back of the wall were all their style of sword in full metal and almost obviously a real weighted sword.

Cloud followed Zack and they hefted their weapons off the wall, it was a little heavier than he was used to but he adjusted his stance and readied himself.

Two hours later, the majority of those sent to Auditorium C had arrived and the staff entered, the soldiers took places around the side of the hall-neither Sephiroth nor Angeal were there and Genesis hadn’t been seen at a gathering like this in years.

A nasty looking colonel walked to the centre of the room. He lifted a clipboard and looked around the room. “Welcome to your second testing area…as you know by now, this is going to be a real fight and you will be hurt by this…points for passing is eighty-seven percent or over. Scoring will be how long you last against your mecha soldier. I’ll now call out your names from the listings of your previous ranking, in reverse order.”

Cloud and Zack watched as the cadets went up against the mecha soldiers and the less talented ones were defeated in fractions of seconds to each other.

“Right…second place of surviving Cadets here is C. Strife…step forwards boy.”

Cloud gave a smile at Zack and got a pat on the back for his encouragement. The thing before him was a towering and hulking mass of metal, barely shaped to resemble humans with what looked like tank tracks for feet. A huge machine gun was on its left arm and what looked like a laser cannon on the right arm.

“Prepare yourself.” The colonel called. “Begin!”

Cloud jumped back on his hands, somersaulting from the ‘ratta-tatta’ of the machine gun before spinning his sword in front of him. He waited as the gun fired at him, allowing for the full three thousand clip to empty before jumping up, slamming his sword into the head of the monster and dragging it down through the back before jumping away from the explosive concussion that created a fireball in the room.

Cloud rolled to a stop and found himself facing the colonel. He was looking down at Cloud with a stern face.

“Survive Strife!” He barked. “Not destroy a twenty-thousand Gil piece of Shinra Machinery!”

“So you’d have liked me to stand and be injured?!” Cloud snapped. “I did what I was supposed to…survive…just because I did it in destroying a robot, you want to punish me.”

“Strife!”

“He is very correct.”

The whole group turned and Cloud’s mouth opened. Stood there was a large and full bodied man in a red suit, his short cropped blond hair and beard hiding his middle-years. What the hell was President Shinra doing here…and now for such a minimal and press free occasion?

“Sir…he cost the comp-.”

“The rules were to survive, the best to do that was to kill your enemy.” He said. “A mere twenty-thousand Gil is little compared to the estimates made on this test.”

He turned. “Colonel Richards, follow me.”

With the colonel gone, a SOLDIER stepped forwards, ordered Cloud off the field and told Zack to start his exam.

Zack was quicker than Cloud, avoiding the bullets by jumping around them, slicing at the power cables before ramming his sword straight through the thing.
                                                           **
The exam was over with, Cloud and Zack were among the top ten of the one-hundred and fifty surviving cadets. The training regime had intensified ten fold and Cloud was now constantly working with the sword-full weighted-in movements and combat training, every day a SOLDIER would take groups of ten out to the plains around Midgar and force them to face the ‘monsters’ there.

Cloud stretched after returning one evening, Zack had been taken out earlier in the day and he was now reading in depth a book on world history.

“Why are you…?”

Zack pointed to the bulletin board, when Cloud read he looked around, everyone was reading a book on history.

History exam Wednesday. Fifty Percent pass rate, three strike method in effect.

Cloud quickly rushed to his bunk, flipped on his light and started reading. By midnight he’d read the book all the way through and by four a.m.-when he settled down for the night-he’d read it through three more times. The next morning he spent the whole day reading and trying to learn as much as he could, most of the cadets were doing the same thing but as they-including Cloud-headed out to read in other area’s to better enjoy the sunlight.

By the end of Tuesday, Cloud had heard-and commented on-more moans about history than he’d ever heard, not that he hadn’t agreed with each and every one of them.

On Wednesday, he awoke early and headed out in his olive school uniform for the exam. The Exam room was a closed off white room filled with the usual hard desks of the Shinra schooling facilities. No decorative images of the Shinra lined the walls here, only a large clock and a blackboard with the start and end times. As Cloud sat down for the exam, he felt nervous-hell, at all exams he felt nervous-but he wasn’t that worried.

Five hours later, Cloud walked out with the rest of the program. Most looked ashen-faced, as the results wouldn’t be posted until a week later. Cloud himself felt slightly confident, he was sure that he’d known most of the questions. Well, pretty sure.

But of course, there were still things to work the mind.

Later that day, everything went back to normal and Cloud was running laps and lifting weights more than he had thought possible.
                                                        **
“Well, his test scores haven’t changed.”

A man in a white lab coat walked over to the large oaken table and placed a file folder down on it. “I recommend that certain precautions are taken in dealing with him. He is somehow different.”

The President sighed, things were getting more complicated. “Hojo, how the hell do we deal with something like him…I mean, you didn’t continue your experiments there did you?”

Hojo smiled and pushed his glasses up. “I won’t deny that there are certain areas that I think produce remarkable people. Ifalna always said she felt ‘closer to the planet’ there than most other places in the world.”

“We all know about Ifalna.” The President muttered. “But…do you really think that he may pave the way for future generations?”

“I need physical data…but I do recommend that we handle him with kid gloves. He is a violent person and if pushed, he’ll blow straight forwards, taking out anything in his way.” Hojo said.

“Well…that is interesting. Dekern, how is your information on Sephiroth coming along?” The President asked.

“Difficult to say, with the Wutai falling back further…well he’s been deployed to the front lines to push the advantage again and again as you wanted. I believe you said ‘as far away from the public as possible’.” He said. “I see little of him in the cities…he merely walks where he wants, watching people-but as a warrior it’s a part of who he is, isn’t it?”

The president nodded again. “Strange, not too long ago, he was a token warrior. Followed all orders and never questioned. Are you sure he is working to destabilize me?”

“He has been seen reading more on the Ancients.” Hojo said. “I believe that he is doing something subversive…”

And the President moved just as Hojo wanted, he smiled and gave a wry chuckle to himself. The next day he was moving to Junon and towards his next plan, laughing openly on the truck, he leaned back and took his glasses off. Yes, soon he would begin the plans, very soon…
                                                             **
Cloud sat, looking at his test results. Failed…how the hell could he have failed?

Zack was looking down at him with a look of concern on his face. “Hay, there’s still two more tests. Ace one, you’re clean and free.”

“I was sure I had it in the bank, though.” Cloud said. “I mean come on…I’m not the greatest warrior here, but I was the tenth highest in the continental tests last year. How the hell did I fail?”

“You were in the highest in the continent tests?” Zack asked. “And that’s out of Cosmo too, right?”

Cloud nodded. “Yeah…Dammit!!” He screwed up the paper and threw it away before lying back on his bunk.
And here's Chapter 5. Again, this is more building work, the real story happening behind the scene's with the brass of Shinra plotting and schemeing.
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