Darkness on the Edge of Midgar

Wrapping Up Our Visit

Lord, I love breakfast! It was impressed on me from infancy that breakfast was too important to miss. In my parents' house, we could count on that one meal to always be bountiful and delicious. Even in my teens, when I was expected to haul myself out of bed before dawn to catch the public transit to the Academy, I dutifully rose even earlier and headed straight for the kitchen.

Eating breakfast has a
lways been good for my love life, too. It's funny how gluttony gave me an "in" with most men; while women usually worry about their weight, men simply love to eat. Guess they just knew what I knew: without the stomach's input, the heart couldn't pump!

My Dad used to tell me I ate like a bird: three times my weight daily, starting at first light. Even today, I have to agree. There are so many breakfasts that I know how to prepare; I am never at a loss to make it anywhere on the Planet, with anyone's local crops or game.

And so, Aika's kitchen felt like my own special Midheaven, full of food, men and good conversation, properly coordinated with liberal amounts of distilled spirits and strict regimentation. She ran the place like an officer's mess: well-prepared dishes and plenty of them,
semi-casual seating and, finally, everyone out to work or whatever, as soon as the plates were empty.

Naturally, we couldn't help but protest when, all too soon, the breakfast was done and it was time to continue to our respective business: a full day of ranching for them and the open road for us. Accordingly, I gathered up my kit and turned to Aika and Duane. I intended to mouth a simple thank you/good bye but came to an abrupt stop. Cyan's message was never delivered!

"Fini! What's wrong?" Aika laid a hand on my arm and tried to make me take a seat.

I demurred, feeling a little like a drama queen caught in her own histrionics. "No, I'm fine. It's just that I nearly forgot to tell you. You have to contact Sebastian: he's very happy now in Nibelheim. He
has a lovely woman at his side, and the two of them are expecting a baby!

"I'm so sorry I forgot, but what with the rustlers and the arrival of Vincent here..."
He raised an eyebrow in my direction that frankly said "Don't pin this one on me!"

As usual, my hormones got the best of me, making me forget any competing business, until well after the fun was done. A night of romance nearly cost our hosts some very important information. My face flushed warm.

While I was searching for more words to pile on my apologies, Aika held up a small note in Sebastian's writing, suspiciously similar to the map and directions he gave me.

"Fini, we have Sebby's note from the box of irradiant chitons. We already know; we just haven't gotten
around to contacting him. 'What with the rustlers and all,' as you say. Middle of the morning should be an excellent time to call."

Aika flashed a huge smile at me, and then at Duane, and begged to take her leave. She picked up her personal device and searched for Sebastian's code. In no time at all, she was chattering at her uniformed son, and giving him a real earful.

"Sebby, I hear we're going to be grandparents! We haven't even met your girl. When are you coming back to Junon? When is the baby's due date? Can you put our new daughter-in-law on to talk with us? You must bring her here to visit soon! You look good, but maybe a little skinny. Aren't you eating well? You'd better be feeding our expectant mommy!" She wasn't going to give Sebastian a word in edgewise.

Duane and R
ocky eyed each other and grinned conspiratorially. Things were returning to normal; all was right again in their world. At that, Vincent took my arm, and waving his claw at the men, led me out the door, back into the late morning sunshine.

"Nice closure, Josephine. We leave them on a high note."

"I forgot all about it. What they must think of me!" What was wrong with my memory? Too many plans, too many details, too many new faces, too little time. I was about to appeal to Vincent for some sort of suggestion or solace, but he was already at the gate of the corral, where he let out a piercing whistle. Glitter was at his side in an instant; it was time to ride. He helped me mount, muttering almost to himself, while keeping an eye turned to the A frame.

"Josephine, forget about it. They've already forgotten us. Let's hope they remember to call if there's trou
ble." He looked a little doubtful; with us gone, the Cyan ranch became even more vulnerable than before.

I nodded agreement. "And let's just hope we are close enough to help if they need it. Telecommunications are no substitute for extra weapons and people who can use them. The Cyans have already been run through the wringer once by rustlers; a successful raid could shut down their ranch entirely." We decided to keep our phones on our persons, and cranked up the volume on their signals.

Glitter t
ook us quickly over the central mountains, right up past Sleeper's Cave. We did not visit the man who lived there, as we often did during our quest. He had been a fount of data when we needed it on the way to the Northern Crater, but that day would have only delayed our trip. Like most hermits, the sleeper would visit just long enough to pass on cryptic information. He would then ignore us, returning to his pastime, which seemed to be cultivating a prodigious capacity for slumber. Our bird had never been to the cave and pressed upward at full speed, only slowing as we crested the ridge. There we stopped to look over Midgar, stretching out in the distance and still visibly battered.

Even in the bright midday sun, the city appeared as a huge dark stain on the northeastern plains, ringed by wasteland in an otherwise verdant landscape. One could pick out damaged sky scrapers and not a few flattened neighborhoods. Meteor had not fallen, but its proximity had created several memorably destructive tornados.

The Lifestream had stopped the ultimate attack intended by Sephiroth, but did nothing to prevent the devastation caused by battling gravitational fields. I remembered the beautiful phosphorescent mists, shooting directly up the many funnel clouds that were visibly full of swirling debris, to completely envelope the monster. Our Planet was safe once more, but the city and people were left in a terrible mess.

Our friend Reeve Tuesti, Midgar's architect and top level Shinra manager, had not permitted me to move there immediately after the disaster. He was afraid of roving bands of lawless survivors. Seeing the damage made me very glad that my sons and daughters were kept safe through it all. As it stood, it probably wouldn't be necessary to venture into the city. My parents had harbored the girls when my ex-husband found a new woman. And Reeve had seen to the safety of my other children.


I pointed to a cluster of streets, parks and buildings just Southeast of the city, directly below us. We were close enough to make out separate neighborhoods and even individual houses. In fact, I could see my parent's place, closest to the mountainside, yet set slightly apart from the others and lit by the sun high over our heads. Decades earlier, the new home had been built far off by itself, a lone, expansive spread with an impressive view of the city being built. Unfortunately, the distant neighborhoods had grown in closer with time.

Not all city folk enjoyed Midgar year-round; Mum and Dad loathed it in any season, distastefully calling it the company town. They did not trust Shinra Incorporated, and seemed personally affronted when I had announced my intention to join its workforce, several years ago. It would seem they were right in the end, but then they were furious at me, disowning the daughter that joined Avalanche to fight the corporate titan.

"Vincent, see the compound set among the trees in the foothills? My parents live in that community. I can easily walk from here." At that, I dismounted and gathered my things.

He grunted; his disapproval evident. "Josephine, let me accompany you at least to the outskirts of their hamlet. Then if they reject you again, you can come with me to ChocoBill's Ranch. You will need backup if they greet you with that semi-automatic." The same rifle they aimed in his face when he was looking for me in the city, months and months ago.

"Nice try, my darling. You are a sweetheart to care, but this is my show, and I have all the advantage. If my parents toss me on my butt again, then I may have to camp out on their doorstep. I go nowhere until I can see my girls. You have to meet with Billy, anyway, don't you?"

He nodded and sighed. "You are so stubborn that I do not doubt you will outlast them. Go give it your best. You have a communicator; call if you need me." He kissed and hugged me, then left me facing my parent's neighborhood at the bottom of the hill.

He made a fine figure, sitting tall in black and red, his hair flowing behind as he rode our steed of shining gold. Glitter took him completely from my sight in less than five seconds. I braced myself for the upcoming encounter with my parents, mulling over how life had played some truly capricious tricks on me.

The Homestead

Identical twins run in both sides of my daughters' family tree, with twin uncles and great-grandparents. Millicent and Trinidad are mirror-twins; that is, for example, they each have a beauty mark above their upper lip, same as mine, only Millie's is on the right side and Trini's is on the left. Or is it the other way around?

Can't always remember, but I intended to double check my facts soon against the originals.

My parents home in Foothills, southeast of Midgar, was situated almost exactly opposite from Kalm in the Northwest, where my older brothers and I were born. We later took a place near the center of Midgar; a compact condominium that allowed us to attend the newly-built schools.

My husband and I eventually took part ownership of it, time-share style, and raised our daughters in the same tradition. The folks had begun to retire to their little town shortly after we married, while the younger kids were still with them. Their new home was spacious and had plenty of land; they hoped to entice us to build nearby. My ex preferred to commission a small vacation cottage near the coast just northwest of Kalm.

The younger siblings responded to their offer, instead, absolving him of the unwanted responsibility of watching over my parents year round.

When I had first visited my folks, it was in the high rise in the center of Midgar. My father had welcomed me with joyous excitement, relieved to see me among the living, then disowned me for associating with terrorists. Unknown to me, my daughters were with them, were in fact inside their home while I stood in the lobby.

We had rarely visited my family during my marriage; my husband did not really enjoy their company. The girls later echoed his sentiment and largely ignored their maternal grandparents. And so I was surprised to learn from Vincent that my Mum and Dad were guarding my twins after their father found a new partner. The girls did not approve of his new happily-ever-after; both of us come from long (previously uninterrupted!) lines of unbreakable marriages. We set the unhappy precedent, not through divorce, but as a result of Hojo's experimentation and amoral acquisition of me as a test subject. A faked "fatal" fire in the laboratories left my first love a very eligible bachelor with an excellent settlement from Shinra. My ex-husband had not lasted long as a widower before he was snapped up by a much younger coworker-in-waiting.

While the city looked peaceful enough, I did not aim for the condominium in upper Midgar. The majority of citizens had evacuated the city, or at least its exposed levels, at the urging of Reeve Tuesti, to escape the inevitable disaster. No doubt my parents could easily pick up and transplant outside the borders, for a front-row seat of the impending catastrophe.

The Lindorms would surely have remained at their homestead in Foothills, and their house. The facade looked cheery in the warmth of the autumn sun. The hills were a welcome relief from the mugginess I found around Junon, and the dry dustiness of the woods.
My parents took some time answering the door, no doubt checking through the side windows before opening for me. Dad looked shrunken and Mum appeared even smaller; both seemed somewhat feeble.

The old man spoke first. "What do you want, Josephine?"

"What kind of greeting is that for your daughter? I'm still a pariah? Well, sir, even a pariah wants to know and visit with her family. Shall I leave and face the cold, cruel world alone?" May as well keep it light at first. My father ignored the sarcasm.

"No. You are welcome here." He opened the door to admit me, but I remained on the stoop. If I entered, I would be their daughter, and we needed to keep ourselves on equal footing. After all, I was there on business.

"Actually, I'm looking for Millie and Trini. Are they here?" Dad looked confused and Mum was watching him, very unhappy.

"Your father threw them out." She began to say more, but Dad silenced her with a quick look.

"Seems to be a lot of that going around with you two." I regretted saying it, but I still hurt from their rejection, back when I really could have used their support. "What did they do, join some terrorists?" Now it was Dad's turn to look hurt and sad.

"Your daughters left to join their boyfriends. We don't approve of their lifestyles, but we are still friendly."

"You don't approve of a lot of things. Am I allowed to know where I might find them?" Now he looked defiant.

"If we don't tell, will you send your goons to threaten us again?" He looked so angry, but his hostile pose was defanged by decline and loss. I felt sorry for him. They were obviously alone in the house, two aging people living in sight of the ruined city.

"That was just Vincent, looking for me, and he never threatened you. I had gone missing and he was worried." Actually I had hoped they would tell me more about their meeting, but Dad always played his cards close to the vest. Like someone else I know.

"And Vincent is...?"

"My husband." It slipped out; I hadn't meant to call him that, but I wouldn't correct it. It felt good to spite them, even in such a tiny way. Then my father just about broke my heart, and I had to remind myself that they didn't just lose a daughter. They also lost a son-in-law. Not their dearest family member, but theirs just the same.

"Your second husband. We figured you wouldn't remain alone for long. Your ex has a new baby boy with that gold-digging underling. It's strange to keep reminding ourselves that he is not our grandson. We miss you both, you know. We don't get along as well as we'd like with the twins. And your siblings are busy helping to rebuild Midgar. We rarely see family out here." My Mum began to drip tears, so I impulsively grabbed her into a quick embrace. Dad reached out and we made it a group hug. I, too, started to mist over; then I remembered another detail.

"Mum, Dad, you are grandparents again. We have a little girl in Nibelheim." They both pulled back, astounded, their mouths open. I spoke before they could.

"Yeah, I know; it's impossible, but the experiments in Professor Hojo's Jenova Project undid my infertility. It's hard to explain, but he used me as a lab rat, after he had me killed, in quotation marks, so to speak. In fact, you have twin grandsons, too. Just can't see them, any more than I can." At that, I realized there was way too much to tell, and no energy left to discuss it. How does one go about explaining to her parents that their daughter is a Jenova mutant?

"Mum, Dad, we can reconnect later. I am trying to rearrange my life, and once I do, we can meet again and take it slow." Dad stopped me, looking sad again.

"Your girls live not far from here, pretty close to the city. There is a small town growing on the closest edge of Midgar. They just call it Edge.

"We are still not thrilled with your associates, Little Lady. And your daughters are following in your footsteps. They insist the boys are there to protect them."

"They'd better, or I will take care of them, personally. That's a promise." I could feel my face harden as I spoke, and Mum began to look worried. "Relax, you two. Right now there is nothing but time. Let me find the girls, and we can talk later, even if it's only on the phone. Life is too short for you to cut off everyone who loves you." Then I stopped, because it felt like I was preaching, and that was not acceptable behavior for a daughter. At least I was not the only one left unhappy by the separation. Dad interrupted my musing.

“We can’t phone anyone. The landlines were cut when Diamond Weapon fired on the city.” He almost looked helpless, and I came back impatiently.

“Well, what about wireless personal devices? No other receiver anywhere in this place?” Now I couldn’t help but sound like the instructor. “The Network is still there and beginning to thrive again, only this time through people power. Get over your dislike of technology! Here, you’ll have to take mine. No, I can pick up another; money I’ve got. Connections to you both are much more important. I’ll call and we can transfer the data files when I re-equip. Any idea of a good starting point?”

At that, my Dad looked much happier. "Your girls have a restaurant they visit often, or maybe they work there sometimes. El Francisco. Check there; their boyfriends (he said the word with distaste) work the place with their family. A pair of brothers, though not twins." He smiled, enjoying the joke life was playing with the continuity of his descendants' lines.

"You seem to know a lot about them for being estranged." I was smiling, too. Had the old man softened in the last few years?

"We keep tabs on everyone. As you said yourself: life is too short." And then they were relaxed and chuckling. We exchanged a few more noises about how we would catch up on all the latest after I saw the girls. One last round of hugs, and I left without looking back.

Business awaited me in Edge.

The Meeting at El Francisco

What the hell? I stood in the square and said the words right out loud. Why in the name of Holy would anyone be building a statue to commemorate Meteor? There they were, several workmen busily putting in the massive base that would support a huge structure. A large, painted sign ringed the working area and partly obscured their progress from view, all the while announcing the man-made monumental wonder that was to come. There was a picture of a cast-metal sculpture to memorialize the day that Meteor nearly flattened Midgar.

Why wasn't the money being completely funneled into restoration of peoples homes and hamlets? Had Meteor addled everyone's brains? It made no sense to me.

What was needed was a memorial to the Lifestream, for neutralizing and eliminating the threat. Or maybe the brave little band of adventurers who released the Lifestream by destroying Sephiroth? Why build a statue to the horror that hung over the city all those weeks? Why wasn't there a startup university dedicated to further study of the Planet, the Lifestream and other wonders?

Obviously, nothing of value was learned by the local populace. Well, why should that surprise me, since nothing was learned from the previous apocalypse, thousands of years earlier? To this day, very little is ever said about the demise of the earlier civilization. Only that it destroyed itself, and we became the heirs to a nearly empty Planet.

After marvelling a few minutes at the stupidity of Modern Man, I simply shrugged and moved on. Mustn't occupy too many brain cells with such nonsense.

The first order of business when I entered Edge was a new PHS. The town was every bit as lively as the Sector Seven slums had been, and they looked about the same. There were little businesses everywhere, already springing up among all the fragments of Midgar. The inhabitants of the slums were always able to cobble together a lifestyle from the rubble of others' prosperity. After Meteorfall, everyone else would be trying to emulate them, as they picked up the pieces of a nearly destroyed metropolis.

PHS stores were everywhere, same as before. I understood. People would want to connect with one another more than before Meteorfall. My new phone was the standard-issue model in Nibelheim, because I hope to regulate it shortly to simple on-base communication.

While in Midgar, my first act was to message all my contacts and give them my new code. Then I called my old number. It took a long time for my parents to answer, and they seemed uncertain of their new, relatively simple device. With some coaching, though, they were soon chatting away, at ease with the latest electronic development in their lives. We transferred my data files and removed them from their phone. Dad, especially, wanted to start with a clean slate. Knowing him, he would soon discover many features that I had never bothered to learn on that thing. Mum, too, would probably take possession of the device, using it to repair the tattered web of her family connections.

One final detail: a three-way conference with Eleanora, and the formal introduction to their youngest grandchild. Much oooohing and aaaahing and some pretty silly sounds were coming from my august old parents. Fortunately, Aerith was so at ease with visiting via the PHS that she accepted the transmission with no tears or playing strange.

Already she was bigger than during our last call. Nora bluntly laid the blame on me for tearing out of there without waiting to talk to anyone. It was true, I had to admit; as bad as I felt about Vincent’s rejection, there were still plenty of family and friends to console me. Those people were disappointed when I hadn’t seen fit to turn to them in my troubles. I let her scold a little while, then I reluctantly signed off the call; let them finish the conversation together. The grandparents would want as much face-time as they could manage in their first encounter with the baby.

And I could barely contain my excitement as I prepared for my next stop.

I called
El Francisco, and spoke with Millie and Trini, in that order, arranging to meet them at their restaurant. The conversation was kept short and to the point. No use wasting our emotions on the airwaves; we could talk and touch at El Francisco, over some really decent guacamole and tortilla crisps. Or so I was assured.

It was no surprise that the girls had found mates who ran a restaurant. We had all been frequent visitors of different places where we could find a great variety of foods. Personally, I enjoyed meat and fish, but they always had their own ideas. One loved meat and vegetables, including many items that I don't especially like, and the other was vegan. Although they were identical, mirror twins, they were always very separate personalities to me. We did not dress them alike, and allowed them to make their own choices for nearly everything they required.

Other parents of twins often told us we were missing out on the economy of purchasing and making things in twos, but we felt differently. My ability to bear children came to an end at their birth, and I wanted two daughters, not one pair of girls. It was impossible to discourage all the usual twin-ness about them, and we let them savor that. It was simply easier for me to enjoy each for herself, and not just as part of a twosome.

Another non-surprise: our girls also chose non-twins. The kicker, so to speak, was that they were brothers. History was repeating itself, just as their great-grandmother had married the brother of her twin's husband. Now they were all inseparable, and clung together after Meteorfall, rebuilding their new home and running a prospering business. Surely their grandfather could appreciate their industry and need for autonomy. I resolved to prod all parties into a meeting in the near future.

El Francisco was on the main road through Edge, and I was there just minutes after purchasing the PHS. While the girls had not grown in height, they were much more mature, two young ladies standing with their hands at their sides, and their eyes sad.

We stared at one another for what seemed a very long time, while I waited for the accusation that I knew was coming. It came in stereo.

"How could you desert us?" Ah, of course. The very words I was expecting.

"I didn't. I was kept against my will. And I was part of the reason we are all here." Dammit, I was a hero, not a deserter! "And I am here, am I not? Just came from visiting your grandparents in Foothills." At that they both sighed and took me to a table laden with tapas, chips and dips.

"So talk." "Where did you go?" "Why did you stay away?" "And who were those guys that scared Grammy and Grampa?" "We heard you were going to be executed just before that Weapon attacked!" One right after another, just like before. They did not share the same thoughts; they completed one another's paragraphs.

Mimicking their shotgun style of grilling, I answered their questions one by one, allowing no interruption. At least, for as long as I could manage. The girls were no more shy than I am in conversation.

"Hojo essentially imprisoned me, using me as an experimental guinea pig. Likely, they never took me out of the main Shinra building in the middle of town, so I was really close all along. At least until I was able to escape, when the entire R & D department went to Gold Coast, a few months before Sephiroth called down Meteor. Later, I tried to visit, but was chased away from my folks' place. Those guys were Vincent, and maybe Captain Cid, looking for me, while I was looking for you. I never connected because your Dad was busy making a new baby. He would not divulge your location, and it looked to me like they had enough on their plates. They didn't need more trouble." The scowls they gave me said it all.

"Don't get us started about her." " She couldn't wait to get her hands on the insurance money." "We told Dad he would never see us again if he married her." "Then she got pregnant!" At that, I cut them off; something needed to be said.

"Your father was certainly entitled to the insurance settlement, and it‘s his business alone however he intended to use it. As for his new family: nobody 'gets pregnant' by herself, you know. Your Dad knew I wouldn't want him to be alone after I died.”

"But so soon, Mom!" Millie sounded disgusted.

"By my count, it must have been well over a year, even two. Remember your uncle, and all his wives? They are marrying men, even your cousins on that side never stay alone for long. Be reasonable. What's more, I told him he should remarry if anything ever happened to me." They were implacable.

"He'd better not!" Trini nearly shouted the words. "If she gets your money..."

"They didn't get married?" That was intriguing news.

"Better not have." That was Millie.

"Let's change the subject. Suffice to say I don't care what he does. Besides, they have to think of your half-brother." Their looks were identically outraged.

"Did you ever love Dad?" "Didn't you sleep apart?" Oh, boy, I wasn't ready for their scrutiny, not that deep.

"Girls, girls! Your Dad is too ticklish to sleep with anybody. We shared the same bedroom, you know that. We love you, loved each other, and this whole situation has been difficult for us both. That's enough about your Dad and me. What about you and your guys?" They told me nothing new, except for some names. We exchanged our codes so we could keep in touch. Then I dropped the bomb.

"You will want to meet your half-sister, too." The silence was immediate and heavy. "Yeah, I know." But I didn't know how they would react to the full truth, so I decided to feel my way through the next conversation. At that point, two young men appeared and proffered pitchers of beer. Each sat down next to my girls and looked defiantly at me. Once again I was the outsider; I took a deep breath, and started from scratch.

"Gentlemen (and ladies), I am Josephine Lindorm, dragon rider from Nibelheim." There was a lot to explain, so I took it from the top. My girls were in good hands; the Bravo family was positively venerable, with records that reputedly went back to the Great Cataclysm. Many families claim to originate before the Cataclysm, but very, very few have documentation to prove it. The Bravos showed their pride in a beautiful private exhibition of papers and arms from the Ancient World, at the back of the cafe. A locker displayed them under the most secure, shatterproof material available--the same substance used to fortify the Highwind when it was commandeered by Rufus Shinra. The most convincing evidence was a lovely pair of Damascus swords, incredibly antique and still obviously as deadly as the day they were crafted in Ancient Iberia.

We visited for hours, eating and drinking, with the men and I trying to talk over the twins' mutual soliloquies. Their world was entirely devoted to simple survival after Meteorfall. The boys and their family ran the restaurant. It had been a very slow start, but little by little, people were ready to resume normal lives. A fully functional restaurant could now be found in nearly every neighborhood, and tobacco shops and cafes were on every corner. The citizens picked up from the mess, and needed a place to meet and share their troubles. The older generation tended the kitchen, the boys handled the business and trade details, while my daughters hosted what was becoming a very popular meeting place.

The Bravo Family Feast

Their corner of Edge was neatly contained in one building, with tenants in the upper apartments and their restaurant in the storefront. All the couples, old and young, shared one home in the back, occupying two stories, keeping the entire two flats in the family, with the business facing the street.

During our conversations, we enjoyed hot tapas, as well as guacamole, tortilla crisps, fresh chili with beans, all grown in their garden outside Edge, along with root vegetables, fresh greens and newly-made pasta. Then the boys hauled in a huge, sizzling steak, covered in onions and reeking of garlic, enough for everyone. On top of that, there was cold beer and fruit from the recent harvest. We were going to get along very well, indeed.

The elders of the Bravo family, not to be outdone, brought out some very decent wines: robust reds that went perfectly with the thick steak. I heartily approved of the family that had incorporated my darling twins. The Bravos, in turn, were anxious for stories of the road and begged for full, detailed descriptions of the major battles. It was during this conversation that I finally realized that I was sick of traveling, weary from all the battles and just plain hoarse from too much talking. Time for someone else to go questing and battling and storytelling.

At that point, I insisted on a blow-by-blow account of their experiences during the catastrophe of Meteorfall's desintegration. Reeve had instructed all citizens to evacuate to the slums. For many of them, that was their first taste of life outside the elite world of the upper levels. My girls had left for Foothills with my parents, returning to pick up with the rest of my siblings. Edge was one of many communities to either spring up again from the rubble or grow out into the sunlight surrounding the city. They were not up to speed on the other parts of Midgar; it was enough to stay alive and rebuild their own world. And it certainly looked as if they had done just that. Most utilities were restored, thanks to Reeve and his people, and the rest of the population simply did what was necessary to carry on with their lives. I listened with pride and wonder to my daughters and their partners: a new world and new promise of new life awaited us all.

Many hours later, I remembered to call Vincent, appraised him of my whereabouts, and described to him the route to Edge. He would join us in the morning; I was to remain at El Francisco until his arrival.

I was invited to stay overnight on the sofa in the living room of their Spartan apartment. Our first connection looked quite promising; the girls were very forgiving. The rift was sure to heal, but it would take a long time to tie up all the loose ends. And I didn't try to introduce the other half-brothers they should eventually know. We needed to take smaller steps in that direction.

Meeting Vincent would be plenty to cap this first visit.

Midnight glow

The darkness wasn't penetrable, and the silence was eerie. No cave is ever completely silent, but where was the sound of water dripping or wind moving through cracks in the surface? I was as comfortable as I would ever be on the road, so we must have made camp somewhere. I began to reach around for the others. The space was properly cushioned but very cramped, and I fit rather tightly into my bed.

"Vincent..., Yuffie...? Reddie? Hey, where is everyone?" No one was with me, and I began to panic in the dead silence. Reaching further around, I tipped myself off the bedroll and fell a very short distance to the floor. Not expecting any fall at all, I collapsed with a little shreik. The Glow began to ignite and gradually I could see my surroundings. Soon I ascertained that I was unhurt and in no imminent danger.

In the growing light it became obvious that I was actually inside a building, and had just fallen off a bed. Or rather the sofa, as my brain began to clear and I remembered the space around me was my daughters' living room, and not some pitched tent. The apartment was very, very dark and absolutely silent; it hardly seemed possible I was on the edge of Midgar!

"Yo? Mom? You okay? What the hell?? Trini, come see this!!!" Millie was moving down the stairs and her voice was rising nearly an octave with each step. At that, I could hear the others begin to stir from their beds, too. Soon four faces peered at me through the railing of the landing, with the older generation coming in from behind.

Oh Hell, may as well make it a public party, why don't we?

"Mom, what is wrong with you???" Now I felt trapped by the situation and the Glow burned a bit brighter. I was already floating a tad off the floor, as a result of the fall from my bed. For a few seconds I let them process the new information without explanation, while I thought of a fairly casual answer. All six people remained stock-still on the stairs, their eyes and mouths wide open, silent.

"Uh, guys? Remember I told you about the experiments? Well, this is part of that."

"Then there's danger?" Trini began to look around the room in fear.

"No, silly. Just a nightmare. I'm disoriented, sleeping inside and all. It's just nerves; I'll get over it in a little bit. Go back to bed." Of course they wouldn't go back to bed until the Glow dissipated, and I'd sunk back to the floor. By then, we'd lit a small lamp, and decided it would be best to leave it alight, in case I woke again. In retrospect, it was a very good thing no one decided to sneak down and wake me.

For what? Who knows? It may be someone would check on me if I talked in my sleep. Or fought in my sleep, or attacked Sephiroth in my dreams. Even the victors in wartime experience disturbances while sleeping, or are otherwise addled. Vincent's episode in the Forbidden Falls Glen was a very good example of that.

Anyone who approached me while I was disoriented could receive a very nasty, and possibly fatal surprise. It was necessary to explain Chastity Belt to the whole family, without specifically giving it that name. That little bit of randiness was Captain Cid's idea, especially after that time in the noisy nightclub. It was excellent for discouraging unwanted attention from the opposite sex.

I did make it very clear that they should not approach me unbidden when I was in the Glow. Then I ordered everyone back to bed, so that I could rest before the next day's journey.

The kids returned to their rooms, whispering among themselves. It was clear they had some adjusting to do, now that Momma wasn't quite as they remembered her.