Snake In The Grass

By twentysix years of therapy

The process of training cadets in the Garden has been polished from an art to a science. Everything has been researched and regimented, refined into the most effective, efficient processes of creating loyal, skilled professionals. Some of it's been made public: there's a whole section in the library dedicated to the methodology utilised by Garden.

Somewhere along the line, someone realised a twenty-six hour day with an average of ten hours of night provided optimal conditions for the flora and fauna inhabiting the monsters' lair. The undoubtedly calculated side-effect of the completely artificial days was to skew time inside the hellish Eden, creating a thirteen day interval in between the closest synchronicity in Balamb and the T.C.'s daylight hours, not to mention the need to wear a custom-made watch.

Which is why my body says it's fourteen-twenty-four but it looks and sounds like oh-one-hundred, down to the chirping of crickets and the rustling of sleeping grats.

Despite the burning in my knees I hold position, waiting for the signal to advance from the squad leader. Or yelling. Or someone traipsing through the underbrush. Or something, at this point. Securing this point from the Blue-team's scout was child's play, but I've been sitting here for going on ten minutes just waiting and I'm starting to get irritated. It couldn't have taken that long for Chun and his squad to clear the area. True, this is our first assignment in the training centre's vast underground, but I can't have been the only one to check it out yesterday when we were all given the necessary permissions on our cards.

The transmitter just under my ear sends tiny shocks through the muscle, making it twitch. We've only been using the pulse-trans for a week and it still feels odd, like someone pressing a bare wire against wet skin. Which is, I suppose, the underlying principle of it. The first pattern sent is "cancel current orders;" the second is "commence plan B." Which means that someone's screwed up, and we're to regroup on the east side of the sub-jungle and resort to storming the target. No finesse. What a waste.

Dutifully I start creeping back to pass through our territory; I know up ahead there's a swampy area that'll take more time and effort to cross than is necessary.

I hear the crunch of leaves behind me.

Paint-gun at the ready, I scan the area around and behind me, watching for swaying leaves or shadows. I edge my way forward, trying to relax instead of tensing up.

Noise and a body behind me; I can barely react before a thick strap is wound tight around my neck, immediately cutting off my breathing and threatening to crush my trachea. Without the passage of air I can't even yell to warn my team but fuck them, that's not my biggest problem, I can't even breathe--

A hand is clapped over my mouth just as the garrotte is pulled loose; with their free hand my killer shoves me forward into the grass. "Leonhart," Seifer breathes in a husky whisper, "you're dead."


He leans over into my line of sight, a smug smile on his face. "Careless," he murmurs.

"You're on my--" --team, I hiss before he cuts me off, hand over my mouth once more.

"Ah-ah," he reprimands. "Strangled. Be silent and still, remember. You're dead," he says.

Fuck. Fuck. What does he think he's doing? We're on the same goddamn team, both Reds; what is he doing? At least he'll fail the assignment miserably.

He reaches out to touch me; he runs a wet finger along my neck. Paint, I realise.

He gives me one last smile before he disappears off into the bush. I lie as I fell, and watch the line of ants march over my fingers, their hard exoskeletons shining in the simulated starlight.

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