Setting 06: 1730 DAY 12, Trabia Heath Peninsula Island

"íBut now reach out your hand; open my eyes.í

And yet I did not open them for him;

And it was courtesy to show him rudeness."

-Dante Alighieri

Inferno XXXIII

 

"This has to be the stupidest mission Iíve ever been on," Zell muttered aloud.

Had he known that staring at the clouds for one and a half weeks was what Headmaster Cid meant by "checking atmospheric conditions," he would have kicked Irvine out of the Ragnarok and taken his girlfriend instead. The thought of his girlfriend made him shut himself up.

"I think I see Venus!" Zell shouted suddenly, jumping up and down.

Irvine nodded hastily, concentrating more on what he was doing then listening to Zellís raving.

Damn you two little stones!

Zell still hadnít removed the binoculars from his eyes.

"Come on, trench coat boy," he goaded, "pay up."

Irvine was getting more frustrated.

Damn you two little stones!

Still gazing at Venus, Zell snickered at Irvineís failed attempts at starting a fire with his flint. Not that it mattered since he was the first to spot anything spectacular in the last eleven day. Irvine owes me so much GilÖI have it made!

Visibly upset by how things were going with the flint, he got up and hurled the rocks at Zell. He was glad that his target still hadnít removed the binoculars because there was no way he would have been able to guess that Irvine was a professional sharpshooter based on how much he missed.

Irvine regained his composure, dusted himself off gallantly, then proceeded to pull out his rifle, load two rounds of Fire Ammo, and blasted the foliage amidst his ring of stones to `. Coolly he blew away the smoke coming out of his gun, and put his free hand on his hip as if he were posing for a picture. He lifted his head and scoffed haughtily at the little flames he incited, flashing his best "Yeah, you know whoís all that, you know whoís the bad-ass" smirk. Starting to sway in his victory dance, Irvine hummed to himself, "Whoís your daddy? I am. Whoís your daddy? Itís me. Donít you know it? Iím IrvineÖ"

What is with him and his marshmallows anyway? Werenít they just flour and sugar? Zell wondered. And why was he so obstinate about having them toasted the traditional way? Had he taken a moment to look at the little unconscious jig Irvine was doing, there would definitely be no limit to how much he could have blackmailed him for.

Irvine finally remembered why Zell was so excited. He gave the fire his last "That ought to teach you a listen" glare and turned to his eyes towards the hyped up pugilist.

"What did you say?" he asked.

"I said," Zell pronounced extra clearly through his grin, "youíre going to owe me so much Gil that I wonít need my SeeD pay for a year!"

Irvine spit on the ground, undaunted.

"You wanna double that wager, Zelda?" he teased, intent on irking Zell in return for the last week and a half of suffering his companionís presence had imparted on him.

Zell was in too good a mood to be peeved by such a low-class attempt at knocking his masculinity. "Multiplication increases the amount, genius," he retorted, "but I guess theyíll teach you that next week."

"So three times the wager, then," was Irvineís answer.

Zell shrugged, saying, "Itís your Gil."

So this assignment does have its perks. This is a dream come true, Zell thought gleefully.

"If youíre trying to appeal to my conscience, donít bother. Iím not giving any of this Gil back," Zell cautioned, still gazing through his binoculars.

"You know, Zell," Irvine began, "if you had half the brain I had, youíd be rich."

"Howís that? Half of your wealth? No thanks, jolly rancher fruity," Zell returned.

Turning slightly red, but still able to endure it, Irvine continued, "Well, youíre going to be twice as sorry, now. How Ďbout we raise the stakes to loser loses a hand?"

Zell paused, but with him sighting Venus first, he saw nothing to worry about. Irvine must have had a hemorrhage or somethingÖI am going too far, taking advantage of him while heís mentally unstable? he wondered. Still, itís safer to restrain myself.

"What are you going to do with one hand?" Zell countered. "Think about it, Irvine, you only have two."

"I donít need but half of my appendages operational to shoot you dead," Irvine boasted.

Zell put his binoculars aside, turning on Irvine with a nasty scowl. This was about his skills as a fighter now. The conversation had strayed away from the bank and into the arena.

"I could whoop you with one hand tied behind my back right now. Hell, Iíll even close one eye, hot shot!" he sneered angrily.

"I could take your head off with half a gun!" Irvine bragged.

"Ha! Some sniper you are," Zell growled at Irvine who just threw his hat on the ground. "We hired you once and you canít even hit the open target half the time!"

Irvine was steaming now.

"Itís on now, hotdog trash bucket," he spewed, "weíll make the wager both hands."

Zell was beyond restraint so he hastily agreed. Weíll see who is afraid of whom.

Irvine smirked triumphantly. That smug idiot, doesnít even suspect itÖ

"See," he taunted, "this proves that you only have half a brain, nimrod! You canít chop off you second hand yourself!"

"That doesnít change the fact that Iíll still beat you to a pulp!" Zell yelled back.

"Forget that wager, then, chicken," he taunted, before suggesting, "If you lose, you can't sneak upstairs to the study hall and tour the online tutorial for any more Rinoa screen-savers."

Irvine pointed at something behind Zell while he thought about the new consequence, and then handed Zell the binoculars just as the boxer remembered to protest Irvine's slander that carried some ugly insinuations.

"Look again, space boy," he jeered, "whereís your Venus now?"

Zell made a face back, rudely snatched the binoculars from Irvine, and looked through them again."

"See that red thing over there? The first interesting thing weíve seen in weeks. Pay up, loser," he gloated.

"I had to turn a few gears in my head, but I canít believe how great my idea was!" Zell shouted, pumping his fist in the air, beaming with pride. "All I had to do to win the bet was whip out the binoculars and spot things farther than you can see."

Laughing, he clapped his hands together before pumping both fists.

"Zell, you get a pat on the back for this one," he said to himself, bringing the binoculars to his eyes for another look at his treasure. "What can I say? Iím a genius."

Irvine tapped the lens and rapped Zell on the head, inducing him to go into a fighting stance and initiate a few jabs. Irvine grabbed the binoculars and turned them around.

"I donít know if they taught you this in grade school, but most people look through it this way," Irvine said flatly. "That red thing you saw would be the Ragnarok."

Zellís jaw dropped four inches before he helped it back up with his hand.

Impossible! Backwards? There is no way this happening to me! he bemoaned.

"Great idea with the binoculars, partner," Irvine rubbed in. "What can I say? Youíre a genius."

"B-but it was red!" he sputtered, refusing to believe his egregious error.

"Was color recognition your only qualification to pass the SeeD test at Balamb Garden?" Irvine questioned.

Zell was too embarrassed to mumble anything except, "I know I saw Venus!"

Irvine lifted his hands above his head, shouting, "In broad daylight! Are you mad?"

"Did you not know to look through the smaller lenses, Zell?" Irvine pressed on after regaining his composure. "Or maybe theyíll teach you that in school next week."

"Okay, okay, I get the point," Zell conceded grudgingly, "but that doesnít mean you win."

"No," Irvine agreed, "but it will make a hilarious story to tell at dinner parties for years to come."

Zell paled at the thought. Not again. Stupid, so stupid of you, Zell. Thereís no way out of this one. Better change the subject before he thinks of other ways to rag on me.

"All right, maybe I wanted to see something, anything out of the ordinary so badly that I made it up? Is that okay?" Zell said, feigning a confession.

Irvine thought about it, still shaking with laughter, but didnít add anything else. Come on, buy it, buy it, Zell repeated in his head.

Seeing as how he had no more quips left to dish out, Irvine finally shrugged and agreed that they got stuck with a stupid mission. A thought suddenly struck him and he lit up like a bulb. I still have a bag of marshmallows left! Better stop wasting time and tend to them.

Irvine crouched down and started kindling the small flames, nearly extinguished because he hadnít fed the fire during their bickering. Damn little stones, but thank Eden for Fire Ammo, he beamed.

Zell was horror-struck. Sometimes, I just donít understand him.

"Irvine, how can you sit there all day long toasting those stupid powder puffs?" he asked, exasperated. "I mean, couldnít you at least roast some chicobos or something tasty?"

"Shut up and keep your eyes open. You might find something," Irvine chuckled.

"Hey," Zell protested, "why shouldnít you be paying attention to this mission? Weíre both responsible for a satisfactory report, you know?"

"I donít think Cidís going to be satisfied with anything after how you handled those negotiations at Shumi Village," Irvine assessed.

Zell spun around, nostrils flaring.

"Donít shift the blame to me, you rooftop weasel! I wasnít the one who stepped over the chain and sat on the Elderís pre-made coffin thinking it was a bench," Zell shouted, pointing a finger accusingly at Irvine.

Irvine ignored the comment, saying, "Letís go back a few days in time, shall we? What kind of idiot ambassador would drink from the sanctified reception pan?"

Zell held up his hands in defense. "They offered it to me!"

"To wash your fingers, monkey-brains. Do you know how many generations of consecrating and reconsecrating that pan youíve destroyed?"

Not to mention how upset you made the Moomba when it spilled on his tail.

"How was I supposed to know?" Zell hollered penitently. "I donít know any Shumi customs! I donít refer to myself in third person! And I donít identify myself by my profession!"

"And you obviously didnít see how every officer there dipped their fingers or flippers into the holy water," Irvine reminded him.

Stupid, so stupid of you, Zell. Just like that time you gave away Gardenís name in front of the cameras at Timber.

"I can see the announcement to all the Trabia Garden workers now," Irvine continued, framing the image he saw before him with his hands, "Balamb Garden student Zell Dincht unilaterally brings all Nova Trabia Garden construction funding to a halt."

"Whoa, hold your horses, cowboy," Zell pressed. "Just remember you where you tossed all your empty marshmallow bags. Iím sure the Nest Mother was thrilled that you thought her baby cradle was fit to be a wastebasket."

"That was stupid," Irvine admitted, "but nothing compared to what you did to the Artisanís hut, smart guy. Can you even imagine how many years heís worked at the request of the entire village on Lagunaís statue, that same one that was crushed by the ceiling? Youíd better hope they send the next monthís credit instead of the repair bill or Cid will hang us both."

"At least we got out of there with our heads still attached to our necks," Zell said hastily.

"You have to give the Shumi credit for their intelligence," Irvine went on. "After all, they finally did figure out that kicking Zell out as soon as possible would be the best way to save Gil."

Actually, Irvine contemplated after reconsidering, if they were really bright, they would have killed us to protect their investment in ArabiaÖEden knows what Zell could do to the new Gardenís foundations if he had leveled the Artisanís hut on accident.

Zell frowned, crossed with their situation and annoyed that the elevator taking them back up to the surface and out of the village seemed to move a lot faster than the initial trip down into the village.

Irvine licked his lips hungrily, only paying attention to not overcooking his snack. His partner looked over at him, half-annoyed at his disconcerting fetish for marshmallows.

"I still canít believe you put together so many bonfires. Do you know how itís a capital offense in some of those districts to start a brushfire even on accident?" Zell asked.

"Every place we went to there was always someone who had done it there before I did. I was just following their example," Irvine pointed out.

"One burnt patch of grass does not make the entire frigidí field a marshmallow-toasting reservation!" Zell practically screamed.

"Nobody seemed to mind on Mandy Beach or in the middle of Kashkabald Desert. There wasnít any danger of starting brushfires in those places," Irvine offered.

"Nobody toasts marshmallows on the beach or in the desert, thatís the point! It therefore canít be a federally sanctioned marshmallow-warming site, just like this canít be," Zell shouted.

Not content with standing around impatiently while Irvine was enjoying his favorite pastime, Zell was just itching to add, "How many packs have you eaten today?"

Instead, he tried, "Look what youíve done for the fourth time!"

His eyes a bit tired of the sporadically glistening sparks, Irvine finally took the time look up away from his business and inspect the ground around him. Zell crossed his arms and stood back with a self-satisfied air. They were standing in the middle of a field littered with burnt patches of grass left by Irvineís random blazing.

Shrugging and squatting back down, Irvine assured Zell, "This is the last bag, which means weíll have to head back soon and restock. Weíve been out here too long and we havenít come up with anything new. Sooner or later theyíre going to start wondering where we are since the Shumi flop was happened last Monday."

Zell threw his hands up in the air, yelling, "Get with the program! We canít go back! We flunked this mission, doofus. We have nothing, after eleven days, to report. Nothing at all!"

Zell held up his hands by Irvineís face and wiggled his fingers, whispering, "Nothing."

After some consideration, Irvine suggested, "You know, if you lightened up a bit, youíd realize that Cid thought enough of us to let us check out all the marshmallow-toasting grounds rather than all the mosquito-breeding farms."

Zell glowered, reflecting bitterly, Yeah, right. Cid thought enough of me to team me up with Irvine instead of any of the girls.

"Youíre not helping our cause," Zell said after a moment. "Should we pack up and head for the hills?"

"What? And leave the Ragnarok here? I think not," Irvine scoffed.

Zell pondered over Irvineís suggestion.

"Youíre right," he decided after a moment. "There would be nowhere to hide the ship."

Irvine laughed, but quieted himself when he saw Zellís pupils widen in agitation.

"Or," Irvine said slowly, "we could try what we should doÖGOÖ.BACK."

"Donít you get it?" Zell hollered, unable to contain himself. "We have nothing to report!"

"We could tell them the intelligence we gathered from Laguna," Irvine proposed.

Zell had turned bright red.

"Hand it over, Irvine," he ordered, "whatever youíre using thatís affecting your judgment. Iím not kidding."

Irvine held up his hands worriedly.

"Iím not high on anything, Zell," he stammered.

"Think about it, bullet-brain," Zell told him. "If you tell Squall about any of Lagunaís ĎIím going to be that father figure that he never hadí stuff, Squall will flip out. If you tell Cid about what Laguna said about the cow missing from Winhill, Cid will flip out. Weíre supposed to be monitoring the weather, remember? We have nothing to report!"

Irvine scratched his head, shifting his hat ever so slightly. Apparently even the tiniest bit of jostling was enough incentive for Irvine to carefully adjust his headwear back into its original position instead of offering a solution, much to the annoyance of his company.

Zell could feel the hot vapor jetting out of his ears. That stupid hat of his. He's been fiddling with it for a minute and it still looks like it's in the same place. It's just like Rinoa combing her hair.

"We could tell Cid about Mr. Monkey," Irvine suggested after he was done moving his hat around.

Zell checked to make sure he heard right, then checked to see if his partner was being sarcastic. He'd heard correctly, and there was no sarcasm. Zell's immediate reaction was to kick some sand in Irvine's direction. Do you know how retarded you sound!?

"He'll have us demoted 27 levels to a Lv 4 SeeD!" he cried. "What the Ifrit are you thinking?"

"Intelligence is intelligence," Irvine piped happily.

Zell rubbed his temples before responding, "Irvine, you have none and we have none. You know, I can't believe you can't even find the right shore. How on earth did you mistake Obel Lake for Mandy Beach?"

Irvine colored slightly.

"So I couldn't tell the difference between the compass north and true north. At least we didn't wander too far from Timber," he said, tipping his hat apologetically. What are you going to do? Shoot me?

"And to think you actually had a conversation with that sea monster," Zell scorned.

Irvine shook his head.

"I was just being polite," he explained. "The least we could do was help him find Mr. Monkey."

"Do you know how crazy that sounds?" Zell retorted. "He probably just made that up so you'd stop humming and go away."

"My humming was nothing compared to you chucking rocks into his lake," Irvine returned.

"Well," Zell parried, "in case you didnít notice, I was trying to drive him away from the shore, not to attract his attention like some raving idiots I know, who shall remain namelessÖIRVINE!!!"

In his mind though, Zell was actually starting to regret not helping that sea creature out. At least then some good would have come out of the trip.

Had we actually gone to Dollet or leafed through the entire forest and found that fur ball, this wouldn't have been a total waste of our time. Now Cidís going to string us up and feed us to the Blobras in the training center.

"We have zilch to report then," Zell huffed.

Irvine smiled, lifting the stick with his browned marshmallow from the fire.

"Well," he put forth, "as my mom used to say, ĎIf you have nothing to report, you should at least have something in your stomach.í"

"You just made that up!" Zell shouted.

Irvine shrugged. So maybe I did. What are you going to do? Shoot me?

Irvine snickered at the thought, and offered, "It could be worst." Dammit, IrvineÖknock on wood.

Zell had already put his binoculars away and was packing the rest of the camp up. Irvine looked up and asked what he was doing.

"You got the keys?" Zell asked, brushing off the question.

"I thought you had them," Irvine replied honestly.

"Hey, thatís funny," Zell played along, but resumed the straight face. "No, itís not. You were the last one driving, so what did you do with them?"

Irvine had stopped fanning off his steamy marshmallow, sensing imminent trouble.

"I donít have them, see?" he said, patting his pockets.

Zell could feel himself freaking out. He tried to jump around and release all the anger in him that wanted to blow its way out. It was a given that the show-off driver would not have a sense of direction and would get lost, but I didnít think the keys would too.

"Irvine," he said so calmly that it worried the addressee, "remind me again why we even need the keys to pilot the fingerprint-scan-initiated Ragnarok?"

Irvine tried to swallow before answering, but either his mouth was too dry or the swelling lump in his throat was blocking the passage.

"Laguna had the Esthar mechanics modify it to key-ignition mode because he was afraid we might burn off the skin on our fingers while toasting marshmallows."

Zellís face froze for a second before he let out a series of profanities that called the name of every GF. He was breathing hard by the time he finished, muttering to himself, "The irony is sickening."

Thatís the result of years of suppressing your feelings right there, Irvine thought, lifting both eyebrows. I wonder if Squallís outburst would be stronger than a dose of Omega Weaponís Terra Break.

Zell took a deep breath, letting the anger flow out of him.

"Irvine," he said, "start crawling around and look for them. Iíll go search every inch of the ship."

Irvine was about to argue that it was unfair since there was more surface area to cover on the field than in the ship, but he wisely held his tongue. As Zell hurried off, Irvine threw his marshmallow aside with a sigh, and looked sadly at the turf around him.

"Itís not in the ignition, Zell, if thatís where youíre heading first," Irvine called after him.

Weíll probably all laugh at this someday in the future.

.

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