A Queen, a God, and a Mollusk

Kefka Palazzo

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The Old Man had a sense of humour.

Kefka hadn’t stopped giggling in hours. True, he’d been, stabbed, slashed, bitten, burned, bludgeoned, and not to mention freezing in an endless blizzarding hell, but it was pretty funny.

He’d just blinked into existence in a cave amidst a bunch of mutilated, violent, corpses. Some had too many arms, or knives for hands, giant claws, teeth, or entirely the wrong configuration in the case of the horrifying crab lady whose one remaining eye dangled about attached to its nerve stem, just… bobbing and wobbling.

Gross.

They swarmed him, and truly, he thought he was about to die a second death. Just for a moment, of course. But he could stand and they couldn’t. So that was that.

“I’m going to die of exposure, like a peasant,” he moaned. There hadn’t been a tree or bush or even a single twig since he’d left the terrible horror cave he’d been blinked back into existence in.

He supposed he could set the clothes he wore aflame, but then he’d have nothing to entertain in if guests suddenly showed up.

His lips were purple, his fingers a gray blue. His breaths came short, weak. He felt hot, in spite of the freezing wind buffeting his bare face.

Kefka kept stride, in spite of it all. He’d kept stride when he’d be sent to the Program, and he’d kept stride when the Program broke his mind. He’d kept stride when he calculated his move against Gestahl, and he sure as the murdered Goddesses themselves, he’d kept stride after he mysteriously ended up in this new situation.

As if a little hypothermia or widespread frostbite was going to stop him.

Another hour and a long list of various other obstacles over which he’d kept his stride later, and Kefka found himself staring down the muzzle of his madness. He stood taut, hunched forward, legs bent, his arms curled toward his hips like an Old West gunslinger.

It had been a while since he’d had to stop and work out whether what he was looking at was real or just a manifestation of his damaged …everything.

A large cavern mouth opened up in a frosty crag up ahead, of that there was little doubt. But it was well-lit. It burned against the freezing dark like a furnace. He rubbed his eyes and decided that was that; a hallucination shouldn’t be able to hurt your eyes, right?

Probably right.

Fuck this gig.

Jack Harrington was 35. Goin’ nowhere. Shiverin’ in a half-heated shack on some dumbass planet in the middle of bumfuck nowhere making practically nothing an hour after all the bullshit fees and the cost of everything way the hell out here.

He could see his breath, illuminated by the shitty little touchscreen computer installed in his little booth.

At least you have a booth.

Yeah, okay hotshot. Not like we couldn’t just install a camera and monitor this fuckin’ wasteland from indoors. Y’know, where I don’t have to freeze my ass off in two jackets and god knows how many sweaters.

Needed a live patrol outside. Presence was important.

What the fuck presence is a man shivering in a booth?

Jack looked out on the vast nothing he was in charge of protecting. Fuckin’ monsters out here and the only thing covering his ass from the tin can he worked in and the safety of the shelter was the auto-guns. And those things were breaking down in the cold all the time. Not to mention, opening the shelter doors takes time.

You ever seen a xenomorph break into a dead sprint? I haven’t, but, y’know, I’ve heard.

He struck a match, dropped it, went down to pick it up, bashed his head on the counter in front of him, and cursed. Instinctually, he looked around to see if anyone’d seen him.

“What the Tennessee apple fuck?”

He looked out, squinted, leaned closer to the glass, gave up, and grabbed his binoculars to get a bead on whatever he’d just seen.

He set the binos down and struck another match. This time he succeeded, lit his smoke, and took a long drag, before thumbing a button on his panel.

“Go ahead Perimeter 1.”

“Yeah, Rog, uh, I got a guy approaching the main entrance.”

“A ‘guy’?”

Jack could hear cameras swiveling to pick out the figure.

“Yeah, looks like. Lone figure, I dunno. About a klick east a ways?”

“You think it’s a threat?”

“I think it’s crazy, is what I think. How is he not dead?”

“Does seem odd. We’re sending up a team just to be safe. Standard engagement applies.”

“Alright,” Jack replied, puffing on his cigarette, watching the figure trudging toward him. Guy was making good time. ‘Course, that just made it more likely that this was some fuckin’ necromorph or something coming at him.

“Shit,” he grumbled, snubbing out his cig before hefting up his gauss rifle. If whatever was out there turned out to be something other than human, he had a superhot graphite ball to the dome for ‘em.

“Come on, you crazy bastard. Get closer,” he settled the stock up against his cheek and took a deep breath. Best eta for backup to the surface was 3 minutes, 16 seconds. How much time had passed so far?

One minute? Maybe two?
 

Wattson

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The empty carcasses of energy drinks littered her desk, and all was dark about Natalie Paquette excepting the blue light cast by her monitor. She brought a cup towards her mouth full of fizzing piss-yellow liquid, gulped it clean in two mouth fulls, and let out a sigh somewhere between absent minded acknowledgement and discontented awareness. Her eyes wore deep circles about their rims - a badge of her condition - and Wattson watched the screen before her in an unassigned vigil.

“Hold, Camera One,” she murmured, her french burr dragging out her ‘A’ and ‘E’ vowels. “Do not shoot ze encroaching target.”

“Roger,” answered came the response over the intercom.

She adjusted her headset for what felt like the fiftieth time that evening - it rested awkwardly after the first few hours - and leaned in closer to her monitor. The feed from camera one provided her an image of a body that seemed to move with something between a swagger and a stagger. The body type and even the face of the approaching tango gave little indication as to its gender; the individual bore long red hair, and had a face so pale that it may as well have belonged to a corpse adorned with purple lips.

“Target shows signs of hypothermia,” purred Wattson, her blue eyes trained on the stranger. She watched as the cam mounted atop Camera One’s headset bobbed left-to-right as the security detail approached his mark. A puff of smoke temporarily obscured the feed, and then dissipated to reveal that the target had collapsed into the maw of the cave system. “Collect ze mark, Camera One. Stow ze rifle.”

“...do you know that that’s a good idea, Natalie?” answered back the gruff and cigarette hoarse voice of camera one. “The tango may be hostile.”

“Yes,” answered Wattson, trying not to betray her impatience in her tone. “And ze tango may NOT be hostile. Do not shoot an unarmed man, mon frere.”

With an audible sigh, Camera One hefted up the body of the newcomer and lifted their form over his shoulder so that his haunches were visible in the camera feed. Performing an about face, then bringing his cigarette to his lips again in an act that focused the feed’s attention to a burning rose of ember, Camera One began to tote back his baggage.

---

The clickety clack of fingers on a keyboard were the only sound in the hut. Wattson sat up in her seat, stretched and heard the satisfying pops of her elbows and back, and then realized that even after she’d discontinued her groan the sound had continued. Pivoting in her swivel chair; Natalie spectated her plush level couch and noticed that the body of the stranger was stirring beneath the many blankets she’d buried him in.

Kefka peaked his head from his cocoon looking groggy but aware, and took in his surroundings with the dim awareness that belonged strictly to those who’d come back from the brink of death. Usually, in Natalie’s experience, what ensued was a fear rimmed stare. Instead what she found was a clever gaze both perceptive and curious.

“N-not the Af-af-afterlife,” stammered Kefka. His lips hadn’t caught up to his body yet, and the shock of hypothermia hadn’t taken its leave of him yet.

“No, zis is not ze afterlife,” purred Wattson, trying to paint her words with comfort and wondering if she’d succeeded her attempt - interpersonal interaction was not a strong point of hers. “Zis is my home, mon frere. Tu es embetant…”

She trailed off, realizing that silly may not quite embody the severity of what this stranger had undertaken, but lacking the words to impart upon the newly awaken what he had undergone.

C’est magnifique, uh, that you are awake now. I thought zat maybe you would not…”

Kefka tried to answer her in the pause within which Wattson tried to find her word, but instead smacked his lips wordlessly.

“Ah! Oui! You must be tres parched.”

She rustled amongst a case down by her feet, dimly aware that she smelled of two days without shower or sleep, and found a water bottle. The chill of the environment, even in her coal stove heated abode, kept the bottle chilled. She hastened out of her seat with a frame both lithe and slight and made her way to the side of the couch where she knelt and handed a bottle of water to the outlander.

“Drink zis. It is ze main thing you need. Je ne sais pas - I do not know how you survived long enough to get to us, mais, you are lucky to be alive right now.”

She imparted the water bottle into Kefka’s clumsy groping fingers and smiled as he drank in heavy gulps.

“Careful. Do not overconsume. It will not help you in this time.”

She raised up her fingers and snapped - the room came alight, revealing a wooden cottage simply decorated. The main fixture was her home base, her computer system, off against the widest wall of the cabin. Aside from that there was a door frame adorned on either side with a tall pole...those two poles connected to one another via visible blue electricity that crackled and sizzled and yet somehow was stable, interlacing as a three-rung fence that blockaded the cabin’s only exit. There was a simple window on the opposite end of the building, and that too was adorned with a fence nearly identical but longer that connected an inch outward from either of the window’s vertical frames.

And there was a single door against one of the two shorter walls left ajar that revealed a small bathroom complete with a standing shower, a toilet, a sink, and a bachelor’s mirror.

Wattson’s luminous blue eyes caught the wandering eyes of her guest, and she flushed pink about her cheeks.

Those cheeks were surrounded by the skin-tight hood of her under-thermals. Wattson wore skin-tight thermals beneath a puffed vest, and they obscured most of her undernourished but otherwise hour-glass figure. Natalie “Wattson” Paquette was a young girl in her early to mid-twenties with wide staring eyes that looked bereft of sleep. Kneeling by the couch, she did not look your typical Florence Nightingale, and she smelled faintly of a couple days’ unwashed sweat.

“You have lucked into a small commune, mon - my friend. Tres bien for you. And luckier still! I ‘ave provisions!”

Scrambling up to her feet as Kefka sat up, Wattson threw open a cupboard and rummaged within. From its depths she drew a can of beans, and grinned. “I shall prepare you ze premium eggs and beans.”

“F-fucking...wonderful…” murmured Kefka, trying to find his words. He looked utterly nonplussed. “A-a-a...winter bumpkin.”

“Oh, non non non, Monsieur. Zis is no bumpkin. I am ze foremost electrical engineer of my time. And you, mon frere, are tres lucky to ‘ave come to my door.”
 

Kefka Palazzo

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He’d been brooding.

No, that’s not right. Brooding? He wasn’t some fucking caped one-percenter running around in underwear pretending to help people.

He was downright simmering. Boiling.

No. Boiling? I’m fighting hypothermia why the fuck would I boil?

“Ugh. I mean I’m angry.”

There was silence for a moment. Wattson had stopped making her “Premium” Eggs and Beans to gape at him for what seemed like way too long to process a pretty basic sentiment.

“…Okay?”

“Sorry. Wasn’t talking to you.”

“…Okay.”

Kefka thought he’d detected a slight tension in her voice at what he’d said. He shrugged. Or maybe he shivered; his body didn’t seem able to correctly respond to his whims in its usual way.

“I’m n-not,” he clenched his teeth hard, furious at his own weakness. As though a little chill could stop a goddamn- well. God. “-good. With niceties. Or in terms of the general sentiment, if you ascribe so something as absurd as good or evil.”

“Should I be concerned, Monsieur…”

“Palazzo,” he responded with a more appropriate amount of bravado, definitely not aided by practicing his own name in various mirrors for hours to perfect just the right amount of gravitas.

Definitely not that.

Kefka Palazzo,” he added. “And yes, probably. In my world, I was God. I was Judgement. And my flock was always found wanting.”

“Zat’s… a little creepy. But I appreciate your… mm… candor? I think zat’s the English way of that word.”

“Ah… y-yes. It is,” he clenched his teeth harder. Fucking weak. “Not that it matters now. I… am a little tired.”

“You collapsed in a crevasse and presented with multiple severe injuries including two separate impalements,” the woman responded, suddenly returning with a plate and setting it before the pitiful, shivering man trembling in her blankets. “I would imagine zat is tiring.”

Kefka snorted.

“My name is Natalie, but most call me Wattson,” she crossed the room to a chair and took a seat opposite him. “What brings you to zis world of ice and quiet?”

“I woke up here.”

“Oh?”

“I died. A while ago. I found a way to come back. The person who helped me… evidently didn’t quite like me. He tried to kill me all over again; I have to admit I would have been so furious if it wasn’t so- so-”

Each time he tried to speak, he had to stifle a laugh. Soon, he was chuckling uncontrollably, though the familiar shrill whoop seemed absent – he could hardly speak, let alone laugh properly.

“Oh, he was funny. It’s the one reason I won’t hold a grudge. …Well. Maybe. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll just tear him apart little by little over the course of… oh, I don’t know. Maybe ten thousand years? Or maybe we’ll be friends. I don’t have those anymore.”

“You… have a unique thought process, Monsieur Palazzo,” Wattson replied, before she hurried about for a moment, returning again with… tea?

She set a cup down in front of Kefka, the liquid steaming with the warmth he desperately craved, and sipped on her own. At the press of a button on a remote she’d produced, a screen dropped down from the ceiling and started to play highlights of some kind… senseless brutality.

Scenes of people shooting, stabbing, punching, and otherwise just being altogether unfriendly toward one another played out. Kefka narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. “Is… this…?”

“Dante’s Abyss. It took me some time but I knew I had recognized your face. I enjoyed your performance.”

Kefka snorted. This time he seemed unimpressed.

“I was pathetic. Disoriented, uncoordinated. I was killed by an explosive… designed to assist labourers. By some disgusting lizard woman.”

Wattson laughed. “His name is Frieza.”

“Frieza,” Kefka growled. “Yes. I owe him a visit. Once I’ve found my footing, I would love to find h- ah, him.”

“I liked your friend,” Wattson laughed, her voice soft and smooth.

“My friend?”

“You gave him quite the name. Scr-”

“Screamsicle! Oh, my little… subservient… combat lettuce. Our time together was achingly brief. But also I did hate him. I hated him so much.”
 
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