STRIPES: CHAPTER ONE
AN ACQUISITION OF PROPERTY
City of Junon - August 29, XXXX+5 2:47:39 AM.
The distant sirens of police cars echoed in one of the more dingy alleyways of
the city. An early morning fog was beginning to thicken around the tops of the
mismatched street lamps. Awkward intervals of amber and pale green trying to
act like it's white illuminated the sides of the buildings across the main
road. Two hours ago, some of the older citizens were still sitting on their
stoops, watching their kids line up behind the graveyard-shift ice cream truck
as it stopped on their corner. The stoop-sitters had since gone to bed, and
the murders taking place in the city tonight were on the west side of Junon, so
nobody but the nightowls sitting in front of their computers would have taken
notice of the black figure stalking the street.
Marching along with a confidence and a jacket that didn't belong to him, the
man turned down an alley landmarked by a dull flourescent-white-blue street
lamp, which barely illuminated a couple of reflective metal street-signs that
read "LODGING" and "TOWNHOUSE/STUDIO FOR RENT --->"
The chains on his boots rattled sinisterly through the polluted urban hallway.
A bum slid further into his alcove as the lanky, angry silhouette of the man
cut off the dusty purple ray of light. The black of the end of the alley was
being disturbed by the slow flicker of a dying neon sign. The man continued
toward it, streaking his fingers across the dirty glass of a studio window as
Closer inspection of the sign revealed it to be the "LODGING." The pathetic red
sign buzzed "ED'S TA ERN ND IN ." The man stood in front of it for a moment,
looking at it as if pondering whether to euthanize it or not. After a few
moments, he reached a hand out and the missing V flickered back to life. That
was good enough for now.
Ed's had had another slow night, but that was expected. Ever since ShinRa fell,
business had died. Ed sighed. ShinRa. It had been just five years since they
had been toppled from their throne and AVALANCHE's idealist regime had replaced
them. Idealists. Always thinking they could do nothing but good. They do the
worst kind of bad.
With their utter lack of resources, AVALANCHE could not afford to replace
ShinRa as a power company and, to survive, had to pick up where ShinRa had left
Junon, and many other parts of the world, were still being powered by
Mako. The threat of Meteor was gone, and the scar that the gigantic space
parasite JENOVA had left was healing, and there was no more weird research
going on, but Cloud Strife, as head of AVALANCHE, had outlawed ALL research
related to mako, including dismantling and containing it.
It was disgusting the amount of propoganda that was posted up everywhere to let him get away with
it. Every time an argument to the contrary came up, Strife and his propoganda
police would post another gruesome result of science up on all the television
screens, and all the people could do was shake their heads and sigh and go back
to duct-taping their air pollution filters to their windows.
The hope that Junon would return to the humble little port town it used to be faded
completely once AVALANCHE had recently declared Junon its capital city in July.
Small gangs were becoming more and more violent, but Strife had prepared for
such an event, and recruited former members of ShinRa's Turks organization into
his personal enforcement squad. Now even the revolutionist punks were
Something was going have to to give very soon.
Oh, the good old days of ShinRa...
The creak of the door opening stirred Ed from his reverie. The only other
customer, a regular, was sound asleep on the counter, with his regular 512 gil
tip melting under an empty mug from condensation. He didn't stir, even as the
'Good old Farf...' Ed thought, but was caught off-guard by the new
customer's appearance. He looked to be in his mid thirties and had short, black
hair, cut to a fade in the back, with a set of bangs that were cut long in
front of his face, and reminded him of a smaller scale version of the posters
of Sephiroth that were always posted up everywhere ten years ago. The man wore
a black leather jacket that looked like it was stolen off a drunk teenager.
Local band patches were safetypinned to it, and the shoulderpads were
reinforced at home and given spikes. It didn't fit him. Underneath the jacket
was a white tank top with bloodstains that looked like they didn't quite come
out in the wash. The man was wearing a pair of worn out jeans, and black,
cuban-heeled boots with chains crossing the heel and the front of the foot. Ed
didn't get many punk rock people at his place, but there was something about
this man that didn't fit.
His demeanor came off as severely self-conscious. His left hand quickly jerked
to his face the moment Ed got a good look at the gigantic four-lined clawmark
it sported. His eyes were obscured completely by a very dark pair of
sunglasses. When Ed continued to stare, the man seemed to loosen up, and
dropped his hand from his face.
"Looks like you've been in a tangle with the head of the Turks," Ed said,
turning around quickly and pulling a bottle of liquor with a very long neck and
a stout base out from under the counter. The bottom of it was littered with
tiny gold filings, and the label on the bottle read 'Nibelheim - XXXX-70.' Ed
poured the man a shotglass and offered it to him. "I tip my hat to any man
brave or stupid enough to dance with that monster and survive."
The man let out a sigh of relief through his nose and grinned. He stepped
forward and took the shot, wincing as the alchohol burned down his throat.
"XXXX-70. That was the year I was born," he mused, grinning, knowing in full
that Ed didn't believe him. "Best batch of Goldschlager Nibelheim ever made."
He sat the shotglass back down on the bar and took a seat, gazing at the bottle
rather lustfully. "That was like having a nice dinner with a friend I haven't
seen in years. Thank you for the oppurtunity, Edward Thompson."
Ed blinked. "H-how did you know my--"
"Name? I looked you up in the phone book.
I'm here to see about buying that studio next door to you," the man
said, pulling out a torn page of the Junon Times Want Ad section with a tiny ad
at the bottom circled in a vintage mako highlighter.
Ed couldn't help but be entranced by the sound of this man's voice.
Ed himself was going on 30, and this man didn't seem much older than he was,
but he carried himself like he was something much bigger than he appeared to be.
"Er, um, yeah...y-yeah, I remember that ad."
"I'm willing to pay six months rent up front for it."
"You really don't have to pay that much up front, sir."
"Oh, but I want to," the man chided.
Ed was beyond disturbed. "Sounds like you want it pretty badly. All
right. Let me find the paperwork for it and I can let you in in ten minutes if
The man smiled genuinely and swiveled himself around in the
barstool. "Thank you, young man!"
Ed gave the man a dirty look behind his back
and ran off to get the paperwork and keys.
The man sighed and drank in the sights and smells of the cluttered old bar-room. Nothing white. Nothing
sterile. Everything looked comfortably, if impoverishedly, lived in. Leaning
his head back against the bar, his sunglasses tipped a bit so that he could see
the warm, pre-mako styled lighting fixtures. So unfamiliar and new to him, but
just as respectable. He loved it. Loved the jerry-rigged piping held up by
duct-tape, the newspaper clippings garishly disorganized on a corkboard that
hung on an equally garish lime green wall, and the lovely little sign that was
doing its best and being more beautiful by just being only half of itself...
He sighed a lover's sigh and awkwardly jumped back up in his seat as Ed
returned with the deed to the studio, nearly falling off it. Cautiously, Ed
showed him where he thought he was supposed to sign and who to call when
anything was wrong with the place. Once all the paperwork was done, Ed folded
it up in a yellowed document envelope that was probably older than he was, and
handed it and ta set of keys to the man.
"So...you some sort of artist or
"Oh, just about every sort of artist," the man replied, shrugging
out of his punk-jacket and revealing not only the part of the claw-scar that
travelled below his neck and over his shoulder, but a set of three parallel
chevrons at 90 degree angles in heavy black ink travelling in zigzags around
both of his arms.
"Wow! Did you do both of those yourself?"
"It was a pain in the ass to get all the angles right. I also have...these," he said, pausing to
lift up his wife-beater to show the three black parallel lines that cradled his
ribcage and came around on both sides to form another downward chevron on his
lower back. "But I needed help with that."
"Jesus. It's still really cool,
"I'm sorry I don't have much else to show you. My...portfolio of work
seems to have deteriorated recently."
"Well, with that studio, I'm pretty sure you'll be able to come up with something new and just as impressive." "Thank
you very much. I'm going to refer all my customers to this place after they're
done," the man said and turned to walk out. "Er...same here! Wait, sir! I
didn't get your name."
The man thought for a moment and closed his eyes,
remembering just four days ago how he had sat and watched the waves crash on
the shore and pull straight overlapping Vs into the sand as the water pulled
back, not very much unlike what was emblazoned on his forearms. "I guess you
can call me Stripes."