“Myrna!“ Barret hollered through the open window as he ran back up the little dirt path toward their rented duplex; a stack of papers was clutched in his hand.
“Myrna, I’m back!”
“…that much is obvious.” Myrna smiled, stuck the last clean dish in the drying rack, then turned to her husband with a smile, wiping her hands on her apron. “Well?” She added expectantly.
“My hand damned near fell off from all the damned signin’,” Barret complained good-naturedly. He kissed Myrna, then reached behind her to nab a biscuit out of a cloth-lined basket, still warm from the oven, and popped it into his mouth before his wife could even rebuke him for spoiling his dinner.
“But it’s ours, baby! It’s ours!” Barret grinned, and then reached into his pocket, drawing out two sets of keys.
“It’s ours, Myrna! “ Barret exclaimed joyfully. “Bank approved our loan, and now we get a little place to call our own!” He placed one set of keys in Myrna’s hand and folded her fingers over them.
“Hopefully not too small,” Myrna reminded him, rubbing a hand over the telltale bump in her belly.
“Naw, it’s jes’ enough room for three of us!” Barret replied cheerfully. “Or four, or five, or six…”
Myrna laughed and let Barret sweep her off of her feet in a hug. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, now. Let me have this baby first, then we’ll talk.”
They’d first met when Barret was eighteen, and Myrna fifteen; her father had forbidden her to date, saying she was too young. Barret, for all of his guff and bluster, didn’t belabor the point; he actually agreed with Myrna’s father.
“I’ll wait for you,” he promised her with a chaste kiss, just before leaving with Dyne on a scouting expedition. “But I’m gonna take you out dancin’ when you’re old enough!”
“Barret!” Myrna giggled. “You don’t even dance!”
Barret grinned and stuck his chin out stubbornly. “So what! So I’ll learn! Be back in a few months!”
When Myrna was eighteen, her father gave his blessing when Barret asked for her hand in marriage, buoyed by hopeful prospects of a successful career in coal mining. The Corel area had been a prime area for coal mining for generations, and thanks to the scouting expeditions of Barret and Dyne, they’d found even more reserves of coal in the surrounding area. Barret and Myrna were married in a small, impromptu ceremony at the Gold Saucer – it was all they could afford on a tight budget at the time. It didn’t matter much to Myrna or Barret, neither one of them were big on elaborate ceremonies. What mattered most to them was being together, and starting on building a home and family together. Barret and Myrna wanted a big family with lots of kids, and talked excitedly about their plans for their future brood as soon as they were wed.
A few years later, both Barret and Dyne would be starting their own families. Eleanor, Dyne’s wife, became pregnant just a few months before Myrna did. Both women compared notes, talked about their pregnancies, commiserated over the aches and pains. Myrna started feeling tired and sluggish around her sixth month, just weeks before Eleanor’s due date; she chalked it up to her pregnancy causing her to feel exhausted.
Eleanor noticed though, one day over a cup of tea, how slowly Myrna was moving about her kitchen; the dark circles under her eyes, the labored breath. She was worried for her friend, and told her so.
“Myrna….you’re not looking so good,” Eleanor told her frankly. “Have you seen the doctor this week?”
“Not yet – “ Myrna grunted as she plopped herself down in a chair. Her feet were so swollen she hobbled around when she walked, and it pained her to stand for very long. “Doctor’s away right now.”
“And so are our husbands,” Eleanor added, rolling her eyes. “All that talk with Shinra – they’ve been meeting with the town leader today.”
“Hmpf,” Myrna snorted. “Barret thinks mako energy’s gonna be the way of the future, whether we like it or not. Last week he was on the fence, today he thinks we should just listen to what they have to say. I’m not so sure.” It was around this time that the coal industry began to struggle. Coal was being pushed out as an energy source in favor of mako energy, and ShinRa, Inc, had been courting the people of Corel, making their case for a mako reactor.
“Neither is Dyne,” Eleanor sighed. “I’ve never seen him so angry, Myrna. He wants them out of our town. I told him, now Dyne - don’t do anything stupid – “
Myrna chuckled. “How many times a day do you figure we gotta say that to either one of our husbands?”
“A friggin’ lot,” Eleanor replied, snickering. She patted Myrna’s arm, eyeing her swollen feet with concern. “Promise me you’ll call the doctor soon, won’t you?”
“I will, I will,” Myrna agreed. “Swollen feet are part of the deal, you know, part of havin’ a baby.”
Eleanor nodded, but looked doubtful. Myrna’s legs and feet were not only swollen, but had taken on a reddish hue, which alarmed her.
“Maybe. Just make sure you call him soon.”
Meanwhile, in the center of Corel town, a meeting was being held at the village elder’s home regarding the ShinRa situation; both Barret and Dyne were in attendance. Barret’s tone was unusually calm, for once, while Dyne’s voice was raised and angry. He was pacing back and forth over the worn wooden floor, gesticulating wildly as he shouted down every point Barret was trying to raise.
“I can’t believe you, of all people, Wallace! Can’t believe you’d buy into their lies! Come on, man – you’re smarter than that,” Dyne shouted.
“We got nothin’ left, man!” Barret shouted back, exasperated. “Look, the coal ain’t gonna last forever! The mines are givin’ us less and less each time we go down. And don’t ya remember the great cave-in? The one where my daddy died?” Barret’s frown grew deeper and he grunted, punching the doorjamb.
Dyne didn’t turn around – couldn’t turn around, he didn’t want to look at Barret’s face, not right away. Of course he remembered the cave-in; it had happened when they were both kids. Barret’s father, just like Dyne’s, worked down in the Corel mines – as did their fathers, and their fathers’ fathers. Coal families, all of them, stretching back generations.
“I remember,” Dyne finally said quietly, slowly turning around, gazing levelly at Barret. “The mines are safer now, Barret – we haven’t had a single incident since - “
“But we could, Dyne! We could!” Barret sputtered. Despite all the precautions, and the safety standards put in place by Barret himself – to try and prevent what had happened to his father from ever happening to another miner – even Barret had to admit, none of it was one-hundred percent foolproof. A cave-in could happen again, and many nights Barret would wake up in a cold sweat, a recurrent nightmare haunting him – of being trapped underground, slowly suffocating in the dark and the coal dust, dying the same way his father did. Mako energy had its drawbacks, but the extraction process – so far – had been clean and safe, with no loss of life.
He couldn't do that to Myrna, couldn’t leave her a young widow with a baby on the way.
“An’ I don’t know about you, Dyne, but I don’t wanna leave Myrna without a husband, and our baby without a father!”
Dyne’s teeth bared in a snarl and he cursed under his breath. “Look….we both got a lot to live for! We both know it! But giving up our coal….for this...pipe dream.” He paused and took a deep breath, scowling.
“I don’t trust the Shinra, Barret. Never will. I heard from Baxter that one of their damned reactors leaked. Under Junon harbor. The people who live there didn't even know there was a reactor there! These damn Shinra – act like they already own us. Like they own the whole damned Planet.”
Barret raised an eyebrow at this, but nodded. “I heard ‘bout that. Shinra’s engineer said it was a natural disaster. Somethin’ about the Planet’s plates shiftin’ – “
“Plates, my ass,” Dyne scoffed, “See what I’m saying, though? They tried to cover it up, but word got out. I mean, do they think we’re all stupid?”
“Gentlemen, please – “ The village head man finally interjected, holding out his hands in pleading. “We’re getting nowhere, here – we’re talking in circles. Now, I’ve taken what you’ve said – what both of you have said – into consideration. It’s all in the Council’s hands, now. We’ll deliberate, and decide on this issue before the next meeting.”
“But – “ Both Barret and Dyne sputtered in unison, then both nodded in resignation.
“Fine,” Dyne muttered in a low tone, motioning to Barret with a nod of his head. “Let’s go.”
Once outside, Dyne angrily kicked a rock as he and Barret made their way back to their homes. “Nothing good’s gonna come of the Shinra, Barret. You mark my words.”
Barret shook his head and sighed. “I don’t see what other options we got, man. We’re running out of coal, don’t you see? I’m thinkin’ about our futures, here!”
“So am I,” Dyne said flatly. “I can’t believe we’ve come to this point. Barret, let me tell you something, it’s – “ But Dyne never finished his sentence, he was interrupted by one of the neighborhood children running up to them, breathless and excited.
“Mister Dyne! Mister Dyne! Miz Eleanor is havin’ the baby! It’s happening right now!”
“Oh shit!” Dyne exclaimed, half wracked with nerves, the rest of him absolutely elated at the news. “Shit! Barret, the baby!”
Barret laughed, loud and deep, and clapped Dyne on the back. “Yeah, man. Yeah! Let’s go an’ see how everyone’s doing!”
It was a long and painful labor, with Myrna serving as Eleanor’s midwife; twenty-two and a half hours later, Marlene was born. An exhausted Eleanor held the tiny baby in her arms, while Dyne – an elated grin on his face – burst out of the bedroom to let Barret know.
“It’s a girl! Her name’s Marlene,” Dyne announced. “Myrna’ll be out in a minute – Eleanor couldn’t have done it without her, man. Can’t thank you both enough.”
“Aw, Marlene! That’s a beautiful name.” Barret slapped Dyne on the back, and gently jabbed him in the arm. Myrna soon followed Dyne out into the corridor, her face lined with exhaustion, though she managed a smile.
“She’s doing good – they’re both doing good. Tired, though,” Myrna went on. “So am I,” she added, laughing quietly.
“You go on home and rest, Myrna,” Dyne urged her. “Barret – you take good care of this little lady, okay?”
“Will do, man. We got another month to go!” Barret exclaimed, grinning. He draped an arm over Myrna’s shoulders, leading her back to their little house, not far from Dyne and Eleanor’s. “How you feeling, baby? You look tired.”
Myrna laughed. “I am tired, Barret. Eleanor did all the hard work, but being a midwife can take a lot out of you.”
Barret frowned. “We shoulda got someone else to do it. They’re our best friends, yeah, but I don’t want you overdoin’ it so close to our baby bein’ born.”
“There isn’t anyone else, Barret,” Myrna explained. “Not for miles and miles.” She sighed. “The doctor came to town last week, but he went back to Midgar. If our baby doesn’t turn around - “ She sighed again, and shook her head. “Well. I don’t know what’ll happen.”
“What do you mean, turn around?” Barret’s voice rose in alarm. “Is somethin’ wrong with the baby? What’d the doctor say?” Medical care in Corel was sparse; the townspeople relied on midwives and healing spells or potions administered at home; the closest doctor was in Costa del Sol, and Midgar was the only city on the Planet that had a state-of-the-art medical facility. Most villages and towns were on their own when it came to medical care, and prenatal care was hard to come by.
“The baby’s breech, Barret,” Myrna explained. She sank down into the rocking chair on the porch with a tired sigh, as Barret fumbled for his keys to open the door. “She’s upside down – feet first! Plus….there’s other stuff going on. My blood pressure’s too high, so I’ve gotta rest.” Myrna had, in fact, completely disregarded the doctor’s recommendation to get complete bedrest, but she felt she couldn’t let Eleanor down; she was the only qualified midwife left in North Corel.
“That ain’t good,” Barret murmured. “So….what are we gonna do? The doctor gonna come back? Or do we gotta go to Costa?”
“The doctor will come, Barret,” Myrna tried to sound assuring. “He told me to send for him once labor starts – might have to have a Caesarian birth, if he can’t get the baby to turn around.
Barret grew pale, and sank into the rocker next to Myrna. “Surgery? I don’t like that idea, Myrna - “ Myrna rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Barret, honey – believe me. I don’t like the idea of having a big hole cut in me either, but if that’s the safest way to have the baby, then that’s what I’m gonna do.”
“I know, I know,” Barret relented, patting his wife’s hand. “I just don’t wanna see you suffer. It’d kill me, you know, seein’ you hurtin’ like that.”
Myrna closed her eyes briefly, and smiled. “It’ll be all right, Barret. Don’t you worry, now.”
Not quite two weeks later, ShinRa executives and infantry descended upon the town, armed to the teeth, while the townspeople looked on bewildered. Barret and Myrna had been visiting Dyne and Eleanor, and Barret was gingerly holding Marlene in his lap when they heard shouting outside.
Barret and Dyne exchanged a look, and nodded. Barret handed Marlene back to Eleanor, and both men left, with Dyne warning them to lock the door.
Myrna, whose contractions had started that morning – the doctor in Costa contacted, already on his way – reached over to the door and clicked the lock.
“I got a gun in my purse, if we need it,” Eleanor said quietly, resting Marlene’s head on her shoulder as she rocked her to sleep. “Hope it don’t come to that.”
Outside, Barret and Dyne watched in horror as Shinra’s infantry began grabbing people off of the street, dragging some out of their homes unwillingly. A blonde woman bearing a ShinRa name badge stood off to the side, flanked by two guards, smirking.
“What the hell is goin’ on here?” Barret demanded angrily of the woman. “Who the hell are you?”
“That’s none of your concern,” the blonde woman replied icily. “Now, be a good little boy – your friend too – and vacate the premises like you’re supposed to. Gods, can’t any of you people take a hint?”
“Vacate?” Dyne spat on the ground, hitting the woman’s very expensive looking red, high-heelde pump. “Are you insane? We live here, lady. You can’t make none of us leave.”
The woman chuckled darkly. “Oh, but we can. We’re taking Corel Town – all of it – by eminent domain. Didn’t your town leader tell you? Everyone was supposed to have vacated their properties yesterday. This town belongs to ShinRa, now. So GET OUT.”
“The hell you talkin’ about! Nobody told us nothin’!” Barret shouted in the woman’s face. The two troopers blocked Barret, shielding the woman from him, though she seemed anything but frightened – she laughed.
“What should we do with him, Miz Scarlet?” one of them asked, aiming his mako gun at Barret.
“Get his identification. And take his weapon.” Scarlet ordered coldly. Barret smacked away the hand that reached for his wallet and his sidearm.
“Don’t you touch me! I ain’t tellin’ you nothin’- ”
“Doesn’t matter,” Scarlet said flatly. “That’s the house they came out of, right?” she asked one of the troopers, pointing over to Dyne and Eleanor’s house.
“Yes ma’am, that’s the one,” the trooper nodded affirmatively. “The brown house with the green shutters – “ He stopped short, stunned as Scarlet lobbed a fire spell toward the house in question.
“You bitch!” Dyne snarled, jumping at Scarlet. She kicked at him, and managed to slap him across the face before one of the troopers pulled him off; the other trooper still had his mako gun trained on Barret.
“Asshole,” Scarlet snapped, quickly getting to her feet. She slapped Dyne again, hard, with enough force to make his head snap back. “I’ve had enough of this shit. Throw them in the pit, both of them.”
“But ma’am – we need to process them first – “ one trooper began.
“Just do what I say!” Scarlet retorted coldly.
Though Dyne and Barret struggled, more troopers had arrived for backup, and the two men were restrained, guns in their backs as they were marched toward the canyon.
“I haven’t got all day!” Scarlet shouted impatiently. She knelt beside Dyne and grinned, then whispered in his ear:
“You’re first,” and she shoved him with all of her might into the ravine. Dyne went hurtling, clutching onto the rocky precipice, though his grip was quickly slipping.
“Dyne!” Barret shouted, breaking out of the troopers’ grip, rushing over to the side of the canyon. “Grab onto my hand!” he yelled, thrusting out his arm as far as it could go.
“I can’t – I can’t make it – “ Dyne murmured. “Got nothing left to live for, anyway – they’re all dead – “
“You were right, Dyne, an’ I was wrong,” Barret sobbed. “I was wrong! God damn the ShinRa! Come on, man – we’ll fight ‘em, together!”
“Nothing left to fight for,” Dyne muttered, his voice devoid of emotion. A spray of bullets passed over their heads, startling them for just a moment before they realized they were being fired upon.
“Kill them! Gods, you guys are incompetent – “ Scarlet grabbed a mako gun from one of the troopers and began firing on Dyne and Barret herself, aiming for their conjoined hands.
“Ungggh!” Barret screamed, bone and muscle shattering, his grip on Dyne’s hand slipping. Blood spurted up between the two of them, and Barret realized that Dyne had been hit as well, perhaps even mortally wounded; there was a lot of blood.
“I can’t – can’t hold on, man.” Barret slumped forward, starting to grow dizzy from rapid blood loss. “Dyne – Dyne!” Barret screamed into the canyon as Dyne fell; black dots swam in front of his eyes, and he fell over, realizing he was about to join the Lifestream himself.
“Myrna – baby, I’m so sorry I failed you – gonna see you real soon.” Everything went black, then red - then black again. It wasn't how he'd imagined death; he didn't feel dead, just beaten to all hell. He rolled over, laying on the stump that had once been his arm, waiting for the Lifestream to take him. Except...it never did.
Hours later, Barret stirred, blinked, and sat up; smoke caught in the back of his throat, burning, and he coughed, spat black tar on the ground. His arm was on fire - what was left of it. He didn't look, couldn't look. After some struggle with his good arm, Barret loosed his belt, wrapped it around his right upper arm, using his teeth to tighten it. He felt an odd, grim sort of satisfaction in the simple task of fashioning a tourniquet.
Ain't nothin' gonna be easy, now that I only got one arm. He looked up at the smoldering rubble that had once been Dyne and Eleanor's home, and choked back a sob, the grief overriding any physical pain he had.
"God damnit! Sons of bitches - gonna find 'em all, gonna kill 'em all! - " Barret's angry rant was interrupted by the tiny wail of an infant; he bolted upright, hope swelling in his chest as he ran toward the source of the sound.
"Marlene! Marlene, you're alive!"