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Lieutenant Buckethead

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Name Of Reporting Officer: Lt. Fair, Zack

Name Of Superior Officer: General Sephiroth

Date of Incident: 12/11/7777

Today's Date: 12/14/7777

Brief description: Okay, so let me preface by pointing out that this is all Nat's fault.

"Hey, Fair, c'mere! You gotta see this!"

To his credit, Zack did hesitate at the conspiratorial tone in Nathaniel Veto's voice. Fellow hotshot in the SOLDIER program, competition for the vanishingly few spots in First Class, and a fellow seventeen-year-old with major mental and physical enhancements and way too much energy, Nat was a friend but also a potential prank vector. It was inevitable among the Seconds, something the officers thundered about to no end but never seemed to do anything about. Zack privately thought they used the pranks as a secondary, unofficial weeding-out system. That's what he would do if he was an officer, in any case.

...perish the thought.

"What's up?" he asked, approaching at a casual saunter. "Someone finally get ahold of Hojo's underwear for Flag Day?"

Nat snorted. "I'm not even sure the guy wears underwear."

"...okay, ew."

"You brought it up." Nat arched an eyebrow at him and Zack conceded the point, if only so they could move on from this topic. "Seriously, check it out."

Glancing about to ensure no witnesses, Nat opened his hand, and Zack sucked in his breath at the carmine gleam. "Dude, is that-"

"Shh! ...it so is."

Nat was grinning like a demon, and Zack clapped a hand over his mouth to muffle his laughter. "You sly fox!" he accused. "If someone catches you with a Summon-"

"Nobody's gonna catch me," Nat scoffed. Zack wasn't so sure - Sephiroth for one could all but smell unauthorized Materia in Zack's possession, and Nat's immediate commander was no fool either. "I found it out by Fort Condor - you know the reactor with the Cosmo hippie in charge? They think there's a nest on the tower-"

"I heard it was a monster," Zack put in.

"Whatever it is, it's laying Materia like eggs," Nat grinned. "I picked this up out along the pipeline. I've never even seen a red before; isn't it something?"

"It's something, all right," Zack agreed, belatedly remembering to be wary - but Materia was Materia, after all. "So what's it do?"

Nat cackled, his eyes shining brilliantly with more than Mako. "Oh, dude, that's the best part. Come on, let's find an empty training yard."

The only empty training yard was the one with distinctive blade marks in the walls and floor, left from Sephiroth's annual fitness test a month ago. Somehow the funds to repair the yard never quite got allocated; Zack wasn't sure whether it was Shinra's aim to show off their Silver General's power, or a passive-aggressive form of punishment for the man's show of frustrated temper during same. In any case, it left Nat and Zack a relatively open space, empty of all but a few janitorial supplies. Zack backed up near the far wall, giving Nat plenty of room.

The air was already stirring as Nat clapped the red gem into his Buster. The skin on Zack's arms prickled. "Am I gonna have to leap out of the way?"

Nat laughed as multicolored flame wreathed him. "Nah, I tested it out when I found it. It hits like a freight train but it's got a ten-foot range."

The fire roared up, hiding Nat's form; the air shook with thunder as something approached with the speed and force of a freight train. Zack started laughing as he recognized the shape coalescing out of light and magic. "A chocobo, seriously?" he demanded, his voice all but lost in the sound of its charge. "You found a Summon Choco-"

The summoned chocobo, a moogle clinging to its back, steamed right past him, the force of its wake enough to send Zack flying. Ten-foot range, my ass! he thought, before he crash-landed and everything went dark.

Dark, but not silent. "What the hell," Zack demanded, flailing himself free of the remains of the crate he'd just smashed into. "Nat!"

"Holy shit, I'm sorry." Hands gripped his shoulders, a Cure spell tingled against his skin. "That was way stronger than the last time I cast it."

"Good for you, you're improving." Zack put a hand to his head - or tried to, but his palm was blocked by metal. "...Nat?"

"Uh... yeah?"

"What is on my head?"

"Um. Just, hold still a minute, okay?"

Immense pressure gripped his head, pulling him upward, and Zack squalled. "Ow, dammit, that hurts!" The pressure released and he dropped down again, cradling his impromptu helmet. "Seriously, Nat, what is going on?"

"You got a big head, that's what's going on."

Zack made a face at him, though he was fairly sure Nat couldn't see it. "Okay, I've seen this in movies. We need some oil, and-" His words were interrupted by the intercom speaker crackling to life.

SOLDIERs to the parade ground. All SOLDIERs report to the parade ground.

Both men froze. "I... didn't just hear what I thought I heard," Zack whimpered. "There's clearly an echo in this stupid thing."

Nat's only response was "Oh, fuck," which all things considered was not reassuring.

***

General Sephiroth noted the hole in the SOLDIERs' parade formation before any of the executives did. The two Seconds on either side of the hole were looking distinctly uncomfortable. With a growing sense of unease, Sephiroth took silent stock of the Seconds' formation, already fairly sure he knew who was missing.

Zack. And one other - Veto.

The executives were starting to shift, which meant they'd noticed the hole too. "I say, boy," Heidegger muttered under the meaningless blather of the President's briefing, "these SOLDIERs clearly don't spend enough time drilling. Tighten that formation up, would you?"

Sephiroth gritted his teeth. "They're leaving space for their comrades. Here they come." Two figures were running flat out toward them over the field, one gripping the other's wrist - but there was something odd about the other...

Thanks to his augmented vision, Sephiroth saw it long before anyone else, which was not a blessing - it just gave him more time for his stomach to sink. He had no option but to pretend to ignore it, which worked right up until the two wayward Seconds joined their fellows in formation, and Heidegger dropped his cigar in shock. "Is that man wearing a BUCKET?"

Yes. Yes, in fact, he was, and Heidegger's outburst had shut President Shinra up mid-word and silence reigned over executives, SOLDIERs, and faceless troopers alike. ...Well. Silent but for the SOLDIER next to the one with the bucket, who'd taken one look at him and collapsed into horrified, helpless gigglefits. Which was, of course, breaking formation, but Sephiroth made a mental note to see that she wasn't reprimanded for it.

The culprits, on the other hand...

"General," the President murmured meaningfully. Sephiroth drew in a deep breath and stalked forward, past the stoic and slightly wild-eyed line of Firsts to approach the hanging-onto-discipline-by-their-fingernails Seconds. Veto visibly cringed at his approach; the bucket-head had his shoulders up around his ears.

"Fair," he stated coolly.

"Sir." Fair's answer was a bit tinny. "Sorry, but it's kinda, um, stuck."

"It was my fault, General sir," Veto broke in, but Sephiroth shut him up with a glare.

Fair was still hunching, awaiting judgement; Sephiroth mulled his options, aware that all eyes were on this ridiculous scene. There wasn't exactly a proscribed punishment for showing up to formation with a bucket on his head, but...

Tugging his coat open, Sephiroth retrieved a marker from the inner pocket. Gripping the bucket in one hand, he uncapped the marker with his teeth and proceeded to make his mark on it.

Squeak, went the marker in the silence. Squeak, squeak.

"...What the hell did you just draw on me?" said the bucket, now sporting a friendly smiley face. "...Sir."

Rather than answer, Sephiroth gave the bucket a pat and marched back to his place at the head of the formation, grandly ignoring Heidegger's landed-fish impression. "Continue, President," he murmured, all unconcern.

"You're not going to reprimand them?" Shinra wondered.

"For the tardiness, of course." Sephiroth tapped his fingers on Masamune's hilt, supremely satisfied with himself. "But I don't believe there are any specific regulations against buckets. Let the Second's embarrassment be punishment enough."

"I see." The President stroked his goatee. "Very well. But I trust there will be no more silliness."

"I assure you, President," Sephiroth answered, looking straight into the Seconds' line. "My troops can comport themselves with proper decorum."

He'd been looking at Veto - who swallowed and straightened his spine - but the giggling Second took that look as meant for her, and visibly bit her tongue to keep more giggles from escaping. The rest of the men, SOLDIERs and troops alike, stared straight ahead, as expressionless as they could manage.

Somehow they managed to last the rest of the President's briefing and the subsequent issuing of orders, and Sephiroth waded in before Heidegger got the chance. "Major, take charge of that," he ordered the highest-ranking Second, pointing at Veto. "You two, bring Fair and come with me." Hummel and Swansea grabbed one of Zack's arms each, and Zack yelped a tinny protest. "We're going to perform a de-bucketing operation before this mission goes anywhere."

"There is a merciful god and his name is General Sephiroth," Zack whimpered.

"...Swansea, bring your hammer."

"...I take it back."

Outcome of incident: One Hel of a headache, a few chunks of hair missing, and a janitor whom I owe a new bucket. Well, Nat owes him, since (as stated above) it was all his fault to begin with.

Recommendations for the future: No unauthorized Materia in the training yard. Especially summons. Failing that, clear the area of buckets. Also, General Sephiroth does have a sense of humor, and for letting me marinate in embarrassment I owe him a whoopee cushion on his chair or something.

...just kidding, sir, please don't kill me.

Signed,
Zack Fair
SOLDIER Second Class
Shinra Military Operations
Forever after known as Lieutenant Buckethead