Over the weeks, things settled into a steady routine. She soon learned Lazard Delacroix's job consisted of acting as a buffer between the slow-moving bureaucracy of Shinra's administration, and the over-amped "we needed this yesterday" energy of the average member of SOLDIER. Her job consisted mainly of processing the reports the officers presented (most of them, despite Mako-enhanced speed, couldn't type any faster than she could), acting as a receptionist and message service for Mr Delacroix, and dealing with small issues, such as obtaining permission to replace gear broken in training.
Nesa soon figured out one of the early signs of Mako treatment: the acceleration of all physical and emotional processes. Third-class SOLDIER cadets were the worst, of course, since nearly everyone reacted poorly to the initial treatment. They wound up suffering from erratic actions and reactions, and needed specialised quarters and equipment while they learned to deal with their greater speed and strength. By the time the rare, suitable candidates had reached First Class, however, they were in control and able to interact with normal people without much obvious emphasis on the difference the Mako enhancements made to their physiology. Which was why she was surprised when the door to the office banged open, and the person who materialised before her desk before it had finished swinging shut in reaction was First Class SOLDIER Angeal Hewley.
"Can I help you, sir?" she asked. His eyes were glowing, something she was coming to recognise as a sign of heightened emotions among the Mako-enhanced.
"Is Lazard in?" he asked.
She pulled up Lazard's calendar. "No, I'm sorry. He's in a board meeting, and there's no indication when he'll be back, I'm afraid."
"May I ask what the problem is?" Nesa enquired.
"Is there any way you can get in contact with Lazard?" the SOLDIER asked instead.
"No, sir," Nesa said. "I'm very sorry, but Executive Delacroix has instructed he is never to be disturbed during board meetings."
"Damn!" Angeal swore again. "I don't suppose you'd know how to get one of our cadets off the Turks' wanted list, would you?"
Nesa looked at Angeal. "Would this be Mr Fair?" she asked.
Angeal sighed. "Yeah. That's the one."
"What did he do this time?" Nesa asked. She was already familiar with Zack Fair through the pile of reports she'd processed regarding the cadet's misbehaviour. The second-class SOLDIER had a rather idiosyncratic reaction to Mako treatments. Most of the cadets tended to become moody, miserable and depressed, but not Zack. No, after each treatment, he became at least twice as hyperactive and troublesome as previously, playing pranks, pulling stunts, and doing things which would not have seemed out of place for a schoolboy.
"Tseng got an earful from General Heidegger and put Zack on the wanted list. He gets caught, he's into the brig for about six months this time, if Heidegger doesn't get him shot on sight first."
"Shot on sight? Why?"
"Damn fool found some of the troops picking on a friend of his and beat half a squadron unconscious."
"A friend?" Nesa was curious. She hadn't heard of Fair having a friend in the Shinra troops until now.
"New bug," Hewley said. "Kid named Strife, just in off the mountains in Nibelheim."
"Cloud Strife?" Nesa said. "I remember the name. Applied to join SOLDIER, but failed the physical."
"That's the one. Heidegger's furious about having some of his 'crack troops' beaten up by a single SOLDIER cadet, and he's put out a shoot to kill order on the lad." Angeal sighed. "Zack's gone AWOL. I think he's gone into the slums to work off some steam, but I need to get him back to barracks before all hell breaks loose. I really need him off the wanted list to be able to do that."
"Let me see what I can do," Nesa said. Flipping quickly through various programs, she found the one she was looking for. While she couldn't alter the wanted list, or revoke the order to shoot Cadet Fair on sight, if she was able to get to the page of Orders for the Day... ah, there it was. Now to ensure any alterations to the page had to be routed through Executive Delacroix for the next twenty-four hours.
"Okay," she said. "I've managed to lock down the Orders of the Day page before the two instructions went through to publication. I'll brief Mr Lazard on what's happened when he gets back and see if I can get him to have a word with the General."
Angeal looked at her with something like relief in his eyes. "Thanks, kid. If I can get Fair back to barracks soon enough, you might just have been a life saver."
"Good luck," she said to the rush of air as SOLDIER Hewley exited the room as quickly as he'd entered it.
She didn't hear anything more about the situation until a couple of weeks later, when she was in the canteen. She'd just sat down at a table when there was a slight huff of air, and someone was blocking the light. Looking up, she saw the boy with the spiky black hair looking at her. His eyes had the characteristic Mako glow, a sort of violet shade, and he was carrying a tray loaded down with the standard SOLDIER ration - about three times what anyone else ate.
"Is it okay if I join you?" Zack asked.
Curious to know why he wanted to speak to her, Nesa nodded. "Feel free," she said.
"I'm told I have you to thank that I'm not breaking rocks at some prison camp in Wutai," he said.
Nesa smiled. "The real thanks should go to Mr Lazard. He was the one who managed to talk General Heidegger out of putting you on the prison list."
"Yeah, but you were the one who got the Turks off my back," he said, grinning. "So I owe you one, right?"
"If you want to," Nesa said. "If it's not a rude question, why were you so upset?"
There was a flash in those eyes. A flash of something dangerous, gone as soon as it arrived. "They were beating up the new kid."
"That would be trooper Strife, right?" Nesa queried, checking to make sure she had the story right. "Just in from Nibelheim?"
"That's the one," Zack said, nodding. He shovelled in a mouthful of food, chewing and swallowing at SOLDIER speed.
"I saw the charge report on a few of the squaddies involved," Nesa said, not mentioning she'd gone to a certain amount of trouble to look it up. "It mentioned horseplay."
There was that dangerous flash in his eyes again. "Did it go into detail about what kind of horseplay involved the kid having his trousers round his ankles and another guy's dick in his mouth?" Another hastily swallowed mouthful. "Did it mention the bruises that kid had, or where they were?"
Nesa shook her head. "No. The official charge report didn't." She paused, loading up her fork. "The medical report explaining why Trooper Strife collapsed on parade two days later did." She ate the small mouthful of her own meal. "I'm a bit surprised they didn't insist on counselling, from what I could see in the report."
"Not so unusual," Zack said, bitterness colouring his tone. "Troopers don't get psych assessments, or anything. 'Suck it up, trooper' is what you get in the ranks." Nesa's curiosity must have shown on her face, because he explained, "I used to be a trooper before I was tapped for SOLDIER. Plain dumb luck."
She nodded. Looking over at him, she could see the tension in his shoulders. "Is Trooper Strife -"
"- Cloud - an old friend of yours?"
A shake of the dark head. "No. Met him when he arrived here from Nibelheim, fresh off the transport. Literally bumped into the kid in town. He needed directions, I offered to show him the way, we got to talking. He said he was applying for SOLDIER."
"He didn't pass the physical," Nesa said, answering the unspoken question. "Not quite strong enough to handle the Mako treatments yet was the assessment. According to the file, if he still wants to apply when he's finished growing, he'll probably get in."
"Hey, can I tell him that?" Zack asked.
Nesa nodded. "If you like. I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell him where it came from, though."
"No problems." The young man sighed. "I've tried to speak to him about what happened, but he just clams up. I push, he tells me to mind my own damn business."
"He's probably still upset about the whole thing," Nesa said. "He was being hazed by the other troopers, and from the sound of things they'd already humiliated him rather thoroughly. Then you come in, go off half-cocked and scatter all the squaddies around him like ninepins all by your lonesome. Given he's probably guessed he didn't get into SOLDIER because he failed the strength and endurance tests, I'd guess he doesn't have much to make him feel good about himself." She looked up to see Zack looking at her as though she'd sprouted another head. "I trained as a psychologist," she explained.
"You're a head shrinker?" Zack said, sounding astonished. "What the hey are you doing shuffling paper in SOLDIER admin, then?"
Nesa looked down at her tray, and didn't answer.
"If it's not a rude question, I mean," Zack said, the words stumbling over one another. "Ah, shit, done it again, haven't I? Open my mouth and put my foot in it."
She looked up. "It isn't your fault," she said. "It's not something I like to talk about in public, and this is pretty public." She glanced around the canteen by way of explanation.
Zack gave a wry grin. "Not like I'm gonna get much of a chance to go off-base for the next few weeks." He scraped the last mouthful of food off his plate. "Tell me about it sometime? Maybe?"
"Maybe," Nesa said.
"Thanks," Zack said, getting up from his seat. "Hey, and sorry about bumping into you all those times, too. Seeya round."
A change in air pressure, and he was gone. Nesa raised an eyebrow, and returned to her half-finished meal. This job was certainly more interesting than archive work.