Prologue

Rufus Shinra awoke to the smell of burning wire.

Though it hung thickly about him, it took him a moment to recognize it - the acrid odor of electrical fire mixed with just a pinch of Mako.

He groaned and opened his eyes.

Somehow, he was alive.

The last thing he remembered was the WEAPON’s energy blast shooting towards him, striking the window. He was thrown from his feet by the shockwave, there had been an explosion, and then he’d hit his head on the wall and blacked out.

For how long?

The office was in shambles. The windows had been blown clean out by the blast, littering the room with plexiglas shards. The wall that had housed them was gone, too, and most of the ceiling with it. The blast must have hit the very top of the building. Anything above Rufus’ office would be entirely gone. The computer terminal on his desk was little more than a smoking ruin - the source of at least some of that acrid smell that had awakened him, he figured.

Only his desk, made of the same sturdy alloy as the building itself, was reasonably intact. It must have saved him. Its bulky form, half-melted by the energy that had struck it, was between him and the shattered window.

That desk was one of the few things dad got right, Rufus thought.

He grabbed its misshapen edge and hauled himself to his feet. The metal was cold now, which meant it had to have been quite a while since it had taken the blast for him.

So why the hell hadn’t anyone come looking for him?

He winced as his left leg took the weight of his body. It wasn’t broken, not quite. But it was definitely bruised, and bad. The bone might even be, probably was, cracked.

He could have it patched up later. For now, he wanted answers.

Using the desk to keep the weight off his bad leg, Rufus inched toward the window. He cursed silently as the floor under his feet shifted.

He’d have harsh words for his subordinates, wherever they were. There should have been a rescue team up here in minutes, dammit.

And then he looked up.

Suddenly, he knew why no one had come to help him. If any of them were still alive, they’d be more concerned about saving their own skins. And he couldn’t blame them for it.

Meteor was coming.

It was coming for Midgar.

Rufus’ fingers slipped from the desk, and his leg, suddenly holding more weight than it wanted to, buckled. He fell to the floor, his eyes never leaving the approaching Meteor.

A part of his mind, the stupid part, registered the pain in his leg. He’d broken it this time, for sure. But that was the stupid part. The smart part knew that it wouldn’t matter. He wouldn’t live long enough to get to a hospital, much less give a damn about his leg.

The Meteor was coming.

He had failed.

The Huge Materia plan had been derailed by those damn AVALANCHE fools. But seeing the Meteor in the sky above him, Rufus knew that it had been a long shot, anyway. The thing was gigantic!

Another five, ten years, and ShinRa might have had space-based weapons, each as powerful as the Sister Ray, to fire on the monstrous thing. The plans were there. But there’d been no time! That, maybe, would have stopped it.

But there was only one sure way to get rid of the Meteor.

Kill Sephiroth.

And Rufus had failed to kill Sephiroth. ShinRa’s creation, their finest achievement. A perfect soldier.

Until he’d turned against them.

He’d turned out to be a little too perfect.

Rufus swore again, because that was all he could do. Bad leg or no, he couldn’t get away. The animal urge to run from some unknown terror was strong, but he fought it down. There was nowhere in the world to run from that thing, sure as hell nowhere he could get to.

All he could do was hope that somebody, Scarlet, Heidegger, the Turks, even those AVALANCHE bastards, could put down Sephiroth before it hit.

Even that might not help, though, not now. It was too late. Gravity alone would pull the Meteor, with all its crackling destructive energy, into the city. Even without the Black Materia pushing it, it would destroy Midgar, and probably the whole world.

But at least that way Sephiroth wouldn’t get anything out it.

Rufus watched the Meteor descend, trying to guess how long it would be and hating himself for doing it. An hour? Less? He hadn’t seen it enter the atmosphere, couldn’t tell how fast it was moving.

He’d never know if somebody got Sephiroth. Somehow, that was even worse than knowing he was going to die. He’d never believed his father’s bullshit about Neo Midgar, the ‘Promised Land’ of eternal life, ultimate power. Rufus hadn‘t cancelled the project when he‘d come to power, but it was just one thing among many, just another long shot. Death would come, one day or another.

But he’d be damned if he was going to die so Sephiroth could become a god.

Rufus pulled himself back to his feet. He’d faced the WEAPON like this, like a man, not cowering in his chair before Sephiroth. That was how his father had died, Palmer said. Rufus shook his head. Not him. He would face the Meteor this way, too.

His eyes locked on the steadily descending Meteor.

"Come on, you bastard," he whispered. "Get it over with."

And, for a second, he thought it would oblige him. He was blinded by a light, so clear and bright that it stung his eyes. He turned away.

Then, cautiously, he opened his eyes. The light was still there, but its flaring intensity had grown dimmer. The Meteor seemed to be pressing against the light, unable to push through.

Was this... the White Materia’s power?

Rufus shook his head in wonder. And then, despite the pain in his leg, despite the devastation around him, despite the Meteor, he smiled. The White Materia had been held back by Sephiroth. Until now. So that bastard must be dead.

The barrier of light was cracking.

Rufus again fixed his gaze on the Meteor. He was still going to die today, it seemed.

But he wasn’t the only one.

He’d failed as President of ShinRa. He’d failed as a leader.

But Sephiroth had failed, too.

The Meteor might destroy the world, but it wouldn’t replace it with... whatever Sephiroth would have become.

And then, the white glow was joined by another. Greenish liquid was creeping up the glowing barrier, bolstering it.

Lifestream.

Rufus looked down. The city of Midgar stretched out far below him, battered but unbroken by the WEAPON’s attack. He could see people moving about, almost hear them shouting.

With fear.

The Lifestream was flowing into the barrier, stopping the Meteor. But it was flowing into the city, too. And where the Lifestream went, Rufus knew, death followed.

He watched in ever-growing horror as the Lifestream burst from each of the eight Mako reactors that powered Midgar. It flowed into the city, to the barriers at its edge. It flooded the streets.

Rufus had seen men who’d gotten Mako poisoning before. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Usually, if they weren’t killed outright by the fumes, they’d live for quite a while. Weakened, sick, slowly dying from within - and they hadn’t even noticed.. Mako poisoning took a man’s mind, made him into a gibbering idiot.

And the Lifestream was concentrated Mako.

Rufus forced himself not to look away.

This was the price of his failure. The Meteor would be stopped. But the price was the death of this city, ShinRa’s city. His city.

Above him, he could hear the impact of the Meteor on the barrier. It rumbled, burst, and shot away, torn apart by its own blast. The sound was deafening, like the end of the world that it had almost been. Louder than the WEAPON’s blast that had struck Rufus’ office, louder than the Sister Ray that had killed the WEAPON, louder than all the weapons ShinRa had ever built.

And then the shockwave hit.

Rufus was thrown to the floor, but then there wasn’t a floor anymore, and he was falling. He hit something - another floor? - but it was gone and he was falling again and the building was crumbling around him and he could hear nothing. The Lifestream was everywhere, a glowing sea beneath him as the building collapsed into it. His leg, his bad leg, hit a piece of metal, and his mouth opened in a scream, but he couldn’t hear it, and then his head struck something hard and cold and metal, and he blacked out.

.

Rufus awoke in the ruins of his city.

He couldn’t say where he hurt, only where he didn’t. And there wasn’t much of him that didn’t hurt. Just opening his eyes sent a wave of stabbing pain through his skull. He ignored it.

He lay atop a pile of rubble that had once been the ShinRa building. The Plates above each Sector of Midgar had caved in from the shockwave, joining the one his father had blown out to kill and frame AVALANCHE. Most of them had been blasted open, leaving great gaps. And he, lord of all these ruins, lay at the highest point.

And there were sounds. Somehow, the shockwave hadn’t left him deaf - maybe a bigger miracle than that he was alive at all.

Not that it seemed like much of a miracle.

Drowning out the creaks and groans of the still-settling rubble were the sounds of the dying. Moans and sobs, cries of pain and madness. Mako poisoning, on a scale that had never existed before.

Rufus tried to cry out, but the sound that came from his throat was just a croak. Blood trickled from his mouth. He gulped it down, and a breath with it. The air was thick with the oily smell of Mako. Of Lifestream.

But the glowing sea was gone, sunk back into the ground from whence it had come, its work done.

And how.

As Rufus got to his feet, still alive and, as he took another breath, somehow feeling better, the last of the moans died away.

He was plunged into silence, complete and total silence.

The city was gone. It was nothing, now. How many millions of lives had been swallowed by the Lifestream? His mind, his organizational, well-ordered mind, gave him the number from the last census. Forty six million people had lived and worked in Midgar.

And it was completely silent.

Rufus screamed, a wordless cry more of anger than of pain, just so that he could know that he was alive, and that there was still air and sound, and that he wasn’t imagining it all.

His voice echoed through the dead, silent streets.

Rufus Shinra looked out over the graveyard that had once been Midgar.