Predictably, the lurch of the truck as it skidded on the ice was enough to awaken the vehicle's other two passengers. It was a blessing in disguise, in some cases, that the Turks were such a lightly staffed outfit; any more bodies than they already had would have forced Zhi to strongarm someone into riding in the canvas-covered, but woefully uninsulated, back bed- where SOLDIERs normally rode. Not a delightful prospect given the bitter cold and steadily worsening conditions. As it stood though, it was surprisingly comfortable- with their collective body heat just enough to bring the atmosphere to a bearable humidity that allowed the two rookies a few hours of sleep; and Zhi a few hours of silence in which to concentrate on driving. He had an open thermos of coffee at his side, and two more stowed away in the glovebox to last the trip- and so far hadn't even had to finish the first, resulting in a peaceful, introspective mood that left him grateful for the silence.
It wasn't terribly unfortunate that they had stirred when they did either. According to his watch they would be arriving at their destination any minute now- and he doubted any of them would be pleased having to be woken up groggy from a nap only to stumble out into what had by now turned into a full-blown blizzard. The rise of casual conversation wasn't entirely unexpected either - and he listened to it offhanded as he navigated the sharp, downhill bend in the road - but in a moment he was practically mystified
Upon hearing the mini street rat's disbelieving reaction to being informed of Sofia's past 'career choice' he utterly failed to contain a snort and rather snide, "You've never met anyone who's been
to Costa Del Sol, have you Haring." followed by a dark chuckle.
Truth be told, for decades there had been barely anything to
the place but a few seaside villas supported by a scant fishing industry. With the advent of an industrious Shinra executive's startlingly bright idea to solicit the townsfolk for a port of travel- a private dock had been built, and Shinra Inc. had begun using it as a means of easy intercontinental travel. Quick, inexpensive, and confidential- because no one else shared the rights to the port but whomever the corporation saw fit. As the influx of foreign power, foreign decadence, and above all foreign money
took hold- the townspeople quickly saw the best way to take advantage of the exclusive class of business and political elite that began to frequent the tiny Inns and hotels that Costa Del Sol had to offer. They simply started to offer more
There had never been any laws in place to govern a sex trade before Shinra arrived- and when the people of Costa Del Sol began to offer just that to the wealthy patrons that graced their indigent community, mayors and council members were expediently furnished generous bribes so that none were ever passed. The heads of Shinra Inc. saw immediately the inherently massive fiscal opportunites in the remote, secluded town - known only to those who ranked high enough to be considered associates to the company - and wasted no time in spreading the word amongst Midgar's A-list VIPs. The once-quaint town of Costa Del Sol had become an exclusive resort destination almost overnight; open only to the most priviledged of the world's upper class, and with its main attraction the ability to obtain whatever you could possibly desire. Reputation held that they would cater to any taste, and from what Zhi had seen of it when he visited years ago, the reputation was by no means falsified. The district of brothels, inns, and drug dens ran the entire length of the city- and Zhi was certain some of the girls and boys on display in the windows had been no more than ten or eleven years old.
Like all celebrity secrets, however, the existence of Costa Del Sol had not long ago finally begun to permeate the lower classes. Shinra - with the assistance of the Turks - ran an extremely successful damage control operation as soon as it got word, and consequently managed almost seamlessly
to mask it with a positive image. The sex trade was immediately sent underground and the company went public with a campaign that heralded the construction of an 'exotic, sunny, family resort destination'.
They set to open luxury cruises and all-inclusive vacation packages to the city in the next two months. He allowed himself a private smile- Zhi couldn't possibly have dreamed of a better cover up himself.
The inclusion of Sofia as the newest member of his team cemented the understanding that the people of the new city would work in cooperation with Shinra Inc. in keeping the town's history totally classified. All of the Turks, of course, were privvy to the information, and many of those who worked in the brothels in the slums knew of Costa Del Sol's sordid past, but once the money began to roll in from the new tourism industry Zhi was sure no one would feel the need to say anything further on the matter. He had
hoped to be able to travel to the city one last time before it was overrun with commerce - and due to their involvement in the cover-up all of the Turks had been offered a first class voyage to the place any time they wished - but given the new mission he doubted it would be possible. Such was the life of a Turk.
So caught up was he in his thoughts on Sofia's homeland- that when his focus returned to the road he was frozen instantly by the sight of headlights appearing scarcely twenty feet away, like a twin ghosts emerging from the swirl of white, barelling directly
into the path of the truck. Simultaneously, both vehicle's horns blared their warnings - Zhi slamming his hand onto the middle grip of the steering wheel to yank it desperately to the right, throwing them all to the side with a dizzying skid of tires. There was a terrifying few seconds of vertigo, all sense of weight and direction lost as the truck spun out of control, but his grim expectations of glass-shattering- screech of twisted metal - and lancing pain of the inevitable, violent crash never came; their movement slowing gently to a halt at the bottom of the hill.
Slowly, he sat up and looked around. They'd spun full circle - maybe several times - and had come to rest in the center of a large, clear square surrounded by houses. Stark buildings framed by black, impenetrable howling and snow, as familiar as the day Zhi had left. They were here. He let out a bitter laugh.Welcome to Nibelheim.