On the Way to a Smile – Episode:Barret

The truck’s destination was a small village that made its collective living growing potatoes in the fields. One after another, hemp sacks full of potatoes were packed onto the truck bed, which had gone through half the coal since their departure. As he helped with the work, Barret wondered, When they sell these potatoes in town, how much do they go for? No question the truck team’s wages were tacked on to the village’s asking price for the potatoes. Food prices were a problem in Midgar. Too high, even for a time of crisis. But seeing so many folks hard at work, he started to realize there wasn’t any way around it. Once the mako supply stopped, most engine‐powered farming equipment was rendered useless. Raising potatoes without it had to be more than arduous.

Barret soon found himself deep in thought. If they can’t use machinery, people have no choice but to move their bodies. Well, we got plenty of people. In Midgar, there are all kinds of folks with no jobs, struggling just to find food, right? Sure, they could just gobble up whatever’s growing at their feet, but then they’d just run out of food. Yeah, they gotta sow some seeds, or get some plants in the ground and take care of ’em. For that matter, they gotta raise some livestock.

Ah, bingo, he thought. If we all had a mind for it, the day is bound to come when we can live without want—at least not for food. When we need machines, we can use coal, like with the truck. All we gotta do from now on is go back to the way things were before mako. Times might be a little tight. Things might move kinda slow. For someone impatient like me, it might even be unbearable. But that’s how it’s gotta be. More like, that’s how times change.

Barret smiled, pleased with how quickly he’d arrived at his own idea. Then he got to pondering what he could do. First, he’d attach a hoe to his right arm and start plowing the fields. He’d make the best of his powerful body and do the work of five men. But wait—new times call for a new leader. Is that my role? Barret’s thoughts picked up speed. He imagined himself firing off orders, his friends straining to catch each and every one.

“On it, Barret!” Jessie would say as she flew out of the room, with Wedge and Biggs close behind. But then scenes from his days as Avalanche’s leader came to mind, and for a moment his vision of a bright future changed to deep regret.

“Grrrrraaaaaahhh!” cried Barret.

Damn, there I go again, he thought, and glanced around. But no one was looking at him. The whole lot was gathered in front of a house, watching as Old Man Sakaki’s nephew spoke with a middle‐ aged man who must have been from the village. Barret stepped forward to listen to the conversation.

“I haven’t got any problem taking your daughter to Midgar. But she looks awful weak… We might not make it in time.”

“But…” The middle‐aged man carried a young girl upon his back, who slumped lifelessly. She was a beautiful girl. But from one arm dribbled a black liquid—the horrid geostigma, and an awful case at that. Barret had walked into the kind of moment he hated most: Right now, there’s a crisis in front of you and you can’t do a damn thing about it.

Barret knew that even if she went to Midgar, she wouldn’t find any decent treatment. Maybe it would be best to tell her that. Shouldn’t you spend your last days quietly, in the village? But saying that would rob father and child of their hope. Is this all I can do? Shut up and let matters take their course? Barret wanted to scream.

“Wouldn’t goin’ to Midgar just be a waste of time?” asked a voice. Barret looked beside him and saw the familiar face of the boilerman, scowling.

“Prob’ly,” replied Barret.

“Then I better tell ’em,” said the boilerman, and he started to walk toward the man and his daughter.

“Hold up,” Barret called.

But the man wouldn’t listen. Barret went after him, hoping to stop him before his words brought despair to the man and his daughter. The boilerman sighed, turned around, and said to Barret, “You think we should just let her go to Midgar, so long as it makes her happy, right? Even if there’s no point?”


“Well, that’s all well and good if you got an airship, but all we got ourselves is a truck. The bed gets hot. It’s a hard ride. You know that. What do you do if she ends up dyin’ even sooner ’cause of that?”

“Still, come on, man…”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be the one to tell ’em. Maybe I kill her pop’s hope. But the girl should be at home for the end.”

Barret didn’t know if he or the boilerman had the right. He had to think. His mind started to whirl. Again he wanted to scream, but held it in.

After a time, the boilerman came back without even joining the conversation.

“She just drew her last breath.”


“You… wanna hear what her last words were?”

No, he thought, but the boilerman continued.

” ‘Please, take me to Midgar.’ ”

The boilerman clenched his fists. He knew he had been wrong.

“Rrrrrraaaaaahhhhhh!” cried Barret. “Nobody’s wrong!” He gave in to rage, lifted his right arm to the skies, and fired the gun.

The ratta‐tatta echoed throughout the quiet village.

Barret stayed in the village to witness the girl’s burial. He asked her haggard father if there was anything he could do.

“If only we’d had an airship,” the man muttered. “I used to be a crewman aboard the Gelnica. If she was still flying, maybe my baby girl wouldn’t have had to die. It’s just a short hop from here to Midgar.”

“Listen, man.” He knew he had to say something. “I know how you feel, but they can’t cure the stigma, not even in Midgar.”

If only this. If only that. As soon as you started thinking about what the world of what‐ifs had over reality, tomorrow became hard to ascertain. Barret had experienced that himself. And lamenting what you never had any control over in the first place—the way this father was—was even worse. While Barret searched for the right words, the man started to speak.

“It doesn’t have to be Midgar. Anyplace. The moment we heard they could fix the stigma there, we could be en route with the sick. If we had an airship, we’d be ready.”


“My daughter’s not the only one suffering from geostigma.” Though he’d only just lost his child, the father’s eyes were fixed on what was ahead.

The future Barret had painted in his mind while packing potatoes onto the truck had faded entirely. Why can’t we run just a few of the airships and the other useful machinery? Hell, in Midgar they use work vehicles and other machines. Why not an airship, then? So long as we don’t waste the mako.

Times have changed, and I’m gonna do the same.

Not far to the east of Rocket Town stretched a desert region where hardly any vegetation grew. Situated there was an oil derrick about fifty meters high, and a small, aging refinery built next to it.

Several men and women stood beneath the weathered derrick. One of them was Shera, dressed in a white lab coat.

The engineer standing next to her shook his head. “It’s down seventy percent compared to last month. Bad news, that’s what this is. So how are things goin’ on your end?”

“We’re done. I can’t say it compares to mako, but we’ve managed to take the refining process quite a ways.”

“Knew you’d pull it off. Now we just need the stuff to refine, huh?” The engineer directed his stare toward the ground. Shera couldn’t help but follow his gaze. She thought of the milling drill pipe, whirring away to dig up any oil left underground.

“Just a little more.” Shera clapped her hands together in prayer, but the stain on the back of her left hand wasn’t oil. It was the stigma.

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