Black Soul of Green Eyes
Legal Stuff: Hojo, Lucrecia, and all characters and places and objects relating to Final Fantasy VII are copyright to Squaresoft, etc. This is beginner and nonprofit, and any similarities to other fanworks are coincidental. Heya everyone! I'm guilty of complaining too much about
Vincent/Lucrecia, though I've aided in writing one that involves that, and also, I haven't written a Hojo/Lucrecia. Well, here's my take on the Hojo/Lucrecia/Vincent/Jenova trapezoid.
Stupid and blatantly flaunts ignorance of the events in the game, so bear with me. Oh, yeah..any similarity in plot to any other fic is coincidental. The double -----'s indicate letters written in the present time. One more warning: extremely twisted, bordering on alternate reality, and bizzare.
started: 7/17/02 restarted: 8/4/02 finished: 8/21/02 modified: 8/21/02-8/25/02
Rated: PG-13 for profanity.
A thick cloud of steam clogged the air, belched from the sluggish mammoth that trudged across the rails that spanned the city of Midgar. As the engine passed, its cars clanking along behind it, the light of the streetlamps that were interspersed along the concrete walkways that ran parallel to the rails illuminated a single human seated on a bench rooted to the sidewalk. She lifted up her head, the angular lenses of her glasses reflecting the image of the train as it passed, leaving billowing steam in its wake. The woman stood up, glanced at the sky, heaved a light sigh, picked up a suitcase and a notepad of sorts, and set off down the walkway, the whistle of the fading train blaring through the night.
A stiff wind grew and died as it blew the woman's hair into her face, and she pushed her brown tresses behind her ears. The streetlamps cast a dim glow on her as she walked by them, brought into the light and then plunged into shadow as she drew farther away from the posts. The light was so feeble. They might as well have used fire all over agian. This was exactly what the company that hired her hoped to remedy. But the eternal question of how to accomplish that resonated in her mind as she came to a brick building at the curb. She twisted the doorknob and pushed the thin door open, a rough voice belonging to a rough man answering her entrance.
"Yer one of them scientists, ain'tcha?"
The man who had spoken leaned against the flimsy wooden counter, puffing on a cigarette that he tossed out the window when he had smoked it to its end. He flashed her a genial grin of rotten teeth, that had been worn away from years of smoking. In answer, she walked to the counter, her suitcase bumping against her leg as she answered evenly,
"Shit," the man said under his breath, suddenly looking perturbed. The woman quirked her brown eyebrows, utter confusion marking her visage.
"Nothin', the man answered with a large hand gesture, his shining sapphire eyes aglow with a twinkling light. "Ya jus' reminded me of how goddamn old I was gettin'."
The woman seemed to get more confused by the moment. "A broad! Hell, a broad makin' it big! Minute I saw ya I knew I'm a fuckin' old geezer!"
He started to laugh, which escalated to as loudly as his bad lungs would permit. It was a hearty laugh nonetheless. Perhaps Midgar wasn't home to cold, rigid people alone, the likes of which she had seen on her way through the small city. This was reaffirmed when the burly man grabbed the woman's hand in his own and shook hard, the latter accepting it as politely as she could while shuddering from the force. "Highwind! Glad to meet ya."
"Lucrecia...likewise," she said nervously, taken aback by the man's hospitality. After a brief hesitation, she groped for someting to say before she remembered why she was here. "Uh...um....oh! What's the fee for one night?"
"Oh yeah...you're stayin' the night? I fuckin' forgot. Forty gil."
Lucrecia pulled a couple of large coins from the wallet she had tied to her belt, and pushed them across the table, the innkeeper snatching them up and pocketing the money. "G'night, ma'am. I'm 'gonna git my lazy-ass kid in bed."
"You have a child?"
"Yeah, wanna see 'im?"
Highwind tromped out from behind the counter, heading towards the door. He kicked it open, stepping outside into the gusty wind. Backing away a few yards, he pointed a gloved hand to the rectangular roof. Practically laying in the gutter was a dishevelled blonde boy, staring up at the myriad of stars that illuminated the sky. "There's my kid. Ma called 'im Cid. Damn, I miss her. She was a goddamn fortune teller. Got the damn idea from the gods that the lame-ass "Shit"-Ra company were 'gonna someday take over goddamn Midgar. Control the mayor, the money, and our goddamn lives! So she fuckin' slit her own throat. She's where Cid got foolhardy from. Can ya believe it, kid? He sits up there all goddamn night lookin' at the fuckin' STARS. Ya ask me," he said as he crossed his arms and took a deep breath of the night air, "Soon he's 'gonna think he's 'gonna fly in fuckin' SPACE or some crazy-ass thing like that."
The man gave a frustrated shrug, while Lucrecia stared up at the boy. He was so young: it was a mystery how he got up there in the first place. And his father claimed that he would want to fly? Next month supposedly the Shin-Ra were going to start a space program. She had privately dismissed it as irrational, but if one could dream, perhaps there was use for it yet. She knew she wouldn't be in her position if she hadn't dreamt. She'd still be in her hometown of Kalm, working at some menial job. "He's a damn good kid, though. Damn good. I'm guessin' he wants to get a good look at the sky before we get thrown out."
"I'm sorry...I have some money on me..." Lucrecia intervened, opening her wallet. It would be a shame if those nice Midgar folk were evicted. The least she could do was share her good fortune. She held the coins out to the innkeeper's thick, ash-laden hand, but he waved his arm in a large gesture in dismissal, a bitter grimace creasing the hard features of his face.
"Don't bother, kid. Ain't gil, just room. The goddamn mayor wants to goddamn build somethin', then he's 'gonna goddamn do it."
"Take it anyway, sir."
The gil exchanged hands, and the man's sapphire eyes grew tender. Customers came and went, in business-like tone and mannerisms. After all, it was business, however small. It was monetarily rewarding, but in the end, that's what it boiled down to. Cash. It was given in exchange for goods and services, not as tokens of good will. But the woman saw it fit to do him that nicety.
"That's fuckin' swell of ya, kid. G'night."
Lucrecia mounted the rickety wooden steps, giving pause to answer before she disappeared into the second floor's darkness, "Good night."
I don't remember you this way......
Laughing. Once it was soft and tranquil, gentle mirth. This was the cruel cackle of vile devils roaming the underworld.
That glow in your eyes......have you been...?
Emptied syringes, a viridian liquid condensing on the glass tubes. Wasn't it obvious?
Needlemarks......everywhere...Did you......you didn't.....
The insane grin of a maniac.
You would do this.....for science?
Twitching, convulsing, hyperventilating. He let the full effects occur. Did he enjoy it? Did he stop it? He let them continue. How many times did he overdose? Four times? Seven?
The green liquid. Why did it fascinate him to the point of obsession?
They demand it. Gast demands it. Do you?
She held it steady over her arm. The preliminary dosages were necessary to delay the mutations and death caused by the other. Alone in too much quantity it was a sufficient killer.They knew that. God, how long would he keep them in there? They were human.....how could a human being do that to another one of his species?
She forgot......he wasn't human anymore.
It was time to enter his world.
She stabbed the needle into her arm and squeezed the fluid into her veins.
It was then Lucrecia awoke, the twisted nightmare dissipating into the caverns of her memory, still fresh and vivid, but less impending now that she was aware that it hadn't been real. She sat up in the bed, hot, the sheets soaked in perspiration. She rubbed some sweat off her head, clearing the wet brown strands off as well.
"What a strange dream....." she mumbled to herself, blinking into the darkness of the sparsely decorated room, the only shadows casted by furnirture being one of a table and a chair pushed under it. "My lab partner and I...married... Partaking in warped experiments with green water. Better cut down on those Carob Nuts."
Lucrecia allowed herself an amused chuckle as she threw off the sheets, getting off of the bed. Reaching for her glasses, she unfolded them and slid them over her ears. The woman groped towards the window, her bare feet soundless on the wooden floor. Throwing the shabby curtain aside, she gazed out at the small strip, outsized by the vast infinity called the sky. As she let her brown eyes wander, faint constellations entered her view. Past peoples believed that the gods were there, frozen in time and space. Of course, nowadays people knew better. It was because of scientists that knowledge of stars and planets was more widespread than ever.
She pulled up the grease-covered window, sticking out her head to feel the vibrant wind fly past her, the cool rush of air drying the sweat clinging to her face. Through alert eyes she looked out at the strip, that was separated from this part of the city by a sprawling field of grey nothingness. At the far left, there was something.....glowing...
Her mouth dropped open in shock. "It can't be.....the green water," she exhaled breathlessly. Slamming the window shut, she stumbled over the floorboards in the room towards a candle near the bed. At first she was perturbed at seeing it, but remembered that electricity was a precious commodity, and used primarily for public light fixtures, and let privately-owned businesses fare for themselves with the more primitive fire.
She struck a match and lit it, and scrambled to her suitcase. Throwing it open, she grabbed her clothes and dressed hurriedly, leaving only her labcoat in the valise. She bolted to the door and unlatched it, backpedaling to grab her notepad before she left her room and made her way down the stairs, the candlelight barely cutting through the darkness. The weight of her shoes creaked heavily on the faded wooden steps as she descended, passing by the now-empty counter, with a cigarette still burning on it, its fumes thick and heavy in the small lobby.
The moment Lucrecia stepped outside, the speck of fire withered and died by the wind, leaving her dependent upon the lamposts. She set off down the street, eventually reaching the curb. It ended there, but the tracks continued on, stretching out across the ground, strewn with half-empty beer bottles and assorted trash, the majority of it protruding out of the sewer. Lucrecia slowed down, the broken beer bottles crunching underneath her soles. It was a shame that such a promising city couldn't have better sanitation. She came to a steep incline. As she carefully slid down it, trying to keep her balance, the junk grew sparse, until it disappeared altogether at the base. The woman glanced around, noting the sudden absence of garbage.
"No more refuse.....it's like no one wants to come here."
The scientist shot her head up as a slow hiss of a gaseous substance escaped from a source she couldn't see. She couldn''t see anything, really, but she could certainly smell it. It gave off an aroma that she had never encountered before. But her nose didn't guide her, for she was surrounded by a wall of heavy green mist, eliminating her chance of smelling anything else. She groped through the green envelope, stumbling across the uneven land features. This was one place that had been untouched by the carving hand of man.
Each slow step brought her nearer to a gap in the formless wall. The vapors, though persistently everywhere, did allow sight beyond it in one place. Through it she could discern an uncanny luminescence. "Could that be the green water?"
She pursued the light leading out of the tunnel, and was completely aghast when she found its source. It was a single ocean, but at the same time, formed of thousands, maybe millions of different components, all motile as they swam amongst each other. The viridian mist spewed out of its bubbling depths, breaking through its glassy surface, as if it was evaporating. It was far from water, however. The fluid housed in the jagged pit seemed almost..alive, tumbling and churning akin to water, but...seemed to respire as if it was a biotic organism. That defied all scientific knowledge, and yet how could it be contradicted?
Lucrecia wasted no time. She whipped out her notebook and began to write down everything about this odd substance. After filling two pages, she came to its properties, its chemical makeup. It was then she remembered that she had left her equipment at the inn. As she stood up to leave, she was met with a round of bullets that pelted the ground. She glanced around frantically, in a rush to find the source. Not that she would be able to fight it and walk away with her life, but knowing its location would eliminate where not to run. But it was impossible to see through the mist, which was steadily losing its viridian hue. Steadily, it was overtaken by a thick ebony. She fell down on one knee, racked by a fit of coughing. Her stomach began to roll and squeeze, the effect of the Smog Shot quickly overpowering her low defenses. And then......
The low whir of a motor broke through the mist, as a monster burst through the mist and barrelled across the earth at the scientist, who skittered sideways to avoid the charge. The attacker's body brushed against her leg, telling her the nature of the monster. It braked just before it went over the edge, rotating to aim at its target. Jumping to avoid the metal torrent, she landed hard on the ground. Shaking her head to re-focus, the scientist gazed up over lopsided glasses at the menacing monstrosity, in a blend of awe and terror.
"I can't believe it...is that an...automation?"
She got off the ground, forcing her weakened muscles to respond to the commands of her nervous system. Her mind in a frenzy but her joints slow and stiff from the Smog Shot, she ripped one foot from the ground, and then the other, hearing the rumble of the machine's treads growing closer behind her. Its wake dispersed the mist, revealing the terrain. The steep incline was in sight, but her entrance was not designed to be an exit,, and she was no climber. The poison was now at its optimum ablility. Her hand slid down the rock, and she stared at impending doom in the form of a giant vaccum cleaner. "Wait....."
Now getting a long look at her adversary, she could see a plethora of slim ducts, most likely for the electricity. One of them had a large opening. It didn't make sense for it to be there, unless it was an electric gun. Her mind started racing. If she jammed it... "Maybe this might stop it."
Lucrecia grasped the pencil stuck in the notepad with her waning strength. Aiming for the visible target, she took a slow step foward and flung it towards the machine. It wasn't a second too soon, because the duct opening was the machine gun that was ready to fire again. But the pencil plugged the thin barrel, and the weapon exploded, burying bullet shards into the machine, causing it to malfunction. It came to a gradual halt only hairs away from her chest. She wasted no time, and shoved a hand into her shirt pocket, pulling out the antidote. She poured the entire flask into her mouth, and slowly felt the poison being neutralized. She stood up unsteadily, leaning against the rock for support. "That was close."
She gasped in fear as a motor din assaulted her ears, the overlapping noise betraying that there were more than one. One broke through the mist, the two beside it clearing the rest of the green. Lucrecia stared at each one of them in horror, watching frozen in fear as the head contraption started to automatically load clips into the barrel of its machine gun, closing in on the defenseless scientist. As they moved to point-blank range, the woman hung her head, moaning, "Great.....the gods must be getting even with me..."
Before the machines could empty their machine guns into the scientist, a blur flashed briefly in her scrunched eyes, sailing into the core of the machines. All three were surrounded with electricity as they fell backwards with a loud crash, their wheels slowing as their engines died. Lucrecia looked up in confusion, slowly removing one shielding hand from her face. "What happened?"
Another noise, softer, and not of a mechanical nature, permeated the vapor-clogged air. Lucrecia looked around in a frenzy, blinking furiously as she tried to pinpoint what might be another danger. Then she heard it. They were footfalls, slow, deliberate, the lightness of them striking familiarity.
"Though I love dissction, I'd prefer it if you weren't my next cadaver...wouldn't you agree?" a mirthful voice belonging to a male penetrated her ears. Lucrecia looked around frantically, afraid that another attack would ensue. She cried out, with more hostility edging her voice than usual:
"Who said that? Are you the one who disabled these machines?"
"The Custom Sweeper prototype, I'm afraid. These models," he said ruefully, tapping the inactive machines with his knuckles, "Are the first automations to run on electricity. They're superior to the trains that rely on----"
The man approached, breaking the veil of of the green mist, but still not entering Lucrecia's view. He glanced at the other deactivated Custom Sweeper, and he cried in a sudden shock, "The S2C7A model, too?!" Lucrecia heard the footfalls quicken, growing farther away, then slowed as they came closer. "That Weapons Department will have my head for this."
"That's not your fault, sir. I wandered out here," she explained, trying to pacify his distress. His voice was louder this time, though its tone was just as quiet. He must have been getting closer.
"Yes...yes you did, but you were attracted to the Mako.It has such a strong scent that it's a wonder why more people aren't drawn to it."
"Mako...so that's what this is?" Lucrecia inquired, gazing at the colored substance again walled by the vapors, hanging loosely to the pit, giving it the appearance of phosphorescent specters. The man walked nearer, and she could sense him almost upon her. There was a pause in the steps' rythym, and he ventured an assumption, the accuracy of which surprised her.
"Kalm Town, correct?"
"Why.....yes. How did you know?" Lucrecia questioned, the familiarity that was ringing from the voice still growing greater.She knew she had heard and seen the man before...where, she couldn't remember. The woman turned around, trying to catch a glimpse of the shape behind her through the blanket of vapors that had re-materialized. The man had started to walk again, and now he was right behind her as he answered with the same air as someone she knew, she just couldn't put her finger on it.
"Pure inference. Now that there's been a breakthrough with electricity, educational facilities are either promoting the sciences or discouraging them. Kalm is too traditional for progression," he remarked with a disdainful sneer at the word, "traditional". Lucrecia nodded in agreement. It was too reserved, and expansion was out of the question. Education was even more difficult to get in Kalm, afraid that dangerous ideas could emerge from learning, which threatened higher ambitions. At last after a brief silence, she brought the conversation back on the topic of electricity.
"What's the source?"
The man's answer was laced with dissatisfaction.
"Coal," he stated. "It---"
A more hurried and frantic pattern of footsteps caused the man to upturn his head, and he stared past the opaque mist to see who was coming. "Is that who I think----?" the man started to say, abruptly cut off as another man rammed straight into his back. The impact and his own weakness hurled him down onto the woman, who groaned as both of them smacked into the ground.
"Lucrecia!!!" exclaimed the one who had crashed into them. The other man's exposed eyes widened at that name, so familiar. He laid there for a few moments, piled in a heap. The fall had knocked his glasses beneath his nose, rendering the situation all the more awkward. As the man who had crashed into them bent over to help the woman up, the man exclaimed, moving his glasses back to his nose and squirming as he shakily tried to stand.
"L--Lucrecia?" he questioned in uncharacteristic disbelief. "You were my old lab partner---"
That's who he was. Now he was visible. He hadn't changed a bit, she noted with slight amusement. Same labcoat, same black tie, same small glasses, same tied back, greasy hair, pallid and sickly-looking as ever. "Then you must be......" she started to say, looking upon his angular visage, failing to notice that the other man, a Turk from the presence of that dark navy jacket and the altogether menacing aura emanating from everything from his gunslinging hand to his quick eyes, was staring at the other male with enough hatred to melt rock.He would have taken it further, but another white-garbed man came bursting into view, his face livid and painted with ire. The Turk backed away from Hojo until he was abreast of Lucrecia, content to let the latter's superior chew him out.
"Damn," he muttered underneath his breath as a second man in a labcoat approached him, his features washed with deep crimson. There was a revolver in a holster attatched to his belt, and his gaze was nervously flitting, as if there were more Custom Sweepers roaming the field. He strode quickly to the man and woman, unleashing the wrath of his tongue. "What have you done?! Aren't you aware that this is not our department's property?! Can't you imagine the funds that will be withheld from us?!"
"Did you say the department was going to have your head?" Lucrecia whispered to Hojo. She nervously glanced towards Vincent, who was attempting to supress his rage.
"The WEAPONS department," Hojo growled with exasperation edging his voice. "I didn't think that Gast would be upset as well."
It had been barely above a whisper, but Gast's sharp ears detected the comment, and brought his face inches away from the younger man, the ensuing yell heightening a few decibels.
"Upset?! That's an understatement if I ever heard one!" he roared. Listen to me, young man..."
He grabbed him by the shirt collar, shaking him as roughly as his innate gentleness would allow him. "You know that coal is in limited supply. If I've added right, in..." He paused, trying to recall the information, "fifty years this Planet will be completely out of coal. I don't need you subtracting any years."
"Gast, what effect could this have on the coal supply?" Hojo asked incredulously, staring calmly into his superior's still-furious face. Freeing up one hand, the older man pointed to the distant cluster of Custom Sweepers.
"The SC27A and RE81B models not only ran on electricity supplied by coal, they were carrying storages of coal that's now irretrievable!"
He let go of the younger man, who looked somewhat shaken. He hadn't considered the consequences of saving Lucrecia, but his superior was always one to awfulize a problem. He shifted his gaze from Lucrecia to Gast to Vincent, contemplating the entire situation. Gast was obviously expecting an answer from him, the way he had his arms folded, fixating his stern gaze straight at his inferior.
"The bottom line is that you need to find a new source of electricity," Lucrecia intervened quickly, but failed to alleviate the burning stare of Gast. His answer was heavy, tired, dripping with the air of someone who had seen something coming from a mile away and was unable to stop it.
"Yes. I was fearing that it would come. And it did."
"That's a perfect opportunity, Gast," Hojo brought up, sliding his glasses to their place, the persistent vapors playing about the lenses. "Coal is inefficient.." That net him a puzzled glance from Lucrecia, another glare from Gast, and an invariable stare of hate.
"But what other energy is there?!" the older man shouted, pulling on his short locks in evident exasperation. Hojo turned to face the Mako pit, indicating it with his wan palm, the gaseous substance spouting from the yawning chasm.
"Gast, you documented its properties yourself. You know everything about it except how it affects a living being when in its system." The other shook his head in disgust that his inferior would even think of uttering it. He knew exactly what Hojo was talking about. It was inevitable that he would bring this up. He had been fascinated with it ever since he was a child, particularly in its liquid form. A dangerous chemical that was potentially useful, but the danger outweighed the potential. But Hojo never thought so. There was only the potential. "Mako."
When the two male scientists had left, so had Vincent's anger, which melted
into dismal longing that dripped with passion. At first Lucrecia had been
confused at this rapid change in personality when they first met, but she
soon learned that Vincent was one massive blob of passion, whether it was
hateful, lustful, or lovesick. Any word that managed to make it from his
brain to his mouth was dripping wet with passion.
The latter was walking with Vincent, back towards the inn that was a speck in the distance. She held her hands in front of her, occasionally glancing up or down, anywhere to avoid Vincent's riveting stare. Finally she had to say something. It had been embarassing, to say the least, to meet her future employer in that manner. There wasn't any doubt that he had escorted Gast there. She had thought the Turk adorable in the past, but he didn't let her breathe.
"Vincent...that wasn't necessary...all of the Custom Sweepers were disabled."
"That's....not the point," he answered, stopping to look at the cloudy black sky, clench his fists, before pouring his heart out to the woman.
"I want to protect you, Lucrecia. From pain...from the pain that torments my wretched soul every waking moment...of not having loved you sooner."
It was Lucrecia's turn to stop walking, one foot on a raised slab of ground and the other on level. She flashed a knowing gaze at him, detecting the thinly veiled meaning behind the sugarcoated poetry. Her expression showed a tinge of annoyance.
"You're afraid of Hojo, right?"
They continued to walk, reaching the steep incline before either spoke again. By now the Mako pit was a bright green speck, its luminiscence more haunting than it had been up close.
"He's a dangerous individual. It's not my place to say it, but he has mentioned offhand to me that he yearned to experiment on humans."
Lucrecia's answer stunned Vincent frozen, not much different than the rock his feet were planted on. . "So be it."
"What??" he gasped, completely taken aback. A million different questions swarmed his shocked mind. What was wrong with her? Where did that playful, carefree girl go? Did she still want to play amongst the waterfalls? Did she still dream? was everything set in stone? Did she still....love him?
"Vincent, I'm a scientist. If it comes down to something as "unethical" and "immoral" as that, then I'm willing. Humans may be humans, but we're animals, too."
It was something Hojo would say, not his darling Lucrecia. What WAS that monster doing to her, anyways? Killing her from the inside out?
They had passed the trash-laden area and were now in front of the inn. The little boy wasn't on the roof anymore. His absence made the inn appear imperious and inhospitable. She let an exasperated sigh escape from her, and walked towards the stairs in the light of the streetlamps.
"I...I don't know you anymore," the Turk called after the woman who vanished behind the door. She closed it, shutting out the persistent wind and the more persistent voice from both her ears ad her conscience.
"Neither do I, Vincent."
The flip of several yellowed pages was the only sound in the small laboratory.
It covered half a floor, and was too small to fit two Behemoth in. A labcoated
man was bent over the old paper, studying it intently through bagged eyes,
fatigue aging his features, yet sifting through each of the pages as meticulously
as possible. A creak of the door brought him out of his concentration, and
he studied the other man coming through the door. He greeted the younger
one with a yawn.
"Ahhhhhhhh.....good morning, Hojo. Is the new assistant in yet?"
"Assistant?" The other raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "I had no idea you would see me unemployed so soon, Gast," he said in mock fear, walking purposefully to his superior. He let his eyes wander towards the yellow pages, some of which showed cracks through the middle. Next to the yellow book was a scrawl of "Cetra." Hojo set his chin on his fingers in puzzlement, and reminded himself to ask the head scientist what that was at a later time.
"After the mischief you caused last night, I would have asked President Shin-Ra to do the honors. But you're too valuable, Hojo," Gast sighed, rubbing his tired eyes and yawning again. "Earlier I was apprehensive," he started, closing the yellow book and shoving it to one corner of the table. "But now..I must take your proposal into consideration. Mako, you said?"
"If you were accurate in determining its composition, it should be very conductive," Hojo answered, his brown eyes vibrant with ambition. His superior eased foward on his chair and stretched, paused for a moment to regather his thoughts, and responded,
"There is one problem."
"And what's that, Gast?"
Hojo was anticipating this. There was always a hitch, a catch, some hinderance, obstacle. But none he couldn't overcome.
"Mako is no ordinary substance. It is non-renewable, very dangerous to handle, and..it is this Planet's lifeblood."
"Lifeblood," Hojo repeated, not as a question, but as a statement. Bugenhagen had said something along those lines. The first time he had heard that it came as a shock to him to hear something so fanciful and illogical come from the mouth of a man of science.
"Without it, everything would......" Gast strode towards two containers at the table's center, one with a few droplets of Mako, and the other devoid of anything. In the container with the Mako, all of the plants were dead. But in the empty container, there was nothing besides the barest of rock. If there had been plants there, Hojo wouldn't have noticed. "Die. That means Mako is out of the question." He paused, patting the empty container with his hand and looking up at the white ceiling. "I owe your other mentor for that first experiment."
"Bugenhagen?" Hojo said in disbelief, leaning foward to stare at both containers, shifting his gaze from one to the other. "He doesn't have any equipment. How could he conduct it?"
"I've been sending some materials..." He sighed in supressed frustration. Bugenhagen had known him since HE was a child, the man being well over the normal life expectancy. It didn't seem right that such a brilliant man had to conduct scientific experiments with the most basic of instruments. "Once we find our alternate source, then I can send him better equipment..So get to work on it, Hojo. And....." he added sternly as Hojo turned to leave. "...NO Mako."
The empty skies loomed overhead, stretching above the sterile earth. It had
done this for eons. It was still there when the land was fertile. That was
one thing about the sky, that it changed often in condition, but the great
heavens were always present to watch over the ever-changing land. That night
the former showed its fearsome face of turbulence, the snarling winds a horde
of beasts. The billowing clouds blanketed the area, impenetrable to celestial
bodies that appeared during the reign of night. Underneath the impermeable
blanket lay the bubbling Mako pit, its spewed gases rising up into the air.
But it never absorbed the sky. It dissipated at a low altitude, preventing
any from reaching the atmosphere. Had it been given off as a
"He's wrong..." The Shin-Ra scientist's brown eyes narrowed into slits of defiance. Since Gast had warned him not to, his assistant had been coming there every day after work to do the opposite. Firm with the conviction that Mako was the only solution, he performed test after test, usually missing at least one step of the scientific method, but executing it with precision and accuracy, and resulting in burst bulbs, melted wires, Mako stains on his labcoat, and an acrid mood.
"As long as the Mako's returned to the Planet, it won't be harmed......"
Hojo stood precariously on the brink of the cliff, looking out over the pit. The fierce gale that blew whipped the black strands of his hair across his forehead. A smile spread across his pallid face, and he bent down to gaze into the giant pit. Flattening himself in front of it, he drew a pipet from his labcoat pocket, and drew some of the green liquid into the test tube, dropping it slowly, watching in fascination as each drop joined the others at the bottom of the glass.
The sudden voice disrupted Hojo's concentration, and the test tube slipped, plunging into the Mako, the greenish liquid splashing on the man's face.
"Wonderful, Lu..." he groaned irritably as he spat out the Mako droplets that rolled off of his glasses onto his lips. He got to his feet and turned around. "Can't you see I'm extract-----" He spied a red card jutting out from her shirt pocket. "Ah, you're the assistant Gast was talking about." Inwardly he sparked with nervousness and anticipation. He had sometimes thought about Lucrecia in the past years, and it was a pleasant surprise that she had wound up in the same profession. But he didn't dare speak that out loud.
"I can't believe it...It's been---how many years since that first dissection, and you haven't changed a bit," she remarked. The other had now taken another test tube from the rack, and he repeated the process. Lucrecia didn't have to ask him what he was doing: she knew by the bulb, wires, and switch that it would be an electrical experiment. She kneeled down to watch him, wondering if she should offer him any assistance. He seemed to be doing fine on his own.
But then..hadn't he always?
Hojo now had the entire experiment set up. He had done it rather feverishly: his impatience was getting the better of him. From the earlier attempts he knew that wire wouldn't be sufficient: he needed something thicker and wider. This time he had a series of pipes leading out from the source, connecting to the bulb, and another set of pipes that led back into the source. Energy converters lay on both sides of the bulb, to change Mako to electricity back to Mako again.
He threw the switch. Darkness. He couldn't believe it. Yelling in frustration, he yanked a piece of hair from his head. Lucrecia sighed with a slight smile on her lips. Nothing had changed at all. She looked at the exasperated man, offering, "I'll help you." The other protested, hating help. He had proven himself to the doubters by displaying independence, and that alone. But, Lucrecia was also a scientist. Ambition, and steadfastness, ran high inside her as well, and she and him worked well into the next morning on the problem, sharing the aggravation, burst bulbs, melted wires, and Mako stains.
Light. Through barely-open eyes light flared. At first they thought it was the sun, but it was right in front of them, not burning in the sky. As Hojo switched the light off, exhalling in exhausted satisfaction, he recalled what the other said to him the previous night and answered her in an unusually genial way,
"Neither have you, Lucrecia."
Two months passed. Mako energy became the main source of electricity, and
though Gast was upset at Hojo for disobeying him, the fact that the Mako
never increased or decreased in the pit, circulating from it to the city
pacified him.. The method greatly reduced the lighting, but now electric
light was available everywhere in Midgar. Gast finally fulfilled his ambition
of sending updated equipment to Cosmo Canyon, a task which he entrusted to
Vincent and the other Turks. The bulk of Shin-Ra's scientific operations,
as well as those who were involved with the new space exploration program,
were moved to Nibelheim on the eastern continent. Gast, Lucrecia and Hojo
moved into Shin-Ra Mansion, and Midgar experienced a golden age of booming
business due to various economic policies. Vincent took up temporary residence
in Nibelheim, ordered to protect the scientists there. Yes, everything was
going well in the world...
Except the Weapons Department.
Today of all days.........
Gast hurried through the halls of the Shin-Ra mansion, running a comb through his hair as he greeted the other executives who had been jarred awake by the commotion. He flew towards the basement entrance. Today he banged on the bookcase instead of palming it. The tempermental thing gave way only after he kicked it, and even then, he had to duck to clear the frame.
It wasn't the best day of his life, that was for sure.
The scientist took the stone stairway three and four at a time. That was a bad sign, because safety had always been his first priority. He rushed through the basement hall, avoiding the screeching bats. Once he hit the door, he fumbled for his keys, jammed it into the lock and swung it open, a solid bang telling him that there was someone behind it. Not noticing that his assistant's nose was bleeding from the impact, he relayed in a harried manner,
"Hojo, something has come up. I need to leave for Midgar." Barely pausing, he added in case his assistant got any ideas, "It's a meeting of the higher-ups, so you have to stay here."
"What about this experiment?" the other asked, holding his bleeding nose. It took him a minute longer than usual for him to notice it, and he started to fret even more, bunching a wad of tissues into Hojo's hand and glanced up at the wall above the bookshelf.
I hope that clock is fast.....
"Leave it alone. It's a delicate setup," Gast explained hurriedly, closing the lab door as he disappeared from sight. "And stay in Nibelheim!" he added as a last-minute thought. "I'll tell Vincent to keep an eye on things while I'm gone."
Hojo sighed, looking longingly at the experiment. He'd been looking foward to this. He sat down on the chair in front of the variable, and shot a stinging glare at the door.
"Retribution for disobeying your instructions?" the young man growled bitterly. He moved uncomfortably in the chair, easing foward to start it, but decided not to. This struggle went on for some time before an idea formed in his contemplating mind, and he opened the door, peering around to ascertain that Gast hadn't been hiding in the storage room this whole time. But there was nothing but the content-looking bats. Lucrecia had fed them, he concluded Mounting the stairs, he walked towards the bookcase, light shedding on the stone as he reached the entrance. The bookcase responded to his touch, and opened with a loud slam. Too loud...when one was set on doing something that they weren't really supposed to be doing, noise had its way of intensifying its volume.
He walked through the short hallway towards the stairs, but heard a creak of the door on the right. Before he could react, a slim male dressed in a smart khaki suit and eating a slab of meat doused in some thick gravy burst out of it, whistling a jovial tune. Hojo quirked an eyebrow.
"Hey-hey!" greeted the man, chomping on the meat.
"Ah.....the local epicurean," Hojo remarked, stopping in front of the stairs and placing his hand on the polished banister. "What sort of delicacy have you discovered this time?"
"Nibel Wolf," answered Palmer through a stuffed mouth, clinging onto the fat that disappeared as easily as the meat. The spray of a tangy sauce spattered on the other's labcoat as Palmer walked by, devouring the food. Hojo was oblivious to that, busy wondering how such a careless eater could avoid choking on that large of a portion of food. He walked down the stairs and headed towards the tall window. The Shin-Ra chopper was gone, just the smooth dirt pathway and the waving grass that bordered it visible. His mouth curved into a devious smile as he walked towards the rear of the mansion, bordered by a cluster of trees, and entered a small wood that wouldn't see the fall of Meteor. He navigated his way through the old forest, the fauna scampering about on the ground or scaling the thick trunks that led up to the leaves, that dared to grasp the clouds. He made his way to the older trees, some of which had srpawled crooked . The tree that was most twisted out of shape had grown over another crooked tree, and Hojo had left a bag of Mimett Greens at the point of intersection. But there was no bird.
"It's gone?" he asked the unresponsive bark. He milled around the two trees for a while, trying to determine where it might have gone. Silence rewarded his efforts for several minutes, and he grew increasingly frustrated. A sudden "wark" broke the silence, and Hojo followed it deeper into the wood, winding around the myriad of trees, tripping over the occasional stump.
He reached the edge of the small forest, and the unmistakable shape of a Chocobo caught his weak vision. The lack of light must have been playing with his eyes, because the viridian Chocobo he had left was now a navy hue. He saw a flash of turquoise as it ruffled its wings proudly. And it was well-groomed, a service that Hojo didn't perform for himself, let alone a Chocobo. He dismissed the possibility of it being a different one, since the red one rarely came out. "Here boy," he called towards the bird.
The Chocobo pierced the air with an enraged "WARK". Hojo noticed the major difference, and remembered that there were other Chocobos in the forest. As it arched its neck and "warked" ferociously, the man exclaimed in surprise, "This one must be territorial--" He was cut off by the huge bird's charge, which knocked him flat on the ground. Before he knew it, the Chocobo was lashing out with its beak viciously, with a mad gleam in its eyes. The scientist shielded his head with his hands, the assailant pecking at him furiously. A pitiable whimper escaped him as he curled into an ineffective ball. The Chocobo was deaf to pleading.
A rustling was heard amongst the wood. "Another one---?" Hojo groaned. His assailant hadn't done any major damage, but that could change in a few more seconds. Then a branch was swept aside, and the other scientist appeared, holding a pile of Gyashl Greens in her arms. The Chocobo was about to start kicking, when it scented the repulsive stench of the Greens, and trotted towards them, finding food far more interesting than its punching bag.
"Here you go--" She began to lay down the Greens, when she happened to look foward. "Hojo, what happened?"
"I think I may have the wrong one....." he wheezed. Lucrecia shook her head with a smile, leaned down to check for injuries, and affirmed that there wasn't any harm done. Then she glanced at the blue Chocobo, who was quietly feeding on the Greens, a radiant picture of false innocence.
"If you're talking about that mountain Chocobo," she started, briefly glaring at the blue Chocobo before she disappeared behind one of the trees. "It's here." She emerged with a viridian bird in tow, a string of energetic "warks" leaping from its throat. It sauntered towards the man on the ground, chirping as if in a great triumph. He groaned as he looked up blearily at the green bird, until he realized his glasses had popped off of his head. "You'll have to excuse Tarquinius," Lucrecia said, picking up the lenses from the damp ground and giving them back to their owner. "He's not tame yet."
"A good time to tell me that was before it attacked me," Hojo grumbled, sliding his glasses back on and trying to get back up. The malicious Chocobo laughed secretively, its beak tightening in a grin. He stared an icy venom at the gleeful bird, and resisted only slightly as Lucrecia helped him up.
"That river Chocobo is ferocious," remarked Hojo, rubbing his red arm as he shakily mounted the green Chocobo. The hostile blue one, that had stopped laughing, gave an indignant snort.
"Call him Tarquinius. He doesn't like to be called by anything else," she said, stroking the Chocobo's head appeasingly before boarding it. Hojo nodded in acknowledgement, and the bird started to move in a slow canter. They emerged from the forest, the rolling plains of the Nibelheim still ahead of them. After realizing that they were heading farther from the town, Lucrecia turned her head and asked, "Where are we going?" She stopped her Chocobo. "Nibelheim is that way."
"Gast had to leave on some business," Hojo answered with more than a bit of annoyance evident in his features. "He thinks we're not competent enough to handle a Mu appendix." He muttered under his breath, "Nor does he want us to leave town to find science-related activities..." The man slowed the bird, pulling back on its reigns. He stared into the distance, calculating the distance and nodded with the assurance that the trip would be short. "We'll return before he comes back," he assured. He started the Chocobo again, and glanced towards the worried woman. Mentally he berated himself for lacking consideration...it was his ambitions again, always seeming to get in the way of either good sense or good character. "You don't need to come along---" he started to say.
The wind blew stronger through the grey skies, whistling in the leaves behind them. Lucrecia threw a backward glance to Nibelheim. She considered the obstacles, what could possibly go wrong, everything that Gast would do before agreeing to something. But she wasn't that careful. Giving a firm nod, she gave her Chocobo the go signal, and reaced towards the horizon.
Gaia was always alive, but its life reached its pinnacle during a storm.
That was when it was unrestrained, and all its forces combined to release
its massive energy.
A crowd of thickening thunderheads presented themselves over the Nibel grasslands, looming over the two Chocobos and their riders. The wind whipped the grass blades fiercely, testing their endurance against the powerful force of nature. The Chocobos had less trouble with the wind, but they were light, despite human weight, and as the wind blew stronger, the birds had to run faster to beat the wind. Rain started to hammer into the ground, the sky now an onimous black. A huge lightning flash split the sky, and a peal of thunder rent the relative quiet. The two riders' ambition was indomitable, however, and they pushed their Chocobos towards the red sky, that lay above the land where the Planet's brood was brought up on infertile soil.
Several days after his departure from Nibelheim, Gast found himself in the
conference room of Shin-Ra HQ, back then, rather small in comparison to what
it eventually became. Even so, it was still tastefully decorated in those
days, decked in bright banners reading Shin-Ra Electric Company. But Gast
hardly noticed, bored to death with hours of drawn-out repititions of low
electric bills, too much or too little gil for so many watts, and other corporate
updates. He worked with the facade of pretending to look interested in what
the sub-department was saying, nodding or applauding every idea though he
hadn't an inkling to what it meant. Just when Gast thought he would succumb
to twiddling his thumbs, Palmer started to talk gibberish about the need
for money to build spacecraft, which was slightly more interesting President
Shin-Ra didn't look too keen on shelling too much out for it, however, judging
from the aloof expression he showed Palmer. Finally Gast couldn't hide it
any longer, and started to drum his fingers.
"Yes, President Shin-Ra," the scientist responded, erasing all negative expression from his features. Silently, he thanked the gods for the distraction.
"As you already know," he began, one eye on the scientist and the other on the Weapons Department manager, "These SOLDIERs are not soldiers. They are not only costing us thousands of gil, they are an embarassment to this company."
Gast nodded, holding his tongue in case Shin-Ra had something more to say. He had always been careful around people who were in the position to make his life miserable, the president especially.
"The Weapons Development division has done all it can," stated the manager flatly, and turned his gaze to the white-garbed man sitting across from him. "It's up to the Science Department, now."
"You have your task, Doctor. Improve the SOLDIERs by any means necessary," came the terse voice of Shin-Ra, who tapped the end of his cigar, filling the ashtray. Gast answered in the affirmative, and pushed his chair in as he was about to leave, but Shin-Ra stopped him. "Wait, Doctor." He stroked his beard, an idea forming in his conniving mind.. "Perhaps create an altered SOLDIER with genetics or whatever sort of thing you do in that lab."
Gast's eyes livened in their sockets, and a sudden perkiness gripped ahold of him. The other executives didn't react:: they rarely questioned the scientist's queer behavior. What they didn't know that Gast's greatest ambitions, that contradicted his own moral code, made him twist in mental turmoil that he, gentle man that he was, would even think of embarking on this excursion past the border of decency. And yet, it excited him, that the opportunity was there. It was the tempting apple, the bait of the demons, but it had been his dream to recreate....
A flock of Valron dipped from the overhanging clouds, gliding over the small
town of Nibelheim. Their fierce roars resounded through the windowpanes,
most of which were closed at this time of morning to keep out last night's
vicious rain. The sun's rays hadn't yet burst through the grey clouds, leaving
the ground soggy and the air moist and thick.
Vincent inhaled the damp air with listlessness. It was nothing new, as he displayed the vibrance and energy of a stone. The muggy air didn't rock him, nor the roars overhead startle him, his mind fixated on the one thing that would drag him out of his vapid state: Lucrecia. Alas, she wasn't there. Perhaps she went with Gast. No....more likely with Hojo. Just the thought of that weasel made him grind his teeth in jealousy.
"Lucrecia...what does he have that I lack?"
He sat depressed against the Nibelheim gate, balling his hands into a fist and sitting his lower jaw on them. Passerby ignored it: it was nothing new to them. Whenever Lucrecia wasn't around, Vincent moped. It was the same, old boring routine. It was a small town where news travelled quickly. If there was no navy-garbed Turk despondent at the gate, either Lucrecia was in town or the former was on-duty elsewhere. "I want to be with you....." Vincent heaved a weighty sigh, and stood up. He walked towards the forest. As he entered the cover of the thick canopy, he uttered with a distant look in his eyes, "These trees remind me of you, Lucrecia. The beauty of life. Life isn't beautiful without you. I long to find you." He headed deeper into the forest, until he came to where the Chocobos were kept. The blue one and the green one were gone. Anger and hatred boiled in his voice. "You're trying to take Lucrecia away. My Lucrecia...she was mine before you showed up and ruined everything. I'll....." He eyed a Chocobo of a bloody hue, pecking at the half-eaten Gyashl Green on the ground. "...find you."
As Gast left Shin-Ra HQ in high spirits, he gripped the folder that read
"Cetra". He clutched it tightly to his heart. It left him with fond memories,
when he first got the idea into his head, and equally horrifiyng memories
of exploring the Temple of the Ancients. But it had been well worth the risk.
The number of artifacts found was astounding, and potential information was
mind-boggling, all written in the Cetran language. What was left to do was
decipher the rest of it. Back then he found it impossible, but now with more
knowledge of the Ancients, and his pair of assistants, this time around,
they could succeed in fufilling Shin-Ra's orders, and at the same time,
furthering knowledge of the Ancients.
But at what cost? How could he be so happy about this? There were innumerable risks involved. He couldn't count the dangers of altering a living human being. And the morality of it..the ethics...He was a scientist, but he believed in them. He valued and cherished them, because they were akin to rare jewels: few people had them. And yet...
The Ancients...his mind wandered to Ifalna. He considered going back to Nibelheim but changed his mind when he thought of Ifalna. If there was one person to get his mind of all of his troubles, it was that woman. He started towards the chopper, the brisk Midgar wind nipping at his flesh. Climbing into the seat, his worry abated to nagging whispers.
"They can fare for themselves a while longer."
A crimson beast with the mark of a predator sniffed the two humans with his
large black nose, catlike in shape, but doglike in nature, a wet velvet.
The reddish-brown fur that was the beginning of a mane bristled on the end
of his back. His two yellow eyes that gleamed in the harsh red sun eyed the
two visitors closely. He recognized the first one despite the fact that he
was soaked from the rain, but wanted to identify the scent just to make sure.
When certain that it wasn't an enemy, he plunked down on his haunches and
"You don't smell like Vincent."
"If that were the case I'd refrain from bathing," Hojo answered with a chuckle, pushing up his round glasses by their lenses. The eighteen-year old wolf/lion didn't find the humor of it, and his normally ferocious visage was muddled with confusion. Sometimes he just didn't understand the humans his family was charged with guarding. But was worse than a human that couldn't be understood, was a human that couldn't be trusted. His nose didn't lie.But taking an extra precaution never hurt.
"Who is she?"
"I'm Lucrecia, Dr. Gast's associate," the equally soaked woman answered, a great deal more timid in the unnerving presence of the intelligent animal. Though barely reaching her waist in stature, and having a voice too mild to fit his warrior-like appearance, he was an intimidating beast...which was why she was surprised at his reaction.
The lupine/feline sat on his haunches, relief etched on the coarse fur of his face. He pawed his forehead, and stared down at the ground abashed, one aqua feather catching the light of the healthy flame that exaggerated the shadows the dwindling vermillion sunset cast on the enormous clay structure that stood proud against the strip of canyon behind it.
"You must forgive my distrust," he apologized. "The Gi are getting restless again....." He shifted a glance towards the canyons back to the two humans."We can never be too careful."
"Ah...yes...the Gi like to instigate the conflict." Hojo looked towards there also, but turned away quickly, refusing to be engulfed by memories. "Is Bugenhagen available, Red?"
Lucrecia wasn't sure, but she thought she saw Nanaki wince before he enthusiastically responded "yes", and loped up the roughly-carved steps through the wooden gate on which was painted "Cosmo Canyon".
Vincent grew less and less confident that he would find the two scientists. The storm had washed away any tracks that may have been left in the mud, and Chocobos were definitely not renowned for their keen sense of smell. He took the red fowl as far as the river between Corel and Gongaga, and found no trace of her. He returned to Nibelheim disappointed, but filled with the anticipation of a boy waiting for his father to get back home so he could tell what his brother had done to the new rug. "Just you wait, Hojo...you're going to get it when Dr. Gast returns.."
The two scientists entered Bugenhagen's quarters, torches illuminating what
otherwise would be a dark hollowed-out opening chiselled in the canyon face.
The old man had really made the use of Gast's donations: they were cluttered
throughout the room, making it impossible to walk through without stepping
on some delicate gadget. A clack emanated from somewhere amongst the devices,
making him easier to pinpoint, but no less easier to get to. Bugenhagen was
a man who preferred organization over disorder, but because he closely followed
the ways of the Planet, he was unafraid of its chaos, deeming it as the Planet's
way of order. He didn't mind a cluttered floor.
Hojo sidestepped the machines, Lucrecia following close behind, and came to an abnormally large pile of machines, behind which was a shining hairless head. Hojo was about to open his mouth when the sliver of flesh popped up from behind the machinery, making his whole self visible, a bald man who was suspended in the air by some inexplicable force. The floating figure peered up through his dark glasses, waved his arms wildly and exclaimed jovially,
"Ah! Visitors of the researching variety! Welcome to Cosmo--" He floated towards the two scientists, recognizing the first one, who didn't seem to be perturbed by his ability as the other one was. The bald man leaned over, taking off his glasses briefly to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. He wasn't. "It's about time. You've been away so long they've forgotten your name." He gestured out the door, and flapped his arms in brief vexation. "Even I'm beginning to forget it."
"Four letters are not that difficult to remember, old man," Hojo disparaged the elder, putting extra emphasis on the last two words.
"When you've reached my age it has! Hoo, hoo....." His voice changed to a slightly sterner tenor. "You've forsaken your first name, so you're monomial by choice." He eyed Lucrecia and hovered in front of them. "I think we should postpone this argument," he decided. The woman had remained speechless, failing to find words to comment on Bugenhagen's eccentric nature, and since she was reasonably polite to strangers, didn't remark. " If you brought someone else it must not be a social call."
"Yes, we heard you have work...requiring intellect," the other quickly added, not wanting Bugenhagen to mistake her vague statement for physical labor. The ancient man nodded vibrantly, and floated towards the machinery, holding the unassembled components. His eyebrows fell lopsided, and he crinkled his brow, unable to make heads or tails of the contraption.
"It's all new to me, these machines," he said with a laughing sigh. "That boy certainly is generous." Gathering a pile of assorted objects that were piled high enough to block him from sight, his question was muffled as he floated back towards them. "I need help with these fireless lights...."
"He's bitter at you."
Hojo nodded, hovering over a frustrating light fixture. Leaning face- down dropped his bangs over his nose. A spark flew, and he swore under his breath, grabbing the shocked fingers with his other hand. Lucrecia didn't expect to recieve an answer anytime soon, and continued with a hint of sadness, "My family was the same when I left Kalm. They threatened to never speak to me again, and my father wanted to disown me."
"Is that so? Maybe we have more in common than simply profession." Hojo switched the light on, such a simple device, it was, and turned around. "Was this for the sake of 'tradition'?" he asked with disdain.
"Yes.....you'd think that they'd be proud..." She gazed out the glassless window at the endless patch of stars strewn about the darkening sky. Slowly the scientist walked towards it, leaning her elbows on the hard sill. Hojo filled the spot next to her, staring out at the Canyon fire. The Elders sat in a tight ring around it in a ritual-like manner, appearing as barely perceptible spots on the ground. He continued to stare at the fire until Lucrecia brought his gaze level. "I wonder if it's like this for..anyone who wants to follow their own ambitions."
The squawking of the wild penguin-like creatures stained the ensuing silence. Their cries were distant, but they roamed rampant in the canyon. "I...don't know the
answer to that. It's not exactly science. What I do know is that we're proving
"What's that?" she asked, folding her arms on the sill. The other readjusted his glasses before answering evenly,
"The theory of universal famlilial discontent."
That brought a rare, hearty laugh from both of them, and they spent the remainder of the night staring at the constellations and identifying the stars that made up their composition. Cosmo's red sky at night faded into a deep azure, ebony in the patches where the cumulus clouds didn't distort the color. It was past the middle of the night when drowsiness settled on Lucrecia's eyelids, and she retired to the Canyon's inn down the stairs, leaving the other scienist there to gaze like a fool out at the sky......until a familiar shape floated through the low passageway.
"Some of the planets are changing orbit. This Planet hasn't been affected.."
He started to laugh in his peculiar way, not seeming the bit perturbed at the grave statement he was trying to make. "That could change."
"Somehow I think that's not why you're talking to me," mused Hojo, his brief show of lightheartedness vanishing as if it had never been there. He came away from the window, standing before Bugenhagen, whose joviality had also melted into a mood of gravity.
"Why don't you come back to the Canyon?" he asked simply. The answer was equally simple.
"I've dedicated my life to science and to becoming a scientist."
Bugenhagen was visibly upset with that answer, but he was expecting it. Few things came unexpected to him, a man of great wisdom and many years behind him. And given the boy's obstinacy, he wasn't expecting to succeed, but the greatest failure to him was to fail to try.
"You mean to tell me you'd betray your own people the same way you've betrayed your name?"
Hojo flashed the elder an incredulous glare, repeating him in disbelief. "Betray?" He shook his head with conviction. "The advances that we at Shin-Ra Inc. make benefit the whole Planet---" That was where Bugenhagen cut him off.
"Hoo...no, boy. Not to the Planet." He stared directly into the hard eyes of the labcoated man. "You practice a destructive science that is disruptive to the Planet's natural order. You've applied it to technology." He grabbed one of the knobs from the table, and held it up in the light of the newly-installed lightbulbs. "I'd sooner live without this, but it's necessary if the entire canyon will remain prosperous and happy." He hung his head. "I only ask one thing of them. That they stay in touch with the Planet. They have. But what have you done? You've up and left this society that is bound to this very soil. For what? To soar high. To exceed your predecessors."
Hojo nodded firmly. "Ambitions of youth. Warren felt the same way."
The old man bounced upward, floating towards the exit. "It's all well and good." He swivelled around one more time, his wrinkled features stern."But do not forget the lessons that only the Planet can teach you. Without this Planet, you will fall."
Hojo stared at the elder's back as the old man disappeared, his last sentence, edged with an ominous truth, falling upon his ears, then abating into a fading echo as the room was silent once again. "And then you'll be nothing."
The moment she left the limits of the settlement she knew something was wrong.
Visible tracks were etched in the ground that had gone straight past the
canyon. They hadn't been their before. Suspicion aroused, she hopped off
her Chocobo and bent down to examine them. One thing she gained from Kalm
was a basic knowledge of Chocobos. She had thought it silly to learn it back
then, but now that it was needed, she was glad her hometown was able to offer
her that much.
"Look at the shape of the feet. That's an ordinary Chocobo," she stated, pointing at the size of the tracks.
Hojo craned his neck to see the tracks on either side of the green bird's body. Stroking his hairless chin in contemplation, he finally retorted,
"They have no nests here--" A close cry of one of the wild denizens snapped his head up. Hearing nothing approach, he continued, "That must mean it came from Nibelheim." Hojo shifted uncomfortably on the fowl's back."Lucrecia, are you saying we were---"
"Followed," she finished with slight fear in her eyes, and boarded the azure back of her bird.
The light noise of Chocobo talons scraping against the ground broke through the early dawn. Already the scarlet sky arrived to chase the ebony of night away, clearly establishing that specific area as belonging to the Canyon. The looming clay structures grew smaller and smaller in the distance as the two scientists rode across the ground, through herds of the armed turtle-like creatures and past the vicious penguins. They followed the tracks that wound around the Canyon through the valley, fading out where there was more moisture once they hit the stagnant grass. The dampness in the air told them they were near Gongaga, and were relying that whoever had followed them sought refuge there, but the tracks continued past the village and ended at an impassable obstacle for the green Chocobo: a river.
Gast was seated in Ifalna's house, far away from the cigar smoke- poisoned
air of Shin-Ra's board meeting room, and in the modest home of someone he
could call a friend. As the last known Ancient, he was very interested in
her, but as a person, he found her very attractive as well. Whenever he talked
to her, he'd become hot and flustered, and would shift about in his seat
nervously. It must have been love. It had to be. There were few things in
life that made Gast act unprofessional and even fewer things that brought
his temperature so high that he was compelled to remove his labcoat. It hung
on the back of one of Ifalna's simple, functional chairs, until the clock
tolled ten, whereupon Gast gathered up his documents and prepared to leave.
He waited for Ifalna to finish what she was saying, and then shook her
"That was a wonderful discussion, Ifalna, but I'm afraid I must be getting back to Nibelheim. My assistants might be getting restless."
"Damn their limited attributes!" Hojo cursed as his green Chocobo took one
wade into the water and let out a "WARK" of terror. It backpedaled rapidly,
shaking its head with vigorous defiance. The scientist leaned foward, futilely
trying to get it to cross. Lucrecia walked the azure Chocbo through the narrow
and rapid river to the other side, looked beyond the moist bank, and shook
her head as she crossed the river again, coming back to the thoroughly frustrated
scientist, her pants dripping with river water.
"There's no tracks here. Can you swim?"
"Even if could," he answered with grit teeth, "the river's velocity would dump me into the sea. Or the undercurrent would drown me. Whichever came first."
"It's your fault," Lucrecia accused suddenly, opening her bag of rations only to find it empty. She started to walk the bird through the roaring water again, and stopped midway, turning around. She walked Tarquinius back over the river, meeting Hojo's piercing gaze."You couldn't wait for Dr. Gast to come back. Now he'll throw a fit."
"You decided to come along---" he started, his brown eyes narrowing. "Of course...you want to be his good little girl," he remarked icily. "And speaking of which," he added with an edge of venom lacing his words. "Go back to that Turk. He must be dying to---"
Like lightning, Lucrecia was off her Chocobo and smacked the offending face, that flinched under the stinging palm, but not at the words that accompanied it. He had been called far worse before, and was desensitized to lesser, petty insults.
"You...you..greaseball!!!" she screamed, loud enough to attract a herd of the creatures with the Stone Stare. They approached cautiously, being large, visible animals, and prey to hunters from Gongaga, they attacked only when they were aided by one of their kind or an allied specie. The marine-like animals approached nearer, catching the middle of the conversation as their tails lashed in anticipation.
"Looking into my love life like that...!" Lucrecia muttered, her eyes flashing hot anger. Fire was said to melt ice, but it seemed as if ice was freezing fire. Hojo countered it coldly, as if it had sprung from the coldest regions of the Gaea Cliffs.
"I see that science isn't your only profession."
"Bastard....." she hissed, her anger reaching its acme. "It's the only one fit for you. You know why?" The Chocobo started, trotting at first before breaking into a full sprint. The waiting monsters were almost upon them, but the running fowl darted past them, cheating them out of a chance to petrify. Hojo stayed there for the longest time, not letting Lucrecia's final verbal lance stab through his innards until he had taken off as well. "You're not capable of loving...!"
They were able to make Nibelheim before Gast arrived, leaving Vincent in
a foul mood. They had ignored each other the entire time. One week passed.
The two hadn't spoken to each other for the whole week. Even during work,
if they had to communicate with each other at all, they would use Gast, Vincent,
or any nobody who happened to be there to relay the message. It sorely tested
Gast's patience, and he would have ordered them to resolve their differences
then and there, but with the demand for an improvement in the SOLDIER ranks,
it didn't matter. What Gast revealed to them that day was to be the most
infamous project that Shin-Ra had ever taken on.
Its name: The Jenova Project.
Nibelheim, at all appearances, was void of any light. The celestial bodies
that normally would radiate light were gagged by the clouds, forming a tranquil
darkness over the town's rooftops. Its diurnal inhabitants had all gone to
bed, leaving no artificial light, either. The Shin-Ra Mansion standing proud
and haughty at the edge of town was also pitch black. It was only in the
basement that there was a sign of activity.
The lead scientist opened the same yellow book and laid it out on the cluttered library table. Hojo immediately recognized it, and leaned over its incoherent lettering, scanning it eagerly. Lucrecia looked at Gast questioningly, tilting her head sideways as she pondered the purpose of the yellow book. From the meaning of the bits of text she could read from across the table, she concluded that it was Ancients' writing.
"'Years of deciphering and I've come up with only this," the science department head stated, a morose frown creasing his haggard visage. "Approximately ten-thousand years ago the Cetra arrived on this Planet. From what I understand, only they and the native peoples until circa two-thousand years ago, when a lifeform crashed into the Planet. The rest is impossible to read." He furrowed his sleep-deprived brow in thought, and turned to his female assistant. "Lucrecia, didn't you study the Ancient's language? It said in your resume-- "
The other nodded.
"A little bit. I don't remember much of it."
Lucrecia moved from behind the table, walking around Hojo to reach the yellow book.She studied it in the bright yellow light, contrasting little with the paper of the same shade. She squinted over the lettering, placing both hands on the table as she ran her eyes back and forth down the page.
"The best I can make out...'death follows'...the lifeform in question, 'and we lessen'..." Lucrecia quirked a brown eyebrow, suddenly realizing that her superior had been so excited about this that he hadn't told them what its whole purpose was. He had simply dug that book out and flung them right into this mysterious, seemingly pointless task. "Dr. Gast, what is this all about?"
"First," the head scientist began,"if what I believe about the lifeform is right, then it will be a Cetra, like Ifalna."
"Cetra?" repeated Hojo.
"Cetrans were beings that held mystical powers." His male assistant shot him a dubious glare. The other acknowledged it with exasperation. "I know you don't believe it, Hojo, but it's PROVEN--" he stated with not the slightest hint of doubt in his voice, his finger on the page of the book,"by this text." He heaved another book from the topmost shelf into the table. "And this." Striding to the other bookcase, he gathered five more books, the largest one covered in a film of dust from laying on shelf for several years, and so old that it seemed as if any manhandling would crumble it to pieces. "And these. Those are multiple primary sources, Hojo."
"Fairy tales," he answered disgustedly, looking the aged texts over.Gast groaned in exasperation and walked over to Lucrecia, who was fingering the faded words, translating the ones she could read in her head. As the night wore on, Hojo thumbed skeptically through the faded paper, dismissing the whole thing as nonsense......until he reached for the last book. Lifitng it up from the table caused it to open, a slip of paper falling out from the middle, landing near his shoe. "Peculiar," he muttered, bending down to the floor and picking up the leaf. He unfolded it, flattening it over the table. "Gast..."
The aforementioned looked up, and strode to the other side of the table, taking the paper and examining it. It was a map. He ran his eyes over it, the outline of the three contintents so faded that he was afraid to touch it lest it would smudge. The older man stared long and hard at it, finally finding a speck of something that vaguely resembled a marker, with barely discernible lettering. Hojo recognized the area, the marker drawn on the tip of the northern continent. "The Northern Crater..."
"Lucrecia---" The woman hurried over, following Gast's finger to where it almost touched the dot, so small that it seemed to fade in and out of the overhead beacon of yellow light. "What does that say?" After grueling seconds lapsed into minutes, each moment filling Gast with more hopeful anticpation, she finally confirmed it. Her answer dissipated Hojo's skepticism and sent the Jenova Project on its long, winding course:
"It's the lifeform in question."
The hangar at upper Junon housed many of Shin-Ra's air transportation, but
none as aweing as the airship in the center. It was much smaller than the
airship that would come to be named, the "Highwind", but in those days, that
model was an impressive sight to behold, dwarfing the sleekest of the executive
A small procession filed towards the airship, headed by President Shin- Ra, who was personally escorting the researchers to the largest advancement in transportation since the Chocobo. Bringing up the rear was a Turk. That worried Lucrecia. Turks were only sent as escorts on potentially dangerous excursions.
President Shin-Ra was all smiles as he stopped walking at the side of the airship. At that the line broke off, the Turk meeting with another Turk, with a curious birthmark on his forehead, that was riding ground transportation. The latter was probably younger, considering the domineering way that the former gave orders. He was just a learner from the remnants of youth about his appearance that had been stripped away from him by enlisting so early. But it was a living.
"You'll have Shin-Ra's finest at your disposal, Doctor," the young executive promised heartily. He looked towards the airship, giving a rare nod of approval. He then turned to the head scientist, who gave final instructions to his two assistants before coming back to his superior's side. The latter wasn't for physical contact, and rarely touched anyone save for his throng of prostitutes.
"Warren." he addressed, resting his arm on the other's shoulder. "If you come back with that thing you've been raving about, you'll make us both very rich men." He took him by the shoulders and turned him so that they were face-to-face. "Don't fail in your enterprise, Doctor. There's high stakes here."
"I'm not so much as worried about the money as I am about the truth of this hypothesis, President Shin-Ra," Gast answered, before the president let him go and started to walk away, flicking the hair of his head to one side in a manner that would carry over to his son.
Hojo and Lucrecia stood in front of the airship, several feet apart. This clearly wasn't going to work. One had to give in. The former took a step foward, circled around, stepped foward again, stopped, stared up at the ceiling and mouthed something inaudible, and took another step before perspiration broke on his pale forehead.
He hesitated for a long, uneasy moment. He hated this: he hated apologizing, but now that he was actually in the wrong, he had to, but had no idea how to go about it. He looked down at the ground, shuffling his feet on the floor. And then he looked up. Her eyes were two frozen globes of ice. "I...." he started to stammer, but the woman had turned on her heel and was boarding the airship. Hojo couldn't say anything more.
The airship took off smoothly enough, leading the procession of trucks which were packed with SOLDIERs. They flew over the condor's nest, above the mountains that bordered the Zolom-infested swamp, past the Chocobo farm, Kalm Town, the cloudy skies of Midgar, then reaching the continent's edge. It soared over the turbulent northern ocean, over the forest, through the blizzards that surrounded Great Glacier, until they hit trouble at the crater. It was made to withstand all types of weather: snow, rain, sleet, hail, small meteorites, but not the tumultuous gales that assaulted them when they arrived.
The pilot struggled against the criss-cross winds that rammed the nose of the airship, threatening to spin it in a haphazard circle and crush it on the crater's side. If there was a hell in the heavens, this must have been it. The airsihp had no chance of reaching a stable position in that kind of wind, being twisted and thrown as if it was in a cyclone.
"I'll have to take 'er down. There's too much turbulence!" shouted the pilot, desperately trying to maneuver. The scientist's order was not what he expected, and he swore inaudibly.
"It's very dangerous below! Go as far into the Crater as possible!" Gast yelled, weighing the risk of meeting those fearsome monsters at the Crater's surface and the risk of pushing the wind.
"Not my fault if ya get killed," muttered the pilot, and struggled to steady the chopper amidst the lashing gales. He succeeded in moving the ship directly above the yawning abyss, and started the descent. A sudden blast of wind exploded from within the crater, the force shoving the airship up and diagonally, missing the coarse rock by a hair.
"This is getting risky.."
"We'll make it.if the coordinates are right, we're in the eye of the storm."
A dubious look darkened Lucrecia's face. She glanced at Hojo, and then out the window at the sky that was quickly being blocked by the threatening crags that tumbled into nothingness. Gast grew less assured by the moment, and he put his hands on the wall for support as the entire ship rattled uncontrollably. He was sorely regretting his decision, but it was too late for that, now. "Steady it."
The wind speed from both above and below escalated, slanting the airship tail-down, and all on board suddenly felt a sickening sensation as the vehicle slammed into the rock wall, the propellors clattering as they spun into the diamond-hard stone..
"Where did you learn to---" Gast started to yell in a blend of fear and frustration, but cut himself off, realizing this was hardly the time to deride. "Take it down..slowly."
The pilot obeyed as best as he was able, took advantage of the dying wind below, and finally balanced the craft, easing it downward, mindful of the gales blasting overhead. But caution didn't help this time. An unavoidable wind that spanned the width of the entire Crater ripped from above, roaring like a vengeful demon, smashing the rotor blades against the mocking rock face. "Now what happened?"
The absence of the constant whir grated heavily on their ears, and the gravity dragged them down immediately after, plunging into the vast unknown. The Shin-Ra employees grabbed ahold of anything they could find for their lives, as the ship started to spin, the controls not a factor in its course.
"It should be obvious, Gast," Hojo answered factually as he banged himself against the window, happening to glance out at the ever-darkening atmosphere. "We're falling." As the airship plummeted into the jet void, Lucrecia slammed into the window. This was it. They would hit bottom any second now. Grabbing her hand before she could slide away again, he finished the awkward sentence he was struggling to complete before they had taken off. "I'm...sorry." The other nodded in acknowledgement, and she took his other hand before gravity had a chance to pull them down, feeling the deathly cold chill of fear in it.
"I'm sorry, too--"
The airship met the bottom with a deafening crash.
Lucrecia awoke to the unsettling din of panic. It was Gast's voice, no doubt.
His enraged shouts were countered by a few meek utterances by the pilot.
A quick sideways glance told her that they weren't getting out of this place
any time soon: the airship was totalled. Between possibilities of an electrical
fire incinerating them or having perished in the crash itself, it was a wonder
that they all had survived.
Not all......her eyes widened in shock as she saw the navy-garbed man, crushed under the airship, a stream of blood leaking out from under the wrecked ship. She had walked away with a few minor cuts, but the Turk wouldn't walk away at all.
Clasping one hand to her temple, she dizzily stumbled towards Hojo, who was busily loading clips into a pistol. She was filled with relief that he hadn't met the same fate as the Turk. He had escaped with little more than black-and-blue spots, and looked very much alive.
"Hojo, what's going on?"
"Gast believes that the Northern Crater is notorious for vicious animals. Because the SOLDIER and Turk units---" He made a pitying gesture to the dead man. He didn't have a chance. "Except for....that one, took ground transportation. I believe it will be quite awhile before we receive assistance in clearing them out---"
Gast suddenly came up behind them, his expression one of pure fear. He showed no relief that his two assistants were alive: if they didn't hurry, they wouldn't be for long.
"Lucrecia! Why don't you have a weapon?! Arm yourself, for the gods' sakes!" he yelled, grabbing a spare revolver from his belt and dumping it into Lucrecia's hands. He was a mental mess at this point, but who could blame him? But it wasn't any time to panic, and Hojo tried to calm him with reasoning,
"Gast, if this place was created by an Ancient's landing, it would be a sanctuary, not a den of animals."
The other calmed down, his anxiety dwindling somewhat as Lucrecia shoved the last clip into her weapon.
"The Ancients were a very complex people. Maybe to them, the proof that there is life is non-human---"
The rest of the older man's sentence was drowned out by an immense roar that vibrated the hard ground they stood upon. An unclassifiable object scurried behind them. The gleam of yellow eyes pierced the perpetual gloom. It was clear that they weren't alone, and it was clear that Gast was right. But the thunderous roar or the scurrying creature wasn't the greatest threat..
The dreaded creatures known as Tonberries swarmed in a tight circle around the four humans. Lucrecia couldn't help thinking that that they were cute for monsters, their wan green faces plain except for the bulging yellow globes that sat on the sides of their head, but closer analysis told her that their intentions didn't match their appearance. Their robes were not for flair nor warmth but purpose: the gleaming blade of a knife flashed from under their cloaks. From a screaming impulse, she shot first, the bullet burying itself into the Tonberry's chest, missing its heart by millimeters. The whole pack enraged, three of them came charging over their dead kin's body, brandishing their knives. The others hung back, tightening the circle to shut off escape.
As later travelers would document, few Tonberrys would fight this way. They would abandon a haphazard melee for a stealthier approach that would leave the opponent dead every time with a close-range stab. Back then, they were far more random. It would take them a number of years before they mastered their sneak-and-stab tactic.
Nonetheless, the Tonberrys were nonetheless deadly. They had gone for the pilot first, and cut him down before he had a chance to fire off one shot. Then they used his body as a shield against the scientist's bullets, spouting red fountains from the flesh as the shells further marred his body.
"Incredible stamina.Gast, these pipsqueaks may be the death of us."
"How can you be this calm at a time like this?!" screamed the department head at his male assistant, pumping bullets into a Tonberry, that screeched as it crumpled on the ground in its watery blood. Lucrecia held out her gun with one hand, watching the enemy from the corner of her eye as she grabbed the fallen Tonberry's knife.
"Two more.we might have a shot, Dr. Gast."
"We're not sharpshooters..we've been lucky so far that our weapons are faster than their hands-" He realized that he spoke too soon. "Sweet breath of Ramuh."
The aforementioned had very poor eyesight, and was the worst shot of all, sending shells into the rock wall as the Tonberry approached closer with his knife already out. However, it swung instead of stabbed, missing the throat by a hair. It was now right in front of him, swinging with deadly precision, slicing the air as the man lost balance, and tumbled off the precipice. A scream of terror struck sharply on Lucrecia's ears, and she ran to the edge, shouting into the darkness.
"Lucrecia, watch out!!" screamed Gast as a Tonberry rushed up behind the woman, its knife positioned over her back, firing and catching the target in the head, its blood spilling over its body as it shrivelled to the ground. The woman let a tear fall before she resumed combating the Tonberrys.
Then it happened. Gast ran out of ammunition. The mocking click of the spent gun rang in his terrified ears, and in desperation, flung it at the attacking Tonberry. The metal object drove into its skull, leaving one less to worry about. Walking briskly to retrieve the weapon, a green, yellow, and brown flash appeared, swiping the gun before Gast could wrap his fingers around the handle. The Tonberry started to snicker in a sly way, its green hand over its mouth as if trying to supress its sheer elation. "Look at that.it thinks it's funny," the older scientist breathed exasperatedly.
Lucrecia cocked her head in confusion, but switched to frozen fear as she saw what the Tonberry was doing. It was ripping some of the thread from its robe, deftly tying the knife's handle to the top of the gun. Pulling out some bloodstained magazines from under its cloak, no doubt from past travelers that had not survived the Crater, it loaded the gun, and aimed, a hint of a sadistic grin appearing on its face.
"Oh my God.run!!!"
Gast didn't need another word from his remaining assistant, and though he dodged the bullets, he was hit with the chunks of spurted ground, that cut open his flesh. He ran as fast as humanly possible, desperate to escape the Tonberry. It shot while flinging the weapons, the knife landing where his heel had been only seconds before. The scientist was tiring. Lucrecia picked up a stone, and flung it at the Tonberry. It went wide, but she tried again. The hurled chunks of stone finally intercepted the green head, tearing a gash in its face. It started firing haphazardly, the bullets ricocheting off the walls. "That's..it.!" the younger scientist cried, coming to a realization. She crawled behind the rock, which cast her shadow on the rock wall. If her calculation on the angle was right, the bullet would bounce off. Heaving a determined sigh, she sat against the rock, her shadow visible on the giant wall. There was a shot, then a yelp, and all was silent. "Dr. Gast, are you all right?"
"A little scraped, but it's just superficial. You?"
"Never been better. I wish I could say the same for him."
"It will be too dangerous to go without back.."
A rustle of cloth interrupted the scientist in mid-sentence. Beads of perspiration sailed down his forehead. "Lucrecia..was that you moving?"
An answer in the negative confirmed his theories of even the most primitive fragment of animal society had its leader.
The Master Tonberry.
With the exception of a faint drip of blood onto the rock slab below, it
was silent. Its source were a number of bloody gashes, from where it converged
into one solid droplet, and collected in a crimson pool.
Am I alive? I must be, because I can still think..
The scientist opened his eyes. All he saw was scarlet. Dread that he might be blind overtook him, but the sensation dissipated quickly. Reason told him that if he was blind, he wouldn't see anything.
"Ah..of course..blood," Hojo said, wiping it from his eyes. More blood. "How much more blood could I lose?"
He heard a crack, deeper in sound. It couldn't have been the snap of one of his bones. But if they weren't breaking, what was? The scientist glanced down in time to see the overhang break free of the central wall, plummeting further into the darkness. A dull crumble was heard far below as the rocks shattered at the bottom, followed by a spray of blood. Hojo felt numbness creep over his entire body. "Approximately.a liter more." he whispered weakly, letting himself succumb to the pain.
The blood trickled faster, the man from who it was being drained feeling weaker with every lost drop. "Must stop the blood flow......" He gritted his teeth through the blood curtain. He lifted his hand from the rock, moving it to his chest and putting pressure on the wound. Jaw set in determination, he moved his leg. An audible crack ripped a howl of pain from his throat, and his eyes widened in abject terror as he saw a blood- spattered hint of bone protrude through his thigh. He stared at the projection with bleary eyes with horrified fixation. The same satiating sensation of analyzing a specimen washed over him, and he was gripped with elation until he realized that he was looking upon himself, and his own broken leg. He started to recoil with horror, but then let his face slump to the earth, drained of life. His intellect seemed to fail him, and the Lifestream clamored for a new soul.
An eerie cyan light shone with blinding intensity against the back of his eyeballs. At first it only appeared as a light, but as it neared with agonizing slowness, it finally became identifiable.
At all appearances, it was a woman, posessing beauty that couldn't be fathomed. She had her arms outstretched, her resplendent face unearthly, alien......but welcoming. No.....it couldn't be what those non-secular idiots called.....angels?
"No.." he whispered. "It's the delirium of a dying fool....it's a known impossibility..."
The angel raised her head, the narrow glowing slits of her eyes growing wide.
"I am the one you seek. My name is Jenova."
"Gast was right.....you're an Ancient."
"I...am an infection. I could infect your body, and you would die an agonizing death as a monster."
"You have that power.....then why don't you use it?"
"I have a greater aim. I need a being with a superior brain to develop the means that prolong my life.
"Superior? Why don't you get Gast?" he sneered with bitterness. "Shin-Ra thinks he has a much greater intellect."
"My life energy is maximized by ambition amplified by hatred." Jenova stretched her glowing hand out to the bloodied man in the bloody labcoat. Her face, flawless, perfect, aglow with supernatural radiance. "We need each other....if we are both to continue to live."
".....What must I do?"
"I will infect your mind."
"Impossible...you just said yourself that my intellect is superior---"
"You refuse my offer?"
The mouth curved into a disappointed frown. It wasn't the disappointment of someone who kenw they wouldn't get their way, but the disappointment of one who knew they would.
"I won't die any faster by ignoring an illusion...."
Jenova's pale eyes emanated a fearsome spectrum of color, and the light heightened in intensity, the monster appearing larger as she neared the human, and hurled a ray of energy through him, causing the scientist to crumble under its force, emitting inhuman shrieks as her power from two- thousand years ago showed its lethal nature now, practically ripping out the red muscle in his chest as the human writhed in sheer agony. His flesh began to twist as it changed hue, from a pale peach to sickly yellow, the red blood turning purple, a hideous tail sprouting from the elongating body, tearing through his now-shredded clothes, whipping the air violently, and a tentacle sprouting out of his head, completing Jenova's twisted idea of beauty. In an alien scream, not his own coherent voice but a garbled language of a bestial monster, Hojo reconsidered, the two projections that had been his hands scraping across the ground. Jenova smiled. It had been a long time before someone had grovelled before her.
"Fine, Jenova!! Take my mind...my will.....just...don't hurt...her."
In an instant, a brilliant rapid of energy coursed into Hojo's head, there was a flash that encompassed the entirrety of the cavern, and he heard her voice whispering in his ears no more.
But in his mind.
A tradeoff.....his body began to return to normal, his deformities disappearing as limbs became hands, he could feel the enerfgy coursing through him as his wounds closed and the broken bone realigned. But at what price? His free will?
Jenova's slave didn't know.
The slightly larger creature was now ten feet away from the scientists. The
last time they had checked, it had been twenty feet short. The two were pressed
against the wall, having run out of both ammunition and stamina. They now
simply stood there, frozen in stark terror.
"It's sharp," giggled the robed monster, inching his way towards the two humans.
"We need to fight again, Dr. Gast. There's no other option."
"On the contrary, dear Lucrecia. We can wait for that...mad.....thing to
get within stabbing range, and then we run."
Lucrecia nodded her sweat-lathered head, staring in fear at the monster with a star above its head. She glanced at the precipice, yearning to see that flash of black and white. But there was nothing. She turned around, fear escalating when she saw the creature three feet nearer. She could now see its features. It was now moving faster now that it had gotten within throwing range. Down to a foot away. It covered those twelve inches swiftly. "Now!" shouted Gast, both scientists using their last bit of limited stamina to scramble out of the way of the knife. The monster retracted it, and grimaced. It, the Master Tonberry, had missed. In rage, it forced the blade down, embedding the point a centimeter from Lucrecia's neck. It jerked the knife foward, nicking the soft flesh just as fifty- three bullets ripped fifty-three holes in it. Its blood leaked out of the bullet holes, and it collapsed face-foward on the rock. Lucrecia and Gast looked up hazily to see bright blue-clad third-class SOLDIERS gliding across the slope, landing on the rocky foundation. The young Turk led the attack, exacting swift justice for the other Turk's demise.
"Sorry we couldn't get here sooner. Everything was going smooth 'till we bumped into a Vlakorados," he explained tersely, his ebony hair laying disheveled on his forehead. Gast dismissed the apology exhaustedly, waving a sweat-soaked hand at him.
"Understandable. What matters is that we're all alive."
"Almost all," Lucrecia mumbled, looking near to tears. Gast sighed. He knew it was his fault for not giving the order to land. The least he could do for her was to give an assurance.
"He's mine, too, Lucrecia. We'll find him.....hopefully alive."
He motioned briskly to the Turk, who shouted an order to the SOLDIERS, and they all moved out.
The Northern Crater was far larger than Gast had anticipated. The central
crater branched out into a massive chain of caverns that seemed interminable.
And every inch of the way, the beasts were watching them. Nevertheless, the
going was less painful, since they now had the SOLDIERs and Turks, who were
trained in combat.
But the terrain was a different story. It hadn't changed in two-thousand years, buried deep underneath Gaia's surface, sheltered from the wind that only weathered and eventually eroded the rim and sides of the crater. The rest of its enormous reaches slept, unshaken, undisturbed..until now.
"Be careful!" warned Gast, traversing an outcrop of rock with utmost caution. He had been daring enough for one day, and wasn't about to make any more needless mistakes. "We haven't died yet, I don't want that to change because of a false step."
"You saw him fall, Dr. Gast," Lucrecia retorted dubiously, her narrowed eyes clouded with tears that were threatening to fall. "He's dying, if he isn't already dead. I can't hasten it by being slow." She rushed ahead, her age rendering her somewhat more nimble, and the fact she wasn't carrying a weapon hastening her still. Gast yelled after her, but his shouts died as the woman grew smaller in the distance, running towards that nonexistent light at the end of the tunnel.
The Shin-Ra party trekked onwards, the monsters' ferocity heightening as
the SOLDIERs and Turks fought further into the crater. Gast documented it
feverishly, worried for Lucrecia. She shouldn't have run off....but she was
a youth in love..Still, they had to find her soon. The strength of the beasts
was almost supernatural. There was no end to their magic-casting, their stamina
was far superior to all of them combined, and they had lost more than a few
SOLDIERs after fighting three. A red trail of animal and human alike was
left behind them after each encounter. There would come a point where they
would be compelled to turn back, but with Lucrecia lost, Gast wouldn't relent.
They pushed through the crater, against the raging tides of the horrendously
vicious creatures. Had they been days down there, it would seem like years.
A rythmic splashing filled Gast's ears. It emanated from around the corner of a rocky projection. He and the remaining ten SOLDIERs, plus the Turk, rounded the corner, a blinding glow of a cascading liquid stabbing their heavy eyes. Gast approached it, the identity of the luminiscent fluid becoming apparent to him quickly.
"It's a Mako fall," he stated vapidly, writing it down on his now- bloodstained notepad. The company of humans continued to walk, some of them barely awake, and others on the verge of losing consciousness. Gast was fading out as well, his pen slipping on the paper, distorting his otherwise neat handwriting. He leaned against the rock wall for support, leaning his head back.He felt himself drifting, about to pass out, when a feminine voice echoed on his eardrum.
The lead weights that had been on Gast's eyelids evaporated, and he started to call after Lucrecia, running foward past the cataract of Mako. The SOLDIERs and Turk followed, some of them regaining their alertness. They ran over the uneven surface, tripping at where the ground dipped or raised, but regained their balance and continued to run. The human voice grew nearer, until they saw the familiar white fabric. They spied Lucrecia climbing over the stones towards Hojo, shouting in ecstasy over and over again and the top of her lungs, "You're alive!" But there was something wrong. His clothes were ripped and bloody, torn labcoat barely hanging to his body, but he was seemingly unscathed. As the woman neared Hojo, she was readying to embrace him in her arms, but seeing this, how he was, in this strange state, and fixated on a...monster frozen on the rock wall, her ecstasy abated, and she almost---fearfully placed her hand on his shoulder. "What is that--?"
The mark of inferiority is human...
"Look upon its face...it's the Ancient."
He stood there, placid, immovable, every fiber of his being glued to that feminine creature embedded in the rock wall. The Cetra..the Ancient...contorted in a twisted shape, her spine bent at an unbelievable angle.....it was as if she had no bones, no structure to support that alien body. A menacing smile of false tranquility adorned her angelic features. Lucrecia shuddered imperceptibly. A cold warmth radiated from the frozen body. She didn't like the way she looked at her, or Hojo. There was something wrong about her. Very wrong.
She was about to ask him what happened, why he was suddenly acting so strangely, why he wasn't injured, how he came upon the.....thing...when Gast and his party approached them, the former's face half-relieved and half-shocked.
"Hojo, thank Ramuh you're alright. Is this-----?" He let the sentence trail off, and climbed up the incline to the platform his two assistants were on, his eyes immediately meeting the Ancient. He was struck mute by the discovery, and a heavy silence endured for the space of a minute before Hojo finally turned around. There was a gleam in his brown eyes that Lucrecia had never seen there before.
"What are you waiting for, Gast?" he asked the stunned man. "Did we come all this way to leave it here?"
The two other scientists nodded dumbly, and a noisy din resounded through the Crater as they prepared to extract it.
A month after, Hojo entered the Shin-Ra mansion, walking towards the
He said, "I do."
His eyes were riveted to his notes, uncombed bangs sweeping the filled paper.
Did he mean it?
He said nothing as he brushed by Lucrecia.
I felt his kiss. It felt like.....
He was preoccupied, distracted, nearly banging into the banister as he turned right.
Ice. He's changed.....
The man's tread grew farther away until it disappeared entirely.
...For the worse.
I'd better follow him....maybe it's not too late to stop this, Lucrecia thought as she mounted the stairs, giving sideways glances in both directions. The door on the left was closed for the better half of the day, partly because Palmer needed seventeen hours of beauty sleep, and mostly because the other Shin-Ra employees were having wild parties. The basement was the only place no one dared to venture, save for the Turks and the scientists.
Lucrecia made her way down the stone staircase that followed an intricate design: a spiral that hugged the wall, leaving an enormous gaping opening straight through the middle. Rowdier Turks would take that opportunity to jump from it and see if they would survive. If they didn't, their leader would stuff them in storage. As she descended, the crack of light coming from the bedroom found it harder to penetrate the waxing darkness until it became impossible, whereupon Lucrecia shone an electric light through, its dull but constant beam cutting through the blackness. A round of chirps and high pitch squeaks told her that they were hungry.
"Here you go," she spoke to the bats, tossing fruit and dead animal to their respective consumers, and walked through the basement, a trail of bats forming behind her as they begged for more food. Lucrecia gave them a disenheartened glance, turning her pockets inside out. The bats seemed to comprehend, and dispersed for the time being. The scientist forced a smile, and approached the doorknob, pulling the door back and pulling it shut once she stepped through the doorway. What she saw almost made her double over in shock. "Hojo......what is this?" she motioned to the interconnected flasks and tubes, through which liquid Mako was coursing.In the center of the room was that ghastly creature, whose name according to Hojo was Jenova, contained in a gigantic tube that stretched from floor to ceiling, held upright by a complicated mess of wires and cords that attatched the lifeform to the tube. Temporary storage, she hoped.
Hojo didn't look up from his notes, scribbling some illegible calculation down while answering her question with cold indifference,
"It's the next stage in electricity production and distribution. In order for Mako to work at its optimum, it must be sucked out of the Planet. Gast's idea of maintaining an equilibrium between the Planet and mankind is inefficient. Using a facility constructed according to this design," Hojo said while holding out a complex set of blueprints to her, which she scanned with supressed disgust, "electric power will be maximized and equally distributed, therefore making it available to everyone .The bill will be...considerably higher..."
"But Dr. Gast anticipates that in the next thirty---" Lucrecia started to protest, now convinced more than ever that she had to pull her husband out of whatever mudhole he had gotten himself stuck in...before he sunk in completely. And he was sinking fast.....he wasn't even listening to her, etching the final details of his plans at the rear of the Nibel Mako Reactor. Slowing his hand down, he wrote on the plans with great care, "JENOVA."
While this was going on, the head scientist was carefully recording the
disappointing results of a sea-dwelling plant whose water was mixed with
Jenova cells he had taken from the specimen on the day they had retrieved
her, watching in utter fear as the plant shrivelled into a deformed version
of itself before laying lifeless in its watertight container.
"It's like a poison," Gast exclaimed in disgust. He moved to the second container, the Mu trapped inside having bitten its foreleg off in sheer agony. The man scrunched up his face in worry and rubbed the sweat off his forehead with his labcoat sleeve. Walking to the next specimen that he had injected with Mako beforehand, a creature that ingested nutrients through an external membrane, he turned a crank, the Jenova cells leaking out through a tube and into the target container. He did the same with the next four, adding one variable for the three.
Gast switched the light on, the chandelier he had ordered himself illuminating
the library that doubled as a lab. It could be hardly called an actual library,
though, with so few books lining the shelves, mostly non- fiction, with a
few fictional books shoved in the corners of the shelves as if someone didn't
want them found.
But as a lab, he couldn't complain how well it served him. Especially today. "They.....all.....live!!" he screamed, tempted to take out each of the specimens and wrap the deformed, but living beasts in his arms, but he was far too professional for that. Leaning down towards them, he noted that the first one had remained physically the same. "Hm....Mako counters the effects of Jenova..."
And so it ensued. Day after day, rigidly following the scientific method, test after test, experiment after experiment, conclusion after conclusion. Finally he decided that it was time.
"Hojo, I need to speak with-----"
Gast swung open the door, his haggard visage aglow with cheer and jubilation. It was completely silent, save for quiet bubbling of the Mako. A vexed expression creased the corners of his face. "What is going on here?" he asked the bookshelf in irritation. The disgruntled scientist weaved his way under and between the maze of Mako ducts. He quickly came to a conclusion: that his assistant was conducting an experiment. He had to admit that he was impressed: it seemed as if the experiment had been planned out carefully, something that Hojo had neglected to do in the past. As the man found his way out of the maze, he said thoughtfully, "I never thought that you'd reach my level of precision. I only wish you'd get my approval, first..."
He passed by Jenova's tube on his way out, pausing to gaze upon her dormant features. Then he strode out the lab door, shutting it as he walked through the basement hall. He was far away from the lab when one of the glowing eyes opened. A crack of a smile spread across her face.
Mt. Nibel: loathsome earth that was chosen to spawn fearsome technology,
that was spawned from a man's brain. That man was walking along the wooden
bridge that spanned the length of a yawning gorge, buried in heaps of blueprints.
Lucrecia walked slowly behind him, still a shadow outside of whatever light
that her husband saw. A shadow that could vanish easily into the rest of
the darkness, and never be noticed by the one she was yearning to love.
This had gone far enough.
He didn't even turn around to face her. A low "mm" arose from his throat, barely an acknowledgement that she even existed. "Are you listening to me?!" she demanded, her voice unusually ill-tempered and shrill. Another "mm" was the answer, and Lucrecia looked out at the chasm, as if searching for an answer from the wind, the ground, the crevice below. But no..her grievance was right there in front of her, completely and totally absorbed in the papers in his hand. He had stopped walking, now, and turned to gaze at the looming summit of Nibel. In those few seconds that he had turned around, Lucrecia caught a glimpse of her husband's face. It had changed as well.
Did you die that day? "Won't you say something?!" she pleaded, her normally tranquil features seething with frustration. No answer. "I'm your WIFE!!!"
Finally he said something. His words dripping with cold indifference, Hojo returned an acrid retort,
"Science is a more suitable companion."
Lucrecia couldn't stop her hand, that reacted to the man's derision, smacking him in the face. Though neither of them knew it, something in Hojo's brain fell under the indomitable weight of something that proved stronger, for the time being. He took a step back, pinching his forehead between his fingers. He felt himself in control again, that omnipotent force that had been dribblling his brain tossing it away. He dropped the plans onto the bridge, gripping his skull. "I...I'm sorry, Lucrecia. Something must have come over me," he explained slowly, bending down to pick up the blueprints. Lucrecia seemed to understand, and coaxed,
"You need rest."
He resisted only slightly as she took his hand, feeling the metal of the wedding band around his finger, that actually meant something for the first time since their marriage. Her mind soothed, she guided him over the bridge. She had broken the unknown demon's hold on him, now was her chance to kill it.
Day of Hades 7/52/97 18:11 Rocket Standard Time
Today I'll write about the past. We have no future. At times, the past filled us with joy, other times sorrow. It was joy that week. When was the last time we sat under a tree? Experienced...nature without analyzing and picking it apart? Never. It was always for some scientific purpose. We had fun for a change. Laying out under the stars, me swimming in the river between Corel desert and Gongaga while he tried to tan unsuccessfully, staying away from the lab days at a time. What's more, we loved each other. It was a mutualistic relationship that couldn't be any more equalized. At times it was foolish love, but we were young. The young tend to do that. On the whole it was tender, gentle care. But I couldn't stop him from dying again. He died in the Northern Crater, I brought him back...for a time...and now he's dead. That's why the Planet screams.
The roof shingles were assaulted by a torrent of rain that night. The wind
whipped the weather vane in the center of town every which way, nearly snapping
it into pieces. The far north side of town wasn't anymore sheltered, and
Gast was hardly aware of the weather as he pushed open the elaborately furnished
door of Shin-Ra Mansion. He was blown back with the force of the wind, shielding
his face from the belting rain.
"What a storm!" he hollered, pushing the heavy door shut, and fighting his way through the muddy pathway towards the closed gate. Thrusting it open by the hinges, he made his way towards the center of town, the position of his heavy eyebrows betraying that he was extremely cross. "Where could they be?! I didn't give them the day off!"
He heard laughter. Laughter in the rain....especially one this strong. Townspeople picked strange days to get drunk. He tromped through the road, the mud up to his ankles, and he saw two shapes entering the Nibelheim gates, a third close behind. He let out a gasp, half-choked with a hacking cough as he ran towards his assistants, wandering under a large parasol. Hojo noticed the drenched man, and remarked laughingly,
"Wouldn't want you to expire prematurely, Gast. Would you care to share our umbrella?"
The older man shook his head vigorously. Right now, he wanted more than anything to scold the wayward scientists, but his coughing fit prevented him from admonishing the two. The storm wasn't any more helpful in that respect Above them lightning flashed, and the head scientist tugged his carefree assistants towards the looming house through the thick sheet of rain. Vincent followed, his umbrella concealing a jealous glare. They stopped at the gate, as Gast unlocked it and swung it open, holding it to the wooden fence so the wind wouldn't smash it closed as the three Shin- Ra employees headed through through the mud towards the door. It wasn't until Gast had shut the rain out that he started to speak again, competing with the pounding rain on the windows and the peals of thunder.
"Hojo, I must speak with you---" he coughed, dripping wet on the hardwood floor, the water droplets seeping into the polished grains. He made a "come here" motion with his forefinger, the younger man breaking a kiss with Lucrecia and walked towards his superior, ignoring the stone glare from Vincent. Lucrecia was satisfied. She'd finished what she'd started, and now everything would be.....alright.....no, there was that name again. Jenova....the Project...Gast was talking to him about the Project. A wave of nausea crept up on her, but she could do nothing as Gast led her husband up the stairs. As she heard less and less of the conversation, she was lost in her own thoughts as she could only wonder what they would do.
Gast held up a syringe between his thumb and index finger. A violet colored
fluid filled it halfway. Transluscent, completely liquid. He showed it to
his assistant, the substance sloshing back and forth from one side of the
syringe to the other. The statement that followed it was phrased as a question.
It was simple enough.
"You do know what this is, do you?"
"Of course. This is Jenova's blood," Hojo responded, leaning over to stare at the mesmerizing substance.
"Correct." He turned to face Hojo, satisfaction etched on his face. "You're getting sharper." He motioned for him to sit down. "I admit I was hesitant to take you on as a pupil. You were so impatient at the Canyon fire," Gast reminisced, the nostalgic glint in his eyes fading as soon as it had appeared. "Science's worst enemy."
He took another syringe, without putting the first one down, and walked to the man sitting placidly on the chair. He showed the second syringe to him, the contents glowing eerily in the dim overhead light. "You should know this especially."
Gast nodded, and checked the Mako syringe briefly, ascertaining that he had filled the tube completely.
"This," he held up the purple syringe. "is deadly alone. But with a small dosage of Mako administered, it results in unbelievable strength and longevity."
"You're saying that Mako balances the unstable Jenova cells," Hojo answered, trying to conclude the point of this unfounded lecture. His superior affirmed that, and moved beside his assistant.
"Yes. Now I need a....." he lowered his voice to almost a whisper, apprehensive about his next words. He glanced about tensely, before going on with the sentence: "..human test subject before the main one."
Hojo nodded in understanding, but was puzzled. Gast had wanted him to sit down..but for what? Surely it couldn't be him. Lifting up his glasses from the bridge of his nose and setting them back down an inch higher, he asked flatly,
"Where is this test subject?"
Gast gently gripped the young man's pale, wiry arm, and before Hojo could pull away, Gast rolled up his sleeve, sterilized the flesh, found the vein, stuck the needle in the correct spot, and emptied the green fluid into his arm.
He shot his superior an incredulous look, that turned to nausea as the chemical coursed through his body, flowing into his bloodstream. As it spread throughout his system, he felt the chill of ice drill through his bones, his muscles, his very brain. He could feel the substance seep into his skull, flowing up his jawbone up into his eyes...he scrunched them, and opened them again. His vision was clouded, and he felt a misty haze engulf them, and then it left, leaving but a tinge of Mako. It flowed, spreading the icy sensation through his arms and legs, up his spinal cord and to his brain again, over and over again, until his body finally accustomed itself to the foreign chemical, and left him breathing rapdily, holding his searing head with both hands. . "I also concluded that youth is a factor in surviving the treatment."
"I..suppose they'll lower the requirement age for SOLDIERs if you plan to...administer this treatment," Hojo remarked between hollow, rasping breaths. Gast allowed himself a smile, relieved that he had responded.
"No immediate negative effects..." he exhaled. "Now....." He took the same arm and repeated the process with the purple liquid. He was taken aback with the coldness of the arm. It was as if he touched a frozen pond with bare hands. Gast presumed it was an initial effect, and told his assistant, squirming on the chair, "Wait......Don't go anywhere. I need to make sure that nothing went wrong."
He threw away the old needle and cleaned out the tubes. Dread had hung over him this entire time. He had meant no harm, and he hated to do this to him. But the Jenova Project was too far in progress for him to stop now. He turned on his heel and approached the man on the chair. "That amount may have been too much...this light isn't sufficient.....Hojo, how do you feel?"
No answer. Gast walked towards the other man, and his eyes widened to see a vacant, blank expression. He felt for a pulse. Normal. "Hojo?" A cold sweat broke over him. The symptoms were unmistakable. Normal pulse, normal breathing, unresponsive and a trance-like daze. "Mako poisoning......" Chance of survival if a major case: he could have assumed him dead already. Gast kept his panic in check as he hurried to the rack and took out another syringe containing a sliver of purple. He inserted the needle and drained the tube, the sliver of Jenova disappearing under the other scientist's flesh. He looked into his eyes, and saw nothing but emptiness. As he worked throughout the night, trying to stabilize his condition, he didn't notice the alien creature in the tube.
There is no turning back.
She stared at his eyes. Mako-green, aglow with cold malice.
You've accepted your role in the Project. Do it.
She held the glowing syringe with unsteady hands, looking up at him with questioning eyes.
Do it or you'll die...I'm about to inject the Jenova cells. It must be done before cleavage.
She held the needle over her arm, the muscles beneath tight with tension and fear.
If you won't do it for science, do it for our son.
Hojo awoke in his bed, still dressed, a virtual mess. He had moved about so much during the night that his glasses had fallen off and now lay beneath him. He pushed them on, blinking. Blankly he stared out the window, realizing it wasn't morning, but night. Sititng up in bed, he threw off the sheets, and walked towards the door, his hand on his head. He had a monster of a headache. Headache, Mako nightmare, Jenova...Jenova!! He ran towards the door, smashing into Lucrecia. He was about to push past her when the woman asked with evident worry lacing her voice,
"Are you feeling better? I brought you up from the lab. Gast told me to give you this."
Hojo opened his palm indifferently to recieve the letter that Lucrecia pressed into it, and skimmed over the paper hurriedly.
I ran into a little incident last night. Take exactly one milliliter of Mako and one-half milliliter of Jenova each week for three weeks. Follow these instructions and you should be fine. The President has summoned me which is why I can't speak to you. Warren
"Mm. I'll be at Mt. Nibel if he calls for me."
Lucrecia sighed. Jenova.....that contemptible alien was the source of all of their trouble thus far. And now she had a hold on him again. She hadn't read the letter, assuming that it had been a trivial matter, but now she wasn't so sure. Perhaps it would explain why there was a tinge of green in those distracted, detatched eyes.
The board room was empty. President Shin-Ra sat at the end of the long, lavish, rectangular table. The ashtrays filled to the brim told Gast that there had been another meeting prior to this one. He took his usual seat, praying to the gods that the meeting would be brief. The scientist stared ahead at the younger man, with a trimmed beard and dressed formally. He sat stiff and firm as usual, his ha
ds folded on the table in a business-like air.A half-eaten pastry sat in
front of him.
There were no introductions from the young president this time: he went straight to the point.
"It is my understanding that the science department has developed a "Mako Reactor", and needs funding and a labor force."
What?! "You've recieved your funding and I have sent laborers and troops to oversee----"
Gast rarely was bold enough to interrupt his superior, but this....an outrage completely unexpected...he HAD to. "A Mako...a what?"
"Now don't jest, Doctor. One of your associates asked for this," the president informed sternly, plunging a fork into the pastry and sliding it into his mouth. Gast was flustered, his eyes wide and his retort loud.
"I requested no such...." Realization dawned over him, smacking him over the head with a blunt weapon while pointing and laughing at him for being so blind. "Hojo!! So THAT was the project he was working on.." He drumed his fingers on his clean-shaven chin in contemplation. Then he looked towards his employer, whose mouth was full. "President Shin-Ra, is it possible for your to recall those SOLDIERS?"
Gast was forced to wait until the other had finished his dessert, and disappointment clouded his face as the caesar gave the thumb's down.
"I think not. This company's profits will soar with your department's new innovation. Dismissed." A discouraged Gast rose from his chair, acknowledging his president's decision with a solemn nod. He turned to leave, but halted when Shin-Ra looked up from the rectangular desk. "Oh, and Doctor." Gast looked back at the sharp eyes set high in the other man's skull. "What is your progress on the Jenova Project?"
"It....." the vexed scientist hesitated before lying, "...is going well."
Three weeks passed, and Hojo was still injecting himself with Mako and Jenova..
It was now the last month in that year, the last year of the golden time
of general prosperity, when the Nibel Reactor was under construction. Lucrecia
became more worried, but was no longer able to fight Jenova's hold on her
husband. Vincent now didn't let Lucrecia out of his sight for more than two
seconds when she was with Hojo, growing more suspicious of the latter. But
those suspicions weren't confirmed until he made his daily round of the
He twisted the doorknob and pushed, only to find it locked. Figuring that was what guns were for, he shot the lock and kicked open the door. One foot in and a horrifying sight cursed his eyes, far worse than any silent horror flick that he had seen on his days off. A hideous monster, in the remnants of a third-class SOLDIER uniform, was stretched out on the operating table that laid opposite the bookcase. Vincent stared at it in horror, and tromped towards the scientist, standing a few inches shorter than him, appearing shorter still while bent over the suffering soul.
"What the bloody hell?!"
He didn't stop working, stabbing a Mako-filled syringe into the monster's body, at which it emmited a high-pitched screech of agony.
"I would've thought your father would teach your how to knock..if you had one, that is."
Vincent's eyes blazed with ire. He stomped towards the other man, halting behind him, cringing at the inhuman screams of the trapped monster, and proceeding to bawl the other man out.
"Aw, no, it's not me that's the bastard, Hojo. What are you thinking, psychopath?! Experimenting on people..you said you'd do it one day, and you're doing it. Goddamn it, it's so sick and twisted, and still you're doing it," he moaned in disgust. Making his way to the head of the operating table, where he met with the terrified eyes of the once-human. "What'd that poor sap do to you?"
The other pushed up his glasses, giving Vincent an icy viridian stare. The latter was taken aback, seeing the Mako blaze in his eyes, a green flame burning in an empty void. Whatever color it had been before it couldn't be seen. "..So..you do that too?. You're actually taking that junk and putting it into your body? Sick, perverted bastard!"
Hojo said nothing, set down his scalpel, rolled up his sleeve, struck Vincent with horror as the latter saw a.....bulletin board of needlemarks, sterilized the target, and calmly punctured another hole in his arm with a full syringe of Mako. "Shut up, Turk. Leave me to my work."
Vincent was struck dumb by the sight, and it took him a while before he could find words to retort with. Another scream of the once-human set him ablaze again. "Work?! This isn't work, it's torture! You're tormenting the shit out of an innocent life!"
"Innocent...these SOLDIERs kill. I wouldn't call them...innocent."
"You're no better than them, you damn hypocrite!"
"You look about ready to kill me. Who's the hypocrite now?"
"You're so full of bullshit!" growled the Turk, charging at the scientist and swinging his fist in a right hook, connecting at the cheekbone which caught him by surprise, and fell hard on the floor. Before he realized what was happening, Vincent was tearing the straps off from the table, the monster screeching in terror. Its eyes bulged as it leaped off the table, its deformed body trampling over the broken door. Hojo staggered upwards, standing unsteadily. He hadn't moved a step when Vincent grabbed him by his collar and slammed him against the wall. Hojo seemed too precoccupied with the escaped specimen to notice, and too full of Mako to be HURT by it, and ran after it out the doorway. Vincent charged off to follow him, but then slowed and stopped when he saw a folder bearing Gast's handwriting left out in the open by a rack of test tubes. He grabbed it and thumbed through the pages, eyes wideneing in pure horror as he read through it all, reading the last page aloud.
"...The procedure is risky for the subject, but the chance of survival for the child is ninety-eight percent, all factors considered. Lucrecia...Lucrecia?!?" His eyes scanned the page faster. "...is to be given the maximum dosage humanlike..animals!!...can withstand before reacting negatively, to counteract Jenova's cells that will be injected into her womb---" Vincent threw down the folder in a rage, and dashed out of the room.
After two and a half days, Hojo located, found, and secured the runaway monster
in a Mako Pod. That same day Gast returned, not particularly happy about
being unable to stop the Reactor's construction. But his greatest concern
was the Jenova Project. He would have to break the news to either of them
about the details of the procedure. Either Hojo or Lucrecia, it didn't really
matter at this point, but not to both at the same time. The very thought
of it was agonizing. As he was debating who to tell, pacing the hall of the
mansion, he bumped into the raging storm that was Vincent.
"Dr. Gast...how could you?"
"Ah...Mr. Valentine! How could I what?" he asked calmly, though he already knew what this conversation was about. He could determine it from looking at Vincent's livid face and clenching fists.
"Even think of experimenting on humans? Lucrecia, yes, she's all for progress and that shit. Hojo.....don't get me started on him. But you.....you're the smartest man alive. How can you make their...no.....his mistake?"
"It isn't a matter of intellect," Gast answered tiredly. "It's...for a number of reasons. I don't like it either, but..." he trailed off, before heading towards the lab. As he walked into the left set of bedrooms, he warned, "Don't get yourself mixed up in our affairs, Vincent. It might be the death of you."
Vincent glared at the wall as Gast disappeared. He felt his faith in him dwindling. Gast was a man he trusted and respected, but he didn't seem willing to stop it. If he wouldn't stop it, then it was up to the Turk.
He had to prevent this..nightmare from beginning.
The Turk ran through the hall, through the bedrooms, and came to the entrance to the basement. He didn't bother grabbing the lamp hanging from the wall, but ran blindly into the darkness, feeling his way down the spiral of steps. The bats were restless when he reached the bottom, the furry nuisances darting about as he ran through the basement hall, finally reaching the doorless lab. He entered, breathing hard from sprinting. Hojo was standing in the middle of the room in front of Jenova's tube, staring, fixated on the suspended alien.
"I'm in no mood for one of your physical discussions, Turk. Be rational and I might listen."
Vincent nodded, and took a step foward. He didn't know that Hojo had taken a Jenova overdose that morning, and wasn't aware that he usually was armed.
"You have to stop experimenting on people. It's unethical," he explained, forced tranquility in his voice.
"You're talking about.....her, specifically."
"Yes. Don't do this to Lucrecia. We...we both love her. How can you do this to her?"
"I'm a scientist. I advocate scientific achievements. Don't you think that raising a child with the powers of Jenova...of a GOD," he emphasized, "is a scientific achievement?"
"It's endangering her LIFE, don't you get it?"
"Vincent...Correct me if I'm wrong.....You are trying to endanger the Project."
"Yes, I am. For her sake."
"Impossible...you can't, and you won't."
The Jenova Project....
"I will. I can...kill you."
The child will posess my powers.
"You could....but could you live with yourself?"
Stop the birth of the child, shorten my life.
"Live with the thought of having prevented the birth of an...as you love to say, innocent?"
"Stop playing with my mind, Hojo!"
From now until I abandon your dead corpse...
"Merely giving you something to think about, given that you actually think and not act on impulse."
You will be my shield.
The worm is interfering with the Project. Kill him....
"For everyone's sake."
Hojo clutched at his head, the voices...where were they coming from? Of course..Jenova. That voice, ever-ringing, never leaving him alone, taking the less tormenting form of whispers, but now...now when wisdom and right judgement was desperately needed, the voices were screaming, shrieking in his mind...and now he knew it, she WANTED him to know it.
He eased the gun out of the holster and muttered something before aiming at the Turk's heart:
"Dawn comes for some, but not others."
The rest was history.
Day of Hades 7/52/97 18:20 Rocket Standard Time
I sometimes wondered where Vincent went. When Gast told me about the Project, I stopped wondering. I didn't have any time. He broke it to me gently, but I wasn't prepared for the shock. Me, the mother of an Ancient, and Hojo as its father. We were very proud.
It wasn't a pleasant experience. The procedure was a delicate one. Jenova had to be injected into my womb in between nuclei fusion and cleavage. Any time after would endanger my child's life. I was scared to death. The idea of injecting myself with Mako frightened me. He had done it many times before. He was dependent on it. Dependant on it for life and sanity.
I was afraid.....I didn't want to become that way. He was beyond help. He was unreachable.
But it was for my child....it was for.....Sephiroth.
An undulating wave of sheer pain rolled over Lucrecia as the needle was pushed
into her abdomen. She knew that this wasn't the acme: it was only the first
of many, many injections. As the liquid coursed through her body, those alien
cells invading every organ and tissue as they rode her bloodstream, she fought
it at first, but soon let herself be overcome by them. Gast checked the heart
monitor. Everything was normal. He smiled at Hojo, who was staring at the
remaining drops of violet liquid in the syringe.
"We've done it. She's going to be alright."
Nine months flew by. Lucrecia remained healthy, and evaded additional injections because of this. She had collapsed once before she went to bed, but the problem was dismissed as minor. Every day she grew more excited, as did Hojo. The Nibel Reactor progressed further in its construction, the relative flawlessness of the design impressing Gast with all his skepticism and disapproval. The nine months were busy, frustrating, and agonizing. Lucrecia was closely monitored by Gast, and his fussing was foreboding, but nothing would happen. Fear of miscarriage was dissipated quickly. But the fear of the complications of childbirth remained prevalent.
The time was now. Lucrecia could feel the baby pushing, kicking, yearning
to come out. Hojo and Gast got her onto the bed, the former's face completely
blank. That didn't intensify her pain, however: whatever was in there was
kicking too hard for her to notice. As it started to move through the birth
canal, the pain escalated. It took all of her will to keep from screaming.
As the pain reached its pinnacle, a bit of purple protruded through the vagina.
Gast's eyes lit up, and he helped the baby along, the whole head becoming
visible, and then the shoulders, with the rest following. Gast took the baby
gently, and wrapped him up. His face glowing with happiness, he was about
to give Lucrecia the child, when Hojo stopped him with two words.
The words were said with so much indifference and coldness that Gast could have throttled him. And his eyes, the pupil, the irises, and he could have sworn, the entire eye glowing in Mako ice. But as Gast walked out, solemn as he held a wailing Sephiroth, he didn't notice the solitary tear that formed in those heartless green eyes.
Mideel was a quiet town in the south, isolated from the immese eastern contintent.The small community was sustained by the commercial businesses that surprisngly held a wide selection, and drew travellers from near and far. At Mideel's far side was a small medical facility, less obvious than the buildings up front. The doctor there had had a shortage of ptaients before this curiosity came.
"It was the strangest thing, really," he chattered to the nurse, who was measuring the fluid. "I knew it was an abnormally high case of Mako poisoning when I found her, but patients that have that much Mako in their blood shouldn't be talking. She was saying over and over again, 'Jenova'. Have you seen anything like that before?"
"No. Hallucinations?" she chanced an educated guess.
"I couldn't tell you. If you wanted to have a full understanding of Mako, you would have so much of it concentrated in your bloodstream you'd hardly be aware of yourself. Not to mention you'd be psychoti---"
"It's ready," she announced, holding up the container of yellow fluid. She then opened the patient's mouth, and the doctor poured the fluid into her throat. Then they waited. For what seemed forever, there was no movement. They exchanged fearful stares, but continued to wait. Their patience was met with a viridian- colored liquid that bubbled up the throat, and finally spewed from her mouth. More of it sprayed out, the nurse's look of shock evident as the patient continued to vomit the glowing liquid.
Then her eyes opened, the walnut irises tinged with green gazing up blearily at the scientists. But she didn't see them. The parasite hadn't come out, leeching to her insides. And then she realized that she was alive. No...no.....why??! The patient shot up in the small bed, the nurse aghast as the woman's eyes bulged.
"Let go of me, Jenova.....I wanted to die...why won't you go away?"
Lucrecia didn't hear a word they said, and she fell back against the pillow, staring up into the ceiling. Her mind darted back to memories. Gast was briefing her on the Project.
"Sephiroth....what a lovely name..."
Of course, they weren't there. They were far away. The only souls there were the doctor and nurse, the former answering the latter's fearful assumption.
"But she's talking." He smiled, moving towards the other side of the bed. "After all these years of silence. Let her ramble. This may shed some light on the whole matter."
The nurse had little choice but to comply, and watched the turmoil in the patient's features fade in and out, as she formed full sentences that were not in the least coherent.
"I see you for what you are...you're a virus...you've killed me, killed my husband, and now you're going to kill Sephiroth....." "No.....I won't let you...do this...I'll take him back...my son..."
Lucrecia struggled to get off the bed, but found herself unable, weakness holding her back. That and..disuse...how long had she been sick? How long had she been on this bed? How long had Jenova been tormenting her? She didn't know. The nurse's words resonated louder in her ears, when previously she had been deaf to them. Slowly she was hearing again...human sounds, not that loathsome alien whispering in her mind.
She sat up again, blinking. Where was she?
"You musn't try and stand. Those chemicals have made you very weak," informed the nurse with concern. Lucrecia finally answered, her voice barely a whisper,
"It's...Jenova..that's made me weak...it's chosen to let me live...why?"
The doctor and nurse exchanged worried glances. Again that "Jenova" character was mentioned, and this time she had responded to the nurse with that word on her lips. They went to the corner, talking hushed amongst themselves. Lucrecia's ears managed to catch brief lines of the conversation, that became more coherent as they walked towards the table.
"Got rid of..Mako traces..left.wouldn't...enough..induce that..."
"What is Jenova?"
"It must be another substance that didn't respond to the antitoxin."
"Shouldn't we pump it?"
"So far she's been saying that she needed this 'Jenova' to live---"
The nurse glared, placing her hands on her hips as she chided,
"Doctor, I'm surprised at you! She may be on illicit drugs, which would make everything she says invalid!"
He was silent for a moment, taking in what she said, weighing the possibility, and reaching a decision.
"You're right. Get the pump."
"Would you look at that?!" shouted the doctor as he witnessed the violet
fluid flow out of the patient's body. "It's a miracle she survived ingesting
that fluid," he declared, switching his gaze from the pump to the woman.
He glanced up at the nurse, who was monitoring her vital functions. "How
The nurse stood at her side, taking her pulse and checking the air bag. After ascertaining that nothing was going wrong, she answered, "Everything's normal as it can get with this one." The repulsive fluid continued to flow out, and the patient was still physically stable. Staying by the her side, the nurse stood silent for awhile. The whole case was a mystery. Being the type who hated to be ignorant of the circumstances, she looked up towards the male, and inquired,
"So, Doctor...how'd you really find her?"
The doctor sighed. He didn't like to relate to many people about THIS story...it was a bombshell that he didn't fully comprehend himself. The situation was so....unusual that he had difficulty explaining it. Frankly, he didn't want to explain it, and tried to get the nurse back on track, but the knowledge of this couldn't hurt her.....could it? Checking on the pump again, he started,
"During a vacation in Nibelheim eighteen years ago---"
"She was in a coma for THAT long?"
He continued before the other could fully absorb an unneeded shock,
"No, she had been very ill until a month ago, when she went into a coma. I thought she'd never come out of it. Two Shin-Ra scientists were carrying her towards the Nibel Reactor. They were going to try somehow to bring her back to life. I offered to help, and they let me take her: the other one could have cared less," he said disgustedly, shaking his head with vehemence. "I brought her here, and she's been under my care ever since."
"I don't see how you could keep her alive for that long," she said dubiously, checking her pulse. The nurse's eyes widened, but she tried to keep from an outburst, steeling her nerves and calming herself. She took her index and middle finger away from Lucrecia's neck and got the doctor's attention. "Doctor, I can't find a pulse!"
"That must mean...that this..gunk is what's keeping her alive." He was met with a disbelieving stare, but the command was clear. "Pump it back in...slowly..."
She did as she was told, the disgusting suhstance coursing back into Lucrecia's body. Neither heard her protest of "no" as Jenova invaded her once again. But she was powerless to resist it: it was now a part of her. No...it was in her in its full quantity...no...NO!!! The nurse checked for a pulse, and was gratified to find it. She was not. But there was no escape...
Lucrecia gripped the reins of the Chocobo. It wasn't Tarquinius, she was
sure of that. It was a running female, and a river Chocobo, from what she
could tell. But it took to the shallower ocean rather well, dashing across
the water that separated Mideel from the eastern shore. She stopped it for
a moment, pausing to wave good-bye to the doctor and nurse. As she faced
foward again, she sighed. Earlier she had thanked them for their help, but
somehow it wasn't enough.
"They rescued me from the grave, and all I could think about was how much I wanted to die," she murmured ruefully. "But how do you repay that large a debt?" she asked herself, urging the Chocobo to go on. The splash of water reached to her knees as they entered deeper water. Somewhere above she heard the whir of propellors. "What..?" She looked up and her eyes met a grey airship. There was no logo on it, but she was pretty sure it was Shin- Ra. That got her to thinking. "I wonder what Dr. Gast and Hojo are doing now...are they raising Sephiroth properly?" she asked, urging the Chocobo to go faster, and the light blue fowl raced alongside a mountain, heading for shore, its animated "wark" filling the quiet air. "No," came the solemn answer."He was raised to be something different..because of...Jenova," she choked, anger flaring in her voice. The Chocobo ran even faster, the water level lowering as they approached shore, the rythmic splashing lessening as they entered shallow water, the sand and water-dwelling plants now visible. The ebbing tide was welcoming. "Home," she breathed, stepping on the firm turf of her birth continent. The Chocobo became somewhat restless, and Lucrecia boarded it, dashing towards the northernmost edge.
They covered ground quickly, and by sunset they had cleared the Chocobo farm, one building larger than it had been before, and started to traverse the grasslands. They were going at full speed when Lucrecia saw a familiar sight. Cascading, tumbling, churning as they joined with the river that met with the ocean."Waterfalls...Kalm," she said sadly, and had the Chocobo canter past the small town, having expanded only slightly those long years. But the waterfalls hadn't changed a bit, still cascading into the river that opened into the sea. She skirted the shoreline, getting hit with nostalgia as she remininsced about playing along the white shore with the other children from Kalm. The laughter of children faded away in her mind. The shore was empty and dead.
Lucrecia rode the Chocobo throughout the night, stopping briefly to eat and feed the Chocobo. As the rays of the sun were breaking through the grey of dawn, she reached an enormous metropolis, gigantic conglomerations of small buildings visible, crowded underneath a disc of some sort. "This can't be Midgar." She looked up at the sky, choked with pollution, its noxious green haze forcing her to shut her stingng eyes. "What happened?" A militant yell caught her off-guard. In front of the city gate, a red-garbed SOLDIER was yelling out instructions to blue-garbed ones. Though they were wearing masks, Lucrecia could tell from their eye color that the process of Mako infusion was now widespread. Parking her Chocobo, she walked past the SOLDIERs and came to the metallic gate, labelled 05, and pushed it open.
What saw her shocked her to the core. A decrepit thing that resembled a road led to a pile of collecting junk. The dingy houses were in disrepair, but no one seemed concerned with their upkeep, hanging onto existence by a thread. Guilt crept up Lucrecia's spine, knowing that she had been so eager to die, while these people were just the opposite. The way they would walk, swear at the looming tower above, and shake their heads in despair, they blamed something for their problems, but kept on living. Such was the way of the Sector 5 slums.
Sector 6 was a something out of a nightmare. It was absolutely deserted, and it had the makings of a nesting ground for beasts. Lucrecia wandered rather aimlessly, letting herself get lost in the maze of trash, not realizing she was going around in circles and that no distance was covered. "It wasn't like this before," she managed to say as she entered Sector 7. It seemed slightly more well-off, but that wasn't saying much. The most lively place was at something called the "pillar" holding up a "pizza". She walked through there, and saw the pillar. "Unbelievable..." she breathed, getting angry stares from a crowd of demonstrators for some inexplicable reason. Behind a wire fence there was an enormous structure stretching upward for miles. "That's the Plate?" she asked one, a one-eyed thug borne up right out of Sector 6, pointing at the flat structure laying on top of the pillar.
"Surprised ya didn't know that, lady. Ya work for 'em."
Lucrecia returned the man a confused glance, and suddenly remembered that she was wearing her old labcoat. She stared at the other demonstrators that bunched closer to see what all the commotion was. They were all enraged at the company, holding anti-Shin-Ra signs. The very presence of a Shin-Ra scientist was enough to make the hair on their neck bristle. Two of them brandished cruel blades. She backed away, fear escalating in her Mako-tinged eyes, managing to get a timid question out to them:
"Wh...what's up there?"
Another demonstrator laughed bitterly, while another one growled, "Shin- Ra bastards." He pulled out a heavy club, beating it into his palm as he threw down his sign. Lucrecia gulped, continuing to back away. Another demonstrator, whose face couldn't be seen behind the others, gave her sound advice, "Go fuck off before we pound yer wuss ass."
"Yeah, we got 'ta smash that other crackhead. Now he's too scared 'ta come 'outta Shin-Ra HQ," the first one laughed, flicking his knife across the air, Lucrecia's eyes darting to follow the blade's path. It seemed as if he was as deft with a weapon as she was with her brain.
One way out....
She dove under the thug's legs, narrowly missing the blade that drove into the ground. And then she ran. She wasn't built for running, but for thinking, but fear pumped the adrenaline, and she fled with the thugs on her heels. The city was no longer navigable for her, she was a stranger to it now, but her short-term memory served her well. She dashed through Sector 7, dodging other pedestrians, past the high piles of trash that blocked off other routes. She lost stamina quickly, and she slowed down. The demonstrators' yelling intensified. They were right behind her. The scientist finally stopped, and could almost feel the blade plunging into her back. She shut her eyes, bracing for the end. But when she opened them again, she heard the whistle, and saw the train.Practically throwing herself on the vehicle, the door shut behind her, and she collapsed, crawling onto the bench and ignoring the other passengers' stares.
Lucrecia looked out of the smudged window of the train. The city was so different....Heavy pollution choked the air, that had been free once. Even the smell pervaded the train. It was Mako. Staring out the window made her look at her reflection for the first time in eighteen years. She felt a lot older...but didn't look it. She still appeared twenty-seven. Lifting her hand, she pulled out a strand of hair. It was still brown.
Its former employee stared as far as her eye could see, and still the top of the brightly-lit building wasn't visible. She walked towards it, only to find it locked. She tugged the door handle again, desparation settling over her. She had come this far and the door didn't respond. That far for nothing. But she wasn't about to give up that quickly. "Maybe there's a back entrance," Lucrecia mused, walking around the HQ, noting how much cleaner it was up there, above the Plate, though the air was still polluted. The building was immense in width, and it took her a long time to reach the other side. When she did, she found a paved road, that stretched out far into the distance. Smack in the middle of it sat an inactive red plane, with several SOLDIERs crowded around it in awe. She wasn't the one to get distracted, for she came here to find Sephiroth, and she certainly wasn't one to follow instinct, but there was something familiar about the person inside it. She headed towards the plane, straightening her labcoat and trying to make herself look presentable.
"Move it, ya assholes!!!" a gruff voice erupted from the cockpit, warding the SOLDIERs away from the plane. When they were gone, the man in the cockpit shoved his gloved hand into the pocket of his denim jacket and pulled out a box of cigarettes, which he couldn't live without. He flicked a rusty Sector 5 lighter and lit it, his smoky breath clouding the already-polluted air. He dropped his arm over the side of the plane, leaning his head back on the seat. "Took fuckin' long enough!! I'm blowin' this shitpile and takin' my fuckin' kid to the stars!!"
Her memory didn't fail her. The sandy, ash-streaked hair, and the unimistakable habit of cursing and smoking gratituously. The clothes were a little different, but other than that, it was the same innkeeper. She broke into a slow jog, and approached the plane, out of breath by the time she reached it.
"Excuse me, Mr. Highwind?"
"Cut the damn pretty talk! I ain't a friggin' linguist!" he yelled over the roar of the engine. Lucrecia frowned. The innkeeper had forgotten her, most likely. But now...she was living again. She might as well reaquaint herself with people she knew.
"Wait, Mr. Highwind!" cried Lucrecia, brushing past the persistent SOLDIERs as the red plane started to move across the runway, the plane picking up speed and its pilot hollering with glee as the craft bombed across the runway. It lifted into the air, the nose of the crimson plane tilting upwards as it climbed, and he was about to retract the wheels when a loud pop broke what was relative silence.
The engine sputtered, the plane stalling and bouncing before skidding to a halt, leaving unbecoming tire marks on the paved road. The pilot jumped out of the cockpit, another chain of curses following him down. He snatched the lighter from his jacket pocket and lit another cigarette, blowing smoke into the already heavy air, just as Lucrecia appeared, again exhausted from running. She had her hands on her knees, breathing hard at the road. Cid cocked an oil-covered eyebrow and growled, "Damn bitch. I got enough fuckin' problems. Last thing I need's a goddamn stalker."
"Oh...I thought you were Mr. Highwind," Lucrecia panted disappointedly, noticing the age difference. True, this man looked old, but it was probably induced from his heavy smoking. Her mistake was proven by the pilot's very gracious reply,
The little boy on the roof...
"You're his son. I knew your father. He was a good man--"
The exasperated pilot had smoked the cigarette to its end, and as soon as he tossed it on the road, lit another one, his sapphire eyes livid as he yelled through clenched rotting teeth,
"Get fuckin' lost!! I don't friggin' need a half-ass history lesson from a goddamn wench!"
Lucrecia looked indignant, a feeling she hadn't experienced in a long time. She felt almost...happy to feel indignant. Folding her arms cross her bosom, she informed the pilot with arched eyebrows and a cold glance,
"Excuse me, but I'm forty-five years old."
Cid gave a low whistle of awe, lit another cigarette while the other was burning down, and looked at the plane. He raised his boot to kick it, but it was the Tiny Bronco. Cid wouldn't mind kicking the woman right about now, but he wouldn't dare touch the red plane. "Thing's brand new!! Fuck it, I'm gettin' a wrench!!" He stomped off down the road, crushing the old cigarettes under the thick soles. He whirled around, pointed at Lucrecia accusingly, warning her of the hellish wrath that would result if she dared to fiddle with the Tiny Bronco. When it came to things that flew, Cid was a little paranoid. "Don't ya damn even THINK of touchin' my plane, bitchy hag!"
Lucrecia was left staring at the plane. Holding her chin between her fingers in contemplation, she debated with herself. Curiosity winning, she climbed into the plane to see what was wrong with it. To do something good in that world.
Cid had lit another one, snuffing the thick fumes as he stomped down the
paved road with the wrench in his grip. He hadn't reached the plane yet,
but that white lump in the cockpit told him that the woman wasn't a very
good listener. Breaking into a sluggish run, the enraged pilot stormed down
the road, his rough voice shattering the silence.
"GET YER GODDAMN PAWS OFF MY FRIGGIN' BABY!!"
Lucrecia poked her head out rather innocently. Cleaning her glasses with her labcoat, both of which had picked up the engine grease, she said with a nod,
"There, Mr. Highwind-----Cid," she corrected herself. "I think I fixed the problem." She nodded again, trying to be passive in the midst of the pilot's half-hateful, half- horrified expression. "It should run smoothly now."
"Ya ain't takin' off without me, bitch!!" he howled, jumping into the cockpit and landing hard on the seat. He turned on the ingition, the engine roaring to life. Cid strapped on his flight goggles, his passenger staring out at the ground quietly. The Tiny Bronco's propellors started to spin as its pilot moved the plane foward. The SOLDIERs shouted and yelled from a safe distance, watching in wonder as the vehicle increased speed again, moving faster along the runway. And then it lifted. Lucrecia held her breath, fearing that the something would go wrong, but the Tiny Bronco sped into the sky, soaring into the heavy clouds. Cid threw a nonplussed glance at the woman before yelling wildly, "I'll be a dickless bastard...ya got her to fly!"
It climbed higher, the runway diminishing in size as they flew higher into the dark clouds. They circled around the immense Shin-Ra building, nearly clipping the wing on the tower of cement and metal. It all became a blur. In minutes they had passed the structure, flying out of Midgar. Lucrecia gazed out towards the building. She hung her head, gripped with the terrible dread that Sephiroth wasn't there, that motherly instinct strong in her.. But if he wasn't in Midgar..where was he? And how would she find him? There were no answers to this question. As they neared Midgar's borders, the scientist caught a glimpse of a metallic structure which spewed an eerie green mist. When they passed out of Midgar, the entire city visible now at far range, she saw eight of of them. Green...it must have been Mako. She thought back to the plans, the blueprints. Of course. Mako Reactors. Which would mean....he was still dead.
Lucrecia was shaken from her thoughts by the pilot's loud, booming voice.
"Ya know...." he yelled, competing with the engine. They were now far from Midgar, flying southward through the starless skies. "I could use a mechanic. Got a name?"
At Mideel, she had wanted to die. As the Tiny Bronco passed into the western continent, she saw her chance.
Day of Hades 7/52/97 18:32 Rocket Standard Time
We have no future, but there's a present for the time being. Thinking of the past brings some happiness, but it's gone. It doesn't remedy the bleakness now. I still haven't heard from Sephiroth. Not before the launch, not since, not when the Captain asks for his tea. I hear that there will be another launch soon. That brightens things for the Captain. For me, it's different. I haven't heard from Dr. Gast or Vincent for that matter. As for him..... I take out an old picture of...him and I. Before Jenova, before we died. I rarely speak of him anymore, because he is dead.
We shouldn't speak of the dead. They have passed out of life for a reason. We cry and move on. That's the way of things. The way of life.
Even so, I can't forget them.
"Where is he?"
"He creeps me out. I wouldn't mind it if he doesn't come today. Day off for us. Say, where'd that Gast guy go? He never resigned."
"If you ask me, I think he killed him."
"You think I'd joke about something like that? He's a nutcase."
"I dare you to say that to him when he hobbles in."
Hojo shuffled towards the elevator, his hands clasped behind his hunched back. His posture had become rather bad recently/ He must have been getting old. But as for signs of aging, they failed to show, except for hair loss. He retained enough of it to tie back, however. Not that he cared anymore. Work was all there was for him now. Love was dead to him. Life was dead to him.
He pushed his glasses up by the lenses again, the intense glow of his Mako eyes visible before he set them down on the bridge of his nose. Reaching up with a hand, paler than ever now that he was practically living on the sixty-seventh and sixty-eighth floors, he pushed the button, a ding heard before the doors opened, and he shuffled inside. The scientist inserted the key card, setting the sixty-seventh floor as his destination, and the elevator began the ascent.
Distractedly he stared out through the glass at the dark skies of Midgar. Slowly the elevator rode up through its casing. Too slow. It passed the thirty-fifth floor. His eyebrows knit with habitual impatience, but it was only a machine. A machine......
Wasn't that what he was? "Programmed" by Jenova whenever she needed him to do her dirty work?
He was human, right?
I killed her....I lied to him....
Jenova had no hold on him.
Murdered.....Sacrificed his childhood for godhood...
She was just another specimen.
For science.....for Jenova.
Is it worth it?
Or was he hers?
Has she killed your conscience?
He was hers.
He belonged to her.
But you're a monster either way.
Hojo found himself hyperventlating, drowning in hot sweat. The ding of the elevator barely registered. Of all times, why did Jenova choose to let him go partially, unlocking the manacles of his brain just enough so part of him could breathe and the other could suffocate? Letting his soul out of a cage into a yard surorunded by an electric fence? Freeing his mind long enough to let his own guilt stab through him without letting him correct his errors?
She loved to play.
It was she you hurt the most.
He was her toy.
She was outgrowing that toy.
But she could play with him for a bit longer.
The elevator doors slid open. Hojo found himself staring out, wide-eyed and panting, perspiration dripping onto his labcoat. About to enter the elevator was another Shin-Ra employee, with a mug of coffee in his hand. He returned the scientist a perplexed glance, his mouth twisting into a nervous frown. The bane of the sixty-seventh and eighth floors was standing right in front of him. Terrified, he asked quickly,
"There..something I can do for you, Professor?"
Hojo kept his eyes fixated foward as he replied with indifference,
She had returned the leash to her hand, melting the guilt with the warmth of her essence. A false warmth. But warmth nonetheless. an inescapable haven. Her alien will overpowered his human will. But what humanity was left in him, physically or mentally, save for the skin and hair covering his monstrous innards?
As the scientist walked out of the elevator, he uptured his cold, detatched eyes to one of his many assistants that were rushing about the lab. Whatever discomfort had been there earlier had disappeared without a trace. "Ready the specimen."
Monsters...he was just one more. And though now he was at the top, the head of the science department, a well-recognized professor, living the high life above the Plate, in control of everything on the sixty-seventh and sixty-eighth floors, indisuptable and nearly infallible in his field, and able to punish with impunity with physical and mental torture....Even through all that, Bugenhagen was right.
Inside, he was nothing.