Wasted Chapter 9

One of Those Nights

By Lila

Reno and Rude left the bar late, late enough that Rude knew work would be killer tomorrow. But at the moment, he didn’t care. Of course, he was more than a little drunk.

He and Reno hadn’t spoken of the memories that both had shared. Instead, they had drunk themselves into mind-numbing stupors, drowned themselves in intoxicating poison. Rude had covered the bill, despite Reno’s bitching. Rude knew his friend would never accept charity, even though he drank well more than he could afford.

They were heading toward the train station, where Rude lived. He would take the train back to Sector 4. The city of Midgar was divided into 8 sectors, all of which depended on Shinra, Inc, for energy.

Seven sectors now, actually. Following Heidegger’s orders, Reno had made a carefully-planned strategic move that had resulted in near-disaster. A bomb had been set in one of the support structures of the upper plate. The plan had been to drop the plate on Sector 7, the sector believed to house AVANLANCHE headquarters. Reno had detonated the bomb, blowing the plate support to smithereens. As a result, the plate had fallen and crushed Sector 7- and its residents. It had been there, at the support, that the escaped members of AVALANCHE had found Reno and nearly killed him.

Rude glanced at Reno. His arm still hung in a sling. His mind flashed back to when he had found his friend, collapsed at the foot of the pillar. The sight of Reno’s mangled body had been enough to shake even Rude.

It was kind of sad, though. Any other man might have enjoyed the long leave of absence Reno had received, but the fiery Turk had the opposite reaction, insisting he was fine for work. But Tseng had been firm. Rude knew Reno didn’t give two shits about work; that Reno just hadn’t been looking forward to long hours spent at the bar. Reno wasn’t stupid, he knew he wasn’t helping himself by drinking his life away. Of course, it was probable that Reno didn’t want to help himself. Maybe he preferred trying to forget everything.

As they finally reached the train station, Rude sighed and leaned against the railing. The train stations in Midgar weren’t really stations. This one was a mere platform overlooking the now-empty tracks, with nothing but a railing over the side to prevent anyone jumping down. Rude didn’t know why they bothered. If anyone was suicidal enough to jump in front of an oncoming train, a three-foot little railing wasn’t about to stop him.

He checked his watch again impatiently. It was past time for the train to show up. He knew he hadn’t missed it; this train was always late. Except now it was really late.

Rude looked over at Reno curiously. It was unusual for the redhead to be quiet for such a long period of time, especially after drinking. "What is it?"

Reno came over to lean beside him, staring down at the empty tracks. "Just thinking about Lynn."

Rude’s hands tightened on the rail. He’d been right; Reno had been thinking about the end of Death Row, too.

Reno suddenly looked up, staring at Rude with his bright sea-green eyes. "You loved her, didn’t you?" he said, almost accusingly, still staring at Rude as though trying to figure him out.

Rude let out a long, slow breath, peeling his hands from the railing. "What makes you say that?"

Reno gave him an even look. "When you shot her. You were mumbling to yourself, that you were sorry and you loved her, over and over. Did you think I wouldn’t hear?"

Rude was silent, looking out at the empty tracks again. He had no recollection of mumbling anything back then, but he didn’t doubt Reno. Those exact words…he’d been thinking them, hopefully, desperately, as though they would save him. And her. He didn’t remember speaking them aloud.

"What were you for sorry for, Rude?" Reno was still staring at him like that, quizzically. "Sorry for all she’d been through?"

Rude shook his head wordlessly. It had always been impossible to hide things from Reno.

"Were you sorry because you were afraid you were going to miss?" Reno’s voice was quiet. "Because you knew you were going to miss?"

"I didn’t miss," Rude whispered to the empty air. For a moment, it seemed his words echoed back to him, then silence reigned once more.

Reno broke it. "Rude…"

Rude whirled around to face him. "What would you have done?" he demanded. "She wanted to die, Reno, she told me so herself! She wanted a way out." His voice was quieter now, calmer. "I didn’t want to do it, but I gave her one."

Reno didn’t reply at first, lost in his own memories. At last he merely shook his head. "Think they’ll ever let us go?"

He was speaking of all three of them, Wat, Lynn, and Kaiser. The three who had died that day, but still lived on in memory and in mind. Rude knew he wouldn’t ever forget them, Lynn especially. He’d thought about her a lot, even today, even before Reno had brought up the past.

Not far out in the distance, a train’s whistle pierced the still air, the tranquillity of the moment. The wobbly platform shook slightly as the train thundered toward them.

For the first time since leaving the bar, Rude realized with some surprise that he now felt perfectly clear-headed. His talk with Reno had sobered him up a good deal, and he now thought with cold clarity.

"I’ll get your pay from Tseng tomorrow," he said, as he sought to change the subject.


The train slid to a halt and a conductor leaped out, yanked open the gate, and recited, rather breathlessly, "Welcome to Midgar Public Transport. Thank you for taking the one o’clock train, we hope your experience on our rail system is comfortable and enjoyable, that will be five hundred gil, if you please." He held out a white-gloved hand expectantly.

Rude slowly glanced at his watch, then at the eager young conductor. He couldn’t have been more than eighteen or nineteen years old. "What train is this?"

"I just told you," the kid said with a trace of impatience. "It’s the one o’clock train, the last run of the day-" Suddenly he noticed the telltale blue uniform, the dark shades. "…Sir," he added faintly.

"The one o’clock train," Reno repeated, gliding forward to stand next to his partner. The boy jumped like a scared rabbit. He hadn’t seen the second Turk, cloaked in darkness as he’ d been.

"Hey, Rude," Reno said, as though the idea had just occurred to him. "What time is it?"

Rude dutifully checked his watch. "Looks to me like it’s a little after one." He looked pointedly at the young conductor. "Like forty-five minutes after one."

"That’s odd. I thought he said this was the one o’clock train." Reno looked perplexed.

Rude smiled disarmingly at the young man. "Maybe his watch is broken. Hey, kid, what time do you have?"

"One…one forty-two, Midgar Standard Time." The kid looked ready to faint.

"Look at that, Rude," Reno observed. "And the kid thinks he’s better at telling time than you."

The conductor seemed to have recovered a bit from his shock, especially since this particular Turk seemed injured. He even straightened his back a bit and stiffly said, "Sir, have you been drinking?"

Reno smiled. "Now there’s a stupid question." Suddenly tiring of the game, he turned and walked off the platform. "Enjoy work tomorrow, Rude," he said over his shoulder.

Rude nodded in reply and started to board the train, but the conductor put out his hand again. "The fare, please, sir?" he said weakly.

Rude shoved him aside. "Tell your manager if he wants pay, he’ll be on time." It wasn’t very nice, but then, the Turks were never nice. The kid would know that if he wasn’t so green.

The car wasn’t crowded, holding only a few slum drunks and one Shinra employee who sat muttering to himself. There was also that nut that rode on every train ride, insisting the car was his home, but he was hardly a new passenger. They all looked up when Rude boarded, then averted their eyes quickly.

Rude sat in the nearest empty seat, close to a window. He always felt better near a window when in tight, claustrophobic areas. It was a natural feeling, when you’ve spent years in Death Row. Not that the scenery outside the window was particularly pleasant –Midgar was one giant garbage dump seething with rats dressed in business suits, whores, cutthroats and drunks.

Rude sometimes wondered what he and Reno would’ve become if they hadn’t been selected to be Turks. Decent, respectable men with high salaries? Not likely, in Midgar. More likely they would’ve faded into the city’s grim backdrop of crime, poverty, and booze.

He leaned his head against the window and closed his eyes, thinking about everything that had happened a bare twenty-four hours ago.

After Reno had successfully blown up the Plate, he was dismissed and sent home to rest up. Reno, in true Reno fashion, had refused the helpful powers of materia, even though Rude suspected Tseng would have bent Turk ordinance a bit for the redhead.

Although things were chaotic for a bit, within a few hours things settled down around Headquarters. Rude had spent the better part of the evening watching television in the staffroom.

Then AVALANCHE had arrived.

Cloud Strife, Barret Wallace, Tifa Lockheart. Rude had later found out that it hadn’t been a planned attack. The resistance factor had actually been on a rescue mission, to save the newly-captured Aeris Gainsborough. Tseng had brought her in not long after the Plate collapsed, and delivered her to the Science Department.

To make a long story short, the little group had wrecked havoc throughout the HQ, and the Turks had been forced to take action. But without Reno, Rude and Tseng hadn’t had the manpower needed, and AVALANCHE had escaped with Gainsborough and another specimen. This had prompted Heidegger to hire Elena, although Rude had the sneaking suspicion that she would be of more harm than help.

He thought of Reno’s reaction to his "replacement", as the fiery redhead had called Elena. Reno hadn’t been happy at all, but immediately wanted to know if they were going to train her the same way they had been trained. Rude rubbed his head tiredly. He’d been about to. He’d been about to hurt that innocent girl. It had been a preplanned, conscious decision, even to the point of hiring gunmen to help overpower her. He wasn’t sure, exactly, why he’d done it. He hadn’t actually thought about the moral of the situation, he had just followed simple procedure. And, brutal as the method was, it certainly was efficient. Truth of the matter was, Turks were killers with salaries. You didn’t learn to be one just by watching.

But Tseng, apparently, had other plans for Elena. Rude guessed what he said made sense; they needed more manpower now. Still, Elena didn’t have the slightest clue as to what the Turks were all about. If she stayed permanently, she would have a real eye-opener before long.

Rude sat up straighter as the train slowed and finally stopped. The same young, nervous conductor came to the front of the car. "Unloading for Sector 8," he announced.

Rude stood and started down the center aisle to the exit door. As he passed two drunks whispering together, something caught his attention.

"What about the Seventh Heaven?"

"Can’t go there no more. Was in Sector 7. Y’know, the one that was crushed."

"Oh yeah. What was that barmaid’s name? Lockheart?"

"Tifa Lockheart. She owned the place. Why?"

Rude stopped cold and listened.

"She’s a member of that group. You know, the AVALANCHE organization." The man scratched his rust-colored beard as he spoke.

The other guffawed. "Her? Come on! You see the tits on that girl? What does she do, cook for the rebel leader?" He grinned. "Or sleep with him?"

The first shook his head. "Naw, she’s got it bad for that other guy, Strife. ‘Sides, she can handle herself. I saw her fight once. Knocked some guy clear over the counter."

"Sir?" the conductor said tentatively. "Are you getting off?"

Rude roused himself and stepped off the train. As he went by the conductor, the young man shrank back, as though fearful Rude would kill him as an afterthought. Or something.

As he walked along the dark road that led to the apartment he resided in, Rude thought. Finally, he could focus on that little thing that had been hanging at the back of his mind all day.

Tifa Lockheart. When he’d first seen her, he’d thought of her as a typical slums woman, fighting to save the Planet from the clutches of Shinra, Inc. Typical environmentalist, sadly idealistic. Pretty girl, though. What a waste.

Then, as he’d grabbed hold of her to drag her off to the holding cell, their eyes met. She couldn’t see his reaction, of course, since he wore his shades and because Rude never let emotion register of his face. But it had hit him like a blow in the gut. He knew her. Even now, after all these years, even when it was utterly impossible, he knew her.

Lynn had looked out those eyes at him.

The hair, the body, the way she spoke was different. But her eyes were the same. He couldn’t explain how he knew; he’d just felt her presence in that moment.

She’d broken it by struggling furiously to get away, but in his moment of shock Rude kept a firm grip on her shoulders. Since it was beyond belief, beyond all reason, he’d followed orders and thrown her into the holding cell along with Strife. Then he’d tried to dismiss it as simple hallucination, a fantasy brought on by overwork and booze and lack of sleep. But that moment had stayed with him all night, the next day, until even now, roughly twenty-four hours later. He knew he had to see her again, or at least find some logical explanation for this. Or it would drive him crazy; the guilt would drive him crazy.

Unless it already had.


It was still dark when he arrived at work the following morning. Rude had spent a sleepless night – well, more like a few hours –at home before arriving at a decision. He would conduct a little background research.

The secretary let him in, yawning because of the early hour. Only a few workaholics were here now. Rude guessed even Tseng was still asleep, either at home or at his desk. Of course, if that was the case, he’d have a few questions to answer.

He was lucky. The Turk staffroom was empty when he slipped in. He could work undisturbed.

He stepped to the huge file cabinet in the back of the room and opened the drawer marked "H-L". Inside of the drawer were several alphabetized manila folders containing files on those Shinra had deemed it prudent to keep an eye on. They were kept in the Turk staffroom for unknown purposes- probably because there was no room anywhere else.

At last he found the file reading "Lockheart, Tifa." He pulled it from the drawer and sat on the tattered couch, opening the folder. Inside were two pages of report, one dated five years later than the other. Paperclipped to each report was a photo of the subject at the time.

He looked at the older file. The picture showed a younger Tifa, probably fourteen or fifteen years old. She was an innocent, happy child, still naïve to the world and its sorrows. He skimmed the report, not expecting to find anything interesting.

Subject Name: Lockheart, Tifa.

Subject Age: 15

History: Subject became involved with Shinra, Inc. during the Nibelheim Incident, when she led four Shinra employees, including Sephiroth, through the Nibel Mountains to the reactor. Sephiroth later went insane and destroyed the town of Nibelheim. Lockheart interfered and attacked him. Sephiroth nearly killed her. In fact, Lockheart was at first believed to be dead when found, but she recovered and departed. Hasn’t been seen since.

So she’d been involved in the Sephiroth incident. Rude knew little about what had happened then, as it had occurred before he’d escaped from Death Row. Sephiroth, general of Shinra’s military corps at the time, had lost his mind and burned down the small town of Nibelheim in a fit of violence. Nearly all town residents had been killed. If she’d survived, Tifa had been lucky indeed. From what Rude knew of Sephiroth, not many who’d crossed him had lived.

He studied the picture again. It had obviously been taken before Sephiroth had destroyed her hometown. She was younger then, true, but there was still something missing from her face. Her very expression seemed different, different from what he’d seen. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but it wasn’t in the Tifa of five years ago. He picked up the other file.

This photo was obviously more recent. It wasn’t a good picture, just a quick snap of her when she wasn’t expecting it. Her long dark hair whipped across her shocked face. She had apparently been in the act of turning, maybe to put a hand over the camera.

The file was dated this year.

Subject Name: Tifa Lockheart

Subject Age: 20

History: Subject was recently found in Midgar. Owns the Seventh Heaven bar in Sector 7. Has been active in numerous terrorist bombings as a member of the rebel group AVALANCHE. (See Wallace, Barret, and Strife, Cloud).

Rude stopped. Strife too? He hadn’t actually met the guy, but he’d seen him. And heard of him. Rumor was he’d been a former employee of Shinra, too.

He finished the report, most of which was mainly details to her appearance and background information mentioned in the other file. Then he took both photos and held them up, side by side.

The differences were subtle, but they were there. Her face had matured, grown careworn with the problems and struggles of life in the city. Her stance had become solid, her countenance surer. The recent photo didn’t have a good angle, but there was a glimpse of her eyes, frozen in time. Rude stared into them, trying to see the woman behind the gaze.

It was there. Somehow, he saw Lynn there…in the glare of her eyes, in the set of her mouth. She was there.

He unclipped the recent picture from the file and slipped it in his pants pocket, then replaced the files in the manila folder. After he’d placed the file back in the drawer, he opened another and pulled out a different folder.

Strife, Cloud.

This one also had two reports; one from five years ago, one more recent, each with a photo. The first he glanced at momentarily, then tossed aside. The second he studied a moment longer.

Strife had blond hair that stuck straight up on his head and bright, almost glowing, blue eyes. Rude felt an odd sensation, looking at him, almost as though Cloud was an old friend he’d forgotten about. The first picture hadn’t made him feel that way, but then, the first picture showed him asleep.

Asleep? Rude looked again. In the photo, Strife was lying on a hospital bed with his eyes closed. His skin had a ghastly grey color, and, when closely inspected, it became apparent the blue guard’s uniform he wore was dark with blood. To all appearances, he looked dead.

When he’d finished reading the reports, he fumbled for his cigarettes and lit one with shaky fingers. Rude was not a heavy smoker, but he’d found of late that an extra pack was coming in handy.

A theory was beginning to form in his mind. It was still incredibly far-fetched, but it made sense, in a weird sort of way. Of course, he had no evidence, no hard proof. And even if it was true, what was he supposed to do? Tell the others? Reno would only laugh; Tseng would assume he’d been drinking. It was pointless.

Rude checked his watch. Tseng would be arriving for work soon. He wouldn’t have time to find evidence. But Reno would. He pulled out his PHS and dialed. It was a good long time (Rude counted nineteen rings) before a groggy voice finally answered.

"You’ve got the wrong fuckin’ number," Reno snarled.

"It’s Rude. Look, I need you to do me a favor."

"Rude? Do you have the slightest idea what time it is?" Reno yelled into the receiver.

"Believe me, I know. Come on, Reno. This is important."

"More important than my recovery?" At least he sounded calmer. "This had better be an easy favor."

"I need you to come to Headquarters and get me some information."

Reno’s tone was flat. "Rude, the only plus about my getting my ass kicked by those guys was the fact that I get to stay away from that place. Now you want me to waste precious energy getting there?"

"It’s important," Rude repeated. "I need you to ask Hojo what he knows about Tifa Lockheart, Cloud Strife, and Sephiroth."

"Hojo?" Reno sounded skeptical. "The head of the Science Department?"

"That’s him."

"Creepy guy," Reno said. "Don’t trust him. Why do you want me to talk to him?"

"Please, Reno," Rude said patiently. "Just do it."

He could practically see Reno’s scowl. "All right. All right, but you’re buying the next drink."

"Fine." Rude switched off the PHS and tucked it away. He knew he could count on Reno, although the redhead would make sure tonight’s bill would be a large one.

He glanced through the last two folders one more time before returning them to the file cabinet. As he slammed the door shut, the door to the staffroom opened. Rude froze.

Tseng stumbled in, rubbing his eyes with his fist. Rude stayed hidden in the shadows in the back of the room as his leader shuffled to the couch and practically fell onto it, closing his eyes wearily.

Rude smiled to himself and quietly made his way to the door, thinking about how pissed off Reno would be that he’d missed seeing "the Ripper" like this. As he went by, Tseng groaned and said, "That you, Rude?"

Rude stopped. "…..Yeah." Uh-oh.

Tseng didn’t open his eyes. "Would you please…" He stopped for a moment, as though to gather his thoughts. "…Get me a cup of coffee?"

Coffee sounded like a good idea right now. For both of them. "One of those nights, huh, Tseng?"

Tseng heaved a sigh. "Yeah. I’ve been working steadily for two days. Those clowns weren’t doing us any favors when they invaded, I’ll tell you that. Did you know that two of them were involved in the Nibelheim Incident? Cloud Strife and-"

"Tifa Lockheart," Rude finished. "I know." He opened the door. "I’ll get you some coffee."


He stepped out the door and closed it, mulling over his luck. At least Tseng had been too groggy to ask Rude why he was four hours early for work.


"Stupid Rude," Reno muttered as he stomped into the Shinra building. "Stupid Tseng, stupid…" What was that woman’s name? The one replacing him? He couldn’t remember. "Stupid chick."

A passing young secretary gave him a dirty look, as though she had the slightest clue as to what he was going on about.

"I wasn’t talking about you," Reno snarled at the little ditz. She took in the uniform, the red hair, the injuries and the pissed-off look on his face, then scurried off.

Reno snorted in disgust. With the way the system was collapsing, for all he knew she could be the next new Turk. Heidegger was just that frickin’ stupid.

It was late morning by now, and the halls were crowded with Shinra employees. Several stopped to stare, but didn’t look for long. Like the secretary, they quickly decided he wasn’t worth messing with. He made his way to Science Department unharassed.

As he rode the elevator up to the research lab, Reno actually took a moment to straighten his jacket. It was open, of course, over an untucked white shirt that was only half-buttoned. He wore no tie. Old habits died hard. It drove Tseng up the wall, but what was he going to do about it? Reno had already completed his training, in a sense. He could kill people as easily as anybody else.

The elevator ground to a halt and Reno stepped out. Whiteness assaulted his eyes. Bright lights. Machines humming. The lab had a sterilized, scrubbed look that bothered him immensely. Reno liked things to be cluttered and disorganized; he didn’t trust the neat and orderly. In his opinion, anyone who spent time cleaning had way too much time on his hands.

As he stood there gawking, Professor Hojo himself hurried over. "Yes?" he said shortly. "What can I do for you?"

Get a facelift, was Reno’s first thought, but he didn’t voice it aloud.

Professor Hojo had a long, beakish nose on which rested a pair of tiny oval spectacles. His mouth was thin and leering, and his greasy black hair was pulled back to expose a broad forehead. Surprisingly enough, he was fairly short, more than a head shorter than Reno. His white lab coat was obviously a little big for him; the sleeves had been rolled back to allow for his grasping, twitchy hands. His breathing was funny, too- raspy and fast. All in all, he was, as Reno had said earlier, more than a little "creepy".

"I’m here on Turk business," he said, deciding to immediately establish his authority. "I have-"

"A Turk!" Hojo exclaimed, rubbing his hands together gleefully. His beady little eyes took in Reno’s broken arm, along with the rest of his injuries. "I suppose you’ll want me to mend you up, eh?" He shot a glance at one particularly nasty cut on Reno’s forehead. "Six stitches should do it…" he murmured, tapping a long finger against his front teeth.

"No, no," Reno said hastily. He didn’t care what medical training Hojo’d had, he still wasn’t about to let that freak anywhere near him with surgical tools of any kind. "I have a few questions, that’s all."

"I see," Hojo said, looking disappointed. "Mind telling me what this is all about?"

"Yeah, I do," Reno snapped. "All you need to know is that I have alternate methods to getting information, and I don’t hesitate to use them." He rested his hand on the nightstick at his belt to enforce his meaning.

"Very well." Hojo smiled unexpectedly, exposing his fang-like teeth. "Ask away."

"What do you know of the incident with Sephiroth? Before he disappeared."

Hojo linked his hands behind his back and stared up at the ceiling. "Sephiroth was…an enigma," he said softly. "Brilliant, but far, far too forceful."

"Try violent," Reno suggested.

"I was surprised, too, when he destroyed that town," Hojo admitted. "His methods were always…rather extreme."

"Why did he do it?" Reno demanded, already tired of the old guy’s rambling.

"I can only speculate, but I presume that was when he discovered he was an experiment." Hojo’s thin-lipped smile grew wider.

"An experiment?"

"Yes. Sephiroth was a product of science. Mako and Jenova cells, predominantly."

"Okay…" Reno leaned against a gleaming white counter. "Two things: Isn’t mako a power source, and what the hell are Jenova cells?"

Hojo sighed impatiently. "They really need to educate Turks more," he murmured to himself. "All right. You know of the Lifestream theory?"

Reno let his blank expression answer the question for him.

"Then let’s go back to the beginning." Hojo stretched his hands out in front of him. "The theory goes like this: All living things, plants, animals, and humans, have souls. When they die, their spirits separate from their bodies and join a swell of spirits, called the Lifestream. The Lifestream provides the fundamental spirit of a new body, be it plant, animal, or human. That’s the way of it, although there are exceptions."

"Exceptions?" Reno wanted to know. "Like what?"

"Say you artificially infuse mako- that’s the common word for spirit energy- into the body of someone else. It’s possible to introduce a spirit into another host, although sometimes unexpected results can result."

Reno stared. "And what do you know of this?"

Hojo waved the question off. "Extensive scientific research, nothing more."

Reno didn’t believe him, but let it slide. "And Jenova cells?"

Hojo turned and started toward a row of computers that lined one wall. "Let me show you something."

Reno rubbed his temples as he followed. He needed a drink. Rude was going to owe him big for this one.

The computer screen showed two bar graphs, one above the other. Both showed accumulating data, although the second had a much faster acceleration.

"And why the hell would I care about this?" Reno said bluntly.

"Allow me to explain. The first graph shows the brain activity of the normal subject, over a time period of eight weeks. The second is the brain activity of a subject enhanced with Jenova cells." Hojo turned from the screen to peer into Reno’s face. "It’s the same with all aspects of the body- sight, strength, sense of smell and hearing. All are increased by significant amounts."

"You say ‘subjects’." Reno folded his arms. "Like what kind of subjects?"

Hojo busied himself with wiping dust off the monitor. "Oh, these are old. We don’t conduct these experiments anymore. We’re on to bigger, more advanced-"

"What kind of subjects?" Reno repeated.

Hojo laughed, a high-pitched cackling sound. "What do you take me for, Turk? Lab rats. Mice. I’m a scientist, after all, not a monster. I possess all of the normal human ethics." This last word he hissed, spitting it out like a filthy curse.

Reno’s tone was skeptical. "You still haven’t told me what Jenova cells are."

"It’s very simple, actually. Some twenty-odd years ago, the esteemed-" Maybe Reno was imagining it, but he thought he heard a slight sneer in Hojo’s voice at that word. "-the esteemed scientist, Professor Gast, discovered a 2000-year old being enclosed in ice in the upper regions of the world. He called that being Jenova."

"Uh-huh." This guy was a real loony. "And what were the origins of this ‘being’?"

Hojo smiled and linked both hands behind his back again. "We still don’t know."

He was not asking the right questions, Reno knew. The freaky guy was hiding something, that much was obvious. He was too sly, too ready with his responses. And that jab about "ethics"…he had to be hiding something.

"And the incident with Nibelheim," Reno suddenly said, turning to face the scientist. "What was your involvement with that?"

"Nothing," Hojo replied easily. "I had no involvement with that…event."

"Bullshit," Reno snapped. The bastard was lying.

Hojo looked indignant. "I’ve had enough of this useless prattle," he said sharply. "Either you compose yourself, Turk, or-"

"Listen," Reno said coldly. "Either you tell me what I want to hear, or I’ll shove one of your fancy microscopes up your ass." Here he paused. "But I think one’s already up there. In which case I’ll just have to kill ya." He pulled a handgun from his jacket holster and cocked it, turning the muzzle on the scientist’s head.

He was scared. Oh yeah, he was scared. "I will not tolerate-" Hojo began, his voice trembling.

"I’ll tell you what I won’t tolerate: Your frickin’ mindless babbling. It’s easy. Answer the goddamned question!" Reno had no patience left.

Hojo leaned against the computer, looking down at the floor. His response was strained and quiet. "Shinra arrived on the scene hours after Nibelheim was destroyed," he said softly. "By then the flames had extinguished, the bodies were cold. There wasn’t anything left to salvage. The only thing to do was cover it up."

Hojo’s eyes looked up to meet the Turk’s. "Then, we found something. Outside the reactor was a mako fountain, a small crack in the earth where mako, this ‘spirit energy’ seeped through. Beside this fountain was the body of a young girl, Tifa Lockheart. Her wounds were severe- so severe, in fact, it seemed she should have bled to death long before we arrived. But she was alive. Not only alive, but had managed to crawl to safety from inside the reactor, where we presume she was stabbed. She lived. Actually she recovered quickly, within a week. She should have died."

Reno nodded. "And Sephiroth?"

Hojo held up a hand. "Wait. I’m getting to that.

"We found the body of another Shinra employee, a SOLDIER by the name of Zack, inside the reactor. He was alive, barely, but alive. He would recover.

"After searching the rest of the building, however, we made a startling discovery. On the bottom-most level of the reactor, we found the bodies of Sephiroth and Cloud Strife, both dead. They’d looked to have impaled each other with their own weapons in a fight to the death."

Reno sighed. Now he really needed a drink. "But Cloud Strife is alive."

"Precisely." Hojo smiled once again, looking pleased with himself. "And so is Sephiroth."

"What?" Reno looked up quickly. "Him, too? How?"

Hojo stood, looking away from him. "I think that will be all for today."

Reno grabbed his gun from where he’d placed it near the computer. "You little-"

The elevator door suddenly opened and Tseng stepped out. "Reno?" he said, stopping cold. "What are you doing here?"

Hojo looked more than a little amused while Reno scrambled for words. "Oh…I’m uh, I’m here to…"

"It’s quite all right, sir," Hojo said, nodding toward Reno. "He wasn’t bothering me at all. Turns out this young Turk is an aspiring scientist."

If Tseng wasn’t so damn composed all the time, his jaw would have crashed to the floor. As it was, it dropped a good distance. "A scientist," he repeated.

"Oh, yes. Quite the knowledgeable young man, isn’t he?" Hojo smirked and glanced to Reno. "Just now he was showing me how the anti-pressural chambers of a handgun combine force and heat to power a lead bullet through the passage of the barrel and into the heart of one of your less fortunate victims."

"Uh…yeah," Reno said, lowering his gun. "Anti-pressural…chambers…"

Tseng recovered nicely, after a moment. "Reno, get down to the staffroom immediately," he barked, jerking his head toward the elevator. "I’ll meet you there after I deliver some papers to Professor Hojo."

Sure thing, Errand Boy, Reno thought nastily as he passed "the Ripper." He decided he would follow orders and get to the staffroom. He had a lot to say to Rude.

"Oh, and Turk?" Hojo called after him. Reno stopped but didn’t turn.


"I’d be careful what I said today," Hojo said with a sneer in his tone. "If you ever want to make it as an aspiring scientist."

"Sure thing, Professor," Reno replied as he resumed his journey to the elevator, resisting the urge to turn around and throttle the bastard. "Just don’t be surprised if I change my mind." He stepped onto the elevator. Time to find Rude.

Chapter 10

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic