Tarnished Side Chapter 6

By Janet Monstwillo

Aeris sat on her cot, swinging her legs back and forth a bit. She fidgeted, restless and uncomfortable. She had tried to block out the memories of her times in the Shinra lab with her mother. But even if she was successful, that in itself couldn't quiet the feeling of dread slowly growing inside her.

She remembered a greasy looking man, his hair pulled back into a tangled mockery of a ponytail. Poking, prodding, and bizarre questions remained locked in the deeper realms of her memory; a few broke free as Aeris sat in the cold white cell.

"What does the Planet tell you about the Promised Land?"

The little girl crossed her arms stubbornly. "Nothing."

"Gast's brat," he muttered as he shook her a little. "Doesn't matter, soon I will have Cetra that listen to me."

"Why would anyone listen to you?" Aeris sassed.

"You would," he threatened, "or I will have no use for keeping you alive."

The five-year-old whimpered.

"Hojo." A voice came in from the doorway. A silver eyebrow was raised. "Still terrorizing small children, I see," mocked the teenage boy in the doorway.

"It hasn't seemed to hurt you in any way, has it, lieutenant?" The sloppy man took his hands from Aeris' shoulders. "It's good to see you on time for your treatments, Sephiroth, instead of hiding like a sniveling little boy."

"Make it quick, old man, the longer I'm away from the front, the longer until my next promotion."

"You'll be general in no time," remarked Hojo with a bizarre, mirthful glee.

As the mad scientist rushed out the door, two pairs of green eyes locked. Bright, glowing fierceness met serenity and innocence...and flashed empathy, for a moment. Then the metallic door slid shut between them, and Aeris was alone in her cell again.

Aeris shook her head. Things were different now. Though Shinra still held its dark plans, the scientist in charge seemed like a nice woman. Her cell was better than a room in any inn she'd seen, except for that whole locked-in thing.

There were even glass windows, one looking outside and one looking into the hallway. Though that one was mostly for observation, she could close the curtain at night. Besides, looking out into the hallway made her feel less isolated.

Most of the staff didn't even pay heed to the cell windows as they passed down the specimen hallway. For some odd reason today, however, she got the feeling she was being watched. Peering out, she noticed a glint of green, glowing in the shadows. As she met these eyes, whoever was lurking turned and walked away, but she did catch one last glimpse of something...

A flash of silver.

* * * * * *

Shera Baker shook her specimen tubes and watched as the dark purple chemical disappeared. Sighing impatiently, she put the tube back under the burette and continued the titration.

"Dr. Baker."

Startled, the timid woman jumped a bit, upsetting the contents of the tube all over her lab table. With a dagger-filled glare, she turned to the intruder. "You know, since all you are is a little messenger boy, you should learn not to sneak up on people. It could cost you your job, after all."

Rufus Shinra smirked. "Right." He looked at her with an amused look in his eyes. "Are you busy?"

"I'm always busy, Mr. Shinra. It's called working."

"The executive board was surprised that you were absent from the meeting last night. You were supposed to give a report on that Ancient."

"Yes, well, I doubt Professor Hojo had the opportunity to get his files in order before his sudden...departure. I had to spend a considerable amount of time to even find the girl's old file, which was pretty sparse at that, so I have been in here running tests ever since..."

"You seem to be missing the point." He shook his head. "You didn't report at the meeting and that is a considerable offens–"

"Look, boy. Does your father's board want to know about the Ancient or not? I did the company more service by looking for information than I would have by wasting time just to tell them I didn't have any."

"Well...maybe someday they'll be appreciative. However, your instructions have now changed. We want an Ancient that can withstand grueling tests. You are to combine the Ancient's genetic code with that of Specimen..." He grabbed a piece of paper from his pocket. "812-A."

Shera's eyes widened in surprise. "But I don't even think I can do that. There are an unequal number of chromosomes..."

"The executive board doesn't entirely know if you can accomplish that. But they have a suggestion for what you should do in the meantime, while you're figuring out solutions to the chromosomal difference."

She sighed. (Using suggestion as a euphemism for order is getting really old.) "And what is their suggestion?"

"To perhaps put the two of them together and see if nature can maybe work itself out. You've said yourself that you don't know the capabilities of either species yet." Rufus walked out the door, a self-satisfied grin plastered on his face.

Shinra's Head of Science sank slowly down onto the nearest chair, a feeling of queasiness deep in her stomach. She'd gotten flack for being more tenderhearted than her predecessor. But the pristine lab technique that had gotten her removed from her hometown of Nibelheim by the Shinra in the first place had kept her in a position of stability, where her job and her life were concerned.

Shera just didn't know how many more of the company's twisted ideas she could take. Both of the specimens involved her were sentient beings. (They wouldn't just...) She wondered if they would be tortured into submission, or drugged...or... She shook her head and walked to the fridge. Removing two DNA samples, she began to prepare slides.

She would do everything in her power to provide Shinra what they wanted, without torturing the poor prisoners in the lab more than they already had been.

* * * * * *

"Hmm." The gaunt blond man paced in front of the three "women" in his office.

Tifa had been quite surprised when she first saw Don Corneo. She couldn't believe that such a timid little guy had been able to make a fortune for himself in a place like Wall Market.

"How old are you?" he asked her.

Her burgundy eyes widened a bit in surprise. She had been expecting ogling, or a more superficial selection process. "Twenty," she said softly.

He nodded a bit and then turned his attention to Jessie, her eyes timidly set on the floor. "What are your hobbies?"

She giggled a bit. "I like computers and...shiny electronic things, basically."

He looked Zack over. "Do you like animals?"

Zack shook his head, his chin-length black hair bobbing back and forth gently. "Can we cut to the chase here? I mean you're not picking a bride here and now, right? So just pick a girl to take out. Y'know, seize the day and all that."

Don Corneo's eyes widened a bit and he thought to himself. "I think you may have something there. What a nice saying." He nodded a bit. "Yes, I've made my decision. I will take you, since you seem to have a good head on your shoulders...oh, what is your name, miss?"

"That's Zelda," Tifa piped up before Zack could shush her.

"What an unusual name..." He looked up. "Are you three all friends then?"

"We're terrible rivals," said Jessie with a smirk.

His brow furrowed. "I hope this doesn't sound insulting, but may I invite all of you to dinner with me? I don't want to choose a candidate for my bride over something as superficial as looks and attitude."

The three of them looked at each other incredulously. They hadn't been expecting something as easy as a three-way ambush, that was for sure.

"I don't mind," Tifa said cheerfully.

Jessie quickly added, "Me either."

"Right this way, then, ladies," said the Don, and he led them to the dining hall.

The soup was delicious, so was the roasted meat. The four happy diners waited impatiently for the dessert course.

"We should make our move now," Tifa whispered to Jessie.

She nodded, and then glanced at Zack, who nodded in return.

The two girls jumped up and blockaded the two exits from the dining room.

"What are you doing?" asked Don Corneo, confused.

Zack stood up. "We'll be asking the questions now," he said, letting his voice fall back to its usual baritone.

The thin man's eyes widened. "You–You're a man?!"

Rolling his eyes, he shook his head. "Yeah. It kinda sucks when you've only got two chicks in the group and the local lech wants three bridal candidates."

"I'm not a–"

Jessie cut him off. "We know. We thank you for your hospitality. However, we have some important business at hand and we need some information."

"You all are from that terrorist group that's been blowing up the reactors, aren't you?" He looked up at them in fear.

"We don't want to hurt anyone, especially someone coming from the same place we are..." Tifa began.

"Hold it." Zack walked over to the Don. "This guy has been taking advantage of this sector ever since it was built ten years ago. He probably deserves revenge more than some of those guards in that reactor we took out."

"N–n–no," Corneo protested, "I have a confession to make."

The three looked at him.

"My brother started this whole operation. He retired two years ago and let me take over for him. He said we needed to keep things in the family, y'know? But my dad always taught me I needed to respect women. If I'd have known what business my bro was really dealing in, then..."

"So why keep it up then?" Jessie asked. "You have the power to stop it, even if it's not your fault you were here in the first place."

"Because if the business slips, he'll give it to our cousin, Joe. And that man treats women like shit. Even if they're being used and selling their bodies, at least I can make sure they're being respected."

"Great story." Zack rolled his eyes. "We really have business with you though, Corneo. What the hell did you tell those Shinra assholes?"

"Shinra? I don't have any association with Shinra, besides some of my customers."

"Don't hold back from us," Tifa demanded. "We know that you were questioned by them."

"Well they asked for your whereabouts...but I had no idea where you guys were from. They went to Neo down at the used weapons store though, I think. He'd always bragged about knowing you guys personally. So, I sent the guys over there." Corneo swallowed. "You guys ain't from around here, are ya? Because they mentioned something...the guys from Shinra said if I knew your location, they'd spare me and my business, even if they were in Sector 6."

"Sounds like the Shinra are planning to raze whichever section we end up occupying." A look of fear crossed Jessie's face. "We have to get back to the bar and warn the neighborhood."

"It's not here, is it?" Corneo trembled.

"You're safe." Tifa bit her lip. "But I'm not sure if Sector 7 is."

"You guys can go right out, I don't need to stop you. You need to protect all those innocent people."

Zack nodded. "Look, thanks Corneo. Sorry I wasn't the nice little girl you hoped I was."

As the three of them rushed out the door, Don Corneo pushed a button on his intercom. "Send in the next three," he said with a sigh.

Chapter 7

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic