Appointment With Destiny Chapter 10
When Aeris and Sephiroth returned to their apartment in the Shinra building two weeks later, Hojo was standing near the main doors. He claimed he was waiting for the arrival of some new specimens, but Aeris didn't believe him. Sephiroth wouldn't have acknowledged his presence, if Hojo hadn't been the first to speak. He listened to Hojo's explanation in silence, then put his arm around his wife and swept her toward the elevators. Aeris caught Hojo watching them with an eagerness she didn't care for. When Hojo noticed her, he turned away.
"He makes me nervous," she whispered to Sephiroth as the elevator doors closed.
"I warned you he could be a pest," said Sephiroth. "If he bothers you at all, I want to know about it."
Aeris was more than happy to agree but she had every intention of staying out of Hojo's way as much as possible.
Sephiroth was only able to stay with her for two days before he was sent out on military maneuvers. Aeris kissed him goodbye at the door and watched him until the elevators doors blocked him from view. Their time alone in Icicle Village had shown both of them, they were more compatible than either would have believed possible.
Aeris would never get to be a rock star, but she was the star in Sephiroth's life. As far as she was concerned, that was fair compensation. After all, she told herself. It could have been worse. What if Hojo had come through the portal instead?
Armed with a pen and tablet, Aeris decided it was time to turn her thoughts toward redecorating the apartment. She wandered from room to room making note of the changes she wanted to make.
Her staff was leaning against a wall in the master bedroom. Aeris put it in the closet. She spotted her tote bag in the corner. There were still a few items she hadn't unpacked. She picked it up and dumped the contents on the bed. A folded white card fell on top the pile. She picked it up and straightened it out. "Seventh Heaven, Sector 7, Midgar. Come in for a drink and a little peace of mind. Tifa Lockhart, owner."
Filled with curiosity, she'd asked questions about her new home on her honeymoon. Sephiroth took time to explain the structure of Midgar and its various sectors. Sector 7 sounded like a place full of broken down homes with sinister characters lurking about. No wonder it was rumored to be a favorite hangout of AVALANCHE. Aeris tore the card up and threw it away.
"Sorry Tifa," she said out loud. "You look like a nice person, but I won't be going to Sector 7 anytime soon."
She finished unpacking the bag and went back to her redecorating plans. She was standing in the middle of the main bathroom trying to decide on a color scheme when the doorbell rang. Aeris put down the tablet and sighed. Answering the door, she found herself looking a complete stranger.
The woman had a willowy figure, but the dress she wore was better suited for a nightclub than day wear. It long, tight, and cut low with a mid-thigh slit on the left side. Her bleached yellow hair was shoulder length. Part of it was piled on her crown, the rest hung down on one side. She was an older woman straining to look younger by wearing enough make up for two. Aeris felt sorry for her. This woman had a beauty all her own, complete with a pair of striking blue eyes. How much prettier she'd be without her artificial props!
"Who are you?" she asked.
"Allow me to introduce myself," said the woman coming in without being invited. "My name is Scarlet Antoinette I work in the Weapons Development Department."
She stuck out her hand, Aeris took it. Scarlet's grip was firm. She gave Aeris' hand a shake and released it.
"I didn't get a chance to meet you before or during the wedding. I was out of town on business you see." She pushed a curl out of her eyes dramatically. "I just got back today, and I decided to come up and introduce myself to you."
"That was kind of you," said Aeris. "I haven't really met anyone else and with Sephiroth gone, it will be a little harder."
"Nonsense," said Scarlet. "I'll show you around the building and introduce you to the people you're most likely to meet on a daily basis. Are you busy now?"
"I was just going over the apartment," answered Aeris. "I going to redo everything."
"Oh you've got plenty of time for that!" Scarlet took Aeris by the hand. "Come on. I'm going to take you on a tour right now."
"Nonsense!" Scarlet practicably dragged Aeris into the hallway.
"I really wanted to get the planning stage out of the way," said Aeris. She tried to disengage her hand.
Scarlet wouldn't be detoured. She tightened her grip and dragged Aeris so far down the hall, Aeris finally gave up and allowed herself to be led. They went up and down on the elevator. Scarlet pointed out various offices and introduced a lot of people. Aeris wondered how she'd ever remember them all.
By the time they stopped at the Recreation Room on the 64th floor, Aeris was exhausted. Scarlet showed no signs of cutting the tour short soon. She was explaining a piece of gymnasium equipment when the door slid open. Rufus walked in carrying a gym bag. He spotted Aeris immediately. He was just about to walk in her direction when he realized who she was with. He stopped dead in his tracks.
A smile on her face, Scarlet sauntered toward him rolling her hips seductively. She locked her arm under Rufus' left and pressed her body against his side. The expression on Rufus' face gave Aeris the impression he was on the verge of shoving Scarlet away.
"Rufus." Scarlet purred, running a hand down his chest. "How nice to see you here! If I had known you were coming in now, I'd have grabbed my sweats and joined you."
Rufus ignored her. He looked at Aeris. "Did I interrupt something?"
Aeris shook her head. "Not really. Scarlet was showing me around. This is just another one of our stops."
"Why don't you leave your bag and come with us?" suggested Scarlet leaning close to breathe on Rufus' ear. "After we show Aeris around, you and I can come back and . . . work out together."
Rufus peeled her out of her grasp with a look of distaste. "I think you're a much better guide than I am Scarlet. You two go on ahead."
"Oh but Aeris is getting tired," said Scarlet. "What if I just take her back to her apartment now and join you here?"
"You can't just brush the newest member of our family off like that," said Rufus. "It's rude. You're her hostess after all."
Scarlet pouted prettily. "Oh Rufus."
"Uh-just give me directions and I can find my own way back," said Aeris. "Scarlet is obviously anxious to uh work out with you. I don't want to be the one who stands in her way."
Rufus gave Aeris a brief frown.
"See!" Scarlet fluttered her eyelashes at him. " Aeris doesn't mind."
"Darn!" Rufus looked at his watch.
"Something wrong?" asked Aeris.
Rufus nodded. "I forgot I had to call a friend back and change our plans for the night."
He ignored the disappointed look on Scarlet's face.
"I guess I'll have to work with you some other time."
He nodded at both women and turned toward the doors. He went through without looking back.
Scarlet watched him go.
"Chicken." She muttered under her breath.
"It's too bad he had to make that call," said Aeris.
"There's no phone call," said Scarlet. "He's just afraid I'm too much woman for him."
Aeris held her face perfectly neutral. "What?"
"I've done everything except waylay him around some corner," complained Scarlet. "The man is frigid!"
Aeris stared at the overly painted face in front of her and thought maybe Rufus just didn't care for older women.
"We could be so good together," Scarlet tapped her foot angrily. "We're made for each other, but I just can't get him to see that. What I going to have to do to get through to him?"
"Maybe he just isn't interested in you," said Aeris.
Scarlet turned on her with a look that would have stopped a charging rhino.
"I mean-" said Aeris turning red, "Maybe you've got some competition. Like . . . who is this friend he's meeting?"
Scarlet looked thoughtful. "Maybe you're right. He could be seeing someone I don't know about."
Aeris decided not to comment this time.
Scarlet stared at the door then turned to Aeris. "You could help me."
"Me?" Aeris looked startled. "What could I do?"
"I saw Sephiroth on his way out," said Scarlet. "There's something different about him. You've certainly got his head turned around."
"I don't know what you mean," said Aeris uncomfortably.
"Rufus is almost as strong willed as Sephiroth," said Scarlet. "Why don't you let me in on a few tips on how to make him take more notice of me?"
I didn't do anything to Sephiroth," said Aeris. "We were thrown together by circumstances beyond our control."
"Maybe so, but there's still something different about him," said Scarlet. "He didn't seem as cold as he usually is. I could hardly believe I was seeing the same man. What's your technique?"
"I don't have a technique," said Aeris, frowning at Scarlet. "And I'm sorry, but I don't really want to talk about my husband to you."
This time it was Scarlet's turn to look surprised, then a shrewd look came over her face. "I get it. It's a Cetra secret. Right?"
Aeris rolled her eyes. "Really Scarlet. I think I'd better get back to my apartment.""
She started to walk away, but Scarlet stopped her with a touch.
"I'm sorry Aeris," she said. "I was getting a little out of line. I forgot the rules. Girls discuss their guys in detail to each other when they're single, but married women only discuss their men in detail to another married woman."
"Where did you hear that?"
"It's just the unspoken rule," smiled Scarlet. "Come on. I have one more person for you to meet."
They went back to the elevator. The Hundred Gunner, absent during their other trips was in the adjourning elevator.
"I wish that thing would go away," said Aeris out loud. "It makes me nervous."
"It won't hurt you," said Scarlet. "It's been programmed to recognize you. It's only patrolling."
"Why do I feel like it's patrolling me?" Aeris shivered. "I don't like it."
Scarlet stopped in the act of pressing a button. She turned to the Hundred Gunner. "X340 desist patrolling this area for one hour, zero minutes and resume patrol next sector!"
The huge machine rolled out of the elevator obediently and went on its way.
Aeris shuddered. "That machine makes me think, it's dying to shoot someone."
"Nonsense," said Scarlet. "It's only following its program."
"If it didn't get on the elevator almost every time I do, I wouldn't think that," said Aeris.
"Well it's gone now," said Scarlet pressing a button. She smiled as they began to rise. "After this, I'll show you back to your apartment so that you can rest."
The elevator stopped on the sixty-eight floor.
"Where are we?" asked Aeris.
"Come on," said Scarlet, leading the way.
They entered a large room with a huge tank in the middle. Inside the tank two strange looking creatures were circling each other. The room itself was filled with a vast assortment of scientific equipment.
"Is this a lab?" asked Aeris.
"Yes it is." Hojo came out of an office wiping his hands on a towel. "It's mine."
Aeris looked at Scarlet.
Scarlet shrugged and smiled. "He asked me to bring you."
Aeris looked at Hojo uncertainly. "Why?"
"I wanted to make up for upsetting you at the reception," he said.
"That's over and forgotten," said Aeris. "You didn't have to go through so much trouble to get me here."
"I'm sorry for the deception," said Hojo, "But I was afraid you wouldn't come if I asked you to. I wanted to apologize in person."
"I'm glad I was able to put your mind at ease," said Aeris. "If you don't mind, I would really like to get back my apartment now. Scarlet took me on a tour of the building and it was exhausting."
"Not so fast," said Hojo. "I'd like to talk to you."
"By the way Hojo," interrupted Scarlet, "Do you still have that suitcase you borrowed from me?"
"It's in my office," he said.
Scarlet turned to Aeris. "I'll be right back."
She went into the office.
"How are you feeling today?" asked Hojo.
"I feel perfectly fine," answered Aeris. "Why do you ask?"
"I'm just concerned that being a newcomer to this Planet, you might be experiencing problems with our local germs." Hojo raised an eyebrow. "No snuffy nose, headaches or watery eyes?"
Aeris shook her head.
"That's good," said Hojo. "It seems you're adapting well. I was thinking it might be a good ideal if we make you'll stay well."
"I feel fine."
Hojo's lips were smiling, but his eyes weren't. If I stare into them too long, I'll lose myself, thought Aeris. His eyes are almost hypnotic but not in a flattering way. Why does he scare me so? I don't want to be here. Where is Scarlet?
Hojo walked over to a cabinet and pulled out a hypodermic needle.
"If you will allow me to take a sample of your blood, I can examine it an check for any problems that aren't showing up now, but could cause a problem later."
Aeris looked at the needle, then at Hojo. "No thank you."
"Is something wrong?" he asked. "It's only a small sample I'm asking for. If it checks out okay, fine. If not, I can do whatever is necessary to help you."
"Thank you for your concern," said Aeris, "But I'm okay. Really I am. If I ever feel ill, I'll check with a doctor."
"My dear," said Hojo smoothly. "I AM a doctor."
Aeris looked around. "Do you do experiments here?"
Hojo beamed. "Quite a few actually."
"On what?" Aeris looked at the creatures in the tank.
Hojo followed her gaze. He frowned slightly then smiled. "As a man of science, I'm always interested in the world around me. I may study various things."
"But you're not a medical doctor, right?"
"Oh I'm not restricted to any one field." Hojo ran his hand through his thin black hair. "I tend to expand my horizons whenever possible."
"No insult intended," said Aeris "But I don't feel right about being tested or examined in a lab. I'm fine, and as long as nothing changes, I don't think I need any tests."
Hojo put the hypo back in the cabinet and turned around. "Just thought I'd ask. If you change your mind, I'm available."
"I won't think I will, but thank you again for looking out for me," replied. Aeris.
The door opened and Rufus walked in. He looked surprised, then smiled.
"You're all over the place aren't you?" he said.
"You get around a lot yourself," she answered. "I was just about to ask Hojo for directions back to my apartment from here."
"Tell you what," said Rufus brushing a lock of hair out of his face. "I can come back and talk to Hojo later. What if I walk you back?"
Aeris smiled. "I'll tell Scarlet I'm going back with you, so she won't stay here looking for me.
Rufus'eyes widened. "Is Scarlet here?"
Aeris nodded. "She's in Hojo's office."
Rufus turned to Hojo. "Tell Scarlet I'll take Aeris back."
Taking Aeris by the arm, he steered her toward the door.
Hojo smiled until the door closed behind them, then he scowled. He took a pen from his pocket and hurled it across the room.
Scarlet opened the door in time to see the pen bounce off he wall.
"What's that for?"
"I didn't get my blood sample," growled Hojo. "I'll have to think of some other way to study her."
Scarlet looked around perplexed. "Where is she?"
"Rufus is walking her back to her apartment," muttered Hojo.
"Rufus was here?" Scarlet's expression turned ugly. "Why didn't you call me?"
"He only stayed a minute," said Hojo. "As soon as he found out you were here, he cut out and took the Cetra with him."
"Damn!" said Scarlet.
"Why don't you give up?" said Hojo. "He's not interested."
"What do you know?" snarled Scarlet.
"I know Rufus avoids you every chance he gets. If you're looking for a man who could appreciate you, I'm available."
He reached out to stroke her shoulder. She jerked away from his touch.
"YOU?" Scarlet stared at him as if he'd gone mad. "Why in the hell would I want to get mixed up with YOU?"
Hojo's face went red with anger. "Why do you say it like that? You don't mind coming to me when you need something!"
"Business is business," said Scarlet. "And whatever pleasure I might be seeking won't come from you, if such a thing is possible!"
"Perhaps you're right," answered Hojo with a nasty smile. "I like my women a little less worn."
Scarlet swung her hand to slap him. Hojo caught her wrist before it reached his face.
"You don't want to do that Scarlet," he said in a dangerous voice. "You'd make an enemy of me, and believe me, I'm the last person you want for an enemy."
They stared at each other, then Scarlet snatched her hand away.
"There will be no more business done between us," she hissed.
"That's not a good idea," said Hojo with an arrogant smile. The President might hear that recording I made of you and Chena Grift talking about what a lousy lover he is."
Scarlet turned pale. "How could you know that? We were alone when we said those things!"
Hojo gave her a smug smile. "I have my ways."
"You bastard!" She glared at him helplessly.
"I believe you also made fun of personal parts of his exterior." Hojo's eyes bored into hers. "How do you think the President would feel about that? What would he do?"
"You evil bastard!" Scarlet clenched her fists in rage.
"Just help me find a way to get a sample of the Cetra's blood and I'll give you the tape." Hojo folded his arms. "That sounds fair enough to me."
"I want EVERY recording you have," said Scarlet. "I don't want you holding this over my head forever."
"Don't worry." Hojo leered at her. "I only made one, but it will still go to the President if anything happens to me."
"That's too bad," said Scarlet walking toward the door. "If you had an accident in a place like this, I don't think anyone would shed a tear. It might even get a few cheers out of some people. Myself included.
Hojo kept his smile until the door slid shut behind her. Bitch. He scowled. Getting a blood sample from the Cetra wasn't the hardest part of his plans. He wondered if she was pregnant now. If so, he wanted to monitor her pregnancy from start to finish. How was he going to accomplish that?
* * * * *
"Thank you for walking me back," said Aeris. "I don't know my way around yet."
"You'll learn in no time." Rufus pushed a lock of hair out of his face. "You'll see."
"Scarlet took me all over the place," said Aeris. "There are no buildings like this where I came from."
"Really?" Rufus looked a little disappointed.
"Don't get me wrong," said Aeris quickly, "There are tall buildings, all right, but not as big as this one. This building is practically a city in itself!"
Rufus looked proud. "It is a city in a city."
"I can believe that!"
"Sephiroth is one of the generals in our army," said Rufus. "I guess the cities in your world have their own armies too."
"No they don't," answered Aeris. "They have police. Those are lawmen who make sure the rules of society are followed. The army rarely involves itself in city problems. Armies protect countries."
Rufus nodded. "Do these policemen carry weapons?"
"Do they carry military style weapons?"
Aeris nodded again, but she was feeling uncomfortable about the way the conversation was turning.
"What kind of weapons do the army of your world have?" asked Rufus.
"They're probably no worse than yours," said Aeris evasively. The elevator slid to a stop. "This is my floor."
She was hoping Rufus would wave goodbye and let her go on her way, but he followed her into the hall.
"Do they have robots too?"
"Armies don't tell anyone what kind of weapons they have," she answered. "We all know about their regular guns and bombs but they don't talk about their "good" stuff."
"What kind of "good stuff?"" asked Rufus. "They must be very powerful indeed if they're kept secret."
"This is my door," said Aeris. "Thank you for walking me home."
Rufus stopped her before she could activate the personalized lock.
"You didn't answer my question," he said. "How much damage can their "good stuff" cause?"
"Like you said yourself, they're secret," replied Aeris.
"But you must have heard rumors," insisted Rufus. "Something that might give you an idea?"
"I don't keep track of things like that. I was just a singer." She reached for the keypad, but Rufus stopped her again. Aeris frowned at him.
"I'm just curious," he said, noticing her expression. "You came from a world with space travel. I can't help but wonder what other kinds of progress they've made."
"Then ask me about music, agriculture or people," she said. "Why are you going on about the army?"
Rufus took a step back. "Just curious."
Aeris sighed. "That was another world, another life. This is my home now."
"And you're adjusting beautifully," remarked Rufus, "But if you could go home, would you?"
Aeris looked at her ring and shook her head. "My husband lives here."
Rufus just looked at her.
"I have get back to work," she said when it was clear he wasn't going to speak again. "Thanks again for walking me home."
She closed the door. Rufus stood there a moment longer and walked away with a thoughtful look on his face.
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