Appointment With Destiny Chapter 20

By T'Shael

Aeris went home with wings on her feet. She didn't notice anyone following her or the cameras that swung around to watch her progress across the lobby. Once home, she went into the nursery and looked at it with new eyes. She touched her stomach and smiled. She was going to have a baby. She could hardly wait to tell Sephiroth.

* * * * *

Scarlet walked into the lab. Hojo was sitting at a table, writing in a tablet. He looked up and saw her. He closed the book and turned it over so she couldn't see what it was.

"What brings you to my humble abode?" he asked.

"I hear you finally got what you wanted," she answered. "The Cetra is pregnant."

Hojo frowned. "How did you know?"

Scarlet gave him a sly smile.

"You charmed it out of Tseng didn't you?"

"I didn't have to charm anything out of anybody Hojo." Scarlet ran her fingers through her hair. "It just so happens I'm a very good friend of the lab technician who works in the doctors office."

"I'll just bet you are." Hojo looked at her over the rim of his glasses.

Scarlet ignored him.

"He called me as soon as he saw the results of Aeris' tests. You aren't the only one with spies out there."

"Well don't let on what you know," he growled. "The Cetra isn't supposed to know we're keeping tabs on her."

"Do you think I'm stupid?" asked Scarlet.

"You're chasing Rufus aren't you?" Hojo suddenly grinned. "If you had any sense, you wouldn't have to chase anyone."

"Ughh! Spare me! I didn't come here to mince words with you. I came here to see if you're happy now."

Hojo reached out and stroked her face. "I could be."

Scarlet slapped his hand away.

Hojo rubbed his hand absently. "I got what you failed to get. A sample of her blood and more. Things are finally looking up."

"When do you make your move?"

Hojo let his eyes roll over her. "I just did."

"On Aeris! You idiot!"

"We have to wait till she gives birth," said Hojo. "After that, both she and Sephiroth will be putty in our hands."

"Sephiroth will kill you, before he lets you do his wife and child the way you did yours." Scarlet put her hands on her hips. "He'll go berserk the minute you force her into your lab."

"Not if the life of his baby is at stake," said Hojo. "He won't risk that."

"On no?" Scarlet snorted. "What about Aeris? What about her powers? You think she'll fold that easy?"

"Of course she will," said Hojo disdainfully. "She'll do anything to save her baby. You wouldn't understand not being a mother yourself."

"I don't need children to make my life complete!" snapped Scarlet.

"Neither do I." Hojo smiled at her. "You see? We do have something in common."

Scarlet rolled her eyes. "Forget it Hojo, I'm not biting."

"I wish you would."

"Stop it!" She was angry now. "I'm not interested in you and I've told you that before. Keep your mind on the work at hand. You're going to take the child the moment it's born, right? Aren't you even going to let her see it?"

"No." Hojo folded his hands. "Not if she doesn't cooperate with us. Even then, she'll only see it on video."

Scarlet shook her head. "Diabolical."

"We want her to open the portal and direct us to a government power that might be interested in trading technical data with us," said Hojo. "We won't give them our best stuff of course. Just enough to make them think they're getting a good deal. We'll use the technology they give us to crush these terrorist groups once and for all. When this Planet is fully under our thumbs, we'll have her open the portal again and began the takeover of her world!"

"What about Sephiroth?"

"Sephiroth has powers that will help convince them, along with our military advancements, that they shouldn't fight us. We'll find out their weakness are and exploit them. By the time we're ready to go back to Aeris' world, they won't have anything to stop us. We'll destroy a few of them to show them we mean business. The wiser leaders will agree to our rule. We 'll annihilate the rest and take over their territories. Rufus will run the new Planet in the name of his father. According to the Cetra, there is space travel there. We'll combine our technologies and advance into the stars to seek new Planets to conquer."

"What about the promised land of the Cetra?" Scarlet raised an eyebrow. "That used to be your prime concern."

Hojo made a face. "There's no proof it exists, however there is proof of the world that Aeris' came from. Sephiroth told us she drove up in a vehicle vastly different from our trucks. He saw flying machines. Apparently that other world has a fleet of aircraft to convey people wherever they wish to go. Sephiroth says their aircraft is much better than ours."

"I'd have both hands full in weapons research," mused Scarlet. "The things I could do!"

"You'd have more work than you ever dreamed of Scarlet, but then you thrive on weapons of mass destruction don't you my dear?"

She made a face at him.

Hojo reached out to touch her again. Scarlet slapped at him, but he caught her by the wrist.

"I told you not to do that."

"Let go of me!" Scarlet tried to pull free.

Hojo released her.

She rubbed her wrist glaring at him. "Don't ever touch me again!"

"You may change your mind about that in time." His eyes roamed slowly over her body. He leered at her. "I'm going to be a powerful man someday Scarlet. You like powerful men don't you?"

"Dream on." Scarlet turned and walked out of the lab.

Hojo's eyes devoured her. When the door closed behind her, he picked up his tablet and went into his private office.

Hidden behind a shelf, Biggs Waylin shivered.

* * * * *

Filled with a sense of new urgency, Aeris was horrified to see how bare the nursery looked. How could she think of putting her baby in such a cheerless room? Less than ten minutes later, she was on her way to the Shinra Shopping Center. The aisles she avoided before, now drew her like a magnet. She bought baby clothes and furniture, books on baby care and child development. She even stopped by the maternity shop to pick up a few outfits for herself. Aeris felt so good inside, she went back to her apartment humming a happy tune, never knowing the President, Rufus and Tseng had watched her entire shopping trip on the building's monitors.

Everything was perfect when Sephiroth came home at the end of the week. Aeris had prepared his favorite dishes and donned a very alluring outfit. Sephiroth couldn't take his eyes off her. This wasn't the same girl who was so reluctant to marry him a few weeks ago.

Aeris showed him all the changes she'd made in the apartment since his last trip home. Sephiroth was surprised to see how much work she'd put into the nursery. He complimented her on her choice of colors. He almost mentioned his fathers remarks, but caught himself in time. As much as he wanted to be a father, he didn't want to put a damper on her cheerful mood by making her think he'd been secretly pressuring her for a child. Sephiroth sat down to dinner. He couldn't remember a time when the presence of the fairer sex made him feel so happy. Not even something that had happened when he was a child.

* * * * *

As a junior cadet, Sephiroth fell hard for a girl named Mindy. They met one day when she came to watch her father, Hi-Trooper Tomoli, take part in a military parade. Waiting for the rest of his group to arrive, Sephiroth's heart melted in her soft blue eyes. They talked until he had to take his place in line.

Over the next few days, they sent messages back and forth. They kept their friendship a secret. Heidegger didn't want his son distracted from learning how to be a SOLDIER and Sephiroth was afraid his father would transfer Mindy's father somewhere far away, if he found out there was something on his son's mind besides the military.

It wasn't unheard of for parents to betroth their children to each other between the ages of eight and sixteen. Sephiroth's eighth birthday was only a few days away. He decided wait until then to ask his father to speak to Tomoli on his behalf. Sephiroth was certain his feelings for Mindy would stand the test of time.

On the night before his birthday, all of the cadets were ordered out on a 40 mile hike and training maneuvers. They left before the sun rose. By the time they returned, it was well after midnight. Most of the young boys were barely able to make it to their beds. Faces strained with exhaustion, they fell asleep the instant their heads touched their pillows. Not Sephiroth. Long hikes and strenuous exercise never fazed him. Without asking for permission, he left the barracks and went to his father's apartment. He opened the door with his key. It didn't surprise Sephiroth to find his father was still awake, but it was a surprise to find his father on the phone asking the barracks officer to send Sephiroth to him.

If anything, Heidegger's son could always be counted on to follow orders. He had never breached military protocol before. The General raised an eyebrow when the object of his search entered the room. He told the told the barracks officer where Sephiroth was and hung up. On another day, he would have punished his son, but like Sephiroth, Heidegger had something on his mind.

"Today is your eighth birthday," he began. You and I have much to talk about, my son."

Sephiroth suppressed a smile. Was this one of those talks about the birds and bees? At this hour? He'd heard enough about that, no matter how crude, from the older Troopers. Was his father going to sugar coat the lecherous remarks that once filled him with curiosity?

Heidegger made him sit down and listen to a story. Amused by Jerin's antics at first, Sephiroth's humor changed to shock as he realized his betrothal to Mindy was out of the question. He argued and pleaded but Heidegger shook his head and reminded Sephiroth he had no choice in the matter. Furious, he stormed out of his father's apartment intending to go back to the barracks. Heidegger called him back and ordered him to spend the night. Sephiroth did as he was told. Going to the room that was his during visits, he slammed the door so hard, he knocked his father's favorite picture off the wall.

Heidegger came in a few minutes later. Sephiroth was expecting the lecture of his life, but his father merely presented him with the chest and left the room. Sephiroth went through it more out of curiosity than anything else. He glanced at the writing his father said he'd lost the power to read. Sephiroth didn't have any problem reading it, but he was so angry, he didn't care what the many sheets of paper said. With a sound of disgust, he threw everything back inside the chest and stuffed it under his bed. He lay down that night hating his father and the faceless girl who had changed his life without consulting him.

Heidegger let him sleep until he woke up on his own. Sephiroth sat up filled with the sensation of having lost something important, but he couldn't remember what it was. The Mako induced glow of his eyes blazed with a new intensity. During the night, he had undergone an amazing transformation. He'd lost all interest in Mindy.

A few days later he met her on the street. Mindy smiled and greeted him warmly. Sephiroth gave her a cool look and turned away. Mindy went after him and tried to start a conversation. Except for a look of annoyance, he simply ignored her. Mindy left him alone thinking he might have had a hard day at the training center.

Sephiroth didn't answer the notes she left in their secret hiding places. Mindy saw him again a month later. The eyes that turned toward hers in response to his name, weren't just disinterested, they were cold as ice. Sephiroth tolerated her presence for all of thirty seconds, then excused himself, saying he had more important things to do than stand around wasting his time with words. Mindy was speechless.

The third time she saw him, Sephiroth cut her off before she said more than hello. He told her to leave him alone. Mindy ran home keeping in her sobs until she'd eased past her father's study. Her pillow bore the brunt of her sorrow and tears. She couldn't understand Sephiroth could have undergone such a drastic change in personality. She learned the truth two days later while she was out chocobo riding with her father.

Sephiroth was standing in front of the training center engaged in a conversation with Heidegger.

"I guess Sephiroth is under Jerin's spell now," said Tomoli, as they passed.

"What spell?"

"The men in Sephiroth's family fall under Jerin's spell when they're eight years old," he replied. "Sephiroth is destined to marry a beautiful girl in the future."

Memories of fairy tales danced through Mindy's head. So that was it! Sephiroth was under a spell! Would it break if she kissed him? Would she have to go on a journey alone to please the one who cast the spell? Mindy was willing to do anything to have Sephiroth back in her life again. She was only eight years old, but Mindy was sure she and Sephiroth would marry when they were older. She turned to her father for more information.

"What does she have to do?" she asked.

"What does who have to do?" Tomoli was already thinking of something else.

"The girl Sephiroth is going to marry," said Mindy. "What does she have to do to break the spell over him?"

"Oh. Well- " Tomoli adjusted his hold on the bridle. "It isn't what the girl has to do actually. It's more or less what Sephiroth has to do."

"What's that?"

"Sephiroth will meet her in a special place where he has to defeat her in a contest of spells. If she loses three battles, she's his."

Mindy felt a surge of jealousy. "So girl if this girl wants to marry Sephiroth, all she has to do is meet him for a battle of spells, then pretend to lose three times?"

Tomli laughed out loud.

"I don't see what's so funny!"

Tomoli wiped his eyes. "I'm sorry Mindy. You're right I shouldn't laugh. I've never told you the story of Jerin and Lasinda have I?"

Mindy shook her head.

"Then I guess I'd better tell you." Tomoli cleared his throat. "It happened a long time ago . . . "

When he finished the story, Mindy seemed lost in thought. Knowing his daughters passion for fairy tales, Tomoli smiled to himself and let his mind wander back to the days when Mindy's mother Sara used to go riding with him. They'd pack a picnic lunch and ride far away from town. Sara never worried about monsters when she was with her husband. He was a skilled swordsman and his grasp of spells was good enough to deal with some of the toughest creatures in the region.

Tomoli glanced at his daughter. She was the spitting image of Sara. He looked away and sighed. He'd lost his Sara shortly after Mindy was born. A sickness was going around at that time. Most people believed it had to do with the reactor exploding in Gongaga, but Shinra denied it. Whatever the reason, Sara took ill and died. Since her death, Tomoli had raised the girl alone, aided by a secession of baby sitters.

"So this girl is younger than Sephiroth right?"

Mindy's question roused Tomoli from his memories.

"I imagine she is," he said absently, "But Sephiroth has a built in clock or something. He'll know when it's time to go to the meeting place. The portal will open and he will go through. The girl will be waiting on the other side. He wants her here, she wants to stay there.

Her mother will have given her a chest of spells used in the past. Using the power of the Cetra and referencing spells used before, she will cast three spells to strengthen the spell Lasinda cast to protect her line. If Sephiroth breaks through all of them, her protection is gone. He will bring her back to this world and marry her."

"What if she doesn't want to come?" asked Mindy.

Her father chuckled. "He'll probably throw her over his shoulder and bring her. She has no choice."

"What if Sephiroth doesn't want to go to the meeting place?"

"He'll go," answered Tomoli. "He can't resist the urge to find his bride."

"Well then . . . " Mindy hesitated. "What if another girl on this side of the portal breaks the spell? If that happens, Sephiroth won't go to the meeting place, the portal won't open, and the Cetra will marry someone else. They'd be free, right?"

Tomoli shook his head. "You still don't understand my dear. There's no power on this side of the portal that can break the spell over Sephiroth. His destiny was set in motion many years ago. He can never be pledged to another. Sephiroth's heart and mind is focused solely on the Cetra now. He'll never want another girl, unless he returns to this world in defeat, after the battle of spells.

Mindy felt a lump in her throat. "Nineteen men have fought the Cetra and nineteen men have failed. Do you think Sephiroth will do any better?"

Tomli scratched his chin. "Most folks think Sephiroth will lose the fight, but I've been watching him, Mindy and I have my doubts about that."

Mindy looked straight ahead. "You think he's going to win, don't you?"

"Yes, I think he will."

Mindy kept her expression neutral. "Why?"

"I've never seen someone as young as Sephiroth with so much control over materia," mused Tomoli. "He's far more advanced in military skills than I'd expect someone his age to be. As a matter of fact, I'm beginning to think Sephiroth is a lot stronger than anyone realizes yet. Mark my words, Mindy. I think Sephiroth is going to be a general someday. The youngest general in the history of the Shinra army. I'm willing to bet a years salary on it."

Mindy looked away, blinking rapidly to keep from crying.

"Why are you so interested in Sephiroth all of a sudden?" asked Tomoli with a trace of suspicion in his voice. "You aren't sweet on him or anything are you?"

Recovering quickly, Mindy laughed out loud. "Really Father! He doesn't even talk to me!"

"Good." Tomoli looked relieved. "It would be a waste of time if you were. Don't take this the wrong way daughter, but as pretty as you are, Sephiroth wouldn't give you the time of day."

Mindy wondered how her heart could go on beating when it was scattered into a million pieces. but She kept a smile on her face. "I'm too young to think about getting married anyway!"

"Maybe so, but I should look to your future." Tomoli stopped his chocobo and looked at her critically. "No father likes to lose his little girl, but sooner or later, I'm going to have to find a young man to betroth you to. I'd better start looking at the cadets with more of a critical eye."

Mindy's blood turned to ice. No matter what her father said, if there was just the slightest chance Sephiroth would lose the battle of spells, he'd be lost to her forever if she was engaged to someone else.

"Why can't I chose my own husband when I'm older?"

"A pre-arranged marriage worked for me and your mother," replied Tomoli, "I'm sure it will work for you too. Don't worry. When I find the right boy, you're going to be the happiest bride on the planet. Trust me."

Mindy nodded. Deep down inside she was dying. She didn't ask any more questions. Tomoli hardly noticed. He was too busy pointing out sights along the way. As much as she wanted to go home, Mindy acknowledged her father's observations with the appropriate responses. Pretending she was enjoying the ride was the one of hardest thing she'd ever had to do in her life.

Back at the Junon base, Mindy and Tomoli stepped out of the elevator to find Sephiroth waiting to get on. Mindy's heart quickened. Surely her father was wrong. Sephiroth would be friendlier this time. She held her breath waiting. Sephiroth looked right through her. He saluted her father, then stepped on the elevator as soon as they stepped out. Mindy glanced back as they walked away. Sephiroth's eyes met hers for a moment then dismissed her as he turned his attention to the keypad. As the door slid shut, he turned his back on her. Mindy pressed her fist against her mouth to suppress a cry of anguish. Unaware of what had just happened, Tomoli went on talking about where he was taking his daughter for dinner that night.

Mindy walked beside him numb with grief. When she'd looked into Sephiroth's eyes, her last shred of hope had died. Her father was right. Sephiroth was going to win the battle. Mindy knew that as well as she knew she couldn't bear to grow up in Junon just to watch him marry someone else. All she wanted to do now was get as far away from him as she could.

Later that night, she asked her father for permission to visit an aunt who was an archeologist in Bone Village. She convinced him a book she'd read in school had contributed to her sudden interest in the field. Her real plan was to convince him later on to let her stay there on a permanent basis.

Tomoli would have refused her request if he'd known the truth. Thinking he was improving her education, Tomoli took his daughter to Bone Village and placed her in his sisters care. It was the last time he ever saw her alive. Filled with sadness, and reminiscing about the days when she and Sephiroth were friends, Mindy unintentionally wandered too far from the digs one day and came face to face with a hungry Brachioladus. All the search party found was a badly mauled shoe.

Blaming himself for her death, Tomoli was consumed with a need for revenge. He went to Bone Village with as many weapons as he could carry. Ignoring the pleas of his sister, he set out on his own, determined to find the Brachioladus that had killed his daughter. He dispatched five of the monsters before he was attacked by a female Brachioladus protecting her young. The search party couldn't find enough of him left for a proper burial, so his remains were cremated on the spot.

Many people in Junon grieved the loss of Tomoli and his daughter but Sephiroth brushed it aside. He had no memories of his friendship with Mindy and he was too busy practicing spells to care. Jerin's spell was too strong to be hampered by the bonds of friendship.

It didn't take Sephiroth long to memorize every spell used by those before him. Using them as reference, he began making up his own. Six months before he met her, Sephiroth started dreaming of a beautiful brown haired girl with sparkling green eyes. The more he dreamed of her the more he wanted her. His patience and temper grew shorter by the day.

As Tomoli had predicted Sephiroth's skills in battle and his ability to lead accelerated his position in the ranks. He was now the youngest general Shinra had ever had. Deep in the fever of Jerin's spell, Sephiroth put his men through a training program that left them drenched in sweat and panting for breath.

He snapped at his father, the President, the Turks, he tore into anyone unfortunate enough to get in his way. At first, the President overlooked it because he knew about the curse too, but finally he had Sephiroth taken out of field duty, if only to cut down on number of men who reported to the medical center in ever increasing numbers.

By the eve of his passage through the portal, Sephiroth was ready to drag the Cetra through the portal whether they fought each other or not. The more he thought about it, the more he was determined to do it until he caught his first glimpse of Aeris walking up the hill. She was coming to him, just as he was told she would. For the first time in weeks, his raging emotions toned down to a point where he could control them. When he discovered Aeris didn't know about her power or her magic, part of him sympathized with her plight, but the greater part of him selfishly rejoiced over the fact that she wouldn't be able to stop him from taking her back as his.

Now that he had his bride, Sephiroth felt his life was almost complete. Children would be the icing on his cake. Of Jerin's curse, only two effects remained, red hot jealousy where Aeris was concerned and an extreme case of possessiveness.

* * * * *

He watched her hurrying to clear the table. Aeris felt his eyes on her and blushed.

"I've got a present for you," she said.

Sephiroth's expression changed to curiosity.

Aeris placed a small box in his hands. He glanced at it and looked at her.

Her eyes were shinning. "Open it."

Sephiroth put the box on the table and fumbled with the bow. Aeris sat down across from him.

He untied the bow and pulled the softly colored paper free. Aeris was trying to keep her face straight but her smile kept breaking through.

Sephiroth looked at the small white box and lid. He glanced at Aeris. She just smiled at him. He took off the lid and reached inside. He pulled out a pair of baby booties.

Sephiroth frowned. "What am I going to do with these?"

"Put them on your baby of course."

"What do I do with them in the meantime?"

"Save them until you can put them on the baby," she answered.

"Right." Sephiroth dropped the booties back into the box. "I don't understand why you're giving me something I don't have any use for yet."

"Well not right now . . . but maybe in seven months . . . " Aeris let her voice trail off.

"Why seven?"

Aeris counted to ten. "I don't think it has feet yet. Even if it does, they're way too small for those."

Sephiroth looked perplexed. "What doesn't have feet?"

"Your baby," she said with a touch of irritation. "Our baby."

Sephiroth gave her a strange look. "What?"


Aeris reached across the table and snatched the booties away from him.

"How did you ever get to be a general?" she snapped. "How can you be so good at tactics and military protocol, but so dense when your wife is trying to tell you she's pregnant! I don't know why I bothered in the first place! You're totally hopeless!"

She turned her back on him and stormed toward the door.

Sephiroth sprang out of his chair and dashed around to block her exit. "What?"

"Stop saying that!" Aeris tried to push him aside.

"Did you say baby?" A tremor went through his hands. "You're pregnant?"

Aeris rolled her eyes and tried to push him out of the way again. "What do you think?"

Sephiroth held his ground and his wife. "You're pregnant?"

"Sephiroth," Aeris pushed his hands away. "If you don't stop repeating yourself, I'm going to scream."

She made another attempt push her way around him, but he wrapped his arms around her.

"Aeris?" His voice shook. "Are you going to have a baby?"

Aeris covered her face and shook her head.

Sephiroth's touch was gentle as he pulled her hands away from her eyes. His eyes were a mixture of hope and a desperate need to believe what he was hearing.

"Please . . . Aeris."

She relented. "I'm having our baby Sephiroth. You're going to be a father in about seven months."

Sephiroth threw back his head and let out a cry to the heavens. Aeris was too startled to react. Sephiroth picked her up and whirled her around and around.

"Sephiroth stop!" she cried. "You're making me dizzy!"

"Sorry." He sat her down and cupped her face in his hands. "You've just made me the happiest man on this Planet."

He kissed her in a way that made her heart skip a beat.

Over her protests, Sephiroth carried her into the livingroom before he sat her down and let go. He ran to the entertainment unit and selected a disc with soft music. He put his arms around her again.

"Dance with me," he said, leading her to stand before the glass wall. "This is as close as we're going to get to dancing on air."

Aeris laughed.

They danced in front of the window for a while, gazing into each others eyes. Sephiroth kissed her again. Aeris kissed him back. A short time later music played to an empty room.

* * * * *

"Congratulations Sephiroth." Heidegger clapped him on the shoulder. "Give Aeris my best. I'm happy for both of you."

"Thank you father." Sephiroth's face reflected his joy. "I finally feel as if my life is everything it should be."

"You'll make a wonderful father." Heidegger grinned. "I'll try very hard to not to spoil him or her, but I can't make any promises at this point."

"Play it by ear," said Sephiroth. "I only wish new babies came with manuals."

His father looked amused. "Why?"

"I want to raise my child as well as you raised me," he said. "I hope I'm up to it."

"You'll do fine." Heidegger smiled. "You both will."

The phone rang. Heidegger answered it. He listened for a while, then broke into a smile.

"That will work out fine," he said. "See that his orders are processed immediately."

He hung up.

"That call was about you."

Sephiroth raised an eyebrow and waited.

"You're being transferred to Nibelheim," said Heidegger.

"Nibelheim?" Sephiroth looked surprised. "Why? I took care of the dragons that were harassing the troops."

"Dragons seem to like that area," answered his father. "The reactor is malfunctioning and we want to send in a crew to make repairs. They can't get close enough or stay long enough to get the work done. I'm sending you there to make sure they're protected."

"How long will I be gone this time?"

"As long as it takes to make the repairs."

Sephiroth was silent.

Heidegger touched his shoulder. "You're not going alone this time."

"What do you mean?"

"We're sending Aeris with you."

Sephiroth's eyebrows vanished under his bangs. "What?"

Heidegger grinned. "We're moving both of you into the mansion out there."

"Not that I object, but why?"

"You're still newlyweds," said Heidegger, "You belong together. I've been feeling a little guilty about keeping you two separated so much. I have to remember you have other responsibilities too."

"I've never complained about my duties." Sephiroth sat on the edge of his fathers desk. "My job is to follow orders."

"I know, but we've sent married couples to new stations before." Heidegger clasped his hands behind his back. "It's your turn now. Beside, this transfer couldn't have at a better time. Having a large yard to sit in and the quiet life a village offers will do wonders for Aeris. She's adapted to our world beautifully, but somehow I get the impression she's used to a quieter life. Village life would be a lot less stressful during her pregnancy."

"You may be right." Sephiroth smiled ruefully. "She's never liked the security robots. Especially the Hundred Gunner."

"See?" Heidegger raised his hands. "My timing is perfect."

"When do you want us to leave?"

"In a week." Heidegger consulted a calendar. "I'll send a mover to your place tonight. Tell him what you want to take with you."

"The mansion is furnished," replied Sephiroth. "We'll take the baby's things with us and whatever Aeris thinks we need beside clothes."

"Good deal," said Heidegger. "The only room in the mansion you won't be able to use is the library. Hojo has some of his junk in there and he'll throw a fit if anyone touches it."

"We don't need the library," said Sephiroth. "Aeris can get whatever books she needs at one of the shops. All Hojo would have down there would be what he thinks are notes of scientific wonders. My wife isn't interested in anything that crackpot has to say."

"I don't blame her." Heidegger looked at the clock. "Time to get to work. If you need anything, let me know."

"I will father." Sephiroth saluted and went on his way.

Heidegger stared after him.

I pulled it off, he thought. He didn't know I already knew about Aeris. I hope the others do their parts as well.

* * * * *

Aeris took the news of moving to the mansion very well. She jumped up and down, clapped her hands and shrieked until Sephiroth got her to calm down. The thought of getting away from Scarlet and the hustle of the busy tower was more than she'd dared hope for. It was fairly easy to pack the few belongings she wanted to move. After all the mansion was just a temporary home. She decided against moving the baby's things right away since she wouldn't need them for a while.

On the day of the move, while Sephiroth was taking care of a few things in his office, Aeris heard a knock the door. She opened it. There was no one there. Aeris looked down. A note lay on the floor. She picked it up and brought it inside to read.

It had been written by someone in a hurry. She read the messy scrawl.

"It's very urgent that you meet me on the recreation floor in ten minutes. PLEASE don't leave the building without seeing me and don't tell anyone where you are going. Especially Scarlet!"

Aeris stared at it. Meet who? And why?

"I'm not going," she decided out loud.

She tossed the note in the wastebasket in the kitchen and walked away. She came back five minutes later and looked at it again. Pulling it out of the trash, she re-read it. Maybe she should call Sephiroth.

" . . . PLEASE don't leave the building without seeing me and don't tell anyone where you are going. Especially Scarlet!"

It was bad enough she hadn't told Sephiroth about her adventures in Sector 7. How could she add not telling him about this to the list? Aeris tapped the note in her hand. Who would leave something like this at her door?

" . . . don't tell anyone where you are going. Especially Scarlet!"

That part of the note was certainly intriguing. Anyone who didn't want Scarlet around couldn't be all that bad. Besides, what could happen? She was in a building full of security cameras and gun toting robots who looked like they wanted to shoot something. All she had to do was yell for help or make a commotion. Aeris made up her mind. With three minutes to spare, she set out for the 64th floor.


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