Appointment With Destiny Chapter 33
Rufus sat in his limousine waving at the crowd. Some people cheered, hoping fervently, he was a better man than his father. The rest watched glumly, thinking they were worst off than before. Rufus didn't care what anyone thought. He was president of the company now and these people were his to command. He wasn't worried about defiance either. All defiance would get anyone who crossed him was no electricity or death. He owned the only power company on the planet. EVERYONE needed him and they had no choice but to do things HIS way. Rufus chuckled, remembering how his father had squashed every attempt anyone had ever made to build a power plant of their own. There wasn't enough room on this planet for competition.
One of the things Rufus had been dreading for the last five years, was the day his father would step aside and announce to the world his son was taking over the company. Rufus wasn't fool enough to believe his father would ever let him run things on his own. Not as long as he was alive.
Even as he stood on the podium above the masses, his father would have been in the background pulling strings. Rufus didn't love his father. He didn't love anyone. Not since the night his mother died. Back then, his father had believed he was young enough to get over her death, but how could he? And how could he ever forgive the man who had murdered her?
A gentle face with laughing blue eyes appeared in his mind. Rufus' smile faltered. Memories of that night tried to surface but he pushed them deeper than they were before. This was not the time for negative thoughts. Today he was above all men.
Rufus took a deep breath, basking in his power. The first thing he was going to do as the new President, was make sure his subjects knew who they were dealing with. HE was going to rule with fear not money. Fear kept people in line. The question was how to do it. He needed a plan so devious, people would fear to say his name out loud. In the same move, he needed to make AVALANCHE look like the bad guys. By the time he was through making his point, Cloud and his friends would have to hide for the rest of their lives. The people they thought they were protecting now would be the ones to turn them in.
A woman's frightened face alerted Rufus to the fact that he was wearing a thundercloud instead of a smile. She'd have to get used to it later, for now, this wasn't the time or the place for such an expression. He sat up quickly, replacing his frown with a smile. He kept on smiling and waving as the car went down the street.
* * * * *
"Nibelheim coming up," said Cid. He looked over at Aeris. "Are you sure you can handle this alone?"
"I have to," she answered. "I'm not going to let Hojo run my life."
Cid looked at the determination in her bright green eyes and nodded. There are no more tears for Aeris, he thought. He looked out at the flaming ball and hoped she knew what she was doing.
"Come in low," said Aeris. "I don't want Hojo to know I'm here until he sees me."
"You got it." Cid brought the Highwind down gently. The ramp rolled to the ground.
Aeris went to the door and looked back. Troubled faces stared at her.
"Good luck," she said with more cheer than she felt. "The Planet is counting on you."
Cloud came forward with Red by his side.
"And we're counting on YOU," he said.
Red blinked at her. "Be careful."
Aeris stroked his head and smiled. "I will."
She looked up at Cloud again. "I'm just as determined as Hojo."
Cloud nodded. "We'll come back when it's over."
Aeris smiled. "I know. Goodbye."
She turned and went down the ramp. She didn't look back as she walked toward the village. The ramp rolled back into place and the Highwind took to the skies again.
"Damn I hope she knows what she's doing," said Barret in a low voice.
Cloud looked down at the receding figure. "She does."
"Well it's our turn now," said Tifa bravely. "We have to stop Rufus from taking control of Shinra, right?"
"Right!" answered Yuffie, waving her weapon. "We're gonna take him down!"
Cid rolled his eyes and turned back to his controls.
Everyone tried not to notice the flaming red ball sat lower than before.
* * * * *
There were no guards at the mansion. Aeris walked right up to the front door without being challenged. She paused with her hand on the knob and took a deep breath. Exhaling slowly, she opened it.
The room was empty, but Aeris wasn't fooled. Hojo was here somewhere. She could feel his presence like the sickly sweet smell of cheap perfume.
"I'm coming Sephiroth," she said to herself as she crossed the room. "I'm coming."
She reached out with her mind, but she couldn't feel his presence. Biting her lip, she moved quietly from room to room, not daring to call out. At last she came to a room in the back of the mansion. The beautiful drapes were gone. Sunlight streamed into the room illuminating a glass container. Inside the container lay Sephiroth.
Aeris stepped into the room looking around cautiously. Sephiroth was alone. She approached his prison with the timid gracefulness of a doe.
"Sephiroth." Her voice was barely a whisper as she touched the lid. "I'm here my love, I'm here."
He was so pale and still she thought he was dead at first and her heart lurched. Then she saw his chest move. She stared at it, until she picked up the rhythm of his breathing.
"Oh Sephiroth," she said in a broken voice. "I've got to get you out of there."
"I'd rather you didn't."
Aeris turned around and looked right into Hojo's eyes.
"I've got a hibernation chamber just like his for you in the next room," he said, lounging against the door frame with his hands in his pockets. "You would save me a lot of trouble if you'd just be a good girl and climb inside. You look like you could use a rest. Just go to sleep and I'll take care of everything."
"You horrible, evil man," said Aeris clenching her fists. "How could you do this to your own son?"
Hojo folded his arms. "Considering what a disappointment he turned out to be, I don't see what you expect of me."
"He's your son!" snapped Aeris. "Don't you have any feelings for him?"
Hojo glanced at the container. "No."
His smile returned when he saw the expression on Aeris' face.
"Your feelings for my son are quite touching," he said. "I would never have believed a Cetra could fall in love with one of Jerin's descendants."
"Not everyone is as cold blooded as you."
"Whatever." Hojo straightened up. "Now if you don't mind, I'd like to get you in the other hibernation chamber as soon as possible. If I'm right, there's going to be a new crater on this planet very soon. I want to get you both to an underground facility until the dust settles
"After that meteor hits, this planet WILL be dust," said Aeris. "Going underground won't save you."
"Bah!" snorted Hojo. "What do you know?"
"I know we'll all be dead."
Hojo gave her a pitying look. "Sure. Now why don't you come with me like a good little girl and get in the other container?"
"Don't you understand?" asked Aeris. "I'm the one who brought it here. That thing in the sky is called Meteor. It's here to destroy this Planet!"
"The hell you say." The look he gave her was skeptical. "The Cetra didn't have that kind of power."
"I have it." Aeris took a step toward him. "I called Meteor here to kill us all."
Hojo folded his arms. "I don't believe you."
"And you probably won't until Meteor slams into the ground," she answered. "The shock waves will rip this Planet apart. There won't be any survivors."
"According to Sephiroth, you don't know how to use your powers," he said. "Why then should I believe that YOU of all people have the power to call a meteor?"
"Have you ever heard of black materia?"
Hojo shook his head. "Is this going to take long?"
"It's the most dangerous materia of all," answered Aeris. "Someone with the right knowledge could use black materia for all sorts of evil. The Cetra kept it locked in a temple under tight control."
"Bah!" snorted Hojo. "It wasn't too tight. How did YOU get it?"
"I'm a Cetra," Aeris reminded him. "Even if the Cetra are gone, their spirits remain in the Lifestream. I've learned how to listen to them. They told me how to get into the temple and how to get out."
"Lies." The scientist looked bored.
"Removing the black materia destroyed the temple," replied Aeris. "If you'll check, you'll find out it's no longer there. I used the black materia to summon Meteor and now it's here. Look up in the sky Hojo. Don't you think Meteor is closer than it was before?"
Hojo stared at her, then narrowed his eyes. "If you destroy this world, you'll kill Sephiroth too."
Aeris turned back to her husband and stroked the top of the case with her fingertips. Her answer was barely audible.
She turned back to Hojo.
"But I'd rather he die by Meteor than live through what you intend to do."
"But I'm not going to kill him!" protested Hojo. "He's much too valuable for that! I need you both! You'll be alive and well."
"But you're talking about life in a coma, inside a glass jail You'll be poking and prodding at our bodies, as we sleep. You're going create children you can use for your experiments." Aeris shook her head. "Neither Sephiroth or I want to live like that."
The scientist glanced down at her abdomen. "What about your baby?"
Aeris touched her stomach. "What about it?"
"Won't you be killing your unborn child?"
Her eyes stung. "I don't want to, but you're not leaving me much of a choice."
"What the hell do you want?" asked Hojo.
"I want you to leave us alone to live our lives in peace!" she cried.
"You're just as bad as Sephiroth." Hojo shook his head. "I went through a lot of trouble to raise his abilities. Heidegger gave him the finest training. He was supposed to subdue you and create an heir to help us rule the world, but you're both too weak to handle the job. He wants to be a father and you want to be a wife. Don't you see what Sephiroth and I could accomplish here?"
"You mean what YOU could accomplish!" said Aeris hotly. "You don't really intend to let Sephiroth rule this world with you. YOU want to rule it by yourself!"
Hojo narrowed his eyes.
"Stop the meteor Aeris," he said. "Stop the meteor, and I'll revive Sephiroth."
"I don't believe you," she said. "I'll wake him up myself."
"You don't know how the machinery works," he said. "You could kill him."
Aeris glanced at Sephiroth.
"You're not going to give him up just like that," she said. "You're lying."
Hojo smiled. "Maybe we could make a deal."
Aeris shook her head. "Making a deal with you is the same thing as crawling into that sleep container on my own."
"Then why don't you do that and save me the trouble of putting you in there myself?"
"Forget it Hojo." Aeris stepped away from Sephiroth's chamber. I came here to get my husband and that's what I intend to do."
Hojo stopped smiling. "You're a very foolish girl Aeris. I tried to make this easy on you, but you don't take well to kindness. You're going into that chamber whether you like it or not!."
Aeris stomped her foot in frustration.
"Don't you understand what I've been saying to you Hojo?" She pointed toward the ceiling. "Unless you let me and my husband go free, Meteor will kill everyone on this planet!"
"I heard you." Hojo took a step toward her.
"If that happens, there won't be a world left for you to control!"
"I'll find another." Hojo took another step.
Hojo took another step.
"You're forgetting my dear," he said with a smug expression. "One of my ancestor wasn't from this world either. Do you really think I care what happens it?"
He took another step. Aeris stepped back. Sephiroth's chamber brought her up short.
"But you live here too!" she said. "You have to care!"
"Sephiroth isn't the only one who I injected with Jenova cells." He held out both his arms. "I gave them to myself as well."
"You . . . did . . . what?"
He was closer now.
"I started injecting myself a few weeks after Sephiroth was born. Once I saw the shots weren't harming him, I didn't see any reason to deprive myself of any benefits they could offer."
Things wasn't going the way she expected. The confidence she'd felt since leaving the ancient city drained away. Hojo should have been outraged and angry right now, but he was brushing aside her words with indifference. Was he bluffing? Aeris edged away from Sephiroth's chamber to the right. Hojo turned to follow her movement.
"And there were benefits," he continued. "Wonderful benefits. Of course I had to hide them from the rest of the world."
She sidestepped. Hojo countered her movements with his own.
"I felt stronger, among other things." Hojo flexed his hands. "Being the scientist I am, you know I couldn't stop there. I took the liberty of doing a little experimentation on some of the Jenova cells I injected into my system."
Aeris felt her blood run cold. "What did you do?"
"I just adjusted them a little," he answered.
"Adjusted them how?"
"There are strange creatures running around," said Hojo. "I know you've seen them. Uncontrolled exposure to Mako causes mutations in other life forms. I've been studying the creatures in my lab. I've taken samples from all of them."
Aeris darted toward the door, but he anticipated her move and leaped to block her. She stopped short and backed away.
"Don't leave," he said mockingly. "I haven't got to the good part yet. Where was I? Oh yes. I took samples of the mutants and spliced them with Jenova cells."
Aeris looked at Sephiroth in alarm. "You gave Sephiroth mutant cells too?"
"You aren't listening to me," scolded Hojo. "We're talking about MY injections. I spliced Jenova cells with mutant cells and injected myself with them.."
"Why?" Aeris eyed him in alarm.
"To improve myself," said Hojo. "Why not?"
He beamed at her.
"You're crazier than I thought you were," said Aeris. "You've done things to yourself and now you want to do the same thing to my family, just to pursue your dreams of power!"
"Whatever." Hojo took off his white lab coat and tossed it into a corner. "This conversation is getting a little boring. Come on, I've got work to do. You're going in that chamber NOW."
"Never!" Aeris backed away from him.
Hojo laughed at her. He raised his arms again and held them straight out at his sides. A bulge appeared a few inches below his underarms. The fabric over the bulges gave way and two grey lumps of flesh appeared. As Aeris watched in horror, the grey flesh stretched out into a pair of long thick tentacles.
"What do you think of my improvement so far?" he asked.
"Oh come on now," he chided, "They're not that bad. I'm rather fond of them myself."
He waved them at her. "All the better to hold you with my dear."
Aeris screamed again, as they reached for her. She reacted without thinking, raising her hands in a gesture of defense. Twin beam of energy leaped from her palms toward Hojo. He didn't even have a chance to duck before it slammed into him. Hojo through back the doorway to land on his back in the across the hall.
"You little bitch," he said, pulling himself up slowly. "I ought to hurt you for that, but then, we don't want to hurt the baby do we?"
"Leave us alone!" shouted Aeris. "Go away Hojo! Why don't you just go away!"
"Yeah, right." Using his arms and tentacles, Hojo rose to his feet.
That was too much for Aeris. She ran toward him. Hojo made a grab at her but missed as she fled down the hall. She was almost at the front door when she stopped.
"I can't leave Sephiroth," she said. "And if I run away, I'll just be repeating Lasinda's actions all over again. I can't let Hojo win."
The baby moved. Aeris put her hands on her stomach and closed her eyes. If she lost, Hojo would have all three of them. If she fought him and things got too rough, she could lose her baby. Hojo would still have her and Sephiroth. Her lower lip trembled. She bit it to keep it still. Aeris felt as if the weight of the world was resting on her shoulders. How much more complicated could her life be? Last year she was a single girl living life as it came, now she was a wife and a mother in a world gone mad with monsters, mad scientists, power hungry corporations, hired guns and aliens. The baby moved again.
"Don't worry baby," she whispered, "It's going to be alright. I won't let him hurt you."
Aeris turned. Hojo was standing in the opposite doorway.
'You didn't get very far," he observed. "It's hard to run when you're pregnant isn't it? Lucrecia tried to run from me too, but she wasn't very hard to catch."
"I won't let you hurt my baby!" cried Aeris. "I'll fight you to the death if I have to!"
"I like a woman with a lot of spirit," replied Hojo. "The fun is in breaking her."
Aeris looked at the door knob once more, then turned her back on it.
"I won't let you win," she said.
Hojo flexed his tentacles menacingly.
"I wouldn't try that stunt you just pulled," he said. "I won't work again."
Aeris closed her eyes and concentrated on the voices she heard in her mind.
Hojo laughed. "Don't want to see what's going to happen, huh? I thought you were braver than that."
Aeris opened her eyes. "I am."
She stretched out her arms, palms up. They began to glow.
Hojo tensed for battle. He snarled at her.
Aeris' hair rippled as if she was in a strong breeze. Her eyes stared into space. Her hands glowed brighter.
"Come on!" shouted Hojo. "Let's do it!"
He took a step forward and stopped. Something was happening. His mouth dropped open as a staff appeared in the air, hovering in front of Aeris. It was glowing just as bright as her hands. Aeris reached out and put her hands around the staff. She raised it above her head. The glow increased until Hojo was forced to squint to see her. There was a blinding flash. When Hojo could see again, Aeris stood holding her weapon in both hands.
She smiled at him. "NOW we can began."
Hojo roared and leaped toward her.
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