Fandom: FF7 (AU)
Word count: 7,000ish
Summary/Prompt: Instead of waiting to breed new Ancients, Hojo decides to simply create a new one from Aerith and a terrorist who remembers more than she should.
A/N: This is for illumynare, who won my help_japan auction. :D She made an incredibly generous bid, and as someone actually living in Japan, I am extremely grateful. Also, I'd ask that if you enjoyed this fic, to please consider donating to $5 or so to a charity. It doesn't really matter which one, but it'd be a way for the spirit of help_japan--and all of the help_* auctions--to keep going.
For the sake of brevity, I'm cutting out the extensive author's notes I actually wrote for this--if you are interested, I'll be posting them separately, as an Ultimania. :D I also broke the story into four sections - the prologue and three chapters - instead of the original planned two sections (...then three sections...) for the sake of brevity and to ensure these came out with more frequency. ^^;;
And remember, this is an AU, so the characters and a lot of situations are different - I write 'butterfly effect' AUs, and this is one of them. Everything will become clear in the next part, when I do more filling in. Promise. XD
Prologue: If You Could Rewrite the Past
[One set of memories]
-村上春樹、1Q84 Book 1
Three years ago
"Please...please, just make it stop. I'll tell you everything, give you all the names I know, just make it stop!" the young woman said, sobbing.
Reno smiled. It was a large, broad smile, one that was more dangerous than the sobbing young terrorist--all bravado, no training--had any idea it was. Or rather, Rude thought, more dangerous than she had sneeringly assumed it wasn't when she was brought in.
She was a small fish, they knew that, but even she had to know someone who could be of use--or, at least, know someone who would know someone who would be of use.
"Smart girl," Rude said softly. "The names. Now. And maybe you'll get to go home one day."
An' maybe Odin'll come down and lay a big, wet kiss on my ass, he could hear in his head, in Reno's voice.
The girl--just barely old enough to have had her Coming-of-Age, and that was what made this work--looked at him for a split second before she dropped her eyes in shame, and started speaking through teary, exhausted gasps.
The funny thing about torture, Rude thought, was that normally, it didn't actually work. The real hardcore people, the zealots, they never snapped, no matter what you did. In fact, it tended to have the opposite effect, fed into their hate and feeling of being martyrs to the cause. Those type, they wouldn't say a damn thing, no matter what you did, and so they were the ones you just disappeared, drugged into stupors and threw into institutions, and once they started to fade from memory, made sure they met with an ignoble accident, so any followers had nothing to rally around.
Then there were the ones you ran into the most. They weren't the true believers, even if they thought they were. They may have believed in whatever cause it was, or liked the paycheck, but oh, they did indeed start to talk once you got serious and things started to hurt.
It's just that what they said often didn't amount to jack squat in terms of being true.
Some people--the vast majority--will, when they are in pain and you are causing it, will say whatever it is they think you want to hear to make it stop. They'd tell you their saintly grandmums were big criminal masterminds plotting the downfall of the Planet if that's what they thought you wanted. The vast majority of the time with torture, what you got wasn't enough to be worth anything--not unless it wasn't the truth you were after you. It worked just fine for when you needed someone to scapegoat or needed an excuse, which meant anything dragged out of torture was just fine, because it fit the narrative you were weaving. Especially if that narrative wasn't exactly true. So those were the types you used when what you needed wasn't necessarily something that had to be true.
Then you shot them in the head. Because they were of no more use, and if gods forfend you turned them loose, they would take that shame at vomiting out whatever lies it took to make you stop hurting them, and turn it into hate, and end up either rabidly in the first group or making rabid followers who'd go in the first group.
But then, there were people like this girl, the rarest of the lot. Young, stupid, and naive. Young enough to still think they were invincible, stupid enough to think they'd get out just fine somehow, and naive enough to not know to lie...and to believe that you weren't.
"There are...there are five people in my circle," she said, her voice teary. "Me, Angela McQueen, Jareth Renolds, Francis Ishimura, and Tifa Lockheart. Tifa...she works at this bar, Seventh Heaven, and that's where we all meet. I think, I think she's the one who does inter-circle communication because she's got run of the bar and it's a good place for people to go and not get attention drawn, and she's supposed to buy it or something soon so we really have a, a headquarters or something. Everyone was talking about the money for it, or something, I wasn't paying attention. Please," she said, breaking down again, "Please let me go home, I don't know anything else, I--" she began, and her voice cut off when Rude put his hand on her shoulder gently, and she looked up at him with large, pleading eyes before he swiftly and efficiently snapped the girl's neck.
Reno pulled out his PHS and began making calls as soon as it was done--they had to move fast before anyone in AVALANCHE found out one of their newest members (and they'd only found her because she had been young, and stupid, and had too big of a mouth) had been captured by the Turks.
In death, she looked even younger than her few years, and he took the briefest moment to close the girl's eyes before he made his own set of calls.
When he was finished, he checked his bracer, then fired off a spell.
And with only a few phone calls and a Fire materia, Mary Lin, sixteen-year-old budding ecoterrorist and the rare type who told the truth to make it stop, ceased to both exist and to have ever existed at all.
"And tonight, raids were done on a known terrorist cell here in Midgar. The group is suspected to have been responsible for a series of bombings at ShinRa reactors across the planet, and four individuals have been taken into custody--"
The video screen went off with a click, and the Turk put the remote control down, then turned to Tifa with a sigh as she crossed her arms. "And that's all that the public needs to see. All they want to see. We don't even have to say what happens to any of you afterwards, because no one cares. All they'll remember is 'the bad guys were arrested'. It makes things really easy for us. But maybe not so much for you," she ended with a faint smile.
Tifa just glared at her, breathing hard, and her tongue snaked out to catch some of the blood at the side of her mouth.
The Turk--a young woman probably only a hair older than Tifa herself, sighed and leaned against the table. The room was bare, other than that table, a chair, the chair Tifa was tied down to, and a single light. Tifa didn't want to think about the things on the table.
By now, she knew what most of them were used for anyway.
"You can make this a lot easier on all of us, you know. This will all stop if you just give us the information we need."
Tifa said nothing, just narrowed her eyes.
"You don't want to be here, I don't want to be here. You can end all of this right now. Why won't you just give us the information we need, so we can let you go?
"I don't get you terrorists. ShinRa has done so much for people all over the planet. So many people have much better, easier lives because of us."
"Except the people you've killed," Tifa said angrily.
The Turk smiled broadly. "Killed? ShinRa hasn't killed anyone. What funny ideas you have. What are you talking about? Who's been filling your head with that kind of nonsense?" she said, and the sickly sweetness of it made Tifa want to spit.
"'Filling my head'? No one has filled my head with anything; I've seen what you bastards have done with my own eyes!" Tifa snapped, and something in that made the Turk narrow her eyes.
"You're not just some little tree-hugger like the rest of them, are you?" she said sharply, and Tifa clamped her mouth shut and tilted her jaw up defiantly.
That made the Turk narrow her eyes dangerously. Then she reached into her jacket and pulled a small gun out from the holster. Tifa felt herself going cold when the gun came out.
The Turk ignored her, and quickly and efficiently removed the bullets from the gun, something Tifa had definitely not been expecting. The Turk slipped the bullets into her left pocket, then reached into her right pocket, and pulled out new bullets. Tifa stared in confusion as the Turk, with the same smooth efficiency, loaded her gun with the other bullets.
Once the gun was loaded, the Turk leveled the gun at Tifa and fired so quickly it was almost as if she hadn't even had to take the time to aim.
Mind-numbing pain ripped through Tifa's shoulder as the bullet passed through, strong enough that she bit through her lip again, but then came the crazy thing--it was almost as if she was healing as quickly as the bullet was tearing through her. A moment later, the pain was only a throbbing memory of pain, and the wound had closed itself up.
"Isn't that a neat little bit of work?" the young Turk said with a smile, resting her hand with the gun against her shoulder. She looked at Tifa's shoulder, healed but still throbbing, with a kind of pride. "It's because of the casing on the bullets. It's got a special coating the lab rats cooked up just for us Turks," she said, her smile growing wider. "That coating's got Potion in it. I don't know how it works, even though I did help them out with the testing when they were cooking it up, but basically it means the bullet heals you up even as it's going through you. So very little bleeding, but still plenty of pain. " The Turk's smile changed; became something dangerous as she walked over. "It means we can keep this up for a nice, long time, and not have to worry about anything nasty, like you bleeding out all over the floor," she said, and poked Tifa's shoulder with the barrel of the gun as she spoke.
"And it also means," she said conversationally as she shifted her grip on her gun so she was holding it by the barrel, "that it puts just a bit of Potion in your system to heal you up quickly. And that makes it easier to do other things," she said, and then struck Tifa across the face with the butt of the gun.
Tifa would have gritted her teeth at the pain, but the dim suspicion that would make it worse kept her from it. And the Turk had been right; she could feel the worst of the jaw that had just broken knitting itself back together, just enough to make it a half-healed break instead of a fresh one.
The next shot she got, this one tidily between her ribs so it only ripped through her lung, was enough to heal her jaw up enough so she could talk. "Way to go, ShinRa technology," Tifa said, glaring at the Turk.
The Turk tutted, shaking her head slightly. "Hey, did you ever want kids?" she asked conversationally. "Too bad," she said, and shot Tifa low in the left side of her abdomen. The pain was blinding, and Tifa wondered if the bullet had gone completely through her. It felt like it had, and she felt a strange jolt of anger that, thanks to Shinra, she knew what it was like to have something from a weapon go completely through her--first a sword, now a bullet. "Well, you still might be able to have them one day. Only down fifty percent now," she said. "Want to make it zero?" she asked, and shifted her gun just the slightest bit to the right.
Tifa felt another flare of rage, and all but spat out her next words. "It's not like you're going to let me out of here alive anyway."
The Turk laughed. "Oh, if only you were so lucky," she said, and fired again, this time aiming higher. "Tell me just what it is that you've seen," she said, narrowing her eyes. "And then give me names. As many names as you can, and maybe you'll walk out of here alive one day."
The pain was bad, the bullet to her gut, but not nearly as bad as what she had felt when the SOLDIERs destroyed her home, or the few moments of lucidity on the trip to Midgar. Compared to that, she told herself, this was nothing.
She had been living on borrowed time anyway. She should have died that day, in Nibelheim. And as much as she'd wanted revenge, wanted to tear ShinRa down with her bare hands...Zangan had been right, and she had made the worst mistake she'd ever made when she'd left in a rage.
More blood dribbled down the side of her mouth, from when she had bitten into her lip at the pain, and she licked at it without thinking about it, the coppery sharpness of the taste hitting her fresh.
ShinRa had taken her home, her family, everything she had known, and now they wanted to take her future from her as well. But there was one thing they couldn't take from her--that they could never take from her.
Without a second thought but with the taste of blood in her mouth, Tifa raised her jaw and said the words that damned her.
"I'm from Nibelheim," she spat out angrily. "And I remember what Sephiroth, what the SOLDIERs, what ShinRa actually did there, for all you bastards tried to cover it up. I know what all of you all are. So I will never help you or give you anyone. Never. So just kill me now like you killed my everyone in my home, because I'll die before I help you."
"I was afraid you'd say something like that," the Turk said with a sigh. She shook her head. "You martyr types are always the worst," she grumbled, and then hit Tifa with Sleep.
The entire network was monitored.
Oh, not personally--Hojo had no time for such ridiculous things, he had important work to do. And because he was a busy man, he had long ago set up the network to alert him to certain things.
One thing he had it set to do was to flag him if information from two locations of interest were entered into the network--he'd inserted some code (quite subtle code--not that the idiots who were in charge of keeping the networks secure would have ever even noticed it had it been a clumsy hack instead of the lovely bit of code he had worked on in his spare time) to flag information and to alert him.
Nibelheim and Gongaga.
Two of his current samples had been raised in those areas. The one from Gongaga was oddly enough the most promising, though Hojo was unsure why. It had risen all the way to SOLDIER 1st even though it hadn't been exposed to JENOVA cells or DNA prior to being placed into the SOLDIER program. Hojo had several theories as to why, but without a larger sample size, it was impossible to test them. So he had Gongaga flagged in the system, and waited for when a chance for new samples would come his way.
Nibelheim, of course, was more obvious. He'd had several samples from Nibelheim at this point, and while all of them had been dismal failures to some extent--especially the pathetic specimen he'd acquired with the one from Gongaga (a pity, that one--he'd had high hopes for it, since it had managed to defeat S)--but all had given excellent data in other ways, thanks to long-term mako exposure granting them all rather interesting reactions to mako. The failed clone had not been the only one reduced to a blank by mako, and others had become far more malleable than normal on a genetic level, making them prime for studying new techniques for genetic manipulation. The problem of course, was they were all simply wiped clean by the mako.
Aside from it rendering them useless, drooling husks, however, they all showed incredible reactions to everything else. Most of them, sadly, had had to be put down when his attempts to find ways to un-drooling husk them created instead slathering monsters, but still. There was something promising about samples from Nibelheim, and Hojo wanted a 'clean' sample from there to use for his newest idea for a way to recreate an Ancient while reducing the effects of the mako sensitivity (he was saving the one sample he had left from Nibelheim in hopes of being able to revive it once he unlocked the reasons for the sensitivity beyond the obvious mental weakness). He had a wonderful new theory, but no way to test it.
...until now. The system had sent him a notification, and as he read through the files that had been copied over--it was a lovely bit of code--he felt a smile growing on his face.
A young female from Nibelheim, of an age within only two years of the last surviving Ancient ShinRa knew of, claiming to remember what ShinRa had done--meaning as a potential sample, it wouldn't be one of the useless samples from 'Nibelheim' that had cluttered up the place after ShinRa replaced the town--and had a scar with dimensions that exactly matched that of S's sword. So not only was it sure a pure 'Nibelheimerin,' as the women there were called, but one that had survived an actual meeting with Sephiroth and had been strong enough to escape both Sephiroth and the ShinRa 'cleaning crew,' and was strong-willed enough to act as a terrorist against ShinRa because of all of it.
The smile on his face widened, and he began to laugh.
"Reno," Tseng said, and the way he said it - that creepily quiet way Tseng had of sounding completely calm in way that also sounded like he might be about thirty second from ripping out your spleen and wearing it for a hat or something - made Reno actually take his feet off his desk and sit up straight.
"Yeah?" Reno said.
Tseng paused. "Where is Rude?" he asked, frowning slightly.
"Takin' a piss," Reno said with a shrug. "Had, like, three cups of coffee this mornin'."
A slight look of disapproval at Reno's bluntness crossed Tseng's face, but Reno didn't pay it any mind - the boss got that look on his face a lot, and it wasn't like he'd never seen anyone pissing. They were fuckin' Turks; Reno'd bet his whole next paycheck Tseng had made more than one guy piss his pants.
"When he gets back, the two of you meet me in my office. We have an assignment," Tseng said.
Reno raised his eyebrows. It was one thing for Tseng to send him and Rude out - they usually only got hauled out for the bigger assignments - but for Tseng to be going with them...
Reno sat up straight at his desk, leaning forward slightly. "So what it is?" he said. "Gotta be big, for it to be all of us."
Tseng's face didn't change - much. But there was a faint creasing at his brow, right where that little dot was, and that right there was not a good sign.
"Nothing major. Just a little pick up," Tseng said. "My office, ten minutes," he said and walked out, and Reno sighed.
Oh, yeah. This was something big.
Tifa looked up with she heard the sound of the door opening. She had no idea how much time had passed. It had all quickly turned into a series of meals and interrogations and then silence. She'd been put in some kind of solitary confinement and left there.
She supposed a week had passed since she'd spoken to any one, but it was only a guess, and based on the number of times the lights had been turned off for what she assumed was 'night,' but those had seemed all too short, and if she tried to sleep any other times, it was as if some sadist would blast the loudest noises they could.
She wondered if this was another way they were using to try and get her to break and tell them what they wanted.
Tifa let out a sharp hiss and went into fighting stance without thought when she saw who it was, adrenaline shooting through her and scraping through the bone weariness she felt.
The Turk laughed. "Not a smart idea, Lockheart. And don't worry. I'm not here to talk to you, " she said, and her voice was too cheerful on the 'talk.' "No, you're getting a little transfer," she said, and Tifa didn't like her smile. "And you're finally going to do some good for society.
"Say good-night," the Turk said with a sharkish grin, and the Sleep that hit Tifa was fully mastered, and she was blessedly out before she hit the floor.
They found her where Tseng knew they would, her church.
And as always, she led them on a chase, through the church and up.
But Tseng knew her - knew her better than she had any idea he did, and he was waiting for her at the top.
I'm sorry Zack, he thought, when she all but ran into him as she ran from Reno and Rude.
When Tifa woke, she was definitely in a very different place than the cell she had been in.
It was still a cell, but it at least had a door that let her see out through bars, unlike the thick, metal door with only a slot they had occasionally slipped food in through. It was also much larger, big enough for two people.
She felt disoriented still, from the Sleep, and she rubbed her face.
The Sleep had helped, as loathe as she was to admit it, but it wasn't enough. She thought about getting up off of the hard bed, but...but the cell would still be there when she woke up, she thought, smiling faintly with a bitter edge.
"I will get out of this," she whispered, and closed her eyes. "I am stronger than this, and I will get out of this," she said again, because she wouldn't let Zangan have been right.
"Oy, wakey-wakey, Sleeping Princess!" a voice yelled mockingly, enough to wake Tifa - especially when the door opened.
By now, she knew the door opening to her cell was never good, and it woke her quickly, and she was on her feet quickly.
She wasn't quite expecting for a young women about her age to be shoved into the open door. "You girls play nice," the red-haired Turk said with a grin, and shut the door. Two other Turks where there, but they said nothing. Tifa glared at them, far more wary of people in black suits than of a girl in a pastel dress.
They didn't react, just looked at them both for a bit, then the one who looked like he could have been from her area of the world, or from Wutai, gave a slight gesture and they all walked away.
When they were gone, Tifa turned her attention to the girl. "So who are you?" Tifa asked, slightly warily. "Which circle?"
"Aerith Gainsborough, and circle? What, like my mother's knitting circle?" the woman said with a laugh, and Tifa knew then that whoever this 'Aerith' was, she wasn't in Avalanche - which answered one question while raising others. "I would say 'pleased to meet you,' but given the circumstances, I can't really say I'm that pleased," she said with a faint, self-deprecating smile and a shrug. She waited a beat before she prompted, "And you are...?"
Tifa blinked, slightly surprised. "Oh. Yes. Tifa. Tifa Lockheart," she said quickly, which a perfunctory bow more out of habit than politeness; a habit she hadn't been able to shake the whole time she lived in Midgar, no matter how much it had made the Midgarites snicker at how country she was.
Tifa hadn't really cared--she didn't want to be a Midgarite in the first place.
"Oh Yes Tifa Tifa Lockheart. I'll be sure to remember that."
"Why are you here?" Tifa asked bluntly, and the woman, Aerith, went a little wide-eyed at her tone. Tifa didn't care. She didn't care about a lot of things, and how she came across to someone who very well might be another Turk trying to get information out of her was one of them.
"I expect because they want to study me," Aerith said softly, suddenly serious. "And you?"
"Why would they want to study you?" Tifa said in confusion--of all the things she had figured the girl would say, that wasn't one of them. "Isn't this another jail cell?"
"Oh, dear," Aerith said, biting her lip. "You really don't know where we are now, do you?"
Tifa's eyes narrowed. "Start making sense. Now."
Aerith looked slightly taken aback, but then she spoke, and her voice was oddly gentle. "We're in the ShinRa building in Midgar. In the upper section. The science section."
"The science section?" Tifa said, boggling. "But...what? Why?" she said, completely confused. That didn't make any sense at all. Why would they have moved her into the science section? And why under the Heavens would a science section have cells?
"Because they're going to experiment on us," Aerith said flatly, and Tifa stared at her dumbfounded for a moment before she shook her head.
"That...that is...ridiculous," she said. "This...this is some other kind of trick. Like them not letting me sleep. You're another Turk, aren't you?" she snapped, and ran to the doors. She grabbed the bars and shook the door so hard it rattled, but it stayed. "You...you bastards can just give up now! I won't give you any names!"
She yelled until she realized how much of a waste of time it had been, and she turned back to 'Aerith.'
"I'm not a Turk," Aerith said softly, and Tifa let out a disgusted noise and flopped back on her bed.
"You don't believe me?" she said suddenly.
"After everything they did to me before putting me in here," Tifa said stiffly, "no. I don't trust you at all."
Aerith frowned. "Everything they--?" she began, and Tifa shut her up by sitting up and lifting her shirt.
Aerith let out a sharp gasp, and Tifa let the shirt drop. Oh, she'd healed up cleanly, with the Cures they'd been so nice as to use on her...but wounds still scarred, no matter how fast you did a Cure on them, if they were major enough. Her entire abdomen was covered now in fine, circular bullet wounds so new they were still shiny.
The girl let out a sudden, surprised gasp. "Your hand, what's...oh," she ended with another gasp, staring at her own hand. Tifa looked to see what she was staring at, and saw there was a a neat black tattoo of even letters on the back of Aerith's hand, Cured but still raised slightly red.
She looked down at her own, and her eyes went wide.
They stared wide-eyed at their hands, before they looked wide-eyed at each other.
Aerith swallowed before she spoke, her face bloodless. "I think we're in trouble," Aerith said, and her voice wavered.
Tifa nodded. "I think you're right," she said, and there was a quaver in her voice as well.
The problem with the subjects from the town of N is that long-term exposure to mako has, contrary to expectations, made them more susceptible to the more negative symptoms, such as loss of awareness of self. However, this susceptibility to mako has also meant they respond extremely well to other properties of it as well.
My current theory is that the apparent mako-induced loss of self may not be simple weakness (although a weaker mind will, of course, have more pronounced effects) but may be a way of countering the way that mako can induce mental instability. The area around N has tales of 'Ohnegesichterin,' or "the faceless maidens," which all involve girls getting lost in Mt. Nibel and becoming a kind of hungry demon, which makes me think that this is a stand-in for those who have lost all sense of self from the naturally-occurring mako fountains there. Since the demons in the story are always looking for a new face so they can become human again, and similar stories (the のっぺら尼, 'nopperani') are found in an area of Wutai thought to have a similar mako pool, I wondered if this might mean that the 'faceless' one is trying to find someone to imprint on (ignoring, of course, how the person whose face they steal dies in the Nibelheim versions; since this is a tale to frighten children from the woods, there is no reason, if my theory holds, that the so-called Ohnegesichterin would need a death to occur for imprinting to take hold).
To test this, I will try to induce 'imprinting' by the new sample from N on the Ancient sample that has recently been acquired. With luck, this will result not in a sample that has lost all sense of self, but one that will replace their 'self' with that of an Ancient. To achieve this, once genetic splicing has begun, both samples will be placed in the same mako tank (for controlled amounts of time; given the now-verified susceptibility of subject from N to mako poisoning when suspended long-term in the tanks and the resulting failures, attempts will be made to minimize the severity and speed on onset). Subject XVIII will be exposed to compound 164 in order to induce susceptibility by way of natural compounds that induce Confuse while at the same time sedating so the sample will not damage itself or the Ancient sample. While in a heightened state of susceptibility, proximity to another may either speed the imprinting process, or retard the loss of self, either of which will be wholly satisfactory results, one of which may be a way to 'salvage' the other failed N sample.
Hojo's notes on subject XVIII, p. 2
Aerith had tried to talk to her, but Tifa just stared at her hand and the 'XVIII' tattooed on it, and Aerith had finally given up, almost gratefully. She didn't think she could really manage anything right then, even though part of her desperately craved distraction.
Something also told her - that same quiet, still voice she could often hear when she really listened - that trying to draw anything out of Tifa right then wouldn't work. Aerith wanted nothing more, right then, to go over and wrap her arms around this strange girl who seemed so angry and so fragile and so close to breaking after going through only the gods themselves knew, but she didn't; she wrapped her arms around herself instead and tried not to let herself think too deeply about what this all meant.
She had only the vaguest of memories of the ShinRa labs, almost as few as of the mother and father who had died trying to escape. She suspected it was a good thing, that she remembered so little of the place and more of her mother's words to her. But she remembered how fervent her mother had been to escape, and she remembered a tiny fragment of hushed conversation between her parents, of "professor" and "start on Aerith," and panicked whispered of things a tiny child had no way of understanding or being able to remembered because of it. But those fragments were enough; she knew her parents had risked their lives - had given their lives - to get Aerith out before whatever the scientists had been doing to her mother could be done to her.
She wouldn't lie, not even to herself - she was terrified. Terrified of what it meant, terrified of what they might do to her.
It wasn't just for Tifa's sake that Aerith wanted to hug her; wanted to hold tight to someone and not be alone with the weight of it.
She wondered how long before it started, and in an almost perverse kind of cosmic timing, she heard footsteps coming down the hall.
They both, she and Tifa, looked up at the door when two men in the white lab coats and two helmeted troopers stopped in front of them.
The older one in glasses smiled, and Aerith felt something in her twist at it, and she had in impression of things twisted and rotten at the sight of him. She couldn't explain it; but she felt the still and small voice, though silent, recoil at him.
"Excellent," he said, nodding, and then turned to the other man. "XVIII is to be given 164 after the sedative course I spoke of before. Then insertions for both, for one hour to begin with," he said. "Be careful of XVIII, because I have been warned it is quite feisty," he said, and the 'it' put Aerith on edge. "I will not see my precious samples damaged unless absolutely necessary, especially since it could add unforeseen variables," he said sternly, and Aerith knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had no care at all for their well-being.
"Yes, professor," the other man said, and Aerith went stiff.
"See to it, then. I will double check the tank solutions. Deliver the samples in ten minutes," he said, and the other scientist nodded once, and the professor walked on ahead.
The scientist who remained looked at them both curiously, and his gaze lingered for a bit too long on Tifa, who was ignoring him.
He cleared his throat. "Now, I don't want any trouble," he said, then swallowed at whatever look it was Tifa gave him.
Good, Aerith thought to herself. She's still got fight left in her. We're going to need it.
"OK, then," he said, then raised his arm and fired off a Materia.
Tifa barely had time to react before the magic hit her, and then it was almost instantly obvious what he'd hit her with, by the way her eyes went unfocused and she started looking around in a panic.
"A Confuse?!" Aerith yelled, barely believing her eyes. "How is that a sedative?!" she said, feeling panicked, and hoping she be able to stay out of the way if Tifa felt she was under attack and started to attack her.
"Um," the scientist said, then gestured at the troopers. "You two. Secure them," he said, gesturing now at Tifa and Aerith, then opening the cell door. "Carefully."
Tifa certainly did have fight left in her, but it was unfocused now, and one of the troopers, after she knocked the other one into one of the beds so hard it shattered, wrestled her down when she leapt at Aerith in her blindness from the Confuse, and strapped her down to the remaining bed, which was when Aerith noticed for the first time that the beds had restraining straps.
The scientist rushed in once Tifa was restrained, and only the other trooper, who had gotten up and now had his rifle out, stopped Aerith from rushing over and trying to stop him once he got over to Tifa and pulled out a needle.
"You, keep her steady," he said to the trooper who had wrestled Tifa down, who nodded once, and he held Tifa steady as the scientist slid the needle into her arm.
It was almost terrifying how quickly Tifa went still, and now Aerith rushed over, the trooper with his rifle on her be damned.
Tifa's eyes were still unfocused, and her breathing was quick, a sure sign of a Confuse, but she was no longer in a panic. Aerith didn't know what this was.
"Bring them down to the insertion room," the scientist said, wiping his brow with his lab coat sleeve, and the trooper with the rifle harnessed it on his back, and grabbed Aerith's arm roughly.
"This way, miss," he said, and his voice was far kinder than the grip on her arm.
Aerith's lip trembled, but she refused to cry. Refused.
She looked back as he escorted her out, and them undoing the straps and hauling Tifa up.
Mama, she thought, a Blizzard in her stomach, I think I understand now.
"Ich will nicht!" Tifa yells angrily in Narslandische. "Ich will nicht vergessen! Ich werde nicht vergessen!"
The open-handed slap Zangan gives her across her mouth is the first and only time he has ever struck her. Yes, she has been hit by him many times when she is training, but this is different; this is something devastating in a way that none of the bruises she's ever gotten from being taught to fight have ever been, and the taste of blood in her mouth now is unlike all of the other times she has tasted it.
"You speak using words that have vanished from this world," he says sharply. "Never speak them again, unless you wish to vanish as well."
Zangan walks away from her angrily, and that day is the last that she ever speaks in dialect again.
The smell of mako was still sharp in her nose when the troopers brought them back to their cell. The world was a little sharper, a little brighter, and she couldn't help but remember Zack's bright eyes, the most amazing she'd ever seen..and what they were proof of.
He'd been missing for so long now. She didn't want to think he was gone, but...
There are no 'buts,' she told herself firmly. If he were dead...I would know.
She pushed her doubts away, and looked over at Tifa, and felt another Blizzard being cast in her belly.
Tifa...Tifa wasn't all right.
She still had that strange Confused-but-not look to her, and was just standing where she had been left by the trooper, staring out at nothing.
"Tifa," Aerith said, and her voice wavered at first. She firmed it quickly, because she suspected now would be a terrible time to give Tifa even the tiniest inkling of the fear Aerith was beginning to feel. "Tifa?" she asked, going over to the other woman and taking her hand to get her attention.
Tifa blinked once, and Aerith was grateful for that much of a response. "Tifa, are you...?" she begin, and Tifa blinked again, slowly, seeing nothing, and then, more disconcerting to Aerith than anything else, she let out a strange sound, one that is almost a word, then stops, and a single tear welled up in her eyes and splashed out.
Just one. And then nothing.
Aerith gave up, gave into the urge she'd had before and wrapped her arms tight around Tifa.
Tifa didn't respond, not at first, but then some of the terrifying tension seemed to drain out of her.
Aerith dragged Tifa down to the floor with her, and sat, cradling Tifa against her. "Ssh, ssh," Aerith said, stroking Tifa's hair with trembling hands. Tifa rested her head against Aerith's chest, her eyes wide and unseeing, and Aerith knew that somehow, someway, she had to get them out of there.
End Part 1
"They can forget," Ayumi said. "But I can't."
"Of course not," Aomame said.
"It's like the genocides throughout history."
"The ones who do it, they can think up reasons to rationalize it, and they can forget. They can turn away from the things they don't want to see. But the ones it happened to, they can't forget. They can't turn away. That memory is passed down from parent to child. And what we call 'the world,' Aomame, is a battle that will never end between one set of memories and the memories on the other side."
-Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 Book 1
Part 2: That Desolate, Arid Place