by Sanche Llewellyn
Good Intentions: a Final Fantasy VII fanfic
by Sanche Llewellyn
DISCLAMER: The quirky characters, monsters and locales of Final Fantasy VII are owned by Squaresoft, Inc. This includes Cloud, Tifa, Aeris, Barret and the rest of Avalanche, as well as Sephiroth, the Turks (who have nothing to do with Turkey the country), the Shinra minions, and many others. If you play FF7 and find the character in the game, then by golly it is owned by Square.
The other characters are mine. You have been warned!
I wish to thank Frank Verderosa (wherever he is), Meriko Robert, Emporer Steele, Daphne Sy, and others who have written fanfictions of their own, and in so doing, inspired me to get off my backside and get to work. (Of course, most writing is done while on one's backside, so go figure . . . )
If I ever get a webpage, I'll put up links and all that. For now, sit back and enjoy the show!
Part I - The Road to Hell
John awoke from his deep slumber to the screech of tearing metal. This was not a sound he appreciated so early in the morning, not that he would have preferred the discordant tunes of bootleg alternative rock his alarm normally gave him after a night of too little sleep. This was one of those nights. The hormonally endowed boys next door had gotten drunk and turned their bass up so high it knocked mortar from the walls (not recommended in these buildings of Midgar). Worse yet, they had tried singing along, bawdy out-of-tune ditties about that dark-haired beauty running around with those Avalanche losers. Tifa, that was her name. She would be more attractive if she didn't blow up reactors. What happened to dyeing your hair pink? Harmless rebellion?
He admitted, he had dreamed about Tifa himself. Give it up, John. She's way too old for you.
And how old are you, John?
More rumbling and shaking jolted him fully awake. Earthquake? Oh God, and he knew this could happen when he first arrived in Midgar a year ago, a bedraggled traveler in wheezing spacecraft, barely able to walk away from one of his better landings. While the locals had scavenged his wreckage for building materials He had looked up at the floating city and thought, whose bright idea was it to build a city on a floating pizza pan? One good shake and--
He leaped from the bed standing shakily amidst the grinding of joists and flaking of plaster. The world was dropping. As screams echoed from surrounding apartments, his eyes searched the room for safety. Ah, the trusty, dented work desk. He jerked the chair away. Sure. That ought to stop tons of falling bricks and girders. And if not, perhaps he could roll with it? He tucked himself into a ball and dove beneath, safe from earthquakes and nuclear war.
He was praying so hard he barely flinched when the whole ceiling collapsed onto his bed.
Nestor Granth looked down with contempt at the fragile, brainless creature before him.
"I'm sorry," the red-haired bimbo said. "I can not give out confidential--"
"I said, I have an appointment." Nestor did not raise his voice, but still the receptionist flinched. "With the good Dr. Hojo. Now, where is he?"
"Uh, uh . . ."
Nestor kept his eyes focused on that cute freckled forehead, wishing he had a more appropriate tool for proving his point, such as a power drill.
The woman grimaced, clutching her temples. Nestor turned it up a notch. Shiela. That was the bimbo's name. There, in front of her mind, past the part about her lunch appointment with friends, past the after work workout at the health club, past the worries about her white Persian cat named Fluffy in the care of a weird albino neighbor kid at home, past the plans to see Loveless with her girlfriends. My, was this mind filled with trash.
"Sixty-fourth floor," Shiela whispered. Nestor gave her mind one last squeeze before releasing her. She slumped forward and threw up, prompting Nestor to jump back in disgust. There was no need for that! He had just dry cleaned his suit.
"Try not to drool on your lunch date." Nestor walked to the elevator banks, whistling. Annoyed at the wait for the lift, even at this time of night, he turned his gaze on a potted begonia nearby. Within seconds the bright pink blossoms had faded, the leaves crinkled and brown.
John kept his forearms glued to his ears while he prayed to anyone foolish enough to listen. He was still unsure of the local deities, and he hadn't been attentive to the ones he had known, not even those he had met in person. Still, never too late for a conversion, even with the world literally collapsing around him.
Understatement of the year. The floor struck his head with the force of Wutai hot mustard, railroad spike up the nose hot mustard. He opened his eyes to darkness and comparative silence. The roaring, tearing, crashing had ceased, to be replaced by moans and cries all around, softly at first, then growing in urgency. Oh well, at least he wouldn't be dying alone.
First, he inventoried his body parts. Nothing broken; nothing missing. His only lingering pain came from his jaw, apparently after kneeing himself in the chin.
However, encased on all sides, metal deck above and wood floor below, he could do little but wiggle his toes. Ahead, bricks and debris. Behind, well, the wall had been there seconds ago . . .
Grunting and cursing, he forced himself to rotate, easing his egg shaped form in a ninety-point turn until he faced the back wall. He eased his hand out, feeling nothing but smooth drywall.
"No!" This was carrying that born-again thing too far. He pounded on the panel, but to little effect. He braced himself and shoved, against what he knew not, until with a pop the plaster broke. He avoided having a brick fall on his head, though he received a snootful of dust, a scraped chin and a volley of sneezes for his effort. Some light shone through the hole, flickering as a loose electrical line sparked somewhere above him. Dzzt, dzzt, dzzt. The moans and cries grew in volume out here.
Like a battered butterfly, he emerged from his cocoon. The adjoining room was only partially collapsed, though from the creaking above John was loath to trust his luck. He stood up and--ouch!-- perhaps too fast, took a dust and ozone filled breath, and counted his blessings.
He was alive. All because he knew what to do in case of nuclear war.
He was unhurt. Near as he could tell.
He was standing in his neighbor's bedroom. This could explain why the floor was covered with women's underclothes.
In the dim light he glanced at the shattered bureau. Next to it, the bed lay buried in tons of debris, including, it appeared, a fallen refrigerator.
John winced and shook his head. He saw no body under that mess, but the light was bad and he had no desire to feel around. He hurried along the wall to the opposite door. It opened to a hallway with a sagging ceiling. John gritted his teeth and eased along the taller wall. Twice, the mass shifted above, with John envisioning himself impaled on a wall stud.
He shook himself. Seeing the path to the living room blocked, he pushed a barely attached door into a bathroom.
"Meow?" A white ball of fur leapt into John's outstretched arms. Claws kneaded his shoulder as the beast began to purr.
"Fluffy?" Right. This was Shiela's place. The young redhead worked nights at the Shinra building. John sighed with relief. This was one work day she would be happy not to miss. He liked Shiela; she was excited by her job, loved to chat about the weird people she met every day, and never asked what a boy his age was doing living alone. This was Midgar, after all. City of widows and orphans, after the Wutai war. If a twelve-year-old boy could make a living singing in nightclubs, more power to him, she said.
"Okay, Fluff-ball, find a way out?"
After checking Shiela's dining room again, they returned to the bathroom. A hole punched in the ceiling revealed a ragged passage sloping upward.
Fluffy jumped up and waited, blue eyes shining.
John pulled himself up clumsily, praying he wouldn't pull the top three stories down on himself. The climb was slow, and it was hard to tell how far he went, but eventually he pulled himself through a hole in someone's kitchen floor. Light streamed through a broken window. Outside, the whirling blades of helicopters sliced through the night. Spotlights wandered across the rubble, highlighting people bloodied and frantic on their perches. John pushed out the glass fragments and scrambled into the open. Fluffy crept out behind.
A dozen others huddled on a level part of the roof. John recognized some--mostly people from the upper floors. They had blank, shell-shocked faces and wild eyes. John nodded toward them.
"Third floor," he said, shuddering. "Others are still down there. I could hear them."
Nobody said anything.
John looked out at the devastation. He was surprised most of the city, the other seven floating pizza slices, were still intact. With an earthquake like that, he figured--
"Avalanche did this," someone muttered.
"You mean, they blew up another reactor? And it got out of hand?" John looked toward the city's rim. The two mako reactors still perched there on nearly invisible supports, belching their oily haze into the sky. Before the rim, tatters of the upper plate still dangled toward the jumble of rubble below.
"My God," John said. "Looks like someone ate a piece of Midgar cream pie. Horrible."
John jumped to his feet, nearly losing his balance. "The people underneath! In the slums!"
"Unbelievable how low Avalanche can sink. I hear Shinra captured one of them."
"Obviously the wrong one," John said.
"I heard it was a flower girl. My cousin works in the Shinra tower. He told me."
"A flower girl. That's rich. Good to know we have such competent protectors. I wouldn't want to walk these streets thinking someone might try to sell my a daisy."
A spotlight blinded the group as a hovering copter whirled smoke and debris into their faces. Fluffy attached herself to John's shirt like a press-on tattoo.
"Attention! This is the Shinra Urban Rescue Squad. Please remain calm and you will be airlifted to safety, courtesy of Shinra."
"I feel better already," John said dryly.
"Are any of you injured?" the loudspeaker said.
Several of the group moaned and waved bandaged arms.
"You will airlifted to Midgar General. Any of you others need transportation out?"
"No, we all thought this would be a swell place for a midnight tea party."
John's wounded companions glared at him.
The helicopter sank almost to eye level. Those able to do so stepped back, trying to hold onto their hair. A Shinra minion, decked out in blue, leaned out with the megaphone.
"Those who need rides step forward. Five hundred gil per person."
"Five hundred?" Surely this was a sick joke.
"This is not a charity operation," Blue Shinra said.
"Charity?" John ran over and shouted in the soldier's face. "We just got our homes demolished! Where do you get off--"
"A medic copter will arrive shortly. A transport copter will follow. Please have your fare ready, in cash." The man withdrew. The chopper began to rise.
"Wait a minute!" John flung himself into the air, snagging a strut. He pulled himself onto the metal skid.
"Meow?" Fluffy perched on John's back, claws dug in. As John watched, the broken ground receded like a departing train.
John grasped the skid even as Fluffy's claws dug in. "Now tell me," he said, "Fluff-ball, why did I just do this?"
His Eyes Uncovered
After a harrowing ride, with John clinging to the helicopter skid while Fluffy dangled from his back by her forepaws, the helicopter finally settled on top of the tallest building in town, the Shinra headquarters. John released his hold and rolled out of sight. He hadn't considered himself afraid of heights until he spent half an hour clinging to a rattling metal bar, half a kilometer above the smoking wreckage of his former neighborhood. Solid ground, even a rooftop seventy floors high, never felt so good. But, no time to rest; blue Shinra uniforms trooped everywhere, reminding John of an ant hill. Dedicate your life to La Machine.
Nothing to do except go inside the building. Trouble was, a dirty kid in pajamas did not blend in with the press of blue uniforms. John's glow in the dark complexion didn't help either. Luckily, the troops stood in awe of the copter's VIP: Heidegger, or (as Shiela put it) "the man whose breath could stop a truck." Meanwhile, the pajama clad crusader slipped behind and through the door--straight into the stack of lard known as President Shinra.
"Excuse me," John said after bouncing off the pear shaped body. "I was looking for a bathroom."
"No, I'm sorry. I must have wandered into the wrong house. Late night and all."
A guard reached for him but Fluffy--who John knew considered herself a patient cat--flew out, spitting and clawing the air. The guard jumped back, drawing his weapon. When John tried to kick it from his hand, pain shot through his foot when his ankle bone connected with what felt like a rock studded watch. Luckily the guard was so surprised he fumbled his gun. As more troops poured in, John threw himself across an executive desk, sending papers swirling, nearly impaling himself on a metal spindle. An open desk door jostled loose, showering him with its gifts of note pads, pens, paperclips and used Wutai take-out boxes. A plastic object clattered beside his head. John snatched it.
A few bullets spattered across the room, shattering a row of pottery on glass shelves.
"Idiots! Not my priceless Wutai vases!"
John leapt out of his crouch, ignoring the pain in his foot as he raced for a stairwell.
"Kya-ha-ha!" said a woman's voice. "You losers are lousy shots. Let me show you."
John was having none of it. He plunged down the stairs, somehow managing to stay on his feet, until he ran into a walking keg of salt pork. Palmer, he recalled. Head of, what? Shinra space exploration? Something like that. He was softer and better padded than the president, though John's momentum still pushed the man down a step. John twisted and rolled, determined not to slingshot back up the stairs. Looking back, he glimpsed a suited blonde woman holding a huge gun, an evil look of fire in her eyes.
"Now see here, son," Palmer started.
"Kya-ha-ha," said the woman. "Stand aside so I can smoke the intruder."
"Easy Scarlet," Palmer said. "He's just a kid."
"I like kids." She raised her gun. "They're quick."
Fluffy ground her hot claws into John's back. John screamed and tore across the lower floor, past the shocked staff.
Nobody moved to stop him. Behind, footsteps sounded on the stairwell.
"Warning!" a loudspeaker said. "Avalanche terrorists detected on the upper floors!"
"That's going too far," John said, regarding the door in front of him. Fluffy jumped down. John silently thanked her, though afraid his back would never be the same.
"Where's my key card?" President Shinra's voice boomed over the intercom.
"Kya-ha-ha," Scarlet's voice said. "I'll bet you swallowed it in terror."
"Key card," John said. "That would be, this?" He regarded the plastic card he had snatched from the president's desk. Sure enough, he swiped the card and the door beeped open.
"He, he lent it to me," John said as several people rose from their chairs.
"Meow?" Fluffy, apparently smarter than John, streaked through he door and waited. Without another look back, he speed-hobbled down a ramp to the sixty-eighth floor.
Nestor was growing weary of Hojo's monologue, his patter about Ancients leading them back to the Promised Land, interspersed with giggles, followed by rambling about his son, his dear son. Nestor was not here to look at family photo albums.
"Back to the Ancient," Nestor said. "You have one here?"
"Oh yes, oh yes. A beautiful specimen. Hee-hee, bit of a trouble maker, however. Never would cooperate. Always shooting off her mouth and trying to escape. Her name was Ifalna."
"She escaped. Let's see. Hee-hee, fifteen years ago. That's it. Fifteen years ago."
Nestor tightened his jaw. "Do you think, you might have told me that bit before I came all this way?"
Hojo nearly danced with excitement. "There's another one. Only half Cetra, you realize. Full Cetra were nearly gone, when I found her."
"And you have her?" Nestor maintained a casual tone with great effort.
"She died. T-ten years ago. Incompetence, it was. Cetra are so fragile."
"Hojo." Nestor grabbed the jittery scientist. He fantasized dipping the nervous Nellie into a vat of acid to test his fragility. "Do you have a Cetra specimen, now?"
"I do! I do! Hee-hee, so glad you asked. She is, may I ask why the interest? Are you looking for the Promised Land too?"
"I simply require a Cetra. To test a theory."
"A theory? Tell me! I'm a scientist, hee-hee. I just love a good theory."
Nestor sighed. "Okay. I've come to realize the Cetra are a space traveling race. If, for instance, a planet infested with--err, inhabited by them became aware of Cetra living on this planet, they could come and try to reclaim this world, considering it theirs. They do not attack openly, you realize. They infiltrate. Use stealth. Biological agents."
"You really think there is a whole planet of Cetra?" Hojo's eyes glowed like a slot machine. "Hee-hee, have you seen the Promised Land?"
Nestor grinned. This would be easier than drowning puppies in a pond. "Cetra use a viral agent to make non-Cetra beings sterile. Cetra themselves are immune. I have developed . . . an antidote. I hope to test my theory on your subject."
"I, I don't know. She's the last Cetra left, and as I said, hee-hee, they're fragile, but I'll consider it. Meanwhile, why don't I offer you a tour of our facility? I was once an architect, you know. Hee-hee, I designed the sixty-third floor of this building."
"Fascinating." Nestor was itching to test the fragility of Hojo's nose, but that wouldn't bring him close to the Cetra. "I would love to see your architectural masterpiece."
Angel and Glass
John limped through the maze of lab machines and bizarre equipment, not looking too closely into any specimen jars for fear it might provide plot lines for impending nightmares. Living through one was enough.
There were few technicians at this hour, and they paid him no notice. Fluffy, now too tired to lacerate his back, lay asleep in John's arms.
Turning a corner, he entered an open area with banks of terminals flanking a number of booth-like rooms beneath a metal catwalk. Several glass chambers, one of them occupied, lined the opposite side of the room. In the largest one, a young woman with twisted chestnut hair, dressed all in pink, lay curled on the floor. John frowned. Could be a trick of the light, but she seemed to project an emerald aura around her sleeping form. John blinked a few times and the illusion disappeared.
"I'm losing it." He walked up to the thick glass. She did not look comfortable on that bumpy metal floor. Her head rested on one outstretched arm, her hair strewn back to form a short blanket over her tucked-in body. As he watched, her head twitched. John wondered what she was dreaming, and as he thought this, his hands slid down the cold glass surface of the chamber.
He saw a different woman, with longer, reddish brown hair, lying in the same position. Her head lifted. She looked up at him with open mouth and widening eyes--
John jumped around as adrenaline lit through him. A middle-aged man with black hair and a triangular goatee stood holding a tray of food. A bemused expression lit up his face. He set down the tray and began working the dials on the chamber. A panel recessed and slid aside, allowing a small shelf to unfold itself. He set the tray on this and lifted the silver lid. The aroma of soup made John's mouth water.
"I'm Reeve," the man said, "and you are?"
"John. I was, uh . . ." He realized Reeve hadn't demanded an explanation for his presence. "Why is she kept in this overgrown fish bowl?"
"Can't she at least sleep in a real bed?"
"I will bring her a blanket and pillow. I didn't realize--I brought her extra food. I knew Hojo was keeping her on lean rations. I'll see if, I mean, I'll try." He stopped. John could feel the guilt roll off him like a harbor fog.
"I appreciate it."
They both turned to see the woman in pink had arisen. She smiled.
John said, "Hey wait. Weren't you selling flowers outside the Goblins Bar the night the reactor blew up? It had been the worst performance of my life, and I was nearly drunk from second hand marijuana."
"The reactor didn't just 'blow up,'" Reeve said. "It was destroyed by terrorists."
"Hey yea? Well someone just dropped a house on me tonight and what's your company doing about it? Sending fat obnoxious Heidegger out in a chopper to put out fires with his breath?"
Once more, the guilt rolled off Reeve. What was with this guy? Did he keep his mother in the freezer or something?
"Meow," Fluffy said. His whiskers twitched at the nearby food.
"Yes, I know you're--ow!" Fluffy tore across the room, taking several strips of John's skin with her.
"Come here," the flower girl said.
"Bloody cat. I rescue her from my neighbor's apartment, and how does she repay me?" He held up his bleeding arm. "I have more scratches than an LP record." He looked at her. She was holding a piece of garlic cheese bread. Smiling.
"I don't believe we've been introduced. My name is Aeris."
"John. I'm a folk singer. At least I was, until someone broke my guitar over my head at the Goblins Bar."
Aeris laughed. "So that was you I heard singing in the alley that night?"
"I'd forgotten my medication."
Aeris took a bite of the cheese bread. "This is good, Reeve."
John could feel Reeve's weight of guilt lift, if only a little. While he pondered this, the green aura once again appeared around Aeris' face. It blended well with her complexion and pink outfit.
"Speaking of medication, I'm now having color-coordinated hallucinations."
A loudspeaker spoke. "All senior executives report to the main conference room immediately. This is an emergency."
"Sorry," Reeve said. "I have to go. I'll check in on you when I'm done."
John watched him go. Senior executive, huh? Thought they didn't let humans in their group.
"So Aeris, you're the infamous Flower Girl Bomber?"
Aeris hung her head. "It's terrible."
"You are a member of Avalanche?"
"Shinra dropped the plate. To wipe out Avalanche."
"Whoa." That would explain Reeve's guilt. "To destroy a whole section of the city? Maybe that's why--"
"A vision. I get them. Annoying things. Anyway, I believe our Shinra president is due for an impromptu body piercing. Oh, and that buffoon Palmer might get hit by a truck. If he doesn't have a heart attack first." John almost started to laugh. "But then, I also learned a guard, who wears what feels like a solid lead watch, has a pet hamster named Pickles. But did I even have an inkling a section of the city was going to drop from the sky? No, that would have been useful."
"Care to practice? Can you get a vision off me?"
"I could try. It doesn't always work. If you are worried about your future, it would be easier simply not to play in traffic."
Aeris smiled again. "I can take anything you can dish out. Oh my. You are hurt. Hold on." She bowed her head. A warm breeze swirled about them. John felt at peace, as if lying in the woods by a waterfall. Even the laboratory air smelled cleaner. He felt alert, a sense of power within him he hadn't known minutes ago. The sense of something wonderful waiting to be released. In fact--
"Your turn," Aeris said.
John reined in his impulses, rubbing his nose in thought. "Amazing. You even got rid of that boil inside my left nostril. It's been annoying me all week."
"Pleased to be of service." She looked at him, green aura billowing behind her.
"Okay. Hold out your hand."
He held her hand, enjoying the feel of it. He closed his eyes and concentrated. Nothing. That happened, often when he wanted a vision and tried too hard. He relaxed, thinking of the waterfall in the forest. When the vision did come, he arched an eyebrow, confused. He opened his eyes and stared at Aeris, prompting her to speak.
"What? What did you see?"
John released her hand and laughed.
"You don't seem like the gladiator type."
"You were in a duel. In some kind of theater, or stadium, fighting a dragon creature. It clawed at you, and you bowed your head and prayed again, only this time you made it rain. There were angels flying around, too. Anyway, you clocked the poor dragon, and a guy said, 'Congratulations. For this next fight, I'm going to turn you into a toad.'"
Aeris was laughing now.
"That's my vision for you. You get what you pay for." He bowed and shook her hand.
"I guess it means, I'll have a struggle ahead, and people will not fight fair."
"But you've been warned. You'd better develop a taste for flies."
"Say Aeris, why are you in here?"
Her pretty face grew solemn. "It's because I'm an Ancient."
"I think you're being too hard on yourself. You're, what, twenty-two? Twenty-three?"
"No, I'm an Ancient. A Cetra."
"Hmm. Cetra. I've heard that term before. Just can't remember where."
"How old are you?" Aeris asked.
"Tricky question." John pondered the answer. "Best guess is . . . I don't know."
"You don't want to tell me. You look twelve, maybe. But there's wisdom and experience there. And you live on your own. That's not so unusual in the Midgar slums, but you lived on the plate?"
"For the last year, until tonight. Before that--I had to run away. Political problems. Getting blamed for starting a war, then messing up an attempt to prevent it." John snorted. "I hate time machines. Harder to ride than bicycles."
"You're a time traveler?" Aeris looked at him with awe.
"As it turned out, literally, no. Everyone else in the room became one. I, I was left to explain why the only traces left of the good president were a pair of spectacles and his steaming left shoe. The palace guards took it personally. When they came after me with giant meat axes, I thought it wise to leave."
"That must have been, awful."
"Heh. It's all in the past."
"And here you are. You broke into Shinra headquarters with nothing but your pajamas."
"I never was a power dresser. And I do have a sadistic cat with me."
Fluffy yowled from somewhere.
A door swished open. Booted footsteps approached, as well as an irregular gait.
"Just put it over here," a nervous voice said. "Hee-hee, I have a new serum I want to test on her."
"Hojo!" Aeris whispered. "Hide!"
John was already moving across the room. He bolted behind a control console, almost colliding with the two guards carrying a stretcher. When they stared at him, John dropped to all fours and began hopping around like a chimp.
"Hey Hojo," one of them said, "one of your specimens is loose."
John hopped over, making barking noises, snapping at the guard's foot before scurrying under a table. The stretcher clunked above. Weapons slid from their holsters. John circled, keeping cabinets and crates between him and the cursing guards. He could see both sets of boots criss-crossing the area. One set stopped.
"Come out, kid. We won't hurt you." He snickered. "Much."
John thought about searching for a weapon, but decided the guards were armed well enough. So he looked for a way out.
"What, what is it?" said a giggling voice.
"A crazy pale kid. You got any vampires in here? Hey, what is this--ugh!"
Feline screeching mixed with human swearing. With a final spit, the white fur ball streaked across the floor. Something metallic clanged to the ground.
"What's going on back there?" Giggles said. "Quit tearing up my lab. This is precision equipment."
"Come on, let's go," the guard said. "Hojo can catch his own specimens."
John crept forward. He saw Fluffy stalk out, give him a superior grin, then leap onto the table. John eased his head up to look.
He gaped at the figure lying before him.
Shiela. Red hair and freckles, blue eyes staring into space. John waved his hand before her eyes. No response. Not even when Fluffy curled up below her chin did she stir. John lifted her hand and placed it on the purring body.
"What happened to you?" John grasped her shoulders and stared into her eyes. "I know you're in there. What happened?"
Gunfire interrupted his thoughts. He looked up to see three bedraggled rebels marching in. A big black guy with a gun attached to his arm, a blond spikey-haired punk with a sword the size of a surfboard, and the dark haired woman he recognized as Tifa.
"Be back in a moment," he whispered to Shiela. He picked his way to a vantage point, being sure to keep a solid barrier between himself and that gun.
"Lovely," Hojo said. "You're just in time to see my experiment."
"You can't do this," Tifa said. "Aeris is a human being."
Hojo flipped a switch and a section of floor in Aeris' chamber retracted, to be replaced by an elevator containing a red beast: half lion, half hound. Aeris jumped back against the glass, but the beast only seemed interested in her soup, which it lapped up hungrily.
"Two endangered species, on the brink of extinction. There's only one way to ensure their survival. I have to mate them."
"Hold on a moment." John stepped out as Hojo's hand poised over a button. "You can't do that."
"Who are you?"
"Yea," the man with the gun arm said. "Who the hell are you?"
"I'm a kid in pajamas. Hojo, you can't rush things. First, you have to let them talk, get acquainted, maybe go out on a date, catch a movie, enjoy a dinner--hey, they're already sharing a meal, so maybe you can arrange a long midnight stroll under the stars. I'll be happy to provide the music."
"Who let this loony in here!"
"Barret," Tifa scolded.
"I don't care, man! Hojo, you let Aeris out of there of I'll blow your brains out the side of this building!"
"You can't kill me. Hee-hee, I'm the only one who knows how to operate these delicate controls. You wouldn't want to hurt your precious Ancient, would you?"
"Stow it, Frankenstein," John said. "All they have to do is push this button here--or was it this one? No, it's the green one. Yea. Oh no . . . "
"You fool!" Hojo was so mad he was doing jumping jacks. John ducked. Barret sprayed bullets across the room. John heard them zing-zing-zinged off metal, and shatter glass.
The chamber with Aeris and the lion thing glowed pure white.
"Aeris!" Tifa ran to the glass, shielded her eyes and peered in.
"My precious specimens! Ruined!"
"I'm stricken with remorse," John said, flipping a switch labeled Main Chamber Door. "Here's a gift from the Planet."
The white mist parted to reveal a flaming red lion thing leaping through the air. Hojo went down hard.
The Hojo creep was stronger than he looked. Though the lion thing tore at him with its claws, Hojo managed to push the snapping jaws back from his throat. Its weight did prevent him from moving, however.
"Tifa, get Aeris out of there." Spike seemed to be in command of their group.
Tifa gathered Aeris, who was leaning against the door frame. As the two stepped clear, Spike swung his sword forward, looking for an opening in the battle.
"No, I can't lose!" Hojo said. "I won't. Je-je-jenova Pestilence!"
Hojo, or glowing green thing in lab coat, burst off the ground so fast he flung the lion thing into the chamber. Spike and Barret closed for combat. The red creature landed on its feet to come back at the Hojo thing himself. Two green pseudopodia shot out and dropped half a dozen pulsating globs, which began moving on their own.
"Over here!" John motioned for the women to break for the tables. He cast about for a weapon to fend off the creeping globs, but found nothing heavier than janitor's tools.
Tifa pushed Aeris behind a crate before turning to face the advancing blobs. She took up a martial arts stance, though John could feel her unwillingness to punch what appeared to be everything that had gone down the kitchen drain last year.
The lion thing reared, green light glowing around it as flames shrouded the green Hojo-thing. Wow, a spellcasting lion. That was new to John.
Spike stepped back, whipped his sword in his own spell. Lightning flared from the ceiling. Hojo would have a bad hair day.
Tifa stood her ground and said, "Ice!" One of the globules was freeze dried.
John, having climbed onto a table, glared at a glob trying to ooze onto his table. It would get half way up, then slip back, only to try again with more force. John cast about for a weapon. Ah. A piece of rebar. Unfortunately, it leaned against the wall, across the room. That meant, in order to reach it . . .
"Oh, great mental powers, don't fail me now." He stretched out his arms, concentrating so hard his hands started to quiver. The iron bar also began to vibrate, but stayed stubbornly put.
Tifa gave him a strange look. He looked at her, and saw the green goo had finally crested his table. It sat pulsating in the corner, as if panting for breath. John growled in frustration. The rebar finally moved, flying through the air in the opposite direction, perhaps fleeing in terror. A mop bucket streaked out, nearly body-checking Tifa before crashing into Hojo, splashing its sudsy contents onto the lion thing. John winced, only to receive an airborne plunger over his face.
"Mmf!" John tumbled off the table, avoiding the lunging blob but landing on its cousin on the floor. The blob cushioned his fall, but he could do without the burning sensation knifing through his back.
Hojo was weakening. His green pseudopodia lay flapping on the floor like decapitated snakes. His main body bubbled mire from dozens of slashes. Spike slashed in with his sword--my, he was good with that thing--while the lion thing, looking less dignified being soaked in suds, continued tearing away with claws and teeth.
John tore loose from the acid blob, yanking the plunger off his face with a wet pop. He pummeled his opponent, who (John swore it grinned!) sucked his weapon from his grasp. Its victory was short-lived; Tifa blasted both it and its mate on the table with a blast of ice.
With a sigh of thanks, John rolled to his side. He felt as bad as Hojo looked.
Defeated, Hojo slumped to the ground, regaining his former shape. Barret closed in for the kill.
"Here's for Jessie, Wedge and Biggs, you goddam--"
Suddenly the speakers began blasting the Shinra pep anthem.
"Shin-ra, Shin-ra, Shin-ra forever! Shin-ra, Shin-ra, Shin-ra forever!"
Barret howled, spraying bullets into the ceiling. He not only drowned out the cheerful music, but he blew out some lights and activated the fire sprinklers.
"Barret, what are you doing?" Tifa's hair was plastered to her back.
Barret, a man of few ideas, cursed and fired his gun again.
John heard Fluffy's furious yowl. He struggled to his feet and hurried to Shiela's side. The woman had turned her head to the side and now stared, eyes wide and mouth forming silent syllables. John took her hand in his one goo-free one and leaned over her face, shielding her from the spray
"Shiela, can you hear me? What happened to you?"
Her other hand went to her temple. Her eyes glittered with pain.
The sprinklers and music cut out, leaving behind a dripping, blinking mess. Barret was still cursing and kicking things. The lion thing, having been doused with soap, was at least clean.
Tifa walked over to him. "Nice fighting, kid. Don't think we would have taken Hojo without your help."
John rolled his eyes. "I hate telekinesis. I can give myself a blinding headache for three days to save the effort of picking up a spoon."
On the table, Shiela started to shiver.
"I'm here," John said. "Can someone get me a blanket?"
"How touching," a new voice said. John turned to see a new man in a suit, flanked by half a dozen Shinra soldiers. The man held a smart briefcase and a superior smirk. "Hojo, it looks like you've been holding back on me."
"Who the hell are you?" Barret said. He, Spike and the lion thing formed up.
"I am Nestor. Guards? I believe the good president would like an audience with this rabble." He drew his own gun and pointed it at Tifa. "And none of you will get any stupid ideas--if you want that pretty girl's brains to stay inside her pretty head."
Hojo's hand came up, mostly still green, onto his console, followed by his abused body. "My work . . . my work."
"Where is that Cetra?"
Tifa and Aeris joined the rest of Avalanche. Hojo seemed reluctant to point out Aeris, but John knew he would not stay quiet. The guards removed the rebels' weapons, though they had understandable trouble with Barret.
"Tie that gun arm behind his back, aimed at his head," Nestor said. "That should slow him down."
Hojo propped himself against the panel, trying to draw breath. Shiela moaned. John wanted to help. He still felt the strange charge of energy from when Aeris healed him, and the growing desire to somehow release it.
"The Ancient," Hojo said. "The last . . . of its kind."
"Yes?" Nestor stepped close. Hojo lifted an arm.
"The Ancient escaped," John said. "Right before you got here."
"Oh?" Nestor approached John. "Where did he go?"
Shiela clutched her head again and trembled. Eyes shut, her forehead beaded with sweat. "No. No."
"Stay back from her!"
"She means something to you?" Opening his briefcase, Nestor withdrew a syringe and fitted it with one of three ampoules.
"I've already had my flu shot," John said.
Nestor smiled. "Where is the Cetra?"
Shiela tried to roll away. John grasped her shoulder. Her body tensed as if for a blow. John felt the energy well up and instantly he knew what to do.
He bowed his head, releasing the power held inside. As it rushed forth, a warm wind swirled around the two of them, seeping through he cold dampness of the room. John felt pleasantly spent, if a bit breezy on his back where his pajama top had burned through. Shiela relaxed, rolled onto her back and sighed into sleep.
"Beautiful," Nestor said. "Take them away."
The guards moved Avalanche, including an open-mouthed Aeris, out of the room. Hojo tried to talk, but only managed a croak. He gave up, flopping face down on the floor.
Nestor set down his gun and briefcase. He held the syringe up to the light, the liquid glowing a sinister shade of amber.
"Nice show, Ancient, but I'm afraid you've made your last mistake."
Faster than he believed he could move, John darted around the table. The syringe jammed into the metal, breaking off the needle and shattering the vial. Nestor tried to pin John with the table itself, but the boy slipped free. Nestor grabbed for his gun, when Fluffy, psychotic fur ball, tried to strip the flesh off his arm. He flung away the offending beast, but this gave John time to snatch the briefcase.
"Stop, you Cetra scum!"
John scurried though the crates and benches. Nestor followed at a walk. John stopped before a flaming drum of sludge, probably ignited during the fight.
"Give me that." Nestor stood twenty meters away, gun leveled at John's chest.
"Something tells me that is a bad idea." John flipped open the case, saw a second syringe and two more golden ampoules. He stroked one of the vials.
The vision, brief though it was, struck him like a sandstorm.
A quaint tropical mountain village, houses shaped like giant shells. Recently teaming with life, now silent except for the weeping wind through open doorways. A single baby cried in the distance.
Scene change: inside one of the larger shells, the last few victims lay twisting and moaning on mats. John could almost feel the heat steaming from their tortured, red-veined bodies.
A voice. Not unkind, merely sad. "The plague. The Cetra plague."
John cried out, his eyes wide and streaming with tears.
"Who--what are you?"
"Merely a businessman. Product testing, to be precise."
John was trembling. "Why, you . . . " He flung the briefcase into the flaming barrel.
"You think that will stop me?" Nestor said with surprising calm. "I can make more. And I will." He raised the gun to John's head. "Say hello to the Planet, Cetra scum."
John shrugged. "If you kill me, where do you propose to get more Cetra?"
The gun drooped. "You may have a point there." Nestor walked back through the crates and tables. "I do require a full test." He paused by Shiela's table. "I'm afraid this round goes to you. However," his smirk returned, "it also means this round goes to her."
He pointed the gun at Shiela's head and fired.
"No!" John screamed and raced forward. Nestor turned and walked out of the lab.
"No! No! No!"
The lab doors opened and closed with a final clang.
"Why?" John cradled Shiela's lifeless head, heedless of her blood soaking his arms. "Why? She was nothing to you. She never hurt anyone. She was just--why?" He lowered his face into her neck and sobbed.
Devil on the Loose
John did not know how long he stood there, slumped over Shiela's body on the low table. If he had fallen asleep he remembered nothing of his dreams. The lights had dimmed in the lab. All was quiet. At some point, Fluffy had curled next to Shiela and now slept peacefully.
John looked down at Shiela, seeing her blood on his arm. He waited, in case a new batch of tears came, but he was all cried out. Shiela was only a next door neighbor; they hadn't even been close, but her death, the senselessness of it, hurt all the same.
In any case, he couldn't go running around in blood-soaked pajamas. John went in search of a washroom and some spare clothes. Not hard to find: a storage room held racks of lab coats and sweat pants, though most were too big, as Shinra apparently hired few twelve-year-old lab techs. Still, with diligent searching (and some cross-dressing), he assembled a respectable outfit. After a long shower (rarely did he have this much to wash off!), he was buttoning his shirt (wondering why women's shirts had to button backwards) when he heard a commotion outside. Crashes, shouting, gunfire. No, he had just cleaned himself up. No time to dive into another crossfire.
More shots, farther away. Another scream. John sighed, easing the door open. The lab was still silent. He glanced at the clock: just after eight. Shouldn't the morning shift be here?
Shiela's body still lay on its funeral table. It didn't feel right to abandon her there, but John didn't have a hearse. Also--
Fluffy trotted up, leaving a trail of bloody footprints.
"Cat, what have you been in?"
At the far end of the lab, he found the morning shift.
"Looks bad. Poor saps came to work, probably told to clean up the lab, and something came up that elevator and . . . stabbed them, from the look of it. Right, Fluffy?"
"Also, whoever killed them was dragging something heavy, and bloody."
"It looks like, it went that way?"
"Right. We backtrack, not follow."
Another scream in the distance.
"I have no intention of meeting that thing."
John took the freight elevator down one floor, where the blood trail led from the storage room. More bodies here, all dead, slashed or stabbed. John picked up Fluffy and followed the trail, careful not to track in it, back to its source, a solid metal pod with the door hanging open. Dry ice vapors still wafted from the opening. John looked at the sign on the curved door.
"Jenova. You know, Fluffy? I'll be happy if I never hear that name again."
He found more bodies in the hall beyond. Okay, so whatever had killed them hadn't emerged from the chamber. He ducked down a dark corridor, where a dead guard lay sprawled in a corner. Beyond him stood a row of closed cell doors. One room on his left contained a pile of weapons. John recognized the huge sword Spike had been carrying. John then peered into the room across the hall.
"Aeris." She seemed all right, sleeping on the bunk.
The next cell contained Tifa and Spike. Both slept soundly, Tifa on the bunk and Spike on the floor. It looked as if they had rolled toward each other in their sleep; Tifa's hands drooped off the side of her cot while Spike's arm stretched toward her dangling fingers.
John tried his key card on the lock. When the lock indicator beeped from red to blue, Fluffy jumped from his hands and streaked around the corner.
"Come back, idiot cat," John whispered. When he heard stirring in Tifa's cell he followed Fluffy. With their weapons, Avalanche could deal with Mr. Blood Trail. As for him, he had to leave. He was no use in a fight, and people around him got hurt. Shiela had been a friend; that was her fatal mistake. Not even a close friend. But he had killed her just as if he had pulled the trigger himself.
"Stop it, John," he said. "This is no time for one of your sulks." Still, he felt better chastising himself. He rubbed his head, which had started to hurt. He leaned against a door frame. "I need a hot meal. I need my medication. I just want to go home."
He felt a presence behind him. Alert now, he whirled to see the red lion-thing staring at him.
"I didn't do it." He raised his hands. "I didn't kill all those people. Do you see me carrying a big sword around?"
"Did you see the attacker?"
Ahem. A talking lion? Oh, why not? It can cast spells, after all. "Am I in several pieces?" John cleared his throat. "Sorry. It's been a hard night."
"Who are you? You're not Shinra."
"Name's John Philip Sorea. I'm a half-crazy albino folk singing Peter Pan type of kid who just had his house dropped on him. And you are?"
"Hojo called me specimen Red XIII. Any other name you choose would do."
"How about . . . " Nanaki. "Nanaki?"
"That," The beast hesitated, fluffing his red mane, showing a flicker of light in his eyes, "would suit me fine."
"Hey Red!" Barret's rough voice echoed down the corridor.
"Somebody wasted these guys!"
"Will you be safe on your own?"
"I got in the building, so I can get out."
John melted into the shadows. This wasn't easy for someone so white he glowed in the dark. Nanaki strode back up the hall, head held high.
It was time to leave. Not just the building, but Midgar itself. He had no life here. His home was demolished, his friend Shiela dead in the lab. The urge to run overpowered him. Still, he kept his pace even, and no one stopped him as he headed to the elevator, down to the sixtieth floor, then down the many flights of stairs to the street.
"Now what," he said, as if noticing the content white cat in his arms for the first time, "are we going to do with you?"
"I think I can help you."
"Reeve?" John's gut told him to run, but he had a hard time seeing a threat in this man.
"I have an idea. A place you can go. You see, Avalanche is going to become a major problem, and I'd prefer they not be my problem."
"I'm not going to turn against them. I hardly know them, true, but if they are fighting against your company they must be doing something right."
"I don't have time to debate the nature of terrorism. We have a train to catch. That is, unless you prefer to be Hojo's new lab specimen?"
"I would prefer a train ride. What is the destination?"
"You're looking to get out of Midgar, right?"