Kingdom of Children
"Though modern medicine and the incredible influence of magic
have taken significant strides in nearly halting human variation
... we still cannot overlook the matter of desired evolution".
--Hojo, "The Biological Future of Us"
"…Twenty-five pounds he lost, Cassidy. Twenty-five to the very ounce."
"An' you can tell every bit of it."
"But don't you go askin' him for no secrets, 'cause I'll tell ya right here how he did it."
"An' how's that?"
"Not a word of it! I tell ya the man ate nothin' but chocobo greens for two months…"
"You can't be eatin' no chocobo greens."
"An' look at'em now, slender as a bean sprout."
"Afternoon, ladies!" said the thin man as he passed around the counter and headed down another aisle. The two rather heavy women let loose their loveliest smiles.
"Afternoon, Mr. Donaldson!" they chirruped together in sing-songy voices. Belinda, store proprietor and all around gossip merchant, brushed the coastal heat away with lazy swipes of her paddle fan while her best friend, the notoriously ugly Cassidy Manheim, did the same with the folded up pages of a magazine that'd spent more time in fan duty than in being read. With her ever-scheming eyes, Belinda watched Mr. Donaldson get a good few feet down the aisle, and then she lowered her voice.
"Good lookin' man."
"Uh huh!" Cassidy agreed and grinned deliciously, and to that they both laughed uproariously. When it passed, they were quiet a moment, and then Belinda recalled that she had a point to make.
"I said it was chocobo greens he ate?"
"You said it, but hard on if I'll ever believe it."
"It was, it was," Belinda defended, and feeling the grip loosen on her follower she pedaled the engine a little harder, "Only you can't just eat any kind, see?"
Cassidy affixed a disbelieving scowl, something that the bulgy contour of her face achieved quite convincingly.
"They say you have to eat them expensive ones, like sylkis greens or mimett greens, or one of those, and you can't never find'em in some store down the street. You gotta get'em shipped in…"
"Shipped in, darling?"
"From up north, cause see, they only grow in the cold."
Belinda brought her wobbly hands forward to seal the deal, and admittedly, Cassidy scrunched her brow down in the last ditch effort of resistance before the taleteller had her. It was just crazy enough to work.
"'An that's why they call it the rich man's diet, 'cause you an' me can't never afford it."
And that broke the barriers into to Cassidy's trusting heart; rich people were always doing weird stuff like that.
"Well, I would sure like to know where Mr. Donaldson found himself the money."
"Girl," Belinda started again, alive with success, "You know he got that inheritance from when his grandmamma was abducted by aliens."
And Cassidy scowled again.
Hunching around between the aisles, amidst the more regular customers who looked for things like crackers and soy bars, was a normally shaped man, as in his normal haircut, his not-too-bottle-capped glasses, and his clean enough shirt and trousers, except that he liked to hunch when he walked indoors, and despite the adequate lighting from the thatch-framed windows, he was eternally shrouded in shadow. And he looked for things like gauze, coconut grass, and cheap morphine. He didn't seem to like to be out of the office, and true most of all, he didn't like to be touched.
Pushing his frames higher on the bridge of his nose, he exited the final aisle, looked at the two big women sitting and laughing behind the counter, and ducked his way back through the produce.
"An' look at this feller right here!" Belinda said with a not so surreptitious nod to the hunching man.
"There ain't nothin' you can say ain't been said," accused Cassidy, trying to put herself ahead of the game, but Belinda instinctively ignored her.
"I hear he was real successful up north in Midgar: fancy house, Ivy League degree, and a good job with one of the biggest companies…"
"Shinra, I heard," interrupted Cassidy, and Belinda flashed the let me tell the story look.
"Or somethin' like that, yes. Anyways, he was workin' with some famous doctor on some big project; a government thing maybe, ya know, something expensive."
"Yeah, I bet." There came that word again.
"An' one day, as I hear it told, he just up an' snapped, I mean broke things, set things on fire, went hootin' an' hollerin' into the streets."
"Quiet feller like him?" Cassidy asked, either pretending that she hadn't or forgetting that she had already heard this.
"Ain't it always the quiet ones? Just look at the Richmond boy…"
"Now that ain't been proved…"
"Oh hush, child, it's clear as day…"
The suspicious man winked a few times in quick succession, staggered himself down another aisle, and suddenly became engrossed at a few products he'd missed in the medicine section.
"…An' that's why there ain't a doubt in my mind," Belinda finished.
"Hey doc!" Cassidy called out courageously. The squat man snapped his neck away from the bottled potions, centered his glasses, and frisked his thin spiky mustache defensively; his voice was very quiet.
"What do ya think about that feller 'at came in d'other day?"
Doc breathed twice and said cautiously, "What do you mean?"
"Well," Cassidy returned bluntly, as if the misunderstanding was some direct offense, "What's wrong with'em?"
"Uh … time will tell, won't it?"
"You're the doctor," Belinda entered.
"Uh … right."
The doctor, eager to end the verbal transaction, examined the potions a bit longer, scratching a hole in his flurry of prematurely gray hair. There was nothing there for him, he'd been done shopping minutes ago, but he could hardly stand to walk up to those two women while they were talking. He didn't feel he deserved the accusing glances it would bring him. Belinda and Cassidy were quiet a moment, and he seized the opportunity.
He placed his purchases down with only a shaggy nod, and by now Belinda expected no more. The transaction went as quickly as he could hope.
"Well, a good afternoon to you, sir." She said officially.
"Yeah, don't work too hard now," Cassidy added with another meaty, almost unpleasant smile. He shook and went to the door, and his hand was just depressing the stall when a morbid thought overcame him; one of extroversion and weird sliminess, at least for him. Turning about, he actually began a conversation.
"It's poisoning," he said.
"What's that, darlin'?" Belinda asked, jostling another customer's selections into a paper bag.
"Mako poisoning," he answered, still very quietly, "That's what's wrong with him."
"'Zat right!" Cassidy exclaimed and lit up as if it had some meaning to her.
"Well," the doctor said, ducking his head once more, "Good day."
"An' the same to you, Doctor Sands."
Nodding, Sands opened the door and was enveloped by the afternoon sun.
Dr. William Sands moved through the hot coastal town of Mideel like a slowly decaying vampire. He chose shade over sun, and even routed the short path to his office at the clinic through the materia shop to spend as much time indoors as he could. From under his webbed gray hair he gave a firm but noncommittal stare to the materia salesman as he passed, as if he was expecting the dealer to suddenly barrage him with arrows. It seemed the peddler would settle for daggers from his eyes.
Sands ducked out of there as he did everything else, shielded a spark of sun that coasted through the tree line, and trailed briskly along the half-dirt, half-cobblestone road. His items: five clear bottles, a medicine dropper, bamboo leaves, and a business grade sanitizer jingled together like wind chimes to counterpoint the utter lack of wind on that stagnant day; the kind of day that made plants tired, the kind that made buildings wilt, the kind that made your back teeth soften into paste. He hated Mideel, especially in summer. And in that place, it was always summer.
"I was thinkin', doc!" accosted a grizzly voice from the sidelines. Sands lurched his neck around his shoulder like an owl, and saw the old man. The man with the dog he always called him, and he only gave him enough time of day for that because he was the closest neighbor. Retched, decrepit old dog at his feet, the old man caned his way from his porch chair to the doctor in the middle of the road, right under the burning sun.
"Like I said, I was thinkin' maybe it's just too hot here for him," said the old man with all good intentions, "What with the wind drought and everything."
"My nurse and I are doing everything we can to keep him cool, I assure you," Sands replied shortly, and took a first step towards the clinic.
"But with this sun cookin' like it is! Maybe he oughtta go up north! I'm sure in Midgar there's plenty of good doctors like yourself. Ya know it, maybe he just has himself a bad heatstroke."
"I appreciate the confidence, but this is not heatstroke and the heat is not a significant concern."
"Got yourself an idea, do ya?"
"Mako poisoning," Sands declared, as if everybody but this nosy old man had known it all along, "It's mako poisoning; very severe."
"Poisonin'?" the old man said to stall while the new information percolated through his brain. "It ain't deadly is it?"
"Almost always, in cases this bad, that is."
"An' you think the he'll…"
"I think he'll be fine. These things take time. Sometimes they take lots of time. It shouldn't be any great worry of yours."
And there Sands really made to leave.
"Well, you let me know it when somethin' happens," the man said, hobbling a few steps behind the doctor and yearning away those lonely hours of the day.
"I certainly will," the doctor answered flatly.
"Oh, an' you let me know if there's anything I can do to help!" pleaded the old man, now quite eagerly.
"Of course, of course," Sands lied, and then he said, "But I promise you my nurse and I have everything under control. Good day, sir."
"An' you yourself!"
The old man paused tiredly while the sun beat on his gray skin, and he patted his dull fingers on his dog's main. Standing in the center of the road he watched the doctor up to the clinic door, where Sands turned, probably for no other reason than to see if he was still being watched, before finally returning to the solace of his clinic.
The old man chuckled at his pathetic old dog's insistent zest for life, and then he turned and proceeded, step by careful step, back home.
Chipper salsa music met Dr. Sands as the door clicked shut. It waved around him as if the ceiling fan was pushing the notes, and they were coursing along the air currents obediently. He curled his lip in disapproval and scratched his face while he stood in the doorway. That music in this weather? It was too much heat for one place. He thought he might already be suffering sun deliria.
He slowly and uncomfortably selected the stop button on the tape player.
"Heeeeeeeeyyyyy!" came the expected whine from the adjoining room, a high female voice.
"Ms. Clover, would you please come in here?" Sands asked, just like an employer. Five steps on the wood paneling brought around the corner his nurse, wearing one of those flamboyant nurse's outfits where the skirt and collar seem to poof out even when they really don't. Turning around the curtain, Ms. Clover suppressed a smile and replaced it with a professional drawing of her lips.
"I didn't hear you come in," she said.
"I'm not surprised. Is the subject ready?"
"I did everything you asked me to do," with that she vas very brief, very much like she was trying to extract herself from the conversation.
"Good, I'll go to it immediately, I think. You may take a lunch now."
Nurse Clover only shook her head and bit her lip, and for a second she eyed the outlines of the materials the doctor had brought in, though from her view she could surmise only bottles. Dr. Sands pressed his way past her into the hospital portion of the small building. Ms. Clover had to say something.
"Um…" she began dumbly, entwining her fingers, "You know … what you're … sorry … what we're doing is … um …wrong."
"Thank you," was all the response her comment elicited, and Sands said it to the wall as he fished items from his bag and arranged them on the counter.
"I'll be back in an hour," she warned, as if it might ward him away from this.
And that was it. Nurse Clover took her purse, felt sickly in this new stillness, turned, and left.
Finally alone, the doctor paused, inhaled deep breathes, exhaled them very slowly, and felt the emptiness around him. A chilly, revitalizing sensation played on his spine; in a moment it was so intense he had to shake it off. Ignoring the unconscious person laid back down on the hospital bed, Sands spun gleefully and walked the rest of the happy sting from his nerves by making certain no one else was in the clinic. Indeed, it was empty.
Sands split the nearest blinds and put watchful eye into the street. His nurse was out of sight, along with everybody else. Perfect. Preliminary examinations could finally begin.
Dr. Sands returned to the clinical side of his office and prepped the man lying on the bed, whose skin was cool and pale. The subject had excessive amounts of blonde hair that they had attempted to tie back through the headrest, but it seemed to prefer to stand out in impressive spikes. The subject's dull blue shirt had been removed previously, and his arm affixed with an IV tap, something to keep him dormant.
"You know," Sands said quite aloud to the sleeping man, "I believe this is exactly how Hojo might have done it. That is, if he hadn't gotten so pent up in the Jenova project. I did tell you about Hojo, right?"
The blonde man, of course, didn't respond. Sands flipped open a science journal to a page much opened to; it lay flat on the stand next to the bed. Then Sands opened a black felt-tip pen.
"Of course not, that woman is always around."
His surgical eye switching deftly between the journal page and the subject's chest, he made a long curving mark just under the patient's left breast and wrote a 1 next to it.
"Hojo was, no, is a brilliant scientist who used to work for Shinra in Midgar, but last I heard he was taking some time off. Much needed, might I add. Hojo's predecessor was, of course, Dr. Gast, much like Hojo is mine, and a lot has been learned and created by those two."
Sands finished a second mark, beautifully straight along the patient's sternum and crossed with an X mark at the top and bottom. Next to this the doctor wrote a small 2.
"Wonderful things," Sands continued to no one, "Really wonderful! Hojo, in particular, had himself a good idea."
He recapped the pen and stuck it in his mouth, chewing on the base, while he pulled a new journal up from under the stand and flipped knowingly through the pages. A man with long black hair, geeky glasses, and a complexion so pale it was nearly transparent graced the cover of the journal, dressed in an ordinary enough lab coat. The cover story read, "Hojo and the Dawn of Mako".
Pulling that article open, Sands set it above the other and took the pen back in hand.
"As he put it himself, 'Evolution. It is not a thing of the past. Though modern medicine and the incredible influence of magic has taken significant strides in nearly halting human evolution, after all, if nothing can kill us what reason have we to evolve, we still cannot overlook the matter of desired evolution…'"
Dr. Sands flipped through a couple pages in the original journal, took note of a few references, and turned back to where he began; the page displayed a human diagram, only the left pectoral had been removed.
"…'Humans can be more than they are now, and we are on the brink of breakthrough'. And Hojo spent all his time on that brink. What resulted from his experiments, which despite being extraordinarily ingenious weren't quite aimed in the right direction, was a small collection of aberrant humans, or 'mako children' as I always wished he'd call them, supposedly able to harness the power and knowledge of Jenova herself."
Studying more intently on the complex diagram, he returned the pen between his teeth and dragged on it like a cigarette, and then he furthered the image by grasping it between his index and middle finger.
"And you, my fortunate friend, although you probably didn't know it, are one of those experiments."
He looked deep into the patient's closed eyes as if he expected this disclosure to wake him from the induced slumber. Sands marked a broad, curved stroke along the bottom of the left breast, creating a bit of a U shape along the patient's chest.
"Curious that you are unnumbered, for sure, I don't know Hojo's reasoning for that, but that you are one of them I have no doubt. You see, you may feel normal, you may feel human, you may really feel the same as all your friends, but I … I can feel it coming off you like heat. Mako. Jenova. Just like heat."
The doctor soaked a cotton ball in an antibacterial solution and dabbed it lovingly along the dried pen markings. He checked the vitals scantly, all fine, and wiped away a thick pocket of the moist heat. Just as his fingers grazed over the scalpel he stopped, bucked his neck to one side, breathed in the quiet, and then he rejoined his reminisce.
"But Hojo's children were flawed, as you no doubt are. Like I said, he had wonderful science, but the wrong idea. His idea was the betterment of humans, the improvement of our minds and our capacities, all by retying our bonds to the mother, Jenova. The truth is, there is nowhere left for humans to go, so the only thing for us is to truly become something else. You are greatly modified, and yet you are human, but we, we can't grow towards Jenova, we must become Jenova, and the only way to do that is to start from the very beginning."
He paused once more and waited for rebuttal, but one didn't come.
"The cells of Jenova, not mako, not materia extractions, but the actual cells themselves, mixed with the life stream, the very knowledgeable essence that contains everything humans are and everything Jenova is, and injected into an active zygote. The resulting child will not be human, will not be Cetra, but will be Jenova. That will be the future. Those will be my children."
Despite how calmly he spoke or how clear everything seemed in his head, Dr. Sands suddenly couldn't stop his hand from shaking. His breaths became short, and an unnatural sweat gleaned above the summer regular. He frisked his hair away from his forehead to cool it off, and quickly he stood and paced the length of the room. He didn't know if he was agitated or excited, but at that moment sitting was not an option. He bit his lip, hopped, traced the outlines of his teeth with his tongue, and darted his eyes skittishly about the room, always halting and convulsing inside when they glance towards the black marks across the patient's chest. With a final, powerful exhalation the attack passed, and he suddenly felt very alone in his clinic, miles from everything.
"How…" escaped his open mouth, and then he shook it off and sat on his stool. Searching for comforts he chewed down on the felt pen and flipped the pages of the journals. In an instant of supreme paranoia he launched dangerously from the stool and brushed himself up against a window, peering accusingly out the blinds. Just a normal day outside, nothing of interest.
How much time had passed, he wondered, fear all of the sudden scattering in his brain. This certainty of impending doom overwhelmed him; he regarded the subject lying just as quietly as ever on the hospital bed. Abort.
Sands swiftly and carelessly wiped away the markings with a wet towel and unhooked the IV, and just as quickly he slid a wheel chair out of the closet and set down the leggings. In a fury he grabbed the patient about the waste and managed him over into the seat, where the patient's head flopped down over his chest and his limbs were flaccid. Moving with the speed and accuracy of a fast dance he rushed through the evidence, throwing the two journals into the closest drawer, dropping the instruments into another, and hiding his pen in his coat pocket.
All seemed as it should be, and he spun the full circle twice just to ensure that nothing was suspect, when on his final rotation he came face to face with a young, brown haired little boy standing on one of the beds.
Dr. Sands screamed out and careened backwards so violently he'd have fallen had the structural column not caught him with the force of a blow to the chest. The little boy frowned at him, a dire, inhumanly taught frown. Then he jumped off the bed, walked over to Sands, and slapped him. The crisp ring of skin and skin matched perfectly with the click of the opening clinic door. Dr. Sands twisted so frenetically it tore at his hip, and Nurse Clover walked in.
"Are you alright?" she immediately demanded to know.
Losing balance from the newly sour pain in his hip the doctor felt the floor to his face, and said, "No!"
"What happened?" Nurse Clover yelled. Before he answered Doctor Sands looked behind him, afraid some little boy would viciously run him through with a scalpel, but no one was there. No little boy; not anyone. He creaked his head around to his nurse.
"Nothing, nothing!" he said, horribly unconvincingly. "Just had a bad moment, that's all."
Sands seemed happy to lie there a moment and collect his breath and thoughts; he wiped his sweaty forehead into the dusty floor paneling.
"You need to get some air?" Ms. Clover asked considerately.
"No, no, just need to lie here a moment, thank you."
After some time passed, and the stillness of the day was hedging onto her comfort, the nurse brought Dr. Sands a glass of cool water and lifted him up from his stomach. He sat with his legs crossed and took the glass with both hands, just like a boy, and said, "Thank you."
"A bad moment," the nurse reflected, "Children again?"
"Yes, of course. Like always. I'm very tired," he said last, blankly.
"Bless your heart," she comforted sincerely. "Perhaps you're taking this too fast. We have plenty of time."
"I don't think so. It's worse now, you know it."
"But at the expense of our success I advise you take it slowly. Don't forget that my investment is just as big as yours."
After saying that nurse Clover pressed herself up to a straight and tall position and looked longingly into a clear jar sitting highest on the clinic shelf. It looked to be filled to the top with a clear fluid, but her eye was attracted deep into it nonetheless.
"I will not fail," he said then, very strongly. "Our children will be the first."
He stood, brushed off yet another layer of Mideel heat, and took Nurse Clover into a long, desperate embrace.
The patient came around not long after, weakly jaunting his head to and fro about his shoulders and gasping insignificant moans, suffering some state of consciousness between here and nowhere. It really did look just like mako poisoning, and only Dr. Sands and Nurse Clover knew better.
Looking at the poor creature broke Ms. Clover's heart, at least a little bit.
"Is it really possible?" she asked Sands, a question that had passed her lips far more than once.
"I swear it is. We can have as many as you want. Hundreds, thousands, millions even. Just tell me which."
"I can't decide," it sounded as if she was on the edge of tears.
"You don't have to now," Dr. Sands said calmly, "That is something I won't rush."
"But eventually you will need it," Ms. Clover uttered flatly.
"I won't be jeopardized. If the time truly comes and you can't give me your mind, I will decide myself."
They had been talking over the delirious man in the wheelchair, but here Sands looked harshly into Nurse Clover's trembling eyes.
"And you know what decision I will make."
"Yes…" was all she gave back, and very timidly at that.
"It will be marvelous," he nudged. "A new dawn, a finer species, a kingdom!"
His excitement and her quiet regret were forced on hold by the sudden sound of frenetic knocking on the door, which opened instantly thereafter. In rushed a frenzied and rather buxom brunette woman who let the clinic door slam back on its hinges as she presently dominated the room.
"Cloud!?" she shouted in desperation.
Dr. Sands's organs recoiled when he saw the extra bodies fill his office. His tongue plumped like a wet sponge and choked his mouth, his hands twittered as if working a jackhammer, and he unknowingly shuffled his feet a few times.
"Here now," he stammered, scanning the social lexicon, thrusting his hands into his coat pockets. What would a small town doctor say right now? "The way you're running around here, you'd think meteor fell or something."
Nurse Clover eyed him suspiciously; he was even trying to fake his accent.
The exasperated woman took the unsteady doctor firm in her sights and swished her hands through the air dramatically. Behind her filled in two tall men, one white guy, sufficiently grizzled, and one large black guy, grizzled just the same.
"I'm sorry," the brunette said, not the least bit meaning it, "But I heard that a friend of mine was being taken care of here…"
"A friend?!" Doctor Sands screeched in shock and utmost aggravation. He shot his head to his nurse, who only stood back and let him handle things. But he knew her, knew those pitiful eyes, and somewhere inside them he saw the pathetic fragments of restraint. His insides lurched. "Oh yeah…..! That young fellow?!"
Even when his feelings of surprise were true, his body tried to fake it when he spoke, and his words were a sputtering mess. Reeling all over, he looked once more to Ms. Clover.
"Don't worry," he said to her, and then he switched back to this new, fiendish woman. He breathed and calmed the trickles of insects under his skin. "Your friend is next door. But I'm afraid his condition is…"
The brunette stepped right past him mid-sentence, even pushed him aside with a rather healthy nudge, and imposed her thin, sharp-featured face into the private quarters of the clinic.
"Here? Over here."
And less than a moment later she was gone behind the curtain, her emotional, vibrant voice pounding out her sentiments.
"Cloud….?! Oh … Cloud!! I'm so glad you're safe!!" and her voice battled with tears, which she quickly choked down with an oncoming confusion. "Cloud…..?"
"Uh……" the blonde man in the wheelchair, apparently named Cloud, moaned out "……aa…."
"Cloud! What happened to you?" It looked for a brief moment that the emphatic woman was going to shake Cloud into consciousness, but instead she grasped him tenderly where his arms met the chair, and peered into his open but completely vacant eyes. Those eyes that glowed the most eerie of blues; mako eyes.
Dr. Sands seized on an opportunity to provide a medical opinion, a tactic that always got him through rough social situations.
"Mako poisoning….. quite an advance case…." He began, though it seemed the now crying woman actually took little interest, if she heard him at all, so he spoke instead to the two men that had entered. "It appears this young man's been exposed to a high level of mako energy for a protracted period of time. He probably has no idea who or where he is now….."
There he realized that his dictional choice was inconsistent, so he backed down to personal terms.
"Poor fellow, his voice doesn't even work. He is literally miles away from us. Some place far away where no one's ever been…all alone."
"Doctor…..!!" the woman growled angrily, and Sands, frightened, backed down; this situation was out of his hands.
"Damn…" entered the tall grizzled man for once, his voice sounded hoarse with use. "That's evil!"
"That's bad…" the heavy black man agreed with an injured nod.
The brunette shook her head, perhaps trying to shake away everything else with it.
"Cloud…" she wept meekly.
Dr. Sands passed a few breaths and brushed his sweating but thankfully still hands on his coat. He had to get out of there, but couldn't leave Cloud, his hopes, alone. He made sure to gather Nurse Clover's full attention when he broke the silence once again.
"Ahem! Let us excuse ourselves," he offered, and then with a very slight but pointed jab of his head he indicated that Ms. Clover should stay. "Listen, would you all mind….. waiting outside?"
The two new men acquiesced, the black fellow pausing just in the doorway to take an uncomfortable look at the brunette, and Doctor Sands followed closely and cautiously behind, feeling like he was leaving an entire destiny behind him.
Alone with only the weeping woman, thin teardrops glazed over Nurse Clover's eyes, like dew in the very early morning. It was all so heartbreaking: the way this woman took the dumbfounded Cloud by his hands even when they couldn't feel back, the way she sprawled herself before him in total abandon of her own concerns, the way she talked to him. Cloud. This man's name was Cloud. This man had a name.
"Why……" the woman pleaded softly, her energy leaking away through her tears. "What do you want me to do? Please, Cloud … talk to me…"
Nurse Clover wanted to put her hands on the woman's shoulders and tell her everything was going to be all right, console her away from those desperate words, but she couldn't bear to interrupt her. Instead she stood in the center of the office, looking small and wiping shameful tears from her eyes. She thought she wasn't ready for this, and then she thought of her children.
"Tell me you see me … that you can hear me. Tell me, please…" begged the brunette, but she could not get through to Cloud, who only continued to roll his head aimlessly about his spine. "I came this far believing in the memories we have together…"
She shook Cloud so hard then the spokes on the wheels rattled, and immediately afterwards she became excruciatingly agitated. She stood, rubbed her hands together, paced the length of the building twice, looked cloud over again, and finally rushed herself into such a panic she could only stop and set her eyes upon something that didn't seem to scream back. That thing was the nurse, silent up to this point.
"This is too cruel!" she yelled at Ms. Clover, before careening over her agitation into wondrous lament. "Oh, Cloud…… I……"
And finally with the breaking force of a tidal wave she cried; just opened the floodgates and cried.
Nurse Clover was overwhelmed, completely. So much grief over a man that was supposed to be dead, that should have been dead less than two hours before. A dark thought crossed her mind, one that made her sick to her stomach, one she feared too much to pass by the doctor. Was it love she felt? But for whom? She felt this woman's love, but then she felt her own, her own heart aching for the life she had to give. And these two went to battle.
"You were very close?" Ms. Clover asked, half-question and half-statement, when the woman sitting weakly on the floor had passed beyond her wailing sobs and found the hiccupping stage.
"Yes…" the woman replied, wiping her eyes, and not offended by the obviousness of the answer.
"Was it love?" the nurse implored this time, getting right to the point. The woman hiccupped once more and then the sobs stopped altogether, and she really looked like the question had gotten to her.
"Huh, it seems so easy when someone else says it. Yes, that's what it was. Is…" she corrected with a charitable but thin smile, "I mean, that's what it is."
That was all that Nurse Clover needed to hear in order to make every cell wall in her body decompose; she felt like she would melt right into the cracks in the floor. That was it, she thought, that was all that mattered.
"Yes, love," the woman said once more, as if confirming it to herself. "Thank you. You've made it very clear to me."
Ms. Clover winced internally, but she still treated the woman to a dishonest smile. Her eagerness to fill the gap with conversation was stifled, to her appreciation, when the clinic door swung back open and the three men entered. Doctor Sands quickly drilled a hard look in Nurse Clover's eyes, but she turned away too fast to feel the sting. That was something that would be dealt with at a later time.
"You okay?" asked the woman's heavy friend, as she had lost her eyes back onto Cloud when they entered, and likely they had heard her crying.
"Yes … I'm sorry I had you all worried." She looked to each person to make sure the message carried all around. "And I have something I want to tell you all…"
Ms. Clover braced mentally. If she had something to do with this…
"I don't care about anything else, only Cloud…" her voice was very certain. "I … want to be by his side."
The nurse visibly cringed.
"Yeah. Right." Supported the woman's tall, thin friend. "You hang in there, Tifa."
"Yeah," agreed the other man. "That's probably best … for Cloud … an' for you."
"I'm sorry, everyone … at a time like this…"
"Don't worry about it!" the original man almost commanded. And then he chose those words that were the next most feared on Ms. Clover's list. "I'll stop by again sometime."
Dr. Sands was so aghast at how these people had thrust themselves into his life that he was literally speechless, even when he tried.
"You take care now, Tifa, and take care of Cloud."
"Oh, and uh, Tifa? I don't like askin' this but … is he really your childhood friend? And not Sephiroth's shadow?"
Sephiroth's shadow. The phrase played an orchestra hit across the doctor's chest.
"Huh?!" the woman, apparently named Tifa, grunted, flabbergasted, before breaking down as if she was embarrassed. "Well … that is … no, I'm sure of it!"
"Yeah…..? Okay then … sorry for askin' that," he ducked his head low a few moments. Finally the tall white man intervened with the final call.
"Now, we gotta be headin' back to the highwind."
And while Tifa's two friends finally left, Sands found he was still completely unable to speak.
The attention that Nurse Clover expected Dr. Sands to put into anger he seemed to be putting elsewhere, somewhere up inside his head with the demons. He had been minutes from doing it, just minutes from killing him. Sands left the clinic and stood on the porch, ignoring the bitter heat of day.
Sephiroth's shadow, he thought, and on the horizon line he saw an entire kingdom of children, each of them smiling, waving, ready for life.
Tifa was bathing Cloud much like a mother would her child, with soft strokes of the rag and more time spent doting the hair and gazing into the precious being than really cleansing the skin. A tear dropped into the water, rippled about silently, and was then joined by another. She closed her eyes, fought them off, swallowed the sadness. Sniffing just once, she ringed out the soapy cloth and went about business.
Why wasn't he getting better?
Dr. Sands sat at a card table in the other half of the clinic, mopping from his brow his least favorite sweat: night sweat. That kind of sweat meant there really wasn't any hope to get comfortable in this place, if even at night it was too hot. He had a decent stack of papers in front of him, with another stack of science journals next to those, the insides lined with sticky notes and page dividers referencing this or that article. He went to them back and forth, comparing this idea to that idea, matching research results, and noting where they were most likely falsified. It was his other project, his second project, the documentation of the first. He put it all down in fresh, revealing, not-to-mention lengthy essay, everything from the very beginnings of Jenova-based science to his particular experiment. He cited countless essays by the grandfather of mako-science, Dr. Gast, and even more by the father, and his own personal obsession, Hojo of Shinra. And then he wrote of himself, the next in line of great mako-scientists, the son, the child, but also the shining star. He told it rather flatly when it came to himself. He made no apologies. He wrote what he intended to do with the precision of an observer, no morals, no second-guesses, just the procedure, the scientific procedure. In fact, it was the easiest part to write, and when he read it over he felt nothing.
Nurse Clover was silent at the other side of the table, looking lifelessly into the wall. Her hands were entwined together and limped in her lap, her legs crossed by the ankle, and her neck tilted to one side lazily. She tried her best not to hear Tifa cry.
It had been a week since she had come, and it took only that long for the poor girl to feel her hope drift. From morning to night, waking to sleep, Tifa only spent her time with Cloud, talking to him, embracing him, washing him. Dr. Sands had had to medicate Cloud during those few hours that Tifa slept in order to maintain the look of mako poisoning. Of course, in this way, Cloud's ailment would never lift, no matter how hard Tifa begged for it when the night grew longer and her patience thinner. And her patience was not the only one that was beginning to thin.
From the corner of her sore, tired eyes, Ms. Clover saw Tifa haunting the doorway to the clinic side. Her pretty face was cold, very resigned.
"I need some fresh air," Tifa said quietly, and she exited to the clinic porch.
Nurse Clover and Doctor Sands hadn't really been alone since Tifa's arrival. Sands stopped writing immediately, put the pencil in his mouth and chewed at the eraser a bit, noticed that Ms. Clover still had not turned his way, and then he placed the pencil on his papers and put two affectionate hands, palms down, in the middle of the table. He scratched the surface with his right hand, like a cat pawing at carpet. She kept her look away.
"Did I ever tell you, Ms. Clover, how my wife died?"
His voice was very quiet and very still, a fisherman wading his line. She looked to him, and a fearful sheen of water washed over her eyes. She didn't cry, she just prepared to. Most of all she didn't want to get dragged under his frightful power again. Love is not worth everything.
"She died the same day my son died, pretty much the same moment, in fact." Sands was void of emotion, almost as if he was still writing that paper. He brought his hands back in and overlapped them before his chest. "Complications during birth, fatal to both parties."
Nurse Clover shook her head ever so slightly; Sands pretended he didn't see it.
"The men in my family suffer early onset impotency; not a one of us made it past twenty-five, including myself," he dropped his head a little further forward, trying to dig deeper into her tender eye sockets, the pent up emotions that didn't show in his voice swirling about his head. "So, I guess I don't really believe in second chances…"
Right there he realized he didn't know where he was going with any of this, so he dropped his hands close to himself on the table, and twiddled his fingers together until his point came out in a sudden fit of very repressed fury.
"Complications? How can there be complications? As a species are we not beyond that yet? Can we not perform something so simple as giving birth without messing it up? What's wrong with us? What are humans that they have infinite leisure to have birth complications and what are they if it's okay for their males to be deficient so young in life? What kind of pitiful creature is that?"
Nurse Clover had squinted and made herself as small as possible in her chair, fearing what she must say.
"Ms. Clover, I'm asking you!"
"We cannot go through with it," is what she said in return. Dr. Sands slapped the table hard enough to make the stack of journals slide and fall to the floor, hard enough to hurt his hand. In the echoing stillness that followed he placed a cautious eye on the front door in case Tifa returned to investigate, but it soon seemed she would not.
"We can, and we will tomorrow night. I'll kill her if I have to, I'm gonna be a murderer either way."
"No! Don't you see that it's wrong?"
"I try to see the good in things, Ms. Clover, it's the only thing that keeps somebody like me alive."
Nurse Clover pointed to the door with a harsh jab and yelled as emphatically as she could while still whispering.
"We are destroying that poor woman!"
Dr Sands fiercely snatched Ms. Clover's arm from the air, gripping it tightly and the wrist, and pulled so hard the nurse was thrust up onto the table.
"She is destroying me," and then he broke down and began to breathe heavily, long soggy breaths. With his open hand he tapped his pointer finger into his temple, and a look of complete anguish overtook his face. "They are destroying me. They yell all the time now. They scream at me, mock me, they talk about my wife, they talk about my child. I can't live like this. They want me to do it."
"But you can't! I'm telling you that you can't!"
He pushed her back into her chair so forcefully it knocked the wind out of her. He brooded angrily in his seat as she ached and gasped for breath. She wasn't offended, she wasn't surprised, and it didn't want to make her cry. It was just something he did on accident, as far as she was concerned. Part of her was still able to believe that the most, despite his unflinching anger.
He sat with his finger tips plunged into the others, trying to calm himself.
"It's not your choice," he said, barely believing himself that such a comment might work. The thought of a clear glass jar filled to the brim with a transparent liquid, empty but for the invisible star, the one thing above all else, came to Ms. Clover's mind. She thought of it sitting peacefully, always peacefully, in the other room, completely unconcerned with its fate one way or the other. What are these creatures that can make choices for others?
"It's my baby, William!"
The sound of the clinic door creaking open paused them, tempers flaring, in their chairs, and Tifa walked in with the broken look of fatigue collapsed on her face. Dr. Sands tensed and looked for excuses in case she had heard the noise or asked about the science journals sprawling about the clinic floor. On the other side of the table, Nurse Clover felt ready to blaze all barrels. But Tifa's nonchalant, oblivious voice took that fire out of her.
"It's always hot here," Tifa said, for the first time feeling like she was intruding not just on doctors, but on people. Dr. Sands let out a sigh as the pressure coasted past and things seemed like they might be salvageable at least a moment more.
"It's always summer in Mideel," he said. Tifa gave a polite smile and walked into the other side of the clinic.
Escaping the third wheel's vision, Dr. Sands looked at Nurse Clover, and Nurse Clover looked right back at Dr. Sands. It was just all so confusing.
Both of them made choices.
"Where is it?!" Dr. William Sands growled, flinging another drawer from his desk. The papers inside fluttered around the air annoyingly and the box of paperclips smacked the back wall and popped like a cluster bomb, the clips scattering about like shrapnel. "She wouldn't!"
He kicked the drawer to the side with a brunt swipe and tore the next drawer from the desk, clawed his hands through the side-standing bundle of files, pulled them all free, and tossed them to the corner of the office. Nothing under them. He roared.
It was two nights later, the first night when Tifa had drawn herself from Cloud long enough to go to the restaurant, get a meal, and share a drink with Nurse Clover. As little as the doctor trusted that situation, it was his only chance to finish this before the subject's friends returned and took him away, along with all of Sands's hopes, for good. He prepped Cloud by removing his shirt, wiping him down, and hooking him to an IV in the hospital bed. The patient was unconscious very soon.
Then, trying his best to not be in a rush, after all, the door was locked if they came home early, he laid out the instruments, all sterilized, pristine, ready to kill. A simple set up really, just a scalpel, a set of tongs, a few cotton balls, a cloth for blood, and then the syringe, a very rare, very expensive syringe capable of extracting the pure Jenova fluid from Cloud's heart. The extraction would not take long, would not be painful, but would kill absolutely.
Feeling ready, Sands had sat down, took the black felt pen between his teeth, chewed on the end a few times, and then grabbed up the stack of journals below the stand and thumbed through for the article detailing the procedure. It should have been on top, where he'd placed it a few days past, but when it wasn't he assumed that Tifa had been reading through them in those long breaks of day when Cloud was not awake. But the particular journal he wanted was not in this stack. Feeling his time limit pushing down on him, Sands became angry instantly.
He'd torn the clinic apart, every cabinet door hung open, the floor was strewn with supplies, cotton balls, tongue depressors, q-tips, papers, boxes of gloves, and the remains of several shattered beakers. Even the wheelchair had been ripped apart, the linens on the beds stripped away, the curtain dividers torn down in frustration.
And then he did the same to his office.
"How could she do this to me?" he cried.
He must have read that procedure a hundred times and yet now, when it was time to do it, he needed to see it just the same. It was too precarious a thing to do blind, when only one chance was had.
He sat on his knees and hands in the center of his office, punching the floorboards.
"How could she do this to me?"
Minutes ticked away.
"It's simple," entered a boy's voice suddenly. Dr. Sands shot up and look all around him, but no one seemed to be there. The voice continued, "Just go take it back from her. She shouldn't have taken it in the first place."
His hands shook and that new, thick, unnatural sweat, like molasses, dripped down his jittering face. Oblivious to his brain, his hands were searching the air for a weapon, some blunt instrument to beat back the demons.
"What?" he gasped.
"Go. Take. It. Back." Said the invisible boy. The voice didn't sound like it was in the doctor's head, it wasn't some booming command that played between his ears in stereo, but quite normally like the voice of a boy who might be sitting at his desk, only one wasn't. The suggestion plundered his resignations.
"Right. Just take it back. It's mine."
Dr. Sands put on his coat and found his hand on the doorknob. He knew just where they'd be; he could do this conspicuously enough. He opened it and just as his nostrils caught the awful, flowery scent of Mideel twilight, the voice spoke once more:
"Is it safe to go unarmed?"
"What?" the doctor queried again, but all the voice needed was its suggestion. Dr. Sands obediently searched the clinic, stepping cautiously over the fragments of glass, kicking aside the debris of his own personal hurricane, and tediously deciding on the scalpel.
"Just in case," he said and pocketed the scalpel knife down.
Returning again to that portal he gulped and entered the world, the sunset settling on his gray hair like fire. The road was quiet, and from what he could see, empty. His neighbor, the old man with the dog, was thankfully away, and the lights of the small town were sporadic and few. In fact, for the first night in weeks it was actually a little bit cool, a refreshing breeze shuttled past his face and the way it played on the sweat saturating his body sent currents of electricity through his skin and bones. He shivered once. It was so nice a feeling he had trouble believing it. It a rush decision he pulled the scalpel back to his grasp and just looked at it.
"What am I doing?" he asked himself. "I can't kill Ms. Clover."
He hadn't even made it three steps from the porch. Sands, scalpel in hand, turned and reentered the clinic.
"Then what?" said the brown-haired little boy who stood in the middle of his office, hands by his side, small face looking up defiantly.
"What do you mean?" Dr. Sands asked back, that revitalizing coolness gone away.
"How will you do it then?" asked a blonde girl, about four years old, hair doted up into pony tails, as she walked around the corner dividing the two sides of the clinic.
"I don't know. I'll just have to do it," Sands replied to her.
"A little risky, don'cha think?" said another boy who walked in behind the blonde girl.
"I can probably do it."
"Too risky," agreed a final boy, this one with black hair. Sands had not seen where he entered from. "Here, we can't have you making mistakes."
The children beckoned Sands into the clinic side with gentle waves of their arms, and he followed.
"It's a good thing we know what we're doing," said the blonde girl.
"Here, daddy, make the first mark here." The original boy traced a small curve along Cloud's left pectoral, still indicating that Sands should approach with his, the boy's, free hand.
"Daddy…" drifted from the doctor's lips.
"Right here, daddy, right here…" the boy comforted and urged.
Pen quivering in his hands, Dr. Sands removed the cap and walked, one timid step at a time, to the unconscious man lying helplessly in the hospital bed. He looked the boy in the face as the other children circled him.
"Daddy…" he ruminated once more.
"That's right, well, pretty soon anyways. Now make the first mark right here." By now the boy was much more firm.
Sands nodded his head, wide-eyed, and traced an edgy line just where this apparition had told him.
"And now here, as straight as you can." The brown-haired boy slid his finger along Cloud's sternum, and Sands shortly followed the same path with his pen. Sands barely dropped his eyes from the small child as he did it; the line was not as straight as requested.
"Just one more," the boy ordered, finishing the U shape with a line under the pectoral. Sands completed the diagram, his heart pounding hard enough to sound like base drum strokes in his ears.
"Good," the boy said, "Now you'll need the scalpel, and you might wanna have that towel ready, but it's your call."
Sands took the scalpel comfortably in his right hand and the towel for mopping up the blood in the other. At that moment, he honestly couldn't tell whether or not he controlled his own actions. The noise in his mind was too abusive for him to hear the firings of his motor cortex.
"The first cut is here, just like the pen mark. There won't be much on this specimen, but make sure you cut deep enough to pass the adipose tissue."
When Dr. Sands reached in to make the incision, the doorknob in the adjacent room jiggled carelessly at first, then harshly, and then swift thumping knocks resounded through the whole building. Sands panicked, looked at all the children around him, by now there must have been over twenty, and accidentally dropped the scalpel.
"Forget them!" the ringleader boy commanded. "Pick up the scalpel and let's finish this while we still have the chance. It'll only take five minutes."
"We … we …" the doctor stuttered, searching for words, searching for something, worlds crashing in around him.
"I said forget them!" the little boy yelled at him.
"We can't do this…"
"What's the matter with you?!" the little boy screamed, temper throbbing. "This is what you want!"
"Yes! Yes! This is what you've wanted since mom died!"
"No!" Sands finally shouted in return to the figment sitting haughtily before him. "What I want is for you to go away!"
The boy looked taken aback, and right at that moment, the ground started to shake.
"It's weapon!!!" the muffled voice of Nurse Clover hollered into the cavity of the clinic, "Let us in!!!"
They continued to slam their palms into the clinic door.
"Weapon?!" Sands said.
"It's nothing!" the little boy shouted, fighting now for his survival. "You do what you're told!"
Sands could hardly move, despite how the ground rumbled beneath his feet. The floorboards cracked away, and loose dirt siphoned up and misted into the air. The bookcase in the office toppled onto the desk and split into wooden shards. The children all around him wore frightened faces, each of them alert with the tension of the situation. The slapping sounds on the outside of the door are what finally won him over.
"What are you doing?!" the little boy demanded as Dr. Sands pulled the IV from Cloud, dressed him in his blue shirt, and set him in a new wheelchair. "You stop this right now! We were so close, dad!"
The scene set, the junk on the floor skittling about, and brown dirt clogging the atmosphere, Dr. Sands ran to the clinic door and opened it. Tifa hurled past him, knocking him to the floor, and Nurse Clover followed just after, affixing the most terrible look of fright on her face just when Sands looked up.
"You didn't!" she screamed.
"I didn't!" he screamed right back. The sounds of boxes and jars falling in the other room pierced out over the quaking ground.
Before they could share another word, Tifa's friends, the tall white man and the heavy black man, burst through the door as well, both of them extremely agitated. Tifa was saying something to Cloud that mostly got lost in all of the exploding noises of the ground giving way beneath them.
"…never recover for the rest of your life?" she finished.
"They're ……. They're coming ….." Cloud said in his delirium.
"What did you say, Cloud?" asked the tall white man, unable to control his astonishment despite the situation. But outside another powerful stroke, like an earthquake, coursed through the earth. Turning, beside themselves, the two friends darted from the clinic in a flurry of shouting. The nurse looked to Dr. Sands who was still cowering stupidly on the utterly decimated floor.
"The Lifestream has erupted!" she shouted at him.
"It might be safer to take refuge in a wide open space!" he offered, not knowing what to think anymore. Before his eyes was the vision of children, countless children, walking in single file from the clinic, each looking back to him with wide, pitiful eyes. For that second he mourned them, his children were dead forever.
"Don't worry about a thing, Cloud," Tifa was saying, "I'll see to it that you get somewhere safe!"
"No!" Sands yelled, "The structure can't take it! Hurry!"
"Right…" Tifa answered but she couldn't hear what she said next. She wheeled Cloud from the clinic, just as the ground beneath it lurched upwards ten feet and the clinic slid downwards to the green, gurgling stream of life.
Books, instruments, papers, journals, furniture, everything soared down and was lost to the lake of knowledge. Separated after the fall, Nurse Clover and Doctor Sands were too far to take each other's hand.
"Go!!" the doctor shouted, knowing that the nurse could more easily slip over the top of the clinic and onto to flatter ground. And with only one final look that he wished she had held longer, she did just that, and was gone from his sight. His sight was filled with children, children pretending to grab onto rocks or dictionaries and drown themselves in the stream, which is just where he wanted to go, but not yet. First he had to do something.
Stepping warily from his foothold on a strut from the clinic wall, he made his way to the opposite side and saw what he wanted. A glass jar, filled with what seemed to be nothing more than a transparent liquid. He made his dangerous way to the jar, grabbed it to his chest like a child, and just embraced it for a longer moment than he could spare. Before he could drink the knowledge of the ancients and know himself for sure, he had to save this jar.
But one wrong step followed. He twisted, yelped in pain as his ankle didn't twist with him but rather snapped into splinters, and the heavy jar slipped from his grasp, right through the broken window, down into the lifestream.
"Not that!" he pleaded, and dove in after it.
Instantly his motor skills ceased, his arms and legs were useless, but he did not float as he should. He just sunk deeper and deeper, and quickly the effervescent greenery melded with the blackness of depth until he could barely see a thing. He no longer felt the pain in his ankle, he hadn't cared about it to begin with, and his eyes did not sting. All he felt were the pressures of voices, the voices of the children, of the entire planet, pummeling his skeleton.
But then those began to fade as well, and the apparitions of children playing childish games around him burst like fireworks, all green and powdery. Some were persistent; they chased him over the channeling currents of the stream, always falling deeper and deeper into it. But the children grew tired, and some burst like those before.
"Daddy…" he thought one final time, and then he spiraled downwards over a hundred feet.
By then he'd lost them for sure.