Starring Gast, Hojo, Ifalna, bb Aeris, and Pepper
I woke up to searing pain. I cringed, hands going to my chest. It was wet, sticky...warm. It throbbed, and my fingers curled into my lab coat trying to stop the pain.
The gunshot was still ringing in my ears from before.
I bounced, rising about a centimeter off the floor before my head fell back against the cold metal. I barely felt that pain compared to my chest. Gritting my teeth, I opened my eyes. Metal all around me. A box. A vibrating box? We were moving.
"Watch the road," snapped a familiar voice. I sat up, slowly, hands still grasping my soaked clothing. A chain rattled by my feet and I realized one leg was bound to the floor. As if I could do anything in my condition.
I groaned and turned towards the voice. A small window was the only thing to break the monotonous gray of the back of the truck. Light streamed in through it, and I looked down.
My gunshot wound had stopped bleeding. Though it still throbbed, the pain seemed to be subsiding. I felt the slightest tingle there--regeneration? I remembered the gunshot, and Ifalna grabbing a materia instinctively, casting something as I writhed on the floor.
She saved me. I thought stupidly. Ifalna...Ifalna! I jerked my head towards the window.
"Hey!" I called out. It was barely a whisper. I coughed, tasting blood in the back of my mouth. I took a sharp breath, despite the pain, and called out again, "H-Hey!"
A shadow filled the window before it slid open. Light glinted off round glasses. Hojo.
"So Ifalna did manage to save you," Hojo mused, "I'd heard the Ancients were proficient enough in the healing arts, but...then again, how would I know? I haven't been experimenting on them for the past couple of years..."
"Where are they?" I choked out. I could feel my voice clearing a bit.
"Who?" Hojo asked innocently.
"Ifalna and Aeris!"
"Oh. They're fine. In the vehicle in front of us, actually. Don't worry, I'd never let anything happen to my precious specimens."
"They're not yours!"
Hojo pulled out a walkie-talkie and clicked it on. "Pepper, do you hear me?"
Static. "Yes, sir," answered the young biochemist.
"Pepper, are Ifalna and the Ancient whelp mine?"
Static, longer this time. "Yes, I...suppose so, sir."
Hojo glanced back at me and shrugged. "Looks like the consensus is in. They're mine."
I glared at him. "Silas, if you think I'll let you harm them in any way--"
"Let me?" Hojo asked, "No, I don't think you'd LET me. But I don't think you're going to have a choice or say in this, Professor."
"Hojo!" I barked, trying to rise to my feet and lunge towards the window. The chain held me back, well out of reach, jarring me and setting my wound to bleeding a bit again. I clutched at it, grimacing as I sat back down on the floor.
"Hm?" He had a hair tie in his mouth and was gathering his long black hair into a ponytail casually.
He's enjoying this. I thought. That little bastard.
I could hear static on the walkie-talkie again and Hojo picked it back up, placing it to his ear when he was finished pulling his hair back. "What was that, Pepper?"
I heard a soft cry coming through. "It's the baby," Pepper answered, "She won't stop crying."
"Well do something fatherly then," Hojo sighed.
"S-sir. Um. Okay."
Static. Then, "Gast!" cried Ifalna. "Gast, are you all right?"
Hojo eyed the device, then held it out towards me. "Say hi to the wife."
"Ifalna! Ifalna, I'm fine! Did they hurt you? Are you okay?"
"Yes. My hands are tied, but I'm okay. If they weren't, this truck and everyone in it would be on fire. ...You too, Carrot Top."
I smirked a little. If she could joke--well she wasn't joking, she really would light the truck on fire--then she wasn't in pain.
"Sir, she's threatening to light me on fire," Pepper said.
"Do you have the baby in your arms?" Hojo asked.
"Then threaten her back using the baby."
"Like...like what, sir? Like...I'm going to punch the baby? Because I'm obviously not. I wouldn't hurt our specimen."
"Pepper...when we get back to Midgar I'm going to teach you the finer principles of 'threatening' and 'bluffing'."
Hojo rolled his eyes and began to fiddle with something in the seat beside him. I was thinking fast... what could I do to protect my wife? My little girl?
"Silas...did you really aim to kill me?"
Hojo didn't even glance up. "Of course I did. But, as it so happens, this is a fortuitous turn of events."
I eyed him, but he was still concentrating on whatever he had in the seat.
"Silas, even you know that it would be a waste to lose me."
Hojo snickered and shook his head. "'Even you, Silas'. You always looked down on me, didn't you, Gast? On all of us? Not that you have a choice seeing as you're perched so high on that pedestal of yours."
"No," I answered honestly. I had no idea where he would get an idea like that. I tried to include him in the experimentation, tried to give him all the opportunities a young scientist would want...
"We'll see who's the real monster between us. I do everything you've ever done, and I'm ostracized from the academic community for being too bold. Too harsh. While you're practically a hero!" I heard a click from the front seat. "Well, Gast, here's how it's going to be. You experimented on my wife and son, and I'm going to experiment on your wife and daughter. Fair? Sounds fair to me."
"Well it's not entirely fair," he said with a smirk, finally deigning to look at me. I heard another click from the front seat. He didn't elaborate on why it wasn't fair.
I took the opportunity to try a different sort of tactic, "Hojo, let me work with you. Under you. You're in charge of the Science Department now... let me work for you."
Hojo stopped whatever he was doing and turned his full attention to me, "What?"
I knew this was probably my only playing card. I couldn't stop them, not in this state. But if I could stay alive, somehow, in the science department, I could curb the experimentation. Could persuade Hojo, keep them safe from harm...
"I am, scientifically speaking, curious." I lied. "I could work with you, together we could--"
"Wait!" Hojo said a little too gleefully, "Wait." He clicked on the walkie-talkie again. "Pepper?"
"Let Ifalna hear this."
I felt a pang in my heart. I swallowed as Hojo held the device out towards me again. I hoped Ifalna would know I was lying, that I'd never hurt them, that I was just trying to protect them in any way that I could...
"Go ahead and tell Ifalna your plans, Professor."
"I..." I looked at the ground. "Let me work with you, Hojo. Let me help you with the...experimentation."
"...Gast?" Ifalna asked. There was a moment of static before she snapped, "Hojo, take the gun away from his head."
Hojo was practically giggling. "No, no, Ifalna, you misunderstand! He came up with this all on his own! He's betrayed your lives for his own...or is trying to. Tell her it's true, Gast."
"It's..." It's not true, Ifalna. "It's true."
I had never seen Hojo smile so much.
"Gast...you wouldn't." She said, her voice wavering. I glanced at the ground so Hojo wouldn't see me cringing. My hands were clenched tight against the floor.
"He was in charge of the Jenova Project, you remember, Ifalna?" Hojo said, "He experimented on children, soldiers, and more animals than we can even keep track of. I'm afraid science is his real lover. And serve her he shall."
Hojo picked up what he had been fiddling with in the seat. It was a revolver with a silencer on the end. My eyes widened a bit. Did he mean to finish me off now that Ifalna couldn't save me?
"You're right, Gast." Hojo continued, "'Even I' realize you're useful and that it's senseless to lose you. When you lived, I realized a golden opportunity was staring me in the face. We've experimented on fetuses... Hold still now."
He pointed the gun at me and squinted one eye shut to look down the barrel. I instinctively scooted backwards, away from him, my back hitting the back of the truck when he fired. The silencer kept it from deafening all of us.
I winced as soon as I heard the shot, and cried out as it pierced my chest. I didn't realize how quickly I was breathing. This time, it was...different.
I glanced down and saw a syringe protruding from my chest, just a few inches away from my gunshot wound. I grabbed it and pulled it out as quickly as I could, but it was already empty.
"A...tranquilizer?" I asked, eyeing the syringe closely. Before Hojo could answer, I noticed the residue inside the syringe was a sickly pink color. A very familiar pink color.
"Do you feel tired? I want you to be very honest with how you feel. This is for science, after all." He held the walkie-talkie to the side of his head and placed the gun back in the seat beside him. "For the audience in the other vehicle, I just shot the dear Professor with a syringe full of Jenova cells. I've been so curious to see what happens when you inject an adult with no preparation whatsoever."
I began to feel very...ill.
So this was how it was going to end? My heart was pounding. I wouldn't be able to save Ifalna, save Aeris...do anything. I was holding the syringe in my right hand. I noticed my thumb seemed...longer. I glanced at my other hand. The veins were protruding, turning my hand a bruised, angry purple as it swelled up.
I looked up at Hojo. He was holding a small recorder in one hand and the walkie-talkie in the other. "Gast!" I heard from the device. "Gast, answer me!"
Ifalna. I couldn't tell her what was going on. As my skin stretched, I ground my teeth to keep from screaming as long as possible. I finally did, letting it all out, falling face first into the floor, curling up in pain. My glasses broke and fell away from my face as I hit the floor. My left eye was bulging--I couldn't close my eyelid over it anymore.
I turned my eyes up to Hojo. He looked blurry without my glasses, but I could still see him smirking.
"So tell me what you're feeling." Hojo said calmly.
There was a creaking sound as my spine elongated. My right shoulder split open at the same time I felt a pinch and my vision on my left side went black. I glanced down and saw my enlarged left brown eye staring back at me from the floor. I cried out again, this time my voice much more coarse.
I could hear Ifalna and the baby crying through the walkie-talkie. I had to be strong, for them. I have to be strong.
I lifted myself off the floor and vomited violently. I spat something out of my mouth--gods, was that my stomach on the floor? My insides were like eels--new organs were growing in place of the ones I had just threw up.
I stared at them dumbfounded for a moment before glancing back up at Hojo. That damned smile.
"Silasss" I growled, rising to my feet. They had burst through my shoes long ago, and were curling in onto themselves. I struggled to stay upright, clinging to the side of the truck with fingers that were a foot long on my right hand. My other hand was a bulbous mass. My shoulder flinched...there were teeth there. It gnashed against the threads of my clothes that were remaining.
Seeing my full, still changing, form wiped the smile off of Hojo's face. Instead he was just cocking an eyebrow at me.
"Sample H0512 is changing rapidly. Change began at 1402 hours and is still progressing at a steady pace, time now 1405."
"I am Gassst," I said, my tongue feeling slippery inside my mouth. I concentrated on controlling it and keeping my balance. "Silas, I failed you. You were meant to be...so much more than this. But you'll never get out from beneath my shadow. Never have what you really want. You'll always be a second-rate scientist--you never had it in you to be anything but that. I realize that now. You're going to be incomplete until the day you die. And then you will be forgotten."
Hojo glared at me, smile definitely gone now. For a moment it was silent, save for the soft crying coming from the walkie-talkie and the grinding of my bones as they shifted in place.
Then a smile crept back onto his face. "Professor Gast, my dear mentor... I would never have you away from your--I mean, my laboratory. So when we get back, I'm going to place you in a clear cell, so you can watch as I experiment on your wife and child. If the child fails the experimentation, then you can watch as we breed Ifalna for another child. You can watch as I take your place...and mentions of you only exist in journals, textbooks that bore the young college minds, and on your wife's lips as she screams for you to help her. But you won't be able to, will you, Gast? Will you, monster? Will you, H0512?"
I roared, and Ifalna cried out. It was getting hard to think. Words were coming along one at a time, now. "Gast!" Ifalna screamed, "Gast!"
Ifalna was one word that kept coming to mind. Ifalna.
A few years later, Ifalna and the child managed to escape from the lab. In a fit of desperation to stop them, Hojo released H0512, the ferocious guardian of the lab, who gave chase to the last remaining Ancients. With a mighty swipe of its claws, it gravely injured Ifalna. Ifalna used her magic--but only enough to keep the beast at bay as she escaped the lab.
Several hours later, she lay on the steps of the train station, eyes glancing from her daughter to the bottom of the plate that floated 50 meters above her. She had lost too much blood to go on, and was too tired from running and carrying Aeris. A woman came, and Ifalna entrusted the woman with Aeris as her dying wish.
Ifalna returned to the Planet.
And many years later, H0512 was released yet again, this time on Aeris's friends who had come to rescue her from the laboratory where she found herself once again. This time, the lab guardian fell. It seemed...tired, somehow.
It returned to the Planet, where it was reunited with its wife...and a few months later, it's child.
And together, they rested.