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Doctor Doctor

Over a coffee gone lukewarm, through a break turned to a multitasker's nightmare, Lucrecia skimmed the chart of her next patient from the bottom up, reading today's current concern, mako treatments, past history, and the name last of all, all while her left hand added a formless signature to a myriad pile of prescriptions.

Lucrecia's pen wandered from its line when she reached the patient's name. She set down her coffee to confirm the box checked below 'sex' to assure herself that yes, Beatrix was a female name, correspondingly appended to a biological female.

Assumptions, necessary for scientists to make any kind of progress, were nevertheless dangerous. Lucrecia tapped her pen across her lips in a mild form of reprimand. And of course one must never make assumptions with the stability of a SOLDIER; to combine that form of induced egotism with a woman's native hormonal cycle was risky indeed. Lucrecia certainly had not authorized this Beatrix for treatmen t, therefore it must have been her husband's blithe, blind and irresponsible work.

Two phonecalls and the rest of the now-cold coffee confirmed Hojo's stamp on this particular farce. Well, he was well out of it now, and Lucrecia would deal with his insanities and pull from the mess something of worth. Hojo's last major thesis was still squalling in his nanny's arms, and would not be useful for a good few years yet.

Lucrecia's first instinct was to refuse this Beatrix her next tier of treatments, but she forced herself to think objectively. While it was rare for a First Class to be female, it was not impossible, and if the woman had risen so high with minimal mako enhancement, perhaps she was of the stock to tolerate Jenova's transformative process. Shinra's regime enforced a certain kind of fairness, if not justice: anyone could rise to the heights had they the ability to disregard those who told them otherwise. Lucrecia herself was proof of Shinra's beneficent m eritocracy; Hojo, too, in an inverted way.

Lucrecia held down the comm button with a single finger, regarded the chip in her nail polish with an abstract dismay, and called for a fresh coffee to be sent through along with this Beatrix: she who would be as a living god.

The woman was impressive even without Jenova's shadow sprouting from her shoulders: Lucrecia decided to progress her almost on the instant. Nevertheless, Lucrecia had been caught by her impulsiveness before, so she restrained her eagerness with process. Beatrix re-enacted the full complement of physicals and psychologicals that the SOLDIER had already completed, yet Beatrix performed everything on Lucrecia's cue without a sideways glance. A woman of her intelligence surely knew these days of testing were wasted, superfluous activity, but SOLDIERs were trained to perform on command.

That instant obedience held true for the last performance also, as Lucrecia directed the woman into the gym's bathroom and passed over a sample cup. Policy demanded open doors for this, so Lucrecia refrained from a nonchalant lean against any a sterilized sink or wall; facing into Beatrix's cubicle she instead assumed the posture she called 'scientist at work', tapping her pen across the chart she cradled as though documenting each trickle of sound from Beatrix's filling cup.

She could see why Hojo had let the woman progress so far, for her persistence and performance ranked her equal with the men in the same trial program, but there was also the matter of Beatrix's physicality. Lucrecia sneered at her clipboard: Hojo was a blind sucker for a certain highly specific hip to waist ratio.

Lucrecia's fingers were too tight on her pen: it flew out of her grasp when she twitched, startled by a touch. Beatrix moved as quietly as Shinra Jr's pet cat; Lucrecia hadn't even heard her rise.

Beatrix pressed the warm cup into Lucrecia's now-empty hand, wrapping Lucr ecia's fingers around it firmly.

From the blaze in Beatrix's eyes, the woman knew this for a farce.

Lucrecia could not look away. The warmth against her palm, and the knowledge of what generated that warmth, had the skin on Lucrecia's nape crawling. Objectivity warred with undocumented emotions: surely mako alone could not be responsible for the sheer luminescence of Beatrix's eyes; mako was certainly not responsible for the thick lashes surrounding, nor the crisp, perfect line of black that ringed that iris as though constraining, if not really, the brilliance within. It really was unfair, Lucrecia thought wistfully, that a woman should have hair that lush, a body that shaped, skills thus refined, and have the eyes of an uncommon angel.

'Doctor,' Beatrix said, 'where is Professor Hojo? Usually he conducts my tests.'

'My husband,' Lucrecia replied, 'is on long-service leave, unfortunately.'

She capped the statement with an embarrassed little laugh.

Lucrecia was waiting for response, reading each treacherous muscle as it twitched. From the slight widening of lids, Beatrix suspected. Lashes lowered slowly, a veil that did little but dim brilliance to a sultry lilac. The sensual implication that look gave did not correspond with the narrow line of Beatrix's lips. Lucrecia wondered if the woman could be unaware of her own appeal, looking so, downcast yet defiant. It was definitely a SOLDIER's clipped tone that stated: 'I assume my progress through the project won't be interrupted by this shift in power.'

Lucrecia smiled, could do nothing but, and knew no matter how she tried to represent herself as dark, cutting or desperate, that her smile would do no more than show her as a vaguely insipid kind of woman. She had long learned to use her body's misrepresentation to her advantage. She smiled. After a moment, Beatrix's defiance wilted in the face of what appeared a genial incompetence: perhaps the woman would assume Gast's powerplay had displaced Hojo.

'We'll see when we get all the tests back,' Lucrecia said, and shook the lukewarm piss-full beaker at the damned woman, and laughed, 'won't we?'

Beatrix's strength kept her silent through the worst of the transformation, only for exhaustion to wring a gag-choked scream from her lip. Lucrecia sighed, shut her notebook, and walked into the lab. Shinra's latest budget cuts kept the watching shifts staffed by one: she should call for her colleagues to come view the subject. Still, if the change had been successful, there would be no harm waiting until morning.

Great black wings rippled and beat against their chains, wild and disconcerting, the wind from their motion flicking a myriad split ends into Lucrecia's eyes. Vision full of water, she made her way across slick concrete to Beatrix's writhing form. They had tried with some subjects to let this happen under sedation: w ithout exception, all had died. Humans needed their minds awake and imagining in order to resist what Jenova did to them, some fantasy constructed of mingled drugs, dreams and insanity to somehow make this forced genetic mutation acceptable. Beatrix's muscularity had enhanced, elongated, bones slightly reconfigured as expected, but asides from those customary shifts, minimal visible mutation had occurred but for the wings. Lucrecia was mildly disappointed; she remembered with a certain unemotion the one SOLDIER who has sprouted an abundance of eyes on various limbs, and his had been hardly as vibrant as Beatrix's.

The regenerative performance of Jenova's cells was the scientific reasoning behind these transformations. As such, regeneration would, of course, be present, but the extent had always varied per subject.

It was with that in mind that Lucrecia took a scalpel from the wall rack and cut Beatrix's right forearm. The woman grunted against her gag, eyes sudde nly wide, then closed, too tired to do more than twitch against her security. After the first escapee, the bonds on this table were triple-engineered for expected loads, then doubled again. Wings shivered and shook, dark feathers joining those already scattered across the floor. Had it been anyone but Beatrix tied to this table, Lucrecia would have been captivated by those wings. Perhaps she had just seen too many such transformations: at least seven severed wings already hung in her specimen freezer, and the novelty of a feathered texture had worn thin.

Lucrecia watched as the cut closed, bone disappearing first, skin sealing before alien blood could even boil.

'Well done,' Lucrecia said. Beatrix rolled her eyes, trying to keep her in sight despite the restrictive band around her skull; Lucrecia made it easy for her and stepped close. 'It appears as though Jenova regards you a worthy host.'

Beatrix tried to shake free the hand that cupped her chin, lashes wide to bare that brilliant blue, then lax again, the colour softer. The woman bound, Lucrecia ran an ungloved finger across thick lashes, gummed with wet effort but firm enough to double as the bristles of a brush. Her nail polish had chipped again; Lucrecia rubbed it with a thumb as though her touch could smooth the imperfect colour.

Distantly, she was aware that Beatrix growled.

It was the intimacy of that touch the subject railed against, Lucrecia knew from experience. Strange how these SOLDIERs had been trained to respond so perfectly to the appearance of authority, the lab-coated whiteness that implied a careful, calculated, considered outcome; Lucrecia wore but her civvies, relaxed for the lateness of the evening and the privacy of her office. At Beatrix's distaste, Lucrecia moved to dress herself in white, to draw on gloves that Beatrix could not object, however non-vocally, to this coming invasion. It was a pity, really; the sensation of those wet, stiff lashes still lingered on Lucrecia's skin. It reminded her again of how the wings had felt when she cut them free, the soft feathers on the underside stiff and wet with blood.

The memory firmed Lucrecia's intent.

Beatrix's eyelid was soft, the skin so very fragile. It would die almost immediately on removal, the quantity of Jenova's blood too minimal through thin veins, so Lucrecia took a moment to prepare a sample jar, the appropriate solution of mako within for life to flourish. Beatrix moaned something pitiful and raging against her gag, weak enough after her transformation that the sound failed to break Lucrecia's concentration. She had never taken an eye before. Perhaps it was the fact of Beatrix's femaleness; the wings Lucrecia had claimed came from males, and she, delighted to remove from them a limb, of which, counting cock, they already had an excess. Perhaps with the females, all she wanted to do gut them another hole to hate.

And Beatrix's eyes w ere so very beautiful. Once tugged free, the orb and its trailing stem resembled nothing more than an ironic rose. Lucrecia had been careful with retaining the lids and those beautiful lashes, pinching the fragile skin closed behind that perfect, slipping roundness. Into the jar it went. Jenova's resilience was already causing the skin to close.

She stripped her gloves and turned her attention to Beatrix. Jenova's blood was as red as a human's, but Jenova's resiliance was so much greater. But for a single trail of bloodied tears, there was very little gore, invaded muscle closing firm and solid over the vulnerability into Beatrix's brain. At that flexing, Lucrecia was tempted beyond reason, and placed her finger in that socket to feel the healing process close tight about the tip.

'Jenova dislikes injury,' Lucrecia said, 'but we must take samples, significant ones, to determine the effects of Jenova's mutation on human infrastructure. I have no doubt that by morning, Jenova will have coded some kind of replacement for your orb. Perhaps a mouth; significant injuries like amputations have often resulted in that configuration.'

Beatrix's noises were fair meaningless now. Jenova's pull was solid and strong. Lucrecia had to tug forcefully to free her finger from that closing flesh. She struck the rigidity of bone and socket as she withdrew, a strange sensation after that sucking flesh. Red painted channels in each line on Lucrecia's finger, gathering even in the chip in her polish. She left unfortunate fingerprints on the jar when she picked it up, carrying it into her office.

Even as Lucrecia watched, that beautiful blue eye focused on her with a hatred that should have been impossible, and blinked.

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