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Impossible Monsters

part 2 of Genetic Imperialism


Just outside of Junon's policed city border, Scarlet and Hojo are having a picnic.

They're not enjoying themselves. The tartan rug clashes with the burgundy cord of Scarlet's skirt. The near-orange cheese, sourced from somewhere out towards Kalm, stinks like crushed gysahl, and makes Hojo feel queasy. (Lactose intolerant, like so many of his species.) Grey grass and ice-blue skies don't exactly compliment the colour of Scarlet's eyes, a blue that even in her youth proved too watery to provoke poetry, and both she and Hojo are well aware of that. The wind tugs Scarlet's starched hair out of position. Hojo's greasy tail lashes lines of ink across his cheeks.

Scarlet's drunk and Hojo's stoned: everyone has their poisons. Scarlet said they should get together, but it was Hojo who suggested a picnic. Shinra can't hide his ears out under the clear blue sky. Scarlet dislikes nature. She misses Midgar more with every mouthful of imported wine; at her age, Scarlet' s willing to admit she looks better in neon than sunlight. She wouldn't have thought whiter-than-his-labcoat Hojo one for a picnic, but Hojo has certain hangovers from his misspent youth; he was a romantic, once upon a time. He believed in happy endings. He even would have suggested supper at sunset, down on the shore, if Junon's only beach hadn't been grey with oil-slick.

Far below their sun-swamped hillside picnic, Scarlet can see Junon's reactor emptying itself. Slurry into the great gasping sea, stinking steam into the sky. Even waste is quantified in Shinra's corporate process; Scarlet knows to the cubic percentile exactly how much waste is coming from Weapons' forges. Scarlet's departmental daydream has been given form by Shinra's beneficence; the giant cannon feeds on ore shipped in from Corel, flesh slowly laid on that upthrust curving skeleton now dominating Junon's skyline.

The cannon will be the greatest human-made weapon ever to grace the world's surf ace.

The grass withers this close to Junon. Waste, and other poisonous kinds, makes it inevitable. Scarlet rests her elbow on her knee, sinks her spiked heel into the soil, tilts her wineglass so the red turns piercing and bloody in the sunlight. Everyone has their poison: waste is an inevitable byproduct of any kind of creative process, suck it in, shit it out, something's got to give. She had contemplated in her younger years (idealistic, Scarlet? -she laughs) how to deal with this matter of excess pollution and not enough energy, back in the days when they'd all first learned that mako was finite, that it was being wasted. All Shinra needed to do was g-engineer themselves an organism that thrived on poison. Something that would eat poison, and shit out pellets of solid fuel.

That would've been the easy way out, she supposes. Shinra was never really into creationism. Appropriation, perhaps; take the best of every crop of grapes, mix, bottle, let it rot long e nough to become something else, and get in return a wine even she would have been ashamed to drink.

Hojo sprawls where Scarlet sits. He props himself one elbow, free hand toying with his habit's associated paraphernalia. He watches Junon too. The ash from his durry falls onto his labcoat, which has him sigh. In trying to brush it off, he streaks grey right into the grain of the fabric. Scarlet neglects the angle of the wineglass as she laughs, and spills red down the line of her shin. She catches it on her fingers and licks. No point wasting good wine. A mark of her progressiveness that she doesn't wear stockings to stain.

Hojo digs his scapula into the grass, shifts a little, and takes a deeper drag on his joint. He coughs when he lets it out, habit, not necessity.

"Something amusing?" Hojo asks. Smoke curls from his nostrils. He shades his eyes from the sun.

For a moment, Scarlet can't remember what she was going to say. She drinks instead. Through the distortion of the glass, Hojo looks laughable enough, Wutai's best cast in Shinra's worst light

"How's the Project coming?" she asks instead. "Last I heard you were barely a quarter of the way through the gene mapping. Code kept mutating. So I heard."

"You hear quite a lot, considering the lab doors are kept locked."

The glitter of Hojo's eyes through half-lowered lids is disturbing; he is more aware of what Scarlet wants than she knows. He moves first, and lets one hand come to rest on Scarlet's well-fleshed thigh. His palm is sweaty. Scarlet notes he still wears his wedding ring; she's sure Lucrecia never did.

"We stopped mapping months ago." Hojo snorts, squints his eyes narrow against the involuntary pulse in his left eyelid. "No point, when the test subject was born into a viable state. We'll map the full code later.' Maybe when this latest funding battle resolves itself...appropriatey."

Scarlet swallows, grins through mummified lips. " Cede the territory, Doctor. I win all my battles. Shinra wants this cannon finished."

Hojo shrugs. "If this fully viable test subject doesn't convince Shinra that Science is where progress," he draws, languid and deliberate on his joint, "is at, then I don't know what will."

"Test subject, hah. He's a boy. A boy, Hojo. Not even a full-fledged man with a sword, or an army imbued with instant obedience and well fitted armour. A boy. And he's going to convince the President to give you more money, how? By sucking his cock?"

The bitch dares, of course, because she thinks the only way forward is either on her knees or riding on the backs of others. Hojo flicks ash and considers. His son. He'd kill her, if he was in any position to indulge psychopathic actions.

"I'm surprised you say that with such disdain, Scarlet. Isn't that how you got your current position?"

"That's about as original a slur as your damned test subject, Hojo. Everyone knows Gast pa ved your way—"

Now Hojo's angry. "Gast didn't have the daring to do what I did—"

Scarlet knows this is a sore point. "But Gast got the funding necessary to let you play, Doctor.

Hojo very nearly snaps. A play doctor, is he? He could play the qualification game if Scarlet wanted, she with her engineering bachelor - hah! Scarlet pours herself another glass of wine, the cork clenched between her teeth. Drunken whore.

Preemptively, Scarlet washes bitterness out of her mouth with the taste of wine. She comes to the point once the words are softened enough on sour grapes, no thorns in her throat. "All right, Hojo. Shinra's going to give you four fifths of this year's budget. So sources say. I need at least a quarter of the budget to finish the cannon. If you side with me, I'll side with you against everyone else, and vote to give you the rest."

Scarlet thinks Hojo's smile is as insultingly slow as the man himself. "Where we go, Scarlet, weapons won't be necessary. The boy's the key to the Promised Land. Why would we need weapons there? It's a land of total abundance."

"Stop fucking with me, doctor. I'm talking metal, mechanics, not myths. What do I have to do for you to get my cannon finished? You want more resources? You want more men, more test subjects? You want me to get Reeve off your back?"

Hojo lets his lazy gaze fall onto his hand, still on Scarlet's knee. She shoves it off then, not as violently as she should have.

"Settle down, Scarlet. If I wanted a cheap blonde with her own bottle, I'd go back to Costa del Sol." Hojo offers a slow smirk, "But you could try Shinra directly. The man's a libertine, he has no morality."

"I'm not a fucking politician, and there's no way I'm going to fuck one, either. Take your morality and stick it."

Hojo shrugs again. "You should've stuck with building bridges."

It takes Scarlet a lot of effort to keep herself silent. She, she birthed thi s cannon out of her own years of study, her painful maneuvering and painstaking empire-building; no one else had ever thought to find a way to marry mako to metal before.

Except Hojo.

The reason for this picnic galls her; means and ends, both are bitter. It had been Hojo that had helped her, back in the years before his ambition had sent him off the deep end, when the cannon had just been a concept on a page and Scarlet an engineer with a dream. Wutai was always threatening Midgar's horizons, lurking in the next street, the apartment above packed with refugees whose children called Midgar home and whose parents yet called on strange gods and stranger monsters; and the monsters, gods, suddenly springing up in such numbers, and how long would it be before the sanctity of cities was ruined? She wanted to defend, Gaia damn her for it, and Scarlet wasn't going to wait for the worst to happen; the best defence came before the attack itself. She dug up alumni records fr om her own school, and one name stood out amongst all the morass of petrochemical engineers. The man was a miracle worker with mako, right from the early days of its discovery. Those days had been good days. Futures looked brighter back then. Even Wutai had worked with Shinra, brief golden days, when they thought they could end the monstrous plague that was no plague. A reality. A status quo. People scarcely even blinked to find the monsters in Midgar's own slums, now.

But now, they'd all gone a little mad. Scarlet could vaguely admit it, only vaguely, only ever vaguely, because the skies were grey with veils of smog and searing rain, but how could they not all be mad? They were kings and queens of their own little empires, and Shinra was a dark God demanding such sacrifice to feed that ever-gaping maw of ego...

"I'll compromise," Scarlet says, sharply, "but only with you. I have a plan, and I want it kept out of Shinra's ears."

Hojo rolls another joint wit h slow, careful motions. "I'm listening."

"We make weapons," Scarlet says. "You and I both, we make weapons, I don't care what you call your test subject, boy or angel: he's a weapon. But weapons are my department, Hojo. If you want all the funding, you need to let us in on how the boy develops. Give us his DNA so we can work on it, too. We shouldn't be competing. We should be working to the same goal."

"I don't think you even know what goal that is."

"Frankly, Hojo, I don't care. Don't pretend its some high ideal, Promised Land my fat ass. You and I are in this for ourselves, to prove a point. Just think about it this way, Hojo — if you think you can do so well with one test subject, imagine how well you'd do with hundreds of them. Thousands, even. My department can give you thousands of subjects."

For a moment, Scarlet thinks she's lost him. An expression similar to disgust flicks across his face, disdain; he stares at the sky instead of her.

"Quantity instead of quality," Hojo muses. "What is in that bottle you're clinging to so desperately, Scarlet, an eight dollar per gallon house red?"

"If you're going to continue to insult me," Scarlet says, "I'll take this direct to Shinra, and his nose will be in this right from the word go. No experimental playground for Doctor Hojo then."

"And no gigantic cock for Scarlet, challenging Shinra's skyline." Hojo grins, languid and insulting. "Sorry, love. I meant 'no giant cannon', of course I did. A slip of the tongue." A pause. "Alright. You've intrigued me."

"Mind," Scarlet says, "we'll have to keep this underground for a good while. Until we have results. Deep underground. And in the meantime you'll sign the test subject over to the dominion of Weaponry, and we'll split the funding."

"How many ways can a man sell his soul?" It sounds like a quote.

"What?"

"Never mind.' Hojo's sighs sound like gravel rattling down a hollow tube. 'Do yo u have a name for the bastard cannon?"

"It's a bitch, but bad luck to name a weapon before it's finished." Scarlet scratches her scalp, trying to pin back the disarray of her hair. "Do you have a name for the boy?"

"Sephiroth." Hojo makes a face. "His mother named him. Little angel, she said. Gaia damns women who give boys names like that. We call him Hiro round the lab."

"Maybe I'll call the cannon after him, then. They're practically brother and sister now, aren't they?"

Hojo refuses a glass of wine when she offers. Scarlet raises a toast to something she can't quite name as easily as that sister cannon. A toast to her success, so she thinks, and smiles.


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