How We All Got There (Was a Mystery)
In Costa del Sol, the unexpected nightlife swallowed them whole. However, it was the nature of scientists and bluecoats to remain undigested; they moved through the crowds as evident strangers, forever observant and wary of participation.
Accustomed to Midgar's density and the accompanying maintenance of personal space, Lucrecia felt disturbed that in streets scarcely occupied, people jostled her to oppression. The local dress, or absence of, presented as a visual force greater than numbers. She resisted the urge to count nipples.
Unlike Midgar's humidity, the warmth here was pleasant enough, a radiated heat from stone walls, a brisk breeze rising from the ocean. As they followed Hojo's confident lead through the main winding street, Lucrecia could not help her eyes returning repeatedly to the ocean's expanse. It was exactly what she expected: she had seen it before. She must have. She could not consider that her whole life had gone without the sight of the ocean. Her fingertips trailed along the wall that bordered the fall to the sands, sandstone worn smooth with countless similar strokes.
'Lucrecia,' Vincent said, softly, from behind her.
Tailing them all, surely Vincent did not suspect the half-clad civilians of unworthy conduct. Unheard at their head, Hojo muttered to Ifalna that Vincent played a not-so-subtle rearguard against their retreat. Lucrecia read Vincent's position differently: and as if to reinforce her perception of his caring, each time her steps lagged, Vincent spoke.
Her steps lagged often, yet he did not move to touch her until now, as though her passive persistence had overcome his reserve.
The stretch of his hand made as though to cup her elbow.
She stared. Suddenly, the thought of walking arm in arm with Vincent struck her as incongruous. She had imagined taking him by the hand.
Every street corner seemed to host a guitar band and several singers; as they walked, the musical collision was constant enough to interfere with Lucrecia's ability to focus. She realised she had slowed this time for her own relief, discovering unnoticed a small pocket of calm. Into that calm, Vincent's pronunciation of her name lingered.
'I'm so sorry,' Lucrecia said, with an undeserved emphasis for the nature of her crime. 'I'll keep up.'
The bar was one of Hojo's recommendation. In confirmation of Vincent's knowledge, Hojo admitted that he had lived here for the majority of his childhood. Oddly enough considering the studious bent of his shoulders, the setting suited Hojo, the length of his tail unremarkable, sloping shoulders seen more as relaxation than devotion to his desk.
Seated at sunset, they watched in relative silence as the ocean's blue turned to black.
A woman wearing flowers lit scented lamps to battle back the night. It was past sunset when the true alienness of their setting at last struck Lucrecia with force: Midgar was the city of light, even the drop-off from the edge backlit by the sectors below. Here, the ocean's very blackness appeared as though the world itself barely held its edge whole against a salt-smelling, depthless nothingness. All the lamps in the world could not light the gulf.
Lucrecia felt moved enough to say: 'It's as though everything ends here.'
With his own conversational agenda pending, and without the social confidence to broach the topic on his own, Gast responded explosively. 'But this is just the beginning, Lucrecia! A whole realm of research opens to us all!'
Lucrecia's mood curdled at his tone. 'Professor,' said without evident rancor, 'I think I would appreciate it if you referred to me as Ms Crescent. I referenced only the scenery, but if we're to discuss work exclusively, we should probably maintain a fixed working relationship.'
Gast was old enough to have resented the incursion of Midgar's first rank of female graduates into the professional workforce, yet he did not bridle at Lucrecia's comment. It struck him completely unawares. As evenly as she has aired her request, he responded: 'If that is your preference, Ms Crescent, though you should feel free to call me what you like.'
'This,' Hojo said to Ifalna, he grinning and she with eyes a-gleam in lamplight, 'is what we in the uppers of General U's territorial disputations like to call "establishing desk space". As you can tell, qualifications aside, what we have here is a vital conflict of core ideologies. Gast will believe the Cetra is a Cetra even if it looks like a goat; Gast believes in the Cetran intervention, and has spent the past fifty years digging up mangled skeletons and believing they're proof of the Ancients on the planet. Ms Crescent, on the other hand, has spent the past six years arguing that without a modicum of proof, the Cetra surely never existed, and that all trace of their existence —'
'The WEAPONs,' Ifalna inserted, with a vague air that said she hoped Hojo's patronage would derail as easily as a train.
'-including the WEAPONs are actually derived through the miracle of mere natural evolution. Imagine the likelihood of biotechnology evolving itself together, if you will.'
'I resent that,' Gast said. For the first time since embarking, he felt a sudden relief at speaking the truth: he was compelled to repeat himself. 'I do, I do resent that, Doctor. One can't sum up an entire lifetime of endeavor in two sentences — and it's only been twenty years, Hojo — Doctor.' He spoiled his own surety with petulance: 'I'm scarcely as old as fifty years of study would indicate.'
At that point, their drinks arrived.
Vincent paid, Lucrecia noticed, from a distance. Obscurely, she felt ashamed. She had never liked being bought.
Hojo accepted his pint glass with an assumption that someone else would always be buying. 'Oh, please, you can call me Hojo, Gast. It's not as though I have the luxury to make a distinction between a private and working life. So much to disprove, so little time to do it.'
Hojo wielded his arrogance with the hope that another would rise to cross his blade. Lucrecia tasted her wine. She inhaled deeply.
'Despite our differences,' Lucrecia said, 'I welcome the opportunity your discovery has presented us, Professor. I've set myself as a stand-alone in Midgar's scientific hierarchy in my attempts to prove the WEAPONs are purely evolutionary beasts, simply because the idea of fate and pre-destined power and — and the final judgment have all seemed so out of date. Residues of old mythologies. In this day and age, with materia now harnessed and the summons fully understood, it's sheer ignorance to continue believing in some higher power. Did you know some tribes out there still believe their summons are independent gods?'
'Good grief,' Ifalna murmured.
Lucrecia continued. 'How can I, a trained scientist, rightly believe in the Cetran presence as anything but another kind of myth? Watchmen, or angels, or Ancients, whatever they're called, all the stories sell them as higher powers or a global consciousness to the planet - this Lifestream ideology as a living thing, not just an energy source. Well, to believe in that is to believe that we're all playing like children in a garden, watched by some higher authority. I can't get behind that, Gast. Shinra doesn't get behind that, Shinra knows the Lifestream is exactly what it is, a source of energy, finite and understandable.'
'I wouldn't say we understand mako,' Hojo said. 'Where does it come from? Where does it go? We only know what it does, not why it does it.'
Lucrecia waved that aside as an irrelevant distraction: she would be heard. 'We are our own beings, Professor. Yet the lack of proof of Cetran existence contradictorily has somehow become proof that they did exist! As though by leaving nothing behind of themselves, they must have all ascended bodily to this myth-born Promised Land.'
Lucrecia allowed herself some irony of tone, and a smile for ease. Gast merely blinked.
'Midgar,' Lucrecia said, and quelled the pang of sentiment she felt at the name, 'has proved the only civilization on this planet to take steps away from the concept of predestination. I say, at last. I say your discovery might present us with the final proof we need, and for that, I embrace this opportunity. Even if the Cetra did exist in some form, they must have been terrestrial beings for you to dig up a fossil. I welcome wholeheartedly the opportunity to prove my theories right.'
'Conversely, you might have to change your mode of thought. Ms Crescent.' At Lucrecia's side, Hojo tapped her wineglass with a fingernail. 'You should have ordered the white, not the red. Your cheeks are flushed.'
Gast had not looked away from Lucrecia as she spoke, though at Hojo's interruption his gaze unfocused. A strange, almost surreal calm came across his features.
'You would not speak like that if you'd seen her,' Gast said, quietly.
Ifalna has been so nonchalant in her pose as observer that Lucrecia had nearly forgotten her presence. The young woman said, with indifference: 'Her?'
'Her name is Jenova. President Shinra gave me the honour of naming her.'
'The name is out of mythology,' Ifalna said. 'Shinra must be rethinking his denouncement of pre-Midgar theology to let you call her that.'
'She came from the sky,' Gast said, singsong, as though reciting. 'She came from the sky, just like an angel, with wings. You should see her wings. Not beautiful - not by our standards. But so wonderful. Jenova.'
The band played into the sudden absence of conversation.
At the name Lucrecia's thoughts fled, the argument she had wished to continue, the complaint. Jenova. For all that Grimoire had discovered Omega, it had been Lucrecia's research that gave him the key: he had asked her what she would call this new WEAPON. And so, unblooded, unqualified, Lucrecia named Omega. Of a contradictory mind at the best of times, she had dug through the old mythologies to find a word as ominous as the WEAPON's final function proved under study.
Lucrecia knew the power of words; yet she did not know why Jenova's name seemed fit to wipe her consciousness. Jenova: the sky's eventful fall.
Vincent had not sat after distributing their drinks. He spoke from over Lucrecia's head. 'Ms Crescent, your own studies on the WEAPONs - do you think the Professor's find will allow you the key to their activation? If they are Cetran-derived creations, it seems logical that the key to their control would be in a Cetran form.'
Hojo laughed into his glass, hollow. 'A bluecoat talking logic.'
Spurred by that, and well aware that both her exceptions and exclusions would be noted and interpreted, Lucrecia said, 'You should call me Lucrecia, Vincent. I can't see us having much of a working relationship.'
'Very interesting,' Hojo said. 'And to the point. Why are you here, Vincent?'
The Turk responded without hesitation. 'For your own protection, Doctor.'
'I'll believe that when she,' Hojo nudged Lucrecia with his elbow, and grinned, 'believes in Cetran intervention.'
'Why are you here?' Lucrecia rebutted, provoked by that familiar elbow. 'Gast and I are self-explanatory. Ifalna has the capacity to assist us both - what's your role, Doctor?'
Hojo shrugged. 'I'm the maverick genius, of course. I started out in laser physics, in long distance precision; I'm a sniper with an eighteen storey cannon. But then I got bored, and that was right around the time they discovered the mako reactors were leaking like chaos into the surrounding environment, including Midgar's grounds, so while the plate was being built to get away from the contaminated ground, I was re-engineering the design of the reactors to prevent future energy loss. After which, the incidents with the monsters in the wilderness had increased to plague proportions, enough that agriculture was dramatically suffering, and so I got into biotechnology and mako engineering and attempted to create biotechnological weapons. Much like small scales of the WEAPONs, actually. We were hoping we could repel the monster plague.'
'I take it the effort didn't work,' Gast said. 'The numbers are becoming prohibitive to travel, I've heard.'
'Notwithstanding,' Hojo said, 'the intent was there. A maverick genius. And now I'm here, and I hope I'm not going to be bored.'
'Well,' Ifalna said, 'failing genius, you could always be the team's comedian. There's certainly a joke on someone somewhere around here.'
Hojo grinned, delighted. 'We all know ourselves for a farce. Roleplay's all the more fun when we get to improvise.'
Continue to Chapter 7 →
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