I woke up in a place I would quickly come to consider Hell. My first thought was that I was dreaming, but a few movements proved that I was certainly awake, and just wishing that I was dreaming.
I was suspended in a weird green liquid in a large cylindrical tank, wearing a utilitarian bikini, a breathing mask, and lots of tubes and wires. I thought about screaming for a moment or two, then realized no one would hear me, and gave up the ghost. Instead, I kicked the side of the tank, making the clear glass rattle satisfyingly.
“Mara, please don’t kick the tank,” a vaguely familiar voice said, seemingly into my ear. There were speakers spaced throughout the tank, giving me the impression that the voice was coming from all sides.
“Hojo!” I shouted, pounding on the glass with my fists. It seemed to me that my voice was swallowed up by the liquid.
“Please don’t shout, Mara,” the doctor said, as if he were talking to a child.
I figured the facemask was wired with a mic. Fine then – I would give that weirdo a good piece of my mind. “What is this? What the hell is going on here?!”
“Valid enough questions, I suppose,” he replied in a thoughtful tone. “Let’s see, where can I start?”
I answered his rhetorical question. “You can start by telling me how the hell I got here!”
“Oh, that. The injection I gave you that morning was a slow-acting anesthetic, not a tetanus immunization,” he explained off-handedly.
“You son of a…” His words ran through my head again. “Wait – ‘that morning’? What day is it?”
“April…” he looked at his watch. “Seventeenth.”
“WHAT?!” The morning of the spurious physical exam had been the third of March. “What happened between now and then?!”
“Well, let’s see. I ran a whole battery of physical tests on you to determine the current state of your body. Then we had to acclimatize you to the tank system there. You’ve been in there for about a week.”
I felt myself begin to shake as my imagination ran through his possible reasons for such elaborate measures. “What did you do?”
“I told you, we just ran some tests. Blood tests, examinations of your genes, your immune system, metabolism, et cetera. I haven’t initiated any experiments…yet.” I could hear the smugness creep into his voice as he explained.
This was Rufus’ payback, then. He had set me up to be a subject for Hojo’s rumored experiments. Back then, none of us really knew the sorts of things that Hojo did; I was about to learn.
“Experiments…?” I asked, becoming very afraid. He made the SOLDIERs, but they also said that he made monsters…
“Yes…the same kinds of things I did to your brother, you see. Your bodies are fairly similar.”
“My… Zack?” I was stunned; Zack had had makou infusions when he had joined SOLDIER, but for some reason I didn’t think that that was what Hojo had in mind. “M-makou infusions?” If that was all, I had nothing to really be afraid of, except for possible makou poisoning, but Hojo had just said that my physique was similar to Zack’s, and he hadn’t become sick…
“Hmm, not quite.” The doctor walked into my field of vision and sat down at the desk in front of me. “I had your brother help me with some other experiments, you see,” he said, looking up at me and smirking.
Zack had never said anything about being experimented on, and he usually told me everything…unless… “When? When did you do that?!”
“Hmm…about three years ago or so, I should think.”
Right around the time when Zack, his friend Cloud, and the legendary SOLDIER Sephiroth had supposedly died in a reactor accident in Nibelheim…
“You killed him, damn you, you killed him, didn’t you?!” I thrashed about in the tank, trying to break free of the wires and tubes, but without much luck.
“Ah, no, I didn’t. The experiment was moving along fairly well, you see. But he and his friend decided to try to escape. That is how they died, my dear.”
“His friend”, no doubt, had been Cloud Strife, a spunky kid who would have been my age if he were still around. I had liked Cloud a lot, and I had adored Zack. Learning this rather nasty truth of how they had died was like…was like waking up in a tank of liquid. I wanted to be angry, I wanted to rage and scream and break things, but it was all too much to absorb at once. I just crossed my arms and hugged myself, shivering. “What did you do to them?” I asked dully.
“I don’t see why I have to explain the specifics to you,” Hojo said airily. “I doubt you’d understand them anyway. Your brother and his friend were both failures, but I have high hopes for you…” He laughed chillingly.
That woke me up again. I screeched incoherently, thrashing around and pounding on the tank, but accomplished nothing except wearing myself out.
“Now, now, Mara, if you’re going to act like that, I’ll have to keep you sedated,” the doctor said coolly. “I can’t risk you injuring yourself.”
I snarled wordlessly, pounding on the glass again. I wanted to wring his scrawny neck.
“It’s bulletproof, shatterproof glass, Mara; all you’re going to do is hurt your hands. Please stay calm.”
“ I began to scream again, unable to put the anger I felt into words.
Oh, so much of it was directed at Rufus, for sending me to something as
good as death for something so petty; but most of it was for Hojo, who
I knew, despite his denial, was primarily responsible for my brother’s
death. I think he sedated me then, because I only remember waking
up later; but my hate never faded, just grew hotter as I learned more of
I don’t remember many details of my time there, as I spent much of it in a drug-addled stupor. On top of that, I’m afraid that things might have occurred that I won’t let myself remember, to preserve my own sanity. While I want to know what happened to me, Hojo and Rufus are beyond all retaliation now, so perhaps it’s for the best that I’ve forgotten.
The impression I got of my prison, through the glass of the tank, was of a library. The walls were covered with bookshelves that were filled from floor to ceiling with binders and notebooks. The few times that Hojo brought me out of the tank – too heavily drugged to do more than stubbornly refuse to move – the books I could force my eyes to focus on seemed to be research records. Oh, how I wanted to look at those books! No doubt the experiments that had been performed on Zack and Cloud were recorded somewhere there. But as I said, I was too drugged to even try.
Other than these glimpses of my immediate surroundings, I got no clue as to where I was. It was very quiet, and I never saw anyone other than Hojo; I figured it was some sort of secret lair of his in the Shinra Building, which meant that freedom was very nearby.
Sometimes I wondered what the Turks thought had happened to me. It wasn’t until later that I found out that they had been told I had been hospitalized for “illness”, and went about their business without me. Rufus had arranged things so that I would not be missed.
As the experiments began, I often became very sick. Sometimes I floated in delirium; sometimes I was fully conscious, but I could not control my body at all. That is probably the most frightening feeling a human can ever have: to be completely aware, but unable to move, to even blink, through your own will. At times like that, I willed myself into unconsciousness. I think I spent a lot of time that way, in self-imposed sleep, ignoring what was happening to me since I couldn’t do a thing about it.
Oddly enough, I have to admit that Hojo never hurt me physically, outside of the fact that he was experimenting on me, of course. He didn’t want to hurt his precious specimen, I knew. He never woke me up from my trances, and if I were really ill and unable to make myself sleep, he would play soft, symphonic music to soothe me. Still, this behavior made it very clear to me that my only value to him was as a subject of study. I figured that I could use this attitude against him.
On one of my more lucid days, I managed to purposely rip an IV from my arm, tearing the skin a bit. It hurt, but I was hoping that it would force Hojo to let me out of the tank so that he could tend to it. Sure enough, when he came in, he immediately drained the tank in preparation to open it.
“Mara, you foolish girl,” he chided me, “there’s no reason to do these things.” As the door released with a loud puff of air, Hojo reached in and took my arm, guiding me out.
Before he could see to the gash on my arm, I writhed behind him, one arm around his neck and the other searching his pockets for his gun.
“Mara, think about what you’re doing,” he said calmly. Irritated by his lack of concern, I took his gun and held it to his temple, pulling the hammer back menacingly.
“I’m leaving now, and you’re going to stay back,” I said softly, backing away from him slowly, the gun still pointed at his head. “Turn around and keep your hands up.”
He complied, looking slightly bewildered, like a shepherd whose sheep have decided to dance on two legs. “Mara, you can’t leave, or you’ll become very sick.”
“I’ll take my chances,” I snarled, starting to painfully remove various IVs and other strange things connected to me.
“I don’t think so,” Hojo said firmly, his voice changing from his usual dithering “doctor” tone to one that sounded much more in control. Before I could shoot, he waved his hand, and I was suddenly unable to move, locked, I realized, by a Stop spell.
I mentally berated myself for not stripping him of materia, but I wondered where he was hiding it, since I didn’t find it when I was searching for his gun. I also had had no idea that he ever used materia.
“I can’t just have my specimen walking off,” he said coolly. “Honestly, Mara, I though you were more sensible.” Before the spell wore off, he dosed me with the usual sedative, then carefully disconnected my tubings and Cured my cuts. By the time he was done, the Stop had worn off, but I was barely able to stand by my own power.
“Now, Mara, I think I’m going to have to teach you a lesson,” Hojo said, returning to his “doctor” voice. I shivered, afraid to imagine what sort of punishment he would inflict. “Understand, I don’t want to hurt you, Mara; you’re simply too important right now. But this insubordinance must stop.” He paused and took off his glasses, setting them on his desk. “Honestly, Mara, did you really think you could just walk out of here?”
Why not? I wanted to say, but I was unable to speak. I shook my head, trying to clear it, but only made myself dizzy and stumbled.
“Relax, Mara,” he said, catching
me by the arm. His hand moved towards my eyes and I shut them instinctively,
feeling the shadow of his hand pass over my face.
I woke up, disoriented, in what seemed to be a very cramped, dark box. A few minutes of feeling around with my hands proved that I was inside a wooden coffin. At first I thought that this was Hojo’s punishment, so I stubbornly fought down the surge of panic that inevitably rose when I realized where I was.
I wasn’t claustrophobic, or superstitious. I wondered what Hojo was expecting from locking me in a coffin. Realizing that staying awake would only make the waiting worse, I let myself drift into a restless sleep. That proved to be a very poor idea.
A parade of seemingly random images marched through my unconscious mind: a beautiful brown-haired woman in a lab coat, scowling angrily; a somewhat eerie silver-haired baby; a much younger Hojo; men dressed in an antiquated version of the Turks uniform. These images struck me as odd, but not terrible. No, the true punishment lay within the other images I saw and felt.
~ hot blood, mine, running
down my arms and chest, a man’s chest, as Hojo stood in a corner of the
dark room, smiling –
~ searing pain as my body was forced into a new, completely inhuman form –
~ an unholy mixture of fear, intense pain and undeniable arousal as something tore into the flesh of my shoulders –
~ angry shock and denial as I raised my left hand and saw a monstrous construct of polished metal instead of a forearm –
I woke, screaming and screaming, almost deafening myself in the tiny space. A few moments later, I heard a lock turning, and the lid of the coffin opened, letting in a painful amount of light. I moaned and shut my eyes tightly.
“You slept well, I trust,” Hojo said, the smugness in his voice unmistakable.
I snarled and grabbed his tie, pulling his head down with a sharp jerk. “You bastard – what have you done?! How many people have you…have you…” I couldn’t come up with a word with sufficient strength, “have you destroyed?”
He looked at me somewhat oddly, his eyebrows pulling together in a frown. “Hmm. I wonder what, exactly, he let you see,” was all he said as he took my hand, loosening my grip on his tie and pulling me up.
“’He’? What…?” I came to my feet somewhat shakily and stepped out of the coffin, looking around me to see several other unadorned black caskets. “Dear God, how many others do you have…?!” Before he could stop me, I darted to the nearest coffin and forced it open, then shrieked. There was a tattered, withered corpse inside, and I hurriedly slammed the lid closed before falling to the floor, sobbing hysterically. “How could you, how could you?!”
“I didn’t,” Hojo said, sounding somewhat bewildered. “These coffins are old, Mara.”
I shuddered, then remembered the horrible visions all in a rush. “God, God… Those nightmares… You did that to me? You’re absolutely sick!”
He shook his head and smiled. “No wonder I keep you under. You talk too much. There is a…” he searched for a word, “a ghost here in this room that will haunt people’s minds if they stay here long enough. He seemed to get to you very quickly, though…”
“But I saw you! You, a long time ago! So if this ‘ghost’ was giving me those images, then… you were the one who made all of those terrible things happen to him!” It was a very odd hop in logic, but I knew that Hojo was responsible for this, just as he was responsible for Zack and Cloud’s deaths.
“That was a long time
ago,” was Hojo’s only response. He smiled, no longer even slightly
charming. He took my arm and pulled me closer, passing his hand over
my eyes again as he had before.
I awoke again in the tank, feeling very ill. There was soft music playing, but it wasn’t helping at all. Hojo was at the desk, scribbling away.
“What the hell did you do to me?” I mumbled, feeling a thousand times worse than my worst hangover.
He shook his head and continued writing; I knew by now that he was concentrating and would answer me later. While I waited, I tried to dredge up memories of the imposed nightmares. It was hard now to remember more than feelings of fear, anger, and despair. But I was itching with curiosity about the “ghost” – was it really a ghost? Was it a man driven insane by Hojo’s experiments? Or was it all a hoax, perpetuated by Hojo himself?
I turned my attention back towards Hojo. He had put his pen down and taken off his glasses, and was rubbing his eyes tiredly.
“I’m, truthfully, having very little luck with you. All the things I’ve tried on you have completely failed, partially failed or resulted in something completely different than expected. I was hoping that you would react like your brother, but really, it’s a bit more like what happened to the other one…”
“His name was Cloud,” I interjected with a snarl, irritated by his callousness, and underneath, scared of what my “failure” would mean.
“Ah.” He looked annoyed for a moment, then continued. “At any rate, I wanted to try some more…in-depth experiments, but Rufus won’t have it. He wants you back at work.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Rufus was to be my savior? But I guessed that if he had had any feelings for me at all, he wouldn’t let Hojo take a chance of killing me.
“I see. So, when do I get the hell out of here?”
“Soon, soon…” the doctor put his glasses back on, smiling at me rather maliciously. “You know, it’s been four months since the night you spent in the coffin…”
“You’ve been rather ill, since I was trying to accelerate the experiments, but I suppose you don’t remember.”
I didn’t remember being awake at all in that time – what had he been doing to me?
“You need a few weeks of out-of-the-tank physical reconditioning, since you haven’t moved much while you’ve been in there,” Hojo continued. He walked over to the tank, reading some of the panels on the controls. “Rufus is coming to see you later.”
“Are you going to let me out?” I asked impatiently.
He shook his head. “You need another day to catch up with your medication.”
Damn, I thought. I really didn’t want Rufus to see me like that, but I didn’t want to be obstinate if I was so close to freedom. I sighed.
Seeing that I had no more
questions, Hojo went back to his paperwork. I closed my eyes and
slipped into an uneasy sleep.
“Mara, wake up, child, Rufus is here to see you.”
Hojo’s voice brought me out of my doze; I opened my eyes and looked out at Rufus, who stood by the desk, looking at me with a very odd look on his face.
“Hello, Mara,” he said quietly. I tried to decipher his expression. There was fear there, and a great deal of surprise – obviously, he hadn’t expected to find me like this. I wondered what Hojo had told him.
I couldn’t bring myself to answer him; after all, it was his fault that I was there. I just raised my hand in response.
He came closer, right up to the tank, gazing at me through the glass. Since the tank was on a platform, his eye level was at my stomach. I could see a little leer on his face as he enjoyed the view a bit, but it faded quickly as he saw how I was entangled in the wires.
“Mara…” He looked back at Hojo, not wanting to say too much. “We’ll talk when you’re out. You’re going to be posted in Nibelheim.”
Nibelheim? Boring, sleepy Nibelheim? At the time, I was not privy to the knowledge that Nibelheim was simply a simulacrum of a town, and a place that dull sounded like further punishment. “Why?” I demanded, putting a lot of feeling into it.
“We need a factor there,” Rufus replied with a shrug. He backed up slightly and met my eyes. “But don’t worry, the work is pretty light there.”
That’s the point! I wanted to shout, but I just shook my head. Did he think he was doing me a favor?
“Hojo says that you need light work for a while – no action – while you’re recovering, so…”
Well, Rufus didn’t sound particularly sorry about it. I wondered if he had another reason, one of his own, but he didn’t say any more.
I sighed audibly and closed my eyes. “How is everyone?”
“The same as ever, I guess. Things have been somewhat slow lately for the Turks; you haven’t missed much.”
“I see.” From this point, I figured, the best part of my life was gone, and the rest was all going to be downhill from there. I began to resign myself to boredom at best, and misery at worst.
Rufus reached up his hand to where mine was pressed against the glass, as if he could touch it through the barrier. His eyes showed disappointment and a little regret before he turned away to talk with Hojo. The doctor turned off the microphone that fed into the tank, and they spoke at length, most likely about me. They finished their conversation, and Rufus waved to me in farewell as he turned to leave, a rather thoughtful look on his face. I raised my hand, accepting the gesture.
I couldn’t decide how to feel about Rufus anymore. While it was entirely his doing that I had undergone so much pain, he seemed to have not known what he was setting me up for. I didn’t think he would ever apologize, but he seemed to feel guilty. So he had a conscience, at least. Bu it was undeniable that he was a selfish child at heart. His “punishment” had been completely out of proportion to my “crime”, and was probably decided in a fit of pique. I hoped that he had learned a lesson.
The next day, I was let out of the tank as promised, but I was unconscious when it happened, so I awoke in a hospital room, not knowing how I got there. The room was small and private, which was nice. Refreshingly, the only thing I had attached to me was an IV of saline, and I figured that as soon as someone realized that I was awake, it would be removed.
There was a large vase of white lilies on the stand next to the bed. I reached over and took the card from the clip.
“Mara – Hope you’re back on your feet soon. We’ll talk. –Rufus”
I sighed to myself and dropped the card on the table.
The door opened then, and a young nurse came in, Reno on her heels. “Oh, you’re awake, Ms. D’Andrade!” the nurse bubbled, coming over to disconnect the IV. “Mr. Reno came to visit you, so it’s good that you’re up!”
Reno rolled his eyes so that she couldn’t see, and held up a slim vase with several dark purple iris. “These are from the Turks,” he said gruffly, setting them next to the lilies.
I smiled. Maybe they were from the Turks as a group, but only Rude or Reno would have known that I liked iris (much more than lilies, but I figured Rufus was trying to make a gesture of peace), and it was Reno who had brought them. His gruffness confirmed that he was slightly embarrassed.
“Tell them that I said thank you,” I said in an amused tone, showing him that I had seen through him.
He shrugged and didn’t look directly at me. “Heh. I bet you’re dyin’ for a smoke, huh?”
“I’m past that – I think I may have kicked the cigs,” I said slowly, thinking about it. “But God, I could use a good drink.”
The nurse “hmm”ed disapprovingly as she made notes in my chart. “None of that for you anytime soon, Miss.”
Reno and I shared a glance of amusement. “Could I talk to Reno privately for a minute?” I asked, trying to sound reasonable.
“Well, he can’t stay for too long,” the nurse warned, “but just a few minutes…” She took herself out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Reno and I shared a laugh for the girl’s goody-goody attitude, but sobered quickly. “Well, Mara, what have you been doing?” Reno asked, concern on his scarred face. “You look so…frail.”
“Well, it’s all Rufus’ fault, you know—“
“Ah, the jilted Casanova, heh. What’d he do, though?”
Before I could answer, Hojo sailed into the room. “I’m sorry, Mr. Reno, but it’s time for Mara’s physical therapy.”
“Therapy? But—“ Reno couldn’t get a word in edgewise as Hojo virtually chased him out and shut the door.
“Well, Mara, apparently I’m going to have to curtail your visitation hours,” the doctor said, sounding amused, but irritated.
“Did you think that I’d stay silent if I went back to work?” I said nastily.
“Hmm, I thought that you’d realize that silence would be in your best interest,” he said blandly, but with menace on his ascetic face.
“I suppose you want to speak out against me – get me in trouble, yes? But my position in Shinra is much more secure than yours – and you have been removed from the Turks, Mara – and if you try to take me down, you’ll hit a brick wall.” He pulled me up to a sitting position, as gently as a collector handles a butterfly.
“Removed…?” I felt as if someone had given me a blow to the back of the head. “The Turks…?”
He nodded, grinning maliciously. “Oh, yes. You don’t meet the physical requirements anymore…”
I growled low in my throat. “Damn you, Hojo! Haven’t you done enough already?!”
The man shrugged. “The Turks aren’t doing anything of importance anymore anyway – they’re just Shinra’s dogs. And besides, your friends –“ the way he said it was an insult – “will ruin what little I’ve managed to accomplish by dragging you off to those squalid bars…”
“They don’t drag me, I go by choice,” I snarled. “Yes – smoking, drinking, whatever, it’s my life to ruin however the hell I want.”
“Ah, but it isn’t anymore,” Hojo said with a smirk, “It’s mine.”
The tone in his voice when he said that made me shiver, as I realized that I was well and truly trapped. The Turks couldn’t get to me, and the only person I knew with enough power to get me out of this situation was the one who had put me in it in the first place.
“Come, then,” Hojo said,
breaking into my thoughts. “It is time for your therapy.”
Have you found the scary similes yet? O.o Hojo's hard to write. This chapter wasn't so bad but the later ones get tough. I can't decide how mean I want him to be. He started out being the distracted scientist, but... well, yeah. You'll see. O.o
What do you guys think Hojo looks like? I've seen him drawn as both an ugly fella and a bishounen (or a gracefully-aged one, at least). Being me, I tend to favor the latter. C'mon, he's Sephiroth's dad! Granted, Lucrecia was probably pretty too, but still...
Next episode: Mara
gets carded at the bar! No sleep! Does she need a strong drink, or a