Joshu came to Nibelheim as fast as he could when he got my report. I hadn’t been bluffing to Hojo – I really had filed a complaint against him for reckless endangerment. Since it was an interorganizational dispute, it was logical for a Turk to investigate, but Joshu also wanted to check on me; he knew how close I had been to Lucrecia, and about the feud between Hojo and me.
He found me in my room with a bottle of bourbon. From the look on his face as he strode in, I thought he was going to hit me, but he just sat down next to me and took the bottle away. He spent the next two hours, and much more time in the next few days, talking me down from the emotional high-wire I was on. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t suicidal at the time, but I was ready to kill Hojo, I really was. I was also angry with myself, wondering if I could have stopped Lucrecia from having the baby, but it was Hojo who I placed the most blame on.
I was almost jealous of him, actually. He had something to occupy his mind and distract him from his grief. Sephiroth was exactly what they had hoped for; he had some very odd traits that Hojo and Gast interpreted as indications that he would be a powerful mage and a strong fighter. I only saw him a few times, but I saw that he had blue eyes, unlike those of both of his parents, and when his hair began to come in, it was silvery. Hojo proposed that both the eyes and hair were a side-effect of the magical properties of Jenova, a sort of bleaching; Gast thought that it could be a reflection of the stress of the boy’s birth. I wonder if they ever figured it out…
Joshu kept me rational for those crucial first two months. I tried my best to control my grief, and I stayed far away from Hojo, in case the sight of him sent me into a rage. Meanwhile, Joshu tried to persuade me to withdraw my complaint against Hojo. He explained to me that Shinra would likely take no action except to compensate Lucrecia’s family, and that my reputation would suffer as a consequence. I didn’t care about my reputation anymore, though; I just wanted Hojo out of power. Like a stubborn fool, I refused to step down.
It was not hard for Hojo to guess who had started the ball rolling when two senior scientists from Shinra Laboratories came to audit him. He looked for me after his four-hour interview to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that he was going to have his revenge. Even if he kept his position, his reputation would be smirched, and he would have the complaint in his file. I ignored him. I was the second-in-command of the Turks; I was at least as secure as he was, wasn’t I?
However, it turned out that everything Joshu had said was right. Hojo was not fired; as a matter of fact, I think that the only thing that kept him from getting a raise for his success with Sephiroth was Lucrecia’s death. I was sitting in the admin office when Joshu got a phone call that made him look up at me guiltily. He sighed as he hung up, rubbing his eyes, then told me as gently as he could that I had just been fired.
I remember staring at him in disbelief. How could I be fired? But I realized that this was Shinra’s under-the-table way of rewarding Hojo’s work. He had made a breakthrough; I hadn’t done anything memorable yet, so between the two of us, I was the expendable one. I’ve wondered many times how that round of chess would have turned out if I had been a decorated veteran like Ian. I’m sure if any of the execs that made that decision are still alive, they sorely wish that they had not sided with Hojo.
I was packing my bags that night to go back to Midgar, and then home to Kalm. There was a knock at my door, and thinking it was Joshu, I opened it wide. It was Hojo who stood there, however, a hypodermic in his hand. Before I could reach for my gun, he jabbed the needle into my arm and sank the plunger. I pulled my arm back, ignoring the stinging pain as I took a swing at him. I was hoping to at least having the satisfaction of breaking his face before whatever he had stuck into me took effect, but I was disappointed. He sidestepped my punch and caught my arm, twisting it up behind me. Honestly, I was so surprised that he would counterattack that I didn’t immediately break free. It was an elementary hold, but for some reason I couldn’t find the strength to move. I heard Hojo laughing at me as a wave of fatigue swept over me, and then I blacked out.
You’ve been there, Mara, you know the feeling you got when you woke up in that tank. Even back then, that lab was hidden away in the basement where no one knew about it; the main labs had taken up most of the lower floor, and have since been turned into livable rooms. I had no idea where I was, and I roared at Hojo while he sat at the desk, riffling through books and making notes. I saw my bag sitting on the floor; I guessed that he had let everyone think that I had left in the night. That meant that no one knew where I was, except him, and for the first time, I was a little afraid of him. He was bent on revenge; what would he do to me?
I couldn’t hear his musings; he hadn’t turned the audio on. I couldn’t mistake the glee on his face, though, as he eagerly read a few pages from one of his books. It looked like he laughed, and then he hurriedly made some notes. I kicked the wall of the tank, trying to get his attention, but he just smirked and ignored me; I was in his world now, and I was powerless.
The days went by slowly, but the weeks went quickly. Do you know what I mean? My perception of time was never muddled like yours was; he never put me to sleep. He wanted me conscious for every excruciating moment of his work. No matter how often I demanded to know what he was going to do with me, he never told me more than the most basic, terse explanation, which was frustrating. I don’t know if it was that he didn’t think I would understand, or if he just wanted to keep me even more on edge and in the dark.
The first set of experiments was makou infusions. I was the one he pioneered this technique on, believe it or not – not that that fact brings me any particular joy or prestige. I became stronger, and I gradually developed a greater capacity to use magic. My eyes, already a very warm brown color, brightened to the red they are now, that phenomenon known to everyone who ever went through SOLDIER. Hojo found that endlessly amusing, for some reason.
The makou was only the first step in his grand plans for me. Next, he put Jenova cells into me. I was more than a little afraid of this step; Sephiroth seemed unharmed, but he had been born with the alien cells integrated into his body. What would they do to an adult?
At first, it seemed that the Jenova merely provided a catalyst for the makou already in my blood; I grew even stronger, both physically and magically. Then, I started to feel strange intrusions in my mind: whispers and screams and murmurs, none of which I could understand. I thought that I was going mad, until I finally admitted to Hojo that I was “hearing voices”. He was convinced that it was the voice of Jenova. On a whim, he injected Jenova cells directly into my brain. Makes you shiver, hmm? That was the origin of the power that both Sephiroth and I shared – the power to send our thoughts out, even influence other people, although I’ve never used mine that way. I think that the only reason Sephiroth could do it to Cloud – and to you – was that you both already had Jenova cells as well. The life form calls to itself, and it opens a connection, so to speak.
Up until this point, I had still been stubborn and recalcitrant, making Hojo’s studies as difficult as possible. I didn’t answer his questions, and I didn’t tell him of new, internal developments that he couldn’t see. It didn’t make him angry, though, and I didn’t understand why. Then, one day, during my “exercise session,” when he usually let me out of the tank, heavily drugged, to monitor my physical fitness, instead of putting me on the treadmill as he usually did, he took me to an unfinished room outside of the lab. This was the crypt; there were coffins there already. I wonder how long they’ve been there, and who put them there… At any rate, the room had been “cleaned” somewhat; there were no bones on the floor, and no vermin about. It looked like a brand new dungeon.
I made a few cracks about Hojo’s poor taste in decorating, but he ignored me and pushed me into the room, dragging me to a corner where a rather odd configuration of ropes, hooks and pulleys hung from the walls and ceiling. Without a word of explanation, he wrapped my wrists in a pair of restraints, and suddenly, I was hanging an inch off the floor. Confused, I demanded to know what he was up to, but he only smiled in a particularly nasty way and pushed me so that my suspension rope turned, making me face inwards toward the corner. I wiggled around, but I couldn’t get the rope to turn again, and I couldn’t reach the walls to kick off. He had made a very good…whatever it was.
I couldn’t see what he was doing, but after the first stinging lash across my back, I didn’t need to see. Biting my lip to keep from making a sound, I endured the whipping as best I could. He was using a long, thin metal rod, like an antenna; it made for a sensation that was cold at first, then hot as the thing bit into my bare skin. We were both grimly silent. I couldn’t see his face, but I imagined that he was either smiling evilly or snarling in silent rage, either way finally giving vent to the hate he felt for me. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of hearing me scream, though, even as I felt the blood running down my back. A gunshot was worse – but a gunshot wasn’t repeated over and over again for a half-hour.
He finally stopped, breathing hard. I heard the rod hit the floor as he turned me back around. My lip was bleeding where I had bitten it, and he smirked when he saw the line of blood on my chin. He taunted me, asking how long I thought I could hold out, how many hours, how many days. I spat blood at him, and he responded by pulling hard on my hair, forcing my head back painfully. My hair had grown in the months I had been imprisoned; it used to be too short to pull that way. It was a sharp reminder of who was in control here, and how long it had been that way.
He cast a Cure spell on me, laughing softly the whole time. I knew he was insane, but this was frightening. I knew that he had some further torture in mind, but I didn’t understand why he was healing me first.
As if he had read my mind, he explained to me what he was doing. “Pain is in the mind,” is what he said. He told me that after a certain threshold, the body will feel pain even if no damage is being inflicted, a kind of “memory” of the nerves. He turned me round again and picked up his little toy, wiping the blood off of it with a corner of his lab coat. Then he stepped back out of my field of view, and I felt the cold tip of the thing trace ticklingly down my spine, making me twitch involuntarily.
I’ll never forget what he said next: “What’s the difference between a tickle and the lash of a whip? Between burning heat and the cold of absolute zero? It’s all translated by your mind…and your mind can be fooled.” He spoke as if he was thinking of these things as he said them, and it gave him a new idea. “Sensation is all in the mind…”
I couldn’t really see what he was doing, but he blindfolded me anyway with a scrap of fabric from a sheet. He said that he wouldn’t gag me, however, because he wanted to hear “whether I begged for more or for mercy.” He seemed to find the idea very amusing, and anything that amused him was definitely bad news for me.
I…don’t really want to describe what he did next, and continued to do for the duration of my imprisonment. I don’t like thinking about it; I wish, more than anything, that I could forget it. But it was how he finally got under my skin, and to this day I feel so… humiliated that my weaknesses were so easy to expose and exploit. To be brief…he tortured me on three levels. On the first, most basic level, he simply hurt me. If that had been all he had done, I could have taken it – especially since he always healed me afterwards so that I’d be fresh for the next round of pain. His original idea of the mental origin of pain was proven correct; if he beat me severely, then healed me and went at it again, to me it would feel as if the healing had never happened. My nerves were still raw, even though my flesh was whole. But as I said, I could have endured that.
But that wasn’t all that he did. On another level, he was torturing me with… God, I do not want to talk about this, Mara… At the same time he was hurting me, he was also…driving me to the very edge of ecstasy, and not letting me cross over that razor-edged line. As I said, he wanted to hear me beg. At first, of course, I stubbornly held out, sometimes actually passing out from the… overload, I could call it, of sensation. He always laughed at me when he brought me back to consciousness, wondering how long my resolve would last.
I knew he was trying to break me, and that made me even more desperate to not give in. If I folded to him, I had no doubt that I would become a slave at first, and then nothing more than a mindless animal, because there would really be nothing left of… me … in my body as he continued his experiments.
My determination just made him all the more anxious to win. Finally, tired of drawing the process out for so many weeks, he ended it in one twelve-hour session.
Twelve hours. A week never seemed as long as those hours did to me. Twelve hours of ceaseless pain, combined horrifically with the continual sensation of almost-orgasm. He never let me fall into blessed unconsciousness, either… Every time I thought I might finally pass out, he either stopped for a moment, or changed his actions, so that I got a break from one kind of feeling before I was bombarded with another. I screamed; I moaned; I howled like a beast; but I never pleaded with him, as he wanted. Finally, he tried a new kind of…provocation, and I couldn’t hold out any longer. I absolutely wanted to die when I heard myself whimper “Please…” like a leper begging for alms. As I half-expected, Hojo laughed and made me ask in a louder voice and with more satisfactory wording until he was happy with my groveling. Then he finally let me have what he had been taunting me with, but it only felt good on a physical level, and then only barely; the pain ruined it.
This episode introduced me to the third level of torture – pure mental anguish. He had broken me, and that was quite bad enough, but the way he had done it – ! I was ashamed, as I had never been of anything before. How was it possible for him to make me feel so much raw lust, underneath the layer of pain? Obviously it was a weakness I hadn’t known I had until then, one that he exploited ruthlessly. And he enjoyed it. That made me feel shame, as well, and anger, too. I didn’t want to please him on any level. But he very quickly learned exactly how to push all of my buttons, so to speak. I honestly don’t know if women can be tricked the same way; but when they say a man’s brain is in his pants, they’re not too far off the mark, in a way. In the best of circumstances, of course, we have some control. But this was not the best of circumstances. After the more mundane tortures, my nerves were super-sensitive, and I’d been alone, since Lucrecia… And Hojo played absolutely dirty. In this state, I couldn’t possibly hope to win.
I’m sure you can see how this all went around in my mind. I honestly wanted to die for a while, but Hojo watched me like a hawk to make sure that I couldn’t hurt myself. He was quite pleased with himself for finally wearing down my resolve; I was terribly afraid of what he might do next, but at the same time, I didn’t really care. If it hurt, so what? If it killed me, good riddance. In my naiveté, I thought he couldn’t do any worse.
Even though he had won the real battle, Hojo kept up this triple-pronged torture, just to wear me down to the point where I would do anything he told me to, just for the sake of getting that feeling that I craved. Yes, craved. I don’t quite know how to explain it. Maybe he just created the need in me, the addiction, by overexposure. It’s like you and your coffee, although that’s not quite appropriate, is it? But it wasn’t just the sexual feeling – it was the pain, too. They became one and the same to me…
Don’t cry, Mara…it’s not worth it. Besides, I’m not finished yet…
Like I said, he had me to the point where I was little more than a slave, yet I knew what he was doing. It wasn’t like I had been brainwashed; I had just been overwhelmed by what he was doing to me. I was powerless to fight anymore. And all this time, Jenova was working away at my body from the inside. Soon she was healing me almost as quickly as Hojo’s spells could – yet she wouldn’t protect me from the pain, like I knew she could. She enjoyed my tortures as much as Hojo did, I think. I won’t pass the blame, but I know she was part of what caused my addiction.
Hojo had played out his personal
vendetta, I thought, but now, having such a good subject on hand, his scientific
curiosity was moving forward. He didn’t care if I died, so he could
try far more risky things on me than he could on Sephiroth – who was only
still a baby, after all. And compared to what he tried next, the
“experiments” so far seemed gentle.
This was really hard for me to make myself write. How to express what was happening without being too explicit? And how to explain how Vincent was feeling through all of this? And make it sound like he was talking out loud?
This is probably one of the edgiest things I've ever written (and "published"). If you didn't like it, sorry, but that's the way the dice fall. O.o; If you did like it, shame on you. ^.^;
Next episode: Someone
finally comes looking for Vincent...
|Henkei, part 1|