I've said that I would be borrowing elements from Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus, even if this fic is AU to the official canon. Well, here's the result of some of that borrowing.
Again, just a completely rough snippet that I'm just throwing out there for my readers. I profoundly apologize if I totally mutilate or mangle of the FF7 character involved. Hopefully, I haven't gotten his character entirely wrong, but that's what comments are for! ::hint hint:: ^_-
I'm not sure where it fits exactly, but I might squeeze it into Chapter 8. Or maybe not. ::shrug::
[ present ]
In the dimly lit laboratory, a man dressed in a white labcoat silently contemplated the young blond-haired man floating naked within the large transparent tube, surrounded by intensely glowing green liquid. Above the respiratory mask that obscured the lower half of the blond's face, bright blue eyes stared vacantly into space. In the background, several other labcoated individuals continued to work quietly amid the constant hum of machinery and monitoring equipment, leaving the observer alone with his thoughts.
A soft ring disturbed the silence. Long straight black hair gleamed from the light of the glowing mako as the man pulled out his phone and flipped it open.
"We may need to postpone the transition to Stage 3," a cool female voice replied.
"I've been called to Midgar by the President. He wants a briefing on various technical and medical issues."
"We have a schedule to keep," the man replied tersely.
"I warned you in advance that the schedule could be subject to change. But there's no need for concern. A delay will not be detrimental."
"Perhaps not, but the sooner the process is completed, the better."
"I understand the urgency. However, the President personally requested this information. It would be difficult to refuse unless I reveal the specific reasons for my refusal. And what should I tell him? That I have a more important research project that takes precedence over the President's personal request? That would lead to rather awkward questions.
"However, if you are that concerned about possible delays, I've already fully briefed the staff on the procedures involved. It's your decision. My personal supervision for the transition is preferable, but not necessary."
"What sort of delay are we talking about?" the man inquired sharply.
"Undetermined at this point. I could be stuck in Midgar for several days, if not longer. It all depends on what the President requires of me."
"I see. In that case, we'll proceed without you."
He snapped the phone shut, the abruptness of the motion being the only visible sign of irritation.
Two women, both in crisp black three-piece suits, silently emerged from the shadows in the back of the lab. One was relatively short, with blond hair worn in a pageboy cut, the other was taller with long dark brown hair.
"Yes, sir," the blond woman replied. The other woman nodded silently.
"A complication, but not an insurmountable one. Serge?"
"Out checking a disturbance. It's been taken care of."
The man nodded curtly as he pulled off the white labcoat and tossed it on a nearby table.
"We proceed on schedule," he said to the group of waiting scientists. "Without Dr. Savois, if necessary."
"Yes, Mr. Tseng," the frontmost scientist replied, bowing respectfully.
"Do you think President Reeve suspects what's going on here?" a worried voice said from the back of the group.
"That's not your concern. Focus your attention at the task at hand," Tseng said coldly.
Without another word, the three Turks headed out the door.
Behind them, suspended within a tube full of mako, Rufus Shinra continued to stare into nothingness with softly glowing eyes, utterly oblivious to his surroundings.
[ ten months ago ]
Sitting straighter in his bed, Tseng eyed his unexpected new visitor.
"Dr. Savois," he coolly acknowledged.
"You're recovering well, considering your injuries." The tall red-haired woman glanced around the small sparsely furnished room. "It appears that they gave you the best room in the clinic. Count yourself fortunate."
He shrugged slightly, feeling the tightness of the still healing wound across his chest.
"Have you been informed of the current state of affairs?" she asked, seating herself gracefully on the single uncushioned wooden chair in the room.
In the space of two weeks, it seemed that a great deal had changed. Meteor had descended, the Planet had teetered on the brink of destruction, the Lifestream had saved humanity, AVALANCHE was being hailed as heroes, Reeve Tuesti was now President of Shinra....
....and Rufus Shinra was missing and presumed dead, which was hardly an unreasonable conclusion given what he'd heard about the destruction caused both by Diamond WEAPON's missile barrage and Meteor's fall.
"I have a general idea of what's going on, yes."
Almost as if she was reading his mind, Savois said quietly, "Rufus is not dead."
Tseng's hands clenched on the white cotton bedsheet, but he managed to keep his voice even, almost disinterested.
"And you know this because....?"
"He's currently in my care." She cocked her head slightly. "Would you be interested in seeing him?"
"And why would you think that?"
She merely gave him a steady, level look. It made Tseng wonder exactly how much the good doctor knew about him and Rufus. She then glanced down at his tightly clenched hands, which clearly betrayed his shock and agitation. He could have continued to play stupid, but Tseng suddenly didn't have the energy for games.
"Yes, I would."
"The medic here says that you're basically out of danger. However, due to the delay between injury and treatment, and the seriousness of your wound, you're still quite weak. Full recovery will take some time and physical rehabilitation."
"I'm well enough to leave now," he said firmly.
"I suspected that would be your answer."
Savois personally wheeled him out of the clinic, then helped him into a waiting helicopter. There was no pilot.
"The fewer people that know about this trip, the better," Savois said as she settled into the pilot's seat and started up the helicopter with obvious expertise.
"What about the medic?" he said, scanning the area as they rose into the air.
"Don't worry. He won't say anything."
As the helicopter headed west, Tseng pondered Savois' particular choice of words. Saying that Rufus was 'under her care' could mean many different things.
"Is he severely injured?"
"I think it be would better to discuss Rufus' condition once you see him in person."
Tseng glanced over at her and suspected that demanding immediate answers would get him exactly nowhere. Instead, he switched to another line of questioning.
"Have you informed Reeve or anyone else that Rufus is still alive?"
"No," she replied, expertly handling the helicopter controls.
"Why not? Unless you're worried that Reeve presents some sort of threat to Rufus." He left unsaid the possibility that Savois intended to use Rufus against Reeve in some plot or scheme.
"No. I don't think President Reeve has that sort of paranoid mentality. There are certain... problematic aspects of Rufus' present condition which made me refrain from notifying Reeve."
Tseng didn't like the sound of that. He didn't like it at all.
"I know you're anxious for more details. But as I said before, it would be better to talk about it once you've seen Rufus yourself. If afterward, you decide that you want to tell Reeve, that's your decision."
Tseng forced himself to remain calm. He needed to keep his head clear.
"And what about myself?"
"Rufus and the Turks were initially informed by Heidegger that you were killed by Cloud and his associates. After Meteor, Reeve told the Turks that Sephiroth was responsible for your death. Basically, everyone currently believes that you're dead, just like Rufus."
He leaned his head back against the seat. "And why are you getting involved with two supposedly dead individuals whom I presume are fairly unpopular with the current regime?"
"I will admit that part of my interest comes from scientific curiosity." She glanced at him, clearly catching his tense twitch. "But mostly, it's because I would like to keep Rufus alive and well."
"And you need me for that?"
"I could use the assistance of some Turks, yes."
"But you don't want to go into details until I see Rufus for myself," Tseng said drily.
She smiled coolly at him.
Tseng suppressed a sigh and settled back into the seat. He suspected that he would need all the energy he could muster to deal with his encounter with Rufus.
Although Tseng had tried to prepare himself for the worst scenario, the sight of Rufus was still a gut-wrenching shock. Fortunately, he was already seated in a wheelchair, so he didn't have to worry about his legs holding him up.
Rufus floated in a transparent tube of mako which reminded Tseng sickeningly of the experimental chambers seen in the Shinra Mansion labs. Rufus' physical injuries were grossly evident -- raw patches of skin sloughing away over most of his body, great gaping half-healed wounds that made Tseng's own chest slash look like a papercut....
But worse of all was the utter blank, utter empty, staring blue eyes. Physical injuries could be dealt with, either via materia or conventional medicine, but severe neurological damage was an entirely different matter.
Unwilling to immediately confront the issue of Rufus' mental state, Tseng choose to focus on an easier topic. He snarled furiously, "That's mako, isn't it? What the hell is he DOING in there?"
"Allow me to explain," said Savois, unflustered by his obvious anger. "You know about Diamond WEAPON and its attack on Midgar?"
"Yes." The faded newspapers and the television reports had said that the missile attack had utterly demolished the top two floors of the Shinra Tower... Rufus' last known location.
"By an incredible stroke of luck, Rufus managed to survive the barrage... just barely. But as you can see, he suffered massive injuries. Third degree burns or worse over 80% of his body, respiratory damage from inhalation of toxic smoke, severe compound fractures in all four limbs, additional complex fractures of pelvis, ribcage, neck, spine, and skull, and so forth. The burns actually saved his life -- they prevented him from bleeding to death immediately.
"Medical personnel tried their best to get him stabilized as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, even with the best materia and medical care available, they weren't quick enough to restore oxygen to his brain."
Tseng inhaled sharply.
"Although he was physically alive on life support, Rufus Shinra was pronounced clinically and irreversibly brain dead a few hours after he was brought in."
He closed his eyes and took several long slow breaths.
"This caused somewhat of a dilemma and executive crisis," she continued.
"Only a few people -- mostly medical staff and a few Shinra senior executives -- knew about Rufus' true medical condition and none of them wanted to take responsibility for deciding on whether to pull the plug on life support or not. There was no one around, like a close family member, with clear legal authority to do so. And none of the executives wanted to be accused of making a crass power grab over Rufus' dead body."
"Although I'm sure they wanted to," Tseng muttered darkly.
"Yes. I quite agree."
He forced himself to look at Rufus, to gaze into those empty vacant eyes.
"So he's brain dead." He gave her a cold angry stare. "Then why are you keeping his body alive? Why the hell did you drag me all the way here? Just to see this!? We both know that this sort of catastrophic neurological damage is irreparable, even with materia and all the medical technology Shinra can muster...."
"I'm not finished yet," Savois said, raising her voice sharply to override his. She took a deep breath before continuing. "When the Lifestream inundated the Planet during the attempt to hold back Meteor, there were apparently some highly unexpected side-effects from all that loose mako energy flowing around."
"Yes, Rufus was undeniably and incontrovertibly brain dead after the WEAPON attack. However, he was NOT brain dead after the Lifestream subsided. In a profound coma, yes. But not clinically brain dead." She lifted her hand to stop Tseng from interrupting. "Don't ask me how that happened. I don't have a clue. All I know is that it appears that Rufus Shinra is the recipient of a genuine miracle, courtesy of the Lifestream."
Tseng jerked his head around to stare at Rufus. "Then you mean...."
"His nervous system, and most importantly his brain, is regenerating. Slowly, but there's definite signs that it's recovering. The reason he's immersed in mako is because mako injections alone are apparently insufficient to maintain neural regeneration."
He stared, trying to throttle down wild bounding hope into something more realistic, then suddenly turned and demanded, "Mako, you said? You didn't use Jenova cells on him?"
Savois shook her head sharply. "Definitely not. Although I'm using similar methodology, I'm not trying to turn Rufus Shinra into a SOLDIER. This is mako, nothing more."
He stared at the green liquid, becoming increasingly uneasy about the intensity of its glow.
"But with that level of exposure, what about mako poisoning?" His thoughts flitted back to the Nibel Reactor and the horribly transformed travesties of humans produced by Hojo's experiments. "And what about mutagenic effects?" he demanded sharply, pushing himself out of the wheelchair.
Savois gave Tseng an exasperated look. "Trust me, I am intimately aware of all the possible side effects of mako exposure. My tests indicate that there is virtually no danger of Rufus suffering any gross physical deformities from this level of mako exposure. In fact, he tolerates it extremely well. Good genes, I suppose.
"With respect to mako poisoning, it's not a concern at his current level of consciousness. Naturally, we will have to be careful as his neurological status improves. However, Rufus is a very strong-willed individual -- that fact and careful monitoring will minimize the threat." She smiled thinly. "Mako poisoning during medical procedures is usually the result of sloppiness on the part of the medical staff.
Savois moved closer to the tube containing Rufus and added, "There will be some inevitable physical side-effects of this much mako exposure, of course."
"What sort of side-effects?"
She shrugged. "Nothing detrimental. The usual increased physical strength and reaction speed, improved sensory sensitivity, enhanced healing and immune systems, etc. Not to the level of SOLDIERs, due to the absence of Jenova cells, but he will be considerably stronger and faster than your average Turk."
Savois glanced back at Tseng, who had sunk back down into his wheelchair in obvious relief.
"As I said before, part of the reason I'm doing all this is out of pure scientific curiosity. I'd love to know just how and why the Lifestream jumpstarted Rufus' brain after several days of indisputable brain death."
By this time, Tseng was beginning to regain his composure.
"That's not a problem as long as you remember that his full recovery is the first and ONLY goal."
"Fair enough." Savois looked thoughtfully at Rufus. "It's somewhat ironic, I think."
"Ironic? How so?"
"In the way President Shinra and Hojo spent all that time and energy chasing after people with Cetra blood. Aerith Gainsborough and her mother were not the only descendants of the Cetra -- they were only the most pure-blooded. After thousands of years of interbreeding, Cetra genes are not uncommon in the human population. For all we know, some of those genes could've been lurking in President Shinra's own family, right under his nose. It's quite possible that those beneficial Cetra genes are responsible for Rufus' exceptional tolerance for mako."
She chuckled softly. "But back to more important matters. I'm somewhat reluctant to reveal Rufus' survival to the world in view of his current condition. Yes, he's recovering, but very slowly. And until he recovers, he's extremely vulnerable. Any disturbance in the regeneration process could be disastrous."
"I see. That's why you want Turks."
"Not just any Turks. I don't know them well enough to pick Turks who would be agreeable to keeping Rufus' survival a secret, especially from the current President of Shinra. But you do." She paused, then added, "And you have a personal stake in the matter."
Well, if he'd had any doubts about just how much Savois knew about the relationship between Tseng and Rufus, those doubts were gone. But still....
"Rufus' brain may be recovering, but that's certainly no guarantee that he will wake up and be the exact same person he was before." Tseng tried hard, but wasn't completely successful in keeping a touch of bitterness out of his voice.
"So you're refusing?"
"I didn't say that. I'm... attempting to keep my expectations realistic. As a scientist, you should know all about that."
Savois gazed at him thoughtfully.
"I wasn't being frivolous when I said that Rufus was gifted with a miracle. If I hadn't performed the tests myself and seen the results with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believe it was possible. The thing about miracles is that almost by definition, they're unfathomable. So who knows? Perhaps you'll get a happy ending after all."
She walked toward him and held out her hand.
"So, do we have a deal?"
Tseng did not hesitate in lifting his own hand.