Once More, With Feeling... – Chapter 57: All Medicines Are Poison

Summary: Gifts and malfeasance come in all forms. Many of which are difficult to distinguish.

Author: Illusor Meaneld

Rated T: for Descriptive violence and injuries, No Adult Situations, No Cussing.

Disclaimer: I did not create, and do not own the characters from Final Fantasy 7. They are owned by Square-Enix, and I am simply borrowing them for my own (and hopefully your) enjoyment.

Genesis had an office in the Shinra building. Technically all the ranked officers did, but the auburn-haired SOLDIER notoriously avoided staying in his unless he had no choice. It made it an ideal place to meet with Cloud for impromptu discourse on the merits and demerits of different classes of Materia, among other things. His 'protégé' was running late today though, which was mildly irritating, an occurrence so uncommon it was easy to forgive the petite time-traveler. When the blond he was waiting for knocked politely, and finally entered, Genesis smirked,

"I understand the latest training exercise went well for you," He said, but his intended conversation was forestalled at the sight of the massive box the boy toted with bemusement. "What is that?" Genesis asked with a raised eyebrow, curiosity perking like a cat.

"It's… a care package." The blond said, sounding a little stunned, "From my mother." It took only a second for the significance of that to ping on the Lieutenant's radar… In the future Mother Strife had been dead for decades, and the boy's memories of her tattered like old tissue paper. Any impulse to tease vanished as they both took in the large crate.

"You have been sending most of your earnings home." The Auburn haired SOLDIER noted, then he could resist no longer, "What gift did the goddess give you?" Cloud snorted, then brought the crate over to Genesis barely used desk, setting it down with a soft grunt.

"Let's find out." The blond said, and deftly pulled a small flat crowbar from under the label, then pressed the sharp forked edge under the lip of the wooden lid. Before the boy could apply pressure, the Lieutenant leaned over and pressed his hand almost negligently across the metal tool and pushed down. The wood separated with a pop, and Cloud chortled.

"Show off!" the time-traveler muttered warmly. With a few more similar applications of enhanced strength the box opened. Without waiting for an invitation, the red garbed SOLDIER peered inside interestedly. Dry straw and sweet smelling grasses cushioned the contents, and after a little digging they pulled out several packages of varied shapes and sizes, wrapped in brown paper. Genesis poked at the first one, it was decidedly squishy. The blond obligingly unwrapped it to reveal a pale blue scarf, no doubt hand-knitted, of an incredibly soft wool. The blond smiled brightly as he petted it.

"This is Nibel wool," The time-traveler explained, "Ma didn't have any goats herself, so she mustave traded for it." For a moment a bur of mountain accent leaked into the boy's speech as he was lost in thought. The first time Genesis could recall hearing anything like that from him. The SOLDIER First bumped forward another lumpy package, captivated by the oddities. The next gifts turned out to be matching gloves and socks, all made of the silky fleece. The blond was positively thrilled.

"This one doesn't feel like clothing," the Lieutenant offered, pressing forward a hard cylindrical package. Cloud accepted it with almost childish enthusiasm, acting more like his apparent age than Genesis had ever seen. It was surprisingly fun to watch as the boy ripped open the package in honest delight. He lifted the glass jar for inspection.

"Mountain Berry Preserves!" He cheered, "I can't remember the last time I had some!" The Auburn-Haired Lieutenant stretched out a hand wordlessly toward the jar, examining it curiously when the small blond proffered it. The label looked home made, with a clean strip of boxing tape holding it in place. It had a little drawing of some small red and yellow berries on the front. The next four packages were nearly identical in size and shape, and the SOLDIER pushed them towards his 'protégé' intently. Cloud opened the first one with a hum, inside the brown gift paper was a small brownish shape wrapped additionally in wax paper. The blond held it up to his nose, sniffing with a pleased hum. "Spiced Bread." He explained in contentment, and held the loaf for Genesis to scent. He obliged, and was pleased with the plethora of ingredients he could detect.

"Four loaves? Will they last?" He inquired, raising an eyebrow at the three unwrapped packages.

"It's a hard bread, it'll keep longer than fresh soft bread, especially if I don't slice it right away. I'll put it somewhere cool and dry to extend the life." The blond shuffled all four loaves to the 'opened' pile, before turning to the last package. It was a relatively large cylinder, approximately a foot in diameter and four inches tall, there was a smaller wrapped package attached to the string bow. Cloud obligingly opened that first. Two small wedge-shaped knives tumbled out, and the blond's eyes went wide with recognition.

"No." He murmured in stunned disbelief, his gaze shifting to the large package. He hastily ripped the string and paper from it, then sat back staring in shock. Genesis cocked his head, the 'gift' was still the same shape, roughly wheel-like, and green of all colors. He turned his head to read the sticker label on top. More professionally made then the one on the jar of preserves.

It read "Mt. Nibel Dairy, Nibel Goat Cheese." It went on to describe the flavor, but Genesis turned his gaze to the Time-Traveler instead. Cloud was grinning broadly,

"The Dairy was destroyed in my time… the recipe for this cheese was lost." He mumbled in soft, awed tones. "This is amazing! A whole wheel!" Then he paused, "What am I going to do with a whole wheel?" His expression went from over-joyed to baffled. Then he looked down at the two knives. "Oh…" His cheeks pinked a little, the smile gently returning. "She sent me everything to have a cheese opening party," His gaze flicked up to meet the SOLDIER's own, "With all my friends." Genesis glanced around at the opened gifts.

"Would there usually be an accompanying beverage?" He asked, his mind racing.

"Wine, or something similar." Cloud admitted, "But I'm all of fourteen right now, she's not going to send alcoholic beverages."

"If you would permit, I think I can contribute to this little soiree… and in fact, why don't we plan to have a little celebration after you pass your Mako sensitivity test hmm?" Cloud blinked at him, but Genesis thoughts had already become absorbed with plans for the future and he chuckled to himself. "I'll take care of all the details, and I'll make certain to send a thank you note to Mrs. Strife." He said with a grin, snatching up the shipping label before the smaller boy could stop him. This was going to be fun!

Angeal drove the cargo van with admirable patience… In his opinion at least. The vehicle was roomy enough to be comfortable, though his own High-Mobility, All Terrain Vehicle, or "Hammer" as the MP's liked to call it, was much roomier and more powerful. Something important when you were on the far side of 6 foot tall. At least his head didn't hit the ceiling every rock they ran over, He mused dryly. His protégé fidgeted in the passenger seat next to him, and Angeal smiled to himself. The boy would probably be happier doing squats in the back with the cargo crates.

"Hey Angeal… why are we wearing MP uniforms again?" Zack protested querulously as he tugged at the neck of his costume.

Angeal's smile faded as he sighed heavily, "Didn't you read the briefing?"

"I uhm… skimmed it?" He answered sheepishly.

"Zack! The briefings are important! If you want to be First Class, you need to read them thoroughly. I won't always be around to remember them for you, and eventually you'll have to explain them to your own subordinates when they forget." Angeal scolded, deliberately pulling his face into a disapproving frown.

He could see the boy hang his head in chastisement in his periphery, "Sorry Angeal, they're just so boring!"

"I know, but they tell you what you're doing, and usually why," the Lieutenant added patiently, then paused as a particular inspiration hit him. "Just think of all the complicated briefings Cloud had to memorize to go back in time! He doesn't get any new instructions, he has to remember everything!" He glanced away from the dirt road, and the caravan of vehicles in time to see Zack's gratifyingly wide-eyed expression.

"Oh man! No wonder he was over a hundred!" Zack's face was an amusing cross between awed and horrified. Angeal had to choke back a laugh.

"I'm not sure that's why… but I'm sure it wasn't easy."

"Yeah, that sounds really tough." Zack frowned in thought. "I do want to be First Class though."

"Cloud said you mentored him in the future." Angeal relented,

"Yeah, he did!"

"So I know you can get there, you just need to keep your goals in mind." Zack nodded with renewed and enthusiastic determination.

"I won't let you guys down!" Then his smile turned sheepish again, "So just this one more time… uh… what did the briefing say?"

Angeal chuckled softly, "We're investigating. There's been a string of missing supplies and personnel through the Mythril Mines. We'd added MP Caravan Guards, but they went missing too. When the SOLDIER Thirds we sent next also disappeared, the higher ups decided we needed something a bit heavier."

"So they're sending us?"

"They didn't just want to send Seconds, if this threat is so impressive it could take them out too, we can't afford to lose them right now, and so sending a First with his Second Class Protégé was the best strategy."

"Cool!" Zack grinned, "So why the MP costumes?"

"We don't want to pre-emptively spook our quarry before they show their face, we need Intel, so we need to prevent them from expecting us." Angeal explained patiently. He watched the light finally dawn in the younger boy's eyes.

"So we're going undercover!" He said with enthusiasm,

"We're going undercover." Angeal confirmed gamely.

"Awesome!" Zack fist pumped, narrowly missing cracking his knuckles on the ceiling. Angeal reflected that his rather Turk-like covert mission with Cloud seemed to have awoken a strangely mischievous side of his protégé. If only that burgeoning sneakiness weren't paired with such naiveté, at least he could hope that his Second might finally hone some survival instincts.

Zack's boundless enthusiasm for the 'exciting' new mission, was not the least dampened when their caravan of vehicles drove straight into the marshes that stood between them and the Mythril mines. The cargo trucks were designed for this route and had large metal air-intake pipes attached to the engine compartment, combined with a water sealed undercarriage made for an interesting trek. The water sprayed in an impressive arc beside them as the tires rolled through a small valley.

"Whoa! It's getting pretty deep! How much water is in here?" Zack pressed a hand to the side window as he gazed out avidly. He flinched as they splashed through an even deeper pool. "Yikes! Be careful Angeal!"

Angeal side-eyed his companion as they drove, noticing the edge of nervousness as they splashed into deeper and deeper muck, and grinned. It was only a matter of time before…

"YAAAGH!" Zack jumped in place, yelling in shock as the vehicle followed their fellows windshield deep in water. "Angeal!" Zack yelped, "Watch out! Oh no! Oh crap!" He yammered, arms out thrown along the back and sides of the cab. "We're gonna stall out!"

Angeal laughed heartily, and the boy finally paused in his panic. "The trucks all have a snorkel. He said between chuckles, pointing to the intake pipe. "We could completely submerge, and as long as that's still above water we'll be fine.

"How are we getting air?" Zack asked as he slowly settled.

"Same place," Angeal explained, "It has a fan and filter. These transports are only really used to go through the Marsh. So you don't see them much."

"Wow… can they really drive underwater?" the boy warmed to the topic, "how do we see?" He gestured at the mud spattered windshield.

"Can't see at the moment, but we have a compass, we'll clean up a bit once we're free of the Zolem's territory.

"That… Is kind of awesome!" Zack said at last. "Shinra technology is really impressive sometimes."

"It really can be." Angeal said with a small smile. Though at what cost? He wondered to himself. Cloud had mentioned a few of the pitfalls on production monopolies, and they were very concerning. He shook off the maudlin thoughts, and watched Zack's newfound awe at their method of transport with fond amusement. He kept a careful eye on the compass, and the proximity sensor that told him how close he was to the other trucks. It was a tricky route, despite the confidence he'd exuded to his student, and was a fun challenge to manage. Soon enough though, the excitement was over. The vehicles exited the marsh, driving up onto solid ground, and as the radio beeped with incoming transmissions, he slowed his truck to a stop. Materia cleaned off the worst of the muck on the windshields, and the caravan proceeded to the way station tucked into the mountain itself.

In an effort to solidify their cover, Angeal and Zack both donned their helmets, and accompanied the other MP's to load the cargo onto more portable carry-drones. The small wheeled devices had a limited AI and could follow generally programmed instructions. Zack and Angeal, with their 'fellow' MP's surrounded the cargo neatly, and followed the commands of the 'leading' squad of SOLDIER Thirds. They'd chosen the tallest batch of MP's they could dredge out of the ranks for this mission, and still Angeal stood taller than the lot, but the hope was that he'd be a little less obvious surrounded by others closer to his height. Zack fidgeted and grumbled at the helmet, but was quickly quieted by his mentor's gesture. They had a few SOLDIER standard issue swords tucked neatly into the crate they were 'guarding' and were equipped with rifles besides. The Lieutenant had been forced to leave Buster behind for this mission, as it simply wasn't feasible to transport inconspicuously. Despite his usual habit of forbearance, the First Class found he missed the comforting weight of the massive weapon. He was pretty happy when they entered the strangely lit cave system, as it was significantly cooler inside, the helmet was still stifling, but more bearable in the damp interior of the mines. Progress was slow but steady as they picked their way carefully through the rough-hewn stone passage. The mining foreman, who had recently been promoted due to the disappearance of his superiors, spoke up into the quiet.

"The passage through the mines is always changing." He warned, "The terrain is not ideally stable, and the rock is prone to shearing, so be careful."

"Why do we use the mines as a supply route if it's so dangerous?" Angeal heard one of the MP's near him mutter. He had to forcibly squash the urge to educate the man. Luckily he wasn't the only one who heard the comment.

"There's not a lot of pathways through the mountain at all." One of the Third Class squad leaders advised a little sharply. "Also, Mythril is valuable, so we want to maintain this passage anyways." Suitably chastised, the MP settled into begrudging silence. There had been some explanatory background information on the location in the briefings, but apparently it wasn't only Zack who 'skimmed' them. They continued warily through the winding tunnels, their guide keeping an expert eye on the stone. For a while the crunch of boots on loose gravel and the occasional echo of dripping water were the only sounds. When they'd been inside for nearly a quarter hour the Lieutenant's enhanced hearing started picking up the scrape of exoskeletal claws on rock.

"Keep a straight face." He whispered to Zack, "Don't react until the other MP's do." The boy twitched behind his concealing uniform, shoulders stiff with the effort to tamp his reaction. Hopefully he just looked paranoid, Angeal mused. Soon enough the scuttling grew louder, and the SOLDIER Thirds in Charge sounded the warning. Immediately rifles and swords were raised, and they let loose on the cluster of approaching Castanets. With their numbers against a relatively insignificant foe, it was incredibly short work.

"Huh. That was kinda easy." Zack said, thankfully in a low undertone.

"Quantity vs quality, the age old question, Quality usually wins out, but don't forget that you can always be overwhelmed by your enemies, if there are enough of them." This comment was answered with a short acknowledging nod as the group continued onwards. They met a few more groups of Castanets along with some Crawlers and an Ark Dragon, a bit of a misnomer as the creature was more insect than proper dragon, none of which put up much of a fight for their well-armed caravan. It was as they reached the midway point, at least according to their guide, that things went a bit pear-shaped. The Mining Foreman yelped as a massive reptile lunged out of the darkness, hissing and snarling, swiping with long dangerous claws.

"Gaia!" the man cried, "what the planet is that!"

This was Angeal's first indication that something was amiss, the second was when a dozen more giant lizards boiled out of the darkness, swiping at the gathered soldiers with massive tusks, their pale eyes burning with rage. Rifle fire quickly filled the narrow cavern, and Angeal subtly tapped into the Materia tucked into the bracer on his wrist. It was a piece Cloud had acquired, and Genesis had been practicing with, the duo had loaned it to Angeal for this mission, but he'd never used it before. So gingerly he aimed at the monsters and waited. There was no way to brace himself for the flood of information, and he wondered if this was what computers felt like? Suddenly he just knew things… seemingly random things about his foe. That it had tough leathery hide and significant weight, allowing it to crush enemies with its sheer bulk. That it could turn people into frogs for some reason, and that it had no resistances, but no particular weaknesses either, and most interestingly, it wasn't indigenous to the Mythril Mines… but instead populated islands around Junon. What? It took a moment to shake off the strange mental vision the Sense Materia gave him,

"Something's wrong!" He whispered frantically, and he barely had the time to grab Zack's arm when he started reaching for the hidden swords. "Not yet, keep your cover! These shouldn't… just wait!" He brought his rifle to bear a little clumsily and thankfully his protégé followed his lead. He opened fire on the beasts as they lumbered closer, but his attention strayed to the rest of the caves and shadowy tunnels. Where had they come from? How had they even gotten here? He'd never seen an Under Lizard before, but if Cloud's Materia was right, and he trusted the time-traveler's expertise on the matter, these things were way outside their home territory! And they looked about as happy about that as Angeal was. Because he was watching for it, he saw the shadows shift deeper into a side tunnel, his enhanced eyesight picked out a humanoid shape, and what might have been a box or crate of some kind moments before a new Under Lizard lunged out. The Lieutenant's rifle-fire caught it in the chest before it could bowl over a batch of MP's from behind, and his keen hearing picked up a very human curse from the corridor in question.

"This is an ambush!" He whispered to Zack, "There are human enemies in here! Stay sharp!" He glanced around until he caught the eye of one of his Thirds, and flashed a supernaturally quick hand signal. The other SOLDIER nodded and turned to their leader. In moments dozens of glowing mako eyes were scanning the darkness. As the reptiles kept coming, a sudden out of place ping dragged the Lieutenant's gaze to where one of his enhanced men had deflected something decidedly inorganic. Another ping and this time he caught the flash of metal and glass as a tiny hypodermic dart was deflected by a wary blade. What?! Angeal decidedly did NOT like the implications of their enemy using darts, sedatives? Or something more lethal? He clenched his jaw as righteous fury blazed through him, there was no honor in this! When one of the darts hit an unfortunate MP, too far for a SOLDIER to cover, he'd had enough.

"You're a SOLDIER Zack, time to act like it." He snarled, his student didn't hesitate, but dove into the crate with a grin.

"What the!" A 'fellow' MP yelped, startled by their actions, "What are you doing?" but when a long length of steel appeared from inside the 'medical supplies' they were 'guarding' the man gaped. When Angeal ripped the helmet from his head and drew his own sword, the unfortunate rifleman stammered, and snapped a hasty salute. "L-l-lieutenant Hewley! S-Sir!"

"We're under ambush! Enemy insurgents!" the First Class barked in reply, he whipped his hand to face the fallen MP and used another 'borrowed' Materia, this wasn't one Shinra was 'manufacturing' yet, though why not the raven-haired SOLDIER couldn't fathom, as the Heal spell blazed over the prone figure, and he groggily started to sit back up. "They're using tranquilizers! Be on your guard!"

"Sir! Yes sir!" the Third Class SOLDIERs in the lead chimed habitually.

"Holy Gaia! Is that one of the Firsts? I didn't sign up for this!" Angeal heard a voice cry in panic, and it wasn't one of his trained on the sound and darted forward blade flashing to intercept enemy fire, allowing the others to watch his back. A twist of his wrist activated the third borrowed Materia he carried, one Genesis had recently been praising the usefulness of. Cover. The incoming projectiles almost seemed to shimmer in his sight, and some unseen whisper nudged him where he needed to be to protect those under his command. This might become his new favorite spell. In a blur of speed he was suddenly right in front of one of the enemies. The man jumped back with a yelp, his goggled face and drab grey-brown clothing hiding him admirably in the darkened caverns, a shot fired, but the SOLDIER First had already knocked the rifle barrel ceiling-ward with the flat of his blade. The dart plinked harmlessly against stone. The next swipe cleaved the firearm in half, rendering it useless. And a third swipe sent the pommel into the back of his opponent's head with careful precision. He wanted to talk to these people… whoever they were.

With their disguises removed, Zack was working admirably with his assigned Materia, Restore linked to All bolstering up the combatants against the monsters and unknown assailants alike. The occasional flash of Lightning told him the boy wasn't skimping on his offense either. It was good practice for him to pay more attention to the whole of his comrades. These thoughts drifted through Angeal's mind even as his primary focus shifted to the sounds and smells of more bipedal targets. The next man he hit never saw him coming. Dropping to the ground with a dusty thud after the metal hilt impacted his skull. After that he slid into a battle trance, his feet moving almost of their own will as his mind analyzed the threats one after another. It wasn't until a sharp burning sensation raced over his forearm, and the smell of scorched flesh reached his nose that he snapped out of it. Had that man … just thrown acid? He bared his teeth in a rictus snarl, flicking the blood from his arm and casting a hasty heal, but in his momentary distraction most of the rest of the insurgents had whirled to flee. The Lieutenant realized he'd pursued them deeper into the mountain, and while he could still hear the sounds of battle behind him. He was mostly alone with his quarry. There was almost a proper cave where they stood now, and the partially empty stack of crates, some still with Under Lizards inside, confirmed his earlier suspicions. At the far end of the cavern a lean dark-haired man with glasses glowered at him. The same one who'd hit him with some kind of chemical. He stepped forward, but the man turned and disappeared into the dark without a word. The rest of his cronies following with panicked haste.

The Lieutenant barely had the forethought to flick a hasty Sense spell in the bespectacled figure's direction, the magic seemed to catch, but the information came back muffled, and stilted. Not much beyond the sudden knowledge of his opponent's name. Fuhito. Part of him burned to give chase, but he dared not abandon his own SOLDIERs like that. Angeal knew there was no way the enemy had retrieved all of their fallen comrades, and he was determined to find out who these people were… He retreated grudgingly to his own men, and tried to take his mind off just how much his arm ached.

It was the end of the week, the day of the Mako Tests, and it was only after Genesis had 'escorted' his Protégé, with a privilege he could thank Angeal for initiating, that he realized they might have a problem. He was sitting with his back to the camera in the waiting area of the science department. The other members of Cloud's squad were present, but they had all elected to sit as far as was possible from the Lieutenant and his protégé. Probably wise of them, Genesis mused, as he was not feeling particularly tolerant of children right now. His mako enhanced gaze remained on the time-traveler, despite the open book held up near his face. The normally unflappable blond was more rigid than he'd ever seen him. Though his face appeared impressively calm, there was a notable pallor, and the SOLDIER could hear the uptick in heartrate, even smell the adrenaline. He eyed his 'charge' carefully, watching the tell-tale body language.

"Is there a particular complication I should be appraised of?" The SOLDIER murmured in tones barely loud enough to carry the short distance between them. "You completed all of your preparations prior to our arrival, correct?"

Cloud met his eyes, and when he spoke, his lips barely moved, "I didn't think I'd have a problem. I've had a long time to address my personal trauma, but the anxiety I'm experiencing apparently isn't logical." He huffed almost silently.

"Personal trauma?" Genesis prompted.

"I think I mentioned that I had SOLDIER enhancements? Well more specifically I was one of Hojo's unwilling experiments." The answer was almost sub-audible. "Because of that, I'm having some issues at the concept of Hojo coming anywhere near me with … well, anything."

Genesis digested the idea, letting that statement slot together with other clues and admissions, while he subtly canted his eyes around the room. "I don't think he personally administers the Mako sensitivity tests." He returned, a near whisper. "Just sometimes oversees the measurements." He was fairly certain of this, as he'd vaguely recalled wanting to strangle a young cadet who'd bragged loudly about the 'cute nurse' who'd administered his test. He also knew that the Professor was certainly paranoid enough to keep an eye on every drop of Mako administered. Either way, his statement did the trick and allowed the blond to relax enough that he didn't look ready to faint. A little more loudly, he began debating the potential meanings behind the poetic language of Loveless, a distraction Cloud gamely involved in. The Lieutenant's mind was firmly addressing his new information, No surprise the time-traveler had an aversion to the many ambitious scientists, but with what he'd been learning, he didn't blame him even a single iota.

Thankfully, when the first cadet was called it was not Cloud, rather they started alphabetically by last name. Gavin Caradoc stepped up and the tech took him to a side-room with windows, sure enough another tech administered the small series of injections. Then it was quick going as they began calling the Cadets up one after another, and the first began returning to the waiting area to be observed for excessively adverse reactions.

When it was Cloud's turn, he entered the room with all the apparent calm of the veteran he was, though Genesis could tell he was still slightly agitated. They explained as they presented the small collection of syringes that each one contained a slightly higher potency, and would be administered at two minute intervals to watch for intolerance or rejection. There were five shots, each placed up the arm from the wrist, and Cloud regarded them almost clinically, despite the uptick in his heartrate before each one. When they were finished, and the injection sites had done nothing more than redden like bug-bites, they were sent out to the waiting room again.

True to Genesis speculation, Professor Hojo did not execute a single test himself. Rather stood back and watched absently as the Mako was given. He looked up briefly when one boy, a red-head, moaned in pain, his arm visibly starting to swell and sweat breaking out on his forehead. One of the techs quickly ushered him into a back room. But the head of the science department had already lost interest, his attention on the small tablet in his hands and the dilute green chemical they were introducing to the boy's systems.

"Poor Kyle." Cloud murmured in sympathy, "No SOLDIER for him." After the prerequisite hour wait, only two more boys "Fisk," and "Ethan" had a hasty visible reaction. The rest would have to wait a few days to see if their bodies metabolized the chemical properly or not. Just before they stood to leave, Genesis felt the hairs raise on the back of his neck, and looked up to briefly catch the black gaze of the Professor, but the moment passed as bespectacled eyes slid past him to the cadets who'd gone after Cloud. He suppressed a shiver, there was something… wrong… with that man.

The Mako Sensitivity Tests were always a drudgery to Professor Hojo, not that crying bothered him, but it was tedius to monitor such simplistic results. If not for the valuable resources, and the careful measurements, which he didn't trust to his techs, he would not bother to be present at all. He could generally tell within thirty seconds if a reaction was occurring, and could usually even predict with roughly eighty-five percent accuracy which cadets would pass or fail. His gaze slid over the accumulated children again. There was some small merit in the presence of his expertise, as it had been particularly difficult to calculate a safe measurement for the smallest of them. How a child so very diminutive had made it this far was a mystery, but not one Hojo was terribly intrigued with, at least not until he laid eyes on the child's escort… One of Hollander's failures? He let his gaze focus a little more clearly on the small boy next to him and frowned. Wasn't that the midget Turk he'd seen before? His gaze drifted up again, and briefly met with the Failure's. He withdrew and let his attention wander, his mind whirling. When he finally drifted out of sight, tablet in hand, he pulled up the information on the midget. Turk Intern… that had been the same figure he'd seen. Fourteen the information read; young and enterprising this one, unfortunate the boy would likely reject the Mako, Hojo mused, but if the Turks picked him up instead… what were they doing pilfering from his own project pool? Greedy cockroaches. He snarled mentally. As it was too late to make any alterations to the boy's test; given that it was already administered, he sighed and wandered off. He dismissed the matter for the moment, but he would remember the unusual specimen.

((Author's Note:

This chapter was interesting. Originally it was part of the last chapter, but that one got a bit away from me in length, and so I split it up… then it wasn't quite long enough, so I had to figure out what scene needed to go into this time zone. I had about 4 different ones in mind, but finally settled on Angeal's confrontation with AVALANCHE. There's a reason things are jumping out of canonical sequence, some of which you guys know about, some of which I know about but only lightly hinted at. ^_~

As I've been mentioning, and despite what people might think regarding these bizarre interludes with Genesis, it's all part of the plan!

-Jianre M. A.K.A … Illusor Meaneld.))