While this fanfiction is still in its infancy, the setting is an AU I have given great thought to. I debated sharing this for multiple reasons - I feel like there is a great deal that has happened 'before' this story begins. This kind of drove me crazy when I was deciding whether or not to publish. Ultimately I decided I would have much more motivation if I made it public, and that I would be committing to reach some kind of conclusion rather than getting distracted.
I will do my best to attempt to fill in the gaps for you here. I think most of you are here for Sefikura and *not* for six chapters of worldbuilding. That being said, if you have any questions or just would like to talk about it, please contact me. I'd be more than happy to elaborate.
Simply put, this AU takes place on another planet. Not Gaia, but enough like Gaia that it has similar landmarks, characters, that kind of thing. The biggest difference is that there are multiple distinct nations. These used to be sort of like our planet with borders, their own cultures, etc., but ShinRa has been dominating the world with the "help" of Jenova and the use of high-level sciences. In this world, Jenova is decidedly mysterious… is she an alien race? She presents as a human woman but I won't necessarily say what she is or isn't. She is not a public figure for ShinRa, but she has gained complete control of the organisation and therefore their world conquest operation. Basically what I'm saying is this: ShinRa is Jenova's lapdog.
The lifestream exists here but it's modified, moreso to be like a collective unconscious / spiritual realm rather than a physical stream or whatever. All the people who inherit "S Cells" (probably going to coin a new term just for ease of use in this fic) have various powers that allow them to manipulate the mind/consciousness of any person who has *not* inherited them. Sort of like vampirism, or like 'hacking into their mainframe' I guess, for lack of a better comparison (and so I don't get too long-winded).
There are countries against ShinRa because people are aware that something is very wrong/strange and it is unclear what Jenova's true goals are - she seems to need something in particular from "normal people", and she needs to be in a position of absolute power in order to do it. There's a sense of desperation behind her actions; she has to press onwards, to push others, by all means necessary. There are voices on the wind that say that somewhere, somehow, a revolution has begun against her tyranny. This is one of the places that our story begins…
Today, something interesting was finally happening in the otherwise empty boardroom. People of all shapes and sizes decorated the wide mahogany table, unique uniforms worn proudly—it could have easily been a painting of all the most prolific "who's who" of our time. Perhaps most interesting among all these individuals was the loud silence that pounded every square inch of space. It was a stillness of profound respect, admiration, and fear. It was unspoken, yet commanding. It was unquestionable that every man, woman, and child present had something to say about this meeting, but it was held back solely by this reverence. And all this for a particular woman—a woman who had finally arrived.
Sephiroth had been staring blankly down at his papers. He was already familiar with every point of what was about to be addressed today. What he wasn't briefed on could be easily assumed based on the guests in attendance, the current political climate, a little fishing at the Midgar Stock Exchange, and some 'personal research'. His bored expression betrayed itself instantly as large cherry wood doors creaked open. He was the first to rise from his seat, bowing his head with a simple "Good evening, Mother." That would be the most emotion he would publically exhibit for the rest of the occasion.
The click of long heels echoed through the board room. She carried herself gracefully, purposefully all the way down the passage. The guests were treated only to her runway reflection cast against thick black windows – windows with an exclusive view that "ShinRa's Finest" had named the best view in the country two years running, a view ignored by every single pair of eyes in favor of her figure. The bright city far below the ShinRa building twinkled and danced, playing off the silver coiled around her neck, fingers, waist—the brightest silver, which only belonged to her and her children's hair, almost glowing beneath the light. If she noticed that a participant trembled as she clicked past them, she made no show of it. No one deserved her attention but the boy who had dared to address her.
Jenova was taller than a model, taller even than her son, a fine man slightly over six feet high. As she traced around a corner of the table, coming now to the true focal point of the room, she finally permitted a pleased look to pool over her features, softening the otherwise straight lines. Her eyes crinkled in a way somewhat fitting for a woman who held the title "Mother" as she moved closer to her son, her haunting, serpentine gaze growing more intense. There was a tangible sense of envy that loomed in the room, jealousy of that fondness she reserved only for her sons. Sephiroth could feel the eyes now fixed upon his bowed head. He chose, like always, to focus on the only ones that mattered.
The largest empty chair was ornate in a way that outshone even the rest of the room. One of her pale hands rested upon the carved wooden angels of the arms of the chair while the other reached out for the hand of her son, who sat on a smaller throne beside her. The table had been designed specifically with her tastes in mind, curved like a horseshoe before her. Other than a few central fixtures, like the chandelier hanging low in its warm, gentle light and a large screen under the glass tabletop for demonstrations and the like, there were hardly any distractions. The guards – who doubled as servants – seemed to blend into the backsplash of the wall, their decades of rigorous training evident through their lack of presence.
"You may be seated." Jenova brushed her son's hand gently before fixing the back of her juniper-green dress, casting her eyes from the left side of the room to the right as each person who caught her gaze in succession anxiously settled back down into their right place. A slight smile played at the corners of her lips, but perhaps Sephiroth was the only one who could see. He was the last to take his place before her. Hooking her right leg over her left, she sighed in a way in which only she could, almost as a demonstration. She seemed to be most comfortable in places like these, where her audience was captive and anything but.
"Who among you would like to open?" Her tone shift was subtle, but a challenge all the same. It would be best interpreted as "Who would dare to waste my time?" The deafening silence that had been nearly forgotten now returned, yet the collective anxiety made itself known in how audibly the guests shifted in their seats, their expressions twisting, some choosing to stare anywhere but front and center where she sat... waiting. Sephiroth could choose to waste energy tuning into those pathetic thoughts, but now that his duties were over he would choose instead to zone out, just as he did every meeting. He stared out the window over the little herds below as they hurried home late this Friday evening; he chose to imagine their lives, sometimes comparing them with his own. An interesting motorcycle soared by on the inner plate roundabout and caught his eye – perhaps they would get along. His mind drifted and time fell away, and he surfaced only to check that he was not required to specify anything or demonstrate something for Jenova's benefit.
From time to time Sephiroth would have to stare absently at the speakers, all poor actors, as they attempted to explain what their branch or operation had accomplished in the three weeks that had passed between this corporate ritual and the last. Jenova believed wholeheartedly in taking risks, so she funded anything that caught her interest. She had funded and taken advantage of many projects that everyone else had ridiculed, and had this to thank in part for the ease of her great success. Although those not bowing to her ideology would never outright admit it, it was the common consensus that ' true science' could only take place with the resources that Jenova and ShinRa allocated. Many of the lucky hopefuls—scientists and researchers—would desperately crawl over each other to get to pitch their pipe dream to the very queen of ShinRa. Of course, tonight was no different. Petty pandering to her ideals, self-indulgent projects packed with a brand new ribbon to try and squeeze what they could from her. Fools all, thinking they were smart enough to trick her before ever being in her presence, Sephiroth thought to himself. He respected these men and their despicable ploys the least.
Normally he would have drifted away until the end of the evening, but the voice of a strange man broke through his reverie.
"... Considering his—and yours, my lady—uh... abilities," They always struggled to label the exotic and horrific powers of Jenova's bloodline. "wouldn't this theory make sense? Surely the use of human weapons would be significantly less expensive to produce and could be better controlled than the current artificial intelligence we utilize. You see, we struggle with problem-solution algorithms. When the AI runs into an issue it can't understand, it bootloops. We just aren't at liberty to fix a weapon every time it can't figure out how to do its job." The man adjusted his glasses, taking a moment to inhale. To his disbelief, he had everyone's attention. "However, if we could train humans... soldiers, if you will, solely to operate as weapons for you or for your sons, they would be able to solve problems in a rational, predictable way. It would work even for things they may not be trained for, as long as the solution is founded on common sense."
For the first time this evening's meeting started, Jenova turned towards Sephiroth. This was typically how she showed interest in approving a new project, and it was also his cue to speak on her behalf.
"Explain in a sentence how you expect to collect willing human subjects." His tone was ice, but it was all show, only to perform and to mask his apathy.
After deliberating as long as socially permissible, he offered the response that both Sephiroth and Jenova had expected. "They would need some strong convincing. We have an idea—"
Now Jenova laughed at a joke only she seemed to understand. She firmly settled both her feet onto the floor, her hair spilling over her shoulders, landing in pools along her thighs and further downward still as her chest heaved three times. She seemed to gain instant control of her laughter as quickly as it caught her.
"All of you..." She cast her fingers out from the scientist, spreading across each guest regardless of if they had spoken their piece or not. All in attendance knew that meant that they were dismissed—all except for the single scientist that she singled out from the rest. Sephiroth waited like usual, assuming that he would remain with her until the very end as he always had. To his surprise, that fierce gaze turned on him next. Twisting. Punishing.
"Good night, my angel." Her tone was devastating. Sephiroth bowed once more, kissing the top of her soft hand as he went. He gathered his clipboard and papers without a word, hiding his shock and shame to the best of his ability. It was all for naught; he knew his Mother could pick through every thought, no matter how incomplete, like a dog prying meat from a bone. Sephiroth allowed himself a glare at the scientist before he was out past the guards, who jumped over themselves to open the door for him. For a moment he stood in the center of them, parroting one of the many rehearsed exchanges he was permitted to have with her.
"Good night, Mother."
The doors shut. He lost sight of her, and with her went all he could ever dream of his future. He sensed that something was different, but he couldn't begin to understand what awaited him, how profoundly it would annihilate him, or that it would change everything he'd ever known.
Months had passed since that fateful night. Sephiroth reflected on it from time to time, the tantalizing project that was kept so secret from him—and him exclusively, at that. His younger brother Kadaj had a point to sneer on more than one occasion that he'd seen or heard something; likely a bluff, but it rustled him nonetheless. There was as much jealousy as there was camaraderie between the four of them; the triplets publicly recognized their brother as superior, particularly as the figurehead of their mother's movement, but what was truly left unspoken was the vast and deep-seated trauma Jenova had fostered around each of them to pit them against one another, dare they attempt to overthrow her.
One of the usual guards, a man Sephiroth knew better than his brothers in many ways, was tasked with driving him back from his last rotation of public performances. ShinRa had him drifting around the country, organizing units, training others in his arts, but he spent most of his time on exactly what took the most energy out of him—television and radio.
Sephiroth lay back flat against the passenger seat chair. His uniform hugged him snugly, perfectly tailored to the height of luxury but somehow always a bit uncomfortable. It never really struck him until he was out of the spotlight; being driven home meant he could finally relax as much as he could ever allow himself to. He loosened one of the belts around his waist, jingling the golden medals across his chest before settling his leather cap across his thighs. When he wasn't under direct observation—something he rather enjoyed about this driver—he had a tendency to run his fingers through his hauntingly silver hair. He smiled to himself softly, grateful he'd never have to cut it like any of the other men beneath him.
"I don't know how you do that." Now came the predictable small-talk, another pleasantry Sephiroth didn't have to calculate. His shoulders relaxed back into the cool vinyl seating. His driver turned to look at him before continuing; a show of consideration. "Don't you just think all of those reporters are the lowest of the low? Man, if it were me..."
Sephiroth had his eyes closed now, knowing it would take the pair over four hours to get back to headquarters. He could see exactly what his confidant was doing without even having to use his powers, same routine as always; the groan of the window rolling down, the click of the steel lighter—well-loved and bright red—the deep breath he'd suck in as he broke off onto the highway, release...
"Pass me one, Reno."
Reno laughed. The sound rolled into a pleasant harmony with the engine as it roared to pick up speed. "That bad, huh?"
They both knew the answer. The lights cast swirls of long green and orange tails over the windows, the glow of the city mesmerizing through dense smog. There was a stillness even here on the outer highway plates at this strange hour, right between the depths of night and the birth of the morning. It felt like soaring through an open sky, and he imagined the trails of fluorescent lighting on concrete tunnel walls as shooting stars. Sephiroth ran his free hand gently against the crushed black velvet of his gloves, neatly laid across his lap under the rim of his cap. If he could fly, he knew he'd want command over wings that felt exactly like this.
Sephiroth was never expected to answer when Reno talked, and he relished that. Reno's love of chatter gave off the impression of someone who couldn't sit still, but he just loved to play the clown for his friends' amusement. He always had it in him to appreciate comfortable silence. Two cigarettes later, though, he was chittering again, breaking up the crackle of the classical music on the radio.
"They've got like five entire platoons of those scouts at the place," he began. "You know. The youth programs. Silver Soldiers, or whatever. For some reason they've got them all hanging out waiting to do their physicals at HQ's labs..."
Sephiroth's brow furrowed. "Any idea why?"
"That's what I'm asking you, buddy! It's weird. You know how I feel about it. It's like drone city in there. Don't they usually send a dude out to sort them out at those backwater towns they come from?" Reno paused to think, focusing on the dotted white line as it curved around the middle lane. "Bigger question," Sephiroth could see Reno's exceedingly bright ponytail flip out of the corner of his eyes as Reno turned to face him. "Why send you ?"
The car went silent again as Reno merged onto a ramp.
"Why would they send me to deal with freshmen?"
By the time it clicked, they were already being waved through security at the front gate.
"One day, when I make SOLDIER, I'm gonna live here."
"No, you're not."
"Am too! I'll live on the top floor, too. Up where all those fancy penthouses are. I'll make First. They'll give me a really fancy uniform and an even cooler gun, I bet."
"They won't ."
"Can you guys stop and just enjoy the view for five seconds?! We're in a freakin' glass elevator right now and you're fighting over guns again! "
The trio of children, all different ages, admired the view of the city as they climbed up the tallest building in the country. The two boys respected the younger girl enough to stop. The blond, Cloud, was the first to press his fingers against the glass.
"Do you think they're the type of people to care about fingerprints and stuff?" Zack asked, face suddenly stern. A severe expression looked almost funny across his features.
Aeris giggled at him before planting both of her palms against the glass next to Cloud. She gasped at the view as they crashed through the smog barrier, rising higher still. For the first time since making their long journey to the capital city, they could finally see the stars.
Cloud envied Aeris's easygoing demeanor. He was nauseous, nearly buckling under how frighteningly real it all was and under the uncertainty of what the next hour would bring. He knew what it could mean for the rest of his life, for all of his dreams and desires. He would be weighed, as they all would be, in the same way a butcher would measure a lamb. Before he'd brought his fingertips to the glass, he'd almost believed that he would fall right through, crashing down into the city below. He could've gotten lost in that daydream if his nerves hadn't anchored him firmly to his body.
As hard as it was to meet Zack's optimism today, he happily received it. Even if he didn't believe it.
The three were chosen, as all who came of age were chosen, to be evaluated for their potential to contribute to their country. The boys had already eagerly enrolled in various pre-military training programs, as all their friends had, and as their parents had encouraged them to. Although much of the process was cloaked in secrecy, it was common knowledge that the various physical evaluations that took place over one's final years of freshman training would determine which rank one could expect to hold during the transition into real military organizations and beyond. As genetics were rumored to have a role, the trio were equally concerned, all for different reasons, that they would surely be discarded or, in the best case, not considered . Zack was the most confident, as his father had received a handsome grade long before it was Zack's own turn. He laid himself across the floor of the elevator, convincing Aeris to lay beside him so she could "get a panoramic view" of their new world.
The entire ride would take approximately 40 minutes. The building was intentionally designed to allow a systematic web of cables and elevator capsules to operate simultaneously, all with the aim of bringing guests to their unique destinations as required. Due to its sheer size, multiple routes of ascension were essential. This was especially necessary, not simply due to convenience or courtesy, since a vast majority of floors were restricted to specific security clearances, let alone to the general public. These small, ten-person-maximum-occupant elevator capsules could be programmed with the exact permissions and routes required. After boarding, participants were taken to the test waiting room, processed, and then released. Such advanced technology streamlined the process, an absolutely essential point of function for a delicate operation employing hundreds of monthly applicants.
While the three expected, or perhaps hoped, that there would be more of a triumphant signal that they'd arrived, they each more than sobered themselves in time to get off at their target floor. They hopped up, smoothing out their rookie uniforms—a modest-looking periwinkle blue—and took turns adjusting the others' neckties and pins.
Cloud took one last look at his reflection, searching the blank gaze of his shadow desperately for clues toward how tonight would end. Before he got his answer, Zack grabbed his arm and pulled him silently out into the maw of the waiting room, and Cloud's final glimpse of his true reflection melted into the skies of Midgar.
A/N: Thank you very much for reading!
It would absolutely make my day if you let me know any thoughts you had when reading~
Huge thank you to Ciel and J (YurievInstitute) for the beta work! Thank you both for always humouring my fantasies...