Title: Second Sakura
Summary: One daughter, or is it two? Juli Mizrahi can only follow her heart.
Author Notes: Mention of suicide. Prompt unused. Much of the dialogue comes directly from the second game in the series. I do not own any of the characters, or the situations. Monolith Soft and Namco do. This was done for the 2007 Femgenficathon on Livejournal.
Many, many thanks to thegiantkiller for the beta!
"All right," Juli says, already leaning forward to rest on hand just above the switch that would terminate the U.M.N connection. Her fingers itching to get back to work – if the Subcommittee was to be ready for the procedure then there were things that she had to have done beforehand. They are still behind from dealing with the fallout of the attack on the Kukai Foundation and the presence of Gnosis there. Then with Proto Merkabah… there is no shortage of work to be done. "Continue your assignment until the delivery is complete."
The man on the other end of the connection nods, "acknowledged."
Juli takes a moment to fire up another application before closing down the connection. That moment is time enough for the man to speak up.
Juli keeps her face smooth, glad that the video feed won't show the sudden lines of tension that appeared around her eyes and mouth. She looks up, eyes showing nothing but bland interest and, perhaps, a small impatience. Her words are less circumspect. "Yes, Jan Sauer. Is there something else?"
He pauses and his eyes grow colder as they re-evaluate her. Juli is reminded that in life he'd been a dangerous counter-terrorism specialist and that his skills have only grown since being resurrected under the Life-Recycling Act.
"I am currently Ziggurat 8," he says finally.
For a moment, in the face of that quiet dignity, Juli wishes that she hadn't thrown that reminder of his past life in his face. She will not apologize. With nothing else to say, Juli merely murmurs, "so it appears."
"MOMO…" Juli schools her expression to hide her dismay; she is not sure if she succeeds because his voice becomes unexpectedly gentle, " ...is looking forward to seeing you."
Juli closes her eyes, curses her long dead ex-husband for doing this to her, then looks directly at the man and speaks in a voice that manages to stay almost steady. She is proud of that. "I see. I… I, too, welcome your arrival."
Then, before he can say anything else, Juli closes the connection.
She stares blindly through a sudden haze of tears at the words of the forms that she should be checking. After five minutes without managing to register a single word of the file Juli closes it and leaves the office she was assigned for her stay on Miltia. A walk might clear her head.
It's been more than fourteen years yet the wounds still bleed.
A few hours later and Juli is heading towards a meeting she's been dreading since Ziggurat 8 was sent out. The doors open automatically in front of her after her identity has been confirmed by a quick gene scan.
Juli has a chance before anyone speaks to take in the appearance of the girl and her heart aches even as she hardens her gaze. Oh Joachim, you wrought truer than you knew, Juli laments. The girl has pink hair, and golden eyes… but the rest is all her daughter. Sakura…
Her daughter is long dead.
"Mommy!" The girl says brightly. The others in the room turn–Gaignun Kukai and his son, or whatever they were calling themselves these days. Ziggurat 8 stood next to the girl; the expression on his face was unreadable.
Juli ignores her and instead speaks to Gaignun Kukai. "It's been a while."
"You're looking well, as always," he says in his smooth voice.
She doesn't know if he means it but the compliment is soothing. Bowing, Juli says quietly, " Allow me to thank you, on behalf of the entire Subcommittee. We're very grateful for your help during the Proto Merkabah incident." What a mess that had been! And the memories it had brought with it had been even worse.
Juli straightens in time to see the glance that Ziggurat 8, more imposing by far in person, gives her and the girl. She knows what he's going to say before he opens his mouth.
"We couldn't have done it without MOMO. She was immensely helpful."
Joachim would have programmed her to be. Juli knows that she has to say something and musters as much grace as she can, "I see. Thanks for your support, MOMO."
"Mommy!" The girl nearly dances from side to side with her eagerness. The look on her face is unbearable and Juli casts the conversation to safer waters before the girl gets it into her head to attempt a hug.
"I'd like to organize the data. If you could prepare a room for me, I'd appreciate it." They would have finished the preliminary testing by now and the results would be a good indicator of whether problems were likely to show up during the real thing.
She can feel the girl's mood plummet and refuses to look when she hears the girl turning away.
"Gladly," Gaignun Kukai Jr. says with a frown on his face.
Nodding her acceptance, Juli turns to go. Something about the look on Ziggurat 8's face makes her pause and say in a cool, detached voice, "MOMO?"
The girl whips around, her eyes big with hope. "Yes?"
Juli wishes she hadn't said anything. Now she has to continue. "Once things settle down, it'd be nice if we could live together."
Then she leaves, even as the girl lights up like the sunrise. Juli knows that if her offer ever comes to fruition that she'll go mad within a month.
Juli has just finished checking over the analysis procedures one more time when Gaignun Kukai Jr. enters the room behind her. She knows that his arms will be crossed over his chest and she's reminded again that this man, despite his boyish exterior, sees more than he lets on.
"Doctor, what was that all about?"
"What?" She clicks a few buttons on the console.
His voice is threaded with anger. "You know. Acting nice to MOMO all of a sudden?"
"Did it seem unnatural?" Juli turns and faces him, not in the mood to talk about the girl who looks like her daughter. "Joachim designed that Realian to be stimulated by familial warmth. Therefore, fulfilling that need is necessary in order to ensure that the examination proceeds smoothly." That she'd spent the next half hour fighting back tears and useless anger at Joachim Mizrahi, a man long dead, wasn't something she'd tell this man.
"Hmph. I should have known."
She isn't going to dignify that with an answer, but before she can take more than a few steps towards the door he speaks up again.
"You know, pretending to be cold and emotionless is only going to end up hurting you in the end."
Juli doesn't need him to tell her what to do with her life. This is her problem and she is dealing with it. The look she gives the red-haired man over her shoulder is unfriendly. "That Realian was created by Joachim. And that frightens me."
She can admit that. Gaignun Jr. had never had a child, he couldn't understand what she meant but if the words would get him to leave her in peace… they'd be worth it.
He keeps speaking, though, and his next words root her to the spot. "Look, I don't know what kind of person Joachim Mizrahi was. I don't know what he was thinking when he created the 100-Series. But I made a promise to Sakura."
A promise to Sakura… She has to ask. This man – back then a boy in truth and not just in form – had been able to talk to Sakura in a way that Juli had never been able to. "To Sakura?"
His voice is defiant. "I'm going to treat MOMO like a real girl."
That doesn't answer her question, and Juli needs an answer. "What sort of promise?"
"She asked me to look after her mother and sister."
The words seem to come from a long way off and for a moment Juli isn't even sure of the ground that she is standing on. She hadn't known that Sakura had asked that. The illness had made it impossible for her to speak in words that Juli could understand. The man behind her had been one of the three involved in the treatment and he'd been sent repeatedly into Sakura's consciousness. His reports had always been lively and factual – but he'd never mentioned the promise.
She wondered what else he'd held back from her. Words her daughter had said that she'd never gotten to hear.
His voice turns beseeching and Juli knows that he still doesn't understand the problem. "Please, Doctor. I'd like you to smile again. I'm sure that's what Sakura would want, too."
Anger surges up and her hands clench. He has no right to say that to her. Not when he was part of what had killed Sakura.
Juli leaves the room before she does something unfortunate.
Ziggurat 8 stirs on his maintenance bed behind her. Juli keeps her eyes on the consoles in front of her as she continues the careful fine-tuning that a body as out-dated as his requires.
"Dr. Mizrahi?" There is some surprise in his voice.
"MOMO asked me to do it. She said, 'Mommy, you're a famous scientist, so I bet you know all about cybernetic engineering.' " The conversation had been awkward and Juli had been glad of the excuse to get away from the girl. Sakura's promises or not, Juli couldn't look at the girl without thinking about what might have been.
There is an uncomfortable silence and then Ziggurat 8 says, "Ah, I'd prefer…"
"I'm not a young woman. Don't let it bother you." As her hands move with the ease of long practise over the consoles Juli muses on what the girl had said. A famous scientist? Perhaps 'infamous' is more appropriate. Most of her reputation came from her husband. Juli has long ago made her peace with that – her own contributions to the field are recognized by the right people either way and she is not above trading on her ex-husband's knowledge to get what she wants.
When Ziggurat 8 speaks Juli realizes that she has been talking out loud. "You seem to have difficulty dealing with MOMO. Why?"
Juli is almost grateful that this man asks her straight out, and in response tells him the truth that she's kept locked in her heart. "Could you love something that looked like your own daughter, but wasn't?" There are days when she thinks she might, and those are the hardest days of all. The girl is hard to hate and it is only her appearance – both a curse and a blessing that she looks so much like Sakura – that keeps her quiet. Both from anger and from joy.
Juli cannot speak ill to the girl that wears Sakura's face, but nor can she bring herself to praise. That would be a betrayal of its own.
He stares at her and says slowly, "that is a difficult question."
Now that she has started Juli finds that she can't stop talking about it. "Creating something to look like my daughter won't bring back her soul. And with 100-Series Realians scattered all over this star cluster, I am constantly reminded of her death."
The first time she'd seen one, Juli had nearly thrown up. Sakura was dead. That was something that she'd never been able to get Joachim to see and understand. Sakura was gone and Juli wanted to let her memory rest in peace.
"Was it your husband's idea to make the 100-Series look like her?"
"Yes." Juli turns to look at him. There is a note in his voice that raises her suspicions. "Do you have any children?"
An old pain crosses Ziggurat 8's face. "A son. He was a healthy intelligent boy. I lost him in an accident."
"I'm sorry," Juli says, and means it. "Is that why you committed suicide?" He doesn't ask how she knows that. Juli wonders why.
"Yes, it is."
"Perhaps I should have done the same when my daughter died. But instead of grief, my heart was filled with anger towards my husband." It still was, come to think of it. The years had done little to change her feelings on that score.
"You seem to be a very strong person," He observes.
She wants to laugh at this. Juli knows that she is weak, it is only her pride that keeps her from showing it to the world. Instead she sighs and says, "No. I'm just stubborn." Which is part of the answer. He deserves that much for letting her talk and, she thinks, for understanding.
"Dr. Mizrahi... this is just an idea, but why don't you imagine that you had two daughters?" He says it in that quiet, dignified voice of his, and she can tell that he would be more than glad to call the girl his daughter, real or not. Envy surges in her and she doesn't know why. She knows that the girl is fond of this man. Why should that hurt?
She's not sure what to say, and fumbles for words. "What do you mean?" Juli is dreadfully certain that she can guess where he is going with this logic.
Ziggurat 8 doesn't acknowledge her sudden change in demeanour, "One that passed away, and one that's still alive."
Juli closes her eyes. The idea makes her mind want to hide. She doesn't though, because he's offered her the first good idea about how to deal with this in more than fourteen years. The girl was, is, registered as her daughter with the Federation. Juli had found that out after Joachim's death. She still doesn't know what he'd been thinking – their last conversation had ended in a raging argument about the girl's creation.
Not even a month after Sakura's death, Juli had walked out with nothing but the clothes on her back. She had not asked for these artificial daughters. It might have been different if Joachim had wanted to try again, they'd been young enough. But he was dead now, and she… she'd grown cold.
"You think I should treat MOMO like another daughter, instead of a mere copy of Sakura. You sure know how to pose a difficult challenge." Juli plays for time by summarizing his idea aloud. It has merit, she can grudgingly admit.
"Please consider it."
The look on his face makes Juli wonder if he is not doing this just for the benefit of the girl. That he might be doing it for her, when he hardly knows her… it's too much. Juli knows that she has to find somewhere to mull it over on her own.
"I'll think about it," Juli half-promises, unwilling to commit herself more than that. "Well, I'd better go." She pauses for a moment. There is something that she wants to say, needs to say, but can't find the words to express.
He takes it out of her hands. "Thank you for the maintenance."
The moment has passed and all Juli says on the way out is "you're welcome."
She wonders if it ought to have been said the other way around.
As she leaves the room Juli spies MOMO being lead into the analysis chamber. MOMO spots her too and smiles nervously.
Juli, remembering what Ziggurat 8 told her, manages a slight smile . "It'll be alright."
It's the first time in fourteen years she can say that and believe that it might be true.
The light that crosses MOMO's face is rivaled by the hope cresting in Juli's mind. She lets herself be proud as MOMO's thin shoulders straighten and watches as the girl enters the room with confidence in her step.
It will take work, hard work and mostly on her side – Juli knows that MOMO is all too willing to have her as a mother – to change years of habit.
"I might still have a daughter," Juli says aloud and there is pain still, but it is less. Almost as if Sakura agrees with her. She takes heart from that. "Another daughter…"
She has a job to do, and knows that thinking everything over will have to wait until later. Even so, her steps fall more lightly, and as she enters the Observation Deck Juli is able to smile down at MOMO. MOMO smiles back, with a little wave, and then a hand pressing gently on her arm draws Juli's attention away from the glass.
It is Gaignun Kukai Jr. His blue eyes are steady, and pleased. "It's about time. I'm glad for you both."
"So am I," Juli says as she moves past him, "so am I."
It is not perfect, not yet. Maybe not ever - Juli knows how much she has to make up for - but there is hope.
Sakura would have approved.