Warnings: AU and absolutely no explanations as to why the storyline's so screwed up. No real plot. OOC actions taking place right, left, and center. Yaoi. Wonky science explanations and gratuitous door abuse. And I tend to make Wutai into a sort of combo of both Japan and China, according to personal whim and necessary plot device. Sorry.
Square owns the characters and most likely a good chunk of the world.
Notes: Catt, this was entirely, undeniably, and completely your fault. This one's for you.
Cloud can see odd things.
Vincent is strange.
Hojo is sadistic.
Sephiroth takes a shower and irritates Zack
Zack fixes a ceiling fan.
A drag show happens.
Cloud is abducted.
The Turks cut off someone's head and put it in a pot.
"He was right HERE." Zack paced over the stage for the thousandth time. "And then---wham! Lights go out, people start screaming, Cloud's gone."
Sephiroth rubbed his forehead and closed his eyes. "Yes, we've established that fact." He frowned. "But we don't know how it was done, who did it, why they did it, or where Cloud's gone."
"True," said Zack, as he jumped down from the stage. "Tifa? You got an idea?"
The brunette looked up from where she was sweeping up the night's broken beer bottles and scraps of leopard-print velveteen. "Huh?"
"On where Cloud might be. He's gone; didn't you know?" Zack asked, raising his eyebrows.
Tifa shrugged and poked the handle of the broom gingerly at something lime-green, stuck between the floorboards. "After the lights came back on and Heidigger tried to storm the door with Palmer screaming him on? There could've been another WEAPON and I wouldn't have had the time to notice."
She managed to fish the thong out from the floorboards and carried it on the broom handle to the garbage can. After throwing in some gasoline, lighting a match, and dropping it in, she leaned thoughtfully against the edge of the bar.
"Umm… let me think. Well, the last time he disappeared for a long time, he was in a test tube at Hojo's lab. Then, he fell into the church roof when the reactor blew up… And he showed up in Mideel after getting dropped in the Lifestream…" She trailed off, deep in thought.
After a few moments of deep, thoughtful silence, Sephiroth tapped his foot impatiently. "Well…?"
Tifa straightened and started sweeping again. "Check behind the fridge. Everything turns up there, eventually. Now go away, I'm busy."
After a few disbelieving seconds, Sephiroth stalked out disdainfully as only a villain possessing perfect hair, an outfit capable of swirling dramatically, and high leather boots can stalk. Kicking away a tangle of coconut-brassieres, he paused at the door for full maximum effect and glared at Zack, pointedly ignoring Tifa. "And you said I shouldn't try to wipe out all life on this chunk of rock?"
Getting his closing shot in, he walked out, satisfied.
Zack followed him after a brief pause. "Sorry. Gotta go keep him from blowing something up…Let us know if you get any clues on Cloud, 'kay?"
The door slammed.
As soon as the sound echoed through the bar, Tifa dropped the broom and sighed, stretching. "FINE-ally. I thought they'd never leave…"
Kicking the cleaning equipment carelessly aside, she flipped the bar's sign to "CLOSED" and lowered the shades. A little furtively, she walked over to the pinball machine, absently avoiding piles of discarded XXL corsets. A lever here, a button there and--- ah, perfect, it started to descend to the hidden AVALANCHE room.
She stepped off the platform and sent it back up. Flopping down in the armchair that was situated directly in front of the television, she hunted for the remote with one hand and a slightly squashed packet of Pocky with the other.
After sifting through the tapes scattered on the ground and popping in the right one, she settled back and turned the television on. Pressing "PLAY" on the remote, the tape clicked on and the room was filled with music. "Kimi wa seijitsu na moralist… kirei na yubi de boku o nazoru. Boku wa junsui na terrorist… kimi no omou ga mama ni kakumei ga okiru…"
Onscreen, a young man in a red dress began to undulate suggestively. Tifa settled herself more comfortably and indulged in a self-satisfied smile. Barret had complained about the cost of full-coverage surveillance cameras but she had thought it had more than repaid itself…
Walking back to their home, Sephiroth and Zack were arguing.
"Dammit, Seph, you know we need to go find him. So why can't it be me for once?"
"Because one of us needs to stay back here in case he's returned or we're contacted or he comes back, that's why." Sephiroth paused at the front door of the apartment and continued with, "Besides, there's a better reason for you to stay."
Zack cocked his head to one side and pushed open the door. "And what's that?"
"I outrank you."
"…you promised not to pull rank anymore!"
Sephiroth frowned. "I did? Why would I do that?"
"Well, you were kinda drunk at the time," Zack replied, looking slightly sheepish. He hardened his expression. "But you also promised you wouldn't kill anyone unless absolutely necessary and you broke that one, too."
Sephiroth looked offended. "I did not."
"Repeatedly, I might add."
"Name me one. Go on, try."
Zack started to tick off names on his fingers. "The late pizza delivery man, the guy who sold you defective sword polish, the one you mistook for Hojo---"
"Circumstantial evidence only."
"---The Jenova's Witness religious door-to-door visitors, the used-chocobo salesman, the girl you mistook for Aeris---"
"You're imagining things."
"---The Midgar Girl Guide Troop who told you they were out of Thin Mints---"
"…They were Shinra employees in disguise."
"---The guy who tried to grope Cloud backstage at the bar last week---"
"…bastard got what was coming to him."
Zack crossed his arms. "And that was all just last WEEK…"
The silver-haired man started to arm himself, mumbling as he did. "…Damn Ultima materia, I saw it just a second ago… always at the end of the inventory when you need it…" Finally, Sephiroth looked up, set his jaw and looked stubborn. "If you made me promise while intoxicated, then it doesn't count. And those were all justifiable homicides."
"Right." Zack scowled at him. "And the stain on our doorstep from half of these 'justifiable homicides' not only won't go away but it's drawing flies. The doormat doesn't hide it anymore."
Sifting through their leveled materia stash, Sephiroth gave up trying to equip himself and simply tilted the entire collection into his pocket. "Yes, yes, whatever you say. But you know, there's something you could do that would probably help more…"
Momentarily distracted by the fact that if Sephiroth wore near-to-skin-tight leather pants, there was something very odd about the fact he could fit their entire collection into one invisible pocket without unsightly bulges, Zack looked skeptical and asked "Oh yeah? And what's that, Oh Wise One?"
Sephiroth pulled his masamune off the wall. "Gather up some forces. We might need to invade whoever's done this."
The dark-haired man gaped. "And where the hell am I supposed to gather up an army from?! We're not exactly in Shinra any more, you know!" Zack sputtered.
Sephiroth waved negligently as he started to walk away. "Call my hotline. They'll help you with whatever you need."
Zack walked inside the apartment and suddenly stopped short as the realization hit him---
"Hey…if he's not technically leading SOLDIER any more, then the rank doesn't count anyway…! You…!"
He paused, torn between following Sephiroth and shouting that at him or doing whatever would probably help Cloud.
Finally, he heaved a sigh and closed the apartment door. Muttering, he walked over to retrieve the PHS from where it was buried between the sofa cushions. "'Call my hotline', he says. While Cloud may be in mortal danger and he gets to go out and have all the fun. Do I ever get to go out on the adventures? Nooo, why should that happen? I just get my ass SHOT off or left behind. Great, just great..." He poked at the buttons hard enough to hurt his fingers.
Zack frowned. "1-800… D, that'll be a 3… and then it's—E? I? Dammit, can never remember… Right, 'I before E except after C." But that doesn't look right, maybe I should write them both down and compare the two… Okay, got it. Another 3 for E, 4 for I, 8 for T and finally… 9 for Y."
"Greetings! You have reached the voice mail of the Clone Collective!
To speak to clones 1-99, please push 1 now.
To speak to clones 100-199, please push 2 now.
To speak to clones 200-299, please push 3 now.
To speak to clones 300-399, please push 4 now.
To speak to clones 400-499, please push 5 now.
To speak to clones 500-599, please push 6 now.
To speak to clones 600-699, please push 7 now.
To speak to clones 700-799, please push 8 now.
To speak to clones 800-899, please push 9 now.
If you are tired of this message and would like to speak to the entire group collectively, please smash the # key n---"
"Greetings. Who is calling?"
From the other end of the phone, Zack sighed. "You know, it was a lot easier to keep up with you guys when there were only a dozen or so of you."
"We imagine so. Who is calling?"
"I'm one of Sephiroth's friends. He gave me the number."
"Indeed, a most excellent credential. Is there a way we can help you?"
Zack smiled, slowly and viciously. "Do you know," he said, "I think there is…"
Cloud opened the door and tried to take in what he was seeing. The room was filled with an impressive display of electronic equipment. Around him the walls were filled with flashing lights, gauges, switches and buttons. Bubbling philters and test-tubes of glowing liquid were scattered everywhere and a lone mako-pod was leaning against the wall in a metal nest of wires and tubes.
Even stranger, though, were the two other people in the room. One spent its time standing smugly next to the other, who was floating above the ground in the lotus position.
The body pointed at the floating figure.
Cloud walked up to them. "Who are you?" he asked.
A voice emanated from the walls, "Welcome to the laboratory of Dr. Hojo. How may I assist you?"
Cloud was confused. "Which of these two is Dr. Hojo?"
"Two? There are three people in the room... err, make that two and a half..." The body grunted, or as much as a body which possesses no vocal cords can grunt. "...two and five sixths then. Yourself, the body, and Dr. Hojo."
"But which one is Dr. Hojo? The standing guy or the floating guy?"
"Error! There are no standing men in this room besides you and the body. Dr. Hojo is floating in the air."
Cloud still was a little puzzled as to why the computer didn't acknowledge the existence of the man standing next to this so-called Hojo... who, come to think of it, was beginning to look strangely familiar. Damn memory blips.
But, anyway. "So, may I speak to him?"
"He is busy meditating."
"Dr. Hojo is afraid that his thoughts are trying to take over his mind. He is now trying to clear his head completely so that he may be completely free and under his own control."
Cloud thought about this for a minute. Then, everything fell into place.
"Computer, Dr. Hojo is failing miserably. Instead of freeing himself from his thoughts, he is actually enslaving himself to paranoia, who, in case you care, happens to be standing next to him right now."
Silence. Paranoia winked at Cloud.
The computer responded, "ERROR. Unresolvable paradox. Waking up Dr. Hojo..."
Oops, thought Cloud, I might not have wanted to point that out...
"We have acquired another one of our ranks."
"Eight." Pause. "Personally, I do not see him as very useful."
"It doesn't matter."
"…Sir, he wears sweater-vests. He keeps whimpering and claiming he needs to get his wife, Edea's, permission to be here."
"And it is of no consequence, I tell you. He is one of us and that is all that counts. Who's left?"
"Let me consult the list…" Rustling. "Numbers six and seven. We've, umm… We've had to fly in a supply of fish for the consumption of number six. Apparently he can't get along without it."
"…I see. Carry on."
With his innate knowledge of tracking, his single-mindedness, a good set of common sense, and a plastic compass he received by mailing in five boxtops and 25 gil, Sephiroth was coming closer and closer to tracking down the erstwhile spiky blonde. Despite some rather irritating sidetracks, he was finally to the point where he thought he was getting somewhere. The trail ran cold just outside a certain door, which Sephiroth recognized from having spent about sixty percent of his adolescence there.
As the universe predicts, an event occurred that led to a great coincidence in timing, as Cloud had already experienced. The PHS rang.
"Look, I don't care what's going on at this point, I'm worried. I'm coming out to help you find Cloud."
"Oh, and erh, Sephiroth, we kinda have a problem."
Sephiroth stared at the PHS and wondered if it was ethical to hang up. "What?"
"I don't think your collective gets out very much, because when I went back to check on them, they had just finished devouring all the food in the fridge, listening to the CD's and putting them back in the wrong order---"
"…what are you doing with my collective of clones in the first place?"
"---raiding the DVD collection---."
"Answer me, Zack."
"---trying on your clothing---"
"Amongst other things," Zack finished. "And I haven't gotten to the worst yet."
Sephiroth felt a headache coming on. "That wasn't the bad news?"
"Nah, that wasn't the part that I thought would bug you. They've gotten wired to the point where they melted down the armor and sword collection you keep and ended up using the molten remnants to make a crude statue of you that they are now dancing around and chanting to."
"Tell me about it. I dunno why you keep them around; they're not even good artisans. You should see the way they botched your hair in the statue."
He sighed. "Zack..."
"You made your point. Bring the army and come join me. I've found the enemy, anyway."
Zack sounded maniacally cheerful. "I always do. So, where are you?"
"Hojo's lab, in the Shinra building. Don't forget you take a left out of our apartment onto the street and go towards the---" he suddenly dropped the PHS in shock.
A familiar shriek ran out from inside the lab and another voice followed it. "Wait! Come back! Specimen B, Strife, Cloud, whatever you want to be called! Get back over here, I'm not done yet!"
His rage reached the breaking point. HIS Cloud--- the one who HE had gone to the trouble of mind-controlling, seducing, and grooming for service was being chased around and possibly tormented by this sad excuse for a mad scientist. Wishing he had brought Zack sooner, if only for the fact the two of them would have had twice as much fun trouncing Hojo together, he leapt into action in the true literal sense.
His foot connected with the door with an overly flashy SOLDIER martial art move and ripped it off its hinges. As he completed the revolution, ending in a stance that would not only launch him into the hallway but also show off his swirling hair and black leather and slashing sword to their best advantage, he heard an unexpected "Ouch!" followed by a baffling "Aiiiiieeeeee!"
Misplacing his anger in astonishment, Sephiroth instinctively stepped to one side. An instant later, the door came flying out back into the hallway, closely followed by the also-flying form of Hojo, still clutching a hypodermic.
The door hit the wall.
The scientist hit the door.
The scientist fell on the floor.
The door fell on the scientist.
As close to gaping as he ever came, he stepped over to investigate the mess more closely. After a few moments of studying the wreckage and its approximate positions, he finally came up with a hypothesis: Hojo had been standing in front of the door when he'd kicked it in and been hit. Hence the cry of 'ouch!'.
But that shouldn't have brought Hojo out into the hallway; an extreme opposite force would have to have occurred. What kicked them both outside into the hallway and had alarmed him enough to scream?
He contented his pique at losing the chance to show off his ending pose by calmly using Hojo's face as a doormat before stepping into the lab, only to see… no one at all.
(Ten minutes before the door crushed Hojo)
A bell rang as the signal changed to WALK.
They crossed the street, fighting through a crowd of people. Cloud blinked, trying to figure out how he'd gotten from waking up Hojo to going to a scene so blatantly ripped off "The Matrix" that he expected the Crossover Gestapo to come bursting in any moment now.
"Look around you, Cloud. What do you see? Lawyers, businessmen, doctors, zookeepers. Everyday people living their lives in the belief that they are in control of their lives."
Hojo looked at Cloud. "These people are being manipulated by their ideas. Ideas are living organisms that treat individual people like your body treats its cells--necessary, but expendable. The sad thing is that many of these people are so hopelessly dependent on their ideas that they'll do anything to advance them."
Cloud was distracted by a tall, silver-haired man walking past him, giving him a salacious wink as he went by. He's kind of good-looking, he thought to himself.
"Cloud, are you listening to me?"
He snapped out of it and looked back at him.
"Or were you looking at the tall silver-haired man?"
He turned around and saw the most evil thing he'd ever seen in his life. Worse than the time he'd accidentally broken Zack's hand-built model Wing Zero. Worse than the time Sephiroth discovered that Zack and Cloud had accidentally shrunk his favorite leather coat to the point where it would only fit a plushie. Worse than Zack and Sephiroth's gleeful discovery of the fact that they could pose all the male Final Fantasy Seven action-figures into suggestive stances and positions that rivaled the Kama Sutra.
His hair had turned a dull brown. He had a twistedly horrendous expression. His head was bowed down slightly, magnifying the fearsome frightfulness of his feral features. His hands were an inch under his face, fingers steepled against each other. He was grinning... evilly...
And he was brandishing an enormous sword, which definitely made an impression on Cloud.
Right before it looked like it was about to carry out some sort of Very Bad Thing, Dr. Hojo called out, "Computer, freeze program!"
The man froze.
Cloud walked around him. "What is it?"
Dr. Hojo smiled. "This is Cid," he said. "A sentient thought with the goal of taking over the world."
"I thought you said that all ideas want to take over the world."
"Yes, but Cid is different. Computer, end program."
The street vanished to reveal a black room and an open door. The two of them walked through the door back into the main lab.
"Sentience has three defining characteristics," Dr. Hojo continued, "In order to be sentient, a being must be intelligent, self-aware, and conscious. Cid was given all of these characteristics by a colleague of mine whom I had trusted, Dr.---well, er, Cid."
Cloud blinked. "Could you start at the beginning here?"
Dr. Hojo sighed. "Very well. I have long understood that a constant of the human race has been its susceptibility to being controlled by ideas of its own creation. Once a mind accepts an idea as being valid, it immediately enslaves itself to that idea. The degree to which it clings to its idea is the degree to which it is willing to sacrifice itself for its idea. War is a perfect example of enslaved minds fighting for their ideas.
"I, however, took this a step further. Since a single idea can control many human beings, I, along with my coworker, Dr. Cid, created a system that allowed us to actually view these ideas. We could now interact with them as if they were living people.
"Now the words 'as if' are very key to understanding what has happened, for these ideas were never actually people. Most are unable to gain sentience for one important reason--they were not conscious of what they were. Ideas lack self-awareness. They believe that they exist to get something accomplished, when, in fact, like every other living organism, their only true goal is to continue existing. This can be seen throughout all of history. The most powerful ideas are those which exist independent of achievable ends. Take the Church, for example. The Church has existed for thousands of years and will undoubtedly continue for another thousand for the simple reason that the idea of the Church transcends its members. No individual member of the Church is essential to the Church's existence. It is one of the ideas that has come closest to becoming sentient for the simple reason that it comes very close to knowing what it truly is."
Hojo paused, then continued. "In addition to being able to view ideas, we also were able to control them somewhat. We could, to a limited degree, create, manipulate, and destroy the ideas in the world. The death of BETA and the consequent rise of VHS was a direct result of our handiwork. Unfortunately, my associate became seduced by the infinite power our technology offered. He decided that he wanted his name to be immortalized, so he took Cid--a simple name--and gave it sentience. Technically, I suppose you could call him Cid Prime. Cid is fully aware of what he is and what he is trying to do: name everybody Cid. I don't know what happened to the original Dr. Cid after his project was completed. He disappeared and hasn't been seen since.
"Creating and strengthening ideas is very easy. There are plenty of fools in this world who are willing to enslave themselves to foolish ideas. Unfortunately, these ideas then hold them with an iron grip, and it is very difficult to weaken them. In order to defeat them, you have to get past their 'immune systems'--the knee-jerk reflexes and biases that taint the way that their slaves see the world.
"Specimen B, you are our only hope. Only you can get past these 'immune systems'."
Cloud shrieked. He noted, right after he shrieked, that the headless body was back and looking very put-upon and long-suffering. This being reason enough to make some more noise, he opened his mouth to let loose again.
"Please don't shriek like that, Specimen B. Hear me out!" Hojo darted in front of Cloud and clung to his arm. Cloud, unwilling to completely touch Hojo, shook him off and retreated to the other side of an operating table. Hojo continued. "Jenova, here---" and he pointed to the patient headless body, still partially enmeshed in rope---"is one of my top aides in thwarting Cid."
I will not scream, I will not lose control, I took my pills this morning, everything should be okay, why oh god why didn't I take the blue pill….Cloud blinked and cautiously tried to get a grip on reality. "Okay. We'll start simple. Why did somebody---namely, the Turks--- want to steal Jenova's head?"
Dr. Hojo's jaw dropped in shock. "Somebody stole her head?" he asked nervously.
I will not lose it, no, nope, nu-uh, no way…With another deep breath, Cloud looked at him quizzically and raised one eyebrow, one of the abilities he was most secretly proud of. It made him feel a little better in the surrounding surrealness of the situation. "Um, yeah... the Turks kinda cut it off… didn't you notice that it was missing?"
"Well... I thought you'd just left it at home or something," said Hojo, rubbing his hands together in a distressed way.
Cloud lowered his eyebrow so he could raise the other one. A little bit better but still too far from being comfortable. "Why would I want to do that?" he asked cautiously.
"Personal convenience, perhaps? That's not important. We have to find it before it falls into Cid's evil clutches."
Under control, under control…"I don't see why the Turks would work for this Cid… then again, the Turks have been known go free-lance on these sort of things, but---oh hell, never mind. Why? What's so special about it?"
"That head is the most powerful energy source in the world! How else would it have survived so long after Sephiroth pulled it off the first time? If Cid Prime gains hold of it, he will be able to tap into its advanced manipulative facilities and take over the world. Once he does that he will, he will..." Dr. Hojo shuddered.
"Spit it out."
"He will gather his similarly named game-compatriots and name everybody Cid!"
Cloud paused and contemplated this thought.
He then broke out laughing giddily.
"Holy, honestly!" he exclaimed. "Here you are talking about this as if it were a matter of life and death! I thought he was going to slam down an astrological object of mass destruction or something…"
Hojo scowled. "Well... do you want to be named Cid?"
"Do you want to see video games where EVERY main character's name is Cid? Or Sid? He's been sneaky; he's insinuated himself in each FF series so far and no one seems to understand how important it is!"
Cloud scratched his head. "Eff eff? What's that?" But, not really sure he would like this explanation any better than the ones he had already been receiving from Hojo, he continued and tried to humor the man. "Erh... I guess I see your point. I'd rather not, but... is it really such a big deal?"
"Of course! How would we tell each other apart?"
"Well... there are always last names, middle names, suffixes, nicknames..." Weirdo.
"I can hear your thoughts when you're in this lab, you know."
Aw man, now he'll know about Sephiroth and Zack and the time with the chocolate sauce and… stopitstoptistopit!
"I knew that, too. And puh-lease. Having a last name doesn't do all that much for you. Look at myself. And I mean other than all that!"
Cloud thought about this some more. "Um... I guess none, in the verbal sense."
"Exactly! It will be a repeat of Wutai's tragic Cultural Revolution, where everybody had to wear the same clothes. In any case, even if you are indifferent" (and Hojo said this last word with thinly veiled disapproval bordering on disgust) "to the tragedy facing our fragile planet, I'd like to think that you at least hold Jenova's welfare in some degree of importance."
"I don't. I don't even know why you want ME to help," Cloud replied firmly, trying his best not to think of anything embarrassing, personal, important, or indeed, anything at all.
"Well, firstly you're the one who saved the world. That's a fairly strong credential. Secondly, haven't you noticed something? You've always been able to see things other people can't. All those times you thought you were dreaming when you spoke to your younger selves and to that Cetra girl in the forest and even to my own son... You can see IDEAS, boy. You are---" and here Hojo paused to give extra weight to the words---"The One."
Obviously enjoying the way he could make mere non-proper words into capitalized ones, Hojo said it again. "You are… The One. And I was the one who figured it out, heh."
Sighing, Cloud shrugged. "You're not listening to me, are you? I don't want to do this. Which way's the exit?"
Hojo suddenly went threatening. "I'm afraid I can't allow that, Specimen B. You see, I need to obtain some samples from you and you really have no choice about helping or not..." He held up a large hypodermic and snapped on a pair of rubber gloves. "Please bend over and grab your ankles."
Cloud's mind raced. I can shriek, run, shriek-and-run, pass out, throw a table at him...
His mouth and foot made the decision within 3.7 seconds of one another. The mouth went first--- "Aughh!!!"
The door flew inward.
Cloud's foot, powered by an intense surge of RPG-main-hero-adrenaline, went outward, knocking Hojo into the oncoming door and sending them both back out towards the hallway. Taking no time to see what or who had caused the door to break, he went out the back.
The 250th Bob Convention was going extremely well. This year the unusual event had managed to attract millions of Bobs from around the planet. There was much food, games, and laughter to be had by people who shared a very simple and yet very deep part of their lives.
At the moment most Bobs were gathering for one of the main speakers, the famous Wutaiian priest Shishka Bob.
Little did they suspect the cruel fate that had been determined for them.
While Shishka Bob was in the middle of his speech on the tenets of Bob-ism, all of the lights in the convention center went off. Screams of panic could be heard throughout the crowd as people leapt to their feet and knocked over their chairs in mass confusion.
The public broadcasting system was still engaged though, and Shishka Bob's voice was replaced by another.
Outrage from the crowd.
"Oh... you did not realize that your names were Cid? You thought they were Bob? Well, do not worry. You will learn."
By the end of the speech, the convention was officially renamed the 250th Cid Convention.
And nobody gave it a second thought.
End Notes: Two plot devices and jokes have been shamelessly swiped from the most excellent Sith Academy, run by Siubhan. Thank you.