Professor Hojo vs. Animal Rights

-

If there was one indubitable truth to the universe, it was the old axiom 'time marches on'. That wasn't to say the laboratories of the ShinRa Electrical Power Company hadn't worked their hardest to gum up the works. Manipulations of a particular brand of yellow materia had gotten time to march faster, slower and freeze in place. But these achievements were always fleeting, not to mention occasionally embarrassing to the poor saps that got suckered into playing guinea pigs for a Stop spell and soon discovered that while they might not be able to move while under the spell's effects, that did not prevent others from posing them.

So they had yet to find a cure for the ravages of time and kept diligently at work, always on the verge of discovery or at least claiming to be because 'fessing up would put a serious cramp in their project funding.

This wasn't the only money to be made in the business, of course. The beauty industry flourished under the brazen advertisement of making time their bitch with creams and lotions and plastic surgeons that could pull skin tighter than a pair of size zero jeans on a sumo wrestler. But in the end, these measures were also fleeting, if they ever had any success at all.

This was not a happy discovery for the current wife of President ShinRa. She massaged, moistened, abraded, oiled and pancaked enough makeup on her face to provide insulation from the cold. But still she had wrinkles. Then the nipping and the tucking began. The wrinkles did go away. Unfortunately, they took with them her ability to form any expression on her face other than a wide-eyed smile of surprise with a twist of 'hey, what's that smell?'

It was not aesthetically pleasing. And though most men would love their wives regardless of how they appeared, President ShinRa was not most men. He was a special snowflake who thought of the world as his own private snow globe. There'd be no tacky plastic decorations in his half-sphere. Only top of the line, highest quality, most beautiful materials would be allowed in (With the obvious exception of himself. He cared about being considered a hypocrite as much as he cared about wrinkly hags that used to be the 'love of his life').

In the end, time claimed one more victim, as the former Mrs. ShinRa was handed her walking papers and a small check for her troubles. The amount on the check wasn't fair in terms of the kind of alimony a woman should expect from the richest man on the Planet but it was fair in the sense that it wasn't delivered by a Turk with a smoking gun in his holster to her next of kin.

Besides, President ShinRa had new, younger and leggier, expenses to cover.

The parade of would-be trophy wives began while the old float was still being decommissioned. These ladies came in all shapes, sizes and ages, if by 'all' you mean 'one and only one, eeewwww, get that old cow out of here'. The eventual winner displayed all the qualities necessary to truly satisfy the President on an emotional and intellectual level: she was very, very, very demonstratively grateful for any tiny gift the President tossed her way and she grew vacant and giggly upon hearing words and phrases three syllables or longer - like 'prenuptial agreement', for example.

The President introduced his new lady love at a company party. Professor Hojo responded to her as he did most new people. He considered coming up with new guidelines for labeling individual human beings as sentient creatures and then promptly forgot her existence.

But he would get a reminder – one that was impossible to ignore.

At least Sephiroth would have fun with it.

0-0-0-0

Hojo did not make a habit of watching the news. His entire world was the lab and the answers he could glean from it. He needed all the brain cells he could get for such advanced gleaning. He couldn't risk exposing himself to the stupidity that passed for the mainstream media. So-and-so celebrity doing such-and-such shouldn't be the concern of anybody, let alone a highly intelligent Man of Science. Thus, he remained blissfully oblivious, thinking what he didn't know would not harm him in the least.

He paid no attention to the television sets that were on in the lab. He plodded straight towards his office, slamming the door behind him to block out any ambient sound that might drift in and inform him that a talent-less pop singer liked to party around town sans underpants.

The topic of the newscast's hard hitting puff piece was not a singer, but the President's new lady friend and the world-shaking announcement that she had been elevated to fiancée status. The woman giggled and preened, showing off that yes, her teeth were brighter than her intellect.

The newscaster interviewing her was not satisfied with this run of the mill flouncing. There needed to be more spice, more drama…a conflict! Viewers lapped up that kind of stuff and really, shouldn't a newscast be all about the viewers? Technically it was all about the ad revenue, but more viewers equaled more gil so the newscaster did not make this distinction when he flushed his stifling journalistic integrity down the drain to make room for the much more liberating feeling of being rich.

"So…" the newscaster began slowly. "For years, we've heard about ShinRa's interest in the environmental causes as espoused by certain members of the ShinRa family. Do you have any personal causes you'll be advocating?"

The future Mrs. ShinRa blinked. Long dormant wheels began churning in the hollow of her head as she tried to figure out what the newscaster had said. Her brain didn't even try to work out the not-so-subtle reference to her forebear. The magazines that had written about The Woman Formerly Known as Mrs. ShinRa and her pet cause had contained way too many pretty pictures to actually stop and read those article thingies, so on that issue – like so many others – she remained entirely ignorant.

Even if she had known about it, she did not parse subtle. She thought the word 'nuance' meant your uncle had recently gotten into polygamy.

Sensing a lot of dead air if she were allowed to keep trying to think, the newscaster supplied some suggestions, mostly in the order that would attract ratings.

"Perhaps you're interested in the plight of orphans?" Nothing brought in the viewers like a feel good story of a fabulously wealthy woman slumming amongst cutesy street urchins.

"Eww, little kids are all messy. And the poor ones…ick."

So it wasn't a slogan for the next Mother of the Year contest. The newscaster knew how to spin it. "Does this mean you and the President would rather have your own children?"

"Kids, eww, no." She paused thoughtfully, contemplating what her contribution to the Cycle of Life could be. "I think I'll get a little doggie. You know the kind you can carry around in your purse."

"So you believe in the importance of Animal Rights?" Well, she obviously didn't believe in the right of canines to be treated with dignity by not being carried around by vacuous bimbos who thought of animals as accessories but to the specific demographic this particular bimbo appealed to, irony wasn't an understood concept much less an actual concern.

"Yeah!" she exclaimed. "I love animals! The cute ones, I mean, not those ugly ones-"

The remainder of her ode to creatures great and small (as long as they were cute too) went unheard by the staff of Hojo's lab. The animals kept in the numerous cages throughout the lab were getting cranky from their morning injections and raising enough ruckus to drown out the television.

The ones that were still conscious at any rate.

0-0-0-0

It didn't take long for Midgarians for Animal Rights to find a new spokeswoman. The fact that she knew nothing about the cause, went against virtually every precept of the cause and could barely string more than ten words together was not a deterrent. These were tiny little flaws that could easily be overlooked in the face of the asset of being the attractive, high-profile fiancée of an extremely powerful man. It was actually kind of convenient that said powerful man was the cause of most of the ills facing the animal kingdom. Change begins at home and all that.

The new spokeswoman (enticed to take the job with the promise of fame and glory – a.k.a. having her picture printed in all of the group's newsletters) became a model employee once she was coached on what to say and think. Her cause for today was to address the shocking number of animals that went into the ShinRa building but never seemed to leave it after a trip to Hojo's lab. (This was not true. The animals Hojo used as specimens often left the building after only a short stay. They did not leave the building alive or even looking much like the same critter they looked like when they came in, but they did leave. The smell would have gotten too nasty otherwise.)

The MARters had outlined several strategies for her to use. She could appeal to the President's sense of humanity. She could point out the consequences of negative publicity to ShinRa's noble image. She could…oh, hell, even she wasn't that stupid.

"Pookie Bear," she called to him as she got ready for bed. This involved donning a silk and lace garment containing approximately two square inches of fabric so the President was rapt with attention (which is NOT a euphemism you sick little freak). "I've been thinking…"

His initial response of 'you can actually do that?' was overridden by a strategically timed arch of the back by his fair fiancée. The woman could occasionally figure out when she was being insulted and certain primal urges took precedence over the need to snark. "Whatever about, sweetie?"

"I saw this segment on the news," she cooed.

President ShinRa had doubts as to the authenticity of this claim (the news, really?) but nodded at her to go on.

"They showed all these cute animals. But there are a lot less cute animals than there used to be and the newslady seemed to think this was your company's fault."

Again, he bit his tongue, substituting an 'Is that so' for a 'why the hell should I care?'.

He didn't need to ask. She quickly explained why this should be of interest to him. "I just get all sad when I think of those poor cute animals. They should be left alone with their families! It's so depressing, I want to wrap myself in blanket and never come out!"

Uh, oh. That was not what he was marrying her for. "It's sweet that you care so much, but don't you think you're taking this too seriously? It's a bunch of animals – dirty, stupid animals that live in their own filth."

"The baby ones are cute!" she protested. Then she reached for the bedspread and went from nigh-zero coverage to a full-blown cocoon. "You don't understand at all! I'm going to sleep on the couch tonight!"

"Honey, honey! Don't be rash! What is it that you want me to do?"

She smiled and let the bedspread slip a little off her shoulders. Phase One of MAR's plan was going perfectly. Now only if she could remember what Phase Two was…

0-0-0-0

It was just another morning in Hojo's lab. The rising sun failed to peek through the curtained windows. A cockatrice failed to crow (not from the lack of sunlight but because an experimental surgery had made its vocal cords go AWOL). Lab techs stumbled to their work stations with the enthusiasm of the overworked and underpaid.

Hojo arrived the same time as always, motivating the lab techs to upgrade their stumbling to shuffling. He made it into his office without having to speak to any of the peons, looking forward to reading lab reports over his morning coffee.

There were no lab reports on his desk, only a memo from the desk of President ShinRa. Hojo rolled his eyes in preparation of reading up on the impending doom.

He expected bitching about budgets or over how that chemical he introduced into the water system in Sector Four wasn't clearing out the commoners fast enough so the wealthy could move in. Some people just didn't appreciate the delicate balance required to genetically engineer a virus that sent the human colon into overdrive without blowing it out entirely (or causing the sanitation department to put in too much overtime).

But that wasn't what the President wanted. He was going to drag his fat ass down to the lab once again. Worse, he was bringing his airhead fiancée with him. They were concerned, oh so terribly concerned, about the poor, poor animals and the awful living (and dying) conditions Hojo subjected them to. They were going to help those noble creatures and bring them into the light!

Or some such garbage. Hojo knew damn well the only thought the President ever gave the animal kingdom was determining which kind of wine went best with each kind of meat. This little jaunt to the lab was nothing more than a patronizing favor to his fiancée so that she'd do more favors for him.

And Hojo had to be dragged into the middle of their stupid games. And their stupid games had to take place in the middle of a day when he'd scheduled some tests for Sephiroth.

He was not putting those off. The animal cages were in a different section of the lab than the people cages so he could do what he wanted while the animal lovers took their tour.

Then again, it might be amusing for the future Mrs. ShinRa to meet Sephiroth. Over twice his age and, from the looks of it, at a twentieth of his intelligence, such a meeting was bound to bring out Sephiroth's surly side. Hojo's hands were tied in criticizing his employer as long as he wanted funds for the lab to remain untied. Sephiroth, however, was not under that constraint. The boy could do all the dirty work for him.

Unfortunately for Hojo, he never had figured out just how far Sephiroth would go to spite him.

0-0-0-0

Sephiroth had logged several miles on the treadmill by the time the President and his fiancée showed up. It was a mindless task designed to test his speed and physical endurance. That it also had the side effect of testing his mental endurance by seeing how long he could run in place while staring at the white walls of the lab without breaking something in half didn't concern Hojo. It probably should have considering he was the something Sephiroth contemplated breaking ninety-nine percent of the time.

Sephiroth was just recalling from his textbooks the amount of pressure needed to break human bone when the happy couple came over to say hi.

The soon-to-be Madame President clearly was out of her element. She managed to clothe herself in a business suit that covered most of her assets but her appearance couldn't cover the fact that she was walking around the lab as if it were a toy store, actually picking up vials and beakers with biohazard symbols on them. She picked up one such container off of a table and started giving it a shake.

Hojo was all prepared to let natural selection take its course, but President ShinRa found badly burned, dissolved and otherwise disfigured bodies to be a big turn off.

"Honey, why don't we put that down for a second so we can talk to Hojo?"

"Okay!" she chirped and set the beaker down hard. There was a tense moment of the President holding his breath and Hojo pondering how long the clean up would take, but nothing happened. Sephiroth ignored the whole thing, never missing a step.

"Honey, why don't we not touch all this science stuff and just get down to business?"

There was another tweeting of the word okay and she came over obediently, taking a seat next to her fiancée. Hojo stayed over by the treadmill and Sephiroth, planning on mumbling 'uh-huh' and 'sure' at set intervals, regardless of whether these intervals corresponded to anything being said or not.

The President indicated to his honey that she should get started already. He always had been an impatient man, especially when placating people with empty promises, and the sooner this nonsense was over, the better.

She began as commanded – totally off topic, as expected. "That's a really great treadmill. We should get one of those for our private gym, Pookie!"

Hojo didn't know what was more incongruous: the sickening term of endearment or the idea that Fat Man ShinRa ever came within ten feet of a gym. Sephiroth questioned the latter as well, but kept on running. There was nothing to be gained from addressing the President. He wasn't sure the blonde idiot would understand him.

That did not prevent her from addressing him. "Hey, uh…kid. What do you think of it? Does it have a built in music player or any of those neat videos that let you think you're running outside? I really like those kinds." Without waiting for a response, she got up to check out the treadmill for herself. "Wow, lots of buttons," she marveled.

If she pressed any of them, this occasion was going to fall into that rare one-percentile that involved Sephiroth wanting to do large amounts of violence against somebody other than Hojo. Shockingly, she did something even more annoying.

"I love your hair! What do you do to get it that color anyway? I bet it's really soft!" Then, then…she reached out and…touched it. Sephiroth came to an immediate stop at this affront, letting the treadmill carry him away from Miss Touchy-Grabby.

His experiment had been interrupted. This angered Hojo. Nobody would like Hojo when he was angry. Nobody liked him when he was anything else either but Angry Hojo had the bonus creepiness of a vein that pulsed ominously on his forehead beneath his straggly bangs. Miss Touchy-Grabby didn't notice it, but Sephiroth did.

The boy briefly weighed the unpleasantness of humoring the idiot woman versus the sheer joy that could be achieved by annoying Hojo. Joy, he decided, was a rare and precious commodity.

So Sephiroth did something he had never done in his nine years of life: he apologized. "I'm sorry, Miss. I was concentrating on my exercise and was thus startled when you reached for me."

Even the President knew Sephiroth well enough to know the good manners and geniality were a warning signal. For Hojo, who had studied every little tick the boy had, it sent him into paranoia overload.

"Maybe I should show you where we keep the animals," Hojo insisted quickly. It had been a huge miscalculation to let this meeting take place and whatever the boy was plotting, Hojo would not make another mistake and give him time to execute it.

"Oh, but I was having such a nice time talking to, uh…" Miss Touchy-Grabby motioned to Sephiroth, hoping for an assist on his name.

Of course, Sephiroth was only too pleased to oblige. After he supplied his name, he extended a hand to be shaken in greeting. He even deigned to let it be shaken vigorously, followed by a pat on the shoulder. Sephiroth bore it with only a slight twitch at the corner of his lips.

Oh, that had to hurt, Hojo thought. He couldn't admire the boy's resilience for too long. Sephiroth's track record in making bad things happen whenever the President took an interest in his life was too sterling.

"Animals?" Hojo prompted. "Cages? Over there. Very far away from here." He hated giving tours. He hated being reduced to blabbering in sentence fragments even more.

Sephiroth was bold, seizing his chance to ruin Hojo's day and possibly beyond with abandon. "Isn't it early in the morning to be checking the animals? The lab technicians haven't had time to clean out the waste yet, not to mention the carcasses."

"Carcasses? You…you kill the animals?"

Hojo sighed. Explaining himself to someone of such inferior intellect was a task equivalent to counting the blades of grass outside Midgar in tedium (Counting the blades of grass inside Midgar was actually a quite brisk task. It took hardly any time at all to reach the number zero). "We're doing valuable research which will bring significant improvement to the quality of life of human beings. It requires the noble sacrifice of a few animals here and there." (Or rather, everywhere. And the noble part was a stretch too as most definitions of regality did not involve being cut up and put back together like a really squishy jigsaw puzzle.)

"They don't scream in agony too much," Sephiroth, ever the helpful assistant, added.

"Oh, my…" She found Sephiroth's account of the animals more compelling than Hojo's and it sent her to the border of tears.

President ShinRa was dimly aware that his fiancée was becoming distraught and said a half-hearted 'there, there' in her general direction. Hojo was torn between thinking up new and painful procedures to test on Sephiroth and figuring out a way to convince the dimwit that he wasn't a cruel man so she would get off his back. This whole discussion was pointless. Humans didn't have many rights in Hojo's opinion. According such rights to even dumber beasts was a waste of time and a good scalpel.

Hojo was actually feeling stupider for having partaken in this folly. That must have been why he let Sephiroth get in the next word.

"I should say they don't scream for too long. The animals either die or the lab techs force them to be quiet."

"He's lying," Hojo said. Then he repeated it, as if this would make it true. He flashed the President a look that urged the fat man to back him up, because when the President insisted something was so, it did become so via the magical property of his vast wealth.

And the President did have an incentive to go along with Hojo. His fiancée was clearly thinking hard on this and nothing good could come of that futile endeavor. "The boy can be rather fanciful, dear. You shouldn't take him seriously."

"But why would he make that up?"

Hojo couldn't really give the answer 'to get revenge on me for the inhumane experiments I run on him' so he settled for the old saw, "Boys will be boys, you know."

The President was even more dismissing of Sephiroth's claim and the boy felt he was losing his audience. By speaking up at all, he'd already stuck his foot in the door for retaliation from Hojo so he might as well kick the damn door down and go for it.

He was aware of various lab techs, mostly female, who thought of him as cute. He was aware from his limited exposure to television that there were ways in which a boy of his age could make himself appear even cuter. He'd lived through apologizing; he could live through this.

He opened his eyes as wide as they would go and cusped his hands together. When he spoke, it was with a slight lisp as he stuck out his lower lip into a deep frown. "Please, Miss. You must believe me to save the poor animals."

And while Hojo moved quickly to have Sephiroth sent back to his room and the President denounced the entire performance for the fraud that it was, it was that singular image of a sweet young boy pleading for the welfare of the pawed and furred downtrodden that was relayed to the members of the Midgarians for Animal Rights at their next meeting.

The President's fiancée captured Sephiroth's pleading voice perfectly. It roused the members to their great cause and spawned many an idea for a new advertising campaign.

Amazingly, no one thought to ask about the welfare of that sweet young boy who was apparently just as trapped in the lab as the animals. Throwing people onto their list of concerns might have forced them to change to a less catchy acronym.

0-0-0-0

It began with flyers. One of the members of MAR had a flair for caricatures and put it to use depicting stylized versions of Hojo and President ShinRa covered in what at first glance appeared to be ink blots (MAR didn't have the budget to go for glossy, colored prints) but could be determined to be blood from the text that was below:

Blood is on their hands! Don't let it be on yours! Join Midgarians for Animal Rights and End the Abuse!

There had been thoughts of large posters (that budget again) or buying a billboard ad (yep, budget) but for most members, the flyers were a good first step in the right direction.

Some members disapproved. They argued that most of the flyers would go straight into the trash. The Planet – Midgar in particular – was polluted enough. The flyers that did go up tended to attract less than favorable comments in the form of graffiti, most of it crude and some of it depicting a love of animals taken to thankfully illegal extremes.

The President's wife didn't like them because her name was not even mentioned on them. She didn't even get a cartoon! Her fiancé thought she complained over nothing as he had gotten a cartoon – a large, bulbous cartoon and with hammy hands and badly receding hairline. Accusing him of killing animals was one thing. Who cared about that? But portraying him as an ugly fatass… That crossed a line!

The President ordered his fiancée to cease and desist with any activities with the group immediately. He didn't care what it would cost him in bed later. Pleasing a pretty bimbo meant so little in comparison to maintaining his pride.

Unbeknownst to him though, his fiancée had some pride too. She agreed to his terms on the surface but a pair of crossed fingers behind her back indicated this matter would not be so easily dropped. She wanted a cartoon, damn it!

Hojo himself had no qualms with the flyers. He thought his caricature, with its ominously large glasses and sinister grin, conveyed just the right touch of diabolical genius. He found the roly-poly President downright amusing.

On his strolls in Midgar, Hojo made sure to pick up any stray flyers he found. He tacked the one in the best condition up on the wall right beside a clipboard containing the experiment schedule. The rest he left in a pile near the cages. They made excellent cage liners.

0-0-0-0

For the next stage, MAR got serious. They were inspired by their new spokeswoman who informed them that the cause meant so much to her that she was participating over the objections of the President. Such pure dedication moved them.

It just didn't move them particularly far. The second gesture did make a literal splash. Buckets of red paint were thrown against the side of the ShinRa building and a message accusing the ShinRa labs of murder was painted above the bright splotches. Unfortunately, Midgar and graffiti went together like bread and butter. The ShinRa building itself was only the target of the most daring taggers and so the act did draw some attention – mostly in the form of people wondering what kind of a gang goes by the name 'Test Animal Killers' and why they had such lame graffiti artists.

Hojo never even noticed it. All his concentration was on some papers he was reading when he entered the building. It was unfortunate he hadn't seen it. He could have started his day off with a good laugh.

So the figurative splash was not terribly big. Even the janitors that were assigned to cleaning off the paint were under strict orders to not let the work carry them into overtime. Overall, the estimated cost to ShinRa totaled little more than a few man hours and cleaning supplies.

MAR could some conciliation in the fact that the janitors used the good sponges.

0-0-0-0

Clearly their game needed to be stepped up. Real action had to be taken, not just publicity stunts. In an ideal world, MAR would be able to set all those poor animals free. Midgar was not an ideal world, nor was it fair, perfect, decent or any other positive adjectives people lament the world for failing to be when they're getting screwed over good.

Of course, if an idealist is delusional enough, he can imagine the world to be whatever he wants. And if the delusional idealist is surrounded by others as bad or worse then him, why that world can fill up with sunshine and rainbows and empty animal cages faster than you can say 'horseshit'!

Since MAR had a full turn out for the meeting, the doomed plan came together quickly. ShinRa frequently gave tours of the lower levels of the building. Anybody was welcome to come right in, enjoy the propaganda and then visit the gift shop. Guests had a much harder time if they wanted to do anything else. With over fifty floors between the public lobbies and the science lab, that was a lot of 'else' for MAR to be doing.

That was where the future Mrs. ShinRa came in. She'd built a reputation for having a large entourage of hangers on to carry her things and to pretend to like her. If she were to be seen wondering the higher levels of the ShinRa building with a pack of people following behind, it wouldn't draw any suspicion.

So a date was chosen. The prettier members of MAR were ordered to give themselves a good scrubbing and to try to find clothes that didn't scream last season's hobo by their benefactor.

A good cause was a good cause but she had her standards.

0-0-0-0

Aside from the unfeasible night hours, noon was the emptiest hour for the labs. It took a mighty strong stomach to be able to eat lunch there.

Few people in ShinRa's other departments ate in their offices as well, giving the noon hour an extra measure of cover. With the halls and elevators packed with employees, the MAR infiltration team wouldn't get a second glance.

It was unusual for the President's fiancée to go anywhere near the labs so as an extra measure of protection, she pretended to be lost. This was not unusual in the least. The few people that saw her didn't take note of anything suspicious. They didn't take note of anything at all really. Unless the President was with her, the amount of care people held for his woman hovered slightly below the 'rat's ass' level.

To MAR though, the behinds and the saving thereof of lab rats was extremely important. They felt a surge of adrenalin as they entered the lab unnoticed. Just as they had theorized, nobody was about. Well, nobody except one person that they could see.

Sephiroth spotted the group right away. He identified Miss Touchy-Grabby immediately. Recalling the topic of their previous conversation and being unable to recognize any of the people with her as lab technicians, he drew the conclusion that she was up to something. Perhaps with a little prodding, she could be up to his kind of something.

He had to act fast. Hojo hadn't left the lab for lunch, only stepped out briefly to get coffee. Ever since Sephiroth had tried to poison one measly cup of the stuff, Hojo had taken on the paranoid habit of getting his coffee from sources outside the lab. As soon as he got his refill, Hojo would be back in the lab to eat. His stomach was plenty strong. His lack of a conscious made everything go down easy too.

Sephiroth banged on the glass of the cage he was in. It took up half the room and should be impossible to miss but it was a few bangs before the MAR members came over to him. Apparently their sluggishness was due to their confusion as to why Sephiroth was there. Really young intern was their best guess.

The President's fiancée, despite having met him before, didn't have a clue either. All she could do was credit him for awakening her inner animal activist. "He's the boy who told me how they were hurting the animals here!"

MAR was awed. How brave it was of this really young intern to speak out against the corporation he worked for.

"I don't work for ShinRa," Sephiroth clarified to deaf ears. Speaking louder, he added, "Hojo's going to be back soon. You need to let me out of this cage."

"Oh, did you accidentally get locked in?"

"Yeah, I guess you don't want your boss to see you made a mistake like that."

"Hey, that reminds of the time when I worked at that storage place in the Fifth Sector…"

Sephiroth rested his forehead against the glass and took a deep breath. This wasn't going anywhere as is. He was a smart boy though and knew when to change tactics. "If you let me out I can show you where the animal cages are."

"Aren't they right over there," one of them asked, pointing to the other side of the lab.

Sephiroth drew back his forehead and then banged it softly against the glass. "Let me out and I can help you free them."

"I don't know, wouldn't keeping you in there give you plausible deniability?"

Wonderful, now they have a clever thought. "I could go with you," Sephiroth said slowly. He did not plan on staying with them.

"Wouldn't it be better to have an inside man?" There was a lot of nodding as MAR came to the conclusion that this would be handy indeed.

By this point, they'd wasted so much time his chance for freedom was slipping away. On the other hand, if these idiots stuck around a little bit longer Hojo would be back and catch them. In theory, Sephiroth knew he should feel bad for MAR if this happened. In practice, it probably meant they'd spend a couple days in this cage instead of him. Bad morality to be sure but it was hard to muster compassion for a band of idiots so hell bent on saving helpless animals they couldn't think to let a nine year old boy out of a cage.

Sephiroth gave it one last chance. If they blew it, well, Hojo would have more dumb animals to play with. "The man in charge is going to be back very soon. If you let me out, I can help and we can get out of here before he returns. If you don't let me out, you'll get caught."

This warning seemed to have some effect, albeit not a positive one. The MARters went into a panic, throwing looks around the lab as if Hojo could materialize anywhere and only the power of their stares could keep him at bay. Finally, one of them got the idea to run to the animal cages. They took off in a herd. Sephiroth, resting his forehead on the glass again, didn't bother to watch.

That didn't mean MAR went unobserved. Hojo, coffee in hand, returned as predicted. He walked blithely through the front door on the same thinking as MAR that the lab would be empty and he would have it all to himself. He was rather surprised to hear scuffling and whispering from the back of the lab where the more vicious animals were kept.

It was bad enough he had to put up with lab techs underfoot (somebody had to clean up the spills, toxic and otherwise, and Hojo was clearly above this) but the people he saw now were bumbling about without even the benefit of a lab coat and were therefore even lower on the food chain.

Hojo recognized the President's fiancée. He'd forgotten about her up until this moment but his keen mind was able to recall the idiot and the cause that had brought her to intrude upon his territory. He concluded her fellow idiots were members of that animal rights group.

Hojo wondered if the sketch artist was among their current number. He could go for a good caricature of Palmer. It might make up for the mess they were making. They had managed to break the latch on one cage but the animal inside was so terrified of human contact, it had scrambled back into the corner and sent the scraps of paper that lined the cages flying. It then scratched a MAR member across the hand.

"How long have they been here?" Hojo casually asked Sephiroth in a whisper.

Sephiroth said nothing. Chatting with Hojo had never been high on his list of priorities.

Hojo took a sip of coffee and calculated. It had taken so long to get to the cafeteria, he'd had to wait so long behind people who hadn't realized how much more important he was than them and then it was back up to the lab. It couldn't have been more than a few minutes.

Satisfied and not the tiniest bit threatened, Hojo leaned against Sephiroth's cage to finish his coffee and watch the show. Another latch went, a cage door flew open and this time, the animal, while still afraid of humans, was also really damned pissed off at them, leapt out onto the neck of a MARter.

There was a scream, followed by an odd interpretative dance to the theme of 'Oh, God, It's Digging It's Claws into My Neck and It Hurts, It Hurts, It Hurts!'. Hojo gave the performance an eight. The flailing about was truly spectacular – the MARter launched himself against the cages and his partners in crime before spiraling out towards the main part of the lab – but it came to a too sudden conclusion when the animal, apparently more intelligent than the person it was attacking, sensed its chance to bail and let go of its own volition. It scurried away, instinctively heading in the direction opposite of Hojo.

The loss of a specimen never bothered Hojo (sometimes the loss of the specimen was the whole point of having the specimen in the first place) but it bothered him when a specimen died, escaped, disintegrated or whatever happy accidents the pursuit of science caused before he had a chance to get the results from said specimen. He felt somewhat better in that the bites on the MARter's neck were turning a sickly green, which indicated that he might be getting a larger, less vicious specimen in return. When the gods open a door for one lab rat, they slam the cage door down on another.

Wanting to corral this new specimen before it got away or before the idiots did even more damage, Hojo finally got his cell phone out and hit the button for security. The average ShinRa trooper, while not the brightest bulbs in the box, at least shimmered a teeny bit more brightly than these animal loving idiots. Of course, Hojo wondered how much someone could really love something without seeming to have even the slightest comprehension at how that something thought and acted, but he didn't really care so that train of thought parked at the Who Gives a Shit Station.

Hojo took another sip of coffee and checked his watch. He gave security about a minute or two before they showed. In the meantime, he watched the finale of the performance. It was a let down from the previous act. No one was opening cages anymore and thus all the violence had passed into melodramatic fawning over their fallen comrade. The President's fiancée was surprisingly the most aware of the bunch, pointing out the foul color the man's neck was turning and suggesting they get to a hospital before it was too late. The non-injured MARter's cried, "No! Those ShinRa pigs control the hospitals!" The injured MARter whimpered and muttered something incomprehensible, though if Hojo had to guess, was probably of a variant of 'I want my Mommy!'

"But he'll die!"

"A sacrifice for the cause!"

"Mrumphy…iwaaan…mrumphy!"

There was also a tapping on the glass behind Hojo, as Sephiroth banged his forehead against it in response to the spectacle unfolding. Hojo only giggled slightly.

Security showed up approximately on cue so Hojo sparred his usual barking at the drones and simply pointed out their targets. The protectors of the peace swarmed around the animal rights group, pointing their guns and shouting orders to shut up. This only panicked the MARters further, which made them yell (some inadvisably critiquing the career choice of the jumpy people aiming deadly weapons at them with slurs directed at said people's parentage). This caused the guards to yell louder and get more pointy and on and on an endless circle of illogic until it got so loud and screechy, Hojo was ready to smack his forehead against the glass cage.

But why hurt yourself when there are dumber people around to hurt instead? That was Hojo's philosophy. So he let out a shrill whistle and waited for it to get quiet. In Hojo's lab, things tended to go Hojo's way and even the fools in front of him had the sense to recognize who was really in charge here.

"Arrest those people," Hojo commanded to the guards, pointing out the healthy MARters. "But keep that one out for me. Those wounds need a thorough investigation."

"You're going to treat him?" the President's fiancée asked hopefully.

It was a false, futile hope but at least it gave Hojo a hearty laugh. Treat him. Sure, and I find nice loving homes for all the widdle animals when I'm through with them too.

She wasn't happy being laughed at. She decided to use the full weight of her fiancée's authority. "Pookie Bear isn't going to be happy when he hears how you've treated my friends!"

The guards murmured amongst themselves. Pookie Bear? Was that some kind of weird ass summon? Then one of them finally recognized the blonde before him.

"She's the President's fiancée!" he exclaimed.

It was then that the sickly man on whose behalf she was arguing was so overcome by the pain and decidedly unnatural enzymes from the creature's saliva that he lunged blindly and unfortunately directly at his would be savior. He dragged her back, eventually slamming her against the cages, jostling a latch loose. In a second, the animal within was able to get a paw out and across the formally pristine face of the President's fiancée.

The assault left four neat scratches.

"Oh, jeez, the Boss Man's woman!" one of the guards cried.

Not with those scars, she is, Hojo thought. It took a little longer for everyone else to reach the same conclusion but when they did, that was all she wrote. The guards acted upon Hojo's orders and had the room cleared out (with the exception of Hojo's newest test subject) in no time. Hojo expected he'd have to be answering a few questions from the President about why his lovely fiancé was no longer lovely and thus no longer his fiancé but the Fat Man would get over it. There were always other attractive women whose love of money gave them a high tolerance for egocentric blowhards in giant white suits. He didn't expect questions about the missing MARter. When people disappeared into ShinRa's labs, the only real way to find them was to join them.

Hojo inspected the damaged cages. Two specimens lost, a bigger specimen showing a fascinating reaction gained. He considered it a wash. He straightened out the caricature that had been knocked askew during the scuffle and decided to call it a day.

Sephiroth watched him leave. He hadn't won his freedom and Hojo had gotten away unscathed. That wasn't how it was supposed to go at all. He considered how he could turn it around when there was a yelp from the back of the lab. The MARter, in his state of panic, had overpowered the guard and was running around blindly, trying to find something, anything that could help him.

From all his time in the lab, Sephiroth knew where Hojo kept the medicines and antidotes. They were in his office, naturally. The plebes could come down with nasty side effects and pesky cases of death but Hojo wanted to keep nice and healthy. Surely something in there would help the poor animal lover. Surely that knowledge was worth something to the poor animal lover too.

Sephiroth smiled and cleared his throat. "I believe I may be of service..."

0-0-0-0

Hojo returned to his lab the next morning in a grumpy mood. He'd heard that the idiot guard had lost his specimen and the other two animals had been found and disposed of before Hojo could even get a tissue sample. Worse, no more people had been mauled in the process. What a mess!

His mood became darker when he noticed Sephiroth had not been returned to his room overnight and remained in the glass cage. This usually made the boy snarlier than usual but strangely, he regarded Hojo only with a silent smirk. He was up to something, Hojo could tell that much, but he couldn't tell what it was. Hojo checked the readout on the lock on the cage's door. It hadn't been opened. No one had tampered with it.

Of course they hadn't. One sickly MARter wasn't enough to break the cage and Sephiroth knew that without the code for the lock or a crap ton of luck in guessing what it was, the door wasn't going to open otherwise.

Hojo frowned. Whatever the boy was plotting couldn't be too bad. He'd been stuck in there all night without access to anything. Hojo turned away from him and went towards his office.

It was true that Sephiroth's cage could not be opened by the MARter. The cages that contained the ferocious animals, on the other hand, could be popped open quite easily as proved by yesterday's fiasco. Furthermore, they could be popped opened safely too, if the popper had constructed himself a long lever made out of materials from the lab per Sephiroth's instructions.

Herding the animals into Hojo's office had presented a bit of a puzzler but the combination of an electric prod made to be used on much bigger animals (the MARter had decided that his prohibition against the harming of animals stopped at animals that had nearly killed him) and a trail of food from the lab's break room made it possible.

There were advantages of being inside a glass cage. For one, Sephiroth had a clear view when Hojo opened his office door. For two, the glass muted the sound of the screaming so Sephiroth could enjoy that view without getting a headache. For three, when the animal stampede finally made a break for the exit, Sephiroth was all snug and safe behind the thick walls.

Hojo?

Not so much…

He was in agony moving his hand towards his cell phone. Punching the button to summon security felt like having a very large knife punched into him multiple times. He could barely gurgle for help. But what really pissed him off was the sticky note attached to the cabinet where he kept the meds.

It read: IOU – Life Saving Vaccines. Beneath it, the MARter, who was the group's artist after all, had drawn the cutest little caricature of Sephiroth giving Hojo the thumbs up with a great big grin on his face.

Hojo lolled his head towards the cage. Real Sephiroth made the exact same gesture.

So much for stealth, he was proudly taking claim for his acts of terrorism now.

Little bastard, Hojo thought. You are in so much trouble when I regain consciousness. And the ability to move…

That wouldn't be for a while though. For now, Sephiroth relaxed against his cage walls. He had a feeling that the first two advantages of the container were going to become apparent again when security showed up and took Hojo away to the hospital. While he waited, he considered what other groups could cause as much havoc as the animal people had. Hojo had to have lots of enemies. He was Hojo.

Hmm, maybe environmentalists, Sephiroth mused. The gods only knew what damage Hojo's sneering disregard for the laws of nature had caused.

Yeah, environmentalists…


Author's Notes: This is easily the most cynical thing I've ever written and I considered toning it down considerably until reading about the antics of PETA (You do not want to know the kill rate of their shelters) and ALF (They decided to vandalize a facility housing lots of chickens. In their desire to protest animal cruelty, they stomped all over eggs and broke the building's ventilation system, thus causing the suffocation death of a whole bunch of chickens).

Awesome.

I'm sure there are plenty of sane members of PETA and the like that genuinely care about the truly excellent cause of animal rights but it seems as if only the sanctimonious morons run their PR department. As the saying goes, 'It's not what you do, but how you do it'.