A/N: Yet another of my weird ideas. One day, I'll write something normal. Maybe. Until then, you get stuff like this. :P Oh yeah, and I own nowt.
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"Isn't there anywhere else he can go?"
Thaddeus Valentine stared despairingly at the baby lying in the basket at his feet. A funny-looking thing, with tufty black hair and kicking legs. Not the sort of company an out-country scavenger with little money and less luck would choose to keep. The airship juddered.
"Well," Pandora replied tetchily, "you could try London's Engineerium, I suppose." She rolled her eyes. Typical of Thad to ask for her advice after cheating on her with some woman he couldn't even remember. As travelling companions went, Thaddeus was by far the most exasperating. And now, to top it all off, he'd gone and got himself landed with a kid who was currently taking up valuable room in her airship.
"But… his hair…" Thaddeus ran a hand through his own shoulder-length black hair. "It just feels wrong… the children that grow up in that place… It's not a normal childhood, is it, Pan? I don't want him, but I don't want him to be unhappy, either."
Pandora's eyebrows rose at Thaddeus' hypocrisy, but he didn't notice. The baby was busy trying to eat his blanket, and Thaddeus bent to tease it out of his mouth with a weary face. Pandora sighed through gritted teeth.
"What about the orphanage, then? Or the Historians' Guild?"
"I thought you were an anti-tractionist?" Thaddeus' lips pressed together tightly at her tone.
"If you think I'm travelling halfway across the world to Batmunkh Gompa when London's within a day's travel, you've got another think coming." Pandora folded her arms. "The bird roads aren't a crèche. And I don't want your illegitimate son."
They stood in silence for some time, Pandora manning the controls of the airship, Thaddeus kneading his forehead with his hands. A baby, a baby, a baby! Damn it, he hadn't planned for this! He was already struggling to make a living as it was, taking up any (generally illegal) work going. You couldn't assassinate a man with a baby on your back. Thaddeus closed his eyes and groaned. Pandora snorted.
"You've got a nerve."
"Give me a break." Thaddeus opened one eye to glare at her. "Don't pretend you haven't done it too."
Pandora pulled on the control stick with unusual viciousness, then cursed as she cracked her fingers back by mistake. "I didn't, actually."
"Oh, really?" Thaddeus raised an eyebrow sceptically. Pandora didn't deign to reply, concentrating instead on piloting the craft. After a short pause, Thaddeus grew tired of the charade. "I saw him," he said, an unfamiliar catch to his voice. "In Dunroamin. I'm not stupid, Pan."
At this, Pandora laughed and laughed, doubling over. The sound contrasted sharply with the tense glare on her face.
"You thick bastard," she finally gasped, lip still curled. "Shaw's a friend of my parents… Not that it's any of your business," she added as an afterthought. Thaddeus growled.
"You're right; it's not any more. Marry the clodhopper and see if I give a damn." He closed his eyes again, face set. Pandora finally turned to look at him.
"Maybe I will." Her red hair streamed out behind her in the wind, flames in the autumn light. "He's quite rich." She grinned and turned back to the airship controls, savouring Thaddeus' fury. Despite her best attempts to civilise him, he was still more animal than man.
"You're pathetic, Pan," he muttered. She laughed again.
They reached the air-harbour in the great city of London late that night. Thaddeus wanted to spend the night and search for a place for the baby in the morning, but Pandora was adamant that she wouldn't sleep on a barbarian deckplate if it killed her. Thaddeus remarked that it just might. Pandora told him to get over himself. Thaddeus said that was rich. Pandora said it wasn't her kid.
After being turned down by several orphanages ('orfan means 'ee ain't got no parents, innit! Yoo wanna ditch 'im, chuck 'im down a well, or give 'im to the Engineers, but don't go dumpin' 'im 'ere!') Thaddeus had no choice but to concede that the baby would have to grow up as an Engineer. Pandora shuddered when he broached the subject, and he was pleased to note her discontent.
"I thought you wanted him to have this life?" he mocked.
He shrugged and continued to walk, following the winding alleys that led downwards towards the Engineerium. One day, he swore, he would be rich enough to afford a pass for the great lift at the centre of the city. Making the trip on foot was a pain; only faint light spilled from irregularly-placed gas lamps, leaving pockets of shadow every few feet. The air was cold, too; he saw Pandora shivering and smiled.
"What do you think?"
"I think you're cold." He smirked slightly.
"Thank you." He mock-bowed and they continued up the alleyway. He was wearing a coat, and he could have given it to her, but he was damned if he was going to. Not when she had made such a fool of him. Shaw. Shaw.
"I already told you, Thad…" Pandora sounded bored. As always, Thaddeus was a little taken-aback by how easily she read his thoughts, but he soon recovered.
"Don't worry. I know when I'm not worthy."
"Fine. Believe what you want." Pandora shrugged. "You know, I think I will marry him."
"Isn't it, though? Would you like to be a bridesmaid?" She jabbed Thaddeus hard in the ribs with her elbow. "Or maybe a flower girl?"
"… Have you finished, yet?" Thaddeus asked, and peered down to check on the baby. He was wrapped up tight in Thaddeus' coat, but Thaddeus was still worried he might catch cold and die of pneumonia, or some other city-illness. Pandora gave a small jeer at this display, and suddenly Thaddeus saw red. He lashed out, gripped Pandora's arm as hard as he could, until the veins stood out in the pale skin, and sprained it in one swift motion. Her scream was music to his ears.
"Now shut-up and marry him," Thaddeus hissed as Pan tried, and failed, to fight back tears.
If Thaddeus had been a different sort of man, he would have felt guilty, but guilt, like tears and happiness, had never come easily to Thaddeus. Anger, however, was a different matter- he hoped her arm hurt like hell.
"Marry him, and have lots of brats, and pretend that you love them like you did for me."
Pandora was too proud to reply.
By the time they reached the Engineerium, the city was silent save for the rumble of the engines and the creaking of old machinery from deep within the Gut. Thaddeus idly wondered if the noises would keep the baby awake at night, and then quickly repressed that thought. Pandora, by his side, was very pale in the dark. He supposed she must be in quite a lot of pain. Thaddeus didn't repress that thought; it sent small sparks of pleasure through his body. Oh, he hoped she was suffering in her silence.
There was a guard at the Engineerium gates; a thin, bespectacled man with a bald head and the trademark white rubber coat. When he saw them approaching with the baby, he rubbed his hands together with glee. Thaddeus was instantly suspicious. He wanted to continue along the path, right past the Engineerium and further into the city, but Pandora, sensing his hesitation and leaping at the chance for revenge, stepped smartly up the Engineerium steps.
"We have a child to deposit," she said, before Thaddeus could even open his mouth. "Age of one month; his mother died a few days ago. The father's a useless drunk." Pandora turned to Thaddeus with a wolfish smile that made his insides curl with rage. The worst thing wasn't that she was right. The worst thing was that she knew that he knew she was right, and that was why she was saying it.
"Medical history?" the guard Engineer asked.
"Does it matter?" Pandora laughed. "Sir, we're doing you a favour, remember. I've heard that Engineering isn't nearly so popular an occupation with a Historian as Mayor. Do you really want to be responsible for your profession dying out?" Pandora smiled slightly, her broken arm dangling at her side. The Engineer turned puce, muttered a few angry words along the lines of 'Crome'll show 'em when he rises up' and 'the future, dammit', and finally glared at Pandora and Thaddeus.
"How much do you want for him?" he grumbled, reaching a hand into the pocket of his labcoat and withdrawing a pouch full of Quirkes specially issued for just such an occurrence.
"Not Quirkes. Gold." Thaddeus cut in before Pandora could reply and ensure that he got stuck with a bag full of useless currency. She shot him a vicious look and he smiled. He'd won this one.
"Don't have any gold." The Engineer shrugged. Pandora started to reply.
"Well, then, Quirkes will be accep-"
"Give us the bloody gold, or we'll take our 'custom' elsewhere," Thaddeus interrupted for a second time. The Engineer shot him a look of pure venom and then slowly pulled a jangling bag out of his other pocket. Pandora took it from him and tossed it to Thaddeus, who quickly scanned the contents and nodded.
"Thank you." Thaddeus handed the stranger his baby, looking it dead in the eye as it stared dolefully at him. "Goodbye." He turned away and set off down the alley, not looking back. Pandora's footfalls tapped along behind him; she seemed in good spirits. She drew level with him and laid a hand on his shoulder. He shuddered.
"I was joking, you know," Pandora murmured, moving her hand up to stroke his cheek and the rough stubble on his chin. "About Shaw. He's too old for me, and besides…" she trailed off, skimming her fingers along his jawline, up to his ear, and then softly, softly, through his hair. "You know me better than anyone." She smiled and rested her head against his, kissing his neck. Thaddeus bent his head to look at her.
"Indeed," he began, and then allowed his lips to curl into a sneer, "and that's why I can't stand you." He kissed her hard on the lips, biting down until he drew blood. "That's why I'll kill you if it's the last thing I do." He smothered her face with his, choking her. "That's why I love you." He let go and allowed her to wreak whatever revenge she willed.
"We've got a new one for Twixie!" a thin, bespectacled Engineer marched along the white corridors, feet squeaking on the floor. "One for the experiment!" He drew level with an office with a pink glastic nameplate which bore the legend,
"Dr. Twix, Resurrection."
When the Engineer knocked on the door, a pudgy, beaming woman answered, ushering him in. The Engineer was annoyed (but not surprised) to see that several more pictures of kittens had generated on the walls. Nevertheless, he hid his discontent, because everybody knew that despite appearances, Dr. Twix was a highly accomplished scientist.
"It's a baby, Dr. One for the newest test." The man held out the strange creature lying awkwardly in his hands, and Dr Twix took it from him with a smile. After babbling some nonsense to the thing, she put it down on the table and pointed to her notes and the various pieces of machinery scattered across the desk.
"We'll start right away. Once the brain is fitted, we can link it to the old Tech screen, and from there we'll be able to see exactly what the infant sees, and show it what we want it to see. There will be no outside stimuli whatsoever. The child will literally grow up in an imaginary world, and we will be able to find out exactly which cranial areas are stimulated when, and how. If we can't make our own Stalkers after this, Popjoy, we'll never be able to."
"Excellent," Popjoy purred. Their goal of so many years now finally seemed within their grasp. "What does the program look like?"
"Well," Twix replied, "the cities don't move, for a start. We want to test out Crome's theory that the civilised human brain naturally despises static settlements."
"But if it's the son of a couple of sky-tramps-"
"Crome is funding the project. He was adamant about this. By the way, if anybody asks, the child is from this city, and always was. Understand?"
"Yes, Dr." Popjoy nodded. Twix smiled and continued.
"Excellent. We're also going to program in some elements that don't exist in our 'real' world, to see if the child reacts to them any differently to how it reacts to things that exist in reality. This is part of that lovely 'disproving the gods' study. Obviously, all the people the child interacts with will be purely imaginary, and all the events in its life and its 'identity' will be controlled by us. We've already chosen a name. The child's own brain should supply anything we neglect. Now then, that's enough waffle. Let's get cracking!"
Dr Twix beamed and picked up the baby, which was now asleep.
"Fix the electrodes to its head, now, there's a good Popjoy," she murmured, stroking its fluffy black hair. "Or should I say, Vincent's head."
… … …
A/N: XD Told ya it'd be weird! BTW, it's a bit of a crossover fic, to be honest, with Final Fantasy 7, but as the crossover only comes into play in the last line, I thought it was kinda dumb to classify it as that, especially when it was a crossover you didn't need to 'get' anyway. If this is all incoherent, meh, I'm writing this at 1.47am on a school night. And I have a cold. Taking care of one's health is for wimps. :P