Back to Reality

Chapter One: The Conclusion Is Lacking

By FullMentaPanic

Original Concept HazzaTL3

For a long time he'd had a problem with closing his eyes.

Not just with falling asleep, but simply blinking. Disaster could occur in the time it took his lids to come together and open again. Death, tragedy, failure, and even when his throat felt thick and strangled with guilt, there was still more to lose. Things precious to him had already slipped from his fingers no matter how tightly he clung to them, and the things left to him seemed no more durable than what had been stolen. Wanting and striving to save guaranteed nothing.

Still he had to try. He had to do more than nothing when what meant most to him was about to be snuffed out right in front of him. He had pushed himself forward, and then when he had stepped, he didn't fall. He was a far cry from perfect and probably no one's first choice, but maybe he was enough to protect what he cherished.

Except that he hadn't been.

People were still dead directly because of what he couldn't do, and it was something he couldn't forget.

What had shocked him into that stilling awareness of reconciliation was seeing those he had fatally failed look at him with blameless smiles and bless him with life. It had lifted the weight of Gaia off his gut.

With that, closing his eyes became difficult because he feared losing what he had. Those things that had been too fragile to speak of were being loosed from his tongue and realized before his eyes.

Every so often he'd dream of being trapped, of living in a Mako haze, of seeing his friends fall around him while his brain couldn't understand enough to even make his body twitch in response. These were few and far between though. He had regrets, lots of them, although they weren't what filled him right now. He had things now that made living more than worthwhile. He had people now who made the future seem warm and bright and not something that would beat him down into a hole he didn't have the strength, or desire, or right to climb out of it. This was something he could love.

Then he blinked, and when he opened his eyes all he saw was green.


Hojo left his hand on the kill-switch while he ground his teeth in frustration. He'd considered pulling the plug on the simulation at several points, but had decided to let it proceed. At first things hadn't been too terrible. It had taken speculative years to be asserted, but the Reunion Theory had eventually begun to unmistakably show itself. Regarding the specimens the experiment was centered around, the resistance Specimen Z had shown to the inclusive effects of the Jenova cells was only further confirmed and the initial promise of Specimen C had produced catatonic results. Unfortunately his data self hadn't anticipated how those extra Jenova cells and Mako saturation had bumped the slightly more cognizant Specimen Z to the level where he could break out of containment.

Regardless of the failure both specimens had turned out to be, he hadn't been willing for them to get off the shelf of potential future usefulness and his simulated self had naturally been of the same mind. Shinra forces, though, were mobilized against the specimens more due to Z's compromising knowledge of the Nibelheim incident and general pool of information as a First Class. Though it hadn't been openly stated, it also seemed that several members of the administration were actually intimidated by Specimen Z.

Nothing of import to his main objectives had occurred until Specimen C had absorbed some of Specimen Z's memories after the latter had expired. It was a reflection of the copying powers of the Jenova cells, but it wasn't significant. He had paid little attention to the progress, or lack thereof, concerning Specimen C until the Cetra and the other Ancient creature he'd anticipated acquiring were stolen from his virtual other. For the most part though, Specimen C and the gaggle of followers trailing after him had merely bungled around the main objectives of the simulation. The obsession with Chocobo breeding, even when Meteor had blotted out a good portion of the sky, was nothing short of baffling.

They did conscript that Valentine brat into their mob and had run into Lucrecia, who had been still clearly obsessed with the seed that Hojo had placed in her to the exclusion of all else, but little of personal interest had occurred. Specimen C had even handed over the black materia to the immaculate Sephiroth and the Ancient was skewered when she'd tried to foil his son's plans.

After that...after that...

EVERYTHING had gone wrong! That failed, flawed, fraudulent Specimen C had trounced HIS son and that confounded Ancient spawned by Gast had actually had enough influence to thwart Sephiroth's plan for colliding Meteor with the Planet. It was infuriating, and he'd been as close as he'd ever been to terminating the simulation and starting over. When he had looked at the data more closely though...there were remnants. Small pieces of Sephiroth and Jenova that had been left over, and he was willing to wait and see what they could accomplish.

Again, it had taken years, but he had been delighted with the direction embarked on when the remnants had finally started to move decisively. A joining of one of the remnants and raw Jenova had been enough for Sephiroth to manifest himself again. It had been going beautifully, Sephiroth showing every bit of the power, brutality, and stunning presence that Hojo had always known he'd be capable of. Specimen C was a slashed and battered lump moments from being justly disposed of when the virtually dead reprobate Specimen Z had connected with Specimen C from the Lifestream and talked him to his feet to again strike down what should have been the crowning achievement of humanity. Frustrating as that was, it was slightly mollifying to see C shot down. The consolation that C would be dead as well was routed even as he was being absorbed into the Lifestream when Specimen Z and the Cetra chit had pushed him out again. What's more, the Cetra had gone and completely eliminated any traces of Jenova from anywhere within or on the Planet.

The situation had seemed rather like a lost cause at that point. His abstract self had successfully merged consciousness into the data stream, however, and observing how Deepground influenced events did hold some value, so he had maintained the simulation. It had been hugely gratifying to see the path his simulated other took and the success met with, but again it was foiled. The Valentine urchin played a significant role in dashing the plans of his other, but that callow ingrate was at least still locked in the embrace of Chaos and separated from acting on that infatuation shown toward Lucrecia.

Hojo had consoled himself with the thought that Valentine would surely be suicidally depressed, but the idiot had seemed serenely accepting of the ending events. That was the final straw that had Hojo calling the whole experiment back to reality.

Specimen C was stirring and obviously attempting to break out. Hojo wasn't disturbed. While he'd let the simulation play out without any alterations or adjustments, he'd started making changes in the real world as soon as he'd seen the vector of things to come. One of those changes was to place both specimens in highly reinforced containment. Just looking at the pair of them was setting his teeth on edge, and he stomped into one of the adjoining chambers to organize his thoughts.

He'd been heavily involved in the simulators used for training in Shinra, and it had only been a few days before he'd started designing scenarios specifically pertaining to his newly acquired samples. Of course he couldn't have them engage with the simulators in the traditional way, but some experimenting with different wave frequencies had revealed ways to let the scenarios play out without removing the specimens from confinement. Specimen Z had always taken any situation he was put into head on. Specimen C was far less cooperative, and no matter how spartan of a landscape Hojo concocted, he had always found some hidden or inaccessible corner to retreat to and simply watch whatever he was supposed to be fighting. Specimen Z was extremely familiar with the Shinra simulators and likely had a better idea of what was going on, and it was possible that C hadn't had much to do with any of the training simulations. For whatever reason though, C refused to participate. After one very aggravating week, Hojo determined that it was because C knew it wasn't real. He'd be periodically dumped back into the containment tube which always let him know that he hadn't been involved in something genuine. If Specimen C was going to react to a simulation realistically, it would have to begin in his current confinement.

It had turned into an exciting and admittedly lengthy process. There was already basic data available on many of the individuals involved with Shinra that he could tap into and the excessive time Specimen Z had spent working in simulators had facilitated the process. He'd elaborated on the existing pool of information available and incorporated as many current events as possible to obtain authentic results. He'd been able to directly tap into the consciousness of the two specimens to flesh out some aspects of the duplicate reality. All in all, it had resulted in a marvelously astute replication of future events.

The future he had seen was not a desirable one.

He flipped through his notes huffily. The specimens had quickly fallen into the failure category, and though they'd initially been the focus, the rest of the simulation had been extensive and complete enough for a credible image of the future. The situation wasn't a complete waste and there were a few things salvageable. The computer absorption plan actually held some merit. He wasn't entirely behind everything that Sephiroth had been trying to accomplish, though the scope of the vision still took his breath away. He could nudge things onto the most preferable path with very little interference. Really, it was Specimen C that had definitively damaged the outcome. Thinking back, Specimen Z had come perilously close to surviving and demolishing the situation even further than those times he had provided the necessary instigation for Specimen C to defeat Sephiroth. It was regrettable after all the time he'd spent on both of them, but they'd have to be disposed of to decrease the possibility of any repeats of the objectionable material he'd seen. The simplest way would be to let poison flow into the Mako they were submerged in.

"Professor."

"Busy, no time for nonsense." A fast acting poison would be best. It would be interesting to see how long they might take to succumb to something milder, but they could also become agitated enough in attempting escape to damage their own bodies. If nothing else, he hoped to procure two well-conditioned cadavers from this.

"Professor, I only wish to admire from the sidelines. Is that too great of an inconvenience?"

He glanced back, who was that man again? Fuhito. The one who had tried to convince to him join up with the AVALANCHE group but hadn't been able to pull off a kidnapping properly. At least he had good taste, it was mildly flattering. "Stay if you want, just don't get in the way."

"Certainly, sir, I would never dream of derailing one of your works of genius."

Fuhito always had seemed the sort to give proper credit. Hojo had spent several months programming at least the basic personality traits of a fair number of people he was familiar with to supplement the simulation. As he recalled, Fuhito had met an untimely end after an ambitious attempt to merge with one of the WEAPONs. Perhaps he could make a few adjustments to avoid that outcome.

"Your ability to press on despite difficulties and outside distractions has been something I've tried very hard to emulate."

"Yes, yes," he said feeling pleased. "A willingness to try anything despite any cowardice or lack of dedication from those around you is quite essential for this line of work." He flipped on one of the computers as he passed by. His concept for the personality transplant into digital form had only been in its most initial stages but he'd acquitted the simulation with a more complete version. He'd need to sit down and work the bugs out of the program quite soon.

"I see you've been doing some long term work with those two specimens. I hope the results have been favorable."

"Such a shame, that. At this point they do both have sufficient skills in place for admirable combat readiness, but they are quite unruly once they get out of a controlled environment. They're going to be terminated." He moved across the room to the selection of poisons, searching for just the right variety.

"Pity. Your ability to move on from a project is nothing less than admirable though. I've found your methods to be an inspiration. The way you deal with your work, your associates, and those brash enough to compete with you."

"Indeed," he chuckled, momentarily distracted to more triumphant times. Gast had really made it too easy by leaving the company and harboring a Cetra. Clearance for killing him had been issued before he'd even thought to ask for it. Neutralizing Hollander had been more difficult, though it had been satisfying to see the man eventually struck down in the simulation. He'd have to make some adjustments to get that same result. All in all, he had an excellent appraisal of how future events would occur and would be able to prepare everything necessary with a little thought-

Something sharp and sliding touched his back. It slipped all the way through until he could see steel streaming in scarlet.

Fuhito's voice flowed over his shoulder, as smooth and adoring as ever. "It's always been my goal to follow as closely in your footsteps as possible."


A/N: As stated above, this premise was originally developed by HazzaTL3 who was then gracious enough to let me take over. Next chapter is already well underway, though fast updates are not what I'm known for. This chapter is more Adventure/Drama, but there are a lot of humorous situations coming up, hence the Adventure/Humor category. Thanks for reading!