I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.27

Neither Vincent nor Lucrecia had even heard that man creep up from behind and watch them during their fervent conversation. Vincent dared not guess how much Davoren had heard, or what thoughts ran through his mind at that moment. Hundreds of fears tumbled inside Vincent's stunned mind as he searched Davoren's face for any hint of his reaction.

Yet the man bore such an unnaturally cold visage, totally contrary to his usual friendly nature, Vincent soon gave up the attempt. He stood rooted to his spot, awkwardly fumbling in the silence.

Lucrecia immediately slipped her hand out of Vincent's grip before retreating a few steps. She hid both her trembling hands behind her back, as if hiding the evidence of some heinous crime. She too stared intently at the leader of the Turks, trying her best to read his mind yet appear calm at the same time.

At least one minute of embarrassing silence passed in which no one muttered a word. Even the wind had ceased blowing, not daring to disturb this heavy stillness. Both visitors fixed their anxious eyes on the unexpected intruder. Davoren, however, merely lighted a cigarette for himself in the most natural manner. He seemed to find this secret "rendez-vous" quite normal.

Unable to bear the suffocating silence any longer, Vincent decided to leave before matters grew any worse.

"Ah..pardon me, Sir..," he mumbled confusedly as he walked past his silent leader. Vincent, without looking back once, marched away from the two. But Davoren paid no head to the Turk at all. His whole attention, in fact, was rigidly fixed on Lucrecia. The woman only fidgeted in her spot, blushing in genuine embarrassment at the intrusion. He had obviously come for *her* with a definite purpose.

"Ms. Lucrecia," addressed Davoren after puffing out a cloud of white smoke, "I don't claim to be an ardent scientist like yourself or your prestigious colleagues. Nor have I the privilege of knowing you as... intimately as Mr. Valentine does."

Vincent halted abruptly on hearing his leader's strange, cold tone, then turned around to face the man again. However, Davoren kept his back to the Turk, as though unaware of his presence. His entire focus stubbornly insisted on Lucrecia infront of him.

"What you decide to do to yourself is truly your own business," Davoren continued coolly, "..just as long as you scientists do your job."

"Y..yes, Mr.Davoren, Sir..," agreed Lucrecia, sounding very confused.

"Yes, indeed, Ms. Lucrecia. You scientists are allowed to do *WHATEVER* you want, experimenting on anything that tickles your fantasy. And as good Turks, hired by the illustrious President ShinRa, we must step aside..no, we must MAKE SURE you carry out your little tests."

"Davoren..Sir..," Vincent interjected cautiously as he took a step near his leader. A grave sense of danger warned him of some brutal confrontation.

Davoren, enraged at the interruption, only gave the Turk one sharp look over his own shoulder to silence him. Vincent stopped again, absolutely stunned by the malice in the man's eyes. His mind argued that either a demon had possessed Davoren, or the man had simply taken leave of his senses.

When Vincent had thus been effectively silenced, Davoren turned again to the trembling Lucrecia. He took another whiff at his cigarette, then resumed with a stronger, venomous tone, "You discover this amazing 'alien life form'..something so different from all other creatures and, of course, are so eager to discover how to use it to Mr. ShinRa's advantage. Everything else becomes insignificant, including life...human life."

Vincent's muscles tensed at the unexpected mention of JENOVA. During his entire friendship with Davoren, he had never once heard the man express any interest in science, let alone such meticulous research like the JENOVA Project.

His anxious eyes immediately darted over to Lucrecia. Though she was shaking under Davoren's hostile scrutiny, her face maintained a very resolute look.

"Yes, Ms.Lucrecia," Davoren sneered, dropping his voice suddenly, "even the life of your own child doesn't matter when it comes to this little experiment of yours."

"What right have you to chastise my job, Mr.Davoren?" the woman retorted softly but quite firmly, "My decisions and choices are of no one's concern...not yours..," she glanced at Vincent, then concluded, "..or anyone else's."

"You're right, it isn't. To be honest, I don't care a fig what you scientists do to your own lives."

Davoren puffed his cigarette as his fiery eyes narrowed keenly on the woman infront of him. He paid no attention to Vincent, who still lingered some steps behind him. The poor Turk remained quiet, unsure how to stop this madness.

"It's none of my business, yes, very true," agreed the angry man after an awkward pause, "But I ask you, Miss, what business is it of *yours* to experiment on a little child as though it were some filthy laboratory animal?!"

For a full minute, nobody spoke a word.

The silence crept through the dead apple orchard, shushing any rustling leaf or insensitive insect brave enough to disobey its command. Both Davoren and Lucrecia stared intently at each other, while poor Vincent fidgeted some distance behind his leader, almost ignored. His eyes hesitated between the two, wondering where to find an explanation to this mystery.

Davoren suddenly advanced towards the silent woman, reaching for something inside his coat. He flung a bundle of loose papers onto the frozen ground, then scattered them about with a contemptuous scuffle of his foot.

"I've been doing a little...'research' into your experiment, Ms. Lucrecia, since I had the misfortune of witnessing that scene in the library," Davoren growled through a white puff of smoke, "I found so many details so new to me. I'm sure this Project will go under the "strictly confidential" files, especially that part about the JENOVA cells."

Nobody spoke a word.

"And I also read a bit of your colleagues' report," the man explained more viciously, "Very interesting that bit about testing the effects of JENOVA on an unborn fetus. According to the Hojo's theory here, you could create a whole new breed of super-humans with that gunk!"

Another heavy silence followed.

Vincent was thunderstruck on finally understanding the truth: Lucrecia was not the guinea pig at all, her child was! And for what? For some "experiment" of Hojo's??

"L..Lucrecia," Vincent faltered, taking one step forward, "..you..had a child..just to..experiment on its body??"

She silently implored him to stop by looking at him. However, he only knit his brows in anger as he demanded, "Answer me already!! What exactly did Hojo *DO* to you?!!"

"It's part of the experiment," she answered meekly as she edged away from the two men, "..to..to test the effects of the JENOVA cells on developing human tissue..a..a child.."


"Yes..yes, Hojo..he injected a dose of those cells into my womb.."

Vincent listened to her in horror, yet could not make any sense of her words. He did not need to. He saw everything so clearly now: her pregnancy had been part of an experiment of Hojo's. That was all!

"Goddamn it, woman!!" thundered Davoren all of a sudden, flinging his cigarette away, "Aren't you a mother?! Doesn't your heart ache when you see what you've done?! You're letting that bastard experiment on your own CHILD!!"

"I have accepted the consequences, Mr.Davoren," she replied coolly.

Davoren stared back at her in disbelief, absolutely shocked with her calm answer. Her hands still quivered in spite of her every effort to stop, yet never had either man heard her sound so firm.

Vincent hesitated a moment before asking, very softly, "Lucrecia, you know as well as I do what those cells can do to human tissue. The child could maybe survive, but what about you? It..it could poison your body."

Lucrecia, however, turned her face away in anguish. She could not reply to that simple comment.

The agonizing silence felt as though it would stretch for eternity. Vincent stood rooted to his same spot, intently staring at the silent Lucrecia. Similarly, Davoren kept his keen eyes riveted on the unfortunate woman. Yet while Vincent's whole countenance betrayed every sign of trouble and genuine distress, the leader of the Turks expressed nothing but contempt, if not burning anger, for Lucrecia. He had not liked her simple answer at all.

"When I had first joined ShinRa Inc., you could not believe how blind I was," Davoren recounted, interrupting the stuffy stillness all of a sudden, "All that ever mattered to me was getting money for my brother. All that ever mattered to me was protecting and helping him in any form I could. But when..when I lost him..when he disappeared without a trace, that made me see one truth that had been right under my nose."

Vincent, feeling a strange discomfort prickle his heart, slowly reached for his gun, but did not pull it out. Davoren took no heed of him.

"Do you want to know what truth I discovered, Miss?" the man continued through grit teeth. He took one menacing step towards her, then roared at the top of his lungs, "I discovered that ShinRa Inc. treats EVERY human life like some damn toy!! That vulgar toad we call 'Mr. President' only abuses life, then throws it away when it's not useful anymore. To this company, money, results, and power is WAY more important than life..any life! My brother was a loyal Turk, but what happened when he disappeared? He was forgotten and replaced. Why? Because the President did not want to waste any more precious gils in search of him: he simply was not useful anymore!"

Lucrecia retreated two steps, but stopped short on realizing she had been cornered against a frozen tree. The frightened woman pressed her back against the tough bark of the tree, desperately trying maintain a calm, resolute face. She said nothing.

Being behind Davoren, Vincent could not see the man's face. Nor had he any need to: Davoren's cold, bitter tone alone warned the Turk his leader had somehow "lost his sanity". Vincent quietly unholstered the gun while keeping his sharp eyes on Davoren's back. He listened very intently as the man spoke again.

"And what about that incident in the Reactor?" recalled Davoren, still ignoring the Turk behind him, "Our beloved President bids us go slaughter some misguided beggars in a Reactor just to make him richer. And you scientists are no better! You rot in your laboratories, trying to play God with any life your grubby hands can touch. And now, this! You go play with a child's life..A CHILD'S LIFE, Ms. Lucrecia! And your own, no less!!"

"Don't you dare stand there and judge me, Sir!" answered Lucrecia with a soft but firm voice. She still kept her back glued to the tree, as though it could somehow shield her from that man. Davoren listened to her with a most scornful look on his face.

"What I feel never mattered!" she continued, "If I have chosen to sacrifice everything I possess for this experiment, then so be it! I will not be lectured by anyone! Especially a Turk!"

Neither man interrupted her. Instead, they both studied her beautiful, troubled face in silence. Vincent fingered his gun without pulling it out. Davoren, on the other hand, seemed completely absorbed in what the woman had to say.

"If anyone plays with life, it's the likes of you and Vincent," Lucrecia accused, growing firmer with every word, "I know..what kind of dirty work you Turks do. I've even seen some of it too. But I'm doing this to help the Project, whether you agree or not, and then..."

However, Davoren cut her short by suddenly pulling out his own gun and aiming it straight at Lucrecia's head. Poor Lucrecia stared, completely dumbfounded, at the muzzle of the gun, then at Davoren's unnaturally cold face. All words failed her. She could only tremble in horror.

It seemed Davoren had, indeed, lost all patience along with his sanity.

"I won't deny I too have played with human life, Ms. Lucrecia," Davoren replied very calmly, "It would be wrong of me to contradict you. But I always, ALWAYS, respected the sacredness of human life as a whole."

Lucrecia's breathing grew increasingly faster as she noticed Davoren's finger twitch on the trigger. He kept his gun firmly riveted on her head. Nothing could deter him from her.

"And it turns my stomach, Ms. Lucrecia," he concluded maliciously, "to know I'm here, taking part in this experiment, by letting wannabe-gods like you scientists treat lives...children's lives like garbage!! It just plain disgusts me!!!"

Both Lucrecia and Davoren stared intently at each other, seeming to expect the other to act or say something. Yet so great was the poor woman's terror, she could not find enough strength to speak against Davoren's gun; and what would be the use? He had, quite obviously, lost his mind! Her entire body, especially her hands, quivered with unimaginable fear. The madman narrowed his eyes on her pale face, then cocked the gun once.

Neither spoke a word until Vincent's firm voice suddenly ordered, "Davoren, drop the gun."

Davoren turned his head slightly around on hearing the voice, yet still kept his gun rigidly aimed at Lucrecia. Indeed, the man had been totally oblivious to Vincent's presence until then. During the entire final discourse, Vincent had kept his own gun cautiously lowered but quiet near. He had been, of course, extremely alarmed when Davoren had pulled out his gun and aimed it at Lucrecia. Yet that loud cock of his weapon confirmed the Turk's fear: Davoren intended to kill her.

Therefore, without a second thought, Vincent had pulled out his gun and aimed it directly at his leader's head. He dared not imagine what he would actually *do* if Davoren refused to obey his command; he himself scarcely understood what he was doing. All he knew was that his friend had lost his mind (how else could he possibly express it?) and that Lucrecia was about to be harmed.

"I said drop the gun, Davoren!" Vincent repeated, emphasizing every syllable more firmly.

Davoren studied the Turk's cold face for another minute before returning again to Lucrecia, who still trembled infront of him. His shiny black gun shimmered in the pale moonlight, bluntly refusing to change its target. Nor did Vincent waver either: he kept his gun firmly fixed on the back of the man's head.

But would he..could he actually pull the trigger?

"Davoren, please," Vincent implored in a low voice, "I..I don't want to shoot you."

Lucrecia had clasped both hands over her breast in a vain effort to calm herself. Yet for all her vigorous attempts, her heart refused to stop pounding. She stared, eyes wide open, at the insane man before her without even crying out.

When a full minute had elapsed, Davoren began laughing softly to himself. He did not lower his gun.

"Yes, Vincent," he addressed the Turk, though he still kept his eyes as well as his gun fixed on Lucrecia, "Yes..and you probably will shoot me too. Ah, the perfect Turk is the one who can kill ANYONE on the spur of the moment..the one without anything even resembling a conscience to hinder him. Heh, just the type the President wants: the type who murders, threatens, and obeys without question."

Davoren glanced behind his back to look at the Turk, then added viciously, "Feh, a monster in human form...that's all you are, that's all you'll EVER be."

Though Vincent felt his heart pound loudly as the man finished, his mind seemed quiet cool and collected. He stared back at his bitter leader with a stoic expression on his cold face. For the first time in his life, the gun felt slightly awkward in his feverish hands.

I can't shoot him, Vincent repeated internally at least a thousand times, I can't shoot him...this man is my best friend..I can't shoot him...

But my duty IS to protect these scientists..it's to protect Lucrecia from any danger. And even if it wasn't, I still would protect her! So, if I must shoot..then..then I...

Thus stood the two men, completely absorbed by the silence, while poor Lucrecia trembled against the dead tree. She could not speak. Another moment passed.

Suddenly, Davoren turned to Lucrecia again and reached for the trigger. Vincent only heard one, single shot ring out across the lonely orchard. All was silent again.

He saw Davoren stumble forward, a wild gush of dark blood sprouting out the back of his head. He saw his leader crash onto the cobblestone pathway right at Lucrecia's feet. The thick red fluid flowed out until Davoren's whole head lay soaked in a puddle of blood. The man lay head down on the stony ground, both arms pitifully outstretched infront of his bloody head. His dreadful black gun had been rudely discarded a few yards away. It too was stained in his blood. Davoren did not move.

Vincent had shot him without even realizing it.

Lucrecia gazed, completely horror-stricken, at the bloody corpse lying at her feet. After a moment, she looked up at Vincent in disbelief, yet could not open her mouth. The Turk studied her shocked face for perhaps two minutes, then back at the dead body. He did not speak either.

Strange to say, he felt no guilt or remorse.

Vincent was sure Lucrecia screamed at that moment, even though he could not hear anymore. Yet he remembered clearly hearing a rush of footsteps storming into the abandoned orchard. There seemed to be several people at the scene all of a sudden: those were the villagers. He also recalled some men rush over to Davoren and examine his corpse while some others carried Lucrecia away (who was hysterical by that time). He felt many hands roughly grab him at once, and the strange words "Murder! Murder!" ring in his ears.

Some evil, malevolent feeling crept up from behind him, yet he could not muster enough strength to resist it.

Without warning, two icy-cold hands dug deep into his chest and began tearing his lungs to shreds. Vincent struggled wildly to break loose, to cry for help, to escape this mysterious attacker. But the more he wrestled this attack, the more painful his ordeal grew. Hot blood gargled up his throat as his whole chest heaved in pain. His head swam around and around.

He could not breathe anymore. Strange, unfamiliar voices screamed through his ears until insanity broke through. He thought his lungs would explode any moment. He felt something pull him away..and away...far away...

Suddenly, Vincent woke up from his nightmare in the middle of violent coughing fit. He had been re-living his past: all of that madness had happened thirty-one years ago.

He was back in the present now.

-End of Chp.27