I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.60

It took a long time before they found an exit out of this labyrinth. The grim path had led them up further, growing more narrow until they had to crawl on their stomaches. At last, Vincent discovered a tiny side-vent, which ultimately ended at some overhead grate. He easily lifted it.

Vincent first climbed out, then helped Rufus, who eyed the dismal surroundings in great uneasiness. They found themselves over some wide bridge. It overlooked a complex network of platforms and pipes down below. In the far distance, the faint rumble of machines hummed through the bitter cold air.

After some deliberation, Vincent signalled for Rufus to follow. They persued the path down the empty bridge, through a bleak entrance up a flight of steps. Vincent marched heedless to their own loud footsteps. However, his senses were hightened to full attentiveness. In truth, he mistrusted this silence.

The entrance opened upon a wrecked storage hall, so large the brick walls reached far into obscurity high, high above. Black shadows hung everywhere. All around, wretched cargo boxes and rusted shipping containers littered the hall. Where once rich materia had filled their bellies, now they lay empty, carelessly heaped up in sad neglect.

Vincent checked on Rufus before venturing forward into the ghostly hall. The dreaded silence seemed to grow heavier the further they walked, the darkness more insidious. Nevertheless, the two men wandered down the complex path. Many times, Vincent would choose between forking ways, or gracefully hop over crates, followed behind by Rufus.

Neither man had spoken since that rather unfruitful interrogation. Rufus never protested whichever path his kidnapper persued, but just made sure he didn't lag too far behind. Nor cared Vincent to revive any conversation. He had plunged into morose meditation.

However, his attention suddenly sharpened on discerning some unnatural movement nearby. He suspected the worst: Davoren.

With uncanny swiftness, he shoved both himself and the boy against one huge cargo crate, pressing his claw against Rufus' chest to keep him in place. Rufus was certainly perplexed; he hadn't heard anything.

He observed Vincent unholster his gun, then draw it close, prepping it for any action. His face from the side expressed such sterness, all his keen hearing focussed on the still air.

They seemed to linger an eternity.

Vincent sensed an unknown presence creep alarmingly close; so close he held his breath under tense anticipation. He left Rufus safe behind to edge nearer, black gun ever rigid within his grip. Whoever it was, he would confront him.

Vincent only waited another second before suddenly leaping around the corner to fire. But he stopped short at once. Much to his great surprise, he found himself pointing his deadly weapon straight at a very astonished Reno, who similarly, had drawn out his nightstaff.

"Ah! Vincent!!" cried Reno in shock.

Rufus trotted up from behind the crate onto the scene. Rude also soon made his appearance. Rather than answer, Vincent holstered his gun with mild exasperation. It had been a false alarm, but at least they had found each other quickly.

The reunion would have sailed far more smoothly had Reno supressed his sudden rage. It flared up the instant Vincent withdrew his gun, whereby he struck the nightstaff smack upon the man's head, if only to release his fury. It hit him so hard, poor stunned Vincent staggered one step back. Needless to say, both Rufus and Rude were shocked.

"You pasty-faced, freak-assed bastard!!" snarled Reno under seething anger, "What the hell were you THINKING back there?!"

Obviously, he meant Vincent's last adventure. Vincent wasn't hurt by the dull blow as much as irritated by this man. "I understand your anger, but please realize I had no other choice of escape."

"Like shit! You nearly killed us with that crazy stunt of yours! And you kidnapped Rufus! Damn you! I thought you were gonna suck his blood or something!!"

Vincent frowned, but since he saw it useless to argue, remained resentfully silent.

"C'mere!" Reno roughly yanked Rufus away. He asked the boy concerning his kidnapper. "He didn't try something weird, like make ya show him your neck, did he?"

The confounded boy only blinked back in confusion. Vincent's frown darkened further: he didn't enjoy these crude vampire jokes one bit.

"Hey, Reno. Just relax," pleaded Rude, most anxious to diffue the tension. "He saved our lives, remember? At least we're all okay and the President's safe."

The man reflected a moment: True. Vincent has rescued them from *two* executions, and returned the boy unharmed. Perhaps hitting him hadn't been the best way to show gratitude.

"Yeah, whatever!" Reno dismissed as his way of thanks and apology (he hated guilt-trips). He then tossed his head aside.

While Vincent had effectively occupied those guards, these two ex-Turks had had enough opportunity to flee the scene, at least before the explosion. Afterwards, both men had snuck around like two cautious thieves, hoping to find their young President before another enemy found them. Luck had brought them to this storage hall, where the not so joyous reunion had taken place.

"Tsh! But this is as far as I go! I've had enough loony-business," Reno motioned towards his friend, "C'mon! We're outta this madhouse."

Their objective had been to investigate this secret laboratory, more specifically, Rufus ShinRa. Though events had taken them by storm, Reno saw no purpose in getting involved any further. Therefore, he turned away to leave.

"Wait," called Vincent's cool voice after him.

Reno halted. He threw a contemptuous look behind. "What now?"

"I still need to ask this boy something. It concerns the experiment."

Reno faced Vincent again, this time suspicion too evident on his lean expression. In return, Vincent maintianed a cool, business-like visage. Behind, Rude lingered in uneasiness, with Rufus safe close by. The boy said nothing, although his tense demeanour showed clearly how he hated to be questioned again.

Reno glanced aside at the mute boy, then back to Vincent. "He's the guinea pig for that screwball Hojo. What more do ya need to know?"

Vincent's calm voice dropped to an ominous mutter, "That is only one possibility. There could be others."

Indeed, while Professor Hojo had not denied he would use Rufus as the test subject, he had not confirmed it either. Reno thought a moment, seeking silent help from his friend behind. Yet Rude himself could make nothing of this complicated matter.

"You think Rufus is connected to this experiment in another way?" Rude asked Vincent at last.

"I don't know. He told me Professor Hojo often strapped him to some machine, and hooked electrodes to his head."

Both ex-Turks were solemnly silent.

"Rufus, are you *certain* you know nothing of 'Genesis Retrial'?" confronted Vincent squarely. Inside, he still hoped for some answer.

The anxious boy faltered "..I don't know anything.."

"And no one has ever mentioned it to you? The guards, or perhaps Davoren?" interjected Rude quite earnestly.


"Then why would Professor Hojo need you so badly?" Vincent mumbled the tiresome question more to himself than anyone.

Rufus felt uncomfortable under everyone's gaze, especially this tall, dark man. His bitter blue eyes remained downcast, strained under very intense emotions.

"And how could the experiment's name simply 'pop out'?" Vincent hammered regardless, "You must have somehow known it before, at least heard of it."

Rufus' expression began to crumble. A painful gleam tensed his sad eyes.

"...maybe Professor Hojo once spoke of it while you were.."



"I don't know! I don't know anything!!" Rufus exploded in a rageous passion, so sudden it caught everyone off guard. Immediately, Rufus clutched his head against a surge of violent headaches. He lost balance with a stiffled grunt.

The spasm attack aroused eveyone's alarm, yet Rude reacted first. He caught the lunatic just as he collapsed to his knees. The tempest inside flustered poor Rufus to painful madness. Both ex-Turks had crouched down by him, Rude for support, Reno to calm him.

"W-when the fire burns me, so may things flash by," Rufus squeezed out through wretched agony, "Faces...voices...but I can't understand anything! It's like...I'm living another life, and watching myself at the same time! Aah!!"

The young madman writhed aside. "I tell m-myself 'That's not me!', but inside, I know it is! That name 'Genesis Retrial' ...it just drills into my head! ..written jargon... words...pictures! But I can't understand that! I don't know what t-the Professor.."

"Whoa! Easy now!" cried Reno above this insane rave, supporting the boy's head in his own hands for comfort, "No one's blaming you here. If ya don't know, that's okay! That's okay!"

"Please Sir, just calm down," begged the much anxious Rude.

Vincent had made little sense of that outburst. Internally, he berrated himself for pressing Rufus too hard for answers. Therefore, he had backed off. All this time, he had beheld the pitiful sight: for one so young and ruined to suffer further against such raw pain.

Luckily, the spasm fit diffused soon enough. Rude remained crouched down by the boy, trying his utmost to soothe his distress. He himself was awkward, but effective enough to calm Rufus to a reasonable level again.

When the storm had abated, Vincent called, "...Mr. Reno?"

Reno looked towards him, then stood up.

"The boy is on a machine named a 'brain scanner'. What is that?"

He guessed this mysterious machine bore no good; Reno's quizzical face darkened to a pensive frown. His whole demeanour turned quite serious as he folded his arms across his chest.

"Alright," he sighed, "Y'know, being a Turk means you gotta interrogate people sometimes. Once in a while, you get this really resistant bastard who won't talk, no matter *what*."

Though silent, Vincent nodded his head in perfect understanding.

"This 'brain scanner' is super-new technology invented by the Science Department back in ShinRa Inc.. It's this special machine that scans through a person's mind for information."

"It sends powerful neuro-electrical impulses...programmed to locate any specific information. They implant a tiny device in the person's brain. This acts as the impulse-centre."

"And then you hook up the electrodes?" Vincent asked, his eyes alit by keen interest.

"Yup. Basically, it digs into the brain. The info gets sent through the electrodes to be displayed on the machine's screen."

Reno's expression turned sour as he muttered aside, "...kinda scary, if ya ask me. The company controlled everything. They could even scour your own brain if they wanted."

Vincent had to marvel at such "scary" advancements. Technology had certainly gone a long way since he last worked for ShinRa Inc..

"But the impulse-centre itself causes a problem," added Reno. "The victim gets killer headaches and radical mood swings. Some can get pretty violent. The higher the scan level, the more intense and frequent the attacks."

Vincent made the grim connection. "Then that would explain his spasm fits. It's the result of the scanner."


For one silent moment, each man was left to ponder this discovery. Vincent studied the boy, who still sat miserably slouched on the floor. He struck such a sad appearance.

"But why would Professor Hojo do that?" wondered Rude outloud, "...for 'information'?"

A very good question.

"Perhaps...the boy knows something Professor Hojo needs," Vincent hypothesized after some deep deliberation.

"Like what? Rufus isn't a scientist!" snapped Reno, not at Vincent, but at this frustration. "Oh sure, he's got more smarts than his old man. And y'know, he *did* understand a lot about Mako Engineering and Reactor technology, but not heavy science stuff."

It sounded reasonable. As an important ShinRa executive and future president, Rufus would understand such relevant subjects. But that did not answer the question: what possible significance bore this boy to "Genesis Retrial"?

And why had he mentioned the word "materia"?

Their baffled scrutiny fell back to this riddle. In return, Rufus sat silently on the ground, tired and twice as wretched. He had heard their discussion until his eyes sunk in bitter shame; even he himself knew no explanation.

"This is waaay over my head," Reno vexedly scoffed the tension aside. "Get up, Rude. let's leave before things get any crazier."

However, Rude hesitated to rise. "What about...Rufus?"

Reno paused. His thoughtful eyes, of a keen sea-green colour, lingered over the boy for a rather tense moment. Rufus stared back at a loss.

"Aw, heck with it! The kid comes with us," came the decision loud and clear. "We'll figure out what to do later."

"Ah??" started Rufus confusedly, "B-but..I..I don't.."

"What, you rather stay here and get screwed up in some experiment?"

"No...it's just..."

"Listen," Reno cut short any further protests. His tone, however, contained a strange apologetic gentleness. "I know you don't remember us. It's been one shock after another for you. I know I've been a....jerk," he had trouble forcing the word out, "..dragging you around then slapping you. But you gotta trust us on this one, kid. We did not come here to hurt you. We just wanna get you outta here. Alright?"

The language had been plain, but the sentiments quite sincere. Rufus reflected upon his own thoughts: Vincent had assured him the same thing about these two men; Reno had been clearly worried when he was kidnapped; and Rude still sat crouched by his side in concern.

Finally, Rufus gathered himself back to his own feet again (with Rude's help, of course), then nodded his head in consent. He'd grant these two men some trust.

"Okay," smiled Reno at this sucsess, "now that we're all cool on that, let's see how- HEY! Vinnie!!"

The alarmed cry came just as Reno suddenly noticed the man march away from the scene, morose as ever aloof.

"Take the boy and leave quickly," Vincent warned tonelessly, "I suspect Davoren is on the hunt for us."

"But...where the hell are YOU going?! That ain't the.."

"I am not leaving yet."

The stern curtness of his answer took both ex-Turks by surprise. They could not believe their ears.

Rufus had been returned. That task now done, Vincent resumed his main objective: retrieving Aeris. He ventured onwards, undaunted by the darkness of whatever may lurk within its bleak territory.

"Y-you're going back THERE?!! You're nuts!!" cried Reno after him.

Even so, he continued his path.

Reno's anger sparked at such stubboness. "Man, give it up! Whoever's paying ya to get that girl, it ain't worth it!! She's not even *real*!!"

The word "real" struck a violent chord in Vincent's heart. This time, he stopped dead, but did not turn around. His tall figure from behind was rigid in place, cool with deadly poise.

Was that it? Reno thought he had been hired, like some low-life mercenary, to retrieve this girl? 

"Look, I understand what you're trying to do here," Reno reasoned out, "but you gotta look at reality. That girl ain't real. She's a copy of another person. There is a psycho back there with the words 'mad scientist' tattooed on his forehead. If he sees you, he will rip ya to shreds! No money is worth that! Just get out while the getting's good."

"If Rufus ShinRa had been a clone, would you have left him here?" retorted Vincent's dry voice. He flashed a hard glare behind at Reno, the crimson ablaze with scorn. His face was cold.

Reno found himself effectively silenced by the blunt question. He fidgetted, perhaps a bit ashamed of himself. Nevertheless, Vincent saw his answer: Even if this boy had been a clone, Reno would have still taken him in. Only NOW did he truely understand Vincent's point.

Yet the thought lingered around Vincent's mind: there was a cruel truth to Reno's words. This was not "Aeris", but a copy misbegotten from some machine. Why should he risk his life to retrieve her, when it would be easier to just walk away?

A copy...a clone...what a disgusting word, as if all her humanity had been stripped away. She had no name, only some specimen code; no past, only a detailed scientific report of her creation. Why throw away his life for a clone? It wasn't Aeris.

No. It wasn't Aeris. It wasn't Aeris who had tenderly nursed him while he raved between delirium and nightmares. Nor was it Aeris who, simple as she was, strove her best to uplift him whenever dejected. No. Not the one whose face he had touched in the rain. Not the girl he had embraced in his warm bed that cold, black night; or whose prophetic air still fascinated him as they sat at those snow fields...when she refused to believe he was a monster.

All those vivid memories floated by: Aeris had no part in them. It was her clone.

So what now? Walk away? Shrug it off, discard her tearful face and frightened sobs... just dump it all in the past and *abandon* her?

Damned if he'd commit the same horrid sin twice! He had sworn he'd never let anyone harm her, not while he still breathed and blood flowed through his veins.

Nor did he care about her past. He'd still risk his life against all odds to get her back.

He had wasted enough precious time already. Between returning the boy and dabbling in discussions, Vincent feared the worst for poor Aeris. She couldn't run forever from Professor Hojo, much less defend herself. In any case, he must hurry. Therefore, without even a farewell, Vincent left the group behind, and resumed his path.

"Tsk! More stubborn than a mule, even in your old age, eh Vincent?" suddenly mocked a playful voice from no where.

Vincent stopped short, feeling hot hatred stiffen every muscle. All at once, he sensed that familiar aura reek its evil from high above, those eyes so maliciously pink. He swung around, and shot his sight far up to the source.

Both ex-Turks similarly cast their apprehensive eyes high up, dreading what they would find there. Rufus, the most anxious of all, darted his tense eyes far up into the darkness above. His face expressed such peturbation.

"..it's that Davoren guy...," muttered Rude fearfully.

"..crap. He's already found us," cursed Reno beneth his breath.

Events had just taken a most serious turn. Indeed, the ruthless gunman stood tall, poised like a demon above a beam-joist far above against a black background. All his focus rested on Vincent alone, whereby his lips contorted into a vicious smile.

He had found them at last.

-End of Chp.60