Cradle Will Fall

By: Denise Paolucci

     There was silence, and then the silence ended.

     In the ruins of the control room, something moved. It could not be called a person, not anymore. It had once been a person; that much was clear by the misshapen and burned face, the torn clothing that still lingered around it, the oddly-shaped limbs that hung at bizarre angles to the main parts of the body. A short time before, it had transcended the limits of the human form and changed itself into something that bore only a passing familiarity with human shape.

     Now, it struggled to remember that shape. A ruined voice, edged with razors and shards of glass, croaked out a few broken syllables that could have been a name, could have just been a leftover remnant of memory from its former life as a human. Slowly, torturously, the flesh melted and reshaped, driven by a will that had been honed over years and a power that had been stolen from something that humans were not meant to understand.

     And when the process was over, Professor Hojo stood amidst the wreck of technology, a horrible parody of a smile on a face that was still not formed completely properly.

     It had all been so /easy/, he exulted, ignoring the alien voice in his mind that tempted him to go out and /destroy/, to conquer, to force the world to submit to his will. In the end, wasn't that all that mattered? His son had needed him, and he was now here to help. The humans who had thought they'd destroyed him had gone away, leaving only him left. Only him to help his son.

     His son. That was still a concept that had to capacity to astonish him, as it had been back then, as it would most likely forever be. Even when he had looked down upon Lucrecia's gravid body /*You loved her once*/ he had not been able to quite believe that ... where was that thought coming from? He had not thought of Lucrecia /*You killed her, murderer*/ in years... She had proven herself weak, in the end. Not like Sephiroth. Not like his son.

     How long had it been? His son was a man now, so it had been years ... the buzz in his mind grew louder, almost, as he looked back over memories that still refused to clearly settle back into the body that they had once worn. He remembered ... oh, did he remember. He remembered /*seeing the last few dying breaths of the woman who had once meant more to him than even Science*/ how excited they'd been when they first realized that they knew enough to try and move to the next step of the Jenova Project ... he remembered /*watching her fade and wither as the child grew larger, until even Gast had noticed and remarked upon it*/ the endless hours of patient lab work, struggling to put together just a few more answers ... remembered /*hearing her screaming in mortal agony as the child fought to be free of her womb, while the Jenova cells burned in her bloodstream*/ the slight bundle of already-silvered hair and sober green eyes that had been the test subject as he grew. Remembered ...

     Something just out of the reach of his vision caught his eye. As he turned to see what it was, it faded, as if it had never been, but Shiva be damned, he had seen it ... for a moment, it had looked almost like Lucrecia, her somewhat stern face softened by a maternal smile, cradling a child in her arms and looking down at him. But that was impossible. Lucrecia was dead /*dead at your hands*/... wasn't she?

     It was stress. He was hallucinating. That was the only explanation, the only thing that could make sense. The voice in the back of his mind, the voice of madness, buzzed instructions; he ignored it. (Absently, he realized that he had lost the grip on his mental conception of himself and begun to slip back into the Jenova-spawned monster. He frowned a little and firmed the lines of his flesh, unused to the mental discipline necessary to keep his shape.) What had he been doing? Ah, yes. Sephiroth. His son. Sephiroth needed him.

     /Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop .../

     What was that noise? Almost like a woman's voice ... almost like Lucrecia's voice, heard through the echo of years. It couldn't have been a memory, though. Lucrecia had died before she had ever held Sephiroth, died from /*the poison you injected into her veins, day by day, in the name of the science you once swore would never consume you*/ the strain of bearing a child that would carry the blood of the Ancients. The last words he had heard her speak were a plea to be able to hold her son, but he had not wanted to risk the health of the child by allowing him exposure to /*the woman you knew could have saved you both*/ an unsterile environment. He had taken the child into the other room, where an incubator was awaiting, and by the time he had returned, Lucrecia had been /*taken out of your reach before you could harm her any further*/ gone, presumably rushed away for medical care by the Turk who had never understood that her husband was her first love, him and Science...

     The voices were beginning to drive him mad. He did not know where these thoughts were coming from ... could not hear them as anything more than a dull whine, mixing with the Greek chorus of hissings in the back of his head from some unknown source /*Jenova, you idiot, you've finally placed yourself in her power*/ to result in a soft, throbbing ache. He lifted a hand to his forehead to rub it, paused, frowned as the hand didn't look quite as it should have. He seemed to remember something about Jenova, something about giving himself the power to change his shape ... but no, he couldn't have done that, that was years beyond what they were currently working on, wasn't it? Wasn't it? When -was- he? He turned, suddenly, expecting to see Lucrecia behind him, expecting to hear her dry laugh as she saw his confusion. And he saw her. But something was wrong, something was far too wrong, for she was holding a child, looking more content than she ever had before, and smiling down at the new life in her arms, and rocking back and forth ever so slightly and ... and she was dead, that was what was wrong, she was dead in childbirth and Sephiroth was a grown man now and needed his father, needed his father for the first time in his life ...

     /When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.../

     He paused with his hand on the controls for the Sister Ray. He had never heard Lucrecia sing, had he? Or had he just forgotten, in this nightmarish blend of memory and dream, something that had happened? No, she had always been so dry and serious, a sense of humor like a razorblade, her jests dripping with sarcasm and /*serving as a shield to hide her true emotions from you*/ never failing to make him smile ... but she had been the perfect mate for him, as fascinated as he with the constant discovery, the constant /*return to the world of something that should have been long buried*/ leaps and bounds of progress into the measurement and quantification of something that had been shrouded for so long in mystique and legend. She had /*watched with dismay as from that first touch, you began to grow more distant from her, began to worship that -thing- as if it were the source of all your answers while forgetting that she even existed*/ stood by his side as he had painstakingly worked his way through the difficulties of ... the difficulties of ...

     It was getting so hard to remember. He ran a shaking hand through his hair in an old familiar gesture, not noticing the strands that tangled in his fingers and fell away from his scalp. Remember ... remember what he was doing, remember who he was. /*Jenova's puppet, lost to the human race the moment you first laid eyes on her*/ Hojo. He was Hojo. And he was here to help his son, his son who was growing in his wife's womb, his son who had just been born, his son who was the strangely serious child forever wracked by nightmares in which a dark voice called to him, his son who had killed the woman he'd loved, his son whom he himself had engineered into being the monster he was, his son who had nearly destroyed a world, his son who was crying in the back of the lab, his son who was in Lucrecia's arms being rocked to sleep, his son who stood behind him laughing with a cruel, twisted parody of amusement, his son who was the only thing he had left, the only reason he struggled to remember what a human body felt like....

     /When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall.../

     Yes, the cradle would fall, the cradle of Lucrecia's arms would fall and she would die, screaming, and Sephiroth would grow up with a father who was obsessed with nothing more than the next discovery, and he would stand there and look at the syringe full of Jenova's poison and inject it into his own veins, and he would hear the phantom child's high, thin voice melding with Lucrecia's inaudible singing and the Godsawful thoughts of everywhere he'd ever failed and the sibilant hiss of Jenova's dictates ... and he would see Lucrecia smiling, smiling at him with that patient, lovely smile of hers, waiting for him to finish the last run of tests for the evening (my son needs me, I have to go to him) and he would drop, shaking, to the ground with the sudden, stark terror of knowing that he was finally, irrevocably mad, and his eyes would fall on the impossibility of Lucrecia's body behind him

     /And down will come baby.../

     and with a chilling clarity, he would pick up the two shards of metal that rested next to him on the ruined floor and drive them into his eyes to cut away the vision of a dead woman, a woman he had murdered, a woman who had been the last pure and good thing in his life... and finally, finally, the ghost of what could have been would sing the keening child to sleep and set him in the cradle next to her to rest, leaving his son to sleep the sleep of the innocent and dream the dreams of the untouched....

     After a while, there was silence again. But this time, the silence held the echo of a child's lullaby. 

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