Summary: It's just a routine checkup, right?************************************
dedicated with love to the food-service industry
The mako dose had been upped about a month back. Zack figured it had been upped for the entirety of First Class, judging by the ass-dragging and occasional retching in formation that had gone on for the first week, and the way Donal and Gibbs especially looked like a couple of flashlights at night. He’d tested high on mako tolerance when he joined up anyway, and hardly noticed the change. A few headaches, a skipped lunch. No problem.************************************
They’d changed the food too. Maybe it was just a new food-service contractor or something, maybe the upper management had had the old one shot after the holiday party at HQ that made it onto the news feeds. Zack wouldn’t have much cared, SOLDIER food was soldier food, except for two things: the curry sucked, and the new guys never used mangos in anything and he kind of missed them. It wasn’t anything to lose sleep over. Hell, last night they’d done a chili that tasted better than the old one. Sometimes change was good.
He drew the line, however, at having another goddamn physical. Better night vision and a decent bowl of chili couldn’t even start to make up for an exam every two weeks.
Even with the new mako dose, he wasn’t due to see the inside of the lab again for another three months. Twice yearly, that’s how it was, unless you got something busted for you so badly a hi-po couldn’t fix it. And that never happened because they were First Class, damn it. There was absolutely no reason, no reason at all, for him to be deprived of free time and clothing and parked here in the most boring exam room ever built. The white paper sheet on the table crinkled under his bare ass as he swung his feet and stared at the clock. He’d been here thirty minutes without so much as a word through the door; at forty-five minutes, he was damn well going to demonstrate to the surveillance cameras that a man with no clothes could keep himself amused just fine, thanks.
At forty-three minutes and nine seconds, the door swung open.
The doctor who walked in wasn’t a tech; Zack had seen this guy around, issuing orders to full-on surgeons which made him a supervisor at least. He was altogether unpleasant, from the unnaturally dewy little eyes behind his glasses to the lank and skinny ponytail to the bony hands that Zack knew would be cold. And he had a smile on. It was a nasty one, slick and greasy and pleased. Mostly it seemed to be pointed at Zack’s nether regions.
Zack wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of covering up a damn thing. He swung his feet again, and smiled right back. “Hey,” he said nonchalantly. “It’s kinda cold in here, you know?”
“Fair, was it? Zachary?” asked the doctor without preamble. He looked at the clipboard in his hands, not at Zack, and made an officious little tick-mark when Zack nodded.
“So…Zachary. How are you feeling?” The doctor leered over the rims of his glasses, pen poised over the clipboard.
“Naked.” Zack shrugged. “Same as last time.”
“No reaction symptoms to the mako? No changes?”
“No changes. So we’re done, right?”
“Aheh-heh. Perhaps not just yet.”
The doctor pulled an unnervingly large spherical capsule thing from one pocket and held it up for Zack to look at. It was easily the size of a human eye. Bigger than that, even, closer to the kind of jawbreaker that would take him three days to eat as a kid. That really unpleasant smile oozed a little further across the doctor’s face as he leaned forward and blinked those wet eyes slowly, like a frog. “Open up,” he said.
Zack opened his mouth obediently, and was greatly relieved to find that yes, his mouth had been what the doctor meant. Of all the things he could theoretically be required to open as part of a physical exam he supposed his mouth was the least troublesome. The doctor pushed the capsule into his mouth with one finger, oddly dainty. He chewed at it—it tasted of fake sugar and cheap artificial strawberry flavor and had the texture of hard rubber. Ugh. It cracked easily enough to slop out the glutinous junk in the middle, which tasted even worse. At this closer range he could read the tiny name tag pinned to the breast pocket of the doctor’s lab coat.
Hojo, it said.
Shit. The director? He’d never met the guy, and honestly he’d hoped he never would. People said things about Professor Hojo. Things that were really unsettling, especially to a naked guy, even if he was First Class. Things about waking up with one kidney and finding a bonus for it on your next paycheck. Things that involved stool samples and the really fine print on your contract.
People said things about hybridization.
“W’z n ths?” he asked, around the wad in his mouth.
“Compounds,” Hojo explained, if that counted as an explanation. He leaned in so closely to examine Zack’s pupils that Zack could count the tiny short hairs growing out of the man’s lower eyelid. “Very important compounds. Nutrients.”
“Also a mild sedative.”
“Hng?” Figured. Mild, his ass; First Class didn’t get mild anything.
“I find that many people seem to need that sort of thing for these sorts of procedures,” said Hojo, turning away and crossing the room to open a cabinet over the sink. “Are you feeling the effects yet?”
“Hell no I’m not.”
“A-heh heh,” Hojo chuckled again, pulling a handful of cotton swabs and a small apparatus from the cupboard. The device had two flat paddles, some sort of clamp thing, and scissor-type handles. It looked unnervingly dental.
“I assure you,” he said, drifting closer, “that you really ought to be feeling something.”
Zack scuffed backward on the table. It was physically impossible not to do so as Professor Hojo advanced on him—something about the man bypassed his conscious mind entirely and told his backbrain that he needed to stay out of arm’s reach.
Unfortunately, there really was only so far he could go without actually leaving the room. The table was narrow, and his back bumped up against the wall, and Hojo made a terrible face that might have been a smirk or a leer as he came ever closer and finally stood very, very close indeed. Zack’s naked knees, hooked over the edge of the table, rubbed against the hard ridges of Hojo’s hipbones through lab coat and trousers as the professor leaned even further forward.
He raised the apparatus, and flapped the metal paddles. Zack blinked at it, and at the blankly glinting surfaces of Hojo’s glasses barely inches from his nose. The professor’s scent was powerfully acrid at this range. Acrid and synthetic.
“Open up,” Hojo said. Again.
Zack opened his mouth. Again.
It was probably the sedative, but Zack had a very difficult time focusing on precisely what Hojo was doing after the cold metal of the paddles slipped into his mouth, and when they spread apart to keep his mouth open and his cheeks stretched and the doctor began to rummage around the back of his throat with swabs. He found his attention drifting upward to the ceiling.
It occurred to him, briefly, to wonder why he’d had to be naked for this procedure, and why Hojo needed to employ unnerving metal tools that pinched to get a throat-cell culture.
Eh, there was probably a reason.
“Done,” said Hojo finally, dipping a swab into a vial of fluid from his pocket. The apparatus was still clamping Zack’s mouth; he made a sound of protest.
“Hn,” the professor murmured, frowning. He raised the vial to eye level and shook it; small red globules formed in the clear liquid and began to settle to the bottom. He smiled.
“Gnng,” Zack repeated.
Without looking at him, Hojo reached up and disengaged the clamp on the apparatus, tugging it out of Zack’s mouth so quickly his lips slapped against his teeth. He tossed it carelessly across the room into the sink.
Zack rubbed a hand across his mouth. It was hard to concentrate, still, and his eyes skated over Professor Hojo and the blank white walls several times before they settled on the vial that still held the professor’s rapt attention.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“I should say so,” Hojo answered, still smiling. “Yes, I imagine they’re almost ready.”
“What’s almost ready?”
The professor crossed the room to dispose of the extra swabs and strip off his gloves into the waste bin. He said nothing, humming a bit of some cheery little tune as he set the vial into a holding bracket on the sink counter next to a row of many others just like it.
“What the hell’s ready?” Zack heard the edge of the table crackle in his grasp.
The professor turned to face him, broad narrow mouth tugged into an expression that was probably meant to be a benevolent sort of smile.
“Embryos,” he explained.
“Gastro-gestational embryos,” Hojo added, as though that were the crucial detail that made it all make sense.
“Curry sauce,” Hojo concluded. “In the commissary. A little project of mine. I would estimate that you’re incubating perhaps twenty, based on your cell culture.”
Zack thumped back against the wall, his head spinning with sedative and shock. He stared at the ceiling for what could have been seconds or minutes, feeling his guts clench uneasily.
“I determined that First Class would make ideal hosts,” said the professor, plucking off his glasses to polish them. “Prime physical specimens, easily monitored, and pre-dosed with the appropriate quantities of mako—of course, dosage did require some small amount of recalibration, but overall…ideal. I consider myself very fortunate.”
Zack pulled in a deep breath. “How many?”
“Oh? All of you, of course.”
“You knocked up the entire First Class?”
He saw the professor make a sour face. “Precision of language please, Zachary. I impregnated the entire First Class.”
Zack flattened both hands against his stomach, and tried to convince himself that the twitching and nausea churning his intestines were just psychosomatic. He felt fine. Yes, he felt perfectly fine. There was no way he’d be expected to actually give birth—if nothing else, Shin-Ra couldn’t have the entire First Class out of commission, could it?
“What, uh. What happens now?”
“Well, as I said, they’re nearly ready to be harvested and implanted properly—“
“Implanted into what?”
Hojo chuckled. “Goodness, Zachary. Aren’t you glad of that sedative, now?”
He glared. The professor chuckled again, and propped his glasses back onto his nose.
“Not you, of course. A human host is only needed for the very earliest stages of development. They’ll be harvested and implanted into a...nurturing substrate. Tomorrow should do. Early, I think.”
“I hate you,” Zack explained carefully, struggling to keep his voice level, “so much.”
Hojo ignored that entirely, tugging the door open. He waved a hand toward the chair next to the door that held Zack’s uniform. “Feel free to get dressed,” he said, his tone dismissive as he slipped into the hall outside. “I’ll make the arrangements with your commander for you to be excused from morning drills.”
The door closed behind him.
“Huh,” Zack sighed. Well, he'd signed the contract.