Gast exhaled a weary sigh as aging fingers massaged the bridge of his nose, such an unusual sight devoid of the spectacles that usually rested upon it. Taking his time and weighing the situation with full advantage of the patience that was due to him and his station, he diligently wiped the lenses of said spectacles with a handkerchief before placing them back on his face, and folded the handkerchief neatly before likewise returning it to the small pocket on the inside of his lab coat breast.
"No," he said firmly.
Hojo blinked dumbly at the man. "What?"
"No," Gast repeated, quite clearly and quite seriously, returning Hojo's dumbfound stare with equal solemnity. "We will not start turning human beings into lab mice. It's beyond our right."
"Our right!" Hojo spat. "Our right to whom? Our obligation is to science, which in itself serves mankind. Does it evade you how many lives this could affect?"
"Oh I know perfectly well how this could affect lives," Gast replied coolly in the face of the younger man's fury. "Our obligation as scientists is to effect progress without crossing the boundary of morality. Otherwise, we lose far more in the end than we gain. What you propose...goes too far."
Hojo was at a loss for words. How could Gast fail to see how important this was? Morality... There was nothing immoral about this. The experiment Hojo had just proposed to his boss had the opportunity of reviving the Cetra, of endowing humans with greater powers, and, at the very least, curing diseases. Was it not Gast who made the discovery of Jenova in the first place? Was it not Gast who specifically handpicked Hojo for this assignment, and, for that matter, was it not Gast who started this project in the first place with the goal of exploiting the creature he had found to its fullest potential? How could the Head of the Science Department, the one individual in all of Shin-Ra with more scientific responsibility than himself, have such little regard for science itself?
Unable to ventilate this disgust in any other way, Hojo choked on an exasperated sigh.
Lucrecia darted glances between the two men, as though wary of the tenuous breech in conversation. "If I may, professor..."
But Hojo could not presently find the words to express these things and instead glared silently at his superior.
Left with such an opportunity, Lucrecia continued. "Hojo's idea might not be that cataclysmic. We're talking about an opportunity to revive the Cetra—a benevolently powerful species. The...contribution of one child may be worth that."
Hojo arched an eyebrow. Were those his very thoughts he heard? Finally, some sense in this room, he thought wryly to himself. And from her.
Gast, too, was surprised to hear what he did, and his innocent blink at Lucrecia said as much, but for entirely different reasons. "You, too, Lucrecia? Even as a woman, you would agree with this madness?"
Hojo thought he detected the slightest flare of anger in Lucrecia's eyes, but she did a rather commendable job of concealing her fury.
Certainly better than he had.
"Professor Gast, I am as much a scientist as you or Hojo."
A flicker of embarrassment crossed Gast's face and his folly eased his defensive stance where reason had not, though not without a smile at his own expense. "Right—yes—I apologize, Dr. Crescent. I'm afraid this old man is a bit too old fashioned for his own good sometimes."
Hojo folded his arms across his chest and snorted derisively. Gast mercifully pretended not to notice.
"But to play God..." A heavy sigh emerged from the aging professor and it carried with it the reluctant loss of all hope that lay before them. "I'm afraid...that sometimes, even great species are destined to die." He thought on this for another moment, then waved his hand and attempted to disperse the heavier matter with a more practical setback. "Besides, who would volunteer for such a thing?"
Gast shook his head and gathered his belongings from the table. "I'll be in my office trying to find another solution to this. If either of you want to suggest something slightly more thinkable, I'll welcome it."
And with that, Gast departed the room and closed the door behind him, leaving the defeated party to their ruined battlefield.
Hojo began pacing furiously. How could the man give it no further thought than that? That was it? Shot down—so unceremoniously, so...absolutely? This could not be accepted. Hojo knew he had a brilliant idea, and the fact that Gast did not only proved that Gast was, indeed, an idiot. Oh, he had suspected as much, despite all the praise of 'Gast this' and 'Gast that' floating around Shin-Ra, but lay men would not have recognized true genius if it had bitten them in their collective ass. That much was clear. No, he had been seeing the truth now, these past few months that they had been paired together, and this morning's meeting had only made it as crystal clear as the sunlight that did not reach the dismal basement laboratory. Their project leader was making a grave mistake—one that, if left unrectified, threatened to hold them back years from where they could be in the eye of scientific progress, all due to the baseless and inhibiting fear of two little words:
"The man sees no sense," he finally concluded aloud.
Though she hadn't left, Lucrecia had kept her peace from Gast's departure until now. Her lips were pursed and her eyes fixed elsewhere, her thoughts clearly locked in a silent debate that claimed her voice until, finally, something won out inside her head and allowed it to ring through the tense air. "It's not...unprecedented." Chocolate eyes flickered cautiously up to his. "What you're suggesting."
Hojo immediately stopped pacing and stared at her, suddenly very interested in the input of his companion. What was this woman hiding? "Well all we need is a precedent and even Gast would be powerless to deny this! What do you know?"
There was still some reluctance in her demeanor and Lucrecia occupied her eyes' focus with a pen in her hand as she took her sweet damned time pulling out of herself whatever it was she was playing at. "My...former mentor conducted a similar experiment using Chaos energy, but that was something that was...much less stable, and I'm afraid the results were less than desirable."
"Your former—" Hojo smirked, his memory serving him before the question had fully escaped him, and the realization was so deliciously amusing that he could not help but to toy with it. "Ah yes... What was his name again?"
Lucrecia shot him an inscrutable glance. "...Dr. Valentine."
"Mm hmm." Hojo bobbed his head slowly as though this were truly something that had not occurred to him, and then suddenly furrowed his brow as if something else had just occurred to him. "Odd coincidence, that..."
Lucrecia fixed him with an icy stare for a few more moments, and then looked away.
"Well, Gast was right about one thing: We lack volunteers." Ebon eyes flickered over her, but Lucrecia once again focused her own upon her pen.
"Dr. Valentine likely had cooperation from inside the team," Lucrecia continued. "It was very hush-hush."
Hojo suddenly pressed both of his palms on the tabletop directly in front of her with an audible thud. The stylus slipped from her fingers and clattered onto the tabletop and then the floor as her attention was briskly wrested away from it and onto the man standing before her with a few startled blinks. Good. He wanted her focus fully on him, fully on the gravity of the situation, and he only drew power from her fluster. He fixed his gaze evenly to hers, commanding that she look up at him from her seated position. Damned if he was going to play coy with this.
"What is your level of commitment to this project?"
Breathless, her eyebrows shot into her wispy bangs. "Excuse me?"
Drawing away neither his hands nor his gaze, Hojo explained himself further. "Gast allows a misplaced sense of morality to cloud his judgment. He allows the ugly words to frighten him rather than take in what it all truly means and weigh the situation with an open mind. He sees only apocalypse and disaster in this while blinding himself to the outstanding benefits! But not you...
"You see deeper than that, don't you? You and I are from a generation, doctor, that does not think in absolutes; one that has seen with our very eyes what can be achieved when the human mind is not limited by archaic notions of what is allowed and what must be forbidden. You know that I will breathe life back into this Ancient!" His last words were nearly a hiss as his excitement grew but he tried to contain his volume, positively looming over the befuddled female in his fervor.
Dark eyes glittered at her from behind his glasses, searching for comprehension that he did not yet find in the blank, doe-eyed stare before him. "So I ask you, doctor... How much of a personal investment are you willing to..." His gaze flickered over her seated body for barely a moment before returning to her face. "...volunteer?"
Were it possible for her eyebrows to reach a point any higher than the one at which they sat already, they proceeded to do so. "You cannot possibly be suggesting what I think you're suggesting."
Hojo's patience thinned. "I am suggesting that you might actually be able to think with your mind rather than your emotions." With a disgusted snort, he pulled his hands away from the table and turned away from Lucrecia, leaving her only to stare at his profile in utter disbelief. "But clearly you are more woman than scientist."
"This has nothing to do with that!" she disputed. Now Lucrecia was standing, too, all that lovely rage flushing back into her cheeks. "You are asking me to become this project. That wouldn't even make me a scientist, it would make me a lab rat!"
"You said yourself that Valentine found cooperation from volunteers within his own team," he countered.
"You weren't part of that team, were you?"
"W-well, no..." Lucrecia faltered with a touch of shame. "I was too...inexperienced at the time."
"And lacked the devotion of his other assistants, apparently." He risked a glance at her out of the very corner of his eye. "Perhaps he knew that."
Whatever other emotion may have crossed her features for however brief a time, they gave way once more to an anger that was tenfold anything she had shown before, seething now through her teeth and clenched fists as she pointed a finger dangerously at her coworker. "Don't you DARE question my devotion to science or to Dr. Valentine! I just..." All of that gushing anger struggled vainly to persist, but found itself unable to endure under her inability to fight for its justice and she only closed her eyes in defeat of her own emotions and succumbed to a weary sigh. "I'm in...an awkward position right now. I couldn't...do that to Vincent."
"Vincent!" Hojo choked in disbelief, surprised to even hear the name coming from his own lips. To be honest, he had fully expected resistance from her, and in that regard she did not disappoint. To get knocked up and then have the cells of strange organisms injected into one's body were not the ambitions of most people. He was certainly prepared to have to manipulate her around her reservations, but to have his obstacle be something so...petty... "Your boyfriend? That's what's going to stand in the way of the greatest discovery science could have ever made?"
"He's not my boyfriend," she corrected quickly and quietly with the slightest tint of pink in her cheeks.
It would have been easy for him to continue with jeer and mockery, but Hojo pursed his lips as he surveyed her in all her blushing and bashfulness. Love. The word ridiculed him in his very mind, roiling over his cerebellum with all the smugness of a victor. It would have been impossible to miss all the flirting and googly-eyed glances that took place around the manor, but Hojo had honestly thought she had just been toying with the poor bastard, the way she may as well have been toying with any man in that skirt. He hadn't thought the bumbling sap had it in him to actually snag a woman like Lucrecia.
But Hojo was not about to give up. Love may have been a different beast than the one he thought he was up against, and one he was wise enough to recognize he did not come prepared to fight, but there was more than one way to skin a guard hound. Clearly a different route needed to be taken here.
"Fine," he falsely conceded. "I'm sure we can find another way around this." Hojo snatched his papers up off the table and started for the door. "You find me whatever you can on what exactly it was that your mentor did. I'm sure you shouldn't have any trouble digging up those files."
With his back to her, she couldn't see the devious smirk that he allowed himself in appreciation of his own cleverness. "I'll see what I can do about getting us some volunteers."
And so he retreated for regrouping, allowing Lucrecia the battle while at the very same time setting himself up to claim the war.