Author: Guede Mazaka
Kadaj remembers white. He understands from Paul’s files that white is a uniformly insane color, that it is complex and provokes many different reactions in people but that all of those are usually negative. This confused him at first, since white also is heavily used in science and medicine, and as he understood it, those two professions prefer to rely on a façade of humanism than on force to restrain their subjects. But then Paul explained the difference between cleanliness and sterility—the first one’s next to godliness, the second one’s next to psychosis—and Kadaj straightened it out in his head.
He asked then why he’d never had a problem with white, and then Paul had laughed, with the crow’s feet around his eyes that never showed when he was being mocking, and had said that self-hatred hadn’t made it onto the list of desirable model soldier characteristics. Back then Kadaj had gotten quiet and in his head, planned all the ways to surprise his so-called doctor and kill him. But that had been before he’d known the difference between a doctor and a psychiatrist.
“White is a construct, and not a particularly scientific one at that. It’s a typically human error of over-generalizing,” says the man standing in the center of the room. He speaks in a slow, deliberate tone with a condescending modulation. It is not the same way Hojo used to speak to Kadaj, for this man clearly never has had need to overcompensate for lack of self-esteem, but the likeness is there. “I do not fit even the narrowest definition of the descriptor. My skin might be pale, but it contains melanin nonetheless.”
“I’m paler,” Kadaj gleefully retorts. He flips over the couch so his feet hang down the arm and waves his hands in the air.
The man’s lip ticks in the way that other people’s cheek muscles would. Then he fritzes out, and when he comes back into focus, he looks puzzled.
“Goddamn it. Next time Reno decides to pre-emptively whack some would-be assassin, he’d better keep his stick away from the goddamn power lines or I’ll…there.” Paul’s behind the VR interface, hands full of wires and small steel instruments as delicate as a surgeon’s kit. “And hey, Smith—he wasn’t referring to your skin color or nationality. He’s referring to your personality.”
Kadaj twists over again so he lies on his belly. His hair falls in his face and he lets it hang for a moment before brushing it out of the way. “Why doesn’t he ever remember that he’s not solid?”
“Because I’m trying to model a megalomaniac personality, and if Smith did carry over that knowledge, he clearly couldn’t think he’s better than everyone else,” Paul mutters. He pauses to adjust the biochem handheld lying beside him, then scratches around the wire jacked into his temple.
That, Kadaj rather dislikes. He knows what a functioning addict is, and moreover, he’s sneaked analyses of Paul’s brain biochemical wiring through the computers and he knows what he likes about Paul is part of the addiction. But he still likes better the times when Paul isn’t actively relying on psychotics or other adjustors.
“I…don’t see how physicality makes a difference.” Smith is frowning, brow furrowing, and his sunglasses have slipped down his nose so the creep of red into the whites of his eyes can be seen. His fingers are slowly curling.
“Why does he always say that?” Kadaj asks.
Paul sighs and sits back, his arms dangling over his knees. He eyes the smooth stainless steel housing of the interface and changes the angle of the tool in his hand so it lies in a perfect upward-stab grip. “Because he thinks we’re all existing within a computer-generated reality along with him. His basic programming’s actually from a database Shinra confiscated from a really, really bizarre hacker cell about two years back. I’m still trying to figure out whether it was just a really elaborate role-playing game, or a test-run simulation of their plans for world domination.”
“This iteration isn’t recognizable. This is not—” This time Smith not only fritzes, but also fades a little so the falsity of his three dimensions is obvious. When he comes back, he is snarling and pulling at himself. His ribs should be showing, perfect white amid the gore of his torn chest and abdomen, but instead all Kadaj sees within him are so many white sparks where the light particles are moving too quickly to separate into different colors. “You cannot destroy me. It’s been tried before and all you managed to accomplish then, Mr. Anderson—”
“Fuck it.” Paul flops onto his back. At the same time, he raises his leg and kicks the interface so Smith completely disappears. “Jesus, he gets annoying.”
Kadaj slides off the couch and crosses the floor without ever lifting his head higher than the level of the coffee table. It’s what the doctors used to refer as a feline-model stealth infiltration, and what Paul just calls the catwalk. “So why do you use him? He’s nothing like the real psychopaths around here.”
Sometimes Paul glances a second time at Kadaj and his eyes are narrowed, but it’s not like the others where they’re suddenly frightened of how good they made their enhanced intelligence test-model. It’s like Paul is amused and angry for and sorry for Kadaj all at the same time.
At least, that’s how Kadaj can break down the other man’s expression according to the profiling techniques in which he was trained. He personally has a strange feeling himself whenever Paul looks at him like that. Mainly he wants to lie down and put his head on Paul’s shoulder. Which he does now, and Paul’s arm comes up to tickle Kadaj’s side. “You want him to model big brother, except he’s nothing like him.”
“I’ve got a weekly appointment with Sephiroth,” Paul mutters. “Why the hell would I need a model for him?”
“Because he bites now? Anyway, it’s not for me. I’m not a psychopath. I’m a failed model.” Kadaj nuzzles the side of Paul’s side, feeling how the looser folds of skin that make up the wrinkles move over his lips. It’s a weird, always-fascinating sensation. Especially since everyone else is so smooth and hard outside, and so if Kadaj wants to poke at their softness he’s got to cut them to the inside to find it. “Who’s Mr. Anderson?”
Paul reaches up to push Kadaj out of the way when Kadaj gets too near the jack in his temple. He’s still thinking about the bug that’s derailing his latest version of Smith. “One of the hackers that—his main programmer. We think. Tseng hasn’t managed to bring him in yet.”
“You’re not grumpy about that,” Kadaj observes.
“Oh, I’m grumpy. I’m fucking grumpy that Tseng seems to be more worried about which Turk gets to be Rufus’ fucktoy, and that Vincent still won’t tell me how he got Jenova out of his system and why he can’t just do the same for Shinra’s networks.” After a moment, Paul sighs and the vitriol goes out of him. He wasn’t so serious about it to be letting go so easily—or he’s too tired. “No, actually I’m glad. I keep trying to get Rufus to let someone else track the guy down, but he’s too busy worrying about taking over Shinra and Sephiroth. Thing is, I need this Mr. Anderson’s brain intact, and the Turks are lousy at that.”
Meaning Paul wanted to talk to him, and not just make him fix whatever it was that Paul had identified as the problem. “What’s so important about Mr. Anderson?”
“Well…all right, you weren’t too far off the mark. I don’t have Smith around for psych studies. I did, but then I found out he can act as viral malware that infects in a similar pattern to Jenova. At least, topically speaking.” Paul shrugs. Then he winces, and finally pulls out the temple jack. He shouldn’t need the biochem boost because he seems more than intelligent enough without them. “I can figure out ways to contain Smith, and I can’t do that for Jenova, but the parallels are still incredible.”
Sometimes Kadaj theorizes—secretly, because he’s not really supposed to be capable of this sort of non-tactical analysis—that Paul does it because he needs to dampen his mind. Sometimes, when they send him out to kill someone because they need it messy, he finds himself standing over the body with a mind-splitting high keen rattling in his head, and the keen is made up of all these calculations all running at top speed and he can do it but it hurts. He assumes that’s why they called him a failure. But he thinks that maybe Paul has something similar happen to him, and nobody calls Paul a failure.
“I want that guy in here, with his brain still in his skull, and I want to know how some low-level assembly-line coder managed to cobble together something like Smith in his copious spare time,” Paul says. He gives Kadaj one last pat before he pushes himself up and starts prodding at the interface again. “Then maybe I can figure out Jenova.”
“So you are using Smith to model a psychopath,” Kadaj snickers.
After a second, Paul joins in. He shakes a probe at Kadaj in a mock-scold. “Yeah, but you keep fucking with him. Mind letting him off the hook long enough for me to finish running diagnostics?”
“If you say so.” Kadaj wrinkles his nose—at the jack in Paul’s temple, at the biochem handheld hooked up to it, at the interface that’s currently taking up all Paul’s attention. He snuggles up to Paul’s side, determined to at least triumph physically. Eventually the physical always becomes the mental, and vice versa. “But it’s hard. He’s so funny.”
“That’s why he’s a model, and not the real thing like you,” Paul carelessly says.
He doesn’t notice how the blood flushes into Kadaj’s cheeks, and of course he can’t possibly know about the deep warm glow Kadaj feels every time he says something like that. But Kadaj no longer dreams of taking advantage of Paul’s inattention—at least, like that. He’d rather sit back and watch Paul dissect someone else, and be glad that he’s no longer a test subject. He still doesn’t have a problem with white, but he really likes the tan color of Paul’s skin with its age-caused dappling and the dark blues and browns Paul dresses in. He likes being real, and not someone else’s creation.
Too bad for big brother—he hasn’t gotten that far yet. But good for Kadaj, is what Kadaj thinks. And he thinks he’s figured out happy even though that wasn’t designed into him.