Chapter 12: The Way Out Is Through

The Shinra research labs were spread across three floors, 46 through 48. Level 46 was where a lot of the Company's experiments with Mako took place and level 48 contained sensitive equipment. Lazard was sure what he sought would be on level 47. He made his way there and as suspected, everyone had left early for the weekend.

"If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s for people to leave early on a Friday," he mused.

His footsteps echoed against the glass walls that enclosed various rooms around him. Some areas appeared as though they were a mini hospital, containing a bed, various pieces of machinery, and privacy curtains. Others had large stasis tubes filled with glowing green Mako, thankfully no one occupied them. Lazard had always hated the process that the Company used to enhance the Soldiers. Mako showering had been the norm for years now, but also had a variety of side effects. He walked to the opposite side of the floor and arrived at a locked door that led him to the weapons testing area. His keycard granted him access and soon he was greeted by a large room with several shelves and tables.

Every surface was a cluttered mess of wires, electronic chip boards, and tools. Unlike the pristine area he had just walked though, this place was a disaster. He stepped inside before the door shut on him and almost tripped over a heap of scrap metal plating that had been left in front of the entrance.

"Not known for their tidiness, I see," he sighed.

Towards the back of the room, the area became cleaner and finished prototypes were on display. He came to a metal shelf with a "CAUTION : EXPLOSIVES" sign hanging above. Several drawers were here. Lazard began opening and checking them. He found one with two empty cases. Each had a number sequence printed on the outside. There were a few more that weren't empty as well.

They looked like flat batteries. And Lazard guessed that these were the cases for the ones that were in use. He lifted one out that still had the bomb inside.

How very convenient..

He pocketed the explosive, shut the drawer and made his way to the exit. Now he hoped that this had been enough time for Veld to have left for the night.


Kess and Ashe sat sprawled on the couch still wearing their suits. Ashe had taken his tie off and wrapped it around his head like an Avalanche bandanna while Kess had tossed hers onto the floor. Their eyes were riveted on the flat panel screen, the show that was playing was some sort of reality show. Neither one was sure what they were watching; but it entailed having to race a chocobo to gain freedom. All of the contestants were trapped in the Coral Prison and each person had to make it to the Gold Saucer above to race. "Well of course I murdered that guy for a fire materia. But he was going to take me out for a lightning one. It was him or me!" shouted a contestant. "But, you know. Here I am, racing against other unfortunates, you know what I'm sayin'? We all jes' here to win our freedom!"

Footage then jumped to the man losing the race and being escorted back to the prison elevators. "Rigged! This whole thing is friggin' rigged! Joe always wins!" A giant superimposed fat chocobo danced across the screen with the sad trombone sound of losing.

"This is so stupid," Kess groaned.

Unable to stomach any more, she clicked the television off. She let her head flop onto the back of the sofa. Ashe blinked as if waking from a trance. "Ah hahaha yea, right. So dumb. Race for freedom? Where do people come up with this stuff..?" He sounded less than convincing.

"I don't know, but I'm ready for bed.." Kess sighed, tossing the remote onto the coffee table with a loud clatter.

Ashe pushed himself to his feet. "Yea, after today, I don't see how those Turks keep going. Must be the ability to drink large quantities of alcohol after a mission." He released a long groan while stretching.

He extended his hand to Kess and helped her up. "Well, tomorrow is another day in paradise." His attitude was less than encouraging. "I'm going to hang out here for a bit."

"You're going to turn that show back on, aren't you?" she accused, catching him mid yawn.

"What, me..?" He glanced to the remote then back to her. "Yea, caught red handed.."

"Please keep the volume down," she laughed and turned to go to her room.

The door shut and Ashe grabbed the remote, turning the television back on and then lowering the sound. He moved to sit once more but something caught his eyes near the door. "What is that..?" he muttered.

A light knock sounded against the door as he gazed at the object. Getting closer, he saw that it was an envelope the same color as the floor. He craned his neck back to look at the mounted camera above the room. Then glancing back to the floor, he guessed that its color was to keep the camera from picking up on it.

He crouched down and pretended to tie his shoe, then grabbed the envelope and slid it up his leg. Pressing the item to his pants, he moved over to the couch and snagged a pillow. He placed the pillow in his lap and then moved the envelope up and looked it over. He pretended to be watching the show, but kept glancing over his find. Popping the paper open, he dumped the contents into his lap. A digital wrist watch, some small screwdrivers, a note and what appeared to be a cotton ball with a watch battery stuffed into it.

He looked the battery-like object over, turning it between his fingers, but then he realized what it was and had to stop himself from dropping it. It was the finished product of his prototype. He carefully felt his neck, sensing the same flat, circular design. "So, they did go with the mythril one," he mused.

He then glanced over the note. *At 10:15 you will have 5 minutes.*

He furrowed his brow, glancing over the watch. He thought he had noticed the Turks wearing this style of watch, but he wasn't certain. Perhaps..? He turned the watch over and noticed the time was 10:14.

Well, no guts, no glory.

He picked up one of the screwdrivers and set to removing the back.


Lazard knew he had a few minutes before Ashe started his work. He needed to distract the guards long enough so that he could do the job and put the envelope back under the door. He moved to the security room that was around the corner. He wasn't sure what his plan of distraction was going to be; but he knew he had to think fast if he was going to give Ashe the time he needed.

As Lazard approached the room, he saw the new shift guard walking towards the door with a hot cup of coffee. He began to formulate an idea, and realized that this was about to hurt a lot.. But sacrifices must be made! He walked towards the guard as if he didn't see him. He bumped right into the man, the fresh coffee spilling all over Lazard's suit. "Oh! Director Deusericus!" the guard cried out.

Lazard grit his teeth as the hot liquid soaked into his suit, burning his chest. "Oh.. dear me. I didn't even see you," he cringed.

The security door opened and the guard inside stepped out. "Hey, what's going on out here?" he questioned.

The new guard looked sheepishly to the second guard and then to Lazard. Lazard spoke up, "Oh, this was my fault. I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."

He pulled out a blue handkerchief and began to dab the coffee from his suit. "Do you happen to have any napkins in your office, by chance?" Lazard asked.

The guard came out into the hallway, leaving the room unoccupied. "I’ll get some from the men’s room," he stated while the other guard tried his best to help.

Lazard glanced into the room and saw a large display of television screens against the left wall. There were so many that he couldn't pick out Ashe. He hoped the 'accident' had bought him enough time. The other guard returned with a handful of paper towels, handing them over quickly as he went back to the security room. "Please, don’t let me keep you. I'm terribly sorry that this happened," Lazard apologized.

He knew that he hadn’t been able to stall for a full five minutes, but hoped that the time was enough for the likes of someone with Ashe’s skill. He began to stagger off, leaving the new guard bewildered in the hallway. Lazard made a pass by the cell apartment, the gray envelope was sitting right outside the door. He glanced at the camera mounted across from him, but was confident that the jammer in his pocket was doing its job at least for the camera in the hallway. He scooped the envelope up and made his way to the elevator; first stop was to drop the watch back into Jale's desk. He popped open the small envelope and shook the watch into his palm. He pocketed the tools and the extracted battery, and closed his hand firmly on the watch.

The elevator dinged and the doors slid to the side. Lazard stepped into the hallway with purpose and made his way to the Turk's office. He entered the empty room and moved to Jale's desk. He opened the drawer, setting the watch onto the heap of papers there. He had already finagled with the detonator, setting the current number to the one inside Jale's watch. And for good measure, he erased the other two from the device's memory. His mission complete, he left the office to send his email to Reeve and then it was off to home for a much needed shower before his dinner meeting with Scarlet.


The next day arrived with much anticipation. The Turks were pulled from the streets to devote all of their attention to the mission. Becca and Samantha were stationed in the building's shooting range where many a Turk had practiced over the years. Samantha sat idly by, twirling the butt of her shotgun against the ground. She would have been practicing too had Kess not shot her in the arm. She sulked and sighed dramatically while Becca perfected her aim.

She wouldn't be completely useless tonight. Tseng had given her something else to do that was just as important. Instead of putting her shotgun skills to use, Samantha would be in charge of making sure Ashe and Kess did what they were told. She couldn't hold a two handed gun, but she was still well equipped to handle a pistol. She grabbed a handgun from the tray at her side and whipped it upward. Four shots rang out, hitting the paper target beyond Becca with surprising accuracy. Becca stopped and turned to see Samantha exiting the shooting range, her long hair bouncing as the door slid shut behind her.

In the training room, the others were sharpening their close combat skills. Each wielding their weapon of choice, they dashed around the room, fighting holographic foes created by the cameras around the upper edge of the enclosed walls. Reno and Marcus were experts with the electro-mag rod; so much in fact that they had to pull their hits so as not to hurt anyone they made contact with. August pummeled anyone that was fool enough to get close. He may have been a detective before the Turks, but he had always been a bit of a bruiser.

Cissnei demonstrated her martial arts abilities while using her giant shuriken. Once in a while, she would move to slash at another Turk. Max whipped about his nunchaku with ease. A few times he narrowly clubbed Marcus in the head, but was able to pull back in time. The others found it strange that the 'rich kid' had such skill with the weapon. But then again, everyone in the Turks had their niche.

Tonya and Shion were facing off on the opposite side of the room. Shion displayed a perfect stance when attacking with his katana. But most of the time he looked distracted, as if entranced by Tonya and her sudden attacks. She too had skills in martial arts and put them to good use when flinging about her throwing daggers. Shion moved out of the way whenever she threw one, but he seemed to be more engaged in the beauty of her movements rather than the fight itself.

Tonya stopped and gripped her side suddenly. Her expression tightened and she fell to one knee. "Urg.." she growled, not wanting the others to see her.

Shion moved to her and helped her to her feet. "Still hurting?"

She nodded, her black hair falling into her face. "Still sore from yesterday.. I shouldn't push myself so hard. But I need my paycheck."

"Well, take it easy. We have a very important job tonight," he murmured.

He pat her shoulder and sheathed his katana. He moved over to Rude, whom he had noticed off to the side of the main floor. "When did you get here?" Shion asked..

Rude glanced up, his sunglasses obscuring his eyes. "Just a moment ago. I decided to wait here while you all finished."

Shion glanced back to the center where Reno, Marcus, Max and Cissnei were still sparing. August approached Rude, clasping his gloved fists in his hands. "You want to go?" he asked Rude.

The main door slid to the side and Jale entered; his fingers fumbling to attach his watch on his right wrist. "So, this is where everyone is. Practicing for the pageant tonight?"

"You should join us. I'm sure you could brush up on your skills," Shion replied.

Jale laughed. "Man, I don't need to 'brush up on my skills'. Just tell me who to pummel and it's done!"

Rude coughed. "It's always a good idea to be on top of your game. Otherwise someone could surpass your abilities and you'd lose the fight."

Jale scoffed as he buckled the watch into place. "Whatever man. I am the best there is." He glanced up with a smile, slicking back his bright, orange hair.

August shook his head and grumbled, irritated with Jale's 'devil may care' attitude. Rude stood and faced him. "Very well then, spar with me. And we'll see who is the best." He brought up his hands, tugging his leather gloves into place.

Jale's bottom lip stuck out as if to pout and he looked around to the others who had stopped their sparring to listen to Rude and Jale. "Ok, I'm the best besides you," Jale chuckled, trying to change the subject.

Reno walked over and flicked back his red ponytail. "What's the matter, Jale? Afraid Rude will trounce your ass?" He beamed with his cockiest smirk.

"If anything it will be a draw," Jale spoke, crossing his arms before his chest. "Rudinski knows I can match him in skill level."

"Then what is the problem?" Rude replied with a straight face. "If you're so sure we'll draw, prove it?"

Jale remained rigid in his stance, glancing around to the others. "You want to see us fight?"

A resounding "YES" came from the group. Jale tried to play it cool, putting his sunglasses into his coat pocket. "Alright, fine. Let's do this."

He pulled out a pair of fingerless gloves and pulled them onto his hands. Everyone moved out of the way to watch the fight. Reno walked out to the middle of the floor with Jale and Rude. He stood between them as they stepped a few feet away from each other. "Alright, I want a good clean fight. Nothing below the belt or in the face," Reno spoke, doing his best announcer voice. "Begin!"

He jumped back as Rude and Jale stared each other down. "I don't want to hurt you, Rudinski," Jale warned as he cracked his knuckles.

Rude turned his head side to side to crack his vertebrae. "Don't worry, you won't."

Putting one foot behind himself, Rude brought his fists up near his face and eased his weight back. As anticipated, Jale leapt towards him, his right arm swinging through the air for a hook. Rude leaned to the right and avoided the obvious move. Jale flew by and Rude took the chance to punch him square in the side. He then turned on heel to face left, surprised to find that Jale had already recovered and was coming towards him once more.

This time, however, he changed his swing at the last minute and caught Rude in the shoulder. The bald man stumbled back, grabbing his shoulder in pain.

What's this?

His eyes narrowed on Jale's gloves.

Metal lined gloves, huh.. I'll have to make sure he doesn't hit me again..

Rude regained his stance just as Jale came for him. He waited until Jale couldn't change his mind again and slid down to the floor, kicking him in the leg. The kick stopped Jale dead in his tracks and he slammed into the hard floor. Rude stood back up, the other Turks cheering out with Reno being the loudest. "You go, buddy!"

Rude began to brush his suit off when he felt a burst of air from behind. He turned to see Jale rushing towards him and before he could react, Jale's fist was in his back. Rude lurched in pain, his teeth grit to keep from crying out. Falling to one knee, he looked up to see Jale turn and jump into the air; his elbow was on a direct course to his head. Rude recovered and jumped up, landing his fist right below Jale's rib cage.

All action ceased in that moment. Jale went limp and began gasping for breath, still hanging on Rude's fist. The other Turks weren't sure what had happened and silence hung in the air. Rude pulled his arm back letting Jale fall to the floor where he coughed a few more times. "Good… fight…" he managed to growl between trying to breathe.

The fight over, Rude extended his hand to help Jale to his feet but it was slapped away. “I’m fine, I’m fine!” the defeated man sneered.

Rude shrugged and backed off, leaving him on the floor. "We should report, it's close to ten." He backed away towards the door.

The others followed after him, leaving Jale alone in the training room. He wiped a bit of saliva from his lips with the back of his sleeve, eyeing Rude from a distance. "Just you wait until tonight.. Rudinski," he growled.


Looming at eight points against the sky, Midgar's mako reactors had not ceased their extraction once since the day of their grand unveiling. These massive structures of steel brought raw Lifestream up from the depths of the earth to be processed and refined into the substance known as Mako. It was used as energy in homes and businesses across the city. As a result, most of the landscape surrounding the floating capital had been turned into a desolate and depressing wasteland of scavenging animals and deceased vegetation. Chocobo were once plentiful, but since Midgar's inception, their numbers in the wild had dwindled.

Many people took notice of this drastic change in the landscape, but few were quick to argue against the Shinra Company who had brought them out of the age of coal and into the future. Many were complacent, accepting this trade for an easier life. Still, there were those determined to end the deadly practice by any means necessary. Avalanche was born of those who desired an end to Shinra's greed. Formed in Cosmo Canyon, the group started with those who had been pushed from their jobs as coal miners by the conglomerate. But soon their cause gained attention from those concerned for the state of the Planet and thus their motive was set.

The group gained influence and with it, their numbers swelled. A leader came forth to guide them. But it was short-lived and when Aldin Spears was taken from the world by cancer, the remnants scattered to the wind. That was until Fuhito and Elfé took up the reins and sought out members in Midgar. They met Shears and together, the team formed the core group and moved into the Midgar underground to establish a base. It wasn't long before the Avalanche of Midgar encountered confrontations with Soldier. Fights broke out, looting and destruction of Soldier hangouts. The Turks were called in to put an end to the skirmishes. Many times, the rebels were beaten back, those caught causing disturbances were jailed and some sent as far away as the Coral Prison surrounded by a vast desert. But Avalanche seemed to gain momentum and more followers. The Shinra Company had to acknowledge that a real threat had arisen to challenge their grasp on the world.

That is why this moment was so very important. This was to be his triumph. No more would these baseless rebels lurk in the shadows, striking out in the city's most vulnerable sectors. They would all fall into the trap, the lid would be locked and President Shinra himself would toss the box into the sea, drowning those vermin once and for all. Tapping his thick fingertips against the cold, granite desk, he was sure that tonight was the beginning of their end. He pressed a finger to a box on his desk and spoke aloud, "Have you heard from Veld, Anette?"

A buzz sounded back. "Yes sir. Tseng just informed me that the Turks are—. Uh, excuse me!? Director Tuesti, you can't just go in there!"

The doors to Hector's office were flung open and Reeve came storming in. "Mr. President, you can't do this!" Reeve's exasperated voice filled the large room.

Shinra saw Anette standing behind Reeve, her hand clutching the door frame. He waved to her and then turned to Reeve. "Now, now Director Tuesti, calm down. It's just a ruse! You think I'd really allow Avalanche to destroy a reactor? You think I would risk the lives of the citizens so recklessly?" He turned away in his chair and then back again. "Not to mention the cost in damages. Astronomical.."

Reeve stood rigid in his spot, his right hand still grasping the doorknob. Anette edged out of view leaving the two men locked in silence. Reeve broke it first, "Why didn't you run this past me first, sir? Especially after everything that’s happened in the last twenty-four hours. Sector Six is in ruins and is already being scrapped by the Don and his men. I’ve had to relocate my parents among countless others that the collapse displaced. If it is just a trap to catch Avalanche and civilians are not in danger, why did you leave me out of the loop?"

Shinra stood up and walked to the window motioning for Reeve to follow him. He then turned to look out across the vastness of Midgar. "Reeve, I know you love this city. You love the people and the opportunities it affords them. I love this city too. And I knew that sharing this with you in its infancy would have been a big mistake on my part." He placed his hand on Reeve's shoulder. "But they hashed out a final plan, making sure that neither the reactor or any citizens will be in any danger during this operation."

He released his shoulder and turned back to his desk. "Had I brought you in at the beginning, it would have been a fight. And frankly, I didn't need you getting all up in arms over this, especially with the stress from everything else you’re dealing with." He ruffled through a few papers on his desk, turning back to Reeve momentarily. "I think we're done."

Reeve stood by the window dumbfounded before straightening up and making his exit without another word. Shinra shook his head. "Bleeding heart."


Kess and Ashe had been released from the apartment early and were having a personal meeting with Veld. He had both of their files spread out on his desk, but there were several black lines throughout the paperwork. Veld, being inherently curious, decided to ask them about the missing parts. "So it says here, Mr. Kincaid, that you were one of the technicians for the Sister Ray in Junon. But it doesn't explain why you left the Company or why you blew up your lab." He tapped the paper with a pen where the black lines were. "Mind explaining?"

Ashe was still sucking pieces of breakfast from his teeth when Veld posed the question. "Not at all. I left because the bastards above me kept me from finding out that my dad had died in Mideel while I was in Junon."

Kess winced at Ashe's nonchalant rundown on his reasons for leaving. Veld looked puzzled. "But, why would that have any real effect on anything? You had good pay and prime housing, very prime. Sector Five."

"They kept me from seeing him ever since I had gone to work on the Sister Ray, and then lied about his death to keep me from losing precious research time in the demolitions department. And I have a pretty good idea of who did it.. And her reason was petty," Ashe snapped back.

Veld leaned back. "Well, I supposed when you put it that way. And I assume that you are speaking of Ms. Hargrieves as she was and is still in charge of your old division. But why blow up the lab? It must have struck a nerve, seeing all your hard work, years of accomplishments, destroyed."

Ashe scoffed, "Yea, I split and Shinra gets the credit for my work? There was no way I was going to leave any of that technology lying around."

A little smirk creased on Veld's lips. "Ah, but as you can see, some of your research and projects were not destroyed."

Ashe tilted his head side to side mockingly. "Well I must've missed an item or two in my rage. It was a pretty shitty day."

Veld's pen moved to scribble some notes under the blackened bars of text. "And now Ms. Reignheart, your sudden disappearance from the Company launched an all out search. A costly search at that. As a member of the Soldier's Special Projects team, also known as Deepground, Ms. Hargrieves was adamant about getting you back."

Her paperwork was now Veld's primary focus, having a considerable amount of blackened lines. Kess remained silent, her gaze fixated upon Veld's face. "Care to share the details of your departure?"

She crossed her arms and exhaled steadily. "I don't see what the point would be. Maybe if you asked Professor Hojo, he might share the redacted information with you."

"Come now, the Professor doesn't have time for the likes of me," he muttered, sifting through the dozen or so pages that belonged in her file. "Well, let's start here, when you became a special project of Hojo's." He pointed to a large brick of blocked text.

"What do you care? Shinra ruined my life and my family's. Why would I want to share that with you, for your own sick enjoyment?"

"Ms. Reignheart, I assure you this isn't for my 'own sick enjoyment'. I keep detailed files on all the Turks. It is more or less a way for me to analyze how you will react if put into certain situations, nothing more. Plus, I'm curious. So please, off the record, what happened?"

Kess narrowed her eyes. "I walked because I found out what happened to Kalm."

Ashe tensed in his seat a little on noticing Kess' tone. It was very accusatory and he noticed that her gaze was dead set on Veld. The old Turk swallowed hard and stroked his goatee, trying to act casual. "What happened in Kalm was a tragic accident. Nothing more."

"An accident?" Kess sneered. She slammed her hand on Veld's desk. "The entire town was wiped out! My parents died! Then you rebuilt it like nothing ever happened!"

The pen that was between his fingers snapped under pressure, ink flinging all over his desk. Kess glanced to his hand and then to his face. His expression was pinched and his eyes were beginning to turn red and watery. No one said anything for a long moment. He took a few tissues from a box on the edge of his desk and began to clean up the mess. "Please, pardon me. Two people I loved very much died in the Kalm incident.."

He did his best to hide it, but they both knew he was incredibly upset. "Funny how things come back to haunt you when you least expect it," Kess sneered.

Veld took out a new pen and scribbled a few more notes. He dabbed another tissue over the spilled ink. "Well then. Yes, I suppose that's enough for now. Please have a seat by Jale's desk until the others arrive. I'll be briefing you all on tonight's mission."

Veld continued to rub the ink from his right hand, but found that it was stained. "We all do things, Ms. Reignheart, that we come to regret. But you and I both know that the consequences for not following orders can be much greater."

Kess had crossed her legs and arms while leaning back in the chair. She refused to look at him when he spoke. Ashe glanced nervously to Veld and then back to Kess. He wanted to see her face off against the old bastard, but knew that she was too cautious to start a fight. She would hold her hand for now. "We both have blood on our hands. But one of us had the balls to walk away," she muttered.

Veld stood and removed his black suit jacket and the glove on his left hand. He unbuttoned the cuff of his left shirt sleeve and began to roll the fabric up. Ashe's expression changed as Veld's arm was revealed to be a prosthetic. He nudged Kess and she shifted her gaze. Veld rolled the sleeve to his elbow and then held the robotic arm up before him as if admiring it. "The price of the blood I spilled," he sighed as he turned the arm side to side.

Ashe seemed interested in Veld's arm but wouldn't allow himself to be awed in front of Kess. "That's.."

Veld noticed and smiled. "Micro tech from after your work on the Sister Ray. Made possible by your research, Mr. Kincaid. Without it, I'd still be using the old prosthetic they originally gave. You have my thanks."

He lowered the arm and began to tug the sleeve down, concealing it once more. He buttoned the cuff, pulled his jacket back on, and began to put his glove on when the door opened. Veld walked past the duo, pulling a small paper from his jacket pocket. He laid it on the table before Kess. "This was taken from you when you were captured, but I have no right to keep it."

He left her side, greeting the Turks as they filed in. Kess looked over to the item he had left for her, seeing the family photo that Ashe had swiped from the Kalm Inn. She retrieved it, tucking it away as Veld addressed the Turks, "Great, you've arrived. Please everyone, find a seat and I'll make this short so you can return to your training."

Everyone filtered throughout the room and all attention was on Veld. Tseng came in after everyone had taken seats and stood behind them. "Very good. You've already been assigned to your groups and been given your objectives. The operation is set to begin just after midnight and if we're lucky, we'll catch some rebels in our trap."

"Samantha will be in charge of making sure Mr. Kincaid and Ms. Reignheart do what they're told. Jale will be in charge of the consequences should they renegade."

Jale grinned and placed his hand into his jacket pocket, touching the detonator. "Since the reactor may be under surveillance, you will all be going in with disguises. Dressed as workers and Public Security, you will enter the reactor from the main door and take your places. Lazard will be directing Soldier to enter five at a time at different intervals between six o'clock and eleven thirty. This is to build up our forces with little suspicion and confuse the enemy on our numbers."

"Well, that should be all. Oh, and yes, Drake is doing fine. He will be returning in a week after some bed rest," Veld concluded.

Jale's gaze narrowed momentarily. He had forgotten about Drake laid up in the hospital. Rufus had given him the green light to assassinate a couple of them and Drake was the perfect target. He'd have to give him a visit. Samantha would be easy too with her injury. He could over take her while she was keeping an eye on Kess and Ashe. And then it would be easy to dispatch them. He grasped the detonator tighter at the thought.

"Please continue your exercises until tonight," Veld spoke, interrupting his thoughts. "I want you all in tip top shape."

The group rose from their seats and made for the door. Jale beckoned for Kess and Ashe to follow him with the others. Once everyone had left, Veld sank back into his seat and stared blankly at his desk. Tseng moved over to him and placed a careful hand on his shoulder. "Sir, is everything alright?"

Veld snapped back to reality and glanced upward to his young apprentice. "Yes, Tseng. Thank you."

Tseng left to follow the others when Veld spoke up. "I think I may come along tonight. It's been a while since I joined you all in the field."

Tseng gave a small nod and closed the door as he left.


Having left the stuffy room, the group of Turks were now tossing around ideas of what to do with their day. "I've practiced enough," came Reno's voice. "It's time for something else, maybe drinking."

"Reno, it's eleven o'clock in the morning. Early much?" Marcus questioned, his mag rod bouncing on his shoulder.

"Nonsense," Rude said from the back of the group.

Tonya chuckled, adding, "While I have to agree with Marcus, I do think we've practiced enough. We don't want to wear ourselves out. Who wants to go shopping?"

"Oh me, me!" Cissnei chimed in. "Want to come Sam? How about you Becca, Shion?"

"Sure, I could use some new gloves. This pair got a little ripped up at the train station," Becca replied.

Samantha tossed her hair to the side. "Yea, I'll come."

Marcus lit up. "Shopping! Great idea! I can get a new bike. I think I heard something about Crazy Moe's Motorcycle Emporium having a ‘The Sky is Falling’ sale."

"Crazy Moe's?" Max started fearfully. "But isn't that in the Sector Seven slums?"

"That's right, Max. The best place to find the best kind of motorcycle," Marcus grinned. "August, care to join us men?

"Hard pass," he replied. "I'll be joining Reno and Rude."

He walked over to them and they welcomed him with open arms. "My man!" Reno exclaimed.

Jale followed along behind the group, lost in his own thoughts of how to backstab everyone that night. There were still some loose ends to tie up with Avalanche and he couldn't very well bring Kess and Ashe along for that. Marcus found the detonator level with the side of his face. "I hope you wouldn't mind doing me a solid by watching these two until tonight?" Jale interjected into their conversation.

Marcus stopped and looked to Jale. "I distinctly remember Veld putting you in charge of babysitting. Why can't you do it?" he spoke gruffly, a little perturbed that his plans were going to be disrupted.

"Tseng asked me to do something before tonight and it's a one man job."

Marcus rolled his eyes. "Yea, whatever. Just make sure you're not late." He snatched the detonator and continued with the others.

Jale moved away from the group and took a separate hallway. Marcus sighed, "He did that on purpose.."

They all filed into the elevator and rode to the lobby. There they split into their groups. Reno, Rude and August for drinking; Tonya, Samantha, Cissnei, Becca and Shion for shopping; and Marcus, Max, Ashe and Kess for slumming.

The group moved to one of the company vehicles. After they were all situated, Marcus leaned over to Max and whispered, "You do realize that you're going to be in charge of them if I find a bike."

"What!? Me?!"

"Shush!" He glanced to the back seat where Kess and Ashe had both raised a brow. "Yes, you. Time to toughen up, flower."

Max looked nervously behind him and smiled with a wave. They waved back. He looked to Marcus as the car started. "But I don't feel comfortable with that thing…"

He pointed to Marcus' jacket pocket as the car pulled away from the curb. "You'll get used to it. Besides, it'll just be for the trip back," Marcus replied with ease as he drove the car to the lower plate.

Music filled the car as Marcus fumbled with the radio and both rebels were somewhat happy that Jale had ditched them. But there was always the frightening thought of what he was up to. The drive wasn't too long and soon they were on the outskirts of the slums. Marcus pulled the car into a guarded garage and took one of the reserved spots. "We'll walk from here," he spoke, hopping out of the car.

"Walk?! Are you crazy?" Max exclaimed.

Ashe rolled his eyes. "You really are upper crust, aren't you Max. Don't worry. I grew up in the slums. They're wonderful people with a good sense of pride. You don't need to be afraid."

Marcus pat Max's back and looked at him. "See, Max? This rebel piece of shit can vouch for them. Nothing to worry about. Now come on."

Max opened the back door to let them out. "Alright, you two know the drill. I don't want to, but will if I have to," Marcus said, patting his jacket pocket.

They agreed with quick nods and Marcus turned to leave the garage. "Good. Now, let's go shopping.".

The slums never seemed to change in structure but were constantly shifting in content. Piles of twisted metal were heaped all around, some having been used to create dwellings and businesses. Kess had never been to the Midgar slums but remembered the stories her brother had told her. Ashe was right to some extent; the residents had a sense of pride and architectural imagination, but that wouldn't stop them from swindling, cheating or killing you for all your money.

They moved past several piles of scrap metal and damaged buildings. Most of the places they passed looked like rundown versions of what you might see on the upper plate. Open air ramen shops with stools pulled up to a high bar were serving people food that smelled surprisingly delicious. Illegal materia shops, weapons and novelty items dotted the dirt path as they walked. The place was illuminated in an unnatural light due to there being no sunlight to speak of. Most of the lights were dimmed with a tinge of green from the use of raw Mako, siphoned from the main transport pipes. All around were shops and homes, huddled together among the trash and refuse.

Kess glanced skyward, mesmerized by the sight of the underside of the plate with slivers of blue sky just beyond. Massive lamps nestled against layers of metal beams and walkways high above were dizzying to look at. The ceiling for the neighboring sector was in near ruins. A great hole filled with the sky above reminded her of the noises she had heard in the night. The plate had collapsed and a lot of people lost their lives.. And Kess couldn't help but think that it was all because of Avalanche. Ashe noticed her awe and had to smile to himself.

People passed by, the group had to dodge out of the way several times for teams of men carrying large metal parts. "Great, looks like they're already started scrapping Six," Marcus growled.

They continued on, eventually having to walk down the road in single file as the locals filtered into the streets. The talk all around them was about the plate coming down and the name Avalanche was spoken more than once in a negative light. Ashe sighed, knowing that it was Shinra’s propaganda to blame for people’s opinions. He followed Marcus and Max in silence, not even sure what he would say to Kess. At long last, they came to the end of a row and Marcus extended his hands towards the establishment as if they were an oasis

"Here we are, Sector Seven's shopping district. Stick close kiddies, a sucker's born every minute and it's not going to be one of us," Marcus mused.

He moved to the back of the lot where a hole in the wall led them to yet another small area, the floor space littered with vehicles of all kinds. "Heeeey, Marcus!" a voice called from the back. "Be right with ya!"

"No rush, Moe!" Marcus waved back.

Kess and Ashe recognized the customer that was being assisted as a member of Avalanche. He finished his business and moved to leave, eyeing Kess and Ashe. He looked to the two Turks and then moved to the door. "Shit.," Ashe whispered quietly.

Moe moved over to the group and spoke, "Well my friends, what brings you in today?"

"A new bike," Marcus said as he looked over one that sat to his left. "Last one went boom."

"All in a day's work?" Moe laughed.

"Something like that.." Max chuckled.

Moe smirked and elbowed Marcus. "Who are these other ones with ya, eh?"

"Oh, right." Marcus turned back to the group. "This is Max, he's been on assignment ever since he was hired about two months back. These other two are uh, very new.."

Max smiled and danced from one foot to the other. Moe leaned over to Marcus as they walked away. "Them other two seem alright, but if you ask me, that blond kid looks scared out of his mind."

Marcus glanced back and laughed a bit. "Oh, hahaha! Yea, I was thinking the same thing. So about a good deal…?"

The two walked away to ‘talk shop’ leaving Max, Kess and Ashe alone by the door. "So, what other shops are in this place?" Ashe grinned.

Max blinked, checked his jacket and then ran after Marcus. Seconds later, he returned, tucking the detonator away "Um, I don't think we should leave.." He tried to hide his nervousness at being left alone with the two, but Ashe pushed the conversation.

"Come on, we're going to stand here the entire time? He could be hours."

"Oh, I don't think Marcus would take that long," Max replied.

Ashe narrowed his gaze and scoffed, "Yea, the guy who is a motorcycle connoisseur, not taking forever."

Max looked around the shop, filled with all manner of slum dwellers. Some got too close and he caught several undesirable whiffs of them. He changed his mind. "You know.. Maybe we could go find something to do. Outside.." He motioned for Kess and Ashe to walk in front of him and they exited the shop.


After leaving the building, Reno, Rude and August had fully intended to plant themselves at their favorite watering hole until meeting up with the others. But August suggested that maybe before that, they should pay Drake a visit. Agreeing, the trio made their way to the hospital in Sector One. They entered the lobby, making their way to the front desk. They were greeted by a young woman in a white uniform. "Heya ma'am. Looking for―" Reno began but she cut him off.

"Just need to see some I.D., hun." she smiled.

Puzzled, Reno showed her his badge. "He's up in 1006. He's awake."

After signing the clipboard on the counter, Reno thanked the woman, and Rude and August followed after him as the receptionist waved him by. They took to an elevator. The ride was short and soon they were on the 10th floor. Reno greeted the guards outside the door and entered the quiet room. He glanced around and saw Drake propped up watching television. He glanced over when the door opened. "Heeeey, it's good to see you guys," Drake spoke as he sat up more in the bed.

"Hey man!" Reno happily shouted as he crossed the room.

Rude inclined his head toward Drake, following Reno without a word and August marched over to the bedside to pat his shoulder. Reno pulled up a chair and straddled it backwards while Rude stood behind in silence. "Well, we were in the neighborhood. Wanted to come by to see how you're doing. You better recover fast. They put Marcus in Tonya's group. And I think he's cramping her style."

Drake chuckled a bit and then grabbed the left side of his neck. "Sorry, Reno. Doctor's orders are that I stay in bed for the next couple days at least."

"Man, that sucks.." August sighed, slumping into another chair.

"Yea, you're going to miss out on the fun tonight," Reno lamented.

Drake turned away from the television and raised a brow. "Fun?"

"They're planning an ambush tonight night for Avalanche," August explained. "All hands on deck."

Drake's eyes narrowed. "Really? Where by chance?" He did his best to not sound worried.

Rude cracked his knuckles. "Reactor Six, midnight. They're just hoping that Avalanche takes the bait."

"Yup, too bad you're stuck here," Reno chimed in.

"Yea.." Drake looked back to the television.

Nothing was said for a while, they all stared at the sitcom, not even paying attention. August shuffled his feet. "How's the food?"

Drake turned to him and smirked. "Eh, the meds are better."

The group laughed and Reno glanced to the I.V., following the tube to Drake's forearm. "Nice. You know, sometimes getting shot isn't all that bad," he laughed.

Drake agreed, "Yea, well morphine isn't free. They've got me on a limiter so I don't waste a ton of it."

"Cheap bastards," Rude commented.

They all shared another good chuckle and there was a knock at the door. It opened to reveal a nurse pushing in a food tray. "Speak of the devil!" August smiled, getting up to move out of the nurse's way.

Drake chuckled a bit. "You mean torture time. I meant it when I said the meds were better."

The nurse shook her head and sighed, "But you're going to eat every last bit of it, aren't you Mr. Everno."

"Of course."

Reno stood idly by and then stuck his hands into his pockets. "Well, we're gonna jet, man. We'll fill you in." Reno turned to leave. "Eat up and get better. We all miss you."

Drake waved back with one of his hands. "Good to see you guys."

August gave him another reassuring pat on the arm and joined the other two as they moved towards the door. Rude stopped and looked back to Drake. "Rest well."

Drake smiled as the nurse pulled over the meal tray and they left. Once they were on their way, Rude spoke up, "Pity."

Reno turned to him and tilted his head to the side. "What's a pity?"

"Drake," Rude replied. "Seeing such a strong guy in a hospital bed. He's lucky to have survived his injuries. Tseng said it was a close call."

"Yea, well. He's a tough bastard. He used to work for Corneo, after all," August reminded them.

Reno pushed the thoughts away as they made their way to the bar. He didn't want to think about losing a member of the team. "Let’s go have a drink for him," he said, driving away from Sector One.

"Or a few," Rude replied.


Morgan was busy going over the night's plans when Shears entered and took a seat before her. "Got a minute?" he asked.

Morgan glanced up. "Of course. Having second thoughts?"

"Not at all. Just wanting to discuss with you some information that I received. Kess and Ashe were spotted with the Turks in the shopping district here in the slums," Shears said, crossing his arms.

Morgan stopped her work and looked over to Shears. "Here?! Which Turks were with them? What were they doing?"

"Marcus Cole and Maximilion Kirsch. They are probably still there, Moe’s place."

She shot up from her seat and moved to leave the room. "Morgan, be careful. And be back in time for the briefing."

Morgan wasted no time; she was sprinting through the makeshift hideout, slowing her pace for Biggs to open the main door for her. She was soon out in Sector Seven, making fast tracks for Moe’s. She needed to talk to them, before Fuhito got a chance to take them out. She hoped she could somehow pull them away from the Turks.. but wasn't sure how.


Kess and Ashe stood by the open doors of a materia shop while Max glanced over the wares. "Did they outfit you two with any materia?" he asked.

Ashe scoffed, "Yea, so we could blast our way out of captivity. They haven't even let us touch a weapon."

"Oh yes.. How silly of me to assume.."

He turned away from the materia display and looked around. Spotting a young girl selling flowers not too far away, he began to walk over to her. Kess and Ashe glanced over to the bike shop as Marcus began to wheel out his new toy. "Alright, you guys ready? Let's go meet up with the others," he called out to Kess and Ashe.

His expression turned to one of confusion. "Uh, where's Max?"

Both Kess and Ashe pointed across the way where Max was buying a flower. "Yo, Max! Time to roll!"

Max turned after handing over some gil. "Sorry, uh.."

Marcus wheeled the bike to the entrance. "Come on man, you've gotta drive the car," he reminded him.

"Oh right!" Max moved away from the cart. "Oh, thank you for the flower."

The girl thanked him as well. Kess and Ashe followed after Marcus with Max bringing up the rear. "Why did you buy that, and how much did she charge you?"

"She let me have it for one gil after I told her it was for someone to help them get better. But all I had was a five, so I let her keep the change," Max explained.

"Well that was nice of her," he chuckled. "Who is it for, Drake?"

Max's cheeks blushed pink. "Ahh no. It's for Sam, actually. To help her feel better; what with her injury and all."

They walked along towards the garage. Footfalls were heard behind them and Marcus turned instinctively. However, on looking, no one was there. "Something wrong?" Max asked.

Marcus looked around for a moment then turned and continued to push the bike along. "Just thought I heard someone."

A few piles of trash back, Morgan had ducked in time. She had missed them, but at least she got to see that they were fine. She peeked out as they disappeared into the garage. "Kess… Ashe… I hope you know what side you're on.."

She pushed away from the heap and made her way back to the base sullenly. The briefing would start soon and she promised that she wouldn't be late.


Reno, Rude, and August had planted themselves at a round table at the Prancing Chocobo in Sector One. It wasn't the usual one they slunk into in Sector Five but the booze here wasn't half bad. As Reno sipped at a beer, he took notice that there were actually quite a few people here for it being a little after noon. Rude sat quietly in his seat, drinking his beverage slowly. August was up ordering them all another round. Reno glanced over to the stern, bald man, wondering what he was thinking about. The two rarely chatted while they drank. Rude once commented that too much conversation made the booze taste bad and August was inclined to agree. Reno's wiry fingers gripped at the icy glass to make the exterior feel less cold in his hand. Taking another sip, he glanced over to Rude and broke the silence.

"So, what do you make of those two..?"

Rude was in the middle of a drink and waited a bit even after taking the glass from his lips before answering. Without glancing at Reno, he shrugged. "Those two? What do you mean?"

Reno pursed his lips together. "You know. Do you think they'll stick around after Avalanche has been wiped out? Not that I was hoping or anything. I'm curious what Veld and Tseng have in mind."

"You mean you're wondering if their past with Shinra will make them last a little longer," Rude replied.

Reno thought for a moment, tilting his head side to side, then answered, "Yea, I suppose. I mean, an ex-demolitions tech and a freaking spy. I wonder if they'll just throw that away."

"Wouldn’t be the first time,“ Rude replied, his gaze fixated upon his glass.

August returned with the next set of drinks and doled them out to his partners. Reno finished his current drink and moved to start the new one. He spun in his seat and looked around the small bar. Across the room, he spotted his reflection in a large wall mirror and proceeded to adjust the collar of his suit and the sunglasses holding his bangs up. "I guess, that depends on what they plan to do. I don't think they have shown any of the potential they truly posses," came Rude's voice from behind Reno.

"Eh, I'm sure we'll see some fancy footwork tonight. After all, you tend to listen a bit more with a hand gun pressed to the back of your noggin," Reno said as he spun back around.


August pulled up his seat and joined in the conversation. "In my experience, forcing dogs to work for you will always get you bit."

Reno was mid gulp when he gave August a side glance and smirked. Some of his beer slipped from the sides of the glass and dripped down his neck. "Ugh.." he groaned, wiping his neck with the back of his sleeve. "Ok. Also true. But not all of us had shining reviews before joining the Turks. We are literally a ragtag team of misfits and ex-cons. I mean, I could quit. Open my own restaurant or something. But honestly, at this point, who's going to want to buy tonberry burgers from an ex-Turk. Some of us have nowhere else to turn."

Rude said nothing, taking a drink instead. August pointed his finger as if he was going to make a point. "Hey man, I could always go back to being a private eye. But the pay as a Turk is steadier."

"Well truth be told, half of us couldn’t go back to a regular life. Most of us were bailed out of going to jail.. I can see it now if we all up and quit tomorrow and got regular jobs. Marcus Cole, motorcycle insurance salesman." Reno put his hand up with each word as if gesturing to a sign.

August almost choked on his drink, sputtering a bit out in front of him. Reno began again, making the same motions. "Becca Pierce, stand up comedian."

Rude shook his head but kept a straight face. "Samantha Baines, cabana girl," Reno continued.

"Ha! Nice," August laughed out loud.

Rude set his drink down. "What's the point you're trying to make, Reno?"

"The point I'm trying to make is that it's ridiculous to think of them in a regular, dead end job. Of course they're Turks. They're too extraordinary not to be. Even if they tried to do something else, they would always be known as a Turk. Even people like Morgan."

"Morgan joined the enemy," Rude interjected.

"Yea yea, point is, we're not all angels. I mean, you and I did some shady shit before joining the Turks." He gave Rude a side glance who was in the middle of drinking again. "I wonder if they had much of a choice in joining the rebels? I took a peek at Veld's notes in their files. Shinra dealt them a pretty bad hand in life. I think we'd all be hard pressed to join up with some rebels after the crap they went through."

"Of course they had a choice. Morgan had a choice.. Even Chelsea had a choice.." Rude grew quiet, his sunglasses clad face staring straight ahead.

August watched the pair in silence, unsure what they were discussing. Reno pat Rude's shoulder. "I'm sorry man. I didn't realize we were treading into touchy territory."

Rude didn't say anything for a long time. Five minutes passed before he could bring himself to speak. "Don't worry. It's in the past. I'm fine."

"I know Rude, I know.."

They both returned to their drinks without much else to say. Reno spoke up, "Ran into Lily the other day."

Rude turned to him. "How's she doing?" he asked.

Reno shrugged. "Her memory's still fuzzy. I saw her from a distance. I didn't want to bother her. She looked happy."

Rude sighed and tried to console his friend, "Look Reno, you don't have to bring up something uncomfortable to make it even. Chelsea made her choice. Lily was a victim of circumstance. I do hope she gets better and that she'll remember you. Until then, let's keep the depressing commentary off the menu."

August agreed with a toast, “To Drake, like we had intended.”

Reno sighed, both he and Rude putting their glasses up to join August’s. They lowered their arms, but after a few more moments, Rude held his mug up to the air again. Reno thought he was going for another toast and so lifted his glass in response but then Rude lowered his arm. "Taste bad now?" Reno asked.

Rude nodded.

--End Chapter 12..