Chapter 4: Ripe With Decay

The morning was starting to press into early afternoon and the sunlight reflecting off the Shinra Building was a marvelous sight. The employees behind its thousands of tinted windows hardly noticed the bright sunlight. They continued on with their work into the afternoon and soon it was time for the first lunch shift. From humble beginnings, now perched atop the tallest building in the world, this was the last place Hector Shinra envisioned himself so many years ago.

Now President over the largest monopoly that the world had ever seen, he found himself standing before one of the huge windows in his executive office. It was the same spot where he had stood the night before as it offered the best view. He gazed out across the city, pleased to an extent with its sight. However, one nagging thought kept his smile at bay; those damned vermin rebels. He frowned and brought a smoldering cigar to his lips, inhaling the stale taste before lowering it once more. Those bastards had even dared to attack the building. His building! He shook his head and pulled his lower lip over his mustache; an old habit that showed his displeasure. The Turks had been combing the streets from late night to early dawn and he would keep them out there until they discovered their base. He wouldn't let these little impudent bastards slip through his fingers like they had in Cosmo Canyon.

Bitterness hadn’t always come so easily. Once a great visionary, he inherited the crumbling empire of Shinra Weapons Enterprises from his father-in-law, Makoto Shinra. Once a household name, by the time Hector came to the helm, he knew it was a matter of time before he would have to liquidate the assets and sell off the shares. The stress of trying to keep a dying family business afloat was becoming too much. But Hector refused to toss in his hat; he felt he owed it to his father-in-law to revive the Shinra name. It was his wife, Maureen, who suggested he visit the trade shows in downtown Junon. Maybe he’d see something new and exciting to steer the Company towards. It was at one such show that he saw what he would come to call 'Mako energy' for the first time.


'Limitless Energy' read the sign that Hector found himself staring at. He rubbed his chin as a demonstration took place at the booth. People had gathered around to get a better glimpse of the charismatic salesman as he walked around, showing the onlookers a glass tube filled with bright, green liquid.

"Many of you are unaware of what I hold in my hand. I tell you now, it is the future! Boundless energy, ours for the taking! It's cleaner than coal, more cost effective to manufacture than gasoline, and unlike fossil fuels, it will never run out!"

Hector's attention was riveted on the man as he walked to and fro addressing the crowd. "This here in my hand, folks, is pure energy! Straight from the planet herself." He kissed the canister and smiled. "And the offer I give you today is invest in my idea, and we will pull this world out of the dark ages. No more need for dirty coal to darken our skies and ail our lungs. This amount of energy I hold in my hand is enough to power a home for one month. Lights, powered by energy. Water, heated without coal. The possibilities are endless!"

Hector agreed. They were indeed limitless as the sign boasted. He waited for the crowd to disperse after the demo was over before he approached the man. "Any takers?" he asked.

The man looked disparaged. "There never are. I'm offering a chance to change their lives, but no one really likes change.."

Hector picked up the canister and stared intently at the green wispy liquid sloshing inside. "How did you extract it?"

"Wasn't that difficult. Fixed an old oil driller, put it on top of a fissure. Took about a month to get that bit you're holding." the man explained.

"How much do you want for the patent?" Hector asked without blinking an eye. "For your rigged drill?"

"Excuse me?"

Hector set the canister back onto a table. "Look, I know how these little shows work. You need an investor in your idea because you lack the funding. Rather than strike up some partnership that will likely sour in a few years, because I'm a very hard man to get along with, how about I just buy your idea from you and you can work for me. You've made your money and I have a new toy to play with."

The man's face was stern, but Hector could see that he was mulling the idea over in his mind. "How much are you prepared to offer for the idea of limitless energy?" he asked at last.

"I'll give you a check for five million gil right now."

The man choked on air and stammered, "You can't be serious!?"

"Plus, I'll give you a job with my company, equipment to develop this technology further. Funds to hire your own research team, etcetera etcetera." Hector pulled out his pocket book and began to flip through for a blank slip. "Who do I make this out to?" he asked as he wrote the date and the amount.

The man was caught off guard by what was taking place, he couldn't believe what was happening. "You're serious? You are serious! Uh.. Oh Esteban O'royo." He straightened up as Hector wrote his name and then signed the check. He tore it from the book and handed it over.

Esteban took the check and frowned, "Aren't you worried that I won't keep my end of the bargain?"

Hector flashed a smile that turned into a knowing laugh. "Well, if you read my name on the check, you might think twice before double crossing the owner of Shinra Weapon Enterprises.."

Esteban laughed nervously and was sorry he made the joke. Hector turned to leave, but said over his shoulder, "Will you be here Monday? Come to my office, in the east block. I’ll show you around and we can start to put together your team so you can get to work. We're going to need more than your homemade drill."

Hector discussed the purchase with his wife. She was eager, yet wary as always. He reminded her that this would be life changing.. Practically begged her to give it a chance. Once she was on board, it was a done deal. Shinra Electric Power Company was born overnight in Junon. Esteban and Hector drew up the blueprints for massive reactors that would be used to harness the raw mako; the name Hector christened the energy with in honor of his late father-in-law. Around these reactors they designed facilities to manufacture and process the material into a usable energy source. Nibelheim was the first to receive a reactor, located high in the mako rich Nibel Mountains. Next, they cleared the way for the first underwater reactor in Junon at the bottom of the ocean. Within a month of the reactors completion, coal in Junon was obsolete and mako powered lanterns lit the busy streets. Nibelheim took a little more convincing to fully give up their dependence on fossil fuels. Over time, the air became cleaner as well, people stopped coughing; cancer cases were less frequent. It was a dream come true.

Hector set his sights on creating a new city that would run exclusively on Mako Energy. And he wanted to show the world what it could do in terms of clearing the air. He chose the site for the new city over the existing town of Thrym. The new city would be constructed on top of enormous plates, enough to support the entire town above. Thrym would lose their sunlight but in the end they did gain clean air, for a while at least. The new city was to be named Midgar and it was nicknamed The Floating City. People moved from Thrym and Kalm in droves to the new metropolis. Though some did stay in the derelict town below, afraid of progress, Hector surmised.

In time, the Company boasted several divisions including weapons manufacture, public safety and the army, science and research, urban development and even an ambitious space program. Leaders were selected, budgets were set, and employees hired. Shinra had become a mega conglomerate and there was no end to what they tried to achieve. Mako powered vehicles, electronics, medically enhanced soldiers, a specialized task force known as the Turks. There was no telling what Shinra would attempt next.

Besides the ever growing army, Research and Development was where Hector had focused a great deal of the Company’s excess funds. He had heard a rumor that while Shinra Corporation was busy skimming just a fraction of mako from the planet’s crust, a wealth of untapped reserves could be harvested from a mythical place known as The Promised Land. Overnight, he became an expert, devouring every book and manuscript on the subject he could find. By week’s end he had announced his new ambition to the executives of the main branches. They would begin their search for this utopia but in order to be successful, they would require the assistance of one of the oldest known stewards of the planet..

An Ancient.

Or Cetra, as Dr. Bugenhagen called them. As one of Makoto Shinra’s old mentors, he had been invited as an experienced mind in the R and D department. To Hector’s dismay, the books all pointed to a mass extinction of the Cetra race nearly two millennia prior. If any remnants remained, they were scattered to the far corners of the earth, never to be seen by society again.. Or were they..? The discovery of a century was underway in the Northern Crater. A being trapped in ice, since the days of the Cetra, Bugenhagen had surmised, was located by a scientific research team searching for huge materia.

It was brought to Nibelheim where another scientist on the team, Professor Gast, identified the partially transformed woman as an Ancient. With news of the find, President Shinra founded the Jenova Project, aiming to create a hybrid race of Cetra, people that would be able to lead him to his ultimate goal; The Promised Land. Bugenhagen had his doubts that this being was Cetra related, and eventually his meddling caused him to fall from Hector’s favor. He would leave the Company not long after, taking his vast knowledge about the subject with him.


A noise behind Hector snapped him from his day dreaming. He turned on hearing footsteps and noticed Rufus coming up the stairs. "Ah, Rufus my boy. You've come to visit your father, eh?" He smiled wide and turned to walk towards the young man.

On hearing the words from his father, Rufus' lip curled instinctively. How he despised the 'old man'.. So greedy; so afraid that his little empire might come crashing down. He adjusted his expression and took a sip from the large cup he was holding. "Good afternoon, Mr. President." He moved towards the mainframe of computers in the middle of the room.

"President? Haw haw haw! You can call me dad, you know. It's no secret around here." Shinra laughed as he sucked on his stubby cigar a bit more.

Rufus rolled his eyes and moved to the main desk. He set down the small bag that he was carrying and pulled out two boxes and a fork. President Shinra looked on for a bit, but seeing that Rufus was taking a long time to unpack his food, he sighed and flicked the spent cigar ashes into an ashtray. "Well then, I need to be off. Brunch meeting with those damned Tomiko bastards." He walked towards the exit. "Don't work too hard now!"

He laughed at his joke and disappeared from the room. Rufus watched him walk away and then turned towards the computers. "Crawl into an early grave, 'old man'," he growled as he flipped on the screen.


The sun rose high, taking morning into early afternoon and soon it was time to think about lunch. The city bustled with life, workers leaving their desks to meet up with friends for food. The restaurants began to fill up with those seeking to sate their hunger. You could find any type of cuisine in Midgar to fit whatever taste you were searching for.

Spicy noodles and various seasoned meats on sticks from Wutaiian vendors was popular this time of year. Fresh boiled seafood and piping hot chowders served with crisp sourdough breads, light salads that were easy to prepare and serve, and hand wrapped sandwiches were among the favorites of those on their lunch hour. The meals could be taken on the go or if one had the time, enjoyed at an outdoor table beneath an umbrella. Coffee from Mideel was in demand as well and you could obtain one from several bistros in the downtown area.

At a quiet corner café in Sector Five, two individuals blended seamlessly with the crowd and seemed to be relaxing on their mid day break. One man, sporting a gray suit, blond hair, and narrow glasses sipped at a small tea cup. The other man, older than the first, had dark brown hair and was dressed casually. "This comes as a surprise. But I have never doubted your information. Two new Turks, and they already have them out on assignment."

The man in the gray suit replied, "Yes, in Gongaga. I don't know the scope of why they are there yet, but I thought you should be aware of their recruitment."

It was silent for a long moment and then a waitress approached with a small tray. She smiled as their food was place on the table and said to the man in gray, "Enjoy your lunch, Director Lazard." She excused herself and left the table.

Lazard thanked her and looked over his curry noodles with tofu. He smelled the steam coming from the meal and smiled. "Mmm.. Delightful.." He retrieved his fork and began pushing the food around to help it cool.

His table mate sat quietly, sipping at a cold brew coffee and nothing else. "You really should try their noodles, Shears," Lazard whispered across the table, "and their coconut cake. Amazing.."

He took a bite of food and closed his eyes, savoring the taste. Shears glanced around the café. "Right, well if you've got nothing else…"

Lazard waved his fork and swallowed so he could speak, "By the way. Your guy did a number on the building.. It's going to take weeks to repair."

Shears snorted, trying to stifle his laughter. "Not like you told us to go easy. You said to get her out by any means necessary.. Besides, you've got bigger fish to fry with that mass desertion.." he paused, "..and the Genesis sightings."

Lazard sighed. "That is very true." He moved to take another sip of his ginseng tea, but a thought occurred to him and he lowered his hand. "He's not the only Soldier to come back from the dead recently.."

Shears crossed his arms and pondered the reserved man. Lazard wasn't usually so forthcoming with information and he guessed it must be the stress. "So why did you call me here?" Shears cut into Lazard's thoughts. "If you have information, you're supposed to leave it at the dead drop. That's what we agreed on."

Lazard picked up a napkin to wipe his mouth but stopped short of doing so. Instead, he withdrew something small from his breast pocket. He concealed it within the napkin and passed it to Shears. "Seeing as she was interrupted, this is the rest of the data I'd intended her to take."

Shears took the napkin, shoving it into his pants pocket. "What is it?" he asked.

"Reactor layouts. Each one is unique. I figured they may come in handy if your crew decides to go after bigger fish themselves."

"Why couldn't you have left all of this at the drop?" Shears pinched the area between his eyebrows in annoyance. "Did we even need to send anyone in at all?"

"Of course! You got her out, didn’t you? And put a nice, new drive thru in the lobby as well. I call that a win-win."

Shears raised a brow and leaned back in the chair. "Right.. Well if that's all..?"

Lazard picked up his tea and took a sip before returning to his lunch. "Indeed.. And just so you are aware, I may not be in a position to help you much longer.. The desertion of over half of my soldiers may very well lead to my requested resignation. But I'll hold out for as long as I can."

Shears stood, leaving a few gil on the table for his portion of the bill. "Well, if that's the case.. It's been a pleasure."

Lazard acknowledged the words while he finished his meal. "Likewise.. I am very sympathetic to your cause." He pulled out the money owed and added it to the tray at the center of the table.

Lazard stood and extended a hand to Shears who took it. They both shook and without a word, they parted ways. Shears disappeared into the crowd and made his way back to headquarters while Lazard headed for the train station. He stepped through the turnstile and got on the nearest train car; the sign above reading that it was bound for the Shinra Building. He entered the overcrowded car and took a seat. He relaxed back, hoping that his presence would go unnoticed. After a few moments, an elderly woman entered the car and he stood to give her a place to sit. She smiled and said, "How kind of you, such a nice young man."

"Not a problem ma'am. It's a long ride and I don't want you to stand."

He grabbed one of the overhead straps as the doors shut. Soon the train started up and began the long trip towards its destination. He looked out the window and took in the view of the city's upper plate. Skyscrapers of all shapes and sizes rose up from the edges of the highway. In the distance, Reactor Four was releasing a steam gust of green tinted vapor. After releasing a sigh, he glanced to the left; the large building at the center of the city rising into full view. "Back to the grind, eh?" someone said.

Lazard glanced over to see an all too familiar face. "Director Tuesti. What brings you out of the building? I thought you practically lived there."

"Likewise, I could ask you the same thing, Director Lazard.." Reeve chuckled and looked outside over his shoulder then back to him. "Taking in a late breakfast?"

Lazard tensed momentarily, taking his previous steps into account. Had Reeve spotted him at the café? When did he get on the train? Had he been here the whole time? "No, early lunch," he answered automatically, not wanting to seem ruffled by the exchange.

Reeve looked over his shoulder out the window. "Your stop is coming up, for the building. I assume you're heading in." He was trying to make casual conversation.

Lazard tried to remain calm. "Indeed. And with the recent goings on, it may be an all-nighter."

The train slowed and braked to a stop, an automated voice over the intercom announcing their arrival at the Shinra Building. Lazard bid Reeve farewell and moved toward the doors. He glanced back on sensing that Reeve had not followed him. "Not on today?" he asked.

Reeve shook his head and leaned back in his seat. "No, going to visit family. But you have a good day, sir."

"You as well."

The doors slid open and he exited as a rush of people piled onto the train. Reeve watched him until the train started up once more and sped away. The building fell into the distance as the train moved towards its next stop. A heavy feeling settled on his mind as the train dipped underground and the plate above disappeared. Soon the site of the Midgar sub city came into view. As the train raced on, the scenery outside grew more dismal and desperate. Cute houses turned into shanties, the barren landscape gave way to small cluster villages as Reeve called them. In the days before Midgar towered above, this was the place Reeve called home; the humble town of Thrym.


In those days, the skies were a little darker. The city was founded on coal mining and it was what everyone used. In time, the country town grew, but it also became enshrouded in a thick, choking cloud of coal dust and smog. People pushed their homes out a little further, but the pollution followed. Reeve grew up on the outskirts of the main town, far away from where the skeletal central plate of Midgar had begun to spiral into the sky. He spent his childhood building forts with his friends and playing in the rivers before they were awash with toxic waste from the refineries. Eventually, his parents couldn't move the home any further and stagnation choked them. Overhead, the great shadow of progress crept in as the new city was beginning to take shape. The President of the Shinra Electric Power Company had chosen Thrym to be the sight of his next clean air endeavor.

Construction had been well underway as long as Reeve could remember and for the next twenty years, the sky was slowly blocked from view as the city of Midgar materialized high above. The air did indeed begin to clear. Mako was now the preferred power source. The rivers were no longer filled with thick sludge from refining coal, the trash and years of dumping were undone with a new waste management service. But the cost paid by the people of Thrym was their access to the sky. Once the residential areas of Midgar were complete, people were urged to leave behind the town below and live on the upper plate. But either due to stubbornness or a lack of funds, many of Thrym's residents stayed put. Over time, the name of the original town would be forgotten by many and the whole area was simply referred to as 'the slums'.

But Reeve remembered. And he recalled the day he was made Director over Urban Development of Midgar two years ago.. Sometimes he wondered if he was doing all that he could for the people of Midgar and those that chose to stay below. He glanced at his shoes. "Reeve, you're doing the best you can for these people." He must never forget; he was working for the people of Midgar and Thrym. In truth, the reason he had taken the job was to help the people of the forgotten city below. As long as he had a voice, he would speak up for them and their rights.

The train stopped at the next station and Reeve left the car. It had been a while since he visited his parents. He would try once more to convince them to move out of the Sector Seven slums. Perhaps when they saw the new place he'd already purchased it would change their minds. He stopped at a flower cart and decided to pick up a bouquet to make it special.

After browsing over the lilies and roses for a few moments, he picked up a bouquet with purple irises, yellow daisies and a few pink roses. He paid the young woman and continued on his way, reaching the gates to the residential area of Sector Seven. He moved along the quiet street until he came to a familiar house. His childhood home, overshadowed by two larger apartments, it looked so small; but comforting. He began to feel better as soon as he laid eyes on the front door where a wreath of fake lilacs hung. Reeve walked up the small steps and knocked on the door. Minutes later, it opened to reveal his mother; Ruvie Tuesti.

"Reeve! My, what a surprise!" she smiled, throwing her arms around him.

She was so surprised that she didn't even notice the bouquet until she almost crushed it. "Oh dear, and flowers for your mother? So thoughtful." She smiled and pulled him inside by his shoulder.

He stood in the entry way as she hurried off to find a vase for the flowers. "So my dear, what brings you out of that stuffy building?" she called out from the kitchen.

Reeve began to look around the familiar home, nostalgia filling his senses. "I came by to see you and Dad. It's been a while since I last visited. Is he around?" he asked as he moved to the kitchen.

She had put the flowers into a vase and was fluffing them up a bit. "These are so pretty," she mused. "Can I get you some tea?"

"Yes, please."

She moved to the stove to put the kettle on. "Your dad's out right now. He'll be back for a late lunch. Had to help the neighbors down the block with their roof."

Reeve's eyes fell to a familiar item sitting in the corner of the kitchen. A tool box sat wide open and it appeared that work was being done. "Dad still working on that Mog doll? I thought he would have finished that up by now.."

Moments later, Ruvie turned around holding a small tray with sugar, cream, and a few biscuits. She pulled out a chair and sat across from her son. "Well, you know him, he likes to tinker. I'm pretty sure he's fixed it at least twice but still likes to poke around. He said something about needing a new set of springs for the legs." She pat the other chair indicating he should sit as well.

Reeve took a seat across from his mother and leaned back into the chair. "What's wrong with the neighbor's roof?" He picked up a biscuit and took a bite.

"A blasted pipe from the upper plate fell on it last night. Took out their water heater. Luckily Mable and Clark were at the store when it happened," Ruvie explained.

Reeve choked at her statement. The whistle for the tea sounded and Ruvie jumped up to get it. "Are you kidding me?" Reeve managed to sputter out after being able to swallow. "That could have fallen on you and Dad!"

His mother reappeared with the kettle and nonchalantly poured their tea. "Ooooohhh. You worry too much. We're fine."

She settled back into her seat and began scooping a heaping spoonful of sugar. She moved towards Reeve's cup but he put his hand out. "Just cream please."

She sighed and put the spoon into her own cup. "Suit yourself."

Reeve looked on disapprovingly.

"You can wag your finger at me all you want, Director. I'm not going to stop putting sugar in my tea.." Ruvie chuckled.

"Mom.. your diabetes.." Reeve whispered. "I worry about you.. and Dad. How's his back?"

Ruvie tilted her head side to side without looking at Reeve and looked noticeably upset. "Well you know how he is.. He'd never admit that he's in pain.. But I can tell." She glanced back up and met her son's gaze. "You make us both so proud.." She smiled, trying to change the subject.

Reeve smiled and picked up his tea cup. "And you would both make me happy if you would move to the upper plate.. It would be a lot less strain on you and Dad. The air is cleaner.. you can see the sky. Random pipes won't come crashing down."

Ruvie touched the flowers lovingly, turning to him with a smile. "You know, I still haven't gotten the garden to come up in the back. It's like these poor flowers can't get the sunlight they need." Her smile faded as she picked up a biscuit.

Reeve hesitated for a moment then took another biscuit for himself. He dipped it into his tea and bit the edge. "The place in Sector Five has a yard out back. You would be able to have your garden. Plus I could stop worrying about my parents living in--"

"In the slums?" she said matter-of-factually.

Reeve took a long drink from his cup and looked to her over the rim. He pulled the cup back. "That's not what I was going to say."

Ruvie looked between her son and the beautiful flowers. "Well, Reeve. I know that it's your job to make sure the people in this city are safe, so I know you will do whatever you can to make sure of that. And I trust you." She moved her hand from the flowers and clasped it over his. "I'll try to talk to your father.." She patted his hand twice and took up her tea cup.

Reeve closed his eyes in defeat and sighed. "That would be good.. The place in Sector Five will be ready for you when you are."

"I don't think I'll ever be ready to leave.. But maybe it's needed. I do miss having a garden."

She looked back at her son and gave him a reassuring smile. "If it means so much to you, I'll try discussing it with your father tonight."

Reeve breathed a sigh of relief and moved to take her hand. "You're going to love it." he replied.


After an entire afternoon and evening of searching, Drake and Marcus arrived at the building to report their findings of 'absolutely nothing'. Becca had been reassigned to work with Samantha and August, but even the three of them didn't fair too well. They searched back alley hideouts and dive bars until it was time to return for the shift change. Reno and Rude had come up just as empty handed like the night before. Jale was supposed to have accompanied Drake and Marcus, but he didn't show up for his shift and so they were forced to begin without him. When they entered the main office of the Turks, Veld and Tseng were nowhere to be seen. Jale however was resting comfortably at his desk, his feet on the top of it as if he had all the time in the world to relax.

Marcus grimaced, tossing out a sarcastic remark. "Finally decided to roll out of bed, eh?"

Jale turned to Marcus and raised a curious brow. "Jet lag's a bitch. Doesn't look like you two had any luck finding jack shit anyway." He returned to flicking an ink pen towards the ceiling in an effort to get it stuck in one of the tiles.

Drake stopped at the edge of Jale's desk. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Jale shrugged. "Relaxing while the rest of you run around the city, trying to find someone who doesn’t want to be found. Veld just loves wasting time.."

Drake shifted his stance and crossed his arms. He rarely felt ruffled by others, but Jale had always rubbed him the wrong way. Especially when it came to the safety of his fellow Turks. He angled his foot upward and kicked Jale's feet from the desktop. The move was unexpected and Jale had to grab the edge of the desk to keep from spinning out of the chair. He shot up in an instant, readying his fists to fight and was met with the barrel of a pistol in his face. His eyes twitched to look at the safety, noting it was off. He smirked and put his hands up in an expression of surrender.

Marcus stumbled back, never having seen Drake lose his cool. "Hey, Drake.. Take it easy.." he managed to stutter.

Drake glared at Jale. "I don't give a rat's ass why the President brought you back. But while you're here, you better stow the attitude and show some goddamn respect." Drake growled. "Our orders are to find this woman and Avalanche as well. If all you're going to do is sit there, throwing pens at the ceiling, expecting the job to do itself, you should just pack your shit and get back to Costa del Sol."

Ignoring the fact that there was still a loaded gun pointed in his face, Jale turned and sank back into the chair. He seemed unfazed by the outburst and was even smiling. "I wouldn't worry too much, bucko. She'll turn up; probably sooner than you think." He smirked and returned to his task. After a few more flicks, the pen sank into the soft ceiling tile. Jale leaned up and glanced at Drake with a wry smile. "As for Avalanche, they'll fuck up at some point and I'll be there when they do."

Drake holstered his gun and walked towards his own desk. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from the drawer and placed them in his jacket pocket then slammed the drawer with a loud bang. Marcus watched him the entire time, still on edge. "Coming?" Drake said to Marcus as he arrived at the door, the young man following after him.

Jale laughed and returned to his previous activity, attempting to sink another pen. Moments later, the door opened back up to reveal Becca and Samantha. Becca crossed the room towards her desk and Samantha stood by the door, staring at Jale in disbelief. "Wow, Becs was right. How did you ever get back in here after the stunt you pulled?" Samantha asked.

August came up behind her, poking his head into the room. His expression was dark. "Unbelievable.." he sighed.

Becca stood at her desk momentarily, rifling through the drawers. She turned and clicked a clip of ammo into her gun then put it away. "Seems like he possesses a certain 'je ne sais quoi' that the rest of us all seem to be lacking.." she grumbled sarcastically.

Becca was a stern girl, always worried about doing a good job, and getting it done efficiently. This meant that she was also very to the point and had no qualms with calling out bullshit when she saw it. Samantha, on the other hand, was more of a 'fly by the seat of her pants' kind of girl. She did her job, but she would never form up a plan or a backup plan for that matter. She would go in head strong and surprisingly come out on top. She had long since earned the nickname 'Behemoth Baines', a title that no doubt had inflated her ego as well.

"Becca, you know I hate it when you speak French.." Samantha pretended to pout as she and August moved to Veld's office.

They signed the log sheet that was there and Samantha continued, "All you needed to say was that Jale here is a ruthless asshole who doesn't care about his fellow Turks in the slightest, as long as the job gets done."

Samantha turned with a bounce in her step, her light brown ponytail swooping around her head. "Did I nail it?" she asked Jale.

He tapped his index finger on his nose. Samantha shook her head in disgust and made her way toward the door. "See? He even acknowledges it." she sneered.

August signed the paper and tossed the pen, letting it roll to the edge of the desk. He moved to leave the office, shaking his head as he walked by the idle Turk. Becca signed out as well then followed and heaved a tired sigh. "Reno and Rude will be in soon. You don't want to be here when they arrive.." she warned on her way out behind Samantha and August.

"Thanks for the tip, sister." Jale replied.

He sat up in the chair as the door was shut and that's when he thrust the pen into a stack of papers, shoving it through all of them, the tip hitting the desk. He stood up and grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair. He was bored and had had his fill of this place. It was time to do something exciting and meet his new Avalanche pals. He left the office and took the elevator to the employee lounge. Before leaving the building, he needed to make a pit stop to pick up the duffel bag Rufus had given him from the locker room. Inside there was a brown Avalanche uniform and a pistol to replace the current Shinra issued one. He could change on the train that would take him to Sector Six and no one would pay him any mind once he was out of the Turk suit. He slammed the locker door and made his way to the lobby.


Drake pulled a long drag from his cigarette before flicking the ashes into the air. The nicotine calmed his tense nerves, helping him think more clearly. It had been a while since he had allowed himself to get rattled, but the mere presence of Jale put him on guard. Marcus leaned on the metal railing next to him, the wind whipping at his open jacket while they both watched the sunlight fade from the sky. The smoking deck on level 61 was void of other people for now. Behind them inside the cafeteria, several employees were getting dinner and chatting with coworkers.

Drake finished the cigarette and removed another from the pack, placing it between his lips. Marcus watched him, wanting to speak, but he wasn't sure what to say at the moment. In his time as Drake's partner, it was rare to see him unhinged. Drake noticed the awkward silence and after lighting the second cigarette, he said, "Last time I got that upset was when my ex-boss hired those two idiots, Kotch and Scotch, to take me out."

Marcus glanced over and said, "I remember Reno and Rude talking about that. 'Gun-fu' Reno called it. Said he'd never seen anyone take out the trash like you did."

Drake smiled despite the sour mood he was in. "Yea well, Veld had a better proposition. Working for Don Corneo had gotten stale. It felt like we were busting the same guy's kneecaps week after week. And I saw myself going down the same path as the boss. The Turks offered a chance to use my skills instead of wasting away in the slums hooked on Tranquilizers. I was tired of the debauchery.." He returned to smoking.

Marcus had to agree. The offer from Tseng had turned his life around. He had been born into a life of crime. Until Reno and Rude cornered him in the Shinra garage in Junon, he had never known a moment in his life where he wasn’t steal to survive. His brother Rex had inherited the family business, but Marcus was put in charge of his cousins. They were a rowdy bunch, always screwing up the jobs they were sent on and damaging the sand skiffs in games of chicken. Marcus grew weary of skimming loose change off travelers and resolved that he wanted to head to 'the big city' to seek his fortune. The decision did not go over well with the extended family; his uncles accused him of abandoning the business. Marcus' brother Rex was supportive, telling him he could always return if Junon didn't pan out.

Drake stole a glance, seeing the young man lost in thought. "Did I get you reminiscing too?"

"Yea.. Thinking of home."

After a long moment, Drake asked, "How's your brother?"

"Rex? Still playing Sand Pirate I assume. Still pissed at me for leaving." He released a tense breath and crossed his arms. "He doesn't return my calls."

"Is there good cell phone reception in the desert?" Drake flicked his spent cigarette into the bin and returned to leaning on the rail. "Not that I am trying to make excuses for the guy, but I thought he told you that you could always come back."

Marcus shrugged. "That was when I left the desert to go to Junon. Leaving Junon to join the Turks wasn't part of the original plan."

Drake looked back out across the vastness of Midgar. In the distance, the horizon was a thin, orange glow. "Well, you also joined under different circumstances. I was offered the job. You were caught hot wiring a Shinra GX-9."

"The best motorcycle the Company ever made. Don't forget that I fought Reno and Rude, and still got away with their badges." he reminded Drake.

Drake snickered. "Tseng was impressed by that alone from what I have heard. Called you 'magnet fingers'."

Marcus pushed himself from the railing. "A nickname I'm glad didn't stick."

The sky had faded to a dark blue around them. Slow blinking lights from various skyscrapers replaced the stars that had long since been forgotten by those who lived in the city limits. "Man, what the hell are we going to do about Jale?" Marcus asked after a few moments.

"He's an insufferable prick, but I imagine he's been brought on for one purpose and once it's fulfilled we'll be rid of him once more." Drake pulled out his pack of cigarettes and peered into the package. "At least I hope that's the case. I've been trying to cut back."

He stuffed the pack away and turned away from the railing. "Come on, I bet Samantha, Becca, and August are in the cafeteria getting dinner."

"Oh good, we can all bitch about Jale together," Marcus laughed.

Drake shook his head, but laughed just the same as the two reentered the building. The thought of a hot meal improved his mood, or maybe it had been the two cigarettes. Regardless, he still couldn't shake the thought that Jale's return spelled trouble and he made up his mind to stay vigilant in his presence.

August waved Marcus and Drake over to their table when they stepped inside. Becca was already eating and Samantha was grabbing a drink at the bar. She trotted over, smiling on seeing Marcus and Drake join them. "We wondered where you two went." Becca said after a few bites.

Drake and Marcus both pulled out chairs as Samantha took a seat next to Becca and started cutting into her rare steak. "Just needed to blow off some steam." Drake replied.

August looked between Drake and his partner, wondering what had the former upset. A small smile tugged at the corner of Becca's mouth as she met Drake's gaze and she couldn't help herself. "I hear Jale has that effect on people."

"Death God of the Battlefield, feh," August scoffed, "he's nothing but an overconfident punk."

Samantha cut in. "Drake, don't waste any energy on that asshole. My dad always said 'you can't let others drag you down and steal your light'. To that end I say, 'fuck 'em'."

"How very zen of you, Baines. I'll try to remember that," Drake chuckled.

"No problem!"

Marcus spoke up. "I gotta know.. What the hell were they thinking bringing that monster back."

"Well here comes your chance to find out," August responded.

Approaching footsteps caused the table of friends to turn their attention behind Becca and Samantha. Their second in command was within earshot of them. "Tseng," Marcus greeted.

"Good evening," Tseng greeted. He walked over and took the last remaining seat, closing the gap between Samantha and Marcus.

He folded his hands on top of the table and sat in silence. Becca, August, and Samantha stopped eating while Marcus and Drake glanced at the others. "Please, continue your meals. I'm not here in any official capacity."

The table relaxed a bit and Samantha took another bite of steak. Despite being told to relax, the mood shifted and the light chatter between them ceased. August sipped at his drink and cleared his throat, wagging an eyebrow at Marcus who had looked his way. Marcus looked surprised, narrowing his gaze and August motioned once more. Marcus shook his head and returned to staring at the table.

"I wanted to assure you all that bringing back Mr. Gerrick was not Veld's call." Tseng broke the silence, having an idea that was what the topic was before he walked over. "President Shinra asked for him in the wake of the resurgence of Avalanche's activity."

Marcus crossed his arms while Drake diverted his gaze to the table. August took another drink and Becca stacked her silverware neatly on her empty plate. Only Samantha was bold enough to say what everyone was thinking. "Personally I find it insulting that my ability to do my job is being questioned."

The others were shocked by her comment but Tseng smirked slightly. "I trust you are not alone in that thought, Miss Baines." He looked around the table. "Your skills are not being questioned. I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Gerrick isn't the only new addition to the team we receive. Veld may put out the call to recruit a few more.. Times are desperate. Anyway.."

He stood back up. "You all have a pleasant evening."

Tseng pushed his chair in and bid them all good night. After he had left the cafeteria, August gave a quiet laugh. "Sheesh Samantha, balls bigger than most of the guys I know."

Samantha tossed her ponytail over her shoulder with a huff. "We all have a right to know what's going on."

Becca shook her head with a smile, standing up with her plate. "What would we do without you."

"Remain uninformed," Samantha replied and she finished her dinner.

Drake stood up at last. "Alright, watching you all eat has been agony. Time for food."

Marcus followed his lead. "Agreed."

--End Chapter 4..