Chapter 7: Into the Void

After the tense encounter with Diego, Kess returned to the briefing room to talk to Morgan. She knew that going straight to Shears or Fuhito would garner no results. Plus they were busy with the mission planning. But Morgan had their ears and would be more receptive if the information came from her. Ashe tagged along, grumbling about missing out on breakfast, but he also wanted to get to the bottom of whatever was going on. Higashi and Fuhito had left. Morgan was by herself at one of the computer terminals, checking over the sensors that were to be worn that night.

Kess crossed the room, moving with purpose. Ashe followed behind and they both took a seat next to each other on Morgan's right side. Morgan couldn't help but pick up on their seriousness. "What’s up you two?" she had a small smirk on her lips.

"What do we know about Diego?" Kess didn't mince words and got right to the point.

Morgan's eyebrows lifted. "Well, if last night was any indication, he's got a serious case of wandering eye. He kept looking at you during dinner."

"What do you mean?"

Ashe snorted and muttered ‘creep’ under his breath. Morgan continued, "Well, when you zoned out for a bit, I noticed that he kept glancing over to you."

"Wow, he is a creep," Kess agreed.

Morgan crossed her arms. "Besides his obvious charm, not much else," she said with a level of sarcasm. "Fuhito cleared him. I don't even know if Shears met with him personally." She glanced upward as if thinking. "Why, did something happen?" She returned her gaze to Kess.

"There's a photograph in the restaurant upstairs.. It's of the Crescent Squad, the elite Wutai resistance that was wiped out by Soldier three years ago. Diego is in the photo," Kess explained.

Morgan became very interested. "Is that so..?"

Ashe listened to the details and gave a slow nod when Morgan posed the question. "Saw it with my own eyes," he confirmed.

She leaned back in her seat, rubbing the side of her face with a mixture of contemplation and agitation. She was piecing the scenario together. "So because he's still alive, you think he's the one who betrayed them. And if that's the case, he may still be working for the Company. I'll mention it to Shears.. But with the mission tonight, I don't know if I can get him alone.. Because if what we're discussing is true.. it means that Fuhito is compromised as well."

She shook her head, her long brown hair getting caught on her shoulder. She flicked it back behind her and lowered her head toward the table. "I don't even want to think about that," she admitted.

Ashe and Kess exchanged a worried glance and Ashe said, "We wanted you to know what we saw.. Especially if it was going to create a shit storm down the line."

Morgan looked up, glancing between the two of them. Her grimace returning to the smile she gave them when they first entered. "This is why we're here. We're a team. And if we see something that isn't right.. Or questionable, there should be no qualms about dragging it into the light."

But then she sighed as if defeated. "The problem here is that it involves someone that Shears seems to trust implicitly. I have to be very careful about how I talk to him about this.. They may not see eye to eye, but they are both devoted to the cause and this information may fall on deaf ears." Morgan ran a hand through her hair and tossed it back again. "I need time to plan this. Can you both keep this to yourselves for now?"

"Yes, of course," Kess assured her. "However you need to prepare.. We'll keep this quiet."

"Thank you both. Continue with the mission tonight. You guys should be in and out in under an hour. After it's over, I'll try to speak to Shears.. He's too on edge right now. You know how he gets."

Sensing that the meeting was over, Kess stood and Ashe followed. "Good luck tonight, guys," Morgan said as they took their leave. "I’ll be your eyes and keep you safe."


After a fast paced walk, Jale's feet touched ground that was far from the Avalanche base. His breathing was quickened, heart pounding as if he had run a mile.

Who the fuck is this woman..?

He stomped up rain slicked stairs leading away from the Sector Six train station. Pulling out his cellphone, he thumbed through the contact list. He pushed his way passed the crowd attempting to enter the busy station and made his way to the street. As he pressed his ear to the phone, a voice on the other end answered, a tinge of annoyance was discerned, "I thought we weren't speaking until Tuesday, Mr. Gerrick.."

"Vice President, we've got a change of plans.." Jale's voice was steady as he left the station and ventured onto the street into a light drizzle.

Rufus paused, the line seeming to go dead. Jale waited for Rufus to respond. "Well, what is the obstacle…?" His voice was cool, his tone calm.

Jale left the area of the train station and moved far from the location of the base. Once he was sure no Avalanche operatives were around, he said, "A woman. The one that escaped the building."

Rufus cut in, "Ah, you saw her. Good."

"Not good," Jale sniped. "She also recognized me.. Not as a Turk luckily. But from my time with the Crescents. She's an ex-Soldier, so it's possible she knows what happened to them.."

The drizzle began to pick up into a steady shower and Jale dodged into a busy shop to get out of the rain, but also to drown out his conversation. "I see.." was all Rufus said.

Jale noticed that he had popped into a convenience store and so started to grab a few items to seem inconspicuous. The shop was busy enough that no one seemed to pay him any attention. "I've got news as well. They're going back to the building tonight. It would be a good chance to take her out.. And the guy who blew the hole in the lobby is going too."

"Are they now.." Rufus' voice betrayed his interest.

"You could alert the Turks. Wipe them out. Take care of those two, my cover stays intact and I can keep feeding information. Nice and clean," Jale continued, trying to convince the young man.

Rufus paused as he mulled over a plan. "Can you get to the building without being seen?" he asked.

"Yea. That's no problem. I left my suit at the base. Don't worry it's in the bag.."

"I'll have a spare in the locker room for you.. Come back and change, then head to the cafeteria.. Tseng should be there by then getting coffee." Rufus was sure this would be the best way. "I don't care how you spin it. Tell him about the mission. Say you overheard it in a bar for all I care.. I'll take care of the rest."

Jale had stopped mid aisle and was staring at the front counter, his eyes found the cigarettes and the brand that he smoked. "You got that?" came Rufus' voice.

"Yea, I'll be there soon. Also, they’ve got some sort of sensor they’re going to be wearing that can detect key cards.. A way to see if there are Shinra employees nearby. And they’ve assigned me as the lookout."

"That will be dealt with. Proceed as they have instructed you," he paused, "now, you said she was in Soldier.. Did you get a name?"

Jale began to walk toward the counter to make his purchases and grab a fresh pack of cigarillos. "Yea, Kess Reignheart."


Cool air blew fiercely from the overhead duct and across Veld's desk. He ruffled his graying hair to feel the breeze. After two days of stale, hot air, the HVAC system had been repaired and the upper offices all breathed a sigh of relief. He closed his eyes, wiping away the last drips of sweat from his brow as the residue evaporated. "Finally.. Now I can get some work done.."

He leaned back up to face his computer screen when the door to the Turks' office opened and Rufus entered. "Ah, good afternoon, Vice President. What brings you down here at this hour?" He glanced at his watch. "Not quite breakfast time.."

Rufus shut the door behind himself and walked the few paces to Veld's desk at the head of the room. He flicked a few pieces of his blond hair away from his eyes as he held up a folder and smirked. "I've got a present for the Turks," he offered nonchalantly.

He stopped before the edge of the desk and handed the file folder to Veld. With a curious look, Veld took the file and opened it up to reveal a woman with short, dark brown hair and bright blue eyes. "Her name is Kess Reignheart. But don't let her different appearance fool you. It's the very same woman that you are looking for," Rufus explained with a cool smile.

Veld furrowed his brow and then glanced back up to Rufus. "How did you come across this information?"

"I have my ways, as the Turks have theirs. The resemblance is uncanny, is it not?"

Veld looked over the documents, which still bore lines of redacted information. But he did catch the words 'Hollander', 'Deepground' and 'Professor Hojo' as he scanned the pages. His eyes scrutinizing the woman's credentials. He thought that under the right circumstances, she might make a fine Turk as well.. Losing all that talent to an unceremonious execution would be such a waste. He cleared his throat and coughed. "So, we have an ex-Soldier on our hands. And she was involved with Deepground. If my assumptions are correct, she's not the only one working with the rebels," Veld mused as Rufus turned to leave. A small smirk spread across the vice president’s face.

He stopped at the door. "Father wants to know the moment you capture her. He says a lesson needs to be taught to those vermin."

"Of course. He will be the first one to know."

Rufus opened the door to leave and almost bumped into Tseng as he came rushing into the room. "Vice President, excuse me, I've got urgent news. The―"

Veld glanced up and cut him off without realizing. "Ah Li Feng, good timing. Rufus just dropped off some documents that will assist in the capture of that wom―"

"Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I've received word that Avalanche operatives may be planning to enter the building tonight!" Tseng blurted out.

Rufus lingered by the door, waiting to hear how Veld would react to Tseng's news. "What was that? Tonight?" Veld questioned. "Where did you hear this from?"

"When I went down to the cafeteria, Jale pulled me aside and explained how he had overheard a conversation while drinking at the Lucky Lady last night, a known hang out for the rebels."

Rufus grew more interested by the minute. "Apparently, they are planning to go to the upper floors, but their purpose is unknown. I think we should call everyone in to prepare for this."

Veld stood with a sudden purpose. "I've got to inform the President. Tseng, call Becca, Samantha, and August back early. Get Reno, Rude, Drake and Marcus in. Cissnei and Shion should be here soon. With Max and Tonya still in Gongaga, we're going to need all hands on deck. They will not escape this time."

Tseng bowed his head and removed his cellphone from his inner pocket. Veld walked passed him and out of the room, intending to tell President Shinra. Rufus hung back to listen in on Tseng's phone call, but decided it was best to excuse himself. He returned to his own office to bide his time and wait for the arrival of Avalanche. He wouldn't miss this encounter for the world.

Veld arrived on the 70th floor, greeting Annette as he walked by and knocked on the inner office door. President Shinra was standing at his mini bar, opera music blaring from overhead speakers. He turned to see Veld shutting the door behind himself and cocked his head. "Ah Veld?" he spoke as if in good spirits. "Guess I'll make it a double.."

"Sir, they're coming, Avalanche is planning another infiltration, tonight."

President Shinra's face resembled a beet, the glass in his hand cracking under the pressure of his meaty fist. "I want them captured, alive!"


Reno slapped at his cell phone as an alarm blared for the sixth time that morning. Despite the heavy hangover he was experiencing, he made contact with the device and managed to silence it once more. Turning over in a huff, he buried his face into the flattened pillow and placed another one over his head in an attempt to block out the light. As he was beginning to doze off, there was a deafening knock on his front door. A loud groan escaped his dry mouth as his cell phone beeped, indicating a voicemail was awaiting his attention. The knock sounded again and he pressed his pillow sandwich closer around his pounding head. "Oh for fuck's sake," he seethed.

The headache was more intense than the usual one from an all night bender. He peeked out from the darkened hiding place, noting that it was raining outside and the air pressure was likely the cause of the worsening migraine. The knock sounded again, not so booming now that he was conscious. "Alright, alright.." he sighed in defeat.

Sitting up on the couch where he had crashed the night before, wearing only a pair of black pajama bottoms, he looked around the gray room as if he didn't recognize his own place. He put bare feet to the cold floor and crossed the room to the door. Opening it a crack, he noticed the familiar form of his partner, the bald head blocking the bright light from the overhead fixture. "Morning, Rude.." Reno managed to speak, feeling the uncomfortable dryness of his own mouth.

He turned away, leaving Rude to let himself in, and staggered towards the bathroom. Rude entered, dressed in his usual black attire. He shut the door after himself and heard the audible beep of Reno's cellphone. He walked over to it and picked it up. He held it for now, but tossed it to Reno as he exited the bathroom. "Tseng's been messaging you for over an hour," he informed the red haired man. "They want us in the office by ten o'clock."

Reno yawned as he flipped the cellphone open and saw over a dozen messages from Tseng. The last notification was a phone call. "Damn.. I thought it was just the alarm."

He shut it once more and moved to the kitchen. Rude followed, but was silent as he watched Reno go about his regular morning routine. "Reno," his voice was stern. "It's nine o’clock now."

Reno grabbed the coffee pot and filled a mug. He offered the bald man one as well, but Rude declined. "Did Tseng say what was up?" Reno asked as he took a sip and grimaced. "Ugh.. Burnt.."

Rude stiffened up, holding his large, gloved hands before him. "No. Just said there is an urgent meeting. I assume they've heard something."

Reno added a ton of powdered creamer to his stale coffee and returned to drinking it. "Gotcha.. Alright. Give me a few minutes.."

He gulped down the drink and tossed the remnants into the sink, setting the mug in the overflowing dish rack. Rude exited the kitchen and moved to the front door to wait. Reno disappeared into the back bedroom and emerged in under five minutes, dressed in his usual sloppy manner. Shirt untucked, no tie in sight. He buckled his belt as he went to the bathroom to tie his hair back in the signature long ponytail. Rude discerned the sound of an aerosol can and when Reno came back into the living room, the smell of his familiar body spray, Icicle Refined, wafted in his wake. He snagged his sunglasses from the coffee table and his electro-mag rod from an umbrella stand by the door. "Aight. Let's roll."


The loud purr of a well kept engine echoed through the enclosed parking garage. Marcus Cole pulled into his parking space near the elevators and killed the ignition on his bike as his boot found the kickstand. He leaned the bike toward the stand and let it rest as he dismounted and headed towards the elevators. The ride stopped at the lobby where Becca, Drake, and Samantha were waiting to hop on.

"Afternoon," Drake greeted Marcus when he saw him.

They joined him in the spacious elevator and continued on to the Turks' office. "So what's this about?" Samantha asked with a slight pout. "I wasn’t supposed to be in until later.

"Tseng said it was urgent and that details would be given once we were all together," Drake replied.

"Right," Marcus' tone was one of indignation.

Drake glanced over but said nothing. Samantha retied her ponytail and leaned against the glass wall. Becca remained impassive, but spoke up, "I wonder if they're going to call Max and Tonya back early.."

"Possibly," Drake said as he looked to the blonde woman. "I imagine this is going to become priority one. The reactor investigation can wait.."

"Man, Cissnei’s gonna be pissed. She still had two days of vacation left," Marcus commented.

They arrived, the doors sliding open and the group made their way to the office. As they neared, voices behind the closed door became audible. Opening it revealed August and Shion speaking to Tseng. Marcus's gaze fell onto Jale who was sitting at his desk like the night before; feet kicked up, fingers playing with an unlit cigarillo. He seemed to be watching Cissnei who was sitting at her desk waiting for the meeting to start. Veld was nowhere to be seen.

Drake entered and the rest of the Turks followed. They dispersed throughout the room with Marcus joining the conversation between Shion, August, and Tseng. Becca and Samantha moved over to Cissnei's desk to greet her. Drake moved to his own desk, side-eyeing Jale as he walked by. Jale noticed the glance and a large smirk spread across his clean shaven face. "Morning there, Everno," he said in a condescending tone.

Drake gave no greeting and continued on. The door opened again and Veld stepped through. He appeared as though he had jogged there. He smoothed out his suit and straightened his tie as he crossed the room to his desk. "Most of you are here…Good," he commented, noting the lack of Reno and Rude.

"They'll be here shortly," Tseng reported. "I just spoke with Rude. They're in the lobby now."

"Right. Well let's give them a few moments.. But please, gather around." He motioned for everyone to come closer together.

Everyone minus Jale did as asked. He continued to sit in his chair, watching the group crowd around Veld like orphans waiting for a handout. The door opened once more, Rude and Reno arriving just in time. Both wore their sunglasses, a sign to everyone else that they had been out drinking last night. Tseng waved them over and the briefing began.

"Tonight it seems we'll all be given the opportunity to show President Shinra that the Turks can still get the job done." Veld spoke as he looked over his subordinates and managed a telling smile. "Jale has uncovered a plot by Avalanche to infiltrate the building tonight."

He extended his hand to where the man was sitting and everyone turned to face him. Jale had placed his hands behind his head and was leaning back in the chair. The same grin he gave Drake still plastered on his face. "In light of this," Veld continued, "we will be setting a trap and we will capture them, alive."

"What?!" Reno and Marcus blurted out in unison.

Murmurs came from the others, all were stunned by the order. "You're joking, right?" Reno started. "You want these fuckers alive?"

Veld waved a hand as the discontent grew louder. "By order of the President. Yes, alive."

He turned away and walked behind his desk, taking a seat. He clasped his hands together and sighed. "He wants them publicly executed. A show of force by the Company that we will not abide the actions of Avalanche and that we wish for the safety of those in the city that these rebels threaten." He seemed despondent as he spoke, as if reluctant to follow the orders himself.

He glanced back around to everyone. "Anyway. There are your orders. I want everyone back here by eight tonight to prepare."

"What about Tonya and Max?" Becca asked.

"They have been informed to wrap up their assignment and head back to Midgar asap. Also, I’ll need everyone to turn in their badges when you return.. Seems they’ve acquired a means to detect them.. And this is meant to be an ambush." Veld waved his hand toward the group once more as a dismissal. "Eight o'clock."

The group dispersed to prepare for the mission. "I expect you all to head to the training room," Tseng followed up. "We need to be at our best." He looked to Jale who made no such motion to move and narrowed his gaze.

"This means you as well, Mr. Gerrick," Veld spoke from his desk.

Taking the hint, Jale picked himself up from his seat and chuckled. "Right, right. Need to be in tip-top shape," he grumbled as he left the office.

After the door shut once more and Tseng was alone with Veld, his boss waved him over. Tseng crossed the room and stopped at his side. "Sir?"

Veld continued to watch the door briefly before turning his attention to the young man. "I have my doubts about how Jale came about his information." He seemed to be having trouble forming what he wanted to say. "That said.. I want you to make sure the Turks are well prepared for tonight. I’m going to go visit Director Deusericus and see about his assistance with this operation. Avalanche needs to be able to enter the building, we’ll need him to ensure that the Soldiers don’t interfere.."


Lazard’s office was located on level fifty-one and it took Veld little time to traverse the floors to reach the area. Upon exiting the elevator, he was greeted by a rowdy group of second class Soldiers. They were crowded around another Soldier, but Veld noted that his garb was that of the first class rank. "What’s it like to finally be First Class, Zack?" one asked the man at the center.

Veld’s ears perked up at the name as he approached the group. He listened momentarily before turning away from them and walking towards Director Lazard’s office. "It feels unreal," the latter spoke with a hint of solemness.

Veld noted the young man’s expression seemed distressed, as if he’d just received unwanted news. He returned to his path, leaving the group of them behind. Windows on either side of the lengthy hallway opened up to rooms where other Soldiers were training with each other. Veld’s presence drew their curiosity, many wondering what the leader of the Turks was doing here. It was no secret that the Turks and Soldier had a strained relationship. Both divisions were a force to be reckoned with, but whereas Soldier was encouraged to embrace honor, the Turks had no qualms with getting the job done through any means necessary. They never fought fairly and this was a point of contention between the two factions.

He came to Lazard’s office at last and knocked on the door. A muffled sound of surprise came from the other side and a gruff voice that wasn’t Lazard’s called out, "Come in!"

Upon opening the door, it was revealed that Wilhelm Heidegger was the lone occupant of the room. "Oh, Director Heidegger. I didn’t expect to see you here.. In the office of your colleague.."

Heidegger narrowed his gaze and twitched his mustache in agitation. "Likewise, Mr. Tengille. What brings you so far away from the Turk’s office?" His tone was one of direct animosity.

Veld closed the door, noticing that several Soldiers that had been training were now poking their heads out into the hallway. "I am here at the behest of the President," he replied, putting Heidegger’s attitude in check.

"Ah well then. Director Lazard is out of the city today. He’ll be back tomorrow if you wanted to wait..?" He pushed an errant drawer back into place and drummed his fingers on the desktop impatiently.

It was clear to Veld that the heavy-set man had been searching for something while Lazard was away. "No," he began, "this can’t wait."

He stepped forward in an attempt to see what documents had been spread out on the desktop. What was Heidegger searching for? "It has been discovered that Avalanche will be sending in a group tonight. The President has requested that the rebels are taken alive."

He stopped at the edge of the desk and saw a few items there bore the name of Genesis Rhapsodos as well as Angeal Hewley. Their photos were attached to some of the documents. He looked away quickly and met Heidegger’s stare. "Rest assured. The Turks can have this one," Heidegger spat. "But it is Soldier who runs the streets in Midgar."

He sat up and used his arm to sweep the scattered document to the side out of view. He then stood, displaying his full height as the overhead light glinted off the brass accents of his general’s uniform. "Is that all, Mr. Tengille?"

Veld showed now sign of being intimidated and turned to the closed door at the head of the office. "That’s it."

Before exiting, he stopped short and spoke without turning around, "Seems Soldier’s got quite enough on their plate, as it is.."

He left as Heidegger crossed his arms in anger and watched the old Turk leave. Once out in the main area, Veld spied the man from earlier that one of the second classes had identified as Zack. His back was to Veld and he was alone in the room, reading messages on a nearby terminal, the face of Angeal Hewley was prominent on the screen. Sensing Veld’s presence, Zack quickly shut the missive and turned to face him. "Sir, it’s good to see you," he spoke with a friendly tone.

Veld stopped short of reaching the elevator and turned to him. "Likewise, Mr. Fair," He pressed the call button and waited, adding, "congratulations on making First Class. He’d be proud."

It was understood that the ‘he’ Veld spoke of was Angeal Hewley. Zack nodded and thanked him. The elevator arrived and Veld stepped inside. "Be careful out there," he warned as the doors shut.

Once in the safety of the elevator, Veld breathed a heavy sigh, releasing the pressure in his chest. What in the world was Heidegger doing in Lazard’s office? It was obvious he was looking for something, but what exactly? Did Lazard have information on the whereabouts of Genesis and Angeal? He was after all one of the closet persons to them. And what role did Zack Fair play in all this?

Despite the animosity felt between Soldier and the Turks, their prime directive was the same; to protect Shinra’s secrets. When this business with Avalanche was over, he intended to assign one of the Turks to tail the young Soldier. Acting on orders from Lazard, maybe Zack would lead them straight to Genesis and Angeal.


After the talk with Morgan, Ashe and Kess eventually made their way to Hobbs’ place for what was left of breakfast. After which, they split up. Kess headed to the gym to work out with Siena and Ashe went to the armory to help Jessie and Biggs prepare the gear for the away team. Evening approached quickly and while everyone left for dinner, Ashe continued to finish preparations. He was looking over the gun cage when the sound of someone entering the room reached his ears. He glanced up to see Kess walking over. "Hey stranger," he called out.

She turned his direction on hearing his voice. "Hey Ashe, I came to get you for dinner. Emery and Jessie said you kicked them out to eat; you need to eat too, you know," she reminded him.

Ashe set several boxes of ammo onto a cluttered table and she walked over to stand by his side. "So what are we being outfitted with tonight?" she asked.

"Well, we liberated an entire truck of Shinra M-4 carbines last week, just finished checking them over. Getting the ammo ready now."

The gun was a heavy reminder of her past with the Company. She turned away and walked over to the table where the ammo sat. "What sort of toys are we taking..?" she asked, changing the subject.

Ashe picked up on the unease in her voice and followed after her. He was reluctant to bring up anything about her history with Shinra and so tried to shift gears. "Oh um, well the sensors are over here. I finished updating the software in them for Morgan." He flashed a cheesy grin and pretended to buff his nails on the lapel of his brown jacket.

Kess smirked but still said nothing. She had been like this before her trip into the building a few nights ago. Last time he pretended not to notice, but this time he decided to say something. "Nervous?"

She lifted her eyes to meet his and was silent. Her gaze said so much more than words could have conveyed and Ashe felt like an ass for even saying anything. Kess looked away and turned her back on him. He fucked up and he was mentally berating himself for it.

"Not nervous," she said without looking back. "I—" the words got caught in her throat, refusing to be spoken.

She released a huge sigh. "I don't like remembering. The training was awful.. A nightmare.. Most of the recruits didn't make it.. And the ones that did were pitted against each other in matches to the death. We were always stopped by the Restrictors before the final blow. Professor Hojo would watch us from behind a glass panel, taking notes. Always taking notes.."

Kess turned to lean against the table. "Once in a while we would see Heidegger or Ms. Hargrieves. They always wanted to know about our progress. They started sending me on missions. Information retrieval. Assassinations. I was equal in strength to a First Class Soldier, but in Deepground, we were given other duties.."

Ashe's eyes narrowed in sudden understanding. "I had joined Soldier to be closer to my brother.. But after he died in Wutai, I didn't care. Deepground was the only option given to me after I lost my way."

Ashe acknowledged her words and leaned on the table by her side. "Tell me about your brother."

She scoffed lightly and Ashe thought for sure he had blown it.

Stupid, stupid, stupid!

"Grey was the best brother anyone could ask for.." she spoke despondently but with a smile.

Ashe's guard remained up, but he eased his tight grip on the table. "Older?" he asked.

"Yea. He joined Soldier two years before me. The last time I saw him we were in Junon. His squadron was deployed to the front. We said we’d write letters, but I only got one before the news of his death came a few weeks later. And then.."

Despite remaining in high spirits for most of the conversation, Kess' voice faltered. "I got the news about Kalm two weeks after that."

"Your hometown.."

"My family was gone. I didn't care about anything any more. I tried to join them but.." She grew silent, uncomfortable with where the conversation had strayed. "Well, when I didn't die, they sent me to Midgar. I was charged with trying to destroy Shinra property.. And placed in Deepground to recover. Then I begin my new job."

Ashe eyed Kess, unsure of what she was saying, but then the meaning of her words sank in. She was the property.. She had tried to kill herself. He placed a hand on her left shoulder. "But that's behind you now. They don't have their hold on you any longer."

"I know. I just don't like remembering what I almost accomplished." Her voice sounded shaky and Ashe was sure she was crying. "Or what I found out about Kalm's destruction.."

"What about Kalm's destruction..?" he asked.

"It was an inside job. Carried out by Shinra in an effort to destroy a company leak. On my last mission.. The deserter they sent me after had the dossier on the entire thing."

"Heartless," Ashe breathed. "Kess I.."

He needed to bring her spirits up. He pulled his hand away and undid the button on his jacket pocket. From inside, he retrieved a scorched bit of paper and held it out to her. "I took this.. From the inn when we passed through.. But I never knew the right moment to give it to you.."

Kess turned and took the paper, turning it over in her hand to reveal the photograph of her family. "You’ve had this..?"

The sob she had been holding onto escaped into the armory and echoed around them. He was shocked when she turned and hugged him around the neck, bursting into tears. Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, he raised his arms to embrace her, holding her as she cried. "They're going to pay, Kess.. Shinra's going to pay."


Darkness overtook the landscape as nightfall approached. Thick clouds gathered and rose high over the city of Midgar, alluding to the promise of more rain. But for now it was dry and the night scene on the upper plates of the city was in full swing. With people everywhere on the streets, it was easy for a group of six individuals to take the train to the Sector One station undetected. Their destination closing in, Kess and Ashe signaled to each other from across the compartment. The train came to a slow halt, gravity threatening to pull the standing occupants from their feet. A bell chimed and an automated voice announced that they had arrived in Sector One. Kess had been standing near the doors and once they opened, she jumped out on the platform to avoid the exiting crowds. Ashe mixed in with them, using the rush as a cover. Once on the platform, he moved to avoid the careful eyes of two Public Security officers that were patrolling the area.

He spied Kess ahead of him, heading towards the stairs but then she moved into the shadows. He followed, trailing her in the semi lit area to where the platform dropped to the tracks. Moving now would no doubt garner the attention of the guards and so they waited behind separate pillars for their opportunity. One guard turned to the other as the train filled up and started talking. Taking that moment, they both left their hiding spots and hopped onto the gravel below. "Now," Ashe whispered. "Train's about to leave."

They darted along the side track toward a maintenance inlet and stepped into the crevice as the bell chimed the departure. Kess pressed herself close to Ashe, their gear making it difficult to stay hidden. The automated train started on its way and rushed passed them, leaving a gust of foul smelling steam and airborne trash in its wake. Kess peaked around the corner, not seeing the guards on the platform and tapped Ashe's hand to signal that they were clear. Stepping out from the doorway, they continued down the track towards the rendezvous point.

Soon enough, they crossed paths with Rosco and Siena coming from the opposite direction. Higashi and Diego joined them and the group traveled a short distance to a small sewer grate. Thanks to the plans Kess had lifted, they knew that it was a maintenance tunnel for the Shinra building and led to the parking garage.

In no time, Higashi had pulled out and assembled a small blow torch. Being an ex-Shinra SWAT member, he knew how to get through the metal grating with minimal effort. He set to burning a large square around the grate while the others kept an eye out for trouble in every direction.

"Done." Higashi said as he leaned back and kicked the sliced grate with his boot.

It fell inward with a loud clatter and everyone waited for a few seconds before filtering into the hole. Once inside, they made tracks for the ladder that would take them up to the outer stairwell. The parking garage was silent except for the occasional squeal of tires on the smooth pavement. Not a word was spoken the entire time, the team communicating through a series hand gestures and nods. Soon enough they had all come to the ladder and climbed up to the outer stairwell. Ashe took the lead with Kess on his six, holding their rifles at the ready as they assembled at the outer doors. "Be careful up there," Diego warned as he ducked to the side out of view.

Floor after agonizing floor they traveled. Every odd sound made them freeze and hug the wall until they were sure there was no immediate danger. At last they reached their destination and Kess pressed herself against the door leading to the fiftieth floor. Several moments passed and she could hear nothing. She glanced at the digital watch on her wrist, noting the time. "Lights out, guys," Morgan’s voice filtered over their headsets.

Kess grabbed the door handle and as she pushed inward the lights cut out. Without a word, they each flipped their night vision goggles on and entered the desolate room. As the group made their way towards the elevators, Siena grabbed a hold of Ashe's shoulder. He stopped and glanced back, wondering what was wrong. Then he heard it too.. voices.

He gripped Rosco's and Higashi's shoulders, pushing them forward. Footsteps were approaching and Kess fumbled to grab the jammer from her pack. With Ashe's help, she managed to secure the device to the security camera as planned. They dodged into the elevator and Higashi pushed the button for the next floor as one of the voices said, "What’s with the lights? Did we have a power surge?"

Kess spoke to Morgan during the short trip, "The jammer is in place. Any key cards on the radar?"

Morgan’s voice came back jumbled. All they could make out were the words "No cards. Safe." Static filled their earpieces as soon as the doors shut.

"Geez, what the?" Rosco growled. "Is she taking the piss?"

"Morgan, we can’t hear you, repeat," Siena spoke as the elevator came to a halt.

The doors opened to reveal a darkened hallway. Blue emergency lighting illuminated the walkway before them. Kess and Rosco moved out into the silent room, Ashe and Siena following their lead with Higashi at the back. Kess stopped short suddenly, her hands gripping the rifle tighter. Her breath quickened, senses sharpened. She felt them, there were others here, she could almost feel their presence through the walls. But the night vision goggles revealed no one.

Without warning, the lights flickered on, blinding the group. Rosco grabbed his goggles and flung them to the ground suddenly. "FUCK!" he cried out in pain.

Kess grabbed the side of her goggles and ripped them off, her eyes discerning movement at the end of the hallway. She closed her eyes, forcing the pain away and on reopening them, saw the Turks taking up position. "Oh shit!" Ashe shouted.

A single shot rang out in the hallway, Rosco flew backwards, hitting the metal elevator doors. He slid to the ground in a crumpled heap. "ROSCO!" Siena screamed in horror.

Blood began to pool on the floor beneath Rosco and he groaned. Becca took aim once more but with reflexes like lightning, Kess dodged the bullet meant for her and shouted, "Scramble!"

Kess rolled into an open room on the right, Ashe and Siena dodging to the left. Higashi didn't move fast enough and he became the victim of Drake's twin pistols. The bullets ripped through his exposed limbs and he cried out as he fell backwards. Kess shielded herself from the blood splatters and glanced across the hall to Ashe and Siena. She could hear Higashi yelling and cursing despite having taken several gunshots to the arms and legs. "Motherfucking Turks!" he shouted, sitting up.

Rifle in hand, he pressed the butt against his shoulder and began firing into the crowd at the end of the hall while screaming obscenities. Another shot rang out and Higashi fell over once more, a blow to the chest having been delivered. He groaned in pain, despite the bullet hitting the body armor he wore, it knocked the wind out of him and he didn't get back up.

"BOOM!" another male Turk shouted from the hall. "Nice shootin', Becs!"

"Fuck! Oh fuck!" Ashe shouted, trying to keep Siena from crawling out to grab Rosco.

"SIENA…!" Rosco's voice came over the chaos. "Don't you dare come out here after me!"

Tears streaked the woman's face as she fought to free herself from Ashe's grasp. "Get her outta here, Kincaid!" Rosco coughed, blood splattering his lips and teeth, creating a puddle on the floor. "Goddamn Turks!" he growled.

"Come on out, you chicken shits! I've got a gun full of buckshot for your sorry asses!" Samantha shouted.

"You guys better get outta here…" Higashi growled as he reached up to his belt. "Shit's gonna get ugly…."

Kess watched as the man grabbed a grenade from the clip and prepared to pull the pin. "Get going Kincaid! Rosco and I are done for any—-way."

Ashe looked over on Kess' side, seeing a door beyond her position. It was the entrance to the outer stairwell. "Yo Kess! You've got stairs over there!" he shouted across the hallway.

Kess glanced back over her shoulder to the darker end of the hall, and indeed there was a door with the floor number sprayed on the surface. "C'mon! I'll cover you!" she shouted back.

Ashe made ready to run to the other side of the hallway. He gripped Siena around the waist to pull her across. Kess leaned into the hallway to lay down some cover and began firing her rifle at the Turks. Samantha didn't even know what hit her when one of the shots ripped through her arm, causing her to drop the shotgun she carried. "Ahh! You bitch!" she screamed as she went down.

Becca took aim at Ashe as he raced across the blood slicked floor. He leaned back just in time to avoid a shot in the face, and a hail of bullets from Drake hit the wall behind him. He continued to slide and hit the floor, skidding across to the other side. A lean Turk with slick, black hair raced ahead, his katana drawn. As Ashe pulled Siena into the stairwell, she threw out a smoke bomb, filling the cramped hallway with a thick, choking cloud. Higashi sat up and yanked out the grenade pin. He chucked the object down the hall towards the Turks, it skittering across the floor. "Eat shit!" he cried as the bomb hit the shoe of one of the Turks.

"GRENADE!" someone shouted.

Kess leaned back around the corner and shouted "MOVE!"

The three made for the stairs, taking them with intense speed. Siena first, then Ashe followed by Kess. The expected blast never reached their ears and Kess wondered if the explosive was a dud.

Not good, this is not good.

The door above slammed open and angry voices filled the hollow stairwell. "They're going down! Head them off!"

They sprinted downward, moving so fast they almost out right fell a few times. Where it would allow, they jumped below to the next set of stairs rather than run them. They had covered about five floors in less than a minute. Siena pointed ahead. "That door! It should lead to one of the lobbies!"

A gunshot from high above echoed off the walls, the bullet tearing through Siena's left leg. She flew to the floor from the speed she had been running. Blood streaked across the gray concrete wall and she cried out in pain. Ashe dove to pick her up and dragged her towards the exit. Kess took a brief glance back to find the sniper, and saw him. The second in command, Tseng was nestled high up above on the staircase. She raced ahead and shoved Ashe as he readied another shot.

"Hey! What the--!" Ashe protested as he tightened his grip on the sobbing Siena.

The shot rang out, ricocheting off the wall, taking a few chunks of concrete with it, narrowly missing Ashe. They neared the door and Kess reached out for it. No sooner had she gripped the handle, the door was flung open with a powerful force. Kess reeled back, lifting her rifle, but the person on the other side was faster and all too familiar. Cocky grin, fiery orange hair; it was Diego. She sighed in relief, but it was short lived as he reached out and grabbed her by the collar. The next thing Kess saw was his fist careening straight for her head. She went down before Ashe realized what was going on.

Diego stepped into the hallway and lunged for Ashe. He took full hold of him and slammed his body against the wall causing him to drop Siena. One hit and he was out. Diego tossed him to the ground with minimal effort, letting him topple over Kess. He wiped his hands together as voices from above were heard getting closer. "They're down here!" someone shouted.

Fast footsteps echoed throughout the concrete stairwell. Jale shouted out, "They've been detained!"

He chuckled looking at the pile of injured Avalanche agents at his feet. Siena was writhing in pain, gripping her blood soaked knee and staring at Jale in disbelief. "But you— you’re one of us.." she cried.

The footsteps stopped as two Turks halted before the pile of rebels. "You call this detained, Jale?" the woman asked.

"Yo Bec, I don't think they're going anywhere." Jale smirked, putting his hands out as if to present his handiwork.

Reno joined them, hopping down the stairs much like the rebels had. He whistled at the sight. "Man, I didn't think Tseng had nailed her," he mused. "But I suppose he's not a bad shot."

He turned to the katana wielding man as he approached and asked, "Shion, where's Sam?"

The man turned and motioned upward. "Rude’s taking her to the infirmary, she took a shot to the arm courtesy of red here.." He pointed at Kess with his sword and then slid it into the sheath strapped on his belt.

"Did you see her hit the floor after that dud of a grenade came at us?" Reno laughed. "Good thing Avalanche has shit for gear. What about the others?"

"Marcus, Drake, and August are taking care of the other two," Shion replied.

Kess was beginning to come around as Siena's moans grew louder. Ashe was trying to roll away but having issues with his injured arm. Reno whipped out the slender electro-mag rod and jabbed Siena in the neck. "Lady, shut up." A jolt of electricity silenced her and she slumped against the floor.

Jale knelt next to Kess. "Fancy seeing you here," he sneered with a smile.

Ashe began to roll himself back up to a sitting position. Kess growled, still recovering from the blow to her face. "You son of a bitch!"

Jale stood and kicked Kess in the side of the head, sending her back to the floor.

"KESS!" Ashe screamed.

Reno reached out his electro-mag rod and delivered a powerful shock to Ashe, incapacitating him. He crumpled, slumping over Kess. "You shut up too."

"Let's clean up this mess," Becca said matter-of-factually.

"You got it," Reno laughed, holstering his weapon.

Each of the men took an unconscious person by the underarms and began dragging them to the exit.


The final kick to Kess' headset finally shorted out what small shred was left of the connection. Morgan spat a string of curses and Shears glanced over. "What is it?" he asked.

"They've been captured.." Fuhito spoke, lowering his head.

"Or killed," Morgan replied.

She threw the headset in anger, letting it slide across the desk and fall off the other side. "Dammit. They had to have been tipped off," she growled. "The sensors and headsets were on the fritz as soon as they hit the elevator."

Morgan leaned over and tapped the keyboard, bringing up the final recordings from each, but discovered only static and muffled words. The audible bits from Rosco’s headset were heard. "Goddamn Turks!" Loud pops and some crying in the background.

"Those are definitely gunshots. Several of them," Elfé spoke up from her corner of the table.

"If anyone is still alive, the Turks will have them singing like canaries about this place. We need to prepare an evacuation," Fuhito seethed.

He stood quickly to make preparations. Elfé raised her hand to stall him. "Hideyaki, we knew going into this that leaving would be a possibility. But I don't believe that the team we've chosen would cave under pressure."

Fuhito composed himself, realizing that he was letting too much emotion show. "Of course, Elfé. I trust your judgment. However, Shinra has their tactics. They could make Higashi sing 'I'm a little teapot' if they wished."

Shears looked up. "I trust Elfé. Just the same," he turned to her, "we should up security at the entrances, in case Shinra comes snooping. And prepare to fall back to the secondary location in the Sector Seven slums."

"Yes or course." She stood and moved to leave. "I will inform the security team.. Shears, accompany me."

He rose and followed after her, leaving Morgan alone with Fuhito. She glanced away from the computer to see him with his face in his hands. She couldn't tell if his shoulders were shaking from nerves or mild laughter. "I hope they're alright," she sighed.

"The best case scenario is that they are all dead," Fuhito growled. "The dead can't talk."

--End Chapter 7..