Chapter 8: We're In This Together

"Oi, Rude, we've got a live one!" Reno shouted.

He was losing his grip on Kess as he dragged her from the elevator toward the cell block on the 67th floor. She had woken up around the 63rd floor and began to fight her way from Reno's tight grip. Rude stepped in and hauled Kess up to her feet by hoisting his arms under her armpits and lifting her off the ground. "If Gerrick had stuck around, this wouldn't have been such a chore.." Rude sighed as if unfazed by Kess' struggling.

He began to pull her with ease through the hall. Siena was whimpering now, pulled by Becca and Ashe was starting to wake up in Shion's grasp. "Guys, this one's coming around as well," he warned.

Ashe suddenly twisted in Shion's grip and pulled his arms from his coat. He stumbled back, free from the grapple and looked around the area for a quick escape. Reno's fist blindsided him and caught Ashe in the nose, sending him to the ground as spurts of blood erupted from both nostrils. "Motherfucker, your head is like a rock." Reno shook the pain from his knuckles and glanced to Rude.

"Yo, buddy. Need ya again!"

"Kinda.. busy.." Rude stammered as he pulled the still struggling Kess toward the awaiting cell block.

Reno grabbed Ashe by the back of his shirt collar and started dragging him face down. A smear of fresh blood streaked in his wake. "Clean up on aisle five!" Reno laughed.

He and Becca rounded the corner as Rude unceremoniously tossed Kess into an open cell. The door slammed shut and he moved to help Reno with the squirming Ashe. "Alright buddy. Enough or Rude's going to beat the shit outta you," Reno threatened.

Ashe kicked out at Rude who grabbed hold of his leg. He gripped hard and whipped Ashe into the wall with a loud thud. He had no fight left and just laid on the ground. His lip was split, nose likely broken, and he was sure that Rude had just fractured a few ribs. "Fuck it. Just end me.." he sighed, his hand waving in surrender.

Reno's face appeared above him with a sly grin. "Now where's the fun in that?"

Becca pushed Siena into another cell and sighed after the long haul. Rude grabbed Ashe by the leg once more and pulled him into the last cell. Defeated, he lay on the cold floor as the door shut. He could faintly hear Siena crying in the next cell over. Unable to keep his eyes open, Ashe passed out.

When he awoke, all was quiet. He could no longer hear Siena. "Kess," he spoke aloud.

She didn't reply. Maybe she couldn't hear him through the thick cells. But he could hear Siena crying earlier.. surely she could hear him speaking. "KESS."

The door slid open unexpectedly and Ashe reeled back in surprise, grabbing his side in pain. "Urgh.." he groaned.

Two different Turks entered. The younger of the two had light brown hair and a cocky grin. The second one was bulky with shorter, dark brown hair. He wore heavy leather gloves that glinted with colorful materia on the backs. Behind them, Ashe could see a stretcher in the hallway.

What is this?

The two Turks entered, the larger one cracked his knuckles menacingly but the other one spoke. "Alright, August. Hold this dude down, I'll get his legs."

Ashe stumbled back but a sharp pain stabbed at his side and he winced. He was backed against the wall with nowhere to go. "Don't fight us, man. I don't want August to have to break your legs." The younger one produced an electro-mag rod identical to Reno's.

Ashe was pinned as someone wearing a lab coat entered. "Is the subject secure?" came a stifled voice.

"Yea of course. Get yer ass over here," Marcus grimaced. "August, keep him still."

The man in the lab coat walked over and produced a syringe. "Hey, what is this…?" Ashe shouted with sudden fear. "Tryin' to euthanize me?!"

"Geez, what a dumb ass," Marcus laughed. "Doc's gonna fix you up real nice. This is to help you relax."

Ashe struggled but between the grip of both Turks, escape was impossible. "No way, no way! Kess!!"

He felt the needle penetrate his neck and the room began to blur. Within moments, Ashe drifted into a strange sleep. The world melted around him. Shapes and shadows swirled ominously from the corners of his eyes. Where was Kess? Or Siena? What happened to Rosco and Higashi?


Bullets fired all around him. He dove to take cover and saw a lifeless set of legs spreading out next to him. He looked for the owner and saw himself sprawled on the floor. Ashe scrambled to his feet, taking in the scene. Bullets had riddled his body. There was one, clean shot through his forehead. His eyes wide open, staring into the nothingness above.

Ashe looked skyward, and saw a vast emptiness. When he glanced back, the body was gone. Ashe turned in place, seeing nothing for miles in every direction.

Where the fuck… Is this a dream?

"Doctor, he's waking up."

Ashe could hear sounds all around him but it was as if he were surrounded in a thick haze. Footsteps, metal clattering against metal, and so many voices. He felt the presence of someone above him, but when he opened his eyes, the light was blinding. A large shadow hovered over him. The man fiddled with a machine by his head and Ashe relaxed again. His eyes closed and he faded into his dream. He heard a voice in the distance before sleep took him.

"Alright, let's begin the operation. He's the last one."

Last one?

Ashe pondered on the words as he felt his body turning over in place.

The turning continued, he thought he would spin out of control. He felt sick and alone, but then he saw Kess, waiting for him to come back. He smiled and took her hand, the two walking away together. The dream melted into oblivion and he remembered nothing.

He couldn't feel the passage of time. And when he did begin to stir, he was uncertain of where he was. Disoriented, he awoke reclining on a hard chair. He couldn’t breathe very well, feeling something packed into his nostrils. He forced a burst of air through them and two bloody, cotton cylinders shot comically out and into his lap. The lingering smell was that of a hospital room, but it soon changed to a staleness that caused him to cough loudly. Movement on his left side caught his attention and he turned to see Kess. Ashe noticed a bandage on her neck and then felt one on his own. How long had they been out? Where were they now? And what was on their necks? The questions plagued him until Kess groaned loudly moments later.

"Ugh.. What the fuck..? Where are we?" she mumbled.

Ashe looked around the small room, noting the bright lights overhead and a large, very obvious two way mirror on the wall before them. "Looks like an interrogation room," he replied.

Ashe’s limbs began to tingle and it was then that he realized he had been numb from the neck down. He felt the tight straps digging into his ankles and inner elbows and looked down to see that they were restrained. "Great," he growled, trying to fight against the straps.

The room beyond the mirror lit up, drawing his attention forward. Vice President Rufus along with Veld and Tseng of the Turks were seen on the other side watching them. Veld spoke first. "Good evening. Looks like you've failed in your mission. Game over as the kids say these days."

Ashe's expression hardened while Kess took notice of a black object in Rufus' hand; it looked like a remote control. "You know, maybe next time you should ask us your questions instead of spying, hmm?" Veld spoke with a hint of delighted sarcasm. "Unfortunately, your other friends are in pretty bad shape. That one fellow might not make it, what with all the blood loss. But that’s besides the point. You're both here and that's what is important."

Kess was looking at Veld, but had turned her attention back to Rufus, who was now twirling the device in his hand. Veld noticed her gaze shift. "Ah yes, your punishment."

He motioned over to Rufus who was now tossing the device in the air and catching it. "The device you see Vice President Rufus handing is a remote. The remote is set to detonate a microchip bomb that has been implanted in both of your necks. All he has to do is punch in the frequency code, and that's all she wrote."

Kess winced and Ashe released a long whistle. She narrowed her eyes with his response. "Impressed?"

"Oh quite. I designed them," Ashe revealed.

A hush fell over the room beyond the mirror. Tseng glanced to Veld who looked just as alarmed. They turned off the microphone momentarily and Tseng reminded Veld that the camera in the room had facial recognition.

He used a computer to take a still shot of Ashe's face and after a few mouse clicks, a dossier appeared on the monitor.

Name: Ashely Terrance Kincaid
Code: Weapons and Demolitions Specialist, Class III
Status: AWOL
Whereabouts: Cosmo Canyon

xx/xx/xx: After completion of the Sister Ray, Mr. Kincaid disappeared along with several thousands of dollars in demolition equipment. The lab in which he worked was also destroyed the night of his disappearance.

xx/xx/xx: Deepground agent, Grise, has been sent to neutralize this target.

"Well then,"Tseng muttered.

Rufus pointed to the screen where the word ‘Grise’ was bolded. "You both realize this is the woman sitting next to him."

"Failed to kill her target, so she joined him, eh?" Veld reasoned.

"So now what?" Tseng asked, pinching his brow between his fingers.

"Now we get to see if she will let him die or betray Avalanche." Veld spoke as he turned to Rufus. "Put in the code for Kincaid’s explosive."

Kess and Ashe watched them speak, but could hear nothing that they were talking about from the soundproof room. But she didn’t need to hear them to figure out what they were discussing. She watched Rufus handle the detonator, he was putting in a string of numbers on the keypad. And knowing that they had just found out who Ashe really was, it didn’t take her long to surmise that they were going to use it as leverage.

Veld flicked the microphone back on and smiled callously. "Mr. Kincaid, how wonderful that you have the opportunity to take part in your device's experimentation."

"Well, it wasn't created for this purpose. Shinra must be getting desperate."

Veld glared and leaned closer to the microphone. "I wouldn’t say desperate.. More like creative." He sat back up and folded his hands on the table top before him. "Well, let’s get down to business, shall we. Where is Avalanche’s base of operations?"

Neither one breathed. They had known this was coming but hadn’t prepared. Ashe remained tight lipped, defiantly staring at the trio beyond the mirror. Kess watched Rufus’ hands as they toyed with the detonator. She knew between the two of them, they’d ace Ashe before her. She was a much bigger investment. She was going to have to be the one to cave, because she knew Ashe would take the secret to his grave and Shinra had no qualms with putting him there.

"You’re going to make me ask again?" Veld sighed.

He turned to Rufus with a knowing look and Kess suddenly spoke, "There's an entrance in the Sector Six train station, through a maintenance tunnel right after marker six!"

"See! Just a little persuasion was all that was needed," Veld beamed.

Ashe turned to his teammate in horror as she utterly betrayed the cause without hesitation. She continued to stare dead ahead, intending to tell him her reasoning when they were alone. But for now, she had to listen to his angry ranting. "Kess, what the actual fuck!? You—you just!?"

"She just saved your neck, Mr. Kincaid. Is that anyway to say thank you?" Veld reminded him.

Rufus' finger lingered on the detonation button and Ashe retained his silence. But Kess could feel that he was seething next to her and was prepared for his anger once they were free of this room. "Well I think that we’re good here. Reno and Rude will escort you back to your cells.." Veld spoke before he switched the microphone off once more.

He looked over to Tseng. "Easier than I had expected.. Though.. I anticipate that when you arrive, the place will be gutted. Take Marcus and Drake, see what you can find. I’ll let Director Lazard know that we could use a little bit of manpower should there be anyone left."

He turned back ahead as Reno and Rude entered the room and moved to unstrap the pair. Veld continued his private conversation while Ashe and Kess were led from the room. "I have a feeling that she knows that they aren’t sticking around.. We let her go once. A second time would be utter stupidity on our part. If they’re smart, they’ll have already relocated by now."

Rufus sighed, setting the detonator down. "Then why aren’t we pressing those two for their fall back location?"

Tseng picked up the detonator, placing it into his breast pocket. "Unfortunately, we aren’t dealing with inept fools. It is unlikely that any one from their away team knows where the fall back is. They probably only had instructions to rendezvous somewhere."

"So now what?" Rufus inquired as he stood. "My father wanted a status report when we were finished here.. What am I supposed to tell him?"

Veld stood to meet Rufus’ gaze. "It’s late, Mr. Vice President." He looked at his watch and sighed. "I stand corrected, it’s early. Three in the morning to be precise. I will meet with the President in the morning.. But for now, I think we could all use some sleep. It’s been quite an evening.."

Kess and Ashe were escorted back to their cells and did not attempt to fight Reno or Rude during the trip. They knew their demise was only a radio call away and so they behaved during the walk. Rude silently folded down the beds in the cells for them before leaving each alone in their designated room. After a while, Kess spoke loud enough for Ashe to hear her. "Ashe...."

But he was silent. Either refusing to acknowledge her or having already fallen asleep. She sighed and pressed her back against the cell wall as she sat up on the bed. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, he answered, "Why.. Kess..?"

For a moment she didn’t say anything as she measured her words. "Ashe.. I don’t expect you to understand my reasoning.. But you need to trust me.. I won't sell you out."

"You had no trouble selling out Morgan, or Shears, or Elfé… even Fuhito. You didn’t even blink."

"And you would have died for them. I couldn’t let you do that."

Nothing was said for a while. Kess finally said what had been on her mind since the interrogation room. "You know they’ll have left. Sending in six people with the potential for failure, someone’s going to talk. I know that Shears would have had a contingency plan. There are plenty of other places for them to hide."

"You’re so sure that they just left all of that behind?" Ashe came back with.

"I have no doubt that they may have been planning to do it with every mission they’ve done. This is the one that finally made them do it."

"So where did they go?" he paused and then added., "and likely they aren’t going to be coming for us.."

She finally laid down on the bed and curled up. Her fingers found the sore spot on her neck and she touched it gently. "Who knows.. Midgar is huge.. They could have gone anywhere.. And no, we’re going to be on our own for this one.."

"I guess we're in this together now." He was finally allowing it to sink in.

Kess’ eyes grew heavy, her body ached, and she wished for nothing more than sleep at this point. Ashe’s voice pulled her back to her senses. "Kess."


"Thank you.. I owe you one."

"Don’t worry about it… I owed you a long time ago.." It wasn't long until they fell asleep.


As Shears had suspected, Shinra did come snooping. After the meeting with Fuhito and Morgan, he and Elfé were quick to inform the security team of the possibility of unwanted guests. At the suggestion of Biggs, they decided to at least have a team begin packing the armory and have it moved to the fallback location in Sector Seven. Elfé agreed with the move, asking that they leave behind enough equipment for the rebels to use should Shinra ambush them. Utilizing the entrance in the Wutai restaurant, they were able to have the arsenal packed and on a truck within the hour. Shears informed Fuhito of the decision and suggested that he back up his latest work to the computers at the fallback base as well. It was about two hours after the failed mission that Shears received the phone call from Lazard.

They were coming.

Bolting to action, an alarm rang throughout the base. This was the alarm that every member of Avalanche dreaded. In pre-assigned teams, they went to the various rooms throughout the base and began to remove everything that wasn't bolted down. Fuhito was finishing the finalization of the backup when a group of troops burst into his laboratory and informed him that they were there to assist. He waved them idly towards some boxes that he had already prepared but when they moved to start taking equipment, they were told not to bother. The new base was already well enough stocked. He picked up his laptop computer and unplugged it from the network. He then entered a code that made the remaining computers smoke and fizzle.

He knew this day would come and so had kept most of his lab mobile. Before he left, he swiped up the thumb drive Shears had given him and pocketed it. He followed the last man out, the room already being cleared of his personal items.

The doctor and nurse that ran the infirmary were already gone with the stocks of medical supplies. Shears saw to it that they were the first out, leaving with Hobbs, who practically had to be torn away from the bar. He ensured whatever food and drink they had was taken care of, but flat out refused to leave without his precious 'No Smoking' sign. They used the restaurant exit as well and then Shears ordered it closed off. Everyone else would have to use the sewer. The bunkers were packed in bags and boxes. Some items like televisions and other large electronics were carried out with cords still attached. It looked as if a mass looting was taking place as Avalanche members poured out from a manhole in a Sector Five back alley.

Shears set to checking every room for anything that might give Shinra any inclination of where they were headed. Elfé joined him to let him know that they were the last ones in the base. Shears asked if the preparations were ready and Elfé responded with a nod. Various explosives had been planted within the base that would not damage the structural integrity of the streets above, but they would set the interior ablaze. Sprinklers that were installed long ago would kick on, but not until everything left behind had been destroyed.

Shears and Elfé looked around the place that had been their home for close to two years. It was hard to think about it going up in smoke, but it was necessary to stay one step ahead of the enemy. When they left, they didn't look back. The explosives detonated as planned, scorching the insides. The blast shook the streets and businesses above, but otherwise, left the surface unharmed.

It felt like the end of an era.

Fuhito had secluded himself within the confines of his new lab, making himself busy with setting up the new equipment. He was very particular about how things were done and so refused any and all help when it was offered. The old location had afforded him way more space with several areas that he could spread out in and give himself various work stations. Now he was practically having to link together every power cable he could get his hands on just to power the main computers. What the base lacked in decent accommodations it did make up for in seclusion. He didn't think Shinra would have any clue where Avalanche had relocated, mostly due to the area being below Midgar proper in the Sector Seven slums. He was currently linking the final cables when he pulled too hard and knocked over a box of equipment.

He shot up, hitting his head on the underside of a metal table and cursed loudly. "Fuck this place. Fuck its lack of power outlets. Fuck the the mission going sideways," he grumbled as he rubbed the back of his head.

The sore spot lessened and he moved over to the spilled box. He began pulling items from the floor and setting them onto the table when a shadow appeared in the doorway. Without turning to face this would be intruder, Fuhito sneered, "I already told you, I don't need any assistance setting up."

He turned to see Shears leaning on the frame with his arms crossed. "I know. That's not why I'm here," he spoke clearly, his voice had an amused tone to it.

"Well what is it, Albrook? I haven't got all night.." Fuhito was not in the mood for the man's games.

Shears pushed himself up from the door frame and said, "Just thought you'd like to know that someone made it back."

Fuhito was confused, not sure what Shears was talking about. He stopped placing things on the table and set the box down in a huff. "What do you mean?"

Shears walked over, stopping just before the flustered scientist and rephrased his statement. "The new guy, Margriff. He's back from the mission. And he's got quite a story about what went down.."

Shears seemed to ponder his own words as if he had a hard time believing what he had been told. Fuhito's brow knit in frustration and he moved towards the door. "Well let's see what Mr. Margriff has to say." His response was cool, but inside a storm was brewing and he knew he would have a difficult time keeping it bottled.

They left the lab, Shears leading the way through some winding tunnels until they exited into an atrium. Crates and boxes were being unloaded from a nearby truck by various Avalanche men and women and Fuhito sighed deeply. He was still pretty upset about having to leave behind such a well equipped and spacious base. He continued after Shears as they took another hallway to a smaller room where Diego was sitting with Morgan and Elfé. The usually unlit cigarillo was smoking this time, and he seemed to have gone through quite a few of them with the sight of the empty package on the table. Upon seeing him, Fuhito shook his head in disbelief. Shears moved forward, grabbing a seat next to Morgan as Diego looked up and made eye contact with Fuhito. He pulled the cigarillo from his lips, blowing a cloud of smoke upward over the table. "Mr. Margriff. You've made it back safely, I see. Unlike the rest of your team.." The anger in Fuhito's words was palatable.

Diego flicked the ashes from the tip of his smoke, doing his best to look unnerved. "Yea.. I'm pretty surprised myself.." His voice sounded tired, but the scientist knew better than to believe his charade.

Fuhito stepped forward, standing directly behind Elfé. "Well then, tell us about your ordeal. And what happened to the others. The news said that five people were captured.. Now we know who got away.."

Elfé glanced upward when Fuhito spoke. "He said they ran into the Turks."

"Which Turks?" Fuhito asked.

"All of them," Diego replied.

He returned the nearly finished cigarillo to his lips and inhaled, the tip burning brightly in the darkened room. Fuhito waved his hand dismissively. "Mr. Margriff, put that damn thing out before you set off the smoke alarms," he growled.

Diego reached out, snuffing the smoldering tip out onto the spent box. "Seems that they ran into trouble on floor forty-nine. I was down on the street when I heard the gunshots in the stairwell," he recalled. "I poked my head in and saw Kincaid running back down with that Siena chick. Reignheart was behind them. Didn't see Graves or Higashi.."

He paused, rubbing his left temple. "They went down before they got to the door. There was no point in sticking around to get swept up with them, so I booked it. Headed back to the train station, but I laid low in Sector Five until I was sure I hadn't been followed.."

In truth, after his intervention in the stairwell, he had met briefly with Rufus, Avalanche's secret benefactor, and waited until enough time had passed before he hopped a train to the Sector Seven slums. "How did you know we had left?" Morgan suddenly asked.

She had crossed her arms during his retelling and was taking note of his details. The conversation that she had with Kess and Ashe before the mission was replaying in her mind and she was doing her best to hide her skepticism. Diego held his poker face, answering easily with more lies, "Well Fuhito here told me that if things went South, I should just avoid Sector Six altogether and head here.. Didn't ya..?" Diego locked onto the man’s gaze, smirking while all eyes were diverted away.

Fuhito moved from behind Elfé, heading toward the door to leave. "Of course. The whole team had been informed." He pushed the lie. "If you'll all excuse me, I need to finish setting up the lab.."

Morgan watched him go and finally looked back to the table, giving Shears a glance and a small shrug. Everyone seemed satisfied with Diego's story and so he was allowed to dismiss himself from the interrogation, claiming he was going to help unload a truck. In truth, he immediately sought out Fuhito, finding him in the lab as he had stated. When Diego entered, Fuhito glanced up from his bank of computer monitors and glared daggers at the man. "Shut the door," he ordered.

Diego complied and then crossed the room to stand closer. No need for anyone to overhear what he was about to say. "I thought you'd be happy to see me alive and well," he jested.

He tossed a gloved hand through his orange hair and carelessly tussled it about. "Geez, it's warm down here.. Smells like hot garbage too." He sounded mildly annoyed.

Without glancing up, Fuhito replied, "And yet, I can't help but think that we are here because of you."

He turned in his chair, tapping his index fingers together just under his nose. "And that bullshit about me telling you to come here, nice cover at least. Narshe isn't stupid, you know. She was a Turk like yourself.."

Diego shrugged, putting his hands in the air with a laugh. "Hey man, I'm an ‘off the cuff’ kind of guy.."

"I've gathered that.."

The Turk leaned on the edge of the computer desk and sighed. "Rufus was only guessing that you guys would fall back here. After that epic failure of a mission," he heavily emphasized the word ‘epic' , "he banked on one of two scenarios happening. Either you guys falling back here, or you all trying to fight it out with the Soldiers."

Fuhito said nothing, continuing to glare at the man in contemplative silence. "But you disappointed him.. He was hoping you guys would have eliminated a few dozen squads."

"Oh," Fuhito said suddenly, "is that why the mission was a failure? Because he deemed it should be?" He was suddenly livid at the notion of being played.

"The road to success is wrought with bumps and potholes.. Maybe it will succeed next time.. This is only a minor setback."

Fuhito was on his feet instantly. "I am not a puppet to be toyed with!" he snapped as a sudden fury rose up from within. "I agreed to let you in as an informant, nothing more. This 'minor setback' as you put it has put the Company on high alert! It will be nearly impossible to get into the building now."

He stormed across the room to retrieve a clear box of discs. "Don't forget who's funding this little revolution of yours," Diego reminded him with a grim tone.

Fuhito reached his destination, then turned and narrowed his sights on the man. "Are you threatening me, Gerrick?" he asked incredulously.

Diego played innocent and flicked his sunglasses down. Without a word, he made tracks for the door. Fuhito shook his head in disbelief, picking up the box. "Get out, now. I'm finished talking to you.." He moved back to his chair. "At least you're my only problem at the moment.. The others are all likely soon to be dead anyhow.."

Diego stopped short on reaching the door. He turned back to Fuhito with the familiar catlike grin. "Yea… about that."


The next morning, up on the 70th floor, the mood was a little less than cheerful. President Shinra paced back and forth in anger, his executives surrounding him along with Veld, Tseng, and Rufus. "I want them dead! DEAD! Do you hear me! Public execution, televised! The whole nine yards!" President Shinra's voice boomed throughout the room.

He continued. "They must be made an example of to those who attack the Shinra Company. That woman abandoned her duties, not to mention she is one of Hojo's failed experiments. Er... no offense." He motioned to Professor Hojo.

The older man waved dismissively, unfazed by the comment. Shinra continued, "And the other one, a demolitions expert!? Didn't he blow up his lab a few years ago? Didn't we send Reignheart to tie up that loose end? Failed! Now they're both with this group of eco terrorists. Hell, he's probably the one who blew that goddamn hole in my building! I want them both executed, same as the other three will be. In Junon, by week's end, no exceptions!"

"Sir," Veld began, "they are far more valuable alive. With the additions to Ms. Reignheart's body and her combative skills, she makes an excellent candidate for the Turks. As for Mr. Kincaid, he is an expert in his field. We stand only to gain from his vast knowledge on micro technology. He even worked on the Sister Ray. The Company lost a lot of ground in the robotics field when he went AWOL."

"Oh, I remember him!" Scarlet squealed in delight.

President Shinra stood dumbfounded, staring at Veld. "Excellent candidate for the Turks?" he repeated back. "Are you out of your goddamn mind, Tengille? They're dangerous!"

"Sir," Veld interjected, "they may be rough around the edges and keen on the thought of killing all of us." He gestured around the room. "But I think if given the chance, they can be valuable assets once more."

Shinra was pacing again. The forms of the upper Shinra executives went by in a blur. Rufus sat behind his father's desk, still playing with the detonation device idly. "But it remains, they attacked the Company, MY COMPANY!" the President bellowed. "And besides, she had her chance when she was in Soldier working as Grise the Shadow and whatever else Hojo had her doing."

"They did so because they were instructed to. I believe that given the right guidance, they could become equally as destructive to Avalanche," Veld argued back. "Think about it, sir. They know how the rebels operate. They know who its key leaders are. We checked the location Reignheart gave us. Though destroyed and abandoned, we found a massive base. For them to move a base of that size in the very little time they had means that they have numbers. Probably scores of Wutai refugees and other people that feel wronged by Shinra. If we were able to use these two to sow discord among them, they may lose heart. Abandon the cause. Their numbers will dwindle and they will be easier to exterminate."

President Shinra had given the floor to Veld. He trusted the man, but lately he felt that the Turk was going soft. He really needed to give them a mission that would prove where their loyalties were once and for all. He had taken to sitting at his desk, too agitated to keep walking around. He drummed his thick fingers on the wooden surface, taking in what he had to say. He was finally ready to give his answer. "Very well. But if they act out, you better have no problem lighting them up."

"Of course, sir."

"And the other three will still be sent to Junon. There needs to be an example made.. And someone's going to goddamn pay for it."

Veld glanced over to Rufus who was in the process of twirling the device once more. "I wonder if I could.. take that back," he said as he snatched the device from Rufus' hand.

Rufus grimaced, but perked up when Tseng's cell phone rang. He listened for a moment. "Yes, bring them in."

He hung up and announced "The Soldiers from the base found a few items that were left behind. Unfortunately nothing technical; the personal items of some of the members. But it may give us some insight as to who is with them. Perhaps there are other ex-employees."

Shinra waved his hand idly, basically saying he was done. The room emptied, the executives heading back to their offices. Veld and Tseng made their way back to the Turks office without any conversation between them until they reached the elevator. "The others should already be gathering, we'll tell them when we arrive. Best to get it out of the way as soon as possible."

Tseng acknowledged Veld’s words but said nothing.


In the Turks office, the others had arrived and were awaiting their superiors. "So what do you make of them?" Becca asked aloud.

"Feh, they're rebels. Damn, dirty rebels," August said dismissively. "They don't play by the rules."

Samantha cradled her injured arm in its sling and growled "I hope I get to teach that red headed bitch a thing or two."

Drake gave her a side glance and then looked away. "Maybe if you weren't so cocky, you wouldn't have gotten shot."

"What was that?!"

Rude remained silent, but Reno and Marcus burst out laughing. "Ooo, someone's pissed off," Reno jested.

Samantha stuck her tongue out and turned away. "Max and Tonya should be back any time, right? What are they going to think of this mess?" Shion asked.

"What, you don't think they've already heard about all this? I'm sure they know," Cissnei said. "I was gone for a week, but I knew something was up."

Marcus turned to the woman and smiled, "So, how was Costa del Sol, Cissnei?"

"Great. Like my tan?"

"Weren't you supposed to be with Max and Tonya in Gongaga?" Reno inquired.

Cissnei flicked back her curly, red hair. "Yea, but they said they'd finish up. So I decided to take a few paid days to Costa, but then this crap happened and I got called back here after three days. I'm going back after this wraps up."

She pouted a bit and Drake's cell phone rang. Answering it, he discovered Max on the other end. "Ah Max, are you back in the city yet. Landed already? Good. Come to the office once you're both clear, we're going to have a meeting. Right, goodbye."

He clicked the device shut and placed it back in his pocket. "Speak of the devil. Seems like they're back early," he stated to everyone.

The doors opened and they turned to see Jale enter. He froze, then smirked and shut the door after himself. "Well, hello everyone."

Drake released the breath he had been holding and sighed. "Did you see Veld or Tseng coming?"

"Nope." He took a seat at his desk and kicked his feet onto it, folding his arms behind his head.

Everyone else remained standing. It was about ten minutes later when the door creaked once more and a very tired looking Max entered, Tonya was close behind him. He looked as if jet lag was affecting him. His appearance was tidy, but his eyes betrayed how exhausted he was. Tonya was more alert and greeted everyone as all eyes were on her. "What’s up..?"

They filed into the room and took their place in line. "How was the flight?" Drake asked.

"Choppy..." Max squeaked.

Tonya laughed and slapped Max on the back a few times. "Poor Max. Helicopters just aren’t his thing.."

Veld and Tseng entered as the door was about to shut once more. Veld charged into the room toward the back of the room and greeted everyone. "Good, everyone is here. We can get this out of the way."

Tseng moved over to Veld's side and stood in silence for a few moments. "Well then Tseng. Let's tell everyone the news."

Tseng cleared his throat and addressed the group. "Everyone, the Avalanche members Kess Reignheart and Ashe Kincaid will be joining our ranks."

A collective gasp was heard around the room. The reaction from Samantha was immediate. "What?! But she shot me!"

"Miss Baines, let Tseng finish," Veld instructed.

She fell silent, but her dismay was obvious. "They have a vast knowledge on the terrorists and are experts in the jobs they once held for Shinra Electric Power Company. It would be a waste to kill them. Instead, they are going to join us so that they may be put to good use," Tseng explained as he looked over his fellow Turks.

Reno spoke up, "Kess Reignheart.. Isn't that the renegade Deepground agent that was hiding out in Cosmo Canyon? The one that Rude and I were sent in to detain after those Soldiers got beat up?"

"The very same," Veld confirmed.

"All that alcohol.." Rude lamented, "wasted."

"A sad day indeed, my friend," Reno pat Rude's shoulder gently.

"Deepground agent? Seriously? And this Kincaid guy, he's a damn legend from what I've heard in Junon. What’s going to keep them from strangling us when we're alone with them?" Marcus asked aloud.

"Both have had an explosive device implanted in their neck," Veld explained, holding up the remote detonator. "One move against us, and that's it."

He turned to Rude and handed him the device. "The codes for their detonators are in the system. Look them up after leaving this meeting."

Rude pocketed the device. "Yes sir."

"Hey wait. Why does Rudinski get to be in charge of the kill switch?" Jale asked from behind.

Veld turned to face the man, the Turks parting out of the way. "Rude has been put in charge of the detonator because he is calm. If they act out of line or attempt an escape, they can be dealt with. But in the hands of the likes of you, someone who would take the easy road—"

"Someone lazy, you mean," Marcus interrupted.

Veld smirked. "Well, the last thing we want is a mess. Someone with a level head should be in charge."

Shion was the next to speak. "What assurance do we have that they will be cooperative? We aren't going to actually arm them, are we?"

The group glanced from Shion to Veld, the concern of his statement radiating on their faces. "No, of course not. If anything, their presence will be sort of an insurance. If they are seen with us, unrestrained, appearing to be cooperative, if may cause their former ties to Avalanche to become distrustful. They will be rooted out even easier in the case that they feel the need to silence them."

"So they are bait?" Becca confirmed.

"In a way, yes," Tseng replied from the sidelines.

"Well if they start anything, I'll be the first to finish it," Samantha growled.

"You and what ARM-y?" Reno howled.

The room burst into laughter. Samantha's face turned bright red and she flipped him off with her good hand.

Veld interrupted, "Do not provoke any fights with them. If hit in a certain fashion, the bombs in their necks could very well detonate and I'd hate to lose any of you. Likewise, they will be instructed to mind their manners if they don't want to go to bed black and blue every night. With that in mind, I ask that you show them what it means to be a Turk. Be proud, be strong and do your jobs."

He waved his hand a bit to show he was finished and asked, "Anything else, Tseng?"

"Yes actually," Tseng began as he took over the meeting once more. "I think it would be good for them to see what a well rounded group we have here and perhaps it would show them that the Company can be gracious. Lest we forget where we were when the Turks became our family.. Understood?"

A resounding 'Yes sir' filled the room.

"Good then. Please, stay here a bit longer before heading out for the day. I want to get them in the system and such before we leave." Veld instructed. "Take this time to file your reports. That way they can meet the whole team. Jale, if you would assist Tseng in bringing them up, it would be appreciated."

"Of course sir. I live to serve the Turks."

"Kiss ass.." Marcus muttered.

Veld watched as everyone dispersed around the office then returned to his office. He set to work on inputting the information as if he had recruited two new members. He reached into his pocket, producing a small, tattered black and white photo. The family in the picture looked happy; mother, father, older son, younger daughter. The edges were burnt slightly and he had a feeling he knew why. He recognized the couple; Owen and Gina Reignheart. Their children, Grey and Kess, would grow up to join Soldier. This much he knew because they had been neighbors in Kalm. Grey would die in the Great War, their daughter would try to take her own life after the attack on Kalm. She landed herself in Hojo’s Deepground facility where she would oddly enough adopt the name Grise, which translated to Grey in French.. Naming her alias after her deceased brother.. A bold move.

He put the photo in his desk drawer and returned to typing absentmindedly, his eyes wandered to a small picture frame that rested near his computer monitor. A younger man was there, a small girl sitting upon his shoulders and a pretty lady at his side. The sky was a deep blue that day; tall grass swayed gently in the south wind. They had been on a picnic, he had brought the camera; a present from his colleagues to celebrate his first year in his new position as head of the Turks. It had taken a few failed attempts to get the timing right, but he finally managed to get a good family shot.

"Sir?" Tseng asked unexpectedly.

Veld refused to face the man, feeling the tear slide down his left cheek. He wiped it away quickly. "Yes Li Feng?".

"I was just saying, Jale and I are bringing them up soon." He had noticed but knew better than to say anything.

"Good, thank you. Their files are created and the badges are printing now. I will be ready momentarily." Veld rose and moved to exit the room. "I just need to get a drink of water."

Tseng's eyes wandered from the older man to the photo on the desk. He knew that it was of Veld's daughter and wife; both of whom were killed in the destruction of Kalm many years ago. He closed his eyes and walked to the door, Jale jumping up to follow him as he passed by. "Time to collect them," Tseng instructed.


Kess didn't know how long she had been staring at the ceiling. Was she counting the little imperfections in the concrete? Or trying to determine the time of day? She didn't know. Nothing was clear any more. What she knew for certain was that they could give up on the thought that Avalanche would come to the rescue. A failed mission and a traitor among them. It was all very hard to take in.

She sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. The clothes they had been given were nothing more than gray jumpsuits used by the Shinra janitors. Her thoughts began to run rampant as she sat in the dark cell. How much did they know about her? They seemed to know who Ashe was, but what did they know about her exactly? Did they know about her family, her brother, or the uncle that taught her how to use a gun? Did they know she was a Deepground operative who walked away from her last mission?

It was bothersome not knowing what the enemy knew about her. She decided to assume that they knew everything. She turned in her spot, leaning back onto the semi cushioned bed. She had just closed her eyes in an attempt to get some sleep when the door to her cell opened, bright light from the hallway pouring in. Tseng's figure entered her little prison and he spoke, "Sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you. We're ready now."

Kess narrowed her eyes, her expression somewhat confused.

Didn't mean to disturb me? Is this guy for real?

He motioned for her to get up and she did with some effort. She moved out into the hall with him, seeing that Ashe was being escorted from his cell by Jale. With quick motions, Jale restrained both their hands with plastic zip ties. Nobody said anything except for Tseng. "Let's go, Veld doesn't want to waste any time."

The group moved from the cold cell block into a warmer part of the building. After taking the elevator down several floors, they arrived at their destination. The hallway was white and pristine, a drastic change from the dreary cell block. Various framed pictures of the Shinra Inc. logo hung on the walls every ten feet or so. They came to a door and Tseng opened it. As they entered, Kess stole a glance at Jale, noticing that his features were completely serious.

He broke away and walked over to a small coffee bar on the left side of the room. Tseng guided Kess and Ashe to the back where Veld's office was. Behind them, Rude sat working on his computer, the detonator displayed prominently near the desk's edge. Kess looked ahead again as they sat in the chairs provided for them. Ashe's expression said it all. What the hell was going on?

Tseng undid their bindings then left. Kess and Ashe both rubbed their sore wrists and biceps. Their fingers tingled uncomfortably as blood flow was restored. Veld stood in the corner of the room near a copy machine. "Ah, good. You're here," he spoke, turning back to pick something up.

"Well," Veld started, "seems as though your crew caught wind of your capture, or figured you for dead. The location you gave me was the right place, but they had moved out before we arrived. A pity. But since you're more useful to us alive than in little, bloody pieces, we've decided on the perfect punishment for you both."

He turned to them, tossing two thin pieces of plastic across the desk. Fresh I.D. cards slid and came to rest before them, both seeing themselves, photos used from the interrogation room. Next to the picture, their name, a serial number, and the word 'Turks' were printed. At the top of the card was the Shinra logo and title.

"I assume this isn't the first time either of you have seen badges like these. Well, these are your new ones," Veld said sharply.

Ashe snorted, unable to keep his composure. "You're serious? Your grand punishment is to force us back to work?"

Veld suddenly slammed both hands firmly onto his desk, rattling the drawers and their contents within. Kess sat straight up and Ashe's expression became defiant. Despite his sudden outburst, Veld's next words came calmly. "In a manner of speaking. Either you join us and assist with seeking out Avalanche or we can go back to the interrogation room and give it a new paint job."

Both hesitated, but took the badges at the same time. "Splendid!" Veld smiled, raising back up to his full height. "Marcus and Drake will get you suited up. You will be assigned bunks in the living space provided on the fiftieth floor. Please, don't forget, any act of disobedience or misconduct will result in Rude executing you on the spot. And we don't want that to weigh on his conscience, now do we...?"

Kess and Ashe slowly nodded, still very struck between the difference in the man's demeanor. "Good. Now before you go, you should meet who you’re going to be working with. Please stand."

They both stood as asked and turned to see the Turks assembled behind them. Most of them appeared deadpan but Kess noticed the one she had shot in the arm looked rather pissed. Veld motioned with his hand. "Drake, please begin the introductions."

Drake glanced up, his black hair falling into his gaze. He swept it back and said, "I'm Drake Everno."

Next, the blonde woman who was a crack shot came forth. "Becca Pierce."

Then the Turk Kess had shot. "Samantha Baines, and don't you forget it," she sneered, tossing back her ponytail.

"Shion Satoshi," said the man who wielded the katana.

The one they knew as Marcus stepped up. "Marcus Cole," he spoke with a smirk and rubbed his nose against the back of his sleeve like a street punk.

A voice came from behind the assembled group. "Yo, Reno Voss and this is Rude, he doesn't say much. With his voice anyway.." The crowd parted to show Reno and Rude sitting in the back as usual. Reno waved with a smile while Rude cracked his knuckles loudly.

A slender woman with short, black hair moved up next. "I'm Tonya Shadow. Glad you guys are joining up," she beamed.

The man that had pinned Ashe stepped up. He was the largest one out of the group. "August Reynolds."

The last two members moved up. The woman with wavy reddish-brown hair and short stature spoke first. "I am Cissnei Shizune. Pleased to meet you."

"And I am Maximilian Kirsch, the Third," spoke a blond kid who looked no older than eighteen.

They both seemed very shy, Kess guessed that they were new as well. The blond guy seemed to have an air of wealth around him. And Cissnei couldn't be any older than sixteen. Jale was still leaning near the coffee bar. He moved to join the others. "Jale Gerrick, formerly of the Wutai Crescents, but you already knew that." He grinned at Kess who scowled in return.

Veld motioned with his right hand to the group. "Good, good. Now that you're all acquainted, Drake, will you and Marcus escort Ms. Reignheart and Mr. Kincaid to get fitted for their suits and then take them to their new quarters?"

"Of course sir."

Veld smiled at them both. "Welcome to the Turks."

--End Chapter 8..