Author's Beginning Note Thingy: HOLY SHIT IT'S AN UPDATE! Yes, I am still writing... still plodding along through this thing... and there's a new review incentive going up on DA momentarily (read: within the next few days). And now... to express my deep, deep shame: I'm sorry... I'm very, very sorry this took so freaking long... I'm sorry to anyone who's out there still reading, and I'm sorry to myself for being so incredibly lame. And now that we're done with that, allow me to offer some explanation for this horrible delay. I've been through five harddrives on two computers since I got to college, lost all my stuff at least a dozen times over between drives, machines, and just plain reformats. A word of advice to those who would listen: never, I mean never, ever ever ever ever get a Dell. They have wonderful 24-hour tech support (brought to you live from India, which means if you want the guys who are fresh and awake and don't want to wait on hold for like 40 minutes, you have to call at 3AM), but I doubt they'd need it if their product didn't such so much. The problem should be fixed for good now (I'm crossing my fingers... no problems since April!). So that's my lame excuse. On with the chapter.

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"Don't you think you're being a little harsh, Reno?" Elena muttered.

"Hell no." Reno shook his head, "For all that ShinRa may have been draining the planet dry, at least that was a slow, predictable, and in the future probably preventable death. What we were doing was right - protecting Midgar, its citizenry from crazed environmentalist terrorists was right." he insisted.

"Old news." Elena rolled her eyes, glaring at him, "Avalanche aren't just an adolescent group of reactor bombers anymore..."

Reno scoffed, "Only in the sense that bombing reactors isn't what they do anymore... in fact, what they did was way worse! We gave them an inch, Elena, in a dire time ShinRa came up dry for ideas, turned to them out of desperation... decided 'well, if they say they can save us all, let them try... either it'll work, or we'll be rid of one more nuisance'. They took that inch and ran with it, fucked up royally, and look where we are now! No ShinRa, no Midgar, hardly even any Avalanche left anymore! You honestly think that that load of planet-hugging bullshit we got spat at us will really work?" he demanded frantically.

"You seem really up in arms about this." Elena raised an eyebrow with pointed curiosity.

"Of course I am!" Reno was outraged, "I don't want to die!" then he stopped, almost like a hiccup in his words, and swallowed them down, fighting to regain his composure... though that one brief show of weakness had softened Elena somewhat, sympathized her a little more.

"So, then..." she started, casting a wary glance off at the small gathering of Avalanche members huddled near eachother to the side. "...what are we supposed to do?" she asked.

Reno sighed and ran his hands over his somewhat flattened hair, "I don't know... flying under Avalanche's radar with this one is gonna be hard..."

"Especially since you weren't exactly tactful with telling them how you felt about their plan." Elena pointed out. Reno glared at her.

"And that cat might have helped us before, but now..." he eyed Cait Sith, whose routine seemed to be slowing up a bit as Kadaj's attention began to wander. He may have been a child, alone and abandoned by his mother (who they could only assume had been, in all other forms, wiped from the face of the earth, as the boy showed no signs of hearing mysterious voices or receiving orders from a higher power as Cloud and Sephiroth each had done), but he was no doddering infant, and the predictable sleight had begun to bore him. Also, he noted, aside from the robot and Kadaj, the rest of the group had gathered close together and seemed to be talking as animatedly to eachother as he and Elena were amongst themselves... there was nothing to be done about that, though, and Reno sighed, getting back to the point, "...well, I don't know. He did alot of good work for us before, but Reeve's loyalty did get a bit... squiffy in the end."

Elena didn't bother to question his word usage, but instead nodded in agreement to the concept her partner had meant to represent. "So you're thinking that this thing, despite its independent programming, might follow its dead master's bias and side with them?"

"You make it sound complicated, Elena." the redhead rolled his eyes, "And not to mention sentient. The bare bones of it is that Reeve never told us he made more than one of those in the first place. Just the fact that we found it at all, or it found us, rather, while doing spywork on a division of the company we'd never heard of in a part of Midgar we never knew existed is reason enough not to trust him. Not to mention the fact that, let's face it, he's a robotic cat."

"I don't see how that last fact has any effect on your suspicion, but okay." Elena shrugged, "I see your point."

The sudden tromping of heavy footsteps across the ground alerted them of the coming intruder, and their speech was clipped off, both Turks abruptly straightening up and trying to make it look as if they had not just been bent over scheming together, heads whipping around in mock-surprise of the arrival of the would-be eavesdropper. Both of them had in their light eyes the look a crumb-faced child standing too close to a cookie-jar might wear - pure innocence, the wrong they'd done unprovable but no less obvious.

Cid stood between them and a few paces away, his gruff face sagging into a bit of a scowl as he looked them over, hands on his hips, booted feet shoulder-width apart in an almost defensive stance. "Alright, you two, here's the plan we've come up with." he announced. "We're gonna stay here for a night, all get just one last big rest, and in the morning... no, fuck that, it's not like you can even tell the difference anymore..." be self corrected, cleared his throat, then tried again, "...when we all wake up, we're hauling ass as fast as we can back out of here." he said.

"We talked about what Cloud said, Midgar being ground-zero for what's about to happen... gathering all the lifestream into one spot and then releasing it all it once sounds suspiciously like an explosion to all of us. If you think of the damage a single blown-up mako reactor could do..." Reno and Elena sent eachother knowing looks between Cid's words. "...take that and magnify it by all the mako left on the planet as it goes charging back into the earth and that's what we might be looking at to happen..." he turned and pointed to the dark blot out on the horizon, "...right over there. And we're still in sight of the thing."

The next part of his speech was a little darker (if that was possible) and his voice fell, "There's nothing more we can do for Cloud now... he's got to take this last leg all on his own, and he won't be coming back so there's no point in sticking around to wait for him. At the same time, there's no way to know how long he'll take, or even if he's succeeded or failed until the final result actually comes around, and in that case from here we'd probably be too close to tell the difference. So basically, we're going to try to get as far the hell away from here as we can get in what time we have, unless you find something particularly appealing about glowing green for the rest of your life, or even having any life to glow green for the rest of."

Here he paused, and after only a few moments of nonaction, the two quickly nodded their understanding. To that, Cid gave an almost military-like head-jerk downward. "Alright." he said, sounding like an appeased parent, "Glad to see you've finally come to your senses about this." he muttered, turning around and starting back off, tossing a few last words back over his shoulder as he went, "For as much as we both tried to off eachother before, now I think it'd be an awful shame if you died."

Elena and Reno stayed silent where they were for a few minutes, watching as Cid returned and the rest of Avalanche began to bed down. He'd made some compelling points... like the fact that even if they got Kadaj to Midgar, they would most likely die in the ensuing blast. Still, though... they looked at eachother silently after that. If between them there existed only a bare ounce of altruism, now was the time for it to take effect. What more noble last act could the Turks and, more generally, ShinRa do to redeem their name in the eyes of the planet than to save it from Avalanche's greatest folly?

It was a few moments before Reno began to speak, "I think that, whatever we do, we have to do it tonight." he said, "There's precious little time, and we can't afford to waste it on subtleties like gaining back those guys' trust or convincing the kid. When they wake up, they'll start off full-tilt in the opposite direction and expect us to come along too. We'll never be closer to Midgar than we are now, and even a day's setback is too much to risk..." he looked gravely between Kadaj and the obscured city out on the horizon, "Once they're all out, we gotta take him and run."

"I agree." Elena said grimly. So the plan was still on... she took a deep breath and readied herself - body and mind - all they had to do now was wait.

-

Reno waited, and all the while pretended to sleep. The others over there were curled up at the cliffside, Tifa immersed in Cid's jacket (which she seemed to have permanently commandeered, as the woman rarely went without it now), Cid himself half-draped across his spear, which was propped up against a rock behind him. Nanaki too was taking a break, head on his paws by Tifa and snoring gently. The only one still awake was Cait Sith, the un-sleeping robot that he was, with lamplike eyes peering out to the horizon, and unknown calculations going on within his little computerized sham of a brain. His charge was lightly slumbering beside him, taking wheezy tear-tainted breaths. The time was now, it couldn't possibly get any easier.

Nudging Elena lightly with the un-electrified end of his prod, he roused her from the doze she'd started from the boredom of waiting, and the two of them slowly got up. The cat was relatively inattentive, and distracted, it seemed like... so sneaking up behind him was not an object. It helped that, being a machine, he, unlike any of the others around, had an off-switch, and they both knew exactly where it was.

Mere inches away from him, Reno stopped and motioned his partner forward. She took just a few stealthy steps, uncurled her pointer finger from the fist her hand had made in stress, and reached out...

It was at that moment that Cait turned around, sending a sudden stare at her and freezing her in place. "Elena, Reno..." he noted in a mildly surprised tone, apparently ignorant to the indiscretion they were about to commit, "...what can I do for you?"

"Shh, Cait..." Elena hissed, ever one to remain on civil terms, even with people they were about to backstab, "...you have to be quiet."

The cat looked at her confusedly, "What's wrong?" he questioned, at last an idea seeming to form in his mind... what were the two members of the Turks doing awake when they'd been given the freedom to rest? Why were they both stalking so suspiciously over to the rest of the group together during the time when everybody else was conveniently sleeping.

"Shh..." Elena insisted again, her brow furrowing and a frown forming on her pinkish lips, "...really, Cait, I'm really sorry about this." she didn't know why she was even apologizing to an animal... a non-living animal, no less, and jabbed forward, aiming for the button at the base of his ear...

But Cait was quick, leapt and knocked her hand aside, an appalled expression on his catty face. "Elena, what are you doing?" he demanded, his voice high and quaky. Now he understood the threat... perhaps not completely (though he had a hunch... whatever the Turks were doing, no doubt it was in reaction to their dislike for Avalanche's plan), but he knew it was now putting him, if not everyone else, in imminent danger.

"Oh, for Titan's sake, 'len!" Reno hissed, "Just finish him!"

At the command she stretched again, swiping once more at the button and once more missing as the machine ducked, gasping. "Reno, Elena!" he squeaked, "Stop! I'm on your side!" he waved his little paws frantically, "I found you lost in Deepground, I led you out!" he reminded, "I worked for you the whole way here!" But it was too late, and they didn't believe him... by now any word he said could be a lie, could be self-preservation... at least in Reno's mind. Elena was slowly being un-convinced of her partner's earlier point. Sure they didn't know anything about Deepground, but certainly the higher-ups in ShinRa did, and it was understandable that they might want to deploy a non-human spy from time to time, just to check up on how things were going. So maybe Reeve did, and that's why that Cait Sith was there... she hesitated, drawing back. They didn't need to deactivate him, he could still be incredibly useful in the future!

But before she knew it, Reno acted. He flipped out his nightstick, turning it once or twice around his hand, and lunged forward, sending out a silent bolt of white light. It caught Cait Sith in the leg as he was trying to dodge again, and made the little robot freeze midair. His eyes went wide, then scrunched tight... the toes of his paws started to twitch as the electricity charged through him, blowing circuits and welding joints into place with its force... his entire body began to spasm as if he were having a seizure... and it was sickening to watch. The woman had to turn away.

She was a Turk, of course, and had no qualms about killing people, especially those that deserved it... but animals, on the other hand... Monsters were one thing, and she knew the difference, monsters hurt people... but this was a cute little cat (and she knew it wasn't real, but in a way it was... the moment was not right to get incredibly philosophical about where the border between AI and life was, but she couldn't deny that she'd on occasion thought about it) they were brutally killing, and brutally was the word. She couldn't, at this moment, imagine a more painful death.

It ended soon, though, and the stiff little body fell to the ground with the fur-muffled clanging of broken metal parts. Reno put his weapon away, glaring sideways at her, "Honestly, 'lena... I think you're going soft."

"Shut up, Reno." the woman shrilled in a hiss, still wary about waking up the rest of Avalanche, some of which (Nanaki, in particular, with a shake of the head that sent the forelocks of his mane falling over his empty eye) were beginning to stir, "Tifa was right, you really are a sick fuck." she spat.

Reno narrowed his eyes, but said nothing in protest to this point. Instead he turned away, taking a few steps, and angled his gaze in the direction of Avalanche, whispering. "I get it, 'len, Turks hired me to be a killer and you to be reconnaissance... your job has always been to connect with people, to get inside them without empathizing... well guess what you're starting to do. We're Turks, the only two left..." he started, a bit of hesitance in his voice as he indirectly mentioned their fallen companions, "...we're not supposed to feel..." the words were coming slower now, and failing to attain that hollow resonance of apathy "...we're supposed to be machines... just like that thing." He motioned vaguely in the direction of the busted cat-doll with the tip of his nightstick. A throat-clearing pause later, he straightened and his speech was back to its normal clipped tone as he said "You wake the kid and get him to come along, I'll make sure none of these guys get up."

Elena's breath, which she just realized she'd been holding - stale - since the shock, rushed out in an angry sigh as she stooped toward the silver haired boy. At least the other still had enough sense left to let her handle the 'sensitive' stuff... no doubt if Kadaj woke to Reno's severe eyes he would jump and scream and the whole plan would be worthless.

-

"Kadaj... Kadaj..." from out of swirls of green and black, he felt his body once again... felt the shape of his shoulder being shaken lightly and a feminine familiarity mould itself into being out of the tatters of his dreamworld. Someone was waking him... ushering him back into a world of pain, awaiting him with gentle arms.

"Mother?" he lightly called, eyes fluttering, coming to...

Elena smiled, and it was a horrible, sad smile as the other finally opened his eyes and stared out at her, disappointed in the dark... sad because she knew... she knew how, after all this time of worrying and thinking and trying to plan how she would reason with this unpredictable kid, how she would get him to come with... now she knew, and it was so simple... so horribly, painfully simple.

"No..." she said, "I'm not. But if you come with me..." she stammered, "...come with me right now... you can see her." she baited.

His eyes grew wider, "I can see... mother again?" Kadaj asked.

"Yes." Elena assured, "...come with me and Reno and we'll take you to mother."

And that was it. His mind redirected onto that most important of tracks... he rose obediently off the ground and stood beside her, ignoring his sleeping companions littered all around, unaware of his former entertainer - Cait Sith - forever still in the dust before him. He didn't even flinch as she took his hand and pulled him onwards, after Reno, who led the way down beside a chasm, following its line for light that streamed up from the core of the earth, their only illumination on the trek toward Midgar. The woman tried hard not to cry over her cruel deception... over the fact that it had condemned him... and how quickly it had come to her lips... that even in times this dark, within the Turks there was not one shred of decency to be found.