This chapter was actually written a lot quicker than I expected it to be and is being posted early this time. That said, this chapter also earns itself another language warning (considering the circumstances those words are uttered under, I really did try to substitute other words, so I felt the need to apologize and give fair warning for the few that I didn't change.) The next update will likely be in two-ish weeks, so don't expect it next week as they're fairly long chapters (and this is a multi-chapter fight in-progress at this point.) Also, longer chapters as well, so that takes some time. Enjoy this update folks and again, I cannot thank you enough for all of the support each of you have offered by reading, (the traffic stats on the last update were insane!) reviewing, and the PMs I have received. Each and every one of you is amazing (that includes those who just stop by to read and I have never had the privilege of thanking personally as well, so don't think you're not amazing because you are) and I have no shame in saying that I have the best readers that any writer can possible ever ask for. You folks rock! Stay awesome and I hope you enjoy the update! : )

Chapter Seventy Seven – Protocol Alpha

When the quiet begins to subside, the first thing that registers is the dull beeping of the emergency fire alarm system. The second thing is the rain, courtesy of our overaggressive sprinkler system pouring a thick deluge of water across what remains of the entire floor. I force myself to sit up, feeling the thick coating of ice that sticks to my blazer and freezes my shuriken in its upright position, no doubt from the frantic assault of blizzaga spells.

My blazer is singed and I wipe blood from several bleeding cuts where chunks of flying cement and broken glass grazed me during the fiery nightmare. I flinch at the headache, feeling the effects of casting so much in so small of a time beginning to take their toll. A trembling hand reaches into the materia pouch on my belt and draws the curaga.

I hate to do this, but I'm wounded and don't have a decent first aid kit. Ours is long gone with that side of the building.

A thick warmth flows over me, stopping the bleeding and dulling the pain. It won't get rid of it completely, but for now, it's better than nothing. Tossing the materia back into the pouch, I lean against the blackened wall and watch the curtains of water raining down across a warzone. Walls have been completely melted. Blackened steel twists and crumbles. Ceiling fixtures have fallen. Smoke rises from broken furniture. Glass covers the entire floor. Several scorched beams groan and lean sideways, having brought some of the upper floor down with them.

For several long moments, I stare at the carnage and the gaping hole in the wall that allows Meteor's vicious red light to cast a fiery glow throughout the space. The rain falls like rust, cold and soaking everything it touches. I wipe several strands of drenched auburn hair away from my amber eyes and stare at the holes in the floor where Reno's office used to be. That side of our floor is completely gone and it looks like someone set off a Mako bomb in here.

In a way, that sort of happened, the inner watchdog and fox admire the destruction in awe. I flinch and stand on shaky legs wondering if other floors in the building suffered this level of damage from the WEAPON. If they did, we could be in some serious trouble.

"This isn't good," Reeve limps past the ajar door, dragging his left leg slightly, his suit torn and looking like he just crossed no-man's land with terrible results.

"Cut to the chase, Tuesti," Scarlet growls and just about pushes him out of the way as she wipes dust and soot from her face, her dress scorched and tattered in places, and tries to pull her messy blonde hair back into a ponytail. "Will this building stay standing or won't it."

He turns a brown eye on her, lip curled into a snarl. "When I designed it, the last thing on my mind was a centuries old Ancient WEAPON attacking it. And while I have my people checking the floor supports, we should evacuate everyone just in case."

"I knew you were incompetent as an engineer ever since Sector Seven went down so easily, but I would have thought you would have put far more thought into the office of the most important person in the world." Scarlet offers him a snide look. "I could care less about evacuations of the little people."

Reeve bares his teeth and turns around to face her, phone in hand. "I'm ordering an evacuation regardless of what you think because right now the most important person in the world is missing and I have a compromised building to worry about that if it falls, could take down several sectors and kill thousands. So either shut your goddamn mouth and do your damn job as an executive, or get the hell out of my way while I do mine."

The head bitch of Weapon's Research curls her lip into a wry smirk and gives Reeve an amused look. "You're right. Shinra needs a leader right now until we find Rufus. We shouldn't be fighting. You order your little evacuation, Tuesti. I'll get Heidegger. Meet us in the boardroom for an urgent meeting as soon as you can."

Her words hold the excitement of a child who has just figured out they can fry ants with a magnifying glass and a light tinge of glee crosses her frigid blue eyes as she turns and strides back toward the elevators with this evil spring in her step.

Running footsteps once again fill the hallway before I can grab Reeve and pull him into this room to warn him about attending that meeting. Casting an annoyed look at the SOLDIER 2nd Class who blocks Scarlet's path, much to her annoyance, I can't help but wonder if the universe intentionally wants this evil woman to live because every effort so far has been interrupted and this assassination is becoming a clusterscrew of a disaster.

"Ma'am," Kunsel gives another halfhearted, grudging salute. "We've secured the lower floors. Status on the president?"

Ah yes, protocol at its finest. I lean against the wall wondering if Tseng is okay. If he was on the top floor and Rufus was there too…I shiver, not quite sure I'm ready to even think about that right now. The last thing I want is my former boss to be dead because while we were on less than pleasant terms over the whole AVALANCHE thing, I really do care about him. That and I owe him a thank you for not killing me when he should have.

Scarlet gives the SOLDIER a bored look. "Missing in action. Go check the top floor and report back to me what your findings are."

Kunsel pauses and looks to the end of the foyer where the stairs leading to the president's office are blocked with debris and hanging just barely in place at a precarious angle with a wall completely missing. From this angle, if anyone was up there, they're likely not coming back. He nods to her and takes a hesitant step toward the stairs just to appease the woman.

Scarlet pays him little mind and continues on her way like the possible death of the president is little more than a nuisance at best. My eyes narrow. Then again, his death is her gain because if Rufus Shinra dies, the hierarchy falls to the next highest ranked executive.

Oh hell no. That can't happen. I watch Reeve check his phone and likely the reports from his own underlings on the soundness of the building as a whole before he quickly turns to follow Scarlet.

I'm unable to pull him aside though because the SOLDIER standing at the base of the stairs trying to figure out a path to the pretty much inaccessible floor above them is still in the vicinity. Seeking shelter behind a fallen beam while the sprinklers continue to pour down enough water to drown a herd of chocobos, I can only watch as Reeve steps into the questionable, manually overridden elevator after Scarlet.

Follow him, the watchdog and fox reach an agreement as I wait for the SOLDIER to find his route, grumbling something to himself as he climbs the debris and is soon out of sight. Grabbing Rekka, I step into the crumbling and disaster zone of a hallway, trying not to slip and fall as the water runs through the missing wall and forms a waterfall to the ground below.

Counting the seconds seems to take forever before I decide to try the elevator. That should give them enough time to be out of earshot and not find it suspicious anyway. Stepping into the actual elevator though makes me instantly regret my life's choices as the entire thing shakes and sways, forcing me to grab the small metal rail by the door and stare at the endless drop to the ground below since the glass in place to keep people from falling to their death was sacrificed to the Sister Ray's recoil.

It also allows a brutal look at the smoldering sides of a building that was brutalized by WEAPON's wrath. Half of the upper floors are missing walls and the entire thing seems to be leaning slightly. How in the hell did we even manage to survive that strike?

I glance up just in time to see the shifting cables spark and shake as the elevator jolts upon reaching the 66th floor and I have little shame as I bolt onto the safety of solid ground the moment the doors open. Muffled voices move through the hallway and I keep my back to the wall, Rekka in hand as I make my way closer to the boardroom's double doors. Water drips from the ceiling, no doubt the sprinkler system on the upper floors under the 69th floor having been triggered as well.

I try to keep quiet as I step across the soggy carpet and rest my back against the door, once again in the shadows.

"That can't be right," Reeve's voice echoes through the slightly ajar door. "Repeat that again."

His shoulders stiffen slightly as he leans against the long and expensive mahogany table filling the entire boardroom with its presence. He wipes his shirtsleeve across his forehead, heavy sweat mingling with the blood and soot of the explosion on the upper floors. "That's not right. Run the check again. The mainframe? You're sure? No, I did not authorize a second increase."

His wrist stiffens and he pales. "Power output is what? By the goddess…Okay, okay. I know you have a wife and children, take them and get as far from that reactor as you can. Take anyone and everyone you run into with you. Yes I know that's against protocol, but until we figure out what's causing this, I want people out of the fallout zone. Yes, execute Protocol Alpha immediately. Do it now."

I cast a look to the door feeling my blood run cold. That's a critical meltdown crisis protocol. If he's issuing one of those orders, anything under the plates around the reactor will be burned in the molten venting of the Mako and anything above it will die of Mako poisoning instantly. Because unlike normal power sources, burning Mako becomes next to volcanic and no one gets out alive in that kind of disaster.

He's on his feet as the second door opens and a bored looking Heidegger steps into the room alongside Scarlet. "This had better be important, Tuesti. We were just attacked and you're worried about the people?"

Reeve lowers the phone from his ear and flashes a fierce look at the heavy, bearded man. "This goes beyond important. What in the hell did you two do?"

Scarlet blinks as if he's just caught her in the middle of some devious plan. "What's up your ass all of a sudden, Tuesti, they're just people."

"What. Did. You. Do."

She flips her hair over her shoulder and shrugs. "Nothing of importance."

I notice Reeve reach around and tuck a second phone into his pocket without Scarlet's knowledge. The little blinking light says it's still transmitting.

Heidegger gives him a stupid look. "I can't reach the president if that is what you are so upset about."

"Not the president," Reeve bared his teeth. "The Sister Ray!"

Scarlet shakes her head with an amused chuckle. "What about it, Tuesti. Jealous you didn't invent it?"

"I don't care who in the hell invented it because that doesn't matter right now." The engineer snarls and waves his phone at them both. "I demand to know why the reactors' outputs are increasing all by themselves."

Heidegger blinks stupidly. "Why? Does it matter?"

The table rattles as Reeve's fist slams against it and he gives the man a withering look. "Good god are you really this stupid? Gongaga comes to mind here, only unlike Gongaga, we're talking seven over capacitated reactors, this one included in that figure that are in the process of melting down as we speak because their power output is increasing. We are literally standing on a Mako mega volcano that is preparing to erupt if we don't stop it."

Scarlet ceases her cackling, suddenly turning serious with a look that almost shows a light hint of worry. "Wait a minute. That's not wise."

"Did you even hear a word I just said?" Another withering look sends Scarlet back a half step. "Volcanic reactors. Ground zero. We are standing at the center. If they go, there won't even be a Midgar anymore because it will literally be vaporized. It and everything within two hundred miles of it."

"I heard you, Tuesti, don't get your jockstrap all twisted. I was referring to the Sister Ray. It requires at least three hours between firings or it won't work right. They're your reactors, just shut them off."

"I would shut them off if I could." I see the engineer roll his eyes like the thought hadn't even occurred to him and sarcasm blankets the words. "But some idiot has sent an order to the mainframe and the entire control network is inoperable and we can't override it. So get on your phone, Heidegger, call the mainframe and find out who issued that order."

"Huh?" Heidegger raises an eyebrow and gives Reeve a suspicious look. "Why are you issuing orders all of a sudden, Tuesti?"

Reeve throws his phone to the ground and storms over to the plump man. Grabbing him by the hideous military red and green lapels, he pulls the shorter, fat man eyelevel and stares him down.

"The fucking details don't matter and I don't care. What I do care about is preventing a mass extinction event that whether you like it or not, is in the process of occurring right under our feet, right this second. So call the fucking mainframe you are in charge of and get me names so that I can override them and maybe, just maybe, keep us all from being vaporized."

Scarlet offers an amused look as Heidegger nods and gets on his phone immediately. Several seconds into it though, I see him raise an eyebrow and hand the phone to Reeve.

"It's Hojo."

"Hojo?" Reeve scowls and seizes the phone. "What in the hell would he be doing with the mainframe?"

He holds the phone up to his ear and the unmistakable glee of a man who clearly bypassed insanity a long time ago makes the engineer pull the phone away from his ear with a wince.

"Hojo!" he growls. "Stop this insanity right now. The cannon...no, Midgar itself is in danger."

He pales as the voice on the other end says something that doesn't agree with him before leaning against the table in shock. "You've gone absolutely fanatically insane, Hojo! Don't you dare hang up on me! Son of a bitch. He's doing this on his own free will. There is literally nothing I can do."

Nothing you can do. I flip my phone open, keeping one eye on the happenings of the board room and frantically type the message to Vincent and Yuffie.

Message: Get to the top of that Mako cannon and stop Hojo by any means possible. Security is down, the planet is at stake. Hurry before he kills us all. – Watchdog

"Oh really, Tuesti?" Scarlet's snide taunt makes me look up and back at the group in one rapid motion. "Seems like you're a liar as well as a coward."

She holds up his other phone which is still transmitting and hits the mute button so that AVALANCHE can't hear her words. "This just made my job a hell of a lot easier, so we're going to make this painfully simple."

I watch her draw her pistol and press it against the side of his head with a smirk, handing him the phone. My hand fumbles for my own pistol as I swing Rekka over my shoulder. Shit.

"I am going to unmute this phone and you are going to pretend neither one of us is standing here with you right now. You will lure Wallace and his pathetic little group back here to Midgar on the basis of 'helping' you and the people, specifically his delightful brat, so that I can end this once and for all. Don't argue with me, Tuesti as I'm down several pathetic watchdogs right now to clean up the mess."

I curl my lip into a snarl and flip the safety off. Raising it, I once again aim for Scarlet and this time, don't hesitate to pull the trigger. My finger meets resistance immediately, preventing the recoil and the head bitch of Weapon's Research's death.

You have got to be kidding me. I glance down in horror at the jammed weapon. Why can't I kill this woman today? Come on. Wrestling with the weapon, I struggle to get it unjammed while the people inside the boardroom are unaware that one of them just narrowly missed being assassinated.

"You really have lost your mind," Reeve pales as she forces the phone into his trembling hands. "I can't…no, I won't do this."

She presses the barrel of the pistol harder against his head, forcing him to the ground. "I am not playing games here, Tuesti. You will make that call and you will lure them back here. Because if you don't, I can make the final moments of your pathetic life a living hell. And once I'm finished with you, I will find your dear mother and make sure her death is excruciatingly long and painful. Reactors are the least of your problems right now."

The horrified engineer clutches the phone and stares at the floor, unable to move for fear of her pulling the trigger.

A slow nod and he turns the phone over, finger hovering under the mute button. "You are making the biggest mistake of your life, Scarlet."

"I'll be the judge of that, Tuesti."

He sighs and unmutes the phone. "I don't like the looks of this at all."

"You ain't foolin' no one anymore, Reeve," Barret's worried and angry voice echoes on the speak phone. "We know you're the one controlling the cat."

"Yes, and there's no sense trying to hide it now."

"Those reactors," Cloud's voice echoes with the strength of a leader that takes me by surprise. "Can you stop them?"

"No, we can't." The words grate deep in his voice at being so powerless.

"You're from Shinra and designed the goddamn reactors!" Barret shouts, making the engineer flinch. "Now you're saying you can't turn them off? Why's it so impossible all of a sudden?"

"I—" Reeve outright flinches and opens his mouth to speak. Scarlet forces him closer to the ground with a 'think carefully about this before you say one word' smirk.

"We've come a long way to get to this point," Cid growls and I can picture him standing on the bridge of the Highwind, cigarette lit and not in the mood for this today. "You better not double cross us now."

This is going to get ugly. I flip my phone open in an attempt to send a message to warn them that Reeve's being forced at gunpoint to bait them and to get the hell away from Midgar, not to come to it under any circumstances.

My screen flashes long enough to display that I have messages from Yuffie's phone but also the firm, no-nonsense crimson 'x' of death warning that my battery is holding out just long enough to display the message before the screen goes completely dark.

No, no please not right now. I hold back a flood of cussing and stare in disbelief at the dead phone. It's got a ridiculously long battery life. These damn things can go for weeks without needing to be plugged in to be charged. Hell, they can be recharged through solar power too and with Meteor providing eternal day, this should not be happening right this second.

"I can't make you trust me," a defeated Reeve says. "Nor am I going to."

Scarlet's eyes narrow and she pushes him closer to the ground with a stern warning.

"I have to say I'm with Barret on this one," Cid says. "Shinra can go piss up a rope for all I care, but those reactors are a problem. If you have any decency as a man…no, as a human being, you'll help save the planet. Don't you even give a damn about that? Or are you one of those pencil pushing desk jockeys in it for the glory."

Ouch. I watch Reeve flinch at the words, a small flush of embarrassment crossing his cheeks. If they only knew the hell this man's been through for them so far.

"It's not that easy," Reeve grits his teeth, sweat coating his brow. "If we just shut down the reactors, all hell will break loose."

"So the people will be in the dark for a little while. They'll live. Can't you just shut them off at the valves?" Cid presses him as if this is really not as big of a deal as Reeve is making it out to be.

"This goes beyond the people's comfort by a longshot, Mr. Highwind. Usually, yes, it's easy to shut off the reactors' pipe valves and vent the energy, but the problem is, with the Sister Ray's modifications and existing structures, the reactors made a path for that energy to escape from below. Once you open that, it's impossible to close it until everything blasts out. And right now, so long as those reactors are increasing their power output, we can't stop that energy from gushing out…"

"Like a big fucking volcano," Cid speaks for him. "Yeah, we heard that bit. Cut to the chase, desk jockey, what are our options?"

Reeve scowls at the name Cid's bestowed upon him but doesn't fight it. Now isn't the time. Instead he ponders something for several seconds before Scarlet once again interrupts him with a look to hurry this along.

"We stop that cannon from firing again and to do that, I need your help in Midgar. Hojo is the problem. He's delusional and if we can remove him from that cannon's controls, I can regain control of this grid and override it into emergency shut-down mode. It won't be pretty and I'm not sure we'll be in time, but if we move fast, it might be possible to safely vent them and prevent the catastrophic loss of life we're facing right now."

"We'll be there," Cloud says as if this is just another normal day in AVALANCHE for them.

"Good. Be careful." He flips the phone closed.

"I have to admit, Tuesti, you can put on quite a show when you have to," Scarlet smirks. "If it wasn't a set-up, I'd say you fit right in with your little mutts. Unfortunately though, they're going to die because of you, but it's not a great loss."

Reeve glares up at her. "Everything I told them about those reactors was true and you damn well know it. This entire city is going to erupt and everyone will die. I need to get control of those reactors within the next half hour and whether you like it or not, we need AVALANCHE's help to do this right now, so put the gun down and stay the hell out of our way."

Heidegger gives Reeve a look that's just as amused as Scarlet's is right now. His stupid horse laugh fills the boardroom. "Go back to your drawings, Tuesti. You're an engineer, not a soldier and you sure as hell have no right or authority to issue orders, least of all to me."

"In a matter of life and death, I absolutely have every right to issue orders that involve massive casually potential events for the Urban Development aspect of this company. Especially in an extinction level crisis involving the reactors."

Heidegger continues to laugh and shakes his head. "The 'Peace Preservation' division will handle that from here on out."

Reeve offers him an annoyed look. "You're not serious, are you? They wouldn't know a reactor for their own rectums, least of all what to do with them in a crisis like this."

"My you have a mouth on you today, Tuesti," Scarlet snickers. "Your mother would be ashamed of that I'm sure. But the fact of the matter is, I just don't give a damn and your services are no longer required with this company."

Reeve pales because having spent time hanging out with Turks all these years, he knows exactly what those words often lead to. And why we cower if anyone even references them in a conversation.

Damn. Not enough room to hit them with Rekka from here, especially not with that pistol pressed up against his head. There has to be something I can do to get him away from her.

"The president is dead," Heidegger offers an amused look, much to Scarlet's annoyance. Clearly she's the one with the brains in this relationship and is only tolerating this since she has a lot to gain from it seeing as she outranks him even though he doesn't know that. "So now I'm doing things my way."

She outranks him…Both watchdog and fox pause for a moment, seemingly agreeing on the one thing that is safe to agree on. This will be the shortest presidency in the history of Shinra. My fingertips press against the cold steel of Rekka, feeling the blizzaga's chill wrapping around it. I'll make damn sure of that.

"And we are going to use my new weapon to destroy AVALANCHE." Scarlet snickers and forces Reeve to his feet. In one swift movement she rips his employee ID badge from his suit where it's clipped and flashes him a sinister smile. "Your services are no longer needed with this company, Tuesti. And while you're clearly not one of them, I think that it's only fitting that you enjoy the same benefits of 'retirement' that are afforded to your little watchdog friends."

"You can't do this, Scarlet."

She leans closer, blue eyes meeting his brown ones and snaps her fingers. "I already did."

I dart away from the door as a pair of Shinra MPs step through the second set of doors and seize Reeve, pulling him away from Scarlet.

He struggles and snarls at her. "Goddamn it, Scarlet. You don't know what you're doing!"

"I know exactly what I'm doing." She gives the grunts a bored look. "Lock him up in Hojo's containment cells, whatever remains of them, for the time being. I'll deal with him later."

"I'm warning you," Reeve shouts as he's dragged away. Planting both feet against the floor, he manages some leverage and almost gets free before the second grunt seizes his arm again and continues dragging him. "You're damning the entire planet! The whole planet!"

The doors slam shut and Reeve is gone.

Scarlet rolls her eyes and holsters her pistol. "Now that we have that out of the way, let's put some of these new changes into effect. Come, Heidegger. We have work to do."

I weigh my odds for a moment when her back is to me, but decide against it when I spot more MPs coming this way. Bolting through the shadows, I head back to the elevators as I feel the first tremors creep through the building.

Reeve is more important right now. I wait until I'm sure enough time has passed before once again stepping into the death trap of an elevator and head to the next floor up. The science department's base camp floor has fared about as well as the remainder of the upper floors. Walls have been torn asunder and sprinklers continue to drench everything, no doubt the reason why the boardroom is as much of a mess as it is right now.

Fluorescent lights flicker and spark, several fixtures hanging by thin metal cables. I step through the puddles carefully, eyeing the area for exposed wires. Cages have been shattered, the metal bars peeled back, several specimens of genetically mutated and crossbred monsters lying dead on the floor. Their flesh is scorched and the stench alone is overpowering. The deeper into the mad scientist's territory I venture, the more difficult it becomes to tell water from blood.

I'm not sure I even want to know at this point which is which. I just need to find the cells where they're keeping Reeve. Darkness reigns as Meteor's bloody light reflects off of the rusty water. It's like a maze in this place.

"Hey you!" one of the MPs who brought Reeve here shouts and approaches, gun raised and baring his teeth.

My amber eyes narrow. Rekka sings through the air, taking him down before he can even consider firing. The second one's dead before he even rounds the corner. I try not to think about it as I step around their corpses and into the makeshift cell block, which, while scorched, was largely spared the wrath of the WEAPON.

"You know," I lean against his cell door and eye the miserable engineer perched upon the wrecked cot with his head in his hands with a hint of forced amusement. "I always thought I'd get my first gray hairs saving Reno from a bar fight, not trying to save the world."

Reeve looks up, startled, at the door. "You have no idea how happy I am to see you right now."

"Don't get too excited." I quickly pry the panel away from the key lock to the cell and begin separating wires until the door slides open. "So far everything that could go wrong on this nightmarish rescue and revenge run has."

He steps through the door and nods. "It's about to get worse. No doubt you heard about the—"

"Reactors." I offer him a look as we make our way through the lab. "Yeah. I heard about them. No, I clearly can't override a currently manually engaged non-computerized mainframe control for you. Yes, I have someone working on your Hojo problem so that we can put it back onto the grid for you to override. Any other questions before we get you the hell out of here?"

He casts a wary look at the dead Shinra MPs and shivers. "You are a terrifying young woman. Wait. You have someone going after Hojo? But AVALANCHE isn't—"

"In Midgar, but is on its way here because you 'betrayed' them?" Another forced smile. "Yeah, I heard the conversation and saw it take place. But my gun jammed before I could kill Scarlet and my phone died before I could warn them not to come here. However, the person taking care of Hojo right now did get my message and the sooner we get you to a safe place, the sooner you can stop those reactors."

"I take it you have a plan?"

I pause in the doorway, holding Rekka at the ready and eye the elevator. "It's a work in progress. By the way, desk jockey, hope you don't mind, but you just officially joined AVALANCHE."

Reeve scowls. "That's not funny."

"If it makes you feel any better, Cid calls me Turky, so don't let it get to you. It's a compliment," I smirk. "So now that you're one of them, they're going to need all the help they can get from you."

He sighs and allows a small hint of a smile that quickly turns serious. "We need to get to my office and get the computer for Cait Sith quickly. Scarlet has my transmitter and no doubt will try to use it to pigeonhole AVALANCHE into a trap."

I swipe my all access keycard through the elevator slot and quickly shove Reno's into Reeve's hands.

He offers a puzzled look.

My eyes narrow. "Once we get Cait Sith back into your hands, use this, take the elevator. The elevator stops on every floor that requests it on the way up, but going down is a different story. Reno's card will take you straight to the lower floors in one go since the building is in emergency mode right now. No doubt they're secured by now, so find someplace safe to shelter for the time being, get those reactors powered down, and try not to die along the way. You let Scarlet to me."

I grab the pen from his front pocket and turn Reno's keycard over, scrawling down a number on it. "This is the number to Vincent and Yuffie's phone. Tell them I gave it to you and that they are to listen to everything you tell them to do. They're your best bet at switching the mainframe back over."

He nods. "I'll make good use of it."

"I know you will," I bolt into the elevator and keep my weapon at the ready, punching in the floor for Urban Development and feel the floor shift down.

The doors open with a grating ping, revealing one of the nicer kept executive offices. Reeve's always had one of the more impressive offices in the building, mostly because he's an engineer and his isn't boring like everyone else's. Drawings plaster the walls and his drawing tables are covered with the latest designs for Midgar's ongoing construction.

But the focal point is easily the massive replica of Midgar resting at its center. Its room is circular to accommodate it and it sits down slightly, sunken into the floor like it's a glorified museum model. Emergency backup lights cast a haunting crimson glow in the otherwise darkened floor as Reeve bolts by and hurries into the replica's room, grabbing the thin metal railing protecting it and hurrying down the curved aluminum stairs leading down into the sunken floor.

I follow, keeping Rekka at the ready and listen to the steady dripping of water from the drenched floors above, stopping at the railing and glancing down at him. Several of Reeve's drawings hanging on the walls winkle as the water blurs their ink and if it bothers him, he doesn't show it.

"I figured she'd raid my office, so just in case, I thought this would be a better place to keep my things." He reaches across what used to be Sector Seven and gingerly lifts the model piece up, revealing the laptop containing the programming for Cait Sith.

"A wise place to keep things indeed." I nod, feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as the second elevator door hisses. I tilt my chin slightly, one amber eye shifting to look toward it. "Because she has a terrible habit of sniffing around where she's not wanted."

Sparks shill with the crack of a pistol's discharge, Rekka shuddering as I sweep the weapon up and deflect the bullet in one swift motion, turning on my heel to face its owner.

Reeve's eyes widen and he pales, holding the laptop close to his chest like it's the most important item in the world right now.

"Well aren't you a clever little bitch." Scarlet steps across the floor's open space, flanked by Kunsel and a lower ranked Shinra MP, pistol raised.

"Been a while, Scarlet." My amber eyes meet her frigid blue ones.

Her lip curls into a smirk. "This day just gets more and more rewarding. Unfortunately, for you though, there's no place to run this time."

The MP raises his automatic weapon and advances a step at the same time Scarlet does.

I keep Rekka raised, eyes narrowed and don't advance or retreat. The less she knows, the better.

"Cocky little bitch you are as well. Let's make this easy. Put the fancy little pinwheel down."

My lip curls into an annoyed smirk to match hers. Rekka lands with a gentle thud at my feet, both heels backing up ever so slightly until my lower back touches the thin metal railing.

Reeve's eyes widen as if I've just lost my mind.

Glee tints Scarlet's eyes as she advances closer. "I have to hand it to you, Tuesti. For as useless as you are, luring in AVALANCHE's miserable mutts and a fallen watchdog back to their deaths is pretty impressive."

"Don't do this, Scarlet," Reeve warns, brow furrowed. "You'll regret it."

A bored look challenges his as she steps into the replica's room, less than five feet between us, pistol still trained on me. "Oh shut up, Tuesti. No sense dragging out your own death with useless prattling and warnings that couldn't intimidate a terrified chocobo chick. Now we are going to make this short, simple, and to the point."

Her eyes narrow at me as my hand inches toward the pistol on my belt. "Hands where I can see them, watchdog."

"Fine." I roll my eyes and do as she commands. Reeve turns a shade paler.

She smirks. "Well isn't that a nice little obedient watchdog. Old habits die hard when you're about to be executed now, don't they. Which is a shame, because I really wanted to torture you a lot longer than I have time for, especially for that little stunt you pulled in Junon. So I'll get straight to the point. The codes for the robot. Hand them over."

"And what makes you think I have those?" My eyes narrow with a look of feigned sarcasm.

"Don't play dumb with me. I know you've been the one stealing my Huge Materia and aiding AVALANCHE."

Kunsel's shoulders stiffen at the words and I feel his attention settle on me, the sword in his hands lowering a bit.

"And if I have been?" A look of smugness in her direction. "What's the matter? Did it insult your non-existent pride or something?"

The look of glee turns to a snarl. Frigid blue eyes narrow and she storms closer, grabbing my tie and pulling me closer, looking down at me. The pistol's barrel presses against my ribcage.

"Listen here you little bitch," malice glints in her eyes. "You may think you're smarter than me but let me make something very clear. You are nothing more than a worthless, pathetic, useless watchdog that deserves nothing more than to be put down."

The Shinra MP moves on my left, no doubt to hold me still so that I don't attempt to run.

"I'd say that's true…except for one little thing," My amber eyes stare into hers, making her blink. "I'm actually a fox."

My right foot hooks hers, pulling her off-balance as she struggles to counter the sudden motion. One hand sweeps down, knocking the pistol barrel aside, the bullet clipping several drenched strands of long auburn hair, but missing my flesh as I wrench her wrist back and drive my elbow into her sternum in one fluid motion. She shouts as I slam her against the startled MP, not even bothering to watch as he steps back and misses the fringe of the top step. The pistol clatters against the aluminum floor.

Reeve shouts as I reach up with my free hand and grab Scarlet's blonde hair, pulling her around and dragging us both over the thin metal railing with a snarl. Sharp plastic pieces of buildings go flying and a whole sector collapses as we both crash into the replica.

"You little bitch!" she shrieks, blue eyes rabid as she struggles to break free. Shards of glass and plastic from the model cut deep into flesh as we roll sideways, my grip tightening as she takes a swing at me.

"I heard the official title was up for grabs and I'm quite the opportunist," I flinch and grit my teeth as a building's sharp edge cuts my cheek. "Get out of here, Reeve! Go!"

The engineer hesitates, but doesn't look back as he bolts up the stairs as fast as his long legs will carry him, only to be stopped at the door by Kunsel. I chance a glance up just in time to see the SOLDIER 2nd class give Reeve a look and seemingly deciding on something, moves aside in a decided effort to aid Scarlet.

Blunt force strikes my chin, knocking me sideways as the woman fumbles for her second pistol and then makes a grab for my tie. Seizing it, a smug look crosses her face and she pulls as hard as she can, the black silk sliding free at the motion and that smugness turns immediately to a fleeting glance of fear.

"Quick release knot." I growl and drive a shoulder into hers, pinning her once again to the ground. "You really think I'd make this easy for you?"

"Do something you fool!" she snarls at Kunsel and grabs for my hair instead.

I drive a knee into her stomach and let go, feeling the sharp materials of the model cutting deep as the blade lands between us, the SOLDIER moving a lot slower than I remember him in Kalm. Almost like he's being cautious. The sharp tingle of firaga licks the blade as he sweeps the steel up in a swing at me.

I'm faster though, gathering both legs underneath me as I bolt from the destroyed model of Midgar, feeling the heat sweep overhead and fan across the ceiling. Ignoring the bruises and cuts from the fall onto the model, I scale the stairs, collect Rekka in one sweeping motion, and sprint for the elevators.

"After her you fool!" Scarlet shouts and I glance back just in time to see her stalking up the stairs and raise the pistol, rage in her eyes.

I raise Rekka to deflect it at the same moment I swipe my keycard through the slot in the first elevator and dart in, frantically punching in a random lower floor. Fiery pain skirts across my upper shoulder as the bullet grazes Rekka's steel and slices through the blazer's fabric at an angle. Hot blood darkens my blazer sleeve as I fumble with my shuriken and grab the wound in an attempt to stem the bleeding.

Come on, you stupid elevator. I need distance between us.

Steel rings and sparks surge into the air as Kunsel's blade comes down hard upon Rekka, driving me back a half step. Frigid ice meets the flames, twisting around them. My wounded arm trembles as I struggle to hold my weapon steady, casting a wary glance to the ground far below. Wind whips the fire and ice across the elevator and scorches the side of the building.

Another gunshot rings out, this one hitting near my fingers. Rekka sends a painful jolt through my hands, the weapon torn from my hands and striking the steel elevator floor before sliding to a halt feet out of reach. I grab my wounded arm, panting and eyes narrowed at the SOLDIER 2nd class with his sword raised, inches from my forehead.

"That's a good warhound," Scarlet flips her hair over her shoulder and places a hand on her hip, pistol raised almost lazily. "Now hold her there while I finish this."

"Why don't you come over here and do it yourself," a withering glare meets her blue eyes. "Or are you that afraid of me?"

She cackles. "I'm hardly afraid of you."

"You probably should be." A small smirk tugs at my lips as I take a step backwards as if cowering, place a heel on Rekka to keep it from being lost, and grab the metal safety railing at the edge of the elevator with my free hand where the glass once was. Amber eyes briefly glance up as the elevator doors close with Scarlet on this side of them along with the SOLDIER 2nd class. "Because this is either going to be the quickest trip to the lower floors or the most painful for you."

The floor lurches and Kunsel lowers his sword, snaking his fingers around the railing, no doubt hearing what I see as the deflected ice coating the elevator cables begins to crack and melt where the steam from both spells heated it.

Scarlet scurries to the railing like a scared cat and I can only pray that the cables hold and fight back the sickening feeling as the pulley spins faster than normal, sending us plummeting toward the lower floors.