Tseng could have stopped it. Tseng was always the thin blue line between Rufus and Heidegger, holding Heidegger back with sheer cold intimidation. But Tseng was deep in a coma and Rufus was somewhere in thirty floors of rubble, and Heidegger vaulted himself into power faster than you'd have thought he could move. He sent every guard in the city after Avalanche and not one to stop Hojo from nuking the city with its own power grid; he shoved Reeve – the last voice of reason – in a prison cell, and…got into a giant robot? Scarlet had a giant fucking robot? (Reno clamped down on questions like why and how and what the hell.)

So this was it. The crazy scientist was going to blow up the city. Sephiroth was going to absorb the Planet's energy and become a god. And Shinra's corporate executives were stomping around the Plate in a giant Avalanche-hunting robot.

In a world gone mad, the last Turks left everything but their guns and ran for the border.


…straight into Avalanche.

Weapons came up on both sides and for a tense minute it looked like it was going to come to one more fight – not helped by Elena's panicky blustering; the kid really didn't know when to stop following orders, even Heidegger's – but Avalanche were slow on the draw, hesitating, obviously on their own mission. So Reeve was right – Cloud was charging in to the rescue. Muscle-brained boy scout.

Glad as he was to see Strife, though, Reno was really looking past him, at a blood-tipped gauntlet and an ancient rifle, swung one-handed like a pistol. Shoots like a Turk. Under the tunnel's pulsing red lights Valentine looked like vengeance incarnate, come back from the grave where he'd retreated when the nightmare began….and like he'd never been away, just carrying out a clean-up operation, on hold for 30 years. Ready to deal, as they all did, with the trail of ruined lives and ravaged bodies. Poetic, really. If anyone was going to take down Hojo…

Reno pointed back down the tunnel leading into the city. "The cannon's mainframe is in sector 8. Keep to the right all the way down the tunnel. Hojo should be alone." Valentine looked surprised, then nodded once, understanding. There was gore in the articulated joints of his claw.

At least it could be one of our own.

The Turks, after all, were always left to clean up in Hojo's wake.


"The job's over. It's all over."


They were nearly out of the tunnel when Hojo started shrieking over Elena's radio. Reno was surprised Hojo was lucid enough to think of it. His nasal voice cut through a roar of background noise – screaming evacuees, raid sirens, the whine of the cannon cycling up, and, getting closer, the thunder of a massive pistol that could only be Valentine's. So – it was almost over, then.

"Where the hell are you? Those witless trolls are practically on top of me! Stop them! They're going to ruin everything, can you even comprehend what is at stake here? What are they paying the Turks for, anyway? Get your worthless carcasses up here and stop them!"

Reno took the CB from Elena's hand, where she was staring dumbly at it, and thumbed the 'talk' button, cutting Hojo off in mid-screech.

"We're on break."

He dropped the radio in the mud at the mouth of the tunnel, heard with satisfaction but not surprise as it crunched into silence under Rude's heel, and stepped forward into the sunlight.