Even through his absence, Reno causes trouble. Pre-game.
"The Nibelheim incident, sir?" Tseng asked.
"You know, some other things happened that year." Rufus shifted a pile of disparate memos into a stack. "But, yes, the Nibelheim incident was what I was referring to. Our greatest SOLDIER, our cold and calm superweapon, goes completely insane with no warning nor reason and burns down an entire village. This company's given me ten thousand explanations for why he did it and I didn't accept any of them. I always wondered, Tseng. I always wondered what could have made him break that way." He sighed, heavy and plainly deliberate. "And then my father makes me audit the various groups within Shinra and suddenly I have a very good idea. Tseng, you are head of the Turks, correct?"
"That is correct, sir." Tseng's posture was picture-perfect. He was one of the few men in Shinra who could make hair down to the shoulderblades look professional - though, after Sephiroth had been unveiled, many had tried.
"Special operations. I understand you report to Reeve of Urban Development."
"And that Heidegger has been agitating to have you shifted to Peace Preservation. Now, as I understand it, this would not be a popular move with your people. Reeve is a much more pleasant taskmaster than Heidegger, correct?"
"We serve as Shinra wills, sir."
"Of course. Now, as to these memos I received..."
Rufus had to give Tseng credit. He barely flinched at all.
"We'll start at the lower end of the spectrum. This one..." Rufus frowned. "Do you really have a member named 'Rude'?"
"I suppose it takes all kinds. I've got him written up for... two counts of 'sympathising with terrorists', which sounds impressive enough."
"Sir, Rude is in no way..."
"Yes, I know. If you look at the details it turns out he told another Turk that a certain terrorist ringleader is..." Rufus looked over the memo. "...'pretty'. In my view, not quite treachery. More seriously, he's been reported five times for stealing from the vending machines."
"Rude sometimes forgets his money, sir."
"I'll take it out of his salary. You, on the other hand, appear to be above reproach, but for one count of... beating a vending machine. The person who submitted the report has used the phrase 'to death'."
"Eliminating the witness?"
"Rude had taken out the vast majority of the contents, sir, and it was important to ensure quick replacement."
"And I can take that out of your salary, which solves that issue. Now we move to..." Rufus indicated the rest of the pile. "Reno."
Again, Tseng barely flinched. "Reno is an excellent combat asset," he assured Rufus.
"Yes. I imagine." Rufus indicated the pile again. "If not, he would have surely been fired by now. Or, I suppose, killed. Even skipping over the accusations of 'insubordinate hair-dyeing' and 'sunglasses fetish', I can't possibly list everything in here, so I'll give the highlights. First, stealing morphine supplies from combat helicopters and replacing them with notes reading 'what is good for R&R Enterprises is good for the country'..."
"In mitigation, sir, Reno assures me that the morphine went to sick children on the Plate."
"...using said morphine to dope SOLDIERs, pose them in compromising positions, and take photographs..."
"Which did reveal a hole in our security, sir, which was fixed with admirable speed."
"...eight counts of beating a vending machine to death..."
"I'm afraid I might have inadvertantly set an example, sir."
"...and painting a gigantic glow-in-the-dark phallus on the side of Shinra Tower, a feat which Heidegger apparently still doesn't think possible."
Tseng was silent.
"Honestly, Tseng, I'm curious - is there an explanation for that last one?"
There was a clear sigh in Tseng's voice. "Reno said that he needed something to do with the paint, sir."
"Which cost fifty thousand gil and was charged to Palmer's Space Division under the name, if I recall correctly, of SOLDIER First Class Leonard Wangtabulous. I do not believe that Shinra employs a Leonard Wangtabulous, and if we do I am going to recommend that he be fired."
"Sir, Reno's behaviour is unorthodox, but he's one of my most reliable..."
It was exactly at that point that Rufus' secretary entered his office, whispered something to him, and handed him a small scrap of paper. Rufus read it, smiled in a most unamused manner, and said to Tseng; "Do you know what this says, Tseng?"
"I'm afraid not, sir."
"Come on, take a guess. Just pick whatever would be most devastating to your case at this moment."
For all his vaunted control, Tseng couldn't quite keep from hanging his head, just a little. "Has Reno been reported absent without leave, sir?"
"Oh, there was a leave application left in his locker. But it had not yet been seen or signed off on, the reason given was 'pirate gold', and even if it had been approved leave would have been granted to Leonard Wangtabulous, who I am sure would be at least under disciplinary action for misappropriation of funds. Why pirate gold, Tseng?"
"Honestly, sir, I have no idea."
"Well, this won't stand, obviously. I want Reno returned to Shinra and I want it done as quickly as possible, and without the public linking the matter to us." Rufus smiled again, an expression which would not have looked out of place on Dark Nation. "Excellent. This is right up the Turks' alley. You can show me why Shinra allows any department which recruits Reno to still exist."
"Yes, sir." Tseng blinked. "You intend to accompany us, sir?"
"Is there a problem?"
"The last time Reno went AWOL, sir, we found him at the Great Glacier."
"Tseng, my options are to accompany you and see first-hand how the Turks operate, or to go on to my next appointment."
Tseng blinked again, not quite sure how to take that.
Rufus sighed. "My next appointment is with Palmer, Tseng. And I would likely have to say the name 'Leonard Wangtabulous' again, which is not something I relish. I want you back in my office in one hour, with your full team, ready to move immediately."
"I assume I should dress to blend in?"
"I'll see what I can do."
One hour later, Tseng was in Rufus' office again, followed by Rude and a young blonde woman Rufus did not recognise.
"I have three important questions," Rufus said, "and I'll ask them in specific order. First, who's she?"
Tseng, plainly in charge, intercepted the question. "Elena, sir. She works as a replacement for Turks who cannot perform their duties."
"And is she competent?"
Elena coloured at that, which Rufus artfully did not notice. "Then why do we still have a Turk who paints phalluses on buildings? ...Don't answer that. Second. Surely that can't possibly be how we dress in order to appear incognito."
"It's a popular style under the Plate at the moment, sir. Obvious displays of wealth will be noticeable. I believe we can appear as gang members."
"Like the ones who attack our reactors. Certainly. Tseng, all the colours are starting to flow together. All I can see is generic garish." He dismissed the point with a wave of his hand, and moved on. "Third. How many weapons are each of you concealing at the moment?"
"Myself and Rude have five each, sir. Elena seven."
Rufus looked them over, and nodded. "Right."
"Sir, your shotgun..."
Rufus slung the weapon over one shoulder. "A shotgun isn't for /concealing/, Tseng. A shotgun is for showing off. It's the best way to say to the world, 'look at me, world, I have a shotgun'."
"And with due respect, sir, is that what you intend to wear?"
"Yes, but sir, you're wearing the exact same coat. Only this time it's black."
"That's not true, Tseng, I've got these glasses as well. Besides, it's Sephiroth-chic. There is a Sephiroth fashion movement, isn't there?"
"It rather derailed a few years after he went insane and died, sir."
"Then it's time to revive it. We didn't spend millions of gil on the Sephiroth project just so that young men on the streets wouldn't dress like him in order to kill each other." Swinging his shotgun on to the other shoulder, Rufus headed for the door. "Come on, Turks, time and tide wait for no man."
Tseng followed, after a moment.
"Rude," Elena asked, "do you think this is a good idea?"
Rude shrugged. It was an eloquent gesture.
"We are under the Plate, sir. The light is artificial."
"Surely this can't be how people live."
"Your eyes adjust after a while," Elena assured him.
"I don't want to wait a while. Tseng, do you have a Mako injection on you? Give me a Mako injection."
"I am not in the habit of carrying Mako, sir."
"Remind me to make a recommendation to Reeve. All Turks must carry Mako injections at all times."
The train bumped and jostled, apparently running over a series of small foothills very fast. The track was in no condition to carry a train with the capacity to take hundreds. It was not really in any condition to carry an empty minecart. After a moment, a speaker wheezed and crackled something.
Rufus frowned. "Did that say 'Sector Five' or 'sex or hives'?"
"Two more stops, sir."
"Reeve always said the train system needed more money," Elena said.
"Everything under the Plate needs more money, Turk. But you tell my father that." Rufus rolled his eyes and assumed what he imagined was an excellent impersonation of President Shinra. "'Money is power, boy, so it behooves us to grant it only to the powerful. We buy the loyalty of those who can harm us and ignore those who cannot. It is a system that has served to elevate us to the position we now occupy.' And gets our reactors blown up. Which I'm not sure isn't entirely caused by this speaker system. 'Sex or sticks', I swear it."
"One more stop, sir."
"Seventh Heaven. In Sector Seven. That's a clever name. Why here, Tseng?"
Tseng gestured to the interior of the bar. "It's the only bar in Midgar where we haven't yet found Reno, and he does tend to take a systemic approach to drinking. Sir," he added, as Rufus entered the bar, "we will need to blend in."
"What do you mean?" He looked at the bartender and raised his eyebrows. "How old are you, young lady?"
"I turned seven last week," the bartender responded, proudly.
Rufus shrugged. "Good for you. Seven year old bartenders. And why not."
"What I mean, sir," Tseng said, patiently, "is that you'll need to order something."
"Oh. Well. As long as you're not just trying to get me humourously drunk, that's fine. I'll have..."
"...and that Scarlet, God's sake, I swear she's hit on me more than anyone in the tower except that one SOLDIER with the long hair and the dot on his head. You know who I'm talking about. He keeps callin' me sir."
"That sounds like Tseng," Rude ventured.
"Yeah, but, but, but Tseng's a Turk. Turks are, are, they don't hit on people."
All three Turks had the dignity to look very interested in their shoes at the time. The entire remainder of the bar was focused on the noisy drunk who seemed to think he was a big man in Shinra. Marlene was nowhere to be seen, apparently finding reinforcements.
"All I'm saying," Rufus pronounced, "is that... what's in these things?" He pointed to his glass.
"Gin, vermouth, and Sylkis, sir."
"Sylkis? Sylkis greens?"
"To the best of my knowledge, sir."
"That's a /chocobo aphrodisiac/, Tseng. You, you..." He waved his hands in what seemed to be an accusing manner. "You dress me up like a nearsighted Sephiroth and then you drag me to a bar and make me drink chocobo aphrodisiacs and now that guy..." He waved to a corner, where a spiky-haired blond man was sitting with a massive man with a gun on his hand and apparently taking no notice. "...is looking immoderately attractive! And we still haven't found the sympathiser phallus-painter pirate! I'm going to have you fired and then I'm going to have you killed and then I'm going to cut your funding."
"Cut your funding /right out/. I'm going to give all your funding to Palmer."
"And I'm going to reassign you to Scarlet."
"Yes, sir. Before or after you kill me, sir?"
"...you know, I haven't decided yet."
A long-haired woman had come out from a back room, and was standing behind the bar with an aura of polite menace. "Sir, is everything all right?" she asked.
"No, no, in fact everything's not all right," said Rufus, drawing together all his powers of clarity. "We're looking for a man. You'd recognise him. Lots of shiny red hair and sunglasses and maybe he beat a vending machine to death."
"Ah, Leonard," said the new bartender, with obvious relief. "Yes, he said someone would be looking for him. He wanted me to give you this." She handed Rufus a note.
no pirate gold, the note said. gonna look somewhere else. drinks here suck. tell rude i took his stereo.
There was a slight pause, while Rufus handed the note to the rest of the Turks.
"I had wondered," Rude said, taking another drink.
"Tseng," Rufus said, "I want you to burn down the city."
"I am dead serious about this, Tseng."
"I am sure you are, sir."
"In fact, I don't want you to burn down the city. I want you to find Reno and then I want you to burn down Reno. And I want you to make him give Rude's stereo back. And the drinks here," Rufus continued, with tipsy dignity, "do not suck. Best damn chocobo aphrodisiacs I ever..."
He slipped off the chair very gently, almost like a Float spell, and just before he passed out he was vaguely conscious of the sound of applause.
When he woke up the next morning, he was safely tucked up in his own bed, and there was a memo on his bedside table.
Vice-President, it began:
We discovered Reno at the top of the extinct volcano 'Northern Crater'. Search was made easier by gigantic glow-in-the-dark phallus painted on side of volcano. Reno retrieved without incident. Suggest strongly worded letter of disapproval and Urban Development team dispatched to clean volcano.
Rufus nodded, put down the note, laid back on his pillow, and began to draft his Turk performance evaluation.
Give 'em what they want, he thought to himself. Let 'em paint all the phalluses they want and beat all our vending machines to death. Just make sure I never have to work with them again. Yours sincerely, Rufus.
Chocobo aphrodisiacs gave one hell of a hangover. Rufus wasn't sure how the chocobos handled it.