The Fallen Chapter 18

By Tiger

“Did I mention,” Zack said, sounding even more nauseous than he had a few minutes ago, “that I hate water?”

The two of them were wading through water that was coming up to the point of their knees, and it was becoming even more of a concern with each passing second. There was something unnatural about the speed it was rising, and neither of them had any real idea how much longer it would be until they got to the well Aeris had told them of, limited because the only light they had was supplied by the dimly flickering piece of wood that Zack had managed to grab before the earlier fires had fully gone out

That problem, at least, they hoped to change.

The maintenance room was exactly what you’d expect besides for the fact there was a foot and a half of water filling the bottom of it. Mops floated around their waists, along with bottles of cleaning solvent, a few tools, and of course the ever present smell of ammonia. Rufus especially seemed to notice this, as every time he breathed in his nostrils flared and his eyes would water just a little bit more. Nonetheless, he surged in front of the Gonganan, half swimming his way up to a row of electrical breakers that was thankfully still above the water.

“God I hope this isn’t locked...” he muttered, and tried to open it. There was a mechanical click, and the door pulled away from the wall. He threw it open the rest of the way triumphantly, and instantly began to turn every switch inside to the left instead of the right, apparently heedless of the fact his hand was soaking wet. That was something Zack had begun to notice about Rufus, his lack of fear of dying. While he did move out of the way of things that would obviously kill him, he didn’t seem hung up on the little threats, as if he knew something specific would happen before he died.

I wonder, thought Zack, if that’s why he ended up dead the first time.

A mechanical hum started in the middle of his thought, barely hearable in the distance, but rapidly increasing in volume as it stretched across a chain of wires into rooms that were progressively closer to them. Finally the hum struck home, and a series of blue, gloomy lights lit up all around them. For a moment, Zack almost regretted the move, as he could now see better than ever his waiting watery death, but he forcibly shoved those thoughts aside. They weren’t helping, and hell, the added visibility would just get them in and out of there faster. He pretended not to notice the water was now distinctly above his knee cap.

They moved on, Rufus still leading the way, though Zack wasn’t entirely sure the man had ever truly visited this place during his reign as president. Too damn good to visit the common folk, he guessed. Their progress was hindered by dozens of floating objects in every room, as apparently the Shinra construction crew didn’t believe in metal, and nearly all the furniture bobbed up and down like a cork. Thus, it took longer than either of them would have liked to get through the office portion of the base, and get to the machinery. By that time, the water was halfway up their thighs.

The room in which the machinery was located was just that- one single, long stretching room, filled with ghastly and dark looking towering behemoths of steel and rusted iron. The emergency lights did nothing to detriment the cemetery like scope of the room, and after all- it was close enough to a cemetery in its own right. A slowly rusting monument to the Shinra of the past, where they didn’t just talk about things and clean shit up- they’d gotten shit done. Sure, in the end, it had almost destroyed the planet, but before that... business had been taken care of.

Zack had voiced concern that the machines would short circuit, and considering the entire compounds floor was just a massive conductor, would fry them like shrimp in less than a second. Rufus had reassured him, rather scornfully, that it was an underwater compound- and of course they had safe guarded against such a thing. Zack had asked a follow up question about whether or not they had safe guarded against fire spewing mutants, and Rufus had simply clammed up and continued wading, using handles and pipes emitting from the machines to speed up progress.

“Well...” Rufus said, after what seemed like an eternally slow trek of walking, “this is where she said.”

The two of them looked around, and saw nothing that would indicate a massive hole beneath them, and neither was willing to just walk around and use their only indication as the moment when they suddenly went dropping a hundred feet straight down. It had, of course, been an unspoken fear that the well had been completely filled with water, which means they would either need to find some sort of scuba gear- which, Rufus had assured him, would not exist in the compound- or turn around and go home in disgust, to calmly await the end of the world.

Instead of falling, however, they instead managed to successively slam their foot into the hole. If that didn’t make any sense to you reading it, let me explain- they slammed their feet into a large, raised, concrete ring, topped with a massive circular valve. Muttering curses from entirely different cultures, they braved the bottom depth of the water for a few minutes to peer closer at the structure, and were relieved to see that the top was only a few inches below the surface of the pale water.

“I just thought of something...” Zack said slowly.

“Hm?” Rufus asked idly, testing the strength of the valve with a quick twist. It held tight.

“When we open this, wont it fill with water?” he asked.

“Yes.” Rufus said, with a shrug. Zack froze.

“Then what the hell are we doing this for?” he said, panicked.

“Because...” Rufus said, as if it should be obvious, “its wide enough that it will take quite a while to completely fill. By the time it takes us to get to the bottom, it should barely be above our heads. If these things were looking for are right below the surface, we have no problem.”

“Right...” said Zack, not even close to convinced. “And if your obviously well researched calculation, you know, the one you just pulled out of thin air, is wrong, then what?”

“Then,” said Rufus, indicating for Zack to give him a hand with the valve, “we die.”

“Ah,” said the Gonganan, and together the two of them twisted with all their might, managing to defeat both the air vacuum, the water pressure, and the good old fashioned rust enough to pry the heavy lid from the top of the well. Instantly the few inches of water that remained above the top dropped down, and began to pour in from all sides, but Zack saw that Rufus was right- they would have time, albeit not much, to do what they needed to do.

The two shared a long look, wasting precious second as liquid went pouring into the hole. “Well,” they said, not exactly together, but close enough that it didn’t matter. They were sharing the same thought:

After you.

“You know...” Rufus said slowly, after a while. “You probably have about twenty pounds on me. If you fell on me, I would fall a lot more than you would if the tables were turned.”

Zack snorted. “So?” he snapped, “those twenty pounds are muscle that’s going to *stop* me from falling down, unlike you, who will probably slip instantly.”

They had a momentary standoff, and then stared back into the hole. Off to the side of the concrete drop, there seemed to be a ladder built straight into the wall, though the water was cascading right down on top of it. Muscles or not, this was going to be one hell of an unpleasant trip down.

“How about we arm wrestle for it?” Zack suggested mildly.

“Yeah...” Rufus agreed, “or not. How about we argue accounting irregularities?”

Zack gave him a blank look, not really sure if he was kidding or not. However, he figured that all the time they were talking like this was just giving him more water he was going to have to work through, so he might as well just show up Rufus. Without another word he grabbed the edge of the valve and swung himself down, letting go and easily catching the ladder before he plummeted thirty or so yards. He let out a low groan as his stomach slammed into the lower bars, but instantly began his slippery descent as water poured down onto his head. At least Rufus would act as a block for that...

Ten quick rungs down, Zack realized the water wasn’t being blocked. He looked up, and though the scene was blurred from the water cascading into his eyes, he saw that Rufus had not yet left the upper level. “Come on!” he yelled, “we can’t waste any time!”

Rufus suddenly jerked in surprise, and looked around wide eyed, before locked in on Zack. How the man had forgotten he was there in only a minute was beyond the Gonganan, but Rufus seemed genuinely surprised to see him, not regaining his composure nearly as fast as he usually did. “You’re right,” he said simply, an odd- and quite disturbing- look coming into his eyes. “We can’t.”

And with that, he stepped over the edge.

Zack let out a cry as Rufus plummeted, arms flailing, past him like some sort of white, wet ballistic missile, slowly slanting down towards the wall. Just when he thought his companion was going to slam into the wall and rupture like an over ripe fruit, his descent suddenly stopped, punctuated only by a sickening sounding thump and a barely restrained growl of pain from Rufus. Theatrics nowithsanding, Rufus had just topped Zack’s entry into the tube by about thirty rungs of the ladder, and now *Zack* was the one blocking the water. It was at one hell of a price though... at the speed Rufus had been going when he had snagged the ladder, Zack would be genuinely surprised if he had any functioning ligaments left.

However, on the steady and cautious trip downward, it soon became apparently the distance difference wasn’t going to last long. Rufus was going unnaturally slow, and they were only about halfway down (it seemed to Zack that they had gone up and down the total distance about six times, but that’s besides the point) when Zack caught up to Rufus, and finally heard the deep, strained breathing over the sound of the falling water.

“Hey man,” he asked worriedly, “you OK?”

“...fine...” Rufus grunted out slowly, and went to go another rung down. His foot slipped on the slick metal, and he almost dropped, managing to regain his footing a second before he fell.

“What the hell did you jump like that for?” Zack asked, genuinely wondering. He’d had Rufus pegged for unbalanced, sure, but suicidal?

“...seemed like a good idea at the time...” Rufus muttered, and then burst out in a round of coughing.

“Jesus Christ!” Zack snarled, slowly stepping onto the side of the ladder rungs and walking down them that way so he was level with Rufus. “Are you fucking insane?”

For a moment, Rufus gave him a blank look. “I’m sorry?” he said, “did we just meet a few seconds ago?”

And with that, he left go of the rungs.

Twenty feet down, there was a splash of water, as Rufus hit the ever growing swimming pool that was developing at the bottom of the tunnel. Rolling his eyes, Zack followed him down, free falling all the way before hitting the water. With every foot down they’d gone, the lights had been less and less frequent, and now they were back once again to a dull and shimmering reflection being their only source of illumination. They used it the best they could to look around, and saw... absolutely nothing.

“OK...” said Zack slowly, kicking his legs to stay floating. “And now what?”

For a moment, even Rufus seemed lost. “Well...” he said, “now we dig.”

This was easier said than done, as the water had risen a good eight feet from the surface of sand and mud, and it wasn’t exactly like they had brought a steam shovel along with them. Instead, they took turns diving down, Rufus with chilled calmness, and Zack with barely contained panic, to probe into the ground beneath them. Every time they came up empty handed, and every time the water just used the delay caused by their failures to get deeper and deeper. Twenty minutes later, Zack’s nerves were frayed to the end, and he suddenly screamed in frustration. “This isn’t fucking possible! I don’t know if you have a few extra lungs, but I don’t, and I can’t hold enough air to get these damn things!”

At his words, Rufus’s eyes suddenly lit up, and he quickly pulled off his long white coat. He stretched the sleeve out from the body of the jacket, and held it out to Zack. “Cut it,” he said, “right at the seam.”

Not really having the energy or the time to argue, Zack hefted his sword and brought it down, severing fabric from fabric. As soon as he did, Rufus held out the other sleeve, which he cut in turn. Instantly Rufus set to tying the end of both tubes of fabric into knots, and Zack began to see his plan. Displaying the ingenuity of an especially over the top Magiver episode, Rufus blew air into each of the sleeves, then held the ends tightly in his fist, trapping the oxygen inside.

“You know,” he said, “if this doesn’t work, we’re screwed.”

Zack snorted. “We’ve been screwed from the start. We might as find out how bad so we can get out of here, one way or another.”

Rufus seemed to agree with that, but still seemed trouble. “This is the second jacket I’ve lost in, like, two days.” He muttered.

“Yeah, well, once again...” Zack said in exasperation. “This fails, we die, the jacket isn’t that important. Besides, chicks go for the sleeveless look.”

“Right,” said Rufus, and disappeared beneath the water, disappearing from view almost immediately. Zack distracted himself from the water all around him by counting the seconds that his companion had been submerged, mental time keeping being a skill that had been stressed during Soldier training. Forty seconds was the average holding time for breath, less when you were exerting yourself by swimming under water. Forty seconds passed and no sign of Rufus, and there was no way those little air pockets could have held more than a single full breath. Eighty seconds... Zack began to get worried. Between digging, swimming, and rising back to the top... well, this was too long. Taking a deep breath of his own, Zack plunged beneath the water, to see what was keeping Rufus...

...only to see that he wasn’t there. Startled, Zack began to swim in circles, hoping to hit something solid that would be Rufus. His hands worked along the bottom, horror filling him, as he searched for a body. Instead, he felt something hard, like metal, and clasped his hands around it. It was heavy- maybe Rufus’ shotgun, Zack didn’t know if he’d left it on the upper level or not. It was already soaked and therefore useless- but seemed to have a bit of buoyancy to it as Zack kicked upwards, floating to the top.

Rufus was waiting for him on the surface of the water, looking completely exhausted. “Couldn’t,” he gasped, taking huge inhaling breaths, trying to restore some of the usual lack of color to his now bright red face, “find... them...” he choked once, and coughed up a bit of water.

“That’s OK...” said Zack, sudden revelation striking him as he grabbed a rung of the ladder and used it to aid in hauling his load to the surface. It was no shotgun. Instead it was a dark black chest, covered in sand and grit, and Zack had hold of its handle. “I could.” Rufus’ eyes widened.

“Son of a bitch...” he muttered, and grabbed the handle on the other end. Together they hauled it up the ladder, step by step, agonizingly slow as they were very aware that the water in the tunnel was pretty much keeping up with them in their ascent. When they finally reached the top, they simply rolled over the top of the valve and let the chest sink to the level floor- which, they noticed in considerable horror, now had about four and a half feet of water over it. They knew that they were working on limited time, but they felt they owed themselves a quick break, which consisted mainly of bobbing in the water and taking long, deep, and painful breaths. The only real signal they had to keep going was when they both pressed their feet to the ground, and realized that the water was now up to their armpits.

“We aren’t going to be able to hold this thing and swim for more than a few feet, you know...” Rufus said slowly.

“Yeah.” Zack agreed. “So we better get moving while we can still touch the floor.”

And so they did, one hand on each side of the chest, and running in awkward, water logged steps back past the machinery room, and into the offices, which actually caused more hopelessness in them than ever before. They could see the elevator out in the distance, but it was more than a hundred yards away, and already they had to breath on the higher points in their bounding steps, because the lower had their mouths and noses submerged. Cursing, they shoved onward, past the broken pipe that had started all of this to begin with, where the water was deeper than ever.

They broke into an all out swim, barely keeping above the water with the added weight of the crate holding them down. If they’d thought about it, they would have taken the contents out earlier and left the extra weight behind, but now- and possibly even then- they simply didn’t have time for it. The final stretch of hallway that led to the hallway was the narrowest of them all, barely going above their heads when they had first walked in. Only about six inches of open space was showing above the water when they first entered, and even that was disappearing fast.

With a final burst of energy they made it to the elevator, and praying to very different Gods that it would be able to rise filled with water- the floor, after all, was just a hole filled sheet of metal. With only a few inches of air left, they shoved the crate onto it, and slid in themselves. Rufus made a diving leap for the lever and shoved it upwards as the last of their breathing space disappeared, and with a slow groaning whine the machination began to go skywards.

Come on, come on, Zack prayed with his eyes closed tight, don’t let me drown, Jesus don’t let me drown... he didn’t even both to look to see if the water was draining out the bottom or not before leaping upwards for air- after all, he would know in a minute anyway- and for a moment despair hit him as he felt nothing but freezing water grace his lips- and then in a feeling that was probably very much like being born, warm welcoming air, which he sucked in greedily.

It took the entire trip upwards for the water to drain entirely from the transport, and that trip was filled with Rufus and Zack taking amazingly deep breaths, choking on water, gagging, and then repeating. They didn’t care that each breath brought on a horrible fit of coughing, it was *air*, damnit, something they had very nearly been cut off from forever. With a groan, Zack leaned back against the metal wall of the elevator, and his eyes went to the chest.

“You know what would suck?” he said weakly.

“Everything we just did?” Rufus answered.

“No...” Zack said. “If that just contained some construction equipment or something.”

Rufus’ eyes went wide in horror, and without answering him, he dove at the chest, frantically pawing to get it open to see if they had just risked their lives for absolutely nothing. What he saw on the inside, thank Bahumat, assured him that they had not.

“Wow...” Zack said, peering into the chest, who’s contents were entirely dry. It contained two items one of which Zack had seen before- the Ultima Weapon. Gawking at it, he slowly pulled it from the chest, admiring the bright and glittering blue crystal that looked as fragile as glass, but- as he’d been told in Soldier training- could cut diamond like a piece of cheese.

Rufus was slightly less impressed with the reward for his efforts. “What the hell is this?” he asked quietly, staring at the item in his hand, and then turned to Zack. “What the hell is this?” he repeated. Zack looked over, tearing his eyes from his own weapon, and blinked.

“Uh...” he said. “I have no idea.”

Rufus stared at him, exhausted anger in his eyes.

“Well...” he muttered, placing the small object in the inside pocket of his ripped jacket. “That’s just fucking brilliant.”

Chapter 19

Tiger's Fanfiction