On Earth as it is in Hell Chapter 9
By Caleb Nova
"We were always too busy fighting to worry about getting killed. Well, at least I was. I guess I don't think much when I'm pounding on something."
-Zell Dincht, The SeeD and the Sorceress
What is death? The end, the beginning? The beginning of the end? Death takes many meanings in many cultures, but one thing is certain- once your are dead, it is a permanent state. Perhaps this is where the fear lies. The fear of the unknown, the fear of pain after death, Hell. The fear of permanency, a state irreversible. The same fear some get when they consider marriage, that commitment. Unlike marriage, death isn't a choice. But like marriage, death can come before it's time.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Scott sat on one side of the circle, all eyes on him. A bit of light filtered through an unseen grate, the only indication of daytime. This faint light did nothing to improve the look of their temporary residence. Slime glittered dankly on the ceiling, and the occasional drip kept eyes watchful.
He ran a nervous hand through his hair, everyone waiting for him to talk. Shifting to a slightly more comfortable position, he decided to give out some answers.
"If you want it from the first thing," He began. "It starts with a scientist, a guy named Frederick Gallern."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Zell was crammed into the rear bathroom of the train he had taken from Dollet. His hair was now brown, green contacts in his eyes. His tattoo had been covered with a special makeup, a process that was surprisingly painful. He looked at himself in the mirror as he finished. I look like Selphie's brother.
He was glad he wasn't though. That would have made his feelings towards that certain femme unacceptable. The invocation of Selphie's name brought a mix of feelings, but mostly a reminder of his mission. To find her.
Grabbing his gray briefcase by the handle, he tugged at the collar of his restricting business suit and stepped out of the rear compartment, making his way back to his seat. He had gone to the bathroom to fix one of his contacts that had somehow slipped out of position and had been digging painfully into his eye. He didn't really like disguises, at least not that much. They appealed to his dramatic side, but they were usually uncomfortable and sometimes pretty lame. This one wasn't all that bad considering.
Zell's grasp on his assumed persona had always been tenuous at best. When he reached his aisle to find someone else in his seat, he was hard pressed to remember he was now a calm businessman.
Rinoa, as a spectator, wondered why they had cast Zell as a professional, fairly rational character.
Zell bit back a angry cry and cleared his throat, searching for some suitably suave way to ask for his seat back. The people in the row turned to look at him.
Fixing his gaze in what he hoped was a steely stare, Zell spoke.
"Excuse me. Your in my seat."
He felt this was a pretty good way to start. What he hadn't counted on was the total lack of response from the other passenger. Ignore me, will you!!
Angrily, he dropped his facade and opened his mouth for a blistering denouncement of the strangers parentage, personal hygiene and sexual preferences when his speech, or rather thoughts, were arrested by Rinoa.
Don't Zell, there's been a change of plans.
Trying to salvage what was left of his dignity, Zell turned up his nose and marched back down towards the bathroom to reach relative privacy. He faced the wall and tried not to look crazy.
Jump off the train.
I think that was pretty self-explanatory. Twelve miles up there's a switching station. You need to jump before you get there.
Now your just repeating yourself. Look, it's not quite noon there yet. I think you'll want to enter under the city while there's still light.
"Rinoa, this is a nice suit. Why the hell do I want to crawl through the sewers when I can go through the front gate?"
Because there is a bunch of Galbadia soldiers waiting at the next station to take you in.
"Son of a bitch! Tell me these things!"
I just did. Hurry, you better jump soon.
Running to the caboose, Zell pushed passed a startled steward and promptly threw himself off the train. Of course, this did not allow time for planning or preparation for impact. It took Zell awhile to stop rolling.
"Oh, Hyne... My spine... Hey, that rhymes."
Okay Zell, that was real subtle. Shove your way past one of the staff and hurl yourself off without a second thought? Your briefcase is about thirty feet to your left. I somehow think you might need your gloves, so stop being paralyzed and get up.
"Man, your nice. You said I had to hurry!"
Maybe not so much hurry. You might have been killed.
No, forget it. I'm sorry, I should have told you that you didn't have to jump right away. Do you mind if you get dirty now? I mean, your suit is already ruined.
"Yeah, it is," He grumbled, getting his now battered case and removing the false bottom to reach his gloves. At least she sounded sheepish. "So how do I get to the sewers?"
The field is interfering even more this close. I can't give you the exact position, but there is a water tower around here somewhere, I think it was never finished, incomplete public works or something. If it's still standing, you should be able to find it.
"Uh, Rinoa? I'm no plumber, but I know water towers don't connect to the sewers."
Yeah, but these old water tunnels should take you at least to the city.
"Are you sure there's a way into them? This sorta counts on the pipes being exposed."
"Oh, like I have a choice?"
He didn't get an answer. Trudging up the embankment, he crossed the tracks and saw the tower, half collapsed and almost hidden behind a grove of trees.
Upon reaching the tower, he discovered Rinoa had been correct. The concrete base had cracked and split wide open when it had fallen sometime in the past. The pipes weren't as large as a sewer tunnel. In fact, he would have to go the way on his stomach.
"Rinoa," He shook his head. "This isn't going to work."
It has too! If you go by foot, they'll catch you in no time, they won't think of these pipes as a way to the city.
"That's because this pipe is impossibly small! It would probably take me more than a day to get to the city by crawling. No way. I'm walking man, enough is enough."
Zell! If you- oh..
"What?" He said, concerned. "What's, 'oh'?"
It doesn't matter. The soldiers are making their way here in a jeep, the steward must have told them when you bailed.
If you run, I can guide you to avoid them. I think if you make the station, you might be able to get into the sewers.
"Awww, man. I hate sewers."
Not a pleasant destination, but you've got to. Hurry, cut around that thing of trees, the jeep is only a mile down the tracks.
"Full speed ahead!"
Zell shot off, sprinting behind the trees and circling until he was hidden. Glancing up at the sky, he noted it was almost noon. It would have been easier to hide at night. The shadows also wouldn't work to his advantage. What he really needed was that jeep.
He began forming a plan in his mind. He didn't share this with Rinoa, she would only tell him not to.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Not long now. Hendrow's enthusiasm had at first seemed indefatigable, but now he was wearying of watching the men move like machines as they went through the monotonous task of pouring concrete. And more and more concrete. A person could only look at so much concrete before it all became one big gray blur. And frankly, there wasn't anything else to do.
Hendrow was rescued by a summons from Julian. He wondered why. He didn't have bad news to report, or for that matter, good news. The final tasks were being completed by workers in hard hats with cement trucks and sluices. The planning phase was long over.
Hendrow was also tired. This shouldn't have been a problem as all executive officers had a good ten hours of sleep time allotted. Despite this, it was difficult to sleep. Rolling, tossing, turning, sleeping pills and soothing songs. He wondered if it was the lack of normal sounds. A car passing on the freeway, horns in the distance, the ever present humming of machinery everywhere, that ever present squeal emitted by electronics, just a notch above human hearing. He had heard of things like this, campers from the city unable to sleep without the ambiance. Yet, it seemed to him to be more than just the absence of the ringing in his ears present in high tech society. Something deeper, in the psyche. Something that constantly reminded, you are not at home. You do not belong here. A alien God whispering in his ear.
Nonsense of course, Julian would never hold with it. Hendrow smiled at his own foolishness as his confidence returned. Julian knew what to do, he always did. Alien gods indeed. Preposterous.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Hyne struggled to close another tear, no sooner finishing before another opened. This disturbance was tiring her, she had never been so close to her limits. Still seeking the impossible, she grasped the mind of another Outsider, trying to bend it to her will. She could not, her power unable to maintain a hold, grip slipping free, only briefly touching him.
<GO HOME!> She shouted, throwing the message to the cosmos. All around the world, people left their jobs early, children skipped school to run back to their houses. The Outsiders rode this mental blast with only slight consequences, a few frowning, even rethinking their decisions about coming to this new world, receiving unvoiced doubts. But that was all.
Frustrated, Hyne turned back to her constant struggle.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"So," Scott let out a breath. "That's the end."
There was a silence as the group digested the information. It had taken over an hour for the telling. Scott had given them the uncut version, rather than the shortened tale he had related to Squall in the cell. Again, minus the game part.
Quistis was skeptical. There wasn't really any reason to doubt his story, but some things just didn't fit.
"I've read some similar theories by Dr. Odine and others, but if your from another universe," She questioned. "Then how did you know who we were?"
Shafted. Scott hunted for a suitable lie to tell.
"Well, your pretty famous, and I saw you guys in a, uh, Deling City newspaper. You know, an article."
Quistis raised an eyebrow. "What was it called?"
"I forget." Lame, lame, lame!
"How co-" She was cut off by Selphie.
"Quistis, leave him alone! He's telling the truth, it makes sense."
Quistis was exasperated by her apparently instant acceptance of Scott's ludicrous tale.
"Why Selphie? Where's the proof?"
Selphie looked Scott in the eyes, hands on her hips. "Okay. Who is the main male oh-so-hot character in Balamb House?"
Selphie turned triumphant to Quistis. "See!"
"He might just not watch the show Selphie."
"Everyone watches Balamb House Quisty!"
"Not knowing the name of a show character is not substantial proof o-"
She was cut off again by Squall this time, who was standing up.
"It doesn't matter," He said, looking down the tunnel the way they came. "We need to leave Deling, now. Garden might have even sent another party to look for us."
Irvine also stood, rearranging his hat. When Selphie raised herself next to him, he considered patting her bottom, but decided it wasn't really the time to raise that kind of racket. He looked at Squall, raising an eyebrow. "You mean Rinoa or Zell?"
Squall didn't answer, pensive. He may not have replied, but he had heard. Rinoa. He missed her, had even thought he heard her voice. But he didn't want her here, not in this. Luckily, he knew Cid would never allow a non-SeeD to act as a operative.
Realizing he was expected to say something, Squall shrugged slightly. "Maybe. Whoever they send, we need to find them first. We're moving out."
He motioned to Quistis. "You remember these sewers?"
Quistis shook her head. "No. Not this part, we were never here. But if we can get to the area below downtown, I can get my bearings."
"Galbadian presence will be too high. We must get past the walls. We can be sure they are already looking for us."
Scott only barely followed this exchange. He was straining his hearing. He could have sworn he had heard something- There. That echo almost like...
The others looked at him in surprise as he gestured with one hand, silencing them. Irvine drew his gun, chambering several rounds he had scavenged. The clink of the ammo was deafening in the sudden quiet.
"What is it?" Irvine asked, lowering his voice.
Scott stood perfectly still, stretching his perception.
"I don't know. Kind of from above, almost most... Sounded like-"
Gunfire burst from the right end of the tunnel. Selphie screamed as bullets whizzed past her head, turning concrete into choking dust, ricochets making the close quarters into a fatal trap.
Irvine returned fire, scattering the soldiers and giving the group a small reprieve. He made it out to be about half a dozen as he ran down the tunnel, catching up with the others.
Squall had received gun training during his schooling, but still wished he had Lionheart, which would have made things much easier. Crouching on one knee, he raised his weapon and put two shots in the chest of a soldier that had run along the top of the tunnel and dropped down to the other open end, blocking their only exit. He fell with a smoking hole where his heart had been.
Scott knew that only by returning fire could they survive this. Solid concrete tube, both ends open and covered by the enemy. Then he saw Selphie clutch a damaged shoulder, Irvine painfully grab his pierced leg. It was up to him. He didn't know why, he didn't know how. But it was, he had this something he was wrapped in, pulling him, pulling and-
Hyne sunk her fingers into the Knot surrounding this Outsider. Grabbed it. <I will not let my children die! They belong to me, have saved me before, now I will->
Reality jerked and sputtered. Scott found that thing in his mind, saw the tracer streaks flying down the tunnel, saw the enemy about to win-
Hyne flung the Knot to the side, depleting her power and ripping more tears than there had ever been before. Flung it, and-
Then Scott was behind the soldiers. It was but the work of a moment to raise the barrel and send the bullets smashing through flesh, blood and bone. The Galbadians fell to the ground, bodies contorting in the final pains before death.
Hyne heaved with exhaustion, stars and planets faltering in their eternal orbits with her weakness.
There was only the darkness. Mind asking, is it real?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The President was uneasy.
This in itself is not much to say, the President might have been uneasy for any number of reasons. Indeed, the title of President over the United States of America lends itself many reasons for nervousness.
But this time, the President was uneasy because the situation that might be occurring was one no President had ever dealt with before.
Once more, the President scanned the sheets in front of him. Placing them down, he sighed and rubbed his temples.
"So," He said. "This lab is not officially sanctioned?"
The Secretary of State moved his head in a negative. "No sir. We noticed these large movements of men to this private facility only days ago. I'm afraid that there is nothing we can do legally until further proof is substantiated. Satellite pictures of the area show a compound that could be used for many different purposes."
"Why is this a problem?"
"Our people agree this is the largest movement of manpower and equipment we have ever seen to a private laboratory. It may be harmless, may be some sort of testing that requires a lot of manpower. Either way, we believe it should be investigated, if only to determine the value of the data they may be collecting. What really raised some flags were the identities of some of the men moving into the facility. Many of them are leaders in the field of science. Many large trucks have also entered. From satellite I'm afraid we can't tell what they contained."
"Have you tried inquiring through civilian lines?" The President questioned.
"Yes. Strangely, we can't even find out who owns the installation. Another reason to watch this."
The President mulled over this for a second. Then, he shoved the papers back into their folder decisively.
"Keep an eye on it."
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic