We Have Each Other
Jack braced himself against a rock and slowly gave the rope some slack. He let it down steadily, carefully. "Oh my God." He heard Tech 67's voice echo up through the sink hole. He froze, though his friend's voice had been more amazed than scared. "No, its okay, it's okay, keep going."
"What is it?" Jack asked, starting the rope moving again.
"It's a library," he said, awe in his voice. "God, Jack, it's beautiful."
Jack longed to peer down and look for himself, but he couldn't see anything from his vantage point. "How is it? Can you get to anything?"
"Not on the rope," he called back. "Not much."
"Damn!" The rope gave a little slack Tech 67 was at the bottom.
"I'm going to unhook."
"No!" Jack cried. "No, we agreed-"
"Jack, we can't pass this up! There's so much down here! We-"
"Jack, don't. We agreed, it's safer!"
"I won't go far," he called. "And why would Scavs care about a place like this anyway?"
Jack felt his stomach lurch. "Dammit, Jack, stay on the rope!"
"Relax, Tower," Tech 67 called back. They'd taken to calling one another that whenever someone was being bossy or overprotective. They couldn't joke using Vikka's name yet, but "Tower" was a common retort usually to Jack. He was usually the more sensitive of the two, and they'd worked out that he was also "younger". Tech 67 had been on his mission for just over four years before the TET was destroyed. Jack had been on his mission for three.
"I'll be fine," Tech 67 called.
"Jack-" The line went completely slack, and Jack gritted his teeth. Damn.
"Comm check, Tower?" Tech 67 said.
"I have you loud and clear, you asshole," Jack replied, adjusting the earpiece.
Tech 67 chuckled. "All clear so far. I see a lot of books in bad shape, but there are whole shelves of good ones on some bookcases over there."
"Like what?" he asked, interested despite himself.
"Some encyclopedia sets, for one."
Tech 67 chuckled again. "Yeah. Maybe some collected works, I can't see. I'm heading over."
"Yes, ma'am," he teased. Jack could practically see him saluting.
Tech 67 laughed, but the laughed turned quickly into a sharp gasp. "Shit shit shit!"
"What?" Jack cried, heart pounding. Tech 67's only answer was a panicked scream, ragged and rough, then sharply cut off. "Jack! Jack are you okay? What happened? Jack! Jack!"
There was no answer. Jack struggled to clamp down on his sharply rising panic. He used his wristband to call to the plane, waiting breathlessly for the sixty seconds it took to arrive. He parked it near the sink hole, heedless of the string still dangling from his waist. Moving quickly, he tied the rope securely to the aircraft and lowered himself down into the hole. The smell of dust and damp paper was thick, and there was a heavy layer of dust and ash covering almost every surface. He scanned the room with his rifle light, but as Tech 67 had said, there was no evidence of Scav activity just footprints in the dust of boots the same size and shape as Jack's own.
"Jack," he whispered. "Jack, are you okay?" No answer. He moved forward toward the shelves that had enticed his friend, moving at an infinitely show pace, moving the light from his rifle back and forth constantly. Something had shocked 67, and Jack was determined to be ready for it.
He edged closer to the shelves, then stopped short with a quick gasp. The floor was missing. Between himself and the shelves beyond, there was a yawning canyon created by whatever stresses had destroyed the flooring. He edged forward carefully and pointed the rifle down. "Oh God." He stepped back, gripping the gun tightly, nearly light-headed from the sight of how far down the canyon went. He hadn't seen any bottom at all.
Jack lay down on his stomach and edged forward to the lip of the quasi-manmade cliff. He peered down, scanning with his rifle slowly. At first, he saw nothing but broken floor and tattered books. Then his light caught something pale gray and he focused on it. He smiled, though he wasn't sure if that was warranted yet. He looked through the laser sight of the rifle and saw his friend, maybe a hundred yards down, and to his left. He was splayed out on a narrow jut of floor tiles that extended a little further than the rest. Jack focused on his friend's chest and saw movement.
He heaved a sigh of relief, and called to Tech 67 again. "Jack? Jack, wake up, you crazy son of a bitch. Wake up." Tech 67 didn't move. "Dammit. Come on, buddy, wake up," he pleaded.
He waited a few seconds, but there was still no movement from the tech. Jack got up and scoured the large room for anything that could double as a pulley. He found several electrical cords, and a few actual ropes from old curtains. While he was testing the strength of the cloth ropes, he heard a moan, followed by a creaking sound.
Ropes in hand, Jack raced back to the canyon and looked down. Tech 67 was coming to. He shifted and groaned, which was a relief, but the floor creaked beneath 67, and Jack felt the panic begin to rise again.
"Stay still, Jack," he said, forcing calm into his tone. "Stay still, okay?"
Something must have gotten through even in his post fall daze, because he stopped moving. "Tower?" His voice was trained and slow. "I... I think I... my... my leg hurts pretty pad."
"Okay, I copy, Technician," Jack said, hoping the use of official language and routine might help calm him. "Just hold tight, and hold still, okay?"
"Okay," he said tightly.
Jack began knotting the cords together, moving quickly, but working carefully testing the security of each junction thoroughly before moving on. "Tech 67, you okay down there?"
"So far so... good, Tower," came the gasping reply.
Jack gritted his teeth, upset by the pain he could hear in his friend's voice. "Okay, hang on, I'll have you out soon."
"Okay," he said.
Jack tugged on the final rope section, then wrapped it around his own waist. He got back on his belly, directly above Tech 67, and lowered the rope down, holding his rifle down as well, so he could see. "Can you see the rope, Jack?"
"I see it." 67 shifted, and the floor tiles creaked under him. Tech 67 tensed, and Jack froze for a second.
"Okay, you're fine," Jack said, moving the rope more quickly down to the other technician. "You're okay, Jack, just stay still."
"Okay," Tech 67 replied, his voice barely above a whisper.
Jack continued to drop the rope down faster, watching its progress. He saw Tech 67 grasp it, and smiled. "Good work, Jack," he said. "Good, now hold on, okay? The way that floor's creaking I'm not sure you want to risk wrapping it around you."
"Mm-mm," he grunted, gripping the rope.
"Your arm okay?"
"Little shaky, but... okay," he said.
"Okay. Hold on tight, and I'll do the rest. Don't climb, just hold on, okay?"
"No argument from me, Tower," he said.
Jack smiled and began to back way, looking for fixtures he could use to brace himself. Slowly, he felt the rope pull taught, then there was a groan from Tech 67. "Hang on, Jack," he said.
There was a sudden tug on the rope, and a hissed oath from Tech 67. "What?" Jack asked.
"Floor gave out," Tech 67 said tightly.
"Good. Not long now."
The next few minutes were filled only with the rustle of the rope, and the heavy breathing from the two Jacks. Jack pulled slow and steady on the rope, muscles straining. Tech 67 was dead weight on the other end. Jack felt like pulling him up took hours. His arms were on fire, and he was dripping with sweat, and yet he kept pulling, knowing his best and only friend was on the other end.
Finally, he saw Tech 67's hands peek over the edge. He smiled, and pulled faster, tired though he was. In a moment, he could see Tech 67's face, features in a pained grimace, forehead beaded with sweat. He looked up at Jack and managed a smile. "Hey, Tower," he said. "M-miss me?"
"Jerk," Jack said, but he was smiling a wide, relieved smile. He heaved the rope up even further, until Tech 67 was completely out of danger, at least a yard away from the drop, before releasing the rope.
He rushed to his friend's side and looked him over. Tech 67 was dusty, sweating, and vibrating slightly from the exertion of holding his own weight. His left leg was bent at an odd, painful angle. "Is it bad?" he asked.
"I think it's broken," Jack answered.
Jack collapsed onto the floor beside Tech 67 and just breathed in and out. "Just need a rest," he panted. "Then I'll get something for the pain."
Tech 67 shook his head. "Just get us out, no sense making an extra trip if you don't have to."
Jack looked at him, saw the pain in his eyes. "You sure?"
"It'll teach me not to... break my promises."
"It'll be fine. I barely feel it."
"That's a lie," Jack said. Tech 67 shrugged. Jack shook his head and looked around. "Well. If you can wait, we might as well not waste the trip."
"What do you mean?"
"Gonna get something for the collection."
"I'll be careful. And I'm not going over there. I'm sure there's something on this side we can salvage."
"Just... be careful."
"Yes, ma'am," he said with a playful salute.