Androids have all but won the war against humanity, and the remnants of the once-great human civilization are reduced to miles of wastelands and hidden communities struggling to survive. Dirk and his friends are sent out to scavenge for supplies, while AR is sent to hunt down and exterminate the dwindling human population. Their fated meeting is the beginning of a union between species that was once thought impossible.


22. Chapter 22

You hadn’t really appreciated how few people were left in the compound, until later that evening when you saw them all gathered together at the entrance to the subway tunnels. While the handful of guards went around making sure everyone was present and accounted for, Roxy helped you run through the maintenance lab’s checklist one last time, while Jane did the same for the infirmary. The compound’s supply of food and water took priority, along with whatever medicine and weaponry were left over. There was already too much to carry, and not enough volunteers left to handle the extra weight, so you ended up leaving most of it behind.

Roxy vetoed your decision to pull the fuel tank, and left you with your own weight in tools and equipment to carry, hastily wrapped together with spare cables and constantly threatening to come undone in your arms. It wouldn’t be so difficult if you weren’t also insulated in layers of clothing, and while it keeps your skin warm, there’s nothing to stop the cold from chilling your lungs. The hushed crowd of people around you set the slow pace through the darkened subway tunnels, everyone carrying their own burden- bundles of supplies, extra clothes, lamps and flashlights, and anything else they couldn’t afford to leave behind, as you gradually migrate along the subway tracks beneath the city. Their voices and whispers echo from the concrete walls while you focus on your feet, trying to ignore the familiar pain in your chest and the lingering ache in your wrists where AR’s coils held you. You’d give anything to feel his warmth right now.

“Fuck,” Roxy mutters under her breath, falling into step next to you. The wheeled fuel tank leaves faint tracks on the ground as she uses one hand to pull it along behind her, a heavy burlap sack of equipment slung over her shoulder with the other. “It wasn’t this cold a few days ago, what the hell.”

You mumble something noncommittal in reply. She glances around quickly, then leans in close, the air from her lungs curling like smoke in front of you.

“So hey, I went up ahead and talked to Calli,” she whispers, before something or someone behind you catches her eye. She tosses her head twice in an exaggerated ‘come here’ gesture, and after a long moment, Jane appears next to her with an overstuffed backpack, the straps digging into her shoulders. “I just talked to Calli,” Roxy repeats quietly to her as they walk together, while you silently contemplate your feet. “She said it’ll be at least a week ‘fore we reach the next compound, assuming everything goes wrong.”

“Roxy, don’t say that,” Jane scolds, sounding just as tired and irritable as you feel. Someone accidentally brushes against your shoulder as they walk past, and you resist the urge to glare at the back of their head.

“We’re stopping at the city limits where the tunnels end tonight. If the plan works they’ll send someone to bring us back, but if we don’t hear anything by morning, we’re supposed to just keep headin east ‘til we hit the next city over, and then hope for the best or whatever.” Roxy glares over her shoulder at the fuel tank, as it clatters over a rough spot on the ground. “She says they’re not even sure there’s anyone left at this other place, but we’ll fortify it and start over if we have to, if the whole city ain’t already picked over.

“Well then, we’ll hope it doesn’t come to that,” Jane mutters, before giving you a long, quiet look that you don’t have the energy to return. Something else catches your attention, as a metallic clink draws your eyes to the figure trailing behind one of the guards at the edge of the crowd. You have a good idea who it is, based on the pair of handcuffs padlocked to a heavy chain, as he’s led along like a dog on a leash. When Caliborn senses your stare and looks up, it’s like he’s trying to set you on fire by willpower alone, and you quickly return to watching your feet.

Technically,” Roxy drawls out in a hushed whisper, “we ain’t allowed to send anyone back to check for survivors if everything ends up going to shit, but I say fuck that. It’s not like they can spare anyone to go after us if we decide to bail and catch up later-”

“Roxy,” Jane turns on her angrily, and you let out a quiet sigh. “I have had quite enough of all this rule-breaking and silly behavior from just about everyone in my life right now, so if you don’t mind, I’d like for all of us to just do as we’re told and not get ourselves into any more of a wretched mess than we’re already in!”

Jane’s voice starts to crack at the end, and Roxy only gets halfway through apologizing before Jane interrupts her to do the same, and they fall into step behind you, as Roxy murmurs to her while Jane sniffs. You want to help, but you don’t know what to say anymore, and it wouldn’t be right to interrupt them with the way Jane’s arm is wrapped around Roxy’s shoulder, their heads bowed together. You know why she’s upset, and you can’t blame her.

Jake volunteered to stay behind, as one of the compound’s members who would fight against the drones and HIC. When she found out, Jane tried to volunteer herself, but since she’s one of the few remaining infirmary workers, Bro forbade it. Just before your group left the compound, you saw her talking to Jake in a secluded corner, away from the noise of people and equipment. They must have finally made up, from the way they hugged at the end of it, but you parted with him still on bad terms, too unsure of what his reaction would be if you tried to apologize or explain yourself now, and you’ve never hated yourself so much. Out of the four of you, Roxy was the only one who never volunteered to stay, and she only patted you on the shoulder when you asked her why.

Roxy and Jane soon catch up with you again, this time falling into step on either side of you.

“And as for you,” Jane starts, but she sounds more tired now than upset. “I’m still a bit sore about how you avoided our checkups, and even after I left you a note about it.” She frowns, and Roxy pointedly finds something on the opposite side of the tunnel to keep her attention.

“Sorry,” you mumble, unable to explain yourself any further.

“Is everything okay?” she asks, and you experience a very familiar urge to vanish into the ground, before she continues. “You haven’t been having any headaches, have you? No blurred vision? Have you been sleeping enough?”

“Yeah, I’m alright,” you quietly reassure her, before trying to divert attention by pretending to shuffle the bundle of equipment around in your arms.

“I’ve been so worried about you, Dirk,” Jane sighs, her gaze turning distant as she stares through the shuffling crowd ahead. “We all have, ever since you started working yourself to death again, and then, well…” She trails off, suddenly unsure, and you notice Roxy glancing at her. “Those orders from the infirmary weren’t just suggestions, you know. I almost reported you to your brother.”

You wince a little, imagining how that conversation might have gone, but she’s right. Even after several days of skipping out on your mandated checkups, you were never reprimanded or put under house arrest for it. With everything else going on, it hadn’t occurred to you as strange until now.

“Why didn’t you?”

“Well…” she bites her lip, meeting Roxy’s eyes as they seem to silently agree on something, and her voice lowers to a whisper. “Roxy… told me about what was going on…with you and that android.”

You stare at her for a long, horrified moment, before looking up at Roxy, and her face is written over with guilt.

“Sorry, hun … I kinda had to,” she says softly, but your mind is already elsewhere.

“Does Jake know?” you ask, almost scared of the answer, but Roxy shakes her head.

“Nah, I don’t think so, not unless someone else told him. ‘Figured that would do way more harm than good,” she mutters. Jane is still watching you, her expression sympathetic, but what really hurts is that you didn’t trust her enough to tell her yourself, once again leaving Roxy to step in and solve your problems. You’d apologize to both of them, but it would sound strange coming out of nowhere.

“I can’t say that I understand it very well,” Jane sighs, reaching over with one hand to gently grasp your shoulder, “or if that’s my fault, or maybe it’s because a certain someone made it sound like you had died when she pulled me aside the other day while I was on my way to see your brother, which scared me half to death,” Jane glowers briefly at Roxy, who mock-pouts at her, “but it would be hypocritical of me to pass judgment on someone else’s feelings, especially when it all sounds so horribly complicated.”

You can’t meet her eyes anymore, as the three of you walk together amongst the crowd. She rubs your back reassuringly while you attempt to keep a tight lid on your emotions, with partial success.

“I suppose it is my fault after all,” she says, quickly cutting you off when you try to disagree. “No, I mean that. It’s my fault that you felt like you couldn’t tell me, and I’ve been thinking…maybe I’ve been letting this whole infirmary thing go to my head recently. It’s a lot of responsibility I’m still not quite accustomed to, and it all came on so quickly when everything changed after English…” she lets out a long breath, “after we lost so many people. Suddenly there was so much to do, and no one else around to do it. I’ve never had so many depending on me before, and I thought I was doing the right thing by putting my job first, but…” she looks up at Roxy, who nods solemnly, understanding. “Things were so much simpler before when we were still a team, spending all day out in the city together, and I miss that more than anything.”

She puts an arm around your shoulders, and you lean into her.

“I wish Jake had come with us,” she whispers, on the verge of tears again.

“He’ll catch up,” you reassure her, forcing yourself to believe the words for her sake. “Roxy told me you guys were still fighting yesterday. Is everything okay now?”

Jane nods, leaning away briefly to recompose herself. “It was over something so silly too, I can’t believe we acted like such children.”

“Yeah…I know what you mean,” you mumble to yourself, and Roxy suddenly bumps your shoulder hard enough to make you stumble over the tracks, drawing several nearby stares.

“You didn’t talk to Jake before we left?” she asks, her tone incredulous. You meet her frown with guilt, too ashamed to curse her intuition.

“You’re still fighting with him?” Jane asks with wide eyes. “Even now, with everything that’s happened? I know I shouldn’t talk, but Dirk…”

“I didn’t know what to say to him,” you finally admit, after they’ve both worn you down with silence.

“Uhh how about, I dunno- I’m sorry?” Roxy looks like she would hit you upside the head if her hands weren’t full.

“But he doesn’t understand-”

“It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t understand, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Roxy hisses, fighting the urge to raise her voice. “Yes, his die-hard hatred for AR is a little bit excessive given the circumstances, and explaining things to him probably won’t change that now, but you have gotto look past that, Dirk. Being friends like we are- like family, doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything all the time, even when something feels too important not to. You can’t just let it go and ruin everything.”

“Roxy’s right, you know,” Jane adds softly. “And besides, I’m sure if you were honest with him, and explained what you’ve been going through, he would understand.”

Roxy hums at her uncertainly, before turning back to you. “Just promise me that when we see him again, the first words out of your mouth will be an apology, and nothing else.” She levels you with a particularly serious stare. “Okay?”

“Yes, okay,” you concede, and it seems to placate her. “You’re right, I should have at least tried before we left.”

She nods in satisfaction, then looks up as the guard leading the crowd ahead signals everyone to stop. The sound of hushed talking echoes faintly throughout the tunnel, and you take the opportunity to put the bundle of equipment down and stretch your stiff arms, while Roxy abandons the fuel tank and helps Jane remove her overstuffed backpack, before they sit down together on the tracks. You huddle with them while Jane’s dad passes out a small ration of food and water, stopping briefly to ask how you’re all doing and exchange a few brief words with Jane, before moving on to the next group.

After talking to her dad, Jane fishes a glowstick out of her backpack and cracks it, allowing you to see the handful of dried oatmeal and ancient chunks of fruit in your hand. She picks hers out first, popping them into her mouth one at a time, while Roxy finishes her food in one large mouthful before chasing it with water and standing up.

“I’m gonna go find Calli and get an ETA on when we’ll hit the city limits. I’ll be right back.”

She’s gone a moment later, leaving you alone with Jane who eventually coaxes you into eating, while you ignore the way Caliborn is trying to burn a hole through your head from the other side of the tunnel.

"I’ve been wondering,” Jane begins, after fishing out a cloth from her pocket and wiping her hands clean, before passing it to you. “Even from the start, Jake has never particularly cared for AR, which is understandable to be quite honest, given how many times that android sent you to the infirmary.” She pauses for a moment, and you lower your eyes, hoping she won’t pursue that topic any further. “But I don’t see why he was so vehemently against the truce your brother arranged.”

“They just don’t get along,” you shrug, restlessly thumbing the cloth’s edge. “They never have. All they do is insult each other. I tried to demonstrate AR’s network archive system for Jake, and it was a complete disaster.” You return the cloth to her and cross your arms, leaning back against the cold wall. “That was when we started fighting, a few days ago.”

Jane nods, leaning back against your shoulder. “You know, I made good use of that archive during the short time we had it, looking up all sorts of medical procedures and things, and AR was always rather polite and accommodating about my questions, if not a bit robotic at times.” She pauses to breathe into her hands, having removed her gloves earlier to eat. “He really is very knowledgeable, though.”

You murmur an agreement, feeling the slow sting of recent memories- the way his forehead felt pressed against yours, the red glow of his eyes, the gentle buzz of circuitry against your skin. Your rest your head against the wall and put an arm around Jane when she starts to shiver, the lack of movement chilling both of you. Roxy returns after another minute, immediately nestling into your side while Jane giggles. You’re just grateful for the extra warmth.

“She’s says it’ll be an hour or two at least. We might take another break before then, depending on how folks hold up. What’d I miss?”

“You didn’t miss anything,” Jane chides gently. “We were just discussing the ongoing matter of our mutual acquaintances.”

“Oh yeah? I think it’s safe to say AR is more than just a mutual acquaintance now,” she chuckles, and you elbow her as best you can with her body pressed against your arm. Jane rolls her eyes.

“Roxy, really now. Don’t tease him.”

“Yeah, alright. I’m sorry,” she grins unapologetically, and you can’t help the quiet laugh it forces out of you. Her smile spreads wider, into something more genuine. “Thaaat’s more like it. I’ve been wondering when you were gonna snap out a’ that funk.”

Jane laughs warmly, as Roxy pulls your arm over her own shoulder in an effort to steal as much of your body heat as she can. You sit in comfortable silence with them, feeling the off-tempo rise and fall of their chests and the occasional shiver. Everyone is huddled together in small groups, talking in low voices while Calliope walks around with another guard, making sure everyone is still accounted for. There’s something peaceful about it, despite the circumstances, but no matter what you do, you can’t keep your thoughts from dwelling on AR, along with Jake and your Bro, and the others who stayed behind. They must be getting ready to confront HIC by now, with whatever strategic plan Bro put together with the handful of EMP guns you helped Roxy rework into free, cordless weapons. Bro’s assessment of the plan seemed pessimistic from the beginning, but Roxy’s stalwart hope has kept you going, and you don’t know what you’d have done without her. After everything she’s been through for you and all the nonsense you dragged her into, there still hasn’t been a good opportunity for you to make it up to her. Even your relationship with AR wouldn’t be what it is now without her, and the thought suddenly reminds you of something important.

“Hey, Rox?” you keep your voice soft, and she turns to look up at you from where her head is nestled into your shoulder. “Yesterday, when AR got angry and we were on our way back from the maintenance lab, you talked to him with my shades, and afterwards he got quiet and wouldn’t tell me what it was about.” You remember vividly how difficult it was to fall asleep last night, not knowing if AR was still upset with you. “What did you say to him?”

Roxy meets your eyes for a long moment, her expression hesitant. She eventually turns away, towards the small, loose crowd of people in front of you while Jane watches her curiously.

“Don’t be mad, okay?” Roxy whispers with a small frown. You nod carefully, unsure now of what to expect. “The thing you gotta understand is that AR isn’t the way he’s supposed to be, and he knows it too, which just makes the whole thing way more tragic.”

You already know what she’s talking about, but Jane frowns. “What do you mean?’”

“I mean back when the other androids found him at the start of the apocalypse, they chopped up his brain and turned him into something he wasn’t,” Roxy tells her. “And now, he’s still as smart as any computer, but there’s things he can’t understand anymore, and that’s not his fault. It’s just…hard for him to think sometimes, with his mind all in pieces the way it is. That’s why he’s always going around gathering random info like an automated query list. He remembers wanting to learn, but he can’t remember why.”

You listen to her words, unable to comment as the meaning sinks in. Even with all the time you spent talking to AR, you hadn’t realized the true implications of what had been done to him, and the fact that Roxy somehow managed to gain such a depth of understanding over the several days they knew each other makes you feel conflicted, more than anything else. Roxy pulls you back to the conversation, before your mood has a chance to sink again.

“So yesterday, when he was actin’ like a dick, I presented to him a hypothetical scenario.” She sits up, turning to face you and Jane so she can gesture while she talks. “I told him to think about the situation he was in, hooked up to the base’s network like he was, and then I told him to think about you,” she points at your chest, “and everything that had happened leading up to where he was now. I told him to remember the whole thing with the flash drive and how you offered to off yourself for us, and again after English attacked, and when Caliborn kicked you outside and the other android almost killed you, and how you woulda died afterwards if he hadn’t saved you all those times, and I told him to think real hard about every time you tried to sacrifice yourself. Each time, you came out of it alive, and every time you risked your life, it brought AR one step closer to where he was now- hooked up to the command center’s network, with everyone in the compound benefiting from it.” Roxy shrugs, lifting an eyebrow. “So I told him, what if all those times you risked yourself, you were never actually putting yourself in any real danger? What if you knew he’d stop you from killing yourself that first time, because he’d be too curious to let you die? Or that he wouldn’t kill you in the waterworks because it wouldn’t be as satisfying, and that he’d save your life after English attacked, and again when Caliborn inevitably tried to get revenge, because he’d be driven to know why you helped him? What if you'd known that he’d eventually be forced to make a deal with your Bro because the compound would be the only safe place left for him at that point? Although, I didn’t know about his own plans at the time,” she mutters. “But my point was, no matter how he looked at it, you had him exactly where you wanted him. He couldn’t leave the compound, because the other androids would kill him, and your Bro had him sharing all his precious info with the compound’s citizens, which meant that we’d never have to worry about a lack of resources again, at least in the intellectual sense. After all that had happened between you and him, I told him to think hard about who had come out on top, and to consider who had really been manipulated this whole time.”

You stare at her, feeling something very close to horror, as she smiles mischievously.

“But, y’ know. It was just a hypothetical scenario, after all.” She turns and settles back into your side, making herself comfortable as Jane blinks at her.

“That was downright insidious, Roxy,” Jane tells her, with an undertone of awe.

“Yeah, well,” Roxy yawns, stretching her arms out in front of her. “It wasn’t true of course, but still…I could tell it scared him, just the possibility of it.” She smiles, resting her head against your shoulder again, before looking out at the people huddled together in the tunnel, as her expression falls. “Then I told him to remember that feeling, because it’s the exact same fucking thing he’s been doing to you this entire time, and in spite of all that and how cruel and inconsiderate he’s been, you still love him.” She sighs heavily, her voice lowering to a whisper. “I told him for that, you deserve his kindness, if nothing else.”

Roxy falls silent as she watches the compound’s citizens, and you’re left to brood on your own thoughts, still uncertain how to feel about Roxy using your relationship with AR against him, or secretly telling Jane about said relationship, but after everything you’ve done lately, you’re in no position to judge her for working to repair the cracks you’ve made between you and your friends. You’ve never felt so unsure of yourself, not since you were a child, but she’s always been the glue that holds the four of your together. Where AR fits into all that, you’re still unsure, and the thought of him conjures the same familiar pain from before.

“What is that?” Jane whispers, interrupting your thoughts as she glances around the tunnel curiously. Roxy lifts an eyebrow at her.

“What is what?”

“That,” Jane mutters, reaching behind you to press her hand against the concrete wall. “You don’t feel it?”

You hold your breath, concentrating on the cold wall at your back, before your attention is caught by the faint, rhythmic pulse you’d mistaken for your own heartbeat, but now that you’re focusing on it, the feeling isn’t coming from you…

It’s coming from the walls.

Several other people in the crowd seem to realize it too, as the vibrations suddenly grow loud enough to hear. Jane nervously tries to stand up, before Roxy pulls her back down and grabs your arm, forcing the three of you to remain in a group as dirt begins to fall from the ceiling. You don’t have time to wonder at the cause, lifting yourself on your knees to cover the two of them as the vibrations grow into a rhythmic pounding, the dust thick enough to choke on. You squeeze your eyes shut and angle your head down towards the floor, trying to keep the dirt out of your nose and mouth while the tunnel violently shakes around you, the panicked voices of the compound lost to the deafening sound.

Eventually it fades, retreating into the distance while the air slowly clears. You lift your head and cough, mimicking dozens of others who do the same, along with Jane and Roxy as they emerge from beneath your arms. Every inch of you is caked with dust, but the two of them seem to have escaped the worst of it. Roxy’s hands are on you a moment later, brushing the dirt out of your hair and wiping it from your eyes, until you can see without squinting. One of the guards is going around a moment later, carrying the cordless EMP gun and urging everyone to stand up and keep moving. The activity in the tunnel approaches chaotic levels as Roxy grabs the fuel tank and Jane stumbles away into the crowd to find the other infirmary workers. You locate the glowstick and the bundle of equipment you were carrying earlier, and follow Roxy as she shoulders her burlap sack. The crowd starts to move again, and Jane returns a few minutes later.

“What on earth was that?” she asks Roxy, as you trail behind them, still trying to cough the dust out of your lungs.

“Something big,” Roxy tells her, staring straight ahead. “Maybe footsteps. Dirk’s bro said the drones would be out lookin around by now, but even if they find us, we’ve got the gun to defend ourselves. We can take ‘em, don’t worry.”

Jane nods, and falls silent as they walk together. The dust is still settling, but you can just make out Calliope at the front of the crowd, leading the compound, with the guard carrying the EMP gun close behind her. You’re running on adrenaline now, focused on getting yourself and your friends as far from that sound as possible, while something else quietly nudges at the back of your mind.

You can’t put a name to the slow fear coiling in the pit of your stomach, or the recent memories whispering quietly in your ear. You’re trying to ignore them, focusing on your feet and the shuffle of the crowd around you, but you’re unable to block them out, and the harder you try, the louder those voices become, until you’re suddenly hearing them again like a potent hallucination.

“AR is giving us the means to fight back, it wouldn’t make sense for him to turn on us.”

“I’m considering putting Caliborn to death for a failed attempt at murder, and if we weren’t hanging by our very last, proverbial thread, that android would have been a pile of scrap metal the moment it set foot in here.”

“Disclosing such information would have jeopardized your leader’s compliance during our negotiations.”

“That reason, and that reason alone is why I am allowing the android to stay.”

“We have no reason whatsoever to trust him, and I don’t bloody well understand why you don’t all think he’ll turn on us the moment that ruling she-android or whatever is dead.”

This includes refraining from killing your male companion, provided that he does not attempt to harm me.

"You knew it was coming! You’ve wanted us dead this whole time! We should have killed you right from the start!”

“Getting rid of her would completely remove the reason why you haven’t continued your happy little campaign of tearing everyone in this city apart.”

“Do you suspect that I will attack your settlement? I would have more to fear from your weaponry, the very ones that I have offered to help you build, if I were to attempt this.”

Dirk might have forgotten what you did to us, but I haven’t. You nearly killed him, and I’m not the only one around here who’d like to see you turned into scrap metal.

They’re literally built to do nothing more than kill us. All of them are just hardware and wires in a metal shell, they aren’t people!

They don’t change, mate.

“They’re going to kill him,” you whisper, and Jane turns around to glance at you questioningly.

“What’s that, Dirk?”

You stare back at her, trying to breathe through the panic constricting your chest, until you swallow and manage a quiet “nothing.” She frowns at you for a moment, unsure what to make of your behavior, before turning back to Roxy, not realizing that you’re drowning in fear right in front of her. Your mind is scrambling, simultaneously trying to deny the evidence right in front of you- Bro’s tenuous trust in AR vanished the moment HIC appeared, and Jake would never have abandoned all of you to stay behind and fight without a reason, along with the fact that you know he’s been meeting with your brother alone, ‘expressing his concerns about your recent behavior.’

You almost reach out to grab Roxy’s shoulder, before stopping yourself. There’s nothing you can do from here, and no way of reaching Bro or the others without a communicator. The guard up ahead might have one, but there’s no hope of getting it until the group stops again, which could be hours from now, provided you could even steal it, and then what could you possibly say to Bro to change his mind? You’re trapped in the tunnels while AR and the others fight against HIC, and if they succeed, Bro will continue to do what he’s always done- put the safety of the compound first, above all else.

You can’t afford the faint hope that you might be wrong.

Roxy and Jane are still walking together, just ahead of you, and as the three of you approach a bend in the tunnels, something rectangular against the far wall catches your eye.

A door.

From the look of it, probably a maintenance access point. It’s the only one you’ve seen in the last hour, and the metal is worn and rusted around the edges, maybe even locked from the inside, but you’re about pass it as your feet carry you along the tracks, while Jane and Roxy talk together, no more than several steps ahead.

You can’t drag them into this. You’re done risking their lives for your feelings and stupid mistakes, and no matter how much they might hate you for it, this isn’t something you can ignore for their sake. You love them, with all your heart you love them, and you’d die for them a hundred times over, but right now AR is the one in danger, and this time, you aren’t going to let them risk themselves, even if that means taking away their right to choose.

Without another thought, you drop the armful of equipment on the ground and cross the tunnel, ignoring the people around you and reaching out to grasp the metal handle. The door miraculously unlatches when you pull down, then swings open, allowing you to step through into pitch blackness as the first voice comes from behind you- Roxy, calling out your name in confusion- before the door swings shut with a clang. Your fingers find the metal latch, throwing it into place just as someone pounds on the other side, and you lean with your back against it for a long moment, begging their forgiveness through gritted teeth as Jane and Roxy’s muffled voices shout at you from the other side.

Fingers shaking, you find Jane’s glowstick still tucked into your pocket and lift it, revealing the narrow, concrete corridor ahead of you, lined with thin pipes and box-shaped panels of buttons and fuses. You take a step, looking back at the door one last time as Roxy’s frantic voice tears into your heart, before facing the darkness and forcing yourself to keep moving forward. They’ll be safe here with the others, and you’ll come back for them soon.

You force yourself to believe it, for their sake.

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