“No, no, “ Abby started, but she had a feeling the ‘bot wasn’t going to listen to her. “no, not aberrant. Just hungry. We just want something to-”
“ABERRANT. DESTROY THE ABERRANT BEFORE IT INFECTS ALL.”
“Guys?” Abby squeaked.
“Run.” Liv grabbed her hand. Liv grabbed her other hand. They ran.
Behind them, there were bots grating away about them being aberrant. Well, about Abby being aberrant. In front of them, the flow was flawing bright white, almost too bright to see.
Their feet were pounding soundlessly on the floor. She was sweating in both hands, grips slipping. She was not going to lose Liv. She was not-
A door swung open in front of them and Liv grabbed Abby by the face mask and pulled her in, dragging the women holding onto her hands along with her.
“Shoulda known you’d end up here Damnit, Abby, you could make it easy to save you life once in a while. I’d like to have a chance of success.”
Not Liv. Liv’s mother? No. Abby tried to peer at her but found that the hand in her face was complicating things. “What-”
“Get that thing off of you before it gasses you, seriously, do you have no sense of self-preservation?”
“Hey!” One of the other Livs stepped up on the side of Abby. “Leave her alone! She’s done a really good job of keeping us alive so far!”
“Yeah, yeah. And what are you going to do when the inevitable happens and something kills her, hunh? Have you asked this other one where her Abby went yet?”
“We get it!” That was… probably Liv-2. “We get it, you insufferable bitch! Abbies die. Lots of them have died. And they don’t die because they have no sense of self-preservation, what the hell would make you say something horrid like that? They die because they-”
“-die saving us, yes, yes. I was there.”
Abby’s vision cleared, finding herself standing in front of an older Liv, one as old as Liv’s mother. She looked worn, and hard, like she had been fighting a battle since they came into the mall – which would have been nearly thirty years ago for her.
“Died saving you?” she whispered. She didn’t know what else to say.
“Died saving me. Died saving this one. If you’re not careful, you’ll die saving her, too, and then what will she do? Liv-Liv pairs can’t get through the doors. I suppose Abby-Abby pairs can’t, either, but we’ve never had enough to try.”
“Never had enough…” Abby blanched. “What happens to me?”
“First.” Liv-mom held up a finger. “The first thing you need to learn is it’s not you. These girls in front of me, they’re not me. The Abby I had that died, she wasn’t you, and you’re not her. Have you found one?”
“One what?” Liv-1 asked. Abby already knew.
“Yeah. We found my – we found a corpse of another Abby. The vines had gotten her.”
“Something always does. The thing is, the second thing you have to learn is, the mall is out to get you. Not me. Though some Livs have died. Not Vic or Sandy or anyone else. We don’t know why. Nobody knows. But the mall -”
“Which mall?” Liv-2 interrupted.
Abby had already figured that out, too.
“They’re all one mall,” she murmured. “It’s all one thing. And it wants to kill me.”