Abby woke to find Old Liv staring at her from the entryway of the tent. “Trouble?” she mouthed. To either side of her, there was a Liv, sound asleep.
Liv-Old shook her head. “Just… It always surprises me,” she murmurs, “how young you are. But you’re younger than most of them, I think. You haven’t been in here long at all, have you?”
“No.” Abby didn’t want to wake up her Livs. She considered the way they were all laying and, after a moment, sat up slowly, and moved to the front of the tent, finding that she could sit cross-legged and keep one knee touching each of her Livs. “It’s still weird, sleeping in the mall, for me. But at least, uh. The robot people gave us a bath?”
Liv-Old snorted. “Yeah. I went about a month without a bath during my first year or two because I was being squeamish. Same with food. After a while-”
Abby shuddered. “I’m sorry. It’s just – you’ve been here so long. And I know that you’ve said, you keep saying you’re not her. I’m not the Abby you came in with. But it’s like…. are we going to be here until we get old? What about school? What about everything?”
“Someone has to break it. I don’t know how, and I don’t know what it’ll do, but someone has to break it. If we don’t, yeah. I’m going to die of old age here. I’m going to keep moving younger version of myself and my best friend through this place, helping out where I can, and I’m going to be a skeleton warning away future versions of myself, some day.”
Abby shuddered. “No. No, come with us, we’ll figure it out-”
“No. I’m sorry, but no. I could, maybe, although three is a lot of Livs for any one Abby to carry, but the thing is – then who would keep an eye out for the next batch of kids? I know, it’s hard to think about it, but since I lost my Abby, all of you are equally important to me. You might be the one that cracks it – but you, sorry to say, might end up dying at the hands of, oh, I don’t know, an angry robot that you don’t have the sense to stay away from.”
“They were everywhere!” She dropped her voice down to a whisper. “How am I supposed to know a place is trying to kill me?”
“It’s a mall, isn’t it? Rule of thumb, if it lives there, you don’t fit in, and it wants to eliminate you. Your best bet, hands-down, is to avoid any place with people. Now, I don’t know how that helps you end this thing, but, um, I have this.”
She pulled out a notebook from her pocket. In there, written in what looked like the same handwriting — Abby’s handwriting — were several notes.
“Okay. So. The first one is ‘stay left. Always stay to the left.’ The second one is ‘Liv’s doors might get you to safety but they won’t get you out and they’re more likely to get you weird.’ Those aren’t all that useful, but maybe they’ll tell you something. Oh, here. ‘Go up, and go left. Up and Left is the only way close to out.’ Now, I don’t know how useful that’s going to be in the long run for you, but it’s something. Oh. Here’s one more. ‘Wherever you went in, that’s the absolute last place you want to try again. Trust me.’”
“I trust her. Urm. Did anyone say—”
“Here, write it down.” Liv handed her the notebook and the pen. “I’ve found you believe things more if they’re in your own handwriting.”
Under Trust me, Abby wrote: Eat when you can, sleep when it’s safe. Don’t turn down a bath. And hold on to Liv with both hands.