There were people in the mall. That was the weirdest part; this mall had been empty as long as they’d been using it as a base. From the sounds of things, it had always been empty.
But right now there were nearly thirty people standing in front of the central fountain – well, one of them was sitting, looking definitely unconscious. Four were unidentifiable in white suits much like the mall with the robots had provided. A bunch looked ragged and dirty, too thin and too hungry. Some of them had satyr hooves and one of them was definitely a centaur. Abby heard Liv whimper and wondered if she was whimpering about the centaur or something else.
To the right, a handful were dressed like SWAT, face masks down and weapons pointed at Abby. And then, in the middle, were seven different Kevins, all of them in chains.
Nobody but the woman behind the wheelchair looked like an Abby. There were Sandies and Livs and a couple Vics, yeah, but no other Abbies.
‘Via swore softly. “Abby.” She raised her voice and said it again. “Abby.”
She wasn’t talking to her, Abby knew. She squeezed ‘Via’s hand.
“Liv.” Abby’s voice was flat. The Vic in the chair didn’t move at all.
“I’m ‘Via now. What are you doing?”
One of the SWAT people aimed their weapon at ‘Via. Olly stepped up and put herself between ‘Via and the gun.
“What does it look like?” Abby-with-Vic’s expression didn’t shift one big. Some of the people around her shifted uncomfortably, looking at that Abby, looking at Abby, looking at ‘Via.
“It looks like you’re leading an army into a mall.” ‘Via rolled her eyes. “Which, well. I guess it’s a pretty pitiful army for a pretty pitiful target.”
“And why would I be leading an army into a mall?” Abby-not-Abby sounded bored and, more than that, mean. “We’re just here to shop. That’s what you do in a mall. You shop.” She raised her voice at the last bit.
“Most people,” Abby cut in, “don’t shop with guns. Guns are bad for malls. They make a mess, they scare people away-“
“You don’t look scared,” the other Abby interrupted.
“I’ve seen a lot worse. I’m sure you have, too, in recent days. On the other hand, I really don’t like having guns pointed at me – or at my friends.”
“I see you have quite a collection of ‘friends’, too.”
“Not as many as you,” Abby countered. Her heart was pounding and her mouth was dry. She was going to die. She was going to get her friends killed. She was going to get shot in the middle of the friendliest mall she’d ever been in and, like millions of other Abbies, she wasn’t going to go home after all.
“Oh, well. One needs people to go to a mall properly, isn’t that right?”
“Not in my experience,” Abby countered. “And since my experience is yours, I mean, within limits–” She wondered how much this Abby – or this Vic – had figured out. “–we’ve generally only gone to the mall with one or, at the most, two friends. And I can’t remember a time we went with an armed guard.”
One of the SWAT team moved closer.
Wasn’t the mall supposed to help them? Wasn’t that the deal?
They hadn’t brought people to shop here, was that it? Was it going to just let them – let them die?
“Attention mall shoppers.” The intercom blared to life with a tinny, mechanical voice. “Attention mall shoppers. Please be sure to check out our sidewalk sale in the Burlington Coat Factory, going on right now!”Want more?