This is set in (one of ) the world(s) of the Hidden Mall – Abby and Liv have been travelling through a series of multiverse malls, many of them abandoned. Actually, many Abby-and-Livs, Sandy-and-Vics have been travelling – this is a different Abby & Liv than those in the main story. This is a direct sequel to Fountain Fishing.
“Are you sure?” Liv huffed quietly. She was already packing up their gear. “No, I know you’re sure. But this place – nothing is trying to kill us, nothing is trying to-” she stopped and twitched.
Abby paused long enough to hug her friend. “The last place was bad, I know,” she murmured.
“And the place before that.” Liv’s voice was muffled by Abby’s shoulder, buit Abby knew what she was saying anyway. “And the one two before that… I wish we knew how to go back to a place. That one three ago, that was pretty nice.”
Abby ran through the malls in her mind. Last had been the one that had clearly turned into the lair of a serial killer – this one not the sort that only killed Abbies, at least, except that meant the asshole had targeted Liv. Before that had been the place on fire. Before that had been…
“Liv. Olivia. That place wanted to put us each in a little pod and keep us there.”
“Yeah? Yeah?” Liv looked up at her with wet, red eyes. “They didn’t want to kill us, or eat us, or starve us, or drown us, or – or- or-“
Abby hugged her tighter. “We can do better, okay? Okay, we figured out that if we go with doors by stores that aren’t clothes, they do better, right? So let’s go to that electronics place and take the door there.”
“Abby, we came through an electronics place to get here. Maybe – um, maybe the frame place? The art? That was-“
A faint noise – almost an absence of noise, a slick smooth movement – caught their attention at the same time.
Coming towards them was something like a very big vacuum cleaner or a small Zamboni, except it was all white shiny and smooth metal. It had no face, it was saying nothing, it had nothing to soften its function.
Two long metal arms reached out towards them. Abby swallowed a scream and grabbed her bag with one hand, Liv with the other hand.
“It’s-” Liv hissed.
The thing was moving very fast.
The fish in the water had gone completely still.
Even the fountain had stopped moving.
Abby froze. She squeezed Liv’s hand, hard, until her friend, too froze.
They couldn’t hold perfectly still; they were human. They had to breathe. They had to blink.
She did her best to forget that, to hold on to the idea of being a robot, being still, being mechanical.
Tick, tick, tick. Her heart was a machine. Her lungs were a machine. Her whole body was a machine. They were one machine. One machine with two bodies, one mind made of circuits with two bodies.
The thing came closer to them, closer. She kept her eyes open and stopped seeing. She stopped thinking.
The thing moved past them, moved on down the hallway, moved on to the next side hallway.
Only when it was completely gone, only when the fountain beeped and bubbled back into life, only when the fish moved, did Abby come back to life.
She squeezed Liv’s hand, one, two, three, in their code for flee now, and they booked it, running the way the robot had come from, running as fast as they could, carrying only what they were holding.
It was only after they grabbed a door and shot through it that Abby remembered, realized, processed that the robot had run right around them, had picked up everything they hadn’t already gathered, had cleaned all their carefully-gathered supplies.
They could get supplies again. She closed her eyes and hugged Liv as tight as she could. “We made it,” she whispered. “We made it.”
They’d made it out of that mall, at least.
Maybe the next one would have proper fish in the fountain.
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