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The creature extended more of its tendrils past Lachlan, reaching for Sam’s unconscious body and wrapping around his arms and legs.

“Why?” said Lachlan. “Why eat Sam and not me?”

“Two reasons,” said the creature. “The first one is I have nothing to discuss with him.”

“Wh-what’s the second?”

“The second and more important reason is he deserves it.”

“Wait, what?” said Lachlan. “What do you mean he deserves it? I mean, yes, he’s a bit of a fuckhead, but I wouldn’t go that far.”

Sam stirred, his eyes twitching as he scratched at a tendril wrapped around his thigh. His head snapped around to take in the monster that was holding him. He let out a whimper.

Fuck. Poor Sam. What a time to regain consciousness.

The creature snaked a tendril up Sam’s leg, toward his waistband. The tendril wrapped around a key card that was clipped to Sam’s pants and removed it. The creature unwound the tendril from Sam and handed the key card to Lachlan.

“Read that,” said the creature.

“‘Samuel Alexander, ID number 003571, Clyde Packaging Solutions, Inc.’? So?”

“Clyde Packaging Solutions, Inc,” said the creature. “The company that created me. The company that ordered my brother’s execution because they called him defective. The company that dumped us fabrications in this pit to devour each other when we proved inconvenient.”

The company that created the creature and his brothers? The company that ordered his brother’s execution? Could that mean–?

Holy motherfuck. Falcon. Falcon is this thing’s brother. Falcon is the ‘resource’ Dominic ‘stole’ from that company.

It answered so many questions, but raised so many more. Right now, though, Lachlan had a more pressing focus–trying to talk this creature out of devouring the only human companion he had in this place.

“It’s not his fault,” said Lachlan.

“Excuse me?” said the creature.

“What happened to you and your, uh, brothers wasn’t Sam’s fault.”

“All humans working for CPSI are complicit. He could have helped us. He could have taken that risk, and he didn’t.”

“Look at him, though,” said Lachlan. “He’s not some powerful executive. He couldn’t possibly be older than 18. There’s no way he even knows about you, or your brothers, or any of the things you just said.”

The creature pulled Sam closer toward it, and Sam let out another whimper.

“Why are you protecting him?” said the creature. “You said he wasn’t your friend. You don’t even like him.”

“If I have to explain to you why I don’t just want to let you eat a person, then you don’t get it.”

The creature turned Sam upright, holding him inches from the skeletal faces between its eyes. Sam was more alert now–enough to struggle weakly against the tendrils wrapped his arms and legs.

“What do you have to say for yourself, Samuel Alexander? Do you have any last words?”

“Wha..? What…?”

“Those aren’t very good last words,” said the creature.

The creature wound more and more limbs around Sam, until the mass of black tendrils began to resemble a cocoon. Not knowing what else to do, Lachlan removed his remaining shoe and reared his arm back, preparing to throw it.

It had worked once, after all.

Before he had a chance to throw the shoe, the creature jolted backward, unwrapping several of its tendrils from around Sam.

“Stop doing that!” said the creature.

“Me?” said Lachlan. “I’m not doing anything, I don’t think.”

The creature jolted again, and more tendrils came loose from Sam’s body.

“I wasn’t talking to you!” The creature pointed a tendril beyond Lachlan, somewhere behind him. “I was talking to him!”

Lachlan lowered his shoe and turned to see who or what was behind him. He expected another monster, but what he saw was even stranger than that.

“Oh, no fucking way.”

An extremely ordinary-looking medium-sized dog, white with brown spots, stood with its teeth bared and hackles raised, staring down the creature. The dog growled, and the creature jolted again.

Lachlan sighed. There might as well be a fucking super-powered dog here. It made just as much sense as anything else in this place.

The creature reached a tendril for the dog, but the dog jostled it again, and the tendril whipped back toward the creature, striking it across its mass of faces. More tendrils unwound from Sam.

“Stop!” said the creature. “Stop that!”

The creature jolted again, and this time, it lost its grip on Sam. He fell to the ground. After a moment, he lifted himself onto his hands and knees and began to crawl away. The monster reached for him again, and the dog barked furiously and jolted it again.

Lachlan looked down at Sam. He didn’t look strong enough to stand on his own, and the dog–what was up with that anyway?–wouldn’t be able to keep protecting him forever. Lachlan wasn’t especially strong, but Sam was a bit smaller than he was. He might be able to carry him for long enough to get away from the skull-tendril-thing.

Lachlan dropped his shoe, leaned down, and grabbed Sam under his arms.

Goodbye, new sneaker I only got to wear once. You didn’t go out in a blaze of glory like your brother, but you will be missed nonetheless.

“Come on,” said Lachlan. “Let’s go. Up you come.”

Sam made a weak noise of protest, but didn’t resist as Lachlan hoisted him to his feet. Lachlan bent down, draping Sam across his shoulders and lifting him fireman-style, trying to ignore the overwhelming, sickening copper smell coming from Sam’s blood-drenched clothing.

Carrying Sam was a difficult balance, moving quickly enough to get as far from the monster as possible, but not quickly enough to end up stumbling.

Lachlan heard the monster’s annoyed shouts behind him as he trudged forward, feeling as though his legs were going to give out at any second under his and Sam’s combined weight.

This wasn’t working. The concrete stretched flat around him as far as he could see, with nowhere to hide from the monster’s line of sight. He wasn’t strong enough to hold onto Sam for much longer. He had to think of something else.

Something caught his eye about ten meters away, an indentation in the concrete. As he headed closer to it, he saw it was a ragged hole in the floor. He could see the inside of a drop ceiling a little less than a meter below, and see the light through the cracks between tiles.

Lachlan glanced back at the creature, who was still distracted, locked in bizarre, telekinetic combat with the dog.

Drop ceilings weren’t meant to hold any weight, were they? Well, now was as good a time as any to find out.

He placed Sam down, sliding him carefully down the ragged concrete toward the opening. Then, he climbed down after him. He crouched down, trying to lower Sam as carefully as possible into the ceiling.

“No,” mumbled Sam. “No.”

“No?” said Lachlan. “Where do you suggest we hide from that thing, then?”

“No.” said Sam. “Won’t… won’t hold.”

Lachlan lowered Sam onto the ceiling tiles. They sagged under his weight.

“Right now, your options are A: probably fall through a ceiling or B: definitely get eaten by a giant squid thing made of skulls. Now, this is just my humble opinion, but my strong recommendation would be A.”

Lachlan climbed into the hole, keeping his distance from Sam to ensure there wasn’t too much weight on the tiles in one place. He heard the support beams creak as they bent under him.

“Won’t hold,” said Sam again.

“Go ahead, then,” said Lachlan. “Out you climb. Run into that thing’s waiting, open tentacles like you’re the heroine in insert-generic-romantic-comedy-here.”

Sam remained lying where he was.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” said Lachlan.

In the dim light, he thought he saw Sam frown at him. They were silent for a moment, then Sam spoke, his voice still shaky.

“What now?”

“Now?” said Lachlan. “Now, all we can do is wait.”

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