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Lachlan felt the support beams bending under him as he rose up onto his knees. With about a meter of concrete sloping steeply on either side of the hole, he couldn’t see anything on the surface. He stood up carefully and leaned forward onto the concrete, taking some of his weight off the flimsy tiles beneath him.

If he craned his neck enough, he could just barely see over the concrete. No sign of the monster as far as he could tell.

The dog was still there, idly scratching his ear with his back paw like he hadn’t been in telepathic stand-off with a giant skull monster minutes before. He perked up when he spotted Lachlan, wagging his tail as he trotted toward him. He climbed down the concrete, sniffed Lachlan, then begin to lick his ear. Lachlan laughed, reaching up to pet the dog’s head.

“Good boy,” Lachlan said. “I don’t know why the fuck you’re here, but good boy. You’re the first non-horrifying being I’ve encountered in this place, and yes, I’m including Sam in that.”

The dog wagged his tail.

“Huh?” said Sam.

“A dog,” said Lachlan. “He helped me save you from that skull thing.”


“Yeah,” said Lachlan. “I don’t think he’s a normal dog, though. He was doing something to the monster, disrupting it somehow. He made it drop you so I could awesomely and heroically carry you to safety. Then, I guess he drove it off. Didn’t you, boy?”

The dog hopped in place and wagged his tail.

“Wh…wuh?” said Sam.

Lachlan turn his head to look down at Sam, who lay on his side with his eyes half-shut. It was hard to tell in the dark, but it looked like some of the color had returned to his face.

“So, uh, are you alright?” said Lachlan.

It felt like a stupid question as soon as he said it.

“Right, you just had your fingers eaten off and were almost devoured by a skull squid creature. So, I’m thinking the answer to my question is probably a resounding ‘no’?”

“My… my fingers?”

Lachlan took a deep breath. As irritating as Sam was, someone who’d been through everything he’d been through deserved a delicate, gentle approach. Lachlan never been a particularly delicate or gentle person, so he tried to chose his words carefully.

“Yeah, I’m… I’m sorry. I stopped the bleeding as much as I could, but… she got two of your fingers.”

Sam held his right hand in front of his face.

“Fingers,” he repeated.

“She, uh, left the thumbs, though,” said Lachlan. “So that’s good.”

Stupid. Not helpful. Why did he say that?

Sam cupped his left hand over his right.

“Hurts,” he said.

“Yeah, I can imagine it hurts,” Lachlan said. “The good news is, you’re probably going to be alright.”

“Alright?” said Sam.

“Yeah,” said Lachlan. “Losing a finger is very rarely life threatening.”

“You’re a doctor now?” mumbled Sam. “Doctor Chicken.”

“And you’re making annoying remarks. That’s a positive sign,” said Lachlan. “I read it in a book, if you must know.”

“In a book?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know how you feel about them.”

“Book about… losing fingers?”

“Actually, it was about mechatronic hand and finger design,” said Lachlan. “That sort of thing’s right up your alley, isn’t it? Being a brilliant engineer, and all.”

“I like mechatronics,” said Sam. “Don’t like books.”

“Maybe when we get out of here, you can design yourself a set of awesome bionic cyborg fingers that shoot lasers. Pew, pew.”

“Pew, pew,” mumbled Sam.

“That’s right. Pew, pew.”

Sam shifted position, and Lachlan heard a cracking sound from the ceiling beneath them.

“Well, fuck,” said Lachlan. “That doesn’t sound good.”

He reached up the concrete slope until he found two jutting pieces to use as handholds. The concrete stung his chest and arms through his shirt as he pulled himself out of the opening. He held on tight, his socked feet sliding before they found a grip on the surface. He rolled over, wincing as the cold, rough concrete scratched against his back, and sat up.

The dog stepped into Lachlan’s lap with his front paws, and looked at him expectantly. Lachlan scratched behind the dog’s ears.

“I’m going to take a wild guess, Samurai, and say you’re probably not in good enough shape to climb out of there on your own.”

“Nuh,” said Sam.

“Alright,” said Lachlan. “That presents a problem.”


“A problem,” said Lachlan. “The ceiling is slowly collapsing beneath you, and I need to figure out how to get you out of there without making it even more collapse-y before–“

As if on cue, and the support beam beneath Sam bent down at a sharp angle, and two of the tiles attached to it crumble to pieces, sending Sam plummeting toward the floor below.

Before Lachlan could react, Sam shot back up out of the hole as though he’d been thrown into the air. He soared into the air, sailing at least ten meters above Lachlan’s head, then hurtled downward.

As though invisible hands had reached out to catch him, Sam stopped centimeters short of the concrete and hung suspended in the air.

The dog stood still with his eyes fixed on Sam, his ears pricked in concentration.

“Holy fuck,” said Lachlan.

The dog looked away and relaxed his ears, and Sam dropped to the ground. Lachlan walked toward him, and the dog followed.

Sam was trembling a little as he used his good hand to push himself into a sitting position. The dog nudged him with his nose.

Sam winced as he cradled his left hand.

“Hurts… so bad.”

“Can I have a look?”

Sam nodded. Lachlan crouched next to him and carefully picked up his right hand. He wasn’t sure what to look for, but the blood had stopped soaking through the makeshift bandage.

“It looks like the bleeding stopped.”

Sam winced.

“Still hurts.”

“Look on the bright side. Just think. Once you’ve made your bionic cyborg laser fingers, you won’t even miss those crummy ones.”

Sam groaned in pain.

“Hey.” Lachlan gently let go of Sam’s hand. “As much as it pains me to admit it, you’re handling this like a champion.”

“A champion?”

“Yeah. You just lost two fingers. I wouldn’t blame you if you were screaming and crying right now, but you’re talking to me. You’re semi-coherent.”

Sam groaned again. The dog whimpered, his brown eyes large with concern, and nudged Sam with his nose again.

“Dog?” said Sam.

“Dog,” said Lachlan.

Sam patted the dog’s head weakly with his good hand.

“Nikola,” said Sam.

“Nikola?” said Lachlan. “Who…?”

“The dog,” said Sam. “Nikola.”

Lachlan frowned.

“You want to name the dog Nikola?”

Sam nodded.

“Nikola?” said Lachlan. “No. No, that’s not a dog. That’s an elderly Croatian man. I’m not letting you call him Nikola.”

“Nikola,” Sam repeated.

Lachlan sighed.

“Fine. I’m letting you have this. But only because I’m exceedingly generous and because you just lost two of your extremities. Hello, Nikola.”

Lachlan patted Nikola’s back, and Nikola flopped happily onto the floor.

Something caught his eye on the inside of one of Nikola’s back legs, a hexagonal mark with a rectangular one beneath it.

“Hm,” said Lachlan. “Weird.”

Sam responded with a questioning grunt.

“Nikola’s got a tattoo,” said Lachlan. “It looks like a logo of some sort, and a bar code.”

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