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Chelsea felt Belfry trembling on her shoulder and reached up to stroke his head.

Poor thing. She couldn’t blame him at all; she was pretty sure she was trembling a bit too.

“Angelina,” she said. “Can you tell Belfry everything’s okay? I think he’s shaken up from falling into another reality.”

“Nicky’s freaked out too,” said Nancy.

The dog licked his lips and let out a nervous whine.

“That’s hardly surprising,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Animals are sensitive to all kinds of things humans can’t pick up on.”

Falcon signed something. Mahender, who’d been relaying everyone’s words to Falcon, attempted to translate.

“Sorry… the Stanley fab hand signals don’t translate well to English, so it’s hard to give a word for word,” he said. “He’s asking if we should be worried about what they’re picking up on.”

“Probably,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Like I said before, we’re in a completely alien–“

“What’s that in the sky?” interrupted Angelina.

“What have I said about interrupting…” Mrs. Sharma trailed off as she looked up at the sky.

A long, black line had appeared in the sky just above the wall of greenery surrounding the garden. A breeze began to rustle the leaves around them.

Nancy’s dog whined again.

“I don’t feel so good all of a sudden,” said Sam.

At first, Chelsea thought he meant he didn’t feel good because the strange line in the sky was making him nervous. Then she realized she was starting to feel nauseous and dizzy too.

“Well,” said Lachlan. “This is unsettling.”

The breeze grew in strength, whipping Chelsea’s hair into her eyes and obscuring her view. Her ears popped.

“It’s probably some kind of alien weather phenomenon,” said Mrs. Sharma. “I think we should start looking for shelter. There’s no way of knowing what kind of–“

Mrs. Sharma never got to finish her sentence, because the breeze picked up into a roaring wind. Chelsea’s hair flew upward into her face, some of it catching in her eyes, and under her nose. A metal taste hit her mouth, and she realized her hair was getting stuck under her nose because it was bleeding. A wave of dizziness and nausea washed over her, so intense she fell into a small tree and had to hold onto the trunk for balance. Belfry’s claws dug into her shoulder as he tightened his grip.

Through the hair in her face, she could see the rest of the group wavering too, some of them grabbing onto nearby objects for balance. Angelina had fallen back into the plant she’d climbed out of, and Jen had splashed backward into the fountain and was picking herself back up again. Nancy, unable to grab anything for security without dropping her dog, started to fall backward, but Mahender caught her shoulders from behind and steadied her. Sam grabbed Lachlan’s shoulder for balance, sending both of them crashing to the ground.

It was hard to tell, but it looked like most of the group had nosebleeds too. Sam’s was the worst–bad enough that a few drops had escaped his chin and were rolling down his chest.

Lachlan was pointing at the sky, shouting something Chelsea couldn’t hear over the roaring wind.

When she looked up, it took a few seconds for her to control the hair that was whipping into her face enough to get a clear view.

The thin line had expanded into a wide gash, and it was growing by the second.

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Keep Me–Interlude 24

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Nancy cracked the door of the plane to peer out, and a medium-sized brown and white dog pushed its way through, opening the door and hopping down to the ground. It barked as it spotted them, the hair on its back prickling upward as it eyed the Brothers uncertainly.

Nancy looked equally uncertain when she saw them.

“Would you all mind standing back?” Mahender said to the brothers.

He knew what Nancy had been through, and what his brothers reminded her of, so he was always careful when he visited her with them.

The Brothers backed up, except for Falcon, who stood glancing uncertainly between Nancy and Mahender. Mahender nodded at him, and he stepped forward with the humans of the group. The dog trotted forward to greet the group, heading toward Sam and Lachlan. The two boys bent down to pet the dog.

“Aw!” said Jen. “Puppy!”

She crouched down to pet it too. Its tail swung wildly back and forth at all the attention.

Mahender had seen the dog a few times, usually from a distance. Once, it had even saved him from a particularly large sister. Usually, though, it gave him and his brothers a wide berth. He couldn’t exactly blame it.

He knew from his many conversations with her that Nancy loved dogs. She’d had pet dogs all her life, and it was one of the things she missed most about home. He wasn’t sure how the two had found each other, but he was glad.

“Mahender.” Nancy’s eyes widened as she took in the large group. “And Sam, and Lachlan, and… sorry, I can’t remember your name.”

Mona Aunty frowned.

“It’s Mona, ma’am.”

“Mona, right, of course,” said Nancy, “and… a lot of new faces too.”

Jen, Angelina, Naomi, and Chelsea introduced themselves. Falcon waved.

“Do you mind if one of my brothers comes forward with the group? This is Falcon. He’s deaf and needs a translator.”

“Of course,” said Nancy. “That’s fine.”

st63, the Brother with a skirt of tentacles stepped forward. The dog tucked its tail and made its way back to the plane, turning around to eye st63 suspiciously.

“It’s nice to meet you,” signed Falcon.

“Hello again,” said Lachlan.

“I’m always happy to have visitors,” said Nancy. “But to what do I owe this large crowd? I didn’t know this many people were stuck here.”

“Most of them got here fairly recently,” said Mona Aunty. “We’re here because one of these kids thinks she knows how to get home.”

Nancy stared at them for a few seconds. Then, she finally spoke.


“Yes, home. There aren’t any guarantees, of course. But she’s explained her reasoning to me, and the logic seems solid. This is the first time I’ve come across anything resembling a real chance at getting out of here, so I think we should take it.”

“Can I ask how we get home?”

“All we have to do is stand in a specific place at a specific time,” said Angelina. “If we all scrunch together, the hole that opens in reality should take us home.”

Nancy looked beyond the group at the Brothers standing there.

“And will… everyone here be going?”

Mahender looked back at the creatures he’d come to think of as his Brothers. He’d been so excited at the prospect of going home, of seeing his mum again, that the thought hadn’t even occurred to him.

“Our home is here,” said st98.

Mahender noticed Falcon fidgeting uneasily with his sleeve.

It seemed like Mahender wasn’t the only person who was conflicted.

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The Fear–Interlude 23

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Nicky stood up from his resting spot in Nancy’s lap and barked.

Nancy startled, looking up from the word game she was playing on an old piece of paper. It was hard to entertain herself in this place. For a while, she’d passed the time by reading through the plane’s owner’s manual, until the pages had started to come lose and wear away at the corners where she’d turned them. Then, she’d met Mahender, and he’d started bringing her supplies from the town, sometimes books and even a pair of magnifying reading glasses.

She’d read through most of the books he’d brought her that were in English, so she’d devised another way of entertaining herself. She’d find lines of Italian text and try to make as many English words out of the letters as she could. It was a lot more fun than reading the airplane owner’s manual, especially with a warm dog curled up in her lap.

Nicky wasn’t curled up now; he was standing at attention, his ears pricked forward as he looked out the window. He barked again, this time a series of three quick barks–“Arf-arf-arf!”

Nancy craned her neck to look out the window. It was rarely a good sign when Nicky barked.

“What is it, buddy?” said Nancy.

Nancy removed her reading glasses and squinted out the window towards the subject of Nicky’s attention. She could make out something heading toward them, but couldn’t tell who or what it was.

As it got closer, she could see it was a large group of figures. She let herself relax a fraction. Only the creatures Mahender was friends with traveled in large groups like that, and they almost never gave her any trouble.

“It’s okay, Nicky,” she said. “You’re a silly boy. It’s just Mahender’s friends.”

She knew how responsive dogs were to tone of voice, so she tried to keep her tone relaxed and chipper.

“Aroo,” said Nicky, not taking his eyes off the window.

“You’re right,” said Nancy. “You’re not being silly. They give me the creeps too.”

She wasn’t afraid of the Brothers, exactly. She hadn’t felt real fear in a long time, and she knew on a logical level they wouldn’t hurt her. But sometimes, those horrible snaking limbs reminded her of the Sisters, and when they moved a certain way, she couldn’t help but picture them wrapping around her father’s neck.

Her father’s last moments were something she pictured a lot, so often that she was almost used to it. She’d gotten good at filing it neatly away in the back of her mind when it appeared, tucking it back into storage and moving on with her day. She didn’t think she would have been able to function otherwise.

Having Nicky made her objectively safer, and she wouldn’t have traded him for anything, but she’d almost been more on edge since those boys had given him to her. She wasn’t alone anymore, which meant now there was a risk of experiencing that awful loss all over again. Of standing there, powerless to act, screaming and screaming until her throat was raw because screaming was better than doing nothing. In that moment, her head clouded by adrenaline and horror, she’d truly believed that maybe if she was loud enough, she could scream the danger away and her father would be okay.

She filed the thought back into her brain’s storage and looked out the window again.

As the group got closer, Nancy could see the larger shapes were flanking smaller, more human-sized figures. At first, she thought the larger brothers were protecting the smaller ones. Then, she noticed the variation in the smaller figures.

As they got even closer, she started to recognize some of them. Mahender, his strange aunt, and the two boys she’d met earlier were among the group. Four girls she didn’t recognize also walked with them.

“It’s okay, Nicky.” Nancy scratched the dog’s head. “These look like friends. The question is, what are they doing here?”

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“How’s your hand?” said Lachlan.

Sam shrugged.

“It doesn’t really hurt anymore.”

“Numbness probably isn’t a great sign,” said Lachlan. “I should probably have another look at it.”

“You keep saying that like you have any medical expertise.”

“Well, I’ve read books about first aid, and–“

“Oh. You’ve read books about it. Well, in that case,” said Sam. “Never fear, everyone. Doctor Chicken, MD is on the case, armed with his wealth of most-likely-inaccurate, text-based knowledge.”

“Well, alrighty then. Excuse me for graciously offering my help,” said Lachlan. “Besides, I don’t know about you, but I don’t see too many actual doctors around here.”

Sam shrugged again, rubbing his hands over his arms. He’d shed his blood-drenched shirt and now wore only a thin, white singlet that was now dotted with flecks of dark red. He had to have been cold.

“It doesn’t really matter, anyway. My hand feels fine.”

“Your fingers were just eaten off. You were delirious and barely conscious less than an hour ago. Your hand can’t possibly feel fine.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, man. My hand doesn’t hurt anymore.” Sam stopped walking and squinted at something ahead of him. “Hey. What’s that?”

Lachlan looked ahead of him. They’d come much closer to the speck on the horizon he’d noticed earlier–close enough to see that it was a small white plane.

“That would appear to be an aeroplane.”

“A what?”

“An aeroplane.”

“I don’t know what that is,” said Sam.

“You… don’t?” said Lachlan. “How much blood did you lose? It’s an aeroplane. You know–it’s got wings, it flies through the air. You can’t possibly tell me that doesn’t ring any bells.”

“Are you trying to say ‘airplane’?”

Sam smirked as though Lachlan was mispronouncing the word in some hilarious way.

“Sure.” Lachlan frowned at Sam. “If you want to pronounce it wrong.”

“I knew you weren’t the sharpest, but I can’t believe even you wouldn’t know the pronunciation of the word ‘airplane’.”

“And I can’t believe a brilliant engineer such as yourself wouldn’t know that it’s pronounced ‘aeroplane’.”

“It’s an airplane,” said Sam. “It flies through the air.”

“Yes, of course,” said Lachlan. “An airplane. Flown by an air-naught, performing air-batics, designed by an air-dynamicist.”

The boys continued their debate as they headed toward the plane.


“‘Airplane’ isn’t a real word,” said Lachlan as they approached the plane.

“Is so,” said Sam.

They were near enough to make out the plane’s details now. It was about eight meters longs, with a three-bladed propeller and a V-shaped tail. It was white with a dark blue accent stripe down the side, and though the fuselage was scratched and dented, the coat of paint still gleamed in the dim light.

“Is not,” said Lachlan as he ran his hand over the top of the wing.

“Is so,” said Sam.

“Tsk, tsk,” said Lachlan. “‘Is so.’ Such petty, childish bickering.”

“You were bickering childishly too,” said Sam.

“Eh.” Lachlan shrugged.

“Besides,” said Sam, “you started it.”

“Oh, right, and your saying ‘you started it’ makes you the epitome of maturity.”

Nikola sniffed one of the plane’s wheels warily, and Lachlan noticed the tires were almost completely shredded around their metal rims. Trailing behind the plane were gouges in the concrete that curved and wavered where the plane had skidded out of control.

“Looks like someone had a rough landing,” said Lachlan. “How did this get here?”

“That’s a actually a decent question,” said Sam. “It’s not a very big plane, but there’s no way it would’ve fit in the chamber I was in before I ended up here.”

Lachlan approached the plane’s doors, preparing to step onto the wing walk area. Sam put his good hand on Lachlan’s arm, stopping him.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing, dingus?” said Lachlan. “I’m going to look inside. There could be something useful in there, like a first aid kit or information that could help us get home. Or a change of clothes, because I don’t know about you, but I am fucking freezing, and in case you haven’t noticed, we’re both covered in your blood, and I am absolutely going to spew if I have to smell it for one more second.”

“There might be another monster,” said Sam. “The last time you opened a door resulted in my fingers being eaten off.”

Sam did have a point.

“I’ll look in the window first,” said Lachlan.

Lachlan climbed onto the wing walk and peered into a window. The plane looked empty except for a bundle of blankets in one of the back seats, so he opened the door to the cockpit and sat in the pilot’s seat.

“All clear. No beasties or gremlins to be found in here.” Lachlan patted the seat beside him. “Come on in and have a seat, Samurai. You can be my first officer.”

Sam stood on the wing, leaning down to look through the door.

“First officer? Yeah, right. I’d be the captain.”

“In your dreams.” Lachlan reached for a headset lying on top of the cockpit controls. “Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is speedbird foxtrot-alpha-bravo. Our position is ‘fuck this,’ and our current heading is also ‘fuck this.'”

Sam climbed into the seat beside Lachlan and pulled the headset off his head.

“I thought you were getting in the plane to look for supplies, not to mess around.”

“I’ll have you know that I can do both,” said Lachlan.

He spotted a silver flask on top of the controls and reached for it.

“See? Look. Supplies.”

“Should we be concerned that we found that in the cockpit of an airplane? No wonder they crash landed,” said Sam. “That hardly counts as supplies, by the way.

“Speak for yourself.” Lachlan shrugged. “I, for one, could use a drink or 20 after the day I’ve had.”

Lachlan opened the flask and took a sip. It was a liquor he couldn’t identify, something with a pungent, bitter, herby taste. Whatever it was, the burning in his throat and chest told him it would do its job.

“Of course you’re into underage drinking,” said Sam. “That explains a lot about you.”

“Underage? I’m 18.”

“So? The legal drinking age is 21.”

“Not where I’m from, it’s not.”

Lachlan tried not to wince as he took another sip. He offered the flask to Sam, who waved it away.

“No way. That stuff will melt your brain.”

“That’s why I drink it,” said Lachlan.

“At least now I know what happened to all your brain cells,” said Sam.

“You know, it occurs to me that as much as I’d hate to waste this sweet, sweet alcohol, this would probably not do too shabby a job disinfecting your hand.”

“Disinfecting my hand is a waste?” said Sam.

“Yup,” said Lachlan, “but it’s a sacrifice I am graciously willing to make. Give me your hand.”

Sam frowned, but he held out his hand. Lachlan made a face as he unwound the blood-encrusted cloth strips from Sam’s hand, bracing himself for the grisly sight awaiting him. He stopped when he saw the skin under the makeshift bandages and congealed blood.

“What the motherfuck?”

“Uh oh,” said Sam. “Is it that bad?”

“No,” said Lachlan. “Just the opposite, in fact. Have a look for yourself.”

Sam squinted down at his hand, his brow scrunching up with confusion.

“Okay. That… is not normal.”

The stumps where his fingers had been were completely healed over, without even a trace of a scar.

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Angelina sat beside Chelsea on the couch, eating cheese and crackers from a plate Chelsea had brought her. Belfry was snoring softly, curled up in the corner of the couch like a cat or dog.

Belfry had done a surprisingly good job bandaging her considering how tiny his hands were, but her bandages still felt uncomfortably loose. Luckily, the nightgown Chelsea had found for her was several sizes too large, so it didn’t rub against the bandages too much. The fabric was very thin, though. Angelina shivered, pulling her blanket up to her chin and moved closer to Chelsea.

Chelsea shifted position, moving further away from Angelina. Angelina scooted closer again and noticed that Chelsea’s face had turned pink again.

Oops, she must have been moving away because she was overheated again. Angelina mumbled an apology and moved back to the center of the couch.

It was surprising Chelsea was so overheated when Angelina was freezing. Oh well, Canada was a lot colder than Italy, she guessed.

“So we’re in a town that disappeared four years ago?” said Chelsea. “How is that possible?”

“I don’t know, exactly,” said Angelina. “Naomi wouldn’t tell me anything, but Falcon said she told Melanie about a pit between realities where CPSI can send people and stuff and it gave me an idea.”

“I think I see where this is going.”

“Yeah! Everyone thought the town was destroyed, but when I heard about the pit thing, I knew the town must be there. And here it is! And here you are!”

“Here I am.” Chelsea smiled. “I’m glad you found me.”

“Me too!”

Angelina lifted her arm to hug Chelsea, then remembered she was overheated. She patted Chelsea’s arm instead. The pat felt awkward, but if Chelsea noticed, she didn’t show it.

“I’m still a little confused, though,” said Chelsea. “A pit between realities?”

“I don’t really know what that means, if I’m being honest,” said Angelina. “I think Naomi knew, but she wouldn’t tell me.”

“What about this little guy?” Chelsea gestured to Belfry. “Did he tell you anything?”

“Not a lot about this place,” said Angelina. “He mostly talked about you. He said you saved his life, and you’re very brave and beautiful.”

“Aw,” said Chelsea. “That’s so sweet. I don’t know how brave I was, though. All I did was whack a monster with a broom.”

“I stabbed a monster with scissors,” said Angelina.

“See? That’s so much braver than my thing,” said Chelsea. “The fearless warrior, Princess Angelina, plunges her migthy sword into the beast’s heart.”

Angelina smiled. This was one of the reasons she loved Chelsea so much.

“It was one of her necks, actually, and it wasn’t really that brave and cool,” said Angelina. “Belfry seemed to think you were really brave, though. He kept calling you an angel.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.”

“It’s funny, because when I first saw you in this place, that’s what I thought too.”

“What is?”

“That you were an angel.”

“Oh, I, um…” Chelsea laughed. “Okay, wow.”

Her face turned pink again, and this time, Angelina didn’t think it was because she was overheating.

“Sorry,” said Angelina. “Was that weird? Should I not have said that? I just meant because I thought I was dead, and because you’re really pretty like an angel. But now you look embarrassed.”

Chelsea’s face went from pink to red.

Oops, maybe Angelina shouldn’t have pointed out how embarrassed Chelsea looked. People tended not to like it when she did that.

“Oh, no,” Chelsea fanned herself with her hand. “Just, um, overheated.”

“Oh, okay!” said Angelina.

Well, that was a relief. Chelsea wasn’t embarrassed after all.



“Do you see that?” said Lachlan. “That little speck on the horizon?”

“I have 20/100 vision,” said Sam. “So, no.”

“What do you think it is?” said Lachlan.

“I can’t see it,” said Sam, “so I don’t know.”

Sam’s voice sounded strained. Lachlan wasn’t sure if it was from pain or annoyance. Possibly both.

“If you want my not-so-humble opinion–“

“I absolutely never do,” interrupted Sam.

“Ahem. Incredibly rude. As I was saying, if you want my not-so-humble opinion, I think that we should head toward it.”

When Sam didn’t respond, Lachlan continued.

“And why do you think we should head toward it, Lachlan? Tell me more,” Lachlan said, mimicking an American accent. Then he switched to his normal voice. “Well, I’m glad you asked, my Samurai friend. I think we should head toward it because it’s the only thing on this featureless plane as far as we can see. Maybe it’s just a lump of concrete, maybe it’s another person–“

“Maybe it’s another monster,” said Sam.

Lachlan patted Nikola’s side. Nikola wagged his tail.

“If it’s another monster, we’ll have Niko the wonder dog here for our protection.”

“Not Niko,” said Sam. “His name is Nikola.”

“Oh, come on,” said Lachlan. “Nikola is a shit name for a dog and you know it.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“I’m shortening his name to Niko and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Nikola growled.

“See?” said Lachlan. “He hates the name Nikola as much as I do.”

Nikola growled again, his hackles bristling. He began to bark.

“I think that’s dog-ese for ‘I hate my name’,” said Lachlan.

Sam pointed at the concrete in front of them. It was splitting open, cracks splintering outward as though something massive was rising from the room beneath. Black tendrils erupted from the cracks, reaching toward them.

“No,” said Sam. “It’s dog-ese for ‘we’re in trouble’.”

The concrete burst open around Lachlan and Sam as more and more tendrils spilled forth.

Lachlan whipped around to run away, and saw more cracks in the concrete in front of him, more monstrous limbs writhing toward him.

Dozens of figures rose from the concrete–masses of skeletal faces melted together into vaguely humanoid shapes with short tendrils trailing from their lower halves.

“I hate this place,” Sam muttered. “I hate this place. I hate this place. I hate this place.”

Nikola growled, looking back and forth between the figures as though he wasn’t sure which threat to focus on.

“Hello again,” came a voice from behind him.

Lachlan felt a jolt of panic as he recognized that voice–the voice that sounded like a demon possessing a TV commentator.

“Not the fucking skull squid again,” he said.

“I’m afraid so,” said the skull squid, “and this time, I brought company.”

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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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