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A note from argusthecat

April Fools

James itched at the back of his neck as he shot down another suggestion. “We’re not calling the dragon ‘ITiamat’. It sounds like an Apple product.” He paused for a second, then added, “Also it's a really deep cut, and I want my puns to be accessible.”

 

“To the thousands we share the Office with, right.” Alanna rolled her eyes. “Also you already used an Apple kinda name anyway with the iLipedes anyway.”

 

“Exactly!” James exclaimed. “I don’t want to repeat myself.”

 

“Okay, *fine*.” Alanna groaned. “What about Smog? Or maybe Sysmaug? Like, the dragon Smaug, but because it’s machinery…” She trailed off, leaving James to make the obvious connection himself.

 

He made the connection, then shook his head. “Sysmaug is kinda cool. But it still doesn’t make much sense, unless you count the dire blue smoke of electrical failure as ‘smog’. And I don’t, before you ask. What about giving it a proper name? Like… I dunno, Rootworm or something? Like, combine computer terms that sound really grim if you say them with emphasis.”

 

“How is that *any* better than my suggestion earlier? You’re just trading D&D lore references for technical ones!”

 

“I… thought it rolled off the tongue!” James drawled out. “How about we just retcon it so that I never said ‘maimframe’ when we encountered the giant shellaxy, and pretend that it’s a good nickname for the dragon.”

 

Alanna frumped at him. “It’s a *great* nickname for a dragon, and you should have saved it. Because now, we all think of it as the giant squid-mounted ordinance platform, and you’ll confuse people, probably at a dramatically important moment, if you change it. What about…” A small sigh. “I dunno, fuck it, what about just the word ‘hardware’? Like, as a kind of reductive term instead of your weird taxonomic application to this place?”

 

That got a wince from James as he wavered his head back and forth. “Eeehhhh. I don’t like the idea of reductive names like that. Although, it does make me regret that we never encountered anything that was, like, bear shaped? Could have called it a hardbear and that would have been…” Alanna quirked an eyebrow at him. “Okay, yeah, no, I heard it as soon as the words came out. Nevermind.”

 

She smiled, then deflected back to the main topic. “What other computer terms can we turn into puns?” Needlessly counting on her fingers, she ticked off a few options. “Disc, network, program, software, *vaporware*, gig…”

 

“Gigabyte kinda does sound like a good dragon name.” James shrugged. “But then it’s just a word again..”

 

“Oh. Oh!” Alanna flailed her arms in front of herself as she got an idea. “Terabyte! But, like, *terror*byte! Cause it’s a …!”

 

“Cause it’s a big fucking dragon, yeah, I get it. Yeah!” James nodded with a toothy grin. “Terrorbyte it is!” The duo high fived energetically before turning back to the other people in the room.

 

“We choose Terrorbyte!” They cheerfully exclaimed in unison, with self satisfied smiles. Both of them felt the sting on their faces as the smiles conflicted with the bruises that had formed since the brawl in the conference room, but they were also just overwhelmingly pleased with themselves and pushed the pain aside.

 

Fifteen faces stared back at them, divided between incredulous and amused. Other James leaned slightly to the right, and in a voice he probably thought was inconspicuous but that nonetheless was easily heard in the silence, asked Theo “Is it always like this?” Next to him, his teammates, Simon and…. James wanted to say the girls name was Alex, but he knew that was someone else. Yeah, that was definitely the other girl sitting on the left side of the circle, next to the older man who was currently scowling at him. What was the goth girl’s name? Miyah? Momo? Momo sounded right. Either way, they were on Team Smirk.

 

“You fuckers!” Theo snapped at them. “We’re in a life or death situation and you’re screwing around! Did you forget we’re on a timeline here?”

 

James lost his smile, the spark of amusement crushed by the sudden shame, before Alanna jumped in to his defense. “Hey, fuck off!” She opened with, perhaps unhelpfully. “We already know we’re gonna make it with a few hours to spare, even if we don’t run, and this sorta thing is good for morale.”

 

Before he lost that small feeling of satisfaction, James nodded and chimed in. “Yeah, except for that guy’s morale.” Pointing over to the older gentleman with the salt and pepper beard framing an angry scowl. “But you’re not wrong that we should get this meeting going.”

 

The meeting was Theo’s construct, but James agreed that it was important. Assembled here along with the obvious choices of himself, Alanna, Theo, and a Daniel who was far less cowering than he was before talking to James, were a handful of the survivors who had both the energy and will to do more than just move and then sprawl on the ground. Sarah was conspicuously absent, and even though she was just sleeping off her injuries and exhaustion, James still felt like he’d already gotten to know her well enough that he missed her presence. Still, the two scout groups that were rapidly turning into competent delvers in their own right were here. One of them led by Other James, the other one by a mid-forties woman named Karen, who seemed determined to take out her aggression over the misuse of her name on anything shaped like a stapler that looked at her wrong. There was also a man with his arm in a sling named Harvey who was a secondary representative for the survivors. He worked with Theo when it came to dealing out food and water, and also addressing complaints. Like a lot of people who’d been freed from the network, he had more than a few injuries from when his body had been fighting James and company, though his deeper skin tone hid the darker bruises. A couple other people had been included in this mostly because they had relevant skills. Deb was a girl who had been in school to become a nurse, and the medical knowhow was deeply appreciated, and Ethan was an arrogant twenty-something jackass who talked a lot about being on the football team and the importance of leadership. Actually, that last one was here to make him shut up, not for any real reason.

 

And then the last few were people with questions, some of them probably complaints, who just needed or wanted to talk to the leadership while they were all in one place. “Okay,” James said, pointing a finger at the older member of the meeting, “let’s start with you, Scowls. What’s up?”

 

The man, a one Herman Collins, harumphed in a way that made James think of a dog that just sniffed a grapefruit. “I have *spoken* to your secretary several times now, and I wish to complain that my rights are being trampled!” Theo rolled her eyes to the side, as if to say ‘get a load of this guy’. Baring her teeth, James gave her a placating wave before she could say anything rash, and motioned for the man to go on. “I have *requested* that I be allowed to hold sermons for my fellow believers, and been constantly denied! If we are imprisoned here, then..!” He punctuated his words by holding up a copy of the Bible and flicking it toward James.

 

Now James actually did cut him off. “I’m gonna stop you right there. First off, don’t call her my secretary, that’s rude.” The man’s face turned a shade of pale red as he frowned at James. “Second of all, I remember talking to… someone… about this before I fell asleep. We aren’t doing religious ceremonies in here because the *building is sentient, you goon*!”

He half yelled at the guy. “It’s not about your religious freedom, no one’s trying to steal your soul, man. Fuck, Theo’s… Catholic?”

 

“Protestant, you heretic.”

 

“Thanks. You can pray or whatever, but actual ritualistic stuff could be copied.” James explained, trying to sound patient. “Didn’t someone tell you that? Like, do you want to see what a sermon looks like when it’s performed by a desk fan and brainwashes you into worshiping the coffee maker?” He paused, then turned to Alanna. “Have we ever been attacked by a desk fan?”

 

She ruffled his hair, lightly pushing him away with a grin. “Don’t get distracted.”

 

“You are making a mockery of what it is to…!” Herman started to build up steam again.

 

“Stop it!” James snapped, hard anger in his words now. “We explained the reason to you, and expect you to be an adult! You’re twice my age! Act like it!” His eyes narrowed, and then he pointed out something that he just thought of. “Also, if that Bible came from in here, then it’s either going to have some messed up passages, or it’s… probably uncomfortably cursed. I’m not gonna tell you to destroy it, I know you won’t like that, but you shouldn’t bring it with you to be safe.” His words at the end, sadly, were mostly drowned out by Collin’s angry words. He’d started trying to talk over James as soon as he’d recovered from being yelled at, and eventually just gave up trying to convince the group, storming off in a rage.

 

Theo gave James an apologetic look, feeling the discomfort and tension in the circle. “I’m really sorry. I kept telling him, and he insisted on talking to someone else about it.”

 

“Jesus, what a jerk.” Alanna chimed in.

 

“Nice word choice.” James said, taking a deep breath. “Man, we’re in the middle of a fucking death trap of an office, why is he bringing this up *now*? He couldn’t just wait two days? We’re gonna have to set up a support group for a lot of these guys, spiritual guidance would have been super helpful *then*.” he gestured to the assembled others, “No offense, guys.”

 

“Oh, no, it’s fine!” It was Karen who spoke up. “We’re all just barely holding it together! I personally appreciate that you actually thought that far ahead.”

 

“I’m… thank you?” James raised his eyebrow in puzzlement. The tone that Karen had used was just so straightforward and earnest, it caught him off guard. Most of his experiences with people older than him over the last couple months had been them either chastising him, causing problems like old Herman there, or trying to murder him. This was different. “This is different, I don’t know how to react to actual compliments.” He admitted.

 

“It’s basic leadership skills.” Karen looked a bit sheepish now.

 

Cutting off any potential awkward non-flirting before it could happen, Alanna chimed in with a chuckle. “Okay, what’s next? Let’s get through the concerns before we move to planning.”

 

The concerns were all way easier to handle than that first one. No one wanted to start a cult or run off on their own, which was something James admitted to himself he'd been kind of worried about. One guy wanted some more experienced help to take some people around and gather up water jugs off the coolers, to deal with the ongoing rationing of water. That got approved, and assigned to James somehow, which he still wasn't clear on. The other was a suggestion on dealing with the bathroom problem. The problem being there were no bathrooms, and the smell wasn't a great addition to the experience. The suggestion was handled by Theo, who agreed they needed to at least try something, even if they were only here for a day or two. And then one person who wanted to know if the staplers were venomous. They were not.

 

James was pretty sure they were not. He shot a look over at Deb, who shrugged.

 

They probably were not.

 

“Alright.” James said, taking a breath after the last of the concerns had been dealt with. The group now was their medical staff, the scout teams, James and Alanna, and for some reason still the football player. Harvey had taken his leave to go pass on information to the other thirty-odd people who weren’t logistically able to cluster around for this, and James had been made kind of uncomfortable by the deference in his eyes when he’d wished James good luck. It felt like everyone was getting rapidly divided into people who saw him as a hero, and people who were insane, and that wasn’t great in *either* direction.

 

That was something to worry about later. Or hopefully never, if they made it out before tomorrow. “Now that we’ve got that taken care of. This is the strategy meeting.” He told them. “There is a bit of an obstacle coming up, and we need suggestions.”

 

With references from Alanna and Daniel, James laid out the issue to them. There was one door forward through the wall that they had no way to get over. Between them and that door, there was a dragon. The dragon seemed to be sleeping, and hadn’t shown any signs of waking up since then. The dragon was the size of a school bus, and probably hostile. What, then, he’d asked them, do we *do*?

 

“The obvious is to sneak past, right?” Theo said, with a voice like she knew she was walking into a trap.

 

James shook his head. “I mean, yes. But that’s the thing. What if it wakes up? Worst case, it wakes up in the middle of us getting people through, and it just cuts through the middle of the group.”

 

“Do we actually know it’s hostile?” Other James asked, his hand resting on the head of the rainbow shimmer in the rough shape of a dog sitting next to him. He had a smoker’s voice, or, at least, the voice of someone who hadn’t been hydrating properly for the last few days to five years. “It might not care if we just walk past.”

 

“That’s a good point. We’re in a kind of prisoner’s dilemma here.” James acknowledged. He got a few blank looks, so he fleshed out his point, speaking with his hands as he did so. “If we act peacefully, and it’s peaceful, then it’s easy. If we act hostile, then no matter what, it will respond hostile. Probably. But if we act peaceful, and it’s already hostile…”

 

Alanna summed it up with too much enthusiasm. “Then we’re fucked!”

 

“Yeah.” James grimaced.

 

“What if we make it fucked first, then?” Momo asked, running a hand through her short mohawk. “Like… we just get everyone and rush it?”

 

“We aren’t really armed for that, unless anyone’s found anything that works as a decent weapon?” Theo asked the assembled, while James looked at them hopefully. A series of shrugs and no’s crushed that dream, though. Karen’s group had found a nerf gun, and for a second James felt his heart leap into his chest, but then they pointed out that they’d tested it safely, and nothing had happened.

 

“Yeah, so, that’s a no go on the dragon slaying.” James told them. “Unless Sarah has some magic powers she hasn’t told us about, I don’t think we can manage it with…” He did some quick counting. “...eleven combat capable people, and one combat too-eager drone. And, again, no offense, but I don’t really think that you guys are gonna be as ready to fight a dragon as the rest of us after having spent months or years in that room.”

 

Ethan, the jock who was still wearing his high school colors shirt, chose now to chime in. “I could fight it!” He declared proudly.

 

Ignoring that, James moved on. “Any other suggestions?”

 

“No, really, I could take it! I’m not afraid, if we work together we can do it!” The guy didn’t let up.

 

James turned to him, trying not to be mad, and crushed his dreams anyway. “It’s not about being afraid of it or not, man. Though, you should be afraid. Did you miss when I said it was the size of a bus and made of sharp edges? *I’m* afraid of it.” That admission seemed to deflate Ethan’s bluster a bit. James didn’t notice, though, and added a line that maybe demoralized more than it helped. “If we work together, then I think we’re just gonna give it a self-serving buffet.”

 

“Ooookay.” Theo jumped in before James said anything else about how they were all on the precipice of mortal failure. “What about the wall?” She asked.

 

“What about it?” Alanna returned.

 

“What about going through it?” Theo clarified.

 

“We could probably find something heavy enough to break drywall.” One of the new delvers chimed in. “Wouldn't be impossible if we had multiple people working at it. Gotta be careful of the supports though. Or, are support beams something else this place ignores?”

 

“I'll get back to you on that.” James told him. “Daniel, you've got the map. Is this something we can do?”

 

The younger man started to answer tentatively. “Well, it should be possible, but the…”

 

“Yeah! See? I knew there was a way we could do it if we worked togeth…” Ethan plowed through the conversation like a cement truck, before James stopped him with a small frown.

 

“Dude, don't interrupt him. Save your motivational poster slogans for later, this is important.” Turning back to a relieved and embarrassed Daniel, and ignoring the look of betrayal Ethan shot him, James nodded for him to go on.

 

“The...um. The walls are actually really thick. Like, there's about a half mile of wall in there. It's like how it goes up technically forever, I think? We’d have to dig for a long time.” He looked around at everyone as their faces fell. “I'm really sorry.”

 

“Well, that's that one. What's next?” James asked

 

It was Alanna who answered, but what she said surprised him. “Hang on. Why *dont* we just do that?” She asked. To the confused crowd, she went on, “We know the door opens every week. If we can get past without losing anyone to a dragon, isn't that work just staying here another seven days? Is that really so bad?”

 

It was a plan that was equally cautious and disappointing. No one had found an item to melt walls, so it would be a week of solid, hard, backbreaking work to cut through two thousand feet of drywall. But they'd be alive. Unless…

 

“Unless we wake it up with the noise.” Karen pointed out. “Or it wakes up anyway and stumbles on us.”

 

“Or if it just takes too long.” James groaned. “A week, we could maybe do, but two? There isn't infinite food here. I think stuff respawns, but it can take a long time. We might be in real trouble trying to feed everyone for a fortnight.”

 

“Like...the game?” Ethan asked, a baffled look on his long nosed face

 

“Like the unit of time.” James didn't even pause with his response, like his subconscious had already prepared the verbal riposte.

 

It was Deb who sealed the plan as a no, though. “I dunno if you guys know, but there's a couple people who actually have medications they need. It seems like being plugged in fixed that, but now…”. She looked away, not wanting to say it. “Also everyone is malnourished, and it's only going to get worse if half our diet is candy.”

 

Alanna shrugged. “Yeah, makes sense. I wasn't really keen on it anyway.”

 

“Keen on it? Who talks like that?” James ribbed her, and got a real smile out of it.

 

“Hey, don't think I didn't notice that you talk like you're in a fantasy novel half the time.” She shot back.

 

“Forsooth.” Was all he said in reply, which got him a smile and a small kiss from the woman sitting with him. When he looked back to the group, he saw a few suppressed grins, but at this point, the embarrassment he might have felt was just shoved aside by logistical need, and casual love. “Okay, so, no demolitions. No fighting. Do we have *any* other plans?”

 

“Negotiate?” One of Karen’s team suggested, but she herself shot the idea down.

 

“It's what he said earlier.” Karen made an open handed gesture toward James. “If we try that, and we’re wrong, it...ah...eats us.”

 

“Okay, okay. One last thought.” Alanna said. “Why don’t we just find more blue orbs and give everyone superpowers? I mean… someone, eventually, is going to get one that lets us do something here. Your first one let you one-shot tumblefeeds.”

 

“Oh, we tried that.” Theo interjected before James could come up with something mildly jealous about how it would be a bad idea to arm people that they might *like*, but maybe still didn’t completely *trust* with magic. Then she kept going before James could be indignant that they’d apparently just *tried that*. Probably while he was in the middle of the thirty minutes of sleep he’d gotten in the last… month? “It doesn’t work. Even when we went over the thing you said, where they’re the metaphysical manifestation of tools? Even the people who understood that couldn’t do it.”

 

“Weeeird.” James let the word roll off his tongue. “That actually brings up some weird questions about why it does work for us. Time spent in the dungeon, maybe?”

 

That got a few people to start throwing ideas between each other, but Alanna brought them back on course. “Much as I want to argue with you over whether or not we’re actually leveling up from this place, let’s stay on topic.”

 

James let out an overly dramatic groan, rolling his head back before tipping his whole body forward and slapping his knees. “Guys, I hate to say it? I think sneaking past is the only even remotely good option.”

 

“Why are you upset about that?” Theo questioned him.

 

“He has this thing where he thinks that if a plan is obvious, and the first thing discussed, then there must be something better out there.” Alanna provided.

 

A slow blink from Theo, and a few weird looks from the crowd. “Whhhhhy?” She settled on asking.

 

“If I tell you it’s a nerd thing, will you let this go?” James asked her defensively.

 

“Oh! I have a GM like that too!” One of the scouts suddenly made the connection, which got a burst of laughter out of James. It was good to have that bond of recognition.

 

The rest of the meeting was a lot less eventful. They went back over the idea of how to stealth past a room that was pretty much entirely transparent, and a few thoughts on how to divide up the group. There was a brief moment when someone suggested leaving Collins behind to try to convert the striders to his brand of faith, followed by a bit-too-long pause where James actually considered it, before making the easy joke that it didn’t seem fair to the Office. They worked out a timeline for it, giving everyone about two more hours of naptime before they made their move. Which also worked out pretty well to give them time to scout and clear the area around the terrorbyte. Or Terrorbyte. Then there was an argument over whether it was a name or a designation. Then, when things got back on track, they made assignments for the three active delver groups, and the food goals for the ‘day’.

 

And then, at the end, they were left with a few people sitting in a circle together, quietly realizing that despite having nothing in common, they were in this together, and they had a bond beyond anything they’d known before.

 

“You know what I’m gonna do when I get out?” James asked them, not quite breaking the magic circle they’d entered into.

 

“Go to prison, so you can actually earn use of the term ‘when I get out’?” Alanna challenged.

 

He laughed, and a few others did too. Their levity was infectious, even here. Especially here. “No, I mean really. You know what I want to do? I want to go on a date.” Alanna flushed slightly at the words. This wasn’t how James talked. This wasn’t how any of them dealt with their feelings, honestly and openly. They just joked about things and cared about each other more than they ever said, it ruined the joke if you just *said it*. “With you, and Anesh.” He laid his hand on Alanna’s. “Go to a bookstore, and just wander around and read weird plot synopsis from the seventies sci-fi books. See who can find the weirdest one. Just be *together* for a day.” Alanna smiled at him and felt herself tear up, two hundred and fifty pounds of strength showing a vulnerability that looked almost alien on her face.

 

For a second, no one spoke. Then Deb, their resident nurse, let her own words add in. “I’m going to go back to school.” She said, with an iron confidence. “I’ll have to retake some classes. Maybe they’ll have forgotten that time I… well, I know I can do it now. I’m going to be a doctor.” She announced, and not a single person challenged her.

 

“I’m going to hug my kids.” Karen told them. “I have a daughter. She’s your age now.” She inclined her head toward Momo. “Maybe you can meet her, trade fashion tips.”

 

“Hey! Are you saying I’m not fashionable?” Momo gasped in mock horror.

 

“I’m saying she might look good in that jacket.” Karen smiled back at the younger woman.

 

Momo grinned at her, a toothy smile with a couple holes in it. “I think I’d like that.” She said.

 

“I’m getting back into theater acting.” Other James shared with them.

 

“I just want to cook something.” Someone said. “Maybe I can make us all dinner when we get home.”

 

“I need to tell my friend I love them.” Came from another. “I just… I don’t know…” They trailed off.

 

They sat in silence for a minute, everyone feeling like there was something left to say, but not knowing what it was. James could feel the tension, different this time than when dealing with an angry old man, or putting his life on the line. This wasn’t a cold avoidance of an uncomfortable person, nor was it the burning fear of being about to die. This was waiting. They were waiting to know what came next.

 

“We’re getting out of here.” He told them, a quiet promise. “I don’t know how long everyone’s been here, or how much you felt while you were part of Karen.” He looked over at the woman of the same name. “Not you.” She nodded at him, not saying how obvious that was. “But it doesn’t matter. We’re getting you home. You and everyone else. I don’t have anything to tell you that’s going to make it easier, but this place can be survived, and… and that’s enough. We’re going to do it. No questions.” James stood up and looked around at all of them. The circle of people looked up at him, hope in their eyes. Then he broke the spell by continuing to talk. “Okay, not, like, ‘no questions’. You can ask reasonable questions. That… should be obvious. I… uh, I’m gonna shut up now.” That got a few laughs. “Well, we all know what we’re doing for the next couple hours. We’ll regroup then.” He told them.

 

As he and Alanna walked away to start their food collection run, she talked to Theo for a second, then took custody of the monoedged spear, and caught up to James, then elbowed him. “You fucking cute-ass.” She said. “That was the sappiest fucking thing you’ve ever done.” There was no malice in her voice, quite the opposite really.

 

“What, my rousing speech?”

 

“No, you dingus. The other thing!” She told him. “The.. the date thing.”

 

“Yeah, that went over really well. I’m glad… I’m glad people care. I’m glad we’re working toward something. It’s… it’s better.” James didn’t know exactly what to say.

 

Alanna picked up for him, putting words to his feelings. “It’s more important than just treating this place as a playground, or something to explore. It’s like we’re doing something that matters.”

 

“We are doing something that matters.” James said with conviction as the two of them made their way out of the cleared zone around the camp. “We’re absolutely doing something that matters. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and even though it hurts, I honestly think that Dave would have been okay with this.”

 

His partner nodded. It did hurt, yeah, but James was right. This was worth a lot, and even though they’d been kicked down, as a group and in their hearts, they weren’t done yet.

 

The two of them got back into the flow of movement that they’d started to let lapse while around so many people. Checking corners, talking only sparsely, tapping and pointing to indicate points of interest.

 

They strode down the corridor, ignoring all the intersections in favor of keeping it clear which path they had to take back. Checking cubicles one by one; the ones that could be accessed easily anyway. There were a lot of doors here that were more like cave mouths, half grown stalagmites of wall panel growing up from the floor making them look like gaping maws instead of entries. At one point, they got into a mild skirmish with a couple striders, and split the orbs between themselves.

 

[+1 Skill Rank : Recipe - Confectionery - Gummy Bears]

 

While James processed that little tidbit of weirdness, Alanna cracked open the suitcase they’d been wheeling along that someone had found, and started tossing granola bars into it while James found a brown bag lunch in a filing cabinet drawer and added that to the mix. They left it there while they hit the cube across the hall, acquiring a takeaway container of penne alfredo to the that was weirdly well preserved. The cube down the hall was another cave mouth sorta thing, and Alanna nodded at James that they were going in, kicking the wall spikes down and climbing in.

 

Then James froze and held an arm out to Alanna, jerking a thumb toward the desk lamp illuminating the inside with a dim red as it radiated mild heat. Eight seconds later and one test of his newly acquired acceleration, James had spun the bulb out and tossed it away, letting it cool down before the lamp melted into a cold puddle with a red orb in it.

 

“That one’s yours.” Alanna told him, and James shrugged and cracked it.

 

[+1 Emotional Resonance Rank : Amazement]

 

“Not sure I needed that one.” He said, looking around at the Office around them. Alanna laughed when he filled her in on the level up.

 

They filled up the bag with more food. They filled their pockets with a few hundred bucks in cash that was probably illegal, now that James thought about it. “Next one?” Alanna asked after the twentieth cube and the third fight with something hostile.

 

James looked back at the suitcase in the hallway. “Yeah, one more, then we head back. That’s gonna be heavy, even if it’s got wheels.” He cracked the yellow in his hand.

 

[+2 Skill Ranks : Cinematography]

 

The two of them moved down to the last cube on their hall. They were still cautious, but moving with comfortable and practiced steps now. They were in their stride, in their element. They were fighters and explorers and saviors in equal measure, and they were ready for…

 

One of those black plastic binder clips the size of the suitcase they’d been hauling around exploded out of the door, metal bands close together as its ‘mouth’ opened up, and snapped down on James’ midsection.

 

He got about three seconds to scream before Alanna cut it in half, and he let his voice trail off in a comical way, before covering the end of it with a cough. “Ah. Hm. Okay, that didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it would.” He said as he hauled himself back to his feet. “Okay, ow, no. Nevermind. I feel like my stomach got smashed flat. That’s gonna bruise.”

 

“Are you okay?!” Alanna demanded, stabbing into the corpse again.

 

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Hey, look, it dropped a green! Kind of a small one, though.” James said, having a bit of difficulty talking, but not that bad considering how that whole thing could have gone. He was lucky it didn’t have actual teeth. “So hey! What do we call this thing?” He said, kicking one of the strangely flexible metal bars coming off the back of the creature.

 

Alanna took a second to calm down now that her boyfriend wasn’t in mortal peril again. After that, she sighed. “You know, this one would have been a good use of ‘terrorbyte’, right? Like, now that you already…”

 

“Yes, thank you, I get that my names are badly timed!” James cut her off. “I’m calling it an alligator clip, even though I know that’s not what they are in real life. It’s the size and general shape of an alligator. It’s good enough. We’re leaving, let’s go.” He threw up his hands in surrender and stormed off, turning around after a couple dozen feet to come back, zip up, and wheel off the suitcase of food.

 

“This is why everyone believes in you.” Alanna said quietly behind him, words not for James to hear. “You almost die, and you’re already right back to it.” She shook her head. “Idiot.” She said with a smile, and absolutely no conviction behind it. "Alright, let's get to it."



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About the author

argusthecat

Bio: I write stuff, and have a lot of thoughts about narrative structure and tropes. Some of the stuff I write is here, the rest can be found over on Reddit on my r/hfy author page. Feel free to message me if you want to talk about ideas, or just have questions about anything I made!

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