The boom shook the building. My water sloshed all over my arms and face. I didn't have time to react before Palavar was already up on their feet, one lunging stride towards the window. I gulped down the rest of the water, ignoring the plaster dust that rained down around us and my damp shirt and pants. I had no idea when I might be able to get clean water again, and I wasn't going to waste any more than I already had.

"There's something on the street," Palavar said, leaning over the windowsill. I noticed that their mechanical eye was dark, or at least not illuminating the street outside. There was another earth-shaking crash, and Palavar stepped back.

I knew what it was before Palavar spoke. I couldn't shake the feeling that saying her name aloud multiple times had summoned her, like an evil spell or the Devil--

--whatever the Devil was.

"It's huge. I think it's an old ambulatory urban assault drone. Not one-hundred-percent on that, I haven't seen them in person before."

There was a flash of yellow down below, lenses or eyes in the night. That familiar feeling, that I was going to die, gripped my insides.

"But I don't... have anything she wants!" I said. Well, squeaked. "Unless she just wants me dead?"

Did computers feel a need for revenge? Was that just some innate part of intelligence, artificial or not, paranoia and the desire to close up loose ends? I was certainly willing to walk away from her attempt to kill me, live my life and let her live her... whatever her weird life was. On the other hand... I had killed one of her bodies. The memory was so strange I kept trying to push it, especially the visceral details. out of my mind, but maybe it was reason enough. I didn't even know if she felt pain. But if someone had done that to me, and I survived it... wouldn't I want to kill them back?

I wasn't sure I would. I knew I never wanted to be pushed to that extreme again. My heart pounded in my chest. Was I safer in here or outside? Palavar had said they had defense systems for the room... would defense systems work against a tank? Or maybe the system was just an alarm…

"Hmm," Palavar said, much more calmly than my thoughts, which raced around in circles to the beat of my nerves. Something like screaming sounded from outside-- but mechanical, the strain of metal tearing metal. I could barely hear Palavar over it, but their voice carried through anyway, unhurried and even. "Looks like Conversant is taking care of it for now. We should probably go out the back."

"The back?" I said. "Do you have somewhere to hide?"

"Oh, no, I was just thinking..."

The sinking feeling I already had sunk even lower.

" would be a good time to leave the city and start my search for life, since Conversant's distracted."

"...but I need my backpack first," I said, mouth dry despite all the water I'd just drunk. I wasn't convinced Palavar would remember that I needed to breathe air, not poison. I definitely imagined Palavar as the kind of person who would drag me outside and then ask me why I was asphyxiating.

"Don't worry. I haven't forgotten. I know where to look for it. Although if you can use something else, maybe your clothes to breathe through--"


"--fine, fine. Let me finish. I know there's a bunker located under the city. I thought it was pretty boring when I first explored it, since it was never finished and nothing lives in here, but I built my water filter with charcoal that I found in a back room--"

I'd retreated away from the sounds of combat outside, back towards the hall. If the building collapsed... no wait, wouldn't I want to be able to jump out the window? How many stairs had we climbed up here? Yeah ... inside or outside, there was no way I was going to survive the Doctor's centi-tank body tearing down the city.

"-- it's got all kinds of supply boxes in it, so I bet we can find you some new stuff. If it hasn't all rotted. I'm sure it's been over a hundred years since it was built!"

Palavar really knew how to instill confidence in me. The building shook again.

"I don't care where we get it! I just want to get away from the Doctor. My gas mask, someone else's gas mask, an astronaut helmet.. as long as it works, it's fine!"

Palavar's eyes widened. "Astronaut..."

Oh no. The building was shaking. It sounded like someone had set off a volley of cannons outside. There was a huge flash of light.

"It's not as good as a space shuttle-- did you know those used to exist? they 'shuttled' humans into space-- but I just remembered what else was by the bunker!"

Sparks rained down outside. I could smell smoke.

"It's under an old landing pad!" Palavar didn't even pause for a breath, or to mention that the city was on fire from bombardment, just rushed into explaining. "For a V.T.O.L.--"

"Okay! Let's go!" I had no idea what they were talking about, but the rumbling outside was only worsening and outside I could see light, dim light on the walls outside crawling with Conversant's eyes and squirming tendrils, which meant that rather than going out, something-- maybe Conversant-- had caught fire. I grabbed Palavar's hand with both of mine and started towards the door. The only shuttle I cared about would be one that shuttled me out of here, and it was clear that Palavar's sense of priority wouldn't allow for that.


"Tell me about it on the way!"

The door opened without me touching it. I pulled them out through the apartment's doorway; they went easily, and then stepped around me so that they were leading instead. That was preferable, really. Palavar's eye lit the way again, and they went, not down the hallway we had come in, but down another set of stairs on the other side of the building.

"Stay quiet," Palavar instructed me, as if I needed a reminder. We exited into a narrow alley, cracked brick and flaking concrete walling us in. Thuds, booms and flashing lights shook the walls. Palavar, still holding my hand, pulled me across the cobblestones into the darkness. Their light dimmed as a metallic scream rent the air, and one of the buildings crumbled. Dust and smoke overtook us. I covered my mouth with my sleeve to suppress my coughing. But even under the sounds of destruction, it must have been just a little too organic, a little too loud.

The spotlights of the doctor's war tank swivelled into the alley.


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