"Speaking of going," Conversant said, in a deceptively conversational tone, like an old friend who merely wanted a short chat, "where were you planning on absconding with my new acquisition, Palavar?"
"None of your business," Palavar muttered. It's worth noting here, I think, that through all of these conversations, as well as the journey into the bunker (which turned out to be cavernous on the inside, and like my vague mental image, built of concrete), Conversant had not let go of either of our wrists.
"It is our business. You've decided something is more important than the job we gave you. Now we have to replace you."
"Just make a new worker," Palavar said, with a distinct eye-roll.
"You're a much more accurate representation of the former population."
"I'm not that great! No one in the old movies has a metal eye!" Both Palavar and Conversant's voices echoed through the entire complex. I kept feeling like we were being watched-- which, I had to remind myself, we were, just, by Conversant, and not anything more malevolent.
"Correct, Instead, they had nonfunctional glass eyes, or cameras that did not interface directly with their visual cortices. If you'd prefer one of those--"
"I don't care! That job was boring, anyway! Watching over some tanks? Huh, yeah, fascinating stuff. You could do that yourself."
"You insisted to us, repeatedly, that you enjoyed it."
"Yeah, okay, fine, yes, it was neat running the experiments at the beginning. Having responsibility, seeing how much I could grow, what filters which algae needed, which chemicals they responded best to or which killed them, whichever. But now they're all thriving and they don't even need me! It's been five years!"
"You're rounding up."
"Four years and three hundred days!"
“Rounding up," Conversant said, with the veneer of great patience.
I was starting to see where Palavar got their attitude from. Maybe getting ahold of one of the communication devices wasn't such a great plan, if this was the sort of content it would key me into twenty-four-seven. I didn't mind the sound of the argument itself. Actually, having people chattering in the background was soothing, and reminded me that I wasn't alone. But the words themselves made me feel bad for Palavar. No wonder they'd been so eager to run off.
Beyond the exciting prospect of exploration outside of the city, they had some proof life could exist-- okay, yes, algae, maybe not the most exciting life in the world-- hm, that adage hadn't aged well-- but with algae came things that algae, such as... such as fish, and maybe even birds and other animals that ate fish... maybe even humans. After... what had Conversant said? A hundred years?
After a hundred years, could humans really still exist on such a blasted Earth?
But in the facility, underwater... darting by one of the windows... I had seen fish, hadn't I? Just for a brief moment, flashing slivers of light, but.... fish. And if fish had survived, wasn't it possible that somewhere, humans had as well?
"I saw fish, uh... back in the direction the Surgeon came from," I said, breaking into their increasingly pedantic dispute. "Underwater, I mean. You see, I was created..." I kept tripping over that concept. I felt like I ought to have been born. But that didn't really matter... so why was I always hesitant to say that? "...uh, in a facility that was underwater... I think it used to be an old base, like this one. It was in better condition, though."
Conversant let go of my hand to flip a switch on the wall. At first I thought it was a light switch, because a light much brighter than the dim illumination of the bunker did go on, but after a moment of grinding noise another door in the wall opened. I took the chance to glance around. The bunker's entrance was mostly empty, a cavernous room coated with dust. Tangled cables had been pushed up against one side of the wall, fused together by time into an knotted pile. Shelves lined the far war, but whatever had been on them had moldered into unfortunate blackened blobs. It looked more like a road than a room, really, and I wondered how far into the hill the bunker was built; or how far down.
"The vehicles are through here. You two stay here while I retrieve the perishables from below." Conversant gestured through the door. I peered around his side to see in. I couldn't really see past his coat, but there did seem to be large boxy objects inside. I couldn't tell if it smelled less musty through the plastic of my mask, but it certainly looked less musty inside, and this door opening had dislodged less dust. "Do you understand me? Stay. Here."
"Yes, sir," I said.
"Not you," Conversant said, impatiently.
"Yes," Palavar muttered.
"You can't leave without me. The vehicles are ancient, and need to be modified before they can be operated. You'll hurt yourself if you try. Is that clear?"
"Yes," Palavar said, louder. "Get a move on, already. If we can't leave until you fix this crap, then you're wasting time lecturing us."
"Hey, uh..." I said. Palavar looked at me. They didn't seem angry, but the curiosity they'd had earlier was gone, too, replaced with a sort of muted determination.
"...did Conversant always... have a body like that? I mean, did he look human before?"
"Nope," Palavar said. "It's new. I knew he was kicking around a design so that he could pose around in the city and re-enact key points of history or whatever, but he hadn't finished it. Like... you can tell it's rushed." They waved dismissively at the side of their own head.
"Uh... is that what happened to your eye?"
"Oh, nah. This is just a more durable hinge for the nexus point than an organic eye would be."
"Uh... sure," I said. "Makes sense."
"Yeah, it's not bad. Hey, be quiet for a second, I'm checking something." Palavar rocked back on their heels, every few seconds craning to check for Conversant. He hadn't been gone for more than a minute or two before Palavar turned to me, their eyes gleaming with mischief. I felt like I could almost see thousands of ideas swimming inside their head, and I didn't think I liked the look of any of them.
"All right, Ywain," they said. "I know how to fix a car, change oil, and get one of these monsters running. C'mon. Let's ditch him."