the mall is a thing that happens to you

19 4 4

[the boys]

Deep in a sub-basement of a decrepit old building in the center of Thornes, at the end of a maze-like series of narrow and dark hallways leading to the cramped and filthy apartments where the people who Do Not Try live, the cute boys are happily working away in their gross new apartment.

"Dirty" is a word that can mean a lot of things when applied to housing. Usually it means "needs some tidying or a good scrub." Neither of those would help in this case. The easiest way to clean this apartment would be to burn it to the ground and start fresh, but the boys don't seem to care. It's perfect for their needs, which do not involve them staying here for very long. And frankly it's nicer than anywhere else they've ever lived, having walls and a door, for instance.

It's 2 rooms (two! rooms!); almost palatial. Completely unfurnished, with a layer of dust that almost seems weaponized in its refusal to disperse. There's something slimy and black growing on the walls that presents sentient enough to count as a 4th roommate.

They haven't met any of the neighbors, who only vaguely announce their proximity. The boys have heard whispered shouts somewhere down the halls, repeatedly slammed doors at odd hours, and occasionally someone opening their door just wide enough to peek an eye at them as they pass by. So, not exactly the welcome wagon, but that works out great. The less anyone pries into their business the easier it'll be to extract themselves from it.

While the boy with the hair and the boy with the butt work in what would essentially be a bedroom if it contained a bed, the boy with the eyes does a sweep for ambient listening devices in the main room. Making sure there's no cameras or audio devices behind any of the fixtures or outlets, or embedded in the ceiling. Unlikely, but you never know. Then he tacks up some heavy back fabric across the one window. H8bunni helped him source the fabric from one of her favorite trash piles. The window is smeared opaquely with something he's afraid to touch. It occurs to him it's not even a real window, since they are deep underground and probably merely functions as an artificial light source. But still, who knows what's on the other side of it, can't be too careful. It's covered up.

In the bedroom the boy with the hair has taken a sturdy, straight-backed chair they found and secured it to the floor. He bangs the nails with a brick a few times and then tests his handiwork, ensuring sure the chair won't loosen itself from its bindings. Then he arranges a series of nylon ropes around the chair, looping them through the legs and back. Clearly, whoever gets seated in this chair is not going anywhere for a long time.

When he's done he calls over to the boy with the butt: "Secure, innit?"

The boy with the butt looks up and nods, impressed. He's been over in the far corner of the room, building a heavy box out of wood and metal. He's lined the inside with softer fabrics - insulating it with cotton batting and torn pillow foam. He's fashioned a sliding lock for it, so that whatever they plan on putting inside the box can't easily escape.

He thwaps his hand around the inside of the box, testing how muffled the sound is. "That's a bit of all right," he says, impressed with himself.

Their work done for the moment, they both sit on the floor, leaning against opposite walls. The boy with the butt says something about needing to put more locks on the door. He goes up to do that while the boy with the hair fiddles with his new screen. There's an ad for the organic cultivate anti-vervain bowl at HealthFap and it looks: amazing. The pink goopy protein they serve in the lines keeps you alive but it's not even remotely filling or enjoyable to eat. It's not his fault he's unable to Try! He would Try his ass off for some kota leaf biofuels right about now. He has all kinds of ideas for content.

The boy with the butt has finished putting another lock on the door and tests it to make sure the door still closes. As soon as he closes it it bursts open and the boy with the eyes comes flying into the room. "We have to go. It's happening right now."

The boy with the hair scrambles to his feet. "Now? Right now?"

The boy with the eyes nods. "She's at the mall. There's some kind of major event happening."

"A major event? There'll be zonnys everywhere. Risky."

"We have to do this at a big event. If she just goes missing randomly no one will think twice about it, they'll think she fell out a window or something. If she disappears in the midst of a major event everyone will notice. It's the best way."

The boy with the hair looks around the room. "I feel like we're not ready."

"We're ready. It's now. We need to get there."

The boy with the butt agrees. "We've been here one day and 2 of us are already dead. The sooner we get through this the sooner we don't have to stand in line for pink goo. Let's go."

"OK," the boy with the hair says. The three of them fix their clothes, brush themselves off. "I just feel like we're not ready," he says again, mostly to himself.

"The mall isn't a thing you get ready for," the boy with the eyes says. "It's just a thing that happens to you."

The boy with the butt takes out the gun, pulls out the clip and checks the sight. "What even is a mall anyway."

The boy with the eyes holds out his hand. The boy with the butt slowly, begrudgingly, hands the gun over to him.

"They were an important part of societal infrastructure once," the boy with the hair says. "Every village had one. Huge buildings filled with tiny shops where you could procure anything you could imagine. They were likes mazes, being trapped there was a rite of passage."

The boy with the eyes cocks the gun, loading a bullet in the chamber. "Sounds fun. Let's go shopping."

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