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Roommates - Ch. 26 (The Restaurant)

Apr 9th, 2016
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  1. Roommates has moved! You can now read it at Archive of Our Own: http://archiveofourown.org/works/11250126/navigate
  2.  
  3. Roommates - Ch. 26 (The Restaurant): http://i.imgur.com/JVzB8R1.png
  4. Inspired by Weaver's Five Nights at Freddy's Apartment AU: http://i.imgur.com/LnDJVNL.png
  5. Part of an ongoing series written for the /5N@F/ General Discussion Thread at /vg/.
  6. Sincerest thanks to Weaver (http://tgweaver.tumblr.com/) for all of the invaluable assistance in writing, proofreading, and editing this story as well as for illustrating the chapter title cards.
  7. Questions or comments? Drop me an ask at http://roommatesau.tumblr.com/
  8.  
  9. ---
  10.  
  11. True to her word, Beanie's in and out of the lingerie shop in record time, exiting the store with two bags hanging from her arms. You extend a hand in offer to carry her purchases for her, but receive only an intrigued stare in return.
  12.  
  13. "What, do you need to examine my new underwear, too?" she asks with a half-smirk.
  14.  
  15. "I, uh -- I was just offering to, y'know, carry your stuff so you didn't have to lug it." Blushing, you let your arm drop to your side. "No ulterior motives."
  16.  
  17. Her eyebrows shift as she realizes she's gotten to you. Turning away to hide your red cheeks, you quicken towards the exit but she keeps pace easily, propelled forward by her long, slender legs.
  18.  
  19. "Awww, how gentlemanly of you," the lavender rabbit coos patronizingly, her prior smirk having exploded into a full-blown grin. "Thanks, macho man, but I think I can carry a couple bundles of panties and a six-pack of dice just fine on my own."
  20.  
  21. "Chivalry truly is dead," you moan theatrically, throwing the heavy glass exit door open for Beanie. She rolls her eyes as the two of you step out into the mall's nearly empty parking lot.
  22.  
  23. "So, I know we just had dinner a little while ago -- well, breakfast for me, I guess -- but what do you think you'll be hungry for later?" she inquires. "It's gonna be a long six hours and nothing's going to be open, so don't expect any late night munchie runs."
  24.  
  25. You consider your options. "I dunno. Unless you've got access to like, a fridge and a microwave, we should probably just get a couple bags of chips and some soda from a convenience store or something. I'm not too picky."
  26.  
  27. "That's good, because pickings are slim this time of night," she says, shifting her bags to one arm so that she can put her hood back up now that you're back out in the cool air, away from the stifling heat of the mall. "There's a gas station not too far from here. We'll swing on in and stock up on snacks, and I'll tell you what -- I'll even let you pay AND carry the bags."
  28.  
  29. You puff up your chest. "Finally, my masculinity has been restored to me!" you announce with over-the-top exuberance. Beanie laughs as you nearly trip over a curb performing what is a frankly embarrassing attempt at a roundhouse kick. You can practically hear Chiclet and Bonworth guffawing at your histrionics.
  30.  
  31. "Oh, those are some real moves," she cracks, wiping a tear from her eye. "I feel leagues safer already, knowing I've got such a daring do-gooder around to keep me out of harm's way."
  32.  
  33. Righting yourself, you buff your nails on your shirt as if nothing happened before resuming walking alongside her. "Well, safety IS my middle name."
  34.  
  35. "No kidding!" she says, gasping in mock surprise. "'Safety'? Really? And I thought my parents gave me and my brother embarrassing names."
  36.  
  37. "Bonita, I'm offended!" you protest. "I'll have you know my full birth certificate reads Mike 'Safety' Schmidt."
  38.  
  39. She stops cold in her tracks, ears twitching a little.
  40.  
  41. "Everything all right?" you ask.
  42.  
  43. "...please tell me that isn't your actual name," she murmurs, her demeanor instantly stony.
  44.  
  45. You can see little puffs of her breath clouding around her face as she covers her muzzle.
  46.  
  47. "Uh, about safety...?" you ask. "N-nah. It's just a joke, I'm not actually--"
  48.  
  49. Beanie pulls her bags tightly against her chest. "No, the full -- like, the whole thing and all. What's your... your family name?"
  50.  
  51. "Schmidt. My full name is Mike Schmidt. It's German, I think." You tilt your head at her. "We never bothered changing the family name to 'Smith' like everyone else, because my parents didn't want to get lost in the phone book. Uh, why do you ask?"
  52.  
  53. She fidgets with the drawstring of her hood a little, swallowing nervously. Rather than answering, she simply turns on her heel and resumes powerwalking across the parking lot. You scratch the back of your head in confusion. Abusive ex-boyfriend with a similar name, maybe? You decide not to press her on it; the last thing you want to do is piss her off or make her any more uncomfortable.
  54.  
  55. At this point, you've become the one having to keep pace with Beanie as the rabbit effortlessly glides across the pavement, her sneakers gently thumping along on the asphalt. Her leg-to-body ratio trounces yours, forcing you to nearly jog to avoid lagging behind. Eventually, you reach the bus stop that you got off at earlier, panting a little. Looks like you've consumed one too many of Freddy's delicious, fattening breakfasts. No wonder the guy's always pumping iron, he clearly knows something you don't. Like it or not, you may end up having to take Bonbon up on exercising after all.
  56.  
  57. Arriving at a crosswalk, Beanie slaps the crossing button, despite the fact there are no cars around due to it being the middle of the night.
  58.  
  59. "Those are just placebo buttons, you know," you comment, trying not to look as out-of-breath as you feel. "I read recently that the ones in New York City are almost all disabled, but they leave them there because people feel like they do something if they--"
  60.  
  61. The crosswalk sign lights up indicating it's safe to make your way across the street, and Beanie tosses you a smug look.
  62.  
  63. "Sheer coincidence," you grumble.
  64.  
  65. The gas station is indeed only a block or two away from where you're headed, and you even recognize a few of the shops nearby as part of the older section of downtown. You cringe a little as your mind goes back to the discount market you were at just the other day with Chica. You're grateful nobody was around to see your little meltdown, however brief or petty it might have been.
  66.  
  67. Following Beanie inside the convenience store, the two of you make short work of browsing the aisles for snacks. Working in tandem, you successfully cobble together a basket of processed garbage that could only be described as a junk food lover's dream: cheese puffs, gummy candy, and spicy jerky sticks that are more grease than meat. For what could generously be described as a main course, you pluck two preservative-laden turkey-and-swiss sandwiches from a nearby cooler case. A two-liter bottle of cream soda completes the "meal". Sixteen dollars in pre-packaged treats later, you decide you're about as prepared as you're going to get for the upcoming six-hour grind.
  68.  
  69. "So what exactly do you do at this place?" you ask, trying again to break the relative silence after the abrupt shift in Beanie's demeanor earlier.
  70.  
  71. "Well, I'm on the night watch," she says with a twinge of pride as she holds the door open for you. "Officially, I'm a security guard, but my duties include a lot more than just monitoring the building."
  72.  
  73. You try your best not to scoff, but you can't stop a snort from escaping your mouth at the thought of a rabbit that can't weigh more than a hundred pounds standing up against thugs attempting a break-in.
  74.  
  75. "What? What's so funny?" she asks, cheeks flushing.
  76.  
  77. Shaking your head, you hastily apologize. "I -- no, I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude," you insist, trying and failing to wipe the smirk from your face. "I just figured you were, you know, doing something like cleaning or maintenance or whatever. Restocking supplies, that kind of thing. I didn't figure you were on security detail."
  78.  
  79. "Oh, I see," she returns, cutting her eyes at you. "You don't think I can hack it because I'm a rabbit? Or is it just because I'm a girl?"
  80.  
  81. "It has nothing to do with either of those things. I'm just wondering what you'd do if someone like Fred's size came in and held the place up. Do they at least let you carry a gun?" Mimicking her expression from earlier, you open your eyes and offer an exaggerated gasp. "Or, no, wait -- have you gotten into trouble lately? Is that why you wanted me to come? You needed some muscle?"
  82.  
  83. Beanie drags a paw down her face as you break out laughing.
  84.  
  85. "Yes, Mike, you've figured it all out," she deadpans. "I need you to protect me from the local arcade robbers. My plan is to use you as a meat shield in case they show up."
  86.  
  87. You pump your fist in the air. "Knew it. I knew it, little bunny."
  88.  
  89. "Hey, only my brother's allowed to call me that," she huffs. "Look, you were the one who wanted to tag along to see things firsthand -- or have you forgotten already?"
  90.  
  91. "Yeah, I know. It's just, things got awkward earlier when we were leaving the mall," you answer. "I didn't know if I'd offended you or not, s'all."
  92.  
  93. Glancing over her shoulder at you, Beanie studies your face with genuine interest. "You really are one of those types that can't handle people thinking ill of you, huh."
  94.  
  95. "Oh, absolutely," you reply without hesitation. "I just want to get along with everybody, y'know?"
  96.  
  97. "What a ridiculous notion," Beanie remarks, but you catch the faintest hint of a smile playing at her lips as she tugs her hood tighter around her face.
  98.  
  99. "Don't worry, I'll let that one slide. Wouldn't want to let it ruin this otherwise lovely date we're on."
  100.  
  101. It's Beanie's turn to give into a giggle fit, which she does with gusto. "Hah! Ahahaha, oh wow! A date!" She nearly chokes laughing, having to lean against a nearby wall for support as she catches her breath. "Haha, ahhhh, wooof. Man, you WISH this was a date."
  102.  
  103. "Yeah, yeah," you grumble. Yeesh, shot down by the closet nerd in the training bra. There's a real confidence booster. "Let's just get going, chuckles."
  104.  
  105.  
  106.  
  107. The familiar sight of closure notices gently flapping in the breeze pulls your attention back to the task at hand -- as entertaining as trading quips with Beanie's been, it's time to focus on what you came downtown for. Nearby, black and yellow moebius strips of caution tape seal off long-condemned buildings, acting as a fitting visual metaphor -- if everything you've heard is true, you're heading straight towards a real-life crime scene. You've finally got a shot at seeing the Arcade That Must Not Be Named for yourself, and you're not about to squander such a golden opportunity. With any luck, you'll finally start getting answers to some of the questions that have been mounting ever since you threw in with your new friends a couple of weeks ago.
  108.  
  109. You run the tally of the known "accident" victims in your mind. Bonworth's down two legs and part of his arms, Faz and Haddock a whole hell of a lot more. You're still not 100% sure of the exact details, but Cheeky's a safe bet as well if she's under an NDA like the others. You don't have any information yet on how Chiclet lost her beak, but you wouldn't be surprised to find out she was involved too, even if it was just at one of the franchise's alternate locations. That makes four victims you're sure of, five if you count Chiclet in amongst them.
  110.  
  111. Five lives, all irreversibly ruined in pursuit of the almighty dollar. You're not some pie-in-the-sky sort who thinks big companies are all evil and that profit should be frowned upon, but there's a limit -- success shouldn't come at the expense of the little guy. Plus, if Haddock's story and Bonworth's corroboration is true regarding "blood in the water", every misfortune can't be written off as purely accidental -- regardless of what anybody tells you.
  112.  
  113. The concrete beneath your feet begins to slowly change color from the usual harsh orange emitted by the streetlights to a pulsating yellow and purple. Looking up, you realize it's reflecting the glow of vivid awning lights overhead.
  114.  
  115. "We're here," Beanie murmurs as she fishes a set of keys out of her pocket, sounding far more ominous than she probably intended.
  116.  
  117. Rounding the corner towards the front of the building, you can't help but be impressed at the sight in front of you. You step back a little into the street to get a better view of the restaurant, and it dawns on you that you've seen it before. You faintly recall catching a glimpse of this place out of the corner of your eye when you went shopping with Chiclet and Bonnibel last week.
  118.  
  119. The building itself probably takes up half the block, maybe more. The exterior walls are made of brick, covered over in aged, faded paint that looks as if it had at one time been a cheerful red. What few windows the building does possess are heavily tinted; posters hang inside, presumably advertising games and pizza specials, but it's too dark to make out what they read without pressing your face to the glass.
  120.  
  121. By far and away, the arcade's most notable external feature is its enormous electronic marquee mounted atop the roof, casting a dazzling glow around the perimeter like a neon aura. Broad strips of bright lights flash and flicker the name of the establishment, clearly designed to lure in children looking for entertainment and adults looking for cheap babysitting. Not that the venue needs any help standing out -- it's the only point of interest for as far as you can see in any direction.
  122.  
  123. "Jeremy Human's Funtime Family Arcade and Pizzeria," you murmur, squinting as you read the sign. "What a mouthful."
  124.  
  125. "Isn't it just," Beanie drolly agrees.
  126.  
  127. Below the word salad of corporate nomenclature emblazoned across the marquee is a vinyl decal of a stylized cartoon human mascot with ridiculous, rubbery proportions. He appears to be wearing a marching band leader's coat and shako hat, and a pair of cheap, fake wayfarer sunglasses that would be right at home on a 1980s "cool kid". In one hand he's carrying a piece of pizza with dripping, melty cheese; in the other hand is an object that looks like a wind-up jack-in-the-box with musical notes wafting out of its lid.
  128.  
  129. "So is this the infamous 'Jeremy Human'?" you ask, jabbing a thumb in the direction of the pie-eyed music man as Beanie unlocks the door.
  130.  
  131. "Not... really," she replies evasively. "You coming?"
  132.  
  133. "Yeah. Just kind of... drinking it all in," you reply, tearing your gaze from the door. You step inside the restaurant's dark foyer, and your nostrils are instantly filled with the familiar (and heavenly) aromas of cheese and freshly-baked bread. Pulling her sleeve back on her hoodie, Beanie eyes her wristwatch. Satisfied that she's right on time, she grabs your free hand.
  134.  
  135. "This way," she says, half-dragging you through the pitch-black restaurant.
  136.  
  137. You're lead along a series of twists and turns in a pattern only she seems to know. After a few seconds, Beanie releases her grip on your wrist, stepping back. You hear a few clicks before the entirety of the room is flooded with harsh fluorescent light, causing you to see stars until your eyes re-adjust.
  138.  
  139. You appear to be in a dining hall the size of an auditorium. The room is unbelievably expansive -- somehow, the restaurant's even bigger inside than it appears to be from the street, and this is only one singular portion of the facility. Even with all of the chairs turned over and stacked on top of tables in neat, compact rows, it's obvious from the scope of the room that it can seat potentially hundreds of guests at once. You're having a hard time imagining this pizzeria pulling in anywhere close to that kind of crowd, considering its location.
  140.  
  141. The restaurant's interior is a modern, open design with hallways branching off the dining room to areas labeled with colorful block letters -- "Game Zone", "Prize Room" and "Show Stage" are just several of the territories in Jeremy Human's pizza kingdom.
  142.  
  143. "'Show Stage'? Do they have live music here too?" you ask curiously, thinking back to what you remember hearing Bonworth and Cheeky tell you about playing songs and singing for the kids.
  144.  
  145. "When the place first re-opened, they did all the time," Beanie replies somberly, resting against one of the nearby pillars. "Live music was quickly 'phased out', though." She seems a little bitter. You suppose that makes a great deal of sense, considering what happened to her brother and his friends.
  146.  
  147. "So what's up with the stage then, if there are no more bands that come and play? You'd think they'd just knock it down and put something else in its place, considering all this seating, right?"
  148.  
  149. "Hey, I never said there wasn't a band, just that the restaurant doesn't have live music." You turn and look at her with a puzzled expression, but Beanie's already checking her watch again. "We gotta get going, Mike," she says anxiously, motioning for you to follow her.
  150.  
  151. You walk with Beanie through the dining hall and past an arcade room full of game cabinets and rides. "Any chance we could play a few rounds?" you ask, eyeing a light gun game that looks particularly fun, but she shakes her head.
  152.  
  153. "Not during the shift," Beanie says, clearly distracted. "Afterwards? Yeah, sure, if you think you'll still be up for it."
  154.  
  155. Stowing your disappointment for now, you nod as she leads you towards a large corridor that runs through the back of the building. It's wide enough that two mid-size sedans could drive its length on either side of each other without fear of ever colliding, assuming they could somehow fit through the doorways in the first place. You dutifully continue plodding behind Beanie down the absolute marathon of a hallway, walking past yet another arcade and several party rooms likely intended for private birthdays and events.
  156.  
  157. Eventually, the tunnel empties out into a dingy, poorly-lit back cave. Affixed to the wall outside is a scrap of lined notebook paper with the word "Security" written on it in magic marker.
  158.  
  159. "Yikes," you comment as you behold the security guard's room -- or rather, Beanie's office.
  160.  
  161. "Yeah, I know," she sighs.
  162.  
  163. Curiously, there doesn't appear to be a door to separate the security room from the rest of the restaurant. It makes you wonder how anyone could possibly get any work done back here during the day, what with the sounds of screaming kids running up and down the halls.
  164.  
  165. Once you're inside, the guard shack is perhaps just a bit bigger than the bedroom you shared with Foxy, but it's made decidedly more cramped by its contents. A single bulb dangles from the ceiling by a wire, offering barely enough illumination to keep you from twisting an ankle as you navigate across the rat's nest of wiring and electrical cables strewn across the tile floor. The office's walls are lined floor-to-ceiling with what look like small television sets, which you realize must be part of a closed-circuit TV system. A good several dozen of the monitors are piled up in the corners of the room like so much junk, their screens and surfaces coated in a half-inch thick layer of dust from disuse.
  166.  
  167. A plastic yellow caution sign is neatly propped atop a puddle of water, which in turn is being steadily fed by a leaky pipe in the ceiling. The only notable decorative elements are a pair of weather-beaten posters of the franchise's cartoon mascot adorning the walls, as well as a bulletin board which features corporate memos and a schedule for the security team. Looks like there may be other guards for this place, since the only name you recognize is Beanie's.
  168.  
  169. The centerpiece of the room is a crappy metal folding table, slathered with crumpled-up papers and empty soda cans. Amongst the array of garbage embellishing the makeshift desk's scratched-up surface is a near-pristine tablet computer mounted on a swivel bracket. Compared to everything else in the room, it appears to possibly be the most modern, state-of-the-art piece of equipment back here.
  170.  
  171. "Damn it. I forgot there's only one chair in here," Beanie blurts out in sudden realization as she eyes the desk. "Hmm. I guess have a seat, I'm going to run to one of the party rooms and get another."
  172.  
  173. "You sure?" you ask. "I don't mind fetching one."
  174.  
  175. She takes off down the hallway without even answering you. Shrugging, you plop yourself down in the seat at the desk, emptying your two convenience store bags full of snacks out onto the table so you can dispose of some of the trash for a neater eating surface. After filling both sacks to the brim with discarded memos and cans of off-brand soft drinks, you instinctively begin looking around the rest of the room for clutter you can neaten up.
  176.  
  177. Beanie returns with an identical folding chair and a carton full of paper cups under one arm. "Oh, man, Cheeky wasn't kidding. You are a neat freak."
  178.  
  179. "I'm aware," you reply with a grin. "It's a blessing and also a curse."
  180.  
  181. "Speaking of blessings and curses, if you need to pee, now's your opportunity," she says, rubbing her damp paws on the back of her sweatshirt. "I just went."
  182.  
  183. That explains the hurry she was in. "Uh, what if I need to pee later?" you ask. Beanie stares blankly at you for a few seconds before reaching into the carton and handing you a paper cup.
  184.  
  185. "Yeah, no," you chuckle, but she doesn't laugh. "Oh god, you're serious, aren't you."
  186.  
  187. With an exasperated sigh, you get up and walk down the hallway to the bathroom to take care of your business now. You don't really need to go, but at the same time there's no real reason to not do so either. Wiping your hands on a paper towel and grabbing a few extras in case you might need them later, you return to the security office right as the wall clock plays a digital chime indicating that it's midnight.
  188.  
  189. Beanie nods approvingly as you take your seat next to her. "Pmffeck timnng," she says through a mouthful of cheese puffs.
  190.  
  191. You portion out a handful of them for yourself onto one of the paper towels before unscrewing the cap from the cream soda. Taking your assigned paper cup, you begin pouring yourself a drink as Beanie turns the tablet in front of you on.
  192.  
  193. "So what's up with this thing, are we watching a movie or something?" you ask, kicking your feet up on the desk. "I was honestly hoping to explore the place a little bit."
  194.  
  195. Wiping some of the cheese powder from her fingers, Beanie loads a program from the tablet's surface. "Nah. Something much more exciting than a movie's about to happen," she says as a loading screen pops up. Frowning, you lean over her shoulder.
  196.  
  197. "Real talk for a second here -- are you going to be cryptic all night?" you inquire frustratedly.
  198.  
  199. "Patience, little man, and all will be revealed," Beanie retorts, swiping your cream soda before you have a chance to drink it.
  200.  
  201. "'Little man'? I realize I'm shorter than some of the others but I'm at least taller than you, little bunny," you snap. "And before you ask, no, your ears don't count."
  202.  
  203. "Like hell they don't count," she scoffs. "And I told you, only my brother gets to call me 'little bunny'."
  204.  
  205. The tablet calls up what looks like a still image of the restaurant's dining hall. A layout that resembles a blueprint (or perhaps more accurately, a floor plan) appears on the lower-right corner of the picture. Beanie taps it, and it changes to another camera view of a separate room with a large, closed curtain.
  206.  
  207. "Lucky you, Mike. You're here just in time for the show," Beanie announces, wiping her mouth on the back of her sleeve.
  208.  
  209. You observe the screen with growing curiosity as the video feed updates in real-time. The curtain slowly begins to draw back, revealing a row of three immense, gleaming humanoid statues. They're mounted on what appears to be a large performance stage littered with props and set pieces -- this must the "Show Stage" you were asking about earlier. Each figure appears to be a rough approximation of a human, but their obvious mechanical joints and seams as well as completely inaccurate skin colors shatter the illusion before it even has a chance to set in. For all the world, they look like enlarged versions of some child's toy robots.
  210.  
  211. "Creeeepy," you breathe as you lean in, trying to get a better look at the display.
  212.  
  213. Positioned in the center of the trio is what has to be a mad scientist's attempt at recreating the marching band character you saw on the door. In hard contrast to the cute cartoon version, the "Jeremy Human" standing upon the stage is a tall, lanky, insidious machine. It (he?) still possesses the identifying features of a band leader's uniform and stylish sunglasses, but instead of the intended inviting smile, its entire head seems to be more reminiscent of a human skull with a mile-wide sneer. Its thin, wispy hands terminate in razor-sharp fingers, clutching a weighty cube that looks like an old-fashioned music box with a hand crank. You realize that must have been the jack-in-the-box thing you saw the cartoon version holding on the sign. From head-to-toe, "Jeremy" is done up in hot-rod red paint with gold and black trim, giving it altogether less of a music man vibe and more that of a demonic drum major.
  214.  
  215. To the right of "Jeremy" is a portly, weighty machine the approximate color (and shape) of a cantaloupe. Unlike its companion, it appears to be decidedly female. Unlike Jeremy's skull-ish face, this one has a cute, round face with a tiny crescent of a mouth and huge, expressive lens-like eyes. Atop its head is a thick wig of long hair fastened on by a hard hat, and instead of a band leader's getup, this one's dressed up in a machinist's apron with the text "Celebrate the Joy of Creativity!" embroidered on its front pouch. A toolbox hangs from its left hand, and in its right is a silver platter with a fake-looking plastic cupcake. You cringe a little -- even if it's a prop, the thing looks far too similar to the silly pink-iced cupcake Chichi offered you, down to even having the same googly eyes. You're guessing from the apron and the tools, it's likely intended to be a handywoman or construction worker of some kind.
  216.  
  217. Jeremy's third and final bandmate bears hardly any resemblance to either of the other two, and you instantly find yourself uncomfortable just looking at it. Unlike the obvious "human with occupation" theme the first two robots possess, this one's a bit of an outlier as it features no discernable role or costume. The only indications as to what it's supposed to be are a baseball cap turned at an angle and thick fake "bling" around its neck. To make matters worse, it's decked out in chocolate brown paint that's peeling and fading near the joints, revealing a bland metallic silver chassis underneath. Not unlike Rackham and Haddock, this robot's right arm seems to have a hook instead of a functional second hand for no immediately logical reason -- it doesn't have any kind of visible pirate motif, so you're not really sure what's up there. In fact, just about everything about its design looks like a PR nightmare.
  218.  
  219. "Charming," you finally manage, distaste apparent in your tone. "Let me guess... animatronics?" You're familiar enough with the concept, since animatronic puppets and figures are commonly employed in older movies and low-budget films as a practical effect for monsters, aliens, and the like.
  220.  
  221. Beanie nods. "Got it in one." She leans back in her chair, leaving the camera feed set to the stage as she sips at her purloined soda.
  222.  
  223. You run a hand through your hair, yawning a little. "That explains how you have a band but no 'live' music. So what's up with these guys?"
  224.  
  225. "Red one's Jeremy Human, the real one," Beanie says. "He leads the band. The orange girl is Fritzine, she's the backup singer."
  226.  
  227. "Fritzine?!" you sputter, laughing out loud. "Fritzine? Oh, come on, that's not even a real name!"
  228.  
  229. "No shit," Beanie says, finishing off her drink. "Of course they're going to have stupid, made-up names. They're humans."
  230.  
  231. You narrow your eyes at her as she obliviously pours another cup of cream soda. "So, uh, what's up with the stereotype over there then?"
  232.  
  233. She glances at you in befuddlement.
  234.  
  235. "What, you mean Darky?" she asks, confused.
  236.  
  237. "'Darky'," you echo, not liking the way the name rolls off your tongue. "You're serious. His name's Darky."
  238.  
  239. She frowns at you, one eyebrow arched. "Stupid human names, remember? Anyway, yeah, Darky's kind of... uh, he's a little fidgety. He's like the 'villain' of the group. He had a bit where he'd swipe jewelry and food from the patrons, as sort of his gimmick. At the end of every show, he would always get 'arrested' by one of the other characters and have to give everything back plus extra tokens and stuff."
  240.  
  241. You're shaking your head in abject horror. You can practically hear the protesters rioting in the streets with pitchforks and torches.
  242.  
  243. "Darky was always the least popular one, but they brought him out of 'retirement' since the usual third band member was stolen," she continues.
  244.  
  245. "Stolen? Really? Those things look like they're seven freakin' feet tall. Who the hell would steal an animatronic from a pizzeria, some crazed fan or something? Besides, don't you guys have cameras for that?"
  246.  
  247. Beanie quickly pages through the camera's system faster than your mind can really process. You catch glimpses of back storage closets, a kitchen, and a room full of shipping crates before she reverts it to the original view of the stage.
  248.  
  249. "We have no idea how the hell it happened," she admits. "It wasn't on my watch, I can tell you that. The thing just up and disappeared one day. Management's really unhappy about it."
  250.  
  251. You pop open the first sandwich wrapper and remove one of the segments, handing it to Beanie. "I can imagine," you reply, taking another chunk for yourself.
  252.  
  253. "They don't look that impressive, but these things are super-advanced and cost a fortune to build. Replacing the other one would require budget cuts, so until he turns up somewhere or the suits move some money around, we're down a player," Beanie continues as she pinches off a bite of lettuce.
  254.  
  255. The video feed turns to static, and she suddenly shifts forward in her chair. "Here we go," she says, visibly tensing up.
  256.  
  257. "What? Did it lose the Wi-Fi signal or something?" you ask, tearing open a mustard packet. She presses a button on the screen to set it to another view, then returns it to the stage overlay. The orange "Fritzine" character is no longer present amongst the trio, her cupcake platter discarded carelessly on the stage next to her companions.
  258.  
  259. "The hell?" you mumble, leaning forward with piqued interest. "Where'd she go, behind the curtain?"
  260.  
  261. "Damn it," Beanie gripes, getting up from her seat and sprinting across the room. "It's gonna be one of THOSE nights."
  262.  
  263. "One of 'those'-- Beanie, what are you going on about?"
  264.  
  265. She grabs a cardboard box from off the top of a stack of monitors and starts rummaging through it. "The hell are they? Day shift keeps moving the damn things..."
  266.  
  267. After a few seconds of digging, she pulls from the box a pair of cheap-looking bright red plastic masks that you quickly realize are supposed to be modeled after Jeremy's face. They look like the sort of inexpensive prize one would get from a carnival -- probably taken from this very arcade's ticket counter, now that you think about it.
  268.  
  269. "Here, get this ready," she says as she thrusts one of the two masks into your lap. "You'll need it in a second."
  270.  
  271. "Why? What's this for?" you inquire, feeling like you've missed some crucial detail. You fiddle with the mask, trying to figure out how it fits on your head. An elastic band is stapled onto either side of the thing to hold it against your face, and small eyeholes are cut out where Jeremy's "eyes" would normally go.
  272.  
  273. "Mike, I'm not screwing around right now," Beanie insists. "You need to do exactly as I tell you to, all right?"
  274.  
  275. You start to ask her something else, but she shushes you, cupping a paw to her ear. "Put your mask on," she affirms, slipping her own over her face. She flips her hoodie up, tucking her ears back and holding them in place with the mask's elastic band.
  276.  
  277. "All right," you sigh.
  278.  
  279. You reluctantly slide your own mask on, instantly hating it. It's clearly not sized for a human head, so you can only see out of one of the eyeholes due to the way they're spaced apart from each other. Notably, there are also no breathing holes in the mask. Yeah, that doesn't seem like a safety hazard at ALL. You slip a finger between the plastic and your face to allow some air to circulate towards your mouth so that you don't asphyxiate.
  280.  
  281. Half a minute passes before you hear a ringing noise in the distance. Startled, you shift forward in your seat, peering into the darkness. Heavy, industrial sounds like pistons pressing echo down the hallway. Moments later, you see a bulky outline come walking into view at the end of the dim hall. Panicked, you instantly jolt up out of your chair, your fight-or-flight mechanism pounding in your chest. You're immediately thankful you went and emptied your bladder before starting the shift.
  282.  
  283. "Holy shit!" you cry out, pushing the mask up onto your hair for a better view. "Oh god! What the hell is that thing?!"
  284.  
  285. "The mask, put it back on!" she barks. With shaking, faltering hands, you hurriedly tug your Jeremy mask back on over your face.
  286.  
  287. "I can't see out of this piece of shit," you snarl. "Gun! Give me your gun!"
  288.  
  289. Beanie places a paw on your arm. "Stop panicking, you idiot. I don't have one, and it wouldn't do us any good anyway. Just follow my lead."
  290.  
  291. You look at her like she's lost her mind. "Better idea: you distract whoever it is and I'll hit them with the chair, and we'll book it!"
  292.  
  293. "Damn it, Mike, shut up!" she snaps, but you notice she refuses to let go of your arm. "I'm telling you, let me take care of this."
  294.  
  295. You're not the least bit convinced as you turn and look back at the hallway, waiting as the noise gets louder. Whirring, clanking footsteps reverberate across the tunnel until a bright orange golem known to her friends as "Fritzine" steps into full view. Cowed, you wobble backwards, knocking your chair over onto its side. They looked huge on the tablet screen, but now you've got an idea of just how enormous this monster is -- she's big enough she could give even Chiclet a go for her money in the height department, and she probably weighs three times as much as Fred.
  296.  
  297. Fritzine's eyes begin to glow as she ducks under the doorway, stepping inside the office and scanning the room.
  298.  
  299. "What the hell is it doing?" you ask, knees knocking. "How are these things even supposed to be able to move? Aren't animatronics just puppets on hydrau--"
  300.  
  301. Beanie elbows you in your gut before you can say anything else.
  302.  
  303. Once she's completed her scan, Fritzine drops the toolbox to the floor with a clang. You're squeezing the edge of the desk tight enough to draw blood from your hands as you take this scene in.
  304.  
  305. "Well, howdy there, Jeremy... and uh, other Jeremy," the robot bellows with some level of confusion, voice thin and tinny like someone speaking through an intercom. "How are y'all doin' this fine evenin'?"
  306.  
  307. "Just radical," Beanie replies in a goofy voice. "Oh, you know us Jeremys! Always up to some, uh, zany antics!"
  308.  
  309. "It can talk?!" you squeak.
  310.  
  311. "Other Jeremy, you feelin' all right, fella?" Fritzine asks, face shifting to emulate confusion. "When was yer last reboot? You ain't done installed any unauthorized parts now, have ya?" she inquires, flipping the lid of the toolbox open with her foot. Stooping to the ground, she rummages around inside it before pulling out some particularly sharp-looking implement.
  312.  
  313. Beanie looks to you pleadingly, motioning for you to reply. Realizing you're mere seconds away from an impromptu "maintenance" session that will end in a trip to the emergency room, you say the first thing that pops into your mind.
  314.  
  315. "I, uh -- oh, man! I sure could go for a slice of... p-p-pizza!" you stammer. "H-how about you go get me one?"
  316.  
  317. "Pizza!" Fritzine beams, dropping the tool back in the box and sealing it up. "So that's yer problem! Kin, now you're talkin' my language, but you know we don't got any in right now till the mornin' cooks arrive."
  318.  
  319. "Bummer, dude," Beanie adds shakily.
  320.  
  321. You exhale heavily as Fritzine folds her arms, annoyed. "Oh, hey, listen -- I don't reckon y'all have pieced together where ol' Schmidt got off to."
  322.  
  323. "It knows!" you mouth at Beanie before realizing she won't be able to see it through the plastic.
  324.  
  325. "Uh, still no leads, Fritzine, but you'll be the first to know," Beanie replies, flashing the thumbs-up at Fritzine with one arm as she squeezes the hell out of your wrist with the other. Fritzine seems to consider her words for a few seconds before turning and heading back out the hallway.
  326.  
  327. "Well, shoot, I hope he turns up soon. I'm startin' to miss the little devil somethin' fierce. Anyway, I'm off for lab work, so don't you give me no trouble unless it's real important. I'll make the rounds again in a little while to check up on y'all, hear?"
  328.  
  329. "Sure thing, and thanks! Catch you on the flipside, Fritz," Beanie calls out as the stout animatronic lumbers away with a wave.
  330.  
  331. As soon as you're convinced she's out of earshot, you rip the mask from your head and turn on Beanie, who's already back to calmly eating her sandwich. "What the SHIT was all of that?!?" you cry out, collapsing against the desk.
  332.  
  333. "My job. Only five hours and fifty more minutes of it to go," she replies. "Ready to get to work?"
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