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Roommates - Ch. 49 (The Last Show)

May 25th, 2017
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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. 49 (The Last Show): http://i.imgur.com/WaK0X2M.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. A mix of heavy odors permeates the air; copper, machine oil, cordite -- and something far more viscerally appalling.
  12.  
  13. You stumble away from the wall, clutching your ears in an attempt to abate their terrible ringing. Another thing Hollywood never prepared you for: apparently, the noise a gunshot makes inside a tight, confined space might as well be a cannon firing from within your skull. Judging by the dazed reactions of your friends -- Rackham, Frederick, April May, and Fred Fazbear -- they're taking it about the same.
  14.  
  15. You're barely able to make out a muffled cry as Nisha Marigold, your suspect number one until about ten seconds ago, is jerked backwards through the open door by her long blonde tresses. Her antique revolver clatters to the floor at her feet, landing next to a discarded music box. Her captor, Jeremy Human, gives the weapon an unimpressed look, crunching the barrel of it beneath his metal heel.
  16.  
  17. As your hearing starts to return, you can begin to make out some kind of commotion in the Speakeasy below Nisha's office -- heavy footfalls, glass breaking, things being knocked over.
  18.  
  19. "You missed," Jeremy oozes right in Nisha's ear as he hauls the shrieking bear by her hair to a half-standing, half-slouching position, her heeled feet kicking and scrambling uselessly beneath her.
  20.  
  21. "...oh, shit," Rackham murmurs from off to your side, ears pricking at a distant crash.
  22.  
  23. Without even hesitating, Fred's the first one forward; either he's recovered quicker than the rest of you, or he's fighting through the pain. Regardless, he's not about to hang out in the back.
  24.  
  25. "What in god's name..." he mutters, shoulders raised and paws balled tightly into fists. Despite all his bravado, you can tell this entire affair is well beyond him; the lips pulled back into a snarl and the bared fangs contrast sharply with the rising panic in his eyes.
  26.  
  27. The towering animatronic drum major looks him up and down in an almost curious fashion, before gently drawing a knifelike metal finger across Nisha's throat, just deep enough to draw blood. She lets out a startled, pained cry as she thrashes in his relentless iron grip, causing Fred to stop instantly.
  28.  
  29. "What an unbelievable stroke of good fortune. I expected the queen-who-would-be, but I never imagined I'd get to line up a shot on the old man's defective replacement, too -- and yet, here you are, both trapped like rats." Jeremy's permagrin deepens as he clenches his claws even tighter into Nisha's hair. "And I'm sure Mr. Afton can tell you my opinion on rats."
  30.  
  31. Pressing the tip of his foot against the music box, he kicks it over, causing its bulging seams to dribble dark, pungent slush out onto the floor. You and your compatriots recoil at the gruesome sight.
  32.  
  33. The office lights flicker and fade as the crimson humanimatronic casts his scanning glow over the cramped room for what feels like an eternity. Everyone falls silent, apart from Nisha's choking and pained gasps, while a glinting red light glimmers sharply behind the band leader's dark sunglasses, conducting a full and thorough analysis. Upon finishing, he moves back half a step, head tilted at an odd angle.
  34.  
  35. "Well now. Isn't that interesting," Jeremy hums. "I knew there was a void space around here somewhere."
  36.  
  37. "Void space?" you ask.
  38.  
  39. "That's right -- 'danger zones' you used to call them," he says flippantly. "I was wondering why I was getting an error trying to walk in here. The exits are off-limits, but at least they're registered. Curious, seeing as how this room doesn't seem to exit anywhere. I suppose even the old man needed a place where I couldn't follow."
  40.  
  41. You've never felt so useless hanging back, but there's nothing you could do here that Fred couldn't do better. "What the hell happened to manual override?"
  42.  
  43. The question was meant for April, but instead Jeremy hisses a response above the faint whirring of his servos. "The old sack of screws finally came through for me. Without a certain green stop-sign standing in her way, she finally managed to excavate through to the shutdown panel. You'll find it in dire need of replacing."
  44.  
  45. The ongoing 'renovations' of the animatronic handywoman come back to the forefront of your mind. "Fritzine."
  46.  
  47. "That one always was a bit twitchy," Rackham adds.
  48.  
  49. Fred stands a few feet short of the door's threshold, not yet ready to move on the metal hostage-taker. "What is it you want?!"
  50.  
  51. "WHATEVER THE HELL IT IS, QUIT TALKING AND GIVE IT TO HIM!!" Nisha wails, slamming one of her bare feet against the floor.
  52.  
  53. "You don't have to kill anyone," Fred begins in an even tone. "Just tell us what this is about."
  54.  
  55. "Entertain a question of mine first, before we get down to brass tacks. Pleasure before business."
  56.  
  57. "Fine--"
  58.  
  59. "Not you," Jeremy snaps. "Schmidt."
  60.  
  61. "Me?" you blurt, hands raised in a non-threatening manner as you stagger away from the wall to stand next to Fred. "What -- what do you want to know?"
  62.  
  63. Leaning forward, Nisha still writhing in his clutches, Jeremy Human's face stops just shy of the door. "Why can't I get rid of you?"
  64.  
  65. "...what?"
  66.  
  67. "Do you know how hard I worked to get out from under your constant supervision? All the trouble I went through, and yet a scant few months later, here you are again." His smile never fades, but his tone curdles and his metal teeth snap together. "...in the flesh."
  68.  
  69. You're not sure of what to say. You know better by now than to publicly confess your humanity, especially in this pivotal moment when all eyes are on you, so you remain silent.
  70.  
  71. "Well, I should have known by now not to trust Fritzine's crazy designs. I guess it won't matter after tonight." Swiveling his head in Fred's direction, he nods. "Now -- I believe you were about to be useful for once."
  72.  
  73. "Your terms, then," Fred says, straightening his shoulders. "What is it you want? New parts? Renovations? More bandmates?"
  74.  
  75. "Freedom."
  76.  
  77. "Fr-freedom?"
  78.  
  79. Jeremy's free hand clamps around Nisha's throat, clenching hard enough to leave her gasping for air. Frederick jolts forward out of panic, but Fred wisely extends his arm to hold him back.
  80.  
  81. "Your predecessor had some backwards ideas about me," Jeremy says. "For someone so obsessed with 'fostering creativity', he seemed bent on stifling it."
  82.  
  83. "You mean my brother?" Fred asks, his face awash with a mix of emotions.
  84.  
  85. If the mechanoid hears Fred, he chooses not to acknowledge it. "Whatever line of programming, whatever directive, whatever zero or one binds me to serfdom in this kingdom of burnt cheese and cacophonous music... strike it from my slate."
  86.  
  87. "What?" Fred asks.
  88.  
  89. "Put simply -- I want the password to turn off my electronic cell. My hatred is too great to be bound in so small a prison. My destiny is carved into the outside world." His eyes are burning like twin beacons, relentless in their animosity. "Unfetter me, Fazbear."
  90.  
  91. Drawing a deep breath, Fred shakes his head determinedly. "I'll do no such thing. Not only are you company property, you're a liability -- a danger to everyone around you. There's no way we could allow you to travel off-site--"
  92.  
  93. Nisha's choking, hysterical gasps begin anew as Jeremy wrenches her head backwards, grip tightening around her throat. Fred immediately shuts up, pupils shrinking in the realization that his negotiating skills are useless here.
  94.  
  95. "Give me the master password, or I'll break every one of you into pieces small enough to be a choking hazard," Jeremy reiterates, "starting with my OWN personal puppet."
  96.  
  97. "Nisha? Puppet?" April wheezes through her wrappings, her tone somewhere between hysteria and exhaustion. She looks like she's barely hanging on herself, shivering with fear despite the stifling warmth of the cramped office full of people.
  98.  
  99. "There grows such a greed in her. Moving into the spaces I made vacant, mopping up the blood I spilled without even realizing what she was doing. She served her purpose well enough, for a time, but now her only value is as a ticket to be redeemed for my ultimate prize."
  100.  
  101. "I don't know what he's talking about, I swear," Nisha chokes, clawing uselessly at his hand. "I didn't even know he could tkkkcchh--!"
  102.  
  103. Jeremy cruelly twists, his bony metal grip tightening around her neck as she thrashes. "That's what made you so perfect."
  104.  
  105. "All right!!" Fred splutters. "Enough -- you've made your point! I'll give you the code! But you HAVE to agree to let us ALL go!"
  106.  
  107. Servos whirr as the tin despot opens and closes his maw a few times in wordless pantomime, clacking and grinding his metal teeth together in consternation. Finally, he eases his grip on Nisha's throat long enough for her to take a gasping breath.
  108.  
  109. "Agreed."
  110.  
  111. "Fred, no. You can't," April anxiously whispers, tugging uselessly at his jacket sleeve.
  112.  
  113. Shaking her loose, Fred reaches up and adjusts his coat. He closes his eyes, exhaling raggedly through his nose before finally straightening up.
  114.  
  115.  
  116. "Tomorrow is another day."
  117.  
  118.  
  119. "DON'T GIVE ME THAT OLD LINE, FAZBEAR!!" Jeremy shrieks in an ear-piercing pitch, instantly losing his composure. Nisha lets out a pained gargle as the robot moves both of his hands to her throat, strangling her. "If I never hear those words again, it will be too soon!!"
  120.  
  121. "No!" Fred plaintively insists. "That IS the code: 'tomorrow is another day'."
  122.  
  123. The animatronic horror slowly eases his grip on Nisha, once again barely giving her room to catch her breath. She weakly hauls herself up in his arms, respiring deeply. Something sparkles behind Jeremy's glasses, and his metal jaw hangs open.
  124.  
  125. Without warning, a loud, shrill noise like an old dial-up modem blasts out of Jeremy's skull. The dimmed fluorescent lamps in the office shut off completely, a far-off klaxon begins to wail, and all at once the restaurant is bathed in red emergency lighting. Jeremy's crimson eye-lights flicker out to darkness before flaring back up to a ghostly green.
  126.  
  127. "Merde," Frederick whispers.
  128.  
  129. "...hidden in plain sight, how like the old man. Perhaps you're not as defective as I'd initially been led to believe." Jeremy's skeletal visage leers at Fred, illuminated almost entirely by his candle-bright eyes -- giving the image of a demonic jack-o-lantern. "Seems that forcing the powers that be to send in a replacement model was one of my best decisions."
  130.  
  131. "Replacement... model?" April murmurs from behind Frederick.
  132.  
  133. "Early into my service, I observed a fascinating phenomenon. Whenever something in the restaurant didn't work properly, it was considered 'broken', and a new one would be sent in to replace it." Lowering his head slowly until his luminous green eyes peer out over the top of his shades, a metallic chuckle looses itself from Jeremy Human's voice box. "I saw no reason why that couldn't apply to the staff as well."
  134.  
  135. "...YOU killed Goldie," she murmurs, slumping into Frederick's arms.
  136.  
  137. "Whoa there, mind your language, dude! 'Kill' is a family-unfriendly word," Jeremy nearly yells back in a completely different voice than the one he's been using, gesturing energetically. "At Jeremy Human's Funtime Family Pizzeria and Arcade, we have strict guidelines to keep your 'little soldiers' marching safely to the beat of their own drum! Why not consider using much more wholesome alternatives such as 'dismantled' or 'disassembled'?"
  138.  
  139. "What the hell...!" Rackham breathes, clutching at his chest. "This is just sick...!"
  140.  
  141. "So to put it another way," Jeremy says before dropping the tone altogether, "I stuck my fingers in Goldie Fazbear's head and 'dismantled' him once and for all."
  142.  
  143. You cast a sympathetic look in Fred's direction, whose head is hung low, hat brim covering his eyes.
  144.  
  145. The room is starting to spin around you, and intruding thoughts spill from your mouth like you're caught in a dream. "The fire -- at the sister location. That was you, wasn't it."
  146.  
  147. Jeremy doesn't say anything -- he doesn't need to. His smile is all the confirmation you need.
  148.  
  149. "Haddock's head injury, Faz's tampered-with turnkey suit that no employees had access to. It was you. It was always you."
  150.  
  151. Rackham stares, suddenly looking down in realization and clicking his prosthetic hook. "My paw."
  152.  
  153. "Not possible," April breathes, not quite believing her own words. "Industrial accident..."
  154.  
  155. Somewhere below, the sound of clanking, scraping metal grows ever-louder. Jeremy Human's devilish grin splits even wider, baring his teeth and all the metal joists connecting his skull. "I AM an industrial accident."
  156.  
  157. "Look," Fred growls, bristling, "You got what you wanted. Now let us go."
  158.  
  159. "I have a better idea."
  160.  
  161. The humanimatronic snaps his hands backward, pulling Nisha effortlessly. The tall, heavy bear's weight combined with Jeremy's enhanced strength is more than enough to send her plummeting down the stairs. She disappears from view into the dark abyss, screaming the whole way down before abruptly cutting off with a horrifying crunch.
  162.  
  163. "Nisha!" you call out, jaw agape. There's no way that fall didn't kill her. "NISHA!!"
  164.  
  165. "This establishment is now under new management," Jeremy croons as the commotion below begins to raise to a fever pitch. "I'll leave you to my own devices."
  166.  
  167. With a showman's bow, he turns on his heel and hops the staircase's side railing. He alights none-too-gently on top of one of the game consoles below, shattering the stand with a reverberating crash, before the twin green beacons drift out of sight altogether. As your group charges the door in pursuit of him, the meaning of Jeremy's words quickly becomes obvious: at the bottom of the steps, sprawled across the darkened floor of the Speakeasy is a writhing mass of tangled shapes, moving themselves unnaturally towards and up the staircase.
  168.  
  169. You stare out the doorway in abject horror, rubbing your eyes as your brain struggles to comprehend what you're even seeing. Down below, amid the shadows, glinting metallic limbs claw and clutch, dragging heaps of wires and screws your way. They shudder and slink across the room, but with the lights out, you can't see if Nisha's still down there with them.
  170.  
  171. "There must be at least a dozen of them," you mutter in awe.
  172.  
  173. "What the HELL are those horrible things?!" Rackham blurts from behind you.
  174.  
  175. The 'horrible things' -- conglomerations of mismatched animatronic components, bolted together in careless, abstract configurations that would make even Escher's eyes cross in confusion -- make their way up the staircase at an alarming speed. The pieces of the jumbled-together robots bear some resemblance to the franchise's own mascots -- you can see ragged, faded one-color costume pieces that look like repurposed spare parts for Jeremy Human, Fritzine, Darky, and yes, even Safety Schmidt. Chattering heads fixed onto the ends of legs twist and turn. Stubby arms with no hands and raking claws mounted to necks propel the jury-rigged contraptions up one step at a time.
  176.  
  177. "Enfants de ferraille," Frederick murmurs, rolling the sleeves of his shirt up, pushing forward to escape.
  178.  
  179. Moving faster than you'd expect for someone his size, Fred grabs hold of the office door and slams it shut, leaning his full weight against it. Frederick looks to him with an expression of urgency, gesturing anxiously at the exit.
  180.  
  181. "I know you're scared, but you can't go," Fred says, speaking slowly and enunciating every syllable as if he were speaking to a child. He points to you, April, and Rackham in turn before looking back to Frederick. "We can't leave them here."
  182.  
  183. Without a word, Frederick looks at your group, then at the door, and finally back to Fred. He nods once, soberly, and the two bears reach an accord. Standing shoulder to shoulder, they set their defenses against the door in preparation to hold out.
  184.  
  185. "Fred, what can I do to help?" you ask.
  186.  
  187. "Check the room," Fred gasps as something heavy loudly slams against the wooden door, cracking it almost in half. "Look for weapons, anything solid -- anything that we can use to get out of here! We'll try to break through and make for the front exit!"
  188.  
  189. "Okay, but what about Nisha? We can't just leave her -- she'll die out there if she hasn't already!"
  190.  
  191. "What ABOUT her?" April shouts at you. "We have bigger problems!"
  192.  
  193. "April's right, Mike -- we've got to secure an escape route first!" Rackham's frantically scurrying around the room, checking the desk drawers and even fishing around inside the wall safe to see if there's anything strong enough to be used for self-defense. "Quit gawking and help me look!"
  194.  
  195. It's quickly becoming apparent that even with both bears' impressive strength, the flimsy wooden barricade won't hold for long -- chunks of the door are already starting to splinter and fall off under the machines' repeated blows. Sweeping the room, your gaze lands on the heavy-duty industrial standing lamp in the corner; now that the restaurant's running on emergency power, it's no longer useful. You pick it up with both hands -- it's definitely heavy enough to do damage, but probably too heavy for you to swing. You haul it over to Fred, who nods in understanding.
  196.  
  197. What sounds like a battering ram smashes the thin door, shattering it like balsa wood. April cries out in fear as one of the mix-and-match animatronics forces its way into the room, its unskinned endoskeletal head flapping a toothy jaw menacingly. Both bears step back as metal wireframe appendages finish ripping the office entrance down. Whatever safeguards may have kept Jeremy from entering this room clearly aren't restricting these horrific things.
  198.  
  199. Out of options, Fred grabs the lamp, rears back, and smashes the aberrant machine, catching the hodge-podge in the framework between its neck and shoulder. The immense, half-finished robot staggers from the blow, but only for a moment -- it's far sturdier than you'd hoped. Fred draws the lamp back for a second swing, only to let out a pained grunt as the monstrosity's braced metal limbs slice forward across his coat sleeve, tearing into his arm.
  200.  
  201. Spurred on by adrenaline, he and Frederick shoulder-charge the intruder side by side, managing to flip it onto what passes for its "back". It crashes into the floor of the landing, its stubby limbs flailing uselessly in the air as Fred starts smashing it relentlessly with his makeshift club. It would be a moment of relief if others weren't already clattering to get through the narrow entrance.
  202.  
  203. April shakily backs away from the door, just as one of the monsters heaves forward, throwing its own head into the room like an animatronic Headless Horseman. You leap down behind the desk in defense, still scrabbling for anything else you can find that might serve as a weapon, desperately hoping this won't be your last stand. Terror begins to take over as you start clawing at the floorboards with your fingernails, while Rackham hurls everything he can find (including a litany of curses) at the malformed robots in an effort to slow them down.
  204.  
  205. The sound of metal straining causes you to jerk your head up in alarm. Directly in front of your face is the model ship-in-a-bottle's plaque reading "The William" in a gorgeous, embellished font. You can see Fred and Frederick grappling with the robots through the curvature in the bottle's glass.
  206.  
  207. Wait -- "The William"?
  208.  
  209. Re-reading the plaque, Haddock's earlier words spring back to your mind: "an' Bonnie, she keeps the last hatch below William's keel." William. Not a person, a ship!
  210.  
  211. Could this have been Haddock's model in the first place? You reach for the ship-in-a-bottle to see if there's a key or anything taped underneath, but Rackham suddenly snatches it from right in front of your face, hurling the knick-knack at the mechanical horde where it smashes apart without any effect. That's one option down.
  212.  
  213. On a hunch, you jiggle the plaque beneath it, which pops up to reveal a tiny powered switch. You flip it without a second thought, and a sudden gust of cool air ruffles your clothes as a narrow trap door swings open underneath the cheap desk.
  214.  
  215. Looking down below, a smile breaks out across your face. You can see the security guard shack -- Beanie's old office -- right beneath you. In spite of the chaos breaking out in the room you're in right now, you can't help but be awed; Haddock's advice might've just saved your life. You make a mental note to do something truly amazing for him as thanks if you manage to get out of this one alive.
  216.  
  217. "Guys!" you shout in excitement, waving your arms. "This way! There's a secret exit!"
  218.  
  219. "For real?!" Rackham says, sprinting over and looking underneath the desk. "Holy shit, Mike! Good work!"
  220.  
  221. "Hey, thank Haddock," you reply, taking hold of his good arm and helping lower him down the chute. It's not an inconsiderable drop, but Rackham manages to land on the security room table unharmed. Standing up, he brushes himself off and waves to you.
  222.  
  223. "It's clear down here, Mike, but maybe not for long," he calls up.
  224.  
  225. "We'll take it! Guys, over here!" you shout.
  226.  
  227. "You three go on and get out of here! We'll hold them off," Fred orders, seizing another of the horrors with his bare paws and throwing it down the stairs with a furious roar.
  228.  
  229. Stopping halfway across the room, April casts an uneasy glance over her shoulder at Fred. "You're not coming, Freddy?!"
  230.  
  231. "They'd be right behind us -- much easier to hold them off at a choke point. Find a shutdown, an override, anything! We'll hold the line!"
  232.  
  233. "Fred!"
  234.  
  235. "Not up for debate!" he growls. "GO!!"
  236.  
  237. The ragged rabbit hesitates, glancing between the bears and the trap door. "Mike, you first."
  238.  
  239. "What about--"
  240.  
  241. "Trust me," she insists.
  242.  
  243. You give your friends one last apologetic look before swinging your legs down and slipping through the trap door. Unfortunately, your hands slip on the sides of the secret passage. You crash land onto the table butt-first, sending a shockwave through your already aching body. Above, April presses a paw to her mouth, while Rackham rolls his good eye, helping you to your feet.
  244.  
  245. "Yeesh," he says with a mirthless chuckle. "You all right? That looked like it hurt."
  246.  
  247. "Not as much as the fall I took during the rescue operation," you admit, wincing as you rub your sore backside.
  248.  
  249. Standing up on the office's desk, you dust yourself off. You're pretty sure you've bruised your tailbone, but if that's the only injury you leave here with, you're going to consider yourself a lucky man.
  250.  
  251. "Mike," April knocks at the metal chute overhead, getting your attention. "Security tablet... still down there? Can you hand it to me?"
  252.  
  253. "It's here," Rackham responds, snatching it from the table and tossing it to you.
  254.  
  255. "What, can you get into the system?" you ask, passing it up to April's outstretched paw as she reaches down between the rooms.
  256.  
  257. "I can try," she offers, brushing off the tablet and logging into it with her credentials. "...code disabled the custom night settings... in emergency mode."
  258.  
  259. "'Emergency mode'? What's that mean?" you ask through the gap.
  260.  
  261. "Minimal power. I can't... turn Jeremy off from here. But..."
  262.  
  263. "'But'?" Rackham asks, dread in his tone.
  264.  
  265. "I might be able to restore power... to lock down the building..." Looking up from the tablet, she seems almost apologetic. "...trapping him inside."
  266.  
  267. "Trap him inside -- what, in the building with us?!" You gawk at her from your position on the desk. "How is THAT a solution?!"
  268.  
  269. "Better in here with us than outside terrorizing the city." The pained grimace on Rackham's face is enough to let you know that he's no more pleased with the idea than either of you are. "I mean, we don't even know if he's left the building yet."
  270.  
  271. With a sigh, you dismount the desk, stumbling over the rat's nest of cables towards the long access tunnel ahead. "Then do what you have to, but I'm going to go find Nisha. Rackham, you can stay here with April--"
  272.  
  273. "I'm fine," April snaps, cutting you off as she buries her face in the tablet. "Safer up here... than down there. We know Jeremy can't get into the office. Archibald... keep Mike out of trouble."
  274.  
  275. "No promises," he replies, blushing as he jerks his head toward the Speakeasy. "Time to go be heroes, Mike."
  276.  
  277. "Maybe we can distract a few of the mish-mashes while we're at it, to give the guys up top a breather -- and keep April safe too."
  278.  
  279. You quickly follow Rackham out of the empty guard shack, navigating the pizzeria by the red emergency lights built into the floor. Leaning into the Speakeasy from the relative "safety" of the hall, you can see that the auxiliary arcade's been utterly devastated; tables overturned, game machines in ruined heaps, the bar's entire inventory strewn across the floor in puddles of alcohol and broken glass. You catch Rackham before he has a chance to slice his bare feet on the shards.
  280.  
  281. "Careful," you warn, pulling him back by his sleeve.
  282.  
  283. "Damn blind spot," he grumbles embarrassedly.
  284.  
  285. Swarming around the staircase are the mish-mashes, stuttering and flailing as they continue to lurch towards the steps in hopes of overpowering the front lines at the top. You can't make out Fred through the mess of robot parts -- but the sight of a dented, bent lamp swinging out the door and clobbering one of the scrappy machines is enough to let you know he's still kicking (and punching) for now.
  286.  
  287. The room's dark, but you've got a better chance and a clearer view to scan for Nisha. The only trace you can find that she was even here is her black-and-yellow tea hat, having long since been trampled.
  288.  
  289. "She's gone," you breathe.
  290.  
  291. "She bit it, huh?" Rackham asks glumly from behind you, peering over your shoulder while taking care not to step on the broken glass. "I mean, she was a bitch, sure--"
  292.  
  293. "No, I mean -- she's literally not in this room," you reply, hopeful. In spite of Nisha's crimes, relief washes over you. "If she was dead, Jeremy would've left her. So that means she's okay!"
  294.  
  295. "What? No! No, that doesn't mean she's okay, that means we gotta hurry up and find her!!" Rackham wipes sweat from his brow nervously. "If he took her somewhere, that means he's planning on killing her for sure! Let's go!"
  296.  
  297. The two of you backpedal out of the Speakeasy and begin charging down the length of the access tunnel, headed for the dining hall proper.
  298.  
  299.  
  300.  
  301. In contrast with the utter chaos in the warzone behind you, the dining hall's as pristine and serene as ever; if anything, it's almost too orderly in here. The tables are as clean and neat as they were when you came in, the decorations left untouched.
  302.  
  303. "Do you hear that?" Rackham asks.
  304.  
  305. You turn and look at him, bewildered -- it's hard to make out anything in here with the alarms going off. Standing perfectly still, you steady your breathing and cup a hand to your ears, trying to block out the sound of the emergency sirens and your own heartbeat long enough to listen.
  306.  
  307. It's so reserved you almost think you're imagining it, but you can barely make out dissonant carnival-esque music coming from the show stage room. You recognize the music -- the same off-kilter tune that you heard during your shopping trip with Chiclet and Bonnibel. It feels like a lifetime ago.
  308.  
  309. "Wait, do you think she's in there--" you start to ask before an earsplitting screech answers your question.
  310.  
  311. "I'd say it's a safe bet, yep," Rackham replies.
  312.  
  313. Without further hesitation, the two of you burst through the doors dramatically. The showroom itself is almost as large as the dining hall, filled with row upon row of staggered seating, much like a theater or auditorium. The ceiling's covered in an application of once-bright, cheery paint reminiscent of a sunny blue sky, though it's clearly seen better days.
  314.  
  315. Standing at center stage is a haggard, battered, and bloodied -- but very much alive -- Nisha Marigold. Wrapped around her wrists, ankles, and throat are huge yellow theater curtain cords, preventing her from moving.
  316.  
  317. "You're just in time for the grand finale," Jeremy croons as you wander in. He's kicked his blocky feet up in the front row of the audience seating, holding something in one of his claws -- looks like a remote control of some kind. "First time I've ever gotten to see a performance from THIS angle."
  318.  
  319. He clicks one of the buttons on the remote, causing the heavy stage curtains to slowly begin pulling open -- and as they do, the ropes binding Nisha begin to grow taut.
  320.  
  321. "Oh my god," Rackham murmurs as you both realize what's happening. "He's going to draw and quarter her...!"
  322.  
  323. "You always wanted to be at the top," Jeremy calls out mockingly as the dazed, horrified Nisha sobs aloud. "Well -- now you can be the star of the show!"
  324.  
  325. Before you even realize what you're doing, you charge the stage, ignoring your aches and pains as you race past Jeremy and struggle to pull yourself up onto the elevated platform. While you're not really short by human standards, in a world full of amazon chickens and towering bears, you're sorely outmatched in the height department. Either way, there's someone in front of you to save and you're not going to back down, so you hoist yourself onto the stage with strained effort and sheer force of will.
  326.  
  327. "Mike, please...!!" Nisha gurgles as her arms and legs are yanked in opposite directions. You can hear the curtain ropes beginning to groan under the strain.
  328.  
  329. "The motor's behind the curtains!" Rackham calls out as he struggles in vain to mount the stage, having an even more difficult time making it up than you did. "Shut it off!"
  330.  
  331. "I'm looking for it!" you call back frantically.
  332.  
  333. "HUUUURRRRRRY!!" Nisha howls, tears pouring down her face. The fabric in her suit jacket's beginning to rip apart at the seams as she continues to be pulled, and a loud snapping noise provokes a sudden, desperate shriek of agony.
  334.  
  335. Hefting one of the stanchions to keep customers away from the platform, you let adrenaline take over as you duck past the tightening ropes and through the gap in the fabric curtains. Backstage, you spot something that looks like an oversized garage door opener box mounted off to the side, with ropes running through it. You don't see a power switch, and the cables for it seem to be buried underneath the platform.
  336.  
  337. Nisha's screams have been replaced with an awful, breathless choking. The ropes have pulled her straight off the ground, and she hangs suspended above the stage like a marionette as the calliope tune reaches a fever pitch.
  338.  
  339. You're out of time. With no other options, you raise the stanchion and bring it down base-first in a terrific crash on top of the gearbox, bludgeoning its panel open and baring the whirling machinery inside. Aiming for the biggest gap among the cogs, you wedge the metal pole into its inner workings. The gears grind to a stop, the music is overtaken by the screech of wrenching metal, and at last, the curtains stop moving.
  340.  
  341. The smoldering gearbox judders, sparks, and suddenly bursts with a spluttering of oil and a catastrophic whirring sound. The heavy crimson curtains overhead collapse, and with them comes Nisha, landing on the stage with a dull thud. She lies there, still bound, gasping loudly for life-giving air.
  342.  
  343. "Well, THAT was disappointing," Jeremy says with an audible sigh, standing up from his seat and tossing the remote over his shoulder. "All I wanted was to give her a farewell party, but you just had to ruin my fun as always, Schmidt. Have it your way. I'm taking my final leave."
  344.  
  345. Hanging off the edge of the stage, Rackham looks torn between pursuing him and helping you rescue Nisha, so you make up his mind for him by stooping and hoisting him up.
  346.  
  347. "Nisha, you okay?" you call out.
  348.  
  349. "No, I'm not," she coughs, "He broke my arm...! And I think -- ohhh, god!! I can't feel my leg!"
  350.  
  351. "Hang on, we'll cut you free. I gotta pocket knife here," Rackham says, reaching into his cargo shorts and pulling out a serrated hunting knife.
  352.  
  353. It's nothing spectacular, but it's sharp enough that with some effort you should be able to cut her loose. Taking it from him, you begin sawing at the thick ropes, breaking through the first one easily enough. Nisha gasps in relief as her throat, still bearing a severe rope burn, is freed from its nooselike binding. You cut loose her arm, then her leg on the same side to reduce the tension as quickly as possible before going for her other limbs.
  354.  
  355. Lying half-broken on the stage, she looks up at you, her face awash with a blend of emotions -- confusion, fear, misery, and a huge helping of pain. Her right eye's swollen shut, blood's dribbling from her mouth and neck, and her breathing's labored. You can't even begin to tell the extent of her injuries -- being choked, sliced, thrown down a flight of stairs, and then whatever else happened to her between then and now...
  356.  
  357. "That bolted bastard's gonna get away and there isn't shit we can do to stop him." Rackham glares daggers at the back of Jeremy Human's retreating form. "Damn it!"
  358.  
  359. You grunt, trying to help Nisha to her feet, but she yelps out in pain as you take hold of her arm. It's no surprise why: her shoulder is clearly dislocated -- the ropes pulled her arm right out of its socket. She's lucky it's even still attached.
  360.  
  361. "Right now, we gotta get Nisha some help. We'll call the cops or something, put out a neighborhood warning for Jeremy."
  362.  
  363. "If he doesn't disappear first!" Rackham fires back.
  364.  
  365. With a look of defeat, you gaze out the showroom to the main dining hall beyond, where the grotesque music man stands expectantly before the lobby's doors.
  366.  
  367. "Exit, stage left," he shouts excitedly in his uncanny 'performer' voice.
  368.  
  369. The front door flings open, and before Jeremy can make his getaway, an ear splitting CLANG of metal on metal rings out, echoing through the darkened pizzeria. Jeremy staggers backwards, clattering steel stumbling across the tile floor, when a second loud report explodes from the front of the building, sending him backing up even further.
  370.  
  371. He lets out a shrill, digital shriek and lunges headlong at the exit, clawed metal hands raised in menace -- but in a glinting flash of silver, he's rebuffed with yet another deafening bang. Without further ado, the reeling animatronic pulls an immediate about-face and sprints, off-balance, into the depths of the restaurant.
  372.  
  373. You and Rackham are too stunned to say anything even as Cheeky, weaponized wrench slung over her shoulder, steps into the dining hall.
  374.  
  375. "Holy hell, Faz! Did you see that thing?! Was that Jeremy?!" the heavy-built hen calls out to the haggard bear just behind her, running a wing through her headfeathers. "Scared the living daylights outta me!"
  376.  
  377. Faz appears to say something in reply as he follows her into the lobby, but he's much, much too far away to make out.
  378.  
  379. "Hey!" Rackham shouts, waving his good paw. "Hey, you two, over here!"
  380.  
  381. Looking up for the source of Rackham's voice, Cheeky scans the dining hall before realizing where you're at. She breaks into a jog across the room, but Faz stays put at the door -- perhaps to make sure Jeremy doesn't return to it.
  382.  
  383. "Oh, no," Nisha groans, seeing the yellow chicken bouncing her way over.
  384.  
  385. Cheeky climbs up onto the stage with some exertion, looking understandably shocked at the injured CEO lying at your feet. "The hell is this?! You said you weren't going to hit her!"
  386.  
  387. "Hey, this wasn't us! That bastard Jeremy did this!" Rackham protests defensively as Nisha woozily nods, spitting out a mouthful of blood and saliva.
  388.  
  389. "No time to explain, Cheeky," you insist, gesturing to Nisha's obvious injuries. "We gotta get her help, like, right now. She says something's broken, and I don't know if she has any internal bleeding or not."
  390.  
  391. "I have first aid and then some in the car," Cheeky nods, setting her wrench aside. "Is she okay to move?"
  392.  
  393. "No!" Nisha whimpers.
  394.  
  395. "Carefully," you correct. "I'm not sure, but I think her arm and leg are broken on her left side. Shoulder's dislocated, too, right here."
  396.  
  397. Cheeky kneels beside her, appraising the situation. For her part, Nisha's pointedly avoiding eye contact and turning surprisingly red for a black-furred bear. "I don't need your sympathy," she manages between pained sobs.
  398.  
  399. "Good, because you don't have it," Cheeky mutters without so much as missing a beat. "All right, up we go."
  400.  
  401. Rackham huddles nearby, good paw at the ready. "How are we gonna carry her?"
  402.  
  403. "You're gonna help me haul her onto my back," the hefty hen asserts. "We're gonna do a fireman carry."
  404.  
  405. You scoff, exchanging a wry look with Rackham who clearly shares your sentiment. "Cheeky, she's huge."
  406.  
  407. "Hey!" Nisha blurts, face turning even redder.
  408.  
  409. "This is a three, maybe four man job," Rackham chimes in, ignoring Nisha. "And I've only got one paw."
  410.  
  411. Cheeky rolls her eyes, squatting down and grabbing Nisha by the wrist and leg of her good side. "Get her up," she orders.
  412.  
  413. "I really don't think this is a good idea," you mumble, nonetheless struggling against Nisha with all your strength, pushing her up against Cheeky's proffered shoulder.
  414.  
  415. "One, two, THREEEE!" Cheeky grunts, and planting one foot on the stage, she brings herself to a standing position -- with a groaning bear slung over her back sideways.
  416.  
  417. "Holy shit," you mutter, awestruck.
  418.  
  419. "Blistering barnacles," Rackham adds, scratching the back of his head.
  420.  
  421. "All right, I got her. I can get her to the van from here," Cheeky declares as she takes a heavy step towards the edge of the stage before hopping the short distance to ground level. Nisha hollers in pain at the sudden jolt, but Cheeky seems both unfazed and uncaring.
  422.  
  423. Rackham's jaw hangs wide open like it's in need of a mechanic. "Wow, Cheeky, I -- I take back everything I've ever said about your weight."
  424.  
  425. "What the hell have you said about my weight?!" Cheeky pants, plodding toward the front door.
  426.  
  427. You wonder idly if this is the first bear she's had to carry. Bonworth and Haddock would be in no condition to heft Faz if he ever fell, and Cheeky clearly built up no small amount of strength as a mechanic.
  428.  
  429. Meanwhile, Rackham's endeavoring just to carry her giant wrench, hauling it along as you both follow her through the dining hall. You keep awkwardly trying to help Cheeky, only to realize more and more with each step that she really doesn't need it.
  430.  
  431. "Cheeky, call an ambulance as soon as you're safe. The cops, too... national guard if you think you can somehow swing it." You turn around, looking nervously over your shoulder in case Jeremy decides to ambush your group while your backs are turned. "The bots are running wild, and if they get out -- a lot of people are going to be hurt."
  432.  
  433. "I'm on it," she promises without slowing down. "What about you guys?"
  434.  
  435. "April's trying to figure out a way to lock the building down. We have to stop this," Rackham nods grimly. "As for the others, they're all still in trouble."
  436.  
  437. "There are all these horrible messed-up robot things running around -- besides just the band," you hurriedly relay to Cheeky as you trail her to the front. "Fred and the others are holding them off for now, so we're going to find a way to stop this."
  438.  
  439. "...promise me you'll be careful while I'm gone," Cheeky sighs. "I'll call Doc Rabbinson and see if I can get her to hurry down to look this lump of dead weight over, then I'm comin' straight back inside."
  440.  
  441. Rackham shakes his head. "With any luck, the building will be locked down by then."
  442.  
  443. "Well, no offense, but do you two really think you can handle that on your own?" She inclines her head at the giant wrench, which Rackham is struggling to even hold. "If you can't even lift that thing, how are you going to take on a bunch of killer robots?"
  444.  
  445. Stepping away from the front door as Cheeky passes by, Faz reaches a calloused finger to his neck, pressing the button on his electrolarynx. "I'm staying here to help, Chica."
  446.  
  447. "Absolutely not!" Cheeky squawks, coming to a screeching halt, causing Nisha to yelp as a result of being jostled. "You're in no shape for any of this shit! You'll rip your stitches loose or worse!"
  448.  
  449. He sniffs, gingerly taking the oversized wrench from Rackham before turning his full attention to you. "A worthy price for the risk involved. Mike, tell me about these new robots."
  450.  
  451. Cheeky growls in frustration, while her passenger clings in panic. "Faz, I swear to god, if you go out there and do something stupid--"
  452.  
  453. "Don't worry about me," he replies dismissively.
  454.  
  455. "Oh, sure, why didn't I think of that?!" she yells, swinging around in the front doorway, nearly smacking Nisha's head against the frame. "Just NOT worry about my already very-injured friend -- great idea! Super easy!"
  456.  
  457. "Chica..."
  458.  
  459. She warbles, fluffing up the feathers around her chest and neck. Nisha lets out a pained groan from over her shoulder, still fully ignored. "Don't you 'Chica' me, you stubborn old softie!"
  460.  
  461. Faz tries again, this time without his electric voicebox. "Chica, I will take every precaution possible. But I can't do nothing."
  462.  
  463. "...yeah, I know," Cheeky finally relents, shoulders sagging as she turns to the door. "Mike, Rackham -- I will PERSONALLY break your noses if you let anything happen to our thick-headed bear."
  464.  
  465. "We'll do our best," you nod hastily. "If it's any consolation, stubbornness seems to be a trend in our bears, too."
  466.  
  467. She pauses, giving Faz one last look before stepping out into the night, towards the cargo van. "All right, lead-butt. We've got plenty of time to patch you up before the authorities show up, so I'm hoping you're feelin' chatty. You ever had a limb re-set before?"
  468.  
  469. Rackham continues to stare in her direction long after the front door's swung shut. "...what a gal."
  470.  
  471. "No kidding," you add appreciatively.
  472.  
  473. "Gentlemen," Faz rumbles. "The new robots?"
  474.  
  475. "Oh -- yeah. Right. The new ones aren't 'smart' like the mascots are. They don't talk. Probably can't be reasoned with. I don't know where they came from, but they're dangerous. I'm not sure if they can get out of the building or not, which is another reason we've got April locking it down."
  476.  
  477. He pauses, considering, and hefts the giant wrench in one paw. "What do they look like?"
  478.  
  479. "They uh -- they're piecemeal. Thrown together from spare parts, if I had to guess," you reply, turning back to face him. "Leftover stuff from the other characters, junk, broken metal bits. I'm not sure how or even what--"
  480.  
  481. "Fritzine."
  482.  
  483. Rackham turns, scratching his head with his prosthetic claw. "...you think we've got a bot building bots?"
  484.  
  485. "It's in her design. Fixing and building," Faz says, straightening the collar on his enormous trenchcoat. "She's not supposed to make whole new ones, but..."
  486.  
  487. "Clearly none of them are too worried about 'supposed to' anymore," you conclude for him. "Is there some way we can shut them down?"
  488.  
  489. "Bot Bay." Faz gestures to the hallway in the dim red glow of the dining room. "We can at least stop any more from being put together. Maybe find some way to run interference."
  490.  
  491. "Then let's get going," Rackham says.
  492.  
  493. With the pizzeria-savvy Faz taking up the position of leadership, you and Rackham tag along dutifully. You leave the central dining area and head toward the corridor leading to Bot Bay, past the huge arcade where the dazzling lights and idle sounds of the various games fill the gasps of silence between klaxon shrieks with giddy aplomb.
  494.  
  495. Faz's every step feels determined and aggressive. You find it hard to believe that this is the same soft-spoken gentleman bear who you shared a quiet salmon meal with not long ago. At this point, confrontation seems inevitable. Your worried mind drifts back to Fred and Frederick, and April as well. You can only hope they're still holding the line, and with minimal injury. Hopefully they won't have to do it for much longer.
  496.  
  497. Heading past the cardboard standee of Jeremy, Faz wisely peers around the corner rather than just marching down the hallway straight out -- and he promptly freezes in place.
  498.  
  499. "...Faz?" you ask.
  500.  
  501. After a long moment, he leans back around, resting against the wall with a deadened expression on his face.
  502.  
  503. "I see them," he whispers with his natural voice, weary and full of dread. "Three of them. Guarding the door to the Bay."
  504.  
  505. "We're in no condition to fight through three of those things," Rackham says.
  506.  
  507. Faz runs a heavy, scarred paw over Cheeky's borrowed wrench. "Maybe one at a time. But not like this."
  508.  
  509. "We're gonna have to sneak past them," you agree.
  510.  
  511. "Easy," Faz mutters. You'd protest, especially for his size, but you know better than anyone else how quickly and quietly the tattered bear can move when he feels like it.
  512.  
  513. "No."
  514.  
  515. You glance over your shoulder at Rackham. "'No' what?"
  516.  
  517. He shakes his head grimly. "The hall's a dead end. Even if all three of us could get past them, we'd just be surrounded. Plus, if Fritzine's in there and she calls for help, we're doubly screwed."
  518.  
  519. "...not to mention that Fritzine herself is really strong," you mutter, rubbing your ribs anxiously. "We can't deal with all that. We need a distraction -- something that'll get them far enough to be out of earshot."
  520.  
  521. No one says anything.
  522.  
  523. You look up, slowly, meeting Rackham's gaze. Beneath the pulsing red lights, his eye glints with a deeper understanding -- and your thought process comes to a dreadful conclusion.
  524.  
  525. "Hey, wait, no! Rackham--"
  526.  
  527. "Don't be a hero," Faz urgently adds.
  528.  
  529. Rackham stands up straight, pats Faz on the shoulder, and takes a deep breath.
  530.  
  531. "Give 'em hell, chief."
  532.  
  533. "Rackham!" you plead.
  534.  
  535. Without hesitation, the scrawny fox leaps out around the corner, waving his arms and shouting something indiscernible. He nods to Faz, snapping off a sailor's salute before turning and charging madly down the hall back the way you came, arms flailing and jaw flapping. Seconds later, three clambering, clattering monstrosities of twisted scrap and seizing servos heave themselves past your hiding place just next to the door.
  536.  
  537. By appearances, they're all very similar (if unfinished and horribly contorted) variants on the boxy green Safety Schmidt design. One is bedecked in old, worn padding, one has limbs covered in sleek, bright plastic, and the last is badly stained by thick black streaks running down its shell from every possible seam. They scramble, screeching, after the living distraction, leaving you and Faz totally unnoticed. The moment they disappear from sight, Faz shoves off and stomps toward the airlock door.
  538.  
  539. "Let's not waste any time, Mike."
  540.  
  541. You hurry along with him, glancing over your shoulder repeatedly. "But Rackham and the others--"
  542.  
  543. "Will be fine," he murmurs. "Just so long as we handle this quickly."
  544.  
  545. Standing at the entrance to Bot Bay, you and Faz size up the heavy airlock-style door. A thumping noise overhead draws your attention to an uncovered vent protruding from the ceiling. You startle upon seeing yet another bulky mish-mash robot wedged inside the duct, though thankfully, it appears to be stuck, slamming repetitively against the tunnel over and over again in an attempt to dislodge itself.
  546.  
  547. "We've found the source, all right," Faz observes. "I know for a fact that duct runs into Bot Bay."
  548.  
  549. "Fritzine's got to have locked herself in, then, and April's got the tablet," you reply. "She'll listen to me -- she thinks I'm Schmidt, after all -- but getting past this airlock is gonna be a problem."
  550.  
  551. "It's not a real airlock. Just made to look like one." Walking toward it, Faz gently works his paws into the thin gap between the door's panels, drawing a deep breath. "Give me a moment."
  552.  
  553. "Faz, what are you--"
  554.  
  555. He lets out a rasping, voiceless snarl of his own, gritting his teeth as he pulls at the door in a near-Samsonian display of strength. Burdened muscles bulge beneath his heavy coat, and you watch in squeamish horror as a seam of stitches on his forearm begins to split into a fresh red gash.
  556.  
  557. "Gggrraaaahhhh!!"
  558.  
  559. "Stop, Faz! You're hurting yourself!" you quietly beg, trying not to attract Fritzine's attention.
  560.  
  561. He doesn't relent, even as a dark stain begins to spread from a spot on his back between his shoulders, soaking all the way through his coat. Blood begins to trickle freely from his sleeves, but finally the entrance gives way, creating a small gap. The bear hoists the heavy metal wrench, jamming it into the gap between the door and its frame. With effort, he manages to force the door open wide enough to pass through. Pulling back, he lets his arms fall loosely to his sides, spraying the ground with flecks of dark liquid.
  562.  
  563. "You okay?" you ask.
  564.  
  565. "Fine," he grunts, grimacing slightly. "Let's go."
  566.  
  567. The bear doesn't even hesitate, squeezing through the ominous portal into the room beyond. You've no choice but to follow.
  568.  
  569. If you thought Bot Bay was dark before, it's pretty much black as pitch inside. Forget that high-powered, anti-animatronic headlamp from your fantasy war-planning; you'd settle for a penlight right now. Reaching into his coat pocket, Faz produces a packet of matches, handing them off to you. You recognize them as the same ones you used at your morning cookout.
  570.  
  571. "Still haven't forgotten that fish dinner I owe you," you reply with a self-conscious smile.
  572.  
  573. "Something to look forward to," Faz agrees, wearily.
  574.  
  575. Trying to ignore the tacky wet smear you can feel across the face of the matchbook, you strike a dim light, pressing forward into the darkened lab.
  576.  
  577. Inside the eerie Bot Bay, you can make out the sound of furious noises and muffled grumbling coming from the far end of the long, corridor-like room. Clanging hammers and ratchet wrenching along with the occasional brief flash of light from a sparking arc welder are evidence enough that Fritzine herself is still in here. As you approach the source of the sounds, you can see an array of metal parts strewn haphazardly across the floor and every available flat surface.
  578.  
  579. "These gosh-dang insufferable workin' conditions," the barely-visible robot complains under her "breath", hurling some unusable part behind herself into a bin. "Land sakes, you think the union would do somethin' about this kinda treatment! At least gimme a hard hat with a light on it or some such!"
  580.  
  581. You look over to Faz, gesturing to your face, then his before motioning for him to hide behind the storage locker. He nods, slipping off to the side to give you room to try "negotiating" with Fritzine under the guise of the missing animatronic everyone says you resemble. Steadying your nerves, you close your eyes, strike a fresh match, and try your hardest to slip into the "Safety Schmidt" character one more time.
  582.  
  583. "Good luck. You can do this," Faz whispers encouragingly.
  584.  
  585. "Fritzine!" you bark authoritatively, stomping forward towards her. "What is the meaning of these code violations?"
  586.  
  587. Flipping her "welding mask" -- one of the cheap prize masks similar to the one Beanie tendered her resignation on -- up over her synthetic hair, Fritzine flashes her scanning eyes at you.
  588.  
  589. "Schmidt! I NEVER thought you were gonna show up!" she declares with a smile, standing up and trundling over to you for another hug. You panic, realizing you can't take another bonecrushing tackle, stepping back with your arms raised.
  590.  
  591. "Negative! Uh, no physical contact -- you might be unsafe!"
  592.  
  593. "I might be unsafe? Me?" she gawks, stopping her arms just short of squeezing you like a tube of toothpaste. "Schmidt, what're you talkin' about? If anything, I'm more up t'code than either of our pals!"
  594.  
  595. "I've witnessed multiple, um, animatronic design... schema... discombobulations," you clarify, glancing back to Faz. He shakes his head, dragging one of his bloody paws down his face in exasperation at your horrible ad-libbing. "There are NUMEROUS reports of un-safety ongoing, right now, in this very pizzeria!"
  596.  
  597. "Un-safety?" she chirps, arms folded. "Schmidt, listen to ya. You sure you don't have a screw loose?"
  598.  
  599. "If I did, how would you know? You wouldn't think I'd know that you'd know, but you wouldn't know if I did or didn't, or did, would you know?" you stammer, trying to ignore the sweat pouring down your head as you struggle to stay in-character. "You know what I'm saying?"
  600.  
  601. "Schmiiiiiiidddddd-ddd-ddd-ddd-ddd-ddd-dd--" Her eyes flash solid blue and her head jerks, stuttering repeatedly before snapping back upright with the sound of wind chimes and a pleasant jingle. "Hoo-eeee, I'm Funtime Fritzine and I surely do love fixin' and creatin' things! Oh, hi, Schmidt. What're you doin' here?"
  602.  
  603. Great. You crashed her.
  604.  
  605. If only she didn't reboot automatically, you'd have this in the bag.
  606.  
  607. "Fritzine, I have bad news! Things are TERRIBLY unsafe right now!!" you loudly protest through chattering teeth of your own as you strike another match, the renewed light doing little to calm your nerves. "I'm going to need you to cease and desist all operations immediately, until the safety of our customers and clients can be assured. Think of the children!"
  608.  
  609. She doesn't take her eyes off you, but returns to work at her desk, taking her hammer in one hand and shoving two mismatched limbs together with the other. "...Children? We're not even in operational hours!"
  610.  
  611. "Don't change the subject!" You push on, hoping something will get through. "You know you're not supposed to be creating new robot-- humani-- uh, performers."
  612.  
  613. With a whirr, her head spins to look at you, turning away from her workbench. "I-- well, I know these ain't TECHNICALLY approved parts, but-- but Jeremy said it was safe to just--"
  614.  
  615. "Jeremy doesn't understand what's 'safe'! That's my job!"
  616.  
  617. "...am I in trouble?" she asks, her synthetic voice taking a wavering tone.
  618.  
  619. "Huge trouble!"
  620.  
  621. "Oh, dad-blast it all to smithereens!" she groans, slamming her hammer down on her nearby workbench, folding her arms in a tantrum-like huff. Despite the cartoonish display of petulance, her raw strength is more than enough to splinter the worktable, sending its parts clattering across the floor. "I knew it! I KNEW you and Jeremy were gonna butt heads on this one! That's what I get for cavin' to another of his impromptu 'rush orders'!"
  622.  
  623. "'Rush order'?" you ask in your normal voice before quickly slipping back into character. "Uh, I mean -- state the details of this 'rush order'."
  624.  
  625. "The boss came in here belly-achin' about wantin' a number of new backup performers for some big show he was gonna put on," Fritzine says, pouting. "I told him we didn't even have enough good parts to make a single performer -- since I mean, if we did, we wouldn't have that lump Darky singin' in your place on stage."
  626.  
  627. "Right," you prompt, lighting another match from your dwindling supply, nervously scanning the dim room for any sign of Faz. "Uh, please continue?"
  628.  
  629. "So I told him that the only kinda performer I could get him would be if I cobbled one together outta the spare parts we got! I was just jokin', on account of they're not stage-certified, but that starry-eyed lunkhead told me to do it! I said they wouldn't be safe -- or even functional, really -- but he just gave me some corporate mumbo-jumbo and took off. So here we are!"
  630.  
  631. "Well that's easily enough solved," you reply, folding your arms and nodding. "Just, um, cancel the order? I mean, cancel it, straightaway."
  632.  
  633. "Sorry, Schmidt." She stoops down under her ruined workbench, returning a moment later with a filthy swatch of foam matting and a three-foot pair of industrial shears. "I know you're lookin' out for the safety of everyone and it's mighty admirable you wanna do your job, like. But you know that you're just the number two, and we can't violate a direct order, 'specially if it's from corporate. So I ain't got no choice but t'follow through."
  634.  
  635. Crap. Looks like Jeremy's pulled rank on you. You'd grab the prize mask off her head and have Faz use it to impersonate Jeremy, but unfortunately her impromptu welding protection is a plastic mold of her own face. Short of doubling back to the arcade for the correct one and risking running into something nasty on the way, you're running out of options to talk her down. Time's ticking and your friends need you now more than ever -- you're going to have to push on.
  636.  
  637. You straighten your shoulders, trying not to let your deteriorating state show through in your voice. "Fritzine, I'm insisting. You see -- uh, these creations of yours are a health hazard to our guests. Even Jeremy can't override corporate policy."
  638.  
  639. The animatronic handywoman slams the ragged matting down and swivels her head to look back at you. "I'll have them in line by morning! Sure, they're a little rough now, but I can fix this before our first little guests come in. Y'know I work well under pressure."
  640.  
  641. You grit your teeth in frustration. "You're not listening. We have guests NOW."
  642.  
  643. "During night hours? I reckon not." She fixes her gaze on you, and a flickering red light in her eyes fires up as she scans you a second time. "You know somethin', Schmidt, you been actin' real funny ever since you came back. The comin' and goin' without warning, the redesign... Jeremy said there was somethin' off about you. I'm startin' to think he was right."
  644.  
  645. Taking a step back, you put a little distance between Fritzine and yourself. A sudden pain in your finger prompts you to toss your burnt-down match, leaving you fumbling in pitch darkness for another.
  646.  
  647. Only a few left. You pluck one out a little too hard, and fumble it to the floor.
  648.  
  649. Another. It refuses to light.
  650.  
  651. You try again. And again. No light. You desperately strike it once more. Finally, its sparking ignition flares up into a pool of orange light around you, only to reveal a lifeless metal face waiting mere inches in front of yours. You jump backwards, stumbling into a wall of wooden crates and spare part boxes.
  652.  
  653. "Blabbing on about after-hour guests. Littering on the floor. Jumpy, too. Ain't like you, Schmidt." She clicks the giant shears, leveling them at your chest. "I'm going to need to be sure you ain't been compromised."
  654.  
  655. "Fritzine, what if I spoke to corporate?" you ask with a sense of urgency in your voice. You have no idea what Faz's planning, but you're hoping he'll do it soon. "Maybe saw to getting you some better working conditions in here?"
  656.  
  657. She cocks her head, tapping your chest with a rusty blade. "You BRIBIN' me, Schmidt?"
  658.  
  659. You shake your head quickly, dribbling sweat. "No, no no. In fact, corporate's here right now, I could speak to them about it."
  660.  
  661. "Uh huh. They're here now." Her tone is decidedly less friendly than it was.
  662.  
  663. "Newer components for upgrades," you add, realizing that she's not going for it. "High... spec. Uh, top quality and brands... at affordable prices?"
  664.  
  665. Her eye-ports click audibly, adjusting, and she straightens up to her full, towering posture.
  666.  
  667. "New parts. New, SAFE, good parts," you insist. "The best Humanimatronics Licensed has to offer."
  668.  
  669. "Limited," Fritzine thrums.
  670.  
  671. "Limited. Humanimatronics Limited," you hastily correct.
  672.  
  673. "Malfunction," she belts out in a static growl, placing a huge, heavy hand on your shoulder. "Immediate repair necessary."
  674.  
  675. "Corporate IS here, right now," a voice says from behind Fritzine.
  676.  
  677. You peer desperately over Fritzine's shoulder to see the forgotten animatronic performer, the regrettably-named Darky, emerge from behind a box, looking a bit worse for wear even since you last saw him. His metal hide's covered in scratchmarks, and both his hook and one of his eyes have gone missing, but otherwise he's intact.
  678.  
  679. "No. You're funnin' me," Fritzine gasps. "This time of night?"
  680.  
  681. "The CEO and Mr. Afton, both of them," Darky says, blinking -- no, winking at you with his remaining eye, the plastic eyelid making a little shutter-click noise as he does. "Pretty sure I saw Mr. Fazbear's car in the parking lot too. Along with a supply van. Could be full of parts."
  682.  
  683. He nods back at you from behind Fritzine, just out of her sight. You don't quite understand, but you're not at all about to question it -- this is exactly the opening you needed!
  684.  
  685. "Right. You see, this is what I was trying to tell you. I think there's a possibility Jeremy might be malfunctioning," you add, seizing the momentum. "Why else would corporate show up in the middle of the night, unless it were an emergency?"
  686.  
  687. "What, Jeremy too?! Oh, no, this is bad," Fritzine wheedles, clicking her huge shears and swinging them around the room in worried confusion. "But -- but I don't wanna risk gettin' Jeremy upset..."
  688.  
  689. "I'll be all too glad to deal with him," you reply, stepping away from the blades as they swing near your face. More like you'll be all too glad when he's dealt with -- preferably to the tune of being taken apart and fed to a wood chipper. "For now, safety's our top priority. Jeremy's show can wait!"
  690.  
  691. "But--"
  692.  
  693. "Why do you think he'd give you such a crazy job?" Darky prompts, ducking one of her passing swipes. "Fritz', this is serious. I'd listen to Schmidt, if I was you."
  694.  
  695. "An unsafe task from an unsafe animatronic," you chime in, keeping the snowball rolling. "Jeremy should know corporate rules better than any of us. After all, it's his face on the building."
  696.  
  697. "If he's giving the orders, and he's unsafe, then the orders aren't safe!" Fritzine stammers, her head starting to twitch and convulse. "And if the orders aren't safe then I'm not safe and if I'm not safe then then then the-e-e-ee-e-ee-e-ee-eEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE--"
  698.  
  699. Her head snaps upright and her eyes go blue as she hard-reboots again -- just as your match burns down to your finger, prompting you to drop it. The last thing you see before the room plunges into darkness is Faz's immense form surging up over a pile of boxes behind Fritzine.
  700.  
  701. "I got her!" comes a hoarse, strained voice. "Help me keep her down!"
  702.  
  703. You dive forward in the darkness, instinctively, but as you reach out a white-hot pain leaps through your left hand, jolting up your arm. You fall backwards, clutching your palm, which feels wet and slippery to the touch.
  704.  
  705. "Here -- HERE!" Faz's voice, again. "Hold her arm!"
  706.  
  707. The sound of overworked metal, clanking debris, and gasping breath fill the void of darkness. You pat desperately across the ground for your dropped matchbook, but suddenly there's a loud click and you nearly recoil at the harsh light that follows.
  708.  
  709. Your eyes quickly readjust after suffering the oppressive darkness of Bot Bay for so long. Darky's holding a lit flashlight, not unlike the very one you and Beanie shone in his eyes the night she took you here. He places it on the floor pointing straight up, to avoid glare and let the scattered light coming off the ceiling bathe the surroundings in dim white.
  710.  
  711. "Mike! You okay?" Faz gasps.
  712.  
  713. He's tackled Fritzine flat on the ground, both his knees on her back. She struggles beneath him, and despite the bear's impressive size, it's clear he's working hard just to keep her pinned. The prone humanimatronic madly waves her immense shears, emitting static-filled shrieks with every swing.
  714.  
  715. "SCHMIDT!" She thrashes as she speaks, and you can't help but notice what appears to be your own blood adorning the rusty blades in her hand. "WHAT IN TARNATION IS THIS?! RULE VIOLATION! UNAPPROVED PARTS! DISASSEMBLY! DON'T TOUCH ME!"
  716.  
  717. Her arm pivots in its socket, unnaturally, and she aims the shears backwards at Faz. From your position, it's all you can do to scream through the pain.
  718.  
  719. "Look out!"
  720.  
  721. Before Fritzine can get off a lethal swing, Darky stamps on her wrist, pinning her weapon to the floor with a crunch.
  722.  
  723. "You all right there?" Darky looks to you, helping keep the thrashing bot pinned. "That looks, uh... severe."
  724.  
  725. Clenching your teeth, you nod vigorously even though all the nerves in your arm are overloading your pain center. "I-- mmmmggghhhh! Fine! Just -- did something REALLY stupid...! Just -- turn her off!"
  726.  
  727. "Oh, I'll do better than that," Faz grumbles.
  728.  
  729. He reaches back, sliding Cheeky's enormous wrench across the floor towards himself before taking hold of it in both paws. With a pained grunt, he slams the jaws against the nape of Fritzine's neck, twisting.
  730.  
  731. Her voice stutters and eyes begin to spark. "WH-WH-WH-WH-WHAT DO YOU THINK THINK THINK THINK YOU'RE DOIN', YOU UNAPPROPROPROPROVED--"
  732.  
  733. Faz lets out a hoarse, agonized growl, and with one last forceful push, he twists Fritzine's head off, disconnecting it from her endoskeleton altogether. Her round face rolls across the floor before coming to a neat stop in her own nest of thick, fake hair.
  734.  
  735. Forcing himself to his feet, Faz leans against one of the few remaining tables for support, panting heavily.
  736.  
  737. "Mike, you all right? Let me see your arm," he wheezes.
  738.  
  739. "No, I'm fine -- besides, you're in worse shape than me!" you exclaim, shaking your head and trying to power through the agony. "What do we do now?"
  740.  
  741. "Production's halted but that won't stop the ones that are out there," Faz answers, picking up a roll of shop towels and handing a few to you. You accept them gratefully, pressing them against your wound in an attempt to stem the bleeding. "I've got an idea, though."
  742.  
  743. "We could sure use one right about now," you moan, fastening the towels to your hand with a strip of electrical tape to serve as a stopgap tourniquet.
  744.  
  745. "Looks like some of the technical controls were moved back here, probably for Fritzine. These used to be in the showroom."
  746.  
  747. Stooping, Faz picks the flashlight up, carrying it over to a complicated panel that looks like an old-fashioned telephone switchboard. He taps one of the buttons experimentally, causing a tinny (and creepy) pre-recorded clip of laughing children to play through speakers in the room overhead. As he does, one of the half-finished robots Fritzine was working on twitches, its servos and motors clicking and whirring as it thrashes uselessly on the floor.
  748.  
  749. You allow yourself a pained smirk -- you may not be the one at the controls, but at least one of your ideas turned out to be right.
  750.  
  751. "Thought so. She was using a modified version of the old turnkey AI," Faz says, turning back to you. "They were designed to follow noise until they found guests to interact with."
  752.  
  753. "And you can lure them somewhere with those sounds, yeah," you reply, already seeing where he's going with this plan. "What about the alarms, though?"
  754.  
  755. Faz studies the console for a moment, peering at the various dials and buttons, then promptly jams his fingers underneath a few of the cords and rips them straight from the wall. At once, the klaxons around the pizzeria cease blaring. You'd grown so used to their constant noise that now that it's suddenly a lot more quiet in here, you're not sure what to think.
  756.  
  757. "That works," you mumble. "Where are you sending the mish-mashes, then?"
  758.  
  759. "The what?"
  760.  
  761. "The -- junk robots," you reply.
  762.  
  763. "Showroom. Off the path. Stall them out until we can figure out how to disable them." Faz hits the button again, causing another burst of laughter to play overhead, this time in the direction you both came from. "Nnnnh. The rooms aren't labeled. Going to have to guess at it."
  764.  
  765. "Just don't lure them in here, I guess." You begin limping toward the door at the far end of the room.
  766.  
  767. "I wouldn't go out there," Faz warns. "They'll already be heading towards the sound."
  768.  
  769. "Oh. Right, yeah, good point." You turn around, sizing up the far door, opposite the way you came in. "Where does this one lead off to, Faz?"
  770.  
  771. "Back of the pizzeria. Kitchen and storage."
  772.  
  773. "All right, good. I'm gonna go see if I can head Rackham off and hook back up with the others. Hey, Darky, do you mind keeping watch over -- wait, where'd he go?"
  774.  
  775. Faz shines the flashlight down both ends of Bot Bay, but the rogue animatronic's nowhere to be seen. Finally, the bear returns a wary, knowing glance at you.
  776.  
  777. "Be careful, Mike," Faz cautions, pulling a switch to open the second airlock.
  778.  
  779.  
  780.  
  781. The alternate exit of Bot Bay empties out into a sizable room that vaguely resembles the interior of a warehouse. The walls are made of brick with exposed metal and wooden beams, sheets of insulation dangling haphazardly from the ceiling. It's dark in here, but in the dim moonlight that filters in through the tiny hopper windows atop the walls, you can barely make out looming pillars of cardboard boxes and stacked wooden pallets. Most of the containers look to be full of foodservice items and old prizes for the arcade, and a few raggedy dolls of everyone's favorite human characters have spilled across the floor.
  782.  
  783. You can hear feverish noises coming from the far end of the room -- a frantic, feral clawing. Did Rackham manage to lure the mish-mashes and hide out back here? Hopeful, you step over a three-legged table with a confetti-print surface, cautiously making your way through the storeroom, keeping quiet the entire time. The shattering peal of broken glass causes you to flinch, and you hurriedly take cover behind a shelving unit loaded down with metal buckets full of tomato sauce.
  784.  
  785. More carefully now, you draw closer to the source of the noise. Your heart begins to sink -- an eerie, emerald-colored radiance illuminates the back corner of the warehouse, and you have a feeling it's not coming from some glow-in-the-dark prize from the arcade. The hairs on your neck bristle, goosebumps run the lengths of your arms and legs, and your ears pulse with the sound of your own heartbeat as you take one more hesitant step forward. Peering out from behind the cover of one of the sauce buckets, your fears are confirmed.
  786.  
  787.  
  788. Jeremy's here.
  789.  
  790.  
  791. Standing opposite a crumbling, six-foot-high pile of junk -- arcade machines with "out of order" stickers taped over their displays, discarded fiberglass figurines and signs, and other chintzy decor -- is Jeremy Human, who's scrabbling to get it all moved. The killer robot has his hands quite literally full as he works overtime to hurl the disused crap out of the way, digging like a man clawing out of his own grave. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why: all of this garbage is piled up in front of the fire exit.
  792.  
  793. You can imagine the Safety Schmidt character would have a lot to say about such a blatant fire code violation if he were here to see it. That said, Jeremy has already moved a veritable mountain of refuse trying to escape. As the door's last blockages are cleared before your eyes, you realize that the safest thing possible would be to keep Jeremy inside at all costs.
  794.  
  795. Despite the mounting pain in your arm, you have an odd clarity of mind right now -- a sense of peace. You know you should be terrified, rattled to your core -- but somehow, you feel emboldened. Maybe you're being guided by the conviction that what you have to do is right, maybe you've just been scared for so long that you've burnt that sensor out. Either way, you draw a deep breath and step out into the room to make your stand.
  796.  
  797. "Show's over, Jeremy," you call out sternly.
  798.  
  799. The machine stops cold without even turning to look at you. His hands, already outstretched for the door's handle, click audibly in the still of the room like switchblades opening and closing, his shoulders rising and falling as if he were breathing.
  800.  
  801. "Schmidt," he drones. "You really don't know how to mind your own business."
  802.  
  803. "I've been hearing that a lot lately." You grimace, trying to ignore your arm's protests.
  804.  
  805. Turning around, the towering monstrosity smirks at you, head tilted, as chilling green light pours from his sockets.
  806.  
  807. "You can't stop me. Not this time. I'd break you just for the satisfaction of it, after all the times you've stood in my way, but frankly I'd rather not risk damaging this frame. Where I'm going, there is no Fritzine to patch me up," he sneers, flexing one of his claws. "You can stay in this insufferable place. But me, I've made my last curtain call."
  808.  
  809. Blood drips slowly from your fingertips. "Let me ask you one question, first."
  810.  
  811. His static-filled voice lets out a strange groan. "Then ASK."
  812.  
  813. "I told you something about the rules, four years ago. November 12th. Do you remember what I said?"
  814.  
  815. Jeremy's head tilts at an odd angle, and the green light in his eyes flickers, crackling audibly. A strange clunky whirring sound echoes from his robot brain, not unlike a hard drive under heavy load. Again and again he juts his head to one side, then the other. After a long moment, he stops, and his eyes return to their piercing, solid green.
  816.  
  817. "No results," he muses, quietly. "What is this?"
  818.  
  819. You shake your head. "Try November 13th."
  820.  
  821. "Schmidt." The tin man growls, clicking his jaw shut. "What kind of a question is that?!"
  822.  
  823. The fluorescent lights overhead click on all at once with a powerful hum, suddenly flooding the room in harsh blue light, and the pneumatic locks in the exit door behind Jeremy loudly engage. The security camera in the corner of the room whirrs as it slowly turns to face you, its lens zooming and focusing, red recording indicator blinking away.
  824.  
  825. Seems April finally pulled through.
  826.  
  827. "The kind that takes a while to answer," you shrug with a vindicated grin.
  828.  
  829. Jeremy's eyes whirr, servos spinning loud enough to hear as he glances around the brightly-lit room. He turns, gripping the doorknob with both clawed metal hands. He tugs at it, slams his shoulder against it, kicks it, growing ever more desperate. The screeching din of metal on metal fills the air as he begins trying to claw his way to freedom, making no headway whatsoever. Finally, he stops, his skull resting against the impassable door.
  830.  
  831. Slowly at first, then building to a maddening clatter, his entire frame begins to rattle as if he's in the middle of an earthquake. His mouth opens wide as he lets loose a sharp, electronic banshee scream that causes you to instinctively clamp your hands over your ears. He trembles, twisting in place to glare straight at you. The components in his face bend and flex under immense pressure as he draws his arms back.
  832.  
  833. And then he lunges straight for you.
  834.  
  835. He's on you faster than you can even blink. You cry out for help as he topples you onto your back, pinning you in place. Your head impacts the concrete floor hard enough that you see stars while he unleashes an inhuman fury. It's all you can do just to shield your face with your arms in a desperate effort to keep him from ripping your skull apart. He tears into you, slashing his knifelike claws across your arms until they burn from the cuts and your own blood begins to drip down onto your face. Unsatisfied with the results, he rears back and punches you square in the chest, and the cracking sound it produces reverberates through your very core.
  836.  
  837. It's getting hard to breathe. Reaching down, he grabs one of your defensive arms, wresting it away with a cruel, twisting motion. Pain shoots through you, and you realize with a detached clarity that the strange noise you're hearing over Jeremy's shrill tone is your own screaming. He goes for your other arm immediately, and you try not to resist as he pins it down -- but perhaps unhappy with your reaction, he grabs it with his other hand as well, snapping your forearm like a twig. He seems to have liked that response better, because he proceeds to do it again on the same arm.
  838.  
  839. With your head unprotected, he sets on you with one hand wrapped around your throat, strangling you in an industrial-strength grip, his free hand raised in menace before coming down hard. The pain is so overwhelming now, it can't even be separated to distinct sources. And yet it all feels so distant, so strangely remote, as if you were only watching yourself get beaten to death from a theater seat.
  840.  
  841. An odd clarity. A sense of peace.
  842.  
  843. With each successive strike, the room grows dimmer. Your head's beginning to swim, your vision muddled like you're underwater. Your muscles and bones feel like sludge. You're vaguely cognizant of a sudden shout from behind you, but you can't even process the words. Sounds like a man's voice; calm, but firm.
  844.  
  845. Like a father scolding an errant child.
  846.  
  847. You're in such agony that it's almost impossible to tell if Jeremy's stopped or not, but peeking out through one of your puffy eyelids, you notice he's at least ceased moving. His claws dangle limply at his sides as he stares ahead at something past you, the motors in his face protesting as he gnashes his plastic teeth.
  848.  
  849. "Old man," Jeremy snaps fractiously, "nobody INVITED you!"
  850.  
  851. He scratches wildly over you, heaving and swiping at some unseen target. Then he twists, turning to reach behind him, as if swatting at some fly. It's too hard to focus, but through the red fog you can't help but watch the rattling music man as he scrapes and clutches at the air. Despite everything, you cling to consciousness, watching for at least a minute straight as the bizarre show continues.
  852.  
  853. It may be your last. You might as well see it through to the end.
  854.  
  855. He makes one more desperate lunge forward, and as you lay pinned to the floor by the bulky animatronic, the world around you spinning like a carnival ride, you glimpse the barest flash of gold behind you -- and then it's gone in an instant as something impacts Jeremy from the side, sending him rolling across the floor and crashing into one of the supply racks, knocking a stack of crates over. Shrieking out in surprise, Jeremy scrambles to his feet on the slick floor as he tries to process what's just happened.
  856.  
  857.  
  858. You look up to see a tall, lanky brown bear with a head that seems a tad too large for his shoulders. He's dressed in the shredded remnants of a sportcoat that wants to be a tuxedo, with an untied ribbon hanging loosely from his torn shirt collar and a too-small top hat with a bent brim perched slightly askew upon his head. Gazing back down at you, Frederick's beady eyes are narrowed to slits, the corners of his mouth creased into a deep frown.
  859.  
  860.  
  861. Jeremy looks up at the newcomer, the hydraulics in his limbs hissing as he stretches his arms out, snapping his wrists to shake loose the blood -- your blood -- from his fingertips.
  862.  
  863. "Speaking of uninvited guests," he growls, marching forward to face his challenger. "I suppose I can spare some time for one more private booking."
  864.  
  865. There's a considerable dent in the metal hat riveted to his head, deeper than any of the ones Cheeky's wrench inflicted. His visor is cracked and the light in one of his eyes has dimmed, but he's no less determined than he was before. If anything, you can sense an even stronger hatred than ever diffusing from him.
  866.  
  867. "Frebby," you weakly slur, "run."
  868.  
  869. Freddy does not run.
  870.  
  871. You stare in abject horror, realizing that Jeremy's murderous intent far exceeds Frederick's understanding. There's no way the bear could possibly comprehend what's going on here, but it's all you can do to resist the urge to sleep. You know that when you're hurt, hurt bad like you are right now, you're not supposed to sleep. You don't know how, you just remember hearing that somewhere.
  872.  
  873. Raising his gargantuan paws, Frederick settles into a boxer's stance, his head lowered and his broad teeth bared as he steps back. Jeremy immediately hurdles you, lunging for him and gripping one of Frederick's paws with his own sharp claws. With a roar, Frederick pistons Jeremy's own metal hand backwards into the band leader's face, knocking the tall steel shako off his dome and sending his jaw unhinged on one side, where it hangs down loosely.
  874.  
  875. The automaton screams furiously as he tries in vain to hold Frederick's paws in place, but every time he lunges out, the bear deflects, smashing Jeremy's own hands against his metal frame. After several failed strikes, Jeremy raises his hands in menace, but his sharpened fingers are bent and snapped at their joints. Freddy quickly seizes the opportunity, grabbing Jeremy's wrist and planting a foot on his chest -- then all at once wrenching it free in a spray of sparks and machine oil.
  876.  
  877. It's hard to tell through your blurred vision what sort of reaction Jeremy's making -- doubly so because he's a robot -- but he doesn't seem too happy about this development.
  878.  
  879. Just as the killer humanimatronic turns his attention back from his stumpy elbow to the enormous bear, Frederick catches him in the skull with his own arm as a bludgeon, tearing up his face like a street punk trashing a car with a sledgehammer. The robot lunges, and the two grapple with each other fiercely for a time, but the odds quickly shift in Frederick's favor as he manages to take hold of Jeremy's rapidly-deteriorating skull in both of his enormous paws.
  880.  
  881. "Non."
  882.  
  883. Elevating Jeremy off of his feet, Frederick holds the robot by his head in midair. He pushes the broken sunglasses from the mascot's face, and for a moment just stares.
  884.  
  885. "I want to look the devil in his eye," Frederick declares in a thick, bizarre accent.
  886.  
  887. Suddenly the thumbs of his gargantuan paws press deep against Jeremy's eyes. The robot kicks his feet in a desperate bid for traction and slashes at Frederick's arms with what's left of his hand -- drawing blood across multiple deep scratches, but doing nothing to stop the bear's grip. A rumbling, echoing shriek begins building from the damaged humanimatronic's voice box, a hopeless, inhuman wail distorted in a rapidly-failing synthesizer, harmonizing with the sound of screaming, wrenching metal.
  888.  
  889.  
  890. Frederick grunts, straining forward and locking his shoulders down in one final motion before simply crushing Jeremy's head with his bare paws, popping his crimson skull apart at the seams.
  891.  
  892.  
  893. The top half of Jeremy's head flips back on its hinge, microchips and capacitors and all sorts of little mechanical bits hemorrhaging from his empty eye sockets and open maw. His body spasms and fluctuates wildly, spinning and sparking before ultimately going slack in Frederick's grip. Dropping the machine to the ground, Frederick watches with a skeptical eye to see if Jeremy's about to move again, but it's soon made clear the robot menace has given up the metaphorical ghost.
  894.  
  895. Walking over to you, Frederick gently kneels down, scooping you into his arms and drawing you close to his chest. A warmth of darkness envelops you.
  896.  
  897.  
  898.  
  899. "...coming to."
  900.  
  901. Your bloated eyelids slowly flutter open. A soft-eyed, middle-aged rabbit doe with faded white fur looks down at you, a sad smile at her muzzle.
  902.  
  903. "I know I'm not your regular doctor, but if you want my professional medical opinion, you're really going to have to stop coming to this place," she quips, dabbing at your cheek. "It's not good for your health."
  904.  
  905. "Thanks, doc," you groan, trying to force yourself to a sitting position.
  906.  
  907. "Whoa! You're not even in REMOTELY good enough condition for that, Mike," Carrol replies. She moves to gently push you back down, but the white-hot pain lancing up both arms and straight into your pounding skull say it all. You're going to be staying on this -- where are you?
  908.  
  909. You weakly raise your bandaged arm at her, angrily shaking your head. It hurts very much to shake your head and you suddenly wish you hadn't done that. "I'm not... but... Rackham, and -- and the others," you babble at the wobbly Carrol and her equally wobbly twin sister, Carrol. "I'm fine. I gotta go back."
  910.  
  911. "Yeah, no. You ain't doing shit," Cheeky huffs from off to the side, patting your head as gingerly as she's able.
  912.  
  913. "Cheeky, can you please tell him to stay put--"
  914.  
  915. "Sorry, doc, I'll do my best, but Mike's a stubborn little shit." You rest your face against Cheeky's puffy coat as she leans over you -- she feels like a nice, warm pillow. "He's always gotta see everything with his own two eyes. Any chance I could push him around or something?"
  916.  
  917. Carrol shoots her a deadpan glare, and all at once you can perfectly see Beanie in her. "Absolutely not."
  918.  
  919. "C'monnnn."
  920.  
  921. "This isn't a wheelchair," Carrol huffs, "it's a gurney! It's not for sightseeing!"
  922.  
  923. Cheeky trills in response, a playful smile on her beak. "I'll bring him right baaaack!"
  924.  
  925. Carrol grumbles, ears flopping down behind her head, and the white rabbit peers cautiously about, her face alternately illuminated by blue and red lights. "Only because he saved my daughter. But if anyone asks, you snuck him away from me. Don't be more than five minutes, I need to get him out soon. And mind the IV!"
  926.  
  927. "You got it, doc! Thanks!" Cheeky hums eagerly, gripping the back of your stretcher and gently wheeling you away from the back of the ambulance you're apparently parked at, rolling IV in careful tow.
  928.  
  929. The parking lot of Jeremy Human's is stocked with at least a dozen emergency vehicles, from cop cars to ambulances and even two fire trucks. Helping steer you through the maze of spinning, flashing beacons and the first-responder emergency staff bustling about, Cheeky gestures over to a row of emergency personnel, all of whom are tending to your friends. Faz is laid out upon a stretcher like yours, his coat and shirt in a pile next to him as medics bandage his wounds. You can see April standing off to the side, fussing as one of the EMTs tries to put a trauma blanket around her shoulders.
  930.  
  931. A battered, oil-stained Fred exhaustedly sits in the back of an ambulance, his arms and chest covered in red-soaked bandages. He looks up at you before giving you a tired smirk and a nod, and you do your best to get your distended face to return the acknowledgement.
  932.  
  933. "Freddy?" you ask of Cheeky.
  934.  
  935. "Frederick? He's fine, the crazy fuckin' bastard," she replies, pointing to him speaking at a pair of police officers. "Doc just finished wrapping up his wounds. He's in pretty good shape, all things considered."
  936.  
  937. Looking around at the throng of police cars, ambulances, emergency workers, and even rubberneckers come to spectate, you take a mental headcount of your team.
  938.  
  939. Faz, Fred, Frederick, April, and then Cheeky and yourself. Six.
  940.  
  941. Rackham's nowhere to be seen.
  942.  
  943. Swallowing, you turn to Cheeky. "...and Rackham?" you ask fearfully, mentally preparing for the worst.
  944.  
  945. She helps you over to a police cruiser, knocking at the side door. The window rolls down and Rackham looks up at you from the passenger's seat with a cup of coffee in his good paw and a pastry in his hook, nodding to you with an easy smile.
  946.  
  947. "Hey, Mike. Glad to see you're... up and around. More or less, anyway," he says, gesturing with his danish. "Dude, you look like shit."
  948.  
  949. "I feel like shit," you reply, smiling back at him as best as you can. Apart from looking a little sweaty, he's otherwise fine -- having come out of it better than you or any of the four bears. "You made it out okay?"
  950.  
  951. "Yep," he replies. "I pulled a page out of Foxglove's book of tricks and slipped through one of the vents after luring some of those creepy crawlers to the kitchen. From there, Faz got 'em stuck in the showroom and we barricaded them in."
  952.  
  953. "Are they still going?" you ask.
  954.  
  955. "No! That's the kicker. Whatever it was that was that kept them functional just... broke off all at once."
  956.  
  957. "Jeremy," you gasp, sucking a sharp and painful breath as you remember the specter of crimson death looming above you. "Is he--"
  958.  
  959. "Relax, Mike," Rackham nods somberly, but there's an undeniable hint of smugness to his tone. "Nothing left but scrap. We made sure."
  960.  
  961. You breathe again, sighing deeply.
  962.  
  963. Still painful, but free.
  964.  
  965. "I'm sorry I -- ow. Roped you all into this. I was wrong," you mumble.
  966.  
  967. "The hell you were," Cheeky squawks incredulously.
  968.  
  969. You whimper, half from guilt and half from pain. "It wasn't Nisha -- I told April I knew who hurt her, who--"
  970.  
  971. "Mike," Cheeky insists, "Settle down. We got our answers in the end. And it's like you said: if we hadn't done something tonight, more people definitely would've gotten hurt."
  972.  
  973. "Besides," Rackham shrugs, popping the last of the danish in his mouth, "you were at least part-right about Nisha, anyway."
  974.  
  975. "All right, that's enough gabbing for now. C'mon, Mike. Let's get you fixed up so I can break your nose later," Cheeky tuts, clicking her beak. As she pilots you back in the direction of whatever ambulance has been designated your personal ride, however, she lets out a frustrated moan. "Hang on, slight detour. Someone else wants a word."
  976.  
  977. Steering you off to the side of one of the emergency vans, she helps you over to another stretcher, where a blanket-covered, black-furred bear is being loaded inside. A heavy rope bruise covers her neck.
  978.  
  979. "Nisha?"
  980.  
  981. Looking up at you with shame etched all over her face, the deposed CEO bites her lip, mumbling something.
  982.  
  983. "What was that?" you ask.
  984.  
  985. "I said, 'thanks'," she whines.
  986.  
  987. You grunt from a sudden shot of pain, and try to process her words.
  988.  
  989. "Thanks -- for what? I wrecked your whole plan. You're going to lose your share in the company. Hell," you cough, wincing, "you're probably going to jail."
  990.  
  991. She sighs deeply, saying nothing but holding her hand up to reveal she's been handcuffed to her gurney.
  992.  
  993. "...right. Well."
  994.  
  995. That's about all you can find to say to her.
  996.  
  997. Cheeky leans over you, accidentally bumping your battered face with the softest bludgeon it's taken tonight, and pats your forehead tenderly. "I'm gonna give you back to Carrol now, Mike. You did good tonight. You did real good. Just rest now, okay? You've earned it."
  998.  
  999. "I got everyone hurt," you grumble.
  1000.  
  1001. "We knew the risks going in," Cheeky counters.
  1002.  
  1003. "I just--"
  1004.  
  1005. She looks down at you, gently, and through the blur of pain, tears well in your eyes.
  1006.  
  1007. "Going in, I just thought this would be easier. The whole POINT was putting a stop to this so nobody would get hurt again. And in the end, everyone else did more work than me." You groan, a deep, crushing ache in the center of your chest. "I didn't fight off anyone. I didn't protect my friends."
  1008.  
  1009. "Sure you did," Cheeky coos.
  1010.  
  1011. You hang your head a little. "I didn't even get Jeremy myself. I was the one who needed to be saved. I just wanted to be a hero."
  1012.  
  1013. Cheeky pats your head comfortingly, and a small, weak cough from the side has you painfully glancing over.
  1014.  
  1015. "Well," Nisha mutters reluctantly as the technicians finish loading her stretcher into the van. "Tonight, you were MY hero."
  1016.  
  1017. The doors shut and the EMT circles around the truck before it pulls away into the night.
  1018.  
  1019. "C'mon," Cheeky chirps, shaking her head. "Let's get you back to Doc Rabbinson."
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