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Despite the warmth of the day that was still evident above, the cold within the depths of the abandoned tech seeped into her bones.
Here, the outlines of the junk grew perilous; protected from the elements, they were jagged and sharp.
They offered no remorse if Priyanka should strike them by accident. They would cut, tear and leave her to bleed out.
One slip here would be fatal.
Checking her course once more, she stepped off the machine plateau. Only another five meters, she said to herself.
"Twinkle, twinkle..." An unsteady, reedy voice reverberated from somewhere deep in the ruins.
Priyanka halted her descent, the hackles on the back of her neck standing up. She moved her headlight slowly over the junk around her.
She touched the commset along her jaw. "Deshel..."
His voice crackled back, "Yes?"
Priyanka looked up the dozen or so meters above her toward the soft gray patch of the evening sky.
"Did you...?" Before she finished the question, she cut herself off, unsure exactly of what she wanted to ask him.
The voice hadn't sounded like either Deshel or Suen. Moreover, both of them were far too professional to sing over the commset.
So… who had it been?
"Did I what?" He asked back.
"Star light... star bright..." The voice again. But this time it seemed to come from over her commset.
She felt the cold close its grip around her. "Did you just hear that?"
"Pree?... Hello? Pree, you are breaking up."
Breaking up? But she could hear Deshel just fine. Priyanka switched channels, "Suen?"
"Suen, come in."
Still no reply.
And then the creak of something within the refuse and the whisper of a soft voice that sounded eerily like her own: "Can you hear me?"
Priyanka's heart skipped a beat and she nearly cried out. She gritted her teeth and silently cursed herself.
The voice… the sound, whatever it had been, had caught her off-guard, scrambling her mental circuits, throwing her into a momentary panic.
She closed her eyes and struggled to calm herself. She took several deep breaths and opened her eyes once more.
"There is no one down here," she spoke to herself.
Switching back to Deshel's channel, "I'm coming up, Deshel."
"Don't leave me…" A frightened genderless voice, and then more of the garbled machine-noise she'd heard aboard the Alley Cat.
Her commset exploded with the crackles and squeals of interference.
Her mind raced. What is going on?
Priyanka called out, "Hello?"
Was there someone alive down here? Living here? There couldn't be, could there?
Locals maybe? Who would do that? How would they do that?
From below her, a rasping, crunching sound like something pulling itself along. Something trying to edge forward.
"Who's there?" Priyanka called out, her voice sounding louder than seemingly possible.
From above, Deshel called to her, his voice softened by the distance between them, "Pree! Are you alright?"
The junk-merc looked up. She waved at him and pointed to her commset, but she was unsure if he could even see her.
"Come..." Yet another voice whispered. Anger and impatience filled the space around her. "Quickly! Heeelp!"
The words ricocheted through the tight space around her.
Priyanka lowered herself to a large wing-like structure. She tested its strength – it would hold her weight.
Silence fell one more.
Help? She thought. Help who? Help wha–
The garbled aural mess exploded within the tiny bubble of space within the junk once more.
Priyanka jerked back in her exosuit. The structure beneath her groaned in protest and buckled slightly.
The junk-merc lowered her center of gravity slightly and muttered to herself in shock-fear induced anger.