The Stray Vampire

One step.

No matter how fast Katherine ran, all it’d take was one missed step. One moment of hesitation, one stumble and the demon would catch her.

The monster behind her couldn’t walk. Its legs were stiff as flagpoles. All it could do was jump after her, but that was enough. Its shadow rose and fell behind her with a rhythmic crunch, crunch as it scattered the tall grass and loose concrete with each impact.

She was panting, out of breath. She ran off the road and onto the dirt, the shock of the change almost buckling her knees. Crunch, crunch. She could make it to that house. It was ruined, windows shattered, wood bloated, roof collapsed. Was it worth trying?

Crunch, crunch. She didn’t have any choice. Maybe it could break in. But could it turn in midair?

She jumped left, over a small hedge, and landed with a roll while the monster jumped straight forward, towards where she’d been, and blew past her. She stole a look.

It’d stopped, twisting its body. It was trying to face her, but it was hard for it to turn on those dead legs.

Katherine scrambled over a heap of rubble, through what had probably been a backdoor. Her boots crushed rotting scraps of furniture, and her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She saw the walls and ceiling of the house were in good shape – the only hole was the one she’d come in through – and breathed out.

That’d bought her a second, but it’d have turned towards her by now. She needed to slow it down. She couldn’t go back to running on the road; it’d run her down like a rabbit and kill her, or worse.

But there was a ceiling. There was a second floor, or the remains of one. If she couldn’t run, she could hide. Maybe. The thing couldn’t bend down, could it? It’d give up, wander off. She’d fuck up her job, letting it go without tailing it, but she had to.

She scrambled up the broken remains of some stairs. A crunch, crunch split the floorboards behind her.

There wasn’t much left of the second floor. There was space to crawl, underneath broken planks collapsed onto each other, held up like a house of cards. If she crawled in, she’d be lucky to get back out, splintered wood on both sides, narrower at its front.

Crunch, crunch. The stairs behind her groaned under the demon’s weight.

Better than being eaten.

Katherine got down on all fours, facing away from the tent of wood lodged into wood. Then she crawled backwards, pushing her chest closer and closer to the broken floor as she went until she was flat against the warped floor.

The dimmest bits of moonlight got through the roof and then through the top of her hiding spot, but even with those she could barely see her fingers beneath her, let alone the demon.

The floor buckled.

The demon had followed her, its lamppost legs visible from her hiding place. It turned its body like a rusted wheel, slow and with creaking bones.

In another bound, it came up next to the rubble where she was, and her heart nearly leapt out of her throat. Could it smell her?

One thing was for sure: it couldn’t bend down. She heard a moan, and it turned away from her. A muffled slam. Katherine guessed that it had punched the wall out of frustration, as much as it would with its arms. They were just as stiff as its legs.

It couldn’t bend down, it couldn’t scoop at the rubble, and there wasn’t enough space between the rubble and the remains of the ceiling for it to jump on her. It fell silent and stopped moving, and she could practically hear the gears turning in her head. Or maybe that was her heartbeat. Maybe, then, it’d give up on her.

Then it started jumping up and down.

The entire house shook like a wilted leaf. Katherine felt like the world would crumble around her. And then she’d be lucky to die impaled by the wood and rock below before the demon could drink her dry.

She closed her eyes and thought. Maybe she could grind a message into the wood with her nail. Maybe, if she did get impaled, the demon would lap up her blood and leave her body alone and her friends would find it and recognize it. Maybe–

“Projectile weapons deployed!” A flurry of gunfire filled her ears, as loud and rapid as a turboprop in flight. Smoke filled with debris washed over her face, she coughed. She had enough room to cough without it hurting much – there was no more weight against her back. No more rubble keeping her pinned down.

No more rubble to protect her either. She stumbled to her feet and ran, away from where she’d last seen the demon’s legs.

“Second source of movement detected!” called out the voice of a young girl, high-pitched but monotone. “Get down! Explosive weapons deployed!”

Whatever gods claimed Moss Bay were having fun with her, Katherine thought. But when someone with an automatic told you to get down, you got down. She threw herself against the cracked floor, and felt something fast and heavy rip through the air behind her.

An explosion rocked the house, tossed her into the floor, and left her deaf for a few – uncomfortably long – moments.

Whoever this was, she’d fired a rocket at the demon.

Katherine was already down, as much as she could be. She couldn’t improve on her situation, either. She’d die here, if the girl hit the rubble she was under with a rocket, or collapsed the roof, or anything, really. But the girl – if it really was a girl, as it often wasn’t – had noticed her somehow and told her to get down.

As she waited, she did it holding onto the hope that she wouldn’t die in the crossfire.

The floor buckled and wood whined and snapped somewhere near her. The vampire had leapt away. Katherine wondered if she should try to leave her cover, then dismissed it. That was what someone who wanted to die would do. The vampire could turn back on her, the girl’s weapons could shred her…

Sure, she was as underequipped and helpless as any rank-and-file guard in the province. But, she reminded herself, she had discipline. Training. And this was a lot like a trench. She’d wait for help to arrive, instead of putting herself in an even worse situation. Or dying.

A mechanical whirr stung her ears, followed by a rapid series of thunks. Bullets hitting one of the walls from outside.

Did the girl have the demon’s attention?

“Explosive weapons, withdrawn,” the high-pitched monotone announced over the sound of another mechanical whirr. “The target has been damaged. Melee weapons deployed. Estimated time to elimination, two minutes. Remain where you are.”

More bullets. These ones hit a different wall, going by the direction of the noise.

Katherine shivered, smiled, and let out a dry chuckle. That had to be a good sign. The girl had the demon’s attention; the fight wouldn’t have moved to a different side of the house if she didn’t. The best way to fight that thing, if you could, would be to stay on the move and get away from its landing points. That must have been what she was doing.

Her smile died. Unless the girl was running and leaving here. But the girl’s voice didn’t sound like she was running in fear; it just sounded the same as before.

And the explosion, the sound of slamming and breaking wood, all of that sounded louder than before. It shook the floor beneath her, driving a splinter through her shirt against the floor and poking her chest with it.

It might get infected, her mind thought, leaping ahead to dangerous possibilities, but if she survived what was going on now, she could drag herself to the doctor’s office. Still, she found herself shaking a little. Lying half-buried underneath the rubble against wet, rotting floor in a house that could collapse any moment wasn’t good for you, physically or mentally. Who knew? She did, now.

A whirr of rocketry, and the floor broke underneath her. She screamed, and then it caught in her throat as her chest hit something metal not even a second later. So did her legs, actually. She blinked.

A woman made of metal was holding her. Or maybe she wasn’t made of metal – she had hair. And she smelled like smoke, which was a normal thing to smell like, if you asked Katherine. Her eyes, though, they were red. Not like a demon’s, but then again, maybe she was a demon. She–

Another whirr of rocketry, and the wind shoved Katherine’s hair into her eyes. When she managed to shake her head just a little bit, to see where she was now, she noticed that she was outside. In the field outside of the house.

The woman had broken her out of the rubble, almost instantly, and brought her out of the house and to the roadside, almost instantly. That wasn’t possible if you were human. So she wasn’t. She couldn’t be.

She wanted to scream incoherently, or ask what the hell was going on, but she was just too tired, and more importantly, her training told her not to. She didn’t want to attract the vampire, if it was still around and just distracted somehow.

So this was her life now. And it was literally in this woman’s hands.

“Who…” she blurted out hoarsely, ignoring her own thoughts.

Fresh smoke drifted up from the woman’s body, partly obscuring her face as she glanced at Katherine. It wasn’t just smoke Katherine smelled – there was gunpowder, too, or maybe something else. She decided not to figure out what it was. She’d strained her senses enough today.

“I will tell you in a moment.” The metal woman set her down in a mound of tall, wet grass. It didn’t take her long to stoop down; the woman was as tall as Katherine, or shorter, probably. She turned back towards the house.

“First, I must destroy the jiang shi.” The metal woman raised one arm and pulled a katana out of it, like she was removing a knife from a kitchen holder. “The house will be destroyed as well,” she added as her heels whirred. “It is safety non-compliant to the point of being uninhabitable.”

“Is that…” Katherine croaked out, before trailing off willingly. There was no point in asking if the house needed to be destroyed because it was safety non-compliant, and it would waste time the woman could spend protecting her.

A roar of rocketry filled the air and a cloud of smoke in front of her followed. Time the woman wasn’t wasting anyway, it turned out. Katherine suppressed a cough, and reminded herself to be grateful that the smoke cloud might at least provide some cover.

Things were quiet, briefly, then she heard a slick, wet cutting noise in the distance. The woman and the jiang shi were far from her, probably, which was a relief, and the woman sounded like she was carving it up with her katana. Would that even work, Katherine wondered?

Her nerves were shot, but she still picked herself back up, bones aching from joint to joint. She felt more drained than she’d ever been, pushing against the wet ground in an attempt to gain her footing. The woman hadn’t told her not to try leaving. The ditch she’d been thrown in was decent cover, too.

But getting away, out of the vampire’s sights, was better than waiting to see if the metal woman knew what she was doing. She could get to a car, hotwire it like she’d learned at camp. Hopefully the tools in her pack hadn’t broken. Report back, do her job, get paid, have a story to tell.

An explosion lit the sky and rocked the ground, and Katherine stumbled back to her knees.

She didn’t need to turn to look. The metal woman had fired a rocket – an entire goddamn rocket! – and probably levelled the house. The vampire might be dead after that, it might not be. What mattered was that she was still over there fighting. Katherine grabbed a fistful of nearby brush and yanked it to the ground as she pushed herself back up again. The road wasn’t far.

Katherine sprinted up a gentle slope of barely-visible grass. Clack, clack. She heard the vampire jumping. Not anywhere close to her. Then the sound of wood snapping all at once.

Cresting the slope, she made out the road in front of her by the moonlight reflecting off the rain-slick asphalt. More sounds from the direction of the house, but they were harder to make out – except for a piercing shriek. It didn’t sound like the woman, it sounded organic, but it still could be. Katherine kept moving.

This road stretched north to south, Katherine remembered that. But where was her jeep? Where had she left her jeep when the vampire sent her flying out of it? Would it even be right side up after being hit by that thing? Oh, god, she thought. Maybe even running was pointless.

Her racing thoughts slowed down, she forced them to slow down. Right. The jeep was too far. Her plan had never been to get back to it. She didn’t want to lose it – her pay’d be docked for a year, never mind all the gear left in it – but she didn’t want to lose her life either. She needed a car. People left their cars on the road all the time. Usually people like her.

The sky flashed white. It wasn’t thunder, though observers in the nearest town might think so. It was another explosion.

Katherine felt the temptation in her knees and chest, to sink down and take a break on the pavement, or do stretches to get the pain out of her joints where the rubble dug into them. But she wasn’t that stupid, she told herself. Maximize your chances of survival, or you’ll end up a victim one day.

But she did drop from a run to a jog as she went down south. Moss Bay was the other way, but the nearest town was maybe ten miles that way. If she had to walk it, she could.

A screech pierced the air for miles around, louder than the cry of a fox on the prairie. Her ears couldn’t place where it came from, but her brain could: the house. It had to be the house.

The vampire was being manhandled.

Her jog tapered to a walk, and she stopped to think about that. Sure, she could walk ten miles, but something just like this could happen to her in those hours it took. That was if the terrain wasn’t broken up, if there weren’t assholes on motorcycles or punks with serrated swords ready to kill. Humans she could shoot, but they’d outnumber her and they’d probably be better equipped.

Maybe it was safe to take a break. Safer, at least, than collapsing in a ditch five miles down.

She was exhausted.

There was no good resting spot to be found in the middle of the road. Most of the trees in the area were dead or trampled; they were too far from a city for anyone to have planted new ones. If she kept going for a half-mile, she might find a thicket somewhere, but those were usually home to fairies or worse this far from civilization.

Katherine unhooked her pack from her belt and took off her jacket. One could be a pillow, the other could be a blanket. She stepped off the road, on the opposite side from the house in the middle distance, and threw her bedding down on the grass. She followed it soon after.

Lying on her coat she stretched her arms and calves, then turned on to her other side. It reminded her that being against the ground didn’t mean being pinned down. And it reminded her of sleepless nights at home after long shifts where she had one coffee too many.

She jumped out of her own skin as another shriek pierced the air, and sat up.

It was fainter, farther away than the last one, and still came from the direction of the house. She slumped back down.

She wasn’t going to fall asleep here, she told herself. This was just a quick rest on the ground to stave off exhaustion, so she wouldn’t collapse on the way to New Nakagawa.

If she fell asleep here, she reminded herself, she might die half a mile from a group of friendly travellers or a car she could start. Success in the wilderness, she’d always told herself, was up to luck. The robotic woman had confirmed her priors. As long as she kept herself alive to roll the dice again, eventually she’d get home to a warm bath and some bedtime TV. Hopefully.

She rolled her shoulders uncomfortably against the blanket, kept her legs moving. Then she jerked them to the side – had to be careful not to make her movement too rhythmic. The pain in her calves started to fade, and her shallow breathing regained some of its depth. She kept breathing naturally – the breathing exercises she’d been taught were good for falling asleep, not staying awake.

Maybe a minute passed without any more shrieks or explosions. Had the mental woman won the fight? Katherine sat then stood up, grabbing her rain-slick coat smelling of grass and tossing it over her arms. Clipping her pack onto her belt, she walked back to the asphalt.

If the vampire was dead, she could walk down the road at a steady pace, at least until some other danger showed up. She could forage, boil some river water, and take shelter somewhere. The walk to town wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t one step ahead of death.

Loose pebbles clicked under her boots as she walked. She had to be mindful not to slip and fall, with gravel and rain covering the road, but as long as she stayed slower than a jog, that wouldn’t be a problem.

She looked over her shoulder at the collapsing house; it had seen better nights. All of them, probably. Explosives had turned its walls into wooden slough, leaving it shaped like a triangle, and what had probably been a driveway once was now unrecognizable beneath heaps of loosened soil. The best thing she saw was how far she was from it now. If more rain clouds rolled in, she probably wouldn’t even be able to see it.

Not that she was hoping for that, of course. The more walking hours she had, the better.

She came to a place where the road forked. There was the larger main road she was on now, while two smaller paths led down uneven, hilly terrain. At one point, she surmised, this might have been a highway offramp. After the Great Destruction, though, it must have broken and sank so that it looked more like someone had awkwardly shoved roads into the ground like fillings into a baked potato.

She unclipped her bag and sorted through it for her mapbook. It was tiny – barely the size of a PDA – and hard to read, but you could carry it anywhere and it had enough detail to get to a town or city. And it was cheaper than renting or buying a GPS device from the company.

She’d just found the page showing New Nakagawa when she heard rustling wind behind her and threw herself onto the grass offroad.

Katherine looked up as quickly as her aching body could. The metal woman had followed her – and with inhuman speed, of course, supported by tiny smoke trails from her ankles.

The woman turned her gaze left and right, spotted Katherine in an instant, and walked up at a normal person’s pace. The way she walked reminded Katherine of someone who did a lot of walking indoors, carrying a light load. An office worker, maybe, or a teacher? It didn’t look at all like the woman who had killed the vampire, but it was. She had the bloodstains to prove it.

“Excellent! You made your way out of the vampire’s hunting grounds already. I was still a little bit worried about you!”

Katherine almost choked on her own spit. “Is it still alive?”

“I have destroyed it!”

Her breath rushed out of her lungs.

“God– gods, thank you.” Katherine paused, taking the first real breath of fresh air she’d given herself in hours. Inhale, exhale. “And I mean you,” she added right after, “thank you.”

“It is little trouble, and what trouble it does cause is within expected parameters!” The woman replied in a voice somehow jovial yet flat. “I am equipped with various tools for cleaning, and the scope of my cleaning includes demons which pose a threat to innocents!”

“So you’re not…” Then Katherine stopped. If this woman, this entity, wanted to clarify, she could do it on her own. It was probably better not to offend her.

“I am not human! I am also not a demon, a god, or an unconfirmed type of entity such as an angel. I was created by human hands, though not all of my components are human in nature.” Her red pupils grew and shrank, like the focusing of a camera’s lens. Exactly like it, in fact. “You seem to be tense. You do not need to be! It is not within my nature to harm allies against demonic threats.”

Katherine chuckled, which quickly became a cough. After that, she replied. “‘Allies.’ I’m just a patrolman, miss. I couldn’t do anything to that demon.”

“Your duty is to warn others of various threats and to evacuate them from the area. You do not need to ‘do anything’ to them! Furthermore, if you were more heavily armed, you would have been able to fight the jiang shi off. Please consider all of the variables at play before making a determination about yourself!”

Those words half-hit, half-missed their mark. Katherine understood, on a factual level, that the woman was correct, but after the day’s events had their way, it was hard to imagine any way for things to go better. Maybe if she’d come with a pair of bazookas and enough exotic ammo to level a city block, she could have done it. That’s what the android woman – was she an android? Probably – seemed to have, after all, in her arms and legs and who knows where else.

“As a way of demonstrating my claims in a concrete, physical sense, I will allow you to make your way to New Nakagawa on your own. I have other jobs to do in this area, so the fact you are fully capable of doing this is very convenient!” Reaching into her sleeve, the android pulled out a pair of AA batteries. “Your flashlight will be the most important tool in your journey, so I would like you to have these!”

Katherine tried to wipe the sweat off of her brow, but her sleeve was already drenched by rainwater. Deciding to clean herself up after the woman was gone, as she clearly was going to be, she took the batteries, unzipped her pack, and tossed them in. “Yes. Yeah, I can make it. If you have any silver bullets, that’d make me feel a lot better.”

“As a matter of fact, I do!” A horrible-looking spasm ran down the android’s shoulder to her hand, and then out of her palm dropped two magazines onto the grass. “Please make good use of them. Remember that the ideal target area is the head for zombies and other undead creatures, but the heart for werewolves.”

“I do,” Katherine replied. “I will.” She scooped up the magazines into her pack, too, more quickly and eagerly than she needed to. “I wish you’d come with me, but I know I’m just… yeah, I can make it.”

“And you will!” The android paused, looking down at her hips as if figuring out where she’d kept something – one of the most human gestures she’d made – and then she took out of her sleeve a small laminated wax card. “This has my phone number written on it. Please call me when you make it to New Nakagawa and tell me about your trip, so that I can learn more about this area!”

Was that payment? It sounded like payment to Katherine’s ears. But she had no complaints on the matter. Even if she did, she wouldn’t voice as much to a woman who’d just blown up a house with an unstoppable vampire in it.

So she stood up, palming the card and offering the android a quick handshake. “I can do that. I hope it’ll be boring, though.”

“Boring trips are informative as well! They act as a point of comparison for exciting or dangerous trips. Well then, I should be going. Goodbye!”

“Okay. Wait–”

Rocket smoke blew in Katherine’s face and she turned her head to cover her mouth. The android woman was in a hurry to leave, or maybe she was just as efficient as a drill sergeant with ten squads on his docket for the day.

Either way, there was nothing Katherine could do about the flare-etched figure down the road, already maybe a hundred feet away by the time the smoke cleared. All she could do was walk to New Nakagawa.

She turned and started to the south, one foot after the other.

“So, yeah, we’ll see you next week.”

Katherine pulled the faux fur collar of her jacket closer to her neck as she stepped back out into the cold. It had started snowing gently, and with the modest light of midday putting a deep bluish cast on the world, she felt colder than she really was. Better than nighttime, though, the eternal affliction of Hokkaido.

Not wanting to seem unfriendly, she looked back at Meia. The tall, pale woman, dressed in a pink sweater dress, had been all too eager to get her set up, to run her through all of the Supernatural Interpersonal Support Society’s signup processes. It was a lot of paperwork, the sort you got used to in the military or even in the security industry.

“Good. I should be here for a few weeks… whenever the next shuttle comes from Moss Bay.” Katherine took a few more steps back towards her car, but then looked back again. “Thanks for letting me join. It’s probably a pain to do all that paperwork for someone temporary.”

“Not at all!” Meia smiled and flicked her fingers up and down in a clawing motion, a weird wave goodbye. “You know, we need outside perspective sometimes. Everyone has different experiences with demons. Even if you’re temporary, that’s, there’s a lot of guys and girls who’ll like your perspective.”

Katherine nodded. That made enough sense. She’d signed up not so much to lick her wounds, to solve the experience she’d had with the vampire, but just so she didn’t feel alone in everything that had happened. She dreaded being the only one, but as long as she wasn’t, life was good.

“Happy to hear it. I’ve got a meeting to get to,” Katherine said as she reached her car on the curb. That was half-true; she was going to call Mem when she got back to the hotel.

“Oh, don’t let me keep you,” Meia waved for real this time, before dipping her head back behind the glass door and closing it. The huge poster on the door, the one advertising that membership was free and that no demonic experience was too small to talk about, covered Meia and the building, and Katherine breathed a sigh of relief as she got into her rental car and turned on the heat.

The streets of New Nakagawa were quiet; locals got around using a maze of lit pedways, most above street level but a few below too. Because of that, the roads looked presentable but made for a bumpy drive, and there were some places on the edge of town where old rubble had piled up and forced you to make a detour. But Katherine wasn’t going to stay long enough to learn the pedways, so driving it was.

She nudged the gas, and the car started gently rolling down the street, one of the smoother ones. There was a lot to see on either side; the usual seven or eight floor mid-sized high rises that most people in New Nakagawa lived in, with little locally-run shops between them. There was a chain ramen place that was from Sapporo, and a chain drug store that she saw everywhere in Moss Bay, but they weren’t the majority.

It reminded her of growing up at home far to the west, in a little walled town that had to fend for itself. When she was young her parents would sing its praises, talking about how military service let them and their neighbours survive, have a town that was theirs. Back then, she’d complained that she wanted to live somewhere else, that she didn’t want to join the service, before certifying as a security guard as a compromise. That led to a high-paying contract at the corporate road patrol in Moss Bay, and she’d been happy she chose something her parents approved of. Her younger self was probably right in retrospect.

At least she had savings, she told herself as she cruised down the street, underneath a layer of pedways that reminded her of power wires. She could stay here for longer, if she wanted. But sitting around would just make her feel more helpless. Even if she wanted to at least try the SISS, she’d keep her promise and talk to someone who didn’t feel helpless while she was at it. Mem.

As she stopped the car at a crosswalk in the darkness of a large pedway, Katherine glanced over at the pedway entrance on the other side. It had a security guard, keeping an eye on who came and went. It probably led to an underground strip mall or something, Katherine thought, or maybe it was connected to private property. Either way, even in New Nakagawa people still needed security.

Or so it looked, anyway. That lone security guard wouldn’t help against a demon. They’d get mentally dominated by a fairy before they could pull their gun, or ripped up by a vampire. The security they provided was for their fellow humans, about their fellow humans. Maybe, if that security guard had struck a deal with God, or at least a god, Katherine would be wrong about him. But no one did that.

The pedestrians reached the other side, and Katherine kept driving, back out into the deep blue light and the fresh snowfall. Buildings four, five, six floors tall surrounded her. The rental car’s windshield wipers fluttered gently, and it all reminded Katherine that driving could be a pleasant experience. Pleasant enough that she took a right at the next four-way, a detour on her way to the hotel.

As she came to a stop at a red light, on a boulevard lined with trees short enough to accommodate the pedway above, Katherine’s phone rang. She stared balefully for a second down at the screen, lit up with a number she didn’t recognize, and then quickly pulled over. No one else was on the road, but that just meant traffic cops could catch her from a block away.

“Hello, who is this?”

“It is now one hour after your appointment at the SISS,” Mem’s voice came from the other end of the line, in perfect clarity. “Given our respective schedules, I decided this minute was the best possible time to call!”

“But…” Katherine stopped herself from sputtering. “But you don’t have my phone number.”

“Yes, I do! How else would I call you?”

“How did you get it?”

“I have a scanner which queries all devices near me for various pieces of information. Its intent purpose is listening to another person’s headphones, but it can also provide me with phone numbers tied to hardware IDs!”

“Oh… kay.” Katherine sighed. At least Mem was dozens of miles away, probably frightening someone or something else. “So, yes, I signed up, I’ll be attending two of their meetings. That’s my plan.”

“Excellent! By my estimation, that should be all you need to recover to a functional mental baseline.” Mem’s flat, ceaseless cheer would sound insincere coming from a human, but hearing it from her, Katherine thought it was kind of nice. “But do not forget to take care of yourself beyond this, such as through therapy!”

“I won’t. Listen, I owed you a call back, you deserved to know you succeeded, but…” Katherine paused. No, she wasn’t that afraid of offending Mem. “Are you my mom or something?”

“No, I am only treating your mental components – your wetware – with as much proactive care as I treat my own. They say that you should treat others how you want to be treated, after all!”

“Well, okay, but that’s not… the brain isn’t a microchip.”

“Yes, that’s correct! That’s why my creators were careful to imbue me with a stout heart and plenty of emotional error-checking. In the event of a true personal crisis, I would not be able to recover as well as you. So stand proud that you are recovering, even now!”

“The night I met you didn’t leave me with much pride, you know.”

“It should have!” replied Mem. “If you had not proactively sought shelter and pushed your body to its limits, you would have died. You should be proud of the exemplary survival ability you demonstrated!”

Katherine paused. Sure, she felt useless as a human caught between a jiang shi and a high-end android. But maybe her fellow humans would do a lot worse than she did. She found herself giving a shrug at the phone, but she almost smiled, too.

“If you say so,” Katherine told Mem. “So what are you up to?”

“I am preparing a curriculum for a winter class,” Mem said, and Katherine sat back involuntarily. “Oh,” Mem continued before Katherine’s back could touch the seat, “I am actually being called to a teacher’s meeting. As such, I have to go!”

“You’re a teacher?” Katherine asked when Mem was done speaking.

“I will tell you the details of my career later! Goodbye!” Beep, beep, beep went Katherine’s phone.

Katherine tossed her phone onto the other seat and put her right hand back on the wheel. Maybe Mem coming and going like a hurricane wasn’t just the bloody haze of that night. Maybe that was just her personality. She’d never heard of a hasty android, or many androids at all, but they were enough like people that why couldn’t there be one, right?

Well, if Mem wanted to talk again, Katherine would. Compared to everyone else, having an android friend would be a pretty big notch on her belt. So why not, right?

After spending a few seconds staring out at the falling snow, Katherine turned the car back onto the road and towards the hotel.