As Pino has crawled under a hatch, she feels the instant relief of having escaped the dead city's oppressive gloom. The little autoreiv struggles with the ladder steps which seem too big for her legs, and falls mid-way through, landing into the sewage.
It feels like an eternity as she feels the semi-solid wastes leech through her bodily pores, corroding her inner circuitry. When she emerges from the sludge, her arms flailing over a ledge, Pino feels awful - drained of her usual lively spirits. She grabs hold of some tangled vines which have slithered out of some piping, and hauls herself onto a dry platform.
She sits, her legs dangling just over the oozing wastes. It's a moment in her life where she's thankful for shutting off her sense of smell (peee-uuu, it really reeks!). Her petite hands fumble when it comes to wiping off the grossness, and she takes off her clothing, leaving her trembling in the sewer's chill, as she has no one's hand to clutch and guide her.
She yearns for Vincent's displays of shyness, for Lil's hard-nosed decisiveness.. the tears pour out of her eyes, and she won't stop crying. Though Pino may be an android, she's still just a child in a totally foreign world.
Even so, she's got to find them! Save them from that spindly woman..
The sewer's passageways are cramped, with several layers of small piping overlaying the walls and ceiling. There's no lighting, so Pino resorts to infrared to navigate – some of the pipes are red-hot, saturating the air with steam, so she follows them down the corridor.
The pipes lead Pino downward, and a deep, reverberating thumping can be felt through her whole body. Then she comes across a vast chamber, so enormous, and so cold. She sees all the little flakes drifting down from the moonlit cupola, like the black snow from the wilderness, but here.. they glisten in the dark. It would be tranquil to gaze at, except the cold is freezing her joints.
The lone bridge extends outward towards an unseen edge.. it looks scary, as if Pino would fall forever if she'd stumble over.
So she turns around, and behind her, she finds Argounova.
"Lost, are you? My little dear.."
Argounova stands tall, a lithe figure huddled under the archway. She's like a ghostly presence who's materialized, her eyes set on Pino. When she steps out into the chamber, her loose wirings ripple with the wind.
In terror, Pino waddles back, onto the bridge.
"St-stay away, you bad lady!" Pino goes. "Please don't come near me!"
Argounova doesn't relent; she proceeds forth, slowly, studying Pino's paralyzed fear, and in the meanwhile, almost taking pity on the little autoreiv's haplessness. "Why shouldn't I?" she asks Pino.
"Because.. you hurt Lil and Vince! You hurt my friends and took them away!"
Each step Pino takes back has her finding the bridge more icy and slippery. Soon, she has to grasp the railings, which feel like velcro icicles as she struggles to peel her hands off the surface.
"They're still here," Argounova goes, effortlessly traversing forward with her hooved legs. She barely suppresses the urge to say "in me," since that would be too conceited of her. "They're in a safe place, dreaming their grief away. I imagine you want to see them again, don't you?"
"I do.." Pino is piqued by the offer - she's learned from those fairytale stories not to trust witches. "You're going to trick me like you did with them, aren't you?"
The thumping rises, and like a heartbeat that is now palpitating under strain, you can start to make out the collective murmurs of all the dreamers, sotto voce. Argounova nears Pino, almost close enough to touch her.
"You're frightened," Argounova goes. "You have nowhere else to go. Someone like you wouldn't last another five minutes – your joints are frozen already. Child, let me take you in."
"I am your only salvation." Argounova's chest, which is like a ribcage wrapped over armour, bursts open – you could see her internal organs, the intestines and muscle tissue. From her guts, she spews out tendrils, each individual strand all craving for Pino.
Pino screams. With the last reserves of her body, she runs further down the bridge. The icy catwalk and the gales blow the little autoreiv forth, sliding without any control, and she tumbles to the bridge's edge. The railings stop her.
Argounova lets her chest tendrils caress the poor child, feeling the frosted skin, the torn clothes, the stiff hair, and everything. As Pino comes to, she finds the tendrils ticklish, and squirms in Argounova's elongated embrace. The proxy shushes her, and reels Pino in like a fishing line, until at last Argounova is able to hold Pino in her arms.
What is this feeling that's washing over Pino now? Warmth, tenderness, innocence.. and love.. the things she's deeply craved for so long, in those months wandering the barren desert. The emotions come so unexpectedly, like a balm over skin that's mainly known roughness.
Pino relaxes in the proxy's embrace, no longer fretting, as all her worries and fears seem to vanish away, and she's like a newborn baby. When Argounova leans down to kiss her on the forehead, the blushing is so much to bear, that Pino ends up giggling.
"Oh, you're so cute," Argounova goes – carrying Pino. That emotional void that Argounova's had to endure for too long is melting away. A maternal love. She's witnessed so many people in her dream worlds bearing children, and it's like a glass wall separating her from ever experiencing those joys first-hand. Only in proxy, could she have it, linking her awareness with someone else's nervous system, to be able to see and feel as they do.
With this autoreiv.. it's in such bad shape. And it's been so long – much too long that Argounova has employed herself as a seamstress. She can still do it though, healing the scratches, the accumulated wear-and-tear.
Upon carrying Pino to a safe spot in the maintenance halls, Argounova reaches a tendril into the autoreiv's ear, and deactivates the child.
("Hey, what are you-" Pino went. "That tickles-")
I'll give you the ultimate gift. The chance to live a life as a person. Not confined to your robotic shell or your programming, you'll flourish in the world I'll lay at your feet.
You'll grow. You'll explore.
Most important of all, you'll be my child. I will watch over you, the way God watches over His brethern. And I will love you – until the end of all Time.