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The Next Experiment

Chapter Text

Doors swung open, slowly closed, and were pushed open again before they could shut completely as monsters spilled out of the movie theater. The sidewalk rapidly became a crowded mess with dozens of conversations overlapping each other. The addition of two more monsters and a dog barely registered to anyone.

“Best. Special Effects. Ever.”

The cat monster shook his head, looking around for any authority figures as he pulled a crumbled box of cigarettes from his pocket.

“I’m telling you Azzy, I saw a human hand on that raptor when the door opened just before the kitchen scene.”

“Okay, even if that was true, which I’m not sure you didn’t make up, the rest of the movie was fantastic. It’s hard to tell where the animatronics stop and the CGI starts.”

“Well of course you’d give it a pass, Asriel. You love dinosaurs so much you’ll probably marry one.”

“Hey, I have other interests. I like space stuff, that doesn’t mean I’m going to marry a rocket ship.”

“But if you did, you could go on a honey-moon.”

“Do you have to suck the life out of every single thing that other people enjoy?”

The cat monster shrugged. “No, it’s just a perk. It’s getting late, I better get home and start dinner. See you at school tomorrow.”

“Right. See ya.”

The goat monster waved as his friend walked down the sidewalk, then turned to the small white dog standing nearby.

“Well boy, I guess we better get home before mom freaks out and calls Undyne on us again.”

The dog yipped in apparent agreement, and started to trot down the street as Asriel followed.

“Do you remember last time? Ten minutes. Ten. Lousy. Minutes. And the police cruiser shows up out of nowhere, lights flashing and siren on. I actually thought we were going to get arrested for littering or something. Which, if we had, would have been YOUR fault-”

The dog, either not understanding or not caring to listen to the monster’s reminiscence, suddenly took off across the street, barking excitedly.

“What the-! Toby! TOBY!” Asriel sprinted across the street, dodging cars that slammed on both brakes and horn at his sudden appearance. “TOBY STOP!”

Toby the dog did not stop; hopping over obstacles and winding through narrow spaces, fences and alleyways, the dog ran like the proverbial wind, forcing the goat monster to follow, bumping into and stumbling over many of those same obstacles.

“TOBY CUT IT OUT!”

After climbing several fences and leaving the pavement of the town for grass, and running long enough to form a stitch in one side, Asriel almost fell to the ground in front of a smiling, sitting dog, who was panting heavily but also had the dopey smile of a Good Boy expecting a treat.

“You… you are… a shitty… shitty dog...”

Toby barked happily, and then proceeded to trot away from Asriel.

“No… we’re not doing… this again.” Asriel slowly walked after the dog, clutching one side of his chest. “Ow, ow...”

It took a moment for Asriel to realize that Toby had dragged him south of town, and was rolling around on the grass growing on top of… well, Asriel didn’t know what it was beyond the fact that his parents and teachers had told him not to play around it. A mound of earth with grass growing over concrete, and doors that were more rust than anything else.

“Well… this brings back memories. Remember when I borrowed dad’s shovel, and me and Temmie and Burgie tried to break in here because we thought there was buried treasure in there, because pirates always buried treasure underground? And I lost the shovel and had to go all over town doing odd jobs to pay for the new one? And of course Temmie and Burgie got off with a slap on the wrists...”

Asriel sighed and watched as Toby rolled off the edge of the grass and down the side of the little hill.

“Alright, you’ve had your fun, and I’ve had my exercise, now let’s go home before mom calls the national guard.”

The dog yipped again and ran down to the tree line south of the clearing, pawing at the trunk of one of the trees.

“Don’t tell me you came all the way down here after a squirrel,” Asriel muttered as he walked towards the dog. Toby stopped pawing at the tree and trotted over to Asriel, sitting down and wagging his tail.

“Oh sure, now you’re all fun and friendly, hoping I’ll forget all the bad stuff you put me through. Come on, let’s-”

Before Asriel could finish, Toby darted around him, and Asriel turned to follow the dog with his eyes… just in time to see the dog vanish through open doors, with the banging of metal that had to be paws against a metal staircase.

“...what the hell?”

Asriel slowly walked towards the doorway, eyes darting around the unfamiliar details. The doors opened inward, and there was an unlit incandescent light bulb suspended from a fixture just inside, covered in so many cobwebs that it might as well have been lit anyway for all the good it would have done. Yet there seemed to be light from below, along with… some sort of sound. Like an engine or some other machine.

Another series of barks, this time echoing, snapped Asriel out of his indecision. Slowly, he stepped inside, half expecting the doors to slam shut as soon as he was clear.

They did not, and the monster slowly made his way down a short staircase, into what looked like a hallway. Light bulbs, some of them still lit, sat in protective metal cages jutting out from above the doors in the hallway, some of which were closed and others of which were wide open, or fallen completely off their hinges. Boxes were stacked haphazardly against the walls, some stained by water damage, and the whole room was coated in a thick layer of dust, except for the tiny paw prints on the floor. From somewhere up ahead, Asriel heard Toby sneeze, and partly out of sympathy, partly out of the dust floating in the air, Asriel sneezed too.

“What the… what is this place? What was this place?”

Slowly, the goat monster walked forward, ears straining for any sound that might have been made, if not by him then by anything else that might be lying in wait. Open and closed doors alike caused him to hesitate, guessing at the risks, but his dog was still somewhere ahead and so he carefully persisted.

One room was very obviously a washroom; the sink and the toilet kind of gave it away. Another was lined with what looked like wires and breaker boxes. An overturned sheet metal filing cabinet blocked one open doorway, with the ruined door beneath it on the floor, and beyond it Asriel could see open shelves filled with cardboard boxes and another filing cabinet.

Other doors were closed, and Asriel did not feel willing to tempt fate by trying to open them to see what was inside.

At the end of the hallway was another pair of double doors, and the small paw prints that Asriel had been following lead right to the crack in between them. There was definitely light beyond them, and the sounds of machinery were louder than they had been; whatever was making them was probably on the other side.

Asriel licked his lips and tried to call for his dog, but nothing came out. Slowly, he pushed open one door…

...whoa.”

It was massive. That was the first, most important impression that Asriel got from the machine. It was covered in giant vacuum tubes and Tesla coils, Jacob’s ladders and oscilloscopes, pressure gauges and volt meters and levers and buttons and lights and basically every Mad Scientist Movie Set Asriel had ever seen, rolled into one massive piece of hardware. For some reason he looked around, expected to see a table covered in chemistry glassware and filled with a rainbow of different colored liquids, or an old reel-to-reel computer tape drive.

There were, in fact, other tables and desks and workbenches in the room, some covered with papers and books, others with tools and tubes and wire and screws. Asriel walked over to one of the tables, wiped the dust away from some of the papers, and shook his head; they were pages of mathematical calculations that looked everything like they belonged on a professor’s chalkboard, but nothing like what he was familiar with in math class.

A barking noise from behind him causes Asriel to flinch and drop the papers, which scattered over the floor.

“Toby! Where are you?!” Asriel spun around to see the dog sitting down next to the massive machine, panting and wagging his tail. “What did you even find? Come on, we’re gonna be late as it is-”

Before Asriel could finish speaking, there was a loud clunking noise, and the machine began to light up. Fans slowly started to spin, metal inside the vacuum tubes started to glow, and the air was torn apart by electrical sparks.

“Shit! Toby, come on! We’re getting outta here!” Asriel sprinted towards the doors, pushed one open, and looked back to make sure Toby was following.

The dog was not following. Toby seemed utterly oblivious to the events going on around him, and Asriel said a word that his mother would absolutely beat him within an inch of his life if she heard pass from his mouth. Turning around, Asriel sprinted towards Toby, arms outstretched to grab him and carry him away from danger-

 

“...are you awake?”

“Nnf.” Asriel groaned, opened one eye a fraction, and regretted the choice instantly.

“Oh God my head.”

“It looks like you landed very hard.”

“Huh?”

“When you were transported. If I may ask, what is your name?”

“My… name…” Asriel’s head throbbed a little less, and he risked opening his eye again; somebody was standing over him, looking down at his face. “Uh. My name is Asriel.”

The person looking down at him blinked and smiled; they had some brown hair on top of their head, but none on their face, and it took a moment for Asriel to recognize them as a human.

“Asriel, you say? That is a nice name. Greetings, Asriel. I am Chara.”

“Hi, Chara. Uh. I don’t suppose you happened to see my dog? He was right next to me when… when whatever it was happened?”

“I just got here myself. The security sensors were activated earlier, but you were the only one on the landing pad when I arrived.”

Asriel blinked, then covered his eyes with his hand for a moment. “Well, that figures. Look, as soon as I find him, I’ll get out of your hair. I didn’t mean to trespass, I just chased after my dog is all.”

“...I believe you. But unfortunately, events are out of my hands now. We need to get you out of here, before the doctor sees you. Can you stand?”

“I, uh.” Asriel pushed himself upright, leaning precariously a few times before he caught himself. “It looks like it.”

“Good. Take my hand."

The monster reached out and grasped the hairless fingers of Chara, and let himself be lead through a pair of double doors.

“Stay in here,” Chara said as they pushed Asriel through another doorway. “Do not make any sound, and above all else do not let the doctor see you.”

Chara vanished behind a the door slamming shut, and Asriel winced as the sound echoed inside of his head. Blinking some more, he looked around the room to see a number of tables, desks, workbenches and chairs covered in books and technological gadgetry in various stages of disassembly. His further inspection of the room was cut short by the sounds of footsteps outside of the door.

“Chara! Chara, where are you?!”

“Right here sir-”

GAH! How many times have I told you not to sneak up on me?!”

“I have lost count.”

As have I!” There was an exasperated noise. “I just double checked, there was a power draw from the CORE just before the motion sensors were activated. There must have been a transport from Hometown.”

“Agreed, but when I arrived, the landing pad was clear.”

“...clear?”

“It may have been an animal that wandered into the Bunker. A dog, or a cat, or possibly some wild animal like a raccoon or squirrel. Unfortunately, I did not see anything when I arrived, and if it was an animal, it left no tracks.”

“...plausible. It would surprise me very much if the Bunker was still properly sealed after this long. Yet if it is a dog, we must locate it at once, before it gets into anything sensitive or vital.”

“Understood. I will begin searching here.”

“Which will give you ample time to finish the task of cleaning up the offices and storeroom that you did not finish cleaning last week, correct?”

“I see that I can conceal nothing from you.”

There was a chuckling noise and a number of footsteps getting softer and softer… and then, abruptly, the door was opened to reveal Chara.

“Come on,” they snapped, grabbing Asriel’s hand and pulling him along the hallway. “We have to get you out of here right now.”

“Wait, who was that? Where is this? Where’s Toby?”

“It will take Doctor Gaster twenty two seconds to return to the control room. If you are still on this station by then he will see you on the cameras and we cannot let that happen.” Chara marched up the staircase at the end of the hallway, dragging Asriel upwards so quickly he almost stumbled three times. So quickly were they moving that Asriel barely had a chance to recognize that there was no open set of rusty double doors at the top of the staircase, but bright and shiny doors that slid open as Chara approached them.

In a split second, all of Asriel’s questions were annihilated by the vista before him. A vast panorama of stars above, a glowing blue planet below, and white clouds snaking their way across the surface of the world.

Asriel felt like he had stared at the image for several minutes before he felt Chara yank on his arm, pulling him down the corridor and away from the window.

“Is this your first time on a space station?”

“Space what? I’m in space? How did I get into space?! I was underground!”

“Yes, you were.” Chara dragged Asriel through another set of automatically opening doors and down another staircase and into another hallway. “And now you are in space. At least, for the next few moments.”

Chara pressed a button and a door on the side of the hallway slid open. Asriel barely had time to see a chair before Chara shoved him bodily into the seat.

“I will send your dog after you as soon as I can.”

“Wait, what-” Asriel’s question was cut off as the door was slammed on him. The lights cut out and a split second later, the space was lit up by small screens powering on. There was a beeping noise and a static-filled synthetic voice spoke.

Escape Pod Zero-Zero-Four activated. To avoid catastrophic injury or death during atmospheric entry and landing, please fasten your safety belts. Have a nice day.”

Asriel had just enough time to reach for the black straps on the seat and click them together across his waist before the seat dropped out from beneath him, and his stomach climbed up to somewhere in the vicinity of his throat. Lights flashed. Alarms beeped. Numbers counted down or up or back and forth on readout. The seat underneath him shook and twisted several times, until with a final crash, everything went pitch black.

Chapter Text

There was the buzz of an alarm clock, and Asriel groaned. One arm reached out, flailing for the source of the disturbance to turn it off… or perhaps throw it against the wall as the groping motions became more sweeping and violent. Finally Asriel opened his eyes with a snarl, reached out…

...and stared at the screens and lights and buttons of the escape pod, all of them tinted red by emergency lights.

“...what in the…? What the hell is- oh,” the goat monster trailed off as his memory caught up with the rest of him. “Right.”

Looking around, Asriel tried to figure out what buttons and switches to press to turn off the alarm, but most of the panels were out of reach anyway. The straps holding him to the escape pod’s seat limited his reach, and so he grasped the buckles and wrenched them apart. A half second later, he was lying on the escape pod hatch.

It took a few seconds to realize that however the pod landed, it ended up in a way that Asriel was facing downward, and the pod seat belts had been the only thing holding him in place. Grumbling, Asriel pushed himself upright and resumed his search for the controls to turn off the alarm.

He had just enough time to yell in surprise as the hatch opened underneath his feet, and reached out to grab the edge of the opening in the pod, but Asriel did not have anywhere near enough time to get a secure enough grip on the pod to keep from falling out.

“...Fuck. My. Life,” groaned the monster, lying on the ground, staring up at the large metal contraption stuck in the branches of a tree some fifteen feet above. It looked sort of like an old B-Movie rocket ship from the days when black and white was the industry standard, right down to being made by a special effects department with a budget limited to whatever they could find on sale at the local hardware store.

Under any other circumstances, Asriel would have found it very impressive, but the bruises that he had accumulated falling out of the escape pod, not to mention the tree and the branches that blocked the way between the pod and the ground, were very distracting. After taking the time to make sure that he could still feel and move all of his fingers and toes, he slowly rolled over onto his stomach and pushed himself upright, eventually standing up and taking a few hesitant steps.

“...ow… there’s no way in hell mom is gonna believe this. I am so grounded. Maybe I shouldn’t even head home yet...” Asriel mumbled, as he pushed his way through the tree branches. “Maybe if I… stopped by dad’s shop. He’d let me spend the night. No, mom might still call him if she got really angry and worried. Like after that thing with the cornflakes and the river monster. Would Burgie let me crash at his family’s place? What do you think, Toby-”

Asriel’s mouth snapped shut, and he stood up perfectly straight despite the ache in his back. Slowly he turned around and could just barely see the wreckage of the escape pod in the trees. If his memory was accurate, he was the only person in there. Toby was still… wherever the pod had come from. Even seeing the panorama of stars over the planet, a part of Asriel was still not entirely sure that it wasn’t just the most elaborate, impressive, award-winning special effects that he had ever seen. But whether he had actually been in a space station, or on some wannabe movie set, it looked like Toby was still there.

Asriel felt his stomach turn into a pit of ice, and slowly limped his way through the trees; the realization that Toby wasn’t with him somehow made all the injuries that he had sustained hurt even more than they already had.

“Gotta… gotta find mom, let her know. And dad. Better go to dad first in case mom puts her foot down and I can’t call him after. And Undyne, if I see her. Yeah, Undyne would be the best bet. She could probably catch Toby herself, she runs so fast.”

Asriel’s mumbling trailed off as he focused on drawing enough breath to keep hiking through the woods, which fortunately allowed him to hear the strange whistling sound that got louder and louder… and then a rumbling noise that closer and closer… and finally a crunching sound that was all too much like a tree being felled in a movie or cartoon with lumberjacks and foresters in it.

“What the heck was that supposed to-” Asriel stopped talking instantly as he heard a distant and all-too-familiar bark. “TOBY!”

There was an excited yapping sound, and Asriel laughed even as the loud noises aggravated the aches and pains in his back. In what seemed like seconds, a white blur emerged from the underbrush. Asriel opened his arms and Toby jumped up into them, his slobbery tongue going all over Asriel’s laughing (and then disgusted and spitting) face.

“You gotta stop pulling stunts like that. First you chase a cat across town. Then we go to space. Now we’re lost in the woods and when we do get home we’ll be one hundred percent grounded. It’s a slippery slope.”

Toby hopped out of Asriel’s arms and sat down in front of the goat monster, wagging its tail and smiling in the way that dogs do when they have no idea what somebody just said.

“Oh well. I’m just glad you’re back. Come on. I have no idea where we are, but we sure as heck can’t stay here. Not that I’m in a hurry to get yelled at by mom, of course. But we can only put that off for so long.” Asriel looked up at what little he could see of the sky through the foliage, and frowned. That icy feeling in his gut seemed to be coming back and he wasn’t sure why. “I think that… this is probably north. Which would help us more if we knew where we were.”

 

A cup of hot chocolate slowly cooled off between Asriel’s hands, but the monster made no move to drink it. In fact, even though his eyes were pointing towards the beverage, it didn’t seem like he saw it at all.

Occasionally, the bunny behind the counter looked at Asriel suspiciously, though that might also have been because of the dog presently lying underneath the table of the booth that the goat monster was sitting in. Asriel seemed to be oblivious to her scrutiny.

There was the jingling of a bell as somebody opened the door to the diner, and the bunny turned to face her customers and plaster a smile on her face as quickly as possible. “Hiiii, welcome to-”

“Asriel?!”

The goat monster flinched so hard at the sound of his name that some hot chocolate spilled over the edge of the cup, burning his fingers.

“Ow!” Asriel instantly brought his hand to his mouth, trying to cool down the burning sensation, even as a small crowd of people rushed over to the booth.

“It’s great to see you again, but I thought you weren’t supposed to be back until the weekend?”

“Hmmph?” Asriel pulled his fingers out of his mouth and looked up at the figures crowding around the booth. Or rather, the one human that was a little bit closer to his personal space than he was comfortable with, and a trio of monsters behind the human keeping a more respectable distance. “Sorry, what did you say?”

The human stared at Asriel for a few seconds without speaking, but the goat monster could see them almost sag and deflate as they looked at him.

“...you don’t remember me.”

Asriel slowly shook his head.

“Sorry. Nothing rings a...” Asriel blinked and stood up straighter. “Wait. You know my name.”

“Of course I know your name. You’re my brother.”

“Nobody else here knows who I am, but you- wait, what??” Asriel looked the human up and down, then reached up to rub his horns, small but steadily growing up and out. “How exactly would that even work?”

“I was adopted. Duh.”

“...okay, this day is just getting weirder and weirder, but you’re the first person who seems to know my name since I came back to town so I’m going to take what I can get. Pull up a seat.”

Asriel watched as the various figures in the group shuffled and made their way into the booth; the human in the window seat opposite Asriel, followed by another goat monster wearing an outfit that practically screamed “NERD!” what with the horn rimmed glasses and the suspenders and the pocket protector crammed full of pens and an actual bow tie that looked like it was the real deal, not just a decoration that clipped onto the collar of the shirt.

There was also a narrow brimmed hat that was clearly perching on top of the monster’s horns rather than their head, but that didn’t even make it to the top ten list of things that were confusing or bothering Asriel.

Scooting into the side of the booth next to Asriel was a small bear cub wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt, the hood pulled so far forward that it cast a shadow over the top of their face, though Asriel could still make out the monster’s eyes and expression. That left a purple dragon monster in a shabby looking jacket and ripped jeans that noticed the lack of room at the booth, walked away, and dragged a chair from one of the tables. Asriel noticed that the dragon monster turned the chair around so they could rest their arms on the back.

He also noticed that the bunny monster was looking at the group with a very suspicious expression.

“So...” Asriel started, trailed off, cleared his throat, and tried to start again. “This has been a very, very strange day so far.”

“Strange in what way? What’s different?” The other goat monster asked, and Asriel shrugged.

“Golly I don’t even know where to start. It starts out crazy and gets worse. You’d never believe me if I told you.”

“Bet our day was crazier than yours,” the dragon monster growled.

“Really? Alright then.” Asriel set his jaw and stared at the purple dragon. “I was at the movie theater, Burgie and me had just finished watching Jurassic Park. Toby went off chasing after a cat and so I had to chase after Toby, until we ended up at that bunker south of town. Toby ran inside and we found this weird machine. Like, every B-Movie mad scientist laboratory set since the invention of the motion picture camera all rolled into one. Whatever it was, it did something, and Toby and I ended up on some sort of space station. Some human drags me to an escape pod, I crashed in the woods, and spent at least an hour trying to find my way back to town so I can go home.”

The dragon huffed. “Okay, maybe your story is crazier.”

“Believe me, it gets worse. When I did manage to get back to town, my mom’s house is gone. And my dad’s shop isn’t his shop anymore, it’s some sort of seasonal party store run by the Holidays. Grillby’s Grocery Store is under new management, Mach Pizza is now some other franchise, ICE-E’s P’e’zza or whatever the heck that’s supposed to say, and… and worst of all, nobody I know seems to know who I am. Or who Toriel is, or Asgore.” Asriel lapsed into silence, then sat up straight. “Oh, and when I went to the police department to ask for help, Deputy Blook was the police chief instead of Undyne, and he had no idea who she was, so, uh, that’s at least three people who have disappeared.”

“More, if you count us. Nobody knows who I am, or Susie.”

“Not that it made much of a difference for me,” the dragon grumbled, and Asriel detected more than a hint of bitterness in her tone.

“The four of us have been wandering all over town trying to figure out what happened ever since we realized something was wrong.” The human shrugged. “Seeing you back is the first breakthrough we’ve had, except that… you’re like everyone else. You don’t remember who I am. So… I have no idea.”

Asriel stared at the human, and swallowed.

“So this is what it feels like for everyone else in town today. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry, uh… well. This is awkward. I don’t even know your name.”

The human didn’t respond right away, and when they spoke up, their voice was a little hoarse.

“It’s Kris. K-R-I-S.”

“...I’m sorry, Kris. And I definitely understand how you feel right now.”

“Are you… are you sure you don’t remember anything?” Kris asked, their hands shaking. “We… when we were little kids. We’d sit in this booth. All four of us. You, and me, and mom and dad. We’d drink hot chocolate and breathe on the window and draw pictures in the fog.”

Asriel stared at the hot chocolate he had purchased out of habit, and felt his throat tighten.

“I remember the booth. And the chocolate. And mom and dad. And the window pictures. But… it was just mom and dad and me.”

The rest of the diner had the background noises of conversation and cooking and the cashier ringing customers up, but the booth Asriel was sitting in was silent.

“...what about video games? Do you remember all the times we’d play Super Smash Brothers? And when one of us won, the other would complain about cheating, and we’d start fighting for real instead of in the video game until mom took it away for weeks at a time?”

Asriel shook his head. “Mom hates video games. Won’t allow them in the house. Something about them being evil.”

“...so you wouldn’t main Yoshi, would you.”

“Sorry, I wouldn’t what?? I’m not sure all of the words in that sentence were real.”

“Your favorite character in Smash was Yoshi. A green dinosaur. A long time ago you had a whole Yoshi themed birthday party. You were super happy.” Kris smiled, but then the smile crumbled. “The next day… part of the decorations were these eggs with green spots. Just like Yoshi lays. Dad… made them into breakfast. You were… you didn’t take it very well.”

Asriel frowned and reached up to scratch the base of one horn.

“Well, I do love dinosaurs. I was psyched to finally see Jurassic Park. And a long time ago, for a birthday party, dad found me a dinosaur pinata. I was super excited, until I realized the purpose of a pinata was to… beat it to death. I wasn’t, uh. Excited after that.”

Asriel suddenly looked up, his eyes darting around to all of the people in the booth.

“Okay, I think that’s enough about what I may or may not have done as a child. It doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know. We’re in some sort of, I dunno. Parallel universe situation. Or maybe time travel is involved. This definitely feels like the alternate 1985 where Biff Tannen controls Hill Valley in Back To The Future Part Two.”

“Right. And we haven’t all been introduced, kinda slipped my mind.” Kris pointed at the nerdy goat sitting next to him. “This is Ralsei.”

“Hello, Asriel. Ah. Kris has told me a lot about you. Or, I guess, the Asriel that he knows.”

“Right. Nice to meet you Ralsei.”

Kris pointed at the purple dragon. “That’s Susie, we’re classmates at school. Or at least, when the people at school knew who we were.”

“At least one good thing came out of this mess,” Suzie growled, but with a grin on her face that showed a lot of sharp teeth.

“And that’s Lancer,” Kris pointed at the bear cub sitting next to Asriel.

“Ho ho ho! How nice to meet you, Lightner!”

“Light what??”

Kris cleared their throat. “Ralsie and Lancer are from another world. The Dark World. The inhabitants of the Dark World are called Darkners. This world is the Light World, or at least I think it is. Inhabitants of the Light World are called Lightners.”

“Okay, so it is parallel universes. That narrows it down.”

“Not necessarily.” Ralsei held up his hands. “Or at least, not in the way you think. The Dark World and Light World are, uh.” The goat monster tried to supplement his failing vocabulary with gestures, with mixed results. “The two worlds are linked, but it sounds like you’re talking about multiple Light Worlds. Where different people exist or don’t exist.”

“So… not parallel universe. This is giving me a headache.”

“It’s a big club,” Susie growled. “We should all get matching T-Shirts.”

“I like that idea!” Lancer grinned. “We could sell Fun Gang T-Shirts!”

“We are NOT the Fun Gang!” Susie snapped. “That contest was rigged!”

Asriel stared at Susie and Lancer, then turned to Kris, who shook his head.

“It would take too long to explain.”

Chapter Text

The doors and door frames scraped against each other, filling the underground space with an ear-splitting, hair raising squeal as Asriel pushed them open.

“...I honestly would have been more surprised if the weird machinery was still actually here.”

Asriel let go of the doors and wiped his hands on his shirt to clean the dust and grime from them. On his left side, Kris walked forward and peered at the room filled with rusted shelves and rotting cardboard boxes.

“Other than that, is it the same as last time?”

“...actually no.” Asriel pointed up to the ceiling. “I think there were more lights, and brighter ones.”

“But it’s the same size room, right?”

“I think so, yeah. It might be a little larger, but honestly that could just be an optical illusion caused by the layout. The room I remember had a big wide open space, and this one is filled with shelves. And it’s not like I had time to go around with a tape measure or anything like that.”

“Right.” Kris walked away from the doorway and started walking down the hallway to the bunker entrance, occasionally stopping to examine the other doors and doorways, before turning back at the bottom of the stairs and repeating the process on the other side and coming back to the doorway where everyone had gathered.

“Okay. I have an idea.”

Asriel noticed that Susie immediately leaned against the wall, while Ralsei and Lancer sat down. In fact, Lancer didn’t even bother to look for a convenient box to sit on like Ralsei did and simply ended up on the dusty floor. Toby was in the bear monster’s lap almost immediately, wriggling and trying to lick his face.

“Nobody knows who we are in this town. Regardless of what else this means for us, for everyone here, for the balance between Light and Dark, or for anything else, the most immediate problem is that we have no place to stay. For that reason, I suggest we stay here in this bunker tonight. We have protection from wind and rain if the weather changes, we have lights and electricity, running water, bathrooms, and we should be able to improvise a place for each of us to sleep with all of this furniture left behind. Thoughts?”

“Yeah, what the hell are we supposed to eat?” Susie waved one hand. “I don’t see a fridge down here, or a stove or even a hot plate. Not that we have anything to cook even if we did have those things.”

“That is a major problem, I agree.” Kris reached into one pocket and pulled out two crumbled bills. “This is all I’ve got on me, and I don’t know how far we can make that go.”

“You’re still doing better than I am. I got nothing.”

“Uh...” Ralsei raised one hand meekly. “Do you think that the businesses in the Light World will take Dark Dollars?”

Kris shook their head.

“I doubt it. And with nobody who knows us to vouch for our character or credit, I don’t think it’s a good idea to try.”

“Hold on a second.” Asriel reached into one pocket and pulled out a fairly old and threadbare wallet. “Ticket stub, ticket stub, ticket stub, rewards card for Mach Pizza, ticket stub, ticket stub, here we are. I have eight bucks and some change.”

“That gives us a little over ten bucks to work with to feed five people.”

“Five people and one dog,” Asriel corrected.

Kris stood still for a moment, looking down at the floor, before nodding and pulling something out of their pocket.

“Wait, what’s that?”

Susie snorted.

“Haven’t you ever seen a cell phone before?”

It was Asriel’s turn to snort.

“Uh, yeah. I have. That’s too small to be a cell phone.”

“Excuse me,” Kris interrupted. “This is a cell phone. It’s not the most modern but it works. Or at least, the local functions work. Clock, Alarm Clock, stuff like that. It’s not getting any signal, but it wasn’t getting a signal even before we were underground. I think that’s because the network it was designed to use hasn’t been built yet.”

“So… we’re back to the time travel theory?” Asriel scratched his head.

“Maybe. I didn’t think about it at the diner because that place was always retro by design. But since we’ve been down here I’ve been thinking about everything else I’ve seen in this town. The vehicles are older, the computers are older and there’s not as many of them, even the covers of the magazines in the Librarby building seemed older.”

Susie coughed, as much from the dust as anything else.

“Hey, did you think to check the dates on them?”

“No, I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean anything. The Librarby has never been consistent about keeping the periodicals section up to date.”

“That is true,” Asriel nodded, “and even though finding a newspaper or magazine is always used to check the date in time travel movies, that doesn’t mean that the paper or magazine is the latest edition. If a time traveler showed up in a hospital waiting room, they would think they missed their mark by years.”

“Why not just walk up to somebody and ask them what date it is?”

Kris shook their head at Ralsei’s suggestion.

“If we were known quantities, or just showed up out of nowhere, we might get away with that. As it stands, running around town trying to figure out what happened and where everyone is and why nobody knows who we are has probably lost us that opportunity. We’d be pushing our luck to just get the time of day, let alone the month or the year.” Kris held up the cell phone. “Which leads me back to my original point. I do remember that the general store’s hours close earlier than they used to. Something like five in the afternoon instead of seven. And since the four of us will just get odd looks, I nominate Asriel goes to the store to get supplies.”

“Wait, what?”

“You probably won’t draw as much attention as we did, and furthermore, you have a dog. You’re the only one who knows what they will eat, or for that matter what they can safely eat.”

Asriel looked around the hallway at everyone else. Nobody seemed to be willing to voice an objection. For that matter, nobody seemed to be wrestling with an objection that they were afraid to bring up.

“...okay then. I might as well. Does anybody have, I dunno, food they absolutely can’t stand, or food that will make them sick?”

 

“welcome, looks like you got here just in time. can i help you find anything?”

“Yeah, I don’t suppose you sell trail rations for adventurers on an epic quest to save the world?”

Asriel didn’t intend for the remark to sound so flippant, but the skeleton sitting behind the counter just winked.

“we’re expecting a shipment the day after tomorrow.”

“As tempting as that is, I can’t wait that long. But thanks,” Asriel added, grabbing a basket and heading down the aisles, scanning price tags and mentally comparing the listed product weights against those prices. Occasionally he added something to his basket, but far more often, he shook his head and moved on.

“Okay, I really wish I’d been paying more attention when staying at dad’s place when he was cooking.”

“need some help?”

Asriel looked up from the jars of pickles to see the skeleton standing behind a butcher’s counter, complete with hat and striped apron.

“Thanks, but I’m good.” Asriel looked back down the aisle to where the checkout counter was standing empty. “I’m guessing it’s a slow day, that’s why it’s just you?”

“something like that. You might say we have a skeleton crew today.”

The skeleton winked, and Asriel reached up to stick a finger in one ear. He was almost certain that he actually heard a rim shot after the pun.

“Ow.”

“no love for bad jokes?”

“Not from me. My mom, she’d-” Asriel stopped talking abruptly and swallowed. Somehow a single bad pun had done what several hours of firsthand experience had failed to accomplish, and Asriel truly understood that he was alone in an unfamiliar world.

The goat monster inhaled sharply through his nose, grit his teeth, and started looking at the aisles of groceries again.

“...looks like I hit a tender spot there. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Asriel lied.

“...knock knock.”

Asriel sighed. “Who’s there?”

“Sans.”

“Sans who?”

“Sans the Skeleton. What’s your name?”

“...Asriel. Asriel Dreemurr.”

“Nice to meet you, Asriel.”

Asriel nodded and returned to his task, grabbing a jar of peanut butter and a box of soda crackers, double checking the contents of the basket, and triple checking his mental arithmetic before heading to the checkout counter.

Sans was sitting there, without a hat or apron. For a split second Asriel was tempted to run back to the deli section to try to see if there were actually two skeletons in the building, but shrugged it off as he unloaded the basket and watched Sans ring up everything.

“okay, your total comes to nine dollars and eighty three cents.”

“Here you go.” Asriel handed over all of the paper money in his pocket, and held out his hand as Sans counted change into it.

“eighty three, eighty four, eighty five, ninety, and that’s a dollar. Pleasure doing business with you.”

“Yeah, same here.” Asriel grabbed the paper bag and turned towards the door.

“whoops, almost forgot. you’re our ninety seventh customer since i bought the place.”

Asriel stopped with one hand on the door handle.

“Sorry, what?”

“Ninety seven is the highest double digit prime number.”

“...I’m guessing that’s significant, but I’m not a mathematician, so I don’t actually know how or why.”

“that’s okay.” Sans reached underneath the counter and pulled out another paper bag, which he held out to Asriel. “there’s a goodie bag grand prize for the ninety seventh customer, so this is yours now.”

“Really??”

“really.”

“Uh… wow. Thank you. I don’t know what to say.”

“well, you can always say to people that they should shop here.” Sans winked one eye socket. “a little word of mouth advertising never hurt anybody.”

“Heh.” Asriel managed to smile. “That would be easier if people knew who I was, but I can certainly try.”

 

Two old desks that were still more or less intact had been shoved together in the center of the hallway, and were also the center of attention as the contents of the two sacks were unloaded.

“Peanut butter… crackers… canned beans… pickles… canned tuna… well, we only had ten or so dollars, so we’re lucky to get this much.” Kris sorted one bag’s worth of items and opened up the second one.

“The shopkeeper just gave you this stuff??” Susie stared at Asriel, as if trying to catch him out in a lie.

“He said something about me being the ninety seventh customer, and that was a prime number or something. I didn’t see anything advertising the promotion so I don’t think that was it.” Asriel held up his hands and shrugged. “I think Sans was just looking for an excuse to give me an extra bag of groceries.”

“That was nice of him!”

Ralsei, on the other hand, seemed to be taking the act of generosity at face value.

“Kitchen matches… trash bags… toilet paper… plastic forks… paper plates… plastic cups-”

“Any milk in there?”

Kris shook their head at Lancer’s question.

“No, I don’t think there would have been any way to keep it cool… plastic spoons… paper bowls… oh, here’s some more food. Canned soup. Condensed so we need to mix it with water.”

“Good luck with that,” Susie snorted. “It’s not like we have anything to mix it in.”

Kris reached into the bag and pulled out a small sauce pan and lid held together by a loop of cardboard. Susie made a low growl in her throat.

“Well, it’s not like we have a place to cook with it.”

Kris reached into the bag again.

“Kris I swear if you pull out a hot plate or camp stove I will eat your face-”

Kris pulled a single burner hot plate out of the bag and Susie stomped one foot on the ground.

Oh come on!”

The echoes of Susie’s stomping and yelling gradually faded away, and Kris put the hot plate on the table next to everything else.

“There’s only two more things in here. A plastic dog dish and… yeah. It’s a map.” Kris pulled out the map and opened it up on the table, leaving Asriel to pull out the dog dish and set it on the floor where Toby was sitting patiently.

“I don’t think this was just some grab bag of store inventory. And look at how everything seems to be perfectly suited to people camping out or traveling.”

“You know, I made a joke about if the store sold trail rations for adventurers going out to save the world when I first walked in there. Maybe Sans took me seriously and put it all together while I was reading prices.” Asriel turned to Kris. “Hey, is there a can opener in that pile of stuff?”

“I didn’t see one.”

“Oh.” Asriel looked down at the can of tuna in his hands, and Toby licking his chops. “Then we might still have a problem.”

“Oh, gimme a break.” Asriel flinched as Susie grabbed the tuna can out of his hand, walked over to a bare patch of wall, and began running the can over it. “The metal in canned food is super thin, especially around the seal. So you can literally just grind it off on concrete or rough metal.”

Less than a minute later, Susie walked back over to Asriel and handed the tuna can over.

“Just squeeze the can itself to pop the lid off.” Susie looked at the can, to Asriel, to Toby, to the dog dish, and back at Asriel. “Waaaaaait a minute. You’re not going to feed our food to your dog, are you? Didn’t you get dog food for him?”

“Toby only eats dry kibble, he won’t eat canned dog food. And the bags of kibble at the store weighed thirty pounds and cost more than what I had on me.” Asriel walked over to the table, pried open the box of plastic forks, and pulled one out before walking back to Toby’s dog dish. “If it makes you feel better, I’ll split my share of the food with him. Nobody else will have do go hungry on his account, or mine.”

“That’s not what I...” Susie trailed off, then shoved the can of tuna at Asriel; a little bit of the water the tuna was packed in squirted out from beneath the lid and got on Asriel’s shirt. “Fine, whatever. I don’t care.”

The dragon monster stomped off and her footsteps could be heard on the stairs up out of the bunker. Asriel turned to face the rest of the group; Ralsei seemed to be biting his lower lip, and Lancer was staring at Asriel with an expression that the goat monster had not seen before.

“I didn’t mean to upset her.”

Kris shook their head.

“Don’t worry about it too much. We’re all stressed out.”

“...I’ll go after her and apologize as soon as I get Toby set up.” Asriel got down on one knee, popped the lid off of the can, and started to portion some of it into Toby’s new dish, where it was almost immediately snarfed up by the dog. Abruptly, Asriel froze, the fork dropping out of his hand and clattering on the concrete floor.

“Kris?”

“Yes? What is it?”

“You know how a few minutes ago, we were talking about how everything in that goodie bag seemed to be chosen specifically to help us out in this exact situation?”

“I do.”

“And I commented that maybe Sans took me seriously when I said I was looking for supplies for adventurers?”

“Right.”

Asriel held up one hand, then turned it over, index finger pointing down at the plastic dog dish below him where Toby was chowing down.

I didn’t tell him I had a dog.”