There's a knock on the door, same as every morning, and Ruel comes in without waiting for a reply, just as predictably. He tosses a change of clothes and a couple granola bars onto the end of the bed: "C'mon, kid, we've got stuff to do today."
Nights offer, if not safety, at least some measure of reprieve, and Nova has been left alone long enough to be dozing when there's a tap at his door, and a strange voice a second later - it's recognizably a woman's voice, but flat, emotionless, with a strange accent that doesn't quite sound human. "Nova, I'm here to rescue you, open the door."
-He wants that. Wants it so much-
-Except what if it's a trap? What if it's a test.
...Does he care if he fails it?
"-I- I can't?" he doesn't sound all that certain.
The door slides open, just a few inches, enough for him to make out the girl on the other side; she's about his age, no more than a year older, tall, thin, with a confused expression. She taps at the phone she's carrying, and it talks again: "I'll leave you alone if you want, but it's going to keep getting worse if you stay."
-He doesn't recognise her at all, and he likes to think he recognises most of the people around here. He hesitates for a moment longer before slowly getting to his feet.
"I- Okay? Okay. Please?"
She nods, taps the phone again - "follow me" - and opens the door the rest of the way for him.
He hesitates again briefly, and then nods and follows her.
She walks without watching where she's going, though she does pause occasionally to consider her surroundings, and once or twice adjusts their course.
"My name is Rescue," the phone says after a minute, "and my power is super hearing."
"I was in a place a little like this, and I escaped. It's hard to be on your own as a kid, but it's a lot better."
He's quiet for a moment. "Uh- I- I'm Nova? And...well. I have fire?"
He doesn't, immediately, have a response to the fact that Rescue escaped from somewhere similar to this, or her saying that it's better on her own.
Her response this time takes quite a few more taps, further slowed by the fact that she pauses in the middle to listen and then hurry them down a side passage. "I know, I heard it."
"-Oh. Of course."
One tap, this time: "Talking this way is slow, I can answer your questions when we're someplace safe."
It doesn't take much longer for them to get out of the compound - she stops when they're almost out to release a dog with a number painted on its side from a supply closet, and a few minutes and a picked lock later, they're free.
He's not sure he even knows what questions he's supposed to have, but he stays quiet, and follows.
-And when they're out, he's still not sure what to do. He's never been outside without some very specific thing to do. He looks at Rescue and hopes she's going to keep giving him directions.
She only pauses for a moment, giving him an opportunity to react, and when he doesn't, she continues on. The nearest storm drain is a couple blocks away; she leads him in, remembering relatively promptly to turn on the phone's flashlight. It's damp inside, and the pipe isn't big enough for either of them to stand. "I have a better place than this, but it's not safe to be walking around while they're looking for you. I have enough stuff here for a couple days, but I hope it won't be that long."
He nods slowly. "I- uh, thank you?"
A little farther along there's a mattress taking up the width of the pipe, resting on a couple pallets to keep it up out of the water, with a cardboard box just beyond. Rescue climbs onto it to get a couple things out of the box and toss them onto the end of the mattress for him: a flashlight, a bottle of soda, a small package of beef jerky, and a slightly larger bag of chips. "You shouldn't eat too much all at once, that can make you really sick if you haven't been eating for a while," she says with a tap.
He stares at the items, and after a moment reaches out to take the crisps. He nods to the information, and opens the crisps, reminding himself to eat slowly, no matter how hungry he is.
"Do you have any questions?"
"I don't- know. I just-" He pauses. "...why?"
She's slow answering, this time, tediously tapping away on the phone. "Nobody should be stuck in a place like that. Nobody ever."
More tapping. "I want to get them all out."
"I'm not ready yet, I'm still learning how to take care of myself."
"But it's hard not to help when someone is suffering, and you're just one kid, and I think we'll be okay."
"O-oh." He's not sure he understands that, not really. "I- uh- okay?"
"Do you know about the Protectorate?"
"Ah- not...really? Just that- they were a problem?"
"Yeah. The people who had you are the bad guys, and the Protectorate are good guys who fight the bad guys."
"They're mostly adults, but they have a kid part too."
"They aren't safe for me to join but they might be safe for you, if you don't want to stay with me."
-He doesn't know how to respond to that, can't stop the bolt of fear that goes through him. (Why would they be any more safe than where he was?)
She looks up when his heart rate jumps. "Not-" she says, and then goes back to the phone; this one is just a couple taps. "I'm not going to make you do anything."