Sister Marta chambered a round in her switchgun, closing the laundry room door as quietly as possible. The Depressors weren't far behind and she couldn't afford to be followed to the safe house.

She slid liquidly into the shadow of a detergent vending machine and waited, leveling her weapon at the door to the stairwell, upon which a sign admonished her to clean the lint screens of the softly humming dryers that filled the room.

Silently, the door swept open, and the dull green eyes of a Depressor swept the room. Marta felt no chill as the eyes passed over her position and she knew instinctively that the Depressor hadn't seen her.

The door opened further and the Depressor slipped into the laundrette. Its dark purple, weasel-thin body flowed liquidly as it sidled up against a free washer and peered cautiously into the opening atop the appliance.

As Marta took aim and steeled herself to fire on the creature, the stairwell door suddenly opened again. A young man in a worn "Party Naked" T-Shirt carried a basket of soiled pants and undergarments into the room and dropped it unceremoniously onto a sagging picnic table.

"'Sup," he said casually to the Depressor, which regarded him balefully.

Alarmed by the unexpected civilian intrusion, Marta flicked off the safety on her switchgun.

The Depressor's ears pricked up at the almost silent clack of the gun's safety catch. It leapt toward the young man and hurled him between Marta and itself just as she squeezed the trigger.

The switchgun coughed and a pale slug of energy struck the young man. The Depressor jerked open the stairwell door and disappeared in a rustle of cloth.

The young man stood dumbfounded next to his laundry.

Marta stepped out of the shadows.

The young man seemed unharmed and she thought perhaps that he'd been unaffected by the switchgun pulse. "If I were you," she advised him, "I'd take your socks and khakis back upstairs and do your washing later."

Her heart sunk as she caught an almost inaudible reply, not from the vacantly-staring young man, but from his laundry basket.

"Sorry, but I AM my fucking khakis!" moaned the voice.

Marta grabbed the talking pants, cursing quietly to herself. This wasn't the first time a civilian had fallen victim to a switchgun, and no one deserved to be a pair of Dockers for the rest of their life.

"Don't worry," she told the pants, "We'll get this straightened out."

She grabbed the young man's body by the hand and led him to the stairwell. After checking for lurking Depressors, she dragged him off into the night.

Part of The Nodeshell World Fiction Project.

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