Though the place was long-empty, it still called to him.
Sometimes it happened on the highway, while turning onto a different road or coming off an exit ramp. Sometimes it happened during a dive, just as he breached the surface. Sometimes Corona was with him. Usually, he was alone.
Whatever the situation, there would be the familiar subtle shift, and Umbra would find himself there.
And so it did, and he did.
The building was, for the most part, just as he remembered it... although in a certain, sad state of disrepair. The little drones that had cleaned and repaired the place and maintained the grounds had long ago powered down, never to cycle on again, leaving it to slowly deteriorate. The fixtures were tarnished and dirty, the windows filthy, some broken, bits of debris lay scattered on the floor, and a thick film of dust covered everything...
But the fireplace still stood, soot still streaking the back of the chimney. And the couches were still where he remembered them, albeit growing more tattered by the year. Some of the tables had collapsed, laying on their sides on the floor, but the bar itself stubbornly remained standing.
Umbra's audials twitched and flattened back as he quietly, almost reverently, crept through the dusty darkness, peering about.
He could still pinpoint the table he'd hidden under when he'd first came there, alone and anxious and afraid. Where Penny and June and Donovan had first ventured close and eventually coaxed him out of his borderline-hostile state with their humor and friendliness. And there was the spot by the fireplace that he'd eventually claimed as his own, and had scuffled over with Perforate at least once.
And then there'd been Eleanor. Eleanor, who'd been so sweet and kind... She'd had a child, hadn't she? He often wondered where they were, and how they were faring...
Overhead was the skylight, and the rafters - now thick with cobwebs - where the flyers had perched - Traipse and Warbird and Coldfront, and the little mute female whose name he didn't recall ever learning, and others whose names he couldn't recall at all...
The bar stool Barricade had favored.
The table Stress Proof could always, always be found at, when he wasn't in his medbay or out offroading.
Chiro's seat. Blackjack's seat. Redback's and Morpho's and Quidam's and Delta's, and, and, and...
So many. So many he'd been so familiar with once, even close to... but whose names were vanishing from his data banks at an alarming rate. Had they forgotten him, too? Would this place eventually forget him as well?
Umbra vented a soft sigh as he passed through the main room, past the doors to the pool room - with its massive pool still filled with solvent - and into the back hallway.
He passed the medbay, with its berths and tables all still in place. Stress' cup was still on his desk, even... He'd never had the nerve to move it, even though he knew nothing would come of it. The building was never any less empty during his visits, after all. If anyone else did visit the place, they never left any trace of it.
He passed quietly through the corridor beyond the medbay, past the rows of doors that opened into long-empty bunks that had once been home to riotous activity. The stillness in those rooms now was oppressive as he checked them all out of habit.
All that greeted him was silence.
Finally, he reached the end of the hallway and came to the wide doors - now half off their hinges - that led out to the invitingly large back patio, and the vast, overgrown garden.
Overhead, the moon hung bright and full, casting a silvery light over the crumbling brick and concrete as he paced along the broad pathways, listening to the breeze whisper wordlessly through grass and leaves. He could hear frogs singing by the pond, insects chirping and buzzing, the strident, nasally "Here! Here!" of an unseen nighthawk... Truly, the garden was the only part of the entire place that was still alive.
And when he had finished his meanderings there, Umbra returned to the old doors and the silent darkness, retracing his steps back to the front room, where he leapt to the rafters and climbed out onto the roof. There, he took up his favored spot above the entrance and settled down, perching as still as a statue in the moonlight. From that vantage point, he would wait, and watch for arrivals that he knew would never come, and at sunrise he would take his leave again, until the old place called him back once more.