Our apologies, readers. There was a bit of a mishap in the upload of the previous part. If you go back and read it again, you’ll find it considerably expanded. Go ahead, we’ll wait.
You good? Alright then, on with the show!
“I’m sorry,” said Zane, as he and Jayna walked down a much more subdued street.
“I’m not,” said Jayna. “I’ve been to plenty of clubs. And I don’t want you to be alone while we’re all having fun.”
Jayna stopped into one shop. She came out holding a pair of flip flops, a tote bag, and a loud floral print shirt for Zane. “Would this make you feel more comfortable?”
His eyes brightened up instantly. “Little bit,” he said. He looked up into the dimming sky. “Is, um, anything open late around here?”
“It’s a tourist town,” said Jayna. “Nothing ever closes.”
“Well… what can we do?” Zane asked.
Jayna chuckled, leaning against a wall to switch into her flip flops. “Go in the store and change, I’ll have something for us to do by the time we get out.”
One quick changing later, the two of them made the trip a a modern art museum, a bit of ways off the strip. It almost seemed out of place in a city that seemed to so heavily favor its theme. Zane looked thoughtfully at the abstract sculptures and colorful pieces, and listened patiently to the tour guides as they went past.
“As you can see here,” one said, as she gestured to a large canvas streaked with overlaying colors, “This is the most prominent example of the themes found in all of Floros’s works, that being that while people are defined by contrasts – light and darkness, chaos and order – that you can’t simply boil anything down to its two most extreme opposites. To do so is a gross oversimplification of the human experience, bordering on parody.”
“Oooh,” said Zane, nodding at the painting. “Thank you.”
“You… understand that?” said Jayna, as the tour guide moved on.
“Not at all,” said Zane, shaking his head. “But I like the colors. They’re relaxing.”
“They also have a painting class, if you’re interested,” Jayna said.
“I’ve never painted anything before,” said Zane, considering. “So why not?”
Jayna smiled. “How do you feel about getting messy?”
“Messy is fine,” said Zane. “It all washes off, in the end.” He paused to look over a stark black and white drawing of a figure standing in front of a chaotic void. He gave it an approving nod.
She chuckled. “I think that one is called ‘Man represents pretentions of artist. C’mon, let’s go get tipsy and paint watercolors.”
“I think I’ll pass on the tipsy,” said Zane. “I have no idea how the hooch will interact with the new meds Mari has me on.”
“Oh, no, I’m going to get tipsy. I grabbed something for you at that store,” she said, pulling out a bottle of something and handing it to him.
Zane looked the bottle over and laughed. “I take it back,” he said. “The booze is probably safer.”
“Ah ah ah, this is your speed,” she giggled. “I know how you like your shirley temples. Almost all shirley… and no temple, if you catch my drift.”
Zane unscrewed the cap and took a sip. Instantly, his eyes dilated to pinpricks.
“Well then,” he said. “Let’s go… paint.”
Jayna smiled. “That’s what i like to see! Gusto!” she said, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and guiding him to the small studio attached to the museum.
The class had been… well, interesting. Zane had been quiet, listened intently, and then… gotten to work. At the end of the hour, most of the class had managed a very passable painting of a chicken. One or two of them put their own spin on things. Zane…
Well, it had started off well enough. But midway through it, he had gotten his own idea, and his chicken had dragon wings and was breathing fire.
She watched with mild amusement, giving him a smile as she followed along with the teacher, but made her own little adaptations as well, along with adding some villagers for Zane’s dragon to run from.
It wasn’t a master stroke by any sense of the word, even compared to a class full of amateurs. But she’d never seen Zane look happier.
She smiled, making sure to take a picture of it in case they needed to reproduce it. “So, how do you feel about the ship’s new artwork?” she asked afterwards, noting that the bottle he’d been sipping on had been completely emptied.
“The instructor said that art is supposed to be an expression of your feelings,” said Zane. “I felt very, very strongly about the fact that this chicken needed to be half-dragon.”
“I mean, isn’t every chicken half dragon?” she asked, walking with him as they headed back out to the city below. “I know there’s this really great fried icecream place nearby. The fudge comes out of a waterfall.”
“That sounds like everything I need to be a part of,” said Zane, as they went back out onto the streets.
As they walked, there was a bit of a commotion ahead. A tall, pale woman with white-blonde hair in a smart pantssuit was handing out flyers to a small crowd, speechifying to anyone who stood still for ten seconds at a time.
Jayna raised an eyebrow, but headed over that direction, looking at one of the flyer’s that someone had thrown in the trash. “Down with the Arrow and Staff party? What the hell is this?” she murmured.
Jayna made the error of making eye contact. The flyerer noticed her almost instantly. “Ah, ma’am!” she said. “You look like a smart woman! I bet I can count on you to vote Nia Kosta out of office in the coming election!”
Jayna started as the woman continued. “Senator Kosta and the rest of her party have tried ruling this country with an iron fist for too long. We should be using fair and balanced approaches, not just letting the top crust of the country dictate the rules for everyone!”
Jayna frowned. “But the city she governs has experienced an unprecedented level of financial growth. Why would we vote her out?”
The woman’s smile widened, giving the impression of a shark spotting a wounded seal. “I’m so glad you asked!” she said, pulling open one of the flyers. “If you’ll take a look at the statistical data, you’ll see that-“
“Oh this nonsense again? Look, Sword and Spear tries to pull out this smear campaign every reelection season. It’s been proven through numerous studies that while there was a minimal slump in the budget for a year prior to her plan being fully implemented, it was only for six months. That’s it. And ever since then we’ve been showing modest increases every year that hadn’t happened in decades,” Jayna said balling up the flyer and tossing it in the trash.
The woman’s faҫade began to redden. “You, ma’am, are in denial,” she said. “That woman is destroying our fair city, continually opening our gates so wide that nothing but trash flows in! Who are you to think you know Nia Kosta so well, hmm?”
Jayna chuckled. “I am very, very familiar with Senator Kosta’s practices. Believe me, that whatever silly ideations that her competitors have? She’s doing the best for this study by making our immigration laws less strict. New ideas, and less…idiocy will make this city a much better place,” she said, giving her a winning smile and then headed towards Zane. “C’mon, let’s go get that ice cream.”
“Let’s,” said Zane, watching the goggle-eyed woman disappear into the distance. “Man, did you see her? I thought her ears were going to start steaming.”
“Yeah, well if she pushed me any further it wouldn’t have been the only thing that was red,” Jayna sniffed. “I didn’t want to play the daughter card. Most of this nonsense comes up every time it’s time for re-election. I’m sick of it,” Jayna said. “My mom works really really hard for this city.”
“Just like you work really hard for Songbird?” said Zane. “Your mom reminds me a lot of you.”
Jayna smiled. “We all work really hard for the ship though… but I will always take that as a compliment. My mom is one of the things I miss the most about being here… but I know I can visit when I need to.”
“…me too?” said Zane. “The closest thing I have to biological family are scattered all across the galaxies… and honestly, I can count the ones I like to be around on my fingers.”
Jayna smiled, pulling him close. “Zane, you’re always welcome here. My family is yours. I told you when we first met you. If you’re with me, you’ll always be safe.”
Zane laughed and tried feebly to push her away. “Come on!” he said. “You’re gonna make me blush in public!”
She giggled. “Oh yeah yeah, I see how it is. We’ll see how you feel with a half pound of ice cream in your belly.”
“Was that a challenge?” said Zane. “Oh, it is on!”