It had been an hour since Songbird had hit the surface of Oxomo. Ash spent the whole time down in her guts.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “Nothing seems to have broken down, but something went screwy enough to trigger the engine core’s emergency shutdown procedure.”
Zane looked worriedly at the pipes where Ash had disappeared. “So… what happens now?”
“Well, at this point, we gotta get out, check the exterior damage to the ship. Even if I can figure out the issues in here, it’s not like we can fly away with a giant hole in the ship. The diagnostic panel is on the outside of the ship too. I’ve always meant to get around to putting it on the inside, but I guess the developers decided if something was so wrong that you need to run a diagnostic test that you should be grounded anyway.”
“That doesn’t sound fun,” said Zane, as he made his way out of the engine room, Ash following behind.
“Not at all,” said Ash. “And since the ship isn’t getting any more broken. I think it can stand to wait until the local morning.”
They entered the main strip to find Jayna and Mari setting out a full spread of emergency light sources, affixing them to the walls and the tables. Mari had pulled the hotplate out of her room and plugged it into her datapad.
“Guessing we’re not going anywhere for a good bit?” said Jayna.
“Good guess,” said Ash. “I suggest you take this time to relax a little.”
“I did pick up some hot cocoa in our last port?” Mari offered, holding up the little box.
That was when they heard the scream.
The crew darted over to a window, where they saw a young woman running like hell was at her heel.
Mari watched her sprint across the nearest ruined courtyard and out of sight.
That’s when they heard a sound that was less familiar.
“Is she being chased by someone?” said Zane.
“She looks pretty scrappy,” said Ash. “I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
As if on cue, the girl tripped over a bit of broken curb and cried out, clutching her ankle. Zane looked over to Ash. He sighed.
“We’ll make it quick,” he said. “Mari, stay with the ship and lock the door behind us, I don’t want anybody to get any ideas.”
Mari frowned. “Wait. Why should I be the one that’s staying behind. Didn’t Ash just get his whole body broken? He should stay behind. Besides, he’d be more useful on the ship anyway.”
“I’m fine,” said Ash. “I can handle-“
That was when Mari jabbed him in the chest. He winced.
“…oh, fine,” said Ash. “There might be shooting. Are you sure about this?”
“I’ve been practicing,” said Mari. “I can do it.”
Ash shrugged, and moved over to a cabinet. “Well then, maybe it’s time for your own gun.”
He quickly withdrew a smallish sidearm, just the right size for Mari’s hands, with a hip holster.
“You know what a girl likes,” said Mari.
“Come on!” said Zane, who already had his arms ready. “We have to hurry!”
“Okay, okay, we’re coming,” Jayna said, and with a hard shove fought against the pneumatics and forced the side door open.
They quickly disembarked, and Ash shut the door behind them.
“Hang on!” shouted Zane, as the three made a beeline for the fallen girl. “We’re coming!”
The girl looked up, shouted something, and pointed. A figure had emerged from the hazy darkness, and Zane took aim… but once he got a good look at the figure, he hesitated.
It was a woman, and she did not look healthy. Her skin was a pallid white and her eyes were dark, as if her pupils were heavily dilated. She had no hair to speak of, and wore only scraps of clothing, which hung loosely off her emaciated body. And she was gnashing her teeth, hissing like a rabid animal the whole time.
Zane’s hesitation lasted only a moment, and he put two shots into her chest. She staggered back, recoiling from the shot.
Then, a moment later, she got up again and charged forward, locked onto a new target.
Mari took a step back behind Jayna, who pulled out her own weapon. She wasn’t close to the accuracy that even Ash had. But she could carry a much bigger gun than the other two could. She levelled her sawed off at the woman and aimed for the legs.
Being separated from her appendages did not seem to perterb the woman for long. Mari also realized that she didn’t seem to be losing a copious amount of blood.
She realized all of these things in about a split second. She shakily pulled her gun up to bear, but before she could, the woman they’d been trying to save darted between their little pod, and leapt into the air, shoving a thick piece of iron rebar through her head.
Everyone turned to look at her. She did not look scared. She looked… annoyed.
“You fucking idiots,” she hissed. “Why did you have to-“
She was interrupted by a cacophany of animalistic shrieks. Another pale person came out from the shadows, a man this time. He let out a screech, and was joined shortly by a number of friends.
The girl swore, and turned to the group. “Run, we’ve got a camp on the north side of the block!” she said, and sprinted past the pod. “MOVE!”
The three of them shared a brief look of confusion. And then they ran, a whole crowd- no, that wasn’t the right word. A swarm of gibbering pale men and women on their tail.
As they turned a corner, they saw two pale men bent down over… yes, that was definitely a body. Its throat had been ripped open, and one of the pale men was sucking hungrily at the wound, while the other was gnawing on its thigh. They both looked up when the group approached. Zane was the first to react, putting a couple of bullets between the closest one’s eyes. That put it down.
The girl hadn’t even broken stride to look at the body. “C’mon! We don’t have much time before the sun is fully set!” she said, pointing towards an old warehouse that had been heavily barricaded.
As the other one lunged at her, she pulled a short bat out of a bag she had slung over her shoulder and bashed it in the skull, sending it reeling to the ground. Jayna and Mari started to take off again, but stopped when they saw Zane staring down at the pale man he had just killed.
“Zane!” yelled Jayna.
“…Did I just kill a vampire?” said Zane, looking at his gun.
“Zane!” snapped Mari. “There’s no such thing as-“
The great howl behind them picked up again, and the three of them took off running.
Lungs burning, the three of them finally made it to the encampment. The girl made the sound of a crow cawing, and about thirty seconds or so later, two huge spotlights flashed on and spiralled in on their position.
She turned back to look at her three tagalongs. “Stay in the light! It’ll guide us to the entrance.”
Mari covered her eyes as the spotlights glared. “Bright enough for you?” she said.
There was the sound of a heavy door opening, and a voice said “Get in!” And so they did. Two people, a man and a woman, barricaded the door and put a heavy lock on, then wiped their brow.
“That was way too close,” said the woman, wiping her brow. Then she noticed that the girl wasn’t alone. “…who are these people?” she said. “They don’t look like they’re from around here…”
The girl tossed her pack down and shook her head. “They’re not. That light we saw earlier? Their ship burning up in the atmosphere,” she said with a shake of her head. “Stupid enough to get out of the ship too.”
“Nothin’ for it now,” said the man, shaking his head. “We’ll all hole up here until morning. Welcome to our humble abode, dumb spacers.”
They were all in a space not much larger than Songbird’s break room. There were several supply crates packed around the walls, as well as a few cots.
Mari was the first one of the crew to speak.
“What the fuck just happened,” she said. “Were those… people?”
The girl looked to Mari as she knelt down and started to rustle through her pack. “How many shots does it normally take for a person to stop chasing you? Typically, after one shot, I’m less inclined to keep running. How many shots did she take?”
“Three,” said Zane, shaking his head. “She didn’t go down until I went for the headshot.”
“That’s what they’re like,” said the older woman. “They don’t stop until you stop them.”
“What are they?” said Jayna, looking back toward the boarded-up windows. “What happened here?”
The young girl sighed. “Felipe, give them the short version,” she said.
“Paraiso wasn’t just a tourist trap,” said the man, who was apparently named Felipe. “It was also the home to a pharmacutical research lab. The short version, such as it is, is that they were working on counteragents for engineered bioweapons.”
“And one got out,” said Jayna.
“And one got out,” said the girl. “We’re not sure if it was an accident or deliberate, but something went horribly wrong and all this horrid shit got released into the atmosphere.”
“And it turned people into vampires,” said Zane, nodding. Felipe’s eye twitched.
“They’re not vampires!” he snapped. “They’re people being afflicted by a mutated strain of the porphyria virus that-“
“Makes them hard to kill?” suggested Mari.
“Gave them an unquenchable bloodthirst?” said Jayna.
“And makes them ultra-sensitive to light?” chimked in Zane. The girl let out a laugh.
“Let it go, Felipe,” she said. “They’re basically vampires, you may as well admit it.”
Felipe sighed. “I don’t care if they’re vampires now. They’re still people. It sucks that we have to gun them down like dogs in the street. But it’s them or us. I’m choosing us,” he said, and looked to them. “Didn’t you hear the broadcasts?”
“We didn’t see any broadcasts,” said Jayna. “Why hasn’t the Intergalactic Police Corps come in and cleaned house?”
“Because they either don’t know or don’t care,” said the woman, lounging against a supply crate. “We’re a backwater moon in a backwater galaxy and we lost any means of sending a long-range signal when everything went to shit.”
“They were here originally. When the company lost the counter agent,” Felipe corrected. “And they took everyone they thought was important and buggered off.”
“How many-” started Mari.
“Maybe a couple dozen,” said the woman. “They’re all holed up in the museum, on the other side of town. We come out during the day to scrounge.”
“Or to hunt,” said the girl, smirking.
Then she turned to look at Mari, who was eying her strangely. “Why are you looking at my eyes?” she said.
“Idle curiosity,” said Mari, as Zane supressed a snicker.
The girl shrugged. “Tomorrow when the sun rises, you should get on your ship and go home,” she said. “But get some sleep. And talk to Tanya about getting some earplugs. You’ll need them.”
There, were, indeed, some wails in the distance.
“Don’t worry, they won’t come near the spotlights,” said Tanya. “They’ve got UV filters on them for extra sizzle. Though on that note, Luisa, be a dear and check the gennies, will you?”
She nodded, grabbing a crossbow out of her backpack, and heading that direction.
“Uh, wait, I’ll come with you,” Jayna said. “You shouldn’t go alone, right?”
“Look after yourself, Giganta,” said Luisa, nodding. “I’ll be fine.”
With that, she darted off.
“Don’t worry about Luisa,” said Felipe, as he went through a crate. “She’s scrappy. Better get cozy, it’s going to be a long night.”
“Uh, how long a night exactly?”
Felipe did a quick set of calculations. “Eleven hours, maybe. We’ve got a strange day/night cycle.”
“Seriously?” said Zane.
“Oh yes,” said Tanya. “Oxomo’s on a… weird sort of tilt. The nights get longer and longer as the year goes on.
Jayna whistled. “We need to get word back to Ash.”
“Ash?” said Tanya.
“Our mechanic,” said Zane. “He’s still on the ship.”
“I hope the door locks really tight,” said Felipe.
“Do you have a radio tower or anything?” said Jayna. “Something you can use to communicate with the other camp, perhaps?”
“Not that we can get at,” said Tanya. “We’ve been trying to get one online but there’s only so many hours in the day we can work at it.”
Jayna got to her feet. “I’m willing to make the trek. We can’t just leave Ash in there alone all night.”
“You aren’t going anywhere,” said Felipe. “What you just saw out there? That was dusk. It’ll be night soon. That’s when they all come out to hunt. Out there alone, you have the life expectancy of a slug in a salt mine. If your friend doesn’t do anything stupid, he should be fine.”
Jayna grunted, but didn’t say anything else. Mari sighed. “So what do you do sitting in a room for ten hours if you can’t sleep?” Mari asked
“Whatever’s convienent,” said Tanya, shrugging. “I think I’ve read everything from the museum gift shop twice by now. I’d give an organ for some new reading material.”
“I’ve got some stuff on my tablet,” said Zane, offering it. “Mostly about wizards. I don’t need any organs.”
Tanya smiled. “Dumb spacers bring gifts. I like it,” she said, and settled down next to him. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Mari settled down with her own tablet away from the walls and windows. After who knew how many turns about the room, Jayna plopped herself down on the floor and watched the doorway that Luisa had left out of.
She came back about ten minutes later, a bag slung over her shoulders. She set it down, then took a seat atop one of the crates, minding her own business until she noticed Jayna sizing her up.
“What’re you lookin’ at?” she said.
Jayna looked her over. “How did you get stuck outt here with them chasing you?”
Luisa rolled her eyes. “I didn’t get stuck! I was there on purpose. I was the bait.”
Jayna was taken aback. “Why would you do something like that?”
“I told you, I was hunting,” said Luisa. “We have a whole system. I go out looking all defenseless, lure ’em over to the bright lights, then we turn the lights on and take ’em out.”
“The ultraviolet light kills them?” said Jayna. Luisa shook her head.
“Nah, just hurts like heck, judging by the way they crisp up,” she said. “But it keeps ’em still long enough for us to bash their heads in.”
“How long have you been hunting them?”
Luisa shrugged. “We are always looking for more resources. I’d rather lure out the pods and take them on here then run into them when we do our looting during the day. We mark where they’ve come from and we check out that building the next day.
“And you think you can outlast them?” said Jayna.
“We’re gonna have to,” said Luisa with a shrug. “Ain’t nobody gonna take us out of here. We’re stuck, and now you are too. Get used to it.”
“Won’t need to,” said Jayna. “Once we get our ship flying, we’re out of here.”
Luisa gave a smile. “That’s what the last spacers here said too.”
“And let me guess,” said Jayna, rolling her eyes. “They were eaten.”
“Nah, they’re still here,” said Luisa , shrugging. “We broke down what was left of their ship to reinforce our barricades. Which wasn’t much.”
She shifted in place, stretching out. “Their ship was small though, just a little speedy courier class. When they crashed here, it tore a hole in the hull. They thought they had enough materials to fix it, but no one ever carries everything they need. But they may be able to help you with your ship. When we get back to meeting up with the main group, talk to Lina and Paco. Maybe they can help your mechanic.”
“I’m sure they can,” said Zane. “Ash may or may not be a wizard himself. If Songbird’s fixable, he’ll fix it.”
“For your sake, I hope so,” said Luisa.
“And then we’ll bring back help,” he added.
Jayna and Mari shot him a look. Then they looked at each-other.
‘Did we just get wrapped up in somebody else’s bullshit again?’ Mari didn’t say.
‘Looks like it,’ Jayna didn’t reply. She nodded. Mari sighed.