“Come on,” said Ash, as Songbird came up on the horizon. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Luisa looked up to the sky. “We’d better to do fast,” she said.
“Think you can give me a hand?” said Ash. “It’ll go faster with an extra pair of hands, and these two are pretty useless in the engine room.”
“It’s true,” said Zane, nodding.
“My hands don’t fit in any of the crannies,” said Jayna.
Luisa nodded. “Yeah, I can do it,” she said.
“Come on, then,” he said. “You two keep watch.”
Without further preamble, Ash led Luisa back down to the engine room, and directed her to the right spot. “Here, put one of them down on that cylndrical tower over there, and then I’ll show you how to–”
“Got it,” said Luisa, fixing the power cell into place. “The last guys had a similar setup to this and we cannabalized it to get parts for our generator.”
Ash smiled. “Not bad kid,” he murmured, fixing his in place as well, and then reaching up to grab the diagnostic screen.
It optimistic beep. “Alright,” he said. “The cells are coupled up, and the heat shields will start charging right about…” Another beep. “Now.”
The screens flashed for a moment. Ash groaned. “Sixteen hours,”
Luisa shrugged. “Told you.”
“Guess now we just wait,” said Mari, shrugging. “On the planet of the vampires. How sure are you that they can’t get into songbird?”
“Not unless they learn how to operate a plasma torch,” said Ash.
Luisa shook her head. “They aren’t that smart. Your ship may be a little scratched up paint wise, but if they don’t smell you, they won’t bother your ship too much.”
“She’s had worse,” said Ash. “Alright, let’s get some things together, then lead the way.”
“Hurry,” said Luisa. “As it is, we’ll just about make it to the museum at dusk. You don’t want to be out much longer.”
He nodded. “No, I suspect I don’t.”
A casual glance at the Paraiso Museum was all it took to tell the crew of Songbird why the survivors had chosen to hole up there. It was a large, thick-walled building with only one entrance.
The decorative windows had already been barred before the epidemic–the best way to keep art thieves out was… surprisingly the same as how to keep out vampires.
Additionally, spiked barricades had been hastily constructed out of whatever had been availible, and a pair of large spotlights, stolen from who knew where, were fixed atop them.
“Home sweet home,” said Luisa. “Just in time too, the doors don’t open for anybody after dark.”
Zane frowned. “But what if you guys get caught out–“
Luisa looked at him. “Loco, did you not just hear me? No one gets in after dark.”
Zane declined to comment further as Luisa lead them in. “It’s me!” she called out. “Open up!”
After a moment, the gates opened up, and a man stepped out/
“Luisa!” he called out jovially. “Glad to see you’re not dead!”
“Me too, Paco,” she said, running through.
Paco looked out at the newcomers suspiciously. “Are they-“
“They’re cool!” Luisa called back. “I’lll be in my bunk!”
Paco looked at the four of them, and then shrugged. “As long as you’re not infected, I don’t really care. C’mon in. If you try to steal anything, we’ll kill you.”
“That’s fair,” said Ash, giving the man a nod as they went in.
The interior of a museum had been converted into an indoor shantytown. Makeshift tents were set up all over the place to make up private spaces, and use had clearly been made of whatever they could find.
Paco looked about. “Um, I think we actually have a couple extra tents open back there. If you have anything that needs fixing, Luisa opened up a little shop in the History of Terraforming section. Otherwise, food is served out of the food court and try not to bother the parrots too much.”
“Parrots?” said Zane, looking around, but the man had already wandered off.
“Wait, did that guy say his name was Paco?” said Ash. “Hold up, I need to go have a few words with him.”
Jayna watched him walk off. “Let’s go find Luisa. She was off a little faster than I’d like,” she said to Zane.
“And I’m just going to find someplace to get something strong to drink,” said Mari.
“What makes you think they’ll have anything like that?” said Zane.
“Considering their situation?” said Mari. “If somebody hasn’t cobbled together a still out of whatever they could find, I’ll eat my socks.”
Jayna took a deep breath and nodded. “Try and get a feel for how many there are… use your fingers and toes if the liquor’s too strong, mm?”
“Will do,” said Mari.
Mari wandered off, and Zane and Jayna took off to go find Luisa.
Most activity, such as it was, seemed to be taking place in the exhibition halls, which had the most space. Several people were huddled around a steel drum in which something was burning, and what looked like half a shopping cart was placed over it, forming a crude grill.
Most of the noise seemed to be emanting from the exhbition halls. As she passed through the small areas, she saw quite quite a few people with grills. It looked like they’d maybe knocked over a department store–they hadn’t even bothered to rip the stickers and pricetags off first.
The smoke wafted lazily up towards the high ceilings where a few holes had been punched through.
Heads turned to look at Jayna, but most of them looked back when they ascertained that she was not, in fact, a vampire. They stepped up to one tent, where somebody was putting an edge on a garden shovel. “Can I help you?” she said, not looking up from her task.
“Which way’s the History of Terraformation hall?” asked Zane.
“There should be a museum directory that nobody’s defaced over that way,” she said, pointing with the shovel. “From there it should be easy enough to find your way.”
“Uh, thank you,” Zane said taking a step out of the way of the shovel, and walking with Jayna.
They cleared out of the hall, and found said undefaced museum. The History of Terraformation hall had been Paraiso’s only permanent exhibit. It wasn’t very large as far as exhibits go, but it was clear that it was typically very, productive.
THere was a clear area that was for other people, as it was the only space still relatively clear in the room. The rest of it was full of card tables that were full of a bunch of different hunks of metal.
There was also a small area of the room that was tucked away and hidden behind a big canopy tent. There were two lights hanging from the poles out front–someone was home.
The two zeroed in on it. The first thing they noticed was the little bits of machinery everywhere. Mostly parts from appliances and such, some of which had been soldered together for some new purpose, or simply tossed aside. Somebody liked to tinker.
The second thing they noticed was Luisa herself, sitting in the back of the tent, clutching her knees to her chest and eyes wide open, staring at nothing. She was shaking like a leaf.
Zane stepped forwards cautiously. “Luisa? A.. .Are you alright?”
She startled up almost instantly, brandishing an unlit welding torch in Zane’s direction and her features hardening. “The hell are you doing here?” she said, her voice cracking only a little.
Zane raised his hands up, showing that he was unarmed. Jayna did the same. “We were just um… concerned. You flew in here pretty fast and we wanted to just check up on you.”
“Consider me checked up on,” said Luisa. “Now leave.”
“Did you make all these?” Jayna looked over to see Zane standing infront of a huge rack filled with bullets. “They look hand-crafted.”
She shrugged. “I like machines,” she said. “They’re… simple. Compared to other stuff.”
Zane slid out a pack of bullets and set them down. “Are there…are these filled with stuff?”
Luisa nodded. “Yeah, I’ve tried a couple different kinds,” she said, stiill curled up, but she was poking her head out.
He sniffed one of them, and then he smirked. “Is this one filled with garlic?” he said. “Guess you figured it was worth a try, huh?”
Luisa didn’t reply. Zane moved a little closer.
Luisa hoisted the welding torch again. “I’m not your tour guide. If you see anything useful, take it and get out. If you don’t, then just get out,” she said, voice thick.
Jayna stepped back a bit. Zane was unfazed. “You were pretty tough out there,” he said, nodding. “I trained for years to be able to do what I do, and you impressed me.”
“I didn’t get to have years, Luisa said, looking for all the world like she wanted to crawl into the wall. “I barely got to have months.”
“But you’re still here,” said Jayna, kneeling down. “And we couldn’t have gotten anything done around here without your help.”
Luisa set the torch down. “And that’s supposed to make me feel better? You idiots were dumb enough to land here. I couldn’t just leave you there to die. Maybe I should have.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” said Zane. “And hey, if we can leave, maybe that means we can-“
“You can what? Go and send help?” Luisa said, looking at him. “I used to hear that all the time from passing ships in the comms. And no one came. Because they knew they’d have to land in this mess. So they just don’t come.” Luisa said. “I don’t blame them. I won’t blame you when you leave. What’s the point in saving us?”
“You’re here,” said Zane. “You’d prefer not to be. What more reason do we need?” He leaned in a little closer. “I know what it’s like,” he said, softer. “To lose hope. To live in constant dread. To think that there’s absolutely know way out. “
Luisa looked at him, as if she’d been slapped. “Get the hell away from me,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know what it’s like here. Do you know how close we came? To being ripped apart in there? For a couple of power cells?” She got to her feet, fists clenched tight enough to make her thin fingers go white. “Do you have any idea how many people we’ve lost trying to get food or supplies in the same little buildings full of monsters just like that? You don’t hear them in your sleep. You don’t hear them pleading for help and you know you can’t save them. I know the name of every person who died in front of me!”
Luisa was absolutely fuming. Jayna’s features fell. Zane just looked… distracted, like he was trying to get something out of his teeth.
“What is it, you weirdo?” snapped Luisa.
“Does that happen a lot?” said Zane, a faraway look in his eyes. “The places full of food and valuables being full of vampires? The hardware store was pretty well empty, and that had all sorts of dark places to hide.”
She frowned. “Every building is full of vampires.”
“Not every one,” said Zane, features thoughtful. “I could see movement inside some of them, but not all of them. Some of that could be accounted for in terms of how much light that let in, and you’d think that would be the main factor, but it didn’t seem to…” He started to trail off. “I need to check something. Excuse me.”
With that, he dashed off, leaving Luisa and Jayna alone. On Luisa’s features, anger and frustration had given way to perplexity. She looked up to Jayna. Jayna just shrugged.
Luisa sighed, running a hand over her face. “Sorry,” she said. “You guys didn’t need to get… all of that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Jayna. “Nobody needs to be a badass all the time.”