It didn’t take long for Ash to catch up with Paco. He had set up a place for himself and an older woman (presumably Lina), made of what appeared to be sheets of canvas and replica dinosaur bones.
“Something I can help you with?” he said, as Ash approached.
Ash nodded, settling down on a crate nearby. “Yeah. I’m the mechanic from Songbird… Luisa said I might be able to talk to you guys about.. well… she didn’t say in particular. But I was curious… what convinced you guys to touch down here?”
“We’re hoppers,” said Lina, looking up in turn. At Ash’s blank stare, she elaborated. “We travel around trying to visit as many cities on as many planets as we can, touching down for long enough to pay off a tank of fuel and a full larder before we move on.”
“Oxomo wasn’t in our database, so of course we had to touch down when we were in the area,” said Paco. “On the bright side, it’ll make an interesting entry in our logbook if we ever get off.”
“So, when you saw the ruin the city is in, why didn’t you just exit atmo and turn back around?” Ash said with a frown.
“That was the plan when we saw that it was wrecked,” said Lina. “But we had to get a closer look first, y’know?”
“A policy that I’m definitely reconsidering going forward,” murmured Paco. Lina ignored him.
“We were just flying around, trying to scope the city out,” she continued, “and then wham, our engines cut out on us, and the next thing we knew, we were sailing into the side of a building. It’s a miracle we survived.”
Ash looked over at Lina. “They just, shut off?”
“Weirdest thing,” said Paco. “I swear everything was up to snuff, we just had the engine rebuilt three sol-months ago, but it was like it just-“
“Lost power?” said Ash.
“Yeah,” said Lina. “Everything just seized up.”
Ash frowned. “I… I have to go. But thanks.”
Ash hurriedly walked out. Ten seconds later he walked right back in. “Um… did your ship still have a functioning comm system?”
“It got pretty beaten up, but it’s mostly intact,” said Paco. “We don’t have any way to get a message out, though. Nothing that’ll give us a strong enough signal.”
Ash sighed, rubbing his temple. “I’m sure that I can figure out something. Can you show me to it?”
“You’re welcome to it if you want,” said Lina. “Not doing us any good.”
“It’s in the storage closet off the exhibition hall,” added Paco.”
Ash nodded. “Thanks… I might need to bug you guys again. But apparently it’s going to be a long night anyway, so.”
“Getting longer every day,” said Lina. “Hopefully we’ll be able to make it through the big one. We’ve been stockpiling all the stuff we can.”
“The big one?” said Ash.
“Nobody told you?” said Lina. “You know how the days are getting shorter and shorter? Two weeks out of the year, there’s no sunlight at all. So we’re battening down the hatches and rationing all the food we can.”
Ash laughed aloud. “Of fucking course.” he said. “I’ve got to go find my crew mates.”
Ash found Jayna and Zane in an unoccupied tent in the exhibition hall. They were talking about something with the man they had met earlier, Felipe.
“-you can’t be serious,” he was saying, cocking his head. “Nothing we know supports that. I mean, they’re just-“
“What’s going on?” said Ash. Zane turned to look at him.
“I think the vampires are smarter than they’re letting on,” said Zane. “Some of them, at least.”
Ash sighed. “I hoped i was the only crazy one who thought that way,” he sighed. “We need to get in touch with Martens. ASAP.” Ash said
“Martens?” said Felipe. “Wait, hold on, where are you getting this? The vampires have only ever acted on pure instinct all this time.”
“They’ve been congregating in the places where the most vital supplies are kept,” said Zane. “Food and energy. I was looking while we were going to retrieve the power cells.”
Ash nodded. “I can’t say for sure… but I don’t think that’s not there only game plan. I need to get back to the ship. But while I’m here… I’m going to have to get outside and on top of the building.”
“Um, Ash?” said Zane. “If you’re thinking of doing what I think you’re thinking of doing, I don’t know if doing what you think you’re going to do is going to work how you think.”
Ash took a moment to parse that sentence, and then shrugged. “It’s worth a try.” He looked around. “As much as I hate to say it… we can’t just leave.”
“For the people who don’t speak moon man, what the heck did he just say?” Felipe asked.
Ash sighed. “I need to get up on the roof and hack into the old communication towers that are up there. I saw a couple coming in, and I can probably force my way onto them. Songbird’s comms systems were originally built like a stationary tower, so I’m familiar with them,” Ash said.
“And what will this accomplish?” said Felipe. “Even if we could get word out to the Pokers, I doubt they’d be inclined to come back.”
“I think we can appeal to a higher authority,” said Zane.
“Yeah, someone not tied up in a sea of red tape that might actually help us out. For a nominal fee and a restructuring of our contract,” Ash said, rolling his eyes. “How dangerous is it?”
“The only roof access is barred off,” said Felipe. “And honestly, we feel pretty good about keeping it that way. How sure are you that you can even get a trans-wormhole signal out with what you have?”
“About 75-25, to be honest,” he said with a shrug. “But if Zane is right, I think they’re planning something, and it’ll probably happen during that two-week dark zone. We need to get out of here. And so do all of you.”
Felipe looked around again, at all the people around here. “I’m still not sure you’re right,” he said. “…But I don’t think I can take that chance. Not with all these people. I’ll help you get onto the roof. Get what you need together.”
“Right,” said Ash. “I’ve got some things to gather up. Jayna, help me haul. Zane… go fetch the kid.”
“She’s a little… uh… me right now,” Zane said.
Ash sighed. “Do whatever you need to snap her out of it,” he said. “I have a feeling I’m going to need her.”
With that, Ash went to go to the storage closet.
Jayna walked up a minute later. “Hey, what’s got him off in such a hurry?”
“Um, we may have some difficulties,” said Zane, scooting closer to Luisa’s hidey-hole. “Hi there. Me again.”
“Go away,” she said from the other side of the door. When Zane opened it, he saw Luisa with a wrench in her hand, staring up at a monolith of rusted metal.
“Yeah, that’s what I expected,” said Zane. “Can you come out though? Ash needs your help.”
“Needs my help with what?” she asked, turning back around. “It’s night time.”
“Fixing a thing,” said Zane. “We wanna try and call for help.”
Luisa actually stopped what she was doing. “Are you talking about doing what I think you’re thinking of doing?”
Zane shook his head. “Don’t start THAT again!” he said.
“Like the vampires weren’t bad enough. Now I’ve got kamikaze space idiots.”
Luisa said, sighing. “You want to, crawl up, through the gates, head to the roof, where the spotlights can’t go, and trying to brute force your way into the comm tower above the museum? Is that what I’m hearing?”
Zane stroked his chin, He scratched his head. He went over a checklist in his head. “Yeah, that’s the long and short of it,” he said. “We may be dumb spacers… but we’ve been lucky so far. And if our luck keeps up, we may just be everybody’s ticket out of here.”
“You say you’ve been lucky. But you’re stuck right here with me,” she said, and sighed. “Where’s loco.”
“Getting some supplies and parts,” said Zane. “He’ll meet us at roof access.”
Ash nodded. He ran some lengths of cable from the comm rig to the tower, flipped some switches…
Sparks flew from the length of the tower with an earsplitting electrical hiss, momentarily illuminating the night. “Come on, come on,” said Ash, giving the side of the rig a thump. “I know you want to work…”
He pounded in a frequency, the receiver began to crackle… and then…
“This has better be worth calling me at four in the morning,” came in the voice of Martens. Ash pumped his fist.
“Martens, it’s Ash,” he said. “I need a favor. A big favor.”
There was the sound of a groan. “You sound like you’re talking through a tube,” said Martens. “How big a favor are we talking? I’m happy to do you a little service now and again because I like you, but I have a business to run, and-“
“Hey Martens,” said Zane. “Do you remember that time you sent us off with that little package that got us stopped and searched by the pokers? And do you remember how we took care of it and told you not to worry about it?”
The line went dead, and for one bowel-knotting moment, Ash was afraid he had lost the signal.
“You’re calling in that marker?” said Martens.
“I’m calling it in,” said Zane.
“You must be in some seriously deep shit,” said Martens.
“Up to our neck and rising fast,” said Ash. “We need a mass evac. A dropship big enough for…” He looked to Luisa, who made some quick gestures. “Sixty-seven people.”
“And twelve parrots,” chimed in Zane.
Ash rolled his eyes and pressed on. “These people need to be out of here yesterday,” he said. “This place has got serious trouble. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you what. Send the ship, and give whoever’s manning it some heavy artillery.”
“Alright, alright,” said Martens. “Give me your coordinates.”
Ash rattled off their location, and heard Martens sigh.
“This is what I get for sending you to Tiamat sector, I suppose,” he said. “You’ll have your dropship at the assigned location in two sol-days. Three at the max. And Zane?”
“Say no more,” said Zane. “We’re officially even.”
“Good,” said Martens. “However you’re hanging in there, continue to hang. Help is on the way.”
“We can’t keep this channel open,” said Ash. “So don’t leave us hanging, Martens.”
“Of course not,” Martens said. The line went dead for real. With that, Ash hung up the connection, severing it immediately and eliciting another noise. “How are we doing?”
“We’ve got trouble coming from the north,” said Jayna.
“They must have seen the light show,” said Ash, groaning. “Hopefully they can get the power back on soon.”
“Hopefully,” Luisa said, frowning. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
In the distance, angry hisses could be faintly heard.
“You don’t say,” said Jayna.
“How well did you say they could climb?” said Zane, peering out into the distance.
“You wanna stick around and find out?” said Luisa. “Let’s get back inside and bar the door again.”
“Sounds good to me,” Ash said. It was hard to tell what was going on in the murky night. “I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night.”
Luisa shrugged. “It’s the only kind we have around here.”