It was all but over after Martens’ people touched down. The vampires had gotten used to picking off people surviving with whatever they could scavenge. Heavily armored mercenaries with plasma weaponry proved to be a little more problematic.
Jayna was there last, and she looked around to see a few of the smarts still lurking at the edges. Their smug smiles were gone now. Before she could even celebrate that fact, she looked to see whether her crew had made it aboard.
And there were Ash, Mari and Zane, right outside Songbird. Not far away, the tour bus was parked nearly against a wall. The dropship had a few big floodlights on, illuminating the night, while the mercs were mopping up the stragglers.
Zane turned and waved when he heard Jayna approaching. He looked a bit worse for the wear, but he looked happy.
Jayna took a deep breath of relief, and she started sprinting faster. She looked back to see one of the smarter vampires sprinting behind her. He sprinted like one of the ferals, his eyes wild in desperation.
There was a bright orange flash as one of the mercs discharged a plasma rifle in its direction. It didn’t even have time to scream as its head and shoulders were burnt black.
“Goddamn vampires,” said the merc, shaking her head. She was a tall, sharp-featured woman with bronzed skin. “And here I thought I’d seen everything.”
“Us too,” Jayna said, catching her breath as she’d gotten on board. “Everyone on?”
“Yeah, about forty of them on here, maybe another six or so or so on your ship. It’ll be crowded, but we’re not going far,” she said, giving Jayna a quick once over and a brief ghost of a smile. “You’re safe now.”
Jayna sighed. “There’s probably-“
“More, I know,” said the woman. “We’ll sweep the area, don’t worry. We’ve got more than enough artillery to vape anything that looks at us funny. We’ll find everyone we can and bring them with us.”
“Son of a bitch,” said a voice. Jayna turned around and saw Felipe, shaking his head. “You crazy spacers actually pulled it off.”
She smiled at him. “Hope you don’t get homesick.” she murmured, sitting down hard on an overturned artillery crate. “Let’s not stay too long, huh?”
“We want to be thorough,” said the merc. “Go ahead and get some rest if you want. It’ll be safe.”
“Rest sounds nice,” said Zane. He was currently fiddling with his new crossbow. It looked like he had resorted to using it as a melee weapon at some point.
“I vote for rest.”
Jayna nodded. “C’mon I’ll take you to Songbird.” she said, scooping Zane up and heading over to the other ship.
Ash looked over at Felipe, then over at Mari. She nodded.
“Yeah, we’re gonna go sleep for awhile now,” said Ash. “Suggest you do the same.”
Morning came. And what a morning it was.
Martens’ cleanup crew had been doing just that, spending the night patrolling Paraiso, picking up survivors and mopping up any vampires they could find. And now, the dropship was nearly full, with every person they could find safely aboard, as well as the parrots.
“It’ll be nice to have a chance to start over,” said Tanya, actually smiling for the first time since the crew of Songbird had met her.
“There’s a lot of industry springing up everywhere but in this sector,” said Jayna. “I’m sure you’ll be able to find somewhere new to start. Hyacinth is gorgeous this time of year.”
“We’ll keep that in mind,” said Tanya.
“Have any of you seen Luisa?” said Zane, peering around. “I don’t see her anywhere and we wanted to say goodbye.”
“I think she loaded up early,” said Felipe, passing by. “Said she was really tired. Come on, they’re getting ready to take off.”
Tanya nodded. “Thanks again, everybody,” she said. “For everything.”
Jayna smiled. “I’m just glad we could get you all out of here safe,” she said. “If you need to get in touch with us, this is our call-sign number,” she said.
“Wishing no disrespect, I hope we never have any need to cross each-other’s paths ever again,” said Felipe. But he was smiling when he said it. “Fly safe.”
And soon, the dropship was flying off in one direction, Songbird in another, safely in the cold, black embrace of the cosmos.
“I have never been happier to put a planet behind me,” said Ash, sighing.
“Okay, so now we know that if there’s no information, to never, ever land there,” Zane said with a nod, looking up at the stars.
“So… where are we heading next?” asked Mari.
“Where else?” said Jayna. “We’ve still got a delivery to make. Martens’ people were nice enough to fuel us up, so let’s get back on track.”
“Right on,” said Ash. “Mari, run down to the cargo bay and make sure everything’s in order, will you?”
“No prob,” said Mari.
Five minutes later, the intercom buzzed.
“Hey, crew?” said Mari’s voice, sounding slightly strained. “There’s something in the cargo bay that I think you need to see.”
Ash looked up. “One of them got on board,” he said, his stomach dropping. “Zane, with me!”
Zane was already moving, gun drawn and ready. Ash and Jayna were on his heels as he burst into the cargo hold, taking aim at-
Luisa, sitting cross-legged on top of a crate. Eating a bowl of granola.
She looked up, her eyes wide. She dropped the bowl and held her hands up in the ‘don’t shoot me, please’ pose.
Songbird‘s crew was dead silent. Ash looked at Jayna. Jayna looked at Zane. Zane shrugged.
Ash looked back at Luisa and took a deep breath.
“What,” he said. “The hell. Are you doing here.”
“Eating granola?” she tried. “It was the only thing I could find down here.”
“What?” Ash stammered, ignoring Jayna’s snickering behind him. “What are you doing here, in our cargo hold, eating our granola?!”
“I mean, it’s Jayna’s granola,” said Mari. “No offense Ash, but, none of the rest of you are really granola people.”
“Can we forget about the granola for a moment?!” said Ash. “You! Here! Why!”
Luisa dropped the act, and sighed. “I… I didn’t want to stay with them. I wanted to go exploring!”
“You can’t just stow away with us!” said Ash. “You could have asked!”
Luisa shrugged. “You’d have said no,” she said.
“She has a point there,” said Zane.
Ash sighed. “Very nice. We’ll drop you off at the next planet and get you set up with a care package.”
“No! Please don’t make me do that!” said Luisa quickly, her eyes widening in fear. I’ll have to go to school!”
That got her some funny looks. She sighed.
“Look,” she said. “I don’t have any family to go back to, don’t got much to look forward to besides a group home on some civilized world with a bunch of people I can barely relate with. ‘Oh, Luisa, tell us a bit about yourself!’ ‘Oh, I spent the better part of a year stranded on Planet Vampire, how about you?’”
This speech was accompanied with little talking-hand gestures.
“Nuts to all that,” she said, hopping off the crate. “I can be useful to you lot, you know I can. And I don’t take up much space.”
“All true,” said Zane, nodding. “Alright, welcome to the-”
“Zane, we have to talk about this!” Ash said, turning to pilot.
“What’s there to talk about?” said Zane, looking puzzled.
“Zane, she’s like twelve!” said Ash.
“I’m fifteen!” chimed in Luisa, annoyed.
“Whatever! And this job is dangerous!”
“More dangerous than vampires?” said Mari, raising her hand.
Luisa smiled. “I doubt it.”
Ash sputtered for a moment, and then sighed. “Jayna, please, help me out here,”
Jayna leaned against the hull and took a deep breath. “She can stay for now.”
“What?” said Ash. “We can’t just-“
“You said yourself that you could use someone else who knows which end of a wrench to hold around here,” said Zane. “Welcome aboard! We’ll clean out a bunk for you.”
Luisa blanched. “A bunk? I was prepared to stay down here. I set up a hammock and everything.”
Jayna laughed. “This place was built for a eight-man crew. We’ve got plenty of extra rooms.”
Ash grumbled his way out of the room, but not before calling back “Your first task is to clean this place up!”
“Sweet,” Mari said with a wide grin. “I’m not the fresh meat anymore. Expect hazing.” Then she followed him out.
Jayna gave a small smile. “Come on upstairs. I’ll show you around proper, hm?”
“Right on,” said Luisa. “I bet this place has all sorts of hidey holes.”
As Jayna, too, made her way back up abovedecks, Luisa and Zane were momentarily left alone.
“Guess you’re a dumb spacer too now,” said Zane.
“Guess so,” said Luisa. “I could do worse. C’mon, I wanna look around.”
Jayna gave Luisa a quick tour of Songbird and her facilities while Zane and Mari hauled out one of the unused bunks, which was mostly being used as an oversized closet at the time.
“It’s not much,” said Zane, as he showed Luisa in, and it really wasn’t, just a bed, a light, and a few drawers. “But you can make it your own.”
“Hey, I got a door that locks,” said Luisa, plopping down onto the bed. “That makes it a pretty good upgrade.”
“I’m sure,” said Zane. “We’ll be touching down in a few days, and then you can get whatever necessities you want. Like, from an actual store. No scavenging needed.”
“I can get used to that,” said Luisa, getting comfortable.
As he started to make his way out, Zane paused for a moment.
“So,” he said. “What do you wanna do when we touch down on a civilized world?”
Luisa considered this for a moment. And then she smiled.
“Watch a sunset.”