Kaigun: Steampunk chapter 5

Outskirts of Novosibirsk
Walking cautiously, some two dozen people probed the outskirts of town, like a trickle of smoke seeking entry. Three days forced walking had left everyone exhausted.

Andreii still followed in the back, alone now as the minor excitement of discovering the town pulled people forward. The loss of Anjin had bent something inside him beyond yielding. Nobody could talk to him, about her, or anything else. Mostly he thought about how to beat the chickens, weapons, tactics, defenses to allow towns to be rebuilt.

Another young man, Dmitri, agreed.  He was one of those who’d been captured by the pirates and then released and he said they should fight back against the giant birds; after all, the land sailors did. It was an example! Man couldn’t just be beaten by a bunch of stupid birds, however big they were. So now Michal had an ally, someone older with a little influence. At night after securing the perimeter, they would draw plans in the dust, mostly whimsical schemes for underground hydroponic gardens, or cannon, or fortified schools.

It was important, Michal said, to keep teaching the kids, especially reading and math. There were too many temptations to focus on brute power, swordsmanship or stamina.

“A chickenosaurus has more strength than any man. If we forget our intelligence, we could lose everything in one generation, all the leverage civilization gave us!”

People nodded, he’d carried the argument that time, but then late that same night the one eyed rooster came again. It tore through the camp, killing the last two horses, eating one and leaving the other for carrion, as if it knew horses were the key to mobility. After that, there was no more talk of schools, the books were left along with everything else that couldn’t be eaten or used to keep warm, and the people had fled the last 60 miles to Novosibirsk like a panicked herd of meat animals, harried by invisible predators.

Now, it was evening and dispirited people looked through the broken buildings, for survivors, salvage and a place to sleep.

“There’s nobody here any more,” someone said, “This place is just ruins.”

Dmitri, though, was still optimistic, “Let’s just find some place defensible to hold up. There will be people somewhere, and we can plan tomorrow.”

At the North end of the street was a less ramschackle building, larger than the abandoned homes and shops. The door had been forced, but inside was nothing of value. It had been a museum and contained mostly dusty fossils of the aerospace age, hanging from iron rafters like giant tin plated birds. There was no food, but the entrance was too small for a chicken and the building too sturdy for it to easily tear down. Gratefully, the people built a small fire on the marble lobby floor, kindling it with museum brochures and telling wistful jokes about how the Motherland’s Air Force could do battle with chickensaurii, if only it still existed. An impossibly inert figherplane hulked heavily in the corner, like a boxer past his prime, reminiscing over former days of potency.

Andrei Michal paged through a brochure wistfully.

“See, kids could come here, just a dozen years ago, and see how great our country was. Look there, that’s a spaceship!” He held up the captioned picture and pointed to the real thing hanging from the ceiling.

“Nothing will every fly again Michal, unless we live through this night, and the next one. Why don’t you take a turn at watch and keep this fire going.” It was more of an order than a question, and the popular boy spoke for them all. It was a day for perseverance, not exploring.

“We’ll look at your museum in the morning.”

Soon everyone was bunked down near the fire, and Michal thumbed the brochure. Computers and Spaceflight, Architecture and Public Works, Anthropology and Archaeology, Rocks and Minerals, the World at War.

Andrei stared at the words for a moment, then stood and checked the braces on the door. Secure. He flipped to the back of the brochure, the museum floorplan, and spun it around so the “you are here” pointer aligned with the marble foyer where his village now slept. Taking a small torch to light the way through the dusty iron and concrete building, Andrei MIchal began following the map to the "World at War" exhibit.

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