Sunshine. Every tiny hair on her body stood up. "This place is too small for five hundred."
"Yeah - sign's pretty old." Unclipping his safety belt, he looked to her. "Ready?"
"No." But she undid her own belt, feeling as if she was letting go of her last hope of escape. Shuddering, she shook off the chill, and when Dev came around the car, she was waiting to link hands with him and walk into Sunshine, Alaska. The sense of dread that had been chasing her for days settled into a kind of viscous miasma, at once frightening . . . and sad. That, she hadn't expected - the sense of sorrow, so heavy it weighed down her very bones. "Where are they all?"
Dev didn't answer, frowning as he looked around. "We're in the town center, but I don't see a bar."
"Why's that important?"
"Human nature," he muttered. "Bars are some of the first places to go up and the last to close in any small town. This far out, it'd probably be the only place people could socialize. Unless there's a church? Could be a religious settlement."
She shook her head. "The buildings are all very uniform. Even the Second Reformation churches have a symbolic shape that makes them stand out."
They kept walking, the snow thick but manageable around their boots. She was glad she'd stuffed a woolen cap over her head before she exited the car, but Dev's hair shone dark under the cool winter sun. "Aren't you cold?" Reaching into his coat before he could reply, she took out his own knit cap and tugged it over his head.
"Thanks." It was a distracted comment as he took her hand again.
"The buildings aren't completely submerged," she said, glancing around. "This place wasn't abandoned that long ago."
"No," Dev murmured. "Look at the way it's packed on the left - there's been a strong wind at some stage. It pushed everything that way."
She turned, nodded. "We can't explore that side, not easily." There was no question they had to get inside. "It's so quiet here." The absence of sound hurt her.
"Listen to my voice, listen to our feet crushing the snow and ice. There is sound." A reassuring squeeze of her hand.
Nodding, she did as directed. They reached the first accessible building seconds later.
"Let's hope this opens inward," Dev said, walking up to the door. "Or we'll have to find something to dig - bingo."
The creak of the door he opened was loud, the thud of their boots on the plain plascrete floor dull and echoey. Snow tunneled inside as she stood looking around. "Appears to be a supply depot." Computronic items lay iced over in the case to the left, while tools and machinery lay in neat rows to the right. In front of her stood a stack of plas boxes stamped with a name that was vaguely familiar. "EarthTwo," she muttered under her breath, moving with Dev as he went to look at the equipment.
"It's mining gear," he told her, picking up a powerful-looking length of rope with one hand.
"That's it." She pointed at the boxes. "EarthTwo is a small mining company that specializes in rare minerals. They sent things to the labs I worked in." Excited now, she found the courage to let go of Dev's hand and open one of the boxes. "Empty." Even that disappointment didn't deflate her excitement. "I didn't imagine this - there is something here."
Walking over, Dev pressed a hotly real kiss to her lips. "I told you your mind was fine. You should learn to listen to me."
Her heart raced at the electric burst of contact. "So you can order me around?"
"Would I do that?" He took her hand again, his grip firm. "Let's see what else we can find. This place looks like it hasn't been disturbed since the town was abandoned."
"Or before either." She pointed to the windows, all unbroken.
The next place they stepped into couldn't have been more different. "It's like a hurricane came through here," she whispered, staring at the papers that littered the carpet, the shattered glass from the windows, and even worse, the jagged wires that sprung up from a sofa on one side of the room. Tufts of stuffing - white, disconcertingly pristine - lay scattered on the papers around it . . . almost as if someone had tried to rip the sofa apart in an insane fury.
A touch on her lower back. "Stay here," Dev said as he made his way to the desk.
Listening with a corner of her mind as he went through the drawers, she bent down to pick up a few of the myriad pieces of paper floating in the room. The top one was an accounts list. "Payroll," she said out loud. "I think this must've been EarthTwo's administration office."
"The entire town was a mining op," Dev said, holding up a thin paper file. "Some kind of a prospectus. Sunshine is wholly owned by EarthTwo."
"Strange name for a Psy town."
"Hmm." Dev flicked through the file. "Here's why - the town was founded a hundred and fifty years ago. Before Silence."
"There must be something very valuable in the soil around here, then," she said. "Either something that regenerates or that people only need a little bit of. I didn't see any evidence of heavy drilling."
"Could be anything under all that snow - remember the equipment." Putting the prospectus into a pocket, he crossed back to her. "It's going to get dark fast. We might have to spend the night."
She swallowed. "Why don't we figure out what happened here first." Her eyes lit on something she'd seen but hadn't seen until then. "Dev, the specks of brown on these papers . . . it's not dirt or age spots, is it?"
He looked at the sheets in her hand. "No." His jaw turned to rock. "That's blood."