All the windows were boarded shut from the inside. Jacinthe didn’t even bother with the front door. Instead she walked around the sun-scorched and weather-beaten house, expecting very little and generally having her expectations met. The midday brightness baked the earth. The heat almost seemed to rise up from the cracks in the yellow-white clay. Dry, dead scrub brush doted the land all the way to the rust red foothills.
Around back were a pair of old automobiles—gas powered—their hoods open and engine compartments empty. The tires had all gone to rot and there wasn’t an unbroken window remaining. Bullet holes riddled one of the driver doors. Just target practice, she hoped. Hundreds of solar panels lay scattered along the ground, tangled in a web of copper and aluminum cabling. The cables formed bundles that converged like tributaries. They snaked through a cracked-open sliding glass door and into the house.
Jacinthe tried to slide the door open but something propped it shut. She squeezed her arm through the gap, pinching her bones and scraping her skin bloody up to her shoulder joint, but was just able to roll the old broomstick handle out of the door track with her outstretched fingertips. She entered the house.
“Russell?” she called. Her voice acquired a slight echo in the emptiness, but otherwise there was no other response.
There was a coffee table missing a leg with beer cans making up the difference. Nowhere to sit though. There was loose plywood in a pile and a bucket in one corner. The drywall had all been ripped away, apparently to salvage the pipes and wiring and insulation. The cables disappeared around the corner, and Jacinthe followed them down a hallway lined with ammo boxes and locked crates plastered in yellow warning triangles with symbols most people wouldn’t recognize. The cables led to a doorway. The basement.
Gray wooden steps disappeared into darkness. “Russell?” she tried again.
Jacinthe descended the steps. They creaked and flexed beneath her, and there was no railing to grab or light to guide her. As she continued cautiously downward an odor like sour vinegar crept into her nose and mouth and she noticed a faint scraping sound. She reached the bottom at last, but there was only darkness. She walked around, staying near the small shaft of light from the stairwell, and saw a dim red flicker some distance away. Stepping lightly, Jacinthe made her way towards it, stumbling once over some unseen obstacle.
The red flicker came from a junction box. She ran her fingers over it, feeling for the triggered breakers, and when she found them, flipped them closed.
Hanging fluorescent panels burst to life in rows, the light first turning on across the enormous underground workshop and then successively bathing the space with illumination in approaching rows.
There were batteries of many varieties, many of them burst and split with their chemical contents spilled and frozen in foamy tufts. An anachronic gimbal spun lazily on two axis, the third bent and stuck in a pattern of grinding and halting.
The last bank of lights snapped on and Jacinthe saw the bloody footprints connecting her to the body on the floor. Her heart sank. She was too late.
It was Russell.
It would take a month to fix the gimbal, but she had no choice. She’d have to try again.