Jase and Takoda go in search of a guide
An instant before nose-diving into the crevasse, Jase caught the glint of Earthlight shimmering on the ridgeline and the treetops of the valley. A split second later and he was skidding down a rock-strewn descent with branches of cedars and willow snapping and slashing across his face.
He felt more than saw Takoda topple into the precipice with him, their plunge setting off an avalanche of rocks and scree which clattered and crashed around them. With a final breath-stealing flop, Jase skidded the final few meters on his back ending his slide in a thicket of sharp brambles.
He lay for a heart-pounding moment wondering what else could go wrong, then sitting up, he stared into the darkness unable to make out anything in the dust shrouded gloom.
“Tako...” He began and felt a hand clamp firmly over his lips. A hushed whisper came breathy and hot in his ear. “Don't … make… a sound.”
One by one, Takoda peeled her fingers from Jase's lips, and in the darkness, pointed to a spot further down the hill. Even as he watched, Jase saw a shadow detach itself from the darkness and flit from one tree to the next moving stealthily up the rise. A second form slunk from the gloom, sweeping up the hill with the first. They would disappear for minutes at a time before reappearing once more; always several meters closer from where Jase had lost sight of them.
As he ran his fingers along the rough pebbled slide for something to use as a weapon, the harpies came to a halt not two meters from where he and Takoda lay hid in the brambles.
The women were dressed in leather leggings and breechcloths similar to Takoda’s, though their chests were bare, and their long hair was pulled into stiff knots at the top of their heads. In their hands they held short, powerful bows, and at their hips, a quiver of arrows.
“Do you think that was them?” one woman asked.
The second woman’s voice was deeper, more mature.
“I don't think so,” she said, “It was probably just a rockslide.”
“Are you sure?” Jase was so close; he could see the first woman scowl.
The older woman turned, appearing to look straight at him. Jase wondered if she could hear the blood pounding in his veins.
“Those tracks had to have come from the priest we saw last night,” the older woman said. “No one else has been in the area.” She turned to her companion. “And only a fool would make that kind of racket.” Her eyes climbed the hill above them. “And priests are no fools.”
The younger woman nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Jase couldn't make out the details of the grunted reply though they soon moved down the hill and vanished from sight.
For almost an hour, they lay beneath the briars, the uncomfortable bed of scree digging into Jase’s palms, into his elbows, into his rump. The Earth rode high in the Lunar heavens before Takoda finally announced the coast was clear. Extracting themselves from the thorns, they set off to the east, creeping along the valley until Takoda thought it safe to move northward once again.
Even under his guide’s patient tutelage, it took Jase the better part of the night before he was able to reproduce Takoda's loping Lunar gait. Once he did, they were bounding between the trees and leaping across rifts at a pace which, at last, seemed to have erased the scowl from Takoda's frequent glares.
Once he'd, if not mastered, then at least grasped the concept of skipping across the land, Jase began to believe Takoda's farfetched claims of flying under her own power. In fact, it almost felt like flying as each step propelled him two meters into the air, each stride covering fifteen or twenty paces.
“Look.” Takoda pointed towards the western horizon. “You can see the ore extraction towers of New Surat just to the left of that ridge.”
As night dwindled, they changed directions and for the better part of an hour climbed through increasingly rocky terrain following the setting Earth on its stately progression into the west.
Jase had been so enamored with the beauty of his first Lunar night that he hadn’t noticed the three towers rising like monoliths against the shattered brown hills around them. Only twice had he traveled to the mountains of Earth. Once, when he was eight, he'd ridden the train with his father on a business trip to the great city of Denver. A second time, he'd accompanied his mother to visit relations in the high deserts of Santé Fe. Neither of those mighty ranges compared with the even rise of hills he saw around him now. Whereas the Earth-bound ranges had resembled the jagged teeth of a saw, these hills rose in a wide uniform arc the borders of which could only vaguely be guessed at in the shadowy distance.
“How far away are these hills?” Jase groaned. Despite the low Gs and the pace at which they ate up the kilometers, Jase was ready for a break. Their odd galloping run had the unused muscles in his legs and back burning with the effort, not to mention the effects of his nearly fatal landing; if you could call it a landing. His throat still burned, and he was certain he had at least one cracked rib.
“They’re not far,” Takoda said with a grin. “Remember, Luna is much smaller than Earth. Things on the horizon are almost twice as close.”
Takoda was right. In minutes, they’d hit a hardscrabble road and followed it between a natural cleft in the mountain walls. Soon they were passing stone homes and rust frosted warehouses as the lights of the town’s waking citizens twinkled cheerily from window and door.
They slowed their breakneck pace and fallen into, what Jase considered, a comical bobbing walk. With each step, they sprang a meter off the ground their legs scissoring slowly as they rose to apogee and drifted down to earth their feet striking the ground and sending them bounding upward again.
“How many people live in New Surat?” Jase asked.
As they approached the town proper, the warehouses and crude shacks at the town’s edge gave way to squared stone shops and multistory houses. New Surat sat at the base of a rocky cliff, its dirt roads extending out from that massive stone wall for four or five blocks before sweeping along its base for another twelve. Virtually every building in the tight-packed community was constructed of stone, though a handful of metal walled structures and even a few wood-framed edifices joined the mix.
“I am not sure,” Takoda said. “Possibly four or five thousand. You will have to ask John when we find him. I am sure he will know.”
A wagon pulled by Clydesdale sized horses rumbled past. Jase noticed the men perched on the seat were every bit as large as Takoda. As he and Takoda bounded past, they eyed them in open-mouthed wonder, their attention particularly focused on Jase.
Jase was beginning to think everything on Luna grew to gigantic proportions.
Takoda led them through winding avenues, arriving at what a green metal sign mounted on a rusty pole announced was ‘Main St.’ The road was lined with two-story structures whose shadowed facades were just giving way to the golden rays of dawn. A covered wooden boardwalk ran in front of buildings with painted marquis reading: “Parson’s Sundries”, “First Bank Of New Surat”, “Wu’s Trading Post”, and “Wild Bill’s Saloon”.
The streets were empty except for a three-legged dog sniffing cautiously along the boardwalk and a gaggle of chickens picking through a grassy lot between “Doc Johnson’s Painless Dentistry” and a windowless blockhouse with the faded ‘27’ painted above the door.
The silence was broken by a loud hoot as the double doors of ‘Wild Bill’s Saloon’ were thrown suddenly open and five men stumped out holding a sixth man between them. Each of the five stood, easily, a hand taller than Takoda. The man they carried was larger still.
Struggling to the edge of the boardwalk, they flung the sixth man unceremoniously to the gutter, then dusting their hands, they turned and walked away. Two reentered the bar while the rest strode down the road laughing and chatting in spirited, whiskey-loud voices.
“I don’t know why ol’ Bill lets that lush hang around,” the first said. “I know he’s some kinda war hero, but that ain’t no excuse for bad manners.”
“Oh, lay off,” said the second. “You’re just sore he whipped ya.”
The third man rubbed at his jaw, wiggling it with a painful scowl. “He gotta piece of you too before we took em’ down.”
The first man nodded. “Yeah, he sure did. If he hadn’t been so drunk, even the five of us would have had trouble with em’.”
As they passed, their eyes fell on Jase and the conversation died.
“Was that a midget?” the third man whispered.
“Shht,” the second said, throwing Jase a sidelong glance. “You’ll hurt its feelings.”
Jase glowered after them as heat flared in his cheeks. He watched as they lumbered down the street in their drunken bobbing hops and disappeared around the bend.
Jase spun on Takoda, hands on his hips. “Is everybody here as big as you?”
Takoda blinked at him stupidly. “Big … as me? I do not believe I understand the question, Jase Hildebrand.”
Jase turned and waved in the direction of the drunks, “Those three are giants. The damn trees are hundreds of meters tall.” Frightened by Jase’s raised voice, the mutt slunk down the street on its three bounding legs. “Hell, even your dogs are big as Great Danes.”
“Everyone is as large as the Goddess made them,” Takoda said. She shot a quick glance to where the drunks had disappeared. “I do not think many Earthers have been to New Surat, Jase Hildebrand. Perhaps it is you who are different.”
“I’m not different,” Jase protested. “I’m normal.” He paused looking up into Takoda’s emotionless face. “What did they mean when they called me a midget? Like one of the little people?”
Takoda pursed her lips and cocked her head. She stared at Jase like a confused pup. “Well, yes. You’re no larger than a boy of twelve, though you weigh near as much as a man.”
“And how much do you weigh?” Jase asked.
Takoda shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s been some time since I’ve been on a scale.” She rubbed her chin distractedly. “Maybe ninety, a hundred kilos.”
Now it was Jase’s turn to look surprised. “Is that it?” He shook his head. “Heck, I’d figure you for 115 at least.” To Takoda’s wide-eyed astonishment, Jase stepped quickly to her side and flung his arms around her waist. He hefted Takoda into the air, sending her up almost three meters before she drifted back to the ground.
“And you’re uncommonly strong,” Takoda said. She looked at Jase with a new appreciation. “Is everyone on Earth as tiny and strong as you?”
“Back home, I’m considered quite strong,” Jase said with a scowl. “And I’m not tiny, thank you very much. On Earth, my height is considered normal.” He turned away grumbling. “It’s people your size who are the odd ones.”
“If you say so.” Takoda’s eyes drifted to the washed-out remnant of Earth settling on the western horizon. “I guess gravity must be responsible.” She looked again at Jase. “You know, for your compact size and … great strength.”
Jase rolled his eyes and clomped down the boardwalk. “So where is this judge of yours anyway?”
A man dressed in black leather armor, his face tattooed with the Polynesian markings of the Solar Knights, stepped from Wild Bills Tavern and strode to the edge of the boardwalk.
“We should ask him,” Takoda said. “If anyone would know where a judge is, it would be a Solar Knight.”
Stepping closer, they saw the knight was addressing the drunk who lay prone in the street. Not wishing to intrude, Jase peered into the window next door, feigning interest in its wares.
As the knight stared down at the unmoving figure, he pulled a cigar from his pocket and bit off the end. Working his mouth, he spat, the brown cigar tip and a big glop of saliva on the old drunk’s hand. As the muck covered boozer pushed himself to where he could look up at the knight, the warrior scratched a match across the wooden post and puffed a cherry glow into the cigar’s tip.
“Well it’s nice ta see your outsides lookin’ as dirty as your insides,” the knight said. “Now everyone can see the type of man you really are.” The cigar’s crimson ember glowed brightly, as he looked skyward and puffed out a great gray cloud. “I knew that first day you walked into my squad room, that you were no good.” The knight gestured to the drunk with his cigar like a teacher with his pointer.
“You’re just another piece of Southern trash tryin’ to be something you’re not.”
Looking down on the miserable old drunk, the knight shook his head. “You’re a disgrace to the service, John, and the faster you drink yourself into the grave, the better.”
Pulling a twenty-credit coin from his pocket, he flipped into the air. The silver disk glinted in the dawn light before splatting to the mud beside the old drunk’s hand.
“Consider that my contribution to the cause.”
When the knight turned away, Jase saw his opportunity for a question. Noting the name stitched into the big man’s armor, Jase said, “Knight Cantrell, could I beg a moment of your time?”
“Of course, citizen,” he said with a grin. “How may I help?”
Jase glanced over his shoulder at Takoda before clearing his throat and turning once more to the knight. “I’m looking for a local judge. A man by the name of John Gage. Do you know where I might find him?”
The knight laughed and nodded towards the drunk.
“That’s John Gage there,” he said with a chuckle. “Or what’s left of him.”