Jase and Takoda set off
“Don't worry, Jase Hildebrand,” Takoda said. She took another bite of pancakes seemingly unconcerned by Gage's refusal.
“What do you mean, 'Don't worry'?” Jase rose from his seat and watched through the window as Gage disappeared from sight. “What am I supposed to do now? My only hope of finding the Oracle just waltzed out the door.” He dropped into his chair and cupped his head in his hands. He sat like that a long while before finally looking up. “I guess I could try for my cousin’s place outside the Korolev space elevator.” He pushed away his food.
“Are you not going to finish that,” Takoda said. “They’re really quite good.”
Jase studied her then shook his head. “Do you just not care, or what?” He waved a hand towards the door. “Because five minutes ago, you were talking like you were part of this screwed up adventure. Now you’re critiquing pancakes like it’s no big deal.”
Takoda pursed her lips and nodded. “Whether John helps or not has little bearing on the pancakes, Jase Hildebrand. Perhaps giving thanks for the good things in life might make your troubles seem less great.”
“Ha, that old fart was right” Jase leveled a finger. “You are a priest, aren’t you? That’s exactly the rainbows and unicorns’ crap, I’d expect from a Gaean puppet?”
“We will need supplies and clothing for our journey,” Takoda said, ignoring his remark.
With a slow nod, Jase looked up and sighed. “Yeah, probably. Assuming we’ve got someplace to go?”
Takoda turned to consult a clock ticking above the bar.
“Wu’s Trading Post will be opening soon,” she said. “Perhaps you can shop there while I track down John and ask, once again, if he’ll help.”
As Jase considered the proposal, Wilma scurried back in and began clearing away the plates.
“Can you set us up with a couple rooms?” Jase asked. “We’ll be staying for the night.”
The big woman looked up with a smile. “Why of course.” Then she drew back, her gaze bobbing between himself and Takoda. Jase could see the wheels turning as she assessed their ability to pay.
“That is if ya have the money.” Her gaze fell to the empty plates before rising once again to meet Jase’s stare. “I assume you can pay for your meal, ‘cause we ain’t no charity.”
With a pained laugh, Jase dug into his pocket and removed one of the credit chits his aunt had the foresight to provide. The gold cube glittered as he dropped it on the table with the Gaean Seal and “1 K” stamp quite visibly on its face.
“I assume this will cover everything?”
Wilma snatched up the chit and disappeared it in the ample shadow of her bosom. “Why certainly,” she said. “And I believe our VIP suite is open. Two queen-sized beds with a bathroom in between.” She looked to Takoda with a wink. “Best room in town.”
“That will be fine,” Jase said. “And if you’ll send up the gentleman from.” He looked to Takoda, for help, his eyes squinted questioningly. “Wu’s? Is that it? Wu’s Trading Post?”
“Yes,” Jase continued. “Send up a man from Wu’s, I’ll have some purchases I’ll need to make.”
He cocked his head and raised a finger. “Also, we’ll be needing to schedule transportation out of town. Can you handle that as well, Madam? I’m assuming my thousand credits will include tickets as well.”
Wilma’s hand drifted to her breast as she fingered the dwindling wealth hidden beneath. “Of course, Sir, I’ll see right to it.” Snatching up the last of the dishes, she called over her shoulder. “Ask for your key at the front desk.”
After breakfast, Jase clomped upstairs to where his VIP suite awaited. The suite consisted of two wood-floored rooms joined by a shared bath, though bath was a stretch by Jase’s estimation. Each room consisted of a bed, a rolltop desk, and a pair of worn wingbacks on a black and red rug whose single attribute seemed to be its ability to camouflage stains, though based on the room’s musty odor, did not extend to masking smells.
The remainder of his morning was spent locating the supplies needed for the journey. To where, Jase had no idea but after examining a map on the Saloon’s stained wall and the ‘middle-of-nowhere’ point marked: YOU ARE HERE, Jase was certain any destination would be anything but close.
His escape pod had come down more than 1,400 kilometers west of his cousin’s land in the Daedalus plains. According to Wilma, a train ran to a town close to there, but the journey would still take a week; not counting the four days needed to get to the train station in the first place.
Jase was able to find traveling clothes for Takoda right off the shelf. Unfortunately, finding something for himself hadn’t been so easy. The only shirt suitable for travel and which fit him also sported a pair of cartoon rabbits stitched on the front. Despite Wu’s assurance that Robbie and Ronnie Rabbit were quite popular, with a line of books and a weekly radio show, Jase purchased the item only after Mr.Wu dramatically slashed the price. In terms of pants, there was nothing. Everything he tried on was far too long. Eventually, Jase opted for a seamstress to modify an ill-fitting pair of pants with the idea that he’d pick something up later once he arrived in an actual city.
“Good news, Jase Hildebrand,” Takoda said, returning to the room after several hours of searching. She paused upon seeing Jase standing on a chair at the room’s center. The seamstress knelt before him with a set of pins jutting from his mouth.
“I like your shirt,” Takoda said, unable to keep the corners of her lips from twitching into a grin. “Robbie and Ronnie were two of my favorites when I was your age.”
Jase locked Takoda with an icy stare. “You think that’s funny?”
A muffled laugh escaped the tailor as she did her best to not meet Jase’s eyes or swallow her pins.
“Of course, not,” Takoda said. “It was improper of me to address the king so.”
“That’s better.” Jase turned to consider his reflection and missed the bright-eyed exchange between Takoda and the tailor. “So, did you find the judge?”
Takoda dropped onto the bed, slapping a fat envelope against her thigh. “I did, and I think you will be pleased.”
With an assurance of the pants would be ready by day’s end, Jase excused the tailor and locked the door.
“Okay,” he said. “What did you find out? Will Gage join us?”
“No, I’m afraid my news is not that good, Jase Hildebrand.” She handed him the envelope and leaned back on the bed. “But he’s given us the next best thing. A map.”
Jase unfolded the letter and began to read. For several seconds, the only sound was the thick crinkle of pages and the clatter of traffic outside. When he’d finished, Jase turned the pages over to confirm nothing was on the back then tossed them to the bed.
“Well, that’s just great,” he said. “Directions on how to get halfway across the world and some nebulous instructions on contacting a smuggler named Grumby on some island called Eisely?”
“The city is Eisely,” Takoda corrected, “I believe it’s the island that’s named Marginis.”
“Oh, my mistake,” Jase said, sarcastically. “That makes all the difference.”
Takoda turned over and leaned on an elbow. “John is an honorable and reputable man,” she said. “If he pointed us this direction, I’m sure this Grumby will take us to what we seek.”
“And that’s another thing,” Jase said. “Why is it you refer to this nutjob as John, but you always call me.” He quoted the air with his fingers, “Jase Hildebrand.”
Takoda puzzled over the question. “You know, I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess you’re right. I do refer to my friends by their first name.” She looked up and met Jase’s stare. “And those who are not, I use their full name. If it bothers you, Jase Hildebrand, I can try and remember to call you by your first name.”
Jase waved his hand dismissively and strode to the window. “It’s not important,” he said. He watched the come and go of New Surat’s citizens as they made their way along the avenue. The sporadic traffic of pedestrians and horse-drawn carts was occasionally broken by long lines of mule-drawn wagons, their cargoes of ore destined for smelters on the outskirts of town.
“While you were gone,” Jase said, “I ordered everything we'll need for the journey.” He turned from the window and waved to the stack of parcels arrayed in the corner. “And I picked up some weapons just in case.”
Jase picked up one of the packages and worked his fingers beneath the thick brown paper to reveal the hinged wooden box within. When he tilted back the lid, Takoda rose from the bed to see. Inside, swathed in a pale blue sash, lay two pistols. The first was a beautiful, dark wood single-shot with a gleaming brass hammer and a shiny copper butt plate. The other was a revolver in significantly worse condition. The wooden grip was water damaged and cracked and the iron ring at the grip’s bottom was red with corrosion. The frame’s bluing was freckled with rust and a shiny gash marred the barrel.
“This was all they had,” Jase said. He picked up the revolver and clicked through the cylinders. “The only positive thing to say about these two, is they work.” He ripped open a second parcel revealing a leather bag heavy with the jingle of bullets. “That and they’re both chambered for a .45 caliber round.” He lifted the single shot and held it out to Takoda. “This one’s yours.”
Takoda stepped back waving her hands before her. “No thank you, Jase Hildebrand. I am not trained in the use of such devices.”
Jase cocked his head, eyes narrowing at Takoda’s words. “Not trained? I thought Gage said you were a priest. Is that not true?”
“Yes, I was trained as a priest. But to answer your unasked question. No, I was not trained in the use of firearms. My education in combat would be considered more…defensive in nature.”
Jase flipped the pistol to the bed with an eye roll of disgust. “What good are you then?”
He’d been going over that question for some time, wondering how he was better off after their meeting. Of course, Takoda saved his life, and for that, he was eternally grateful, but he had a difficult task before him and so far, Takoda had been little more than dead weight.
“That is something the Goddess will reveal in time,” Takoda said with an open palmed shrug.
“On a related note,” Takoda grinned and held up a pair of tickets. “Miss Wilma got us seats on a stage leaving tomorrow at noon.”
“Headed where?” Jase asked.
“Based on John’s advice,” Takoda said, “I told her our destination was the Smythii sea. She booked us passage on the next stage to Olcott, then we will take a paddlewheel along the Solomon River to the coast.”
“And what, exactly does this entail?” Jase asked. “I’ve ridden on stages and paddle wheels, but I’m out of my element. What kind of terrain will we be traveling through? What kind of threats?”
Back on Earth, the rule of law was upheld in the kingdoms and surrounding countryside, but when one traveled into the unsettled backcountry, the odds of encountering criminals, wild animals, or rebels skyrocketed. Based on what he’d seen on the map downstairs, most of Luna could be considered backcountry.
Takoda dropped into a wooden chair and considered. “The route from New Surat to Winston will take us around the Moscoviense sea. I am told the roads are good, and the weather this time of year is quite nice. That leg of the journey should only take a day.” She paused a moment and tapped at her chin in thought. “It has been some time since my geography lessons,” she said, “but if memory serves, the route from Winston to Olcott is a different matter. Olcott itself is safe enough, a quite large city I have been told.”
“What does, quite large, mean to you?” Jase interrupted.
“Oh, fifty, sixty thousand people,” Takoda said. “Maybe more.”
Jase nodded and waved for her to continue.
“As I was saying, the region surrounding Olcott is safe. It is the journey from Winston to Olcott which is in question. The land we will be traveling through is quite dry. The people living in the region are scattered and have little to do with strangers. I’ve not heard of any robberies, though stories of bandits and gypsies abound.”
“Gypsies?” Jase said. He was familiar with the term back on Earth. Gypsies referred to the traveling nomads who followed the buffalo on their migrations across the plains. They were a thrifty, simple people known for their skills in the arts and music.
“Yes, Gypsies,” Takoda said. “They live mainly in the high deserts far to the east though they forage all across the face of Luna.”
“Forage?” Jase asked.
“Yes, they fly in their great airships searching the fallen cities of the Progenitors. There they forage for valuables which they trade once they return to civilization. They are … a curious people,” Takoda said.
“Are they violent?”
Takoda shrugged. “They can be, though proud would be a better term. As a people, they are no more violent than any other.”
Jase stared at their meager belongings and sighed. He was a thousand kilometers from where he was supposed to be, lost on a world so foreign he’d had to relearn how to walk. His only defense was a pocket full of cartridges and a pair of beat-up pistols, and his only companion was an acolyte priest more concerned with pancakes than the future.
Jase had never felt more lost.