Isabel wasn’t sure how long she stood there, staring at the Earth hanging overhead. Crystal came out at some point and stood beside her, but didn’t say anything. She let Isabel bask in the reflected light of the Earth.
Eventually, Isabel shook her head and glanced over at Crystal. To her surprise, Crystal wasn’t staring at the Earth or surveying the landscape, but instead staring at Isabel. “Sorry,” Isabel muttered.
“Don’t be,” Crystal said, giving her a small smile. “I’d honestly forgotten how beautiful the view was.”
“You weren’t looking at it,” Isabel protested.
“No. I was watching you enjoy it, love. Getting that first time experience by proxy, yeah?” Crystal shrugged slightly. “You done taking in the sights?”
“No, not even close.” She returned Crystal’s smile. “However, we do have a job to do. Promise me we’ll come back here again once this is all done?”
Crystal gave her a serious nod. “Absolutely. Cross my heart and hope to die.” She moved her finger over her chest to emphasis the gesture.
“Alright.” Isabel took a step, her first real once since exiting the nanoverse. It almost sent her tumbling to the ground. Her leg came up too quickly, like it had been jerked off the ground. She pushed it back down to compensate, and when it hit the ground Isabel felt herself rock to the side. Crystal’s arm flew out and caught Isabel by the wrist. “Oh, right. Low gravity.”
Crystal’s eyes sparkled with amusement. “Yes, that. Might take a bit of getting used to.”
“You can say that again.” Isabel shook her head, and took a moment to enjoy how slowly her hair fell in the low gravity. “I think I’m going to get quadrupedal. Might be a bit easier, y’know?”
Crystal nodded and stepped back. After taking a moment to consider her options, Isabel began to shift.
The experience wasn’t particularly unpleasant. Arthur could have made the soulstone that gave Isabel her shapeshifting something nightmarish, where bits of her shifted and erupted over a period of seconds or even minutes. He had, thankfully, gone with something gentler, giving her the ability to shift so quickly she didn’t really notice it. Instead, it felt like taking a long stretch after waking up in the morning, and settling back down into a new body. She toppled forwards and let her paws hit the lunar dust.
The moon seemed to glow to her new eyes, which had adapted to see in the dense jungles of South America. The small bubble of air around her flowed with small currents that were being picked up by whiskers that helped this form track its prey and move with the grace and agility associated with cats. Her nose was now hundreds, if not thousands, of times more sensitive, but it informed her that there was little interesting here to smell. The dust of the moon was mostly odorless, and the only scent was Crystal’s. It was a delicate and subtle smell that confused Isabel’s new nose – it thought of her as both predator and prey, and sent the fur on Isabel’s hair standing up.
Isabel was now a jaguar, one of the most deadly predators alive. In the back of her mind, she could hear the soul of the jaguar she was channeling to achieve this form. It wasn’t like language – it was a mixture of instincts, emotions, and desired. She’d been a deadly predator, and had raised many young. The jaguar had been killed by hunters, which was the cause of her aversion to Crystal’s scent. Isabel could easily master these instincts, but she made sure to stay in tune of them. The soul of this creature had been a jaguar for her entire life. She knew how to move this body, how to interpret the sensory inputs that Isabel’s human brain only barely registered. She, unlike Isabel, was a killer. Isabel thought she might need that.
“Can you talk?” Crystal asked.
Isabel shook her head.
“Alright, love. I guess shift back if you need to say something.”
Isabel let out out a chuff of air meant to be agreement. It was the one downside of her powers, but she didn’t think it would matter too much. She was just going to stay as a jaguar long enough to get to the hidden moon base that held the Sphinx and the staff of Ra, after all.
Crystal set off towards their destination, moving with the odd, bouncing gait Isabel had seen in NASA videos of moon walkers. Isabel followed.
The jaguar was no more meant for traversing the moon than a human, but its instincts for movement were better, its balance more sure. Using the soul to help her determine where to place her feet, it only took a couple dozen steps before Isabel was now moving as gracefully as she would have on a rocky plain on Earth.
Rocks…Isabel thought in sudden panic, memories from science class rushing back in. Lunar dust was as sharp and jagged as ground glass with no air to wear it down to smoothness. She glanced at her paws. Lunar dust was clinging to her fur, but the thick paws and fur of the jaguar were uncut. Isabel let out a low whimper and raised one of her paws towards Crystal.
Crystal glanced at the paw and frowned. “Oh bloody hell, didn’t even think about that. Is it cutting you?”
Isabel shook her head.
“Do you think it’s going to when you shift back to human?”
“Alright. Once we get out of the dust, I can get that off you. Would expend too much power to keep smoothing it, but let me know if it starts cutting. I can get it off then, and you can go back to shoes.”
Relief washed over Isabel, and she nodded in agreement. Lunar dust was a huge problem from astronauts on moon visits, and the idea of needing to go through some complicated decontamination process had filled Isabel with horror. It’s handy to have a goddess around Isabel thought, and would have grinned if she still had lips that could preform the motion. Instead she felt her tail move, rising up into the air, the jaguar soul responding to Isabel’s relief. That’s right, Isabel thought to the soul. Happy kitty.
The two hundred pounds of solid muscle that Isabel had just thought of as a happy kitty began to lope after Crystal again.
Without the ability to speak, the walk was mostly a dull one. The jaguar’s view did not give her a good view of the Earth, and as amazing it was to be walking on the moon, at this angle all they could really see was grey terrain stretching out, gently sloping upwards into the walls of a crater. Wait. Isabel stopped, her tail beginning to lash back and forth in agitation. She almost shifted back, but remembering the dust, instead growled for Crystals attention.
“What’s up?” Crystal asked, turning to face Isabel.
Isabel motioned towards the walls of the crater that surrounded them.
“I don’t see anything. Is someone there?”
Isabel shook her head.
Crystal frowned. “I don’t see what you’re waving at, love. Do you need me to clean the dust so you can shift back and tell me? It’s just the wall of a crater…” Crystal’s eyes widened in shock. “Oh bloody hell,” she said, starting to turn around in a slow circle.
They were only a few hundred meters from where Anansi had told them they would find the structure that had held the Staff of Ra. They were also in the center of a featureless crater at least a mile wide that Anansi hadn’t mentioned. No sign of the solar panels. No sign of the entrance. Nothing visible, just empty moonscape dotted with huge boulders.
“Three thousand years is a long time,” Crystal muttered to herself.
Isabel nodded in agreement.
Crystal’s frown deepened with worry. “The place was a Lemurian facility. It was built to last. It lasted for millions of years for Anansi to find it. There’s got to be something still there. Come on.”
They set off again, left to hope the building they were looking for hadn’t been vaporized with the lunar regolith. It can’t be, Isabel thought firmly. We couldn’t have come out here for nothing.
If she still had tear ducts, she would have wept relief when she saw the thin metal pole jutting from the ground. Crystal, operating human eyes, didn’t see it until Isabel began to stalk in its direction.
Buried under tons of moon dust kicked up by the asteroids impact was the very top of what had been the solar panel station. Crystal opened her arms and began to twist reality, the dust being born away on an invisible wind.
There door was still intact. Isabel once again fought a smile her mouth couldn’t form. It’s here. We’re not completely screwed.
She just wished she could ask Crystal why she smelled so tense.