“We have a problem,” Crystal announced.
The voice almost startled Isabel into jumping. She’d been waiting for Crystal to say something for what had felt like hours, although it had only been a matter of minutes. She’d considered doing something to break Crystal out of her deep contemplation of the door, but hadn’t been sure if it was worth breaking the goddess’ contemplation. So she’d stood there, fighting the jaguar’s instinct to curl up into a ball to wait. Although the moon dust was fine so far, she didn’t like the idea of getting even more of it embedded in her fur. It was starting to oxidize with the air bubble as well, and the smell of gunpowder was filling her lungs. It had the Jaguar on edge.
Isabel whimpered in concern when Crystal spoke.
“Sorry love, I know, you can’t talk. But this door…I can tear it open, but it’s an airlock. I don’t like the idea of leaving you that exposed to the vacuum out here. Remind me to ask Anansi how he managed it last time he was here.” Crystal sighed. “He probably just phased right through the door. Which I could do here too. Except…” Crystal frowned. “I don’t suppose that soulstone thingy means you can phase?”
Isabel shook her head. I should ask her to clean me off so we can talk. Except…crap, I wish we’d set up a signal for that.
“Didn’t think so. Bloody hell.” Crystal stared at the door. “I can open it, if I’m being honest. I just…I don’t particularly like what I have to do to manage it.”
Confused, Isabel cocked her head.
“I know, love, I know, I’m being ridiculous.”
No, I’m just confused.
Crystal glanced at Isabel, then shook her head in irritation. “Okay. I’ll do it. Just…try not to freak out on me, yeah?”
It took Isabel a moment to realize what the problem was. Crystal, the millions of years old goddess that had done some of the most amazing things Isabel had ever seen or heard of…was embarrassed.
Then Crystal began to shift her form. She stopped looking like a human. Beautiful green and red feathers sprouted from her head and arms and spread to cover her body. Her feet spread out into talons. Her face distended to form a beak. With a start, Isabel realized this was the kind of form Moloch had taken during the fight in the Elysian Rest, and had to fight the Jaguar’s urge to flatten her ears against her head. It’s not Moloch, it’s Crystal. You know Crystal.
Crystal bent down towards the door and spoke a few words, words Isabel couldn’t hope to have reproduced – not without shifting into a parrot, perhaps. No human throat had ever made sounds like that. It sounded like a complex series of squacks and caws to Isabel’s ears.
The door opened for the sound, and Crystal hurriedly stepped into the airlock. Isabel slunk after her. Inside there was a control panel that Crystal began to work as she shifted back into human form. “Sorry about that, love. We’ll have air in here in just a moment, then I can clean you off.”
It took a couple minutes, but at the end of it, Crystal and Isabel were both human and standing in a room lit by fluorescent lights, waiting for the air pressure to finish normalizing. “Why did you apologize? You got us in.”
Crystal flushed slightly. “I don’t like going bird around you lot. Nothing personal. It’s just…” Crystal trailed off and shrugged. “Anyway, had to shift so the scanners would recognize me and open the airlock.”
“I’m amazed this place still works,” Isabel said, changing the subject for Crystal’s sake.
Crystal gave her a look that said she knew what Isabel was doing, and appreciated it. “Lemurian technology. We got a bit further along than you all did, yeah? If you humans had been given another hundred years, you probably would have gotten there too.”
“But how does it work?” Isabel asked. “How’d it survive?”
“The solar panels. If they’re running with the base on minimum power, they can store it in cells down below. The cells were…your language doesn’t have a word for it. It exploits a…damn, another thing your language doesn’t have a word for.” Crystal tapped her finger on her chin. “The batteries that they store power in can store massive, massive amounts, and if we manage to save humanity so they can further develop their science, I’ll eventually have the words I need to explain how it works.”
Isabel laughed. “Fair enough. But what about micrometeors? Shouldn’t they have shredded this place? Or is that too much for my pitiful human language.” Isabel gave Crystal a wink to show she was joking.”
Crystal laughed and slapped the wall. “Thankfully, you do have words here. There’s nanites in the hull. They can repair and smooth over pretty much any minor damage. A big hole would have been too much, but those don’t happen as often as you might think. Back in the day-”
Crystal cut off at the sound of a heavy footstep approaching.
“Oh, right,” Crystal said, drawing a sword out of her nanoverse. “The Sphinx.”
Isabel hurriedly shifted into something to fight. In these cramped spaces, the jaguar seemed to be an imperfect fit – they tended to hunt from ambush. Instead, she went with something with some mass behind it.
When Isabel’s feet hit the ground, they were the stubby legs of an Diceros bicornis, more commonly known as the Black Rhinoceros.
“Good choice, love,” Crystal said, stepping to make sure she was out of the way if Isabel started to charge.
Well, there’s nothing more serious than a Rhinoceros about to charge your ass, Isabel thought, laughing to herself. It was probably for the best Crystal couldn’t hear her – the reference would probably go over her head.
Then the laugher died down as the Sphinx’s head turned around the corner. It dwarfed even the Rhino, and Isabel saw that the hallway was impossibly bending outward to accommodate its passage. His eyes narrowed when he saw the two of them.
“Explain why you are here, and why you have brought that beast with you,” the Sphinx said firmly. “And then explain why I shouldn’t gut you both.”
There was a cold finality in his tone that chilled Isabel to her bones.
That was the moment Isabel learned that Rhino anatomy, while incapable of speech, is perfectly able to gulp in fear.