Small Worlds Part 175

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?”

Isabel nodded.

“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.

Small Worlds Part 174

We’re going to the moon, we’re going to the moon, I’m going to be the first woman on the moon, Isabel thought, practically bouncing in her chair in Crystal’s staging area. She glanced at Crystal and amended that thought. I’m going to be the first mortal woman on the moon who cares I’m going to be on the friggin’ moon.

“Careful, love. You look like you’re about to bounce out of your seat,” Crystal said in a teasing voice. “Nervous?”

“Nervous? Oh hell no. I’m going to be walking on the moon. Are you kidding me? I couldn’t be more excited if it was Christmas, my Birthday, and Graduation all wrapped up into one.”

Crystal let out a chuckle. “I hope it doesn’t disappoint you.”

“Will I be able to see the Earth being massive overhead?”

Crystal glanced at her console, then nodded. “Anansi’s directions take us to the near side, not the far side, so yes. Earth should be right overhead when we step out.”

“Then I’m going to be perfectly happy,” Isabel said.

“You’re not worried about the lack of air?”

“I mean, you’re going to take care of that until we get to the sphynx and the mysterious moon base, right?” Isabel asked with a frown. “Should I be worried?”

“I’ll be maintaining a bubble of air for you, love, so it should be fine, but if something happens to me…” Crystal let that trail off. “Well, you’ll have a bloody short time to get back to the doorway.”

Isabel shrugged. “And if an astronauts suit gets punctured, they’re dead. Honestly, I think it’s safer than a space suit – instead of relying on materials and fabrics, I’ve got literal divine intervention holding me safe, so I should be fine.”

Crystal smiled at Isabel, and Isabel felt herself begin to flush. “Well, I appreciate the confidence in my abilities,” Crystal said.

“I’d be rude if I didn’t have confidence! You’ve survived for this long just fine, I’m pretty sure you could manage a trip across the lunar surface. Besides, you saved my life once before, and that was way more dangerous than this.”

“Don’t be so sure about that, love,” Crystal said, darkly. “We haven’t encountered moonworms yet.”

Isabel froze. “Moonworms?”

“Oh, bloody hell, did I not mention those? Yes, moonworms. They burrow through the Lunar dust, you see, and they’re attracted to sources of heat. It’s what they feed off of. For living things, they crawl up their legs and try to get as close to the warmth as they can.”

Isabel stared at Crystal with growing horror. “So they…hug your legs?”

Crystal shook her head grimly. “Oh, no, not at all. They have jaws that can cut through lunar regolith, they’ll absolutely try to go as deep into the warmth as possible. Bite. By. Bite.”

Isabel couldn’t contain a frightened “eep.” As soon as she let the sound out, Crystal’s frown vanished to be replaced with laughter. Isabel stared at her for a moment, then crossed her arms as realization settled in. “You were messing with me.”

“Of course I was bloody messing with you,” Crystal said, wiping away tears of laughter. “Moonworms. That’s…I’m sorry, love,  you should have seen your face.”

“That was just mean. How am I supposed to know Moonworms weren’t real? A few days ago I was kidnapped by an archangel and a crazy god from a pre-human race and you all were fighting dragons. Are you going to tell me moonworms are absurd when compared to that?” In spite of her annoyance, Isabel was also flushing. You “eeped.” You were being taunted by a goddess, and you said “eep.” Way to go, Isabel.

Crystal’s laughter began to die down. “Oh, come on love, just a bit of a joke, yeah?”

Isabel sniffed in annoyance. “It wasn’t very funny.”

Crystal held up a hand. “You’re right, you had no way of knowing they weren’t real. If it makes you feel any better, Selene fell for the same thing ages ago.”

Isabel blinked. “Wasn’t Selene a moon goddess?”

“Oh, yeah, absolutely. She was so pissed at me for the moonworms, she decided to stay up here for a few days to prove she wasn’t frightened. By the time she got back, everyone decided she was the moon personified.”

“Now that,” Isabel said with a reluctant smile, “that, I have to admit, is pretty funny.”

Crystal’s grin returned. “I know, right? Bloody brilliant, if I do say so myself.”

“So does your humor always involve telling people lies they couldn’t know were lies without some kind of precognition?”

Crystal shook her head firmly. “Do that too often, and people stop trusting you. Now that I’ve done it to you,  you’re safe for the next millennia. Maybe two, can’t be too predictable. Just do me a favor, yeah? Don’t tell your brother. Haven’t gotten him yet, either.”

Isabel snorted out a breath. “If you’re going to do it to Ryan, I’ll help.

Crystal’s grin returned. “I knew I liked you.”

Still a bit annoyed by the joke, Isabel found it easy to prevent the flush this time. “So, this is old hat for you, isn’t it? Going to the moon, I mean.”

“Kinda, yeah. I don’t come up here often, though.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s the moon. There’s nothing up here, love!” Crystal frowned. “Or at least, I didn’t think there was. Should have known a Trickster would have put something up here.”

“Ahh, so the great Crystal isn’t as omnipotent as she seems?” Isabel said.

“Love, if I was half as omnipotent as I seemed, I’d be twice as omnipotent as I actually am.”

“Did you just make a Tolkien reference?”

Crystal just winked at Isabel instead of answering. “Don’t let me being old and jaded spoil the moon for you though. I may have been here a few times, but I’d hate for you to feel like it was somehow less special. Decided what you’re going to be on the moon?”

“I’m going to start as a human,” Isabel said after a moment’s thought. “I want to see it with my own eyes.”

Crystal nodded approval. “Well then, we’re here. You ready?”

Isabel practically threw herself out of the chair, thrumming with excitement. “Yes, yes, please God yes.”

Crystal smiled and opened the door, waggling her fingers to – Isabel assumed – give her some air to breathe on the lunar surface. “Beauty before age, love.”

Isabel didn’t protest, didn’t even register the comment fully. Instead, she bolted out the door and took her first step onto the surface of the moon.

She didn’t pay attention to how light she felt. She didn’t worry about the temperature of the artificial air brushing against her skin. In fact, she didn’t focus on anything at all, instead craning her head up and looking at the sky.

There, above them, just over the Horizon like it was the rising sun, hung the Earth. It was blue and green and brown and swirled with white streaks, half covered by night. She couldn’t quite make out individual continents, not with the clouds covering part of it, but she didn’t need to. Some part of her recognized that multicolored sphere as “home.”

Isabel felt tears spring to her eyes. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.