The Blue Moon (a sci-fi romance)

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Chapter Seventeen

Emma saw Adam’s shadowy silhouette as she and Pin approached the mouth of the cave. She knew him well enough to know his body language suggested nervousness. The way his arms moved constantly at his sides and how he was checking over his shoulder told Emma he was scared of something.

As he came into focus, Adam waved them forward anxiously. Pin paused when he reached the mouth of cave, pressing the children against the wall gently and peering out into the distance.

“We’ve still got time, thank goodness,” he whispered to himself. Then, turning to the children, he waved them forward saying, “They’re moving slowly. Looks like a whole tribe in tow.”

The children stepped forward and Pin led them out into the open air. From the rocky ledge, Emma stared across the valley to see what had spooked Adam and Pin. At first she saw nothing out of the ordinary. But then Adam pointed slightly east of her gaze and further into the jungle and she saw hints of movement in the valley below.

Trees swayed when there was no wind, and every so often trails of black smoke escaped the thick foliage. And while she couldn’t quite see what was moving along the jungle floor, she could make out flashes of figures between the cracks in the foliage and heard a low, steady rumble as though a great wave was rolling ever closer.

“What is it?” she asked Pin, as the three of them inched their way along the ledge.

“Not what, but who,” answered Pin thoughtfully. “I don’t know for certain, but a place as full of life as this may have a sentient species. Adam spotted them first, so we owe him our thanks, I’d say.” He looked down at Emma then and asked, “You say you saw drawings on the walls of the cave? Could be you found their home.”

“But, why have we never seen them until now?” Emma asked.

“Perhaps they’re returning since the storms have passed,” said Pin, his eyes trained on the coming horde of creatures. “Perhaps they’re nomads following a migrating herd. Could be they’re only passing by this way, on their way to somewhere else entirely. Either way, we’ll need to climb back up the cliff and get to camp. With you two keeping watch from the trees, we should be safe enough to pack up and move. With any luck, they’ll keep to the valley and leave the cliffs between us.”

"Up the cliff?” Emma asked suddenly, thinking about her arduous climb to the ledge. “Don’t you mean down?”

Adam looked at her and shook his head. “There are big ladders carved into the rock this way,” he said, pointing away from the cave. “They’re not far.” His voice turned cold suddenly as he continued. “It was really stupid of you to climb up how you did, Emma. You could have killed yourself. And if I hadn’t been here to tell Pin, you could have been trapped in that cave.”

Adam’s anger confused Emma. She’d never imagined that her journey into the cave would affect anyone else. She was about to apologize when she realized something that bothered her.

“Wait, how did you know I climbed up at all? Were you following me?” she asked angrily.

“Yeah, and you’re lucky I was!” Adam yelled back, facing her. “You obviously can’t take care of yourself.”

Pin shushed them both harshly. “I asked Adam to keep an eye on you, Emma,” he said urging them onward. “To keep you safe.”

Emma shot Pin an angry look and said, “I don’t need anyone to keep me safe.” Then she turned to Adam and said, “And you stop following me. You can come along when you want anyway. You just have to ask me.”

Adam looked away and the three continued along the wall in silence until they reached a large section of carved holes in the rock that lead to the edge of the cliff. It was the ladder Adam had mentioned, but carved by whom, none of them knew.

One after the other, they climbed up to the top of the rocky plateau where they could survey the valley at a safe distance.

For a while they watched the migration of the horde from behind a squat boulder. The mass of figures was still mostly obscured by trees, but as they drew closer they became easier to examine.

They marched in a formation of two long lines. Their naked bodies were tall and tanned with rounded shoulders and three long, muscular arms. Thick, mossy colored hair hung wild on top of their wide-browed heads.

They walked slowly and with a gait that suggested tortured joints in agony. Most of them looked towards the dirt, carrying packs across their shoulders, or dragging long bamboo sleds filled with slick purple meat, or crying children behind them. A few beat drums languidly, while a small group in front chopped away the thick underbrush with long, silver poles that glinted in the sun with every strike.

Emma looked up at Pin who was squinting and had a look of both curiosity and concern. She looked back down towards the coming horde again and a sickness filled her belly. She thought had never seen such wretchedness and wished she could look away.

To her, the moon had always seemed like a paradise—a playground for her and the living things around her. But the way these creatures worked against it—cutting the jungle away as they moved— presented an angry kind of conflict she wasn’t used to seeing. It was as though they were more alien to this world than she was.

Before Emma could voice any of these thoughts, Pin had them by the arms and was pulling them back down the hill towards their camp. He kept his voice low as he urged them forward and looked around as if watching out for something constantly.

When they got back to camp, Pin motioned upwards and told the children to climb into the trees.

“You two keep up and out of sight until I come back,” he said quickly as he lifted Adam up to grab hold of a low-hanging branch. “If you see anyone approach, you stay still and quiet. Do you understand?”

The children nodded and scrambled into the trees and out of sight. Pin watched their little bodies disappear into the foliage then went to work knocking down their shelter and throwing the fronds away in as random a fashion as he could in a hurry.

He dragged the poles of cane into the trees in all directions and kicked dirt over their fire pit. Then he dumped out their water stores and buried the dried fish they’d been keeping in the shade.

When he was finally satisfied that the area looked like it had never been inhabited, Pin picked up any clothing that was scattered about and bundled it under his arm. He saw Emma’s little wooden box under her favorite tree and stuffed it into his pocket before leaving the campsite behind and walking briskly towards the beach where their raft would be waiting at the edge of the lagoon.

Throwing what little supplies they had onto it, Pin pushed the craft into the crystal water and rowed it along the coast.

He watched the beach disappear as he rounded the land and sighed deeply, cursing the appearance of the moon’s natives and the uncertainty they brought with them. After being marooned for so long he had grown content living as they were. He had the children for company, enough fruit and fish to eat. His days were lazy and his nights were open to deep thoughts about his new and past life. The only thing that could have made him happier was alcohol at his elbow, but even his want of drink had waned over time.

This new event had destroyed all of this in a single moment. Now he would need to be diligent and ever watchful. Until he learned the movements of this tribe of moon men, he would feel hunted by day and haunted by night.

When Pin had rowed the raft a few hundred yards down the coast, he eased it up onto the overgrown shore and hid it under a pile of waxy fronds. Then he began his long walk back to camp through the wilderness.

They spent that night huddled and shivering, far away from their old camp in the densest patch of jungle they could find.

Pin was restless, his sleep disturbed by Emma’s anxious twitching and his own dark thoughts. It seemed that whenever he drifted into dreaming he was met with violent images of broken men attacking him and carrying off the children. And when he was awake, every sound conjured images of hunters stalking them in the trees.

Eventually, Pin rose. Careful not to disturb the children, he covered them with fronds and walked out into the night.

It was quiet. Despite his fears, no one met him in the trees with murderous intent. He felt the only thing to ease his mind would be to venture out and check on the actions of the tribe.

If it weren’t for the children he would have walked all night until he reached the cliffs. But this reconnaissance would need to wait until morning. Instead, Pin took a tour of the area. Again, all seemed quiet; the only sound was the buzzing of light-bugs the size of his fists. And so, satisfied, he walked back to the children and lay down beside them again.

It had been some time since Pin had been so distressed about their safety. Wild animals had always posed a threat on the moon, but at least animals could be counted upon to act according to their nature. They were predictable, mostly fearful and easily avoided. If these beings had evolved to be anything like Earth’s humans then Pin knew they were not only unpredictable, but would be most likely to kill the three of them for being so very different than take the time to understand how they came to be there.

If we are to live on this moon, thought Pin, then we’ll need to be worthy enough to our claim.

As much as it hurt him to admit to it, Pin knew what needed doing.

When Adam awoke the next morning, Pin had already fashioned two long spears. Both were plunged deep into the earth, their ends having been sharpened to fine points using obsidian.

The old man was sitting on a flat rock, working on the third, stripping away rough bark from the sides and doing his best to straighten out the long piece of wood in the process.

Emma sat beside him, quietly making a wreath of large blue flowers. She was humming contently, seemingly uninterested in Pin’s work.

Adam got to his feet as she pulled the last knot tight. She looked up and smiled as she placed the colorful crown on her head. For a moment Adam thought the dark blue of the flowers made her lighter eyes glow slightly and she became a vision to him in the early morning sun.

Intrigued by what Pin was doing, he turned his attention away from Emma and towards the long wooden stakes in the ground. He ran his hand along one of them. It was smooth and dark red. He was tempted to pull it out, but didn’t dare do so without Pin’s permission.

Without looking up from his work, Pin addressed the boy brusquely. “Don’t think I’m going back on what I told you now,” he said before looking up to eye the boy. “But in light of our recent visitors I think it’s only wise for the three of us to have some protection around.”

He finished smoothing the last spear and stood up to look it over. Emma walked up and stood beside Adam, the two of them watching as Pin tested the weight and strength of the weapon, thrusting it out in front of him then holding it tightly across his chest. When he was satisfied that the spear would do for a weapon, he looked down at the children who were still watching him wide-eyed.

His heart broke to see them, their innocent eyes burning with a curiosity wasted on what he was about to teach them. He would have preferred them to be off discovering new natural wonders and exploring the moon to being stuck in a cramped patch of jungle studying the art of war.

“I hope we’ll never need to use these,” he said gravely. “But, to be safe, I’ll show you how to hold a spear with confidence, and how to make and block a blow.”

With that, Pin walked away from the rock he’d been sitting on and stood at the center of their makeshift camp. He spread his legs slightly, bent his knees and held the spear across his body diagonally.

“Just the sight of a weapon can be enough to stop violence before it even begins in most cases. If you look fierce, like you’re not afraid, an attacker might just decide to walk the other way.”

Pin nodded to the two spears sticking out of the earth and told the children to take one each. Adam pulled his out quickly, dark earth puffing up around the thick wooden shaft. He spun it so the sharp end pointed towards the sky. It was taller than him by a head and he looked it up and down with excited reverence.

Emma, on the other hand, took hers in both hands gingerly, pulling the spear from the ground and making a determined face as though willing herself to play along out of duty to Pin.

“Watch me closely and do as I do,” the old man said as the lesson began. “See how I’m standing, with my legs bent and my spear crossing my body?”

Adam and Emma nodded and mimicked his stance, bending their legs and bringing their spears to their chests.

“This is a defensive position,” Pin continued. “With your weapon like this you can protect your body from an attack. But you’re also ready to move quickly if you have to run or fight back.”

Pin stood up straight again and twisted his hips, bringing his spear back and pointing the sharp end down slightly. The children followed suit, moving their bodies awkwardly as they tried to copy their teacher.

“A powerful thrust doesn’t come from your arms, it flows from your shoulders,” he said then stabbed the spear into the earth with a great twist of his body. He let go and the wood remained upright. “Let your whole body power the blow and you’ll inflict a deeper wound.”

Adam tried first, yelling out as he threw his arms forward and struck the ground with his spear. His hand lost hold of the weapon when it hit the earth and he fell forward, falling onto his knees. The spear fell from the earth and landed on top of him.

Emma laughed as Pin moved to help the boy up. Adam shot her an angry look before taking the spear back from Pin.

“You need to find your balance,” Pin said and held his spear perpendicular to the ground. “Every spear has a balance point, a spot along the shaft where you can keep hold of it without gripping it too tightly. Hold yours up and see if you can find it.”

The children did as they were instructed and held their weapons up in front of themselves, trying to balance them in one hand. More than a few times they dropped their spears to the ground, but eventually Emma found she could balance the spear in her palm if she held it just the right place near the center.

“I did it!” she called out proudly, her eyes never leaving the spear for fear of dropping it.

“That’s good, Emma,” said Pin enthusiastically. “That’s your sweet spot. Grip it loosely there and move your hips and shoulders around into an attack pose.”

Emma did so slowly, her body flowing gracefully into this new position.

“Now, let your shoulders do the work. And remember, you’re not driving the spear forward with your hands. Imagine you’re throwing it, like you would a rock, only a very short distance. Over time, the feeling of holding a spear should fade away entirely. It will seem like just another part of your body.”

Emma nodded and held her stance, waiting for the feel of the weapon to fade away like Pin had said it would. She relaxed her grip and focused on her shoulders, shifting her sense of energy to them instead of in her arms. Then she trained her eyes on a spot on the ground and threw herself forward, letting her whole body move as she drove the end of the spear into the earth.

She didn’t stumble when its sharp end pierced the top layer of jungle dirt, but remained steady on her feet. She let go and straightened. Her spear didn’t waver. She had plunged it deep into the ground.

“Very good!” Pin said proudly.

Adam looked on with a twinge of jealousy. He would have liked to have mastered the move first.

“We’ll keep practicing lunges and then move onto throwing,” Pin went on. “But remember, the most important thing is to avoid conflict. Only use force if you are left with no choice.”

“What about hunting?” Adam asked.

“We won’t be doing any hunting until you’re good with a spear,” Pin said quickly. “An animal faced with the sharp end of a weapon is as dangerous as anything else. I still don’t think you fully understand how dangerous it is out here. Could be it’s my fault. Maybe I’ve sheltered you. Heaven knows we’ve had an easy time of it hidden away with the ocean at our backs. I fear it’s only a matter of time before we learn the true nature of life on this moon.”

Unsatisfied, Adam nodded but didn’t protest. Instead he found the balance point of his spear and set about practicing, determined to master the weapon.

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