1. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode One
  2. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Two
  3. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Three
  4. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Four
  5. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Five
  6. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Six
  7. The Adventures of Luna and Danzi: Episode Seven
  8. Narius

Illustrations by Morgan Wagner

Everyone seems to want to reach for the stars. Then they usually remember that the star closest to one’s home planet can be a colossal jerk, especially in the summertime. Danzi wondered if all solar systems were the same, as the fierce Texas sunlight baked her through the vehicle’s passenger window. The young woman scowled and unfolded the map from the guidebook for the umpteenth time.

“Are you quite certain that this geographic chart is accurate?” she grumbled at the driver.

“Not in the slightest,” her companion groaned, gripping the steering wheel tightly enough to avoid pulling her long, dark tresses in frustration. “That’s what I was trying to tell you! I think your tome might be obsolete.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense, Luna!” protested the mapholder, her yellow hair plastered to her face in sweaty strands. “Books give us valuable records that are meant to be preserved. Why would terrestrials harvest their oxygen suppliers and then render the pulp into books, only to be used for dispensable guides so carelessly discarded?”

“Danzi…?” said Luna in a tone that the other woman knew entirely too well. “Are you trying to justify not using the satellite navigation system?” She took her eyes off the road long enough to fix her blonde companion with a penetrating glare.

“What does it matter?” Danzi retorted. “We’re not supposed to be here! Technology will only make us more likely to be found by…”

“Hold, hold! There’s a sign!”

Luna steered the rolling ground craft that she had to remember was called an SUV—Sentient Universal Vessel, presumably—over to the side of the road so that the two of them could make sense of the bright green metal plate.

The sunlight struck the reflective surface, and Danzi recalled their last moments at home.

***

Whatever had caused the two citizens of Narius to land in Texas must have been connected to the ancient images of the Wild West they’d romanticized. There had been only one reason that they had left their home planet: their fascination with the strange, beautiful creatures known as horses.

Well, that and the fact that they’d accidentally transported themselves after drinking some of the sacred potion from Earth while clowning around near the intergalactic portal.

The last thing Danzi had seen on her home planet was a flash of green light. The taste of the pi-nacol-adamix still lingered in her mouth as she felt a moment of whirling disorientation. In the next breath, she and her companion were standing on the side of a road, one very much like in the pictures from the Narian archives. The hot, dry air was still not what they were expecting, and they both coughed in shock.

There was a large, wheeled vehicle nearby that appeared to be stationary and malfunctioning, but neither newcomer wanted to take chances on whether the passengers were friend or foe. Perhaps if they acted as if they were on urgent business, moving purposefully away from the stranded vehicle, nobody would notice.


They had been walking along the road for only twenty minutes or so when a driverless car found them. They certainly hadn’t stolen the automobile. It had simply come when Luna sang about living for the odyssey, following the two women like a stray dog until they stopped walking and stared at it. The SUV slowed to a halt onto the soft shoulder, allowing them to examine it. They opened compartments, played with the steering wheel, gawked at the engine under the hood, and finally decided that it had chosen them. Luna sat at the helm and started the engine with neither key nor fob. It was one of her talents known on Narius as “captain’s pride.”

Nobody had questioned their strange attire when they’d wandered into a visitors’ center. According to the guidebook, Texas hosted several ongoing gatherings referred to as “Renaissance Festivals,” and the corresponding photos depicted women in similar attire. Luna had thought it would be a fine place to blend in, but Danzi had worried that it might be a trap. Anyone scrying would home in on any such activity that appeared familiar.

The two had reluctantly decided to travel incognito. One stop at what appeared to be an intergalactic bazaar called Buc-ee’s provided them with all they needed to assimilate: with Danzi in green camo overalls, flip-flops, and a tube top and Luna in a flowing sunflower skirt, pink sneakers, and a t-shirt that read “I WANNA SEX YOU UP.” They would blend right in.

They casually tried to observe what earthlings ate, then added pork rinds and kombucha to their supplies. Danzi also selected a blank pad of paper and some colored writing sticks with which to document their discoveries.

They weren’t sure how commerce was conducted here, and watched the earthlings exchange their goods for scraps of paper or information on plastic cards. By the time they reached the register, Danzi was humming so nervously, the whole bazaar was vibrating with her frequencies. Luna tried to silence her companion with an elbow to the ribs, but the dough-faced man behind the counter went glassy-eyed at the sound. The words NO SALE lit up on the tiny screen as he mumbled, “It’s on the house,” before waving them away.

And now, to locate these mystical equine beings. The guidebook had shown them numerous places where they could pet them and even ride them, but one location in particular seemed to fit right into their plan. Among these myriad communes for mass life cultivation that the terrestrials called farms, there was one that bred miniature horses. These creatures would easily fit into a spacecraft or intergalactic portal. Their plan was falling together! There was no way any such creature could exist without a shrink ray, just like the technology used on their home planet. All they had to do was acquire a few of these small horses, take them home, reverse the shrink ray, and before long, Narius would become populated with the beasts.

Danzi was deep in the visualization of majestic herds, manes and tails flying, galloping beneath the splendor of the triple moons…


***

“…because that’s probably just the name of the farm. Don’t you think?” Luna’s voice cut through Danzi’s reflective daydream.

The blonde woman blinked at the sign. “I don’t remember the place being called ‘Nudist colony, one mile,’ but it could have changed ownership since this book was printed.”


“Then let’s go!” They got back into the ground craft and rolled forward.”

“I see signs of habitation,” murmured Luna, scowling. “But it appears that these farmers are very poor and can’t even clothe themselves.”

Danzi gawked. “Is that a man?” she gasped.

Her companion tried to concentrate on steering the vehicle. “It would appear so, if only by deductive reasoning.” The car rumbled into a lot full of other vehicles, so Luna parked, saying, “Let’s continue the journey on foot.”

As they emerged, Danzi was still unable to get past the shock of what she’d seen. “How can a man function if he has only one…”

“Shhh! The natives are approaching!” hissed Luna as a male and a female terrestrial strode toward them.

“But how can a man perform the mating lasso without a second…”

“Well, hello, there!” said the woman, clad only in footwear identical to Danzi’s. “I’m Mona, and this is Wilbur. Are you here for the concert?”

The blonde woman looked like a deer caught in a pair of laser beams, but Luna took over. “Of course. And if you’d be willing to show us your miniaturized equines afterward, we’d be much obliged.”

“This place hasn’t been a miniature horse farm in years,” said Wilbur, a bearded man about their height with friendly blue eyes. “The owners had to sell the land, but we did buy a few of the little guys for our petting zoo.”

Danzi gave the man an appraising look. “Does the shrink ray still remain here? It appears that you have made use of it…ow!” She was suddenly astonished how much pain a pink sneaker could inflict on her bare big toe.

“Pay my companion no mind,” Luna continued smoothly. “We are eager to attend this concert.”

The two unclothed natives exchanged a glance. “But you’re the band, right?” pressed Mona, head tilted in befuddlement.

“Oh! Of course we are!” laughed Luna, tossing her sable locks. “The trouble is that our instruments got lost in…transition.” She and Danzi made a point of not looking at each other. They’d seen winged aircraft overhead from time to time, but asking passersby what they were called would have been a liability.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” asked Wilbur.

Both women froze for an instant, mouths dry. Luna recovered first, drawing herself up to full height and playing what she hoped was a diva. “Well, of course not! If we were, we’d have brought our equipment in the vehicle, wouldn’t we?”

“Well, there’s an old piano on the bandstand,” Mona reassured them, “and somewhere we have a guitar that people pass around at the campfires. Will those do?”

“I just love guitars that naked people pass around at campfires!” Danzi chittered nervously. “Ow!” She somehow failed to causally connect her lack of verbal filter with Luna’s assault on her pinky toe.

“We just need a moment to assess the tools of trade,” Luna continued. “After our ritual—er, performance—we would love to see these fabulous little equines that make their homes here.”

***

The bandstand was set in a grassy field a fair distance away from assorted dormitory lodges, outdoor sporting courts, and swimming pools. It didn’t look very sturdy, but the women were too focused on figuring out their strange new instruments. A tentative plink here, a furtive strum there, and they were able to map out the rest of the details in their minds. There were too many people within earshot for them to look like they had never seen these new tools of trade before.

“Where’s the band that’s really supposed to be here?” Danzi fretted.

“I don’t know, but aren’t these people lucky to have people who can produce music anyway?”

“I think this piano makes logical sense. It’s very primitive, being limited to a chromatic scale, but that means I can fake my way around it. What about that guitar thing they gave you?”

“Also chromatic. But with some alternate tunings, I can use it to mimic my durgathar back home.”

“What are we going to sing about? There’s no way this audience is going to relate to our folk tradition.”

“Relax, Danzi. I flipped through a magazine today, and I think I’ve figured something out.”

Which was a lucky thing because just then, Mona came out onto the stage and announced to the gathering crowd, “All right, is everyone ready to hear some music?” The terrestrials cheered, some jumping up and down (which had Danzi especially bemused).

Luna struck a full chord in a rollicking rhythm and Danzi fell right into the groove. They’d played together back home for so long that even light years away they still found the same musical connection on strange instruments.

Luna’s lyrics were a collage of the chatter she’d picked up in their scant time on earth, and the people seemed to be enraptured. She sang about gimmicks and strategies, glamor and glory, food fights and dragons.


The crowd went wild after each song. The duo didn’t think they were doing anything particularly unusual, especially with what felt like clumsy fumbling on piano and guitar. But the energy was high, and they delighted in the simplicity of such primitive instruments. It became clear that whatever they were doing was working, and if the lyrical content didn’t make sense to the locals, so what?

As the sun disappeared over the horizon, they finished the show with a hypnotic song about winding down the day, ending with the traditional soothi lato benediction.

It was the perfect choice, Danzi marveled. Instead of crowding the stage to ask questions, these people would go to their beds happy and have peaceful dreams.

Only one man remained, the bearded blue-eyed person who had greeted them at the entrance. “It’s Wilbur, yes?” asked Luna as she fitted the guitar back into its battered case.

“Please call me Weeb. Holy smoke and mirrors, ladies, I’ve never heard music like that before!”

“Why thank you. Now, about those miniature horses…?”

“Ah, yes, if you’ll just…” He was interrupted by a scatter of shout.

Four haggard-looking men in rumpled suits emerged from the shadows, hauling what appeared to be musical instrument cases. By the haunted looks in their eyes they were visibly shaken.

“Are you Wilbur?” a man with a wild mane of greying hair asked Weeb. “Sorry that we’re late! We tried to call, but everything went wrong!”

“Who are you?” Weeb was ostensibly flummoxed.

“We’re the Port Royal Quartet, remember?” snapped another. “We signed a contract to play today. We were on our way, and then this—well, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“There was this blinding flash of light, and two women in Renaissance costumes or some shit came out of nowhere!” blurted out a third. “The blast of energy knocked out our cell phone signals and melted our tires.”

Luna’s face was a perfect mask of concern. She tried to remember what earthlings said to one another if they wanted to express empathy. “That’s just horrible!” she said at last. “We haven’t seen anyone in Renaissance costumes, have we, Danzi?”

“Mmm, nope,” concurred the blonde, vigorously shaking her head. “There must have been some sort of mix-up, because we just finished playing.”

It didn’t take a planetary strategist to know that this was a cue to make their exit. They strolled casually toward the parking lot, letting the sound of their footsteps fall into synch, grounding them. They said nothing until it was clear that no one was following them.\

“But the tiny horses…” whined Danzi.

“We’ll have to find them elsewhere,” hissed Luna. “Didn’t you see how close of a call that was? That other band saw us, and if we hadn’t changed attire, we could have been in serious trouble. They just ratted out a detail of our arrival that no one was supposed to witness!”

“Shhh!” Danzi panicked. “Someone’s waiting for us by the car.”

It was only Weeb, fully clothed, palms up in a universal gesture displaying no concealed weapons. “I don’t know who you ladies are, but please, can I come with you?”

They shook their heads in unison. “We can’t tell anyone about our plans.”

“I don’t even care if you’re on the run from the law!” he begged. “My life was so dull, I thought that walking around naked might make me feel more connected to nature, but it wasn’t even a novelty. There’s something about your music that makes me feel, well, alive. Besides, I kind of acquired a gift for you.” He beckoned to a spot just beyond the parking lot.

And that was how two women from a distant planet hit the road with a terrestrial man sandwiched between two miniature horses in the back seat of their car.


***

They hadn’t discussed where they should go next, but they decided that any place away from the strange commune with naked farmers was a good start. They got back onto a road heading east. Weeb had brought a small bag of spare clothes, snacks, and a bundle of some sort of dried grass, so there was no need to stop at another confusing bazaar.

One of the horses emitted a high whinny and the women glanced back in alarm.

“I have to confess that I haven’t really given much thought to caring for these creatures after acquiring them,” said Danzi sheepishly. “Do they have to be watered like plants or do they drink liquids like we do?”

“Hahaha, you ladies are so funny!” chortled Weeb. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that you two were from Narius, or whatever shit that cult believes…whoa!”

The car veered toward the soft shoulder, then resumed course as Luna regained control of her senses.

Both intergalactic foreigners set their jaws and tried to act casual as the warning was clear in their minds: handle with care.

To be continued…


Read Episode Two

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