Halfway through the mountain in the mist, a feeble stream ran down a few boulders and died in a small puddle.
“There! A waterfall,” said Dani Botswana. “Let’s use this spot as a rest stop and feed the skyhorses.”
“A waterfall?” asked Ulagi, but he was not heard. Dani Botswana had already unsaddled and threw herself under the tiny stream. Cheek glued to the rock, mouth wide open, water dripping from her commissures, it was not a pretty sight.
“Drink, Horus,” she invited her skyhorse who folded its wide wings and nestled itself against its mistress body. They remained in this position for an agonizingly long time, too much for Ulagi and his skyhorse to bear.
“I’m pushing on,” Ulagi said. “I want to find this temple before we end up on the dark side of this moon.”
And Ulagi went up the path, on foot, his skyhorse walking beside him, half-expecting Dani Botswana to rush to meet him, but she did not. After the first curve on the road, he lost sight of her. The path became steeper and the mist denser. The light was dying and Ulagi could hardly see two feet ahead of him.
“Enough,” he pestered. And then he mounted up and his skyhorse climbed on a boulder to throw itself off the mountain. It was quick to deploy its wings and fly a safe distance over the mist.
“I can’t see a thing,” said Ulagi. “No temple, no buried treasure, no Dani Botswana and her nutty skyhorse.”
Behind Ulagi, the shadows crept in; it was getting dark. Ulagi thought they’d better set camp way out of the mountain and pursue their search in the morning, which, given the width of the moon, wouldn’t be more than three or four hours away.
“Dani!” he called out. “Dani Botswana! Come out. We’ll come back tomorrow! Dani!”
The mountain remained silent and the fog unshaken. Ulagi called the gunslinger out some more, before he lost patience. Riding his skyhorse, they flew off to the next clearing in the mist and set up camp. Ulagi gathered some tried wood and prepared a small bonfire. Just as he was taking his gunblaster out to lit the fire, wings flapped in the darkness, over their heads, then a skyhorse appeared out of the mist. It was Horus and its rider, Dani Botswana.
Dani laughed, high on her skyhorse, her tall shadow looming over Ulagi kneeling by the unlit bonfire. “I found it,” she said. “I’ve got it.”
“You found what… the temple?”
“The temple, and the treasure,” she said with triumph. “It’s here,” she tapped her satchel as she jumped off Horus. “All here, safe and sound.”
“What do you mean? The treasure is rumored to be half of a dozen chest of diamonds and Igrit stones.”
“It wasn’t. T’was but a single chest at the center of the crypt, and inside this chest there was a single diamond. A huge diamond, white, blue and crimson,” Dani said, gently tapping on her satchel.
“So you can steal it from me? Never.”
“You’re lying. The moon treasure is thousands of precious rocks big, not just one.”
“Says the man who’s never found the temple. Rumors, that’s what your moon treasure is made off, but mine is real, it’s here, and it’s not shareable,” Dani said, before mounting back on.
“You are a liar, Dani Botswana.”
Horus spread its wings and rose five feet above ground. “And you are a loser, Ulagi. I’ve got it, I’ve got it all, the moon treasure is mine!”
She flew off under the screams of Ulagi who insulted her and claimed he will find the moon treasure for himself.
The nearest saloon was some moons away. Horus flew at low speed through the open space, against the backdrop of the Chang River and its stations rings. There were trains going back and fro between the rings, some guarded, some not, and hundreds of gunslingers riding alongside the river. Ulagi and Dani Botswana’s initial plan after finding the moon treasure was to travel to the nearest shantytown to sell off the precious rocks, but Dani, who had ditched her partner, was now riding in the opposite direction.
Dani set her sight on a small green moon with a one-street town visible from space. She landed Horus some way off and rode into town, gunblaster blazing the heavens, Dani Botswana in all her splendor, blowing her own trumpet of triumph. She stopped Horus outside the town saloon and hitched him to the water basin. Then she tightened the satchel at her waist and kicked the revolving doors which crashed against the door ledge with a loud bang.
“Whiskey for all these folks! I’m buying,” said Dani Botswana with a broad smile.
The twenty or so patrons of the saloon barely reacted to her grand entrance, but when two men stepped aside before her, Dani Botswana took it as a sign of deference. ‘Things are changing,’ she said to herself. ‘I am rich and these folks can smell it.’ She took a deep breath. ‘They respect me.’ She sat on an empty chair in the middle of the room, at one of those round table which can accommodate eight people. ‘They love me. They want me. Not my money, me. They want me. Everyone adores me.’
Behind the bar counter, the old lady bartender was battling a bad cough to ask what quality of whiskey Dani Botswana wanted to treat the place with. “Zigmut or American? Eh! Lady. Zigmut or American, I…” she coughed. “Says,” and coughed again.
The illusion of grandeur acted as a wall between Dani Botswana and the little folk. Dani could not hear the bartender, but upon seeing her bending her frail body under the nasty cough, Dani Botswana waved a royal hand at her.
“I should not be made to wait any longer,” Dani said. And as the lady bartender was almost down on her knees, spitting her lungs out, Dani got up from her chair, chin up high, and waltzed to the bar counter.
“Walk behind me,” she said to two two card player on the table nearest the bar who had already lost interest in her. “Sir,” said Dani Botswana to the lady bartender. “Would I be made to wait any longer? When I said I was buying out for the entire population, I meant today.” She turned to grumble to herself. “I didn’t think I had to make that clear.”
One knee of the floor, a hand squeezing her aching heart, the old lady bartender got herself up to face Dani. She had spit running down her chin.
“I’s asks yout, which wha… which whisk… whiska.”
“Which whiskey?” Dani said, over-articulating.
“Yes, that’s it. I’ve been waiting.”
“Waiting for what? For death? Tell me, my good sir, is your aim in becoming a bartender to socially murder all your patrons by thirst.”
“Thirst!” Dani banged on the counter. “Thirst! Death! Thirst!”
The bartender took a step back, a spasm shook her body and for an instant she stopped breathing. Then she wheezed so hard it made her knees buckle.
“Don’t you go dying on me, ye old man,” yelled out Dani with a sneer.
“I’m a… a…”
One of the card player intervened. “She’s obviously a woman. Can you not see that?”
Dani Botswana considered the man’s face for a quick second, then turned her back on him to address the entire saloon. “Old woman, old man, when it comes to a certain age, I’d say it’s all the same, wouldn’t you think?”
Inside the saloon, the twenty or so patrons were mostly silent, but Dani Botswana heard a torrent of laughter and cheers. She even heard some clapping, and someone in the crowd yelled out a much appreciated, ‘we love you Dani.’
“It’s Dani Botswana,” corrected she. “Not just Dani. A Dani could be anybody, but there is only one Dani Botswana!” she said and concluded her tirade by a bow. Then she got behind the counter, brushing the feeble lady bartender aside and helped herself to a bottle without a label.
“Perfect, this old Colorado whiskey will do just fine. Just fine. There,” she said, searching her satchel with her free hand. “Pay yourself, and have those good folks on the regular Zigmut old water,” she banged her hand on the counter and left behind five little rocks.
Standing by the revolving doors, Dani Botswana remarked that five taels was well paid for such poor service and that the old bartender should be rejoicing to have received and served the great Dani Botswana. And then she disappeared, got on her skyhorse, and flew off towards the open space.
The card player beside the counter stared at the rocks flabbergasted. “What the hell was that? This is just dirt.”
“She was nuts,” some said from a few tables back.
“She stole from you, Marnie. We should get her back. Make her pay.”
“No. No,” said the bartender, breathing heavily before breaking into a smile. “What she took was no whiskey. Much less be it from Colorados. Is what Is use to clean up the coffee machine.”
The entire saloon broke into laughter, then someone actually stood up, ordered and paid for a shot of Zigmut whiskey for them all, including Marnie because the old bartender thought cheap whiskey was as good a remedy as any for her tired lungs. The man at the counter still considered the dirt left behind by Dani Botswana as payment. He picked up a rock, smooth the surface between his thumb and his index finger and brought the dirt to his nose to take three deep sniffs. Whatever the rock smelled like, it made the gunslinger storm out of the saloon without taking his free whiskey shot.
The other card player called out to him, “Where’ you going, Lash!”
The gunslinger brushed the card player off by waving the back of his hand. Then he ran to his skyhorse and set chase after Dani Botswana.
“The nutty woman stinks of Igrit stones and diamonds,” Lash said, before deploying his helmet and breaking into open space.
End of Part 1 ###
Continue to Part 2