Jack Swagger Of Mars
Jack Swagger raced his MarsHorse to the edge of a grand embankment and surveyed the great plains of Hale Crate. From here, the butterscotch sky cast a brilliant light upon the town … he could see the townspeople moving about, herding their own MarsHorses toward the mines, gathering in the town square, chatting outside of the temple. He began to smile. “This is just like Oklahoma,” he thought. “Except you put ‘Mars’ in front of horse, because Mars.”
As Jack turned, he saw Kaa’orri riding up behind him.
“I can’t believe you beat me. How did you do it? I’ve been riding these trails since I was a baby.”
“I got good riderate, I gueth,” Jack mumbled through a smirk. After a stolen glance, Jack heard a noise further down the trail.
“Whoa whoa ohhh!”
It was Sachie, upside down, his foot caught in the saddle of his horse. “Suh-suh-somebody help!” he cried. Jack and Kaa’orri looked at each other before shaking their heads and trotting over to help him out.
Later that night, Jack Swagger of Earth became the first human man to join in on the Hale Crate fellowship feast, presided over by Katoomba and Magadi, held in the presence of every man, woman and childling in the village. He laughed until his cheeks hurt, drank until he saw stars on the roof of Katoomba’s hut and ate until his singlet swelled. He was welcomed as family, here. Nobody made fun of his lisp. Nobody made fun of his hair, which had grown longer and started to revert back to its natural brown. Nobody asked him to job to Evan Bourne again.
Maybe this was nothing like Oklahoma. Maybe this was home.
As the sun set and a beautiful bluing sky gave way to the black of night, Jack Swagger rested his head against the side of the hut, crossed his arms and closed his eyes. Maybe he could stay here after all, just for a little while. Just before sleep took him, Jack Swagger heard a noise. Instinctively he jumped to his feet, walking quickly to the round, open door … and in the pale light of night, he saw the most beautiful creature he’d ever known, mounting her MarsHorse.
Kaa’orri paused, looking down at the flowing pink mane of the beast, then turned to lock eyes with Jack in the doorway.
“Did I wake you?”
Jack shook his head.
“Well, if you’re awake … what do you say to a rematch?”
Kaa’orri smiled. It was the best moment of Jack Swagger’s life.
In a flash, the two were racing along the same paths as before, but faster, with a greater sense of urgency, speeding along toward something harder to define than the Hale Crate embankment. Jack could hear the silence of night through the pounding of MarsHorse hooves on rough sands. He could feel the contracting muscles beneath him, taste sweat on his lips, smell the leather of Kaa’orri’s satchel as she sped by. He snapped the reigns on his MarsHorse and picked up speed, and ascended the hill. By the time he reached the embankment, Kaa’orri was waiting for him.
The two sat beneath the endless Martian starfield.
“Do you …” Kaa’orri began. “Do you think you might have come here for a reason?”
“Yeth, I thought it wath aBANDONED, I juth wanted thom peace an …” Jack trailed off, noticing the concern in Kaa’orri’s eyes. “Oh,” he continued. “I’ve never been good with reasons. My whole job ith to do things for no reason…”
“You know, I would’ve died if I hadn’t met you.”
Kaa’orri’s eyes lit up. “A few times!” she laughed.
“Wocka, wocka,” Jack smiled back.
“Tomorrow …” Kaa’orri’s voice stuttered. “Tomorrow I want to take you to my favorite place in the world. It’s a part of the mine nobody uses, because it’s not … it’s a waterfall, Jack. A waterfall, right here on Mars. The light from the rocks turns it green, and at just the right time in the morning the sunlight breaks through the roof and lights the whole thing up. It’s like you’re showering in fireflies.”
Half-embarrassed, Kaa’orri crossed her legs and rested her arms on her knees. “What’s your favorite place in the world?” she asked.
“Yours or mine,” Jack asked.
“Yours, of course.”
Jack thought about it, then answered, “Lath Vegath NeVADa. Ith where I cashed in the Money in the BANK breifcathe an became the All American American American American American Heavyweight Champion of the WORLD.”
“I’d like to see it one day, maybe,” Kaa’orri smiled. “Wait, what’s your favorite place in MY world?”
“Right here,” Jack answered.
“No,” Jack continued. “Bethide you.”
Jack Swagger of Earth leaned in and touched his lips to Kaa’orris. He could feel hear heart beating in her chest, and she his. In the moment when either heart became brave enough to kiss again, a terrible sound rang out across the plains.
“Whose music is that?” Kaa’orri asked.
“I have no idea.”
Suddenly, the dark blue of night gave way to the flicker of reds and yellows, and colossal walls of fire lit up Hale Crate. Jack Swagger’s eyes grew large as he looked up to see a massive warship descending upon the city, and the screams of its townspeople had already reached his ears by the time he’d scooped up Kaa’orri and began a trembling run down the embankment.
Within minutes, Jack and Kaa’orri had reached the outskirts of the city. Kaa’orri’s eyes reflected a terror Jack couldn’t describe as she caught a glimpse of her uncle’s hut in flames. “Katoomba!” she cried out, running toward the heat … Jack reached out and caught her by the arm, stopping her just as the stable arch collapsed over her head, crashing into flames at her feet. She looked at him. He looked back, and pretended he could save her again.
“Is … is anybody there, do you copy?” It was Sachie’s voice, coming from the communicator in Kaa’orri’s bag.
“Sachie! Are you okay! Where are aunt and uncle??” Kaa’orri cried, fumbling with the communicator.
“They’re … I think they’re out,” Sachie shouted. “I don’t know. I’m in the catapult … hold on, watch this!”
Sachie’s voice went dark. Kaa’orri looked at Jack, then into the sky, where Sachie’s catapult shook and jerked, firing and destroying one of the warship’s escort vessels in a single blow. The machine blew up like a firework, and Jack Swagger could hear Sachie “woo hooing” from the device in Kaa’orri’s hands.
“That’ll show… OH SNARP” Sachie’s boasts were cut off by retaliation fire from the warship, which brought a hail of fire and devastation with it. Kaa’orri pushed Jack away as a statue burst seemingly from within, sending chunks of Martian stone flying. The stables were engulfed in flame, and Jack could hear the cries of the MarsHorses still within.
“Guys, I need to-” Sachie tried to communicate again, but his message was cut off by a blast hitting the base of the catapult, knocking it offline.
“That’s not good,” Sachie quipped.