After Ch. 00byDragonSlayer_OK©
This story was intended to be a romance-adventure...of sorts. But, its futuristic setting also makes it a Sci/fi-adventure as well. When I started this, I had no idea which category I should put it in...and at the time of submission still may not be sure.
Pronunciation on some of the characters is as follows....
Keeqoht: key – COAT
Hok'ee: HOKE – ee As in Hokey-Pokey
The main reason for these author's notes is to clarify a few things in this story to avoid any confusion. To help the reader out, names of places will be followed sometimes, by their original name in brackets. Here also is an explanation for units of measure used in this story. Some are obsolete; some will be made up for this story. Examples are....
A league (obsolete) is approximately three miles. [4.8km]
A pace (obsolete) is approximately three feet (one yard) [0.91m]
Others will be explained as the story progresses...that is, if I go on with multiple chapters for this story. That will depend on how well this is received among you readers. That being said...in the words of the late great Jackie Gleason. "And away we go...."
It was already warm, when the sun rose on an early spring morning as Keeqoht approached the walled fortress city of Chica, near the western end of the Michi Sea...one of the five great inland seas. The air was clean and crisp. There was not a cloud in the clear blue sky. He brought his horse, an Appaloosa named Tiq-Toq, to a stop at the top of a low wide pass in the Illi Mountains. To the east, about five leagues away was Chica, a large walled city was before him in the distance. The lush green vegetation around him was still wet with morning condensation. Mostly it was low bushes no higher than a grown man's knee, with a few palm trees scattered about. Before him was a flat wide road of hard packed earth perhaps eight paces wide leading in the direction of Chica.
His dark emerald green eyes took in the view. Around the city walls, the land was a flat as any he'd ever seen. Farm land. Fields of several different types of fruits and vegetables, including corn, even wheat that was unusual considering the local tropical climate. The fact that the fields were outside the walls of the city was also out of the norm. It set Keeqoht to wondering how theft was prevented. And to the southwest of the city, along the shoreline of the sea there was what looked like a cattle ranch. The walls of the city were not solid. Thick concrete pillars, maybe 25 or 30 feet high with horizontal iron beams about a foot apart served to protect the people from the local predatory wild life...and from the land pirates.
Keeqoht was not certain of his exact age, although he did know that he had survived thirty-nine rainy seasons, but looked more than ten younger. While he sat tall in the saddle, his actual height was a little less than six feet. At 180 pounds, he was powerfully built, but was still slim from the hard life required to exist in this harsh world. His ebony hair, tied back, came down well past his broad shoulders. The sleeveless buckskin shirt he wore fit him tightly but not so much that it was uncomfortable. His trousers were a little looser, but still snug. His lower legs were encased by moccasins that nearly reached his knees.
Next to him on a Mustang, sat his companion, a Navajo Indian named Hok'ee. Hok'ee was just past his middle years. His dark eyes also took in the fortress. Once black hair was now filled with many white streaks. He was dressed almost identically to Keeqoht.
"Well, Kee...?" Hok'ee asked, his soft voice gravelly yet somehow smooth at the same time.
Keeqoht became annoyed. "Why is it always up to me, Uncle?" His soft-spoken voice was deeper than most. Hok'ee was not actually related to him but had been a close friend to his mother since before he was born. He was the closest thing to a father Keeqoht ever knew. They sat quietly trying to decide whether or not to enter the city.
Keeqoht and Hok'ee were silently weighing their options when, with no warning their thoughts were interrupted by howling noises behind them from the pass they'd just come through. Human howling...land pirates! It sounded like a small party of them heading their way. By the sound of the land pirates howling, they were in pursuit. But in pursuit of what? They turned their horses to face the threat and waited.
Then, the answer to their question came around a sharp bend in the pass, just a stone's throw away. Two riders on horseback at a full gallop. Two women. No! A woman and a child. Both had long white-blonde hair with dark eyes. Seeing Keeqoht and Hok'ee, they pulled back hard on their reins, skidding to a stop so fast that their horses almost went down under them. Fear was written all over their faces.
Without hesitation, Keeqoht, jerked a thumb over his should toward Chica. "Go! We'll try to slow them down for you!" He shouted at them. The woman paused for the briefest instant, then apparently made a decision. She nodded, and then she and the child rode past him toward the distant fortress with a distrustful look of gratitude on both of their faces. Keeqoht shrugged. Real gratitude was in short supply these days. Not that he blamed them. It was a lawless land outside the cities. People were not safe...especially women and children. The woman and the child, a girl he thought, dug their heels into the flanks of their horses as rode off as fast as they could.
Keeqoht reached for the pistol at his hip with his left hand, and seeing Hok´ee ready his bow, hoped there wouldn't be too many of them. He knew what would happen if the land pirates got their hands on the two females he was now protecting. They would be raped repeatedly, non-stop until they lost their minds and then...they would be eaten alive! The land pirates were eaters of human flesh...cannibals. They believed that to consume the meat of their victims while they still lived, would take in their souls and make them stronger and harder to kill.
Then they were there. Thank the Powers; it was a very small party...there were only six of them. Hok'ee released the arrow he had readied, catching one pirate in the throat. Keeqoht fired his pistol and another pirate's face turned into a bloody mess. The third was reaching over his shoulder for a weapon when Keeqoht fired his next bullet. A puff of dust revealed that he'd hit the pirate in the center of his chest. As the pirate fell backward to the ground, Hok'ee released another arrow, hitting still another pirate in the head. Before they could even react, Keeqoht and Hok'ee killed the remaining two. The howling stopped and the pass was once again silent. The whole thing had taken place in scarcely more than a few heartbeats. They dismounted and began to search the dead pirates. The unwashed bodies reeked as they always did.
The Powers were definitely smiling upon them this day. As Keeqoht searched the body with the oozing chest wound, he found a true treasure...a sawed-off shotgun. Firearms were very rare in the world now. All were leftovers from before the Great Cataclysm. The shotgun was in remarkably good condition and land pirates were not known for maintaining their weapons as well as they should. It was most likely, taken from a victim just recently. There was also a holster of sorts on the pirate so the shotgun could be worn on wearers back and drawn over the shoulder. Keeqoht took this too. A further search revealed an animal skin bag containing three or four dozen shells for the weapon. Keeqoht's first thought was to give the shotgun to Hok'ee, but he remembered that the older Indian refused to have anything to do with any weapon not made by his own hand.
Fitting the holster onto his back, Keeqoht slid the shotgun into it and felt an odd surge of power he'd never known before. There were so few firearms in the world these days that for one man to have two...? It was almost unheard of.... The feeling passed and he became himself again. He pocketed a few other trinkets that he'd found and climbed back into his saddle. A noise captured his attention. He turned and saw the girl sitting on her horse about a hundred paces away staring at him, a friendly smile on her face. He nudged Tiq-Toq forward moved slowly toward her, stopping at about ten paces so he could speak without raising his voice. "Are you unharmed?" He asked. She continued to stare, saying nothing.
Past the girl, he could see the woman riding toward them frantically. "Kyla!" She screamed. "Come away from that man!" Keeqoht sat sit in his saddle with his arms held away from his body to show he meant no harm to anyone. He spoke to the girl again. "Are you alright?" Still the girl said nothing.
Movement in Keeqoht's peripheral vision caught his attention. He jerked his head to the side, just in time not to have it impaled by the arrow flying at it. The woman arrived, stopping her horse so suddenly, that again, it nearly stumbled and fell. She drew back another arrow. The woman was staggeringly beautiful. Maybe his age, perhaps a little younger. Her hair was very nearly white. Streaks of sun-kissed straw gold added a halo-like affect to her head. She had the darkest eyes he had ever seen. Her skin was the color of honey, apparently from many, many hours exposed the sun. Her features were so soft and smooth that they had an almost child-like look. But her body removed any doubt that she was anything other than a full-grown woman. The clothing she wore did little to conceal that fact. A long narrow breechcloth and a small top that seem to struggle to contain what appeared to be a very ample bosom.
The girl was a nearly exact copy of the woman, but younger...her daughter? Keeqoht had little doubt that when the girl grew into full womanhood, it would be difficult to distinguish them from one another. The girl was dressed very much like the woman albeit a bit more conservatively.
"Be at ease woman, I mean you no harm."
She did not fire the arrow notched on her bow. "Go away! Leave us alone!" She yelled fiercely in a way that brooked no argument.
The girl looked at the woman in mild annoyance. "Momma, if not for him and the other man, we might have been captured." She said in a soft, almost musical voice. That they were mother and daughter was now clearly obvious.
"Kyla...we do not know them." Said the woman.
"They saved us." The girl said stubbornly.
The girl turned her attention back to Keeqoht. "We are not harmed. I...." She paused for just an instant. "...we thank you." She said looking pointedly back at the woman.
Hok'ee rode up behind Keeqoht, but stopped a few paces short, keeping his distance.
The woman finally lowered her bow. "Once again my daughter, you show wisdom beyond your years." She said contritely, her soft melodic voice was the match of her daughter's. To Keeqoht she said. "I offer my thanks...and my apologies."
Keeqoht waved the apology away. "Think nothing of it. Is it not wise to be leery of strangers?"
"Introductions are in order, perhaps? I am Keeqoht and...." He pointed casually over his shoulder using his chin. "...my companion's name is Hok'ee."
The girl, Kyla really seeing Hok'ee, for the first time, stared...her mouth open. "Is he one of the Red Ones?" For reasons unknown to anyone, Indians had been all but wiped out during the Great Cataclysm.
"I can speak...and yes, I am of the Red Ones." Hok'ee said, chuckling. He came forward and brought his Mustang side by side with Tiq-Toq. "I am Navajo." He continued.
The woman resumed speaking. "My name is Sarah and my daughter's is Kyla. We are in your debt." It seemed to bother her to be in anyone's debt but not demonstrably so. "Are you going into Chica?"
Keeqoht came to a decision. "That is the plan."
With a nod, the woman and girl turned and started heading in the direction of Chica. Keeqoht and Hok'ee followed at a distance, not wanting them to feel uncomfortable. In a short time, they began to notice fortified towers partially concealed in clumps of trees at the outer edge of the fields of crops. Each was surrounded by a wall similar to the city. Keeqoht thought of them as mini-forts. All were manned, of course. On each tower was a polybolos, a repeating ballista of sorts. There were quite a few of them placed about 500 paces from the next all around the city's farmland. A mystery solved. Well-protected farmland did not need to be inside the walls of the city.
They rode in silence. As was usual, Keeqoht's mind began to wonder. He thought of his life and the world...as he knew it.
It was just a few days past the vernal equinox in the year 270 NE (New Era) by the new calendar, 2387 AD (Anno Domini) by the old calendar. Two hundred, seventy years since the Great Cataclysm, which very nearly destroyed the earth. Yes readers, I am referring to the same earth we all know and love. [heavy sarcasm intended] Long ago, in July of 2117, a rogue planet entered our solar system and came very close to hitting our world. So close, that it actually passed between Earth and the moon. The planet, which had been named Armageddon by some previously unknown religious group, was a dense dead world that had no life of its own. All of the so-called experts claimed that all life as it was known was doomed. The rogue world would cause Earth's orbit to change. It was either going to spin off into space and freeze or literally burn up and crash into the sun. Either way mankind's time was at an end.
But neither happened.... How Armageddon did not disrupt Earth's orbit around the sun, no one ever figured out. It remained exactly as it was before.
Earth's crust was not as lucky. Such shifting was barely possible only in the wildest imaginations. The Indian sub-continent split off the main land mass and became the new Antarctica. A once small tropical, coral atoll that two nations fought a great sea battle for, 175 years before then was now frozen and occupied Earth's geographic North Pole. Oddly enough, the Americas, North and South, came through largely unchanged...geographically. Although they now lay on an east/west line along the equator. Topographically, the changes were numerous. One example was a new range of low mountains, named the Illi [Illinois] Mountains which ran from what used to be the Appalachians to the Rockies, running through the lands once known as northern Indiana, Illinois just south of the Great Lakes and on past Iowa and into the Dakotas, joining the Rockies in a land now called Kanuckia. [Canada]
Earth would never be the same. Worldwide, the death toll was staggering. Earth's population went from close to seven and a half billion to less than one-half a billion in approximately 10 hours. Seven billion dead in less than half a day!
That thought snapped Keeqoht out of his reverie. He could not even begin to imagine the concept of even one billion people...especially since it was nearly 300 years ago. The same was true with Chica. He knew that before the Great Cataclysm, Chica was once a huge open city named Chicago. A city of over nine million people. Now, it was a walled fortress in an open frontier. Keeqoht initially guessed that no more than three or four thousand lived there now...if that many. But, with the farmland outside, he doubled his estimate.
Nations as the people of the world knew them no longer existed. Now there were city-states, similar to the ones in mankind's early history.
Keeqoht looked to his left and found that Kyla was now riding next to him. She gave him a shy smile and asked. "Where do you come from?"
"We came here from Indy-town [Indianapolis]. But, our journey started in California."
"California? Isn't that near the Great Northern Waters?" [Pacific Ocean] She stared at him. "That is very far away."
"Yes, it is."
"What brings you here to Chica?"
Keeqoht chuckled. "I wish to see the world...as much of it as I can. I'm keeping a record of all I learn to share with all those who will come after my passing."
"Yes, a journal."
Kyla was awestruck. "You can read and write!?"
"I can...." Keeqoht responded. Literacy was almost non-existent in the world now. It was estimated that only one in ten-thousand or so learned to read. Most considered it unnecessary for day-to-day survival. Once again, Keeqoht was grateful that his mother had insisted he learn. "In my opinion, everyone should be able to. There is so much information to be gained from being able to read. During our travels, we've come across many ruins from before the Cataclysm. And many books that survived."
"Books?" Asked Kyla looking at him with a mixture of curiosity and hope. "I wish I could read." A not so subtle hint.
"I do not think we'll be around long enough to do much teaching...sorry." Oddly enough, Keeqoht was surprised to find that he really was sorry.
The girl gave him a knowing smile. "We shall see."
For the rest of their short journey to Chica, The young girl was an endless well of questions. Some of what she asked started to worry him a little. Many could even be considered flirtatious...even inappropriate. They were questions a grown woman on the 'prowl' might normally ask. Keeqoht took his first real look at her. She couldn't be much older than twelve, perhaps thirteen at the most. He was both flattered and shocked. Even if she was at the age of consent here, which he doubted, she was still far too young for him...a mere child! He kept his answers non-committal. No need to insult the girl or hurt her feelings. The customs here might be very different than they were where he came from.
"Do you have a woman in California?" Was her next question.
"That is my own business...and none of yours. I do not wish to be rude, but that is enough interrogation for now, Kyla." He told her albeit not unkindly.
"As you wish." She replied, miffed...but only slightly so.
Just then, Sarah stopped a few dozen paces from the wall of the city. Without saying a word, she made an odd gesture with her right hand. The section of the wall where the road came to an end started to rise, revealing a gate that would allow them all to enter. First Sarah, then Keeqoht, Hok'ee and Kyla entered the fortress-city of Chica.
Riding through the gate, Keeqoht saw that Chica was like many of the other fortress/cities that he'd seen before in his life. There was a circular plaza just a few paces inside the gate. There were many one and two story shops, taverns and inns all around it, including a large bawdy house... a bawdy house was a third century (New Era) version of a whorehouse. Keeqoht was only slightly embarrassed as the girls on the balcony overlooking the street called out to him from a second floor balcony, inviting him to come for a visit. Every city had one of these.
"Humph!" Kyla snorted. "You can do better."
"You're probably right." He responded, but looked at the women waving at him anyway. Most were in various states of undress...several were topless. One tiny slip of womanhood with jet-black hair that nearly reached her knees, wore absolutely nothing. She had slanted eyes and a curious yellow cast to her skin, smiled shyly and beckoned to him. Her breasts were so small that they gave her an almost boyish look. But, she certainly was no boy! Keeqoht thought that if he were to consider returning here, this girl would be the one he'd like to 'spend time' with. But no, he would not be back.
Sarah looked over her shoulder at Keeqoht and Hok'ee and said. "You two will come with me. Kyla, you go home and prepare our supper."
"But, Momma...." Kyla said, clearly disappointed.
"Do as you are told!" Sarah snapped.
"Yes, Momma." Kyla resignedly turned her mount and went down a narrow side street without another word.