Searching through the command center, they found a few hand weapons, a few small clear panes that might be data storage, and a few unidentifiable small objects that looked intact. The rest had been taken on board the ship.

Jeanette spent her time staring at the figure who had committed seppuku behind the command chair. She couldn’t believe that this had been the being she had communicated with, even though the necklace it wore that was so similar to her own would explain how it could have been done. No, the being she had talked to had risen out of despair as she had talked to it, and had to have been on the mammoth ship. But it wasn’t impossible.

The timing, however, was also wrong: this ritual wasn’t a last minute thing, and was carefully laid out. The story it told was simple: the commander of the last remnant of the Redoubt facing destruction and failure, committing suicide. It explained the world-jewel and the necklace somewhat. But since Jeanette didn’t really understand either of them, somewhat was all she got.

She had taken the other items and given them to her father, but couldn’t bring herself to touch the strange mammalian body. Grandmère Hutan finally took tthe necklace and handed it to her with a pat on the shoulder.

“Every other access to this room has been thoroughly collapsed, and, given the fact of the successful launch of the ship, I doubt there’s much left to find,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara. “I suggest we get out of here, before Whatever-it-is sends more uglies after us specifically.”

“I don’t doubt that coming back with the knowledge of the ship’s successful launch will be joyous enough news,” said O Tse.

“That, however is predicated on us in fact getting to the command center to deliver it,” said the capybara. “Let’s go.”

The fires had dimmed, and things had continued to collapse so that they had to find a new way out into the open. The pit was so change that Jennifer had trouble orienting herself, but O Tse took the lead and they were sooo on there way back to the subsidiary headquarters from whence they’d been despatched.

Jennifer hadn’t told anyone about the communication with the being aboard the ship, and it bothered her that she kept slipping away from the others by keeping secrets, even if unintentionally. And this time she had touched a very deep, strange thread: One hand raised high in the dark--which tied together the book in her backpack, the ancient Pilgrims and a race older than them, Ngozi Makena Odiles husband (kinda), the King of the Moon of the Moon, and the King of Ys. And the being on board the ship leaving the Redoubt had recognized it--and oh yeah, the older version of her, Jennifer Random Transcendent, the boy the size of the sky--and the other book in her backpack. It was all deeply important, she knew, but it made her dizzy just thinking about it. It was a good thing she was just following O Tse on automatic over the Night Land.

What she wanted and needed was someone whom she could sit down in front of and tell the whole thing to, who wouldn’t be completely freaked out by it. The way she was, she admitted--or she would be if there wasn’t a weird certainty deep inside her, that had been pulling on her more and more. When she had Parise D’Avignon to run to, or Oberon the king of Avalon, or even Diotima Urantia Gearhart, she could just unload it all. Her father was wonderful and amazing, but it was a matter of hard fact that this was all as new to him as it was to her.

Then thinking about Ngozi and Diotima caught up with her and she just felt as bad as bad could be.

They reached the place where O Tse assured them they had left from. Of course the big flashy doorway would be disguised, but the fact that they hadn’t been told a password or anything suddenly seemed suspicious, at least to Jeanette. But the rough ground resolved itself into a familiar platform, and they all got on.

As they folded up there flying frames, though. Grandmère Hutan said, “Something’s wrong.”

Jeanette and her father were the last, but it became all too plain: there was a stink in the air. Their guns came out, because that stink was the stink of death.

The descent was long, and at the bottom, the stench became intolerable. When they reached the bottom, the moving panels, which had been doing the light show they’d done before, went dark and still. They were in total darkness, but the revolting smell coupled with the lack of sound meant they’d come too late.

They advanced rapidly through the black, and Jeanette could feel rather than hear Lord Elphinstone’s growl ahead of her. She knew she should feel some fraction of the tiger’s anger, but it felt like she didn’t have any. There was a big bag of horror inside her, though, and that was opening up.

By the echo of their own sounds, they entered into a larger space. That was when they heard another sound, that made Jeanette seriously want to vomit: a sucking sound, complex as of many mouths.

They walked through the door, and Dr. Ransom turned his energy projector  towards the ceiling and fired. What the light revealed made Jeanette throw up in her mouth.

Everyone--every human, that is--was dead, and in various stages of being torn apart.And sliding over them were things. There were claws and pincers that dissolved and reassembled, with the main gelatinous mass of the bodies a near-transparent dirty purple. They were forming toothed mouths and pulling apart the dead bodies, and dark masses were floating in the gelatin.

Before either Silvertyger or O Tse could act on their rage, the four of them--Grandmère, Capoeira, Terence And Jeanette Ransom-- had lined up and covered the entire room with lethal energy. They crisscrossed the beams over the expanse of the room, and kept their fingers down until there was nothing but fire.

They kept it going probably far longer than was necessary. Then, with the flames the only light, they stopped, shaking their hands to keep from cramping.

“They smell a lot better when they’re cooked,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara.

They stood there for a long time. Jeanette knew she had a necklace around her neck that could do amazing healing--but in this sea of fire, she doubted whether there was enough left to heal.

It was Grandmère who broke the crackling silence. “We’ve witnessed an important triumph: the escape from the Redoubt. Whether this was revenge or just inevitable, that can’t be taken away. The question is--what do we do now?”

“Good question,” said Antithyrsis over Jeanette’s bracelets.

“Well, the answer to that is obvious: we go where the ship from the Redoubt went,” said Dr. Ransom. “Join the fight.”

“Oh, yes, of course obvious,” squawked Thyrsis. “Except where is that? How do we get there?”

"We get there the way we got here;” said the capybara, “Cluelessly.”

“That wasn’t a joke,” he added.

“As to how,” Terence Ransom said, “we don’t have a lot of choices.” He walked around the edge of the fire to another wall of the room, where there was a door with the Decision Tree mark on it. “We could backtrack a tremendous amount by the use of our chalks, or we could take our chances with these.”

The words had no sooner escaped his lips, then there was a slurping sound as a thin film leapt up from the doorway. It spread like a torrent over Ransom, covering him completely inside of a second. Then, as they watched, the film thickened and grew a dirty purple. Ransom started to strangle. He fell to his knees.

What could she do? Any energy burst would kill him. Her healing power would do no good as long as he was wrapped like that. What could she do.

Before her eyes, her father stopped struggling and collapsed on the floor.


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