As she dove into the mountain of fire, Jeanette touched her necklace and activated her physical shield, and her magical shield for good measure. This prevented her from seeing anything or from firing her weapon, but she could steel feel a tiny amount of the heat and feel the thump of the nasties colliding with her, and probably sticking to the shield.

Her bracelets erupted with squawking. “Are you completely out of your damn mind?” The voice of Thyrsis filled the limited space.

“Lord Elphinstone is going deep, and I’m following him,” Jeanette said calmly.

“Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone is many bricks shy of a load, and you can tell him I said that,” Thyrsis said.

“When you’re sitting together in the afterlife,” The other crow, Antithyrsis added.

“You forget I’ve been there,” Jeanette said.

“Not for a second, child. Not for a second.”

Jeanette had been thinking furiously. “Listen. If the base were simply on fire, they wouldn’t be clustered around it like that. I think they’re still inside.”

“Agreed,” Antithyrsis said. “But they didn’t equip us to raise a siege. This was supposed to be a reconnaissance.”

“We have to do something,” Jeanette.

“Jeanette, we’re going to lay down covering fire. Get out of there.”

It was the right thing to do. Lord Elphinstone would be all right--he always came through. And watch the Redoubt die? Well, the alternative was to have her father watch both the Redoubt and her die. She twisted her hand controls--

--and something pulled at her. Deep. What did it feel like? It felt like nothing she remembered. But it rang through her heart and her chest like a bell.

She turned and went in deeper.

On a hunch, she turned off the magic shield. Her little protected area suddenly was filled with sounds, all tiny, all pure, as if fear and joy and sorrow and tragic love were held in crystal vases on a sunroom window. One seemed to have words attached, and she tilted towards it. It grew louder.

Is it one of us?

Is it real and not a mockery?

Jeanette thought, Hello the Redoubt. My name is Jeanette. We have come to help.

There was a mental sound like a caught sob. Everything we could detect said that we were the last. Everything said there was nowhere to run.

That’s not true. Many still survive. If you can run, run.

No. There’s no hope.

Jeanette was about to deny this, but could she? How much of her headlong flight was running from the deaths of her friends--more than friends? With the destruction of the Paradox Swan still playing in her head, was there hope? And if she lied to herself in speaking to them, wouldn’t they hear it?

No. She didn’t believe it. There was so much in the worlds that remained, that there had to be hope. But could she tell them that in a way they would here? Who the hell was she, anyway?

Then she heard something deeper.

It was like when she was listening to the voices in her necklace--tuning out the bug princess to hear the words of the healer of Haven, and what she had thought to try--to listen to a yet deeper voice, a Pilgrim voice--on that tiny spidery thread that the voice came over, down more levels, she heard the echo of an echo of--music--!




She knew what to say.

Go. Go with one hand raised high in the dark.

Jeanette could feel the mind at the end of the spider web--the dream of a spider-web--change.

And what is the word, Jeanette?

The word--is Excelsior.

The connection was broken.

The next thing she knew, she was being hurled horizontally. She, her shield, everything vibrated.

What she heard next was something he was not prepared for: It was what she called the Roger Rabbit knock--shave and a haircut, two bits. She took down her physical shield to find herself looking straight the face of Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone.

“Come, my mad little daughter. We must move.” He said.

They weren’t in fire, but surrounded my tumbled rock and metal Behind them was a large space and a large object in it. All the noise and vibration, huge now that the shield was down, came from it. Lord Elphinstone half-picked-up, half-dragged her until she shook herself and rand faster than him, into the rubble and behind the masses of metal.

“DOWN!” he said, and she buried her face.

There was an explosion of light--not fire, but something as dangerous. She could feel it through masses of stone and eyes shut against the ground. Everything shook.

The world was moving. And though once again it was a completely stupid thing to do, she looked up.

It was a ship, as broad as a city block and three skyscrapers tall, raising up on a dawn of an impossible star, pushing aside the fire and heading off into the dark.

“They’re away,” she whispered.

Dr. Terence Ransom, Senhor Capoeira Capybara, and Grandmère Hutan spend a number of hours picking through masses of collapsed stone, partly melted metal, and disgusting black gelatinous flesh, until behind a large slab they found Jeanette Ransom and Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone reclining back on some rubble, eating Snickers bars.

Dr. Ransom stood there, face a show of different emotions, until he raised his finger and pointed.

“You,” he said, “are a bad influence on my daughter.”

The tiger licked a claw clean. “I am that.”

Jeanette ran to him and embraced him. “I’m sorry sorry sorry. I’m so sorry, dada.”

“What am I going to do with you, Jeanette?” And they stood there until her bracelets said “Ahem.”

“We still have the rest of the mission, don’t we?” said one of the crows.

They searched amid the ruins until they found a thick metal door. It had been bent off its hinges by the liftoff, and it took both O Tse and Silvertyger to move it.

Behind it there was what used to be a command center. It was built like the other one where they had met Ostensibility Whatshisname, or the blockhouse, but this one had been wrecked efficiently. Every cabinet wrenched open and every screen smashed, and here and there weapons flung aside.

But behind the command chair in the central raised area, Senhor Capoeira found something that stopped him still. That, in turn, caused the others to gather.

Behind the chair was a zebra-striped mammal, a little bit cat and a little bit dog, in clothing, with a sword in its bowels. In front of him were carefully folded white gloves, a paper with something like Sanskrit on it (at least it was chained together with a single stripe), and a quill-like pen.

The human’s tongue had swollen until its blackness pressed open the sharp teeth, but that was not what made all of them lean forward.

At the top of the paper was a world-jewel, and around its neck was a larger and more elaborate version of Jeanette’s necklace.


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