Jeanette could scarcely believe her eyes: There was a study desk and chair in a nook by the door, and beyond were bookstacks, floor to ceiling--and the ceiling was higher than the cabin she’d been in a moment ago. Just to make sure, she ran down to the end of the passage, and, sure enough, there was a corner and more shelves down the way.
Her first thought was, Does the Captain know this? That she’s got a dimensional gateway inside her own cabin? She didn’t think so--but since it was hard enough to figure out the Pirate-Queen’s moods and attitudes, she doubted she could deduce her secrets.
Her next thought was to get out of there double-quick--even though her desire to spend time here was like a physical pull. She compromised by running her finger down the middle shelf of books as she walked briskly back. She promised herself that if she found one book with an interesting title, she’d take it, but only one--and if there wasn’t anything she’d just go.
She saw one volume that said WHAT’S BEEN DID AND WHAT’S BEEN HID--but figured that could be about anything. Toward the end, she saw one that said EXCELSIOR! With an exclamation point. It was thin enough to be a book of poetry, but she took it anyway with a little thrill. True to her vows, she stepped out, turned and locked the cabinet with the golden key. It had been less than five minutes, so she figured she was safe.
Going down the passageway to her cabin, she saw that the Excelsior! book was bigger than the Night Land books, and so wasn’t easy to hide. She was trying to think of an excuse--the Captain let her have all of them? No--so she hoped she didn’t meet anybody. She stole a look at the inside of Excelsior!, and saw that it was large print and big margins, but not poetry.
She was in luck that she didn’t meet anybody, and that there was no one in the cabin. She quickly went to her bunk, hauled out her backpack from its cabinet, and shoved the Excelsior! book inside. She put it back, sat with her back against the bulkhead (which, she had been informed, was what to call it instead of a wall) and opened volume one. She found, though, that her mind was racing too hard for her to read, and so was still staring at the first page when Wynken, Blynken, and Nod came bouncing in.
Ngozi Makena Odile stood at the stern of the Paradox Swan, with Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone and Dr. Terence Ransom beside her. They were all looking ahead at a magnificent sight: the Orion Nebula.
“This is our destination, gentlemen: The nebula is home to a race called the Utruquists. They developed quite rapidly but had a deep-seated cultural horror of what they called the Dark Skies. Consequently, they developed a more vigorous local interstellar culture than most others, so the Orion is a heavy trade nexus. The other aspect is the vast number of proplyds. Not familiar with the term? They’re the nuclei of developing solar systems carved out of the gas. One of the more One of the more Interesting aspects of anchoring on an inhabitable planet at its very birth is that you can establish a kind of beanstalk-like timeline into its future. It also happens that the intelligent species tend to base their religion around you. But since time travel can be terribly wobbly, stable transport does an awful lot of business. It also brings some exotic tech from the far future. It’s here we’ll find our Deep Chaos astrolabe.” Ngozi said.
“And apparently a world of trouble,” Lord Elphinstone said.
“I think I can promise you exercise for that sword of yours, Silvertyger,” said the Pirate Queen.
“I am not so eager to put it to use as you might think, Captain: my youth was a long time ago.” The tiger rumbled.
“We’re prepared to support this expedition financially in most things,” Dr. Ransom said. “But not to wage a war.”
“Not even a little one? Oh, Dr. Ransom…” She said with a pout that looked good on her.
“Well, maybe a little one,” Ransom smiled.
“Don’t worry: we’ll be collecting resources as we go. The sails that steer us will also start collecting some quantum and continuum exotics as we enter the nebula proper. This used to be a seine ship before I, well, repurposed her.”
“You need not polish your reputation any further with us, Captain,” said Lord Elphinstone.
“Very Well. But until the nebular density gets too high, we’ll be having our meals on deck. This,” and she spread her arms, “is worth savoring.”
Wynken, Blynken and Nod were off doing an extra shift of work, and Jeanette had borrowed their pillows to prop herself up for some proper reading. Sadly, the Pirate Queen’s assessment of The Night Land was right: it was slow going. She was not a fan of writers imitating speech of centuries back: she’d rather get hit by a few bits of modern slang than wade through pages of thees and thous. But there was enough genuinely dark and creepy stuff to keep her from giving up.
But as she marched along, she kept thinking about the Library. She really really wished she could come up with an excuse to go back to the Captain’s cabin--but so far hadn’t come up with anything. She really would like nothing better than to come back to the study nook with a pile of books and go through them. Dada had reproached her, if gently, on pining after new books with a book she hadn’t finished in her hand--but he was guilty of the same thing: she’d seen it. Specifically, she was thinking of that book she’d bypassed--WHAT’S BEEN DID AND WHAT’S BEEN HID--and wondered what it could possibly be about. She hadn’t opened the Excelsior! book yet, because frankly she was a little scared to, but that made this one all the more tempting.
Then she remembered.
She hadn’t taken out the clockwork wish-granting machine that Diotima had made for her since coming aboard. At first it was to keep it secret--but she’d become good enough friends with Wynken, Blynken and Nod that she kept promising to show it to them at some point. Though, yes, yes, keeping it secret might still be a good idea.
But now they weren’t here. Jeanette did wonder whether the teleportation device would work into and out of the library--but then the book probably existed in other places too, and she’d found that she didn’t have to specify what store to teleport a Snickers bar out of on Earth in order to get one--or even six.
So she pulled the delicate little instrument out of her backpack, held it up before her, and looked intently at the butterflies. After a few moments she saw, held by the outstretched arms was the book. Success!
She opened the book in the middle, and frowned a bit: small type, and big blocks of paragraphs, and--were those footnotes? She closed it: that didn’t matter: If she got in, she could just copy down a whole list!
She went back to The Night Land and read until she fell asleep.
The companions were all rousted out of bed with a loud clanging that seemed to come from everywhere at once. They clambered up to the deck.
The nebula was now all-encompassing, a storm of streaming light. Ngozi was shouting to her daughters who were up in the masts, “FIRE! SHIPS AFIRE OFF THE RIGHT SHOULDER!”
The Pirate Queen turned to the companions and said, “If you’ve never seen a nebula-fire, my friends, it’s a sight to be seen!”
There was a burning off to their right--seeming to throw arms of glowing gas and roiling the structure of the nebula itself.
Ngozi had a loupe-like thing in her right eye, and it was whirring and extending. “Three big fat ships--and at least one raptor. That’s an awful lot of plunder!”
Dr. Ransom said, “Captain, I don’t--”
She held up one finger, and he stopped talking. “Dr. Ransom, this is one of the times in our commercial relationship that I tell you to shut the hell up and get below decks. Now.”
Terence took a look at her face and backed away.
“BEAT TO QUARTERS!” Ngozi Makena Odile called out. “WE’RE GOING IN!”