Everybody jumped at Jeanette’s outburst. They looked around quick and hard: they had just escaped chaos and advancing troops on the Mall of Orion, so everyone was still primed.
But: “There’s nobody here. Just us,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara with reluctance.
“Someone--someone additional--touched me as we went through. And I just felt its breath on the back of my neck.” Jeanette asserted.
The Captain had already fingered one of her many necklaces. “No sensor pickup.”
“It’s possible--and we’ve fought invisible enemies before,” Dr. Ransom said, coming to his daughter’s defense.
“I--I don’t feel anything now. But it was there,” Jeanette said.
“Invisible--but I’ll wager not invisible and intangible. And this is a starship: all doors lock air-and-radiation tight as the default. However…” Ngozi played with her necklaces in succession.
“--Yes. CO2 levels are consistent with an extra living being in this room since you entered.” A klaxon started going off. “INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! LOCKDOWN IN PROGRESS!” Ngozi’s own voice rang through the air.
“That’s more for the benefit of our guest than for my daughters. But while there’s an explanation for how it might have entered the room, there’s none for how it left.”
Jeanette, realizing that she’d done so only after she did it, looked at her secret cabinet door in the cabins wall--the door that led to the Library Universe. Ngozi saw it, and opened it. For her, it was only dresses hung up. (Though really nice ones..)
The Captain opened the door. There were Wynken, Blynken and Nod, carrying guns as big as them. “One entity. Possibly invisible. Possibly teleporter. Probably came through without weapons, but that might not be for long.” The girls nodded, and Wynken handed the Pirate queen a handgun that looked like a pirate’s flintlock. Ngozi turned to the others. “I invite you all to join in. If you haven’t had experience fighting on a ship made from hull material, the good news is that you don’t have to worry much about energy ricochet. I’m going to the armory. Everybody else, spread out.”
As the others filed through the door, Diotima snagged Jeanette by the sleeve. “I’m wondering is you could help me out with something? You and I are the smallest, except for the crows, and I would like to do a closer inspection of the door.”
Jeanette said yes, and proceeded to take off some scarves and an outer wrapped skirt. It bothered her that she would be running around with a gun in all these elaborate, beautiful--and borrowed--clothes. She laid them on the captain’s bunk, and turned back to the lynx.
Diotima Gearheart had unfolded her portable hole and pulled a couple of devices with tiny glistening gears out of it. They had little hook rings on the top so she could fish them out. “Now could you roll this one around the edge--away from where the chalk was--followed by this one?”
After she had done so, the lynx looked at the position of the gears. “Mm. Well, there are two methods of walking through walls--one is by quantum tunneling which has the advantage that it doesn’t matter what the door’s made of, and the other is by using the same pathway whereby electron pairs spontaneously come into existence and then out of it. No traces of either of them. That leaves plain old dimensional phasing, which we’ve been using rather casually. But to do it without a guide--extremely dangerous of ending up somewhere you didn’t intend to in the least. If our guest has solved the power, he, she or it, is quite formidable. Quite formidable.”
“But it gives me an idea. Help me with these.”
Terence Ransom and Senhor Capoeira Capybara had both pulled out energy rifles from beyond thee sixth wall, and were climbing downstairs. “It grieves me that I should be the one to think of this, but one of the first places the intruder might go is the larder.”
“I can see how it might enhance your stereotype,” Ransom agreed.
“But my thinking is this: our friend might be a Sprezzatura assassin, or one sent by the Court of Miracles--but it might equally be just a garden-variety predator or scavenger hitching a ride. And if it’s the latter, there’s a very good chance it might be hungry.”
When they reached the larder, they noticed two things: first, that no doors were opened, and second, that there was food scattered all over the floor.
“So it was hungry and it phased through the doors to get stuff--” Dr. Ransom said.
“--And it doesn’t particularly like unground coffee beans. Narrows it down some.” Capoeira finished.
The crows were flying through the passageways, and Grandmère Hutan was keeping up with them, climbing along the upper walls with her long, powerful arms. She swung into an intersection, and saw something. She let off a shot with her wrist-mounted gun but the thing was gone instantly.
What she had seen was a thin slice of a human being. Black-clothed, maybe unarmed.
The crows went off in the thing’s direction, and as she followed, she set off a message: “Saw target on deck two. Male Yahoo. Target may be traveling by partly phasing in and out. Fast bastard, too.”
In another corridor, Jeanette was setting down a little mechanical cage and giving it a flick. “Just what are these things again?”
“Four-dimensional pendulums, my dear. What they do is stabilize spacetime in its immediate vicinity. Establishes a metric, you might say. In this context, they’re kind of mousetraps for our phasing friend. Won’t stop him altogether, but give him a resistance he wasn’t expecting.”
“He really hasn’t done anything. I’d hate to kill him.”
“And isn’t that just like you. He hasn’t done anything--yet.”
Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone was going down a passageway when he saw the thin slice appear halfway down. There was a knife flying down the corridor in the same instant, and the tiger broke into a run. The figure was already phasing away, but the knife caught him. He vanished, but as Silvertyger reached the place he had been, he could see blood on the deck that was rapidly vanishing. He looked down the passageway, and the target was already reappearing. It vanished again, but Lord Elphinstone knew he could now track him by the momentary blood.
The figure was now phasing in and out about every ten feet, and the tiger was gaining on him. There was another intersection, and the figure phased out--and Elphinstone heard the cry of a young human.
He turned, and the tiger saw, just for a moment, the entire lank figure clad all in black, standing over a small geared machine. He threw another knife, but it missed, and there was only the thinnest of lines where the whole being had been.
But from this point, there was only one way the intruder could be heading.
“I’ve wounded him,” he broadcast. “He’s heading for the upper deck.”
The young man, now visibly blood-soaked, emerged topside--and into a crossfire from Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. Most of him vanished--but when he reappeared, he was less than ten feet further away. He vanished--completely, it seemed, this time, but then he reappeared, climbing one of the masts.
“Don’t fire!” Ngozi Makena Odile shouted from the stern. “You’ll tear the rigging to shreds! Cutlasses!”
The three daughters dropped their huge guns, put their junior-grade curved swords between their teeth, and, amid the hurtling stars, started to climb after him.
The black figure, phasing more and more frequently was finally edging out to the end of a spar. He stood there as the girls advanced, defiant.
“AHOY THERE! IF YOU TRY TO PHASE ANYWHERE FROM THAT POINT, YOU’LL BE SUCKED INTO HYPERSPACE! SURRENDER!”
The figure raised a fist in defiance. The Pirate Queen of the Night raised her pistol.
Jeanette and Diotima scrambled upon the stern deck. “Don’t fire! LOOK AT HIS HANDS!”
But Ngozi fired, and the young man fell.
Grandmère swung up and caught him, bringing him down to the deck, where he lay, blood spreading out underneath him, his white-gloved hands splayed out and unmoving.