There was something about sailing through space on an open deck of a sailing ship that made thinking about science hard. The ship had to be encased in a force shield of some kind, didn’t it? And whatever kind of stardrive it was, it was doing something to regular space-time that made the stars stream by like that, right?
Given that, there had to be somebody to explain all that to her, shouldn’t there?
Unfortunately, the Captain-Pirate-Queen was always busy (and Jeanette still hadn’t forgiven the CPQ for slapping her), and the rest of the crew--all three of them--were girls her age, who seemed more interested in playing games and stealing treats from the mess than physics.
“We know what to do in which situation,” said Nod (they weren’t that difficult to tell apart), but the why is really boring. You get lost really quickly.”
Jeanette had been officially excused from learning relativity and quantum mechanics by her father, who said there was time enough for that later. The space-time and red-shift stuff she had picked up from games and TV. So she didn’t pursue matters further.
She was getting along with Wynken, Blynken, and Nod really well. She and Diotima Gearheart found that sharing a bunk was very comfortable, not to say reassuring, so that the three could each have their own bunk. Their idea of gaming was not what she was used to, but it turned out to be fun. Jeanette got excited when Wynken took out what was a dead ringer for a d20 Dungeons and Dragons die--but Wynken cast it on the deck, and what appeared was a board game, which they played. She had never heard of the game--they called it Sorry!--but they had a great time playing it. Blynken explained that there were a lot of games--more than twenty--loaded into the die, but it generated a random one depending on the throw. There was also another die--an 8--but it had little kid games that they’d outgrown. (It had one game she recognized: Candy Land. That was definitely a little kid’s game, but she wondered where they had gotten it.)
One afternoon before dinner, Jeanette walked in to the cabin that Grandmère Hutain shared with Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, and found Grandmère talking with the Captain. The orangutan motioned her over and wrapped a long arm around her. The Captain was relaxed and made no gesture to Jeanette one way or the other.
“So we have to come back to the book. I’ve learned not to discount visions--but not necessarily to take them on their own terms. The Night Land seems to be the last stand of humanity when the sun had gone dark, in the far future. I said at the beginning that suns don’t go dark, and that wasn’t precisely true--but a Dyson Swarm seems unlikely given the other factors.”
“So the idea that the darkness of the Night Land is that of Deep Chaos seems to be the only way to go,” Grandmère said.
Ngozi Makena nodded. “But of course that may mean that the Redoubt might not exist in the far future, but at almost any time.”
“Any time past the Exile of our kind, that is.”
“But based on your little jaunt to the far future--which I also take seriously--We’ve been making our way to the center of the galaxy, which ultimately Deep Chaos will consume.”
“But the center is a very dangerous place, and not just because of my reputation.” Ngozi said.
“Oh, the more I hear about your reputation, the more I think we made the right choice,” the orangutan said.
The Captain bowed her head, and her myriad necklaces jingled. “But I have been thinking that there is perhaps another way.”
“There are two conditions where the continuum becomes tenuous: in areas of high density and energy, like the centers of galaxies--or where there is very little, as in the gulfs between galaxies. We may be able to find traces there without braving dangers of a great many sorts.”
Grandmère said, “And the catch is what?”
The Captain said, “It requires some very specialized equipment.”
“Procurable in only one place. Very dangerous, but this time due entirely to my reputation.”
“When you figure in the ordnance, very.”
“Of course. Well, I’ll talk it over with the companions.” The orangutan played with Jeanette’s hair. “What do you think, my dear?”
“I want a snack.” Which was, in point of fact, the reason she had come into the cabin in the first place.
The captain fingered one of her necklaces. “There’s a bowl of crisps on the table of the mess. Share it with the crew.”
She went down the passageway, her mind spinning with all the concepts she had heard. She wondered whether either of them bought her little-girl act.
Jeanette’s relationship with Wynken, Blynken and Nod continued to develop. They had some great stories about leaving starports under fire and deep space piracy, and got wide-eyed at some of Jeanette’s stories. They particularly liked stories about Broceliande and Avalon, and the knights on the winged horses. She also went with them on a raid of the larder, which was where the treats were. There was a lot she didn’t tell them, which she felt less and less good about.
She was also feeling less and less good about continuing to have a mad on at the Captain. It was like Diotima said: she now had the measure of them, and was polite and calm to her and her companions. What Ngozi Makena Odile really thought about her (spoiled little princess?) Was still hard to figure out. She thought about it a lot: she couldn’t just apologize or anything like that--apologize for what?--But she could at least try to talk to here as if they were friends--well, not friends, but not enemies.
She went up on deck a day or so later, finding the Pirate Queen of the Night at the gleaming energy circle on the back platform. She looked to make sure she wasn’t busy, and cleared her throat.
The captain didn’t turn her head, but said, “What can I do for you, Jeanette Ransom?”
“I-I was just thinking, Captain…”
“… could I borrow the Night Land books? I’d like to read them…”
“I’m not sure that’s wise--they’re pretty slow going.”
“But I like dark fantasy, and since they might be important…”
“Very well. I’m through with them, and they were yours to begin with, after all. Go down to my cabin and get them.”
She went below to the captain’s cabin which wasn’t locked, and the books were on the table with a number of others. She picked them up--and decided just to have a look around, not touching anything, of course.
There were cabinet doors and draws everywhere. It was remarkable how much storage there must be, and all secure in case of rough going. She felt positively virtuous at not opening any of them. Really a well-behaved young lady--
--until she saw one tall door, that she could fit in with stooping. But that wasn’t what caught her eye: while not all the doors and drawers had keyholes, many did, but they were all made from the same mysterious material the hull was made of. Except for this one: this one was made of gold metal. And it was a different size.
She couldn’t help it: she pulled out the little gold key that Queen Parise D’Avignon had given her. It seemed to match.
She put the key in the keyhole. It fit. She turned it. It turned. The door opened just a fraction. She held it and took a crouched step inside.
She was in the Library.