“You know why she did that, don’t you?” Said Diotima Gearheart as she accompanied Jeanette to the cabin assigned to them. Jeanette’s face was burning, and not just just from the slap the Captain had given her.
The lynx didn’t force her to answer. “It was to see what the rest of us would do. Particularly your father and Lord Elphinstone. I’m reasonably sure she thinks you’re a princess and we’re all your servants, instead of you just being spoiled.”
“Spoiled!” Jeanette nearly shouted.
“It’s a peculiar form of being spoiled, and I don’t blame you in the least for it. Instead of being spoiled by an easy and pampered life, you’ve been spoiled by a perilous one. You came by it by being swallowed by monsters and threatened by giant alligators, which is not the same as having too many toys and dresses by a long shot. But you still run the risk of thinking ordinary rules don’t apply to you. Ignoring, of course, the fact that your father never actually told you not to go out.”
Jeanette didn’t want to admit any of this--she wanted a hug rather than a lesson--but she liked Diotima, so she didn’t snap at her.
“Don’t worry. I don’t even think our Pirate-Queen of the Night dislikes you. I think she’s much more interested in where the rest of those jewels are.”
They walked down the narrow curved passageway down to what must have been the front of the ship. As instructed, they opened the door. It was a room with four short bunks, two on either side that folded up into the walls.
And there, on the lower bunk, was Jeanette’s backpack.
“Oh, she’s good,” the lynx said.
Jeanette sat down and went through the pack. “It’s all here--even the box full of metal things from Haven--except for two things.”
“And they are…?”
“The two volumes of The Night Land.”
“Stands to reason.”
“Her crew, whoever or whatever they are, certainly work fast.”
Jeanette restuffed her backpack. “I still hate that she slapped me--and if it was all a trick, I hate it worse.” What she didn’t say was I want a hug. From Dada or somebody. Understanding and explaining are supposed to help, but they don’t. Not really.
Diotima said, “Well, let’s get some sleep. There’s still hours and hours before daylight. I will say that Ngozi Makena does seem to be a successful Pirate Queen, from her sheets and pillowcases.”
“I guess,” Jeanette said.
As soon as she turned down the blankets, the light in the room started to dim. It was a nice soft bed, and she appreciated the feeling until the cabin was dark.
A starship, though. And a pirate starship. It’d be better if she didn’t feel so lousy. She was tired, but she was angry and upset.
And NOT spoiled.
In spite of everything, she was beginning to fall asleep from sheer tiredness--when there was a rustle and the lynx crawled into bed with her. She curled up by her tummy, and Jeanette fell asleep.
Jeanette (and therefore Diotima) was awakened by loud sounds coming from outside the hull. She started to look if there was a porthole or something. She felt around and there was one area on the wall that might have been windows, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious way to open it.
Upon getting out, Jeanette made another discovery, the light not being totally gone: There were people in the other three bunks: small people, because the bunks were quite short. They were wrapped up pretty tightly, so it was hard to tell much more than that in the light. So they were quiet as they left the room and shut the door. (Jeanette took her backpack, of course.)
Her father met her halfway up the passageway. “Oh good. Well naturally you’re up, with that racket. We’ve got breakfast in the mess.”
The mess had windows in the bulkheads, and it was possible to see both that the sun had been up for a while and that there were cranes and floating robots all around the ship. The noise abated somewhat, and Jeanette and Diotima sat down to breakfast. Breakfast wasn’t wonderful, but one could get used to it: something like oatmeal or grits that didn’t taste like either; A mug full of spicy liquid like those herbal teas that were supposed to cure stuff; and some leathery strips that were only edible if you dipped them in the tea, but were then nicely sweet. She ate it all, hoping that this wasn’t ship’s rations--or worse, a special treat in celebration of launch day. (The word SPOILED! leapt up, and she tried to de-grouch.)
Ngozi Makena Odile was at the table with them, dressed in a midnight purple jumpsuit. In the daylight Jeanette could appreciate her braids, and the collection of necklaces around her neck.
“In about a quarter of an hour the ship will be going through what’s called redimensionalization of the hull. All that’s required is that you stay in one place, but if you’ve never gone through it before it can be quite startling. I and the crew will have many things to do, so we won’t be around to reassure you.”
“Your crew…” Diotima began.
“I hope you didn’t wake them. They had a busy night--and not just obliging Miss Ransom. I’ll introduce you once we’ve launched.” She got up. “Plates and utensils in the cycling chute, please. There’s a refresher unit immediately below the mess here, but it’s best to avoid using it while servicing is going on.” She turned and left.
Since the only topic of conversation would be unanswerable questions, nobody said much of anything. But Terence said to Jeanette and Diotima, “Come, you can sit in our cabin. It’s actually quite spacious. No sense getting on the crew’s bad side.”
Dr. Ransom and Senhor Capoeira Capybara’s cabin was, in fact, spacious, and built along the same lines as Jeanette’s and Diotima’s. There were two fold down beds instead of four, and a lot of cabinet doors. Jeanette told them about her backpack and the Night Land books and Diotima about her suspicions (and fortunately, nothing about being spoiled), and both her father and the capybara agreed with her assessment.
“I’m sorry, Jeanette, but as Diotima said, I knew she was deliberately trying to provoke me--testing me and even more Lord Elphinstone. How are you feeling?”
She was already sitting close to him, but she leaned in a little more. “OK. But is it all going to be like this? That wouldn’t be fun.”
It was Capoeira who answered. “Once she’s through taking our measure, I expect she’ll be professional--maybe even pleasant. As long as we are the same, naturally.”
“I imagine her clients have run the gamut from bad to worse,” Terence said.
“And we may be one of her worst clients, if for reasons that have nothing to do with our personalities,” said the capybara.
They sat alone with their own thoughts until klaxons started going off all over the shipyards. The companions made sure they were seated securely when a second set sounded.
Then the ship’s hull started to disappear.
From back to front, the solid surface became only a few glittering lines where the hull had been. The companions’ seats also converted into outline. There was a big lumpy mechanism that might have been the ship’s drive that stayed the same. Fortunately the seats still felt as firm as ever.
“I think my little portable hole is tingling, just a little bit,” the lynx said.
Jeanette could see Ngozi far above them, carrying some sort of device, and three other figures. She was fascinated to see that they were three young black girls about her size, and they were scrambling on nothing, with things like Ghostbusters packs on their backs.
Then the universe vanished.
It went white, then black, then a kind of swirly dizziness. It hurt to look at it, so Jeanette shut her eyes. She opened them again to see the hull come back into existence. Then the cabin reassembled, and she rubbed her eyes, dreadfully exhausted. She sank more heavily against her father’s side.
The exhaustion passed quickly, and a real old-fashioned bell started to ring inside the ship. Dr. Ransom opened the cabin door and determined that the bell was ringing on deck, so they climbed up.
Captain Ngozi Makena Odile was standing on the raised platform at the back. She was once again in her fur-lined cloak, and seemed like a different woman, exuberant, even joyous.
“It isn’t often we can afford a redimensionalization, and I can’t tell you how much the Swan needed it! My thanks to you all!”
She gestured, and the three young black girls came over to Jeanette and Terence. “Let me introduce you to my crew: Their names are Wynken, Blynken, and Nod--and will be until they can purchase real ones--and they are my daughters. Get used to them!”
The girls clustered around Jeanette, smiling and shaking her hand. “She just calls us that because she can’t tell the three of us apart,” one of them said.
“And as you may or may not have noticed, we have already lifted off from that dreary gravity well, and will shortly be in the freedom of the seas of space!”
“That’s all very well and good--” Dr. Ransom called up.
“Questions after the address!” Ngozi shouted, with a happiness that explained pretty completely who she was and why she did what she did.
The sky had been rapidly darkening, blue to purple to black, and the stars were coming out.
“The sun is but a morning star, and we are for the night!”
And she through one arm straight overhead.
One of the girls leaned over to Jeanette and whispered, “And with one hand raised high in the dark…”
The stars began to move.