The arm reaching up from the hole in the table was his wife’s, Terence Ransom was sure of it: size, proportion, lack of muscle tone, everything. And it wore their wedding ring. She might still be wearing it, since she had decided to keep their married name. But by going through that period of reasoning, he didn’t go with his first impulse, which was to grasp the hand. He lowered his arm.
Oberon, who had just stood there, now made a flourish with one hand, and the hand vanished into transparency. He said quietly, “My dear doctor, if you reach into the void, even for demonstration purposes, the void will reach back to you.”
“I’m sorry,” Terence said.
“There are reasons why the study of magic requires an extended period of training. Spiritual and mental balance in the face of extraordinary power is often key to preventing disaster. All that said, what you’ve shown me is fascinating. May I keep these for a while?”
“They don’t seem to work without the gloves,” Kenneth said. “Chancellor Acquin could find nothing.” Oberon smiled and said, “Chancellor Acquin and I operate on, well, different levels.”
On the way back to his rooms, Terence attained the state of wry self-criticism that had most of the time substituted for spiritual balance in his life. It just goes to show how blind you can be even in the depths of emotion. I’ve been worrying and analyzing my relationship with my daughter with careful argument and well-channeled emotion, on my way, ultimately, to working it through. But let the King of Ys refer to Caitlin just once and bam! Apparitions from the void. Shows how well he’d processed that part of his life.
He sat down on the edge of his bed and looked at Diotima Gearheart’s wish-fulfillment machine. What occurred to him was that if, in fact, he was a fallen toon, fallen to earth and wrapping the timeline around him to be part of everyday Earth, might Caitlin’s outstretched arm have been the first thing he saw--and the first thing he grabbed? Was that the first thing the void fastened on to?
He sighed. He’d turn into a first-class magician at this rate. He got up to deliver the device to his daughter.
When he got to Jeanette’s room, he found Grandmère Hutan sitting by the bed, reading a story from Jeanette’s tablet out loud to her. He waited for a minute or two until the orangutan reached a proper stopping point.
“Dada! Hello!” Jeanette said happily.
He struck a pose, concealing his right side behind a tree in the wall, and said, “Here’s the point at which you’re supposed to say, quote, ‘What’d you bring me, Dada? Hunh? What?’”
“You brought me something?” Jeanette shoved herself up against the enormous pillows. “What? Show me!”
He brought it out front. “It’s a gift from someone named Diotima Urania Gearheart, who thinks you’re a very courageous young woman. She’s not wrong about that, either.” He brought it forward for her to inspect. The bubble vanished as soon as she stretched her hand out to touch it.”
“It’s so beautiful! Is it a sculpture, or does it do something?” She touched the butterflies.
“This being the city of Avalon, or course it does something. It’s designed to make wishes come true.”
Jeanette looked at him skeptically, and Grandmère Hutan scowled outright. “The catch is that it’s a teleportation device that doesn’t work on living things or magical objects, so that narrows it down a bit. But if you sit and wish for something, it will show up--after a bit of an interval, she said, on these arms right here.”
“Ohhh-kayyy,” Jeanette drawled. “So like what?”
“Well, she suggested some favorite sweetmeat--her word--from home. But also books. You’d like her, Jeanette--she’s a lynx.”
“Sweetmeat. You mean like a bag of Skittles?”
“Whatever you want. Even stuff I’ve put on your restricted list.”
“Restricted list?’ Grandmère asked.
“I’m still on probation for having eaten six Snickers bars all at once and getting sick.” Jeanette made a mock-pout.
“Snickers are fine in this case.”
“Mm,” said Jeanette. She set the device down on the blankets, where it leaned a little. She closed her eyes and crossed her fingers for effect.
After about a minute, the butterflies began to revolve, the gears worked, and into the arms came a thin brown cylinder.
“YES!” She said, picking it up. “And it’s still warm!” She bit down with a crunch.
The orangutan looked at Dr. Ransom. “She wished for lumpia from Gladys’s. An excellent choice.”
“Yeff, bu’ only one?” Jeanette said with her mouth full.
“Apparently,” Terence said, but after another minute there was an additional motion and two more rolled into the arms. “Thank you,” Jeanette said to the machine.
“You’re still on the mend, Jeanette,” Terence said. “I’ll trust you not to stuff yourself.”
He turned to Grandmère, “What were you reading to her?”
“One of the three fantasy novels she seems to be reading simultaneously. Frankly, it seems a little tame, all things considered.”
“It’s not,” said Jeanette stoutly. ”Robin Hobb is great.”
Terence nodded. He looked around for another chair to sit on. This could be just what he needed.
He saw that Jeanette’s backpack had been emptied out--in an orderly fashion for once, but that was because Grandmère had certainly done it. It looked familiar--except for a stack of books he hadn’t seen before. Instead of sitting, he went over to the side table where it was all laid out. He picked up the first book--and went “Hunh.”
“What is it, Dada?” Jeanette asked.
“Now I remember where I first encountered the word Redoubt. It was in college, and I was trying to get into fantasy. A friend of mine had a big collection and he had, I thought, good taste. He gave me this book.” He waved it. “It was in two volumes--and yes, here’s the second volume. I didn’t enjoy it--it was very very dark: about a far future Earth where the Sun had gone dark and the only light was from volcanic fires. All humanity was huddled in a pyramid called The Last Redoubt. The book’s title was The Night Land. This is it. I soldiered my way through it, but I was only too happy to return the books to my friend and never see them again. And now here they are among your things.”
“They were gifts from Queen Parise. She also gave me the Voyage of the Dawn Treader and a book called The Sorcerer’s Ship by a guy--I think it’s a guy--named Hannes Bok. There were pages from both of those from the wreckage of the ship that brought the Bugs to Haven. The Mantis collected them.”
“That’s kind of disturbing,” Dr. Ransom said. “If she included them, it’s probably not because they were fun reads--certainly not these two. The Last Redoubt in the Night Land…” he let his voice trail off.
Then he got up, taking the books. “Go on, don’t let me stop you. Both Jeanette and I have enjoyed Robin Hobb’s books,” he said to Grandmère, and left.
The orangutan looked at Jeanette. “You’re worried about him, aren’t you,” she said to the girl.
“It’s funny: I was the one who died--but of course I don’t remember anything after the worm-thing came down over me, until I was lying there in the sunshine. So big deal. But Dada watched me die. He tried to stop it and couldn’t, you all told me that. He must feel awfully guilty. I wish I could let him know that it’s all right.”
“Little Jeanette, He would rather have died himself than to have seen that happen to you. But I think his gratitude is also great, and it may be that which pulls him through. At any rate, we all see this, and we will not cease from watching him.” She laid one long-haired arm on Jeanette’s forehead. “Now shall we continue?”
Grandmère read until she saw Jeanette’s eyes droop, and quietly swiped the tablet and left the room. A little while later, Jeanette awoke again. She noticed that her wishing machine was lying close to her on the bed.
“What I really would wish for,” she murmured, “would be a clue to the Redoubt and all the rest of it.” She closed her eyes, then wrinkled her brows. “The Night Land. No thank you.”
After she was back asleep, the machine whirred quietly. A little green egg-shaped thing rolled out from the arms.
The thing unfolded itself. A little green mechanical mantis stood on the blankets. It moved its head this way and that, then descended the bedclothes, ran across the floor, and clambered up one of the tree-trunks into the shadows of the ceiling.