The shield twisted and began to grow internal seams and edges, finally falling apart. The moment that the dead-black monster reappeared, Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone closed with it. He was now using his huge longsword with one hand instead of two, with his left hand wielding a short sword with a ragged edge in swirling combinations. Jeanette had seen him decapitate larger creatures with a single swing, but this one was made of something different. But the Earl of Maurya bit deep with either blade, sending chunks flying and spraying fluids everywhere. And though the thing tried multiple approaches and changed shape doing it, it didn’t gain a foot against the tiger.
Although it was hard to attribute pain to so alien a thing, it’s face was rearranging itself in nauseating fashion, and secondary mouths were opening up on its body, writhing, and then sinking down into the blackness. No doubt Lord Elphinstone could keep up his attack all day, but the thing was not failing in any significant way.
Master Overend-Watts, who had been watching the battle fascinated, called out “Disengage and push it backwards, milord, as much as you can.”
The tiger in the mirror armor nodded, and dropped nearly to his knees, and then threw up both blades, pushing the thing back six feet.
Out of the sky a blinding beam two outstretched arm-lengths wide slammed into the monster, who turned into a splatter of inky droplets. Each droplet caught fire, leaving nothing.
Jeanette looked up and the hair-thin silver ring across the blue sky of Grammar seemed to have developed a center jewel.
“I didn’t like the way it decomposed,” said the professor. “Some part of it could have survived.”
Two things happened then: Across the green fields there were now clouds of white butterflies, while overhead the sky was filled with grey ships all the way out to the horizon.
Giancarlo Federico Tedeschi Overend-Watts was in good humor. “Thus am I vindicated in the eyes of my colleagues. Not only do I owe you all my life, since it would definitely have killed me before the orbital accelerator could build up a sufficient charge, but now I dare say there are nearly no skeptics in the matter of Deep Chaos. I think you for presenting me with such an undeniable specimen.”
Lord Elphinstone bowed in acknowledgement, but said, “It’s more than worrisome that the creature was so resistant to the best of our efforts. It’s grounds for feeling a lot less confident.”
“You don’t happen to have a portable version of that orbital device, by any chance?” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara.
“Sadly, no. But I imagine our miltia--” and he waved his hand to include the ships above, “--will be happy to gift you with as much instrumentality as you can carry. It’s so rare they get to muster.”
“I have to say that that would be most welcome, Professor,” Terence Ransom said. “Your level of technology is miles ahead of anything we’ve encountered--with perhaps one exception.”
“Your trip to millions of years in the future. Yes. Let’s put that under advisement, then.” He turned to face them all. “It’s too early to have another meal so soon after lunch, but perhaps a nap or another form of rest? I must confess I got exhausted just watching you fine folks.”
“That would be welcome,” said Grandmère Hutan. “We’ve had all too little sun recently.” She walked over to the chaise-longes that were suddenly there, then paused. “Your sun, by the way, isn’t--”
“--named something insufferable like Meaning? We’re not that bad. No, just Sun.” The professor answered smiling.
Jeanette was just a little too jumpy to go right to sleep, so she thought she’d do a little exploring. She went into the house and started wandering around. She ended up standing before one of the few bookcases in the house.
“What are you thinking, young lady?” Said Overend-Watts, making her jump.
“I was just thinking: I’m so used to my gloves translating speech for me, that I just naturally expect somebody’s bookcase to have titles I can read. I even get sad when that’s not true.”
While what she said was true, she didn’t mention that the first thing she was looking for was a keyhole that would gain her access to the Universal Library. And though Master Giancarlo talked a good line of absent-minded professor, she wondered if she could put anything over on him.
“Hm. Well, let’s see. What book would you want to see that I might have?”
“I-I don’t know. One of your books on Deep Chaos, of course, though I don’t know as I’d be able to understand much…”
“Not any of my monographs, no. And i’ve yet to write anything for the intelligent non-specialist, although now I may be in a position to, thanks to you.”
“However. I assume a girl after my own heart, as the saying goes, would have a book or three in her backpack. Am I correct, and can I see one?”
Oh, he was dangerous, and Jeanette had to be definitely on her guard. She took off her backpack, and handed him What’s Been Did and What’s Been Hid. He took it, and took a book off the shelf. He held them so that their ends touched.
When he handed Jeanette back the book, she looked up--and all the books now had titles in English.
Her eyes widened, which seemed to please Master Giancarlo to no end. “Now--see anything you like?”
She now looked. Some of them might almost not have been English: one called Eutopia, Dystopia and Ectopia, for example. There was one called The Grammar and Syntax of Grammar and Syntax, which she thought she’d better avoid. But there was one called A Guided Tour of Our Twilight.
“This one,” she said.
“It’s yours,” he said, handing it to her. “And I think I’ll give you a copy of one of my favorite childhood books. It’s about a young boy who ends up on a quest with a strange group of companions. It held me riveted for the longest time.” He handed her a book with a gorgeous calligraphic cover. It was called On The River To Find Out.
Back at the garden, her companions, far from napping, were deep in discussion.
“But this is so far from any track we know, that there might not be any Decision Tree Portals,” Grandmère Hutan said.
“Even though one brought us here?” Dr Ransom countered.
“It may be that his fascination with Deep Chaos pulled a portal here. We really don’t know how this all works.”
They stopped when they saw that Master Giancarlo and Jeanette were there.
Rather than evade, Grandmère said, “There is the question of where we go from here. We can’t allow more of those things to come after you because of us.”
“Suppose you tell me about the Decision Tree,” Overend-Watts said.
Jeanette didn’t want to listen to more long exposition of stuff she already knew, and a nap now sounded like a very good idea. She wandered away from the house and the garden, and found a beautiful tree with heavy-leaved branches, which looked perfect. She sat at its base and closed her eyes and the gentle breeze.
After a while, she woke up, gently, feeling rested. She thought about opening up one of her books.
Across her field of vision went something white. She sat up in surprise.
It was a little white bunny rabbit. She realized that she hadn’t seen any animals here so far, and the fact that Grammar would have such a perfect parallel animal was curious.
The bunny looked up and around. Then it hunched down and ran away.
She got up and ran after it.