River Daughter announced that she wouldn’t be going any farther with them. “Your captain is a quick study, and it’s clear that my sister can use a considerable amount of help here.”
“I noticed the family resemblance immediately,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara in a weak voice.
“They’re both extremely beautiful,” said Jeanette.
“And that’s Jeanette Ransom for the win!” Said Walther the Wacky Angel, striding up to them in the shadow of the Ark of Infinity. “We’ll be exchanging some of the more personally attached members of the crew for a sizable portion of the Exile garrison here--who have literally been through Hell.”
“This is still an important outpost in the fight against Deep Chaos, and would be better served by two of us,” said River Daughter. “And watching your intrepid little group has more than once had me itching to see some action.”
“So there’s none of that juggling order and chaos as with your mother,” O Tse said, also fainter than usual.
“The less said about her the better,” said Rhea. “And I mean that on many levels.”
“In the present fight between the Agents of Imagination and the Agents of Nihility, these Agents of Change have no problem choosing sides,” River Daughter smiled. She turned to the angel. “Walther, all these recently resurrected folks could do with some miraculous teleportation directly into nice soft beds aboard the Ark. And you’d best be back in neutrino mode and out of here before something happens.”
And Jeanette was lying in the middle of her enormous bed, in pajamas and tucked in, even though she wasn’t tired. On second thought, she was. Very.
Halfway through the night watch, Jeanette was up on the bridge. Captain Odile and Blynken (it was actually easy to tell them apart) were at the wheel, looking down at the imaging tank.
“Is Walther not here?” Jeanette asked.
“I sent him away. He’s too much of a distraction,” said the Pirate Queen, in a rich new outfit. “What do you want with him?”
“I want to register a complaint. I’m too old for a onesie.”
The Captain gave her a glance. “The feet are cute. And by some computations, you’re only a couple of days old. Trip odometer getting reset and all that.”
“I also wanted to say how happy I am to have you back.”
“Little one, it’s good to have you underfoot again. Now go back to bed: Our next stop is going to take some mighty complicated piloting.”
When she got back to her cabin, Walther was waiting for her. She climbed into a suspensor chair
“We should talk, my dear,”
“Uh-oh is right, but not in the way you think.”
“I thought problems and stuff were not happening when you’re around.” Jeanette said with a touch of anxiety. “I mean, I know that probably nobody’s going to be holding Dada’s spirit back, and that we’ve got to come in only moments after he dies. But you’re omnipotent: you just resurrected a whole planet.”
“That will be a snap--and so will this. But just as before, we have to go through it. No ‘let’s not and say we did.’ Okay?”
“Okay,” she said very unhappily.
“You’re going to be a very strong vector in pulling your father back. I don’t think I even have to tell you that. But, just like with me waving my hands and having Terence Ransom appear in this room, you have to be careful that you don’t start listening to what you want as opposed to what is.”
“I don’t understand,” Jeanette said.
The angel paused. “There’s a part of your father you don’t want. Don’t shake your head no: it’s true, and you know it. And what it is, is who you really are, and who your father really is.”
“No.” But it wasn’t a denial: it was a protest. A plea.
“Jeanette. I know who you really are. I know what show you were a character on: I watched the whole series. I know what character your father played, and I know the real relationship between you. Because of course I do.”
“Don’t tell me.” It was a prayer. She could face dying, being dead, but she couldn’t face this.
He reached out and touched her. “I won’t, Jeanette. I promise. But if we are to pull your father back--your real father, and not just something to suit you and make you happy--you have to take that back too. You have to want the thing you’re afraid of more than anything else.”
“I understand,” she said.
“It’s all the harder because you are a toon, little Jeanette. You’re a Champion of the Imagination--something the Cosmic All needs right now. But you could easily go into something that suits you better than this unsatisfying mess--and you will lose your father, and worse, you will lose all of this. And we will lose you.”
He looked at her closely. “All your courage leads up to this point, Jeanette Ransom. Please be ready.”
She nodded. She wiped her nose on her sleeve.
She left the chair and went into the bed. He got up.
“Could you not go?”
He sat by the side of the bed, spread his wings over her, and held her hand until she fell asleep.
And long after that.
When the bells rang for ship’s day, Captain Ngozi Makena Odile had called the travelers to the platform. Lord Elphinstone was still in his force field, but Diotima Gearheart was there, fully restored after her near starvation.
“Dr. Ransom’s death didn’t coincide with the death--even partial or temporary--of the Deep Chaos monster, so we’ll have to deal with its presence. That means that we can’t rely on Walther, who can’t inflict harm. Therefore it’s up to us. It also means that, since we’re inserting ourselves just moments later, that we’ll have to face the bloody aftermath of his death. We’ll have to strike and not flinch. Everybody clear on this?”
Everyone nodded. The Captain grimaced. “We could really, really use Lord Elphinstone’s speed and power, but he’s still recovering. Each of you will have an Exile backup, and they’re very good. Don’t hold back.”
The Ark of Infinity descended towards Haven. The digital readout was cycling backwards, since they were heading in out of the near future--something only the neutrino mode could make possible. The boarding party, Jeanette in the center, were crowded onto the debarkation platform. “We are becoming real on three. ONE-TWO--”
They were falling into the chaos of battle. Bugs were crawling everywhere--energy beams were flashing--the hulks of two interdimensional locomotives crowded into the great chamber--and the monster held the still spurting pieces of what a second ago was Dr. Terence Ransom.
Walther touched Jeanette’s shoulders, and she saw the pale light that was really her father. She also saw the writhing mass of dull fire that was the spirit inhabiting the chaos monster. She cried out “DADA!”
O Tse grabbed her in one enormous arm and sprang forward. Crewmen laid down covering fire as the weasel-bear raced up the wall to the groined ceiling.
Jeanette was shouting, “DADA! DADA! IT’S ME, JEANETTE!” In the voice the angel had given her.
She was losing him.