Jeanette stood on the bridge of the Ark of the Infinite, feeling cold. She wasrubbing her arms as she looked at the view-tank. It wasn’t easy to say, but she said it.
“I don’t want to go there. Can’t you just wave your hand and bring them back? You’re an angel, she said to Walther.
“I am and I could,” Walther answered. Let me point out that, in your culture as well as just about everyone else’s, there are all these stories about people being granted wishes, things going wrong, and wishing more wishes or running out of them. In this case, I’m not trying to trick you, and you can keep on wishing for as long as you want.
“That’s good to know. You won’t get mad or anything?”
“Not a bit. But you want your friends O Tse and Senhor Capoeira Capybara brought back from the dead. How did they die?”
“Well, they--I don’t want to say the words, Walther. That’s part of it.”
“They died in the middle of a terrible battle. There were heroic people of your sodality--toons, Exiles, fighting desperately.”
“Oh. So, don’t I want to save them too. But they’re not in my wish. I think I get it.
“It’s called respect for the action. The difference between undoing and saving--or healing.”
The planet was near now. The fire was a uniform layer all over the globe. Captain Ngozi Makena Odile, with River Daughter by her side, was looking at the telemetry readouts at the side of the tank. “It suggests a force field of some sort: either a disguise, or somehow a containment field. But what sort of containment would be necessary to something limited by atmosphere?”
“Yet it seems to be fire: heat, no radiation, exotic or otherwise,” River Daughter said. “New to my experience.”
“Take her in.”
There wasn’t a force shield that could impede the passage of neutrinos, so the Ark of Infinity passed through.
“This is interesting: The shield is permeable from the outside, but absolutely nothing is getting out. We might even face some impedance,” said the Captain. “The layer of plasma is the only thing illuminating the surface.”
“A world lit only by fire,” the executive officer said.
“Jeanette described a bowl-shaped Exile base. Any sign of it?”
“The other side of the globe.”
The ship passed through the mass of the planet effortlessly, and emerged with a smooth depression in view. Jeanette had been called and she joined the two women. “That’s it,” she said. “The bowl’s whole surface is made up of thousands of Decision Tree portals: it must have been a primary central point of the whole portal network. But there was a big force field over it, and now there’s nothing.”
“Not quite nothing,” Ngozi said. “I’m bringing her out of neutrino mode. We’re landing in the bowl.”
When they disembarked, they saw the one object in the bowl.
“It’s Rhea. She’s dead,” Jeanette said.
The two officers, Jeanette, and a contingent of the crew surrounded the thin body. The woman hadn’t been wounded, and her delicate clothing wasn’t even in disarray. River Daughter said, “This is impossible,” but then refused to say anything else. She stared fixedly at the body.
Walther landed and folded his wings. He walked through the circle, bent down and grasped her hand. “Arise, Rhea,” he said, and the woman got up as if she had only tripped and fallen. “Mind telling us what’s going on?”
“Walther. You have your gloves back. And there’s Jeanette. A whole lot seems to have happened,” Rhea said levelly.
“I think that’s our line,” the angel said.
Rhea looked around. “This is a folly, but at least a harmless one. After Jeanette’s two friends destroyed the Deep Chaos monster--partially, but the rest of it followed them through the portal--a different being arrived, clearly Deep Chaos, but like nothing ever recorded.” She exhibited the first sign of emotion. “It slaughtered us all.”
“I and a group of six, cast what you might call a spell, and into it I poured my life. It may have been mad, and it may not have worked, but it was designed to keep souls from departing this place. As such, it resembled Hell, but it was a voluntary Hell: none of my contingent wished to be reaped by the Deep Chaos thing--but more, they didn’t want to abandon their posts. They may have gone anyway, because all of the scholarly arguments pronounced the spell debatable, but I performed it. I kew that I, at least, wasn’t going anywhere, and my power wouuld maintain the shield.”
“They are still here,” said the angel.
“And the chaos beast?” Rhea asked.
“No sign of it as we approached.”
“Do you mind if I sit down? I’m very tired,” she said. Crewmen rushed a folding chair for her to sit on.
Walther smiled and cracked his knuckles. “All right. Let’s get to work.”
He began to grow.
His wings spread out fully, then continued to spread, far beyond what was possible physically. In a minute or two the angel’s wings had replaced the global layer of plasma, and the light changed to beautiful daylight. Jeanette, who had been looking at his grinning face, found she had to look away: it hadn’t changed beyond getting larger, but she found she just couldn’t continue. She looked at the ground instead, which, though still ragged and barren, seemed to tremble, as if a Spring this world may never have seen was trying to come.
“ALLEE ALLEE OUT ARE IN FREE!” He cried in a voice that shook the sky and the ground.
And suddenly Jeanette couldn’t look anywhere. Because she couldn’t shut off her ears, she heard the utterly strange familiar sounds of a big Earth city, and could smell the car exhaust. At the same time she heard the cooing of a million doves, and the hiss of a sea, and smelled a pine forest--and there were a hundred other worlds all at once. She felt a dream coming on that she didn’t want and didn’t think she could stand.
Then Walther breathed out, came back to normal size, and did a fist-pump. “Have I still got it or what?” He shouted.
There were maybe a thousand figures of human and non-human description, lying on the barren ground, some getting up to a sitting position.
Jeanette began running around, and it wasn’t long before she found the considerable bulks of Senhor Capoeira Capybara and O Tse, both sitting and looking around.
The capybara said, a little sleepily, “Jeanette my dear, you shouldn’t hang about here. It’s not safe.” Then he squinted at her. “Have you done something with your hair?”
“No--or maybe yes. I don’t know,” and she hugged him, burying her face in his fur.
Walther was at her side. “Now for your father,” he said.