“Do my friends include my father?” Jeanette asked cautiously.
“Why? Don’t you like him?” The angel Walther asked, then quickly added, “Just joking. He’s been your best friend.”
She was relieved--but suddenly skeptical. “You said ‘that was quite a fight’ before, and now this. Have you been watching us?”
“--And if so, why didn’t you lend a hand? It’s a little more complicated than that, and no, it doesn’t involve some sort of angelic detachment. You’re an incredibly popular video and emulation serial in a number of different timelines. You’re also an audiobook. It’s quite addictive.”
“I don’t think I like that at all,” Jeanette said. “Not at all.”
“It really isn’t what you think, that you’re just a character in a story, and it’s all foreordained. The logic of Heaven screws up causality something fierce--and your being a toon, remember, makes it even stickier. The best way to think about it is that you create echoes in other realities of your very real adventure. I have been waiting to see how it comes out. Cross my heart and hope to be transfigured.”
“All right. But--you’re part of the story now.”
“So--if you’re pretty much omnipotent, could you defeat Deep Chaos?”
“There I have to disappoint you. I can do just about anything except harm or destroy things. If I do, well, it’s kind of like Gandalf and the Ring. My power stays the same but my nature changes. No thank you.”
She did have So is Gandalf real? on the tip of her tongue, but decided to get off that topic all together.
“So let’s go,” Walther said.
“Well, in case you hadn’t thought of it, bringing your friends back out of the context of fighting Deep Chaos wouldn’t be cricket, would it?” And at Jeanette’s stare, he said, “Cricket. Kosher. Unfair. Wrong.”
“Oh. It’s just that--that means I come back to life?”
“Hey, you’re with me. And Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone asked for a useful death. Which should be more than just letting you die a little later.”
“Are these excuses?” she said suspiciously.
“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”
“No no no! I’m just trying to--well, figure you out.”
“I contain multitudes.” He bent down and put on his frock coat that allowed his wings to go through. She noticed that her embroidered dress was completely whole again, which by now didn’t even register a bump on her meter. He also took her backpack and opened it. He took out the bag of world-jewels and dumped it on the beach. Then he put it on her back with a tenderness that did move her meter.
She recognized where they were now with a start.
“This is the Last Horizon!” she said.
“I saw she had touched you,” Walther said.
“It was very creepy and scary and I didn’t like it.”
“She’s one of the Chorus, you know.”
That shut her up.
“It’s as good a staging area as any--but we can go elsewhere if you want.”
She looked around and said out loud, “I’m sorry if I was rude. I was kind of upset and scared and--well I’m sorry. The stew was really good.”
“No need to lay it on thick, my dear. The stew was only OK. She spends too much time discorporate to be all that good a cook.” He was smiling as he said it. “How do you feel?” He said to Jeanette.
“Well--alive, I guess.” It was definitely different from how she had just felt.
“Good. Now--easy ones first. May I have your library key?”
He pulled it from around her neck and gave it to him. He walked up to one of the paper-like walls and inserted the key in a keyhole. He slid the door open, and there were the stacks of the Infinite Library. He beckoned her in.
The pleasure of being surrounded by books was so intense she just ran to the end of the hallway. Walther walked slowly up to her and took her hand. Without the fear of getting lost with an angel in tow, there was no place she’d rather be.
They walked for a while, turning corners and going up stairs until he stopped in a place that looked like everyplace else. He lifted his hands to his mouth and called out “ALLEE ALLEE OUT ARE IN FREE!”
There was an immediate sound in the distance. After a minute or so there was the sound of running feet. Jeanette ran in its direction.
There in front of her, in one big spacesuit and three small ones, were Captain Ngoxi Makena Odile and Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. The three girls started jumping up and down and grabbed at Jeanette. Their suits were dirty and their faces were drawn, but they were a joy in Jeanette’s eyes.
Captain Odile caught a glimpse of Walther and drew back a little.
“It’s okay,” said Jeanette. “This is Walther. He’s omnipotent.”
“ A pleasure to meet you, Captain,” Walther said, extending a hand. She wiped hers on her suit before taking his.
“Kind of omnipotent,” Jeanette added.
Ambling up slowly was Diotima Urania Gearhart the lynx, and she didn’t look at all well, Jeanette picked her up, and was alarmed at how light she was. The lynx rubbed her head against Jeanette’s neck and said, “Jeanette, child, I never thought I’d see you again.”
As it always was, the exit to the library was far quicker than the way in, and they were all soon seated in the low armchairs, all of which had bowls of stew and triangular piece of bread--except for the one where Walther sat.
“These suits are long-term recycling ones, which did manage to keep us alive after our survival packs ran out--but believe me, it’s not an appetizing way to live. We also shared with Diotima, who repeatedly lied to us about how could a rat-catcher she was. She’s terrible at it.”
“But how--” Jeanette asked.
“Your doppelgänger, Captain Jennifer Random Transcendent, when she got us alone, told her that our lives depended on going through the Library portal at the very first sign of danger--that the Swan would be completely smashed. Read it in the book about us, she said. I put my incredulity in a storage locker and had us all prepared--except for a suit for Diotima. Nothing in her size. After the smash, the door wouldn’t open, so there we were.”
“You’re alive--you’re all alive--!” Jeanette said, now feeling like she was in a dream.
“So how are the others?” The Pirate Queen asked.
Jeanette’s dream vanished in an instant. She opened her mouth, dreading the words she was going to have to say.
Walther came to her rescue. “Getting you all back together is my job,” he said. “But first, eat.”
Diotima seemed to eat her own weight in stew, which was, Jeanette insisted vocally, far better than mediocre. It was followed by a floating tray of desserts that nobody complained about.
After eating, Ngozi, Jeanette and Walter walked in the garden. The sky was ruddy with either sunset or sunrise.
“So, Mister Kind of Omnipotent--nice wings, by the way--do you do some elaborate hand gestures? Is lightning involved?”
“Captain…” Jeanette said.
“I’m sorry, Jeanette, but after a very long time in what I consider hell, I’m a bit worn. My apologies, Walther.”
“Don’t worry, Captain--Jeanette just got me out of something similar. But to clarify, I’m hemi-demi-semi-omnipotent, but not at all omniscient, so finding them requires additional effort.”
He spread his wings. “Fortunately, we have just the thing. You remember your Ghost Ship?”
He made an elaborate hand gesture, and the sky was filled with an enormous spacecraft above them.
Jeanette gasped, and looked at the Captain.
Or rather, where the Captain had just been: she had vanished.