It seemed a little peculiar to Jeanette to note that, when they were on the Paradox Swan, a ship made out of neutrinos took a hold full of massive and hideously expensive equipment and a couple of days of processing time merely to detect, while now space seemed to be full of them. And all of them firing at her.
The problem was, the only person she felt she could make this observation to was very busy maneuvering their ship and preparing a counterattack, so she just stood there on the bridge balcony watching the tilting view in the tank.
Fortunately an Ark crewman, a short goat-faced fellow with zebra striping but much thinner and finer, came to her and asked if he could be of service.
“It’s just weird that all these things are attacking us while we’re made only of neutrinos--and hitting us, it seems,” she said.
“Yes, it does look curious: normally, a neutrino-thing shooting neutrinos at another neutrino thing would be incredibly uneventful, to say the least. But what we’re actually doing is taking our ship out in a vector normal to spacetime--that is to say, into a sub-universe touching normal spacetime, leaving a shadow composed of neutrinos in the main universe. These things are only able to attack that shadow, not by throwing neutrinos, but antineutrinos at it. It’s not harming us per se, but if it annihilates enough of our shadow, we’ll get cast adrift, and have the devil of a time getting back to our main universe.”
“Okay, that makes sense.”
“They’re using a ridiculous amount of energy to field this attack: draining the entire energy of a sun to fire these few bolts at us. They really don’t want us to get through.”
“I can testify to that,” Jeanette said.
“You! Engineer!” Captain Odile shouted from the wheel. “Can we rig up something that will allow us to fire back?”
“It would require a lepton number violator attached to our biggest projector,” Mr. goat-zebra called back.
“Well, do we have one?”
“We have two. However, they’re in use enabling the main drive to work in ghost mode.”
“Work it with one of them and give me that gun,” the captain said.
“It’ll only be good for a short burst, and then it would take two ship’s days to recharge.”
“I just need enough to kill one of these pests.”
“Already on it, Captain.” He turned to Jeanette. “Goodbye, Ms. Ransom. It was an honor speaking with you.”
Ngozi Makena Odile motioned her over with a tilt of the head. “I know why they’re doing this, little one. This is all meant to make us drop out of ghost mode. I can’t see it, but I know there’s a big conventional force just waiting for us to drop into reality again. We’re not going to give them that chance.”
A red star came into existence near the Captain’s head. She said, “Gunner, pick one in the pack. Not the closest. You’ve got one chance, so make it count. On my mark.”
She gripped the wheel. “MARK!” As soon as the red star went out, she spun the wheel furiously and tromped a pedal by her foot. The image in the tank tilted and whirled horizontally.
Then it went white.
“We won’t feel it, Jeanette. We’re massless and chargeless, after all. But they will!”
When the image tank returned to normal, two-thirds of the attacking ships were gone. “Carrying entirely too much energy for their own good. The rest are scared to fire, I’ll bet. All ahead flank.”
There was a wavering in the lower part of the tank, and Ngozi pointed at it. “You see that? That was their ultra-super-dreadnought, just ready to blast us into Fermi gas. Well, not today!”
“We’re running on one-third power, Captain, but that’s more than enough. Shadow fooyprint reduced by 20 per cent, likewise. We are clear for the Edge Of Everything!”
Jeanette could feel the Captain relax next to her, so she ventured to say something. “It must be very different, handling a big ship with a large crew,” she said.
“I hesitate to say it, in blessed memory of the Swan--but it’s the best. A tight ship and an expert crew--it’s rare you get to captain such a one without being under one Admiralty or another. It’s--I don’t know if you have them on your Earth, but it’s the difference between a band and an orchestra.”
Jeanette had only seen orchestras in movies, and then not for whole scenes, but she could feel the emotion coming off of her. “Well, we’ll be joining the Exile fleet on the other side of the Edge. I know it’s not your fight--”
“It’s my fight.”
Jeanette felt her spirits lift. She had guessed and she had hoped--but hearing the words made her want to--want to do something, but she didn’t know what.
They crossed the Edge without incident. Once on the other side, the star-field of most universes was replaced by the dull roiling of Deep Chaos. Still, though, there was a Milky Way of sorts--a band of lights from zenith to nadir.
Terence Ransom, Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone. Senhor Capoeira Capybara, O Tse, and Diotima Urania Gearheart were standing together with Jeanette on the bridge. Captain Ngozi Makena Odile and her children Wynken, Blynken, and Nod were gathered by the wheel. “So many,” Dr. Ransom said.
Once they started to get near the first ships, they dropped into reality. Immediately a voice came over the bridge speakers. “Ahoy the Ship! Who are you and what is your purpose?”
The Captain said back, “This is Captain Ngozi Makena Odile of the Ark of Infinity, here to join the Fleet in its struggle.”
“Holy shit,” said the voice, which made Jeanette and Senhor Capybara giggle.
Then a second voice said, “Transmitting co-ordinates of the flagship. Our apologies for the blasphemy, Your Reverence--Reverences, rather.”
“That’s where you do the queenly nod in acknowledgment,” rumbled Lord Elphinstone. “Pity they can’t see it.”
Jeanette was expecting a lot with regards to the flagship--but was surprised nevertheless. It was, of course, enormous--there were attendant ships nearby that allowed her to figure that the ship was as big as Manhattan Island--but it was one long, sleek, needle-nosed silvery shape with immense swept back fins. There were no external details at all, just pure beauty.
“When Worlds Collide,” Terence Ransom breathed. “Not a bad metaphor.”
The Ark was a toy compared to the flagship. Ngozi and the crew executed a neat turn, nestling close to the shining flank and matching velocities.
“Permission to come aboard,” the once-Pirate Queen of the Night called out.