One hundred eighty-three

One hundred eighty-three

Jeanette Ransom had not completely lost her mind, although Captain Odile would certainly think so at this point. She was one hundred percent certain that Walther the Wacky Angel would follow her down to the planet to save her from whatever lurked amid the drowned skyscraper towers.

The cluster was as she had glimpsed it from orbit: a mass of girders, towers fallen at angles, all poking out of the water. There was also webbing of some biological sort that spanned most of the gaps, and while there were areas of open water and Jeanette couldn’t fly and sucked at swimming, she could move around through the entire area.

She understood the paradox problems of saving her friend before he had died killing the monster (or his aspect of the nemesis creature)--but she also suspected that the angel’s inability to harm or destroy might have something to do with the gap. But three days? That seemed an insanely long time.

The girder jungle, unfortunately, wasn’t quiet: the cawing and screeching of sea-birds was everywhere, and some screeches she couldn’t identify. She pulled her arm back, and discovered to her satisfaction that her coming back from the dead hadn’t lost her the ability to retrieve a weapon from beyond the sixth wall. She admitted to herself that she should have tried it on board ship, but it worked, so no harm done.

Her best tactic seemed to be to go in the direction of the greatest noise, which also happened to be in the direction of the biggest concentration of webbing, which felt like monstrously thick spiderwebs, though only sticky enough to make climbing it easier. She moved carefully but as quickly as she could.

She came upon an area that was like a monstrous cocoon, violated by girders. The spaces to go through were only barely enough for her, but she managed them.

The network opened up into a large space, and she gasped at what she saw.

There was an infestation of crablike things, but with heads attached that looked like shrimp heads, violently twitching their antennae In the center was a tiger==her tiger, silver where the white should be.

He was easily twice the size he had been when he had been part human, but he was torn and bleeding, and both of his eyes seemed to have been burned out. He was in a kind of form-fitting cage and into every wound on his body, and through the holes in the cage, swords were stuck. The swords had hilts that were lumpy and distorted, and every time Lord Elphinstone twitched, arcs of electricity leapt from hilt to hilt. She felt rather than heard his roar.

Something became plain to Jeanette on a level different than what she was used to, that this apparatus was keeping Silvertyger’s soul  in his mortally wounded body, preserving it in the absolutely cruelest way possible. The crab-shrimp things were all facing him and waving their antennae like the eager buzz of a concert audience.

She got ready to attack them without any concern for her own safety--when from the waters below rose dripping a tentacle about as thick as a building.

That did it: she jumped in firing her biggest gun--at the tentacle, but also at the crab-shrimp things if they were at all in the way. A kind of chittering shriek arose, and the tiger in the cage began to thrash.

Jeanette saw that energy beams were now coming from a down different directions, all at the same targets. From out of the webbing came twenty or thirty human figures--followed shortly by Captain Ngozi Makena Odile. The next thing she knew, Walther the Angel was towering next to her.

A group quickly set up a large projector like a searchlight that made the giant tentacle quiver in its broad beam. The crab-shrimp things were disappearing into holes in the webbing, and nobody paid attention to them.

Jeanette hurried after Walther as he strode up to the caged tiger. He made a small flick with his hand, and the cage and the swords were no longer there. Lord Elphinstone fell on his side, all his wounds bleeding, all muscular tension leaving his body. Jeanette started to run to him, but the angel but a hand on her shoulder, saying, “No. This body of his must die, in order that his wish be fulfilled.”

It took about a minute, and Jeanette wept. Then they were all in a large hold of the Ark. There was a shifting bubble around the tiger, and Walther walked through it, followed quickly by Jeanette. The angel touched the tiger’s face and he had eyes again.

“He won’t know you, my dear, not yet. But it will be good for him to see your face before he sleeps,” Walther said.

They retreated, and the bubble became opaque. “It’s as you surmised: those things were keeping the tiger-spirit in his dying body in order to feed it to their master. Miserable bunch of shits.”

“I’m sorry I ran into it without telling you.” Jeanette wiped her nose with her sleeve.

“I took it all into account. I’ve watched your show, remember.”

Captain Odile was addressing the members of the crew. “I promised you an exciting captaincy, and was I wrong?” They answered with a shout.

Ship’s night came. The tiger and his bubble was transferred into another capacious cabin. Without turning on the light, she stole over to him, and crouched beside the membrane. “We’re on our way to rescue the others,” she said. “You don’t have speech yet, and your mind has to emerge from the tiger-spirit, which is what they told me--Walther and River Daughter. But I just had to tell you: you saved me. You did everything you promised, and you’re the greatest hero that ever was--at least in this book.” She put her hand right up against the bubble.

“Come back to me.”

A ship’s day later, Jeanette, River Daughter, the angel, and the Captain were on the bridge. “This is the Wild Reach,” River Daughter said. “We have to stay in neutrino mode as much as possible, since we are in direct sight of the main mass of Deep Chaos. Even the Ark can take on damage here if it’s regular matter.”

“It’s--quite a sight,” the Captain said.

“We’re coming up on the planet where O Tse and Senhor Capoeira died,” River Daughter said.

“You mean the one that’s on fire,” Ngozi observed.

“That’s the one.”


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