Jeanette ran into the house. Sure enough, there was Ngozi Makena Odile, pacing back and forth. When she saw Jeanette coming towards her, she said, “Oh no no no, you’re not getting me out there. I didn’t suffer being locked up in the Library Dimension for the second time only to--I don’t want to talk about it.”
“It’s because you know our Ghost Ship is really the Ark of Infinity, and you know who the captain is,” Jeanette said.
“I said I don’t want to--what?”
“It’s all in your book. You’ve got a book just like I’ve got a book, and I read it.”
Ngozi flopped down in one of the Last Horizon’s armchairs. “Well, damn.”
“You know, it didn’t seem that you and the captain of the Ark should be enemies…” Jeanette said meekly.
Captain Odile rubbed her forehead. “How can I explain...when contemplating the idea of a judgment after death, one of my genuine fears would be to stand before God and be forced to talk about this again. It goes that deep.”
“I apologize, Jeanette, especially after you saving me. This is like falling back into a pit I thought I’d climbed out of, and for good.” She sighed and got up. “Well, enough personal drama. Let’s go.”
Jeanette felt inconsiderate, just a little, since her surprise and elation that the mysterious, intangible, and utterly menacing Ghost Ship had been watching over them all this time--or at least was literally on the side of the angels. Now she had to stand there and hope that this whole drama came out all right.
Walther was standing in the garden, the immense ship floating above. He had a rueful smile. “Now I know what it’s like to be the eager parent buying the wrong bicycle for a child’s birthday. Just like one of my episodes.”
“And I’m sorry for being the child,” Ngozi said.
They were on the bridge now, and it was breathtaking. It was an immense space, three stories high, with a balcony extending in a curve and holding the traditional wheel on a raised platform, with banks of control panels below, showing charts and graphs and an immense egg of a three-dimensional map. At the wheel was the only figure, and she turned.
She was Ngozi’s height, and her skin was the same shade of brown, but she had a long austere face with flaring cheekbones and a jewel at each curve. Her arms were covered in jeweled bracelets and armbands, and her left hand was transparent. Her clothing was all black and elegantly draped. The two looked at each other, their expressions impossible to read.
“I didn’t want this meeting,” the exotic woman said in a strange accent. This was not a good start, Jeanette thought. “But I was dismayed when your ship was destroyed, and I am relieved to see you and your young ones safe.”
“While I have spent my life building the life I wanted, far away from--well, for lack of a better term, him. And yet here we are.”
The angel, whom everyone had ignored, asked, “and what is the life you wanted?”
“That’s easy,” said Captain Odile. “I want a deck under my feet, a universe before me, and one hand raised high in the dark.”
She turned to Jeanette. “Your quest and your fight, Jeanette, though not mine at the beginning, is as great a life as I can want. I run away from a lot of things, but not from that. Not from you.”
“My old friend tells me that this ship is now needed for your great purpose, Jeanette. Though I’ve followed you across many universes and seen your many trials, your fight isn’t mine. I’ve seen what I need to see.”
“Get to the point,” said Walther, smiling.
“For this purpose, the Ark of Infinity needs a new captain, Ngozi Makena Odile. I turn her over to you.”
The Pirate Queen’s eyes opened wide. She walked forward and looked down at the enormous bridge.
“I’m willing to stay on for a while as your executive officer,” the jeweled woman said. “The ship has a few peculiarities.”
“Of course. I’ll be glad to have you,” Ngozi said, without looking up.
“Thank you, River Daughter,” The angel said.
“Once she had made her way to you, my purpose was accomplished. Think nothing of it, my friend.”
“Well, all that’s necessary is to bring the little ones aboard,” Walther said.
“Are you kidding? They’ve been running around the ship ever since it left neutrino mode. And they hauled the lynx on board with them,” said River Daughter.
“Then--take her out, Captain,” the angel said.
Ngozi walked out over the curved bridge to the platform, looking neither right nor left. Once in front of the wheel, she grabbed hold of it with one hand, thrust the other straight overhead, and the map began to move.
Jeanette walked down one of the corridors with Walther. The biggest vehicle (at least on the inside) that she had experienced was the Last Train Out, and though this was more austere and less ornamental, this had it beat.
“For all its size, this is just as easily controllable as the Paradox Swan was,” the angel said. “The only essential operating crew is the Engine, and he’s not even vaguely human, and a methane-breather besides. He has stories, however.”
Jeanette stopped to look at a column. “That’s not the hull material you’re used to. If you look at it closely, you’ll see it shimmers a little. The physics witticism is that the material is quite literally strange--but I don’t expect your father taught you much particle physics.”
“He’s a chemist,” she said, being emphatic in the use of the present tense.
“Absolutely. Here’s your cabin,” Walther said, as the door dissolved.
“This is silly. I could play soccer in this,” she said.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“You really are letting those white gloves go to your head.”
“Sleep tight. You haven’t really broken in a new incarnation until you’ve had a sleep with dreams. So have pleasant ones.”
Two ship’s days later, the Ark entered orbit around what Jeanette had dubbed the Drownrd World. There were in fact continents, but they were small and flat. There were also a couple of continent-sized mats of floating plants, but the area they were focused on was open sea with the ruins of cities poking their highest spires out of the vast ocean.
“They all look the same,” Jeanette complained. “How will we find the island where we fought the monster?”
“A couple more polar orbits and we’ll have a detailed map,” said Diotima Gearhart, already comfortable in front of one of the bridge consoles. “Finding the profile of an old Gateway should be easy, but it seems there are about a dozen of them. This must have been quite a nexus.”
About fifteen minutes later, Jeanette pointed. It has to be that one--a tiny island right next to a sunken Gateway. Only,” she said unhappily, “no animal life and no dead body.”
“It’s all of three days, by my estimate, since your fight. That’s as close as we can come without paradox.”
“There’s life in the tower-tops where the gateway was,” Jeanette said. “He could have made it there.”
“Or been carried,” said Captain Odile, who had joined them.
“I’m going down there,” Jeanette said, touching the console.
“Oh no you’re--” said Ngozi, but Jeanette had vanished.