One hundred fifty-eight

One hundred fifty-eight

“It managed to follow us through a supposedly sealed portal,” said Lord Elphinstone. “I must confess that this doesn’t surprise me too much.”

“Nor the fact that it’s probably as tall as this tower now,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara. “I suppose we should be flattered.”

Jeanette turned away from the doorway, since she knew for certain that staring at the monster was not going to help her think. Grammar, with its moon Syntax, was one of the places she’d visited that she would have been happy spending a summer vacation in, and even after a thousand years or maybe even five, it was still a beautiful place. More so, if you wanted to know the truth.

Of course, what they needed now was power. She’d read or watched more than one thing about beings advancing so much they left their bodies behind, so it wasn’t stupid to think they might have left something important behind, or to look for it.

She saw Gad crawling around on the floor by the empty bookcase. “Find anything?” She asked.

“There isn’t much to eat,” the silvery high voice of the beetle came over her bracelets. “It’s too clean.”

“Listen,” Jeanette said. “You should really think about just going off and leaving us. We might die here,” (and soon, she added to herself), “and there’s a whole big beautiful world  to explore.”

“But there’d be no one to talk to. I like talking to you very much. And I’ve lived a good long life. I don’t mind dying with you.”

“Long life?” She had naturally assumed Gad, with her simple phrasing, to be something like a child.

“I’ve lived more than four hundred--”

“Four hundred?”

“--days. It’s been good.”

Tears started in the corner of her eyes. “Oh, Gad--” She wiped it with her sleeve. “No, we’ve got to give you more than that.”

She looked up at all the empty bookshelves. She remembered that she had a couple of books from them. One of them--what was its name? She took her backpack off quickly and opened it. She had so many books now, and she hadn’t read any of them. She felt a twinge of guilt that had nothing to do with monsters or beetles or anything.

There it was: A Field Guide To Our Twilight. There might be secrets there to the orbital particle accelerator, or something even better, but it was a book: no way to pull the secrets out but by reading one word after another. And there was no time.

Jeanette took out the case of chalks and started drawing a big black shape on a wall, and the small white target in the middle of it--then she stopped. She didn’t want the thing shattering the castle to get at the portal, so she she rubbed at it--it came off readily--and she went out the other door to the outbuildings.

They were roofless and doorless now with only the stone walls remaining, and hills of vegetation where there had been a dirt floor. But there were shining rakes and shovels that looked brand new--and in the corner a jumble of rods and thin plates. Her mood lightened (which wasn’t hard) and she yelled out “GUYS! OVER HERE!”

All of them recognized it for what it was, and immediately set about uncollapsing it effortlessly (where she would have struggled with one plate. “Well, there’s that, anyway,” said Senhor Capoeira, looking at a flying platform of the sort they had used in the search for a portal out of Grammar. “Bets on whether she starts?” He said, clambering aboard and grabbing the rail.

“No takers,” said Lord Elphinstone, and sure enough it lifted off the ground smoothly and silently.

“Guys,” Jeanette said, “We have to go, if only not to destroy this beautiful place. Even if its just finding a better place to die, we should leave.”

“Agreed,” rumbled Silvertyger.

“The only thing is, I can’t think of any more places,” she said. She added,”definitely no places with access to power or anything, either.”

“I know a place, I think,” O Tse said. “It was one of the worlds Parvati guided us through on the way to the Night Land.”

Jeanette sketched out a black area and a white target area again on the rough wall. She handed the purple chalk to O Tse. Even though it looked tiny in the Weasel-Bear’s enormous paw, his rough finger pads held it with precision, and he sketched out a few lines. Jeanette finished up with a Decision Tree, they jumped aboard the platform, with Gad on Jeanette’s shoulders, and plunged into the portal.

They emerged to a gray day with whistling wind, though the wind was warm. They were on a steep narrow headland rising up before them, with dizzying canyons--fjords--on either side, and in front of them, a white-capped sea.

There was a jumble of stone at the very tip of the headland, and O Tse guided them to it. In the tall but sparse grass Jeanette could see broken swords and shields. Many of the swords may have been thrust blade first into the hard ground, but they had all fallen, some bringing up divots of earth.

“Look down there,” O Tse, pointing down to the fjord to their right. The turbulent sea seemed to increase in energy as it crashed into the mountainous sea-walls, throwing up geysers of spray. When it did so, it revealed a huge wheel-shape, like a good-size space station or enormous ship that rotated for artificial gravity. When the spray and water ran down, there was nothing again.

“No idea,” said O Tse in advance.

When they reached the tip, the building was squat and massive, with nearly meter-thick walls revealed by deep embrasures. The base was blackened, it seemed, by fire, but it was still intact.

“Only one approach on land, and a narrow one, and a perilous air attack with these winds,” Silvertyger rumbled. “It will do. We will sell our lives dearly, at the very least.”

“And there’s that space station,” said the capybara. “Well done, my friend.”

They entered via a heavy stone door that took both the tiger and the weasel-bear to close.. The keep smelled of the sea and nothing else. There was very little to inspect: no weapons or stores, no furniture except for stone benches, fire-pits scattered by the battlements.

Jeanette and Gad went into one narrow room lit by one gray embrasure. She sat down on the bench to wait.

“One more day,” she said to the beetle, touching its wing.



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