One hundred fifty-three

One hundred fifty-three

Her weight was gone from Jeanette’s arms. It was not that she couldn’t believe it, since she immediately concluded that the Queen of Hearts had expended too much energy in their defense--including the energy she had been using to keep her incarnate, throwing her back to to the unknown planet of which she was the spirit.

But she was gone: the warm magnificent presence that she had leaned on--the way she leaned on everybody.

She looked at the ground. There were two white gloves--the two she had given her to confirm her existence as a toon, and a gleaming red stone. While it was without a doubt the world-jewel of that world, it was now no bigger than a jelly bean, and duller than before. It confirmed everything she had thought: she must have drained that world of energy to wipe out echelon after echelon of Deep Chaos ships, maybe to the point of putting that world many universes away in peril.

But there was no time for any of this: she got up, stuffing the items in her pocket. Her weapon had vanished when she dropped it to catch the Queen, so he violated the sixth wall to get a similar one.

The black crescent ships were no longer advancing in rows through the smoke-striped sky, but scattered all over and spiraling around their position. “We have a few minutes,” Dr. Ransom said, “before they figure out that we are neither tricking them nor reloading our big gun, but that that was all we had. The Queen did succeed in destroying, by what I can see, well over half their current force. Still…”

“We might be in a position to find out whether the immunity of the Ghost City is just an old spooky legend,” Senhor Capoeira Capybara said grimly.

Jeanette thumbed her chapstick-sized device that connected her projector to the power bank, and hoped that that would be the end of the assessments, since none of this looked at all good. At least the Queen’s attack had shown that the enemy’s ships were far from indestructible.

A couple of the ships broke out of the spiral formation, and cane straight over them. “Hold fire,” Lord Elphinstone said. The ships passed over at a considerable height and then rejoined the spiral. “Hit the next foray, and hit it hard,” he counseled.

The next overflight was at a lower altitude, and they waited until the ships were nearly overhead. One of their beams hit a ship dead center and it exploded. The other ships tried to bank away, but Jeanette got one of them and blew it up. The other ones were destroyed as well. The next foray came in a more scattered configuration, but they got them as well.

“It may not be anything as obvious as a force shield, but we may be in luck,” Ransom said. “I can’t imagine them not firing back, and yet they’re not. Either they can’t fire at all above us, or their beams vanish before they hit us.”

“It would seem so,” said the tiger. “Now is the time to start firing at the more distant ships. Do not let up: you have plenty of energy.”

And so they did. Jeanette thought, and not for the first time, that a little suburban girl not yet in middle school had much better first-person-shooting skills than was really right; and Frank or Alfredo would be clearing these skies like a boss.

But still, she thought, what chance did they have? Even though she had tried to keep expectations vague, she thought the final battle would be alongside an army of her fellow toons--not just a couple up against a fleet. But that’s what it might be if that army were, in fact, gone. Seven hundred years was what the Cowards said.

While her chest began to hollow out--Your Majesty! Captain Odile! Grandmère Hutan!--She kept firing--and hitting. Was she scared? Of course she was scared. Was she sad? Or, what was that word--despair? Well, yes, that too. But, she realized, not of dying--of losing. Still she kept racking up the points.

Her father was next to her, also pouring it on. “Remember, Jeanette--energy guns don’t have to be heavy to be powerful. With our banks as powerful as a whole star drive, your weapon and mine are fully the equivalent of the main guns on board the Wooden Shoe. Better, since they’re not firing back.” Then he moved away again.

I love you Dada, but there are still so many of them.

Then the whole world went white and the ground buckled.

Jeanette threw herself to the ground and instantly hit her force field jewel. Then she turned it off and scrambled on her belly to where the others were. Once she was among them, as the wind started to scream around them, she hit the jewel again.

She could feel dimly the shaking beneath her. It went on for minutes--maybe fifteen minutes, building and then slowly, slowly subsiding. “Let’s open it up,” her father said, “but be ready to close it again.”

She got to her feet and turned the shield off. Immediately she got hit by a high wind filled with dust, and the wind was hot. She rubbed her eyes and spit out of her mouth.

In the distance, maybe even below the horizon, a giant mushroom cloud arose.

Her father’s phone rang.

Well, no, not his phone, which was back either on Earth or the planet of the vampire pteranodons, but the device the Cowards had given him. It still rang, and he touched the screen.

The synthetic Siri-like voice they’d heard in the pavilion said, “Hello, administrators. We have been following your fight, but there are few installations near you, and we had our own problems. We finally shut down the barriers in the planetary power plant, which is powered by ten metric tons of antimatter. You are about 1200 kilometers from the resultant annihilation, but we still recommend treatment for radiation poisoning. This will be our last communication to you--or in general.”

“Excelsior,” the voice said, and then the connection went down.

As the smoke of the mushroom cloud (1200 kilometers!) Rose to meet the the smoke of the fallen space stations, they looked around. There were no ships in the sky, and across the landscape, ships were littered.

“The shock wave must have thrown them around like toys,” Silvertyger Elphinstone said.  “Anything in the air,” croaked O Tse.

But as they looked at the scene of flipped and upended black crescent ships, they could see a dusting of black shames emerging from the wrecks.

“It’s not over yet,” said Terence Ransom. “Here they come.”


next chapter