One hundred fifty-two

One hundred fifty-two

Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone immediately turned to Captain Tchuik Chresti and said “you must take the ship and leave now. Drop a few power packs as you lift off and warp out as soon as you leave the ground. Now.”


“War has come to us. The war we sought. Your job is done, and you can believe me that you do not want to see what happens next. Return to the Asteroids of the Cowards and let them know the time they’ve feared has come. And take the Lieutenant with you.”

“NO!” Quintus Octavian shouted. “My place is here! With you!”

“It is not,” The Queen of Hearts said firmly. “You don’t wear the gloves; you did not go through the Exile. Find your own battle, not ours. Yours may come soon enough.”

While she was speaking, O Tse moved behind the lieutenant, and was about to bring a massive paw down on the back of his head, but Quintus moved with surprising speed and turned on them. “No you don’t! Don’t tell me my place isn’t here, when it’s nowhere else!”

Jeanette, who was watching this play out with increasing agitation, finally burst out in a tearful voice, “QUINTUS! DON’T MAKE ME WATCH YOU DIE!”

“Don’t make me watch you die…” she repeated.

Lieutenant Octavian looked at her, astonished, Then he went over to her, bent over and kissed her on the top of her head. Then he turned and ran at top speed for the Wooden Shoe.

The crows flew with him. Jeanette wondered if Thyrsis or Antithyrsis would say anything as they left, but they didn’t.

“Everybody to me,” Jeanette said, trying to bring her voice under control. They did so, crowding around her, and she pressed the jewel that activated the physical force shield. The opaque barrier formed just in time for them to feel the ground shake under them as the starship warped itself and  many cubic meters of atmosphere out as far into hyperspace as they could go.

The shield came down, and they saw that the Captain had left a couple of refrigerator sized power banks, a  couple of cases of provisions, and the weak-force detector. It was a very small probability that they would have a chance to find out anything more about the Ghost City they were currently standing in, but it wasn’t zero. In the sky above them, though, some of the  white meteoric streaks were beginning to turn red and grow in size, as the orbital stations began to burn and come apart in the atmosphere.

Dr. Ransom ran over to the cargo, spent a minute in front of each of them, and then hurried back. “I really doubt that any weapon we pull out from beyond the sixth wall will last very long against the enemy--at least on its own. But those power banks have the power of a full star drive each, and that may give us enough additional punch, at least to make a difference. Here, take these.” And he gave a small chapstick-sized device to everyone but Lord Elphinstone.

Jeanette walked over to the Queen of Hearts, stood very close, and gave her something. The Queen looked down in her hand to see a gleaming red stone. “My world jewel,” she said with faint surprise. “I see your thinking in this, my dear, and yes, it makes sense. It is the power of an entire world--my world. Who better to wield it?” And she smiled at her that cut through the dread and the fear and made her smile back.

“One more thing,” said Dr. Ransom. He got up from his knees. He had the pack of chalks in his hand. “I’ve drawn a portal, with everything except the destination symbol and the Decision Tree symbol.  If and when there’s no other option, draw it and escape to somewhere relatively safe: Avalon, or even Grammar, which is well defended.” He closed the case, and handed it to Jeanette.

Jeanette pushed it away, shaking her head angrily, eyes down. “No, no, no. Dada. No. I’m not going to leave you behind. Never never never.”

“Jeanette Ransom, when all’s lost--when I’m dead, and don’t think it can’t happen--you will escape, and you will stay alive. I’m your father: promise me you will.”

There seemed to be a power behind his words that prevented her from even thinking about refusing. “I promise, Dada.”

“That’s my girl,” His voice trembled, and she didn’t think she could stand it.

“We have visual.” Said Lord Elphinstone.

Against the sky that was now stained with flame and smoke, there was a broad line of black ships. It stretched across the sky, maybe thousands of them, and as they drew closer, and they could be seen as dark crescents and not just dots, it could also be seen that there were rank upon rank behind it.

Jeanette reached back behind her and beyond the sixth wall, bulled out an extremely wicked-looking energy projector. She thumbed the chapstick case, and thought she could feel additional power flow into it. She saw her father and Senhor Capoeira Capybara do the same thing.

The broad carpet of black lunettes spread out over the sky, and a dull roar came from the distance. The Queen of Hearts stepped in front of the rest of them. Her hand glowing with red light.

She drew her hand across the sky in front of her, and, much as Jeanette had seen the Queen of Broceliande destroy an entire space fleet with one magical gesture, a line of explosion erupted from horizon to horizon. Hundreds of ships vanished into fireballs. Thunder filled the sky.

For a moment, all that could be seen was white light and roiling black smoke. Then another echelon of black ships came through the conflagration.

The Queen waited until the new line of ships cleared the smoke, then drew her hand back in the other direction, and another line of annihilation was drawn across  the sky. She threw her head back, and her hair flowed backwards, a banner of war beyond all others.

She did it a third time, and then a fourth. Finally she staggered backwards, stumbling slightly. Jeanette ran  up to hold her.

“That,” the Queen breathed heavily. “‘ll show them.” Then she slumped further downwards.

Looking with heavy-lidded eyes at Jeanette, the Queen said, “You’ll have to pardon me daughter, but I feel a little faint.”

And then, as she held her, Jeanette say the Queen become transparent. Jeanette shouted in protest and alarm.

Then she was gone.


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