One of the guards that had boarded the Wooden Shoe was now piloting the ship back to the station. The other three, in their hard-case vacuum suits, had deliberately leant their weapons on the bridge bulkheads and were looking very uncomfortable indeed.
“This arrest thing just doesn’t make any sense,” Terence Ransom said. “And I mean really doesn’t make any sense. The Kirk--the whole Moon of the Moon station--has no jurisdiction out here! And if they discovered that we violated some law or other ex post facto, Why didn’t they let us blow up--or, lacking that, let us go? No, there was something funny about Sailor’s demeanor.”
Senhor Capoeira Capybara nodded. “Consider his phrasing: ‘You must consider yourself under arrest.’ That’s not the same as ‘You’re under arrest.’ But I will confess that while I’ve become better at reading Yahoo facial expressions, I’m still inexpert at other non-rodents. My Lord Elphinstone? What do you make of it?”
Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone said, a bit stiffly, “I’m forced to point out that Sailor Treelithe is not my species, but I think I can tell you, that, as a being of courage and strong moral convictions . He seems less worried about doing something he considers wrong, and more about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.”
“I’m sorry, milord: I meant no disrespect,” the capybara said sincerely.
“I took no offense, Senhor. I would be tempted to over-generalize about very large rodents--if I knew more than one.” And there was a faint smile on the tiger’s face.
When they docked at the Moon of the Moon, there was no angry mob, but there was Sailor Treelithe with a small heterogeneous group of beings, all bearing weapons. The pilot opened the hatch, and the panther walked in, telling the guards and the pilotthey could go. He himself was unarmed.
“I do apologize for this strange and misleading procedure, but we are facing a crisis that surfaced right after your departure--and possibly caused by it. We need your help, but as the provisional government of this station, we could not request it or hire it--not publicly--and so we used the only well-defined authority the Kirk possesses: law enforcement, specifically deadbeats skipping out on debt. Fortunately we don’t have to charge you to retrieve you.”
“That is a relief,” said Dr. Ransom, “but what’s the danger?”
“It’s very simple,” said the panther. “Ghosts. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands of them. Showing up about the same time your bomb was announced. Without a doubt, this is a dead man’s revenge from Mad John Iqalummiaq. They seem to have been released from tiny caches all over the station, planted over the years of his dominance. And while it’s perfectly true that they are really only AIs lodged in energy matrices, they are feeding on enough power to injure and kill. We’ve had more than 50 fatalities.”
Lieutenant Octavian spoke up. “Pardon me for saying so, but this would seem an excellent time to take advantage of your new contact with Storisende. Not that we’re not willin g to hekp, of course..” he added.
“The Portal seems to have gone dead. That might be a coincidence, but it’s another reason to call you back,” said the Panther.
“And you’ve had no luck in locating the power source?” Dr. Ransom asked. “That would seem to be a way to shut them down systemically rather than one at a time.”
“Frankly, the Moon of the Moon is in such an energy rich environment that they could be feeding off anything. We’ve found no artificial source,” Sailor said.
It was Lord Elphinstone who said, “We’ll do what we can, to strike this last blow for the memory of our Pirate Queen of the Night. That is no guarantor of success, however.”
“It’s all I can ask for.”
The Queen of Hearts suggested that Jeanette accompany her. Terence would have preferred to team up with his daughter, but as per usual, he could not deny her a request. So they walked the narrow ice tunnels of the station, which had never been heavily traveled, but were now deserted.
“You have my memories,” Jeanette said to the Queen. “You know that Ambivalence Pugh and the other AIs were really pretty rational. There’s something wrong about them being all random and murdering people.”
It only took about ten minutes before Jeanette felt a hair-raising grab from behind. Despite being prepared for it, it was still terrifying. But instead of lurching away, she turned around and faced the green glowing face, which, though distorted, was just that of an ugly old man.
The unusual position made it harder for the glowing sword to be brought down on her, but Jeanette could feel the dangerous charge that could do something like stop her heart. But again unexpectedly, she pushed her hand into the green face until her bracelet was inside the energy matrix.
Why are you doing this? She thought.
Seeking an end to pain, the answer came.
What pain is that?
Stupid bitch, pain is pain.
Yeah, I guess. But why kill me?
Because Mad John promised us that if we killed his enemies, Deep Chaos would bring us an end to pain.
His enemies being everybody, then.
Pretty much, yeah.
Jeanette could feel the Queen’s hands on her shoulders. He pulled her hand that was not inside the ghost’s face to her own throat, which caused the ghost to shift towards her, but she touched the healing jewel on her necklace.
She immediately felt a horribly unpleasant combination of dizzying faintness and electric shock, but she kept her hand on the jewel. Power flowed into her of a different sort from the queen, and the AI started to heave and convulse--and then (not what she expected at all) it threw up on her.
It threw something up on her, at any rate, and then was gone. Thoroughly disoriented and disgusted, she felt, not some sort of foul fluid, but something tiny crawling over her face and down the back of her neck. That was almost too much for her, and she thrashed about, swatting and crying “Get away! Off me!”
But the Queen had it cupped in her hands, and Jeanette pulled herself together and looked.
Their eyes enlarged as one as they both realized she had seen it before. It was a tiny mechanical mantis, and she had seen it when she had stood before the Decision Tree itself, where it had flared up into ash when it got too close.
“So,” the Queen said, “a little agent of Deep Chaos itself. I wonder if Mad John knew what he had here?”
“Should I try to heal it?” Jeanette asked.
“No, I think my powers will deal with it and all its little fellows,” The Queen said. She held the tiny mantis in her palm and touched it with one scarlet nail.
“Scram,” she said.
And it seemed she could hear a sigh let loose throughout the whole moon.
They stood on the dock with Sailor Treelithe, and though there were only a few guards, it seemed a bit festive.
“I knew I could count on you,” he said.
“That’s the problem with contract work,” said the capybara. “Pull off a miracle and the client expects one every time.”
“So I take it we’re free to go?” Dr. Ransom said.
“No,” said the panther.