Jeanette, especially after her strange philosophical discussion with Tchulik Vakayaga Chresti, had started thinking of him as not quite physical, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him chow down at the mess table with enthusiasm. “I was worried,” as the second course plates descended into the table surface and the third course arose fragrantly, “that embarking on a noble quest to save cosmic infinity would involve some dietary restrictions or other. I’m glad to be proven wrong.”
“With Senhor Capoeira Capybara responsible for stocking the larder, there’s small chance of that,” Dr. Ransom said.
“Asceticism and heroism are two entirely different things,” said the capybara.
Over dessert, Lieutenant Quintus Octavian asked, “How will we know when we’ve entered the Wild Reach?”
“It’s difficult to say what it will feel like, but I expect it will be obvious,” said the captain. From the map you plundered, there’s what has been called a homology chain across the frontier. I’ve never crossed one myself, but it was covered in my training back when the stars were young. It’s kind of a pleat in hyperspace/hypertime, and there are only a few trajectories that will keep you from becoming a single large subatomic particle. Fortunately there’s a well-documented path on your map.”
At the end of the meal, Dr. Ransom said, “Well, Captain Chresti, you’ve had a chance to inspect the Wooden Shoe in detail now. What do you think? Any questions? Comments?”
“For all that she’s a converted warship, she’s a supple ship” responds well, doesn’t take excessive energy to make close adjustments. Not a fleet ship, and that’s all to the good. And almost too well equipped. That’s no complaint by any means. I do wonder at that monster of a neutrino detector in the hull. More money than the ship itself.”
“It was nearly that,” Ransom responded.
“There’s a story behind that, then. Tell me about it in your own time. But a Narnia--that’s usually only on a core-diver, and they’re about ten times the size of the Shoe.”
“A what?” Jennifer was awake and wide-eyed.
“Neutrino-Antineutrino Resonance Normative Interferometric Apparatus. Top oof the line where there almost isn’t a line. My guess is it’s for when we cross into the Wild Reach, so I won’t press you yet.”
“It is complicated,” said Senhor Capoeira.
Jeanette had to figure that it was just a coincidence of the translating functions of her gloves, since none of that was in English, but It launched a whole tornado of thoughts in her. She got up, asked to be excused, and went back to her cabin.
Narnia meant The Voyage of The Dawn Treader, which she’d found torn into scattered pages in Haven, collected from a wrecked ship on its mountain. And it was also, in one of those things like knots that happened in time travel stories, the book she gave to Jennifer Random Transcendent, a young woman who might be an older version of her--and who piloted the ship that was that same wrecked ship. It all made her head hurt again as bad as it had then.
But Jennifer’s ship had been wrecked for sailing too close to the Edge of Everything--which was where they were headed now.
It made her feel trapped--not in a prison but in a puzzle. It was a very peculiar kind of bad she was feeling: she didn’t want to go to her father, because that would mean explaining it all again--and she did’t want to read a book, because that was all part of it--and she was full from dinner.
She pulled her backpack from a cabinet and rummaged around in it. She found her phone, and, thanks to a long-ago miracle, it still had a charge. She swiped through it once she found just the thing to stop her thinking, though this was the first time she thought of it that way.
She got into her pajamas and into bed, and played Tetris until she was tired enough to go to sleep.
The next morning (ship’s time) she went down to the hold with her father to look at the big machine, and sure enough, its title was all in an unknown alphabet. Dada told her about the adventuresome deal he, the Queen of Hearts, and Sailor Treelithe had made to get hold of the machine at a bargain price--and then blew all the money on 4D shipping which had the device show up before they had bought it. He thought it was funny, and laughed, and even though she was very much not in the mood for funny time travel, she smiled because he was her Dada.
She went up to the bridge and sat next to Captain Tchulik, who was nowhere near as busy as when he was going through Big Planet’s magnetic storm. After a while, she asked him, “Captain, just how old are you?”
He shifted his shoulders, and his feathers bloomed out, which might have meant that she had irritated him, but then he said in a calm and maybe indulgent voice, “Now Jeanette, if you’ve done any Hyperspace travel at all, you’ll know that that question doesn’t really have any meaning. I’ll bet you yourself have been hundreds of years into the future and into the past, and zipped along so that time ran past at a ferocious pace around you. It has for me. What brought you to ask me?”
Yep, he’d been irritated, but just a little, so she went on. “It’s because of your eyes, Captain. They kinda sorta remind me of the Pilgrims, and I wondered if you were somehow related to them--if you were old enough to be.”
He turned those owl-eyes on her, now. “You know, little Jeanette Ransom, that only one other person has asked me that in all my years. So you’ve travelled far enough back to have actually seen, and even met, the Pilgrims?”
“Well, the answer is no, not to my knowledge. My home planet was a very unpromising and unvenerable place, with few magics and few mysteries, which was why I jumped starwards when I was only a bit older than you. But seen the Pilgrims! That, as they say, is something!”
“It’s why I wondered.”
The Captain patted her on the head. “You folks have got some stories indeed. I hope we don’t get too busy to share them.”
It was two ship’s days later that the captain called all the travelers up to the bridge. “We’re still a couple of hundred thousand light-years away, but that’s something that’s not on your map.”
“What is it?” Asked the Lieutenant. “It looks like a big gaseous nebula.”
“I’m afraid it’s worse than that. What you’re looking at is a big old spiral galaxy being torn to pieces, star by star, by the homology chain at the pleat of the Wild Reach. And the only way in is right through it.”
“My philosophical position is that it’s been good enough to have seen this, and wake up back on a slab, rebooted from my last back-up. But you folks might want to reassess whether you want to die or not.”