One hundred seventy-one

One hundred seventy-one

“It’s clear they’ve been just shooting energy weapons at the thing. That explains the increase in size,” said Lord Elphinstone.

“Do we have projectiles on this thing?” Jeanette asked, as they flew towards the monster.

“Let me see--yes we do. Moreover it looks like they’re tipped with some sort of antimatter. Very nice. And we have side-ports in addition to the front gun--even better.”

The ships from the city--both half-cities--Pulled away when they showed up, which was just as well. The thing was intelligent enough not to be distracted by their ineffective attacks. The question was, would they be any better?

“Jeanette, I want you to bring us very close to our friend--reach out and touch distance if you can. We’ve never got a nice close look at its insides.”

“I can do it.”

She had played with Wynken Blynken and Nod on the external bridge of the Paradox Swan--and they had corrected her enough so that she felt confident now. It wasn’t precisely the same--there were pedals at her feed that she wasn’t sure what they did--but since she had watched her own beloved Pirate Queen in action, she felt ready. And angry enough to dive right at the giant thing that had killed her father right before her eyes.

As she aimed for right next to the monster’s twisted lump of a head, she gave the left pedal a touch, and found that it tilted the ship, which was just what she needed. As she dove, she could see that the skin of the thing was constantly bubbling and swirling, which might have made her want to throw up under other circumstances, but now she was just burning.

She passed razor-close to the head, then whirled the wheel and pushed the pedals so that the ship veered away out of the reach of the thing’s arms. She pushed the engine telegraph back once they got away from its reach.

“Nicely done, Jeanette,” Lord Elphinstone said. “I did see something. At the center of that mass seems to be a thin sold core, solid black. I suspect that’s what allows it to move at all: the rest is chaos. We’ve blown huge chunks of it away before, and it just redistributes. If we can break those inner rods, we can cripple it, at least for a while.”

“So what do we do?”

“Raking fire.”

“Yes,” she said, with a grimness that had nothing of a little girl left in it.

As they came about, Jeanette heard the tiger grunt angrily. “What?”

“I was hoping I could front-load the antimatter into greater concentrations, but no luck.”

“Would have been nice.”

Jeanette turned the ship down at a steeper angle, aiming towards the legs, when the creature did something unnerving and disgusting: it changed its joints. It looked like it had broken its arms and legs, and for all its chaotic pulsing body, it was that that revolted her.

But only for a moment. So its back had become its front? Big deal. She wasn’t aiming for its spine anyway.

She pulled the ship up at the last minute, bringing it at a straight angle across its body. Ports opened up on the side of the ship. And a ladder of projectiles roared out, smashing the rods of it pelvis, the center of its chest, and its arm.

The monster crumpled.

“Once more! Overhead!” Silvertyger roared.

She came about tightly, made a pass over the jutting boiling mass. She felt a thump.

“What was that?” She shouted.

“Jettisoned the whole ordnance storage! Run like hell!”

Since she was already doing flank speed, there was little she could do but steer for the hole they’d blown in the City of Amblioconchordis’s base wall.

“Can we stop and get through the portal in time?” Jeanette shouted.

“We got to Rhea’s World in a ship, we can do it now!”

Since the alternative was going through a multi-megaton antimatter explosion, she shrugged and came roaring into the now-empty weapons bay, blew a hole in the wall, and ran for the doorway with the Decision Tree on it.

They went through--

--into water.

Jeanette got caught completely unawares: the air was now water, and she swallowed a great gulp of it: it was salt, and her chest burned. She straightened herself and pulled back on the wheel but couldn’t do it all the way.

It took a minute for them to emerge into the air, and she found that they were in bright sunlight, running along over a dark blue ocean under a bright blue and white sky. She bent towards the wheel, vomited water, and started coughing savagely to expel the water from her lungs.

Her mouth was savagely foul; her coughs were more like convulsions, but she managed to raise her head and see that they were skimming over the vast sea emptiness with a small patch of white in the distance. She made the adjustment to put it directly in front of her.

Something huge, transparent, and glistening with water erupted in front of them, and the ship smashed into it.

She was tumbling end over end, and was being hit by sharp pieces of stuff. She lifted her hand to grad her necklace and turn on her force field, but a heavy chunk of something struck her arm, throwing it backward so that her shoulder burst with fiery pain.

She blacked out.

Her shoulder was still burning when she opened her eyes. She closed them again because they hurt so much, and she wanted very badly to slip back into darkness, but she opened them up again despite the pain.

She was lying on the white beach of an island, and so, alive. She was on the beach, surrounded by wreckage. She tried to get up and couldn’t. She looked down and saw that her body was pinned underneath a pick part of the ship.

She looked further around, and there was a splash.

The chaos monster arose from the ocean, walking towards her.


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