One hundred sixty-two

One hundred sixty-two

They started an intense search of the water around the ruined space station, even as the water was turbulent and the wind chopped the waters surface. There were a large number of small invisible objects, and they laid them all onto a spread out blanket. They all looked up at where the bulk of the station would be if they could see it, and wondered what might be in it--but that would be for later, if at all.

They didn’t let Jeanette go in the water,, which was icy even though the winds were warm. The healing process that would pull 4/5ths of their matter out of another universe would cost her energy--and she was already bone-weary from exercising that power twice in two days. So she was relegated to picking her way up and down the narrow beach of the fjord. She fought the pout she could feel coming on.

Eventually they were coming up with no more large pieces. “I hate to say it, but I don’t think we’ve got any choice but to go back up to the fortress,” Senhor Capoeira Capybara said. “There’s scarcely a space to pitch a tent down here.”

“I agree,” said Lord Elphinstone. “This is also not a place to be at night, I think. A storm coming in at night would be dangerous, and a world that has such beings as the thundercloud jellyfish might have other surprises.”

“It’s such a dreary place, though,” the capybara said, and found no one disagreeing with him.

The platform took them up and back quickly, and it was late afternoon by the time they were back in the rough and barren fortress. The others let Jeanette decide the schedule, and she figured  that she would heal the objects she could, then they’d all have dinner and a good sleep. Senhor Capoeira insisted on some refreshments before hand, and set out a generous spread of appetizers from his dimensionally enhanced wallet.

Jeanette thought she recognized some tidbits from back as far as the Moon of the Moon, and Senhor Capoeira said smilingly, “That’s why it’s good to have a pocket in which time simply doesn’t exist. No need to worry about freshness, my dear.”

As they ate, O Tse said, “At least part of the story seems to be clear. These were our people, and they were on their way to the Edge of Everything, or at least Clerestory. They wouldn’t have the Nemesis Gloves otherwise.”

The capybara nodded. “It also seemed that there was at one time a way to the Wild Reach that wasn’t through the passage we took, but was done by the Decision Tree Portals, though on a scale we haven’t encountered.”

“And it’s a way that hasn’t been in use for a very long time. Shut by the Enemy, perhaps in a battle that we’ve been picking through the debris of,” the capybara said.

“Our jellyfish may have been the custodians of the portal, or something,” contributed Jeanette eagerly. “Probably not the crew of the ship, but it’s not impossible. But the big portal might mean we could get to our forces at the Edge right from here!”

“It might be a dangerous route that Deep Chaos still watches,” said Lord Elphinstone. “WE must be wary of getting our hopes up.”

Still, Jeanette thought, it’s a whole lot better than getting ready to die, being cornered by the monster. I’ll take some raised hopes any day.

The meal over (and a pile of scraps laid in a corner for Gad, since she seemed to like it that way), they sat on the stone floor in front of the open blanket. O Tse picked out the largest object by touch, and they laid their hands on her shoulders and back. She touched the healing jewel and the invisible mass.

She felt cold sweep through her, and a little bit faint, but something appeared in front of her.

“It’s--a module of something,” the capybara said, disappointment in his voice. “It’s got input ports and output ports, and a touchscreen of some kind. And some markings. None of which helps us a whole lot.”

“No sense dwelling on it. Let’s move on to the next as soon as you’re ready, Jeanette,” Silvertyger said.

She did have to take a break. She drank some odd sort of lemonade, that she had had before but couldn’t say where.

For the next few hours, as evening came on, Jeanette got more and more frustrated: a hinged lid; a broken slab of hull material; another featureless module; and round-cornered cube that was firm when it sat there but was easily deformed when you held it in your hand. It might have been no more than a toy, or something more, but it was impossible to tell.

The most identifiable thing was a pair of goggles, too big for her, but fitting O Tse well. They were simply opaque, however.

That’s it for today, I’m afraid,” she said, almost dizzy with weariness. They broke and Senhor Capoeira produced another meal, mainly hot sandwiches and a variety of sweet fruits. The combination was deadly, and she literally crawled over to her blankets and was immediately asleep.

She had a dream: she was walking along the edge of a lake, and there was someone of something sitting at the edge of it. She looked down and saw that the sand was all made of jewels.

She didn’t get up until late in the morning, but she felt refreshed. She immediately went over to the blanket, and scooped up a small handful of the smallest invisible pieces. She waited until the others came to her, and healed the handful all at once.

Most of them were dull chunks, but there were two--one milky-white, and one cool emerald green. She gave them to Senhor Capoeira Capybara, who dug into his wallet, and pulled out some others of the same size and shape. “Not much doubt about it: they're world-jewels.”

The third thing she closed her hand tightly upon and said nothing about: it was a tiny key. She had an identical one on a chain around her neck. It was a key to the Infinite Library.

Although she was once again tired, she said, “We have got to get a look at that part of the mountain wall.” Again, nobody objected.

This time they took a different path, out over the ocean and swinging back inwards. They got a glimpse of the larger landscape: a majestic range of mountains diving deep into the white-capped water. But as they steered back to their mountain, Jeanette thought she could see it. It was only a subtle difference in the color or roughness of the stone, and jagged and jumbled where the ship had hit. But it was unmistakeably to her, an enormous outline of the Decision Tree.

“Move in closer,” she said, and O Tse, who was at the controls, brought the platform in. She could see the difference in the grain of the stone, at a different angle from its surroundings, and she wondered whether there was a light coming from it--

--when she was hurtling off the platform towards the sea. Blackness overtook her, and she knew no more.



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