The figure on the floor of the coffee shop continued to bloat and lose shape, And Lord Elphinstone and O Tse stood close by the other travelers. “We should leave this place. Bailiffs have been called. That will do us no good.”
The Lieutenant sat down on his haunches, tipped over, and said. “You. Ghost. Promise to behave yourself?” The thing emitted an anguished burble, as its mouth seemed to have spread across half its body. “Judging from the emotional content, I’ll take that as a yes. Jeanette! Can you call off the lynx?”
Jeanette, wide-eyed and speechless, shook her head. Senhor Capoeira Capybara issued a piercing whistle through his incisors, which seemed to do the trick: the clockwork lynx retracted its claws and took a few cautious steps back.
“Quickly, now,” said Silvertyger. The ghost was now in a sort of four-legged shape, and managed a scuttle as they went out the front door. The Queen of Hearts tossed a ring from one of her fingers to the petrified barista.
“You’ll run out of rings at this rate,” said the Capybara as they hurried down a tunnel and ducked into another one.
“I will not,” responded the Queen.
After they put some distance between them and the coffee shop and, hopefully, the oncoming bailiffs, they paused at a curve of a relatively untenanted tunnel. The ghost started to resume a human form. Dr. Ransom, looking at his device, said, “using your change from the dancehall I’ve managed to rent us a hiding place. It says something about this port that someone can advertise openly a shielded space to hide from the law. But it also gave me a map, which I’ve wanted since we got here.” He pointed a finger and headed out.
The Queen of Hearts dropped back a little, taking Jeanette with her until they might have been out of their captive’s earshot. “That was quite a bit of fortune, you shouting out ‘Ghosts!’ When you did. Did you sense something?”
“No,” answered Jeanette. “When I saw that you were trying to come up with something to tell him, and didn’t really have anything…”
“You were quite right,” smiled the Queen.
"… I remembered from the book that that’s what The Captain had to sell hen she met the King, so I thought it would be a good thing to offer. What happened was just luck.”
“Maybe,” the Queen said.
“Well, yes, you’re right. Maybe.” Jeanette said unhappily.
The Queen bent closer. “I don’t mean mystic vision, although that’s possible too. There might be a causal connection.”
They walked along, Jeanette still unhappy, until she said, “Oh! I get it! Something like a Ghost Trade!”
Jeanette bowed her head. “I really wish I’d had a chance to finish that book.”
Finally they were in a relatively doorless section of a tunnel. “There really is no organizational structure to this entire city. None of these passages have names or even numbers. But this should be the place,” Dr. Ransom muttered. He waited as two pressure-suited figures moved out of sight, and then rotated 360 degrees, holding up the device. When he had done so, one of the doors opened up. It had bright advertising.
“Rather lazier than an invisible door, but I suppose it works,” said the capybara.
Inside there was no pretense of it being a shop. It was ugly but not Spartan. Padded chairs and a sofa, a number of cabinets, and something that looked to Jeanette like a dentist’s chair that she guessed might have been for medical treatment. None of the furniture seemed to be fore beings the size of Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone or O Tse, but that didn’t bother them. There were no beds, but there was a piled up bunch of rolls in a corner that might be sleeping bags.
They arranged chairs in a circle around the ghost. The clockwork lynx was right at its feet. By unspoken agreement Lieutenant Quintus Octavian took point on the interrogation, seeing as how he was in uniform and had that ramrod military bearing as part of his arsenal.
“Right. This is very simple. We just want some information. Pretty basic stuff, really. Supply it snd we let you go. Don’t and we end you. As I said, simple. Let’s start with who you work for.”
“I work for the man who, at this moment, is the most powerful boss on this world. His name is Mad John Iqalummiaq. The ‘Mad’ part is official. He likes it. And to save time, I’m one of the reasons he stays on top. Ghosts--the AI sort, of which I’m one--are under ban by the Kirk, and there aren’t supposed to be any of us on the Moon of the Moon. He’s bought some pretty heavy disguise technology, so casual contact doesn’t give us away--but we can go anywhere, bust out any secrets, even cause a stroke or two if conditions are right. If the truth were to be found out, his hegemony would be over within days. We’re not liked, you see.”
“Now that’s very interesting,” said the Lieutenant. (He had a note in his hand written by Jeanette, passed during the Ghost’s monologue.) “Since we’re strangers here, would you mind telling us just how you came to be so disliked? What sort of, shall we call it, feckless disaster did you perpetrate?”
At the words feckless disaster, the ghost, who had been slouching and making the occasional hand gesture, went rigid, and it seemed like he was about to change shape again. When he managed to speak, his voice was a cracked shriek.
“You’re HER friends! I knew this had to happen some day! I told him and told him to prepare, but all the fool would say is that HE was gone where no one could follow, and SHE was never coming back, and he sat there with his thumb up his ass, and here you are! Well all I can tell you is that you’ll never take him! He’ll throw this whole snowball into the Big Planet sooner than let you get your hands on him, because he knows what he did, to her and to him, but especially to her, and he’s not the sort that would face judgement on that! ”
Jeanette sat there electrified. In the past day or two, she had gone from seeing her Pirate Queen of the Night as a swashbuckling role model to a devious figure to a possible traitor and enemy--but now this? What on earth was this?
The ghost really had distorted now, his mouth distorting into a howling scream as big as the room, and it started to flow upwards. The lynx bared its metal talons, and energy crackling from them leapt up and onto its hunched mack. It dug in deep, but instead of collapsing as it had done before, the ghost flared up in a dirty light and burst into vanishing swirls with a sobbing scream of pure terror.
Jeanette still looked up at the dirty ceiling, still hearing that scream.
What was in that book?