“--And it was smashed. Totally destroyed.” Jeanette finished speaking.
The panther-human, wearing a far more elaborate white gown than he had when they had first met, bowed his head. “After bringing you such a long way, and at such great risk...I grieve with you, Jeanette. I envy you in a way, since you shared your life with someone we only know as a legend--but that makes that death all the more burdensome.”
“At least, being here, I got to know more about who she was. That actually helps.”
They had stayed in far nicer accommodations than their hidey-hole after the banquet. The Flying Squad had returned to Storisende, and Jeanette had been the first volunteer to record her memories of Ngozi Makena Odile for the Kirk’s archives. It was long, but she got to tell some good stories. The only thing she left out was Ngozi’s story of her own birth, and her connection with the Library, because she didn’t think she could tell it right--or tell it at all.
The others, were busy getting a ship together, so she figured she saved them some time.
The one part Sailor Treelithe frowned over was the business of Jennifer Random Transcendent and her visit, and the stuff about the book about them.
“I had just assumed you talking about The King of the Moon of the Moon and the Queen of the Night as your favorite book was just a lie. Are you saying there’s more to it than that?” He asked.
“Oh no, I was just lying there, but there seem to be places where your life is a book of fiction. I don’t understand any of that myself--” she added quickly. (She had also left out anything about the Book of You--but that was it. Nothing else.)
The best place to watch the reconstruction and outfitting of the ship was from the Main Chapel of the Kirk. A drydock had been extruded and the ship--formerly a heavily armed blockade-runner with drives that made the Paradox Swan’s look delicate--was being rebuilt with a view towards antimatter resistance, and included a dedicated neutrino detector that had to be traded for. But the Kirk was contributing to the refit, and that went a long way on the Moon of the Moon.
The Queen of Hearts was gazing at the work on the ship, with Lieutenant Quintus Octavian standing a conspicuously respectful distance away. Jeanette came and stood close to her.
Without looking down, the Queen said, “You seem very unhappy, Jeanette.”
“I guess I am,” she mumbled.
“And it’s more than just talking about the Captain. Tell me why looking at the ship makes you unhappy.”
“OK,” Jeanette said, and then stopped. There was a kind of cold sickness in her stomach looking at the ship, but why, she didn’t know. The Queen put her hand on her shoulder, and she felt the warm strong silkiness of her side.
“I think…” she said, faltering again. “I’m wondering if we’re finally going to go into the big battle, and maybe find out the truth about me and Dada being toons--which I still don’t feel, and I know Dada doesn’t feel either. But, you know, we save the world--and I should want that, and I should want the answers, and maybe we’re going to get all that.”
“But--” and she found herself tearing up, and she didn’t want to, “--when I think of all the places we’ve been, and all the fighting and terrible things, and--and what I want, what I’d really rather have, is the cool and wonderful and good people I’ve met, and I’d rather have that than winning, or the truth.” She put her hand on top of the Queen’s..
In a voice that was almost a purr, the Queen said, “Most people in the reaches of cosmic infinity never get to make that choice, but if they did, so many of them would say the same thing--including a lot of the champions and heroes.”
“The Queen of Hearts,” she said, “Is not going to tell you how good it is to be up on the mountaintop in the cold sunlight. She will always choose the merry party with music and jokes and good food and people you love. Every single time.”
“But she is coming with you, Jeanette Ransom. Wherever that ship will take us.”
They stood there and watched the construction for a long time.
“We have an idea on what to name the ship,” said Dr. Ransom at the dinner table. “We’d call it the Wooden Shoe.”
“I don’t get it,” Jeanette said, despite the fact that it was her Dada.
“It’s a nursery rhyme that I never read to you, and that admittedly my parents never read to me, but it’s in the books. Beyond the shadow of a doubt it’s where Ngozi got her children’s names.
Wynken Blynken and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe;
Sailed on a river of crystal light
into a sea of dew;”
“There’s a cute cartoon in the archives,” Said Senhor Capoeira Capybara. “But the very nice thing is that in the Captain’s language, wooden shoe is sabot, which is the origin of the word sabotage, as a practice that poor peasants who wore wooden shoes--a cultural phenomenon that I, constructed as I am, find extremely difficult to credit--conducted in blowing up the assets and properties of rich people. A bit of sentiment and a pun (admittedly an obscure one), gives it my vote.”
Jeanette, whose own ideas had not gone any farther than the Paradox Swan II, voted for it, and so did everyone else.
The day came for the Wooden Shoe’s departure, and there was something of a ceremony involved. They had been all around the ship a few times, stowed all the gear, and accustomed themselves to the feel of the ship, and were entirely ready. (Lieutenant Quintus Octavian, who had been expecting some resistance to his coming along, was accepted without discussion.
The one discussion that did occur was the Kirk’s opinion that they should have a captain. “AIs are all fine and good,” said Sailor Treelithe, “but your experience with Ngozi Makena Odile should have taught you that there is nothing like an experienced hand at the controls.”
“Except that we don’t expect to return, which is beyond the scope of a commercial compact,” said Dr. Ransom. “Add to that the fact that there’s no such thing as a sailor with experience of the Wild Reach, and we are stuck with our AI routines.”
They did insist on a pilot to guide them through the hellish magnetic storm of the Big Planet, and they agreed to this. The Pilot’s Guild put forward one of their most experienced, who would be dropped off at a very distant moon of the Big Planet, equipped for just this purpose.
So amid a light show and a large number of kegs of beer, the Wooden Shoe left the Moon of the Moon. Jeanette and Senhor Capoeira were the only ones to stay on the bridge past the first few minutes. Her father bowed out, he said, so as not to make the pilot self-conscious.
About a half hour into the difficult passage, the communication panel burst into fits of static. One burst, then a second, then a steady series of pulses. They had been warned that electromagnetic communication was nearly impossible, and although she thought she could discern voices, nothing else could be made out.
The pilot was getting more and more irritated, and finally moved to shut the panel off, but something about that struck her as wrong. She wondered what the translation capabilities of her bracelets might have on the static, and laid them on the panel.
“--ABOARD YOUR SHIP****WARNING! THERE’S ****BOMB ABOARD***”
‘What’s that? What’s it saying?” The capybara asked.
“It says that there’s a bomb aboard your ship, and indeed there is!” The pilot laughed. He developed a bright green outline and vanished.
“--WARNING! THERE IS A BOMB ABOARD YOUR SHIP! WARNING!”