“Please,” said Jeanette. “Please don’t…”
She didn’t have to pretend to be frightened. She had been expecting suspicious frowns, not a giant cat-man with bared fangs less than a foot from her. She had defenses--but he could tear into her before she could pull a weapon from beyond the sixth wall, or touch the force-field jewel on her necklace. And the panther didn’t look like someone trying to scare a little girl--she was an enemy.
“Where,” the panther repeated, breathing hot in her face, “did you get this book?”
“F-from the library…!” she whispered.
“You are a thief and a serpent and a ghost-lover. I can smell it on your skin,” the panther said, taking a step closer. “Reveal your true form!”
There was a thud coming from the direction of the doors, but it sounded faint and far away. If, as they suspected, this church was the old throne room of the Moon of the Moon, there’d be a heavy force shield.
“I--I don’t--I mean, I’m just me,” Jeanette said in a very high voice. “Sorry,” she added.
“You have a true form,” the panther said, “and if I have to claw it out of you, I will.”
At that, Jeanette ducked down and ran through his legs. She was almost caught by the fabric of his skirts, but she made it. She scrambled up and headed for the doors, but before she was able to turn, the shadowy figures (who seemed to be furred like cats) were on her. Arms were around her waist and her legs, and on e had grabbed her arm. She could feel pinpoints of pain Like an ordinary cat’s claws as they grabbed her. She screamed, and there were answering slams at the doors.
Getting a weapon was useless, so she tried to reach for her necklace, but fumbled her fingers as she pressed a jewel. It was not the force shield jewel, as she had hoped, but it was the jewel that reconstructed the greatest evil that had happened in the space.
What she saw made her cry a cry worse than a scream, because there was her captain, Ngozi Makena Odile, in the garb of a real Pirate Queen, half her costumed burned away and tail-ends of the tatters still on fire, a glowing green cutlass in one hand and a wrist-mounted energy projector at the other; A bloodied and mangled black man spread out over a crystal sphere; the squat cowering form that had the face of Mad John Iqalummiaq; and a blue glow. For a second she was paralyzed, but so were the cats--then she came to her senses and took her fingers off the jewel.
The panther screamed in agony, pivoted off his clawed feet and leapt at Jeanette in a spittle-trailing fury.
He got slammed to the ground just before her by a winged shape, as a woman’s voice rang out, “STAND DOWN OR FACE THE CONSEQUENCES!”
It was Dehingaj Emins, commander of the Storisende Flying Squad. The panther reversed himself, but red beams came out of the winged woman’s eyes, and the panther stiffened, throwing his arms wide.
Jeanette now saw, in the center of a clear area surrounded by smashed pews, a group of figures. At the front was small Oikumene Bol, who, when he saw she was looking his way, smiled and waved. There was also a young man with a great flop of magenta hair with energy crackling from his hands who was keeping the cats at bay, a very big muscular woman, and two more . They were all wearing skin-tight costumes (or uniforms if you insisted) of blue and white with a starburst at the shoulder--every inch super-heroes, and the best thing Jeanette had seen in a long time.
Oikumene Bol came--well, sauntered--over to her, dusting off his hands. “The force-shield hasn’t been made that can keep out a class-10 teleporter. Hello, Ms. Ransom. Quite an entrance, eh?”
“You could have cut it a little less fine, chief,” said Dehingaj, who was still on top of the panther. “Jeanette could have been seriously hurt.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to blame that on me,” said Lieutenant Quintus Octavian, coming forward carrying a very complicated-looking device. “He threw me in right before bringing you in himself. It was worth it, though: got the magical apparition and everything.”
At this, the panther struggled, obviously incensed, but couldn’t break free of Dehingaj’s grip. She said loudly, “Veitua, could you see about bringing the force shield down? Without wrecking the mechanism, if you would be so kind?”
The magenta-haired man raised his hands and made some hand gestures. One of the doors opened and Jeanette’s father and her friends burst through. Dehingaj turned her head to the Lieutenant and said, “You know how much I don’t like this, Lieutenant? Words fail me to express it.”
“Come on, commander. This will make you all rich and fund the squad in depth. Season two of the Queen of Hearts Files. Look at that backdrop!” And he threw his head back to look at the spectacle of the Big Planet’s environment.”
Dehingaj’s shoulders slumped as she turned her attention back to the Panther. “All right, talk. I would really like to know, and so would the rest of us, why you threatened a little girl for whom we’ve developed a special fondness. Make it convincing.” And despite herself, Jeanette’s ears burned red.
Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone came and stood over the panther, sword out and ready to be used. “We figured out that this chapel of the Kirk was the old Throne Room and bedchamber of Eadward Cincinnatus Davilmar Orestes Lear and Ngozi Makena Odile. And we posited that this Kirk of yours was somehow tied up in their fates. We would know how and why.”
“So you can turn it into entertainment? Kill me rather.” The panther growled.
Silvertyger raised his sword, but said, “We sailed with Captain Odile, and before her death, and the death of her daughters Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, we became her friends and comrades. We have come to learn the truth of her tragedy, which she never imparted to us in life, and right what wrongs remain.”
“I loved her,” said Jeanette.
There were two big tears at the corner of the panther’s eyes. “Release me, he said to Dehingaj, although his eyes were fixed on Jeanette. ”I will cause no more trouble.”
He stood, the same height as Lord Elphinstone and said, “Death, then. I am Sailor Treelithe, and my father sailed with Captain Lear, before he was taken aboard the Ark. When he returned to our world, my father sought him out and worked with him here. When he took up with the Pirate Queen of the Night, he served them both.”
“When they both vanished, the word went out that they had killed each other over spite and jealousy, and that was the end of it. It was all too plausible, the more among people who knew them well. Most of the King’s company took other ships, but my father, who had amassed a great fortune stayed.”
“And then he had a dream.”
“In the dream, the being named River Daughter appeared to him and told him the truth. In a series of dreams, the book was dictated to him, that River said had been written in another world. The terrible tragedy was made clear, as was the fact they were neither of them actually dead--but also of the perfidy of the beast Iqalummiaq. We were to keep their names alive, and it was important that Mad John never sit in the Throne Room--but that vengeance on the beast was not ours to take.”
“Over the years we have kept these promises, reined in Iqalummiaq’s excesses, but also thwarted the treasure hunters and the pretenders to the heritage of Eadward and Ngozi. It has hardened our hearts and strengthened our resolve. Until, perhaps, today.”
The Queen of Hearts walked over to the cat. “You may still not believe us--but the fact remains that of our purposes in coming here, the one that burns most strongly is that of revenge for the perfidy done our friend. With or without you, we are going to do it.”
“He has grown powerful,” said Sailor Treelithe. “He has hidden power that he never uses. Do not be fooled.”
“Fuck that,” said Lord Elphinstone. “He falls now.”