“I had a feeling this was going too easily,” grumbled Senhor Capoeira Capybara. “Now we have to get information out of Mad John Gummibear instead of merely crushing the son of a bitch.”
Nobody said anything.
The Queen of Hearts then spoke. “And we humiliated him in public to the point that he’ll greet any gesture, any subterfuge with categorical refusal.”
“And he’d lie to us with his dying breath if we tried to break him.” The capybara continued.
“Cheer us up any more and we’ll peck your eyes out for sheer joy,” Thyrsis said over the bracelets.
The hidey-hole went silent again.
“If only there were another source of information,” Dr. Ransom said. “But this sort of place--a spaceport outside the law--anybody’s law--can’t be counted on to have long-term residents.”
“Which leaves us with the Kirk,” said the Queen. “We did learn quite a bit--but the question is, if we start prying into the story around our King and Pirate Queen, will we uncover an enemy in them? That would make our sojourn here unpleasant.”
“Again, I wish we had an outside source of information on them,” said Ransom. “I think it’s significant that they weren’t mentioned in the book. And their placid bearing seems to be at odds with our friend the ghost’s fear of them.” Ransom sighed and looked at the Lieutenant. “I’ve half a mind to talk to your boss about this. From what I saw of Mr. Primus inter Pares, he could charm the polish off a doorknob, as I think the saying goes.”
This got a smile out of Lieutenant Quintus Octavian, but he said, “I think you would have to tell him an awful lot to make him effective. My head’s still spinning a little from all this.”
“Well, I think it’s about time we had something to eat,” Senhor Capoeira said. “It’s been a long time since that coffee shop and it had no pastries worth the name.” Without waiting for a response, he sidled over to the biggest table and started producing a large array of containers from his wallet.
“That looks like you emptied the larder from the hospital on Storisende,” the Lieutenant said. “Here, let me help you with that.”
“I had a look at the supplies that came with this place, and it’s clear that security is this place’s only selling point,” said the capybara.
“It’s a bad idea just to eat because you’re unhappy,” Quintus said mockingly.
“You will find, my young Yahoo boy, that I am just chock full of bad ideas,” said Senhor Capoeira. “I don’t know whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but it is served.”
They ate, and Jeanette felt better, even though none of the problems were resolved. Afterwards, she adjourned to an armchair, which, though coming apart at the seams, was at least soft. She started to turn all the elements over in her head, when the Queen of Hearts came over. Lieutenant Quintus was pushing another armchair behind her, and when it was next to hers, she sat down, which she did extremely well.
“It struck me that one and a half heads are better than one,” she said slyly. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“The Kirk really bothers me. Particularly the fact that it wasn’t mentioned in the book. If it is new, and powerful, it all feels wrong somehow.”
Her father had come over, and half-sat on one of the arms of her chair “You know, I was ready to just take their information about the Wild Reach and the Clear Star and move on. That is, until they raised their hands when they said good-bye. They are tied in with the King and Ngozi somehow.”
The Queen said softly, “It occurred to me that maybe the Kirk was founded as a result of their final tragedy.”
“Yeah, but if so, how’d they get such a big place with such a cool ceiling?” Jeanette said. “I mean, it looks to me like something Mad John would want.”
The Queen of Hearts’s eyes lit up. She leaned over, put her hand on the side of Jeanette’s neck, moved it down to the necklace. She touched the eighth and ninth jewels--the ones fror wisdom and understanding.
Jeanette’s hand followed hers, and moved forward in the chair.
In an excited whisper she said, “You know what that chamber used to be, don’t you?”
“Oh my,” her father said.
“To confront them on this could be very dangerous,” said the Queen.
Quintus Octavian, who had been leaning over listening, said “Excuse me for a little while.”
It was naturally impossible to tell what time it was in the tunnels: Jeanette had figured out that any astronomical way of telling time would be ridiculously complex, and the inhabitants could probably not agree on any system, big boss or no big boss. Jeanette passed a few figures as she walked through the tunnels, but, as before they kept their heads down and didn’t notice anything.
She came to the Kirk’s main hall, and carefully reached up and opened a door. There was, once again, nobody there, and once again, the glory of the heavens was breathtaking. For a long time she just looked up.
“Can I be of service?” A deep bass voice said behind her.
She turned and made a small gasp. The huge figure was an anthropomorphic cat, like Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone and the same size, but a black panther. It--he--wore a skirt from his hips and a cape off his shoulders, and his torso was bare and thickly muscled.
“H-hello. My name is Jeanette Ransom. I’m the daughter of Dr. Terence--”
“I know who you are,” the panther said evenly. “I’m so glad you decided to visit us again. What can I do for you?”
“Well, you see,” Jeanette stammered. “When I found out Dada was going with the Queen on a trip to the Moon of the Moon, I got very excited, and I begged to come along. There were parts that weren’t much fun--but when I came here--”
“Go on,” said the panther.
“Well, the thing is,” and she pulled a bulky object from under her blouse,” It’s just like it is in my favorite book.”
The panther made a lightning swipe and pulled it from Jeanette’s hands. “Where,” he growled, his white teeth showing, “did you get this book, child?”
“F-f-f-” Jeanette stammered.
The panther raised a paw, and the church was filled with dark shapes advancing on her.