The Queen of Hearts was frowning mildly at Lieutenant Quintus Octavian. “I sequestered him both because it interfered with the image I was attempting to project, and because he wouldn’t enjoy it.”
“Please, Your Majesty--the danger is over, and I was under very specific instructions to get this one shot,” he wheedled.
“You know, for a love-struck young man completely smitten with Har Majesty’s magnificence, you’re presuming an awful lot,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara, looking on.
“I don’t like it either,” said Jeanette. “It’s kind of….”
“Banal,” said Thyrsis through her bracelet.
“I don’t think she was looking for the word ‘banal,’” said Antithyrsis. “She’s not a thirty-five year old theater critic.”
“Oh very well,” the Queen said, leaned over to the capybara and pulled the white bunny out of the pocket universe inside his wallet. She cradled him in her arm without seeming overly sentimental. The small flying device made a 360 degree orbit of her and the rabbit.
“I abase myself, your majesty. But Barnaby Bartleby Rudge should be aware just how huge a fan following he has all over Storisende.”
The Queen turned and handed Barnaby to Jeanette. “He has missed you,” she said, and walked away.
The Kirk’s shadowy cat-humans were wrapping the corpse of Mad John Iqalummiaq in narrow gray strips of cloth under the supervision of the slender wide-eyed priests who had shown up in the aftermath of the battle. Sailor Treelithe was speaking to Dr. Ransom, Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, O Tse, and Dehingaj Emins of the Flying Squad. “His death has been announced to the station, and he will lie in state in one of out secondary chapels before being launched into the chromosphere of the Big Planet, as is the case with most notables. We expect a modest crowd of viewers, mostly of the ‘yes, he’s really dead’ variety. The Kirk will assume transitional powers. All that remains is who wishes to claim credit, and of what sort. We will go along with whatever you decide.”
“What we had been wondering, commander, if you think the municipality of Storisende might want to capitalize on a relationship between it and the Moon of the Moon,” said Dr. Ransom. “In which case, we might say something like Mad John perished in an altercation with parties from the World of Storisende over unpaid debts.. I think the Queen may have had quite enough sensationalism attached to her name for the present.”
“I can’t for the life of me think of a reason why Storisende would object to a new market, especially a shady one. I have no authority one way or the other, but you might as well go ahead.”
There was the sound of an electrical discharge that momentarily stopped all conversation, and Veitua, the energy wielder from the Flying Squad, came up to her commander. “I’ve been trying to break into the joker’s command and control system, and I think I have bad news. Everything seems to be routed through that one panel, and frankly, I’ve been reluctant to touch it.”
They turned and looked at the transparent rectangle with two glowing jewels displayed in it. “You mean the one capable of destroying the universe? Don’t blame you.”
For a second, the atmosphere of success everyone had been moving around in evaporated. Then the Queen of Hearts said “Excuse me,” and walked over to it.
She stood before the panel, and something happened.
Jeanette was looking at the Queen, but suddenly had an overwhelming desire to look away. She tried to turn, but the rabbit writhed in her arms so that she was forced to turn back.
The Queen was there--and there was nothing but her. Jeanette stood on a headland of blowing grass above an inlet of a thundering sea, and in the midst of a towering forest, and inside a cave of ice, and everything she had ever seen she was seeing at once--and they were all the Queen. And there were an infinite number of voices speaking in an infinite number of languages all at once, all telling one story, and she knew what that story was--
--And then the queen was standing in front of the panel, and a jewel was in each hand. She breathed out. “Well I’m very glad that little trick worked.” She walked over to Dr. Ransom. “I’m reasonably sure that Mad John acquired this world-jewel from the recent ship from the Redoubt, so I think you may want to put this one with the others in your knapsack.” She dropped it into Ransom’s outstretched hand.
“As for the other, that’s a bit more of a puzzle, but I suspect that River Daughter was involved in this somewhere. At any rate--” she made a flourish of her hand like a stage magician, and the other jewel was gone. “I think you’ll be able to access his systems now.”
There was a feeling of an entire room of people shaking their heads and waking up, and conversation resumed.
The Queen of Hearts came over to Jeanette. “I apologize, my darling, opening up the Doors of Perception like that, even for a moment, but you’re the only one who knows what I really am, and so you had to see. Forgive me?” And she hugged her close.
“It’s fine. It was--it was something, though…!”
The Queen laughed a light laugh. “It was everything, my dear. In a grain of sand and in an hour. But I think I’ve thoroughly disgusted Barnaby. Let me take him.”
And she did.
The Panther and the others were standing before a floating holographic sheet. “This looks to be from the ship you were looking for. At least it’s filed on the day we know the meeting took place.”
Dr. Ransom looked up at it. “There’s writing on it: I think I recognize the alphabet…”
Senhor Capoeira Capybara waddled closer. “It’s the language of the Chorus. Good luck on deciphering it.”
Veitua spoke up, his voice wavering a little. “The name of the file in the directory is ‘The Wild Reach, and--”
He swallowed, and resumed, “--and the Edge of Everything.’”