“I can’t help thinking this is wrong,” Jeanette said. “That this isn’t worth it.”
“Are you sure it’s not just because with all this muscle it’ll be over to quickly?” Thyrsis said.
“No, it’s because she believes that everyone can be saved,” Antithyrsis responded. “That’s it, isn’t it?”
“Kinda. Maybe kinda. I don’t know.” Jeanette said. “It’s not that it’s wrong to do, it’s just…”
“Maybe,” the crow said over her bracelet, “it’s because you’ve been up against monsters and cosmic darkness so much, and not corrupt nasty individuals. They’re the ones that cause more mystery, darlin’.”
“You mean misery,” the other crow said.
“I did. What did I say?”
“Boy, that sounds pseudo-profound, doesn’t it?”
“Not by half.”
“No, I think I know, little Jeanette. You want the ending to be Ngozi Makena Odile alive again and with her daughters and she and Edward Middle-names Lear reunited and happy, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” She sniffed.
“Don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve,” said Antithyrsis. The crow hopped off her shoulder and onto her wrist with a handkerchief in its beak. She took it.
“Just for the record, so do we,” said Thyrsis. “An epic beat-down now and again, though, is good for the sinuses. Blow.”
In the meantime Sailor Treelithe stood with Terence Ransom, Sir Silvertyger Elphinstone and the Storisende Flying Squad. “I’ve provided as much of the layout of Iqalummiaq’s fortress as we could determine--it’s close enough to the core of the moon that it’s shielded, not only by miles of ice but inhabited areas. He’s not above holding them hostage to make you withdraw.”
Ransom turned to Oikumene Bol. “And your teleportation skills aren’t optimized beyond your squad, is that it?”
Bol said, a little proudly, “I can transfer a lot more--but then the demuxing--the materialization--is slower. You want it under an eyeblink, it’ll be a separate trip.”
“But you can drop ordnance quickly and quietly beforehand,” the tiger said.
“I can indeed, as soon as I get a layout,” answered Bol.
“And your laying down a ban on AI Ghosts--was that in reaction to the Queen’s attack on the Moon of the Moon, or is there another reason?” Dr. Ransom asked of the panther.
“That was mainly for the stability of the station, to remove the fear of a repetition of the terror. But we are reasonably certain that Mad John has a very large ghost army at his disposal.”
“Just to make it explicit,” Sailor Treelithe added, “We can support, defend and divert, but we cannot strike the first blow, by our vows. Moreover, the beast knows this.”
“That is well left to us,” rumbled Lord Elphinstone.
The first thing that happened was that the shadowy cat-creatures of the Kirk spread out through the tunnels of the Moon of the Moon, and the inhabitants saw them and disappeared from the tubes and public intersections. Some switched to internal generators in their chambers and others flipped their force fields on. Everybody listened and waited.
The column was led by Lord Elphinstone and O Tse, with Allwn Pirzad, the very large and muscular woman taking point. The three of them could not have stood side by side in one of the station’s tunnels. And were suitably imposing. Behind them were the rest of the Flying Squad, with Dr. Ransom and Senhor, and a mass of shadows after them. Jeanette and the Queen were well behind, on the ‘target of opportunity’ rationale.
The door to Mad John’s quarters was no larger or different from any of the other doors on the station, and was completely unmarked.
“The Wizard says go away,” said Thyrsis, who was on the tiger’s shoulder.
“No admittance except on party business,” said Antithyrsis, who was on O Tse’s. Jeanette and the Queen were the only one to hear the comments.
“I feel a gravitational flux,” said Dehingaj. “He’ll flip gravity after we’re in.”
Allwn kicked the door in, and the column quickly went through the door and deployed in an arc.The immense room was brightly lit, but was immediately plunged into darkness. At the same time, gravity was inverted, and the ceiling became the floor and vice versa.
From the darkness, hundreds of green glowing swords appeared.
The crash of the two forces was enormous. Silvertyger, who had experience fighting alongside ghosts, parted the swords like a scythe through a field of high grass. The room was relit by the lightning bolts of Veitua of the Flying Squad and the eyebeams of Dehingaj, which also revealed that large projectors were moving forward behind the ghosts. Ransom’s and Capoeira’s guns fired thick red blasts at them, but they were shielded.
The melee continued, with energy passing right through the ghosts, but the blades landing solidly with electric cracks. Then Oikumene Bol appeared at the rear of the ghost mass, and one of the squad, a slender young girl, threw her hands up, and the projectors, complete with operators, went flying, tumbling close over the heads of the fighters.
More ghosts appeared at the back, and the Squad members vanished again. Abruptly gravity inverted again, but the advantage was short-lived, as the swords bounced off the tiger’s mirror armor.
Dr. Ransom and Senhor Capoeira Capybara had been firing and discarding energy weapon after energy weapon, until at las Ransom pulled one out from beyond the sixth wall that affected the ghosts. The capybara followed suit, and it was at that point that Jeanette and the Queen, who had been hanging outside the doorway, came in, firing similar projectors. The ghosts began to scream and scatter their outlines into random wave patterns.
Veitua stepped forward and started to fill the air with lightning. It made sparks leap from blade points and finger tips, and raise rise like a gorgon’s head of snakes--but also showed an empty space in the immense hall. Lord Elphinstone stepped forward, a forest of bolts all on his own, and swung his longsword in a mighty arc at the blank area. It stopped him, and he pivoted from the rebound and hit again from the other side with the same result. Then a third, and with the fourth stroke in as many seconds, the shield collapsed, revealing an armored egg.
Between the tiger’s sword and O Tse’s pike, the egg was smashed. Elphinstone pulled Mad John Iqalummiaq out by the shirt front and, dripping the sword, put a long curving claw at the squat fat man’s throat.
Mad John was holding something in his hand: he turned his wrist and an image popped up in the air. “What you are seeing,” he said in a hoarse voice “Is that rarest of things, a world jewel, and next to it a much greater treasure, a world jewel from an antimatter universe. I press this button, and the energies from the annihilation will cause this universe to unravel from big bang to heat death, and Deep Chaos take us all.”
“Your finger will be a gobbet before it has a chance to twitch, and I will tear your throat open so that you will not die until I have swallowed half of it,” the Earl of Maurya snarled.
Jeanette walked up to him. “Captain Ngozi Makena Odile is dead and so are her children. I loved them all, and I want to know why you did what you did. Did you desire her? Did you hate their happiness? Did you want the River Daughter? What did you want?”
There was a sad smile on Mad John’s face. “I’m sorry, child. It was nothing like that. Nothing resembling the books you’ve filled your head with. It was power: power and treasure. They had it and I saw a way to take it and I took it.” He dropped the device. “If that disappoints you, then by all means, let me live. If revenge isn’t sweet, by all means, let me live. If you want to be good and noble and merciful in your life, by all means, let me live.”
Although his voice was even and gently mocking, tears were running down his face.
Sailor Treelithe said, “Kill him.”
And Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone slashed his throat with a single swipe of his claw.