One hundred thirty-three

One hundred thirty-three

O Tse said, “We humiliated this Mad John Iqalummiaq, but we did not scare him enough, I think. He will be back with far more power.”

“That jewel Her Majesty gave him will double his net worth,” said Lieutenant Quintus Octavian.

“No, all that wealth will be poisoned with his humiliation,” said the Queen of Hearts. “But now, instead of trying to shake us down, he’ll try to destroy us completely, and he’ll attack with fury.”

“I will take the jewel out of his clenched fist after I have chopped his head off,” growled Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone. “He will not sell it.”

Despite her own overwhelming anger at learning the story of what this creature had done to her friend Ngozi Makena Odile, she was shocked by the tiger’s words. She thought she had seen him fierce and savage before--but there was no gallantry or love of battle in that voice now: just murder and revenge. His feelings for the Captain ran as deep as hers, she realized.

“You may have that chance," said the Queen. ”And it’s not because I didn’t know your Pirate Queen personally that I say my objective is a different one. It’s to smash his rule of this port and destroy his organization.”

But of course the little secret that the Queen of Hearts had reconstituted herself using Jeanette’s memories meant that she did remember Ngozi--remember and feel. So most of them were filled with a common anger.

“In the matter of the Kirk, the map we have shows five locations, but unlike the commercial listings, there’s no contact frequency and nothing like administrative offices. A couple of them are in the residential blocks, and one in a smaller commercial cluster. All of which makes sense if it’s a church, a bit less so if it’s a political power,” Dr. Ransom said, trying--and trying successfully-to get them back on track.

“So the only way to get in contact with them is to show up in person? Good enough,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara. “Given that Iqalummiaq will take some time to marshal his forces, but at the same time our humiliation of him is all over this station, now is a good time for a very visible walk through these tunnels.”

“It also may be a good time to see how disliked he is,” added the Lieutenant.”So as long as nobody says ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ I think we’re ready,” daid Dr. Ransom.

Jeanette found it a bit oppressive that there were no open spaces or plazas anywhere in the port. Their first experience of the dancehall had given her very false expectations: how could you have a big bright place like that with the rest of it so cramped? There was some traffic in the tunnels, but people (of more than one species) kept their heads down and did not pause to look at them.

The entrance to the Kirk was at least slightly different: Five doors in a row in a single frame, and the tunnel slightly enlarged. There was no signage of any sort, which seemed to indicate some prestige. There were also no hours for services, so Lord Elphinstone and O Tse, acting as a sort of honor guard, opened doors to let the Queen of Hearts pass majestically through.It was still amazing how good she was at that, Jeanette thought.

The interior of the Kirk was both surprising and familiar: it was enormous, far bigger than the disco, and the ceiling seemed open to space, the window material was so clear and glare-free. And the heavens themselves were more complicated than Jeanette had seen elsewhere: the great arc of the Big Planet, the pock-marked ice of the Moon, the red jewel of the sun, and slashes of luminous gases, twisted by the magnetic storm. A picture would be amazing enough, but all the elements changed, slowly but perceptibly, overhead.

The layout of the big room was simple: two wide rows of benches with abroad center aisle, leading down to a podium, set along the center line of the window. There weren’t any statues or symbols, but the simplicity made it seem like a church.

They were about halfway down the aisle when a seamless door opened up front and three robed figures came out. They were medium height, thin, and their faces had very widely set apart and a flat shark-like nose. Their hair was gathered into thick braids down to the small of their backs, two jet-black and the third coppery red. They were all smiling.

“Your Majesty! We’re so glad you came to py us a visit,” Red said, in a voice that left it ambiguous whether the being was male or female. “How may we be of service?”

The Queen settled down in a pew, and the rest followed, except for the tiger and the Weasel-Bear, who stood at parade rest. “We are in search of answers to a great mystery, and it has been a long hunt with many dead ends. The last clue led us here, and we were a bit disappointed that the Moon of the Moon seems to be a place that doesn’t honor traditions. Except, perhaps, for your institution.”

“We hope that it could be said of us that we do,” said Black One, with a similarly ambivalent voice.

The Queen nodded slightly. “I’ll begin by asking whether this means anything to you,” and she raised her white-gloved hands, with the others who wore them (minus Lord Elphinstone and the Lieutenant) following suit.

This elicited a reaction, though a mild one. The three said a few words to each other, and Red said, “Many lifetimes ago, there were ships. Over a space of about five years, many hundreds of ships, nearly a thousand, stopped here briefly. They all traded for fuel, stores, and maps, without a great deal of resources. It seemed they were fleeing some great disaster, though they said very little about it.”

“Maps? Maps to where?” Dr. Ransom asked.

“They asked about the Wild Reach, and a place called the Clear Star. We--we were not the Kirk yet--gave them maps to the former, but we’d never heard of the latter,” said Red.

“They also asked what we knew of the Decision Tree--the actual Decision Tree, but no one could help them,” added Black Two.

“Then there was one ship, only a few years ago. A big one, too big to dock, so they said. They came in pinnaces to deal, and their white gloves were noticed, but Brother Iqalummiaq alone had dealings with them,” said Red.

“You call him brother…” said the Queen in a low voice.

“Only in that all sentients are brothers and sisters,” said Black Two, with a tilt to its smile.

“We would be interested in maps to the Wild Reach, if you could supply them. And if you know of any records of that time…”

“The maps will be joyously given. Our sorrow is that so much is lost of that time, in the turbulence of intervening years,” said Red.

The Queen arose, “I must apologize for barging in, making requests, and never once asking of the tenets of the Kirk, nor how we can express our thanks.”

“Our beliefs are simple: We Serve the Motion, We seek the Light, and We Dream the Dream. Your thanks are enough,” said Black One.

The group all stood up, readying themselves to go, when the three raised their arms to the complicated sky above them.

“And With One Hand Raised High in the Dark,” they said in unison.


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