One hundred twenty-five

One hundred twenty-five

Jeanette finally bulled the comforter down. Her eyes were red. It had hurt so bad when she died--harder than anything--but when it really got awful she could at least remember her. And finding out she was lying was like losing even that.

She didn’t want to read any further, because what else was she going to learn? But she had promised, so she had to.

She went back in, and got caught up in the wheeling and dealing of the port along with their developing romance. Eadward was certainly really good as a rogue adventure hero, and she liked their byplay. She had to admit that Ngozi sounded like herself, which turn ed the pain and hurt in to something a little different. There were some really good swordfights and gun battles, and one chase through the moon system that had her doing a mental fist-pump.

It surprised her that their confession of love came so early in the book, but she reminded herself that this was supposed to be reality, after all. But it fit iShe n nicely when it turned out to come together with his decision to become King.

Jeanette kept on the lookout important snippets of information, but outside of the fact that the chest she had seen in the hold of the Paradox Swan was the same one that stored 120,000 ghost AIs in the book, she didn’t find much.

There was the sequence:

“You know, that poxy bastard laughed at you, saying the time of the Ark of the Infinite was either thousands or hundreds of thousands of years ago, depending on which lies you listened to.” She said, lying naked in the green water beside him..

“Oh, beloved, you know how it can be between the universes--one wide tack and the stars are young. When a ship is feather-light and unbound by electromagnetism or gravity and the trajectories are wild indeed. The real difficulty, it turns out, is not overshooting a space-time target by a millennium or a spiral arm. So little to anchor on to.”

It was getting close to dinner now, and Jeanette hadn’t done justice to the Bottomless Box of Chocolates. She figured it was time to make a report on what she’d read. It was still weird and exhausting: her initial hurt had faded, but the more she read, the more she felt that the person she knew was a bookbag-sticker version of the actual Captain Odile. Which might actually be good, except for the fact that she was dead.

Her sense of meal-timing was excellent, surpassed only by that of Senhor Capoeira Capybara. So as not to look pathetic, he was adjusting the table settings, so she joined him. It was only a few minutes before everyone else wandered in. Jeanette noted with a smile that the Lieutenant was still here. Then she caught herself: he had had a sword thrust through his chest defending us, which is not what silly  people do.

After dinner, everyone stayed seated and her father said, “So, Jeanette, is it a good book? Did you get anything out of it so far?” He said it lightly, which made it harder to get serious.

But she did. “Yes, something really important. The King of the Moon of the Moon was a guy who rested a lot of his reputation on the fact that he had sailed on the Ark of the Infinite.” She paused. Everybody at the table said they’d never encountered the name before. So she continued. “ It was this huge ship that was made entirely from neutrinos.”

That made everyone shift in their seats.

“That means that the Ghost Ship, which we’d been assuming was another danger, might actually be a good thing. But it also means that Captain Odile played dumb with us about it.”

“Because it might be her husband,” said the Queen of Hearts.

“Well yeah. ” Jeanette said. “Although I won’t know anything for sure until I finish the book.”

And that was the hurdle she had been figuring out how to jump over. Done as if everybody knew--snd maybe they did. Did they guess or did they know? No, no, don’t worry about it. What’s done is done.

“Well,” said her father. “That does seem to tie it together with us, but--”

"Perhaps we should do some local Storisende research to see what can be found,” said the Queen. “I take it the ‘Ark of the Infinite’ rings no bells, eh, Lieutenant?”

“No, but I’m not a good example. I’m an Yndos hick from a pretty distant star system.”

“Good name, though,” said Senhor Capoeira.

“I imagine it’s a little, um, strange reading a romance story about someone you know, though, isn’t it?”

“Well yeah, kinda,” responded Jeanette.

“Do you want to give it a rest until tomorrow?” He asked.

“Ummm--no. I think I’ll read some more. I’m not tired yet.”

“All right, then.” Her father got up. So did everyone else.

She walked back to the library, puzzled. That had been the weirdest interchange she’d had since she didn’t know when. What was with them?

Then she asked herself the question, did I look that shaken up? And realized that that must be it. Because of course she was. That shaken up, and more.

What she followed that up with was thinking that all the not telling people--her father, her friends--stuff, was probably the same thing she was hurting over with Captain Odile. And of course that made her feel a whole lot worse.

She sat down in the chaise, and picked up the book: It had a ribbon, which she used for a bookmark. Pretty much the only thing she liked about this was that it was a really exciting book.

She hadn’t really settled down to the story when O Tse came into the library without his pike. He seemed every bit as uncomfortable as everybody else. He towered over her and  said in a higher voice than she had heard from him, “I didn’t want to mention it at the table, but I’ve been reading one of the volumes of poetry? That you brought back from the Infinite Library? The Chorus Songs one.”

“And?” Jeanette was halfway between impatient and scared.

“Well, it’s complex poetry, and sometimes it just seems like its just words strung together without making sense, but--” The Weasel-Bear was actually choking up. Jeanette just waited.

“--It mentions the Ark of the Infinite a number of times, and I may be reading it wrong, seems to say that the Ark had something to do with the Exile.”

No, said Jeanette to herself, no. You can’t tell me that.

And O Tse said “I’m sorry,” and left.

That was it, of course. There was no way she could continue reading now. She got up, laid the book carefully on the table, and made her way upstairs, where she washed her face and undressed.

She got into bed, sat up with the pillows at her back, and began to shake.


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