One hundred twenty-nine

One hundred twenty-nine

The initial view of the Moon of the Moon was not promising: it was a curved cable-lined tunnel lit by lamps in cages, and it was very cold. There were no signs, and only the occasional box interrupting the paths of the cables.

Jeanette knew that she, among her friends, was, relatively speaking, the expert on the place, but the romance novel she was reading about her friend--her dead friend--Captain Ngozi Makena Odile concentrated mainly on characterization rather than description of the environment. But she did know that the satellite was mainly an iceball existing far enough away from the heat sources of its sun and the near-brown dwarf called the Big Planet that methane rainfall sometimes occurred. Almost all the station was drilled into the rock-hard ice and heat did not tend to be wasted for no reason.

“We may be in a service tunnel, which is probably good for our mission.” She said, but was unable to put much cheerfulness into it.

Dr. Ransom had a phone-sized thing out of is knapsack. “I’m looking for an overall data network and I’m not getting anything. Of course, the social description of the base is one of warring bosses, so maybe they don’t have one.”

Senhor Capoeira Capybara said, “I suggest we go along this tunnel until we find a door, open it up, and go through it.”

Ransom said “Is that wise?”

The capybara made a whistle through his teeth. “Not in the least. But if that happens to be the structure of the society, a display of bravado should do well in the short run.”

Jeanette was really beginning to get cold standing there while they talked, but didn’t want to seem whiny. The Queen of Hearts came over to her, and she could feel the warmth radiating from her. (Of course it did!) She leaned over and handed her a device the size of an egg, but flatter. “It’s called an adiabatic homeostator. Clip it anywhere and it’ll keep you at a comfortable temperature with a minimum of power. It’s a pity, though: I think both you and I would look very cute in furs.”

"Another marvel of Ecbatenophore technology,” said Lieutenant Octavian. “If you get cute fur outfits it will adjust for those.”

Senhor Capoeira and her father started down the hallway, apparently following the capybara’s advice, and they followed. Thyrsis and Antithyrsis the crows, came and nestled on her shoulders. “You’re nice and warm,” Thyrsis said through her bracelets. “If we sit here the thingmabob takes us into account as well.”

“We also like you as a person,” added Antithyrsis.

They came to a door. It had three interlocking squares on it, and a strip of lines underneath that looked like a bar code. The capybara tried the door handle, but it seemed to be locked. Lord Elphinstone came up, put a massive paw on the handle, and the door opened with a loud crunch.

The Queen went through first. The place was large and crowded, either a bar or a dancehall or both. The place had a large number of platforms at different levels, and they were colored red, green or blue. As they watched, the colors shifted, and the dancers, by leaps, twirls and catches, switched places correspondingly. The thing was that it was done in absolute silence, except for the thump of feet and some breathing.

The Queen moved forward, and it was as if a switch had been thrown: some stopped dancing altogether, and they weren’t all humanoid either--and far more kept moving but kept their eyes on her.Her gait changed, slowed. She started to place her steps in sync with the unheard beat of the music, but a little ahead of the beat, so that it began to look as if she was leading the dance and that the music was coming from her.

The dancers parted for her as she walked to the front of the space, and the rest of the group followed far more clumsily. There was a seat in a sconce at the doorway. It had a force shield around it, with the three interlocking squares symbol above, though in color. A leathery being like a wingless bat sat there.

“Are the colors the same price?” Jeanette could hear the Queen ask.

“Red is more,” said the bat. “Longer and more partners allowed.”

The Queen pulled a ring off a white-gloved finger.

“Too much but I can change,” the bat said. In a second he had what looked like a bluetooth earpiece and a clear rectangle. The Queen took both, inserted the earpiece, and, her eyes half-shut, began to dance.

At first her motions were small, almost imperceptible, more like muscle flexion than movement. Then her hips shifted and her legs bent as her feet slid in wave-pattern, and her arms slowly moved up from her hips from her side. And it was all as if she was being moved instead of moving, and her closed eyes and the slightest of frowns looked as if she was experiencing it all happening to her.

Jeanette knew, or thought she knew, what this was all about, but she also thought she knew that it was beyond her as a little girl. But it was so beautiful it made her want to--she didn’t know what. Sing, maybe, or bow her head.

And then the Queen stopped just as it was starting. Casually she took the earpiece out of her ear, and far less sensually walked out the door, leaving the rest of the company to make haste after her.

Once outside, The Moon of the Moon proved disappointing again, because it was another tunnel, no bigger than the maintenance one. The only difference was that there were lots of doors, all colorful. The Queen said, “They’ll seek us out now. We should find a conspicuous place to wait.”

“I smell the perfect place,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara.

The Queen matched Jeanette’s pace. “So what did you think?”

“It was beautiful. I know it was more than that, but--well, it was beautiful.”

“Beautiful is enough, Jeanette Ransom. But now, I need the name of one of our King’s rivals. Maybe not his principal one, and earlier is better.”

Jeanette thought. “They all had really hard names to pronounce. But one was named Goroshchikii. He was one of the biggest.”

“Thank you.” The Queen said.

The capybara led them to a green and white door. It smelled like coffee. Jeanette liked the smell but couldn’t stand to taste it, except in coffee ice cream. But once they were inside, she could smell chocolate as well, so that was good.

She did glance up at the sign, and looked again. “That’s not a Starbucks logo, is it? Here?”

The Queen says, “If you look more closely, it’s a woman’s face superimposed over a Decision Tree. But the colors are similar.”

There were other patrons, but the group found two tables and sat together. Lord Elphinstone and O Tse remained standing. Senhor Capoeira and Jeanette’s father went off to order for the group--or rather the capybara would order, and Dr. Ransom would apply the error correction.

When they came back was the order, Jeanette could  smell the chocolate through the coffee, and took it eagerly--only to set it down on the table quickly to let it cool. She fished the marshmallows out while she waited.

At length they were approached by a tall white-haired figure, a Yahoo but with lynx eyes. He stood before them.

“I can sense great spiritual power emanating from you,” he said in a whispery voice. “Such are rare visitors to the Moon of the Moon, and almost never to buy and sell.”

“We will do what ever turns out to amuse us,” said the Queen. “But buying and selling, for now, is part of it.”

“So what do you have to sell? The little girl, perhaps?”

There was the sound of a sword being drawn. The patrons that were staring at the Queen looked away.

“No,” said the Queen.


“No, no more guesses. Instead, tell us whom you represent. We have heard of a trader named Goroshchikii. Him, perhaps?”

The old figure smiled, “Goroshchikii is an old man and in disgrace. I can take to the one who swallowed his empire whole--if you have something worth buying. What do you have?”

Jeanette burst out, “Ghosts!”

This caused the figure to stiffen. More than stiffen--he began to change. Grow.

From behind the Queen there was a whirring and a clicking. Then over her shoulder a clockwork lynx leapt at the figure and dug its claws into it. Lightning sparked from the talons.

The Queen leaned back. “Yes, ghosts. Ghosts--like you.”


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