Jeanette sat up in bed, trying to talk herself out of feeling so miserable, alone and scared that she was shaking.
O Tse’s book of poetry didn’t prove anything, and might not have really said anything. She hadn’t finished the book of Captain Ngozi’s romance, so she didn’t know anything like the whole story. And if the King of the Moon of the Moon--the Emperor Lear--turned out to be a bad guy, that didn’t mean the Captain was. Really. You’re being a baby. You’re being like Arturo, who says who he likes and who he hates in the middle of Chapter One of a fantasy book. She should just read it all, and everything might turn out right.
But she couldn’t do it. She was so terrified of that book--of ever opening it again, that she just wanted to run forever. At this point, the idea of learning anything about Ngozi Makena Odile was terrifying.
There was a knock on the door and her father walked in.
She leapt out of bed and ran to him. She grabbed him around the knees and sobbed, “Dada, Dada, Dada…” He didn’t say anything, just held her back. When she had calmed down ever so slightly, he guided her over to the bed, lifted her up (though that was no longer easy at all) and put her on the bed, moved her legs and covered them, pumped up the pillow and set it behind her, all just like when she was much, much smaller.
“So.” He said. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Not exactly linearly, she told him about how she was keeping the secret that the Captain had been married to the King, and that he was the father of Wynken, Blynken and Nod, and that was why she volunteered to read the book, since the Captain really didn’t want people to know. And how shocked she was about the Ark of the Infinite being their Ghost Ship, because it meant she was faking not knowing all along.And then when O Tse came to her and told her that the Chorus Songs book of poetry said kind of that the Ark was involved with the Exile, which might mean that the Captain was really on the enemy’s side…
She was snuffling and wiping her nose on her sleeve until Dada handed her a hanky. He said carefully, “Jeanette, you know that doesn’t necessarily…”
“I KNOW! I know I know I know I know, it’s not for sure or anything like that, but--but--”
“--But just the possibility that our Captain might have been on the wrong side is too much for you to stand.”
He took both of her hands and out both of his on top of them. “My poor, brave, immensely brave, incredibly brave daughter. You have been through so much--being lost, monsters, Hell, castles full of bugs, being separated from us, dragons, space pirates, the death of your friends, your own death, for that matter--”
“--everything but being betrayed by your friends.” He squeezed her hands.
“If Ngozi Makena Odile were alive, she probably could have just said ‘Trust me,’ and you would have, almost no matter what she did. But she’s dead, and all you have of her is a memory, and it doesn’t have that power.”
“Um,” she said.
“And you need her. You still need her. I know. I miss her like crazy myself. I still have a hard time believing she’s gone. And I’m smart enough to know you need her in a different way than you need me. I don’t mind because you’re my beautiful brave space-pirate monster-hunter daughter and I love you.”
With a wail she leaned over and buried her face in his chest, even though it almost made her slip out of the bed.
Later, he said, “Do you want me to continue reading the book for you?”
“Mm,” she nodded.
He lifted his head, “House, could you please bring me the book my daughter was reading in the library?”
He looked at Jeanette. “You see, with our AIs, I would have had to use both your name and the name of the book. Much better here.”
When the book arrived a minute or two later on a floating platform, Dr. Ransom spent some time flipping through the book. He could read extremely fast when required, but he said that it was a bad idea to read fiction that way. Jeanette waited patiently, and her father only commented once.
“Eadward Lear. That’s interesting. ‘The Dong With the Luminous Nose.’”
“The WHAT?” Jeanette said.
“Never mind. I’ll explain later.” He continued to flip pages.
When he got to the ribbon bookmark, he said, “Well, this certainly sounds like her. Not much room for calling this fantasy. So let’s see what else is in here.”
He continued in much the same way, only slower, though out of consideration for his daughter, he grunted more, but Jeanette was far from feeling left out.
He said at one point, “Here’s an interesting section:”
“Over dinner one night after that, she asked him, ”So what was life on the Ark of Infinity actually like? For something you trade upon so heavily, you’re mighty sparse with the details.”
“Well it’s a sound policy,” said Lear. “It reduces the opportunities for second generation liars to weave a net of plausibility from my descriptions.”
“The first generation of Liars being yourself,” she said.
“Technically speaking, yes.” He said smiling.
“Well, none of the excuses apply to me. Tell me. What was its mission--and who or what was its captain?”
“Its mission, as far as I could make it out, was a traditional one, and one for which I was well adapted: plunder. Plunder, but often of a peculiar kind: often it seemed more like archeological fieldwork rather than highway robbery. It was never that we asked permission, let alone paid for anything. But if we were going through a mad monarch’s palace, on fire from the flames of revolution, we would lift treasures from a specific list. Kidnaping was similarly selective. This was all done by conventionally tangible jollyboats, if you care to know. And though we did trade of our plunder, or collect ransom by similar means, much of what we took we never saw nor heard about again. We did not go into the holds, which were pocket universes andseemingly infinite. Some of the crew theorized that it was an Ark in more than just name, gathering treasure against some sort of multiverse-wide catastrophe.”
“And the Captain?”
“Well, she was reclusive and enigmatic, and appeared from time to time as different species, ages, and sizes. A familiar piece of showmanship: you’ve no doubt encountered many such. But the crew, and there were some very ancient races on board, regarded her as being of incredible age and with divine power.”
“And you made love to her.” Captain Odile said with a drawl.”
Jeanette said, a little sleepily, “I’ll bet you the book didn’t say ‘made love to,’ Dada.”
“You’re right. Pure instinct: forgive me, my dear,” Dr. Ransom said.
“And you fucked her.” Captain Odile said with a drawl.
“Not to get too metaphysical about it--yes.”
“She was neither desperate nor detached. Enjoyed it as much as I did, I’d say. I received no promotion or special status as a result--except that I lay with her and called her by a secret name that none in the crew knew.” He paused solemnly.
“I’m not going to beg or even ask,” the Captain said, leaning forward across the table.
“I called her River-Daughter, and she called me Fool.”
“River-Daughter,” said Jeanette. “Woo. That could mean something we’ve come across. Or someone.”
“Yes indeed. But all that about saving specific things or people--that doesn’t sound like an enemy ship,” her father said. Jeanette nodded.
“And now I think you should go to sleep. You’ve had a tiring day.”
“Thank you, Dada, I’m sorry for being such a baby.”
“That you are not, my darling daughter. I could wish for that again, but you aren’t a baby any more.”
Terence Ransom closed the door quietly on his daughter’s room, and made his way down to the dining room. He was completely worn out--but fervently thankful he’d been with his daughter through this.
The light in the dining room was strange. The light was dim, as he’d seen before--but shadows flickered through the room as if it was guttering candles that lit the place.
At the table, all in shadow, was a woman who looked something like the Queen of Hearts, but wasn’t.
“Sit down, Dr. Ransom. We must talk.”