One hundred twenty-three

One hundred twenty-three

Jeanette looked at the book. Maybe her mouth was open, maybe it wasn’t. When her father said, “What is it?” she held up the book wordlessly, and he said “Oh my.”

The book was passed around the table. O Tse didn’t react as strongly as the others, but Senhor Capoeira Capybara turned it over in his hands, and Lord Elphinstone was very solemn as he passed it to the Queen of Hearts. She reacted with eyes wide, because of Jeanette’s memories that served as the substrate of her recreation. The Lieutenant, who was still lying on the couch, looked at them with puzzlement.

O Tse said, “You just now mentioned the name--and our neighbors had already sent this book? This seems more like a stage illusionist’s  trick. How is it possible?”

“It seems to me there are two possible answers,” said Dr. Ransom. “Either our friends somehow figured out that we were the ones who sold the Variant Space sample to the Court of Miracles--certainly possible, if astronomically unlikely--or the King of the Moon of the Moon had something to do with the original acquisition of the samples. Still a coincidence, but much more plausible.”

“Which will only be decided upon reading the book,” said the capybara. “The latter, though, might explain Captain Odile’s facility with Variant Space and its detection.”

Lord Elphinstone sat, head bowed, more troubled than Jeanette had ever seen him.

“You want to say something, milord,” said the Queen sympathetically. “Please do.”

“It is just--” Silvertyger paused. “--The very existence of such a book shakes me. To the best of my understanding, you, my companions and friends, struggle with the idea that you were once characters of fiction somehow thrown into ordinary life, as part of a struggle in a great war. I have cast that out of my consideration, and view you as brave and heroic companions, and have been comfortable acting accordingly. But my respect for Captain Ngozi Makena Odile was and is as great as for any of you, and to view her as a work of fiction--I chafe at it.”

After a pause, Dr. Ransom replied, “None of us feel differently, milord. But I’ve seen you fight when your feet could not find firm footing, and I’ll still trust you with my life.”

“I think," said Jeanette, as soon as she thought it was proper, ”that I’d like to be the one to read the book. I’ll report as soon as I find something important. Is that okay?”

The Queen smiled. “It was a gift to you, my dear. It would be rude otherwise.” Everyone nodded.

Of course, Jeanette wanted to keep away from the fact that Ngozi was the wife of the King of the Moon of the Moon, and that he was the father of Wynken, Blynken and Nod, because she felt that her promise still held. The ‘Romance’ bit in the title was a bit of a giveaway, though.

Trouble was, it wasn’t even noon yet, and that meant that her favorite place to read--bed--wasn’t all that natural at the moment. She felt, moreover, that she could really use the physical support of some big pillows and a comforter when confronting what might be in the book.

She saw that Lieutenant Quintus Octavian was smiling at her. She smiled back with a bit of a raised eyebrow. He got up, wobbling a bit while doing so, but steadying himself admirably for a man who, only hours ago, had a huge hole in his chest.

“I think--correct me if I’m wrong--that you’re tying to come up with a good place to read the book--private and pleasant,” he said.

“That isn’t bed,” she nodded.

“Not in the middle of the day, no. But I did observe that none of you did much exploring of the hospital when you arrived, or since. As a result, you’ve missed out on some very choice features of the place. Would you come with me, my lady?” He said playfully.

She was still a little girl and a long way from being interested in boys in the ways that had been clinically--and fictionally--described to her, but he did make her feel all tingly. She raised her hand elegantly to his and got up. (She felt more like Eloise than the Queen of Hearts, but she liked it.)

The Lieutenant brought her into a room that was mainly a library, full of two-story bookcases with one of those ladders on rollers, but a beautiful chaise lounge that might have been wickerwork in front of a tall cathedral-like window partly covered in green vines. There were a couple of small tables by the chaise, one with a forest of bottles accompanied by stemmed glasses and another that a sampler box of chocolates, all within easy reach. There were big pillows and a comforter. The tall ceiling had a painting of angels and clouds in the most wonderful colors.

Jeanette looked at him. “You didn’t just have this whipped up to order, did you?” Because she was used to that sort of synthetic technology.

Quintus said, “oh, no. There’s a masculine equivalent with leather armchairs, mahogany panelling, and crystal humidors full of cigars. Your tastes are not all that eccentric, milady. But there’s also a swimming pool, a Turkish bath, and a squash court.”

“I don’t know what either of those last two are.”

“You can live a long and fruitful life without knowing what they are. Or you could wander around when you take a break from reading and find out. Her Majesty didn’t just pay for location when she rented it.”

He stood up, hands on hips. “Well? What do you think?”

“It’s perfect,” she said, because it was.

When he turned around and left, still teetering a little, she turned around looking at the room. It was gorgeous. The colors made it soft and springlike and gentle. It was kind of like the Rose and Briar world without the magic. It did make her wonder ehy it was that so many other places of power and technology got it wrong.

She sat down on the chaise, put the pillows in back and the comforter (actually lighter than a comforter) over her legs and began to read.

“The enormous man stood in the doorway of the bar, disinfecting water pouring over his head and shoulders, and said in a voice that sounded like an argument between two eagles, ”I look for Eadward Cincinnatus Davilmar Orestes Lear.”

The slender dark woman behind the bar with a gun already in her hand said, “Over in the corner. Drinking.”

“Obliged,” the giant said.

“Shake first,” said the woman, pointing the gun.

After shaking the beads of water off, the giant walked over and stood before the table where a somber dark man sat with a mug of clear liquid before him.

He raised his head. “You have three chances to arouse my interest,” he said in a voice like a church.

“You contest with my master for the ownership of this world, and yet you have nothing.”

“Nothing to lose, therefore. That’s one.”

“You are weak, cowardly and a liar,”

“Matter of opinion. Two.”

The giant pulled out a gun. A lambda projector, not meant to be fired in a gravity well. It fired an eye-searing bolt that went right through him.

The man called Lear arose like shot, reached up to the giant’s head and smashed it between hist two hands. The sprinkler system went on.

He walked to the bar’s doorway. The bartender turned off the decontaminating shower, and he walked out.

He stood in the ruddy morning sun and held his arm up. The morning light poured through it.

“Seventeen years. Seventeen years since I killed you, Ngozi Makena Odile, and I’m still way too solid.”

He turned around and headed back into the bar. “Nothing for it but to keep drinking.”“

Jeanette shut the book hard.

Killed her. Killed her?


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