“Since I’m headed on a future-to past geodesic, any antimatter will blow up in the future and leave us a clear path!” The young woman said excitedly.
“If you say so,” responded the captain. “If it works it’s a very nice trick.”
“It’ll work until your trace heads out into normal space again. We do have to interlock closely, because the wake isn’t terribly broad. So ready to accept navigation lock. Carrier in three. two. one.”
“Lock,” said Ngozi Makena Odile.
“All set! We’re good!”
“I hope you’re not offended by this,” said Dr. Ransom, who was trying to appear calm, “--but who exactly are you?” And why do you look like a grown up version of my daughter? Was the important part left unsaid.
“The simplest answer is that I’m a fan,” the young woman bubbled. “Permission to come aboard, Captain Odile?”
“Five--no, three minutes.” The face vanished from all the surfaces and with it, the Captain’s calm. “Does anybody have any idea of what in hell is going on?”
Diotima Urantia Gearheart said, “The trick should work--but not with any technology I’m aware of--or most magic, either. As to how she knows the ship and your name--no idea.”
“Other than the fact that--” Grandmère Hutan started to speak, but realizing that Jeanette was right there, let the rest die.
Diplomatically, Senhor Capoeira Capybara said, “Maybe it’s the lynx eyes. That could enhance the perception of similarity.”
Jeanette was momentarily shocked at the realization that she still had Diotima’s contact lenses in, and had stopped even thinking about them. It also occurred to her that Queen Parise D’Avignon had spent her entire visit looking at her and never mentioned it--not even once.
Terence Ransom shook his head. “It’s more than that.” And he, too, fell silent.
Ngozi made a flick of a finger and said, “Permission granted.”
The young woman was dressed in striking geometric garb, with tall boots and sweeping sleeves that flared at the elbow. She wasn’t wearing white gloves, which was important. She wasn’t as tall as her--that is, Jeanette’s father, but Jeanette had to admit that if this was what she would look like as a young woman, she’d be quite satisfied. But Dada was even more uncomfortable with her in person.
She was all bouncy excitedness as she said, “It’s such a thrill to meet all of you! Sir Silvertyger Elphinstone--Grandmère Hutan, Senhor Capoeira Capybara, Thyrsis and Antithyrsis, Wynken Blynken, and Nod--but I hope you’ll pardon me that you, Jeanette Ransom, are my favorite!”
Dr. Ransom said anxiously, “And your name is…?”
“Oh I’m sorry! My name is Jennifer Random Transcendent, Captain and, well, Everything Else of the galleon Absolute Elsewhere, at your service.”
Terence was trying to formulate another question that made any sense at all, when the Pirate Queen of the Night said briskly, “Since we’re under weigh again, we all have duties to attend to. Jeanette, would you mind entertaining Captain Transcendent in my quarters?”
“I’d be happy to.” Jeanette got up and went over to Jennifer, while everyone else figured out someplace they might be supposed to go to. Jennifer smelled wonderful--like pine forests and cool spices, and now that they were up close, Jeanette thought it might not be a bad life, having utter and complete power over boys just by sashaying around.
When they sat down in Ngozi’s cabin, Jeanette came out with the hard question first. “Are you me from the future?” She asked, as soon as their weights settled in the chair.
“No,” Jennifer said simply. “I’d have to be fifteen hundred years old to be that, because that’s how far back I’ve come.”
Jeanette just looked at her.
“OK, let me explain all in a bunch because that’s how I’ve rehearsed it. Is that all right with you?”
“Yeah, because I’m not sure what questions I’d know to ask,” Jeanette said.
“OK, well. You see--I know all about you because you’re my favorite book of all time. You and your dada and the Doors of the Decision Tree and Radiant City and Avalon and the Paradox Swan and everything. I was given the book on my first trip on the Railway by the conductor, who assured me that it was all a true story from over a thousand years ago.”
The mention of the Railway caused Jennifer to sit up, and the thought that had popped up in her head from time to time that she had gone a thousand years back in the history of Radiant City and never actually bounced back forward. Which gave rise to the question whether Jennifer was her many-times-great descendant.
“So when it came time to strike out on my own, I realized that my quest into the past might have me crossing paths with you. That is, if I worked it properly. And, ta-daa!”
“So we’re a book…” Jeanette said, not very happily.
“Sure are,” Jennifer said. She touched one of the angles on the curves of her dress, and it opened like a flap. She took out a book the size of a paperback. “Want to see?”
Jeanette drew back in alarm. “No, no, no! I know what that leads to.”
Jennifer looked blank, then said, “Oh. You know, I never even thought of that. Wow. the Book of You. Sorry!” She put the book away.
She went on. “I want to assure you that I’ve been careful not to screw anything up for you. Spoilers: in the book, you wait in deep intergalactic space long enough for Bravura Corsairs to catch up with you. You beat them, largely thanks to Lord Silvertyger friggin’ Elphinstone, and you turn the ships into a gas cloud of positive matter that takes the brunt of the antimatter interaction, and you make it through. My way, you miss out on a cool fight, and gain a few days, but otherwise everything’s the same.”
“Of course I can understand how your adventure already being written down in a book might be kind of mind-blowing, so I’m not going to tell you anything but that you win and it all comes out OK. Zip. Nothing else.”
So was that at odds with the dream from Ambremerine? Well, yeah, probably.
“That’s it,” said Jennifer. “You want to see my ship?”
Jeanette nodded, and raised her voice, “Permission to go aboard the Absolute Elsewhere, Captain?”
Ngozi’s voice came back. “Granted.” There was a muffled sound. “Your father says be careful.”
“Mwah,” she responded.
Going aboard was simply taking a step and being on the other ship. The Absolute Elsewhere was different: the main cabin was a big twisty place with lots of alcoves and sweeping curved benches, and while it was hard to determine what the hull material was on the Paradox Swan, on the AE it was plainly beautiful, polished wood. It smelled like Jennifer. There were large windows of complicated curved shapes, which seemed dangerous compared to the Swan, but, the technology was almost certainly superior.
But as Jennifer took her around the ship, Jeanette began to have a dreadful feeling come over her. She began to realize that she recognized this ship.
Or rather, pieces of it.
When they ended up at Jennifer’s bedroom (calling it a cabin didn’t seem accurate), Captain Transcendent turned to her. “I really would like to give you something powerful and helpful, like the last time you got interfered with, but there didn’t seem to be anything right.”
With a start, Jeanette realized that, for all her real discomfort about being bailed out from the future--and still, maybe from her herself--that they had been ushered millions of hears into the future, told all sorts of things, and Dada had been given the miraculous chalks. So why shouldn’t she just lighten up and enjoy this beautiful ship?
“Well, then it hit me.” And the young woman took the little girl to a cabinet door that vanished to reveal a long array of clothing. Jennifer reached in and pulled something out.
“It’s so beautiful,” Jeanette breathed without any subterfuge. She reached out to touch the dress, and it was softer and sleeker than skin.
Jennifer said, “I kept making the mistake of thinking you were older--that is, more like me, because I was you when I read the book. But this will fit you perfectly, the way it did me when I was your age.”
“I love the collar,” Jeanette breathed. “It’s like--it’s like an orchid.”
“Just the thing to go with your orchid from Avalon. But get this: it’s anisotropic. Which means it slides softly along your skin, but normal to the surface, it will stop a supersonic projectile.”
“Just like--” and Jeanette was suddenly unsure of the term.
“--Like dwarf-silver. Exactly.”
But as they returned to the Swan, the horrible feeling returned. She felt like she was, in fact, walking trough the pages of a book--but a dreadfully dark book. They entered the cabin that Jeanette shared with Wynken, Blynken and Nod, and she said, “I’m afraid there isn’t much I can give you.” She pulled her backpack out of a cabinet, and dumped it out on the bed. “Just a souvenir, I guess.”
Captain Transcendent’s eyes were alight as she looked over what to her must have been an historical treasure trove. “Anything you want,” Jeanette mumbled.
And Jennifer’s eyes fixed on exactly what Jeanette was afraid of. “Oh! Fantasy Books! And that one’s about a ship! And so is that one! Can I take two?”
“Two. You can take two,” Jeanette said bleakly.
“Thank you! Oh, Thank you!” Jennifer said . She knelt down and hugged Jennifer in a hug she wished she could avoid, because it would burn in her memory forever.
The young woman whispered in Jeanette’s ear. “Excelsior, Jeanette Ransom.”
And when Captain Transcendent had left to talk to the others, Jeanette shoved everything off her bunk and, thinking of the pile of wooden staves--of smashed and broken wooden staves--on the mountain ridge behind Haven, and the pages from The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader and The Sorcerer’s Ship by Hannes Bok found amid the wreckage--and wept bitterly and uncontrollably.