Jeanette felt like she had just hit “Send to All” by mistake.
“I-I didn’t think--I mean, I didn’t mean--”
The tall woman with the flowing hair and the elaborately embroidered dress said, “I don’t drop everything if you brush your fingers, in the wrong place, but I read both the excitement and the trouble in your heart, so I came.”
“B-but it’s so far--!”
Parise D’Avignon said, “I will admit that I haven’t been on a starship in a long time, and never quite one like this. But as for distance, it wasn’t that hard to get here, and I think you know the reason why.”
Of course she had come right through the secret door to the Infinite Library in the Captain’s cabin. Universes--and relative speeds--meant nothing. “I’m glad you came, even though I wasn’t thinking it was possible.”
“Are your friends here as well? Shall we go to see them? They were very entertaining.”
“Um--I can’t leave the cabin…”
“Oh? Are you constrained by some magic?” The Queen asked with a bit of alarm.
“It’s punishment--for running off by myself and into danger.” Jeanette said, not meeting Parise’s eyes.
“I see. And was it justified?”
“Completely.” And she hung her head even lower.
“Suppose you tell me all about it,” Parise said, sinking down onto the opposite bunk.
“Well, there was this guy who’s a teleporter and who’s one of us who followed us home from the Court of Miracles where we sold some Variable Space that we picked up in a space battle--um, it’s kind of complicated…”
“There’s no need to trace everything back. Let’s start with the guy.” She pronounced it ‘ghee’ for some reason.
“The thing is, I think I’ve found something out about the Book of You.”
The Queen leaned forward. “Go on.”
“Well, the guy--his name is Jack Shift and he’s--well, it turns out he visits this tiny universe that’s only about 40 feet across. He said there was a girl in it, and when I forced him to take me there--”
“With a banana split. You see, they were keeping his blood sugar low so he couldn’t phase out--”
“Never mind. The girl.”
“Well, her name was Aventine Marie Arouet doo Châtelet, and she told me a story about being given a golden key and finding the Library. But there she was, alone in this tiny universe, sitting with a book in her lap with her name on it. She was so sad.”
Parise said nothing, so Jeanette went on, “The problem is, I didn’t--haven’t felt comfortable telling anybody about the Library. And so when something like this happens, I feel apart. And when I feel apart, I go off by myself.” And that sounded like the stupidest thing she’d ever said in her life.
The Queen smiled. “Maybe it’s best that I handle this for the moment. But tell me, did this Jack Shift say just how he found this universe? Because nobody has ever reported anything like this.”
“He just said he was sort of wandering around and kind of stumbled on it.” Jeanette said.
“Just between you and me, Jeanette, I think there was more than that involved.” Parise got up. “And one more thing: does the Ghost Ship following you have anything to do with this?”
“Ghost Ship? Ghost ship??”
“Forget I said anything.” And she touched Jeanette on the forehead, snd Jeanette felt so sleepy she could barely pull the covers over her.
She walked into the mess, and the beautiful black woman leapt to her feet at about the same time that everyone else fell to their knees. The only one who hesitated was Terence Ransom, whose culture went against it, but he did so finally. This in turn made the black woman tense up still father, and Lord Elphinstone Silvertyger’s rumbling “Your Majesty…” made her ready to fight.
“You’re Captain Ngozi Makena Odile of the Paradox Swan? I am Parise D’Avignon of the city of Broceliande. Permission to come aboard?”
The slight banter in her voice made the Pirate Queen of the Night relax just a bit, and she said sardonically, “Noting in the log that this request is after the fact, your request is granted.”
Parise turned to the lynx who was standing on her back feet on the table. “Hello, Diotima. So you’ve hooked up with this variegated crew?”
“It’s certainly been a good choice so far. What brings you out--here?”
“You tell that little so-and-so that she’ll be let out of the brig when I decide, and not a moment before, no matter whom she calls up!” Ngozi’s voice filled the mess.
“It’s nothing like that, Captain. There are parts of her discovery that she knew would be of interest to me. The little ‘so-and-so’ will, I am sure, benefit by having some of her enthusiasms checked. Begging your pardon, doctor,” and she inclined her head towards Terence.
“May I sit?” She asked Ngozi, and the Captain gestured sardonically. Everybody sat at the table, except for Diotima and the two crows, who perched on it.
“Is the young man Jack Shift here?” Parise asked.
Diotima answered, “He’s spending some very necessary time with his young lady. I have planted a few dimensional mousetraps towards the time when he eventually appears.”
“There is a legend surrounding this young lady: it’s called the Aventine Keyhole. She’s one of what we call The Lost Ones, and her discovery would answer a number of questions, even as it would no doubt raise new ones. Suffice it to say that I and many others have been searching over thousands of universes for tens of thousands of years with no results, and to find this roguish young gentleman just stumbling upon her to be--well, singular.”
“May I add, though, that the fact that he is one of your white-gloved kind makes the surprise less.”
Senhor Capoeira Capybara said, “So you think that our young asshole is lying about this?”
“Oh yes.” The queen smiled. “But I am just as eager to have colloquy with the young lady. I might even be able to bring her some comfort.”
Diotima said, “I--and of course our little so-and-so--are the only ones who have been in to see her. I was planning on bringing her a few things--snacks and, at Jeanette’s suggestion, books--but for now, it’s my judgment that some alone time between Jack and Aventine is the most important thing.”
The Queen nodded. “But you were able to make the dimensional transition with no ill effects?”
“None.” The lynx flicked her claws.
Parise was interrupted by an explosion from below. Klaxons sounded. One young girl’s voice came out of the air: “Captain, we have bogies materializing all points of the compass around us. We’re englobed.”
And a second young voice came in: “Captain, we’ve been boarded.”