Aventine looked at the place where Jack had been standing. “I see it now.”
Through her own distress, Jeanette looked back at her thanks to the note in her voice.
“He brought you here--to keep me company--so he wouldn’t have to.” It was like a massive wave of sorrow rising up. Ready to crash.
“Oh no, Aventine. It’s not that,” Jeanette said hastily, knowing that it very well could be. In that moment she could have shot Jack Shift through the heard, in just the way that Captain Ngozi Makena Odile had done. The pieces of the relationship puzzle between this beautiful imprisoned girl and this complete dickhead of a teleporter fell into place. She could do nothing but hug her.
It was an endless time before Jack reappeared--with a lynx gripping his shoulder, claws and fangs dug in, and blood trickling down over black cloth.
The lynx withdrew her fangs and said, “So there you are, Jeanette. Your father, may I say, is very angry with you.”
Blushing furiously, Jeanette said, “I was afraid of that.”
“Then you shouldn’t have done it,” said the lynx.
“Diotima, this is Aventine Marie Arouet du Châtelet. Aventine, this is my friend Diotima Urantia Gearheart,” Jeanette said. She couldn’t do the French ‘u’ in the ‘du’, so it came out as ‘doo.’
Aventine bowed and said, “Pleased to meet you. You are named for she who taught Socrates about love, aren’t you?” Though she was all gracious politeness, her eyes kept returning to Jack, whose own eyes were shut tight in pain.
“I’m in a slightly different line of work, but you seem to be an exceptionally well-read young lady.”
“That’s--my problem in a nutshell,” Aventine said.
“Your pardon, Aventine, but I am not going to take my claws out of this young man’s shoulder. Not until various issues are resolved to my satisfaction.”
“Excuse me,” said Jeanette. She got closer to Jack, reached up and tapped him hard on the chest. It was hard to read someone the riot act--whatever that meant--with someone so much taller than she was, but by God, she was going to do it.
She kept tapping until he opened his eyes. “Yes. What.” He said.
“This young lady--” and she pointed to Aventine. “Have you ever gone so far as to say ‘can I get you anything? While I’m off in that other universe?’”
“She *nghk* said no.”
“And you believed her. You didn’t go off and get her something anyway? Like, you know, a BOOK or something?”
Jack looked at her, uncomprehending.
“Holy--cow,” Jeanette exploded. “You can’t even READ, can you? You wouldn’t know what a book was if it bit you!”
She started to circle him. While she was doing that, Diotima started working Jack’s shoulder with her claws. “You’re running around, phasing in and out, stealing and assassinating and being free. And you look at Aventine--and I’ll bet all you see when you look at her is a symbol of your own horror of being trapped. So you spend as little time as possible with her--DON’T YOU?”
“That’s--not true. I tell her stories of my adventures, and she’s always happy to hear them.”
Jeanette was so mad she stomped on the nothing that substituted for ground in this 40-foot wide universe. “Has it not penetrated that thick head of yours that she’s happy because she’s ‘happy’ to cling to whatever scraps of you she can get?”
Her voice broke.
“Don’t you SEE HOW SHE FEELS ABOUT YOU?”
Jack looked at Aventine, who was crying buckets.
Aventine got up, walked like someone in a dream towards Jack. She gingerly touched Diotima, who pulled her claws out of Jack’s shoulder and dropped to the nothing. She kissed him. And like a dead man coming to life, Jack Shift finally returned her embrace.
“Do you see that?” Diotima said.
“What?’ Jeanette whispered, and the lynx pointed with her claw.
From the tips of Aventine’s fingers, resting on Jack’s back, silver stuff was falling.
“Galaxies,” Diotima said.
After a proper interval, Jack turned and took Jeanette’s hand. Diotima jumped up on his other shoulder, and he phased back to the ship’s dispensary. Everybody, down to Wynken, Blynken and Nod and the crows, were gathered inside, and, as Jeanette had feared, not a single happy face was to be found. Nobody so much as glanced at Jack as he let them go and vanished again.
Objectively speaking, the glares from the Pirate Queen of the Night and Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone might have been the most frightening, but they were nothing to her compared to her father.
“Jeanette,” he said.
She wanted to run.
“Whether this succeeded or not, you ran off into insane danger without telling anybody, not even me.” His voice was so even and careful it was terrifying. “You have collected before you a remarkable group of amazingly smart, powerful, and resourceful beings, all of whom care for you and are ready to help you. And yet you run off by yourself, telling no one, and this time put yourself at the mercy of a lying psychopath who had already put a knife to your throat,” Well, yes, they had told him about that: what did she think was going to happen? “It makes me regret every single YA fantasy or adventure novel I ever let you read.”
He sighed. If he started with ‘young lady,’ she was really in for it. “Young lady, until further notice, you’re grounded. Confined to quarters, since the first term is rather inappropriate for a starship hurtling through hyperspace. That confinement will only be lifted by an agreement between Captain Ngozi Makena Odile and myself--so there’s no point in trying to butter me up.” Whatever that meant. “Jeanettte, I know that you’re neither wild nor especially headstrong, and that you’re both intelligent and considerate. And I hope you take this time to examine seriously the way you’ve been acting.”
He went over and hugged her, and said in an entirely different voice, “I’m so glad you’re safe.”
And so she was marched (literally--the Captain’s daughters made sure of that) back to her cabin. About fifteen minutes later, breakfast was brought in on a tray. It was more sumptuous than usual--there was even bananas in her cereal, which was certainly Diotima’s doing.
Because of what the lynx had said earlier--about the damage she was causing her father--she didn’t feel she could waste any time in feeling resentful. She was still blushing furiously from shame, but she just let that settle down. Why did she act like she did? Yeah, there was that readiness to act like the heroine in a YA novel who tamed a dragon or saved the captive someone-or-other--because she was a little girl, yeah, but she had magic gloves and bracelets and a necklace and a golden key--
--the key. She had told no one about the doorway to the Library Universe, not her father, not anyone aboard the Paradox Swan. So explaining about Aventine and her tiny universe--
--would require a big long explanation--that had to include why she kept it secret--and would it include the fact that there was a door to it right in the Captain’s cabin? She had kept quiet because she didn’t trust the Captain, and she no longer felt that way--she was really cool--but it was like lying: as Dada had told her, you start with one lie, and pretty soon you have to think about what you could or couldn’t say everytime you said anything to anybody. And she was doing exactly that.
And it came to her about the dream she had of the Goddess and Grandmère that night on Ambremerine. About how Grandmère would betray her. And she had told absolutely nobody about it. There was so much.
Even though it was completely wrong to go to sleep after breakfast, she was tremendously tired. As she sat on the bed, she lifted up her shirt. It smelled like Aventine, so she didn’t want to wash it--but it also smelled like blood.
And of course on top of everything this shirt belonged to either Wynken, Blynken or Nod, lent to her for the masquerade at the Court of Miracles, and she really had to return it before she tore it or something. So she took it off, and went into her cabinet. There wasn’t much. She took out her embroidered shirt/tunic/dress from Broceliande, and ran her hands over it, She put it over her head and crawled into bed.
She was awoken out of a deep sleep by a tall figure standing next to her bed in the dim sleep-light.
“Jeanette?” A woman’s voice asked.
It was Queen Parise D’Avignon.