When Ngozi Makena Odile had finished listening to the glowing AI ball in the canister, she swept one of the circles at its base. The canister went opaque. She picked it up by its handle, left her cabin, descended the stairs to the hold level of the Paradox Swan, and went into a small room.
There was nothing but a cabinet and a wall panel inside. She put the canister on the top surface and stepped back. The canister started to sink down. She went over to the panel, pulled out two keys on chains around her neck, took one in each hand slipped them into adjacent slots and turned them simultaneously. She left the room.
Four of them gathered in the ship’s dispensary: Jeanette Ransom and her father Terence, the lynx Diotima Urantia Gearheart, and Parise D’Avignon. Jennifer was carrying a pile of books; Terence a covered tray; and Diotima was carrying a clockwork device hanging from one of her teeth.
“Well now, should we try this again?” The Queen said.
Diotima’s machine began to whirr, and they all stepped forward, and into a small black space. Two figures, seated next to each other, were all that could be seen.
“Knock knock!” Jeanette cried out.
The tall young man in in black came to his feet, then slumped a little as he recognized them. The beautiful young girl cried out, “You’re back! How wonderful!” As they approached, Jeanette could see the change in Jack Shift: he slouched and squinted less, and though a smile was still far from his face, there seemed to be very little anger.
“Aventine, Jack--this is my father, Dr. Terence Ransom. Diotima you remember--”
“We’ve met,” said Jack, which almost made Jeanette jump. Was that a joke??
“--And this is Parise D’Avignon, Queen of Broceliande.”
Aventine’s eyes lit up. “Oh my! You’ll forgive me, your Majesty, but my upbringing was not to rise in the presence of aristocracy. I hope you understand.”
“That’s quite all right, Mademoselle du Châtelet. Jeanette was sparring with the woman assigned to her at Castle Broceliande for quite a while before she learned my title.”
“It’s still an honor, nevertheless,” Aventine said.
“And we brought stuff!” Jeanette said. “Like books!” She came closer and dropped her pile on the nothing that served as a floor in the 40-foot wide universe. “All fiction, too. All different sorts. I would have given you nothing but fantasy and adventure, ‘cause that’s my favorite, until the Queen and Diotima corrected me. It’s all in French--or Angevin, for your universe.”
“Thank you, Jeanette! Though in my world, ‘French’ means writers like Villon and Rabelais. How delightful!”
Parise walked over to Jack, who had retreated a bit from all the female good spirits. She extended her hand. “I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Shift. It grieves me that you got off on the wrong foot with my friends, and I hope I can take part in making it up to you.”
Jack shook hands, seemed on the verge of saying something, but then let a nod serve as his reaction.
Dr. Ransom came forward with his tray, and Jeanette acted as his stage assistant in pulling off the cover. “And I brought ice cream. Complete with fixings for a wide variety of extravagant options--bananas included, Jack.”
“But before we do that, I’d like to talk to you, Aventine, about matters of some sensitivity, if you will allow me to,” the Queen said. She sat down in front of Aventine so that their eyes were on a level. Jeanette didn’t withdraw, but stayed close.
“Parise is a Librarian, Aventine.”
It took a second before that sunk in. “Oh,” she said. And a little bit of fear showed in her face. Jack took a step forward.
Parise said, “We’re a long way from understanding the mysteries of the Library, dear Aventine, though we are somewhat its custodians--and to a very small extent its guardians. We wrote your guidebook--but though we knew the peril of the Book of You, we had never ever known what actually happens to the victims. And so it’s miraculous that Jack found you, and that circumstances made that aware to us. It gives us hope for the millions of others.”
“Millions?” Said Aventine, astonished.
“That we know of,” said the Queen. “We haven’t counted all the doors to all the worlds, and the Library’s history goes back before the blossoming of many universes, so there may be more. So you see how much of a debt we owe Jack--and you.”
“Millions,” she repeated.
“We’ll naturally do everything we can to make your condition easier. I would not dare to risk--well, everything--by trying to free you from this small universe--as you intuit, you are it and it is you. But if we can enrich your time, we will--although much of that will be Jack’s task--one which I know he is eager to shoulder.”
“And that means more visits,” Jeanette said.
“And more than that,” said Diotima. Parise had unhooked the device from the lynx’s tooth, and presented the framework of gears and metal ribbons to Aventine. “It’s a bit of an experiment, too, to see whether it will work in your universe as it does elsewhere,” the lynx said. “It’s a teleporter that is activated by thought and desire: in effect, a wish-fulfillment machine. It doesn’t work on either live things or magic things, but there’s still a lot it can do--if it works.”
“Lastly, although this maybe more symbolic than anything else, I’d like you to have this,” Parise said. She took the thin chain with the golden key from around her own neck. Aventine reached for it--but her hand went right through it like a ghost’s. her head bowed and her shoulders sagged.
But the Queen got to her feet. “In that case, I give it to you, Jack Shift. Keep it for her, until the time--and the time will come--when she can use it.”
“Teach him to read--!” Jeanette whispered to Aventine, and a smile appeared on Aventine’s face.
“Alright, enough of that,” Dr. Ransom said. “Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, butter pecan--who wants what?”
“Just give me one of those drippy cherries,” said Diotima.
A few days later, the coterie of the Paradox Swan was gathered in the hold. The big machines that had vibrated quietly for weeks were now still. There was a cube floating in the center of the great space: it revolved slowly, and yet always had the same face turned to the observer.
“We’re now deep into the intergalactic void, and no longer traveling. Outside of our shields, there’s not an atom for a hundred miles in any direction. And if it weren’t for that inexplicable mass of neutrinos that’s been following us around, the emptiness would be absolute. With three different base states of pure space, we’re now able to triangulate the very formants of the continuum--and don’t ask me what that means.I couldn’t tell you. But it may, just may, enable us to isolate the traces of Deep Chaos--and maybe lead us to the Night Land and the Last Redoubt.”
There was a rustling, and everybody was quite surprised to see Jack Shift walk up to the congregation. He stared at them, they stared back, and he took a place around the hyperecube (if that’s what it was.)
Ngozi held a small clicker in her hand. Nothing happened.
Then Jeanette, Terence, Senhor Capoeira Capybara, Grandmère Hutan, and Jack Shift--everyone of the white glove wearers--dropped to the deck screaming in pain and terror.