The moment the boarding alert was sounded, Captain Ngozi Makeni Odile waved her hand. “Blast doors are down.”
The voice of one of her daughters said “Right and left forward blast doors on cargo hold level have been blocked.”
The passengers of the Paradox Swan had mobilized, and Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone was halfway down the stairs already. Parise D’Avignon said to him, “My lord, if you could bring me one invader alive, I’d appreciate it.”
“It shall be done, your majesty,” The tiger growled. “Thyrsis! Antithyrsis! To me!” And he was gone.
The Captain looked at a jumpy representation of the ship over the mess table. “They’re everywhere, but the greatest concentration are on the hold level, which leads me to believe that they’re not working with special information. But there are well over thirty ships englobing us. You didn’t happen to bring them along with you?”
“Possible, but unlikely. The only ship-traveling enemy Broceliande has dealt with are the so-called Theravaders, and their ships are much larger. Have you made any local enemies?”
“We are well away from the body of the galaxy, and deep in the halo, which is in general dim and disappointing. Still, all it takes is one star with one planet in the proper orbit to make a race, and one active nebula to make an empire.”
Grandmère Hutan’s face appeared above the table. “We stopped them from setting a shaped charge on the main hold door. They die but it’s not easy. From the looks of things they’ve peeled off a contingent to come after you. Out.”
The Captain offered the Queen a weapon, which Parise put down on the table. There were more explosions that shook the ship. “Doors on decks two and three to port have been breached. Regrouping,” said another of the Pirate Queen’s daughters. Ngozi touched one of her necklaces and asked, “Does it seem as if more enemy are teleporting aboard?”
“Looks that way.”
The Captain turned to the Queen and said, “We should at least be ready to retreat to a more secure position.” The Queen nodded, if a bit abstractedly. Then cawing announced the return of the crows Thyrsis and Antithyrsis. They were sagging in flight, carrying what looked like a grotesque variation of a lobster tail.
The armor--or shell--was dark green blending to white, and each segment had a complexly-jointed pair of arms. Lord Elphinstone had seemed to use more than usual precision with his longsword, so the interior being, completing the similarity, was a piece of glistening wet pulsing pale meat, covered with a silvery network of threads. It was twitching feebly, but still alive.
The queen walked over and put a hand on the pulsating flesh. She shut her eyes as the sounds of battle became very loud and very distinct. The Captain raised her projector into firing position.
Then the Queen straightened up, raised fingers on either hand, and made a sort of dance movement, ending in the forward sweep of her left arm.
There was a sudden silence.
“Captain!” Dr. Ransom’s head appeared over the table. “The aliens are all...gone!”
Ngozi leaned forward and swept her hand through Ransom’s head, replacing it with a model view of the Paradox Swan. Group by group, the englobing ships were vanishing as quickly as they had come. She also saw that the one cracked-open alien had also vanished.
From the now-open doorway came the piercing whistle of Senhor Capoeira Capybara. “What can I tell you? You do NOT mess with the Queen of Broceliande!”
A bit wide-eyed, the Pirate Queen of the Night struck a desperately casual pose towards Parise. “That was--cute.”
“It was not quite so impressive as all that,” the Queen said, a little too serene and elegant for Ngozi’s sense of self-worth, “Once I could parse their nervous systems, I just introduced a cantrip for the fear of death--which I’ve made a detailed study of. Coupling that with a simple reversal spell, it broke their entire force. This isn’t a third as effective on a race with a highly developed spiritual life, but I made an educated guess here.”
Lord Elphinstone strode forward, his mirror armor as usual showing not a scratch nor a stain, and bowed before Parise. “Victory is ours, all glory to your majesty.” The Queen said “Arise, Count of Maurya: the valor is yours and those who fight alongside you.” The tiger kissed the hilts of his longsword and sheathed it with an ostentatious ring.
Ngozi said with a bit of a casual drawl, “If you could bottle some of that, Your Majesty, I’d buy a few cases,” She paused, and then said more carefully, “or even better…“
“You are going off into unimaginable danger, and you can use all the edge you can get. I understand. But from what I know, against the dangers you’ll be facing, you’d profit as little from this fish out of water as with two extra banks of disruptors. Still, I have a number of things to do before I go back to my impatient and irascible husband, so I may be around to make a few more space fleets disappear with a wave of my hand as the occasion warrants.”
Dr. Ransom said, “I think you and Charles Martel would really hit it off.”
Grandmère Hutan gave out a very orangutan-y hoot. “I’d buy tickets.”
She turned to Diotima, who was perched on the capybara’s shoulder. “Was there damage to the dispensary? Are your mousetraps still in place?”
“It was pretty severely beat up--the lobsters were in full loot mode. And it’s minutely possible he phased in during the battle and is now speeding his way to their home planet. I don’t think so, however,” the lynx said.
“If you’ll excuse me, I think I’d like to go investigate the matter,” The Queen said to everybody. Senhor Capoeira Capybara said, “I think we’re ready for a little bit of a celebratory late-late-lunch--”
“High Tea,” supplied Dr. Ransom.
“Just so. We’ll save you some cake.” And he ambled off to the larder.
They reached the dispensary which was a bit of a shambles, but the gearwork devices Diotima had set up were ticking away. “This tiny universe phenomenon is something that’s been talked about a lot in the theoretical literature, but I’ve never heard of the Lost Ones, your majesty,” said the lynx.
“It’s tied in with some other esoteric phenomena.” The Queen said guardedly.
“That you’ve discussed with little Jeanette?” Diotima asked.
The lynx bowed her head. “I’m terribly sorry, your majesty. I forgot myself.”
The Queen stroked Diotima’s head rather than answering.
“So--can we set up a dimensional gateway here?” The Queen asked after an inspection.
“The white gloves of Jeanette’s sodality make things tremendously easy, but there are dozens of ways. I have one or two of my own.”
“You surprise me not one whit, Diotima Urantia Gearhart.”
The lynx hopped onto a shelf and sat beside a larger clockwork machine. “I gave Jeanette a variant on this one--a wish- fulfillment machine.”
“That’s a dangerous thing to give a little girl--and far more for our Jeanette.”
“Oh, it doesn’t work on living things or magical items. She uses it for books, lumpia and Snickers mainly, I’ve heard--whatever the last two are. This one is slightly more powerful if not thought-activated.”
“Well, then, let’s give it a try,” Parise said.
Diotima stuck a claw into the open gearwork and gave it a spin.
What happened then was not what they’d expected. A great sour gong reverberated throughout the ship. And the Queen slumped to the floor, clutching her chest. The machine dissolved into dust--and then the dust caught fire. Within thirty seconds there wasn’t a trace of the teleporter.
“That--was new--!” The lynx said.
“For...me...too…!” Parise said, struggling to get up. Her face was white, drawn and old.
“Your majesty!” Diotima cried out in alarm. She jumped down into Parise’s lap, and they sat there, the lynx rubbing her head against her ribs. She could hear the Queen’s heart hammering.
“It seems we’re going to have to wait for Jeanette to get out--of the brig--to pursue this further,” Parise said at length.
“The Captain’s going to take a lot of persuading. Jeanette really crossed the line this time.”
“I--I’m going to talk to her--probably tonight--on a related matter.” And neither of them said anything for a while.
Parise D’Avignon was restored and composed when she walked into Ngozi’s cabin a few hours after dinner. The Captain didn’t get up, but was completely cordial. “Now what can I do for you--other than get Jeanette out of stir?”
“There’s something of tremendous significance about your ship that you should know about--and if, as seems likely, you don’t, that’s a mystery in and of itself. I’m tied up in it, as is Jeanette--as is our unseen friend Aventine.”
“I’m going to show you something.”
The Queen got up and walked over to a cabinet in a room full of built-in cabinets. She pulled out, so that it was visible to the Pirate Queen, the small golden key, and opened the door.
“Come--take a look.”
What happened was just as startling as the incident in the dispensary. Ngozi came over, bent over and looked within, so that she could see the bookshelves of the Library--
--and threw herself back onto the deck.
She was sprawled there, arms thrown back, all traces of her magnificent poise gone. Her eyes were wide, tears poured down, and she shook to clear them.
The Queen was crouched down next to her, trying to hold at least one of her hands. “Ngozi--what--?”
“S-shut it. Just shut it.”
“Of course--but why?”
“I think--I was born there.” Ngozi’s voice wavered in a terrible music. “For the love of God, SHUT IT!”