It was almost fun, torturing Jack Shift with a banana split. Actually it was fun, just with a dose of guilt because his blood sugar was being depressed to keep him from teleporting. But he was also being enough of an asshole that Jeanette kept doing it.
“You know you are going to have to trust me that I won’t just vanish on you--and this isn’t helping,” Jack said feebly.
“Just promise that you’ll take me to see your friend. Oh, and bring me back. Promise.”
“Oh all right, I promise.”
She walked around the dispensary table and switched off a couple of the four-dimensional pendulums Diotima had made. She unlocked the shackles on his hands and handed him the ice cream.
She didn’t know whether she was handling this at all properly. Even though she felt he wasn’t really bad, he had held a knife to her throat. He lied a lot--that was certain. She was a spoiled little girl who’d had too many adventures, according to Diotima, and was trying something stupid--again.
But the one thing she did know was that the story Jack told about this girl all alone in a 40-ft-wide universe was important--and that it was very important to him, the way that nothing else was.
Jack leaned his head back and sighed. “What were those long yellow things?”
“By far the best part. All right, are you ready?” She gripped his wrist. “Hang on tight,” he said.
The sensation wasn’t surprising at all: by now, she’d gone through enough dimensional gateways that it barely registered. When she looked around, though it was very different. Everything was black, completely black, but it was locked-room black and not outer-space black. And in front of her was a beautiful blonde girl sitting cross-legged on nothing. Her dress was light violet and delicate white, with puffed sleeves off the shoulder. It was perfect fairy princess, and it was gorgeous. And it was like she was sitting in bright sunlight, except there wasn’t any--and she wasn’t glowing, either. She was looking down to her lap, and was very sad--but that changed when she looked up.
“Jack! It’s you--and you’ve brought somebody!”
One look at Jack’s face and Jeanette know she was right: he needed this as much as freedom. Maybe more. “H’lo,” he mumbled like an idiot.
Jeanette got closer. “Hi! I’m Jeanette Ransom. Jack told me about meeting you, and I made him bring me here.”
The girl smiled and said, “Getting Jack to do anything can be work.”
“It wasn’t easy,” and they laughed a light laugh as if they’d grown up together.
“So what’s your name? Jack didn’t tell me that.”
“It’s Aventine. Aventine Marie Arouet du Châtelet.”
“Ooh, that’s a beautiful name. Are you a princess?” Jeanette said because she couldn’t help herself. She was half in love with her already.
“Oh no. I’m just a citizen of the Angevin Republic. My father was a renowned philosopher, and I’ve lived in some very nice places, but nothing like a princess.”
“If--I mean, if you don’t mind--if it’s not too painful--could you tell me how you got--how you came to be here?” Oh, she was handling this really well!
“No, it’s very strange but it’s good to have--”
“--someone new to tell it to?”
“Yes.” Crap, did Jack even ask her?
“Being the daughter of a great philosopher--he died when I was quite young--I was given the best of educations--as far as it went. Natural Philosophy, Philology, History, Comparative Religion, Political Economy, Musical Theory, Poetic Scansion--from sometimes quite eminent tutors. I was given plenty of time to divert myself: pets and playmates and garden mazes and ladylike games.”
“The one thing, though--outside of my father’s own plays and satirical epics--not a novel, not a tale, not not a mystery or a romance or an adventure story. Not one. I don’t think this was a stricture of my father’s--he was a kind and indulgent man--but it was definitely the prevalent pedagogical theory of the age. I could tell you the names of the great writers, but if it was fiction, I would be treated to a lecture on cultural contexts and histories of the schools of thought. I was miserable.”
“I spent the hot days of summer in the High Juras, and the winters in the sunshine of the Holy City--once the center of the great Ravennan Empire that covered the world. I had one tutor of Heresiology--a wonderful old man who had published shelves of books, but was always light and humorous, and who I believe cherished me especially.”
“One day he was called away in the middle of a lesson, and left a key on a chain on his desk. I picked up the key and went around the house trying it out. Finally I found the door to which it fit.”
A chill went down Jeanette’s spine.
“I went through--and there was a universe of books! A cosmos of books! And of all sorts, from legends to novels of manners to comedies to histories of worlds that never were! It was everything I’d longed for! And when my tutor came back, he didn’t enquire after the key--he knew--and had given me my heart’s desire.”
Then Aventine looked at Jeanette, her eyes wide. “You know about this too!” She whispered. Jeanette nodded, both excited and terrified.
“Your tutor--did he warn you of anything?” She said in an equal whisper.
“Nothing, but there was a book in a carrel, called ‘How to Use Your Library.’ I read it, but I wish, I wish I paid more attention to it!”
Jeanette leaned over to Aventine. “That book on your lap--what is it?”
Gulping, Aventine turned the book towards Jeanette. At first, the letters on the cover were in a strange alphabet, but they soon resolved themselves: LE LIVRE D’AVENTINE MARIE AROUET DU CHÂTELET.
Jeanette could barely get the words out. “The Book of You.”
Crying now, Aventine nodded. “The Book of Me. Which if you read it--”
Jeanette quoted, “‘--you will softly and suddenly vanish away--’”
“‘--And never be heard from again.’” Aventine sobbed.
“Oh my God. Oh my God,” Jeanette embraced her, crinkling the lovely gown. They stayed that way for a long time, with Jeanette trying to hug strength into the frail older girl.
Then Jeanette broke away. “Well, we’ll just have to do something about that! We’ll get you out of here!”
Aventine shook her head. “No, no, I’m this universe and this universe is me. It’s impossible for me to leave: I’ll just cease to be.”
Jeanette, drawing on her catalogue of amazing people from Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, to Captain Ngozi Makena Odile, to Parise D’Avignon to Oberon king of Avalon--to her father--said “We’ll just see about that. I know some people. And besides, If Jack can come in and go out…”
Aventine, at Jack’s name, raised her head--and her brow furrowed.
Jeanette twisted around. “Jack?”
The son of a bitch was gone.