They all looked at the eager young Asian boy in front of them who, seemingly oblivious to what he had just put them through, now wanted to tag along with them.
“Excuse us,” Dr. Ransom said, putting a hand again on his daughter Jeanette’s shoulder to stifle another intemperate but not irrational outburst. They walked until they were out of earshot of the boy, with Thyrsis and Antithyrsis, the two crows, keeping watch.
“Let’s open our deliberations with me saying that this is completely insane. Do I hear a second?” Senhor Capoeira Capybara said.
“Seconded,” said Grandmère Hutan. “However, purely on the basis of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, I think we should accede to his request.”
“Nonsense,” said the capybara with some heat.
“If we say no, he’ll follow us,” said the orangutan.
“If we don’t bring him along, I see no other alternative than to kill him,” said Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone. “Too much is at stake.”
“Then you believe that cock-and-bull son-et-lumière his older self put us through?” The capybara asked.
“I don’t doubt the general principles of what we saw,” said Dr. Ransom. “Except for that ‘older self’ part. That frays at the edges.”
“I think the conductor was genuine--but I also think he was being prevented from saying everything he knew.” Jeanette had been thrown for a loop, especially by Lord Elphinstone’s remarks. She had to say what she’d perceived, but kill the boy? How could she agree to that?
Terence Ransom said slowly, “I’ve been thinking about all this, and this is what I think makes sense.”
He paused, a bit unsure, but everyone waited on him.
“I think that they--whoever they are--weren’t ready for the presence of all of us. I think this was all carefully staged for an audience of one--my daughter. I also think that this is part of a continuing if subtle effort to detach Jeanette from the rest of us.”
“But to what end?” Senhor Capybara asked.
“As to that, I haven’t a clue.”
“Makes sense,” Grandmère said. “From the game of tag to the dazzling technology to the desperate scenario--she wouldn’t have picked apart the presentation the way we did. No offense meant, Jeanette.”
“Even the weapon that was given to us is one a young girl could easily use,” Dr. Ransom said. “All that said, I don’t think we were being outright lied to. Which makes the present decision far from simple.”
Everybody grunted a little.
Then Senhor Capoeira said in a voice loud enough for the boy to hear, “Well, I for one am worn out, over-exerted, hungry and tired. Since Radiant City seems to be a civilized place, I propose we find ourselves a nice expensive hotel, spend a sybaritic night of hot showers, room service, and actual beds, and resume this in the morning.”
“A very good idea,” said the armored tiger, also loudly.
Dr. Ransom beckoned the boy over, and the crows flapped behind him. “So, Mr.--would you mind giving us your name?”
“Li,” grinned the boy. “Tekeli Li. But I like to be called Kelly.”
“Well, Kelly, it’s getting late. You’ll be our guest for tonight, and we’ll take you out to dinner and you’ll stay with us in a hotel, and we’ll let you know our decision after we’ve all had a chance to sleep on it.”
“Wow! That’s great!” Kelly said. He doesn’t like that at all, Jeanette saw. Not fitting in with his plans, but of course he can’t let on. It was more fear than irritation, though, and that upset the model she was building of him again.
The Capybara argued that, wherever else luxury hotels were to be found in Radiant City, there was bound to be at least one top of the line hotel near the train station. Likewise for restaurants--and ones that catered to a diverse clientele.
This proved to be right on the money. In the towering chandeliered lobby of the Hotel Am Bahnhof they were greeted by a tall dignified gentlemen behind a desk who bore something of a resemblance to a raccoon. His defensiveness and dignity rose a few notches when Dr. Ransom asked for a set of contiguous suites, not too high up. His readiness to issue a denial was interrupted by Lord Elphinstone the Earl of Maurya slamming down a fistful of coins and jewels, whereupon he announced that a whole floor of the North Wing--very quiet--would be at their disposal. He was almost equally impressed when, asking for identification, he was presented with a set of unlimited railpasses (the orangutan handing over three, for her and Thyrsis and Antithyrsis, the two crows.) He turned them over in his closely-shaved furred hands, clearly not having come across these before. (Kelly’s smudged ID wasn’t proffered as it would have diminished the effect--but the companions did note that he had one.)
On inquiring after a good restaurant, the manager, as he dusted the jewels into a small monogramed cloth bag, directed them to an imposing building across the street. There was a crystalline bridge over the flow of floating platforms that indicated a working relationship with the hotel, and they found themselves at the entrance to a dining room as big if not bigger than the hotel lobby.
They were met by a round, furry maitre d’, whose sunny disposition seemed tested by the heterogeneity of the group. “Four adults, two children, and two birds,” Dr. Ransom said with cool equanimity. The maitre d’ opened his mouth--and shut it again as another armored handful of jewels came down on his stand.
They had a big round table, and such was the immensity of the dining room that it didn’t seem that they were necessarily as far away from the other diners as possible. There were paper-thin tablets displaying the menu, but Jeanette preferred to use her own. The crows also ordered from hers, perched on her shoulders, and she suspected it was adapted to their apparent species. She decided this time not to order the macaroni and cheese, much as she would have liked to, but ordered shrimp jambalaya (with the little slider to select the spiciness down near zero.) The crows ordered ambrosia fruit salad which, when it came, she was extremely jealous of, though they didn’t take the hint and offer her some.
Kelly sat between Grandmère and Silvertyger, and though he ate his food with enthusiasm, was still nervous and afraid in Jeanette’s eyes. He was asked very little during the meal, and offered nothing.
The sun was down and the city was glowing when Jeanette stepped out of the bathroom and into the big bedroom. Dada was already asleep in the first big bed, wearing the clothes he had chosen for the trip to Gladys’s restaurant. His shirt was open, and Jeanette saw the big red scar that zigzagged down the side of his chest. Though it had healed steadily, it probably still hurt like hell, and he of course said nothing about it.
If she had been alone when she had caught up with Kelly, and got transported first a thousand years and then millions of years into the future, and when they game back with Dada and the others who knows where, Kelly would have become her traveling companion, and she would have ended up doing what he wanted. But what was that? Was it necessarily awful? And did it have anything to do with her dream at Ambremerine?
She slid into the other big bed, in her overly big bathrobe because it felt amazing. She wasn’t alone, though, and her friends were there for her, and everything seemed just familiar enough to make her content.
She still got up a couple of hours later, got back in her traveling clothes and slipped the Haven jewelry on. Then she slept better.
At least until the dark hours of the early morning, when the door exploded.