Terence was steering the enemy ship with a confidence he didn’t really feel, especially with Senhor Capoeira Capybara seemingly punching buttons and waving at surfaces just to see what the did. He knew, however, where he was going, making a circle around the edge of Radiant City by night, and thanking whatever powers there were that there was no pursuit—either from the Polizei or other possible enemy ships.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Dr. Ransom?” Grandmère Hutan said with forced evenness.
He answered in kind, “Navigating this thing is fairly easy to pick up.” (He didn’t say that all his aviation experience consisted of computer games. Why complicate matters?) “The rest is based on a hunch, but it’s a pretty firm one.This city, while civilized, does not seem especially utopian, so a strange warship approaching from air or space would not sashay in without response. That leaves one avenue of entry.”
“You mean time.” The orangutan nodded.
“And I mean the same portal we’ve travelled through earlier today. Which is where we’re headed, hopefully avoiding municipal entanglements. Finally, although this ships logs have been wiped, I’m taking a chance that the portal itself will remember this ship, especially since—am I right, Senhor?—this wreck doesn’t have a time travel engine, whatever the hell that might look like.”
“You’re correct in that, Doctor—I think.” The capybara stretched, and said, “I, for one, am fairly dragged out, and I could use some rest before things get hot again. Grandmère, I will take custody of our young friend, if you would be so kind as to take over for me at the board?”
As they traded places, they high-fived each other. Jeanette, who had been following all of this intently, was so jarred by the gesture that she made a noise of some sort. Capoeira turned to her. “I’m sorry, Jeanette, now that I think about it, I haven’t pointed out this feature of our gloves: I just transferred all the interface data I’d been cataloging over to Grandmère. Very useful little trick. Does the gesture have a home connotation for you?”
“Time for that later, my friend. Coming up on the gateway. This may not work,” Terence said.
The monumental arch attached to the great stone building was not well lit but still unmistakeable.
“We’re receiving a signal.”
“Is there a standard ID transmit?”
“All right, we’re going in fast. Hopefully the organizers counted on a hot pursuit.”
Dr. Ransom wobbled the ship a little, and it was, after all, beaten up, with a demolished antenna array and a badly shut ramp. Most of the lights started to blink on the board, which was not a good thing, but they accelerated toward the arch—
—and did not hit the building.
“We are on our way to somewhere or somewhen,” the orangutan sighed. “We may have tripped an alarm; at any rate, we can expect a hostile reception at the other end.”
“Weapons station?” Silvertyger asked. In answer, Grandmère touched a button, and a set of lights came on at the endow the console. “It looks like a nine-square keypad is all the controller you get. No familiarizing yourself with it while in hyper time, though.”
“Unnecessary, I assure you,” the tiger rumbled.
Jeanette walked to the back of the compartment and joined the capybara and Kelly, both of whom were eating. Senhor Capoeira offered her a glazed piece of pastry. “Is this still from Ambremerine?” She asked.
“What do you take me for?” the capybara asked with a full mouth. “This is from the pastry cart from this past evening.”
They came out into a war.
Radiant City of a thousand years previous (or maybe two) still had the same topography, but was now a thing of massive stone built into the sides of the hills, immense towers, one of which had an enormous crystal surrounded by flames, and terraces all over the place that seemed to be under cultivation. The site of the modern, or baseline, Radiant City was a lake, and suspended over the like was an enormous warship that bore a resemblance to their own. The air around it—and around them—was filled with dogfighting craft: black squat ones like theirs, and sleeker silver ones, more numerous but smaller. The silver ones looked like they were sporting the communist hammer and sickle, and the black ones the swastika, but as they got closer, Jeanette saw that the sickle was crossed with a bunch of stars, and the red swastikas were in the wrong direction. She had to make this observation from a series of radical angles, as beams of energy and projectile explosions enlivened their immediate area.
The capybara rushed forward, leaving Jeanette and Kelly sitting together, not exactly devastated not to be in combat in a broken ship with not-totally-deciphered controls. Senhor Capoeira was at a section similar to the tiger’s, and both of them had their hands dancing.
“I think coming up with a plausible explanation is not on the agenda today,” Dr. Ransom shouted. “Let’s see how much damage we can do to the big black guy.”
“At wave tops via the lake,” Lord Elphinstone shouted back.
Grandmère said “Is there anything usable as cushioning?”
“Besides ourselves? No,” the capybara answered.
“I will take the children,” Silvertyger growled.
“I’m the water animal, your majesty, You take Dr. Ransom.”
But that was when they started to come after the ship.
After a considerable portion where both sides were firing at them, as soom as their trajectory became obvious, it was the dark ships dive-bombing them, and, as they got closer, trying to hit them with their own hulls. Terence stayed at the controls, staying as close--inches--away from the lakes surface, but dodging at the same time. The other three ran up and down the bridge board, hitting all the buttons and sliding all the sliders and track surfaces forward. Capoeira came and grabbed the children, as the one good ramp started to open. The wind rushed in and nearly tossed them around the cabin.
The capybara, holding the children, was the first to dive at the racing water, but that was when disaster struck. A dark ship his them with a fin, knocking one of their fins into contact with the water, and the ramp rose up and swatted them into the sky. Capoeira lost his grip on the children.
Jeanette, beyond terrified, did the only thing that made sense: she rolled herself into a cannonball, and prayed for her life. She hit the water with an impact that might have broken a bone or two--her body erupted in pain--and then she hit the water again, which she took to mean that he skipped like a stone on the lake, which, she thought, was a ridiculous way to die.
There was an explosion that she only felt, because she was blind, deaf and drowned.
Then she felt her feet dragging in something like mud, which was funny, because she had no idea that she had unraveled. It hurt to open her eyes, and when she did, the sky was bright blue and black, and stank.
Kelly was pulling her out of the mud at the edge of the lake. He was a muddy mess, but proof of her existence.
She wondered if her jeweelry had saved her, or the goddess of her dream, or thafact that you could drop a piano on a toon and they’d have birdies circling their head.
“Come on! We’ve got to get out of here!” Kelly said. At first her body continued to disobey, and then erupted into the pain she had when she had a charley-horse, as Dada called it--the only cure for which was motion.
When she was after a century up, she looked back, and saw a sight: their ship plowed in at an odd angle into the big ship, and the other dark ships buzzing like a crowd of wasps at their dislodged nest.
“They know it’s us! They’ll come after us!” Kelly shouted.
As much as she hurt, she ran, trying to run through the cramps and the tearing at both sides of her ribs. There was an explosion crater only about twenty feet away--no wait, it was more--and Kelly ran ahead of her, getting ready to prepare the place of safety for her.
Then a black shadow roared overhead, and a beam cut Kelly almost in two.
She reached him, grabbed him, held him to her, as a massive explosion shook everything.
He looked at her through irregularly opened eyes and said “I’m so sorry…”
And that was it.
She was still holding him, and shaking, when the armored tiger came up to her.
“Release him, daughter, for he is dead.”
But she wouldn’t.