The walk through the forest was pleasant, and it was just what Jeanette needed. She was consciously building up her confidence and optimism, since it would get ugly and frightening soon enough.
She asked her two crow companions, “So you’re crows? Not ravens?”
Thyrsis answered, “I should bloody well say not. Crows are far more observant, and have vastly better organizational skills.” A pause, and then, “I had some dealings with ravens. Nevermore!” And the two of then clacked their beaks and rustled their wings in what had to be a crow version of laughter.
“I don’t get it,” Jeanette said.
“It’s a joke, child! A reference to Edgar Allen Poe. Great Yahoo poet. Was fired on at Fort Sumter. Invented baseball. That guy.”
Antithyrsis said, “She’s just a child. You can’t expect her to have acquired a full set of cultural referents for many years yet.”
“That’s okay,” Jeanette said. And it was.
The forest thinned out to brush, then to the slabs and rails surrounding the black fortress. There was only a small doubt that she could walk unimpeded into the fortress, despite the fact that she was more than a foot shorter than the mantis who previously wore the jewelry, and not in any way a bug. The story the crows had taught her had convinced her, and she’d developed an abiding faith in highly advanced technology. So she walked fearlessly through the jungle of railroad tracks and up to the great doors of the fortress.
Most of the bugs (beetle-soldiers as well as others) were occupied repairing the hole that she herself had blown in the fortress wall, so she walked up to the huge doors nearby, which stood open with only a couple of soldiers standing by them. She walked right in, but was still relieved that nothing unexpected had gone wrong.
Once she was in the sparsely-lit gloom, the problem she had been really worrying about presented itself. Although she was ready to just start exploring (it had paid off when they were in Hell), this was a very very big place, especially if you didn’t have a firm idea of what you were looking for.
“So, any ideas?” She asked the crows.
“Not a one,” said Thyrsis, and Antithyrsis was silent.
“No memories or traditions about where Haven treasure was kept?”
Her thoughts went to the jewelry she was wearing. Very possibly incredibly powerful, but probably the mantis herself didn’t know half of its capabilities. (The crows knew far less, obviously.) This was both hopeful and frustrating. She might be wearing a detector and not know it. For that matter, a manual for the jewelry might be all she need to follow her father.
She was about to give up and start the long search, when she touched the necklace at her throat.
I hate this place.
The voice was clearly her own inner voice, but she knew in an instant who it really was.
I hate this mausoleum, this vermin society, and my place in it.
It was the wave of emotions, though, that brought her down to her knees, and made her lean back against a wall, head down.
“Are you all right?” Antithyrsis said.
“Shh,” she responded.
I wish this were a place where once, just once, I could follow a piece of history along the path it wishes to be followed; I wish once I encounter a mind as something other than a bag to be drained; wish that once I could see a story come together rather than be torn apart.
The mantis’s voice, once it had become itself, was so beautiful, that she sympathized even with that evil. She now had no doubt as to why she allowed herself to be run through.
Another part of Jeanette sat, crouched, waiting.
There was a mental sigh, and an Or perhaps I am just too tired.
It came with a mental tug, at which Jeanette sprang up and said to the crows, “This way.”
They climbed a narrow spiral stair that let out onto a corridor that Jeanette had to negotiate sideways, and a few steps that led up to small-high-ceilinged space that could scarcely be called a room.
But there were shelves, and a few latched boxes, and a scattering of stuff in various piles. The crows clacked their beaks with pleasure.
There was enough space for her to sit cross-legged on the floor, so she did that, as Thyrsis and Antithyrsis enthusiastically dropped things on her.
“I think this might be from the ship that brought the bugs!” Jeanette looked at a bunch of crumble-edged pages. A few of them clearly said The Voyage of The Dawn Treader, and they were in English. There were other pages and fragments of pages, mainly in English but some in other alphabets. She could make out one heading “HANNES BOK,” but there was very little complete.
There was also a jewel box with a picture of a strange ship with sails in every direction, and some unreadable lettering. There was no CD in it.
There were a lot of scraps with writing filling up every square inch. “That’s almost certainly bug-script. We can’t read it.” Then there was a box that when they opened it, Jeanette sat back. It was filled with shaped metal pieces and jewels. There were almost no complete pieces, it seemed, but Thyrsis said, “Haven technology was often very small. No doubt she was keeping these from the Emperor-God or other superiors.”
She ran her fingers through the box: some of the pieces were warm to the touch. But at the bottom there was what felt like a small pamphlet. She pulled it out eagerly. “Those are Haven marks!” The two crows said, stumbling over each other to get closer.
Jeanette started, very gingerly, to pry the leaves of paper apart. It was a thick material, and clung to itself. She pried and stopped, pried and stopped. She very carefully pulled at an edge that seemed to have something sticking it together. Anticipating a ripping sound at any moment, she ran her fingernails up and down. Then she stopped.
“I think we can go now.”
“What? What? What is it?” The crows batted their wings against each other, and the narrow walls.
Triumphantly Jeanette, unfolded the formerly-stuck-together lump into a single sheet that nearly filled the room.
“It’s a map.”