Chapter 3 - Earth the Second

Iona stopped before a puddle that blocked her way to the stairs. “Larry, would you please?” she said, holding out a hand. She didn’t mind the mud, but she refused to die in wet socks.

The guard she called Larry stepped beside the puddle and took her hand, helping her to cross. She hadn’t bothered to get his new name - it would only change again. Iona wasn’t even her real name. It had swept into her mind and mouth on a previous change. She liked it though, so she had kept it.

“Come off it!” yelled the mean one, “Why are you helping her?”

She smiled at the guard who was probably not named Larry, ignoring his colleague (equally unlikely to be named Larry). “Thank you,” she said, “When this nasty business is done, I shall be sure to reward you.” Shall. The word seemed right in the air, but it felt wrong in her mouth.

Larry nodded, “Of course, Madam. You expect you’ll live, then?”

She smiled silently and patted his cheek, then walked up the steps to the top of the stone platform. Had it been stone yesterday? Iona couldn’t remember.

The crowd jeered, as crowds at these things do - some tossed mud (as well as other things Iona tried to pretend were mud). The man they called King silenced them, saying, “Has the witch considered her final request?”

He wasn’t a king, she knew, but trying to convince these people of that wasn’t going to help her. It was, in point of fact, what had gotten her labeled a witch and a thief in the first place.



If she was honest - and she rarely was - that had only been the reason they called her a witch. They called her a thief because she was a thief. But they never would have known she was a thief if they hadn’t arrested her for being a witch, so...

It had all happened yesterday, when the world changed again. Iona had inserted herself in the company of the not-yet-king, was winning his confidence brilliantly, and was about to lay the final pieces of her plan to steal something or other (she could barely remember what anymore). Then history swept through, leaving behind yet another new society of laws and faux pas to work out.

Everything kept changing like that, every few weeks or so, but she seemed to be the only one who took any notice at all. At first it had been less obvious - just tiny alterations to the town and time she knew so well. Now though it was all-encompassing, all-devouring, all wrong. She felt they were living in someone else’s history, and she hated it.

Between the lies she was telling and the lies the world was telling, it became a bit too much then. So she had had, well, a moment - one she was perfectly entitled to, thank you. Unfortunately, the now-king and his companions had no sympathy for her outbursts about the different pasts and peoples they’d lived through.

Thus, she was here, being asked about her last request.

“I have,” she said, standing in front of the stake, “And I think I should like a royal title.”

Everyone laughed. Except Iona, who winked at Larry, then passed a warm, indulgent smile across the crowd.

Eventually, wiping away tears, the king replied. *“Oh, should you?* And I should like a--“

“--Yes,” she cut him off, bored already, “I should, and before you say no, remember I am apparently a witch.” A few uncertain looks crossed through the crowd, so she added, “Curses, and such.”

A wave of unease filled the courtyard before settling in with the wet from the previous night’s storm.

The king narrowed his eyes, staring for a moment before he said, “We have no lands to give to a dying witch.”

You have no lands at all. He was still speaking, but she didn’t care. “I don’t want any lands,” she interrupted again, ”only a title. I’ve even come up with one that I’m sure you’ll agree is suitably meaningless.” When no one spoke up, she continued, “I should like to be named the Queen of Un.”

The man who was called king drew in a deep, slow breath and thought for a long moment. The crowd who called him that swung their heads back-to-front-to-back-again, thinking about what he thought and whether they would have thought it, if they were him.

Finally he said, with a gesture of exaggerated magnanimity, “Of course. If it means you won’t curse anyone, I’ll grant you sovereignty over a prefix.” Then, to the guards, “Now burn her and have it done!”

Larry took a reluctant step toward Iona. She held a finger to his cheek. “No! Hold on,” everyone held, “I said I wanted a title. It’s not a title if it isn’t written down. It has to be official. You know, or else.” She did a spooky sort of thing with her eyes and nose.

After more arguing and curse threatening, all was agreed upon. The king had his servants bring out a long, beautiful scroll of finest paper, on which a scribe wrote:

I, Anden, King of the Valley, hereby declare that the witch Iona Plum, is henceforth and retroactively to be known as

The Queen of Un

And granted all power and respect due to such a title, now and in perpetuity, under penalty of curse, death, or worse.

“Happy?” he asked, when it was all settled - in a tone neither happy nor settled.

“Yes, thank you,” Iona smiled and curtsied (another thing that felt right but wrong). Then, with every air of graceful finality she could muster, she walked up to the stake, let her hands be tied behind, nodded to Larry, and said, “Go ahead and bring that torch over, Larry, dear.”

The guard who might as well have been called Larry hesitated but did as bidden. With a pleading look, he inched the torch toward the kindling at her feet. Iona only smiled at him.

Then, at the last moment, she gasped. “Wait! I’ve just had an idea,” she said, as planned. Larry, who did not know the plan, pulled the torch back. The crowd returned to their questioning head turns. “Could we,” Iona continued, “change the title ever-so-slightly to Queen of Uni?” The confusion intensified. “It’s just,” she went on, “I’ve been thinking about how coarse and unrefined the letter N is. It has no place at the end of a word, I think - especially one so important.”

The king narrowed his eyes again, as he apparently liked to do. A silence dragged on beneath his gaze until Larry - brave, dear Larry - offered, “It is a very harsh letter.”

There was some murmuring of agreement at that, which built to a general approval of the idea (and a general disapproval of the letter N). After a brief consultation with the scribe, the king said, “Fine. There’s room on the paper, and it doesn’t matter anyway.” Then, with a royal portion of barely-suppressed impatience, he added, “*Will that be all?*”

“Of course,” Iona smiled, “I thank Your Eminence, Your Grace, and Every Royal Bit of You.” She nodded again to Larry, “Let’s get on with killing me then.”

He continued as reluctantly as earlier, but again, right before the flame could leap to the kindling at her feet, Iona spoke up.

“It’s only,” she said, as calmly as dinner conversation, “And I am so sorry - It’s just, I’ve only now remembered it’s bad luck to end a royal title with an i.”

Again Larry snapped the torch away. Again the crowd snapped their heads back and forth. This time an old woman - one who had thrown mud at Iona before - spoke first from the middle of the crowd. “It’s true, it is! I heard it...” she tottered off for a moment, confused, but found a satisfactory course soon enough, “I heard it off a traveling minstrel two days back.”

She hadn’t. She’d heard Iona muttering it out of her cell window last night, but she’d remembered that too late and felt embarrassed about it. For good measure she added, “He was a filthy lad, but knew his way around letters, that’s for sure.” People nodded the way polite people do when the elderly say things that can’t be verified.

Iona smiled a small, personal smile, just for her. The ball was rolling now - it was rolling away from the cat, who was out of the bag and off to the races.

Quickly she got the king to agree to add a V to the end, on the grounds that Vs are fine letters at any point in a word.

Next - again waiting until the flames of the torch were just close enough to imperil her - Iona had the scribe squeeze a ‘the’ between ‘of’ and ‘Univ’. “It just makes it feel more definitive,” they’d all agreed, heads bobbing with assurance.

After - no longer bothering with the pretense of waiting on the torch - Iona wondered aloud which was better, a long i sound as in ‘nice and fine’ or a short one as in ‘limp fish’. “Of course,” everyone concluded, “long is better.”

“Fine,” the king said, his impatience fully unveiled. “We’ll pronounce it with a long i.”

“No,” Larry protested, “that won’t work. Because, I mean -- beg your pardon, king, but -- we’ll all be dead one day. Then it could get said all wrong.”

To illustrate this, Iona - with help from some in the crowd - presented a hypothetical involving a strapping, young historian who discovers her title in a dangerous crypt. How would they pronounce it, the group wondered? This was briefly derailed by a tangent about whether the historian should have a whip, but Iona ultimately brought it back to point. “There must be something on the paper,” she said, “that indicates how to say it properly, or else our attractive, youthful historian could be cursed accidentally.”

This was, everyone agreed, an outcome to be avoided. “What if we add an e at end?” asked a timid crowdsman near the front. Iona marveled at the elegance of this solution, begging the name of the brilliant man who’d discovered it. His name was Dorin, and he was to be lauded for his genius, his wit, and his trousers (which were very neat).

So an e was added, and Iona was to be called “Queen of the Unive. It was at that moment, sadly, that Iona realized it would be much prettier, sorry, if it were “Univer”. “Isn’t that much prettier?” They all agreed it was, so she gave her apologies to Dorin.

“But, oh. Oh, dear,” she said, once the R was inked. “It’ll have to be ‘Queen of the Univers’.” This, she explained, was because you wouldn’t say ‘Queen of the Human’, you’d say ‘Queen of the Humans’. All admitted this had a certain logic. The king - who just wanted a witch burning really, was that so much to ask? - fumed silently, having proved impotent to stop this.

Finally, Iona lamented that Dorin’s e was lost in the middle of the word. Oh, what a cruel fate for such a genius e! It really deserved a spot at the beginning or end, didn’t it? Everybody knows, after all, that those are the most revered letters. (Everybody agreed that everybody knew this.) “Is there any more room at the beginning?” she asked the scribe, who confirmed there was none. “What about the end?” someone else called. There was still plenty of room there, as it turned out.

So it was that an e was tacked onto the end of her title, to forever be known as “Dorin’s e”.

With that settled and in a place they all felt good about, Iona motioned again for Larry to please kill her now. She only asked that, before he did, she could hear her full title read aloud.

The scribe read:

I, Anden, King of the Valley, hereby declare that the witch Iona Plum, is henceforth and retroactively to be known as

The Queen of the Universe

And granted all power and respect due to such a title, now and in perpetuity, under penalty of curse, death, or worse.

“Oh my!” she exclaimed, in obvious shock, “Well then, as my first act as Queen of the Universe, I hereby pardon Iona Plum of all charges of witchcraft, witchery, and witchliness. Oh, and theft, too.”

“But that’s you!” an idiot (who was called king) said.

“Yes,” she smiled, “I suppose it is.”


Edna scanned the distant ground of Earth the Second for obvious landmarks - either from her time here before or that might carry from her own world. Their navigation instruments - as well as radio equipment, exterior lighting, several fuel lines, and Highmond’s fourth favorite cane - had all gone bust from the polite but devastating knocking of the Threshold Guardian. Oh, and the mashed potatoes had spilled.

In response to this news from Pythagoras, Highmond had lowered the zeppelin’s altitude, turned it out from the path of the storm, and asked that they all please have a look for any clue as to where, dear god, they were. Actually, first he’d had a time cackling “wildly” while being silhouetted by lightning, but that, he insisted, would add a lot to the adventure. Definitely more than a sentence or two…

So Edna stood - now with the safety of shoes - atop the zeppelin’s outer-railing, flanked on either side by Pythagoras. The ship was moving slow enough that they’d been able to speak at a comfortable volume to one another, so they’d chatted as they searched. Edna found that, while other robots she’d known had floundered in small talk, Pythagoras excelled. This was good, because she was more like the other robots - the practice easily overwhelming her with anxiety, if she felt it was going off at all.

Pythagoras’s skill proved sufficient to hold their idle chatterings happily aloft for hours - leading and edging their topics just enough to highlight the potential paths of conversation, never so much to feel restricting. If ever Edna showed the slightest hint of social worry or fear of some imagined lacking, the turtoid always found a way to make her laugh. It might switch which body it spoke from mid-sentence or point out that some land feature looked like this human body part or that turtle body part. The whole thing thrilled Edna in a way she hadn’t known such a mundane task could. It was, she felt, a singularly profound conversation, despite its entire lack of profundity.

They were failing their job though. Neither had yet spotted anything helpful - unless you count hills that look like noses as helpful. (If you do, they’d spotted three helpful things.) The best they could say was they were over a large, long island. Not Long Island, much longer. Not Longer Island either, which Edna knew was a place on a few of the parallel Earths.

She sighed and rubbed her eyes, rolling her neck back to push off the building stiffness. Before her gaze could make it back to the endless world below, she spotted something moving across the sky - several somethings. They were already too close for Edna’s comfort, and getting too-closer.

She cupped her hands across her brow to block out the sun, but she did not squint. Squinting does not make you see further. Eventually, when the somethings had gotten close enough to make out some details, she said, “Pythagoras?”

Pythagoras, who had been monologuing about mashed potatoes, stopped. “Yes?” he said.

“Forgive my ignorance, but is there a place on Earth the Second where the police wear tall hats and ride flying dinosaurs?”

“No,” Pythagoras said, still dutifully scanning the ground below, “not normally. Why do you ask?”

“Why do you think?”

Pythagoras thought, then said, “Because that’s where we are?” The turtoid looked up for confirmation and, following Edna’s gaze, got more than he’d wanted.

By now, Highmond and Pythagoras had had time to answer Edna’s many questions about what, precisely, was going wrong on Earth the Second. They’d done this between answering other questions about ‘who they thought they were’ and ‘what gave them the right’ and ‘in my study, of all places’. The last one wasn’t a question, but she’d kept saying it and they’d felt an obligation to answer for it.

Of course, there were no answers they could give that would, to Edna’s satisfaction, excuse them for kidnapping her - beyond maybe ‘it did save your life’, but they’d been smart enough not to try that one. Unfortunately, they also hadn’t been able to give a satisfactory account of the dangers their world was facing.

“Time is sort of, well, jostling around, you see,” Highmond had said, “and breaking apart, and smashing back into itself, and tying up in knots, and just going wrong in every way imaginable.” Then after a pause, “It’s quite the game, I say! Splendidly exciting!” Then another pause, “But for, you know, all the dying,” And another, “And the never having been born.” A final, shorter pause, “Terribly sad, all that.”

Probing deeper, Edna had learned two important things:

The first. Whatever was happening had - as of yet - had no apparent effect on Highmond and Pythagoras. They’d no idea why.

The second. There seemed to be a source from which the madness began. Highmond had taken to calling this The Beast at the Center of Time, if you’ll recall. This source was, conveniently, in Highmond’s home country of Ingland - they only knew it existed because they’d had to escape it in the first place. Less convenient, there was still no telling how far away or in what direction Ingland was. Practically the opposite of convenient, the “Beast” had sealed off much of the country behind an “impenetrable wall of every possible death”. So that would be a bad day, when they got to it.

Looking out to where Edna stared, Pythagoras could see the dinosaur-riding policemen on approach and was sure of two things:

The first. They were actually riding pterosaurs.

The second. Correcting Edna on the matter would not help keep them alive.

From another body inside the bridge, the turtoid asked Highmond to come out, taking control of the wheel. Back on the railing it said to Edna, “So, basically, this is what’s happening,” gesturing at their visitors.

“I see,” was her only response.

One of the pterosaur-riding policemen pulled a little red light from a satchel and sat it on his pterosaur’s head. It spun round, making a faint wee-woo-wee-woo, as they neared.

Highmond came through the door spewing words, “Have you done it then? Haha! Splendid! Just in time, too. We’re dreadfully low on fuel. Losing it every second, you know! Where are we, anyway? The Egyptian Republic of Spanish Netherlands? I’ve been getting a strong Egyptian Republic of Spanish Netherlands feel.”

He stepped toward them on the railing. They parted to give him a better view, but Highmond’s eyes darted from Pythagoras to Edna to other Pythagoras, never landing on large, encroaching reptiles that could be seen between them. He continued, “Do you think they have good dirigible fuels in the Egyptian Republic of Spanish Netherlands? I mean, of course they’ll have hydrogen, but I -- I say, what’s all that wee-woo-wee-woo? Pythagoras is that you? Have you got a screw loose? I’ll run and grab the spanner.”

He turned to walk back inside, but stopped when a voice he didn’t recognize came hurtling at them through a megaphone.

“You are in violation of galactic law 00004! Land your blimp immediately or we will throw rocks at you!”

Highmond turned, finally seeing the pterosaur-riding policemen in their tall hats, and immediately knew two things.

The first. They had not called him out to tell him they were in the Egyptian Republic of Spanish Netherlands.

The second. He was - it was undeniable now - adventuring.

Highmond steeled his nerves, steadied his knees, and stayed his bladder, which wanted to evacuate. Without thinking, he reached his hand into his waistcoat pocket, clutching for the thing that wasn’t there anymore. A pang of sadness grabbed at him, but he banished it with a look at Edna Star. Affecting cool detachment (he hoped), he cleared his throat and said to her, “So, basically, this is what’s happening.”

Edna only nodded. “Is it always so… piecemeal?” she asked, eyeing the men who had threatened - as part of galactic law - to stone them.

“No,” Highmond said, shaking his head sadly, “I’m afraid these poor chaps have had a bad shake of things. It’s the only reason I’ve not given them a stern what-for about calling my zeppelin a blimp.” He shuddered as he said it.

“I’d say they’re living in at least four different timelines,” Pythagoras added, “It’s hard to say which, if any, is even their own.”

“That’s very sad,” said Edna, grabbing the watch in her pocket and squeezing. The riders pulled alongside them, surrounding the ship.

“Hm. Yes, terrible thing,” Highmond said, distracted by climbing up the railing, then he yelled, “It’s a zeppelin! A blimp is a glorified balloon, you absolute tots!” He sighed a long sigh, staying at his perch on the second highest rail.

“Better?” Edna asked.

“What?! Oh, er, yes. Of course. Thank you.” He said, turning back to her. Then, once more yelling out at their would-be stoners, “Blimps go flaccid if you take the air out! A zeppelin has structure - dignity - GRACE!”

“We don’t care!” one of them called. Outrage poured from Highmond in a frenzy of involuntary words that strung together with no meaning or intention. Edna thought it sounded like a bad, staccato, beat poem.

Eventually, when he’d calmed and then climbed down, he straightened his posture and jacket while saying, “I apologize. It’s possible that was about more than the inherent superiority of zeppelins to blimps.” His companions only nodded, so he took a quick stab of breath through his nose and said, “Well! I suppose there’s nothing left but to prepare for battle! Pythagoras! Turtoid the harpoons! And I think I shall have my fifth favorite cane, the one with darts, if you please.”

Highmond looked to Edna with barely contained curcitement, which was his patented word for mingled curiosity and excitement - it hadn’t made him any money. “Ms. Star, I must admit, I’ve been very curious to find out what it is you do in these situations. Tell me, how do you prefer to fight?”

Edna’s battle prowess was as famous as it was enigmatic. She had never been known to lose a fight, but it was hard to say if she had ever won one either. Not a soul had the faintest idea how she had taken down the TitanoShark, for instance; or how she had, without any weapons, defeated Laser-Captain Swordgun; or especially why there were so often pianos being carelessly moved into third-story lofts directly above her enemies. Neither witnesses nor fellow combatants could do more than stumble through retellings of how she had, they thought, done a lot of falling? But, they meant to say, impressively?

Edna of course knew exactly what her strategy was, and she told it to Highmond in the exact way she always did when asked how she fought.

“I try very hard not to.”

This only worked for her, she knew, because she meant it. Violence was one of the things Edna Star hated most about adventuring. Her colleagues went round punching enemies into submission, throwing henchmen through windows and walls, or slinging knives and bullets at anyone with an evil laugh. The truth was punching hurts your hand, someone had to clean up that wall, and weapons - doing what they were designed to do - were gruesome to behold. It was one thing to swing a sword in an elegant dance of mind and body, flowing through the air like wind through a tree. It was another thing entirely for the wind to kick that tree to the ground, stab it in the heartwood, and wipe the sap on its sleeves.

So Edna tried, with every cell of her power, to take no part in violence, which had only made her the best at it.

Highmond, who knew none of this context and all of Edna’s reputation, said, “I—well yes of course. Violence is always the last resort.

Edna sighed internally. Violence is always the last resort, and its variations, was one of those things adventurers said that sounded good but meant nothing. The last resort is, by definition, whatever you try last, and fighting has a tendency to leave one side unable to continue.

“Pythagoras,” she said, “Would you mind also, while you take care of those other things, landing the zeppelin,” she gave Highmond a careful look and he nodded thrice - first to her, then to Pythagoras to confirm the order, then to her again. Pythagoras walked away in several directions at once, being sure to grumble from each.

At the same time, another of his bodies came out through the door. It took up the grumbling, mumbling around the cane it had clenched in its jaw. Highmond took the walking stick from this Pythagoras, and Edna saw that it looked like an impractically long revolver - loaded with large, colorful darts.

She nodded now - just once - and climbed up the railing to where Highmond had been. Their new acquaintances had all drawn rocks from what looked like gun holsters on their hips. Edna called out to them, “Hi! Yes, no need for rock throwing; we’re landing as soon as we can manage it. In the meantime, I’m Edna, you’ve met Highmond here, and those are Pythagoras.” She pointed at all the visible turtoids. “What are your names?”

The pterosaur-riders seemed taken aback by this turn of events. A few of them disappointedly holstered their rocks, looking to the one who had made the initial declaration of the airship’s lawlessness. Their apparent leader thought for a moment then pulled his pterosaur closer. When he spoke, Edna found his tone infuriatingly casual for a man who had just threatened to drop them out of the sky.

“I am Yamato,” he said, “In front of me is Nihon. Behind is Wakoko. On the other side of your--” he caught himself with a glance at Highmond, “--zeppelin, is Wa and Nippon.”

Despite her instinctual anger at Yamato’s careless shift of tone, Edna was delighted by the thought they might get away from this without a fight. She was worried, though, by the frown overtaking Highmond’s face. She had hoped the lead rider’s avoidance of the offensive ‘blimp’ would be enough to placate him, but it was clear something was screwing up inside the old aristocrat. She was relieved - however briefly - that he only said, “I wonder, chaps, would you mind telling us where we are?”

Her relief vanished as she saw how the question agitated the dinosaur cops - some ambiguous fear creeping onto their faces. Yamato spoke with caution, “I… don’t understand. You don’t know where you are?”

Highmond seemed either unperturbed or unaware of the change, “That’s right. Got a bit turned around in the storm is all. Please sir, what country is this?”

At once, the three of the riders on their side of the zeppelin answered by saying their own names. Whatever fear had crept in before now made itself well known - throwing around frightful glances, chucking out nonsense syllables, and generally making a mess of their faces. Edna was about to ask Highmond what on Earth the Second he was doing and if he would please stop it, but then something worse happened.

First, she heard what sounded like jets and screams erupt from the riders on the other side of the airship. On principle, Edna was not fond of anything erupting, especially screams. As far as she was concerned, the whole business of eruption could go the way of the dinos… Before she could scold herself for walking into that, something swept out like a wave across the three riders here on her own side of the ship.

Whatever it was moved over their bodies in a line only visible by the changes it left behind. Their old-fashioned police uniforms were replaced in a patchwork mess of skin-tight, light-up, silver spandex. Their pre-historic mounts shuddered and shook as portions of their bodies were replaced with robotic parts.

Edna assumed these changes were coming from a future so horrendous and dark you needed a cyborg companion and lights on your clothes just to leave the house, or else from a particularly exciting rave. Either way she wanted nothing to do with it. She’d been to a handful of futures and always found them opressively blue. She found it sinister. What had happened to the other colors? And as for raves, Edna would prefer to organize another person’s shoes than go to even the tamest rave. Indeed, she’d used that as an excuse to get out of one once.

Her worry was misplaced though, for nothing changed on her. Nor, she saw, on Highmond, Pythagoras, or the airship. What she should have worried about was the erupting sounds from earlier. As soon as the change had passed over, rocket engines burned into action at the backs of the pterosaurs, sending them careening in every direction as their riders fought to regain control.

Wakoko’s mount tried to shoot forward, but her reflexes were fast. She yanked the reins back hard, but the pterosaur didn’t slow. Instead, she managed to pull them up and to the right, just grazing the airship with a wingtip.

Unfortunately, that wingtip was now made of metal - and razor-sharp. Edna felt the contact, heard the zeppelin’s balloon(?) - she didn’t know what to call it - tearing. (It’s called an envelope, Highmond would have told her.) Then she heard a soft, fast fwoop.

She swallowed and turned to Highmond. She didn’t have to try to keep her voice calm. Edna was, like it or not (and she did not), experienced in these situations. Almost casually, she asked, “Highmond? Did I hear you say this airship is fueled by hydrogen?”

Highmond, who had also heard the fwoop, looked sheepish. Together they turned their heads up to where the sound had been and saw a definite orange glow coming off the zeppelin. He said, in a tone clearly meant to apologize for their imminent immolation, “Yes, well, you know, in all but the one way it is the vastly superior fuel.”

“I’m sure it is,” she responded flatly, then, “Highmond? As quickly as you can, where are the parachutes?”

He was practically woolen with sheepishness now. “There, er, aren’t any.” The flames had grown enough that he could see their reflection dancing in Edna’s otherwise still, implaccable glare. He went on, “Well, no, but! there are escape vessels, of course. There’s a long-range one - a hot-air balloon - and several short-range jetpacks. You -- saw me in one earlier, you might--”

“Yes,” she said, with a cool air, despite the encroaching heat, “where are they?”

The fire was massive now, climbing down and around the top of the airship. “Right!” Highmond said, taking a step toward the stern. There was an immediate explosion at that end of the ship, followed by six small streaks of fire flying off into the night. He stopped and said, “There. There go the jetpacks.”

Highmond froze then - despite the heat, which was becoming oppressive as the flames devoured the hydrogen keeping them aloft. He could see Pythagorases all around, working to suppress the fire and seal the leak. Edna smacked him in the face and grabbed his collar.

Think, Highmond. Are there any other options?” She enunciated as clearly as she ever had in her life, but she could see the words meant nothing to him. He stammered out a few syllables, not managing any words.

Edna wondered then if she might finally die. She didn’t welcome the idea, despite what you may think. She’d take it over a rave, sure, but all options on the table she’d prefer to go on going on.

Then Pythagoras appeared in the doorway, a giant tortoise silhouette backed by the light of the fire that had gotten inside. “There is one option,” it said. Then, before they could speak or even move, the turtoid’s long neck was wrapped around them both, its shell opening.

Highmond snapped to, yelling, “Wait!” but Pythagoras shoved them in a small, protective cavity. Edna barely had time to see her new surroundings before the shell closed again, enveloping them in a cramped darkness.

She felt the turtoid lurch upward and forward…

...and fall.

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