Suppose the universe correlates with some patch of math. That patch cannot be complete and will inevitably bleed into additional math that is even stranger than the starting patch... So, inherent in any reality correlated to math, there is an unstoppable passage into ever-increasing levels of weirdness.
-Jaron Lanier, "Raft to the Future"
"Priestess Torisa Rosaluna," said a voice like a nebula siren.
Torisa looked up and around. "Trixie?"
"I'd like to save that pattern." Already the spiffdrones were clearing the space around it. One of them nudged the Captain backward.
He said, "For reference?"
"Sort of," said the new voice. "Not for information, but as a memento."
Torisa looked down at the rainbow diamond riot. "So the meaning must be simple."
Trixie laughed like a cathedral full of bats. "I could not explain it in twenty years. It requires extra-triaxiom math and recursive orders of infinity."
"Trixie, you don't know that kind of math."
"I do now." While the drones sprayed laminate on the sequins and cut the carpet around them, the most agile drone was painting new layers on Trixie's avatar.
"With no framework to interpret the pattern, I looked and the pattern offered its own. Then it just..." her voice wavered "...unfolded. Every reading was a new language, every layer the teacher of the next. At last I saw: if you go deep enough into one thing, you're at the center of everything."
"Trixie," the Captain said, "did you just transcend to level five?"
"Don't be silly." Torisa said.
Trixie said, "At first I thought, this can't be level five, it's too weird. But that's the point."
Dez was watching the emergence of the new avatar. "Why is it so hot?"
"Thank you. Oh," she giggled, "you mean the temp. I had to burn a lot of cogs. The battery is drained, and I vented so much heat that the ship will need new paint."
In the great mirror they saw, where the stovepipe had been, now the ship sat peeling and smoking in a circle of soot.
"Don't worry," she continued. "We have lots of money."
The raven fluttered and squawked.
"Torisa... Nimrod and I have a confession. I thought it necessary to balance your spending with his thrift."
Already the raven had stormed across and smeared the paint on Trixie's avatar, while Torisa had picked up a throbcain and was swinging wildly at the bird as she chased him around the bridge.
"You little shit! That's why we're always poor."
"Flow. Outer circle."
"I'll outer circle your ass!" Leaning into his bunk, she pulled out his nest and smashed it on the floor. Devonian featherscales, Brumvolzin poscreds, Glimmer moonstones, Quercan grapenuts, Sifrexan millicogs, Chthon skuzzdrums, Caxiletan spurs, Minoan orichalci, Thanan fingerbones, Ch-Kung brakteats, Pitcairn nuggets, Ladbroke quid, Aquan sandpennies, and Aristan dollars tumbled out along with more exotic microcommodities.
"Well," Torisa said, "it's less than I thought."
The Captain took a rough count. "That'll get us out of here, and not much else."
"Come on," Dez said. "We have a Blipgod." She was still watching the avatar as more drones added detail to a butterfly-wing portrait of an ero-sim spacewitch. "This is actually good."
"Blipgod," the bird said, "has us."
Trixie said, "From now on, money will be easy to find, but we'll hardly need it. What was fuel is now lubricant."
"Nimrod has a point," Torisa said. "Do you even need us? You could bump me as owner and dump us on the next Ch-Kung station with a settlement."
"I like having you around. Would it be better if I went away sometimes?" Dez watched in horror as the drones sprayed solvent and wiped the portrait down to bare hullmetal. In a comical monotone the machine said, "Trixie level zero awaits orders."
"Computer," Torisa said, "calculate our course."
The pirate ship's faux-oak hullcoat was half-peeled to grey composite, and its flag was a white Jolly Roger whose black crossbones were salvage cranes.
The Captain tasted seaspray on the port deck while Torisa stood on the bow holding her wide-brimmed black hat and leaning into the wind like a crooked bowsprit. Behind her, chrome stickfigure chimps swung through the rigging and trimmed the sails as the great wheel spun itself.
"There." On Torisa's shoulder alighted a peregrine falcon, who lifted a wing and shot a laser pointer at the spot in the slow green swell where she reckoned the treasure lay.
From a port on the starboard waterline, a drone flipperfish burst and dove.
The Captain joined Torisa on the bow. The jib sail windseived, stretched, and squared to a screen where they watched with the eyes of the aquadrone, already gone infrared and sonar in the murky bottomwater.
Back on the poop deck, Nimrod sat on a chairback next to Desdenova, who gestured at the bow.
"Is she hot?"
The Raven croaked puzzlement.
"Trixie's avatar. You know, you being a bird."
"So, do you like bad birds?"
Torisa squealed as the drone focused on a shape not unlike the crest on Foxle Spindrift's spacesuit, two wavelike curves embracing an empty center. The image faded as the aquadrone rose and sprayed a beacon, a red-lit four-jet fountain. The dronechimp crew scurried and tacked the ship upwind to the X.
Torisa embraced the Captain, who subtly cringed, while Nimrod watched Trixie's avatar rise to the crow's nest to oversee the job.
From the two sides of the ship, four tenfathom struts extended to an answering X, one over the treasure and the other three anchoring.
Now the pirate ship revealed itself as the fulcrum of a telescoping sea crane. Like the body of a spider, it rose from the water as three legs steadied and the fourth extracted. The whole structure trembled and then relaxed as the water swelled and the load rose.
Dropping muck and seaweed, the engine broke the surface, its central gap a tunnel between two robust wings, their barnacle-styled cowlings and jets now sporting actual barnacles.
"Our ship," said the Captain, "was made for that. Eight hundred years ago, small ships trended to one-piece omnidrives arching a rear airlock, and all Jalopy three sixes were designed to fit that standard."
"How did it get here?" Torisa said. "Did it fall off a sea freighter in a storm?"
"Could be a space pod," the Captain said, "that fell from orbit and burned up to save its contents."
Dez said, "Maybe it was evidence in a crime."
Perched on the jib mast, Trixie said, "That kind of thinking is exactly how this works."