Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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Flashback: “Nithrid Methodology”

Posted by on Aug 29, 2016 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

One morning, Professor Zimmerman is running the nithrid through its physical when a bull with wings and the head of a man interferes.

It lands amidst billowing dust in the clearing.

It is a flayed bull. It is terribly bleeding. But its voice is polite. It says, “Please back away.”

And maybe Professor Zimmerman is afraid, or maybe heroic, I don’t know, but he doesn’t. He stands there, as the creature draws closer. He even stands straighter; until the nithrid, it interferes.

“It’s OK,” the nithrid says. “He’s working for Gulley.”

It is easy to read the bull’s expressions, because it has a human face. The bull has no idea what the nithrid is talking about. The bull is not sure why it should be reassured by the name Gulley, but grasps that she believes that it should.

All of this is only visible, of course, because the bull has a human face. It is quite likely that it would have been utterly unreadable if it had just been a bull. That’s why regular bulls win most every poker tournament that they can get into, and if they lose, it’s because they have terrible hands.

“It’s not OK,” the bull says, because the nithrid is attached to hundreds of wires, and has one eyelid clamped back, and it doesn’t look comfortable at all, but the nithrid is reassuring:

“It’s fine.”

And after it departs, the nithrid says, “We were together. On the farm.”

“Is it some sort of natural phenomenon?”

“It is a bull,” says the nithrid, unnecessarily, “with the face of a man and the wings of a . . . winged thing. And it is holy. It is sacred. It is a gift to the world.”

Professor Zimmerman begins unwiring the nithrid. “You’re stable,” he notes.

“Thank you.”

“Why would Hans keep something holy?” Then, with sudden, horrid realization: “Why would he SKIN it?”

“It would have made the world better,” says the nithrid.

Professor Zimmerman raises an eyebrow.

“.  . . But it didn’t belong.”

It’s long gone by then. It’s just a dream in the distance. It’s like most flying bulls that a person encounters. It’s there for a time, and it bleeds. Then it’s gone.

Flashback: “Non-Euclidian Hydrodynamics”

Posted by on Sep 30, 2016 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

The moon base explodes, as they always do. The last star Nazis shake their fists ineffectually after the zeppelin of Xavid, Professor of Non-Euclidian Hydrodynamics in the Science division of the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth, a magnet school in Brentwood operating under the aegis of the Lethal Corporation with a mandate to gather young minds and train them in the limitless possibilities of one day being able to defeat giant wolves and other parties and entities that may or may not at some point in the future devour the world, which is to say, the world shining like a blue marble jewel in space under the light of the moon and the glittering exploding moonbase of the star Nazis as the zeppelin majestically sails away.

“Curse you!” the star Nazis cry out. “We were so sure that parallel lines would always converge!”

That is the relentless Euclidian hydrodynamics of the star Nazis—

And their fourteenth-worst failing.

The zeppelin slips through the twisting water-like channels of the cruel demiurge’s innards that pervade ordinary space and time. It is momentarily in Venice, Sweden, Mars. It inverts and reverts and resounds in the medium. Then it docks at the edge of the Department of Esoteric Studies.

There isn’t enough time for a coffee.

It’s almost enough to make you want to drink the demiurge medium— reputedly pineapple, purportedly caffeinated, and with just a bit of the taste Dr. Pepper once had.

Almost— but not quite.

Xavid hits the emergency caffeine button in passing. There is a perturbation in the luminiferous ether. A Lethal drink swirls into his cup. And he has just enough time to take a gulp and a half from it before throwing open the doors to the class.

Three students. One is dead. Two are sleeping. It’s so hard to get students!

Everyone knows Hydrodynamics’ a bore.

Flashback: “Practicum of Combat”

Posted by on Dec 31, 2016 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

Three members of the Board of the Education down. Twenty-four to go.

Professor Conor Anderson, of Ninjutsu, breaks into a run.

In the background he can see his Department head waving his hands. Arguing. It’s futile. The Lethal Magnet Professor knows as much. You’ll never sell the Board on giving exams in three-man cells so that the law of inverse ninjutsu will not apply. You’ll never even talk them out of forcing the students to fill out standardized, fill-in-the-circle and feed-the-thing-to-the-great-Machine, out-of-date multiple-choice tests.

Ninjas! And still they want lead-marked pointless standardized tests from them.

It is, in Professor Conor Anderson’s clinical opinion as a Lethal Magnet Professor of Ninjutsu, not sane.

One palm stops in front of the stomach of a fire-type Subcommittee of the Public Trust board member. A shockwave radiates.

It strips the mask from the oni, unwinds the Public Trust creature into an ink glyph bleeding from the air, and shatters it into dust.

Behind him—

Professor Anderson brakes!

The club of Dr. Abernathy, Chairman for Assessment & Accounting of Ninjutsu-Related Education, smashes down as Professor Anderson skips back. It’s slow, it’s too slow to really process at the speed the Lethal Magnet Professor is moving, but he thinks that he can hear a vast roar.

It is close. It was too close. There’s too many of them.

The inverse ninjutsu law does not apply to members of the Board.

Four down. Another—

The club snaps. Pieces of it go in two directions. A tree is sprouting from the ground where the front piece hits—

Twenty-three, soon to be twenty-one, to go.

“The rules are in place to protect the children,” the Minister’s Representative is arguing. Professor Anderson attempts a punch, but the Minister’s Representative is nothing more than an Agency Puppet; it explodes around his fist and then reforms.

He decides to ignore it, retreats.

The Department head, all present are given to understand, is totally in favor of protecting the children, as are Mr. Gulley and Professor Conor Anderson. Stop that, Professor Anderson. Professor Anderson!

Bureaucrats do not understand the true way of ninjutsu. Not even their friends.

Professor Anderson drags his foot across the scattered paper on the table. Paper writhes up to become a ninja doll in his likeness. It drops grumpily into his chair and attends the meeting. It is pretending that it has gotten over its fit of pique and is willing to listen calmly to the concerns of the remaining twenty-one members of the Board of Education in attendance.

As for Professor Anderson, he has spiraled into ninja space.

“There’s no way you can win this,” says a voice of evil. It is surrounding him. It is pervading the annex of ninja space attached to the Board of Education meeting. There are eyes. There are fangs. And in fact he cannot. It is entirely and utterly obvious that Professor Conor Anderson, of Ninjutsu, cannot.

He is knocked out of ninja space. He is thrown from it, slammed against the wall, left dazed there with his cap slumped off the side of his head trying to remember whether he’s set the DVR to record the latest episode of Whisker Ninjas or not.

It’s very important! The rats can’t operate the DVR on their own.

“Are you done?” asks the chief demon. Right. He remembers this. He is still at the meeting. The demon is looking at him. It is looking at him through and from behind the glass eyes of the committee chair. But he shakes his head. He grins a little.

He’d say something clever but he’s a ninja. He’s swift. He’s silent. He’s like a shadow. Shadows don’t speak up at Board of Education meetings. That’s—

That’s not really that much of a virtue.

He doesn’t say it, anyway, though. He just closes his eyes and imagines it.

The clock hits a standardized moment.

There is a standardized shiver of ki.

Somewhere in the offices of the Standardized Testing Institute, Ninjutsu Division, the papers, the papers filled out by his students, his marvelous students, his marvelous ninjas who will save the world one day, see if they won’t, spiral together. They weave themselves into a great paper dragon. They roar.

Machinery is shattering. He can almost hear it.

Fires are starting.

And the strings of the puppets; the power of the oni; the force that keeps the Brentwood Board of Education Subcommittee Member Responsible for Improving Alignment and Setting the District’s Direction manifest physically rather than confined to his cell in the bowels of Brenthall—

Are cut.


Flashback: “Defensive Optimism”

Posted by on Feb 20, 2017 in Strange Encounters | 0 comments

There are days when Mr. Gulley can barely stand sunrise.

He sees it and all he can think about is later.

When the world is gone. When the sun is gone. When there’s nothing but an empty void and it’s his family’s fault.

He thinks of dead Skoll and living Fenris and the third one, wherever the heck that one might be, and all he can think is:

I can’t.

He isn’t even sure what he can’t. Just, he can’t.

He realizes, on this particular day, watching this particular sunrise, that he’s curled up like a gargoyle against the roof of one of his buildings. He’s crouched there, frustrated and broken there, on the slanting tiles of a Lethal Magnet School roof.

And he’s not alone.

“As long as you have hope,” the Professor of Defensive Optimism tells him. “As long as you hang on to hope, it’ll be all right.”

He gives the man a thumbs-up.

“I didn’t hire a Professor of Defensive Optimism,” Mr. Gulley informs him.

Professor Brittain shrugs at him. He stares off into the dawn.

“I really didn’t. It’s just, you keep ignoring that. You were supposed to be teaching Unsanctioned Operations.”

It is an old argument. It is a pointless argument. Mr. Gulley sighs.

He’s seen it used as a ki barrier. He’s seen some of the Life Skills students holding off gigantic turtle-squids with nothing more than hope and a whispered prayer. It’s not like it doesn’t hold water. He’d even tried it once, manifest this little bubbling white-light barrier. But . . .

What is hope, against the wolf?

“You’ll get through this,” the Professor of Defensive Optimism advises him.

He’d like to believe that.

Mr. Gulley would.

Flashback: “the Office of the Dean”

Posted by on May 25, 2017 in Strange Encounters | 3 comments

There is a great snarling wolf between Rhea and the office of Dean nikink, which is frankly just plain ironic.

“Um,” she says to the wolf.

She holds out her hand for the wolf to sniff. The wolf snaps at her hand. She squeals and draws back.

“Um,” she says again. “I’m here to file my withdrawal paperwork.”

The wolf doesn’t seem to understand her.

“You don’t seem to understand me,” Rhea says wisely. “It’s probably because you’re a wolf and I’m a human.”

This is total slander. People always say things like this about wolves and it really hurts their feelings. Wolves understand what is going on with all the social rejection just fine.

“Are you an administrator?” Rhea asks, hopelessly.

The wolf snaps its leash. It attacks.

If I had to guess where the wolf came from I’d guess that it came from Principal Goethe’s coffee machine. I’d guess that the coffee machine was left on, and the coffee in it boiled down to this thick black gunk, and then came to life and burst into being as a great jittering wolf, a sludge-wolf, an agitated and agitating wolf. It ate various papers from the inbox and grew, becoming bigger and bigger, until at last it was flagged by the Principal for an intervention by the Dean.

Troublemakers usually are.

It was sent to Dean nikink’s office, whereupon it would presumably be nikink’d—

Save, some distant twinge of survival instinct? Perhaps? Guilt? Shame? Maybe simply the instinct there is in a coffee-wolf to stay just a coffee-wolf rather than learning to change? stopped it before the doors, left it to scatter the secretaries and perch on the table but not actually go in for its deaning.

It was a wolf. It was a terrifying wolf. It wasn’t an administrator at all!

And that’s why it’s fighting there. That’s why Dean nikink comes out to check her missing appointments and discovers a swirl of snarling fur and teeth and claws in the main room instead.

I don’t know exactly what she said then. Well, more precisely, I’m not allowed to say. I’m not actually supposed to be hiding behind the curtains in the administrative office all the time spying on people. They keep saying, “That’s bad!”

I think personally that it’s morally neutral. But the point is, a wise girl doesn’t quote.

So I don’t know what the Dean said exactly. But it stopped them. They drew apart. The coffee-wolf cringed in shame, dwindled down, and flew into the Dean’s outstretched coffee-cup. As for Rhea—

She is panting there. She uncurls herself. She stands up. She brushes herself down. She gives that embarrassed smile that a werewolf girl will give after being caught fighting with a big coffee-wolf but after her wounds and torn clothing have healed.

I can’t say what the Dean said then. Probably something like, “You were here for a withdrawal?”

But Rhea just shakes her head.

I don’t know how I can explain this. I don’t even know for sure that I know this. There’s only so much insight that you can get into someone’s head from behind the curtains in the administrative offices of the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth in Brentwood, particularly when you’re trying so very, very desperately not to sneeze.

But if there’s a reason? If there had to be a reason? I think that was when she realized that even a girl who can’t save the world from vast swarms of scissors is still perfectly able to fight giant wolves.

Thank you, nikink and the amazing faculty of the Lethal Magnet School!

We owe this insight and this revelation to you!