Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 6 –

– 6 –

“Would you like to be protected from bad weather at sea?” says Peter, because he’s aces at protecting people from bad weather, when they’re at sea.

. . .

“Actually,” Sally admits, “that would be kind.”

. . .

“Well,” says Peter, “done, then.”

Sally grins. She gives a little fist-pump. Then her attention drifts to Bethany. She gives a kind of sad half-smile.

“Bugs,” says Bethany.

“Eh?” Sally says.

“That’s my blessing. I can protect you from buggy software. Like, when somebody releases a new tape or cartridge for a marvelous computing device, it’ll usually have some sort of logic error buried deep in the code. But not if I’ve blessed you it won’t!”

“I . . . don’t need that,” Sally says.

Linus’ hand is on Sally’s shoulder. It tightens.

“That’s what you say,” Bethany says. “Then, one day, bam! And you’re wishing, if only I’d listened to Bethany back then and got her blessing!”

“You paint a distressing picture,” Sally admits.

“It’s all right,” Bethany says. She looks away, then back. “I actually protected you against software bugs back when you started staring at us. I thought, what if I die? So I extended it then, lest I feel ashamed in Heaven.”

Sally is quiet for a while. Then, softly, she says, “I’m sorry I broke into your room and tried to strangle and eat you.”

Bethany waves the apology off.

“It was wrong of me,” Sally says. “Us. I mean, we oughtn’t have attacked you like that. You wouldn’t have gotten that hat on. I thought it was good, but —”

“But sometimes,” Bethany says, “when you try to kill and eat people, they get hurt?”

“Yeah,” Sally says. She nods a couple of times. “Yeah, like that.”

She squints at Bethany. She looks at Bethany’s half-hand. She licks her lips.

“Well,” says Bethany, “I won’t say that it’s all right, but it’s all right. Are — is this another fight, then, or just apologies?”

Peter looks up at Linus’ eyes and looks away.

“You’re all really stuck,” says Sally. It’s almost a whine. “You’re so stuck. It would make so much sense to kill and free you.”

“Come on,” Linus says. He starts to pull her away.

“I was a jerk,” Peter says.

It’s reluctant. It’s like it’s being forced out of him. And Linus snarls. Linus turns. Linus presses Peter back into the back of the under-stairs nook with one hand and his teeth are bared and he says, “Don’t.”

“I shouldn’t have said,” Peter says.

Don’t,” Linus snaps.

Peter closes his mouth.

“Don’t,” Linus, who will be Mr. Enemy one day, whispers. He lowers his hand. He looks down. “The more we eat, the hungrier we get. Did you know that? It’s so. And I think it must be that way with murder. The more we kill, the easier we kill. Kill you, Peter, and the next killing’s easier, and the next, and the next, and pretty soon I’m slaughtering kittens for canapés and murdering down the halls and the Devil won’t even bother putting on my skin because I’ll be wickeder than he. But I don’t know. I don’t know if I shouldn’t just do it anyway. So shut up.

“Because: you poor trapped creature.”

Peter doesn’t say anything. It’s not appropriate to say anything. Anything he could say would hurt Linus. So, against his own desire to speak, he doesn’t say anything. Linus shudders.

It is coalescing to clarity in Peter’s mind. The thoughts that circle the core of him like jaguars around this world of ours are spiraling inwards towards a sense-making.

He realizes that all he must do to reassure Linus here is to say something — say something normal, something imperfect, something that is not what a saint would say. Say something dumb, that he’ll regret later. Say something that’s what Peter would say, but not what a perfected Peter would say — not what Saint Peter, who is all that is right and good in him, would say.

There is something in the white hats that longs to free people from their chains; that will kill them, if it must, to set them free; this is both a preference and a hunger; so to comfort Linus he must simply say something unfettered, unburdened, something unaltered by his own red hat.

It’s very easy. It’s just like trying to mix yellow paint and blue paint to get green; only, instead of having yellow and blue paint, the only color that Peter has is red.

He can’t relax and be natural.

Relaxing and being natural is the right thing to do. Doing the right thing to do will only hurt Linus more.

His thoughts spiral faster and faster. Peter’s right eye pinkens.

Peter’s nose begins to bleed.

“Good grief,” says Lucy.

She shoves Linus. He snarls, strikes at her, and misses.

“Just eat him or get out of here, you blockhead,” Lucy says. “People are going to think you two are a couple if you stand there stammering at one another much longer.”

Linus makes sputtering noises. Peter rubs his nose.

“Well,” says Peter, because it’s the right thing to say under the circumstances, “I hear that when you hang out with the Devil, that’s like hanging out with everyone who’s ever hung out with the Devil —”

“Oh, God,” Linus says, and skitters away to make fake retching and gagging noises with his tongue on fire.

Sally, after a moment, goes to help, although neither of these things are actually activities with which she can assist.

They depart.

Lucy, though, she stays behind. She stares at them for a while.

Bethany opens her mouth to say something. Just before she does, Lucy speaks.

“You’re not good for us.”

“I know,” Bethany says.

“I don’t know what that boy’s got in his head,” she says, meaning Edmund, “but I’d rather not eat more people than I can afford to. Each person I eat, that’s got me that much closer to the wolf. That much more under his power. I can’t afford that. I don’t want this wolf-power. I want my own.”

“You’re not very good for us, either,” Bethany points out.

Lucy hesitates. She looks confused.

“I mean, with the eating.”

“Oh,” Lucy says. She waves a hand dismissively. “You’ll get over that, when you’ve been eaten.”

“That’s an extremely problematic position!”

“Yes,” says Lucy. “I’m an evil prophet.”

Bethany tilts her head. Then she smiles gently.

“Well,” she says, “An evil prophet that won’t suffer from softwa—”

Lucy almost rips her eyes out. Bethany ducks. Lucy follows up. Her knee comes up. Bethany is spiraling off through ninja-space; but there, outside the world, she sees Lucy’s hand, larger than world or void, come closing in. She staggers down to fall against the remnants of a Michelangelo with Lucy’s hand around her throat.

“No,” growls Lucy. “No blessings. I don’t want your hope. I don’t want your dreams. I will get bloody gout if I want to get bloody gout. You are a filthy planetary people and I will have none of it. None of it. Do you understand me?”

Bethany blinks.

Her backup gun — it was hidden in the wall, under the Michelangelo — is in her hand. It fires full-bore holy bullets into the gut of the evil prophet of —


That doesn’t happen. Lucy sees it coming. She explodes into a vaporous white pall that scatters through the hallway, just in time to realize that Bethany cannot possibly have a backup gun hidden in the wall behind the Michelangelo just waiting for Linus to eat his way down to it and then for Lucy to hold Bethany pinned there.

She re-condenses. She starts to shake her fist for rock-paper-scissors.

Bethany is moving forward, a shining lance of sacred steel in her hand —

Lucy shutters closed her third eye. She blinds herself to the future. She attempts to press the attack, but somehow this fails too; she is sprawled indecorously on the floor.

Bethany sits down beside her.

“Damn it,” whispers Lucy.

“I’m sorry,” Bethany says. She brushes aside Lucy’s hair.

“Your filthy world.”

Lucy pulls herself up. She looks at Bethany. Then she sighs.

“It’s not really your fault,” she says. “I guess. You’re just . . . doing that thing. That saint thing.”

“No,” says Bethany.


“I’m not really doing that saint thing,” says Bethany. “I’m just going through the motions. There isn’t actually any hope for me, any longer, so I’m just sort of living.”

“Oh,” says Lucy.

She smiles a little.

“That’s great,” she says. “That’s awesome. Thank you.”

Bethany looks perplexed, since she’d expected either sneering or sympathy. She’s even more confused when Lucy hugs her, not with comfort but with cheerfulness, and then doesn’t try to kill or eat her even a little bit!

“Um,” says Bethany.

“That’s what I want,” says Lucy. “That’s all I want. All I want is for everyone on your world to give up hopes and dreams and hungers and succumb to the will of the wicked god of space, and then to die when the Fan Hoeng space fleet arrives. I didn’t know. I’m so, so sorry. I wouldn’t have tried to eat you if I’d known.”

She pats Bethany on the shoulder. She walks away. She is whistling.

“Why do cannibals keep apologizing to me?” Bethany asks of Heaven, but Heaven has no real answers for the House of Saints.



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