Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 3 –

– 3 –

Emily and Eldri play goofily at karaoke and old-style Dance Dance Revolution. They fly an amazing kite. They putter around his laboratory and they talk and they drink svart-drinks and they laugh.

“I’m making a set of tin soldiers,” Eldri says.

“You could use moon’s blood,” she says. “Like, when the moonlight bleeds into a pond.”

He squints at her.

“Oh-oh?” he says. “My Emily’s getting to be something of a smith.”

She looks embarrassed.

“It’s the hat,” he says. “Innit?”

“Maybe,” she says. “Do you ever smith better when you wear a yellow hat? Or talk to other smiths in your head?”

“No,” he says.

“Then it’s probably not the hat,” she says. “I’m probably just special!”

Even the pupils of her eyes are flecked with the Keepers’ gold.

She insists on taking Navvy Jim to the museum. She is very careful when in public to only play rock.

“You mustn’t take advantage of this knowledge,” she says.

“I wouldn’t,” he says softly.

“I mean,” Emily says, “there are some robots, you see, who, knowing that their opponent was only going to play rock, they’d play paper, every time.”

“Because it would be the winning move?”

“Exactly. It’s taking advantage!”

“But if I played scissors,” Navvy Jim says, “then people would become upset.”

“Exactly,” says Emily. “There is nothing for it: you shall have to lose to my rock with a smaller rock of your own.”

Navvy Jim cannot help laughing.

“What?” she says. She looks embarrassed. She looks away.

“Emily,” he says. Emily.

She snaps a look at him. That was almost the inside voice.

He looks perfectly neutral when she looks at him. His robot face is set in an expression of total blandness.

“I will do my best,” he says, “not to throw paper every time, but you must forgive me if I slip. I am only an old country robot. I am not one of your hip modern city robots that can play dancing games and wear a hat.”

Navvy Jim’s ears are too small for a hat to look good on him. That is really the only reason.

“Whatever,” Emily says.

She drags him to the museum. Later, they go shopping. She buys him a pair of sunglasses.

“It’ll keep your enemies from seeing your true intentions,” she says.

“Hmmmm,” he says. He shoots her a cool glare through his shades. He shakes his fist, one, two three —

“Paper wraps rock!” Navvy Jim says smugly.

“That’s the sunglasses!” Emily explains.

Later that night, as he is playing rock-paper-scissors against the mirror, she tells him that he has to take them off when it is dark.

Eldri tells her stories of Hans, and Navvy Jim boasts of how he will save the world, and as summers go, it is the best; and Emily asks softly of Eldri, in one long sweet evening hour on a hill, “Must we really ought to box him up?”

“When the summer ends,” Eldri says. “When the summer ends.”

He looks at Navvy Jim.

“I won’t,” he says, “though, if you say not to. If you can live in a scissor-less world.”

“The world is the world,” says Navvy Jim, “and I am Navvy Jim.”

Emily is standing up. It is very sudden. Her face is pale.

“Hm?” Eldri says.

“I have to go,” she says.

She pushes around the edges of her shapeless yellow cap to make sure it’s actually on. She flits through the door.

She runs.

It’s never clear to her how she travels when she’s going all-out. Her mind moves inwards. She walks a maze in her head. She filmed it twice, out of curiosity, but the camera couldn’t catch it, not pointing behind her, not pointing at her. The first tape showed a stuttering blankness. The second, a single still image of a falling leaf.

She thinks she is on a high tree branch for a moment.

She thinks she is on the bank of some dark-running stream.

She is in the air and there is moonlight and she is staggering into one of the dorms at the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth and there is gaslight.

There is a door. It is closed. It is locked. It is chained.

Her gold eyes flicker. She looks left. She looks right.

The door is open.

She slips her through.



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