Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 4 –

– 4 –

There is a Simon says playing robot. It is a robot that plays Simon says.

It is occupied with the knowledge of its impending death.

Simon says destroy the world-killing meteor, its master had told it. So it had destroyed the meteor. It is a completionist. It is a perfectionist. It has ground the world-killing meteor down into a quantum fog.

This it could take it no farther.

Its attempts to grind down the individual quarks came to nothing: no sooner did it grasp at one than it was not there. After a while it concluded that Simon himself could do no better and it moved on.

Simon says destroy the cancer in the sun.

It sees as it rises through the atmosphere that a small collection of magical jaguars in a decaying orbit around the Earth are already on this one. It did not know that they were even playing Simon says but it gives them a thumbs-up anyway.

Then, because the laws of ballistics are an implicit part of any sane and well-structured game of Simon says, the robot descends back into the skies of Earth.

Simon says destroy the ghosts of seven dead Kings, who are risen to drown the world.

The robot flickers between bursts of nithrid-lightning. It steps between the shadows. It balances on the wave-tops of the sea.

A ghost comes at it. The trident spears at it. The trident doesn’t say Simon says.

The ghost howls, but Simon doesn’t howl.

A silver crown falls emptily into the sea.

On the back of a writhing kraken is the ghost of a second King. The kraken’s tendrils loop around where the Simon-says playing robot stood. The robot punches through them, bursts through the beast in one long brutal blow, and a second crown flutters down into the waves amongst the blood.

It is almost the hour of the robot’s death.

It has been thinking about this for some time now. It has been aware of the possibility that at some point in the future someone will tell it: Simon says don’t do what Simon says.

It is likely to be the girl Emily.

The robot does not trust her. She is a girl. Girls ought not be empowered to speak for Simon. Simon is a boy’s name. It is a sacrilege against the game.

The third ghost-King is surrounded by swirling winter; he walks a road of ice. It shatters.

Simon says that Simon’s authority is illegitimate, imagines the robot. It clutches at its head. It staggers and almost sinks beneath the waves.

The fourth ghost-King is an oracle. He whispers in a long harsh rasp as the robot comes, “Simon says destroy the world.”

It is risible. The robot does not laugh. Not while it is on duty. But it wishes that it could.

The robot strikes through the throat of the King. It grasps the ghost-bone. It snaps it. It dissolves the ghost into an ephemeral, ectoplasmic foam. A ghost-King cannot speak for Simon. Only Eldri, and those related to Eldri, can speak for Simon. That is the nature of the Divine Right. If just any King could speak for Simon then the world would be a sorry place indeed.

The fifth King shadows the robot’s footsteps. It is always behind the Simon-says playing robot. When the robot turns it is not there. When the robot turns away it is behind again.

That is all right.

The robot dives. In the lightless depths of the deepest ocean there are no shadows and the fifth King is unmade.

A shape moves in the darkness. Eyes open in the deep like lamps, and ringed with gold.

The robot is small before what moves there.

It is made small before it; it is hung there, as between twin suns, pinned by a binding light; but when the sixth King gestures for his beast to swallow the robot, Simon is with the robot and not the beast.

It drags itself up to the surface, bloodied, panting. It clings to a raft-like fin.

The last of the Kings looks at it with sorrow.

“I do this,” it says, “to save them from what is to come. They shall be better drowned.”

“I understand,” says the Simon-says playing robot, “and I forgive you, but this is what Simon has required.”

The last ghost King bows his head, and the seventh crown falls to dissolve against the sea.

“Simon says,” Eldri is saying, somewhere, “go check on Emily. See what’s going on there.”

The robot staggers to its feet. It balances there, unsteadily, on the rolling wave-tops. It moves; the nithrid’s spiteful lightning strikes where it had been.

It runs. It reaches the shore. It blurs across the hat cemetery.

The Lethal Magnet School is in sight.

Yet —

Simon says that Simon didn’t say.

The words are coming, soon. It can feel them. Something impossible. Something unacceptable. It dare not live long enough to hear them.

It slows itself, just a touch, as the lightning howls for it.

The nithrid bursts the robot’s heart.

Lightning flutters through him. His circuits are burning. He is melting inside his brain.

He staggers a few more steps. Simon did say to check on Emily. It must check on Emily.

It sees her. She is looking at a door.

The robot is broken. It cannot stop. It bursts through the door. It staggers in. It falls down in front of a boy named Sid. It gives a monstrous groan. It collapses and drippingly, there, it melts.



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