Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 7 –

– 7 –

Tom has a faux Tom attend classes. Sometimes it’s a wave. Sometimes it’s a particle. This leaves his Lethal Professors, overall, perplexed.

Tom stares at the still, non-chaotic walls surrounding his room and his mind.

After a while Cheryl says, “It’s not your fault, you know. The world isn’t made for happy endings.”

“Not my —” he starts, outraged.

He stops.

He looks at her. He says, reluctantly, “I suppose I should thank you.”

“You were dying,” she says. “I could fold stuff. So I folded it.”

“It would have worked really well,” Tom says, “if it hadn’t meant me dying and the world probably eventually reverting into a pointless, purposeless mass of unconscious impulses.”

She gives him a thumbs-up.

“My evil adoptive uncle,” he says, “got poetic justice. I think. Is it poetic justice when a space princess assassin kills you using rock-paper-scissors?”

“If you’ve slaughtered your way through space playing hobbit-Spock-spider,” says Cheryl.

“Hm,” says Tom.

“If you just invent calculus,” she says, “I’m not so sure.”

“Calc — oh.”

Tom looks embarrassed.

“I actually just tell people that Newton was my evil adoptive uncle,” says Tom. “My real evil adoptive uncle was a dissolute milliner named Bertram with half-flesh and half-gold for a face.”

“I’d wondered,” Cheryl admits.

“I always thought that was kind of undignified,” says Tom. “So I substituted old Isaac! He’s the best.”

“I didn’t have an evil adoptive uncle,” Cheryl explains, “so I didn’t want to challenge your story.”

“You didn’t?”

“I had an aunt,” Cheryl says. She gestures vaguely, possibly indicating her aunt’s height or general direction. “But I folded her. I didn’t mean to, but I folded and she died.”

“That sucks,” says Tom. “I’m sorry.”

“Mm.”

Then Tom frowns.

“I thought you said —”

“I choose not to fold people,” Cheryl says. “I did not really mean to imply that I could not fold people. You learn to see the possibilities for origami in anything, after a while.”

“Back when,” says Tom, “I wanted to bring him back. It was how all this started. I saw him dead, and thought — wait. How can something just end like that? I want a different ending. Come back, Bertram Gulley!”

“Gulley?”

Tom makes a dismissive gesture. It’s not important. “But if he did come back, I would just punch him in half of his face. So I don’t know. Possibly then we’d laugh. Or he’d shoot me down with a rocket. We had a kind of . . .”

Tom waves a hand.

“A thing.”

“I hear you,” says Cheryl.

“Now all I want,” says Tom, “is to make the world one thing — one bright flow of purpose. So that the dead don’t have to be dead, and Linus doesn’t have to be empty and the antichrist, and I can be glad I’m alive.”

“And to be an ophidian planet-inheritor again,” she says. “Instead of just a human.”

Tom looks away. “And that,” he admits.

“And to have everyone who ever laughed at you,” she says, “Tremble before you, and say ‘sorry.’”

“Hardly anyone ever actually laughed at me,” Tom says. “You have acquired an inaccurate impression from my occasional vigorous ranting.”

“And to —”

“Enough,” he says. He looks at her. “I am only one thing,” he says. “So I have to aim for a single ending.”

“I stole back your otter,” Cheryl informs him. She tosses it to him.

“Oh,” he says. “Thank you!”

And it lives happily ever after — the dead otter — amen.

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