Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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The station rises fast, but not fast enough.

Cheryl wakes from troubled dreams and she knows it; she looks down at the Earth and she knows it; she can feel it.

The air and the sea, knitting together are they all. They are weaving themselves into one thing, folding themselves, sewing themselves; they are becoming a fabric, and from that fabric quilting themselves Ouroboros: a snake-wroth is rising in the winds and the waters of the world, and its eyes look up the bootstrap at Cheryl of the House of Dreams.

“God,” she whispers.

She rides down the bootstrap. The clouds are in turmoil; the sky stirs like great blue waters; the wind strikes at the lift as she descends, rattles it, shakes it, tries to throw her off into the sky.

When she lands there is salt everywhere in the air.

“I’m not ready,” she says. She makes her way through the school to her ground laboratory. She collects what she can. “I’m not ready,” she says again.

Tom is waiting for her on her flight platform.

“I didn’t invite you,” she says.

“I’m poorly socialized,” Tom says, cheerfully.

“I mean, get off.”

“No time,” says Tom. “I can’t hear you! That’s the time pressure. It’s clogging my ears!”

She glares at him.

Then, more softly: “I’ve made a hat,” he says.


“For if it’s beating you,” he says. “For if it starts winning. I’ve made a hat to cut you free of it.”

“That’s filthy and wrong,” she says.

He shrugs.

“Get off,” she whimpers, but he doesn’t leave.

Smoothly her flight platform lifts into the sky. It arrows towards the center of the phenomenon. She dares not wait for the serpent to completely reform; leaving aside the edge it would give the beast in their confrontation, it would probably kill everybody left on the planet.

They are in the coastal waters off Virginia when the sky and sea become serpents for them; when they are surrounded by clusters of them, striking in at them from every direction, snapping and seething in the foam.

She uses the Penguin Gun.

There are no serpents but rather great waves of penguins now, all in the air around her, snapping and seething and coiling in at her all a’wroth with their flightless, avian rage. Then they fall, with the awful teeterings of penguins trying to suspend themselves a hundred meters above the Virginian coast by sheer spite (and failing).

The sea swirls. It tears them apart. It reintegrates them. Serpents rise again from the sea below.

She is calm. She lets the passion bleed from her.

She says to Tom, “You will turn my last assignments in for me, of course.”

His jaw stiffens.

“No,” he says. “Don’t die.”

“I want a perfect record,” she says. “I am already teetering on the brink of a B+ or two what with spending all my time on a space station. An incomplete is not acceptable.”

She holds up a rod. The rod turns into a serpent. She throws it out there. The serpent wrestles with the serpents of the air and sea.

Tom bats away a pair of scissors as they fall.

“I also expect at least one major galactic world named after me,” Cheryl says.

Her origami is incomplete. Her snake cannot hold out. It reconfigures itself into a sprawling mass of dozens of tentacles and unnameable organs; it wrestles in every direction, but the venom of the snakes pulses through it and more than a few of the snake-heads are sneaking past it to die against the laser grid defense system of Cheryl’s flying machine.

“You’re too young,” he says. “I promise nothing. Don’t die.”

“Damn it, Tom, I’m your rival. I’m your biggest competition. One day I’ll probably fold you into a swan and take over the headship of our House!”

“You’re my friend,” he says. “I promise nothing. Don’t die.”

“You did promise,” she reminds him.

I will bend life and death and dreams for you, if I must, to make you a girl who can kill a giant snake made out of paper and wax —

“This isn’t paper,” he protests.

“The matter is inessential.”

“It’s not!”

But her words are right. He knows her words are right.

Finally he hangs his head.

“If I could die in your place,” he says. “If I could — but it wouldn’t help, would it?”

And he stares at the snake-severing hat he has in his hands; and maybe something would have happened then. Like, maybe he would have stuck it on her anyway. Or maybe he would have accepted it, and held that snake-severing hat out over the water and let it go; and it would have drifted downwards; and the snake would have worn it, which is just ridiculous. The only thing goofier than a snake in a hat is a giant evil snake made out of salt, air, wax, water, paper, and fire that’s in a snake-severing hat originally made to free its enemy.

That hat even has a little feather in it. That’s so ridiculous, you hat-wroth snake!

But he doesn’t.

He looks up and out at the waters and horror freezes him; stills his tongue, catches his mind, drowns his thoughts in thickened fog, instead.

He drops whatever he’s holding. His eyes are wide. His breath comes in quick gasps.

And maybe she was going to do something amazing then, some bit of smithwork and origami, to tangle up her life in the life of the snake and then fold them both through to death —

But she doesn’t.

She isn’t as bad off as he is. She is in shock but not all the way in shock. She is pounding on the keys of her weapons console. She is unleashing the viruses; the memetic lasers; the ultimate post-nuclear barrage —

But it is too late.

“No,” she says.

The sea is like glass. The air is still. The serpent slowly falls apart to nothingness around the central figure that stands within it.

No, no, no,” Cheryl screams, and pounds on the separate desperate flailing keyboard that all devices of the House of Dreams possess.

He scrubs the last few bits of snake-wroth from his clothing; from the air and sea, and it is gone; and he smiles at them, does the cleaning man: does Jeremiah Clean.

She has a gun in her hand. She cannot decide whether she is pointing it at him or at herself. It is pointing at her ear. It is pointing at him. Repeat, half-repeat, and stop.

He rolls his janitorial cart over.

He looks in on them.

She kicks the causality stutterer. It is a minute ago. It is two minutes ago. She turns to run. She is screaming to the paper serpent, the fire serpent, the ocean serpent, that it must run. Then he smoothes out the timeline with Windex, and her escape is made as naught.

He has her chin in his hand. He is looking at her. Then he is staring off to the distant east.

“You’re trying to keep things tame,” he says. “Aren’t you? Keep them settled down. You, and that school, and that boot. And the wolf.”

“Yes, sir,” she says. “I mean, no, sir.”

That is not actually what the wolf is attempting to do.

Tom is whimpering under his breath. He keeps swallowing. He’s doing it poorly. It’s so hard to breathe.

He’s told himself over and over again how cool he’d be if he ever again met the cleaning man; he’s prepared weapons, dozens of them, weapons, plans —

He has backed into the farthest corner of the platform and is writhing his arms futilely against the metal behind him, instead.

“Well, carry on, then,” says Jeremiah. “Let me know if you need any help over there on the continent. I’m always here.”

He tips his cap.

He turns.

He goes away.

Tom gasps, a great gasp, and then he is screaming. He cannot stop screaming. He is howling, he is keening, he is screaming, he is bent over, fallen, there is bloody spittle coming from his mouth, and he has clawed at the deck until his hands and his fingernails are all over red.

It doesn’t do any good.

The thing he’s feeling is too big to express with his body. It’s like trying to give birth to worlds.



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