Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 11 –

– 11 –

Saul turns on him, but Tom holds up a hand. He has started to giggle. He is waving vaguely at Saul. “Stop it,” he says. “You win.”

There is an edge of hysteria in Tom’s voice.

Saul’s fist clenches.

“You win,” Tom says. “You win. No stomping. This boot isn’t coming down.”

Saul frowns.

“Because?” he says.

“Who am I to stomp such a boot?” says Tom. “Why would I do that? I am building a hammer of science, Saul. I showed it to you. When it is finished I will bring down this boot to smash things into the desired configuration. You think I have time to stomp a wolf? And what then? Do I stomp some immortal ant that goes on a power binge? A vampire? Volcanoes? Bacteria? The sun?”

“Tom,” says Saul, softly.

“There’s only one way to bring this baby down,” says Tom, “and that’s to push that button over there.”

He waves at the button.

“And that button,” Tom says, “can’t actually be pushed.”

“Oh,” says Saul.

Tom is laughing again. He can’t help it. He’s having a breakdown.

“Your nose is all snotty,” says Saul.

“Cannibals can’t throw stones,” says Tom.

“That is a serious design flaw,” protests Saul, in shock, before realizing that Tom is just turning a phrase.

After a moment, Tom concedes, “Yes. My nose is snotty. I don’t have any tissues, because I am in space.”

“That’s a major oversight,” says Saul.

“I didn’t —”

Tom glares at him. Then he sighs.

“Are you going to eat me or not?”

“That was my intention,” says Saul. “But now I am having second thoughts. Have you been crying?”

“What?” says Tom. “No. That’s ridiculous. I don’t even have tear ducts. I’m Tom Friedman.”

Tom scratches at the edge of his hat. A marvelous face-concealing veil unrolls.

“As you can see,” Tom says.

Saul stares at him in perplexity.

After a while, Tom mutters, “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.”

He laughs. Then he howls. Then he laughs.

“Did you know, Saul? I’ve always been.”

Saul tilts his head. “Is that so?”

“I thought,” says Tom. “I thought, if I took everything I was, if I took everything and I showed it —”

He sits down at his Tom-bench.

He blows his nose on his marvelous face-concealing veil, looks at it unhappily, and tugs it and releases it to retract it back into his hat.

“Who wouldn’t want it?” says Tom. “Who wouldn’t want dreams and purpose? What wouldn’t want to be like me, to have something that it’s for? Why wouldn’t the world take that and run with it, why wouldn’t —

“I was going to put the world in a hat, Saul.”

Saul looks down. Saul looks up.

Saul sighs.

“Oh,” he says.

And he sits by Tom on the bench. He pulls Tom over and Tom rests his head on Saul’s shoulder and Tom cries.

“It didn’t want it?” says Saul.

And Tom laughs. He can’t help it.

And a little bit later: “Why did I have to be Tom?”


“Of all the things in the world,” he says, “that I could have been, why did I have to be Tom?”



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