Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

Categories Navigation Menu

– 10 –

– 10 –

I imagine that there was some Konami executive or programmer who’d dreamed of it, though I do not know their name — someone who’d dreamed the grandest dream ever dreamt by a middle-aged gaming console programmer, that people across the world should hook their dance pads together via a wireless Internet connection and the Ultimate Konami Cheat Code and dance the Great Networked Thunder Dance to sweep away the evil prophet of space.

It has been there, implicit in the code, waiting;

And the dancers have been waiting too.

They did not even know it, most of them, but they have been waiting.

Now they are not waiting.

There’s no turning back now!

Riding the Symbol of the Gathering, they fly southwards to Mount Hook.

They stand there, then, a baker’s dozen of un-chilled bodies in the snow.

There are Emily and Margerie. There is old, hobbling Kalov. There are Doug and Meredith, Ben, Christine, and Kasumi — um, not that Ben, obviously, not the one who was eaten, that would be just gross, it’s a different one — and Dancer X, and Hot Coffee; Footwork, and Phobos; and, of course, Lucy Souvante, the evil prophet of space.

“Hunh,” says Lucy.

She starts to throw paper. She starts to brandish an evil prophecy.

She forgets to count one-two-three.

The wind of the dance falls upon her and it is howling as it comes.

It rends her.

It rips her apart as she has ripped apart others. She hangs in the air in pieces. Her hands and her feet and her mouth scrabble at the air to try to draw her back together again.

Emily dances THE SCISSORS.

Margerie throws GLORY.

And so many others! So many Symbols! Even Doug, that sweat-drenched beginner, is desperately dancing MISSHAPEN METAL LUMP in opposition to the evil prophet of space.

Thunder peals.

The Dancers rip the evil prophet down to the seething particles of her and her smile.

The PlayStation 6s through which the Dancers dance grow hot. They suckle at the arctic evening air. A single particle of the evil prophet finds its way in through the vents and touches on the networked code.

“Do you know what I am going to do?” Lucy whispers, to Hot Coffee.

“No,” says Hot Coffee.

“I am going to redefine LIVE_BURIAL to TRUE.”

And before any of the dancers can say anything — before they can even utter a word —

Lucy does just that, and the mountain falls.

They are still guarded by the dance. Among other things — when she used the Cheat Code — Emily turned off the safeties. If the safeties are off — perhaps this is ironic — there is no way a Thunder Dancer in an active Konami Thunder Dance can die.

So none of them die in that moment —

But even so.

Most of them never wake up again.

Margerie opens her eyes long enough for a moment of satisfaction. A good dancer ought to be buried alive.

Kalov grumbles with finality.

Phobos wakes fully but to no avail; his chest is pinned and he screams silently until he dies.

Time passes.

Emily startles open her eyes.

She is buried under the mountain. She can scarcely breathe. She can’t move: there are rocks pinning her. Everywhere she is held down. The pain of it is horrible.

She is only alive because the PS6s are sturdy. They are not breakable by anything so small as a mountain falling upon them. Sure, the power is gone, now that she failed to finish the dance that she was dancing — but the machines themselves are sturdy. They have propped up the tumbled rock in certain limited ways.

“Oh,” she says.

It is soft and meek and the word is lost in the channels of the fallen mountain and she coughs and only the red light of a PlayStation on standby breaks the darkness.

She has a moment’s hope that Jeremiah Clean will come and rescue her; or Fred —

Wait. No.

Fred, like Eldri, like . . . so many of her friends . . . he’s dead. And Jeremiah Clean isn’t a tame janitor.

A few gleams of red light under Mount Hook’s rubble isn’t messy enough to draw him this far south.

“I feel,” she says, to unseen angels, “that I should apologize to the world, for now the evil prophet of space will probably kill everybody —”

She stops speaking with a gasp of pain. The rock has shifted. It grinds awfully into her back.

And laughing and crying she thinks, “Rock beats scissors.”

A concept pushes itself into her mind. She starts to think something. It is billowing in her mind like wind-tossed clouds and unfolding itself like a flower. She tries to articulate it but it is as if the mouth of her mind is full of cotton; she cannot find the words for things, she cannot find the names, she cannot find that beautiful fire that once had filled her mind. In the pain and the cold and the isolation of it all she has lost the thread of the jaguar-light that once possessed her.

The edge of something else catches on her consciousness instead.

It’s ridiculous. It’s really quite stupid. But she can’t help it.

She counts to three under her breath. She is caught up in a memory. She counts to three and she closes her fist.

The rock shifts again.

It lifts from her, just a bit. Then it is grinding, grinding, pushing back away from her, and in the little cavern that forms she sees the cross-legged form of Navvy Jim.

One hand is holding up an improvised roof.

The other, paper.

Emily giggles. Then she laughs. Then pain shoots through her ribcage and she chokes and she says, “Oh.”

“You cannot think to defeat me at rock-paper-scissors simply by draining my battery, taking me apart, packing me in boxes, and hiding under a mountain,” says Navvy Jim. “That is the kind of hijink only beneficial against amateurs.”

“Oh,” she says, and brokenly she smiles at him. She isn’t alone.

So much pain and so much silence; but she isn’t alone.

“But . . . it is dangerous to play rock-paper-scissors here,” he says. “The mountain throws rock. So rock and paper, perhaps, are safe, but if you had played scissors, you would have been crushed under tons of rock.”

“Mountains don’t care about rock-paper-scissors,” says Emily. “They’re not like robots.”

Navvy Jim hesitates.

“What is a mountain?” he says. “What is not a mountain? There is only the world.”

“You saved my life,” Emily says.

“I am a good robot,” smugs Navvy Jim.

There is silence for a while.

Tendrils of evil mist slowly slip into the chamber. The evil prophet congeals.

She looks between them.

“My God,” she says, referring neither to the Judeo-Christian God or the evil god of space but rather expressing both a blasphemy and a sense of wonder:

She is staring at Navvy Jim.

“I knew it,” she says. “I knew it. I knew there was someone on this planet who was good enough to give me a proper game.”

“What?” says Emily.

But Navvy Jim is nodding. “You would be a worthy rock-paper-scissors opponent,” Navvy Jim concedes.

“I didn’t expect to find you,” says Lucy, “while finishing off these dancers. You vanished before I got to this stupid planet. You left me.”

There is relief in her voice. There is a strange joy in it. She is as Emily, when first Emily saw the jaguar Bahlum; when first Emily understood what beauty was, that it was there, just waiting, in the world, for her to witness it: O See It Move!

The evil prophet of space is actually wiping away a tear.

Navvy Jim is hesitant. “Did you wish to play,” he says, “then?”

“Navvy Jim!” Emily says.

But their faces. Emily can’t bear it. Their faces.

“Fine,” she says.

She looks away. She sulks.

“You must understand,” says Navvy Jim, “that if I do not play, she wins by default —”

He trails off.

She’d say something here. She really would. She’d reassure him, or she’d critique him — but it’s not like she’s really gotten better, magically, just because she took her hat off; at best, she’s gotten pretty good by now at pretending to be a normal girl.

So she’s quiet there. She doesn’t say anything. Navvy Jim nods to her gravely.

Then the evil prophet of space, and Navvy Jim, square off.

“I should warn you,” says Lucy, “that I always throw paper. That’s how I’m going to kill you and the human. With paper.”

Navvy Jim’s eyes dim, then brighten.

“Why would you do that?” he asks.

Summarizes Lucy Souvante: “It is what I do.”

“Well,” says Navvy Jim, “the three symbols are mathematically equivalent, in any case.”

The evil prophet laughs. It’s startled from her. It’s pure and clean. And she says, “Yes. Yes, of course they are.”

And in a flash of insight Emily remembers the mountain that surrounds them, the great bulk of rock around them, and a shout bursts from her, racking the inside of her with pain: “Don’t throw scissors, Navvy Jim!”

The evil prophet is counting to three.

Navvy Jim glances at Emily.

“Of course I won’t,” he says. “The mountain always throws rock.”

And the evil prophet brandishes her evil prophecy. And Navvy Jim’s palm is flat. The aegis of evil prophecy burns around him, it scars his metal, but his palm is flat, so it does not kill.

“A tie,” says the evil prophet. “Rethrow.”

Softly, he counts to three.

She brandishes her evil prophecy, and Navvy Jim his palm.

“A tie,” says the evil prophet. “Rethrow.”

Navvy Jim says, “For all the money?”

“Of course,” says the evil prophet.

“If I win,” says Navvy Jim, “you’ll leave this world?”

“Navvy Jim,” says Emily, and her face is as pale as the snow.

“Perhaps,” the evil prophet says.

And Navvy Jim’s eyes glow blue.

And softly the evil prophet counts to three.

“Oh, no,” says Emily. “Oh, no.”

Her hand is twitching on the ground. She is drawing with her finger. She goes up up down down left right left right B and A, but she is still working on that last A of the Konami Cheat Code when the third count is counted —

And the evil prophet brandishes her evil prophecy; and Navvy Jim, with a great screeching of metal, splits into scissors the fingers of his hand; and simultaneously with BEING CRUSHED BY ROCKS, Emily finishes the code and she throws Dynamite with her foot.

She isn’t the kind of player who would do this. She really isn’t. Not since the hatting.

But she does.

And the last things that Emily sees as the world goes white are Navvy Jim lunging for her to catch her as she falls and the hideously betrayed expression of the evil prophet as she shouts:

“You can’t throw Dynamite. This is rock-paper-scissors!”

They don’t let you do things like that, it seems, at the evil academy of space.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *