“Ow…” Hadley said as her photons knit together. She’d lost her left arm again; it was flopping about in distress on the floor. From the look in Rain’s eyes, it was evident that the incarnation of Death had never hit someone so hard that their arm had come off.
“Hadley, look, I-oomph!” Rain was having all sorts of new experiences that day. She had, apparently, never been punched in the stomach by a detached left arm before either. Acting on instinct, she seized Hadley’s arm and flung it back at her. She’d meant to knock the girl out, but Hadley caught it like the world’s weirdest football and stuck it back on again.
“O-kay!” Hadley yelled, her mauve eyes alight with the joy of battle. “Let’s try that again!”
“I’m Death, you idiot, you can’t kill me,” Rain started to explain. She was cut off as Hadley slammed into her. The incarnation of Death skidded backwards a pace or two. Her own anger flared, and she struck back, sending Hadley flying across the corridor again. This time Hadley hit the wall so hard that both her arms came off.
“What’re you going to do now,” Rain said coldly, “bite my leg? Get it through your head. You can’t kill me.”
Hadley’s left arm was on the move again. Rain ignored it. “Just give it up, Hadley Baxendale. You’re not getting past me, and you’re not signing a deal with the snake, okay? Deal with it.”
Hadley smiled, as her right arm skittered tiredly to her side and squinched itself on. “Thing is, I don’t need to get past you.”
“Finally. Now pull yourself together and let’s move. We-”
“At least,” Hadley went on. “Not all of me.”
Then Rain got it. She spun around, but it was too late. Hadley’s left arm had hopped onto the table. Her disembodied hand had grabbed the pen, and with a somewhat shaky flourish, had signed Hadley’s name to the contract. The snake, which had been watching the whole fight from a safe distance, smiled. “Good enough.” There was a sulfuric flash. Hadley disappeared. So did Rain.
Jolene Kenneth, Auburn, First Officer of the starship Coral, had been somberly scanning the residue of the shattered planet from the science station on the bridge. She was part of a recovery team, but there seemed nothing left to recover. Then, quite suddenly, the planet was there again. Jolene gaped as her sensors lit up. Everything seemed back to normal, except… “Captain?” Jolene said slowly. “There’s only two life signs down there.”
“Where’s everyone else?” the captain demanded. “There were three billion people on that planet!”
“There’s just two now. I’ll see if I can hail them.”
As she worked the communications, Jolene’s eyes burned, and she felt a sudden cough coming on. She reminded herself to check in with sickbay later. It was probably just a small cold. Nothing serious.
“Woohoo!” Hadley exulted, as she popped her triumphant left arm back on for what she hoped was the last time. They stood next to the same tree Hadley had started from, what seemed like ages ago, when she had only been trying to help the police solve a local murder. “We did it! We’re out of hell, my home planet’s back, Jolene’s got the creeping crud probably, and….” She paused. Rain had an exceptionally dark look on her face.
“Okay, sorry about all that, but honestly, I don’t think it’s all that bad. We won, didn’t we?”
“Yeah?” Rain said. She waved around them. “Where’s all the people?”
Hadley wheeled. No one was there. “Um….”
“You didn’t happen to read that contract, did you? I assume the promise was that your planet would be restored? Did it say anything about the people on your planet?”
Just then Hadley’s communicator chirped. She flipped it open, amazed that she could still get a signal when her world had apparently been depopulated. All she heard was static.
Jolene was hacking so hard she could hardly speak. “I can’t…quite…the frequency…excuse me,” she managed to her alarmed captain, and ran towards the sickbay emergency lift. An ensign moved to take her place. In the intervening seconds between her departure, and the ensign’s replacing her, a small sensor went off on her panel. The ensign, trying to get a read on the situation Jolene had left, missed the alert entirely. The bunnies were coming.
For previous entries in Hadley’s saga, go here. Thanks for reading!
Hadley hadn’t experienced temptation much before. Being a sentient shade of color, she tended to see moral issues rather starkly. Things were right, or they were not. But now, standing in the valley of Amaranth, looking out at her former Gray boyfriend Casey, she faced a really serious dilemma.
The whole history of her tortured relationship flashed before her eyes. There had been enough drama to make a Shakespearean play. It had all been Jolene’s fault. That sneaky Auburn had cut in and swept him away. Just like that. She’d ditched her own companion too, a stolid Green. Cheating on one’s own boyfriend and stealing someone else’s was objectively wrong, wasn’t it? And so, Hadley thought, it couldn’t really be a bad thing if Jolene got what was coming to her, could it?
The snake coiled up beside her, waiting on her decision. “When you say you could do something about Jolene…” Hadley said carefully. “What, exactly, are you saying? Not something horrible like murder, right?”
The snake seemed astonished. “Of course not. We’re from Hell, after all. If there’s one guiding principle down here, it’s that everyone gets what they deserve.”
Hadley shivered. “I see. So maybe you could just inflict the creeping crud on her, or make her break up with him, that sort of thing.”
“Yes. Just that. Nothing too permanent,” said the snake.
“Right. And what do I have to do in return?”
“Nothing at all, really. Just leave. Get out of hell, and go back to your own planet, which we’ll restore for you. We’ll even inflict the creeping crud on Jolene for you, whatever you’d like. The only thing we want is that you leave Hell, and really, you don’t want to stay down here, do you?”
The beautiful flower-laden valley melted away, and suddenly Hadley was back where she had started, in a burning, rocky, flower-less cavern deep in the depths of hell. A single sheet of paper, written in flaring ink, lay on a little table nearby.
“So….” said the snake, gesturing with its tail to the paper, “do we have a deal?”
Hadley hesitated. She’d worked it all out morally. Jolene would only get what was coming to her. But still….
It was at this point that a good friend, or possibly a guardian angel, could have intervened and tried to warn Hadley of her danger. They might have observed that it wasn’t a good idea in generally to cut deals with giant talking snakes, especially ones representing the powers of hell. Unfortunately, Rain had arrived in the corridor just in time to hear the snake’s proposal. She responded in the entirely wrong way. “Oh, you idiot!”
“What?” Hadley said, aghast.
Rain face-palmed. “You idiot. I told you not to get separated. I told you to be careful. I even said you shouldn’t be here in the first place, and you go off and start making deals with the devil! In Hell, no less!”
“In point of fact,” the snake interjected, “as I have explained on several occasions, I’m not-”
“Oh, stuff it,” Rain snapped. “I wasn’t talking to you anyway.”
Hadley flared in anger. She didn’t like being called an idiot any more than anyone else. “Well, I was! And I hadn’t finished yet!”
“Honestly. You remember why I’m here? Why you’re here? Your stupid planet got blown up, the Bunniless Pit was opened, the whole universe is about to die in fluffy apocalypse and you’re worrying about your love life?”
“What do you care?” Hadley shot back. “You’re Death! You don’t care about anyone, you just show up when people die!”
Rain went very pale. “I do care. You have no idea. But this isn’t the time to go into that. You’re not cutting a deal with the snake!”
“Wanna bet?” Hadley wheeled around. The snake had been watching the argument with some interest. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll do it. I’ll sign whatever-”
But Rain had shoved past her, and now stood in between her and the paper. “I said, you’re not cutting a deal.”
Rain’s eyes blazed. “Don’t cross me, Hadley Baxendale. I’m Death, remember. I’m going to win this.”
Hadley blazed from her usual mauve to a furiously bright magenta. “Oh yeah?” She couldn’t quite move at light speed, but she could go fast enough. She flashed to one side past Rain. Rain reacted automatically. She’d forgotten her own strength. Mauve photons splashed against the walls of hell.
You can find previous adventures with Hadley here.
She had gotten lost, somehow. Hadley Baxendale had tried to stay close behind Rain as they crept through the howling corridors and descended through pit after pit, but somehow they had been separated. It was so easy to get lost in the dark. Now Hadley had no idea where in the hell she was. (This was literally true: she had a vague sense that she was in one of the infernal region’s lower circles, but she didn’t know which, and hell had a deplorable lack of maps.)
“Okay,” she said bravely to herself. “We’re headed to the same place, anyway, right? I just have to keep going down, and I’ll catch up!” Hadley was trying not to think of where she was headed. Rain had been all too clear. To find out what was going on, why the bunnies were loose, why her planet had been destroyed, they had to go to the source. The Big D. You Know Who. Old Scratch. Hadley knew of half a dozen other names. She didn’t like any of them.
She moved on, through the shadows, wishing that she wasn’t a living shade of mauve. Mauve wasn’t the stealthiest of colors. The funny thing was, so far she hadn’t been stopped. Hadley had thought hell was more crowded. Ever since she had lost Rain, she hadn’t run into a single demon, or monster, or human soul writhing in eternal torment. Even the bunnies had gone.
She cautiously rounded yet another corner into yet another corridor, and quite unexpectedly ran into someone. “Oh, I beg your-”
It was the snake again. The same one she had met before. “You again,” it rumbled. “Miss Baxendale, I’m a little occupied right now.”
“Back!” Hadley shrieked at it. “Back, you foul thing! You’re the Dark Paint Stripper!”
“I am not,” the snake said wearily, “the Dark Paint Stripper. Or whatever name you choose to give him. I am only a deputy undersecretary. If you want to make an appointment with Our Father Below, you’ll have to call our receptionist department, between 3 and 4 A.M. on Tuesdays. Then fill out Form 876-9B, in triplicate, and sign it, and then initial your signature.”
“That’s awfully complicated,” Hadley said.
“We’re Hell. You expected good customer service?”
“Yes. Well. I really need to see You Know Who sooner. It’s an emergency.”
The snake chortled. “You want to see Our Father Below? The Dark Paint Stripper himself? And what do you propose to say?”
Hadley plucked up her courage. “He’s obviously unleashed the bunnies, and he’s destroyed my home planet!”
“And that’s wrong! And he should stop! Or else!”
“Or else what?”
Here Hadley had a problem. She had assumed that Rain would handle the “or else” part of the mission. Failing that, she had hoped that perhaps she could talk the Big Bad into seeing the error of his ways. She was beginning to think that wasn’t going to work.
“Listen,” said the snake. “I am only a deputy undersecretary, but I can see you are in over your head, Miss Baxendale. I can help. I can get you out of here. In fact, I can put in a word for you with my superiors. We can restore your home planet. We can even do more.”
Hadley was unused to dealing with the denizens of the lower regions. She didn’t realize her peril. So, she asked what seemed a simple question. “More? Like what?”
Suddenly everything blurred. Then sunlight, the first real light she’d seen since entering hell, spilled around her. Hadley gasped.
She was standing in a quiet gap between two rolling green lines of hills. It was the same spot where she had seen Casey last, where she had almost gone after him. They had argued, again, and he had walked away. She had meant to call the next day and explain. But she hadn’t. It was the only thing she regretted. She could just see the familiar Gray form leaning against a tree.
“Oh come on!” Hadley exclaimed. “I know what you’re up to, I’m not completely naive. Even if I wanted to go back to Casey, I couldn’t. We moved on. He’s with Jolene anyway. Jerk.” Hadley muttered a few uncomplimentary things. She’d never liked Auburns much. Especially not that Auburn.
“We could…” whispered the snake, “do something about Jolene.”
Hadley hadn’t considered that. “Could you? Well….”
For previous entries in Hadley’s Story, go here. Thanks for reading!
Last time in the Catrina Chronicles, our heroine was trapped on board the zeppelin of Captain Ahab, just as Starbuck had opened fire on it in his starfighter. This was a very awkward position to be in. Fortunately, Catrina had remembered at the last moment a magic spell that would save her….
Catrina skittered about on the floor of the zeppelin, having transformed into a newt. As a newt, she had managed to escape the ice that had frozen her human form to the wall. She had also escaped the attention of Captain Ahab, who was frantically working the zeppelin about the sky in an effort to evade the thunderous energy blasts from Starbuck. The captain was evidently returning fire as well, the zeppelin quaking with every shot. Any moment, Catrina expected the zeppelin to burst into flames and take the captain with it. The problem was, of course, that it would take her too, and she didn’t much care for that.
Worse, her newty form was only temporary. She would get better any second now, and she didn’t have a plan for what followed. “As if that’s my fault,” Catrina complained. “It’s been almost a month since my last adventure. I’ve forgotten what I’m supposed to do! You can’t just set up a dramatic moment and leave me hanging like that!”
Catrina was, of course, unaware that her author was studying hard for the bar exam. Had she been, she might have sympathized. All she knew was that she had been waiting for a month, she was still a newt, and now that her story had started again, she was about to die. “Oh, sure. Kill me off, why don’t you,” she squeaked in her tiny newt voice. “It isn’t as if I haven’t been killed off before. Oh. Wait.”
At that inopportune moment, she got better. Quite suddenly she was human again, only now she was standing free on the bridge of the zeppelin, about five feet away from Captain Ahab. “By thunder!” the captain exclaimed. “You’ve escaped!”
“Yes. Yes I have. Excellent observa-” Catrina’s acid comment was cut short by a renewed torrent of energy blasts from Starbuck. Several alarms went off with shrilling cries.
A speaker crackled on the control panel. “Captain,” Starbuck said coolly. “You may not have noticed this, but your shields just failed. Another moment and your zeppelin will be destroyed. I’d rather not do that, since it rightly belongs to the Nantucket Star Alliance. You have one last chance to surrender and allow me to take custody of the ship and the proton harpoon.”
“Excuse me,” said Catrina, “I don’t care whether he surrenders or not, exactly. I only followed him because I was curious about what he was doing; apparently he’s on some crazy whale vengeance quest, and that’s not really my fight. All the same, I’m on the ship now, and if you blow it up I’ll go with it, and I’d rather not do that. So would you mind backing off while I have a civil discussion with the captain here?”
“I don’t know who you are,” Starbuck rejoined, “but if you’re with the captain, I will have no choice but to take you into custody as well. The Nantucket Star Alliance-”
Catrina was already upset at being left by her author for nearly a month. Starbuck wasn’t helping her mood at all. “I’m not being taken into custody by anyone, least of all your Nantucket Star Alliance.”
“Your shields are down. Mine are still intact. I am prepared to blast you out of the sky. I fail to see what you’re going to do about it.”
Now Catrina was really piqued. “Excuse me, sir, but I can do plenty about it. If you don’t back off with your starfighter in two minutes, I will….” she paused, glancing back at Mlrning, the Shovel of Thor. It was still encased in ice, frozen to the wall where she’d been a moment before. She could try to call it to her, using the mental summoning or whatever it was, but would the Shovel be able to smash through its own ice? That was a problem. In any event, Catrina suddenly had a more fiendish idea. “I will quote law at you.”
“I beg your pardon?” Starbuck said.
“The Rule against Perpetuities,” Catrina began, “states that no interest is valid unless it must vest, if it all, not later than 21 years after some life in being at the creation of the interest.”
“What are these dark words?” Starbuck exclaimed, aghast. “It’s worse than devil’s madness.”
Catrina plowed relentlessly on. “In the case of a taxpayer other than a corporation, losses from sales or exchanges of capital assets shall be allowed only to the extent of the gains from such sales or exchanges, plus (if such losses exceed such gains) the lower of (1) $3,000 ($1,500 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return), or (2) the excess of such losses over such gains.”
A whole new barrage of alarms went off, only now they were coming not from the zeppelin but from the speaker on the control panel. Starbuck’s ship, with what computerized intelligence it possessed, was rebelling in pure terror. “Stop that!” Starbuck yelled, both at his starfighter and Catrina in the zeppelin. “You’ve got no rights here! The captain will lead you to madness!”
“Now you’ve got one chance,” Catrina said. “Take your starfighter and go. You can pursue the captain once I’m off his ship and he leaves my world, but not till then.”
Starbuck’s answer was hidden in a burst of static. But when Catrina looked out the cockpit window, she saw his fighter turning back towards the ship for one last desperate firing run. “I didn’t want to do this,” she said. “But here goes. 28 U.S.C. 1391(b). A civil action may be brought in a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is-”
The starfighter vanished in a spray of light. The shockwave rattled the zeppelin, but in a moment it had steadied again. Catrina sighed. She had just glimpsed something small and person-sized filing away from the ship in the last instant before it exploded. She might have mistaken, or it could have been debris, but it was just possible Starbuck had escaped. She hoped he had; she didn’t really want to dispatch anyone unnecessarily. In any event, he wasn’t a concern anymore. She rounded upon the captain. “Right. Now I’ve saved you, but I’m not going to help you go after your whale. So you put your zeppelin down, I’ll retrieve my Shovel and leave, and then you can go on your merry way. Is that acceptable?”
Captain Ahab laid a hand on the proton harpoon. Catrina rolled her eyes. “Oh dear. Don’t tell me we’re going to do this the hard way.”
Just then, a new alarm lit up on the control panel. During the fight, the zeppelin had bounced across the sky for some distance. Little noticed by the combatants, they had wound up over the sea. Now the zeppelin’s sensors had picked up something in the water. Captain Ahab knew what the alarm meant. ” “There she blows!—there she blows!” He ran swiftly to the window of the bridge and looked down at the waters below. A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!”
“Of course it is,” said Catrina.
This has been another episode of the Catrina Chronicles. For previous episodes, go here. For my Amazon page with other Catrina stories, go here. You can also, if you are so inclined, review my work on Goodreads. And as always, thanks for reading!