This is another reworked bit from a short story I’m converting into a novel, inserting Holly Jahangiri (the fictional one) and some Living Books. Living Books, in case you haven’t been following this series of stories, are people (in this case, people of the planet Llannonn) who have memorized texts (as in FAHRENHEIT 451) and live in Libraries as in dormitories. Holly is a Librarian of such a Library. (The Llannonninn are very fond of capital letters. They seem more Respectful.)
Bel and Tetra are the original main characters. Harry Chestney is second in command of the space ship on which they teach. Bel, I must point out, is a Heroine to no one except the Llannonninn, and that’s because they have thoroughly misunderstood anything she has ever done there.
Tetra is a Gilhoolie, a native of the planet Gilhoo. She has been claimed in a captive distribution by Mother Hoyden, owner of a pirate dive bar, The Dead Parrot.
Hansim Deveril and the radical teenaged girl are pirates, but members of the Loyal Opposition, who think their current pirate king is overstepping his bounds and heading toward breaking their pirate rules. (“Pirates have rules?” asked one character, to which a pirate replied, “Pirates need them.”)
As God is my witness, this all makes sense. For a given value of “sense.”
Any questions? Then let’s begin.
Holly and the Getaway
by Marian Allen
Mother Hoyden had taken the stage. “A little bit of hush,” she shouted. “A little bit of hush!” When all was still, she said, “We have a lot of new provincials with us tonight. You’ve already met our Tetra –” The lighting technician, an old man with a powerful dark-lantern, directed a shaft through the dimness onto the Gilhoolie. The crowd shouted, whistled, and clapped in approval.
“– and now I’m very pleased to present to you, live and in person, got up regardless of expense, direct from Council City, Living Books!” After a stunned silence, a throaty roar evidenced how thoroughly sick the pirates were of hearing their own stories — or, worse yet, one another’s — over and over. Into the approving hubbub, Mother Hoyden shouted, “And a Librarian!”
Realizing this meant the Books were not anyone’s for the taking, some protested. Holly stood and quelled them with a Warning Glance (tm Council City Librarian Training Boot Camp) of laser-beam intensity.
When Holly had given a sharp nod and seated herself again, Mother Hoyden said, “Plus, ladies and gentlemen — and I use those words loosely — the one, the only … Heroine Bel Schuster!” The crowd cheered, stomped, and beat fists and flagons on the tables. “Come on up, you lot,” Mother Hoyden shouted through the brouhaha. “Come on.”
Mother Hoyden joined the audience, the better to enjoy the show.
“What do we do?” Bel whispered.
“Excerpts,” said Holly. She ticked off the books, beginning with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and ending with Moby Dick. Say your piece, and get offstage. No encores.”
One by one, the Living Books recited bits of themselves. As they finished, they raised their arms to accept the approbation of the crowd and walked into the wings with grace and dignity. All except The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Genesis Selinsky) who did what Bel and other Earthlings would call a Buffalo Shuffle, a perky little dance step that has evolved independently all over the known multiverse.
Moby Dick’s brief excerpt lasted a full fifteen minutes, riveting the seafarers with a detailed account of the rendering of whale blubber into oil and leaving them a trifle stunned.
Holly accompanied the final Book off the stage, waving to the crowd with the tail of her purple feather boa.
Bel and Tetra stood alone on the stage.
“The Ambassador’s Getaway,” said Tetra.
“Ah, yes,” said Bel. She reset her plastic bowler at a rakish angle. Tetra straightened the lemon-colored cravat around her bare neck. For a dizzy moment, it looked as if they were going to break into a song-and-dance, but that may have been the lingering after-effect of that Buffalo Shuffle.
Once, in his cups on shore leave, Harry Chesney had done an impression of a diplomat speaking at a cannibal’s dinner, of which he discovers he is to be a course.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Bel said, imitating Chesney’s delivery, “it is indeed an honor to stand here before you. I hope to have a similar honor elsewhere in the future. And so, pursuant to that hope, I bid you a fond — adieu.” She tipped her hat and exited, stage left.
Tetra, behind her, waved an arm and shouted, “Hip, hip –”
“Hurrah!” The pirates rose and took up the cry as Tetra followed Bel off.
A short dash down the hall brought them to the door of Mother Hoyden’s office, where Tetra knocked in code. Hansim Deveril answered and hurried them in. The radical teenaged girl opened a secret panel beside the bookcase and in they went.