Brian W. Antoine
February 8, 1993
Lord, but I needed some peace and quiet. The last week had been a mess from the moment my boss had asked me to travel to Italy on 12 hours notice, until I'd gotten a call to rush to the emergency room of the local hospital to help with my mother. I needed to relax, and tonight was the perfect chance.
Standing in my kitchen, I double checked the basket I was packing to make sure I hadn't forgotten something. "Sandwiches... Hot Chocolate... Peanuts... Good enough."
Not exactly health food, but I'd worry about that later. Picking up the basket, I grabbed my windbreaker off the coat rack and headed towards the gate that was the only access to my lab. With a final check of my apartment, I switched off the lights and after energizing the gate, stepped through into my lab.
"Hi! You look like you have enough food packed to feed a small army. Did Kalindra decide to bow out of the official celebration and join you?" came the cheerful question from the screen on the wall.
"Nope, this is just for me. She is stuck attending that stupid thing, and I told her that I wanted nothing to do with it. Too many people making too much noise for my taste, she can have it. I want some peace and quite to relax and enjoy the light show." Something in my voice must have caught Pennys attention.
"Are you all right? You sound kind of down."
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Its just been a bad week."
"Well take care of yourself. I'd hate to have to train a replacement for you. Good help is getting hard to find."
She was obviously trying to cheer me up, and it helped a little. "Gee, thanks. It's nice to know that someone appreciates having me around," and I chuckled as I picked up the last of the junk I was taking with me.
With the basket, a blanket and a soft lawn chair, I stepped up to the gate that lead to Velar and keyed it open. After the doorway cleared, I stepped through and closed it behind me.
The sun was just touching the horizon and beginning to ignite the few clouds that dotted the sky. It was mid-summer on Velar and the contrast to the winter weather I'd left behind was striking. I just stood there quietly for I'm not sure how long and enjoyed the view. There was just enough of a breeze to ruffle the grass in the meadow that spread out before me and the sunset made it look as if ripples of flame were racing with each other. After a while, the sun dipped below the horizon and breeze died down.
Taking my time, I carried my stuff to the middle of the meadow and set up the chair so that it would face the show to come. It would be a little while yet. Penny had figured that Velars orbit would cross the remains of the asteroid about two hours after sunset and I was not in any hurry. I sat back and popped the basket open to grab a bite to eat, then watched the fading light as the stars began to appear in the sky above me. As I sat there and munched my sandwich, I cleared my mind of the junk that had been running through it all week. I'd survived arguments with my boss before, and my mother was going to be fine. The family had decided to call her 'Thud' until she learned how to bounce better. Until then, she had a nice cast to remind her.
As the temperature began to drop, I opened the thermos of Hot Chocolate and poured myself a cup. I'd mixed it with a little Irish Creme and the taste went down quite nicely as I threw the blanket over my legs and sat back to watch the sky. Only one of the two moons was above the horizon and it was only showing a sliver of light. When I finished the last of the cup of Chocolate, I snuggled back into my chair and got comfortable. I figured I had maybe an hour before the show started so I just relaxed and listened to the night sounds coming from the forest that surrounded the meadow. Sometime later I popped the lid of the jar of peanuts I'd brought and began munching on them. They were salted, so I had some more of the chocolate, then a few more peanuts. By the time the first streaks began to appear in the sky above me, I was quite relaxed.
The asteroid we had deflected from its collision course with Velar had shed quite a bit of material during our attack. The dust cloud that remained had continued in the same orbit and every year put on a display that put the best meteor displays on Earth to shame. Above me, the sky seemed to catch fire as the dust cloud hit the atmosphere and lit it up with every color you could imagine. I was so engrossed in watching the sky that I almost didn't hear the noise that came from the basket at my side.
"Huh", and I turned to check the basket. "Oh oh, looks like I've got company. And just who has decided to help themselves to my dinner?"
The show in the sky above didn't produce enough light to see clearly, so I conjured a small light and leaned over to take a closer look. The light must have startled it because before I could do anything else it vanished before my eyes.
"What the hell?" I looked into the basket to make sure whatever it was hadn't just hidden inside. All I found was that the can of peanuts had been tipped over and the contents scattered, nothing else had been touched. "Oh well, I guess you'll just have to get your dinner the old fashioned way," and I closed the top and settled back into my chair to watch the show.
When I heard the noise again a little while later, I stayed still and listened. Something was trying to open the basket and get at the contents. From the sounds, it couldn't have been anything very big, maybe cat sized or smaller. Of course it couldn't be a cat, or even something like one or I'd have known long before now. As I listened, I began to turn on my side to face the basket. There was just enough light to make out the general shape of the thief that had decided to help himself to my dinner. It looked like some kind of lizard with a tail that had to be as long as the body and neck combined.
"Hello there, little thief, having trouble with the lid?"
Whatever it was had wings, because at the sound of my voice they snapped outward and the whole creature froze in place. When I moved this time it vanished again, but it didn't fly away, it vanished into thin air!
"So that's how you get away!" After a few seconds of staring at where it had been standing, I mentally hit myself and did a teleport trace. Sure enough, whatever it was had teleported away and was sitting in the trees at the edge of the meadow watching me. "Ok, lets see how brave you are," and I opened the lid of the basket and removed a handful of the peanuts. Closing the lid again, I scattered a few of them around the top of the basket and made a little pile of them on the blanket at my feet.
It took about 10 minutes this time before I sensed the teleport and heard something walking around on the basket at my side. A few minutes later it began searching the area. It could smell the pile of peanuts at my feet and was trying to locate them. Making sure I didn't startle it again, I listened as it searched the area under the lawn chair and made its way towards the peanuts. Then it stopped moving for a couple of minutes and I decided it must have been trying to figure out whether it was safe to get at them. Slowly the head peeked over the end of the chair and reached out and grabbed a peanut from the pile. A few minutes later it appeared again and grabbed another. This went on until about half the pile was gone, when it must have decided it was safe enough and climbed up onto the end of the chair and began eating away.
As I watched, it became obvious that it wasn't actually eating the peanuts. It seemed to be licking them and then discarding them. "Ah, you like the salt, don't you." When I spoke this time it froze but didn't leave. After a few moments it decided that I wasn't going to do anything and went back to its dinner. Eventually it finished the pile off and began to search around for more. The last of the peanuts I had held back in my hand. As slowly as I could I raised my hand and extended a peanut. This must have been to much for its nerves to stand as it vanished again. This time though it didn't go any farther then the grass a few feet behind me.
This was getting interesting. I was still pretty ignorant of most of the native life forms, and Kal had sure never mentioned anything about a creature that could teleport. Holding the peanuts in my open hand I decided to see if a little coaxing would help. I cleared my mind and began to broadcast a low level empathy pattern that I hoped would be translated as 'Safe/Friend'. It must have worked because a few minutes later my little friend reappeared at the side of the chair and stood up to stare at me.
Now it was my turn to stare back. That hadn't been an audible noise it had made, it had been a low level telepathic contact. "You're just full of surprises aren't you?" I said in a soft voice. The only response I got was that it stretched its neck out and grabbed on of the peanuts from my hand and holding it in its front claws, began to lick the salt from it. This went on until it had taken the last peanut I had. Then it began to search in and around the area of both the basket and me, looking for more. When it couldn't find anymore, it stood up against the side of the chair and stared up at me.
"Still hungry, huh." I did a quick mental inventory of the food I'd brought along. The only thing that probably contained salt in any quantity was the ham in the sandwiches I'd made. Moving slowly, I leaned over and opened the lid of the basket. My friend scrambled backwards, but didn't vanish this time. It just stood there and watched me to see what I was going to do.
Removing the wrap from the sandwich, I took a small piece of the ham and held it out. It only took a few sniffs this time before it ran up and grabbed the ham from my hand. "Ah, so you are a meat eater." One small piece at a time, I fed the sandwich to the little nocturnal thief at my side. There was still so little light that I couldn't get a real good look at it, but about two thirds of the ham was gone before it stopped eating and curled up in the grass at my side.
"Had enough, huh. You sure eat enough for something your size."
I finished the rest of the sandwich myself and sat back to watch the rest of the show in the sky. My little friend must have felt safe enough where it was because after a little while I could almost swear I heard it snore. I quick check confirmed that it had fallen asleep and I chuckled to myself because it was probably dreaming about the meal it had stolen. With a final look at my tiny visitor, I drew the blanket up aroundmy chest and watched the sky. Between the Hot Chocolate, the quiet surroundings and the show above me, it wasn't long before I fell asleep myself.
* * *
The next morning I got my first good look at my little friend. I didn't have much choice because it woke me up by standing on my chest and making noises like a small siren! As I came awake, it took off and flew a few feet away to land in the grass and stare at me.
"Well if that isn't a fine way to treat a friend! If I'd wanted an alarm clock, I'd have brought one!" The only response I got was a cocked head and a chirp. I stood up and stretched to work the kinks out of my back. I hadn't intended to fall asleep, but I'd been so relaxed that I'd lost the entire night. The Irish Creme probably hadn't hurt anything either. As I began to pack things up I reached for the basket to dump my garbage into. The moment I touched it my friend flew over and landed where it could look into the interior.
"Ah, so that's what your after. Hungry again, are we?" I rummaged around and pulled another sandwich from the basket, and after unwrapping it, laid it in the grass. That was all the invitation my little friend needed. It proceeded to work its way through the entire sandwich in short order, then flew up and perched on the head of my lawn chair to watch me. This was my chance to get a good look at my hungry little friend and I took it. I kneeled at the side of the chair and began to try to figure out just what it was.
More then anything else, it resembled a small dragon like those you would find illustrated in a book. It was white with faint highlights of color, kind of like an opal. The body was about 9 inches long with the neck extending another 6 inches or so. The eyes were jet black with small silver hilites that caught the sun as it turned its head to watch me. The tail... The tail was at least 18 inches long and tapered what looked like a needle-sharp point. I made a guess that it used its tail as a weapon when hunting for its own food instead of freeloading from tired wizards.
After I time, I stood up and began to gather my stuff. "Well, time to say good-bye, little friend. I've got things to due, places to go and bugs to fix." I nudged the chair and the little dragon flew into the air and began to circle around me. I reached over, folded the chair and got ready to head home. As I stood up, I about came unglued as my little friend circled down and tried to land on my shoulder!
"Jesus Christ!" I stood there breathing like I'd just finished running a race. It had caught me completely by surprise and I'd only just stopped myself from blowing the poor thing out of the sky.
"Don't do that! I might have killed you!" Of course it didn't understand a word I'd said, but it must have picked up the tone in my voice. It continued to circle and cheep softly at me and every once in awhile it would make like it wanted to try landing on my shoulder again. I thought about for a few minutes then made up my mind.
"Well if you really want to adopt me, I might as well get used to you breathing in my ear." I tilted my head to the side and projected a small empathic burst of friendship. That was all it needed. The next moment it landed on my shoulder and grabbed hold with its hind claws.
"Ouch, I can see I'm going to have to make some alterations in my cloak if you decide you like the ride. I'm also going to have to call you something besides little friend." I stood there thinking while it began to examine its new perch. It stood up and resting it front claws on the top of my head, began to crane its neck around to check me out. At one point I almost dislodged it when it decided to stick its tongue in my ear.
"Hey, stop that, it tickles!"
Eventually it satisfied its curiosity, at least for the moment. As it settled down on my shoulder, it wrapped its tail around my neck to give it something to hold onto. "Hey" as I grabbed its tail and loosened it. "No fair choking, I have to breath you know." It extended its neck and turned its head back to stare at me as I spoke, but the tail didn't tighten up when I released it.
"That's better, now how about a name for you." I turned over the several possibilities in my mind, but none of them seemed just right. Then inspiration set in and I started to chuckle to myself. "I've got it. A small thief and a dragon." I turned to stare at my new friend and chuckled even louder. "What do you think of the name Smaug? Sound Ok to you?"
"I hope that means yes." I picked up the rest of my gear and headed for the gate home. "Well, come on Smaug, I've got someone you need to meet. Although I sure hope you're house trained, she hasn't got much of a sense of humor about things like that."
As I walked back towards the gate I began to whistle to myself. In general, it hadn't been such a bad week after all...