This chapter is the LAST chapters written by me, Bobmin. I am posting them here since not everyone can read them from my Yahoo group. If you wish to know why these are the last chapters and why no more will be written you can see my profile for details.
Perhaps someday I'll be able to get back to finishing this, but right now I have more important matters to deal with.
Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Glasgow Scotland...
Harry arrived in Glasgow barely fifteen minutes behind Hermione. He had returned to Campbeltown to find the Weyr in a flurry of excitement. It took Harry a full ten minutes to figure out that Hermione had already left for the hospital, most of that time spent trying to find someone that knew where his wife was. Most everyone involved had already left for the hospital.
While he wasn't as flustered as Lee was when his wife gave birth, he was justifiably excited as he climbed back onto his dragon and leapt skyward. Behind him, his Weyr buzzed with excitement as dragon and rider alike waited to hear about the birth of the Weyrleader's first child.
Chekiath popped out of Between and started spiraling down to an area that had been created with dragon riders in mind. From his vantage point he could see Momnarth, Norendrath and Bronth sitting quietly. The dragon landing pad was directly across the street from the hospital's helicopter pad.
Harry slid down from his position on Chekiath and froze. The sound flapping wings and then a low threatening growl was unmistakable. Chekiath moved to position himself in front of Harry. He could barely make out Comaloth over the bulk of his dragon. Comaloth was reacting to the pain, fear and anxiety she was feeling from Hermione's labor. Her eyes were brightly glowing an angry red.
"Be silent," Chekiath commanded sharply. "You were told this would happen and you told me you understood and could control yourself."
Comaloth took a step backwards as Chekiath reared up on his hind legs and his eyes flashed a solid red, challenging her. Comaloth was among the largest dragons on the planet and still Chekiath out massed her by nearly a third.
"But my rider is in pain!" protested Comaloth and she took another step backwards, "And he caused it!"
"It is the way of the female humans, the healers will take care of her. You also know that your rider wouldn't like you hurting her mate," Chekiath retorted. "Go! Sit with Bronth and the others and be quiet."
Comaloth whined and puffed smoke from her nostrils angrily. Chekiath reared up again and made a barking sound that had Comaloth flinching backwards. Chekiath glared at her as she lowered her head and turned towards Bronth. The elder dragon watched the byplay with interest, he had long felt Chekiath allowed his consorts too many liberties.
Harry watched the interplay between the two dragons with carefully, it was unusual for Chekiath to assert himself so forcefully with one of his consorts. Comaloth was clearly reacting to her rider's distress and that made her a temporary danger, to herself and to others.
Thus far nearly every female rider that had given birth had a dragon that was most upset during the labor period. It was the primary reason why every pregnant rider came to Glasgow and why there was a trio of high ranking dragons on hand to help control the rider's dragon. Glasgow had experience in treating dragon riders, and they knew that helping manage the rider's pain was crucial to keeping their dragon calm.
Chekiath wasn't normally shy about making his authority known. He did however take a much milder approach to his two consorts, a milder approach that had Hermione and May both believing was the direct result of Harry's influence. Cheki had controlled several female dragons whose riders were in labor and he wasn't about to allow his own consorts to run amuck. That would be an insult to his honor as the Weyrleader's dragon.
Chekiath turned to look at Trath who looked back at him directly. She had landed just behind Comaloth and had watched her bondmates intently. "What? My rider isn't in pain. I have no problem with The Weyrleader."
May was absent, being too close to her own delivery, she was being driven to the hospital by car. She had told Trath to go ahead so she could be kept informed. No pregnant rider in their final trimester was allowed to go Between.
Chekiath looked at her for a moment longer, then he commanded, "Go sit with your sister consort and keep her calm. Watch her and learn from this, your own rider's time is coming."
Trath lowered her head and to Harry's surprise, meekly walked over to where Comaloth sat in an agitated state. Chekiath turned back to Harry. "Go be with Hermione, I will stay here and ensure all is well."
Harry shook his head in amusement, then he turned and trotted up to the entrance of the building. He met Sirius just inside the door. The older man grinned wildly at him and pointed towards the lift. "She's on the fourth floor. Issac slipped a suppressor on her so that she'll avoid any accidental magic. Madam Pomfrey is with Issac and she's still unhappy that she couldn't handle this delivery. Issac explained that as the Weyrleader's wife it was expected that Hermione would attend the Royal Infirmary here in Glasgow."
Harry nodded and jabbed at the lift call button. Sirius arched an eyebrow, unlike his father, Harry appeared to be calm and cool, only his repeated attacks on the lift button gave any indication of the nervousness he was feeling.
Less than three minutes later he was out of the lift and hurriedly putting on a surgical gown before entering the room. He absently noted that both Issac and Madam Pomfrey were present, but both were standing off to one side while the hospital's obstetrics resident was helping Hermione. He rushed to her side and she looked at him expectantly. "You're late," she said flatly.
Harry looked down, "I'm sorry, you know I had to visit Condron Weyr today. I had been putting it off all week because you said the baby was due any day."
"And I was right," Hermione said, then she started puffing heavily. Harry moved up by her head and wiped at her sweaty forehead with a handy cloth. He slid into a position at the top of the bed and wrapped one arm around her, then he gave her a quick kiss on her cheek which made her smile despite her discomfort.
"Can we finally get going?" asked the resident. "She's been fully dilated since she arrived."
Harry looked up from wiping Hermione's forehead. "Oh yes, you can start anytime you like," he said, not quite understanding exactly what he was saying.
Issac coughed to cover a laugh and Madam Pomfrey chuckled. Hermione looked up at her husband and glared for a moment, then another contraction hit and she pushed hard.
Officially Issac and Poppy were listed as Weyr medical personnel and only here to observe. The hospital staff weren't happy with that, but Issac had been present several times for other births and had never interfered. The hospital understood that this particular case involved some very high profile people and had accepted the inclusion of Madam Pomfrey without much grumbling. Officially both were observers from the Weyr, unofficially they were there to help if any accidental magic occurred.
Two long and tiring hours later, Daniel James Potter was born into the world with a loud cry and inexplicably, a power fluctuation that nearly shut down the entire ward. Harry and Hermione shared a proud look and Issac moved over to watch as the baby was cleaned up and weighed. He covertly cast a low powered spell that would dampen any accidental magic caused by little Daniel for the next few days.
After cleaning the infant, the nurse expertly wrapped the babe and handed him to Harry, then she gently pushed him towards Hermione with an expectant look. He looked down at the baby in his arms, then over to Hermione and realized what the nurse was trying to do. He grinned sheepishly as he walked over to the bed and gently laid the baby on her chest. Instinctively her hands came up to hold her baby. "Like everything you do, our son is perfect," Harry said with a bit of awe. He bent over and kissed her forehead, "Thank you," he whispered to her.
"Our hatchling," Chekiath's thoughts echoed through the room. "Welcome and happy birthday little Daniel. We have been eagerly waiting to meet you."
Hermione's eyes widened for a moment, then she smiled up at Harry. "Our son," she repeated tiredly.
The room seemed to still as everyone heard thousands of voices softly murmuring a welcome to the Weyrleader's first son. Harry grinned at Hermione and little Daniel opened his eyes for a brief moment and yawned. Apparently he wasn't impressed by the welcome of so many dragons.
"What was that?" exclaimed one nurse. Chekiath had made several comments during the delivery, but that was nothing compared to the sound of thousands of dragons welcoming the birth of the Weyrleader's son.
Hermione looked up from admiring her baby. "He is The Weyrleader's son. Every dragon on the planet has been waiting for him to arrive. I expect the same thing will happen again when May has her baby," she said. It was impossible to miss the pride in her voice.
Only those that knew the couple knew that Hermione's pride stemmed from her personal relationship with Harry and not because of his title or station. As far as she was concerned, her baby was perfect, like a perfect report she had spent ninth months writing.
None of the hospital staff that were present were surprised by Hermione's comment about May. May and Hermione had both come to the hospital during their pregnancies for testing. May was just shy of a month and a half behind Hermione in her due date. So the three of them had attended child birth classes at the hospitable and occasionally had been caught by local photographers.
It was common knowledge now that the Weyr didn't always practice monogamy and in Harry's case he was involved with both women. Photos of the two women appeared in several periodicals around the country. Harry was privately tickled pink when both women were listed as some of the most beautiful and influential women in the UK. Privately he thought his wives were the sexiest women on the planet.
The laws concerning marriage were still unchanged, but Parliament was now considering a change to existing laws that would apply only to dragon riders. The marriage issue only existed in those western countries that had Weyrs. Elsewhere, like Maziang and Sakushima Weyrs, conditions were much more relaxed. For now Campbeltown continued as it always had, quietly ignoring the legalities with the tacit approval from the PM's office.
Harry noted that the nurses were just about finished with Hermione. "I will be right back, your parents are outside waiting on the news. It looks like you'll be ready to receive visitors soon."
"Yes, five more minutes," the nurse said, looking up from her task. "I'll come out and let you know when she's ready to receive visitors."
Isaac took several photos of Hermione and Daniel, then he handed the digital camera to Harry who would give it to Lee.
Harry nodded and bent over the bed to gently kiss his son and his wife, then he straightened up and walked from the room towards a crowded waiting room filled with family and government officials. As much as he'd like to keep this private, he knew a great many important people were very interested hearing about his son. Lord Mills was present with Hermione's parents and Sirius and Remus, but for once he was acting as Her Majesty's personal envoy.
Harry knew that Lord Mills would be personally passing the news to Her Majesty and the Prime Minister.
Lee and Mariah were also present, awaiting to hear the news, then they would descend to the first floor where Mariah would formally announce Daniel's birth to the waiting press.
Kitchen Hall, Campbeltown Weyr, June 1st 2006...
Harry nodded amiably to Janay who was nervously setting up the tape recorders that she would use to record the session. Normally Hermione acted as official Weyr secretary for Weyrleader meetings, but she was still on maternity leave. Hermione normally would have been here for this meeting, but Isaac has insisted that every woman who had a child take a minimum two month maternity leave.
Isaac had followed up that order with a second one grounding any woman that had given birth from going Between for at least sixty days. There had been a single case of a young mother going Between a month after giving birth and then coming down with a massive infection that nearly killed her. Since then Isaac ordered a sixty day Between ban on all new mothers until they understood exactly what was involved.
The enforced leave frustrated Hermione, but Harry refused to override Isaac on any medical issue, let alone this one. Harry even used the excuse to take a few days off for himself so he could get to know his new son, and help Hermione adjust to the changes in their lives. May helped as much as she could, but she was in the final stage of her own pregnancy and anxiously waiting for the birth of her baby.
Dobby and the other elves were ecstatic to have the chance to help with little Daniel, so much so that Harry nearly had to order them to stop fighting over who would help care for the infant.
This was the first Weyrleader meeting since the birth of his son and Hermione had been banished to their house after she instructed Janay on how to take the notes and remind Harry of the agenda.
Unlike Hermione, Janay wasn't a witch and was unable to use a dicta-quill like Hermione did. Janay smiled timidly at Harry, then positioned herself at the table. She was as ready as she ever would be. The tape recorders she was using would have to suffice.
Harry stood up at the table where the senior Weyrleaders would sit. There was room for just four Weyrleaders and a seat for Harry. The four were selected by popular election from the others, but mostly the election had gone the way Harry expected it to go. Lobsang of Maziang and Skip Taylor of Condron each took a seat along with Ismo Sippola from Joensuu Weyr. The only surprise on the panel was Serge Fuentes from a newer Weyr; Caserío Puerto Limon, which replaced the old Weyr at Corales Isla Fuerte; that island had been too small to support a manned Weyr.
The panel held no authority over the other Weyrleaders, but were tasked with ensuring the decisions of the meetings were carried out. In theory that's what Harry wanted. What he got was nearly what he wanted except that as far as the dragons were concerned, he was The Weyrleader and they weren't about to let anybody override that fact.
The room filled up and the noise level increased as people mingled. There were thirteen manned Weyrs, and each Weyrleader brought their division leaders and in some cases, wing leaders with them. Nearly sixty people in all just from the Weyr leadership, then another twenty riders representing various Weyr research and commercial groups.
Harry turned to Ronan who stood beside him. "Look at this," he muttered. "Do you remember when we were barely forty people?"
Ronan shook his head. He had recently stepped down as division leader due in part to his injury and was now permanently attached to the Engineering division of Dragon Services. Ronan was still an active member of Wing One, Division Two, but no longer held the role of Divisional leader. "I remember when you were the only rider and Chekiath seemed unbelievably huge."
Harry laughed softly, "The big lug still is," he replied.
"I have to be, I am your dragon. I have to be the biggest," Chekiath interjected smugly.
The room suddenly fell silent, then everyone laughed. The second biggest dragon in the world was a full six feet shorter and a ton lighter than Chekiath. Senior dragons were highly respected, and every Weyr deferred to their Weyrleader's dragon, but not a single dragon would willingly oppose Chekiath.
Harry looked around with a smile, "And with that comment, how about we all get seated and get started?"
He glanced down at a print out that Janay had given him, then looked around. "Al? Al Ford where are you?"
"Here Harry," shouted a voice from the back of the room. Heads turned to look at the Weyr's chief diplomatic negotiator who seemed to be trying to juggle some rolled up maps and a large cup of coffee.
Harry smiled and motioned for him to relax and get himself straightened out. Albert quickly abandoned his drink and moved to the front of the room. He stood next to the main table and one of the wing leaders in the rear grabbed his drink and passed it forward.
"Yes well Harry asked me to report on what's been happening in the New Zealand and Australia areas. At most of you already know, there was a reserve on Cheeseman Island just off the northern coast of New Zealand. The island itself was really barren and short of dragon flight to get to the nearest town, there is no nearby human community capable of supporting a manned Weyr.
"The New Zealand government is very keen on having a manned Weyr of their own, so they have been very cooperative with us. Right now we've narrowed the location for the proposed Weyr to five possible locations, but we haven't selected one as yet. It's a joint process between the Weyrs and the government. I don't want them to think we're setting terms and I'm keeping a very close eye on what we're doing there. Sakushima Weyr is assisting in surveying each site and I expect that we'll have a report on those surveys by the end of the month.
"The proposed ambulance service did run into a little snag. For the first time a labor union complained that we would be interfering with the unionized rescue service. It took a bit of explaining that that was not the case and the union would be supplying the module staffing. I'm pleased to say that it looks like we'll have another manned Weyr by the February impression and probably another ambulance service even sooner."
While the first ambulance service in the UK did start out staffed by Weyr personnel, they quickly switched over to using trained paramedics from the emergency services. A rider who had been trained as a paramedic did accompany the ambulance module, but they were there mostly to ensure the dragons and the module were in tip top shape. In a few countries the rider wasn't trained as a paramedic at all and their only job was to see to the maintenance and operation of the ambulance module.
"Excellent Al, but what about Australia?" Harry asked.
Al Ford smirked in reply. "They did order twelve dragon ambulance modules and we've agreed to staff a facility with dragons possibly from Sakushima Weyr, or perhaps from the relocated Cheeseman Island Weyr. They also pressed again for a Weyr of their own, offering up two very nice pieces of land, both of which are part of the aboriginal lands. I turned them down again and told them that we would not interfere with, nor take land from the native aborigines without involving them in our talks. Then I hinted that if things continued, we might approach the aborigines directly to see if they wanted a Weyr. The government people weren't happy hearing that, but there are some serious roadblocks, including the autonomy issue that need to be resolved. It doesn't help that so far of the potential rider candidates in Australia that we've found, over sixty five percent of them come from the native population."
Al paused and frowned, looking down at his notes, then he looked at Harry. "We might want to think about talking to the Aborigine Council anyway, with so many potential riders coming from their population pool they should be involved in the talks. As to the autonomy issue, well you know how that goes..."
The room filled with a strained laughter, there was an undercurrent of seriousness behind it. Several countries had tried to renege on their promises after the dragons had established a Weyr within their borders. So far all those problems had been smoothed amicably with one exception where Harry pulled the Weyr out of the country entirely.
Bolivia thought they could 'nationalize' the Weyr barely a year after it had been established. The army rolled up to the Weyr gates with troops and tanks only to discover that the Weyr had been abandoned on Harry's order, it's wings scattered to other Weyrs just waiting for Harry to find a place where they could reform.
The overhead patrol had spotted the military convoy some five miles away from the Weyr and had informed the Weyrleader who called on Harry. Rather than suffer another Condron situation Harry ordered the Weyr evacuated. He figured they would be back in their weyrs in a few hours. It took nearly an additional day before they learned that the country had been planning on nationalizing the Weyr.
Bolivia complained to the world about the Weyr pulling out and their case was brought before the world court where it was likely to be pending for several more years. The Weyr had little proof of Bolivia's intentions, but the treaty they had signed did give the Weyr the option to relocate at The Weyrleader's discretion.
Harry waited until they settled down. "Thank you Al, please make sure Janay has a copy of your notes so she can include them in the meeting report," Harry said.
Al nodded and made a beeline for an open seat and his now cooled coffee. Since coming to the Weyr he had worked on more projects for the Weyr than he had ever did while working for the British Foreign Service and he was loving every minute of it.
Harry glanced down at his agenda then looked up again. "I have read the reports from each Weyr concerning your combat exercises and I want to say how pleased I am. No one here wants to see a repeat of what we experienced with Saudi Arabia, but I'm happy to say that if it happens, I firmly think we'll be ready for it."
"Do you really think it's necessary?" asked Kat Taylor from the front row of seats.
Harry nodded with a grim expression. "Most of you Weyrleaders are aware that Joensuu participated in an operation to assault a group of terrorists in the Ukraine. During that operation we had several injuries and we lost Neberoth and his rider, Sarni Pishkin."
Harry paused and looked around as the room fell completely silent.
"It's common knowledge that the attacks on the power plant construction sites dropped dramatically after those camps were shut down.
"What you don't know is what led to the decision to attack those camps and how they were found in the first place. A British fugitive witch was spotted in the city of Kiev; she was known to be working in close concert with an international terrorist wizard named Carlos the Gerbil. It was her presence that led to the discovery of Carlos and those two training camps. Carlos was killed in the attack, but the British witch escaped.
"Until recently she was thought to have gone to ground and no one had a clue to her whereabouts. That is, until she turned up dead in Seattle Washington in the United States. She was executed in what at first appeared to be a mafia style hit that went terribly wrong. The shooter and another man were found dead nearby."
Harry looked around the room. Everyone was hanging on his words wondering how this tied into their combat training.
"Both dead mean appeared to have killed each other. One was an assassin that had definite ties to the Russians and incredibly the second man was found to be carrying an identification card identifying himself as a member of the Russian Federal Investigative Service. The Americans believe the FIS man probably had orders to kill the trigger man, then vanish the evidence, but the assassin saw the double cross coming and shot the FIS man at the same time as the FIS man killed the assassin. Needless to say no evidence was vanished.
Harry looked directly at Kat. "Getting back to your question. Yes Kat, I do believe our combat training will be used. We have proof enough to link the Russians directly to the efforts to impede our power station construction. I can't take this to the world press, but I can say that I believe without any doubt that we have yet to see the end of Russia's plotting against the Weyrs."
Harry leaned forward on his chair and glanced around. "Make no mistake, Saudi Arabia was the last warning we give to the world. The next time someone attacks us we shall fight back with all the might and fury the Weyrs can muster."
"You've either personally listened to Abbey Rhodes' lecture on the seductive nature of dragon power, or you've seen the video tape of it. Make sure every one of your Wing leaders and seconds have seen it, then pass it around among your wings. Abbey had some good points that everyone can profit from because the next time the Weyrs are forced to fight, we'll know how and we will.
"I want everyone to fight smart and not give into the lure of the power we wield. That's why we train for a day that we pray never comes."
He glanced over to Kat who nodded appreciatively at him. She was pregnant and was becoming rather protective of her Weyr and her dragons. It was something he had noticed with both Hermione and May and he wondered it was a female thing or not, but they seemed to become rather blood thirsty. Neither Hermione or May seemed to care if the Weyr had to kill in order to protect the Weyr and their babies.
He glanced down at his agenda then looked up, "Moving along I have a request from Arnas Roberts of Campbeltown to set up a Meteorology department under the Weyrleader staff umbrella. Right now Arnas functions as our Meteorology Officer here in Campbeltown but he also handles requests from the other Weyrs in terms of forecasts and the like. Arnas cites his increasing workloads are resulting in delayed forecasts."
Arnas stood up near one wall and looked around nervously.
"I'm inclined to agree to his request, but since this is a staffing issue under the offices of The Weyrleader rather than DSL I figured I'd open it to comment. Arnas says he has at least twenty riders lined up and interested in Meteorology. In fact Condron already has one trained Meteorologist and there's another in college at Sakushima."
The Weyrleader's office was a separate entity and not part of Dragon Services Ltd. It's primary purpose was to provide services directly to the Weyrs such as security consulting, building design, shared computer facilities and so on. Adding a Meteorology department made sense to Harry, and Arnas was the perfect person to head it up.
Harry sat back and listened while several people asked questions and listened to Arnas' explanations. He had no doubt that they would agree. It only took one time to pop out of Between into a thunderstorm or a blizzard to make a rider very interested in knowing what kind of weather he was jumping into.
Harry's Quarters, Campbeltown Weyr, August 20th, 2006...
Harry carefully moved over to the kitchen table and sat down with a sigh of relief. May was working at the infirmary tonight and Hermione was down in London and wouldn't return for another three hours. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a problem, but Harry had given Dobby the day off and that left him alone with his children. Really alone.
He had plenty of alone time before, typically while one wife was away and another decided to take a long soak in their tub, but this time he had no one to rely on if something went awry. To put it simply, The Weyrleader, the man that defeated Saudi Arabia, was scared silly that he was going to do something wrong. He was learning to appreciate his wives with each passing minute, running a Weyr was a walk in the park when compared to caring for two magical infants.
Needless to say, Chekiath was quite amused by it all and kept snorting in his bed as Harry struggled to put both children down for the night. Now with the children finally asleep, he could sit and relax for the first time in two hours.
"You do know you could have called Hermione's parents, or even another elf to help you," Chekiath observed.
Harry nodded slowly, "I know, but I think this is some kind of test. I mean they're my own children, I should be able to take care of them right mate? May is nearby and I think the girls are trying to see if I can do this."
Chekiath snorted and rumbled with mirth.
"Are you laughing at me?" Harry asked incredulously.
Chekiath stretched his long neck out and looked pointedly at Harry. "Would I laugh at you? You're my rider!"
Chekiath withdrew back into the dragon area and continued to snort with mirth.
"Traitor," Harry grumbled, then he reached for the newspaper. He had a couple of hours of quiet time and he was going to enjoy it!
A soft knock at his door caused him to glance nervously towards the open door to the nursery before he recalled the silencing charm he had placed on the room. He put the paper down and quickly walked to the door.
Opening the door he was surprised to find Remus, Minerva McGonagall and Charlie Weasley standing there. "Harry," Remus said. "Minerva was visiting and asked if she could stop by to speak with you."
The presence of Charlie Weasley surprised him. The Potters had visited the Burrow on several occasions, especially around the holidays but Charlie had always been absent during those visits. Harry didn't blame the man, his limited exposure to former dragon handlers hadn't been pleasant. Most blamed him directly for the loss of their jobs. Harry had never met a single dragon handler that regretted their time are the reserves. In fact the only exception to that rule had been Maziang and that Weyr never culled their dragons.
Harry's expression lit up with a broad smile, "Minerva, Remus, Charlie, come on in."
He noted Charlie standing awkwardly and he waved him in with a smile. Charlie limped into the house, his injuries healed, but his encounter resulted in a noticeable limp and a need for a cane.
"Welcome Charlie, I had hoped we'd be able to talk but every time we visited the Burrow you were away. Come on in and have a seat, I'll put a pot of tea on."
Charlie flushed slightly, he had been avoiding meeting with Harry since he returned to England. His experience with the dragons in South America had left him with a heavy sense of guilt. It was only in conversation with his father that he came to realize that he might be able to put that guilt behind him if he could find the courage to talk with Harry, and the dragons.
Before Harry could do anything, Dobby appeared and placed a tea service on the coffee table. Harry frowned, "I'm going to have to talk to Dobby again, he just doesn't seem to understand what a day off means."
Remus laughed and clapped Harry lightly on the shoulder. "Oh he knows alright, but he's not about to shirk what he thinks are his responsibilities either. He got that from you."
Harry shook his head ruefully. The Weyr paid the elves handsomely, and they in turn placed all of the money into a single account which did little more than grow every month. The Campbeltown elves were now some of the richest elves in the world. So far no one had managed to convince them to use that money.
Minerva looked up from pouring a cup of tea with an eager expression. "Where are they?"
"Their sleeping, but you can take a peek in," Harry said, then he pointed at the open door to the nursery. Minerva got up and carefully walked into the room.
Harry turned to Charlie, "I was sorry to hear about what happened to you Charlie, but the dragons told me they arrived in time to save you. I was glad they were able to arrive in time."
Charlie nodded and nervously twirled his cane between his feet. "Harry, I want to apologize, both to you personally and to the dragons. When you freed them I was unwilling to believe it. I had spent four hard years training to be a dragon handler, it was the job I had dreamed of for years and suddenly I was out of a job."
Chekiath opened his eyes and looked pointedly at Charlie. "What was the attraction? Killing us for potion ingredients or caring for the dragons? Few wizards that worked in the reserved cared for the dragons other than a source of income and potion ingredients."
Charlie started and he suddenly noticed Chekiath in his stall. He swallowed nervously, here was a dragon that was a good thirty feet longer than any dragon he had ever encountered.
Chekiath extended his head into the living room and Harry motioned towards his dragon. "Chekiath, this is Charlie Weasley, he used to work at the same reserve in Romania that Momnarth and the others came from."
"I know, and I'm still curious. What did you prefer? The cull, or working with dragons?"
Harry turned to Charlie and shrugged. "Considering dragons saved your life and now you're looking to apologize, I think Chekiath has a right to ask," Harry admitted softly.
Charlie sighed and shook his head then he turned his gaze directly to Chekiath. "All my life I dreamed of working with dragons. When I was accepted as an apprentice I knew about the culling, but I didn't understand how extensive it was or what was involved. I didn't understand how painful and cruel it was. I didn't like it. Dragons seemed too noble to be beasts and even if they were, they deserved a more humane treatment. I was only a lowly apprentice and I wanted that job more than anything. If I complained too loudly I would have lost the job before I had even earned it."
Charlie shifted to look at Harry.
"When the dragons awoke and left the reserve I was angry. Everything I worked for was gone. I blamed you Harry, I didn't want to believe they were intelligent because that would have made me a murderer."
"You couldn't have known Charles," Minerva said from the nursery door. "Albus had been forced into asking why we didn't make heart string wands from French Wizards just to get his point across. Initially people thought he was actually suggesting we do such a thing. They couldn't make the connection he was trying to convey, that dragons were people in a different shape."
"Albus was a strong advocate for the Weyr," Harry added quietly.
Minerva moved to sit and and she looked thoughtfully at Charlie. "Perhaps our greatest failing was not discovering the dragon's intelligence sooner."
"It would have taken someone like Harry to make that happen Harper," Chekiath replied. "It is a noble regret, but one which even the Goddess cannot change. Like Harry says, 'now we must learn from our mistakes and move on'."
"He does regret his actions Harry. That makes him one of the rare wizard handlers who regret the culls and are remorseful," Chekiath said privately.
Chekiath extended his head into the room and looked directly at Charlie. His eyes streaked with a muted blue and faint tinges of yellow. "On behalf of Campbeltown and dragon-kind I accept your apology sir. May you find shelter and peace under our wings and may your path lead you to happiness."
Charlie looked down at his lap and he gasped softly.
"It is better to learn late than never," Harry said softly. His gaze was unfocused and distant.
"Harry?" Minerva pressed.
Harry shook from his mood and turned to Minerva. "Sorry about that. I was quoting a scholar from the first century BC. He said 'It is better to learn late than never'. Some lessons are harder to learn than others and can take longer to learn. I can understand where Charlie is coming from," Harry said, then he turned back to Charlie. "I will not say you shouldn't blame yourself because that would trivialize your actions. What matters now Charlie is how you move forward. Regret and remorse are useful in helping you understand, but they can also pin you in an endless cycle of grief and depression."
Remus raised an eyebrow at Harry. He suspected that Harry was actually talking about the Saudi conflict. Few knew that Harry deeply regretted having to kill those pilots and to some extent it did bother him. Harry hated when someone glorified that incident and his role in it. He would much rather be known for helping bring power to impoverished nations, or the dragons efforts to help in humanitarian efforts than his actions during wartime.
"You surprise me Harry, I never thought you would be a scholar of history," Minerva said softly.
Harry chuckled and waved to a framed diploma. "I never would have thought it either Minerva, but six months ago Lord Mills called me to a special meeting at the Prime Minister's residence. There I discovered that all the tutoring I had been given over the years, plus actual life experience, had earned a degree in International Studies," he said with some bashful pride. "It came as a great surprise to me."
Minerva smiled thinly. "From what I've read, it is well deserved. Harry, there is a reason why Charles and I are here today, we'd like to ask for your help in something."
Harry leaned back on his chair. "Oh?"
"When the dragons withdrew from the schools everyone was pleased because it signaled that we were entering a more peaceful era. The students missed the dragons greatly, but we adjusted and our twice annual field trip to the Weyr for the Care of Magical Creatures class still allowed us to maintain some contact with the dragons."
Minerva looked intently at Harry. "We also understand that dragons should not be included as part of the Care course, but at least for now we have no course designed to cover the other intelligent species other than our updated Magical History and Social Studies course. Charlie here has been putting together ideas for such a course, but we're still a year at least from being able to offer it."
Harry nodded thoughtfully, he really couldn't fault Minerva's position even if he did want them to change that.
Minerva paused and took a sip of her tea, then she gestured towards Charlie.
"Charles here has been hired to take over the care of magical creatures class, but he'd like to broaden that by also teaching magical creature healing. The board has approved of the inclusion of a new elective and we were hoping that we might find a dragon or two that would be willing to help with the two classes. Hogwarts is willing to build a special enclosure, a 'weyr' if you will, for any dragon to live in while at the school."
She stopped and looked hopefully at Harry.
"Its a really good idea Harry," Remus said. "And classes in magical healing would be a help for any potential riders you search from Hogwarts."
Harry nodded and mentally reviewed his roster in his head, then an idea came to him. "Wait a moment, let me check something," he replied.
"Trath love, how many invalid dragons are we hosting now?" he sent silently.
"There are twenty that we are housing Weyrleader. Some are quite ill, some are just unable to fly. May wants to know why you're asking?" replied the startled dragon after a moment.
Harry quickly explained to Trath the situation and then waited while she relayed the information to May. A half minute later she said, "May says there are five dragons who are unable to fly and not suffering from any additional problems. Any one of them would jump at the chance to have something useful to do."
"Thank you Trath," he replied then he turned back to his guests.
"The Weyr has a number of dragons who are unable to perform their duties for various reasons. I've been informed that we have five non-bonded dragons who are basically healthy, but have suffered permanent wing injuries making them unable to fly. Dragons, like people, need to feel like they have a purpose in life. We have a scout troop of Weyr children that try to help with these dragons, but there are only so many children, and far too many dragons at the moment.
"If I ask I am nearly certain that all five dragons would jump at the chance to help at Hogwarts. I'd also be willing to station a rider at the school to help out."
Minerva gasped. "Five dragons?" she exclaimed. "Oh my."
"Is that too many?" Harry asked.
Charlie laughed softly. "No actually. I was hoping that we could get the help of several dragons. With five I'll grab a bunch of seventh year students and we'll build them a Weyr they'll be happy in."
Minerva smiled in approval. "If that's the case I'll arrange to talk with Filius and the others about arranging their seventh year projects around the new construction."
Minerva settled in her chair and turned very serious. "Now that that is out of the way, just what magic did you use to get such adorable little babies Harry Potter?"
Harry blinked at her in shock and Remus burst into laughter. "Honestly Minerva, you can thank their mother's for their good looks. I just hang on and reverse some of their magic."
"So they are both magical then?" Minerva pressed.
Harry nodded with a broad smile. "Mary is very magical, and Daniel is only a step or two behind her. Hermione is unable to reverse any of Mary's accidental castings and she can only reverse some of Daniel's."
Minerva arched an eyebrow at him. It was unusual for a parent to be unable to reverse magic cast accidentally by their child and suggested that both children would be very powerful. Hermione was stronger than average, but not by a great amount, and Harry was a mage, their offspring would be very powerful. What really surprised her was the implication that Mary was more powerful than her brother.
Harry grinned at her and she felt a slight shiver of fear run down her back. She had not seen that grin since James Potter had pranked the entire school.
"If there is one lesson I have learned in life, it's that I will usually agree with my wife's plans. Hermione has told me that our children will be schooled here at the Weyr until they turn eleven. They they will attend Hogwarts at least until their OWLS. The dragons are undecided if they can impress, but if they can, they will be offered the chance after they turn fifteen," Harry said. "Hermione plans to ensure any magical Weyrlings will be given the chance to continue on to take their NEWTS along with the muggle A levels."
This wasn't the primary reason for Minerva's visit, but it warmed her heart to know she'd get the opportunity to teach another generation of Potters.
Harry's Quarters, Campbeltown Weyr, November 15th 2006...
Harry looked up from his position on the floor where he was blowing against the bare belly of his daughter Mary.
"I'll get it," May said, then she put her book aside and stood up. Hermione was busy typing on her laptop and glancing over at the playpen where little Daniel was gurgling at a small magical bear that kept trying to hug him.
Harry blew against Mary's belly again and she squealed in delight.
"May, just the person I need to see," exclaimed a voice.
Harry picked up Mary and turned, he saw Katherine in the doorway, in one hand she held a leash attached to Tweenie.
"Katherine?" Harry said, "Come on in."
Harry walked over to the playpen and placed Mary down next to her brother. Another animated stuffed animal came to life and caught her attention.
Katherine followed May in and Tweenie followed right behind them. The German Shepard was nearly a year old now and perfectly trained. Sirius had taken Harry's advice and showed her what to do as Padfoot. It had worked wonderfully, except that Kirstin insisted that both dogs required proper grooming and lots of pretty pink ribbons.
Remus made sure that the photos of Padfoot dressed in pink ribbons circulated in the Weyr every couple of weeks.
Both babies gurgled happily when they spotted the dog and Tweenie tugged hard on the leash wanting to go over to them.
"So what is the problem Katherine?" May asked.
"You're a veterinarian right?" Katherine pressed.
May blinked in surprise, it was true that her degree was in Veterinary science, but she wasn't a practicing veterinarian. She had used the knowledge about general anatomical systems to springboard into dragon healing. Lord Mills even told her that the Royal Veterinary College in London was considering accrediting her with a degree in teaching if she'd help them put together a curriculum for other dragon healers.
Her sole experience in real veterinary practice had been helping Hermione's Crookshanks through a particularly nasty cold. Familiars like Hermione's Crookshanks have a greatly extended lifespan equal to nearly half of their bonded witch, but that didn't prevent them from getting sick like any other animal.
"I need to get Tweenie neutered. Remus told me if it doesn't happen soon and she catches Sirius in his Padfoot form, Kirstin would end up with puppies for siblings," she exclaimed unhappily.
Harry glanced at Hermione who seemed to be trying very hard not to smile. He couldn't help himself and he burst out in laughter.
"This isn't funny Harry Potter," Katherine snapped. "It never occurred to me that my husband could cheat on me, and with the family pet no less!"
Harry's expression changed almost instantly. "Wait a second. Sirius Black is a lot of things, but a cheat isn't one of them. An animagus isn't a full dog Katherine, it's a wizard, with a human intellect in the body of a dog and while a smart animagus will allow themselves to be guided by the instincts of his form, the human intellect is still in full control. Besides, you're overlooking one important factor."
"Katherine," Hermione said gently, "don't you remember why you ended up adopting Kirstin?"
Katherine looked at Hermione blankly.
"Someone cursed Sirius, probably Malfoy senior who wanted his son to inherit the Black family fortune," Harry said darkly. Sometime during Sirius' stay in Azkaban he had been tortured and cursed. It was the only incident in his past that they could think of that could have rendered him sterile. Regrettably Sirius had only vague memories of the incident which occurred shortly after he had been imprisoned.
"And Draco wants nothing to do with the Black family fortune, it took Narcissa months to convince him to not change his last name and to accept what remained of the Malfoy fortune," Hermione added.
"Sirius can't have children and I seem to recall you knocking him out when he discovered that and offered to divorce you so you could find someone that could give you children," Harry said. "That means Padfoot can't have puppies. What affects the human form also affects the animal form."
When Sirius and Katherine were having difficulties conceiving they went to Isaac for help. He sent them to a specialist where it was discovered that Sirius was effectively sterile. Normally a man might have a low sperm count and be considered unable to have children, but in Sirius' case he didn't have a measurable sperm count at all, which was why they suspected a magical cause.
"So why would Remus say that to Katherine?" May asked. "He knew about Sirius' condition."
Harry looked thoughtful for a moment, then his expression grew sly. "The Marauders strike again. Remus always enjoyed the more cerebral style of pranks. Remember that time he convinced half the wizards in the Weyr that winterizing the Weyr vehicles included putting 'winter air' in the tires?
"Sirius prefers a prank involving some disgusting noises or embarrassing public displays, if I know Remus he was just retaliating for something Sirius pulled. I'll bet Remus expected Katherine to get on Sirius' case about being unable to control himself around Tweenie."
Katherine blushed, it was obvious to everyone that Sirius had been her planned next port of call after making arrangements for Tweenie. Katherine knew from experience that the last thing she wanted to do was get involved in a prank war between Sirius and Remus.
"Still," said May, "it's not a bad idea to get Tweenie fixed if you don't want puppies. Besides you don't want to tempt Sirius do you?"
Harry blinked and turned to look at May incredulously while Hermione started to snicker.
Katherine looked at the three of them and blushed. She had been caught in a prank of Remus' and there was only one way of getting revenge on him. She'd talk to Mildred about it.
Harry chuckled softly and turned back to Katherine, "It's not too bad Katherine, at least you didn't accuse Sirius of fooling around with Tweenie in the Kitchen hall."
Katherine smiled weakly and made her excuses before leaving. She had a phone call to make.
Campbeltown Weyr Gymnasium, Dec 20th 2006...
Harry pushed the two child pram into the brightly lit Gymnasium building. It had been nearly six months since the birth of his children and Harry tried as much as he could to reduce the burden on his wives. Elves provided most of the night time care and Harry took over in the morning, taking his kids out with him while he jogged around the Weyr.
But both mothers laid down the law to him back in early October. Their children would not be exposed to the cold of outside while he ran around the Weyr. Harry didn't mind switching to running around the track in the Weyr Gym. He wasn't all that keen about running around outside either.
Harry knelt in front of the pram and carefully pulled the heavy clothing off of the two babies, stuffing them in the ever present baby bag. Once they were in lighter clothes he moved around to the back of the pram and waited for Cheki to enter the building using a door built for the dragons.
Mary was blond with emerald green eyes just like her father and her mother. Daniel was blessed with his mother's brown hair, but he also had Harry's green eyes. Fortunately neither child seemed to have inherited the Potter hair, a fact that both mothers were secretly overjoyed about.
For the most part the babies were active and happy, rarely fussing unless something was wrong. Both children were magical although Mary seemed to be a bit stronger than her brother Daniel. Shortly after they came home from the hospital, Madam Pomfrey had tested them and found them perfectly normal for magical children at their age.
Both Daniel and Mary were a joy to be around, but Harry also knew that things could have been much different had it not been for Tisky, Dobby's wife who took charge of the children at night. Both May and Hermione breast fed their babies, but Tisky insisted that they put aside some milk in bottles for night feedings so that the Weyrhealer and the Weyr Lawsmith could get their sleep.
Harry chuckled and shook his head. Hermione's expression at being called a lawsmith had been priceless. The dragons seemed to take a great deal of pride in inventing titles for people.
The gym had been in place for just over a year now, it was a completely new building, built as the Weyr removed the runway, slowly building up their capabilities by adding new additional buildings. Among the first buildings to be built was a school capable of handling one hundred primary and preschool students.
The Weyr had built the school in 2000 even though it wasn't used as a school for another two years. The school was now slowly hiring on the staff needed as the children moved from preschool to primary school grades.
In 2005 it was decided to add a gymnasium that the school could use as well as the adult riders. For the most part it was a standard gymnasium one would expect to find anywhere around the country, with one sole exception. The indoor track used for jogging was wide enough to accommodate several dragons since they seemed to enjoy running with their riders.
Harry glanced up at Cheki who had finally arrived. "Ready?"
"Of course," Cheki replied.
Harry slipped on a headphone and pressed a button on his portable MP3 player. It was a gift May had given him two Christmases ago and it was loaded with all kinds of music. Harry found that music, as long as it was either instrumental or in a language he didn't understand, helped him to relax and concentrate on current problems. Vocals in English resulted in him listening to the music instead of trying to work on current problems. May called it weird until Hermione admitted to a similar problem. She avoided it entirely by not listening to music at all while working.
Harry pushed the pram and quickly fell into a comfortable pace with Chekiath alongside. Cheki would glance down at the children every so often, but other than that, this was a typical morning jog for The Weyrleader.
With the track being barely one kilometer, Harry and Cheki needed to make eleven laps to get their ten kilometers in. The track was in Harry's opinion one of the best things at the Weyr. It was freezing outside and there was no way May or Hermione would allow him to take the babies jogging in that cold. The Gym was a very comfortable temperature.
As he ran he considered a notice he had received late last night from the PM's office. It was looking very much like a new bill was likely to be passed that would exempt dragon riders from the country's marriage restrictions. There were still problems with the bill, since it only allowed for 'certified' dragon riders to be exempt, and there was some resistance in parliament to any female/male/male marriages. The PM's office seemed to think that the bill would be passed after some modest debate, which left Harry with the problem of 'certifying' his riders.
Harry smirked at that thought. Like times past the dragon riders were more likely to poke fun at government bureaucracy than to meekly go along with something. For example Chekiath carried his own dragon passport in a pouch attached to his riding harness. The passport was nearly four foot square in size to accommodate his paw print, and at that, it was half size. All of the dragons had similar passports issued by their Weyrs and they took great delight in insisting they get stamped whenever they visit a new country.
Some countries, like Britain, Canada and the US had given the Weyrs the right to stamp passports of visiting dragons, others refused to allow it and required the dragons to arrive at a specific entry point like an international airport or a port entry point.
Certifying riders was going to end up giving someone a headache and if Harry had anything to say about it, it wasn't going to be the Weyr or his riders.
He was contemplating calling for a leadership meeting to inform everyone of the possible change to the marriage laws when he felt something across his dragon bond. It was very faint and his MP3 player was drowning out whatever he was sensing. He popped his headphones off and slowed his pace, then he noticed it, Chekiath was humming.
Harry stopped and turned to his dragon. He recognized that tune, it was from a popular children's television show that Hermione let the children watch for an hour in the evenings. Hermione was very strict about television, but even she was allowed to watch Sesame Street as a child. The babies were too young to understand the show, but there was enough bright colors and music to distract the children long enough for the three adults to eat dinner undisturbed.
Cheki turned to look at him and he stopped humming. "What? Daniel and Mary like it!"
"They like it?" he repeated stupidly.
Cheki's eyes twirled with amusement. "This is what we mean when we say you humans aren't using your bond enough. Listen carefully my rider."
Chekiath resumed his humming of the TV theme song and both babies turned to look at the dragon with innocent smiles. Harry watched and opened himself fully to his bond with his dragon. He could feel Cheki's consorts react in surprise to Harry's increased presence, but he ignored them. Nearby he could feel another presence, no two presences. It took another minute before Harry realized it was Daniel and Mary reacting in delight to Cheki's humming. This wasn't part of the dragon bond as it first seemed. As he examined what he felt he could tell it was something different that was using the dragon bond simply because it was available.
Slowly both babies became aware of Harry and they turned their attention to him. Harry was amazed. While neither child had the language skills to really communicate, he felt a deep possessiveness from the children that he could summarize in a single word, 'Mine', and he felt their happiness. They felt safe and happy to be with him and Cheki, and somehow he knew that the possessiveness he felt was the basis of what would become their love of family.
The idea staggered him and he slipped to the floor in front of his children. He sat smiling back at the babies and started to hum along with Chekiath while tears slid down his cheeks.
He was still sitting on the floor humming with his dragon and listening to his children when Hermione and May caught up with him. Both women had been alarmed at first that something might be wrong, but their dragons assured them all was well.
Harry looked up at them and grasped their hands, then gently pulled them down to the track floor. "Listen to the bond," he murmured, "Listen as hard as you can, its there, floating on top of our bond like a gentle breeze barely felt."
Both babies lit up seeing Momma and only Cheki's increased humming kept them from getting distracted.
May closed her eyes and listened to her bond. She gasped a moment later when Trath helped her hear what Harry had been listening to. The possessiveness that both babies felt extended to both women in nearly equal measures. Harry had suspected that the babies made no real distinction between May and Hermione, but now he knew it for a fact.
Hermione smiled and leaned against Harry who tried to wipe away some tears without anyone noticing. "Family," she whispered, then she reached up and turned Harry's head towards her. "Family starts here."
He smiled wanly at her and nodded. May pressed against his other side and chuckled softly. "You know when this gets out, we're going to have a lot of child psychologists wanting to come to the Weyr," she offered.
"They can want," Harry said in reply. "but I'll be damned if I'm going to let any child of our riders become subjects of someone's research."
He reached out and gently rubbed Mary's cheek with two fingers. The little girl grabbed his hand and immediately stuck one of his fingers in her mouth and chomped down hard. Harry smiled at his daughter. "I don't think I really understood what family meant until now. I love you both with all my heart, but these little babies, our babies, understand what family means better than I do."
"Then you'll just have to learn from them," Chekiath offered. "They aren't like our hatchlings who know their names when they hatch. They are so very different. In one way helpless and frail, but in another they know things that no dragon knows. They will teach you my rider, and from you, we dragons may come to understand better what family means."
Chekiath went back to his humming and both of his consorts joined in while Harry, May and Hermione sat with their little family, enjoying the music and reveling in the emotions they could feel from their children.
Harry's office, Campbeltown Weyr, Early August 2008...
Harry stood at his office window and looked out over the Weyr. From his location he could see one of the ambulance modules just waiting to be called into action. It was a boxy affair designed much like a modern ambulance, but it sat on pads instead of wheels and there were several large reinforced gripping points on top for a dragon to lift the module.
At each corner of the module was a large cylinder that contained an industrial sized gyroscope to give the module stability while in flight. Future ambulance module designs would incorporate the gyros into the main cabin so they wouldn't be so unslightly.
The module had entered trial service barely twelve months ago and already there were people around the world clamoring for the service. The module was designed to carry two patients, two paramedics and a rider as 'pilot'. The module also contained a hot rock powered generator to the module and enough medial equipment to make any major city ambulance crew green with envy.
Given that a typical dragon could sustain 200 miles per hour in straight flight, it was faster than most helicopter air ambulances in the world. Isaac had worked up a set of rules concerning transporting patients Between. Generally speaking if the patient's symptoms or injuries weren't on the list, then the dragons would straight fly the module and no modern air ambulance could match the ability of a dragon to go Between.
Normally Campbeltown Weyr had three ambulance modules, but today only one was visible. Harry frowned at that thought because it meant two were already out on emergency calls.
"Weyrleader, your ten o'clock appointment is here," said Janay from the door.
He shook from his retrospective mood and glanced towards his computer to see who he was scheduled to meet with then his smile widened. The Weyr had been trying to talk with this person for several months with no luck. The man had managed to avoid allowing anyone from the Weyr making an appointment. Ronan then proposed a plan that might result in them coming to the Weyr. Make him believe the Weyr was about to step on his toes and he would come running to talk to Harry.
Ronan's plan worked like a charm. They had allowed several of their low altitude capsule tests to be seen, but always from a distance so it wasn't quite certain what people were seeing.
Harry knew exactly why this person had asked to meet with him. "Please send him in Janay, then hold any calls."
The Weyr was about to blitz one of the most business savvy people on the planet.
Harry stood and walked around to the front of his desk. A moment later Janay showed his guest in. "Sir Richard, I'm Harry Potter," Harry said and then he offered his hand. After the two shook hands, Harry motioned for him to take a seat, then he returned to his own seat.
He looked across at a man who had his fingers in so many pies that it was hard to tell exactly what division he represented at any given moment. "I admit to being a bit confused Sir Richard," Harry began.
"Please, just Richard," Branson said softly.
Harry nodded and returned the smile, "Then please call me Harry. As I was saying Richard, I admit to being confused by your request for a meeting. Normally most companies go through our public relations office before being handed off to Dragon Services Limited."
"My second, Ronan Clark suggested that you might have heard about our new line of dragon transport modules..."
Harry trailed off when Branson shook his head. "I'm sorry Weyrleader, my executive assistant was instructed not to give away too much. We didn't want any information leaking out to the press, or to any potential competitors."
Harry leaned forward in his chair. Just as he did, the dragon doors began to lift. Chekiath strolled into the room to the shock of Harry's visitor. It was a move Harry had planned specifically to remind his guest just exactly who's home turf he was playing on.
Branson's eyes widened and his Adam's apple bobbed nervously at the site of the enormous dragon. It wasn't often that you came face to face with a being the size of a mid sized commercial jet.
"Sir Richard, may I introduce you to Chekiath, my bonded dragon," Harry said with an unconcealed tone of pride.
"Good Morning Sir, I hope you enjoy your visit with us. May you find peace and shelter under our wings."
Branson's mouth opened and closed silently for twenty seconds, then he shook himself free from his shock. "Thank you Chekiath, I am sure I will find my visit most illuminating," he replied smoothly, then he spared Harry a quick glance before continuing. "It is already turning out to be different than what I expected."
Chekiath's eyes twirled with streaks of green and he circled a few times before settling in his sand bed, watching Harry and his visitor.
Branson watched the dragon for a moment longer, then he turned back to the young man behind the desk. "Tell me Harry, what do you know of the SpaceX competition?"
Harry shook his head, "I've never heard of it before," Harry admitted truthfully. International competitions wasn't something he paid much attention to.
Branson reached into his valise and extracted a file folder. "SpaceX is an internationally sponsored competition to build a low cost, reusable, ground to low orbit transportation system. All of the competitors are still a few years off of being ready to make the attempt, but my company, like some of the others, have taken to using high altitude balloons to test subsystems."
He opened the file folder and pulled out a grainy image of a large yellow and white sphere. It was obviously one of Campbeltown's test capsules and the Dragon flag was plainly visible on the side of the sphere. Branson handed the photo to Harry.
"Strangely enough, that image is just one of a handful of frames we managed to get. That thing appeared in our cameras and then a few seconds later it vanished again. I'm told it was at least fifty thousand feet above our test platform and only the high quality of our cameras allowed for us to capture that image."
Harry looked at the image and hid a smirk. They had been specifically performing capsule tests to coincide with Branson's tests, hoping that they would eventually notice.
During each of the test flights Garanoth had released the capsule while he practiced a few jumps Between to change orientation. The capsule with the built in gyroscopes made it resistant to sudden attitude changes, and that meant the dragon had to disengage from the capsule. During the time that he wasn't holding the capsule, it became visible to Branson's cameras.
"Needless to say, I and quite a few others have a significant investment in developing reusable technology to allow easy ground to orbit capabilities. I'm sure you can see why I find myself concerned."
"Yes," Harry admitted. "I can understand that. Would it help any if I gave you my word that low Earth orbit was not something we're interested in?"
Branson looked at Harry in shock. Harry knew he was giving up a lot by giving up low Earth orbit, but there was a totally untapped market for higher orbits and beyond. It had been an issue brought up by Ronan's test flights when it was realized that dragons were capable of traveling much further than anyone dreamed possible. Up until Garanoth's moon trip it had been assumed that Sidraneth's fateful jump to Earth from Pern had been a fluke, something fueled by her extreme anguish and desire to die. Now Harry and Ronan were unconvinced and Ronan was planning a series of tests to try to establish how far a dragon could jump.
"So you're admitting that you've been sending that into space?" Branson exclaimed, pointing at the photo.
Harry shrugged, "I am not the government Sir Richard. The Weyrs have been exploring business opportunities beyond what the Hot Rocks have developed. This is just one thing we are looking into. And while we're on the subject, our new passenger modules show the potential to revolutionize air travel. That is something you might want to look into right now. Space is a years away for both of us, but our passenger modules are a thing of tomorrow."
Branson frowned and leaned forward. "Passenger modules?" he asked warily.
Harry sent off a quick message via Neruth, then he gestured to a large photo on one wall. "DT&T or Dragon Transport and Tourism is one of our older subsidiaries and it had a particularly rough start. We had no problem transporting heavy machinery to the most remote locations, but our riders often felt that dragons could do so much more. Imagine being able to bring a load of tourists to a remote lodge hundreds of miles up the Amazon, or offer aerial tours of Antarctica?"
Harry looked over at Branson and saw the man's eyes widen in interest. He smiled slightly, then pointed at the space capsule. "We quickly discovered that people didn't like being exposed to Between, it scared them. Hell, first time riders are often afraid of it themselves.
"DT&T management had been seriously considering dropping tourism from the name and just specialize in moving heavy loads when someone saw the design for a prototype capsule and started asking questions."
The door opened and Karen stepped in carrying a large folder. Harry waved her in and motioned for her to sit. "In keeping with our commitment to humanitarian efforts, the first passenger module we turned out was a small ambulance module capable of carrying a maximum of six people."
Harry waved towards the photo on the wall. "There are sixty ambulance modules in use around the world, and we have orders to manufacture two hundred more. The modules are sold with a guarantee of a dragon providing the ferry lifting service. Joensuu Weyr and Svartvatn Weyrs have combined forces to provide coverage for all of Europe."
Harry nodded to Karen and she opened her folder and pulled out a large artist sketch of a large passenger module capable of seating eighty passengers. She handed the sketch to Harry.
Harry smiled broadly, then he turned the sketch so Branson could clearly see it. "The ambulance module was really a test of concept which worked out far better than we could have ever dreamed. But it's not an integral part of their remit. They still wanted to provide tours to hard to reach areas. Now they have the vehicle for it, but they also realized that they had the possibility of something bigger than we could handle alone."
"The sketch is an artist's conception of a D5 passenger module. The number indicates the number of dragons used to lift and ferry the module to it's destination. Flight time from London to Tokyo, just shy of four minutes, most of which is taken up by coordinating the dragons and loading the passengers and baggage. Actually transit time is far less, just two point six seconds," Karen said softly. "The module itself is capable of carrying eighty passengers along with a crew of four that mainly help seat the passengers and stow away luggage. With the transit time so short, there is no need for meal services, or even a pilot. There is a lead dragon rider who coordinates the dragons, but that's the extent of the anticipated crew."
Branson stared at Karen incredulously, the artists design looked like a bus that had been stretched wide. It was a squat, squarish affair and totally unlike any aircraft design he had ever seen. There was no way the boxy shape could fly and yet, it didn't really need to fly. The dragons did the flying for it.
"Sir Richard, may I present to you Karen Clark, CFO of Dragon Services Ltd and coordinator for new business ventures," Harry said. He knew he was ambushing Branson, but this is what he wanted from the get go. He planned to drop a bomb about the low Earth orbit market, and then distract Branson with an unrelated business opportunity.
Karen passed the sketch to Branson, then handed him a photograph of a passenger module that was much smaller. "That's a D2, capable of handling forty passengers," she offered.
"Yes, the D2-1 is a prototype we built here in Campbeltown," Harry added. "It really only needs one dragon to lift it but we decided early on the all of the passenger modules will use more dragons than absolutely necessary just in case something happens to a dragon in transit. That particular module is currently being used by the Weyrs to transport Weyr employees who are not riders. For example last week DSL's network staff went to Columbia to help install our network at a new Weyr we're opening this year."
Branson looked up from examining the photograph. "This is real?"
"If you want, we can show it to you. Even take you for a ride if you wish," Harry offered.
Branson leaned back on his chair and looked at Harry. "What do you need me for?"
The Weyrs had the ability to make the passenger modules, and they had the dragons willing to take them Between, but they lacked the organization and the facilities that most major airlines had. If they could find just one airline to take advantage of the service, the Weyrs could remain behind the scenes, leasing the hardware and dragons while someone else worried about terminals and baggage handling and all the other hundreds of minor little details that an airline handled every day.
"We can make the modules Richard and supply the dragons to lift them. That isn't the problem. Our problem is all the little things that you already do and know how to do in running an airline that we know nothing about and honestly don't want to get involved in. Our idea was to pick a handful of major airlines and see if they would be willing to partner with us. We'll supply the passenger modules and the dragons, you'd supply the know how, facilities and staff, all of which you already have."
Branson looked intrigued for a moment longer, then the acute businessman kicked in. "How exclusive would this partnership be?"
Harry smiled. "At first Karen and our people at DT&T were considering offering it to one major airline per country, but I suggested making it more exclusive. Right now we're seriously considering one major carrier per continent. As one of the UK's major carriers, Virgin Atlantic would be the sole carrier for the European continent. There would be another for Asia, Africa, Australia, America and so on," Harry replied.
Branson smiled broadly and leafed through the photos. Harry sipped his tea while Karen started pulling out charts showing delivery schedules for passenger modules. Most of the manufacturing would be handled in the country with the final assembly being at Campbeltown. What no one other than a select few knew was that several of the designs had a more robust version that would be safe for space travel.
Seven hours later Branson left the Weyr, excited by an amazing business opportunity and relieved that he wouldn't be competing with the Weyrs for the space launch business.
It wouldn't be until nearly three days had passed before Branson understood exactly what had happened. The Weyrs didn't need to compete in the already crowded low Earth orbit market. They were aiming for a market that didn't even exist, and one, Branson ruefully concluded, he couldn't compete with. The technology just wasn't ready for deep space yet and probably wouldn't be for years to come.
The dragons had an advantage that no one could compete with. No matter how you looked at it, the technologies used to put stuff into orbit were dangerous. Rockets, unlike dragons, could and did explode from time to time.
Harry's Quarters, October 31st 2008...
Hermione idly stirred her tea while she read the newspaper detailing new legislation.
Harry was on the floor playing with the babies and May was bustling around in their kitchen preparing lunch for the next day since all three would be out of the Weyr for most of the day.
She glanced up and watched Harry for a moment. The last few days he had been very working hard, then he'd come home to spend most of his time playing with Mary and Daniel. It wasn't much different than his normal routine, but it was just enough off to make her notice it.
"Harry? Is something wrong?" she asked.
He looked up from tickling Daniel. Mary used the distraction to hit him with her teddy bear. He grinned and tickled her for a moment, causing her to squeal and laugh, then he turned back to Hermione. "No, there's nothing wrong, why?"
"I don't know," she admitted, "it just seems like you've been paying a lot of attention to the children lately."
Harry stood and Dobby appeared. The elf gathered the two laughing children and levitated them in to their bath.
Harry quickly gave each a kiss, then he sat at the table with Hermione who was still waiting for him to answer her question.
"I don't know if I can explain it, but last year around this time I realized that being a parent was hard work. You really had to work at it. I've watched your parents with the children, I've watched May's parents also but a grandparent isn't quite the same thing," he said slowly. "I barely remember my parents so I don't have them as a role model."
He gestured to a wall calendar and Hermione looked at it, then her eyes widened as she realized the date. "This time of year reminds me of what was taken from me," he added. "And what I have. It reminds me to work a little harder at being a husband and parent instead of being Weyrleader."
"I wondered about that," May said from the doorway. "Last year you practically kicked Dobby out of the house so you could take care of the babies. And for no reason at all, you took the both of us out to that show in London and the fancy dinner."
Harry shrugged and looked embarrassed. "And we'd be doing it again if it wasn't for the new combat drills out of Condron. I know its silly but I want to spoil my family."
"No, its rather sweet," May countered. "You have a personal day that reminds you that you have a family. More of us should do the same."
"I agree," Hermione said, "but you don't have to spoil us Harry. We have a nice house, no worries about bills. We have our health and the children are happy. I know there are problems looming, but here and now its just about perfect."
"Well maybe now," May said with an impish grin, "but ask me again when Mary turns four or five and I'm going to want another baby. I think a boy this time."
Harry looked at her in shock, then he turned to Hermione who looked thoughtful. "Five years old sounds about right," she added then she turned to Harry and smirked. "And if May is going to have a boy, you better give me a girl. Its the father that determines the sex you know."
Harry shook his head and picked up the newspaper to check the Football scores. He didn't even want to contemplate both women being pregnant at the same time again. The last time Cheki turned out to be a life saver by allowing him to pop to any place he needed to buy the food for their cravings.
Campbeltown Weyr, Dragon Design Shop #2, Late November 2008...
Ronan climbed through the hatch and closed it behind him. He winced and sighed to himself, his hand still ached enough that he had finally gone to Harry and asked to be relieved as Divisional leader for Division 2. He could mount his dragon, but if he was pressed for time, there was no way he could quickly mount Garanoth and still be pain free.
Issac had tried numerous things to help alleviate his pain, but phantom limb pain was something medical science was still trying to understand, let alone treat.
Ronan flipped on a switch and the interior of the capsule lit up. This was capsule four. From that first capsule that took Tweenie to the moon and back to this capsule, Ronan had overseen a series of capsules, each more capable than the last. Capsule four, was the largest yet and it very nearly matched the shape and size of the original Egg design.
The interior cabin could seat six and would eventually, but for now this was a solo mission.
Throwing a few more switches the interior cabin came to life and a screen lit up showing multiple camera views of the exterior. He glanced over to one side of the main console and looked at the two photographs that Harry had placed there.
Jason was a full fledged toddler now, and given his parents, quite a handful. Harry insisted on placing the photograph there saying it would remind him not to do anything stupid.
The overhead crane slowly lowered the command module assembly onto the landing assembly. The manufacturing building had two such overhead cranes capable of moving two hundred tons across the shop floor.
Ronan watched from one side while a half dozen riders and several silver haired men went to work bolting the two assemblies together. The older men were hired on by the Weyr and were usually related to a rider. Each man was hired on to provide the younger riders with experienced supervision.
Ronan reached and absently rubbed his hand.
"That's Capsule 4?"
Ronan started and then turned to Harry. Harry visited the shop floor at least once a week, it wasn't that he was checking up on anyone, but the whole process of making something from scratch fascinated him. Ronan had offered to arrange for Harry to get some lessons on the machinery, but he had to reluctantly decline. As much as he was interested, there was just no time in his schedule.
"Yes, she's almost ready to go. This is the last assembly step before we begin systems checkout."
Harry nodded and then he motioned towards the open hatch of the capsule.
Ronan grinned and he waved to the lead foreman who waved back, he turned back to Harry. "It should be fine for us to enter. The crew will take a break so we can talk in private."
Harry grinned, then he climbed up the ladder to the main hatch and entered the capsule. The interior was lit up, powered by the local plant power until the batteries could be installed.
Harry sat at the pilot's console and he swiveled his chair to face Ronan who sat at the communications station. "About your email," he began.
Ronan sucked in a breath and waited nervously.
"I spoke with Karen and Issac both before I made my decision. I don't need to tell you what Karen wanted. Issac was a little less forceful about his opinion, but both of them are worried about you. As am I Ronan. I know that giving up your division wasn't easy for you, and if you are like me, you absolutely hate being tied to a desk.
"Issac made it clear that the chronic pain you endure probably won't go away anytime soon. It was the primary reason why I reluctantly accepted your resignation from Division Two."
An icy knot formed in Ronan's stomach and his shoulders slumped slightly. He had heard this speech before and it wasn't the speech he wanted to hear.
"I gave it a lot of thought Ronan and I've decided that you can be the lead test pilot for the capsule project, but only if you promise me you will never take any unnecessary risks," Harry said softly. "We need to feel like we're doing something to contribute to the Weyr. Your engineering skills are a great contribution, but as a rider I know you feel it isn't enough. We are riders, we are expected to be doing something."
Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out a photograph and stuck it to the wall in front of the pilot's seat. It was a photo of his son Jason. "There is a permanent sticking charm on that picture. I expect you to use it as a reminder that every decision to make could result in Jason growing up without a father. I grew up without a father and I can tell you it is not pleasant."
Ronan stared at Harry in open mouthed shock for a moment. "You're going to let me be the pilot?" he exclaimed.
Harry grinned at Ronan, "One of us has to have the fun. I know Karen's going to be pissed at me, but you need this, and we need you leading this effort."
Ronan nodded eagerly and leaned back on the chair in relief. Suddenly things were looking up, he thought to himself.
"Are you okay Ronan?"
Ronan blinked and shook his head, then he glanced over to one of the ground crew members standing in the hatchway. He smiled ruefully, "Sorry, got lost reminiscing for a moment. Is there a problem?"
"No I just wanted to let you know we had just finished topping off the fuel cells."
"Very well, close her up and I'll start the prelaunch checklist," replied Ronan.
The crewman shot Ronan a thumbs up and backed out of the hatchway. A moment later the heavy door swung shut and the seals engaged.
"You were thinking very hard there Ronan," Garanoth said, "I know Karen doesn't trust us, but I know you wouldn't do anything reckless."
Ronan glanced up at the ceiling of the capsule and grinned. "I know mate, it's not like we're going to try sky diving again," he replied with a small smile. Before his accident he and several others had taken up sky diving, using their dragons as a jump platform. Needless to say Karen was most upset with his reckless behavior and let him know it. In fact Karen had been heard by most of the Weyr as she expressed her displeasure.
After his accident Ronan quickly became more cautious and more inclined to consider options before taking any risks.
Ronan opened a small case and removed a stapled booklet. "Let's start the pre-flight checklist. Primary fuel cell engaged, secondary fuel cell to standby," he muttered, then he threw two switches.
The interior of the capsule came alive with lights and sounds. A small breeze ran across his fingers on the console as dozens of fans spun up to full speed.
Outside the capsule twenty members of the ground crew watched carefully for any signs of trouble. An outdoor speaker patched into the radio circuit so they could hear Ronan even over the whine of the four gyros.
Garanoth moved into position and a minute later the capsule lifted off the ground. The capsule and dragon hung motionless for a second then vanished from sight. Capsule four was off for an extended flight test and wouldn't return for several hours.
"Alright lads, now that thats done, we still have two D5 modules to finish mating to the landing assembly," said one of the older men. The crew nodded and moved towards another area of the building. Their part of the job was done and control of the test now passed to Minnewanka Weyr who had installed a large dish for such purposes.
One hundred miles above the planet Ronan tore his gaze from the window reluctantly, he had seen it before, but it was a mesmerizing sight to behold. "Gar, lets set up to test the breath exchanger," He said aloud. He didn't have to speak aloud, but the only sound in the capsule was the soft hum from various pieces of machinery. The noise reminded him he was the only human for a hundred miles and he was surrounded by an environment that would kill him in an instant.
"I'm ready Ronan," Garanoth replied.
Ronan tapped a button on the console and the video display switched to another screen. "Okay, go ahead."
On one monitor he could see Garanoth place his head into the breathing station. When his nose bumped the pressure switch at the bottom of the station an inflatable collar expanded to seal the gap around his neck. Suddenly there was a loud whooshing noise inside the capsule as Garanoth exhaled, and then another whoosh as he inhaled.
The seal around the dragon's neck had to be as strong as possible without choking the dragon. Fortunately it only needed to be in place and active for only as long enough for the dragon to exhale and inhale.
"That worked better this time Ronan," Garanoth said.
Ronan breathed a sigh of relief. The last time they had tried this the seal had been bad and the dragon hadn't gotten any air. It caused the entire test to be aborted.
"Great! But we're not out of the woods yet Gar, we have thirty nine more tests to make on the exchanger. At least now we can continue with the other tests. Are you ready for our next jump?"
"I'm ready," replied the dragon. If anyone else were listening in, they would think the dragon was nearly as excited as the rider, and they would be right.
"Very well, let's go to the moon Gar," Ronan said.
Russian Foreign Ministry Building, Moscow Russia, December 2008...
The door opened to the opulent office and the Russian Foreign Minister looked up from his desk with a broad smile. "Ambassador Fhad, please come in, I am glad you were able to come to this meeting."
Fhad made a simple gesture of greeting, then he held out his hand to Minister Tupulov.
Tupulov shook the ambassador's hand, then gestured for him to take a seat. Rather than returning to his own seat behind his desk he sat on a comfortable chair directly across from the ambassador. The minister leaned forward and pour two cups of strong Russian tea which he knew the ambassador greatly enjoyed.
"How are you today my friend?" asked Tupulov.
Fhad gestured towards the window, "I am doing well, but I often wish your country had a capital that didn't have such harsh winters."
Tupulov chuckled, "I can see what you mean, but our hard Russian winters have worked to our advantage several times. Both Hitler and Napoleon came to regret them. Now how can we help you?"
Fhad opened his briefcase and removed a small folder. "After our last discussion I spoke personally with the King who agreed that we will help, but I'm afraid we still have a problem. Unlike you, we have a Weyr that is still hidden from everyone. This Kenyan Weyr's location is not precisely known."
Tupulov nodded gravely. "And if you knew it's location?"
Fhad's expression grew grim. "After our last encounter with these beasts our generals are convinced that only a complete surprise bombing attack will suffice. If we knew where they were, we would bomb them. Such an attack would show that British Weyrleader that we are not to be trifled with. Wiping out this den of beasts would surely give these riders pause."
Tupulov smiled, this was exactly what he wanted to hear. "Your words encourage me my friend. Together we may be able to convince these 'dragon riders' that we will not stand for them ruining our economies."
Fhad nodded grimly. "You do know we cannot kill them all?"
Tupulov waved dismissively. "Of course, but if we can hurt them badly enough they will think twice about attempting to counter attack. Our forces will fight them while at the same time we will threaten Finland, warning them to remain neutral or face consequences."
Tupulov stood and walked over to his desk and pressed a button.
"Minister?" said a voice over the intercom.
"Contact the Defense ministry and ask the Minister to contact me as soon as possible," He said, then he released the button and turned back to Ambassador Fhad.
"You looked for the Weyr but couldn't find it. I will press my government to help you find them using our best equipment and people. Then my friend, then we shall plan to teach these dragons to respect the natural balance of the world," he proclaimed.
Fhad raised his tea in salute. "To our mutual good fortune," he said.
Tupulov wished he had some vodka to do a real Russian toast, but he knew better to offer such a drink to the ambassador who was a devote Muslim.
Disko Island, Mid February 2009...
Janice McCoy stood among her fellow potentials waiting and watching nervously. Each potential wore an outfit much like a martial arts Gi, only it was adorned with the colors of her sponsoring Weyr. The heavy padded outfit helped protect the potential riders during those rare times that a newly hatched dragon would try to tear through the crowd of potentials to get to her rider. It hadn't happened often, but when it did the potentials were glad to have the heavily padded outfits.
McCoy wore the black and white stripes of Campbeltown Weyr despite being American. She had been found on search in her London school where her parents sent her while they worked at the American Embassy.
She had been offered a chance to go to Condron, but had turned down the chance. Her life long dream to attend the American Air Force academy and learn to fly was quickly altered. Even with her father's influence she a slim chance of attending the Air Force academy and getting flight training. Only a small percentage of the graduating class went on to become fighter pilots. Becoming a dragon rider would fulfill her dream of flight even better than learning to fly jets.
Staying at Campbeltown would put her at the center of the action. Condron was nice, and it was American like she was, but Campbeltown was home to The Weyrleader, and Campbeltown was the Weyr that was involved in most dragon related issues. Janice wanted to be at the center of the action and in her mind that meant Campbeltown.
A sound broke Janice from her day dreaming and she looked around, the place still astounded her. The hatching chamber had been expanded and redesigned. It was hard to believe that they were nearly three hundred feet underground. The stands had room for nearly six thousand spectators. Currently there were less than two thousand in the stands, broken into three sections of family, riders and general spectators. The general spectators were contained within plexiglass walls to prevent them from reaching the hatching sands.
There were eight hundred and forty potential riders on the field today and while it seemed like a lot, they had been drilled for the last two weeks in where to stand and what do to if a hatchling came at them. Janice glanced at her egg which was rocking slightly. Some of the other eggs were violently shaking and she had seen enough videos to know that hers would soon be shaking like the others.
Each potential had spent much of the last two weeks helping the egg mother care for the egg. Janice had been especially pleased when Comaloth had picked her to help. The Weyrleader's wives had produced some of the largest dragons. Janice hoped her dragon would be as large. It had been an unexpected honor to be picked by Comaloth.
Suddenly the crowd gasped and she heard the curious bleating bellow of a newly hatched dragonette searching for their rider. The sound was quickly repeated and the weyrling masters started waving the riders who had cared for those eggs forward.
Another gasp rippled through the crowd, but Janice was too busy watching her egg to notice.
Her egg gave a violent lurch and the top cracked neatly, then was pushed to one side.
"McCoy, you're up," shouted a glamored Hagrid. The Weyr couldn't hide Hagrid from the families and press, so they did the next best thing. Sirius came up with a glamor that made him appear two feet shorter than he actually was.
Janice stepped away from her fellow potentials with an eager grin. She took a half dozen steps while the little dragon freed itself from the egg, then she skidded to a stop in confusion. Her dragon was a standard brown in coloration, and was heavily speckled with bright orange stars.
"What?" she mumbled in shock. As far as she knew, there had never been a dragon with orange stars in their coloring!
"Don't worry about that now," said a voice over her shoulder. She glanced back to see May and several of the other Weyr healers on the hatching sands. "Go meet your mate!"
Janice stumbled forward and the little dragon approached her eagerly. Their gazes locked on each other and the world seemed to fall away for the girl. She felt a wave of dizziness wash over her and suddenly she could feel the little dragon! It was unlike any feeling she had ever felt in her life. "Janice! I'm Starth and you're my rider. We'll be together always!" announced the little dragon excitedly.
She glanced along the glistening flanks of the dragon noting the orange stars and couldn't help but laugh as she reached down to wrap her arms around the dragon's neck. "Yes you are!"
After a minute she remembered her training. "Sweetheart, you must be famished, come along with me and we'll get you something tasty to eat."
"I am very hungry," observed the little dragon.
She led the little dragon towards the exit only to be redirected by Ronan to another exit. Frowning at the unexpected change she and Starth entered a large chamber. Nearby were several of Campbeltown's Weyrhealers. House elves popped in with sheep for the hatchlings who eagerly had their first meal.
The presence of the healers had Janice so worried even her dragon picked up on it. The little Ridgeback lifted her head from her meal and looked at her rider with whirling yellow eyes. "I don't feel sick," she announced.
Harry looked up from speaking to May, then he turned to the others. "No, you're not sick Starth. Nor are you others. We're just trying to understand what's happening here," he said firmly.
Janice blinked in surprise, then she took a good look around here. There were four more hatchlings in the chamber eating and watching their riders. Janice had been so intent on her own dragon and the feelings she was experiencing that she hadn't noticed the strange markings on the other hatchlings.
Her dragon had been marked with bright orange stars and she was certain that somehow affected her dragon's name, not that she minded, Starth was a very pretty name in her opinion. Also in the chamber with her dragon were four other dragons with unusual markings.
Milly Tyson had a swedish short snout with pink hearts, Jon Able had impressed a vipertooth with yellow moons, there was another boy whose name Janice couldn't remember that had impressed a horntail with green clovers and finally Andrea Thompson who had impressed a very strange looking Norwegian Ridgeback that was striped. The poor dragon was covered in orange and black stripes, totally hiding any of her natural color.
Starth finished her meal and joined Janice watching the room. Without really considering it, Janice sat on the rock floor and her dragon curled up so she could lay her head in her rider's lap. Janice absently stroked Starth's head while she watched the healers examine the other dragons.
"So we have a starred dragon named Starth," Harry murmured, "a dragon with moons named Moonth, another with clovers named Clovth, the heart shaped markings on Hearth... Why do I feel like this is a prank by Sirius?"
"Don't forget Tigth," May added, fighting a smile. "Look Harry, as far as I can tell it's only a surface marking, like a tattoo. There's nothing wrong with the dragons."
Katie Bell approached May and May turned her attention to Katie. Katie was one of the better magical healers, but she was still struggling to learn the non-magical side. Few people understood just how much science and math was involved in learning to be a veterinarian and Katie was struggling with that aspect of the field.
"Yes Katie?" May asked.
"It's really faint, but I'm detecting a spell residue on the hatchlings. Whatever spell has been cast on them is beyond me to dispell," Katie said.
"So a spell," Harry said, "Dobby!"
Dobby appeared right next to Harry. "Yes Harry?"
Harry smiled at his friend. It had taken a number of years, but his relationship with Dobby had slowly changed from subservient house elf to something more like employer and friend. "Dobby, can you ask Sirius to join us?"
Dobby nodded and vanished with a sharp pop.
Harry leaned against the wall and relaxed for a moment while he waited. The impression had gone off without a hitch thus far.
Janice heard a soft noise and she looked up to see Emma Granger pushing a double stroller with the Weyrleader's children. Emma had been watching the children while Hermione sat with some prospective commercial partners. It had become standard Weyr practice to invite the chief officers of companies they were wooing to see an impression. Hermione and her legal department usually worked with Lee and his press office to see to the comfort of these VIPs. And that meant Emma had the opportunity to spoil her grandchildren.
Harry frowned at his mother in law when she came through the door. He wasn't sure it was safe for his children to be exposed to whatever magic was happening here.
"I'm sorry dear, but the children wanted to see the colorful dragons again," Emma said with a smile. Her grandbabies were toddlers now and just starting to talk. For the most part they were very well behaved children.
Harry slowly nodded and turned back to Sirius.
Mary slid out of stroller and she stood looking at Starth. "Pretty," she said happily. "Stars!"
"I like them, thank you," replied Starth.
Harry turned from where he had been talking to Sirius and stared incredulously at Starth. "Wait, what did you say?"
Starth turned to look at the Weyrleader. "I was just thanking the little miss."
Mary laughed and then unsteadily bent over and kissed the top of the dragon's head. Daniel seeing his sister at the center of attention decided to join the act and he climbed out of his stroller seat to kiss the hatchling.
Harry walked over to where Janice and Starth were sitting and he crouched down, then he placed a hand on the dragon and closed his eyes.
"Stars!" announced Daniel proudly.
"Tigger!" Mary replied, pointing at Tigth.
Harry opened his eyes and stifled a groan. It wasn't Sirius behind this little prank. He turned to May who was looking at him anxiously. "Do you remember when Hermione last cast the limiter charm?"
Magical children normally had a magical block put in place that slowly faded so that it was completely gone by the time they were ready to go to Hogwarts. Harry and Hermione both objected to the idea of block because it was known to cause discomfort for the child. Instead they decided to use a limiting charm to reduce the chance of accidental magic, but the charm only lasted thirty days before it needed to be recast. When it came to casting important magic on the children, Hermione insisted she be the one to do it. There was always a doubt that Harry's more powerful spells might cause unanticipated problems so he wasn't allowed to cast the limiting charm.
May's eyes widened. "No, I don't remember," she stammered as she suddenly realized what was happening. "I'll ask Trath to ask her. You think this is the kids doing?"
Harry nodded, "It appears that way. I first thought it was Sirius, but this is too advanced for Sirius."
"See? I told you I had nothing to do with it," Sirius said smugly then he realized what Harry had said. "Hey now!"
Harry glanced at Sirius and scowled, "No you might be innocent for once, but you are still going to have to explain to Hermione where her babies got their hands on Lucky Charms. You know how she feels about that cereal."
It was well known throughout the Weyr that Sirius was addicted to the stuff and had managed to pass that addiction to his daughter Kirstin. For a while the cereal hadn't been available in the UK, but Sirius had arranged for some to be shipped in via Condron Weyr in the United States.
"Their magically delicious!" Sirius protested, "It says so right on the box." Sirius pulled his wand and instantly conjured an empty Lucky Charms box and pointed to the cover. It would have been an impressive gesture had Sirius not conjured the box upside down.
Harry shook his head and turned back to Starth. He placed a hand on the dragon's neck. "Relax Starth, this won't hurt a bit. Finite," he said. The stars faded from the dragon.
"Stars!" shouted little Daniel. Harry sucked in a breath as the stars reappeared on the dragon. He turned to stare at the now giggling toddler. He clearly felt the rush of magic from his son.
"Pretty!" Mary added emphatically. The stars on Starth brightened and seemed to twinkle and she laughed in delight.
"Now that is not accidental magic," Sirius said snidely.
Harry looked back at him. "Don't you have something better to do?" He sourly asked the former marauder. Harry, Hermione and May had been arguing for the past two months over whether or not the magic the child were showing was accidental or deliberate. Now it was clear that it was deliberate.
"Nope, I'm good. Besides, I don't need to leave until Hermione shows up and she's busy with that guy from that Italian company, Agip."
Harry sighed and shook his head, then he turned back to Janice. "Its not dangerous, but I'm afraid we're going to have to wait until Hermione can cast the limiter before I end the spell."
Janice, being a muggle didn't fully understand, "So you can fix her later?"
"I like my stars," Starth said.
"I don't, this isn't dignified," Tigth added unhappily. Harry privately agreed with Tigth, there was just something wrong with a tigger stripped dragon. Harry was just grateful that Tigth's tail was normal and not spring shaped.
"I don't mind my hearts," Hearth added.
Harry could see the dragons were mixed in their opinions. Some liked the coloring, some didn't. "Look, if you and your rider want to keep them, I won't stop you, but I will fix any dragon that wants it."
"Look at it this way Harry, your kids could make a fortune opening up the worlds first dragon tattoo parlor!"
"Sirius Black!" exclaimed May. "My children will not run a tattoo parlor!"
Harry closed his eyes and bit back a groan while May and Sirius bickered about a future tattoo parlor.
"Harry, Lee is asking about what he should tell the press? Several reporters saw the markings and are asking questions. Lee says the only cameras recording the event were ours so we don't have to worry about that," Chekiath announced.
"Shit," Harry muttered.
"Harry!" exclaimed May. "Not in front of the children!"
"Isn't growing up fun?" Sirius asked. He had already learned his lesson about his vocabulary after his daughter picked up on some of his favorite adult sayings.
Harry resisted the urge to reach for his wand, barely. "Cheki, tell Lee that we are as surprised as they are and the Weyrhealers are looking into it. The only thing we know for certain is the hatchlings are not in any danger."
"Of course Harry. Hermione is on her way and should be there shortly. One of her assistants is watching that guest of hers."
"That's my cue to leave," Sirius said suddenly.
Harry smirked and cast a quick spell that stuck Sirius' shoes to the floor.
"Harry!" Sirius exclaimed. He was frantically tugging at his leg.
Harry laughed. "Take your medicine now, or later Sirius, you know Katherine won't let you hide from her."
Hermione stopped in the open doorway and quickly took in the hatchlings with their unusual markings. Her eyes narrowed and she turned towards Sirius after having made the connection between the dragons and the breakfast cereal. "Sirius," she growled.
Sirius blanched and was about to protest when Hermione was nudged to one side. Luna looked around the room and smirked. "What a wonderful idea, I'll have to see if Danny and Mary like fruit loops," she exclaimed.
Hermione's mouth snapped shut and May shook her head in amusement. Even while he continued to tug at his feet Sirius started howling with laughter.
Honningsvåg, Norway, 13:00 hours, August 15th 2009...
Brith glanced over at the volunteers washing the fire engine. It was old, but lovingly maintained fire engine and still in service. Gleaming with red and shiney chrome is was the pride of the volunteers fire service in Honningsvåg.
Nearby two other dragons dozed on the tarmac in front of an ambulance module. It was their job to cover most of northern Norway and when it came to northern Norway, you didn't get much further north than Honningsvåg.
The two vehicles side by side were an extreme comparison of technology. The ambulance module was painted a bright yellow and white and bristled with antennas and state of the art technology. The fire truck was glistening with polished chrome and candy apple red, a product of the early seventies and still proudly doing its job.
Next to the fire station was a small shack for the ambulance crew which consisted of one rider, strangely dubbed 'the pilot', and two paramedics. A second rider manned the station as backup to the primary pilot and was bonded to one of the two other dragons that provided the lifting power to the ambulance module.
Nearby was an old, 1960s era ambulance that no longer saw service, the cracked engine block saw to that. The dragon ambulance station provided all ambulance service while the local community awaited the delivery of a more modern ambulance to replace the old one.
Brith wasn't attached to the ambulance service, she was part of Svartvatn's Weyr unbonded wing twelve, called 'the Bergers'.
Alfhild Gustavson, the Weyrleader for Svartvatn Weyr came up with the idea of the unbonded wings naming themselves as a means of giving a little extra cohesion to the wings. The Bergers were a group that patrolled the Barents sea and the arctic ocean looking for icebergs and helping when rescues were needed. The wing had made a name for itself with the Norwegian Coast Guard when it was discovered that they weren't just reporting on icebergs in the shipping lanes, but they were also moving the larger ones out of the way.
Nerth came around the back of the crew shack and nodded in greeting to Brith. "Another chilly day," he offered. Brith knew that Nerth was younger than she was, and that he found her attractive. They hadn't had a shagging flight yet, but she was considering it.
"Between is colder," she replied, "You came back sooner than I expected."
"It was an easy run, a small child had been injured in a car accident," he said sadly. "Our healers said it was alright to go Between to get the child to the hospital. It's always worse when it's a young one."
It had been discovered that going Between when carrying someone with a brain injury would cause additional damage to the injury. As a result the paramedics had to give the dragons permission to go Between or fly straight through to the hospital. No one knew why it was so, but researchers around the world were lining up to find out why because it implied a connection between the brain and Between.
"Are you flirting again?" asked Arkith, one of the Bergers.
"You're just jealous that I can attract a young virile male like Nerth," Brith replied loftily.
"Bah, I like them experienced. You prefer robbing the egg for your mates," Arkith replied. "Skirth wants you to know we've located a heavy ice flow."
"Wait a second, let me tell Jhonni, he'll need those numbers from you," Brith answered, then she turned to Nerth. "Tell Jhonni that Arkrith has the location of a heavy ice flow, she'll need to alert the Coast Guard."
Brith fell silent while she listened in on one side of Arkrith's conversation. She knew that Jhonni would soon be on the phone to the Coast Guard so they could issue the shipping warning. Four of the dragons were wearing GPS units attached to their front paw so they could know where the icebergs where. Dragons didn't really understand the idea of latitude and longitude but they did know the humans were capable of finding any spot on the planet with those numbers. It was a feat the dragons could not copy.
"There! Now the coast guard will issue their orders and we'll move some of these icebergs," Arkrith announced.
"Do any of them have any seals on them? They are quite tasty," Brith asked.
"Some do, would you like me to get you one?"
Brith's eyes twirled with large streaks of blue. "Yes! Please!"
"Very well, I'll pick up one for you after..."
Brith's head jerked upwards suddenly and she turned north, then reared up on her hind legs and bugled loudly in fear. Nerth and Fenth turned to Brith in confusion, they hadn't been listening into the conversation and didn't understand what was happening.
"Weyrleader! Weyrleader! They are gone!" she shouted. Behind her, Nerth and Fenth finally realized that something terrible had happened and they lowered their heads to the ground and began to keen.
Several hundred miles to the south east, the dragons of Svartvatn Weyr erupted fear and grief. Within minutes every Weyr would know disaster has struck.
Russian Ministry of Defense, 16:00 hours, August 15th 2009...
The Russian minister of defense looked up from the paper he was reading. "Yes?"
"General Sukov is holding for you on the secure line," his aide replied.
The minister arched a bushy eyebrow and smiled tightly, he had been waiting for this call. "Very well Colonel, I shall pick up the phone in a minute. In the meantime, you know the procedure."
The colonel nodded and exited the room. He locked the door and then flipped a switch on the wall that was supposed to activate anti-eavesdropping devices. A light lit in the Minister's office signalling the room was secure and he reached for the phone.
"General Sukov, I take it you have information for me?"
"Yes Minister, I have just spoken with Colonel Istanov via radio. He and his squadron are expected to land within the hour," he replied. "He reports that his mission went well, but he wasn't pleased with the performance of the missiles."
The Defense Minister frowned, those new missiles had cost Russia millions of rubles to develop. "Oh?"
"The Colonel reports of the twenty four aircraft, all but two managed to launch two missiles each. Two aircraft launched one missile, and are returning with one malfunctioning missile. Forty six missiles for nineteen targets and only twenty three missiles hit their targets.
"We don't know why the missiles malfunctioned but a fifty percent miss rate is troublesome. I have ordered those missiles to be examined immediately. I've also ordered the gun camera footage to be sent down here as soon as possible. I expect it to arrive at the air district headquarters in five hours. Give another day for our people to examine the footage and analyze the results I think I'll be able to give you a detailed report the day after tomorrow."
The minister frowned, but there was no way around it, it would take every analyst they had to examine the gun cameras from twenty four aircraft and put together an effectiveness report in less than two days.
"Very well General. Is there any reaction from the Weyr as yet?"
"No Minister, but I shouldn't expect any reaction for at least a few hours. We are monitoring the Norwegian new agencies closely since it's likely we'll see the first reactions there."
"Thank you General, I will see you the day after tomorrow with your report," the minister said, then he hung up the phone.
At the Moscow Air District headquarters, General Sukov slowly placed the phone on it's cradle, then he nodded to his aide to turn off the extra anti-eavesdropping devices. He stared at the phone for a long silent moment and an icy ball of worry formed in his stomach.
He looked up at his wife who was pregnant with their child. "Why do I feel like this is a colossal mistake Irina? We stand on the brink of a cliff and I fear we have jumped badly. These dragons will not respond like another country would, I fear they will react in a way we cannot predict. Unpredictability in an enemy is a dangerous thing."
"But you often caution that predicting your enemy's moves is the ultimate folly," she replied with a smile.
Irina frowned when she saw her comment made in jest had no impact on her, it was very unlike her general to doubt himself so deeply. She placed a hand on the barely noticeable bump in her belly and shivered. "It will be alright Iskady, you will make it so."
Will I? He thought to himself. Perhaps, but I have a child on the way. I should make a plan in case things go the way I feel they may.
The Orbit of Saturn, August 15th 2009...
The Egg popped out of Between upon a vista that no living human had ever witnessed personally. This was the deepest space location Ronan felt he could safely convince anyone to allow. As it was he had to agree to a passenger for this particular trip, not that he minded. Mildred Lupin had been a considerable help to the Weyr's efforts and he could use her expertise to check out the newly installed science package.
The science package was something Mildred Lupin had put together and Ronan just wasn't qualified to handle any problems that might arise when they used it. Ronan was a very competent engineer, but some of these instruments had been designed by Mildred and only she knew how to test them properly.
Comprised of four high definition multi-spectrum cameras plus four other additional instruments tied to a central computer, the science package was perfect for the Jupiter orbit mission. It was the culmination of work done by the students visiting Minnewanka Weyr. Only the student riders knew that the package might someday see real use.
This particular mission was designed to test the endurance of the lift team as well as to stress test the environmental capabilities of the egg.
Ronan glanced at the jump timer and frowned. The unit was accurate to eight decimal places and there was still no noticeable increase in the time required to jump Between. The timer was triggered by a highly sensitive light detector so that it started as soon as it detected the jump into Between and stopped on exit.
"I don't understand it," he said in annoyance.
When he didn't hear a reply he turned to his co-pilot. She was practically plastered to the view port in front of her duty station. Tears slowly pooled in the corner of her eyes, then broke away to float in the cabin.
"Damn," he muttered, then he flipped a switch which started several air scrubbers working. "Mildred, get a hold of yourself, you're leaking water into the cabin!"
He reached out and grabbed her shoulder and turned her to face him. "Relax," he said more softly. She blinked and looked at him in surprise. "You were crying."
He pointed towards the intake vents and she could see several blobs of tears moving towards them.
She flushed and nodded, then she pulled out some tissue and wiped at her eyes. "I'm sorry, it's just that I dreamed of a moment like this since I was a little girl."
"Its alright, but I would rather not have to report a short circuit due to an emotional co-pilot," he replied with a grin.
Mildred nodded and pulled out a clipboard from under her seat. "Right then, let's go over the checklist shall we?"
Ronan pulled his own clipboard from the velco fasteners under his seat and set it floating lazily nearby.
"We are still showing no measurable change to the jump time," he said, pointing at the jump timer.
Mildred shook her head, that device was one of the best money could buy. "There's got to be a variance," she muttered. This was issue that was starting to question some of her fundamental beliefs. On earth it was assumed that the time Between represented the speed of the transit, but now it was looking as if it weren't the case.
"Not according to our super clock," Ronan said with a bit of a grin.
She flashed a look of irritation at him because he had been arguing that the dragon's ability to teleport was circumventing Einstein's Relativity. It had become a point of many intense conversations between the pair in recent weeks.
To Mildred, a classical astronomer and cosmologist, Between was quickly becoming a major headache to her, especially when she vented her frustration on a rider who invariably told her to ask the dragons about it.
"Look at it this way Mildred, you'll be able to write a paper explaining to all those stuffy scientists that they were wrong in their assumptions," he replied with a chuckle, then he grabbed his clipboard and started going over his list.
Mildred stared at him for a long moment, then she shook her head. Ronan didn't understand that writing a paper refuting Relativity would be professional suicide. She shook her head and turned to her own clipboard. She had her own checklist to go over, including a bank of ultra hi resolution multi spectrum cameras to play with.
Several hours passed in comfortable silence. The Egg wasn't in radio contact with Earth and even if it had been it would have taken hours to establish communications. They relied on the dragon's telepathy to communicate with the Weyr. Mildred shied away from the concept that telepathy was also apparently faster than light, it was another strike against relativity that had her cringing.
Pushing relativity to the back of her mind for now, she expertly operated the external bank of cameras while Ronan monitored the on-board systems. By the time she had a chance to review her data she would have accumulated over five terra-bytes of images of Saturn and it's rings.
This was the third test of the official Egg One. The test capsules had been retired in favor of this first Egg. It wasn't quite as big as it was originally planned, but it could comfortably accommodate six people with ample living space if people slept in shifts.
There was a loud whooshing sound and Ronan glanced upwards. A nearby gauge showed which breathing bay had been used. There were three dragons providing lifting service for this trip. Three dragons was all that was really needed, but the Egg had bays for an additional two extra dragons.
"How are we doing Gar?" he asked aloud. Garanoth, as the lift team leader, had his own checklist of tasks, including practicing disengaging from the Egg and then using micro-jumps Between to reengage. The dragons had been trained to perform visual inspections of the exterior of the Egg and alert the human crew if there were any problems.
As lift team leader, Garanoth also had the responsibility to return the capsule to Earth without asking Ronan's permission. He was in charge of the lift team and responsible for the safety of the passengers. Should an emergency arise, he would command the lift team to return to the Weyr immediately. The large dragon didn't like that idea, and had to be ordered by Harry, but once it was explained to him, he accepted it.
Ronan and his design group were still working on improving what the dragons could do to effect any repairs, but so far they were limited to patching of any holes. The design group had created a set of tools that the dragons could use, but they discovered that just because it fit in a dragon paw, it didn't mean they could easily use them.
The design group went back to the drawing board and were working on powered versions of the hand held tools that could be controlled by the new gloves the dragons wore.
"These gloves are much better Ronan," replied the dragon. "Its not as cold as the other gloves, and the controls are easier to activate."
The gloves were part of a special suit each dragon wore. Unlike the rest of the suit, the gloves were actually a carbon composite gauntlet that connected to the Egg for power and data connections. The dragons were capable of disconnecting the gauntlets from the Egg so they could move about the egg performing maintenance and inspections. The gloves also contained sensors and power connections so that someday they could do more than just hang on.
There was a brief moment of silence, and then, "The air still smells funny Ronan," announced Pekith, one of the members of the dragon lift team.
Mildred tore her gaze from one of the monitors. "I'm sorry Pekith, but you're breathing a mix of pure gases that simulates real air. It's going to smell different because it lacks a lot of the impurities that give Earth air a different smell. Is it going to be a problem?"
"No Starsmith, it just smells off, like a stale fart with a hint of fish," replied the dragon.
"A stale fart and fish! That describes it perfectly," exclaimed Garanoth.
Ronan winced and pretended to be absorbed in his checklist while Mildred shook her head in dismay. All three dragons were chortling merrily thanks to Pekith's imagery.
Mildred tried to ignore the dragon amusement while she tapped a few keys to bring up a display that monitored the amount of oxygen in the dragon's blood. It was normal, so Pekith's complaint was fairly minor if a bit graphic. She wondered if she should record the dragon's comment about the air smell or not. The gas mixture was correct, even if it might smell bad and the design group's action committee might have problems with an action item describing the smell of the air mix as akin to a stale fart with a hint of fish.
Mildred nodded and gave Ronan a reassuring smile before turning her attention back to the camera monitors. Ronan shook his head in amusement. He had invited Mildred to join him on this mission as a way of bribing her. He needed her permission as lead space scientist to DSL to undertake any mission beyond Earth orbit and traveling to Saturn was definitely beyond Earth orbit.
"Lift team, how are the flight suits working?" asked Ronan.
"Just fine Ronan," replied Garanoth.
"I think I need a little adjusting," Pekith announced. "The rear right leg seems to be a little loose, but the heating spell is working fine."
Ronan looked up and then quickly jotted down a note on his clipboard. The thermal suits for the dragons were extremely important even if they weren't made by his design group.
"Mine is fine," announced Duckth.
Extended exposure to space resulted in chilling the dragons. Millicent Bulstrode discovered that the dragons could only stand an hour exposure to the cold of space before they became lethargic. She struggled to find a solution when Luna gave her a knitted sweater that had been enchanted to provide heat. It was a coincidence that turn out to be the answer to Millicent's problem.
Thanks to Luna's sweater, the dragon's were now capable of staying in space as long as necessary. Specially made thermal suits that were enchanted to provide heat and magically sized, provided the dragons with the needed heat and allowed for additional sensors to be added to monitor the dragon's health. The only real downside was that it took an hour and six riders to assist the dragon into getting into and out of the suit.
"I'll have your suit looked at when we get back Pekith," Ronan replied. "It shouldn't take long to adjust it."
"Thank you Ronan."
Ronan nodded and glanced at a screen. He tapped a key and the next item on his checklist came up.
"Jupiter is very pretty, are you sure we can't go there?" asked Duckth.
Mildred smiled slightly. "I wish," she murmured then she shook her head and knew she had to explain it further or the dragons might take her comment literally. "No Duckth, Jupiter is a very dangerous place for humans and dragons. We are much safer here. The Egg is just not designed for the environment of Jupiter. Someday however, I know we'll want to visit some of the moons.
"Jupiter is so large that we would be crushed by the enormous pressures well before we reached the center of the planet."
"So we really can't go there?" Duckth pressed.
"No I'm afraid not," replied Mildred.
"Its still pretty," observed Duckth, "but maybe we should find a nicer place to land on."
Ronan laughed softly and glanced over at Mildred. She was living her dream and no amount of explaining was going to convince the dragons that this was a good spot to run her tests. Mildred had gotten permission of Harry to reveal the scope of their exploration once they had perfected all of the Egg systems. Ronan had a schedule of tests which meant that Mildred had roughly a year to write up her research and submit it for publication.
Ronan glanced back at his screen and then turned to a console behind him. He examined the display for a moment and frowned. "The internal air pressure in the waste disposal system is low," he muttered, then he glanced at a secondary console and tapped a gauge. The system used pressurized air to vent waste into space rather than storing it onboard.
"Is it a problem?" asked Mildred.
Ronan reached for a large book and started flipping through it. "I don't think so, it's only a few psi off, but it shouldn't be happening. I'll log it and have someone look at it when we return."
He reached for his clipboard and made a quick notation so his people could look into it when they got home.
"Ronan, I am getting an emergency recall message from The Weyrleader," Garanoth suddenly announced. "It's not directed to us specifically, but he's ordering all dragons world wide to return to their Weyrs immediately."
Ronan blinked in surprise, then he looked up at the ceiling. Nearby Mildred sucked in a shocked breath. "So he's not calling for us?"
"No, The Weyrleader is calling in all the wings. Right now he's speaking to all the Weyrs, telling them to recall all their members. Nakth is very angry. Campbeltown and the other Weyrs are sending out combat patrols."
Ronan looked worriedly over at Mildred. "Nakth is Alfhild's dragon, from Svartvatn Weyr in Norway. Something must have happened at Svartvatn Weyr."
Mildred sighed and started shutting down her cameras and making sure the digital files were saved. "I guess its time to go home."
Ronan grunted sourly at the idea of cutting the mission short hours ahead of schedule, then he glanced out the window again. Maybe someday we can land on one of these alien worlds, he thought to himself. For a split second an image from Harry's office flashed through his mind.
Distracted by the abrupt end of the mission he passed the wrong jump image to Garanoth.
Campbeltown's Egg vanished from the orbit of Jupiter.
Svartvatn Weyr, August 15th 2009...
Harry and Chekiath appeared over the Weyr and was surprised to see so many dragons flying about bellowing in distress and anger.
"Silence!" Harry bellowed aloud and mentally. Chekiath added a deep barking sound to back up Harry's command. "All Svartvatn dragons are to land immediately!"
"Where is Nakth?" he asked.
Chekiath watched the dragons landing, then he zeroed in on Nakth. "There, we will land next to them."
Harry followed Chekiath's gaze to see Alfhild Gustavson waving at him. Harry was mildly annoyed to see Alfhild had lost control of his Weyr, but then no other Weyr had lost nineteen dragons before. He wasn't sure he could maintain control in such a situation.
"Let's land then Cheki, and call up Division One and Two. I want some more dragons here," Harry replied.
Cheki banked hard and Harry leaned with the turn. "The divisions are on the way Harry."
Chekiath landed near Nakth and then he looked pointedly at the Weyrleaders dragon. Harry slid down from his spot and dropped lightly to the ground, then he pulled off his gloves and cap. Nakth looked away from Cheki's stern gaze and Harry turned to his dragon. "Go easy Cheki, they've had a big shock and I honestly don't know how well we'd react if the same thing happened to us."
Cheki turned back to gaze at his rider. "I will Harry, but I expect our Weyrleader dragons to maintain discipline."
Harry nodded, "Alright, but just remember they've had a shock like nothing we've experienced before," he said, then he turned to Alfhild.
"All the Weyrs share your grief Alf," he said quietly. "I will be calling for the other Weyrleaders to meet here, but first I think we need to figure out what happened."
Alfhild wiped at his eyes and straightened up, his expression grew determined. "You don't just lose nineteen dragons as a result of an accident," he declared.
"No, you don't Alf, and when we know who was responsible, the Weyrs will make them pay," Harry replied. "But we can't go off attacking without knowing who to attack."
Harry clasped a hand on Alf's shoulder and lightly shook him. Alf nodded unhappily, his grief was turning into anger that he wanted to unleash, but Harry was right, he needed to know who was responsible.
"We have a rough idea of where they were, but I have been reluctant to send any of our wings out," Alf admitted.
Harry glanced around knowingly, Svartvatn Weyr was in deep mourning, the dragons were in no shape to go out on search missions. He turned back to Alfhild questioningly.
"They had just reported in with an iceberg warning. They couldn't have gone too far from that area," Alfhild admitted.
Harry turned to Cheki, "Call up Division three and have them equipped with GPS units. The missing wing had just called in an iceberg warning to..."
"Nerth's rider Jhonni up in Honningsvåg should have the coordinates," Alfhild said softly. Harry glanced to Cheki who nodded.
"Lets go into your office to talk Alf," Harry suggested.
For the next eight hours Harry and Alfhild poured over maps and discussed possibilities. They waited while Chekiath organized more than five hundred dragons from Campbeltown and Svartvatn to scour the area around the Bergers last reported location.
Their only break in their discussion came when a group of dragons brought home a body, some six hours into their search.
Harry and Alfhild rushed from the Weyr office and ran over towards the dragon infirmary. The two Weyrleaders arrived just as a group of four dragons gently laid a dead dragon down on the grass next to the infirmary building.
Harry fought the urge to vomit, several others around him weren't so lucky. Something had hit the dragon in the head and literally destroyed it. The dragon's head was gone and the neck was shredded all the way up to the front shoulder blades. The absolute savagery of the attack meant the poor dragon was killed instantly and never had a chance to jump Between.
Harry was surprised, he was certain the dragons would start keening again, but even the dragons were shocked into silence.
It started slowly, but Harry instantly knew who was doing it. He turned towards his dragon as other picked up on the alpha dragon's mood. Chekiath was growling, his eyes burned bright red and steam wafted up from his nostrils. Around him the other dragons took up the growl. Someone had murdered dragons and they were angry.
Harry hurriedly ran to his dragon and pulled his head until the pair were staring each other down. "Chekiath! Hear me, I promise you that this crime will not go unpunished. But now is not the time for anger. We must act with deliberation and reason, we must punish those that committed this crime and make sure we don't hurt others at the same time!"
Chekiath's eyes started to slow and some of the red bled away. "Deliberation and reason. We are thinking beings." he said slowly.
"Yes, you are Cheki," May said softly. "Even humans can let their emotions get away from them. Harry promised you justice and he'll need your help to see justice is served."
Harry glanced over at his wife in surprise. She had been in the infirmary helping out Svartvatn during this crisis.
Chekiath lowered his head as if ashamed with himself. "I will control myself better," he said softly.
Harry turned back to his dragon and gently rubbed his eye ridges. "Big lug, you have nothing to be ashamed about. I'm as angry as you are."
The red in Cheki's eyes faded away to be replaced with a very light blue.
"Harry, Draco found something near the body that you and Alf need to see," May said.
"Do we know who this is?" Alf asked.
May frowned and shook her head. "Not yet. Obviously this was a Swedish Short Snout but the wing had four Short Snouts. There's no head so we can't check the dental record and we still don't know enough about dragon DNA to do DNA identification. We're going to have to take a set of paw prints and do a manual check against the Weyr records. Katie and Phillipa are setting up for that now."
Phillipa Jurdsdottir was one of the Svartvatn Weyr healers.
Harry placed a hand on Alf's shoulder. "Come on Alf, let them do their job. Let's see what Draco has for us."
Alf nodded and followed Harry to where Draco stood patiently. At Draco's feet lay a long object that was covered by a blanket.
Harry frowned and looked down. "Another body?" he asked a bit fearfully, this was about as long and wide as a human.
Draco shook his head. "No, I just didn't want anyone else to see this yet Harry."
Harry knelt down and lifted the blanket. He swore sulfurously. Under the blanket lay a missile with Russian markings. The front part of the missile showed damage where the warhead had been. The blood and pieces of flesh still clinging to the missile said that it had speared a dragon before exploding. The very fact that it had exploded inside the body of a dragon probably preserved the rest of the missile from being destroyed beyond recognition.
"What is that?" exclaimed Alfhild.
"It's a Russian missile Alf, what kind, I can't tell, but I aim to find out," Harry said flatly.
"Cheki, ask Lee to come here and bring one of his high definition cameras," Harry said, then he turned to Alf. "I'll have Lee photograph that thing, but you'll probably need to keep it for the Norwegian authorities."
He paused and took a deep breath. "Alf, the Norwegians might want to take the lead on this, but you are the Weyrleader of Svartvatn Weyr, this incident was carefully set up to occur in international waters. The Norwegians have no jurisdiction here, no one does. And that means it's our problem."
Alf nodded firmly. "I will inform the government that we will be scaling back all operations that might lead to being in international airspace Harry. We can't really cut back on our search and rescue efforts, or the ambulance service."
Harry smiled in agreement. "No you can't cut back on them, but from here on we'll provide far more dragons than needed. I want to make sure someone is always watching your dragons."
Harry expression turned grim. "Alf," he added in a serious tone, "Svartvatn Weyr is authorized to use deadly force in order to protect the Weyr, your riders and your dragons."
Alf's eyes widened, then he nodded. "I best talk to my second then," he replied softly. He turned walked over the corpse of the dragon and placed a hand upon it for a moment, then he straightened and went about his business.
Harry watched him for a moment, then he gathered his power.
"Dragons," he called. His voice carried around the planet stopping every dragon in their tracks. "A terrible crime has been committed against our kind. We will find out who caused the death of so many dragons and we will see justice done. For now every dragon is to be vigilant. Nineteen of our brothers were caught by surprise, that cannot happen again. Set up extra patrols over your Weyrs, no dragon should venture away from the Weyr alone. If attacked, call for help immediately and use every ability you have to ensure your survival, kill if necessary.
"Senior dragons, if you are unsure of what you can do, contact me and Campbeltown will send help to your weyr."
Harry released his power and took a deep shuddering breath. He turned to see Lee snapping away at the missile with a digital SLR camera.
"Lee, when you're done, use Svartvatn's network to send those images to Katherine at Campbeltown, ask her if that's something that can be bought on the black market or not. Then I want you and your wing to get out where they found the body to take more photographs, search the area carefully, you might find more evidence like that," he said, then gestured towards the missile. Or another body, he thought morosely.
Lee nodded grimly, he had the same idea as Harry. He turned back to his task, already thinking about what they might find.
Harry glanced around. "Where the hell is Ronan?"
Lee looked up from lining up a shot and shrugged. "I haven't seen him, but wasn't supposed to be on an Egg mission today?"
Harry nodded and turned in the direction of his dragon. "Cheki can you ask Garanoth to return to the Weyr?"
"We did much earlier Harry, and Garanoth said he was returning right away."
The icy knot in Harry's belly suddenly turned much colder. It wasn't like Ronan to ignore a summons like this. "Garanoth?" he sent.
"I can't reach him," Neruth suddenly shouted.
Harry gasped and nearly fell to his knees, Neruth's shout surprised him. "Damn it this is all we need," he muttered. "Comaloth, tell Hermione that something has happened to Ronan. Have someone check in on Karen."
Harry's mind shuddered back from the implications. If something had happened to the egg, he would have to tell Remus. He had agreed to allow Mildred to go along with Ronan on this test mission.
"She's already with her and the healer is on her way. Several of the girls from Division five and Hermione's mother are also here." Comaloth replied. Hermione had missed going to Svartvatn because she was in court at the time. With court adjoined for the day she returned to Campbeltown as quickly as she could so she could help with the crisis from that point.
Harry nodded unhappily. Karen was pregnant with their third child which explained why they called for Isaac Sheppard.
Harry walked over to the body and said a silent prayer for the dragon. As he did a helicopter started to land near Svartvatn's two ambulance modules. He looked up briefly and noted it was a police helicopter, then he turned and walked over to where May stood.
She looked up from watching Katie take a paw print and frowned. Harry looked worn down. She knew about the problems facing the Weyrs and wished there was a way she could ease his burden.
"Weyrleader, Hermione says that the Egg just landed near the infirmary, all three dragons are tired but fine. Ronan and Mildred are fine also. Ronan wants to talk to you as soon as possible," Comaloth suddenly announced. "He's coming to Svartvatn."
"I want to talk to him too, about exhausting three dragons and probably scaring his wife to death," he muttered a touch angrily.
"Harry," May gently chided. "You don't know what happened."
He sighed and nodded slowly. "Comaloth is Garanoth capable of coming here?"
"He is tired Weyrleader, but still capable of making the jump."
Harry suppressed the urge to curse with May nearby, there was little he could do about it and he knew Ronan would not deliberately endanger his dragon unless it was very important. Harry gave May a weak smile, then he turned and walked over to where Alf was talking with several uniformed men that had arrived via the helicopter.
Just as he arrived Garanoth appeared in the darkening sky. Even in the twilight he could see the gray tinge to the large dragon.
"Nakth," Harry sent silently, "Ronan has arrived on Garanoth who is obviously too tired to be flying. Can you put them up for the night?"
"We will be honored Weyrleader," replied Nakth.
Satisfied, Harry turned back to Alf who had heard Harry's request via Nakth. Svartvatn would see Ronan and Garanoth well taken care of tonight.
Alfhild raise a hand and turned to Harry. The others looked at Harry in surprise. Harry wore the white beret of a Weyrleader, but the Weyr colors weren't Svartvatn's. "Chief Inspector Jurgeson, may I introduce you to The Weyrleader of Campbeltown Weyr, Harry Potter."
The senior police officer looked surprised, then he offered Harry a hand. "An honor to meet you sir!" He exclaimed in a thick accent. "As I was explaining to the Weyrleader, the location of the attack occurred in international waters and while Norway does accept responsibility for that region in terms of search and rescue, or other maritime matters, we have no jurisdiction in that area. We will offer what services we can, but I'm afraid there is little the police can do. I will consult with the Coast Guard, but I fear they won't be able to help much either."
Harry nodded, he had expected as much given the location of the attack. He turned to Alfhild. "Alf, work with the Norwegians, but I don't want this to turn into a media circus. We need to keep a tight reign on this until we know what's going on."
Alf nodded and Harry turned away to talk to Ronan. After ten minutes of private conversation with Ronan he rejoined Alf who stood alone watching the police inspect and photograph the corpse of the one recovered dragon. Ronan stepped up beside him. "Harry," he said.
Harry glared at him. "I don't want to talk about it right now Ronan, we have enough problems. For the record you made a badly imaged jump and exhausted three dragons. That is what you'll tell anyone who asks, even your wife. No one is to know what happened on your trip until we have time to sort things out. We have more important matters to worry about right now," he said tensely. Alf watched in surprise as Harry spoke to Ronan. "For the record gentlemen, when we discover who did this, the Weyrs are going to war."
"But we know who did this, you said it yourself Harry!" exclaimed Alf. "The Russians."
"I know that, but we have to be able to prove it," Harry snapped. "The world is not going to sit back and watch the dragons attack any nation without proof that we are defending ourselves. Right now we need proof and we need time to plan what we're going to do. Our greatest danger is that they will attack one of the Weyrs and catch us on the ground and surprised. Joensuu is the most exposed Weyr that is manned, but there are several others that are also close to hostile nations. We can't assume Russia is going to act alone. What we need most of all is time to plan what our response is going to be."
Harry paused and wiped at his face tiredly. "Ronan, have Garanoth tell Neruth you're spending the night here and you'll be back in the morning. I'm returning to Campbeltown. Alfhild, send an email to every Weyrleader, explain what happened and warn them to be extra vigilant."
Alf nodded solemnly and Harry turned and walked to where Chekiath stood waiting. Ronan sighed and shook his head. "When it rains it pours," he muttered.
Alf chuckled softly. "Come Ronan, I'll show you to one of our guest cabins."
Campbeltown Weyr, August 15th 2009...
Lord Mills stepped into the office of Major Atkins. She glanced up from her computer monitor and waved him closer. "James, thank god, you've got to get in touch with the PM."
James blinked in surprise, he had received a text message on his phone to come to the Weyr as soon as possible, so he had, but he had no idea what was going on.
Atkins was in the process of printing out a series of photographs. She was in her final year with the British Army and when she left she would transition to a consulting position for the Weyrs on security matters officially partnering with Sirius and Draco who already handled setting up newly manned Weyr security.
"What ever is the matter Katherine? The entire Weyr is acting up."
Katherine stood and collected a handful of printouts and handed them to James. "You don't know the half of it, we have nineteen dead dragons up in Svartvatn Weyr. Every Weyr on the planet has doubled, or tripled patrols and Harry's given them permission to use deadly force if attacked. Harry wants to know if those," she said, pointing at the photographs in James' hands, "can be bought on the black market or if only Russia uses them."
James glanced down at the photographs and even to his eye he could see the missile in question was not a hand launched missile, it was too big for that even if the warhead section was missing. He frowned when he considered the implications. The Weyr had had cordial relations with Tony Blair and John Major, but the current PM, David Cameron was cool to the Weyr and their issues. Only the fact that the public and the crown were firmly behind the Weyr kept the current Prime Minister from trying to enforce more controls on them.
Harry was aware of the issue and had done his best to keep out of the PM's way for the most part, but even the press had twigged on the fact that things weren't as cordial as they could be between the Weyr and the Prime Minister's office.
Cameron would not like it if the Weyr upset any apple carts internationally and James could see this had apple cart written all over it.
"When is Harry due back?"
Katherine glanced at the clock, then shrugged. "I'm not sure, I haven't heard anything directly from our Wings since Lee sent that email. I understand they are making an intensive sweep of the area looking for more evidence beyond what they have already found so it might be a while still. I'm going to forward these photographs to someone I know in the MOD, but I understand you'll need to take copies to the Prime Minister," she replied.
James glanced down at the photographs and then up to Katherine again. "Found? What else have they found?"
"Norendrath says they found the body of a Swedish Short Snout. The head was blown clear away. The poor dragon probably died instantly," Katherine said quietly. The thought of a dragon dying like that filled her with a cold anger. She wished her company were outfitted with their battle kits and they were ready to assault the people that did this. Like so many that lived and worked around the dragons, she had long since lost any distinction between human and dragon. To Katherine, dragons were people, and it angered her to know someone had killed not just one, but a whole wing of dragons.
"They may still find more evidence, or more bodies. Meanwhile every Weyr in the world is on alert. Patrols are doubled and every rider is carrying their weapons and ammo loads; if someone so much as looks at a Weyr, there's going to be trouble. Also Harry has ordered all the dependents and in-Weyr employees to be prepared to evacuate if necessary."
James grunted sourly in agreement. "Very well, I'd best arrange transportation down to London."
"I'm sorry Norendrath isn't here or he'd probably take you down there but he's with Sirius up in Svartvatn."
James nodded. "No matter, in times like this I can order up a military ride. I'll be there in an hour or two."
James walked towards the door, then he paused. "If conditions change, or they find more evidence, text me please Major."
Katherine nodded and James walked out of the office. She sighed and turned back to her computer. She had an email to write.
An hour later she got a call saying that Harry had returned to Campbeltown with several wings. She stood and left her office.
She finally found Harry in the kitchen hall, huddled over a large mug of tea. Hermione and May sat with him, as did most of Division one and two. The hall was crowded for such an unusual hour, and very quiet. Katherine sat down across from the three. The mood in the room was charged with tension.
Harry looked up from his mug. "Hello Katherine, did Lee send you those photographs?"
"The missile is codenamed Archer by NATO, and it's presently part of the current inventory of the Russian Air Force. From what I've been and I imagine you've figured out, this is an aircraft fired missile. It's way too big for it to be a shoulder or hand launched missile. The Russians have this in their inventory, but they have also sold this to other nations," she offered.
"So there's no definite proof it was Russia," May murmured.
Harry nodded grimly.
"I wouldn't be too sure about that May. Granted, there's no real proof but a great many of the countries that have purchased those missiles are too far away from the Arctic ocean," Katherine countered.
Harry sighed and shook his head. "It's still no good, we all know it was a Russian hand firing that missile, but like I told Alfhild tonight, without proof the world will not stand by idly and watch us attack Russia."
Katherine nodded, she had figured that out too.
The Special Committee for State Security, Moscow, August 18th 2009...
"Friends, this special meeting has been called by our good Defense Minister," Putin announced.
The Defense Minister stood slowly, his many medals clinking softly. "Comrades, three days ago General Sukov's special operations squadron executed an attack over the arctic ocean. I have asked him to attend this meeting so he could explain the operation personally."
The minister sat and waved to an aide who opened the door allowing General Sukov to enter the room.
Sukov saluted and waited until Putin nodded in acknowledgment. "You may begin your brief General," Putin said.
Sukov glanced over at the Defense minister's aide who dimmed the lights in the room. A small screen slid down from the ceiling. "Comrades, on 15 August Squadron 1 of the Special Operations Unit executed an attack against a wing of dragons over the Arctic ocean. The dragons were supposedly on iceberg patrol."
An image from a gun camera appeared on the screen showing several dragons in the distance. "The squadron managed to get surprise on the dragons, closing to within two miles before launching a total of forty six missiles. All nineteen dragons were killed within four seconds of each other. The majority jumped Between, but a few were killed instantly, their bodies falling into the ocean below."
The screen echoed Sukov's words as a pair of missiles streaked out from the aircraft to strike the nearest dragon. In the image it was possible to see two other dragons hit by missiles fired from other aircraft.
"What is the reaction of the Weyr? I've heard nothing on the news from this," exclaimed the Foreign minister.
"No, there hasn't been any reports in the western press about this. I personally think the Weyr has imposed a news blackout on the attack. We have noted heightened security around the Weyrs, including larger patrols and all of the riders are now armed with their crossbows, even for trivial trips to a local market."
The members of the committee chuckled at the thought of such weapons not understanding the abilities of the ammo used by the Weyrs.
"Comrades, Colonel Istinov raised some concerns with the new mark six warheads that we are examining, and he rightly points out that one successful operation does not mean we have won a conflict with these beasts. The special operations squadron is improving every day and this successful test says that we are on the right track. But..."
"But?" pressed Putin.
Sukov looked uncomfortable. "I understand that we were supposed to be working with others... other countries. If we are to succeed, then we must plan together. Our forces are stronger if we can work with our allies."
The foreign minister nodded thoughtfully, "General Sukov speaks wisely friends. It is time to bring our Saudi friends into our plans." The minister turned to Sukov, "Iskady Stepanovich, tell us, are your men ready?"
"I believe we are Minister, but if we are to work with allied nations I would like several months to work up coordinated attack plans, maybe do some joint field exercises," Sukov replied.
"An excellent suggestion," the defense minister replied. "Have your office work up a list of needs and I'll see it's passed to the Foreign Ministry."
The Foreign Minister nodded. Putin checked a calendar. "So we are talking about sometime early next year?"
Sukov nodded hopefully. He had two squadrons trained up, and another twenty pilots dispersed to the rest of the air force as trainers. The air force was shaping up nicely as far as he was concerned. Some time to train with their allies would be an added bonus, plus it would give the engineers a chance to examine the missile problems. Given a fifty percent success rate, he was figuring it would require at least two missiles per dragon to guarantee a kill.
He hoped it was just a quality problem in assembly and not something more problematic like a design flaw.
"Very well, we will meet again in January to discuss when to start our action against these creatures. In the meantime General Sukov will coordinate with our Saudi friends," Putin decided, then he turned to Danakov who had been silently watching everything. Danakov knew that Russia was at a critical point. Actions against the dragons could result in magical reprisals also.
"Mishka, can your people organize a deception?" Putin asked.
Danakov nodded. "I will put my people on it immediately Comrade President."
Putin nodded, then he turned back to Sukov. "You have done well General, you are dismissed with our thanks."
Sukov saluted smartly and left the room.
"Well then, since we are here, let us turn our attention to the domestic winter fuel production projections?" Putin asked.
The Energy minister nodded and passed around a sheet of papers for each minister to take.
Number 10 Downing Street, August 18th 2009...
Prime Minister David Cameron looked at the figures before him unhappily, then he finally looked up at his guests.
"This," he said, waving the piece of paper around, "is an estimate from my own office as to the impact the Weyr has on our own economy. I was against Major granting them autonomy and now it's come back to bite us. Twenty bloody percent! The Weyr can cripple us overnight if they knew about it!"
James Mills frowned. "Sir they already know about that, in fact their own people think the number is actually two percent higher. Nevertheless, they have no intention of hurting us or our economy."
Cameron glared at him and James held his gaze without flinching.
"Her Majesty agrees with Lord Mills' assessment," Prince Charles said from one corner of the room. The crown had been briefed on the situation in Norway and had sent the Prince as a personal envoy of the crown for this meeting.
Cameron hid his wince, he knew the Weyr actually had a higher approval rating than he did. He nodded weakly at Prince Charles, then he leaned back on his chair. "So what will they do?" he asked to the room in general.
"They will wait," James said firmly. "The Weyrs are on alert world wide, but they will wait until they have evidence they can present to the world and then they will act."
"Saudi Arabia all over again," said Admiral Stanhope, the first Sea Lord of the Royal Navy who was sitting in for the Minister of Defense who was away.
James shook his head. "Worse than Saudi Arabia. The Weyrleader is acutely aware that the Weyrs must have incontrovertible proof that they were attacked and by whom, before they can act. But once they have that proof, they will act and it will be unlike anything we saw in Saudi Arabia."
"What do you mean?" asked Prince Charles.
James looked at him, "Sir, I know Harry Potter. I don't know what he's planning, but I do know that the dragons exercised a lot of restraint in Saudi Arabia. There will be no such restraint shown this time."
Prince Charles nodded thoughtfully.
"So what are they doing in the meantime?" Stanhope asked.
James shrugged. "Mostly it's business as usual, but with a larger than usual dragon presence. Dragon Ambulances now have two to three dragons escorting them. Fishing expeditions that once had a handful of dragons now have a full wing. Hell that ferry that ran into engine troubles had forty dragons come to the rescue when in the past ten at most would have shown up. There have been a number of meetings of the Weyrleaders since the incident at Svartvatn, but I haven't been present for them. I can only surmise they are making plans."
"You can't blame them for being wary or for planning a response to another attack. And extra dragons isn't really a problem for anyone except the Weyr," Prince Charles said.
"The only thing really worrisome that I've seen is two drills that they've run. In the first drill, they managed to get the entire compliment of Campbeltown, all eleven hundred and seventeen dragons airborne in less than four minutes. Mind you, that included five hundred riders fully kitted out for combat."
"Lord I wish we could do that," Stanhope muttered. "And the second drill?"
"That was more worrisome," James admitted. "In just over two hours, they evacuated the Weyr and took most of their equipment with them. They didn't come back for nearly twelve hours. With the exception of a wing left behind for the ambulance service, the Weyr was emptied, even the non-riders went with them."
Cameron blinked surprise. "Where did they go?"
James shook his head. "I don't know and they aren't telling anyone."
Cameron rubbed his temples tiredly, Mills had just told him that twenty percent of the British economy can leave Britain's shores in less than three hours time. He looked over at Prince Charles.
"Alright I know you are here with a message from Her Majesty," he said.
Charles smiled thinly. The crown had no real authority these days, but there was a power still behind the crown even if it was rarely used. "Her Majesty believes that the Weyrs are among our staunchest supporters and as such they deserve our unreserved support. However Her Majesty also understands that Britain has international obligations which must be observed, such obligations might be in conflict with supporting our Weyr.
"The Crown believes that we should be cautious and try to maintain a position somewhere in the middle rather than picking a particular side. Her Majesty firmly believes the Weyrleader will act only if he has verifiable proof. She feels that if that happens and our siding with the Weyr would endanger Great Britain then our best recourse would be to remain nonaligned."
"She wants us to remain neutral? What if Potter takes off and attacks Russia?" exclaimed Cameron.
The Prince's expression grew frigid. "Have you forgotten the capabilities of dragons Prime Minister? All of the Russian nuclear weapons would be for naught if even one dragon survived," he said coldly.
"Capabilities?" Cameron asked in confusion.
James Mills shook his head in dismay. "Sir, if I may, the dragons have the ability to travel through time as well as teleporting about the planet. It was explained in the briefing documents you received when you took office. I wrote that briefing paper myself."
Cameron looked at Mills in astonishment, clearly he had not read the documents.
"So you see Prime Minister," the Prince said, "If we indulge the Weyr a bit, it is for good reason. They have boosted our economy immeasurably, Britain has taken a role on the world stage that we haven't seen since Queen Victoria. We are leading the world in sustainable Energy technology as well as the good will generated by the Weyr's humanitarian efforts. The Weyr has never forced us to do anything we wouldn't have done, and all they have ever asked in return was our respect and friendship.
"If our respect and friendship is what keeps the Weyr from jumping back one hundred years and rewriting our entire history, then it's a small price to pay."
The Prince held up a hand to stay James from speaking. "Yes my Lord, I do agree that the Weyrleader would never attempt such a thing under ordinary circumstances, but I have no doubt that should he be pressed hard enough, he would make such a jump in order to save his dragons."
James reluctantly nodded and leaned back on his seat.
"If they can travel through time, why didn't they do that to save those nineteen dragons?" asked the First Sea Lord.
"I can answer that," Mills said softly. "The Weyr commissioned a panel of theoretical physicists several years ago to work on a hypothetical problem. Harry wanted to know how much potential for radical change would occur from going back in time over a sliding scale ranging from one hour to weeks."
At the looks of confusion around the office, he chuckled. "I know, it's enough to give one a headache just thinking about it. But basically he wanted to know how much of an impact each jump could have. The scientists worked up a scale which basically said the greater the jump backwards, the greater the impact on the present. Jump back an hour and change something, and there's less of a global change than if you jumped back a year to change something. The further you go back, the greater chance there is that you will alter history from just a minor change.
"Mind you this is all theoretical, but Harry's taken it to heart. By the time the Weyrs understood what was happening at Svartvatn Weyr, too much time had passed for Harry to feel comfortable with jumping back to prevent it. Yes he could have saved those dragons, but he was afraid of what other changes might have happened because of it. I know for a fact that he was very unhappy with that decision. Conditions would have to be truly dire for Harry to decide that the risk of jumping back a century is worth it."
Mills straightened on his seat and looked at the Prime Minister. "Minister, the Weyrleader believes time travel to be as dangerous, if not more than nuclear weapons. He will not use it lightly and it's only by the grace of the almighty that we have a Weyrleader who has commanded the dragons to avoid using it unless the situation is truly dire."
James decided not to mention the time the Shetland Island Weyr hid in the past to avoid a Wizard culling team, the Prime Minister seemed rattled enough as it is.
Cameron leaned back on his chair and blew out a noisy breath. He had been looking for ways to bring the Weyr under control of the government and now he was being told that they could literally rewrite world history if they got pissed off enough.
He wiped tiredly at his face. "So what do we do?"
Everyone exchanged a look, then James shrugged. "Nothing," he said in reply.
"Nothing?" exclaimed Cameron.
"Nothing," James repeated. "The Weyr will look for their proof. Until they have that, they will do nothing other than being extra cautious. I know Harry enough to know that he'll make plans and wait for the Russians or whoever is behind this to make a mistake. After that?"
James shook his head. "I pity whoever is behind this. This is not going to be another Saudi Arabia, it's going to be a hundred times worse."
"Indeed, If Lord Mills is right then the Weyrs could alter the global situation." Stanhope said in agreement. "The Weyr significantly altered the balance of power in the Red Sea and they did it in less than a day. I shudder to think of what might happen should the dragons rise up against a nation."
Cameron nodded unhappily, then he glanced up at Prince Charles. He knew the man was really there to deliver a private message. He sighed and turned to the others. "Thank you for your input gentlemen I will do my utmost to remember them."
James and Stanhope filed from the office and he watched them go with no small amount of reluctance. He was about to receive a royal reaming and the only small grace was that it wasn't coming from Her Majesty directly. He had heard rumors about such 'discussions' leaving sitting Prime Ministers practically in tears.
Lac Logipi Weyr, Kenya, October 5th 2009...
"That is the third plane this week," Sorth said from the cover of her Weyr.
"I know," Dreth replied. "You have spoken to the Weyrleader?"
"Yes, he is sending a wing to photograph the plane. Apparently they can tell a lot about the machine if they can see it."
"It is a shame that Chekiath couldn't use your image," Dreth observed gently.
Sorth turned to look at her first consort. "How would I know that I had bad eyesight? Everything always looked fuzzy to me I thought it was normal. Besides, the Weyrleader didn't want us to get too close and that plane flies higher than a rider can go."
"Will the Weyrhealer really make you wear glasses like some riders do?"
Sorth rumbled with mirth. "No, she called them contacts and they have to be special made."
"What are they in contact with? Is it like some kind of radio thing? That's for speaking, I saw the Weyrleader use one last time he was here. How can speaking help seeing?" Dreth asked seriously.
"I don't know," Sorth replied worriedly. It was a question she had wanted to ask, but hadn't. May had assumed Sorth knew and Sorth didn't want to appear ignorant in front of the Weyrhealer.
Harry's office, Campbeltown Weyr, December 9th 2009...
"People are asking questions," Ronan said softly.
"I know, but it doesn't matter. We just need to hold out for a while longer. How goes things on your end?" Harry replied.
Ronan sighed and plopped into a chair, "Tense. Karen knows I'm withholding information from her. I'm sure Remus knows something is up also. Are you sure I can't tell Karen?"
"Even Hermione and May don't know," Harry replied tensely. "I don't like keeping this from them anymore than you do. But if word leaked out it could change everything and get us into a state where our riders won't give us their best."
Ronan grunted sourly, "Well the Condron foundry is turning out stock steel by the ton. We're getting new shipments every other day. So far we've assembled seven units."
Harry raised an eyebrow, that was better than he thought. "Really? Where are you putting them?"
Ronan grinned, "Do you remember those chambers we hollowed that the goblins sent their children and old people to?"
Ronan was referring to the chambers made for the goblins to use when the Ministry of Magic attacked the goblin city.
Harry grinned in return. "Ah, excellent, no one thinks about them anymore." He opened his calendar and stared at it for a moment. "I know how hard you and your people have been working Ronan. If you think you can complete the remaining three units by the twentieth you can tell your people they can take off until the second of next month. Mind you, your riders may be needed, but since they haven't been combat training I don't really see us calling them up."
Ronan smiled broadly. "For time off my people will kill whoever you want."
Harry chuckled lightly. "I know the feeling, I feel like I'm juggling eggs here."
"Have you gotten anymore information out of the British?"
Harry scowled. "No, oh I can't blame James over that. The current Prime Minister was against our autonomy from the get go. While he's not exactly against us, he's not exactly for us either. I think our honeymoon with #10 Downing Street is finally over. It's not as bad as it was with that American Bush fellow, but I think that we'll find less cooperation from the Prime Minister's office than we've had in the past."
"So all we know is the Russians and the Saudis? No one else?"
"Just them," Harry admitted. "There is a chance of some South American countries joining in, but we're not certain."
"So that's why you have our South American Weyrs practicing evacuation drills? I had wondered about that," Ronan said.
Harry stood and walked over to his window that looked out on the Weyr. He had the advantage of having a front office in the building, and because it was a corner office, it had a better view than most. "What we need most of all is time," he said mostly to himself.
"You're not talking about time travel?" exclaimed Ronan.
Harry turned to him and shook his head. "No, we just need time for us to get all the pieces in place. I don't believe we'll have much time past the new year. Despite the reluctance of our friends in the Prime Minister's office, I've heard from some people in the Foreign office that Russia has been running some exercises that appear to include the Saudis. The Americans asked about it and the Saudis denied it of course. We just need time to finish our preparations."
"They are mostly on track Harry," Ronan reminded him. "The divisions have been practicing their jumps and looking over images of their targets on Google Earth."
"I know," he said, then he repeated himself softly. "I know, I guess I'm just worried."
"How's Mildred doing?" Harry asked suddenly.
"Initially she was extremely angry when I told her that she couldn't even tell Remus about our trip. But then you sweetened her mood by granting her that budget. I don't think anyone has noticed the ten dragon trips made nearly everyday. So far she's moved nearly two hundred thousand tons of material. In fact she has been struggling to find containers to purchase."
Harry grinned. He had given Mildred one hundred fifty million pounds to spend and set up with a team of non-bonded dragons to ferry material for her.
Ronan stood and stretched. "I better check in on Karen. She's been a bit grumpier than usual. I'm certain Neruth told her I'm keeping secrets."
Harry looked up and his eyes narrowed, then he sighed and shook his head. "Ronan, I know this is a burden on you. I want you to be honest with me, if you feel this is hurting your marriage or your family, then you have my permission to tell her."
Ronan looked up in surprise and nodded. He knew Harry didn't expect him to tell Karen unless things were truly bad. Right now they weren't even close.
"I won't abuse the privilege Harry," he said softly.
"I know you won't. Now go home to your family," Harry replied.
Ronan grinned and walked from the room.
"This is getting harder with each day Cheki," he swore when they were alone.
"I know, Comaloth and Trath both know there are things I'm not saying," replied Cheki from his stall. "It'll be nice to tell them."
Harry looked out the window again. "After we deal with the Russians, they can't wait forever," he muttered.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 2nd, 2010...
General Sukov nearly stumbled when the attendant opened the door to the plane. The blast of hot air was like a physical blow. Even in January it was a vast difference between here and frigid Moscow. He had left there hours earlier in sub-zero temperatures, and now he felt as if he were melting.
Shielding his eyes from the harsh sun he stepped out onto the platform and climbed down the stairs. At the foot of the stairs a Saudi Air Force General waited for him with a broad smile.
How this heat does not drive them mad is beyond me, Sukov thought. Thankfully I managed to convince Irina to remain behind for this trip. Sukov's wife was pregnant with their first child and he prayed that it would be a little girl as pretty as her mama and would grow up to be a ballerina.
He smiled for the general, "Azam did you invite me here just so I could cook in your sun?" he asked jovially.
The man at the bottom of the stairs laughed heartedly. "This is payback my friend for that blizzard you made me endure last week," he replied, "Come, the car is air conditioned, you will be more comfortable there."
Sukov smiled, last week they had three feet of snow in Moscow, a typical Russian winter storm, but his Saudi counterpart was unused to such weather. Now it was time for a little gentle payback. Sukov descended the last few steps and shook the hand of the Arab general, then let himself be led to an air conditioned limo.
"We are going to your hotel first where you can relax for a few hours, then the car will come back to take you to my villa. There is an American delegation at the air ministry building today and we didn't think it wise for you to be seen and possibly identified," Azam said.
Sukov started, "An American delegation? What do they want?"
Azam smiled, "What do the Americans always want? Money, they are upset with our purchase of advanced fighter aircraft and helicopters from your country. They are trying to convince us to cancel the order and buy from them instead."
Sukov shook his head, the antics of the Americans amused him. They were worrying about money when it never occurred to them that someone was undermining the Saudi/American alliance right under their noses. Russia could do such a thing because America had no formal alliance with Saudi Arabia. It was an informal situation that had been strained in recent years over the actions of several members of the Royal family and associates.
While the U.S. government had struggled to maintain cordial relations with the Saudis, the American public were becoming increasingly unhappy with that country. This disparity made for a very mixed response by the American government.
"If the Americans were so concerned they would have found a way to curb the excesses of this Weyrleader," Azam commented.
Sukov nodded in reply, it was a theme he had heard many times, from the Saudis and from his own government. It was believed that the American and British governments had far more control over the Weyrs than they claimed. Sukov tended to believe that The Weyrleader was truly independent of the western governments.
It was a belief that he shared only with Irina especially now that she had given her promise that she would no longer report to FIS.
"Azam my friend, have you ever thought that the Weyrleader is truly unshackled?" Sukov asked quietly.
Azam's eyes darted to the driver and then back to Sukov. He shook his head slightly and Iskady nodded in reply. "We all know he is only doing what he is told in order to destabilize our countries."
Sukov nodded knowingly. Azam's message was clear, it was not safe to speak, even here in the car. Sukov knew that not everyone in the Saudi government supported the closer relationship with Russia. Back in the days of the Soviet Union Russia would have used their growing support in country to undermine any western influences while increasing Soviet influence. The Soviet Union might be gone, but there was a lot of history and suspicion to overcome.
After a short drive, they pulled up to a modern, international hotel and Azam ushered Iskady into the lobby. The presence of the Saudi Air Force General, who happened to also be a member of the Royal Family, albeit a distant one, expedited Sukov's check in. In short order the bemused Russian found himself following a bellhop into a luxury suite provided by the Saudi government.
"I will be back in two hours my friend," Azam said. "Until then, relax for a bit, change into something a bit lighter. I will meet up with you in front of the lobby."
Sukov nodded and waved to his counter-part, then he waited until Azam and the bellhop left the suite before digging through his bags for his phone so he could call his wife and let her know he had arrived safely.
Two hours later he was dressed in a summer uniform and glad that Irina had insisted he pack the uniform. His briefcase contained a comprehensive list of material that his country would 'loan' Saudi Arabia for the upcoming action as well as proposed battle plans which he still needed to get the Saudis to sign off on.
The car slowly pulled away from the curb in front of the hotel and Sukov reached for his briefcase, bending over to pick it up. He heard a loud noise and suddenly was thrown back against the seat. Iskady grunted in agony when he felt a searing pain in his right side. A blast of heat and flame washed over him briefly and the car suddenly pitched nose up into the air.
Confused and in shock Iskady stared out the broken window of his automobile, he couldn't understand why everything was upside down. He blinked owlishly for a moment and gradually his hearing returned. He heard many shouts from around the front of the hotel and several uniformed men appeared in his view and started to work on opening his door. He turned his head slightly and intense pain seared through his neck and up into his head. He gasped and passed out, never knowing he had become a victim of terrorist attack that had been aimed at his friend Air Minister Azam.
Around the limo sirens wailed as dozens of police responded to a call that a Minister's car had been attacked. Fire units and paramedics worked frantically to open the door to access the passenger in the rear. He was alive, the driver and the front seat security guard were killed outright.
Word came down from police headquarters that the passenger was a diplomatic VIP and was to be cared for by the best.
A senior police inspector stood off to one side watching the paramedics load their patient onto a stretcher. A uniformed officer had already handed him a briefcase believed to be owned by the passenger. The inspector frowned as he noted the Russian uniform the injured man wore, then he glanced down at the case with had been cracked open by the blast.
The inspector didn't like the Russians, they had a checkered history in the middle east of causing trouble and leaving others to pick up the pieces. He would delay informing the Russian embassy long enough to photocopy the documents in the case, perhaps his friend at the American embassy would be interested in them.
Harry's Office, Campbeltown Weyr, January 2nd 2010...
The door to the office opened and Harry smiled faintly as several people entered. This was a core group, Ronan and his wife Karen, Mildred Lupin and Remus, Katherine and Sirius and of course Hermione and May.
Dobby popped in and watched carefully as several elves appeared with extra chairs for everyone. Before the elves vanished a tea and coffee service appeared. Harry nodded in thanks to Dobby and the little elf vanished.
At the heart of the reason Harry had called this group together was a simple fact. Dragons were natural gossips and if they couldn't share a secret, they would happily brag about knowing something no one else knows.
Harry waited until everyone was seated before he began. "I called you here today because Ronan, Mildred and myself hold a Weyr secret. A secret that even the other weyr leaders don't know and that secret has started to become an issue outside of your professional lives."
He glanced fondly at Cheki in his stall watching the group with amusement. "Dragons are natural gossips and even when they do hold a secret, they will happily tell people they know a secret that they can't talk about."
Everyone looked around and nodded, it was common knowledge that dragons were unusually interested in the lives of their riders and didn't seem to mind passing embarrassing details of their riders lives to other dragons, who in turn passed them to their riders.
"Well you are very amusing people," Cheki offered.
Harry smiled and shook his head, then he turned his attention back to the others and shrugged his shoulders. At one time everyone in the room had been the subject of embarrassing dragon gossip. "You're here today because the dragons involved have been ordered not to divulge what they know, just like their riders, but that hasn't stopped them from bragging about knowing a secret."
Harry paused and took a deep breath before plunging ahead.
"Last night Garanoth bespoke to Cheki and told him about a fight Ronan and Karen had had."
"I don't see how that's your business, Weyrleader or not," Karen snapped.
Chekiath growled softly in his attached stall and Harry held up a hand, motioning the big dragon to silence.
"Ordinarily it is not my business," Harry said softly, "but when two people I consider to be close friends are having an issue because of something I caused, I feel I need to make it right."
Karen blinked in surprise and Harry smiled at her. His tone had been mild and lacking any form of rebuke. Harry turned to the others. "Each of you are here because a secret has been kept from you, and in nearly every case it has caused problems."
He turned to eye Katherine and Sirius specifically, "I know you two have no clue what I'm talking about, except to say that you know that we've been shipping an incredible amount of material out of the Weyr in recent months. That alone has probably raised some suspicions."
Both Katherine and Sirius nodded. Katherine had finally retired from the British Army and was now a paid civilian employee of the Weyr, and more importantly, she was a member of the Weyr just like any other rider. Katherine had noted the steady stream of loaded containers arriving daily, after all, it was hard to miss one hundred trucks a day arriving, then leaving empty.
It was Sirius that told her the dragons were lifting the containers somewhere else, only he didn't know where they were going.
"Nearly two hundred million pounds worth of material," Karen said unhappily. "That kind of money is going to make a serious dent in our profit margins especially since it's tied to the Office of the Weyrleader and not any subsidiary branch of DSL."
Harry shrugged. "It can't be helped Karen. But I want to say this so that it's perfectly clear. Ronan, Mildred and myself are the only ones that know what's going on. Not even the other Weyrleaders know, this is a Weyr secret at the highest level. The only other people that know are the unbonded dragons that have been moving the stuff Mildred's been ordering for us, and those dragons have been ordered to say nothing about what they are doing to any rider. Even the riders that are organizing those dragons don't know what's going on.
"We have been preparing for a conflict with Russia and their allies. Once that is past, everyone, the whole world will know why we've spent that money. For dragons, as a people, it will be our best investment ever."
Karen looked puzzled for a moment, she glanced at Ronan who smiled hopefully at her. She couldn't help smiling back.
Harry stood and walked over to his window. The others glanced at each other nervously and wondered what kind of secret could cause the Weyr to spend that kind of money.
He turned away from the window. "I ordered Ronan and Mildred to keep it secret and I'd rather not divulge it even now if I can avoid it." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Any day now, I expect we'll have the proof that we need and we'll be in a real war. If the secret got out, all our training could be seriously jeopardized. I firmly believe that. I believe if our riders knew the secret they would be too distracted and distractions will cost lives."
Harry turned to May and Hermione. "I want to tell you two, just like Mildred wants to tell Remus, and Ronan wants to tell Karen, but we can't risk it. This is truly a case of need to know," he said. It was impossible to miss the plea in his voice, begging them to understand.
May straightened in her seat and sighed heavily. "You truly think it would cause that much trouble?"
"I do," Harry admitted. "If I tell you, then Trath knows and while I know neither of you would tell anyone, just someone overhearing a conversation could wreck all our plans."
"I suppose this is like the client confidentiality," Hermione said softly. "There are aspects of some of our dealings that I can't talk about to just anyone."
May and Hermione shared a glance, then May turned back to Harry. "I don't like it, but I know that you're not doing it to hurt us. If you think its that important I'll stop asking about it."
"Me too," added Hermione. Both of the women had known that Cheki and Harry were sitting on a secret and normally he would speak to them about it. That he hadn't said a word about it hurt and implied a trust issue that worried them. Now it was apparent why he was withholding this secret. They didn't like it, but they would accept his reasons.
Harry nodded in relief and turned to Karen. "Karen, Ronan trusts you with his life. If you must be angry with anyone, then be angry with me, I ordered his silence and as you can see, even my own wives don't know."
Karen huffed angrily for a moment, then she looked around in resignation before turning back to Ronan. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
Ronan reached for her hand. "Me too," he replied.
"I promise that I will personally tell you all about this as soon as I am able," Harry added.
Karen glanced at Harry and nodded, then she turned back to Ronan, "I've been such a bitch to you."
Ronan shrugged. "You knew I was keeping something from you, I really wanted to tell you about it but I couldn't."
Karen nodded and smiled shyly at her husband.
Harry suppressed the urge to grin, then he turned to Remus. "Remus..."
Remus held up a hand. "It's all right Harry. When Mildred said she couldn't tell me anything I figured you had a good reason. She's been working awful hard lately, can I at least help her with that?"
Mildred looked up at Harry with a hopeful expression. He nodded knowing that Mildred's task could be done without Remus knowing the reasons behind it.
Katherine stood up and looked around the room. "Secrets," she said in a clear voice, "are the life blood of any nation. In the military we deal with them on a daily basis once you reach a certain level. What Harry is doing right now is something no other commanding officer would have done. He is not divulging any secrets, but he's asking the people involved to understand why it can't be shared. In the army they would rather see your marriage fall apart than you tell your spouse any secrets or even ask you to understand why you can't know.
"Hell the army would deny a secret even exists!" Katherine turned and nodded to Harry before taking her seat again.
Harry smiled wanly. "Thank you Katherine," he replied.
"I promise you each that when the times comes, you'll be among the first to know," he stated.
Sirius bounced to his feet. "Well that didn't answer any questions and it makes it all the more mysterious," he said in a creepy voice. "I suppose we'll discover that Harry's planning on using the dragons to move Poland or hijack Hawaii or something!"
Chuckling the others stood and filed from the office. Once they were gone Harry leaned back on his chair and sighed, then tiredly rubbed at his temples.
"It will get better Harry," Chekiath said.
"I know mate, but right now it seems like I'm trying to do eight things at once and I'm not doing them very well."
"It is hard being Weyrleader, but you were right to order our silence. I know I've wanted to tell Comaloth and Trath many times. Secrets are something new to dragons and I'm not sure I like them."
Harry laughed softly. "I don't like them either, but we have to live with them for now. When the time comes, we'll tell them all about it, our friends and family and the whole world."
Chekiath's rumbled in his stall. "I'll let you tell the world. I don't like being on television."
Harry shook his head and turned back to his desk. He still had a ton of paperwork to deal with.
King Abdulaziz University Hospital, Riyadh Saudia Arabia, January 5th 2010...
The door swung softly open and Irina Sukov fearfully entered the room. The physician standing next to the bed glanced up then he turned back to his patient. The man instantly dismissed the female, she was merely another unwanted foreigner in his opinion. Another man, in a Russian Army uniform smiled from his position by the window where he had been observing the surgeon examine his patient.
"Ah, Mrs. Sukov?" asked the Russian officer.
Irina tore her eyes away from her heavily bandaged husband and looked at the officer. "I'm sorry, Colonel?"
"Illinov Mrs Sukov, Colonel Illinov, I'm part of the military mission attached to our embassy. The ambassador felt it would be best if I were here until we bring General Sukov home."
Irina nodded absently, "How is he? No one would tell me."
The surgeon straightened up and made a notation in his book. He was Arabian and he didn't approve of this woman wearing mostly western wear, her only concession to local custom was a head scarf. But his patient was a VIP and would not be long in country. The Russians were trying to set up a special flight, along with a medical team to escort him home. "He will live, but he will need some additional surgery," he said in a clipped voice. "Some of the shrapnel pierced his abdomen before clipping one of his vertebrae. He has flash burns on his face which should heal completely, but one shoulder had deeper burns and will require some surgery to help reduce the scarring."
"Vertebrae? You mean his spine?" she gasped.
"No, that is a common misconception; it is possible to damage a vertebrae and keep the spinal column intact. We had to fuse the vertebrae together and put him in a back brace, but there is no sign of damage to his spinal column. While he will need extensive therapy, the General will walk again."
The surgeon nodded to the Colonel and then walked from the room, not acknowledging Irina any further. She stared at the man's retreating back in surprise, then she turned to Colonel Illinov who shrugged in embarrassment. "Different customs," he murmured apologetically.
A low groan came from the bed and they both turned towards it. Irina rushed forward and bent over her husband. She looked around carefully, before grasping his hand. "Iskady?"
"Irina?" Sukov said groggily. He was under considerable medication for pain and it hampered his thought process immensely. "What are you doing here Irina?"
The Colonel carried a chair over so Irina could sit and she gave him a grateful smile, then she sat and lowered her head so she could rub her cheek against the back of his hand. "The defense Minister arranged for me to come. It was thought that it would help with your recovery. He said that the country needed to see you had the best care, including sending me to be with you."
Irina wasn't about to admit that her doctor had alerted the ministry. Her reaction to the attack was putting their unborn child at risk.
Iskady turned his wrist, lifting her face enough that he could see her. He gave her a weak smile. He was very glad to see her. "Do not worry everything will be just fine," he said in an unconvincing tone.
Colonel Illinov coughed lightly and both Iskady and Irina looked up. "General, we will be flying you home the day after tomorrow. Your doctor wants you to rest as much as possible today and tomorrow. Mrs. Sukov will of course, accompany you on the flight."
"Thank you Colonel," the general replied. "What other news do you have?"
The Colonel stepped closer to the bed. He knew that the general's wife was also his aide, so she was cleared to know what other things have been happening since the attack.
"Unfortunately the embassy did not learn of the attack on your car until nearly six hours had passed. We managed to recover the bulk of your documents from the Saudi police, but we do not know if they were compromised or not. The Saudi government claims they kept the documents under lock and key and I can verify that your papers were stored in a heavy safe in a guarded room."
The Ambassador has sent word to Moscow saying he believes the Saudis and given the security I personally witnessed, I tend to agree with him."
Colonel Illinov never knew about the four hours that elapsed before the documents were moved to a secure safe.
"The defense minister and the President send their best wishes and hopes for a speedy recovery. They want you to know that the government will do everything in it's power to help your recovery."
Iskady sighed and nodded tiredly. "So I've been relieved of command then," he said heavily.
"With all due respect General," the colonel replied, "you are seriously injured and will require a long time to recover."
Iskady closed his eyes and struggled with his emotions. He had spent a lifetime in the service of his country and now he was being shunted aside. The colonel didn't need to say it, but everyone in the room heard the unspoken "If you recover at all." in his words.
There was a lot of truth in the Colonel's words. General Sukov would probably be forced into a retirement due to his injuries. That he got them while on duty, doing his job meant it would be an honorable retirement and the government would help him as much as possible, but it would still mean an end to his career.
"Major General Altukov has been ordered to assume your command," Colonel Illinov added.
"Altukov!" Iskady said with a groan. The man wasn't even a pilot! The only thing one could say about Altukov was he had good political connections!
Irina looked at him in alarm. "Iskady, are you in pain? Should I ring a nurse?" she asked in alarm.
He pat her hand, "I'm fine, I'm fine," he replied. "Just thinking about work."
"You should rest General," Illinov said. "A security officer from the Embassy will be just outside your door until you leave for home. In the meantime I've arranged for Mrs. Sukov to stay at an apartment in the Embassy compound."
Iskady glanced to Irina, then to the colonel. "Thank you Colonel." He knew the security officer wasn't there to protect him. He was there to kill him if it become apparent that someone was trying to remove him from the hospital. There were secrets that he knew that had to be protected.
Such drastic measures would only last until he was home where he could be protected and cared for.
Condron Weyr, January 29th 2010...
Skip shuffled through the sheath of papers a second time, his eyes roaming over each page, picking out key points. Finally he looked up at Jasper Brady, "Where did you get this?" he asked breathlessly.
"Officially that document doesn't exist Skip. The current administration had no plans on turning it over to you or anyone else for that matter. Luckily I know someone at the Pentagon who owed me a favor. He let me have his original long enough to make a magical copy."
Skip nodded, "But where did they get it?"
"A few weeks back a Russian general was badly injured in a terrorists attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The general was taken to their best hospital and while they were performing surgery on the general, one of the police officers investigating the attack worked for us. He managed to copy the documents and get them to his contact at the embassy."
Jasper paused and looked very unhappy. "Skip, you need to understand, the US Government is likely making plans to prevent Condron from participating in any war with Russia."
Skip looked up from the papers and grimaced. "I guess I can understand that, not that it will help them at all, but I can understand it."
He glanced down at the papers, then back up again. "Jasper, this will get you into trouble if someone finds out, won't it?"
Jasper nodded unhappily. "I never thought I would be in this position, but yes, I could be tried for treason over this. I just couldn't sit on it, it wouldn't be right."
Jasper looked at Skip with a very serious expression. "I know I haven't been privy to everything the Weyr is up to, but both Mary and I are firmly convinced that the very key to human survival lies with the dragons."
It was impossible to miss the worry in Jasper's voice. He was putting himself in grave danger by handing over these documents to Skip.
"Jasper, if you even suspect that they are coming for you, come to us and the Weyrs will give you sanctuary. If not here, then at another Weyr. You and your family. You've been a steadfast friend since we first met and everyone here considers you one of us."
Jasper nodded in surprise. He didn't believe Condron could really provide sanctuary for him if the government came looking, but he was moved by the offer. He was also reassured that the Weyrs would see that his family was taken care of. It was the most he could realistically expect.
"Thank you," he said softly. "So what's the next step for you?"
"Harry and the other Weyrleaders need to see this," Skip replied, waving the papers. "This isn't a very detailed document, but its enough for us to make some very specific plans. Our plans up to this point have been largely reactionary, this allows us to come up with a more precise response."
Jasper sighed with relief knowing that the Weyrs would be able to make better plans now. The papers contained a broad outline of how Russia and Saudi Arabia would attack the Weyrs. Unit details were missing, so was timing information, but there was enough here for the Weyrs to really make preparations.
Jasper stood. "Well in that case, I guess I'll return home."
Skip nodded and turned back to the papers Jasper had provided. Once Jasper had left the room he turned to his dragon. "Menth, tell Chekiath that I need to see Harry right away, it's critical Weyr business, then tell Lokith that we'll probably be gone late and not to wait up for us... Oh and let's put a pair of dragons watching over Jasper. If he's right, we'll want to be in a position to get him and his family out of there before he can be arrested."
Menth rumbled softly in his stall. "Jasper will be protected, he is family. You know Kat will want to know why you're not going to be home for diner."
Skip stood and poked at his belly regretfully. Kat was a wonderful cook and his belly was proof of that. He ran daily even in the New Mexico heat, plus used the Weyr gym several times a week and still he had a slight bulge that he never had in high school. "I suppose," he said grudgingly, "but if she's that curious she can always hop over to Campbeltown, that's where we'll be."
"I'll bet you ten bucks she'll bring you diner," Menth said with another rumble.
Skip winced, like all of the paired dragons, Menth had a bank account and received a salary like Skip. Unfortunately for Skip Menth had managed to amass a very nice bank balance on bet's he made throughout the Weyr. Even Skip had lost to Menth on multiple occasions. "Don't you have enough of my money?" Skip said plaintively. Kat was actually annoyed that Skip constantly fell for Menth's wagers.
"I don't make you take my bets," Menth added, sounding slightly offended.
"No he does that all on his own. So what are you two betting on this time?" Kat said from the doorway.
"I just said you'd probably bring him diner even if he was in a meeting at Campbeltown," Menth offered.
"Yes, about that meeting. Mind telling me what's so important that you'd be willing to go there at the drop of a hat?"
Skip handed Kat the file containing the documents that Jasper had obtained. She sat on the couch and started to read. As she read her forehead crinkled in concentration and worry. Finally she looked up at Skip. "Alright, Harry does need to see this right away," she admitted, then she glanced at the clock and frowned. "It's just after one in the morning there, but there's no way around it."
Skip nodded. "I agree, I would have left already, but the big numbskull here decided I needed to talk about gambling."
Kat shook her head. She knew there was a potential issue with Skip and betting, but she had confronted him about it, she discovered that he realized the problem since he had seen his uncle destroy his life with a gambling addiction. As a result he worked to avoid betting on anything and had held to that, except when his dragon offered him odds on something. Menth understood Skip's fears and only allowed him to bet a few dollars at a time and even with that, Skip almost always lost.
"You two I swear," Kat grumbled.
Menth lifted his head and looked at her fondly, "You do not have to worry about Skip losing all his money, but he does owe me tickets to a Red Sox game."
Kat laughed, she had helped infect the Weyr's dragons with a love of baseball, and to Skip's ultimate shame, he favored Kat's hometown team and not the Houston Astros who Skip liked.
Kitchen Hall, Campbeltown Weyr...
The hall was a disaster, there were half empty cups and food scattered about the room and despite it being nearly ten in the morning, every Weyrleader, Division Leader and Division Second were clustered around maps or busy making lists of things to do.
Harry glanced up tiredly when Draco slid a piece of paper under his nose. Skip and Kat had arrived at Campbeltown around two in the morning, waking Harry and once he understood what they were showing him, he called in every Weyrleader.
Harry glanced down at Draco's list and nodded. "I hate even thinking about this, but I agree, this is going to shock the Russians entirely."
Draco smiled thinly. "It will certainly get their attention. We won't be able to get all of them, but we'll get most."
Harry initialed the paper and handed it back to Draco. Give this to Skip, and help him pick what resources he'll need from us.
Draco nodded and walked over to another table where a bunch of people were clustered around Skip.
May walked over and sat heavily next to Harry. "I'm made up a list of emergency supplies, but you do know our only operating theater is here at Campbeltown? No one has managed to put together another yet. If they attack us directly, we'll lose the theater."
Harry sighed and shook his head. "It can't be helped. Even if we had other theaters, they know where most of the manned Weyrs are, they'd just be other targets. If it helps there'll be ten unbonded wings flying combat air patrol over Campbeltown. They will have orders to down any approaching aircraft."
"And if they use missiles?" May asked angrily. This whole episode frightened her. There were a lot of threats that they could deal with, but low flying cruise missiles were a recognized threat that they had no real counter for. Harry was gambling that the Russians would be reluctant to directly attack a Weyr because it might invoke the wrath of the host nation. The plans Skip had provided suggested that the Russians and their allies would attack some of the Weyrs, but would avoid any of the nations with a modern military.
It was the threat of these missiles that prompted the Weyrs to plan on evacuating all non-essential employees and families. May knew that unlike so many, their children would be accompanied by both sets of grandparents. Some of the Weyr families would have no one but house elves to watch over the their children.
Harry looked down for a moment and he played with some of the papers in front of him. Finally he looked up at her. "I'm sorry May, but I didn't want the Russians to attack us. We're just reacting to their plans. I've done everything I can think of to make us safer. Our families will be moved at the drop of a hat. All of our non-rider personnel are prepared to evacuate within thirty minutes..."
May's expression softened and she reached out and stopped him with a touch. "No Harry, it's me who should be sorry. I know how hard you've been working since the attack that killed the Svartvatn nineteen. I'm just angry with the whole thing. We've worked so hard and could lose so much."
Harry nodded. "I know and believe me I understand." He reached out and caressed her cheek. "Better now?" he asked softly.
She nodded, a bit ashamed of herself for snapping at him. He smiled and stood, then he walked to the podium in the front of the room. He stood there and waited for the room to settle down. Slowly a tense silence fell in the room. He knew a great many people were frightened, while most were too young to remember the cold war days, each of them had a healthy fear of a super power conflict; and now the Weyrs were preparing to face off against one of those super powers.
Harry cleared his throat, then surveyed the room with confidence. A quick comment to Cheki had everyone sitting up straighter and looking less worried. "You all know what your jobs are now. Skip and Draco will coordinate our plans for any possible combat I expect that you'll keep in touch with them via our network. Weyrleaders, remember to inform your wings that Disko Island will be where the central infirmary will be. May will set up a triage for dragons and Lisa Turpin will do the same for riders."
He glanced over towards Lisa who nodded. She was one of the first Weyr doctors and second in charge of the Campbeltown clinic. Isaac Sheppard had been asked to go to Disko, but he felt that he would be more useful at Campbeltown. He was content to know his family were included in the list of evacuees.
"I know a lot of you are tired, so I won't keep you much longer. We have a lot of things to do now that we have some ideas of what to plan for," Harry said with a confident smile. "I personally believe that this is a big mistake on the part of the Russians, and it's time to show the world that you never wake a sleeping dragon."
Several former Hogwarts students in the hall chuckled at Harry's mangling of the Hogwarts motto, but the sentiment was clear. The Weyrs were preparing for war.
Campbeltown Administration Building, Campbeltown Weyr, February 2nd 2010...
Katherine looked up and grinned at Lord Mills who was standing in her doorway, "James, how are you? It seems like weeks since I last saw you."
Lord Mills entered the room. "No, only a week. I really needed some time off to relax. The PM's office has been running me ragged putting together information on the real impact of the Weyr on the economy."
Katherine nodded, she knew that the current Prime Minister wasn't too happy with the Weyr, but had generally opted to leave the dragons alone for the most part.
"How is that going?" she asked.
James shrugged. "The PM isn't going to be pleased, but there isn't a lot he can do about it. The Weyr has greatly strengthened our economy and put Britain back into a place of prominence on the world stage. I think what it all boils down to is the fact that the Harry has a higher approval rating than he does. That doesn't sit well with our PM I'm afraid. The only comfort he can really take from my report will be that the Weyr and Britain need each other. I can't honestly envision any circumstances where one would hurt the other. The Weyr and Britain are too closely linked for that to happen."
Katherine nodded, she had come to a similar conclusion years ago. The Weyr had stimulated the economy of the United Kingdom in more ways than just energy production, but the Weyr needed the country for the materials and goods it couldn't create on it's own. The Weyr also relied heavily on the government for help in diplomatic matters.
"So how are you enjoying the private sector?"
James took a seat and Dobby appeared and handed him a cup of coffee. He nodded to the elf and looked expectantly at Katherine.
"Well I get to sleep in more often. No more late night shifts or annual training exercises run under ungodly weather conditions," she said with a large measure of relief. One of the last training exercises she had experienced had been in the Scottish Highlands and resulted in a serious case of pneumonia. It was one of the principle reasons why she opted to retire early.
James nodded knowingly, he was getting up there in years as well, and his own health had forced a week long vacation on him just recently.
"How's Kristin doing?"
Katherine's smile nearly lit up the room. "She's doing very well in school, and this month I think she wants to be an astronaut."
Katherine chuckled, "Well you know kids, last month she wanted to be a dinosaur scientist thanks to that Jurassic Park movie, the month before that she wanted to be a race car driver."
James laughed and started to reply when the phone rang. Katherine picked it up and listened for a moment, then she started to frown. Finally she hung up the phone and looked over at James. "James, I need to see Sirius for a moment. Can you wait? I wanted to talk to you about some of our equipment contracts."
James nodded affably and Katherine hurriedly left the room. He sat quietly for a few minutes, then a paper on the coffee table caught his eye. James quickly scanned the printed email that was addressed to Katherine. He was shocked by its contents.
A few more minutes passed, then Katherine returned. "Sorry about that, but I ran into Captain Pickford after dealing with Sirius. Pickford had some questions about the security measures I had put in place."
Captain Janet Pickford was the new commander of the Military police unit providing base security for both the Weyr and the adjacent SAS base. She had replaced Katherine when she retired.
James stood. "Katherine, I'll get back to you about those equipment contracts. If you could email me your questions I'll be able to pull the relevant files so we can go over them."
Katherine smiled. "Good enough James, I'll send you an email later today."
James nodded and hurried from the room.
Katherine frowned and glanced towards the ceiling. "Did it work?" she asked aloud.
"I believe so. Sheep guy went from calm to very excited shortly after you left," Norendrath replied. The large dragon had been sunning himself right over Katherine's office.
"I'll check the camera feed to be sure," Katherine said. "I hate using James like this."
She turned and opened a file on her computer that was linked to a small hidden camera on the bookshelf behind her. After watching it for a minute, she picked up the phone.
"Lord Mills found the bait. He left here rather in a hurry."
There was a brief moment of silence then Katherine heard him take a deep breath. "Hopefully that will get them poking the Yanks for information. I couldn't think of a way of warning our hosts without invoking the ire of our illustrious PM again. I just wish we didn't have to trick James into being the messenger," Harry replied dryly.
Katherine nodded to herself, it was true that relations between Number 10 Downing Street and the Weyr had cooled considerably when Cameron took the position. Unlike the two previous Prime Ministers, there was no ongoing relationship with Prime Minister Cameron.
"I know how you feel. I'll alert Skip via email, they can plan on moving Jasper and his family if necessary," she replied.
"Thank you Katherine."
She hung up the phone and opened up her email program. She had a letter to write.
Number Ten Downing Street, later that same day...
David Cameron paced in front of his desk, trying to figure out what to do.
"There are two issues here."
Cameron turned to look at the speaker. Admiral Stanhope was the first Sea Lord; the Royal Navy had done extensive research into the capabilities of the dragons and were the people called upon when the government wanted to know about the dragons fighting capabilities.
"What?" demanded Cameron.
Stanhope motioned towards Lord Mills. "First off, we now know that the Weyrs obtained a copy of a secret Russian battle plan. Secondly and I think more interestingly, the email Lord Mills managed to read said they got the plan from an American and a Russian source. In my mind that implies that the Weyrs have managed to develop some form of intelligence gathering ability."
No one present knew that the email James had read had been carefully crafted to give the reader just that impression.
"Here here," muttered Sir Peter from his corner. Sir Peter Oswald was the very unhappy head of the British Intelligence service called MI6. He had reached the same conclusion and was very annoyed that his people hadn't learned of this sooner than now.
Cameron shot him a look and he settled back into his chair. "So what do we do now? Anyone?"
"Is there any chance Lord Mills can get us more information?" asked Sir Peter.
James shook his head emphatically. "I doubt it. To be honest I wasn't all that thrilled to do even this much. The Weyrs managed to get their hands on Russian battle plans, if this didn't have the potential to seriously impact us, I wouldn't have even brought it up."
Sir Peter grunted sourly. It was clear to him that Lord Mills lacked the motivation to be an intelligence officer.
"I quite agree," Stanhope said. "I think Lord Mills has done enough. It's up to us to decide what to do from here. I would think our first step would be to approach the Yanks and see if we can get our hands on this document of theirs."
Cameron nodded slowly, then he turned to James. "Well? Does this change how the Weyrs will react?"
James shook his head. "No, it doesn't," he said firmly. "The Weyrleader is extremely conscious of the impact of public opinion. The Weyrs will make plans to counter this plan, but he won't do a preemptive strike. He knows the world will turn against him if he did. On the other hand, responding to an attack with a claim of self defense is something every nation will recognize and acknowledge. To deny the Weyr the ability to defend itself is to deny every other nation the right of self defense."
Cameron grunted and glanced at the others. Each nodded in turn. The Weyrs were a recognized indigenous people and given special recognition by the United Nations as such. Blast, Cameron thought angrily, its that damn autonomy coming back to bite us.
"Well then, Lord Mills, I thank you for this warning but we'll take it from here," Cameron said brusquely.
James nodded and quickly exited the room. He had passed along a warning, but deep down he felt like he had betrayed the trust of his friends.
The three remaining men in the room waited until James had left. "So how do we get our hands on these plans? And if we do get our hands on them, what do we do about them?" asked Cameron.
"Well sir," Stanhope said, "I'm not sure about the first part, but it seems to me that we need to set a watch on the Weyr. The moment we see the dragons getting airborne, we should do the same. That would give the Russians pause if they thought they could attack the Weyr territories within our borders with impunity."
Unlike most nations who hosted a weyr, Britain actually hosted two, one at Campbeltown and another in the Shetland islands.
"Setting a watch shouldn't be all that hard, we do provide security for the Weyr, plus we have the SAS right next door. We can easily set a watch and be unobtrusive about it."
Cameron nodded thoughtfully. The Russians wouldn't dare attempt to overfly their territory with armed aircraft, that in itself would be an act of war. "What about missiles? I'm sure they wouldn't dream of coming at the Weyr with aircraft, but missiles they could easily launch."
Stanhope nodded and wished he could light his pipe. "They could, but the launch of missiles would be detected, and the Russians aren't stupid. Launching ballistic or even cruise missiles could be construed as an opening strike in a nuclear conflict. The American's would launch, hell, even our submarines would start their launch cycle. It's pretty much automatic once a launch has been detected.
"Cruise missiles are designed to take circuitous routes in order to confuse the enemy. We'd have no clue if they were heading for the Weyr or Manchester until the last moments. Ballistic missiles are even harder to plot now that everyone is using multiple warhead reentry vehicles. Even if they use cruise missiles, overflying our territory would be seen as an attack on us."
"So you don't believe missiles would be used?" pressed Cameron.
Stanhope shook his head. "No sir, I think we'll see plenty of close range air to air stuff, but I doubt Russia will risk starting a nuclear war with long range cruise missiles or ballistic missiles. I doubt we'll see any of their long range bombers, for the same reasons as missiles they won't risk the bombers over national territories because it could easily escalate into a nuclear conflict."
"I thought the cold war was over," Cameron muttered, then he shook his head. "Very well, Admiral I want you to go talk to Minister Leyland and get started on a plan to put enough of a fighter force in the air that will deter any attempt to overfly our territory. Since we don't have a time frame I can't emphasize enough that we need this quickly. Pull in the people you need and keep me informed."
"And if we see Dragons fighting Russian aircraft sir?" pressed Stanhope.
Cameron frowned for a moment. "Let me make myself perfectly clear. You will not engage any aircraft that is outside of our territorial airspace. If the dragons are engaged, our forces will not get involved unless it's over our territory."
Admiral Stanhope nodded a bit unhappily, then stood and hurriedly exited the room. With the Admiral gone Cameron turned to Sir Peter. "I take it your people will be looking into this as well?"
Sir Peter eyed the PM for a moment, then he said, "We will, and I guess its safe to assume you'll be trying a diplomatic approach to getting a hold of these plans?"
Cameron snorted. "As soon as you leave I'll be summoning the American Ambassador to have a little chat. We'll also put out feelers among some of our other allies. Unfortunately Putin isn't exactly a person we can easily reason with."
Sir Peter nodded. The Russian leader was a throwback to the old Stalinist days in his opinion. Sir Peter didn't share his boss's disdain for the dragons, but he did hold deep suspicions concerning the Russian leader.
Sir Peter stood. "I'll get my people right on it. Hopefully we'll find out something."
"Thank you Peter," Cameron said. "I'll see you for our Saturday night bridge game?"
Peter smiled. "I would dream of missing it David."
Cameron nodded and his friend left the room, then he returned to his seat and picked up the phone. "Mrs. Woolington, would you call the American Ambassador and ask him to come see me please?"
The Weyr's plan had worked even better than they had hoped. Harry had wanted the British to know what was happening, but the breakdown in the relationship between the Weyr and Number 10 resulted in an uneasy time for both parties. Cameron was notably cool towards the Weyr and it was known that he had been against the Weyr receiving autonomy.
Harry hoped that the government would act, and do so in a manner that would protect the British people.
Sirius & Katherine's quarters, Campbeltown Weyr, February 4th 2010...
Sirius peeked over his newspaper and smiled seeing Kristin laying on the carpet next to Tweenie, carefully coloring in her book. Katherine sat at the kitchen table, filling out some paperwork.
Both Katherine and Sirius wanted more children, but adoption was their only option and despite having been approved to adopt Kirstin several years earlier with help from the Prime Minister's office, this time they wouldn't have such help and needed to file a lot of paperwork.
Sirius helped as much as he could, but some of the questions stymied him completely.
"I managed to find another two loading slips today love," he said offhand.
Katherine looked up with interest. Harry still hadn't told them why so many trucks were arriving at the Weyr and leaving empty. Over the course of the past few weeks Sirius had managed to find a few slips outlining the contents of some of the containers. It had become a puzzle that Katherine and he were eager to solve.
"What was it this time? More toilet paper?" she asked.
He laughed, the very first loading slip he had found was for ten thousand rolls of toilet paper. "No this one was different. It's hard enough to find these things in the first place, but I got lucky today. Container fifteen forty one contained four tons of seed corn and another four tons of wheat seed, container thirty six eighty seven contained four hundred battery powered radios and something called a box antenna. That slip mentioned it was in conjunction with the contents of container thirty six eighty eight."
Katherine leaned back in her chair and nibbled on her pen. "Growing seeds and radios and a transmitter for that antenna, toilet paper, insulation, books including fifty complete sets of Encyclopedias of Technology," she mused, then her brow furrowed. "It almost sounds like they are building a Weyr, but why the radios and transmitter?"
Sirius nodded, "I thought so also, but why keep that a secret? They've built over a dozen Weyrs and never used this much stuff."
Katherine frowned and shook her head. "I don't know," she admitted unhappily. "I hate secrets. I understand the need for them, but that doesn't mean I like them."
Katherine turned to look at her daughter on the floor.
"Norendrath says that sometimes the Weyrleader does stuff we don't know about, but he always does stuff to help us. Like that time he helped with my birthday party," Kirstin said from the floor.
Kirstin's birthday had been a special event. Harry had arranged for all of the children and parents from her second grade class to be taken to Euro-Disney. Sirius had paid for the tickets, but Harry had preempted the use of a Weyr passenger module to transport everyone and bring them back.
"I know sweetie, Uncle Harry is like that. I just dislike having a puzzle on my hands," Katherine replied with a smile.
Kirstin stood up and walked over to the table. She glanced down the forms and then back to her Mum. "Don't forget you're spposed to order me a little sister. I don't want a little brother, Francis says her little brother smells bad!"
Sirius and Katherine exchanged amused glances. Kirstin was puzzled by all the forms her Mum had been filling out. She was a product of the Internet age and she thought anything could be ordered on-line, even little sisters.
Main Military Clinical Hospital Burdenko, Moscow Russia, February 12th 2010...
Iskady Sukov grimaced as the orderly wheeled him towards the elevator and freedom. For more than a month he had endured living under the care of some of the best doctors Russia had to offer, and privately he was thrilled to be able to go home.
He had all of the surgeries he could for the time being, but there were still plans for another, over a year from now to deal with the heavy scarring on his shoulder.
The orderly hit another uneven spot on the floor and he grunted painfully. He was by no means well, but he was recovering and the doctors had been ordered to clear beds of the walking invalids by the government. Iskady knew why such an order had been issued, but he couldn't tell anyone. The government was entering it's final phases before declaring war on dragon-kind.
Iskady glanced ahead and smiled broadly. Irina stood just outside, in front of their car. His good friend Mishka waved at him from the driver's seat. They had a long drive to get to St. Petersburg and the retirement dacha that the government had gifted him. The house was situated just outside of the city proper, but close enough to make it easy to get shopping and other needs taken care of.
While Major General Sukov was officially 'retired' due to his injuries, he had been told that he might be called upon for advice by the military. For that reason he was officially listed as a member of the support reserve command staff.
Irina leaned down and kissed his forehead gently. "Soon we will be home Iskady," she said.
He grinned and placed a hand against her growing belly. "And is everything at our new home to your satisfaction?"
She nodded happily, the dacha wasn't large, but they had a real kitchen and three bedrooms. It was a far cry from her old cramped apartment, and even downright luxurious compared to the base housing she had moved into after she married Iskady.
"I am looking forward to decorating the baby's room, and you will be there to help me," she replied.
Iskady laughed, "We will have to find pictures of ballerinas for her walls."
He was convinced they were having a daughter, and that she would grow up to be a ballerina and not a soldier.
Irina shook her head in amusement, then she opened the car door. The orderly locked the wheels on his chair and then moved to Iskady's side to offer support as he stood and got into the car.
Once Iskady was in the car, the orderly saluted him. The man was a member of the military medical corps and he knew Iskady was a high ranking officer even if he was a patient.
Iskady nodded to the orderly and Mishka pulled the car away from the curb.
Thats probably the last time someone will salute me, Iskady thought a bit wistfully, then he turned to his wife. "So? Tell me about our new home?"
There is one silver cloud to this, Iskady thought to himself as he half listened to his wife. We will be far away from the fighting.
Major General Iskady Sukov (retired) had no idea that the dragons would not abide by the Russian decision to wage war in international waters only.
The Barents Sea, South East of the Svalbard Islands, February 15th...
The removal of General Iskady Sukov from the command structure for the upcoming conflict resulted in considerable changes. Under Sukov the plan had been to confront the dragons in international airspace for the most part. The Saudis would have been taking the larger risk in bombing their nearest Weyr.
But all that changed with Sukov's forced retirement due to his injuries. Major General Pyotr Altukov was not a pilot, nor was he even a member of the Russian Air Force. He was an army general who was highly enamored with the idea of 'joint operations'. His first order of business was to scrap most of Sukov's plans and bring in the other branches of the military service for a more comprehensive campaign.
It was those change of plans which brought the Admiral Levechenko into these waters. An Udaloy class Russian destroyer with a crew of three hundred, she was tasked with testing her Gauntlet anti-air missiles against a living dragon.
Wing Twenty Three was part of the collective group of wings known as the fishers. Based out of Svartvatn weyr the fishers were none-bonded dragons that would patrol the seas looking for seals and the occasional whale pod. The Weyr had strict limits on what they could and could not fish and they were keenly aware of the environmental issues threatening many of the species of marine life.
Because of that awareness, Svartvatn weyr had become involved in comprehensive and ongoing survey of many marine species. It was volunteer work that they gladly participated in, relieving a large number of environmental agencies of having to hire expensive helicopters or ships to conduct their surveys.
Today Wing twenty three was busy counting whale pods instead of fishing.
Admiral Levechneko was at full speed, knifing through the water. A lookout had spotted the dragons ahead of the ship and now it was rapidly closing the range. The dragons seemed unaware of the approaching warship, and were busy counting a pod of bow-head whales they had encountered.
"Range to target?" asked the captain.
"10 kilometers Captain," replied the weapons officer.
Captain Antanov frowned, the missiles were fitted with special infra-red seekers instead of the standard radar guided seeker. That meant a hefty reduction in range for his Gauntlet missiles and they already had a limited range.
"Very well, you may fire when within range," the captain said, then he turned and settled into his command chair.
The weapons officer spoke briefly into a handset, then placed it back into the cradle. At the current rate of closure they would be in range in just a few minutes.
"That ship is getting closer," Baroth noted worriedly.
Cleath turned his head to look at the ship, then looked at Baroth. "I know, but Maketh and his wing are watching it closely. Everyone understands that we go between if we see the smoke?"
"We are watching it," Maketh added. Wing twenty three was being shadowed by another wing from the Weyr, and they had a rider along leading them. It was common practice now to send one wing out to guard over another wing, especially from the Northern European Weyrs who were close to Russia.
Svartvatn Weyr, like all Weyrs, had trained extensively by now to recognize a missile launch. Dragon eyesight was better than humans and could pick up the trail laid down by even the cleanest of rocket motors.
All of Wing twenty three murmured in acknowledgment to the Wing Leaders comment. Wing twenty three would immediately return home if that ship fired off a missile. Wing thirty five with it's rider in charge would deal with the ship. Russia didn't know it, but the Weyrs have taken off the gloves.
"Coming up on six kilometers Captain," noted the weapons officer. "The missiles are starting to track the beast's heat signatures." In truth the missiles obtained their initial targeting information from the ship's on-board systems, but the seeker heads were now fully powered and ready to begin seeking as soon as they left the launch tubes.
"Your orders are unchanged Weapons," replied the Captain softly. He didn't like this mission, the normal anti-aircraft missiles had a range of nearly thirty kilometers, but these heat seeking versions had a much more limited range and that exposed him and his ship to greater risk. Rumors had it that the dragons made for formidable foes if you didn't catch them by surprise.
The weapons officer nodded, then he turned a key on a console in front of him. Four lights blinked from amber to green and he stabbed a button. Just aft of the bow four missiles burst from the vertical launch tubes and rocketed skyward. He flipped another switch and another four missiles started their power up sequence. In under a minute he could launch all thirty six missiles he had available with just a few presses of a button.
"Missiles!" shouted Maketh.
Wing twenty three instantly vanished, leaving four missiles with no target. With target lock lost all four missiles continued to the last known point for their targets, the seeker heads sweeping for a heat signature, any signature. When no heat signature in range was located all four missiles self destructed.
Wing thirty five had been nearly a mile above wing twenty three and north of them by another mile, putting the wing outside of the seeker's envelope of detection. It really didn't matter anyway because the wing went Between as soon as Maketh shouted his warning.
"Target lock lost!" shouted a confused Weapons officer.
The captain leaned forward anxiously in his chair.
Wing thirty five appeared not twenty feet above the Admiral Levechenko and twenty one dragons flamed the decks, destroying all of the close inboard anti-aircraft weapons and killed several crew members who had been on deck.
"Dragons!" someone shouted on the bridge, then the windows filled with a fire so hot it was nearly white. Every window on the bridge cracked and turned cloudy from the extreme heat.
Barely ten seconds had past since the appearance of the dragons, when they alighted on the destroyer, latching onto the ship.
"Hard to port!" shouted the Captain.
The ship suddenly lurched upwards hard and all light vanished. Captain Antanov cried out in fear, but he couldn't hear himself, let alone anyone else. Unlike the Weyr's space capsules, the destroyer had several hull breaches and wasn't protected from the environment that was Between. Between filled the interior of the ship, adding to the terror the crew were experiencing.
As quick as it began, it was over and Antanov could see and breath again. He wished he couldn't. The view through the open deck doorway showed that his ship was nose down and falling from several thousand feet. The rugged mountains were quickly coming up to meet the ship and there was no time to send a distress message.
Even if he could send a distress message, who would believe it?
The Admiral Levenchenko plunged into a mountainside bow first. The ship literally broke into millions of pieces and the crew died instantly. Three hundred Russian sailors and one of finest ships in the Russian Navy were gone. And no one would know the fate of the Admiral Levenchenko for weeks to come. The mountainous region was just too remote and too isolated for anyone to have witnessed the ship's demise.
Harry's Office, Campbeltown Weyr...
Harry glanced up from his computer and thought for a moment. He had just received confirmation from Svartvatn Weyr of their encounter with the Russian ship. Alfhild had contacted him via his dragon Nakth to inform him what had happened, and he followed up with an email that confirmed the bad news.
They had not managed to get the attack on film. There had been only one rider and while he had tried to film the attack, he had fumbled with his camera and dropped it. The camera, if it survived the fall, was now laying at the bottom of the Barents sea.
"Harry do you want me to put the wings on alert?" asked Cheki.
He glanced over at his dragon in his stall, then he stood and walked over to scratch Cheki's eye ridges. "I don't know mate. We didn't get the proof we needed to show the world. What do you think?"
Cheki's eyes twirled slowly and he took his time, enjoying the intimate moment with his rider. Finally he replied. "Without proof you know we can do nothing. I think you know that."
Harry sighed and nodded. "Yeah, I do. We can still increase our alert level, but we've been on a pretty high alert for weeks. People are getting tired, we can't keep this up for much longer."
He paused in his scratching and looked out the office window. From his angle he couldn't see much, but he could see several dragons and their riders going about their business. Finally Harry turned back to Cheki. "No. No alert. Increasing the alert level really isn't going to help much. People are already keyed up. We'll make a change to the guard wings so that we have enough people with cameras, but outside of that, let's leave things be for now. I am certain it won't be long before the Russians give us the excuse we need."
"Very well," Cheki replied.
He turned and spotted Ronan standing in the doorway. "Come in Ronan," he said, waving towards the chairs.
"Garanoth told me what happened," Ronan said, settling into his chair. "I am surprised to see you haven't already left for Svartvatn Weyr."
Harry chuckled, "It did cross my mind, but honestly Alfhild has things well in hand. I'd just be under foot there now."
"So we missed an opportunity?" Ronan asked softly.
Harry scowled for a moment. "Perhaps, but it wasn't a total loss. No dragons were lost this time. In the meantime I wouldn't be surprised if we see another attack within the next day or two."
Harry turned to look at Cheki who was watching the two men converse. It was obvious to the dragon that Harry might be looking at him, but he wasn't seeing him.
"We got lucky, but they'll be back, this was a first salvo," he murmured absently. Harry shook off his mood. "How are things going on your end?"
Ronan grinned. "We have built a small mountain of material. You saw the report from Mildred?"
Harry nodded and shuffled through the papers on his desk for a moment before he pulled out a printout of Mildred's email. "Yes, she makes some good points, but can we spare the people?"
"She's only asking for fifty riders and their dependents to start with, and some elves," Ronan replied.
Harry glanced down at the printout for a long moment, thinking carefully. "Alright I see the need for it. But I don't want to risk any elves. Talk to Dobby and see if we can get one to volunteer to go with the first group as a test. If the elf doesn't have any problems we'll increase their numbers."
He leaned down and scrawled 'Approved' across the email and initialed it, then he handed it to Ronan.
Ronan nodded and took the printout happily. He started for the door when Harry stopped him.
"Ronan, I know we need to perform a full survey, but I want that observatory site up first," Harry said in warning.
Ronan nodded. "I'll see that the wing leaders know their priorities."
"Thank you Ronan," Harry said, then he turned back to his papers.
Number 10 Downing street, February 17th...
"As you can see, we have vessels steaming from most of their northern ports," the First Sea Lord said, pointing to the computer display on the wall monitor. "We're also showing increased air search activity concentrated in the Barents Sea area. A polite inquiry via our embassy was rebuffed early this morning."
The Prime Minister frowned. "So it appears that the Russians are searching for something?" he asked.
Admiral Stanhope nodded. "If I may sir, this is not unusual for the Russians. If you recall the Kursk disaster it took several days before they would even acknowledge they had lost the submarine. Our Yank friends took a look at their satellite data and it does look like one of their surface ships is missing."
The Prime Minister arched an eyebrow and Stanhope rushed ahead with his explanation. "The American's noted the presence of a Russian destroyer on February 13th, when they checked again twenty four hours later they couldn't find any trace of the ship. Mind you, there was adequate time for the ship to return to a port and enter one of their concealed dry docks, but given the air search effort now in play my people don't think that happened."
He didn't bother to mention that it appeared that none of the concealed dry docks were in use at the moment.
Cameron frowned. "How many men were on that ship?"
Stanhope didn't need to look at the list of figures in front of him. "Three hundred sir. If they went into the water unprotected they wouldn't last an hour. Even with survival suits and life rafts the odds would be stacked against them. It's winter and the Barent's sea is particularly unforgiving this time of year."
"Can we help them?"
Stanhope shrugged. "It's likely too late for that sir. It would take days for our ships to get into the area. On the other hand it wouldn't hurt to make the offer. I'm certain we could coordinate with the Norwegians to help with an air search."
Cameron turned away from the large monitor and looked at the First Sea Lord. "Could the dragons be behind this?"
Stanhope shrugged again, he wasn't going to mention that the dragons could probably find the ship faster than any air search could. "They have been on a high alert for several weeks now, but if the destroyer attacked the dragons and they responded, they would have told the world by now. Our people are watching the Weyr carefully, but we've seen no sign that they have shifted to a war footing. Or no more than what we think would be a war footing."
"Would we even know if they had?" asked Cameron.
"I believe so sir. We've seen them run several drills where they evacuate all non-essential personnel from the Weyr; at the same time the wings form up and leave once the evacuation is complete. Our analysts think they would follow this pattern when they prepare to launch an attack."
"But what about the other Weyrs? Is anyone watching them?"
Stanhope looked hesitant to reply and the Prime Minister leaned closer. "I asked you a question Sea Lord."
"Sir, with all due respect, very few other governments feel as distrustful as you do towards their Weyrs," he replied slowly. "Other than the Yanks, none of the other Weyrs have any sort of military presence nearby and even the Yanks have been essentially pushed out of the Weyr. The Canadian Weyr and the Japanese Weyrs have civilian contract security services. I know for a fact that the only government people at the Canadian weyr are members of their forestry service conducting ongoing wildlife surveys."
Cameron moved to sit down in his chair. He sat silent for a moment before saying, "I am distrustful of any group that insists on autonomy. I always have been. What you are saying is that while we may have an idea what our Weyrs are up to, we have no idea what the others are doing."
"Yes sir, that is essentially correct. I might add that while the Weyrs insist on autonomy, they generally follow our laws and rules. In fact its been my experience that the only time they insist on doing things their way is when something impacts a rider/dragon pair. They pay their taxes, and fines when needed."
Cameron nodded reluctantly. What Stanhope said was true, there had been a few incidents of Riders violating local traffic laws, or underage drinking laws and he knew that the Weyr leadership was very strict with those riders, imposing punishments above and beyond what the local governments might impose. The Weyrs paid any fines promptly and without question.
The Weyrleader worked very hard to cooperate with authorities at the local level. Campbeltown and the Shetland Island Weyr hadn't had any serious incidents, but there had been one incident at the Weyr in Canada in which the Weyrleader had stepped in and ordered the rider involved confined for an extended period.
The rider wasn't put into jail, but he might as well have been. He was only allowed out for short periods to exercise his dragon. Lawyers for the Weyr had successfully argued that imprisoning the rider would also punish the dragon. They managed to convince the local government to allow them to confine the rider and compensate the local government for their expenses.
Cameron rubbed his temples slowly, he had another headache coming on. "Make the offer to the Russians to help with their search First Sea Lord and let me know if the situation changes."
Stanhope stood, he recognized a dismissal when he heard it. "Very good sir," he replied, then he gathered up his notes and left the room.