The Dragonwing Effect

Chapter 3

"Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.

"I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.

"I will teach my art to any who truly wish to learn it, to the best of my ability and in accordance with IVMA professional standards and UNEC regulations.

"I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence."

(The Veterinarian's Oath, UNEC-specific revisions approved by the IVMA Executive Board and the UNEC Secretary-General, 2065)


Having to look up to meet anyone's eyes was a rare experience for Sam, and he was more than slightly taken aback. Before he could say a word, the human wall offered a hand the size of a small canned ham and said "Stoick the Vast, chief of this tribe and this island. My son tells me you are an animal healer?" He sounded surprised, as though he'd never heard of the occupation.

Sam nodded, wincing slightly at the bone-crusher of a handshake. He returned the grip as hard as he could. A Viking would see anything less than a best effort as a sign of weakness, even in a healer. "That I am, Chief Stoick" he replied, politely. "Doctor Sam Shay, United Nations Environment Corps."

The chief scowled. "Your speech is strange, Healer. What is the Unti... Unit-ed... what did you call it?"

Now it was Sam's turn to be puzzled. "United. Nations. Environment. Corps." He said, again, slowly pronouncing each word in what he thought was the correct Norse translation. "You don't know of it? Or am I not speaking correctly?"

Before the chief could reply, Hiccup spoke up. "Ah, Dad?" Stoick glanced down at his son, as Hiccup nodded towards the house. "Heal now, details later? She's awfully sick..."

"Oh! Yes, of course. Healer, if you would follow us?"

"Please, call me Sam" he said, trailing along. As they walked, he wondered at the difference between the two. Although he could see some resemblance between father and son in bone structure, he would never have guessed they were related by blood.

Toothless was first through the door. As Sam was led in, and his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he saw why – and he gasped in admiration once again.

Stretched out in front of the firepit, atop a series of soft-furred throws, lay another Night Fury. Toothless was already stretched out right next to the other, one wing draped protectively over the unconscious form. "Let me guess" Sam said, softly. "Female? And mate to your Toothless?"

Hiccup nodded, his eyes brighter than Sam thought normal. "Night Furies are rare. They've been together only a couple of months... they got along from the moment they met, but she's still nervous around people. We call her Skye."

Sam nodded, hardly able to tear his eyes away from the pair. His first impression was the female's breathing seemed shallow and labored, compared to Toothless. "All right" he said, after a moment. "Let me get some instruments from my ship. I'll be right back."

He was out the door and running for the knoll before either Viking could so much as take a breath to reply. "Hiccup" his father rumbled, "do ye truly trust this stranger? He flies without wings. He dresses in ways I've never even heard of before! How do we know he's no' some sorcerer who will demand some crazy blood-price in exchange for his help? Assuming he can even do anything?!"

The boy sighed miserably. "What choice do we have, Dad? Our healer hasn't even been able to figure out what's wrong with her, let alone find a cure! I know it seems risky, but we have to at least let him try! Skye's life, and her eggs, depend on it!"

His father gave him a penetrating stare, which he returned. "And yes" Hiccup continued. "I do trust him. I didn't mention this before, but Toothless didn't so much as growl at him when we were at the beach earlier. You know how rare that is! He doesn't usually accept a stranger anywhere near the house unless you or I invite them in and introduce them."

Stoick held up both hands in surrender. "You're our dragon expert, son. If you're not worried, I won't worry." Yet. "I've the fishing trip to see to" he continued, heading for the door. "I'll be back this afternoon."

Sam was coming back in just as Stoick went out. The chief nodded at the healer, then went on his way. The vet's left arm was now enclosed in a gleaming white gauntlet which stretched to his elbow, black mesh material finer than the best chain-mail covering the fingers. His right hand supported a large bag over his shoulder, made of a slick-looking dark-blue material Hiccup had never seen. He started to walk towards the pair of dragons, moving slowly but deliberately.

He got within two meters before Toothless, up until now the picture of calm, leaped up and interposed himself between Sam and Skye. His pupils shrank to slits, his ear-flaps and neck-frills went flat, and every single one of his gleaming white teeth extended as a menacing growl erupted from his throat.

Sam was so startled, he stumbled backward, tripped over his own feet, and sat down hard. Fortunately, nothing broke, either in his body or his bag. "Whoa!" he said, eyes flicking back and forth between Hiccup and a most upset Night Fury. "What did I do?!"

Hiccup moved quickly, approaching the dragon with far more confidence than Sam thought was entirely warranted. Much to his surprise, though, Toothless showed not the slightest objection to the teen's presence. In fact, he calmed a bit, his pupils expanding as Hiccup stepped in next to his head and laid an arm across his neck. Those eyes, though, never wavered from Sam. "I'm not sure" Hiccup said, eyeing the vet's clothing. Suddenly, he pointed to a spot on Sam's duty belt. "Is that a knife?"

Sam looked down, saw where the pointing finger was aimed, then looked back up and nodded. "Yes, a standard hunting knife. Most of us carry one–"

"As do we" Hiccup interrupted, with a knowing grin. "But Toothless won't accept one being so close until he knows you fairly well. You need to take it off."

Sam considered a moment, looked at Toothless again, then came to a decision. This is a unique situation he told himself as he settled on his knees, then slowly reached to his waist and unlocked the heavy belt. If that animal wanted me dead, I'd already be in two pieces. Working with careful but confident movements, he separated his gunbelt, placed it on the floor, and shoved it away with his foot. Looking straight at Toothless, hands out and empty palms forward, he said "No weapons."

Sam's eyes widened as the hostility in the dragon all but melted away as quickly as it had appeared. "Can... can he understand what I'm saying?!" Sam asked, hardly daring to believe the possibility.

Hiccup shrugged. "He seems to understand a lot of what we all say" he said, scratching the dragon gently behind one ear. "How much? Well, none of us know for certain. No, stay there for a moment" the teen added, as Sam started to get up. "On your knees is fine, but turn your head away. Look at the door instead. I'm going to introduce you two properly, so we won't have any more misunderstandings. Hold your right arm up, palm up and open, as if you were reaching for something, and don't look our way until I tell you."

Puzzled, and still slightly apprehensive, Sam did as he was directed. He closed his eyes, willing calm and practicing some basic breathing exercises. After a few moments, the tension in his body slipped away. "That's perfect" Hiccup said. "Just stay like that."

He heard a shuffling noise, not unlike that of an elephant in a slow walk, then a gust of warm breath brushed his hand. "Sam, Toothless" he heard Hiccup say. "Toothless, Sam."

A smooth, leathery muzzle pushed firmly against his hand, and rested there. He could feel the twitch of facial muscles as the dragon's nostrils flared, taking in his scent. His fingers gently brushed over a line of small scales, right down the middle, hard but smooth. "OK, you can look now" Hiccup said, and there was more than a hint of a smile in his voice.

Sam opened his eyes and turned his head. "Sweet Mother Machree!" he breathed. Huge yellow-green eyes locked with his, less than a half-meter away, asking and answering a thousand half-formed questions in the space of a few seconds. Any doubts Sam might have had about the dragon's intelligence vanished like a blown-out candle.

Toothless suddenly emitted a noise, half-croon, half-grunt. It reminded Sam of a tiger's greeting 'chuff.' As quickly as that, he pulled away and settled back on his tail, his gaze moving rapidly between Sam and Skye.

Sam nodded. The message couldn't have been clearer if the dragon had roared it aloud. In English. "Don't worry" he said, bringing the Gauntlet around in front of him and powering it on. "I'll take good care of her."

For the next few minutes, Sam found himself lost in fascination at the readings he was getting from the female. The neural activity alone is phenomenal! he mused, and he quickly discovered he'd been right about her labored breathing. Bronchial passages badly inflamed... He didn't even notice Toothless watching his every move with an intensity normally reserved for prey.

Although it quickly became clear this was a warm-blooded reptile – the scan revealed that much right away – the species was still completely new to him. With the ease of long practice, he configured the Gauntlet for blood sampling, pulled a Vacutainer from one of his jumpsuit pockets and slipped it into the matching receptacle. It took only a few moments to find a primary vein at the base of the dragon's neck, and he soon had two Vacutainers filled with blood which shone a deep purplish-red in the dim light.

As he was about to put the containers in a protective case, a large black head appeared in front of him, sniffing curiously at the clear tubes. Sam held absolutely still, not knowing what to expect. A moment later, Toothless let out another grunt and swung his head over to examine his mate's neck closely. He sniffed again, pulled back, and looked back and forth between the tubes and Sam with an expression which clearly said What the...?!

Sam chuckled, wrote Skye's name on the tubes, then slipped them into their case "Has Toothless been sick at all?" He asked Hiccup.

"No, not even a sniffle" the youth replied. He had been watching the vet nearly as closely as Toothless. "How did you get her blood without making a cut?" He asked, wonderingly. "And why did you even need it?"

Sam looked at the teen, puzzled. Don't they teach basic biology here? he wondered. "The samples will give me a much clearer idea of what might be wrong with her" he explained, as he would to any observer. "No matter what she's got, I'll be able to tell once I run some tests on her blood." He got up and stretched, briefly. "Now, though, I need your help with Toothless."

"With Toothless?" Hiccup asked, puzzled. "Why? There's nothing wrong with him."

"Exactly" Sam replied. "Dragons are a completely new species to me, and I don't have any known-healthy readings to compare the ones from Skye against. Toothless's blood will give me that reference."

Hiccup looked worried. "I promise it won't hurt" Sam said, with a gentle smile. "In fact, he probably won't feel much of anything other than my hand."

The youth sighed resignedly. "All right, Hea... uh, Sam. If it'll help Skye. What do you need Toothless to do?"

Sam backed up another couple of paces, and indicated a clear patch of floor a little further away from the hearth. "If you could have him lie down flat, right here–"

He stopped in mid-word, as the Night Fury calmly unfolded himself from his original position and resettled in the indicated spot. He looked up at Sam expectantly, with just a hint of smugness. Hiccup looked startled. "Odin's beard!" He muttered. "I have never seen him that responsive to a newcomer before!"

The vet nodded. "I'm surprised, too." He looked straight at Toothless as he knelt down to start the exam. "Thank you" he said, still a little unsure of just how much the dragon understood. Toothless simply huffed and lay still.

The exam went just as smoothly, but Sam was having trouble working around the harness and ropes for the Night Fury's prosthetic tail fin. Hiccup muttered an apology and, with an amazingly small amount of maneuvering, got the gear off. He stacked it all neatly in a corner, then came back. As Sam got ready to draw blood, Hiccup stopped him. "Wait" the boy said, eyeing the Gauntlet with a mix of fear and fascination. "Can you... teach me how to get the blood?"

Sam sat back and regarded him with raised eyebrows. The Gauntlet was certainly simple enough to operate for such minor procedures, though it was capable of much more. "It's not that I don't trust you" Hiccup added, hastily. "It's... well... if you can find a cure for Skye, you're going to need help to treat the rest of the dragons, and they all trust me pretty much on sight. Not all of them are as easy to work with as Toothless."

If this had been any other youngster, Sam would have dismissed such a claim as sheer arrogance. However, there was something in those green eyes which told him it was simply a statement of fact. "Sure" he agreed, slipping off the Gauntlet and motioning for Hiccup to come close. "Put this over your left arm... that's it... wiggle your fingers a bit..."

The instrument looked almost comically oversized on the teen's slender frame. He eyed it wonderingly, flexing his fingers every so often and studying the small glowing readout screen set into the upper arm. "What does the writing say?" he asked, pointing to the display. "I don't recognize the language."

Sam grinned. "I'll get to that later" he said, guiding Hiccup's hand to the same spot on Toothless's neck where he had taken the sample from Skye. "For this, you won't need it. Now, focus on your second finger, your longest. Ignore anything you might feel from the others. Use that finger to probe around this area until you feel a strong pulse. There will only be one spot where it's strongest."

After a few moments of probing, Hiccup's eyes went wide. "I think this is it!" he said, excitedly. Sam pressed his own fingers in near the spot and nodded approvingly. "Good! You're right on top of a big vein. Hold still, but don't tense up... relax! Just imagine your finger glued to that spot."

He reached into a pocket for another pair of Vacutainers, and handed the first one to Hiccup. "Push this in, colored end first, right here" he said, tapping the appropriate receptacle. "No, further in... it will resist at first, just keep pushing... there you go!"

The container popped neatly into place, and Sam pointed to a small button on the back of the 'hand' shell of the Gauntlet. It was glowing soft yellow. "Keep your finger still, and press that button" he said. "You'll feel some pressure pushing your finger back, but don't let it. Stay flat on that spot!"

His impromptu student fingered the button, then pressed it. It flashed yellow a few times, as the sterilization cycle ran, then turned steady green. Hiccup gasped softly as he felt the pressure Sam had described, and pushed against it. Toothless blinked, and tilted his head just far enough to study them with one eye."You're both doing fine" the vet said. "Just hold that finger still."

Hiccup did so, his eyes widening in amazement as the Vacutainer filled up. "Now" Sam said, offering him the second one. "Pull that one loose, hand it to me, and press this one into position... yes, just like that... good!"

A few moments later, Sam had the two samples labeled and stashed in another part of the hard-case. "Now you can pull your finger away. You may feel a little resistance, but just pull steadily."

Hiccup did so. Toothless blinked again as Hiccup's finger left his neck, and Hiccup was quick to examine the spot. "I can't even tell there was ever a cut" he said, wonderingly, examining the second finger of the Gauntlet as well. "No blade, no metal at all..."

Finally, he looked up at Toothless. "Did that hurt at all, bud? Even a little?"

Toothless snorted and shook his head, watching both of them with a puzzled expression. He lifted up a foreleg and made a scratching motion. "It just itched?" Hiccup said, reaching out to scratch the area he'd drawn the sample from. Toothless nodded, then purred softly as his rider found the exact spot, his tail quivering slightly. Sam's attention was quickly drawn to the missing tail fin. "Is it all right if I hold his tail a moment?" the vet asked, pointing to the still-intact fin. "I want to take a look at that old injury."

Hiccup nodded, still scratching. "Go ahead, but be careful. The scar is still sensitive in some places."

Sam nodded, then retrieved the Gauntlet from Hiccup's arm and moved down to where Toothless's tail had come to rest. Kneeling again, he carefully lifted the scarred end onto his legs. The dragon's tail-stock was much heavier than it looked, and he felt the powerful muscles twitch at his touch. "Relax, bud" he heard Hiccup say. "He's not going to hurt you."

The vet grinned. "Definitely not" he agreed, just as softly. "I think he'll let me know, in no uncertain terms, if I do something wrong."

He started by gently probing along the edges of the jagged scar, then did a deep scan with the Gauntlet. The display promptly showed a breakdown of the scar's pattern, inside and out, and Sam whistled softly in surprise at the stress lines. "How did he lose this fin?" he asked.

The teen sighed, and didn't answer right away. "It's... a long story, Sam." He seemed reluctant to say more. Suddenly, Toothless grunted and gently nuzzled his rider. His expression held not the slightest trace of upset. If anything, just the opposite. Hiccup smiled slightly, and said "Thanks, bud" before giving Sam the Reader's Digest version of the events leading to the pair's meeting and bonding.

Sam's eyes widened. "You're a matched pair" he said. "He can't fly well without your help, at the moment, and I would guess he helps you when you're walking around." He nodded at the youth's prosthetic leg. "No wonder you've got such a bond!"

Hiccup blushed slightly. "That's us" he said. "The village misfits." Then the vet's last few words registered fully, and his gaze sharpened. "Wait... What did you mean 'at the moment?'"

Sam gently placed Toothless's tail back on the floor, stood up, and walked over to show Hiccup the picture on the Gauntlet's display.

"See these lines here, here, here and here?" He said, pointing them out. "I compared them with the intact fin. They're new bones, lad! The rate of growth is slow, but steady." He smiled warmly. "Give it about a year or so, and Toothless is going to have a brand-new left fin!"

Hiccup's jaw dropped, and his eyes bugged. "A new... but how can you even see under his skin?!" He traced the lines with a forefinger, barely able to believe what he was seeing.

Sam chuckled. "I don't think Norse has words for it, but medical technology has come a long way in the past couple of decades. The Gauntlet's scanner uses nanometer waves to show me what's going on inside." He gave the English pronunciation for 'nanometer waves.' Hiccup mouthed the odd words uncertainly. "The new fin's probably going to itch quite a bit as it's coming in, though" Sam continued, in Old Norse. "I'll give you some salve to help. And you'll need to make some adjustments to that artificial fin from time to time, so it doesn't damage the new growth."

He pulled the Gauntlet off, then set it next to his bag. Unzipping the top, he pulled out a white rectangular box about the size of a small briefcase, but thicker. The surface of the box bore the logo of Beckman Instruments, the legend 'PortaLab XL,' and the veterinarian's caduceus, all in royal blue printing. Sam released its latches, and the unit opened up clamshell-style. It took less than a minute to configure it for blood analyses and snap one of the Vacutainers from each of the Night Furies into place. The machine beeped and chirred to itself as it did its work, drawing curious looks from both Hiccup and Toothless.

Picking up the Gauntlet again, Sam started comparing the vital-sign readings from the two dragons. It didn't take him long to determine Skye was feverish, and had an elevated white-cell count. He frowned at the difference in nerve-impulse count and propagation, and asked "Has Skye had tremors? Any sign of her limbs shaking?"

Hiccup nodded. "Just before she passed out, last night, she was shivering pretty badly, all over, and her breathing was much rougher."

"Makes sense, given what I'm seeing here" the vet muttered. "How's her appetite? And what's their normal diet, anyway?"

"Fish" came the prompt response. "Almost any kind except eels. Mostly cod, some salmon and herring in season. And she hasn't wanted anything but water since last night. She and a lot of the other dragons started getting sick within a couple of hours after we fed them, but we all ate fish from the same catch and no one else got sick from it."

The seed of an idea took root in Sam's mind. "I'm guessing dragons eat their food raw, and you cook yours?" Hiccup nodded. "All right, then" Sam said. "Sounds like last night's dinner is a prime suspect. I'll have a much better idea as soon as the blood analysis finishes."

As if on cue, the PortaLab announced 'Analysis Complete' in a synthesized voice, and beeped. "Ah, good timing" Sam said, pulling the machine close and scrolling through the results.

As he did so, his eyebrows knitted in confusion. "Can't be right" he muttered. "Water's too cold here..."

He checked again, more carefully. The molecular diagram on the screen remained unchanged, as did its designation. Finally, Sam sat back on his heels and sighed. "The good news" he said, to an increasingly anxious Hiccup, "is I know what's wrong, and I can treat it."

"And the bad news?" the teen asked, nervously.

"I can't guarantee you won't run into this same problem in the future" he said. "Especially if the dragons' diet includes clams, oysters or other shellfish." He turned back to his bag and started rummaging in his drug kit. "Skye's blood is showing signs of what's called Brevetoxin" he explained, as he mixed the contents of one ampoule with a couple of others and loaded an air hypo with the result.

"It's a naturally-occurring poison which comes from some types of algae blooms – you might know them as 'Red Tides' – but it's usually limited to warmer waters" he continued. "I don't understand how it happened this far north."

Hypo prepared, he moved back towards Skye. "What really puzzles me" he said, as he administered the injection into the same vein he'd gotten the blood sample from, "is why no one else got sick. Brevetoxin isn't affected by cooking, freezing, or any sort of preservation. If you and the dragons shared the same catch, you should all have gotten sick. No one else in the village has had nausea or vomiting, have they?"

Hiccup shook his head slowly. "Not that I know of" he said, then nodded to Skye. "What did you do to her?"

"Gave her a drug called CME-2" Sam said, sliding the hypo back into a jumpsuit pocket. "Cysteine Methyl Ester, specially formulated for animals. It's designed to treat different kinds of nerve poisoning, including Brevetoxin. She'll need another dose tonight, but I won't be at all surprised if she shows improvement before then, especially since I added an anti-inflammatory to help with her lungs."

Hiccup winced at the English words Sam spoke for the drug's full name, tried to duplicate it to himself, tried again with 'anti-inflammatory,' then gave up and settled for the first abbreviation. "What now?" he asked, as Toothless settled down next to Skye again and draped a wing over her.

"Now" Sam replied, folding up the analyzer and slipping on his Gauntlet again, "I need you to guide me around to the other dragons who are sick. I need to see if they have the same toxin, and I need to make sure the same treatment will work. By the way, are you serious about wanting to learn more of veterinary–ahh, animal healing?"

The youth nodded enthusiastically, his eyes wide. "Anything I can learn which could help the dragons, I want to learn!" He said, firmly.

Sam grinned. Was I ever that eager? He wondered. "We'll make a good pair, then" he said. "I know almost nothing about dragons, other than what I've learned in the last few hours, so we can teach each other. I may have to teach you a bit of a new language, though. Deal?"

"Deal!" Hiccup replied, grabbing Sam's hand and shaking it. Then he looked around at the array of equipment. "Do you need me to carry anything?"

For answer, Sam closed the latches on the PortaLab's case, and handed it over. "This, for now. Not too heavy, is it?"

Hiccup accepted the case, gingerly at first, then with increasing confidence as he found its balance point. "Are you kidding?" He scoffed. "The hammer I use in the forge is heavier than this. Let's go!"

In a community such as Berk, Sam certainly expected the residents to be the practical, no-nonsense, survival-first type. This assumption, though fairly accurate, still did nothing to prepare him for his next meeting. Hiccup had led him to a house which featured, among other things, a fenced corral at its rear with a partly-open shelter to one side. A blue-scaled tail with bright yellow rings, studded with an impressive array of yellow, bronze, and coppery-red spines, protruded from the shelter's doorway. The sight riveted the vet's attention at once, and he started towards the shelter by sheer reflex, Hiccup's call of "Sam, wait...!" going utterly unheard.

In most cases, reflexes are a Good Thing. In this case, they nearly cost the vet his skull. A vibrant yell of "HAH!" suddenly split the air. Sam snapped out of his spell long enough to see sunlight glittering off something headed straight for his face before Hiccup tackled him. The bright object sailed cleanly through the space his head had occupied seconds before, and buried itself in the trunk of a nearby redwood with a solid thunk!

The fall knocked the wind from both of them. As they got untangled, and back on their feet, they came face-to-face with the source of the yell. Another teen, very much female, slightly taller than Hiccup though nearly as slender, with golden-blonde hair tied back in a neatly-braided ponytail and cobalt-blue eyes. She scowled at Hiccup as she retrieved what Sam suddenly realized was a huge double-bladed battle axe.

Any stereotypes he might have held about women in general, and Viking women in particular, were blown away like campfire smoke as she pulled the axe clear of the tree's trunk as easily as a clump of weeds out of a garden, flipped it around in front of her, and planted it into one of the thick logs supporting the fence with another thunk!.

She walked over to Hiccup, scowled at him again, then punched him firmly in one shoulder. "That's for not calling out before coming into the line of fire!" she snapped. "Are you completely nuts?!"

He grinned ruefully, rubbing at his shoulder. "Hey, I was distracted! Anyway, it wasn't me you nearly hit, it was our visitor." He made hasty introductions. Astrid eyed Sam up and down with as much curiosity as suspicion. "He smells like day-old wolf" she said.

Sam cursed under his breath. He'd been so involved with everything else, he'd completely forgotten about changing clothes. Still, he sensed there was something more than just a casual comment on hygiene behind Astrid's words. Perhaps even an element of challenge.

He decided on the direct approach. "You would too, if you'd helped a mother wolf give birth less than a day ago" he said, returning her steady gaze. He had the satisfaction of seeing her eyes widen slightly. "All part of my job" he added, airily.

She held the stare a few moments more, then a slow smile spread across her face. "You'll have to tell me more about that" she said. "But later. Can you help Stormfly? She hasn't been able to do much more than drink water since last night." She nodded towards the enclosure, her face suddenly betraying more than a hint of concern.

"That's what I'm here for" he replied. "But no more axe-throwing practice until I'm done. Deal?"

She chuckled. "Deal. Follow me."

As she led the way into the enclosure, Sam couldn't help whistling softly at the Nadder's brilliant colors. Royal blue gleamed over most of the dragon's upper body, shading smoothly to powder blue and pure white on her underside. The partly-open wings started with an outline stripe of coppery red, shaded to dark moss-green, and finished with irregular patches of bright yellow in the centers. A glistening ivory horn, reminiscent of a rhino, poked up from just above her nostrils, and a fringe of smaller horns surrounded the back of her head. "She's gorgeous" Sam said, gently laying a hand on the dragon's neck to gauge her temperature.

Unlike Skye, Stormfly was a little closer to consciousness. She twitched slightly at the vet's touch, then raised her head. One slightly glazed bright-yellow eye studied her visitor closely, followed by the other as she turned her head upside down. The posture reminded Sam so much of a curious bald eagle, he couldn't help but chuckle. "Hello, beautiful" he said, softly, holding out the same hand he'd touched her with.

She turned her head back over, and sniffed at the offered hand. A second later, she grumbled in apparent annoyance – and, much to everyone's surprise, planted her muzzle firmly against Sam's chest and shoved. Hard.

The vet let out a surprised "oof!" as he was lofted a good meter into the air. He bounced off the back wall of the enclosure, and slid to the straw-covered floor in an untidy heap, his eyes wide and more than a bit puzzled. "Wh... what the...?!" was all he managed to get out.

"Stormfly! Bad girl!" Astrid snapped. The Nadder simply snorted, and laid her head back down. "Sorry, Sam" Astrid said, as she offered him a hand up. "I think it's the wolf scent. She had a bad moment with a local pack this last winter, and she's been nervous about anything to do with wolves ever since."

Sam nodded uncertainly. "No harm done" he said. "Though I find it hard to believe any wolf in their right mind, pack or not, would dare bother her. Hiccup, I think you'd best get the blood samples" he continued, trading him the Gauntlet for the PortaLab and handing him a pair of fresh Vacutainers.

Astrid's gaze sharpened. "Wait... What, exactly, do you mean by 'blood samples?'" she asked, her eyes narrowing further as she watched Hiccup slide his arm into the Gauntlet. "And what, exactly, is that thing? Another of your crazy inventions?"

Unfazed by the jibe, Hiccup took her arm and guided her toward Stormfly. Sam backed off a bit farther, and started setting up the PortaLab. "Don't worry about it" he assured her with a grin. "We already got samples from Toothless and Skye. He barely felt it, and she didn't even wake up."

"But you can't get blood without making a cut!" she insisted, still upset.

"That's what I thought, at first" he said, snapping the first Vacutainer into place as though he'd been doing it his whole life. "And no, this isn't one of my inventions. Are you kidding? Where would I get material like this?" He tapped the plastic shell making up much of the Gauntlet. "This belongs to Sam. He just showed me how to use it. Watch."

A few moments later, Astrid's eyes practically bugged out of her skull as the first container filled. Stormfly didn't even lift her head, though one eye stayed fixed on them during the entire process. As Hiccup finished, and pulled his hand away, he couldn't hold back a smug grin as Astrid tried – and failed – to find any sign her dragon's skin had even been broken. Still unsatisfied, she grabbed his wrist – the one still covered by the Gauntlet – and examined each finger, running a curious hand over the slick mesh.

Finally, she let go. "OK" she said, with a sigh. "I've got to admit, that was pretty amazing. But what do you do with those?" She gestured to the filled Vacutainers.

"That's where I come in" Sam said, relieving Hiccup of both Gauntlet and sample tubes. "Well done, lad" he added. "You'll make a fine vet-tech."

The analyzer produced the results Sam had half expected in its usual efficient manner. "Same symptoms, same toxin" he sighed, as he mixed another dose of CME-2, and reloaded the injector. "Astrid, I'm going to need to get close to her again, and I really wasn't built to fly. Can you keep her distracted?"

"Depends" she replied, eyeing the injector uncertainly. "Is what you need to do going to hurt?"

Sam chuckled. "Not a bit, lass. In fact, I'll be surprised if she even feels it, with that tough hide."

The two teens looked at each other. "I don't know if I want to take the chance..." Astrid began. Hiccup nodded, catching on immediately. "Jaw-spot. It's probably a good idea she get some sleep anyway...?" He looked at Sam for confirmation.

"Absolutely" the vet agreed. "This kind of sickness takes a lot out of anyone, no matter if they wear scales or bare skin. But what's this 'jaw-spot?'"

They both grinned knowingly. "Watch and learn" Astrid said, as the two moved over near Stormfly's head. "You start with the neck" she said to Hiccup, "I'll do the rest."

Stormfly, who had been keeping a watchful eye on the group, snorted in irritation and twitched her well-armed tail as the two settled practically on top of her. It didn't take a mind reader to understand: Now what?! I feel horrible! Can't you just leave me alone?!

Irritation rapidly gave way to delight as Hiccup started scratching. Well, if you're going to do that...

"Good distraction" Sam said, wryly. He started to move closer, then stopped abruptly as Astrid held up one hand in warning. "Wait" she said, still grinning. "You haven't seen a thing yet."

As Hiccup continued working on the Nadder's neck, Astrid reached for a spot on the dragon's lower jaw line, almost directly below her eye. Sam's own jaw dropped in amazement as Stormfly let out an amazingly bird-like chirp, shivered all over and collapsed in a technicolor puddle, her eyes almost completely closed and one leg twitching erratically. "Do it" Astrid said to Sam, as she continued scratching gently at the spot.

The vet wasted no time. Astrid and Hiccup both watched as the hypo hissed softly against the same spot Hiccup had drawn blood from. The whole process took less than three seconds.

"I hope you can show our village healer how to do that" Astrid said, as Sam backed away. "It'd be a lot better than trying to swallow some of the concoctions she comes up with!" She made a face.

Hiccup nodded. "No arguments!" he agreed, emphatically. "I don't remember much from when I was recovering, after the battle with the Red Death, but do remember some sort of tea that tasted like the dragon pens smelled in mid-summer." He shivered in disgust.

"I'd be happy to talk with her" Sam replied, as he put the hypo away and secured the PortaLab. "In fact, I want to ask her about this outbreak, later on. But, as far as my practice goes, I'm not licensed to treat humans."

He got everything stowed away, looked up at the pair, and finally spoke his mind. "You know, you two, living in an isolated community doesn't mean you have to ignore everything the modern world has to offer. Your healer should have no trouble getting licensed to practice, locally, and the injector I'm using is the same one used by human doctors. They're not expensive, and readily available through any medical supply house."

As he finished, Sam braced himself for the reaction. It may sound like an insult he mused, but these people really need to find a better balance between 'isolated' and 'tourist trap!'

The reaction turned out to be anything but what he expected. Astrid and Hiccup exchanged puzzled looks. "I got most of that" Hiccup said, uncertainly."

"Yeah" Astrid continued. "But what's a lyce... lys-ensse? All you need to be a healer is to apprentice to a master. Once the master thinks you're ready, you can work on your own."

Sam nodded, a bit uncertain himself. "That's pretty close" he said. "Where I come from, we have different 'masters' who teach healing. Some teach healing just for animals, others just for humans. There's so much work involved on either side, it's rare someone will learn both."

The pair thought this over, their hands still resting idly on Stormfly. The Nadder was snoring softly, oblivious to the entire discussion. "What did you mean by 'mott... modd-errn worrld?'" Astrid said, her expression still puzzled.

The question caught Sam off-guard. "What did I...? Why, it's... well..." he stammered, finally finishing with "The rest of the world, outside of Berk. Have you never been to the mainland?"

"Which one?" Hiccup said, raising both hands in a shrug. "There's at least three within a day or two sailing distance, more by dragonback."

"Not much to recommend some of them, though" Astrid put in, with another scowl. "Not everyone likes dragons."

Sam found himself as baffled as he'd been the entire day. "How could anyone" he said, half to himself, "not at least appreciate the beasties?!" Even as he spoke, a part of him – one he didn't really like listening to – reminded him human history was full of countless incidents of cruelty to animals of all kinds, in an infinite variety of forms. Those who felt a true bond with the animal world were not as common as he (and most of the rest of UNEC) would have liked

"If you find an answer to that" Hiccup said, "be sure and let us all know!"

Sam smiled as he gathered up his equipment. Hiccup took the hint, struggled to his feet, and picked up the PortaLab. "That I will, lad, that I will" the vet replied.

As they left the shelter, Astrid caught up with them and tried to take the PortaLab from Hiccup. "I can get it!" he complained.

"I know you can" she shot back, her eyes holding his. "The question is if you should." She eyed his prosthetic leg meaningfully.

He sighed. "You're getting to be as bad as Toothless! Astrid, if I act like I'm crippled, I become crippled. If Gobber can get around as well as he does, I can too!" He lengthened his stride, though Astrid could clearly see what it cost him.

Exasperated, she jumped in front of him and put a hand against his chest. He stopped, his expression a mixture of annoyance and pleading. "And if you keep pushing as hard as you have been" she said, "You'll lose more of that leg, and the ability to control Toothless's tail fin. Is that what you really want? Just to prove how tough you can be?"

He hesitated, his jaw set in a stubborn line. "Your leg is still healing" she reminded him. "Gobber's healed years ago. Give it time!"

Before he could argue further, she reached down and took the PortaLab. "And in that time" she continued, "let others help!" She turned around and started to walk away, looking over her shoulder at him expectantly.

If there was one thing Hiccup had learned, it was not to try arguing with his girlfriend when she used 'The Look.' He started walking again, with nothing more than a resigned grumble. Suddenly, she transferred the PortaLab to her left hand and socked him in the shoulder with her right. He yelped, and complained "What was that for?!"

"That was for being too stubborn for your own good" she replied, sharply. Just as suddenly, she stepped in front of him again, put the PortaLab down, and wrapped him in a bone-crusher of a hug accompanied by a deep kiss. A rush of heat went through Hiccup's body, one which had nothing to do with the warmer-than-normal spring weather.

"Wow" he breathed, as she finally let go. "And that...?"

"Was for letting go of the same stubbornness" she said, smiling brightly.

She picked the PortaLab back up and continued towards Sam. He had halted a few paces ahead, seen what was going on, and respectfully given them some space. "I would ask if there was a problem" he said, as they caught up, eyeing them with a knowing smile. "But I think I'll stay out of it. Where to next?"

Astrid nodded approvingly. "You're pretty smart for someone who smells like overripe wolves" she quipped, then turned to her companion. "Hiccup?"

"Spitelout's house" he replied, without hesitation. "You'll see two opposites in size, there, Sam; a Terrible Terror and a Monstrous Nightmare."

The vet winced. "I hope they look better than they sound" he muttered.


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