The Dragonwing Effect

Chapter 4

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" (Sherlock Holmes, 'The Sign of the Four').

(1-Mar-840 AD, 11:00-17:00 UTC)

Sam's worries about dragon appearance versus names were quickly put to rest. He discovered the Terror to be the near-twin of the Komodo-sized dragon which had been attracted to him earlier, though Spitelout's was nearly all green with just a few coppery highlights. The little female responded very quickly to treatment, going from glassy-eyed and lethargic to a burst of puppy-like energy within an hour after Sam had administered the antitoxin.

The burst lasted long enough for her to announce to everyone how much better she was feeling. She did this mainly by scampering up one person and down another, chittering happily along the way. She continued by gulping down three good-sized herring (after Sam had checked them for infection and pronounced them clean), letting out a most unladylike belch, and flying up to the roof of the house for a sunlit nap.

"Excellent work, healer!" Spitelout said, with a huge grin, as he delivered a friendly clap to Sam's back which nearly knocked him over. "If ye can do as well with my son's beast, 'twill truly be a miracle!"

"I'll certainly do my best" Sam said, a little overwhelmed by the burly Viking's rough-and-tumble manner. "Since that was your Terrible Terror, I assume your son's friend is a Monstrous Nightmare?"

Spitelout nodded. "Aye, and a huge one at that! Come with me."

He led the way to the backside of the house, towards a shelter which, in form, was the twin of the one behind the Hoffersons home. But bigger. Much bigger.

He soon discovered why. The sleeping Nightmare was about the size of an old LearJet. Two-legged, like the Nadders, but a deep scarlet in overall color, with highlights of brown and gold and a wingspan which Sam guessed at just under twenty meters.

"Sweet Saint Blaise!" he gasped. "How in Creation does a beastie that size get around on only two legs?!"

A slightly shorter version of Spitelout, dressed in black leather with fur linings, got up from where he'd been dozing near the dragon's head and came forward for introductions. Sam tried hard to suppress a chuckle as the youth was introduced as Snotlout, and the dragon as Hookfang.

When he repeated his question, Snotlout led him closer and pointed out a very tough-looking articulated claw at the wing's wrist joint. "He braces himself on these while he's on the ground, and he can climb like a squirrel with 'em as well" the youth said, sounding very proud.

Sam tried to imagine the huge form actually climbing a tree, squirrel-fashion. It nearly gave him a migraine. "That's something I'd like to see" he said, as he switched on the Gauntlet and started scanning. Of particular concern was the dragon's body mass reading.

He winced at the numbers, then said "I can give him the first dose of medicine, but I'll have to return to my base for more before I can give him the second."

"Does that mean Skye has to wait for her second dose, too?" Hiccup asked, worriedly.

Sam shook his head as he mixed the requisite amount and loaded it into the injector. "No, I figured on holding out enough for her already, since she's pregnant. If I'm counting right, there are six more dragons to go?"

Hiccup nodded. "Two Gronckles, three more Nadders, and one Zippleback. The Zipplebacks are the biggest, about the same size as Hookfang, and they've got two heads... is that going to cause a problem?"

"Not likely. I'll bring back some extra, just in case...TWO HEADS?!" He was so startled, he nearly dropped the injector. "Hiccup, lad, tell me you're joking?!"

The teen shook his head. "Not at all. You've never seen a Zippleback? Granted, they're the only two-headed dragon we know of, but they're still pretty common."

Sam could only ponder the strangeness and wonder of it all. Common he thought, bemusedly, as he administered the large dose to Hookfang. The hypo took nearly ten seconds to empty itself. Other than a faint rumble, and a slight twitch of his tail, the only reaction was the steady whoosh of the dragon's breathing.

"That's it for now" Sam said, as he started packing up. "I'll go get supplies, and be back here as quick as I can. Astrid and Snotlout, stay with your dragons for at least the next couple of hours, or arrange for someone to do so if you can't. Have food and water ready, as they're likely to want both when they wake up. Don't use any fish from last night's catch, even if you've eaten from it yourselves!"

They all agreed. Snotlout went back to his spot by Hookfang's head. Astrid, after exchanging a few words with Hiccup Sam didn't catch, took off running for her own house.

Hiccup, remembering Sam's earlier request, guided the vet up to Mead Hall. This time, Sam carried the PortaLab and gave Hiccup his lighter bag, much to the youth's ill-concealed disgust.

"Astrid has a good point, lad" he said as they walked along, proving he'd heard more than a hint of what had been going on earlier. "An injury like that takes time and care to heal. There's no shame in giving it both." He didn't bother pointing out the existence of modern prosthetics, ones which could practically emulate an entire leg if necessary. Euro-Basic insurance doesn't allow for something that expensive he reminded himself.

Despite his need to leave, he couldn't resist staring around Mead Hall's interior in unconcealed wonder. His gaze wandered from the huge central firepit up to the vaulted ceiling, barely visible in the dim light, then back down to take in the sturdy trestle-style tables. Huge wooden pillars, their surfaces covered with equally huge but intricate carvings and runes, helped support that impossibly high roof. Had to cost at least a couple of year's salary to build he thought.

But, even with the enormous echo-prone interior, it had the same hominess to it as his brother's pub. It even bore some of the same smells, though mead and some sort of strong ale were dominant. He looked over at Hiccup, who was smiling slightly. "Yeah" he said. "Has that effect on everyone the first time they see it."

Sam nodded, then took a closer look at some of the carvings and hangings, and frowned. "Your people really were at war with the dragons, from the looks of these." He gestured to the pillar he'd been studying.

Hiccup nodded, sadly. "Three hundred years of senseless battle" he said, softly, his voice suddenly sounding much older. "And all that time, it was because of one overgrown dragon controlling them all."

He sighed, went over to a rack full of rolls of what looked to Sam like deer hide, selected one and brought it over to an empty table, beckoning for the vet to have a seat on the opposite side. "They never raided us because they wanted to. They're perfectly capable of gathering their own food and most of them are fish-eaters, as you've seen."

Sam barely heard the rest of the explanation. His mind was still stuck on 'Three hundred years.' He wondered again how this tiny community, and several completely new species, could have gone utterly unnoticed and unvisited by an increasingly 'wired' world.

"With that kind of history" he said, finally, "I would guess not everyone has accepted the changes you and Toothless helped start? Nice job, by the way."

This produced a small grin as Hiccup unrolled the map. He flipped it around before it was fully open (it covered over half the table), so it would be right-side up from the vet's position.

"Thanks. And yes, that would be a good guess" he said. "We've had about a dozen people leave Berk because of the change. Said they just couldn't deal with the idea of 'those horrid beasts' as friends. It was mostly older families, who'd lost relatives to dragon raids before I was born."

He put a finger on an outline in the middle of the drawing. "This is Berk, north is towards me, south towards you, and I'm sure you can figure out east and west from there."

Sam could and did, though he was puzzled by the map's scale. He soon realized it was done in vikas, with one vika being about the same as one mile under the old Base-12 system the United States had used before going metric in 2040.

Equally puzzling, though not so easily worked around, was how roughly the mainland outlines were drawn and how few towns and cities had been properly labeled. Rand McNally would be horrified he thought, as he pulled out a pocket ruler and mechanical pencil and started measuring distances. And why thin leather when there's no shortage of paper?

He pushed the thought aside for the moment, traced a couple of thin lines between Berk and the other land masses, put down tick-marks for distances and studied the result. "I really got thrown off course" he muttered, and pointed to what he was fairly sure was the southeast tip of the Shetlands.

"I started here, last evening, about three hundred sixty kilom... I mean, two hundred twenty or so vikas southwest. My normal base is here..." He pointed to Scotland, in the highlands southwest of Dornoch, "...but that's over three hundred vikas away. Even at top speed, it would take me a couple of hours to get there and back, and that's assuming I don't get a lot of grief about pulling that much in the way of supplies."

Hiccup gasped. "You can cover three hundred vikas in an hour?! Nothing can go that fast, not even Toothless in a panic! Even if you could, it'd kill you! Suck the breath right out of your body!"

"Didn't I say earlier the modern world had some neat things to offer?" Sam replied, with a grin. "My ship can go that fast if I have to, without harming so much as a hair on my head. But, I don't want to take that much time to resupply. There's another base just northeast of Bergen, in Norway. If I'm reading this right, that's only about thirty-five vikas northeast of here."

He pulled out a notepad, and started writing down lines of numbers and symbols which Hiccup, for all his skill, couldn't make head or tail of. "Even without GNSS" Sam muttered, more to himself than his host, "I have a backup navigation system. I just need to verify its programming before I try using it."

"What's Gee... what did you call it?" Hiccup asked, as puzzled as he'd ever been

"Stands for 'Global Navigation Satellite System" Sam replied, without looking up from his scribbling. "Thirty satellites, all in various orbits around the planet. Each one transmits a unique signal. You need at least three for a basic fix, four if you want altitude as well. Fortunately, most receivers pick up at least eight at a time–"

He stopped scribbling and looked up. Hiccup's expression was a mix of bafflement and concern. "I'll... take your word for it" he said, slowly. "Honestly, Sam, I barely got two words of what you just said."

Sam sighed and put down his pencil. "I'm sorry, lad. I tend to forget myself sometimes, especially when I'm visiting somewhere new. Tell you what... It's much easier, in cases like this, to show someone than it is to try and explain. How about coming with me? We shouldn't be gone more than a couple of hours."

Hiccup's eyes widened. Sam was sure he saw both eagerness and doubt in that green gaze. "Go with you? Wow... Sam, I'd like to, but... are you really sure it's safe to go as fast as you said? And what about Toothless and Skye?"

The vet laughed. "If going as fast as I said was as deadly as you think, I wouldn't be here right now. Besides, I won't need to go anywhere near top speed to get back and forth to Bergen in good time."

He rolled the map up, handed it back to Hiccup, then stood up and stretched. "As for your two dragons, let's go see how they're doing and you can decide from there."

The pair got ample evidence of Toothless's continued health before they were halfway up the hill to Hiccup's home. The dragon met them in mid-climb, half-running and half-flying down the slope, accompanied by frantic cries of "Night Fury! Get down!" from several startled villagers.

His antics, if anything, became even more energetic as he charged towards Hiccup and Sam. He turned at the last moment and started bouncing around the pair like a huge black-scaled puppy, his eyes nearly all pupil and every neck frill he had sticking straight out. "Whoa! Easy, Toothless!" Hiccup said, setting down the vet's bag. "What's up, bud?" he continued, holding out a hand. "Is everything OK?"

The Night Fury, by way of reply, darted forward with open mouth (and fully-retracted teeth, Sam noticed with some relief), took hold of his rider's hand and started backing towards the house. "Yeah, I get it, pal! We were heading that way already..."

Just as suddenly, Toothless released Hiccup and, before Sam could so much as gasp, repeated the process with him. Sam gulped as a set of warm, damp gums closed on his hand, firmly but painlessly, and pulled. "Yes, yes, I get the idea!" he said, then looked over helplessly at Hiccup. "Do you think he wants us to hurry?"

Hurry they did, as best they could given Hiccup's awkward pace, with the hyperactive Night Fury positively dancing around them all the way. He even held the door open, making a series of sharp grunts and gesturing inside with his head. Neither vet nor Viking knew whether to celebrate or panic.

Fortunately, it turned out to be the former. Sam stopped in his tracks just inside the door, Hiccup barely a step behind. "Saints be praised!" Sam murmured, as he put down the PortaLab.

The vet's world narrowed to a single form, reclining comfortably in front of the hearth and watching the door with an alert but calm expression. Skye's eyes, unlike her mate, shown silvery-gray in the dim light, minute specks of iridescent blue, green, gold and red flashing in their depths. The sparks shifted position and color as she turned her head slightly, eyeing the new arrivals with quiet dignity. Her breathing was much deeper and easier, without a trace of its former raspiness.

Like a man in a trance, Sam slowly made his way towards her. Rainbow-flecked eyes held his, seemed to look straight into his core...

The spell shattered as Toothless trotted into the room, brushed past Sam as if he weren't even there, and went nose-to-nose with Skye. They nuzzled each other for a moment, then Skye huffed questioningly at him and gestured towards Sam with her head. Toothless replied with a short series of modulated grunts.

Those opaline eyes swung back to Sam, holding his gaze again. He did his best not to fidget, nor to stare directly back, for he got the distinct impression he was being measured against some standard he couldn't even guess at.

Hiccup moved quietly behind him, setting down the vet's equipment bag and walking awkwardly over to lean against Toothless's side. He took a breath to speak, but was silenced by a single look from the Night Fury.

A few moments later, Skye nodded slightly, then got up on all fours and chuffed at Toothless again. He dipped his head once, then started moving towards Sam. Hiccup moved with him, wearing a thoroughly confused look. "What's happening, lad?" Sam asked, softly.

"No idea" Hiccup replied. His gaze bounced between Skye, who hadn't moved a millimeter since standing up, and Toothless, who was still closing silently on Sam. "Best advice I can give, for now: Just hold still!"

It took every bit of Sam's considerable nerve to do so, as the Night Fury opened his mouth once again. Though he was relieved to see the dragon's teeth were retracted, he couldn't help wincing as the powerful jaws closed firmly over most of his right hand, though not enough to hurt. He followed along as the dragon went into reverse, guiding him towards the same spot where Hiccup had first introduced them.

Toothless stopped, and Sam was nearly thrown off-balance as he tugged downward. He guessed what the Night Fury had in mind, and kneeled in the same position he'd used before. Toothless let go, huffed approvingly, and backed away another couple of paces. Sam closed his eyes, held out his right hand towards Skye, and waited.

Once again, a soft but heavy shuffling, like a small elephant's footsteps. Once again, warm breath brushed his fingers. Finally, a leathery, lightly-scaled muzzle pressed itself against his hand. "Skye, Sam" he heard Hiccup say, softly. "Sam, Skye."

The vet took a deep breath, opened his eyes, and turned to meet her gaze. A shock ran through him as he did. While the impression he'd gotten from Toothless had certainly been one of immense, tightly-controlled power, intelligence and dignity, Skye projected all of it and more. An impression of vast experience and responsibility, but practically nothing of arrogance. Here was a born leader, yes, but one who expected and encouraged those under her command to push themselves to be the best they could. His mind somehow managed to process it all and produce a single word: Royalty.

He bowed his head. "Lady Skye" he said, softly. "I am honored to meet you."

It was the right response. Skye pulled back, studied him a moment more – and stunned everyone in the room by extending her head once again, bottom jaw towards Sam, eyeing him expectantly. He blinked, then slowly reached out a hand to scratch along her jaw line. Her eyes half-lidded, and a soft rumble resounded in the still air.

Sam's focus narrowed as he relaxed. The rest of the world just didn't seem too important right now. He wasn't sure how long it lasted, but Skye suddenly took a deep breath, pulled her head back to a normal position, and settled back down. Her gaze wandered to the others as Sam stood up, and he couldn't help but notice a subtle tremor in her neck.

Hiccup couldn't hold back a laugh. "What, lad?" Sam asked.

"You should see yourself!" he said, still chuckling. Puzzled, Sam looked around for a mirror, saw the next best thing in a polished shield hanging on a nearby wall, and went over to look at his reflection. His face was more haggard than he'd expected, but lit with what had to be the most vapid grin he'd worn since high school.

For just a moment, he was embarrassed. The moment fled quickly, and he relaxed. "Is that all?" he said, turning back to the others. "And I suppose you kept a perfectly straight face the first time you and Toothless touched?"

Toothless let out a short series of huffs at this. Hiccup blushed. "Well..."

"Case closed" Sam said, wryly. He reached into a leg pocket and pulled out the small injector he'd loaded earlier. "I'd best give her that second dose. She still seems a bit unstable." He moved towards Skye once again. "I need to give you more medicine" he said as he drew close, holding out the injector so she could see it clearly. "It won't hurt."

She eyed it curiously, sniffed at it, then glanced at Toothless. He gave a single huff. Skye turned back towards Sam, nodded once, then held still, her neck extended and one silvery eye fixed on him. She blinked as the hypo hissed against her skin, then craned her head around to sniff curiously at the spot. She licked at it a couple of times, shrugged her wings, then settled into a sphinx-like pose, still eyeing Sam speculatively. "Thank you" he said, nodding once and turning away.

"Nay, Healer, thank you" came a gruff voice from the front door. Stoick was back, looking tired but pleased. "Spitelout told me how ye cured Sparks and Hookfang. 'Tis nothing short of a miracle ye've brought us, even if your ways are strange enough to puzzle the Gods themselves." He looked over the pair of Night Furies, settled next to each other in the same position, and nodded appreciatively. "And I can see ye did the same for this pair o' devils."

He hung his helmet on a hook near the door, got a jug of mead from the kitchen and three mugs, and settled at the dining table. "Come have a drink and tell me how ye did it" he said, gesturing them over.

Sam nodded acceptance. "Before I do, Chief Stoick" he said, plucking at the front of his jumpsuit with distaste, "I'd like to take a moment to put my equipment away and put on fresh clothes. I'll be right back."

He gathered up kit bag, PortaLab and Gauntlet, and went out. Once he was clear of the door, Stoick handed Hiccup a mug and said "So... tell me what ye think of our visitor, son."

Hiccup knew his father well enough to see the depth of the question, and he was more than a little startled. "You actually want my impressions?"

Stoick snorted. It sounded like a small thundercloud. "Wouldna' have asked you if I didn't" he said, peevishly. "Just tell me what ye think."

Hiccup took a gulp of mead before starting. He was surprised to find it didn't take that long to cover the basic facts, mostly because he and Sam hadn't spoken very much about his background. Stoick's eyes widened when Hiccup told him about learning to take blood, and what the vet had done with samples. "I guess, in the end, he's helping because it really is just his job."

"Aye, and that's what worries me" Stoick sighed. "A job means pay, and that makes me wonder who might be payin' him, and what they might be payin' him to do. You've seen for yourself how strange his ways are. And those tools he uses! They're like magic from the Gods!"

Hiccup looked disgusted. "Oh, come on, dad! You think he's a spy or something? Did it ever occur to you he might actually be getting paid just to be an animal healer? And as for his tools, there's plenty of land we haven't explored yet. Thor only knows what other people are coming up with these days!"

His father looked unconvinced. "OK, let's take this from another angle" Hiccup said, taking another gulp from his mug. "You already know dragons are pretty good at sizing someone up? Wait 'til you hear how Skye reacted to him."

He went on to describe precisely how the Night Fury had responded. "You know as well as I do a dragon's neck is their most vulnerable spot. They absolutely do not present it to someone they don't trust, and I've never seen a dragon offer their neck like that to anyone on the first meeting! Toothless didn't do it with me, and Skye's the most stand-offish dragon Berk has ever seen. Helfires, Sam got more out of her in five minutes than I've been able to in five weeks! That says something, no matter what."

Stoick thought this over. At that moment, Sam came back in, a bundle of clothing tucked beneath one arm. "Be right there" he said, ducking behind the stairs where he had pushed his gunbelt away earlier. Ripping and shuffling sounds ensued for about two minutes, then the vet reappeared. His hair looked freshly combed, his gunbelt was back around his waist, and he had a small but bulging bag in one hand. He set it down by the door, then came over to collect the remaining mug. "Thanks" he said, sampling the brew.

The dominant flavor was that of mead, but it came with traces of mint and a sharp flavor he thought might be either clove or ginger. It also managed to light a small fire in his stomach, one which spread its heat quickly through the rest of him. "Strong stuff!" he said, appreciatively. "Thanks, but I'd best not drink more than that. Still have to fly tonight."

"You're leaving?" Stoick said, puzzled. "But some o' the beasties are still sick."

Sam explained about the supply issue. "I've invited Hiccup to come with me, if he wants to" he added. "He's turning into a fine assistant, and we wouldn't be gone more than a couple of hours."

Once again, Sam got a reaction he hardly expected. Not from Hiccup, but from Stoick. The chieftain scowled, put his mug down harder than seemed necessary, took hold of his son's arm and said "A moment, if you please, Healer?"

The vet just nodded, baffled by his host's reaction. Stoick promptly walked Hiccup over to a corner near the stairs, and started arguing with him. Although they kept their voices low, Sam couldn't help but overhear scattered words, mainly variations on "crazy contraption" and "dark sorcery" from Stoick's side. He also picked up "...must go, at least go with Toothless..."

Hiccup countered with something Sam didn't catch, and Stoick snapped a reply. Hiccup came back right on top of it with "...not a baby any more... expect me to lead, how am I supposed to learn if you..."

The teen was clearly used to this, for he gave as well as he got. Sam caught fragments of reassurances about the time involved for the trip, as well as something else he hadn't expected. " opportunities, Dad! If we can trade for some of those instruments..."

The rest was in too low a voice for him to pick up accurately, but he rolled his eyes. Follow the money he mused. I wonder how First Euro National would react to banking Viking handcrafts?

He risked a glance. From Stoick's deepening scowl, Sam guessed Hiccup was winning. Finally, Stoick nodded in defeat, and they both came back to the table. "Hiccup is free to go with you, Healer. But I want to see you both back here as quickly as possible!" He slammed a meaty fist to the table, hard enough to make the mugs jump. "Clear?"

What the frell is he so worried about?! Sam wondered, though he nodded and replied "Very clear, Chief Stoick, and I thank you. We won't linger a moment longer than we have to." He suddenly had the odd sensation of being a teen himself, assuring his father he'd get his first date home on time.

Stoick nodded, and his scowl melted away. He offered a handshake, which Sam accepted. He wondered, afterward, if he'd have bruises. "Odin guide you both, then. I'm going over to Mead Hall with Gobber."

He turned and lumbered out without another word, picking up his helmet on the way. Sam and Hiccup exchanged a look. "Would you mind telling me what that was all about?"

Hiccup shrugged, and managed a weak grin. "Overly protective?" he offered.

Sam knew better than to push in a situation like this, and he was too wrung out to argue in any case. "Fair enough" he said, reaching for his laundry bag. "Do you need to bring anything with you?"

Another shrug. "I'm wearing it all. Give me just a minute, though."

He made his way over to Toothless, who was keeping watch over a now-sleeping Skye. "I'll be back in a couple of hours, bud" he said, scratching his friend's neck. "You keep an eye on her, OK?"

He grinned as he said it. Toothless chuffed a couple of times, in what Sam now recognized as his version of laughter, and nudged Hiccup in the chest. Go the motion said. I'll be here.

They made their way out to Sam's ship. "Up the ladder with you, lad" Sam said, cheerfully, as he stowed his laundry in one of the cargo compartments. "Take the right-hand seat."

Despite his artificial leg, Hiccup scrambled up the ladder like a howler monkey on a double latte. Just as he reached the top, he froze. "Uhh... Sam?"

The vet closed the compartment, and came forward to stand under the ladder. "Something wrong?"

"I'm not sure wrong is the right word" Hiccup said, clearly trying hard not to laugh. "Safe to say my seat's already been claimed."

Puzzled, Sam clambered up the other side. As his head came above cockpit level, he saw the problem immediately. It took the form of the green-and-red Terror he'd met just after landing in the village, sprawled on the front passenger seat and snoring softly. From the coloring, and questions he'd asked Hiccup earlier about draconic anatomy, this was definitely a female. Her legs and tail twitched slightly, reacting to whatever dream was playing across her mind's eye.

The vet rolled his eyes. "This is what I get for leaving the canopy open" he muttered. Then, to Hiccup, "So how do I wake her up? Gently?"

"Better let me do it" he replied. Sam nodded, and traded places with the teen. This time, Hiccup scrambled all the way in, leaning most of his weight on the left seat. He reached over and, cautiously, tapped the Terror on her muzzle. She stirred, flipped all the way onto her back, legs in the air – and kept right on snoring.

"Oh, great" Hiccup muttered. He tried the muzzle tap again, a little harder, but with a net result of zero. "OK, fine," he sighed. "Heavy weapons it is..."

He sat back in the seat, keeping his face well clear of the Terror's area, and reached into an inside pocket of his vest. He drew out a very long and very stiff black feather he'd salvaged from the beach a couple of days ago. He wasn't sure what kind of bird it was from, but such details were unimportant for his purposes.

Reaching back over the cockpit's center console, he started tickling the Terror's muzzle with the feather's tip. She shivered, briefly, then her eyes sprang wide open. Her entire body seemed to grow with her sudden sharp intake of breath, and deflated just as abruptly as she sneezed. Violently.

The resultant fire-jet missed Sam by mere centimeters. Hiccup heard him shout a single word as he leaped clear and, though he didn't recognize the language, he doubted it would have been suitable for polite company.

A moment later, the vet was back on the ladder, looking at him with concern. "Are you all right, lad?"

He grinned broadly in response. "Sure. That's just what happens when you startle a Terror. Normally, they don't let loose fire when they sneeze, but if they're startled and about to sneeze..."

Sam did his best to absorb this as the indignant dragon glared at them both. With a sharp chirp, she scrambled up Sam's front and launched herself off his shoulder. He winced as her claws dug in, briefly, and turned to watch as she flew off towards the forest. "Now I really have seen it all" he said. "Move over, lad."

Hiccup did so, settling into the passenger seat. "I take it the other dragons can breathe fire as well?" Sam asked, only half-joking, as he slid into his own position and secured his harness.

"Sure can" Hiccup replied, as he copied the vet's movements with the passenger side's harness. "The only exceptions are the Zipplebacks. They don't breathe actual fire. One head lets loose with gas, and the other head sparks it."

He went on, explaining in detail about each dragon's characteristic flaming technique. Sam listened with half an ear, as he powered on the ship's systems and double-checked the navigation numbers.

"As for the Night Furies" Hiccup was saying, "they have to be seen to be believed! If they have a shot limit, we haven't found it, and the fire they spit is a bright blue-white ball which literally explodes when it hits something!"

Sam whistled at this. "Do you think you could convince Toothless or Skye to show me?"

Hiccup snorted. "Are you kidding? They enjoy shooting at things! I think they like to see how hard a target they can hit at a distance. When we get back, I'll see if I can get Toothless to take out a target for you. I owe him a flight, anyway."

"Deal" Sam said, as slipped on his helmet, closed the canopy, and lit up the main drive. "Sit back and enjoy the ride" he said, as the aircar lifted smoothly into the late afternoon sky and headed northeast at just over a hundred knots.

Hiccup was amazed by the smoothness of the flight. With the canopy closed, the only sounds were a muted whine from the turbines, the rush of air through the ventilation system, and an occasional audible signal from the instruments. He gazed out the canopy at the ocean passing far below. "How high are we?"

"About a kilomet... sorry, a little more than half a vika" Sam replied. "About halfway to Bergen, so I'd best call in. Excuse me a moment."

Call in? Hiccup wondered. What in Thor's Beard does he mean by that?!

He soon found out. Sam flipped a couple of small silvery levers, then pressed a blue spot on the odd-looking handle he was gripping. His next words were an utter mystery to Hiccup. He had a strange feeling this would have been the case even if the language had been Norse.

"Bergen Approach, Ranger Nineteen out of Alladale, request clearance to Kogen base for resupply."

He lifted his thumb, waited a few moments. Silence, except for the craft's background noise. Sam frowned, pressed down on the spot and spoke again. "Bergen Approach, Ranger Nineteen, do you copy?"

Still nothing. "Computer" Sam said. "Communications and GNSS status?"

"Primary and secondary commsat: No signal. Primary and secondary GNSS: No signal. All other communication systems nominal" came the prompt reply.

Sam's frown deepened. If this is an IB he thought, it's damned persistent! He switched frequencies and tried again. "Kogen base, Ranger Nineteen out of Alladale, do you copy?"

He tried twice more, even going as far as calling on the UNEC distress frequency. Nothing but silence.

"Sam?" said an uncertain voice. "Is something wrong?"

He blinked. He'd nearly forgotten his passenger. "Not with our flight" he said. "But I still can't contact anyone on the radio, and primary navigation is still out. Damned strange, it is..."

Feeling like he was going to regret the answer, Hiccup continued. "What's a ra... ray-d-oh?"

The vet looked at him with an expression Hiccup couldn't read. "You don't know? Even as isolated as Berk is, I would have thought–"

"Look" Hiccup interrupted, growing increasingly nervous and more than a bit angry. "We may be isolated, but it doesn't mean we're backwards! Just tell me what's going on, and forget about being condescending, please? Just for once?"

Sam's mouth dropped open, and his eyes widened. After a moment, he came back to his senses and shook his head. "I'm sorry" he said. "We come from different cultures, and I've forgotten that too many times today."

"Apology accepted" the teen shot back. "Now what's going on?!"

Sam took a deep breath, and throttled back their speed to a leisurely fifty knots. "Radio has many uses" he said. "I use it to communicate with other people over long distances. Under the right conditions, and with the right equipment, you can hear and be heard halfway around the world. Any time I get within a certain distance of my organization's bases, I'm supposed to call ahead to let them know I'm coming."

"Better" Hiccup replied, nodding. "So, if I understand correctly, no one's answering your call? And they should be?"

"Exactly" Sam said, slapping the console. "Same problem I had this morning, before you and Fishlegs found me. We're not more than six vikas out from the base. They should be able to hear me as if I were in the same room!" He frowned again, and took the ship lower. "In fact" he continued, worriedly, "we should be able to see Bergen by now..."

As they drew closer to the rugged-looking mainland, Sam grew steadily more confused. The outline of the coast looked right, but there was something missing. A lot of somethings.

He dropped down to two hundred meters, the lowest cruising altitude allowed by law over a populated area, throttled back to thirty-five knots, and flew a pass over what should have been downtown Bergen and its surroundings.

It was what he couldn't see which bothered him far more than what he could. There were the seaports, yes, but where in blazes was the Stavanger ferry? And where the huge University of Bergen campus should have been, there was nothing but an open field!

And what about other air traffic? Bergen was a busy place. There was no way he should have been able to just fly in over the city without seeing at least a cargo craft or three, let alone all the personal aircars. Yet, his radar scope was as blank as a clean sheet of paper.

Sam felt the beginnings of panic, and fought it down with an effort. He gained some altitude and swung his craft due north, straight for Haukasskogen. His state of mind was not helped by the fact the entire length of the Asaneveien highway, which most UNEC pilots used as a visual aid for approaching the base, seemed to have utterly disappeared. A few minutes later, the computer beeped a warning, and said "Destination reached. Commence landing procedure."

An icicle substituted itself for Sam's spine. His hand trembled as he reached for the throttles. The craft descended smoothly and settled onto a flat meadow. Sam cut power, then opened the canopy and climbed down, completely ignoring Hiccup's questions about why they'd set down in the middle of nowhere.

No base. No buildings. Nothing but bird and animal noises. The late afternoon sun turned the grassland a bright orange, and a gentle breeze rustled the tall stalks. The spring air was chill and crisp, with scents of wildflowers, pine, spruce and fir all competing for space.

Distinctly absent was the scent of any man-made pollution.

Sam dropped to his knees, clutching tightly at the grass. SciFi stories had been a staple of his reading in earlier years, including such notables as Poul Anderson and Andre Norton. His overloaded mind was now taking those stories, adding a bunch of anomalies, and putting them together in a pattern he didn't like at all.

An apparently isolated community, unnoticed by a world which had at least partly explored nearly every square meter of its surface.

Dragons, a species thought to be long extinct if not entirely mythical.

Three hundred years of war with dragons, just recently stopped.

People who had never heard of UNEC, or modern medicine.

A village without electricity, running water, or anything other than crude sanitary facilities. Not even a single satellite phone.

No GNSS. No commsats. No radio contact.

He looked up at the darkening sky. Because there are no satellites the thought said. No commsats. No radios, other than what you have in your ship right now. You can't receive if there's nothing out there to send, and vice versa!

As impossible as it seemed, there was only one answer which fit all the facts.

Time travel.

It was the last piece in the crazy jigsaw puzzle his mind had been working on, subconsciously, since he'd woken up on Berk that morning. Somehow, whatever effect he'd encountered had thrown him into the past.

Far enough in the past to where Vikings were very much alive and well, Alladale was just an abstract marking on a map, and everyone and everything he knew wouldn't exist for at least a thousand years.

A familiar creaking sounded behind him. "Sam?" Hiccup said, limping up to his side. "What's wrong? You've been just kneeling there for nearly five minutes. Where's your base? Are you sure you brought us to the right spot?"

He smiled gently up at the teen. "Oh. Hello, Hiccup" he said, as casually as if he were greeting him at a coffee shop. "I think we have a problem."

Blackness rushed in to claim him as he fainted.

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