The Dragonwing Effect

Chapter 5

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment." (Buddha)

Sam flinched as a stream of water splashed against his face. When did it start raining? He wondered, bemused.

Full consciousness – and full memory – returned in a rush. He sat bolt upright, gasping for breath, and looked around. Nothing had changed. Same grassy field where the smooth synthcrete of Kogen Base's landing apron should have been, same clear darkening sky, same young Viking standing a couple of feet away, looking very worried, one of the vet's spare water bottles in one hand.

"Are you all right?" Hiccup asked. "Why are we here? What did you expect to find?"

Sam took a shaky breath, closed his eyes for a moment, then got unsteadily to his feet. Hiccup was beside him in an instant, offering support.

"Thanks, lad" he said. He found his balance returning quicker than expected. "To answer – I'll be fine, and we're here because this is where the base is supposed to be..." He trailed off, still grappling with the truth.

"So you made a mistake" Hiccup said, with a shrug. "Happens to all of us. Can we go now?"

Sam bit his lip. "That's the problem" he said, slowly, trying to decide how to phrase the rest of his reply. "Mainly because I just realized where – or, more to the point, when – I am."

He gestured around the field, then met the teen's gaze. "Hiccup" he said, carefully, "this may be a bit hard to swallow. The reason there's no base here, now, is because it hasn't been built yet. It won't be, for at least a thousand years."

He turned to the west, and waved his arm. "There's supposed to be a highw – uhh, a big road – two big roads, actually, one for traffic in each direction, just west of us. And the area we flew over, near the harbor? There's going to be a huge univers... uhh, 'school' ...built there, with students from all over the world!"

By now, Hiccup was beginning to wonder if his visitor had a decent hold on reality. Sam met his gaze again, and asked "What's the date?"

"May First" the teen said, with a shrug. "Why does it matter?"

Sam shook his head. "No, the year."

"Eight-forty" Hiccup replied, growing more upset by the moment. "Again, why does it matter?"

Sam winced. His eyes were sunken, his face pale. "Hiccup" he said, his voice flat and calm, "I was born in the year two-thousand-fifty. April First, to be exact.

"When I started work this morning, the year was two-thousand-ninety. Next thing I know, I've ended up far away from where I started, both in distance and time. I don't have the slightest clue how I got here, or why it happened..." He trailed off.

The teen glared at him. "This is a really bad time for jokes, Sam!" he snapped. "In case you've forgotten, there are still sick dragons back at Berk!"

"You think I don't know that?!" Sam shot back, with some heat of his own. He waved both arms at their surroundings. "You think I planned on coming here?! Since you found me this morning, I thought I'd just been thrown off course and landed in some hermit commune! Aye, there was truth in that, but I had no idea I'd been thrown twelve-hundred-plus years into the past as well!"

"Hermit commune?!" Hiccup gasped, outraged. "You stuck-up troll! Berk is known all over this part of the world! Leather, metalwork, weapons, jewelry... and that doesn't even touch what we've done with the dragons!"

He tapped his prosthetic leg. "What sacrifices have you made lately for those you care about, Sam? I nearly got killed saving that 'hermit commune' from a monster of a dragon a dozen times the size of your ship and twice as ugly! Toothless and I barely got out of it alive! There were others who weren't so lucky!

"But guess what? If we hadn't done it, dragons and humans alike would still be dying by the hundreds, if not thousands, each year and I'd have been exiled by my own father! We stopped a senseless war which had been going for three hundred years, and eliminated a threat which may, in time, have spread all over the world. Who knows how many lives we saved?! If losing part of my leg is what it cost to protect all those people, human and dragon, then I think it was a pretty good deal!"

He crossed his arms over his chest. "You may have different machines and tools than we do. Some are, I admit, better ways of doing some things. But guess what? Machines and tools are only as good as whoever's using them! If you really are from the future, and you're an example of the kind of person living there, I think I'm better off right here!"

Sam flushed, glaring at the youth. He opened his mouth to deliver a suitably stinging comeback, but nothing emerged. Hiccup simply held his gaze in an unwavering stare, daring him to even think of arguing further.

Something snapped in Sam's guts, and the tension fled as quickly as it had come. His legs went shaky again, and he barely managed to stay upright. He's right that annoyingly strong inner voice told him. You're acting just like Rex Harrison in 'Doctor Doolittle; Great animal healer, not so good with people!

He pressed his hands tight against his face, and took another shaky breath. Focus! He told himself. Immediate problems: Sick dragons, rare species, no more CME-2, twelve HUNDRED-plus years, might have to rely on supportive treatment alone, do I have enough Theolair, why the frell didn't the humans get sick, do I just bail and look for a way home, sweet Saint Eligius, where would I even start, should I even be doing anything, I mean, what might happen to my own time because of things I do now, oh, Essence, this whole situation is completely INSANE...!

His thoughts kept whirling about each other, winding up like a clock's mainspring. Suddenly, in the midst of the mental chaos, one simple sentence broke through, spinning the tension away in its wake. It echoed in his mind, sounding nearly the same as when he'd repeated it during graduation.

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

And where in that sentence his inner voice continued, does it say anything about what form such improvement will take? Or in what time?

His head came up as a calm sense of purpose dropped over him like a blanket, and he felt his shoulders relax in the same instant. I've already changed history he thought. No matter what I've set in motion, it cannot be undone.

He looked over at Hiccup. If I stop now, it could mean the end of Skye, her young and other dragons. It would certainly mean breaking my oath of office. This is not an option!

"Come on, lad" he said, abruptly, turning back towards his ship. Hiccup followed, eagerly, though Sam swore he heard him mutter "...about time!..."

As they settled into the craft's cabin and buckled themselves in, Sam looked over at his passenger, his expression embarrassed. "Ahh... Hiccup, about what I said earlier... I'm... sorry..."

The teen's green eyes held his for a long moment. "I have a bad habit" Sam continued, "of being... well, thinking about others outside my culture as... I mean..."

He trailed off, helplessly. Hiccup grinned. "In my culture" he said, gently, "we judge someone by their actions, not their words. I'm sorry I called you a troll." His expression shifted to deadly serious in a heartbeat, along with hope and uncertainty. "Your actions so far, Sam Shay, have spoken more clearly than anything you've said this afternoon. Keep it up."

"I hope I can" Sam muttered, as he brought the ship's systems on-line and lifted smoothly into the evening sky.

They flew in silence for several minutes, then Hiccup spoke up. "Sam, what are you going to do about medicine? You said you needed more to treat the other dragons."

"That's what I'm hoping your village healer can help with, lad" he replied. "Since everyone ate from the same catch, but no one among your people got sick, I'm hoping there may be a treatment hiding in whatever your cooks add to a meal.

"It could be anything, but most likely some herb or spice which has a natural antitoxin in it. If I can isolate it, I can find a way to make what I need. Until then, I've got different drugs which can at least give the other dragons a fighting chance."

Hiccup thought about this, then continued. "How do you plan to get back? To your home? I mean, to your time?"

Sam let out a long sigh, and his hands tightened on the controls. "Decided to believe me, have you?"

The teen shrugged. "I didn't at first, but based on what I've seen so far it's the only explanation which makes sense. Can you even get back?"

"I've been wondering about that ever since I realized what's happened" Sam replied, then added: "At least, when I wasn't fainting in panic! Honestly, I have no idea. The science I grew up with has always held time travel as impossible." He snorted. "I think I can safely disregard that idea!"

"Don't blame yourself" Hiccup said. "I'd probably have reacted the same way if I were thrown into your future." He fiddled idly with the harness straps, then asked "What if you can't?"

Sam didn't answer for another few minutes. "I'd prefer not to think about–" he started to say, but Hiccup interrupted him. "You have to" he said, firmly. "Sometimes, a battle is won not because of how well or how poorly you fight, but because of how far ahead you plan."

Sam blinked, and turned to stare at the youth in surprise. "From what little I know of Viking culture, planning ahead was less important than brute force at any given moment."

Hiccup shrugged, and gazed thoughtfully out at the sky. "I'm not what you would call your typical Viking" he said, softly, his tone an odd mixture of pride and pain. "Just ask anyone in the village." He sighed, and continued "You haven't answered my question."

"If I can't get back" Sam said, as he slowed down and dropped lower, preparing to land. "You might have a new permanent resident." His tone was bleak.

"Would it really be so bad?" Hiccup said, his tone turning hopeful. "Skye likes you, Sam. A lot! I told my dad you'd done more with her in five minutes than I'd managed in five weeks, and I wasn't joking. As for Berk, yeah, it has its problems, but can you truly say they're worse than what you'd face in your time?"

The vet said nothing as he flipped on his landing lights. The brilliant blue-white glare startled some villagers who'd been standing near his approach path. As Sam settled his ship to the ground, he identified one of the figures as Stoick.

The other man was slightly shorter, though just as stocky, with a long blond braid and bushy mustache. He sported a prosthetic left 'peg-leg,' and a large tankard where his right hand should have been. "That's Gobber, our blacksmith" Hiccup said, as Sam shut the ship down and opened the canopy. "I've been his apprentice almost since I could walk." His brow furrowed in concern. "What's Elder Gothi doing here?"

Sam's attention was immediately drawn to a third figure, one he hadn't noticed before in the shadows. As his eyes adapted to the twilight, relieved only by the aircar's boarding lights and a nearly-full moon, he began to see details.

Not much taller than Hiccup, female, with a head of straight silvery hair braided in a neat ponytail, clad in dark-brown leather. Her left eye seemed to be in a permanent squint, almost completely closed, and she carried a crooked staff nearly twice her height.

She eyed the new arrivals calmly, and started making her way towards the ship. Despite her slow movements, she radiated a level of wisdom and authority which overshadowed even Stoick's air of command. She stopped alongside the craft's rounded nose and looked up, expectantly.

"Come on!" Hiccup said, urgently, as he unbuckled himself and motioned Sam to get a move on. "You don't keep her waiting!"

Startled into movement, Sam quickly complied. Moments later, they were standing before the Elder. Hiccup nodded a greeting. "Good evening, Elder" he said, respectfully.

"And to you, young Hiccup" she replied, her tone surprisingly rich for her size. Her one-eyed gaze turned to Sam. He found himself torn between a desire to salute and checking his conscience for recent mischief. He gulped, and finally settled for copying Hiccup's greeting.

"Welcome, Healer Shay" Gothi replied, warmly. She extended a thin hand which Sam, after a moment's hesitation, accepted. He needn't have worried; her grip would have frightened a champion arm-wrestler.

"I have heard of, and seen, what your skills have done for our people" she continued. "I speak for the village when I say we are all grateful, but I understand there is still more to be done. How can we help?"

Sam took a breath to reply, but was interrupted by his stomach projecting a very audible complaint about a day's diet of nothing but concentrate bars and water. Hiccup's innards followed with their own audible eruption a moment later. The impromptu symphony brought chuckles from Stoick and Gobber, and a knowing smile from the Elder. "We can continue this over dinner" she said, gesturing towards the house.

Minutes later, Sam was gratefully tearing into the biggest roasted turkey leg he'd ever seen, a well-seasoned mashed tuber he thought might be a turnip, and a dark bread which, though coarse, was much sweeter and more filling than he'd expected. Mead was the drink of choice, thought it was watered down from what he'd tried earlier.

Despite the meal and good company, he couldn't shake the feeling something was missing. Suddenly, he realized both Night Furies were gone. Stoick was quick to provide an answer. "Went out half an hour before ye returned" he rumbled. "Haven't seen 'em since."

Sam nodded, relieved, but more than a little surprised at the speed of Skye's recovery. He didn't really have time to ponder it because he suddenly found himself the subject of conversation.

In response to Gothi's questions, he explained as best he could, given the gaps in culture and technology, about what he'd found and what he'd done to treat the poisoning.

"The questions bothering me the most" he said, fighting down an urge to say 'how do I jump forward in time about 1200 years,' "are why none of the villagers got sick and where this toxin came from. It's usually limited to much warmer waters and very rarely shows up in this part of the world. Unless I know where it came from, I can't guarantee you won't have the same problem later on."

"I may have part of the answer for you" Gothi said, leaning back in her chair and cradling a mug of mint-scented tea. "Sealegs the Strong, father of Fishlegs, was the one who brought in yesterday's catch. I have spoken to him, and he told me all three of the fishing boats were blown off their normal course by a sudden gale. By the time they got their boats under control, they were nearly to Dragon Island.

"Normally, they would never have cast nets so close to the island, so as not to provoke the dragons who have chosen to remain wild and still live there. But the day was growing old, and it was either fish where they were or come back with empty barrels.

"So, despite the rumbles from the mountain itself, and the strange dark color of the water, Sealegs ordered the nets into place. He and his crew brought back a fine haul, and you know the rest." She took a long gulp of her tea. "Does this give you any clues, Healer?"

Sam nodded slowly. "It does, Elder. Can Sealegs can show me on a map or chart where this place is? I'll need to go there tomorrow, after I check on the dragons."

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Hiccup fidgeting. Before Gothi could answer, he spoke up. "Elder Gothi, with due respect" he began, flinching slightly under a brief glare from Stoick but not backing down. "Sa... Healer Shay isn't familiar with these waters, or their islands. It could be dangerous for him to go alone. I can go with him."

The Elder's eyebrows twitched upward. "With the wonders at his command, young Hiccup? I would imagine he has everything he needs to protect himself, and you have responsibilities to your village and your people."

"You're right, Elder" he replied, with a slight grin. "And the dragons are now part of our village and our lives. That makes them my responsibility as well, doesn't it? How would I be honoring that responsibility if I let the only person we've met who's capable of healing them of this sickness get lost, or hurt? He may command 'wonders,' as you say, but he has no way to... well, call on his own people if he needs help."

The adults all looked startled at this. Sam had been wondering how – or even if – he should broach the subject of just how far displaced he was from his 'own people.' It seemed his young guide was making the decision for him.

"I don't understand" Gobber said, scratching his chin and eyeing Sam thoughtfully. "Ye made th' trip to th' mainland an' back almost in less time than it takes ta' load a longboat, let alone do the sailin'. Do ye not have a messenger hawk? Just how far are ye from home, Healer?"

A sudden chill went down Sam's spine. He looked first at Hiccup, then the Elder. Both nodded at him slightly. "It's not a matter of distance, Gobber" he said, slowly. "It's more a matter of time..."

He told them the whole story. Stoick looked disbelieving at first, then outright scornful. Sam thought the result was what a thundercloud might look like if it had red hair and a beard. Gobber's expression varied between disbelief and utter fascination.

Neither Hiccup nor Gothi gave any sign other than listening intently. "I wouldn't blame you if you think I've gone bonkers" Sam said, swallowing the last of his mead. "I can scarcely believe it myself. Now you know why I need your village healer's help where I didn't think I would before."

Silence held the room for a few minutes, broken only by the faint chirps and rumbles of other dragons settling in for the night. Finally, Gothi nodded and got up.

"In view of what I've learned" she said, in that same soft-but-commanding voice the Vikings knew so well, "Stoick, I think it would be an excellent idea for Hiccup to go with our visiting Healer." She held up a hand, sharply, as the chief started to protest. "Walk me back to my house" she said. "I will explain on the way."

Stoick looked about ready to erupt like a hairy volcano. He got himself back under control with a visible effort, stood up, and collected his helmet. "Go with the Healer tomorrow, son" he grumbled at Hiccup. "Be back before sundown!"

They left quickly, Stoick holding the door until Gothi had gone ahead of him. "Dinna' tell me ye actually believe..." was all the others heard as the door shut behind them.

Gobber sighed, stretched, and suddenly cut loose with a belch which all but shook the table. "Not bad" Hiccup said, as he started clearing the dishes away. "About eight out of ten."

Sam's eyes widened in shock as the blacksmith gave them both a gap-toothed grin. "I dinna' become Gobber the Belch fer nothin'" he said. "Only eight, though..." He drummed the table with his remaining set of fingers. "Have to work on it. Used to be a meal like that'd give me enough to send the plates right off the table."

He waved his hand at the door. "Ye certainly gave him a lot to swallow, Healer" he said, the grin still holding. "I wouldna' worry too much. Stoick's always been a hard nut to crack."

Sam eyed the stocky blacksmith curiously. "Please, call me Sam. You don't seem to have a problem with my story."

Gobber shrugged. "Why should I? Whether ye really are from the future, or just a wanderin' madman with fancy machines and a gift for healing, it doesna' matter to me. Yer actions today spoke far louder than anythin' comin' out o' yer gullet, an' the Gods move in mysterious ways.

"Ye showed up, ye were willing an' able to help our scaly friends when none of us could, an' ye hit it right off with the most stand-offish dragon Berk's ever seen." He nodded, thoughtfully. "Not bad for a first day."

"Thanks" Sam replied, eyeing Gobber's prosthetics. "If you don't mind my asking, how did you...?"

"Not at all" the blacksmith said, with a chuckle. He explained about his hard-won arguments with the two dragon species responsible, a Nadder and a Gronckle. "Sure, there be days when I miss havin' a couple of normal limbs" he said, refilling his tankard attachment. "But do I blame the beasties? Naah." He took a swig, and continued "How can anyone blame any creature just for defendin' itself?"

Sam was rocked to his core. Such a simple, true statement, but one he rarely heard. "I wish more people in my time felt that way" he said, quietly. "Even with all the progress we've made, there are plenty left who would think nothing of trying their best to wipe out any critter who had the temerity to fight back." He smiled, bitterly. "That's a big part of what keeps myself and my fellow Rangers busy. You should hear what happened with the killer whales a few–"

He stopped, cold, realizing he'd been about to say 'a few years ago,' just as though he were in his own time. Must be the mead he mused. He was saved from having to elaborate by Gobber's puzzled expression. "Killer... whales? Sam, what are ye jabberin' about?"

"You may know them by another name" he said, and proceeded to give a detailed description of the huge, intelligent, black-and-white oceanic mammals. Hiccup, who had finished the dishes and quietly returned to the table, with a mug of tea, nodded in recognition. "He's talking about sea wolves, Gobber."

"Oh, aye!" The smith said, brightening. "Now I get ye. What happened, then?"

"It was nasty" Sam replied, fiddling with his mug. "In my time, you see, nearly all types of hunting have been outlawed."

Hiccup gasped. Gobber's eyebrows climbed straight into his hairline. "Why would you do that? What do you do for food?" Hiccup asked. "Aye, and furs?" Gobber added.

"That's an even longer story" Sam said. "The short version is, in my time, the world's ecosystems... uhh, 'animal populations,' rather, have become depleted to the point where those populations are barely surviving. A big part of my job is helping them to thrive and grow strong again. In order to help, hunting for anything other than bare survival needs has been outlawed all over the world.

"As for clothing – 'furs,' as you put it, Gobber – hardly any of it is still made from animals. Leather is still around, but limited in use, and it all comes from animals which are farmed exclusively to be food and leather sources. What I'm wearing now is made of plant fibers, a mix of cotton and a material called 'Xenylon' made from kelp – seaweed."

Curious, Gobber reached out to finger the edge of Sam's sleeve. "Seems strong enough" he muttered. "But hardly enough to keep ye warm in winter."

"That's why we have jackets. Anyway, about fifteen years ago, from my time, a group of First Nation teenagers got drunk and took it into their heads how they were each going to prove their manhood to the other – by hunting down some killer whales, or sea wolves if you prefer.

"Off they went, in nothing but small boats, armed only with hand harpoons. They found one of the resident pods – group of whales – easily enough, but they made the mistake of choosing an adolescent as their first target. The young whale got a harpoon in his left eye, just for being curious.

"The young one's mother was nearby. Before the local patrols had gotten so much as a hint of what was happening, she took matters into her own hands – or, in this case, jaws." He shook his head. "Next morning, patrols found pieces of the boat and pieces of the four teens, scattered all over the beach.

"The worst part is no one knew, at first, what the four had tried to do. It was assumed the whales had attacked just for the fun of it, the way a cat will sometimes play with its prey, and there was enormous public pressure to kill every member of the whale pod believed responsible, laws be damned.

"A couple of weeks later, just as the outcry was reaching its peak, one of my fellow Rangers found the harpoon. The markings on it matched the tribe the teens belonged to. Soon afterward, the young whale's injury was discovered, and it became clear what had happened and why.

"Even with the whole story revealed, some were still calling for wiping out the whales." He sighed, and stared at his now-empty mug. "We nearly lost fifty years of progress in two weeks" he said, softly. "And my organization was caught right in the middle of it. It got bad enough, at one point, there was talk of restricting our jurisdiction to land animals. UNEC had already gotten its share of black eyes over closing down Sea World and other such circuses, so the entire incident was just more fuel to the fire."

Both Gobber and Hiccup were slack-jawed in amazement. "Let me see if I've got this straight" Hiccup said. "A bunch of drunken kids go out and try to kill something much larger and more powerful than they are, for no good reason. Then they get killed by the same creatures, who are acting in obvious self-defense, and the people in your time get mad at the sea wolves?!"

The vet nodded. "That about sums it up, lad. I'm happy to say the young whale survived."

"But how can he learn to hunt and survive if he's missing an eye?" Hiccup said. "Worse, how could he defend himself against other predators?"

Sam looked puzzled. "Seeing's not an issue. Whales can do it with their ears. They can send out streams of clicks and whistles underwater, and the echos they get back give them a far more detailed view of their world than they'd ever get with their eyes. But what other predators are you on about, lad? In my time, at least, those whales are the top predators in the oceans."

"Scauldrons" Hiccup answered, promptly. "And Thunderdrums. Both are sea-dwelling dragons, just as big, if not bigger, than any sea-wolf. They're not around in your time?"

Sam could only shake his head as he digested this. Gobber sighed again. "Madness" he muttered. "A mother fightin' for her young, an' she gets blamed for winnin' the fight."

His gaze held the vet's. "I don't think I like the sound of your world, Sam, no matter what time or place it's in. Are ye certain ye want ta' go back, even if ye can find a way? Speakin' for meself, I think ye'd do well ta' stay right here. Odin knows we could use someone with yer talents."

Sam started to reply, then stopped at the unexpected surge of uncertainty rising from his guts. Finally, as if from a distance, he heard his own voice answering. "I have to, Gobber. I have to at least try. I took an oath to fight such madness, and it's not an oath I take lightly."

The burly blacksmith got up and stretched, an enormous yawn parting his jaws. "Madness like that can strike anywhere, at any time" he rumbled. "I understand takin' an oath ta' fight it, but does it truly matter where ye are when ye live up to it? Nay, don't answer now" he continued, as Sam took a breath to reply. "Jus' food fer' thought. Hiccup, come find me at the shop once you and Sam get back tomorrow. G'night."

He lumbered out, his peg-leg clacking on the wood floor. Stoick came back in at the same moment, the two men exchanging backslaps as they passed. He stopped to hang his helmet on its usual hook, then eyed his son and their visitor for a long moment, his expression unreadable.

Finally, he nodded, said "Good night to you both. Hiccup, don't stay up too late," and went upstairs without another word.

Sam and Hiccup exchanged a look. "That's new" the teen muttered, watching his father's retreating figure in surprise. "Whatever the Elder said to him must have been fairly powerful."

"I'll take your word for it" Sam replied, equally curious. "And, by the way, thanks for the meal. Right now, though, we have a more pressing issue." He stood up and headed for the door. "We need to make a last check of the other dragons before turning in."

It was Hiccup's turn to look puzzled, as he got up and followed. "You're welcome, but... Turning in? To what?"

The vet laughed. "Figure of speech, lad" he said, as they went to get his equipment. "I'll explain on the way."

They started with the dragons Sam hadn't gotten to before running out of CME-2, two of which, a Gronckle and another Nadder, were having serious trouble breathing. Fortunately, the pair responded well to Theolaire and were soon able to drift off to sleep, though they remained feverish. Hookfang was awake and in good spirits, though still shaky. Sparks, Spitelout's Terror, seemed completely recovered. They found her perched in the rafters above the house's kitchen space, watching the preparations for a late dinner with a fixed gaze any eagle would have envied.

As for Stormfly, they found her and Astrid on top of a nearby cliff, stargazing. The Nadder surprised everyone by greeting Sam with a much gentler nudge than earlier, and a wing draped partly over his shoulders. "You've got competition" Astrid said to Hiccup, with a grin.

"Hey, if he can get along with dragons like I can, it makes my job that much easier" he replied, sitting down next to her. They leaned against each other, causing Sam to wonder if he might be needed elsewhere. "Did you get the rest of the dragons taken care of?" Astrid asked, suddenly.

Hiccup squirmed a bit. "Yes and no..." he started to say.

This earned him a sharp glance. "Which is it?" she said. Sam felt what little peace the scene was creating start to ebb away, and took it as a cue to gently disengage himself from under the Nadder's wing and gather up his equipment. "I'm going to go put this stuff away" he said. "Hiccup, can I borrow a section of your floor to sleep on?"

"Sure, Sam" he said, grateful for the distraction but knowing Astrid wouldn't let him get away with it for long. "And is it all right if I tell her..." he trailed off.

"Everything" Sam said, as he turned back towards the chief's house. "Good night, lad."

He walked away as quickly as he could, burdened with backpack and equipment bag. As he went, he caught snippets of their conversation, including Astrid's voice suddenly escalating in strident tones: "...the future?! Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, if you didn't have a reputation for..."

Sam winced, feeling somewhat guilty at leaving his young friend to face the music. The guilt was soon swept away by a wave of fatigue so strong he stumbled slightly. All catching up with me he thought, as he dropped his equipment off at the house, then went back to his ship for his bedroll and camping kit.

Like all Rangers, he carried enough in the way of supplies and equipment to live in the wild for over a week if need be. Glad I don't have to use the tent he thought, as he got what he needed and climbed up the boarding ladder to secure the canopy. What he saw, as he came to the top and shined his flashlight in, made him roll his eyes.

"You again!" he muttered, eyeing the small green form sprawled happily across the passenger seat, snoring softly. The little female Terror twitched awake at the sound of his voice, blinked at him sleepily – then started to shy away, clearly expecting eviction.

Sam started to encourage her, then stopped. The craft's interior was utterly undisturbed, save for the faint impressions of claw marks in the seat's padding. All of the dragons he'd encountered so far were certainly cleanly, their scent an unusual but not unpleasant variant of that found on snakes. Most importantly, none of the craft's systems could be activated, accidentally or otherwise, without his thumbprint or a retinal scan.

He chirred softly at the dragon. Her pupils widened in surprise, and the pre-flight tension left her small body. Sam extended a hand and, once again, she bumped against it as she settled back down. "Get a good night's rest, little one" he said, closing the canopy about halfway and climbing down.

Ten minutes later, he had his field mattress and sleeping bag set up near the fireplace, along with a battery-powered lantern. Though Berk was definitely in what its residents would call a heat wave, unusual for early spring, Sam's wrist computer placed the nighttime temperature at around eight Celsius. He took a moment to lay out fresh clothing for the next day, and strip down to skivvies and T-shirt, before climbing gratefully into his sleeping bag and shutting off the lantern.

Sleep did not come easily, despite his exhaustion. His mind insisted on replaying parts of the day's events, particularly those when he was so absorbed in his work he seemed to forget where and when he was. What bothered him even more was how well he seemed to fit in, a few culture clashes notwithstanding.

I can't even afford to think such things! He mused. My first duty, after clearing up what's left of the brevetoxin, is to get home and back to my job. Whatever brought me here, it stands to reason it works both ways. I just need to figure it out...

He worked hard to recall everything he'd seen, heard, and felt before getting knocked out. One of those pirates tried to shoot me with a plasma charge. I dodged the bolt, but it hit...

Something. He breathed deeply, willing the memory alive. There had been an explosion, a huge cloud of dust, rock debris pinging off his hull like out-of-control hail, then something dark-gray-silvery under the rock...

He wasn't even aware he'd drifted off, though a glance at his wrist comp showed over an hour had passed. It was the voices which had woken him, along with the front door being pushed open. The soft shuffling of draconic footsteps sounded, and Sam turned his head to see both Night Furies settling down barely a meter away from him.

Hiccup's voice whispered "...night, Astrid" near the door, then it closed again. Quiet footsteps sounded, along with a rhythmic squeak from his prosthetic leg, as he made his way up to his own room.

Sam turned back over. His mind stubbornly shifted back into high gear, trying to pick up where it had left off. Suddenly, something soft and dark settled over his torso. He looked up, startled, and found himself staring into a pair of opaline eyes. Skye huffed, softly, and settled her head on her forelimbs, her left wing still partly extended over him.

"Whoa" he muttered, his gaze moving between hers and the ebony expanse of her wing. All this time, Skye continued to watch him, her gaze dancing with gentle humor. Sam reached up to touch his unexpected cover, and found it to be smooth as polished silk. Skye shivered slightly at the contact, her gaze managing to convey questions no words ever could.

He slipped into sleep again, unsure if he could ever answer with any certainty.


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