Rose Apfel gazed out over the colony from her fourth-story apartment balcony window. “You can do it,” her father, King Stone Apfel had told her. “It’s the best, least dangerous planet our people have ever found. The top predator is a half-inch spider. It isn’t even toxic.”
So she had agreed. The ship arrived five years ago with four hundred colonists. Those were the prep team. They built housing and labs and civic buildings and parks and squares and farms. A year later came the second wave, scientists and mathematicians, astronomers and some entertainment crafts. In the third year came teachers and entrepreneurs, musicians, artists and craftsmen. Those were busy, glorious years full of thoughts of the future.
Then last year came the dragons. They flew overhead eating the stock, burning the apartments, houses, stores and civic buildings. Oh, they ate the native animal life, large, bovine and lizard-like creatures all of whom were vegetarian. But they relished the imported livestock. The price of meat, dairy and leather skyrocketed. The price of grain and vegetables rose through the roof. Rose sighed. A year of predation and now, she had to make some very hard choices. A gong sounded. Time to go down to her cabinet meeting.
Seated at the head of the table, Rose listened to a long list of problems. Worst was the loss of communications. The dragons had burned the communications towers for the fifth time in a year. They just couldn’t get word through to her father on their home planet. She drummed her fingers on the highly polished wooden table. “Two things.” She looked around the table. “I can see that everyone is working as hard as they can.”
The tiny complement cheered the glum group staring back at her. “Unfortunately that is not enough. We need to work smarter. No one has yet determined where these dragons have come from and why they’re here now. I want one captured and studied.”
Every man and woman slumped in their seat. “Second. We implement rationing immediately. Palace residents, included.” Her prime minister paled. His girth displayed his love of banquets.
A week later, word was sent that they had captured a dragon. She went immediately to the science labs, re-built underground after the above ground buildings were destroyed shortly after the dragons emerged. The dragon was in a fire-proof transparent walled cage. Her breath caught in her throat at her first sight of it. Emerald green scales glittered with silver highlights on the edges. Rose tinted the dragon’s spine from the top of its head to the tip of its tail. “It’s beautiful!”
“Indeed, Princess.” The lead scientist, River Aspen, stood, hands behind his back in front of the cage. “We rendered the beast unconscious, My Lady, and drew blood and other fluids. The test results are that the creature’s biology is consistent with that of this planet. What we cannot know at this point, is why in the fifteen years between the initial study of the planet and our settlement, that these creatures were never discovered.”
Rose nodded. That was the main question. “Some sort of cyclical life-cycle?”
“That is the only explanation, Princess.” Scientist Aspen turned at a movement of the dragon. “Ah. This is why we called you. The dragon is awaking.”
“You used fireproof glass?” Rose eyed the cage enclosure as the dragon stirred.
“Oh, yes, Princess. And triple strength walls.”
Reassured, the Princess watched as the roomful of scientists monitored the screens showing the dragon’s heart rate and other medical or biological functions. A speaker system let them hear the dragon as it woke from the sedatives. It opened its eyes after rumbles, mumbles and snorts, scrambling to its feet and falling against the walls. It chirruped and growled, shaking its head.
“Its trying to clear the sedative fog,” Rose said.
“Typical behavior, Princess, for any creature after sedation.”
Gaining strength, it roared at the scientists and tried to blow flame but coughed instead. It seemed to glare at them then proceeded to investigate every inch of the cell. It came back to the window and roared again.
The princess walked to the window and gazed at the creature. It bent its head down and looked back at her with golden eyes. “Scientist Aspen, do you have a translator installed in the creature’s cell?”
The scientist’s mouth dropped open. “Why, no, Princess. It’s an animal.”
She put her hand up to the glass. The dragon did the same, it’s huge clawed foot dwarfing her hand on the other side of the glass. “So are we. Set it up immediately.”
While the scientists worked on setting up the translator, Rose took her mid-day tea in a chair in front of the cage. Water and a small raw roast were placed in the cage and the dragon ate with her.
Aspen hurried to her when her tea was finished. “It’s installed, Princess.”
She stood up and faced the cage. She bowed. “Dragon. I’m Princess Rose Apfel, leader of this colony we call Gamilios. What is your name?”
The dragon chirruped, hissed and growled. “The translator is working on the language, Princess.”
“Our months are Wasardi, Hori, Shami, Tre, Kaloc, Arac, Hekani, Areg, Kani, Mareri, Margac and Hrotic. We count zero, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten and we use a base ten for our mathematics. We eat meat as well as vegetables and grain. We come from a planet many light years away. We call this sun Shahova and this planet, Ardes.”
She could hear the speaker within the cage hissing and chirruping. The dragon spoke, “I’m Beroan, mother of Nesenth, who are you?”
The Princess curtsied. “I’m Princess Rose, leader of this colony. I think we have much to talk about, Beroan.”
A year later, they held a joint celebration of the birth of cooperation between two cultures. The Gamilosians raised enough food for the dragons, and the dragons could visit the stars.
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