Seasparkul

(Original from Sunshiney)

Mandragora is...

Aged 19 turns
Standing 5'11" tall (very impressive for a woman!)
Has creamy skin that somehow didn't seem to have any burn marks or scars on it, even though her Craft might demand them
Her hair is blond and cut straight, short to her shoulders, and she has the start of grey-silver at her temples already. Her eyes are steely blue
She usually wears the smock when working, but looks quite stunning in a dress, which she seems to have many tucked away
Her parents are both Dragon riders, and she was expected to Impress before this

Standing at Seasparkul Weyr

Original page written before archived date in 2009,
formerly found on http://www.geocities.com/all_pern/mandragora3.html

Backgrounds by Darkfyre, no longer up

The Weyr of... Mandragora

At the insistance of the weyr leaders, you enter Mandragora's weyr. It is spotless and nearly everything shines. However there is a kind of coldness to it, which tells you instantly that you are in the presence of a neat freak who has too many memories to store and clean.

"Excuse me?" You say, and the blond-haired young woman turns from her desk.

"Ah, you must be the Harper come to collect the information. Here, I have already written some up. Would you like to use it?"

She hands you a wherhide slip, and her clean writing tells you ...

Mandragora, born to Mandrake (M'drake) and Gallora, riders of Brown Alnaeth and Green Havuseth
Aged 19 Turns in Summer
Senior Apprentice Smithcrafter
Searched by ... at ... weyr

"Well," you tell her, "this is exactly what I was looking for. I might have an easier time getting this done if everyone were as literate as yourself."

"I studied under the master harper of my weyr," she tells you. She stands, and you note with a bit of fear that she is almost six feet tall! Taller than you at any rate! And built for it, with very muscular arms. She shows them off since she wears only a naturally-colored hide smock. It too is clean and well-kept. Her skin is shining, she obviously keeps herself healthy.

"You're going to like being a dragonrider," you say to her, and she gives a little laugh.

"Oh, yes? Tell me, why is that, harper?" Her blue-steel eyes almost want to mock you, but she's also truly interested in why you might say it.

"You are strong, and well-kept. Your weyr is neat, and I would guess that it's because you keep it that way. I ... Might go so far as you would make an excellent Weyrwoman, as well. You can read and write, and your Craft often trains for strength. You'll need all those things when you ride."

"Ah, firestone catching, and drills... Yes. I agree. I wonder if I will impress Gold. I wouldn't presume. And even if I don't impress at all, I have my craft training to keep up. My specialty is that of tinkering, you know? But so many men in the craft dislike the idea of having a woman around that I have only progressed to the Senior Apprentice stage. I wonder why they are so afraid of the competition?" Her eyes and face grow into a beaming and mocking smile.

"They probably wish you well in Impression, then!" You agree, wondering absently when the sexism will really end? You know of many women who might be best at a craft and couldn't get into it... Why? They were not men!

"Well, I believe this is enough, unless you want to add anything to it?" You extend your hand, and she nods.

"Well, if you would like to see anything I've built, please come back and look. Most of my things are unfinished, but some work. I make toys sometimes, but I also have made armors and automations. It's very hard work. I think you'd be surprised."

"Perhaps I shall, but I must get these to the weyr leaders."

You bow and exit.

Mandragora and Gold Qutteth's Weyr

The hatching seemed to go on forever. Mandragora stood and watched green and brown and blue and bronze go by. She was half sure that she'd stand for a Brown, by the time several had come out of their shells.

There weren't many eggs left when she realized there was something nagging at her. Something very peculiar indeed.

Two whites had come from tiny shells, amazed Mandragora watched as their new riders took them from the hot sands.

But there were ... only two eggs left! Most of the boys had walked off in sad dismay, as it looked like the last eggs were the queen and one sure to hold a green.

But then... The littler egg showed a pretty blue dragon's nose. Mandragora was looking at it for the longest time.

She was certain she wasn't going to impress. Not this time.

But then she noticed that all the girls had begun to crowd around the gold egg. They were jostling for a position and getting quite snippy about it too. It figured, there were still a half dozen girls left on the sands, and only one solitary -- very picky -- dragon left in their egg.

The egg had broken by the time most of the girls had crowded up, and that nagging sensation in Mandragora's mind told her to just go and see. One little peek at a dragon who couldn't possibly be for her was all she could really hope for, wasn't it?

I wish these snobbish little children would get out of the way so I could see you, my love! Come and get me from their grubby hands!

Mandragora took that in stride. So it was a voice. A loud, commanding and very sure voice, rather like her own. Only, younger.

And from a dragon.

So Mandragora strode through the younger girls, not even having to push any of them. They moved aside once they saw her and the determined look on her face.

Who are you? What is your name? I think I know it but it is long and mine is rather short. My name is Qutteth, my love Mandragora. And I am yours! We are one!

Mandragora let the tone of the regal young gold sweep any doubt away from her mind. She shouted, "Meet Qutteth, and me, your new Junior Weyrwoman!"

That's the spirit my friend, we will show them. But what is this place I see in your mind? Back there?

"It is called Blackstone Weyr. We'll go there when your bigger. We will learn from this Seasparkul weyr everything we can, but I've heard many things about the Blackstone place. And they will need you. You're a gold, remember? We can be among our peers there!"

We have no peers, Mandragora.

She put on the hugest smile she'd ever worn and walked off the sands with her proud young gold!

***

Oh how she's grown!

Qutteth is the pride of the weyr, at least to hear her say it. Mandragora doesn't hold back much either, she was the one to impress the gold after all!

The endless work of oiling, bathing and feeding a weyrling turned yearling has humbled some riders, but not Mandragora. She started strong and she remains so.

There came a day when someone from another Weyr showed up, though, a very tall handsome man on a blue dragon, a man with a slightly haunted but sure look on his face.

"I'm from the Protectorate," he said. "And you ... have a fine young queen."

He eyed Qutteth almost greedily, and smiled. "I realize that your position here is a good one, gold rider, but... The world is in need of people like yourself. Strong leaders. And we would be duly honored if you would consider joining our weyr some day."

He handed her a leather badge, with a beautifully painted green dragon on it, over a black and pale blue diamond. The weyrbadge for a nearby weyr, Blackstone.

"I... will think about it," she told the man. "But as you said, my position here is a good one. I've the next young queen, and perhaps ... after she rises here," Mandragora said with a broad grin, "she might rise for one of your bronzes."

The tall man nodded, took her hand and kissed it, and then turned back to his dragon.

"Who are you, anyway, to be asking people out of the blue like this to join a weyr?"

"Shard," he said simply, "and it's my weyr, so I suppose I'm going to be the one to ask, eh?"

"A blue riding weyr leader?" Mandragora's eyebrow shot up.

"I know, I know..." Shard laughed, and they flew off.

It is true, Mandragora and Qutteth have been invited to the Valley of Flames Wing, and to take further instruction in thread fighting at the Blackstone Weyr!

***

The Kshau Protectorate moved from its location on P*** to its new nexus between worlds. The Alskyran site is where Mandragora and her dragon queen Qutteth have settled, and truly enjoy the attention the bright yellow-golden dragoness gets.

She loves being able to be useful against ants -- since she was never able to breathe fire with the stone on their homeworld, her claws come in quite useful now!

***

 

Mandragora

Version 2.0

Currently about 27 years old, this daugher of a pair of dragon riders is going through a drastic change in her life.

While flying through the Nexus, Mandragora and her Queen Qutteth managed to accidentally land on a more modern world, and equally accidentally, become injured seriously in a crash with a jet airplane. How were they to know that the plane couldn't move as quickly out of the way as a dragon? It has wings, right?

Her story picks up shortly after their arrival, and right after their accident.

In her head there was a strange buzzing sound. That wasn't completely unusual but in this case, it was accompanied by a sharp pain everywhere else. Mandragora went to open her eyes, and she found that she couldn't. When she tried to voice concern, her mouth wouldn't open - at least, not under her own control. It already was open a bit, for there was a breathing tube stuck down her throat. She felt it suddenly and wanted to retch, because now that she could feel it, it was horribly uncomfortable.

She tried to move, and could not. Well, her fingers might have twitched a bit, her arm trembling at the shoulder. Her motion and sounds weren't going unnoticed outside though. Three medical technicians quickly got to her side and checked that everything was still okay.

"You've been in an accident, ma'am," said one soothing voice, "a really bad accident I'm not going to lie to you." She felt his fingers pressing on her forehead and trying to keep her from raising her head. "You should lay still now. You have a lot of healing you're going to need to do."

Mandragora's instincts flew next to her dragon - where was the eternal presence of the gold? Where was Qutteth? Apparently the sounds she made around the breathing tube could be interpreted by the nurse.

"There was a plane, and when you came in ... on your - um - your dragon?" He paused, but continued a moment later, "you impacted it and fell. Your dragon saved your fall from completely killing you, and yes, she's mostly all right. We don't... have the facilities to keep you two together, but I've been told to say that you will be able to contact her when you're better."

At that, Mandragora relaxed a little. The nurse did not leave her side, as she expected him to. The other two did whatever they had to, perhaps tightening straps? Something odd about the way her back, arms and legs felt, but Mandragora was given to sleep again. She felt glad that the nurse was still there as she ebbed in and out of consciousness.

***

"Why can't I see?" She asked, "why are my eyes covered? And why do my hands feel so... funny? And that noise! I'm so sick of that damn noise in my head. It's like ... nothing I've ever heard!"

Mandragora heard the odd pause in the doctors that were in her room. Nervous shuffling, and one of them came to her side. "Mandragora," he said, reading from her chart. "Your eyes were damaged ... along with your arms, legs and spine. In fact, you're very lucky to be alive at all considering the distance you fell and how hard you hit the ground the first time."

"The... first time?"

"Hydrostatic shock," said another scientist, "when a soft body strikes a harder one, it tends to... bounce. You bounced at least once, and then your dragon caught you. It was a good thing too," he said with relief, "because you were headed for an unbuilt building. Lots of rebar, sharp edges. She did good."

"When can I be with her? I'd like to recover with her." Mandragora again heard the uncomfortable pause.

"Well right now you're in a special hospital unit, and your recovery time will really depend on how careful you are about moving and such." Said the first doctor. She didn't much like him, she much preferred the night nurse whose presence comforted her when she would wake trying to scream or reach out - and feel nothing but a burning sensation in her shoulders and back, hear nothing but a strange hard gurgling.

Her voice recovered quickly enough now that she was breathing on her own again. The rest of her, however, was going to require a lot more work. And a ton of explanations.

"Is she all right?" Mandragora asked, "is Qutteth all right?"

"Her hind leg and right wing were broken, but not severely," offered one woman, "and I think she may have sustained a bit of burning on her neck and shoulder, but otherwise she is going to be fine. She... She's been asking about you, and we give her progress reports." The woman paused and Mandragora heard the others move out of her way as she stood close by. "It's kind of unnerving to us, you understand. We... We never spoke to a dragon before. She was quite frantic that we find you help - and she finally listened to reason once you were in the hospital, to be looked at herself. She is very brave."

"She's a wherryhead, silly thing. Too brave for her own good, I think. I'm ... I'm just glad she wasn't so hurt that she wanted to go between."

"... Between what?" Asked someone, and was nudged silent by another, Mandragora heard a whisper which apparently explained what that meant. That meant - someone else was here who did know dragons? Who?

"Tell me who you are," Mandragora said, "Doctor Morris," she nodded toward the male doctor in charge of her, "nurse Wilkstone, and Doctor Klein," she said of the other two whose names she knew, "but ... the rest of you? And one of you is a rider, aren't you?"

"I am," said a man's voice, deep. He paused, "barely, but I am. The only reason I know how to help Qutteth is that my own dragon can tell me. We have never treated an old world dragon before." He sighed a bit, and gently took Mandragora's hand, holding it gently and allowing her to get comfortable with his hand. "My name is Sanger, Doctor Van Sanger, and I ride blue Fennryth. I'll be ... working on your recovery. I'll be here to try and help you understand what we've had to do."

"You didn't amputate me, I can still feel my feet!" Mandragora was suddenly stiff and angry, fearful. But she could feel her hands, right? Her back hurt, that meant it was still there! Didn't it?

"I think it's best for the moment if you rest, and let the other doctors go about their other rounds. You and I will have to speak at length, and I want you to be able to understand that we did what we had to, to save your life." He said, gravely. They waited, and Mandragora heard the others shuffling out. Morris remained, but then the other doctor asked him carefully to please leave the two of them alone.

"Mandragora," Sanger said after they'd been alone for a moment, "the buzzing you hear in your head is probably going to go away, but if it does not, you're going to have to tell me. There are some ... changes that you're going to need to get used to, and that might be one of them."

"But why? What happened?" She said, weak.

"Your legs and arms have both had to be removed, as they were completely smashed. If we had allowed them to remain, your bloodstream would have been blocked by the clots caused by bone marrow. Your internal organs are mostly intact, however ... well, understand that-"

"Wait!" Mandragora said sharply. "You said my arms and legs are gone! Why can I feel your hand? I can move my toes!"

"You certainly can," Sanger said with what Mandragora thought was a bit of pride. "Because we've replaced them. That is what is going to take some getting used to, on your part. Mandragora, we've had to almost entirely replace you. Your brain was damaged only slightly, but the vision centers of your brain, the back of your head, was crushed, and your face had taken an impact that would have killed most people. Your entire fascae had to be replaced as well."

"You... you put a new face on me?" She said faintly. She was dizzy. Sanger held her hand - was it hers? Whose was it? And he put his fingers on her forehead the same way that nurse Eckhart would do at night. She seemed to relax with that. Perhaps he couldn't stroke her hair, because ... "What do I look like?"

"You will look different," Sanger said. "We've got people working on the exact structure. Your dragon is able to provide us with a good idea, but ... it's odd, dragons just don't seem to remember things the way humans do, do they?"

Mandragora smiled - or did she just imagine she did? - and laughed a little. "No, they don't. They never see the same person the same way twice, either. I will be a mess, won't I!"

"I would hardly say that," Sanger said, again with that odd pride that she noted before.

"You did this to me?"

"For you, Mandragora. For you and your queen. What else could I do?" He sighed, "I could not just let you die. Not when we have the capabilities to get you functional again."

"Why... can't I speak with Qutteth?"

"Because we've installed a dampener in your brain that keeps you unable to do so. The pain your body would be in, if we hadn't done that, would be far more than you or your dragon could take. She would have suicided, we had to."

"But I ... I feel okay, different, but I don't feel too much pain. I've been in worse pain."

"No, you have not." He said. Then he reached behind her ear, and pushed at something gently.

Suddenly Mandragora's world was alight with fire. Everywhere, it was as though she had teleported into the sun. She could not feel her fingers, legs, or anything other than a gigantic writhing mass of lava-worms - each of which was a nerve ending. Stiffly, she gasped. Right then, Sanger touched her head again and it stopped.

"That is what you're really feeling, Mandragora. Do you want that bleeding off to Qutteth?" He said seriously.

"No. No I don't... Thank you for ... showing me that. Is that why I have the buzzing in my head?"

"Yes, I think so."

"You think so!?" She said, loud. "Why don't you know? Doctors always outreach themselves..."

"Every brain is different, queen rider. Every one. There are pieces of my brain that are so different from yours that another doctor might think we're entirely different species. Surgery on brain matter is a touchy subject even now, and even to me. I'm a nerve specialist, and I designed your replacement limbs. But there is only so much I can do to have your brain accept them."

"What about my eyes?" Mandragora gulped after a moment. "Will I be able to see?"

"Of course you will," Sanger said. "But I want that to be after you've had a chance to recover a bit, and to get your other parts working under your command better."

"I can move," she said.

"Yes, but you are also much stronger than you were before, and you probably don't know your own strength." She felt a metal bar being slid into her hand. "Touch that for a moment," Sanger said. She did so. It was cool, slick. "Now grip it, tightly."

When she did it was to the sound of shrieking metal - a sound she was faintly aware of remembering from the smithy. The tube, once smooth and straight, was now a twisted mess of wrinkles.

"I can't even do that," Sanger said. She could tell there was a smile on his face, so she didn't feel quite so freakish as she might have if she'd discovered it on her own. "You will have to learn to be careful. We have reinforced your back, torso and hips, neck and skull. Otherwise you'd be trying to lift heavy weights and rip your nice new arm right out of its socket."

"Thank you for that image," she said. They shared a bit of silence, and Mandragora noted that the buzzing had gotten quieter since he'd reset the button on her brain.

***

Over the next three weeks, Mandragora was able to stand, walk, lift things, and learn to judge her hand strength without looking. Her eyes, she'd been told, were not ready. Her whole face, really, wasn't done.

"What exactly does that mean, Doc?" She asked, as they walked from one side of her room to the other. "I mean, do I have a face?"

"Yes, right now, you have a plaster mesh, painted up a bit. More for other people, really." He didn't hold back with his descriptions, once she told him not to. She was curious about the process they'd used to put new extra strong, extra durable limbs onto her ruined torso. How many of her organs they'd have to just leave out of the final product. What she'd been eating for the last month.

"How much of me is original?" She finally asked.

"Not much, about a quarter, perhaps thirty percent." Sanger said, and steadied her when her legs threatened to buckle. "Enough for you to learn to know yourself again, perhaps enough for you to appreciate what you have now."

"You didn't do this with Qutteth, did you?" She demanded suddenly. It had been almost seven weeks since the dragon had been able to see her rider, and both of them were quite aware of it.

"Oh no, no," Sanger said. "Her wounds were hardly that serious. We did have some trouble with her blood - it's not like anything we have here. I had to get some help from an Old World source."

"You keep calling it that. How do you know about that? Our change from Pern to Alskyr?" Mandragora asked.

"Because Shard and I have met, because Baeris Kshau is a close friend of one of my alternates. You know... This might surprise you but I think there might have been a version of you here before you got here."

"I am not going to listen to you if you keep saying idiotic things like that, Doctor." She said flatly. She did comprehend, but she wasn't interested. She was here - she was the only one.

***

At long last, after ten weeks of recovery and work, and endless tests to make sure that she was working just the way she ought, Mandragora's brain switch was turned off for the final time, and she felt the joyous trill of her dragon fill her mind again.

You are all right! I thought I would forget you, it has been so long!

"You'd better not forget me, girl," Mandragora said, and Sanger laughed a bit. Dragons memories weren't all that great.

I hope that they make you look the way I remember you.

"You don't remember what I look like day to day, why would they want to do that to me?" Mandragora said. Privately she added, I have missed you my dear. Are you feeling better too?

I can fly, my landings are not quite what they once were but I will be better when they let me fly more often.

They're just doing their job. We can't have you falling and hurting yourself more.

I will not fall again! And I will not chase those big metal dragons. They hurt!

"They're called airplanes, Qutteth," Mandragora muttered. "They carry lots of people to distant places, and they're not alive."

The reunion went on for a while and then both were sent back to bed. The next day, though, Sanger had a pleasant surprise.

"We've finished your new face," he announced. "We're going to need to bring you to the operating studio but you will be awake for it, unless it gets too painful."

"Why won't I feel the pain this time?"

"Because all the nerves you need are already there. We're going to just be connecting them up. It might be a bit unnerving to see yourself for the first time, though. So if you want some relaxants we'll get you those too. Now, come along." He tugged on her hand, and she followed him eagerly.

Her heart was artificial, but she still felt it throbbing in her chest, which was lined with superstrong pseudometals. Her stomach had butterflies in it, which was good, because it wasn't going to be digesting any food ever again. Most of the things in her torso resembled organs, but they did different things. Heat sinks, motor gyroscopes, impulse inhibitors. She would consume some kind of food - a high energy protein drink that kept what little flesh she still had wet and strong. Other than that, Sanger told her, she would last forever on what he called her 'apocalyptic battery'.

The operating room was clean, smelled of antiseptic and metal. How Mandragora knew this was explained to her too - Sanger was a nerve expert after all. The receptors in the nose were tuned to certain chemical blocks, and he'd programmed them for her to be as accurate as they could. There might be smells she would not be able to understand, or perhaps ever smell again. But that was all right- she didn't want to smell everything. She didn't taste any more, though, which was a bit of a disappointment.

"We're going to remove the covering, now, and your head is going to feel a bit cold." Sanger said, and the bandages and face plate were taken off. It was chilly, and her head did a bit of a tilt forward as the weight of the mask was removed. She heard something odd.

"What's that noise?" She asked.

"It's... Your face controllers," Sanger said. "It's a complete replacement, but I assure you it will look as natural as anyone's. Just don't think too much on it. We will not have a rejection problem, as long as I can help it."

"Why would I reject it?"

Mandragora did not see it. The other doctors and technicians in the room could only stomach it because they'd been working in reconstructive surgery for years. Some had been in robotics. Others as therapists for such injuries that required major facial replacements. She had a flat, inorganic plate, with sockets for eyes that had small whirring motors that would turn her eyeballs. There were a myriad of wires, connected on the other end directly to her brain, which would be slipped into place to control each synthetic muscle. There was a gaping, odd hole where her mouth was. That made her head appear smaller and of the wrong shape, until the face plate was put on.

With a new chin, jaw, teeth and cheeks, Mandragora's construction would be complete. The doctors took their time in making sure that each of the wires led to the right place. They had her speak, stick out her tongue, smile, frown, furrow her brows, and such, at least once with comedic if improper results. At last, though, the eyes were plugged in.

The static and sudden sense of 'light' that Mandragora saw made her jolt, but not badly. "I ... I can see."

"Not yet you can't," Sanger muttered, while they worked. His expert fingers were strong, sure. "Not until we're done."

She could hardly wait, now. What would be there to greet her? What did he look like? What about Eckhart? What would she herself look like?

When they decided the motors were all running right - they had a remote controller for the wiring on the eyes - Sanger turned off the remote, and toggled her self-activating vision.

"Now you can see." He announced.

There was no blur, not a trace of unclarity. "Everything's in black and white," she said oddly.

"Aw - crap," Sanger said with a roll of his eyes. He leaned in close and almost smacked Mandragora's head to get it to work right. Suddenly it cleared into a new set of brilliant colors. Then, toned down gently into ...

"You've got beautiful blue eyes," she said to Sanger.

"Why thank you, yes I do." He smiled. He was charming, and the others were laughing. Mandragora hugged him fiercely - carefully - and whispered something.

"No, I'm afraid not. We're really working on that," he said. The other doctors in the room understood immediately. She could not cry, that was the one impossible thing about her new face.

Otherwise... She was led to a full length mirror. Standing, steadily but hesitant, before it, she saw a woman - not quite nude since they had put on a bit of a body wrap for her. But while her body was about the right color, she noticed it had a strange joint in the middle. And then the arms. Legs. Silvery, gunmetal, they looked quite heavy, though they certainly didn't feel it. She turned around and looked at her back, which was run with the odd wires and what might have been scars from the surgery.

Her hair was fuller, slightly longer than she usually wore it. It was blond, that was a blessing. But it had a pair of silvery streaks from the temples. Sanger indicated those. "If you need to directly access anything we can offer, you are able to use these. I'll show you later."

"That's... weird." She said. "I didn't look anything like this. But... I like it. Wait..." She leaned into the mirror, realized that she didn't have to - her eyes could refocus on something quite far away, "my eyes were not green."

"They are now," Sanger said. "And you're going to learn to like them, because I'm not making another pair like them just because they're not your old color."

Perhaps if those eyes could burn holes in things just by glaring he'd have been riddled with wounds. But fortunately they did not have that ability built in.

***

By the time that Mandragora left the hospital, Qutteth had attracted quite the fan club. There were people whose job it was to keep her fed, cleaned, and happy. They were a bit sad to learn that their work was now over.

While Mandragora and Qutteth got reaquainted on the roof of the big hospital in Talon City CA, the doctors and nurses had a little celebration of their own. She discovered that Sanger had fitted her ears with extra sensitive tuning abilities, just like her eyes could narrow a mile away down to a pinpoint. She heard them speaking, "better, stronger, faster - you know how much this cost?" "More than six million, I bet!" And laughter followed.

She bid Qutteth to fly about a little, so they could see how she used her injured limbs. She was all but healed, limping only upon the landing, and that would surely go away with practice. Then, Mandragora turned to look at the batch of scientists.

"So... I can't imagine that I am just going to fly away. This is expensive?" She indicated herself. She'd declined to take the 'flesh coating' paint that they offered her. She rather liked the silver metal limbs she sported. The legs ended in delicate but strong feet - and spike heels which Sanger told her privately could turn into weapons if she needed them. In fact he offered to do a lot of strange things with her limbs. They were strong, fast, durable. They had room in them for laser sights, cutting tools, grappling equipment. She could see in the dark, hear the quietest mouse.

She was super-human now. And Mandragora grasped that this all came at a very high cost to the hospital and people involved.

"It has been taken care of," Morris said, and he looked faintly unhappy about it. "You will have to talk to him about it."

Sanger nodded, but smiled with a kind of half-assed pleasure. "I think you're going to want to hear the deal, Mandragora."

***

She did, and she liked it. There were currently only a scant dozen or so dragons in this world. Talon and a place across the country from it were the only places where sightings were common. The big building in the center of downtown Talon was where they headed, and on the roof of it was a small blue dragon, announcing himself to Mandragora through Qutteth, as Fennryth.

He is waiting, he has investors, but he wants you to interrupt that meeting. He wants them to be impressed by you.

"That won't be hard," Sanger laughed, "we're both kind of impressive."

"Oh you're just jealous, you're a normal guy." Mandragora said.

"I am not," he said. "I'm Engell's bodyguard, interrogator and surgeon. You tell me that's normal?" He puffed up a little, "I happen to scare the crap out of people all the time."

"Yeah - right," Mandragora said. They got into the elevator at the roof, the woman noticed there was a big metal craft - Sanger explained it was a 'helicopter' and that it was the most viscious piece of machinery ever developed and that he was never going to jump onto one again. "Whatever..."

As they descended, another odd thought hit Mandragora. "... I don't know how to ask this. Um," she said, and the color circuits in her face began to give her a blush, "do I ... have... can I still you know, I mean I'm a queen rider and all, and I would usually be -"

"Do you mean are you anatomically accurate?" Sanger asked, with that annoyingly odd grin. "Yes, you are. Entirely." There was a pause, as his eyes drifted, "essentially." He leaned in a bit, with his eyes sparkling, the faint wrinkles around his eyes bunched up telling her he was thinking things and not saying them all. "Why, would you like to test that out?"

"Not in the elevator, you dirty old man," Mandragora laughed.

They didn't have to go down very far, as Engell's office was on the fifty first floor. That was still half the height of the building, but still... That was hardly enough time to waste on testing out whether Mandragora's 'coupling aparatus' worked right.

The hallway was grey and silver, subdued and shining with white lights along the floor and ceiling. Mandragora had gotten used to the modern world quickly, in the hospital. But she recognized the signs of power and influence even outside of that. The big black desk that about half a dozen people sat at was one: the fact that they all seemed to cower at one end of it away from the white-haired gentleman at the head of it, another.

"Ah, I see that our special guest has arrived." Engell said. His pale blue eyes were behind thin glasses, Mandragora decided he didn't really need those glasses, as the refraction said they were hardly changing anything looking through them. The others at the desk stood, abruptly, and one of them even backed away as Sanger walked by.

"See?" He said to Mandragora. He offered her a bright smile, which he then turned utterly feral, upon the man. He almost peed himself, that company officer.

"I don't want to know what you did to make him that scared, Sanger," she whispered. "I ... It's nice to meet you, sir." She held out her hand and Engell took it eagerly. He had a decent enough grip, he wasn't testing hers.

"Please sit, if you wish." He indicated the nearest chairs. Sanger had already taken his own on Engell's left. He sat there looking quite predatory and rather proud of himself. He gave a little 'shoo - go away now' motion to the group of employees. They scattered.

"I have to say that I'm impressed," Engell said. "Good job," he told Sanger.

"Do I get a raise?"

"No."

"Do I get to keep her?"

"No."

"Okay - okay," Mandragora said, laughing. "You can stop the silly stuff. I want to know what the deal is. He said I'd like it."

"Who is being silly?" Asked Engell. He smiled gently, amused. "Yes, the deal."

He explained to her in clear detail, that while they did rebuild her out of the goodness of their hearts - the process cost a pretty penny. Even to Alabaster, his company, these things didn't run cheaply. Her replacement parts alone, their materials and programming, construction, and installation surgery, would cost something like seventeen million dollars. She wasn't sure what a dollar was, but she added that cost up with the hospital stay, the facial construction - which was itself more than ten more million - and her therapy... And then there was Qutteth's costs.

"I want you to understand, Mandragora, that I cannot - and will not - stop you if you choose to walk out that door right now, and fly away never to return. Owing us nothing." Engell said. "But."

"But, I'm not like that," Mandragora said. "I'm not going to walk out and leave you with the bill."

"I would hope not."

"What is it you want then?"

"Dragons, my dear... Dragons. And, something more from you." Engell announced.

The deal was that she was now... His. A spy crafter, to be trained in something more than just being a charming ex-smithy and current rider. She caught on fast - he praised her ability to adjust to this world's information and technology. She thanked him and wondered aloud how long it would be, before her debt to him might be paid.

"When you do decide to walk away," Engell said.

"That's a much nicer deal than I got," Sanger muttered, putting on a distinct pout.

"That is because you were a wanted man, and Byers would have killed you the moment you left my protection," Engell reminded him, somewhat sharply. Sanger stopped interrupting, now that this was in the negotiation phase. He apparently knew his place beside this powerful pale man.

"What do you mean, dragons? Do you ... do you mean, for Qutteth to breed here?" She laughed a little, "where? There are no sands, not here!"

"We can arrange them, and this is not the only facility that Alabaster owns. We have a desert locale that I think would be best. But your dragon has told ours that she has not flown yet. Is that right?"

"I... well, she's flown - but not properly. I didn't feel that ... well, the rider wasn't right for me. She clutched but there were only a few eggs and those weren't ranked."

"But with the proper mate, the proper partner?" Engell suggested. "Then what?"

"If it's a job, I will do it, but I'm no weyrwoman."

"I am not expecting you to become a servant for your dragon's mate. That would not be my design. Someone you are comfortable with, at a later time. I want you first to have a proper clutch, and see if it is right for you to continue for us here."

"You mean elsewhere? I ... I suppose."

"There is a place we've been told about, opened just a few weeks ago and they are just accepting flight requests. It... Is not a normal dragon site, that you might have been to." Engell said. "Sanger?"

"It's a place called Star City Dragonry. They have a large number of individuals quite like yourself there."

"... Like me, altered?" He nodded at that, and she gave a little smile. "Then... Bring it on. I'd like to see Qutteth in a proper flight, anyway, it's about time. And if I don't have to worry about the responsibilities of being a weyrleader I won't let that interrupt my dragon's choices."

"In the meantime, also," Engell said, "I would like you to consider working as a bodyguard for certain individuals..."

The deals went on. And Mandragora took him up on it.

Flight 06
(Qutteth's Flight Story)

If Mandragora and Qutteth had found the world that they'd had their accident and subsequent repair and recovery strange, then Star City was off the deep end of normal. When they'd arrived, they'd been greeted and made arrangements for by people who'd announced themselves as Alabaster representatives. Apparently the company had already gained a foothold in this place. Not that either of the dragon-rider pair were complaining: the space station had turned out to be far from simplistic in design, and it was nice to have a tour-guide, not to mention one of the high-end weyrs-- er, hotel rooms.
They'd also had a visit from the "Minister of Flights and Hatchings," a woman who looked like she'd had a run-in with a cat-happy plastic surgeon. The Minister had taken fully half a minute of gawking up at Qutteth before she could call her attention back to the queen-rider. "...Welcome to Star City," she'd said, giving the huge dragon another glance, "both of you. I've recieved word that you're planning on flying here?"

"That was part of our deal, yes," Mandragora nodded, amused that the cat-woman's obvious awe was directed at her rather natural dragon, instead of at her highly altered body.

"Alright, good. I'm Siche, by the way... and you're Qutteth and Mandragora?" When the human woman nodded again, the Minister continued. "Excellent. I assume you're new here-- we've had a lot of offworlders flying and clutching here lately-- so here's the lay down. Firstly, I've heard that in other places, dragons just fly whenever they feel like it... here you need a permit, but that can be obtained easily. I'll be assigning you two to one of the Flight gates on the lower levels-- I'm sorry," she looked up again at the great yellow-gold, "the gate might be a bit of a squeeze for you. We haven't had any dragons quite as large as you in a very long time." She murred and flipped open a little hand-held notebook, and pulled out a stylus. "Right, well you two have reservations to be flying out of gate 48-b, and if you'd like directions, I can send you a copy, or a guide if you'd like that?" One ear twitched forward as she looked up from her notebook.

Mandragora let a smile slip, "I've got a pretty good memory, all I need are directions, but thanks."

"Perfect. Let me know of any special arrangements that either of you'll need, and I can provide them for you." Siche let a smile of her own colour her grey muzzle, though this one was more sly then polite. "And here's to an entertaining flight!"

The day of Qutteth's flight, itself, did not dawn bright. Nor did it dawn dark. In fact, it did not dawn at all. The lighting in the station did not so much as dim on the commercial decks Mangragora's hotel room was on between "day" and "night", though there was a "day shift" and a "night shift". As it went, though, Qutteth was quite ready when the day shift began on the day of her flight, her hide already starting to glow with anticipation, and she and Mandragora made their somewhat hasty way to flight deck 48-b. Mandragora didn't have to check the directions more than once, thanks to their Alabaster tour guide's help finding it earlier. It wouldn't do to get lost, not with both of them so excited already.
The gate was, indeed, very small. Qutteth even had to keep her head low and wings folded to walk down the tunnel leading to it, and gave the opening she was supposed to launch herself from a very dubious look. Mandragora giggled at the disdain coming from the queen's mind.

::How am I supposed to look graceful and proud trying to squeeze myself through that?:: the great gold dragoness muttered.

"I'm sure you can manage, Qutteth," Mandragora assured her. "Now I've got to get inside, you get out there and impress some boys with your fancy flying."

::I intend to!::

Mandragora hurried into the suite reserved for the rider of a dragoness flying out of this gate, tossing herself down to sit on the couch there--there was a bed, but there would be time to get there, eventually--and grinned. This would most certainly be interesting.

Apparently, the sight of the massive golden dragon making her way down from the hotel to the flight deck had not gone unnoticed. As Qutteth finally got herself out the gate, after holding her breath and contorting a few creative ways, she realized that most of the dragons who had signed up for this chase were already waiting for her. Torn between embarrassment and rage for them watching her, perched there awkwardly on the take-off ledge meant for dragons much smaller than she, she bared her teeth at them and flared her wings.

Qutteth and Mandragora had paid attention to who all signed up for the flight, so both queen and rider looking out of the queen's eyes recognized the potentials swooping, perching, and waiting below, all their eyes fixed on their potential mate. Qutteth snorted at the idea; she would make them work for their "prize". There was Thryor, a clouded bronze, perched on the edge of a ground-maze and looking up at her; he was quiet, not trying to show off or make a scene, and Qutteth was both impressed and annoyed by that. He showed maturity, yes, but should be showing off for her! Like Thaheth, the bronze with blue wings swooping around near the ceiling, trying to catch her eye and, hopefully, her attention. And Aukeli, the colorful... furry one, darting around the larger Thaheth and getting snapped at for his troubles.

There were two more who were supposed to be coming, Isoshath and Ceibreth. A cream and a white. Qutteth didn't want to wait for them; if they came, so be it, and if they were too late, it was their loss, not hers! Giving a warning scream, she sprang from her awkward perch, streaking down towards the pen of herdbeasts--or Inyu, or whatever they were called here. It was time this thing got started!

***

Mandragora had only just gotten settled, brushing back her hair with a hand and pulling her feet up onto the couch she sat on with her, when a tall, blonde young man poked his head in the open door. "Uh, Mandragora?" he asked lightly. "Am I in the right place?"
"That's me," Mandragora chuckled, "and if you're here for Qutteth's flight, then you are."

"Oh, good," the fellow sighed, coming in. "I keep getting turned around in this place. Thaheth swore this was the one, but he's almost as lost as I am, half the time, and just won't admit it." Mandragora giggled; if this green-eyed blonde was bonded to Thaheth, that meant he was K'lann.

"Well, if you're in the right place, then I guess so am I," another male voice commented from the doorway, and another young man followed K'lann inside, this one rivalling K'lann in height but with short, curly brown hair. "Ceibreth's on his way in, too. I hope he doesn't trample anyone to get to the food." The exasperation in the second rider's voice was enough to make Mandragora giggle, again. This one would have to be A'ril, white Ceibreth's rider, and he would likely be the last one coming, unless the centaur Cilan thought he could find some way for them to be compatible-- and Mandragora didn't particularly want to test her new wetware like that. It was something of a relief that, as both dragonriders settled in chairs facing her on the couch, no hoof-beats could be heard coming down the hall towards the room.

Then Qutteth took flight, and Mandragora didn't have the attention to spare for wondering if Cilan would or would not show up.

***

All three males scattered, getting out of the way of the large, glowing queen as she arrowed directly for her prey, jaws gaping ravenously. The penned Inyu squealed, but she pulled up heavily with one in each foreclaw, tearing into one even as she rose.
::Qutteth, stop it!:: Mandragora demanded in the back of her mind. ::Blood only, remember? Blood only!::

Qutteth snarled in the vague direction of Mandragora's mental presence. ::I'm hungry, I'll eat what I want--::

::No, you won't! You've done this before, you know what you're supposed to do and why.::

Qutteth didn't remember, but it was just easier to do as her rider said than argue further and make her suitors wait longer. Each animal she'd snared she dropped a moment later, drained dry of blood, and she dove for more.

Another dragon pounced down in front of her, a large-- though not nearly so large as she!-- white dragon, creeling happily and projecting for all to hear: ::Free food! Yes!:: He'd barrelled in through the small gateway, sending the smaller dragon temporarily in his way out of his way, scenting the queen and the blood-- and apparently it was the blood that had him excited, rather than the queen.

::Get out of my way!:: Qutteth snapped, insulted, punctuating the command with a roar. The white dragon roared back at her, but reluctantly backed off-- then realized she'd left two kills uneaten, as had the other suitors who had, apparently, been wise enough not to gorge, and fell on them with renewed vigor. Stupid, Qutteth rumbled to herself, then set about filling her own belly and fueling her own flight-fire.

Three more Inyu later, Qutteth was finally full and glowing brighter than even before. She glared around at the dragons-- five, now. The cluster of circling dragons had spawned one more, the final suitor, the cream Isoshath, now recovered from the tumbling Ceibreth had given him and soaring easily through the air. Qutteth snorted in disdain at one and all: stuffed white Ceibreth, laboring to get into the air; serious Thaheth, swooping to and fro overhead; mutt-breed Aukeli, mottled Thryor, and now tiny cream Isoshath. None of them were good enough, none of them would catch her-- but they could try!

With another deck-shaking roar, the massive dragoness sprang into the air, making a mockery of Ceibreth's overfed struggle with her grace and speed. Qutteth's jaws gaped with proud laughter that her vocal chords could only create as a rumbling cough. The other four darted after her, leaving the white dragon to trail sluggishly after them.

Flight in this room would be more difficult than an open-sky chase, Qutteth swiftly realized, as she wove tightly between the pillars. It wasn't just the gate that was meant for smaller dragons: the whole deck was meant for smaller dragons. Even Thaheth and poor, over-full Ceibreth looked a little squashed. Well, then, they will just have to prove themselves more careful fliers, as well as more powerful, if they want to catch me! she thought fiercely, not worried for her own flight. A queen in full flight was the fastest, most graceful dragon alive!

Qutteth angled for the more open space, and nearly collided with Aukeli, the furry little Wyld half-breed. He had managed to maneuver around past the competitors, supposedly planning to cut her off and take her there, but Qutteth would have nothing to do with that! With a powerful downbeat and a thrust of her tail downward, she shot up and past the half-breed and skyward-- or, towards what would have been the sky, were this place even halfway normal. A casual swat of her tail sent the smaller dragon tumbling, and Qutteth belled out triumph as she sped towards open air. Ceibreth had given up, gliding back towards the gate-- or maybe the Inyu pens-- and Aukeli was just gathering himself from his fall, shaking his head to clear it. Two down, three to go!

Thaheth and Thryor, the two bronzes who were so oddly different from each other, converged on her, but she spun higher again, skimming the ceiling. The cream one had vanished, probably realizing he could never compete, but these two... they were strong and fast, straining to follow her speed and direction; perhaps one of them might prove worthy of her. Qutteth sped up, planning on how to make her choice--

But none of them had the chance to choose, for swooping out of nowhere, appearing suddenly from somewhere ahead of her, came a blur of cream and silver. Qutteth screeched challenge, but it was too late, and the smaller male, the one she had discounted, had his neck twined around her shoulders and claws both fore and hind holding onto her in a grip that would not be easily shaken. Smaller and faster than the bronze pair, and more determined by half to make up for his size and prove himself, Isoshath had caught her.

***

A'ril had already left, probably to console his dragon-- or tell him to leave the rest of the herdbeast Inyu alone-- leaving K'lann anxiously waiting for the end of the flight. His Thaheth was one of the few left, the blue-winged bronze told him elatedly, and he was confident he could outfly the single-color bronze he was still pitted against.
Elation turned to disappointment and frustration, however-- Isoshath, the unbonded cream, too small for anyone to have given him any thought, had stolen the show and the dragoness. K'lann rose to leave, not sure exactly what he intended to do now with the rest of his stay on the station, but a hand caught at his and pulled him, surprisingly strongly, into the arms of the queen rider Mandragora.

"I don't think so," she purred as he blinked at her in surprise, and she started giggling again. "I need someone to test out the wetware on, or the dirty old man who made me a virgin again would never forgive me."

"What?" K'lann asked in confusion.

"Never mind," Mandragora said, and kissed him. Even confusion at such a completely random statement was soon forgotten with such pleasant distractions available, so as it turned out, of the bonded pair, only Thaheth got to be disappointed or frustrated after that flight. Baoris would be glad he hadn't come along.

***

Several months had passed, and Qutteth, bound to Star City's largest hatching bay (it may as well have been a cozy nook for her), had laid a great batch of eggs. The day (or rather, night) that they had come, an audience had gathered to watch: this was probably the largest clutch that they'd seen yet laid on the sands--at least, the largest recorded clutch. The golden queen hadn't much protested the onlookers, though she had decided that if they were there to count her children-to-be, they'd have to work for it. So she alternately concentrated on laying her eggs, shifting them, and hovering over them, until no one was sure if she'd laid more or less then a dozen or so... the lowest count was at about seven, the highest count reached upwards of twenty! Only Qutteth knew, and she only told her rider how many there were when the woman vowed to keep it a secret.
Isoshath had, as the winner of the flight, stayed to watch the egg-laying, though when the cream had politely told the queen that he would be leaving again, in search of a bond, she had convinced him to stay. ::What, leave me to tend the eggs by myself? Besides, there are so many people here, perhaps you'll find a bond of your own!:: After that, the smaller dragon had made a point to visit his temporary mate each day, helping however her could.

Mandragora had made good use of her time with her sand-bound queen, personalizing the small, on-sands suite that had been rented to her, and shamelessly touring the station like the offworlder that she was. The place was like a cultural quilt--every new storefront had a new theme, every new dish of food a new flavor. At one point, she had been tempted to ask to go behind the scenes of one of the few metal smithies onboard, but perhaps she'd have to save that for later.

All of the eggs lay hardening, warmed by the loosely covered, spongy ground, and Mandragora had just returned to her temporary home, when she heard the familiar ring of a caller at her door. The blonde-haired woman had taken in curious passers-by and congratulators for the past few months, so she was not unused to having to answer the door... however, when pressed the release, and the metallic seporator slid open, she was surprised to see a woman--the same woman who had come to sit and watch and apparently to take notes more often then not from the stands of the hatching bay. Today she was dressed as casually as she had been before--or rather, casually for the people that called this place home. A loose tank-top (black) and a knee-length gown (also black) covered her chocolate brown skin. Her entire body, however, was lit in peculiar patterns with a blue-green glow: cyborware, from what Mandragora had learned. Not only were there little gems of glowing 'ware across her face, but her forehead was lined with five spikes--from Mandragora's keenly-built eyes, she could tell that they were cosmetic only, despite their computer-chip-like patterns. Her hair was probably the most impressive part of her: knotted in rows across her scalp, it was held in place by two clasps--the second of which hovered a half a foot above and behind her, supported by two chandelier like masses of glowing orbs, these not unlike the ones planted in her skin. When the woman spoke, Mandragora could hear the slight modifications--cyborware also? that gave her a throaty, almost inhuman tone. With a deep bow, the woman announced herself, "Greetings, Queen-rider. I am Venus S'aller, Master Cyborware installer. I was wondering if I could have a word with you?"

"Of course... come in." Mandragora stepped aside, allowing the installer to pass. She wondered what the woman wanted, if perhaps it had something to do with the parts that Alabaster had used to make her whole again--

::It's something about the eggs,:: Qutteth commented, her voice wary as a concerned mother.

Venus paused in the hallway, waiting politely for the rider before seating herself in one of the guest chairs. Mandragora remained standing, for now, her head cocked slightly to one side. The darker woman smiled kindly, and began, "I'd like to congratulate you and your dragon for the impressive clutch. I'm sure you've heard this all before, but there are many of us natives that are proud to be hosting you two."

"I have, but we don't mind." Mandragora returned the smile. This woman, maybe because she was probably as altered cosmetically as the rider was functionally, seemed to share some kind of confidence with her. "Qutteth has been getting gawked at since we arrived, but honestly, I think she enjoys the attention."

"I'm sure she is." Venus let her smile fade into a comfortable grin, and then furrowed her horn-gilt brow. "I'm sure you've noticed me hanging around as well. Mandragora--may I call you that?" When the queen-rider nodded, the Master resumed speaking, "Mandragora, I've been wondering if I could ask a huge favor of you, and of your queen. If you are at all against it, tell me, but please hear me out, first."

"What is it?" More curious then anything, the bionic woman took a seat opposite her guest and leaned her elbows on her knees, waiting for a reply.

::It's about the eggs, I told you!:: Qutteth harumphed, and her bond knew that she was moving her wings to shield them.

"Firstly," Venus began, "you know my profession is Cyborwar installation. It's a very delicate art, requiring manipulation of both live and synthetic elements at very complex levels in the Master's stage. In the tradition of our craft, an installer graduates from Journeyman to Master once he passes a test."

Mandragora nodded. "That's not unlike from wear I come from: a Journeyman has to prove himself before he gets his Masters pin."

"Exactly. In our craft, to recieve ones Master, one must be able to handle very delicate operations: fusing 'ware onto a creature that will prove to grow as the creature grows. This proves that they have mastered not only the art of," and she held up her hand to count off, "fusing inanimate to animate, but the practical uses of synthetic, live, and nanoware-management elements. I'm sorry, this is probably sounding confusing."

Mandragora shook her head, though some of the terms went right over it.

"The favor that I would like to ask of you and of Qutteth deals with your clutch."

::Ha, told you!::

"What would you have planned for them?" Mandragora allowed herself to frown. Getting herself into one deal after another... all because of a stupid accident that had happened all in an instant...

"Nothing of ill intent, of course!" Venus held up both hands, her voice soothing, "I have two special Journeymen right now who both show incredible potential. Normally, we would have asked one of our native dragons to borrow an egg, but with your clutch on the sands, I feel this is an excellent opportunity to set them apart from the others."

The gold-rider's frowned deepened, "'borrow' an egg?"

Venus held up a finger, and explained, "Borrow as in, use one or three of your dragons eggs to alter the dragonet within. The procedure is nearly one hundred percent risk free... my two Journemen have been studying hard for this, and know exactly what they're doing."

::Will she let me have my eggs back?:: the dragon queen asked from the outter bay, her voice wavering between worried and curious.

"Will you--"

"Return the eggs? Of course. If everything goes according to plan, the dragonets should hatch just like usual. The only difference would be that they have modifications like this," the dark-skinned woman waved a hand over one of her faintly glowing arm, "or like that," and she gestured at Mandragora herself. "If anything, it may give the hatchlings one up on their siblings later on in life."

Mandragora shook her head again, slowly this time, as she allowed the implications to settle. "It's... really not my choice. Qutteth?"

::She's faithful to the fact that her Journeymen will do no harm... and if she returns them back before they hatch...::

"She says that she doesn't have a problem with it," Mandragora relayed, and Venus smiled brightly. The Master stood, and bowed deeply to the rider, unable to contain her happiness. Mandragora stood as well, returning the respects with a little awkwardness.

"Merci, Queen-rider," Venus said, as Mandragora ushered her out the door. When she reached the step that would lead her onto the sands, she bowed again, perhaps even more deeply, to the yellow-gold. Qutteth simply rumbled an acknowledgement and twitched her tail. "I will be back with my Journeymen tomorrow morning, if that's a good time for you." The Master returned her attention to Mandragora. "You can meet them for yourselves, and we can begin to select the appropriate eggs to begin work on."

The rider nodded, then watched as the Cyborware installer hurried off of the sands and out of the bay. So... bionic dragons, too, huh?

::It seems fitting, somehow.:: Qutteth rumbled deeply, amused.

Riser Chasers Winner
Qutteth
Female Gold Pernese
Isoshath
Male Cream Alskyrian

Thaheth
Male Bronze-Blue Pernese

Aukeli Selamputo
Male Dark Red-Gold-Fire Wyld

Thryor
Male Clouded Bronze Draconan

Ceibreth
Male White Pernese

Isoshath
Male Cream Alskyrian

Written by Dracothrope and Gayle

Hatching 06
Qutteth's Clutch
----------------------------------

After several months in the bay, Qutteth's clutch was finally ready to hatch. It didn't matter that the clutch was finally hatching part-way into the night shift, everyone who was anyone was there. Unlike the excitement of the first few public, offworld-bred clutches, the natives of Star City had a reason to take a sort of personal interest in this clutch, and no one wanted to miss the results. Most of the eggs that now lay nestled in the sands had been taken, briefly, to Venus S'aller's cyborware installation facility, where they'd been enhanced with all sorts of cosmetic (or otherwise) parts. After that, they'd been marked and returned to the sands where the anxious Qutteth waited. There were a few eggs, of course, that hadn't been taken. Either they'd been hidden too well when Venus and her two journeymen came to cart the others away, or had been found only after they had taken what they needed... or in the case of one egg, guarded jealously by the Queen herself.
::Take any egg but this,:: she'd rumbled when one of the Journeymen had come too close, ::or take your head wrapped in a blanket beside it!:: They didn't attempt to move that egg again.

Now a deep, joy-filled thrumming filled the entire deck. Slowly at first, Qutteth had started the whole thing with a deep toned hum, which had been picked up by the father, Isoshath. Other dragons had filtered into the bay to see what the hubbub was about, and they too picked up the hatching-thrum theme when they realized what it was. Unlike the previous clutch, the Minister of Hatchings had had plenty of time to round up candidates. She'd even been able to gather a few females at Mandragora's request to stand specifically for the untouched egg at the huge gold's feet... not as many as Qutteth would have liked, but enough at least to pacify the great queen.

The Minister, like usual, was perched over the feeding bowls, against the railing in the open stands. She flicked an ear back over the noises of the crowd that had filtered in, for once in a good mood. Footsteps approached her directly, and another set of dark-skinned arms leaned over the stainless steel railing. Without looking over, Siche asked, "so, are you nervous?"

"Just a little." Venus leaned forward a little, inspecting the eggs from afar for one last time. Two flits perched on either of her shoulders, trilling with shameless cuteness, while the rest of the small swarm had taken up vantage points around the bay. When Siche finally cast a glance in her direction, Venus appeared to be at ease, though there were signs that, under the laid-back facade, she was at least a little tense. "I'd be more worried," she said with a rueful grin, "about my two boys. You'd think it was they who laid the eggs, not Qutteth, by the way they're acting."

Siche chuckled. "Figures." Then she and the human moved on to other topics.

Down in the bay-proper, all of the preperations--food setup, candidate call-outs, archivist call-outs, and last-minute changes, were finally coming to an end. Linaeas sat at the edge of the bay, face grim and replacement eyes glowing a faint red. He really was a sight to be seen--from far away--the size of a large pony, and the shape of a wolverine or perhaps some kind of mutant wolf, not to mention the semi-melted looking, acid-burned flesh that showed prominently across his face and forequarters... he looked more like a demon's steed then the Master Archivist. Yet there he sat, a few holographic tools and files hovering just below muzzle-level, overseeing the final touches. Keum Orst and her pup were present, as were a couple of other, lower ranking Archivists. All of them had their duties set before them, and all of them were more then ready to get everything on the road.

Keum padded over to him, and the two sat together, watching the candidates as they shifted excitedly a little further into the bay. "Why the grim face?" she asked, her muzzle pulled back into a dry grin. "You look like you've just swallowed something that's better left to the scavengers."

Linaeas flicked his tail, and let himself grin a little back to her. With his half-melted face, it looked more like a grimace then before. "I'm just worried," he rumbled, his voice only slightly more gravelly then her own, "we've never done a public 'ware hatching, and never one of this size. Suppose there's a mixup in the recordings... not only are their dragonets and new riders to consider, there's the fact that each dragonet's 'ware must be traced to its creator."

"Pfft." Keum flattened her ears and fluffed her synthetic wings. "Here you're worried about a few hatchlings, when you've objectively marked down the events of war first hand, and fought without fear to advance the downfall of the thousand year rule? And here I thought that you were proud and strong and fearless... at least, that's what the stories say." Her grin deepened into an amused smile.

Linaeas simply harumphed. Stories... hmph. It was the facts of life that were important, not stories and rumors.

Suddenly, almost eerily, the thrumming that had been building steadily dropped away, and there was utter silence in the hatching bay. The people in the stands had quieted as soon as they realized that the noise had disappeared, and all eyes filed expectantly to the eggs, which were swaying and shaking with a life of their own.

The first of the eggs to hatch had been hardly moving at all, but then, as if by chance, it rolled over and struck a second egg, and splintered open. Out tumbled a rich, deep, purple coloured dragonet, her hide gleaming with more then just albumen. Delicate golden whorls marked her head, her neck her limbs--murmering went up amongst the people in the stands as she pushed herself to her feet. There was something clearly wrong with this hatchling: one of her forelimbs and wings was nothing but a shrivelled stump, and patches of darkened, scar-like skin marked her body almost as prominently as her elegant cyborware. Qutteth rumbled deeply, angrily, while the murmering grew louder in the crowd. Against the rail, Venus put one hand to her mouth, while Siche stared in blank horror. One of the journeymen--the creator of the deforming 'ware, let out a small wail. From the lower bay, Linaeas watched objectively, while Keum let out a small sound of distaste. The candidates watched the tiny purple struggle to her feet with varying levels of sympathy, disgust, or fear.

The hatchling finally made her way to her feet, stumbled for a moment, and then moved forward. Her steps were painfully slow, her gait was unusual due to her missing limb. A number of candidates backed away, glad to focus on two new shattering shells. A couple approached the odd dragonet, but she kept moving, on her own, towards the Archivists and the food bowls.

Keum made a low growling noise when her apprentice, Lao Altadeva, dropped his light-pen. "Pay attention, boy!" He was, after all, supposed to be making notes. But the boy and his familiar paid no heed to their master. Altadeva, Lao's inseperable friend, hopped from the boy's shoulder, flit-shaped, and into the air over the purple. The hatchling made a chirping noise, and moved more purposefully towards the boy, who was half-standing, not sure whether or not to approach her. Keum growled more darkly. "What do you think you're doing?" She asked, her voice ominously low.

"Now now," Linaeas said, watching the two meet one another a short distance away. "You know bondings."

"But he's my apprentice! He can't bond yet! He's not even old enough to take care of that thing!" Keum's hackles went up as the group of three moved back towards them.

"You can't stop a bonding," the Master Archivist said flatly, as Lao and his new bond paused before the two of them, nervous and giddy and afraid and everything else at once. "What's her name, boy?"

"Gicuceth," the apprentice said, his voice faint but proud. Keum growled again, and the purple shrank behind her bond. Altadeva, from her perch on Lao's head, squawked back at the wolf. Keum gave them both a hard stare, and finally backed down. The group of three beat a hasty retreat to the food dishes, glad to be out from beneath the wolf's baleful glare.

Meanwhile, a number of other dragonets had hatched, and were making their rounds through the candidates. A pale brown with glowing purple, luminescant pads, was alternately staring with disconcerting, clear green eyes at one candidate or another, and then literally swaggering like a drunk towards the food. The few that he'd stopped before looked vaguely disconcerted, as if they'd tried to speak with him, but had failed. Finally, the brown made it to the food bowls, where he promptly pounced one and started gobbling down food. He paid no one else any attention.

Linaeas sighed, and called on his own dragon to get a name out of the bondless.

~Eugh... he said something that sounded like Faceth.~ a voice came into the Archivist's mind. Linaeas snorted, as his bond continued, ~But I'm not sure. It's hard to tell with all of the cackling.~.

"Right. Well, Faceth it is, then." Linaeas made a note with the flick of his claw.

Keum had been watching the other hatchlings, but cast a glance sideways. "A whole lot of strange beasts from this load, eh?"

The Master Archivist shook his head resignedly. "I figure it's the offworld blood."

Back on the sands, a teal-blue coloured dragonet wandered, her silky, synthetic hair still plastered to her body. She had searched through most of the regular candidates, and found herself disappointed. Now she approached the small ring of girls who'd surrounded the single, larger egg.

Qutteth rumbled gently at the blue, a warning to her child. The blue squawked back, but didn't move away. Finally, one of the candidates who'd been watching the interchange moved towards the hatchling, and laid her hand on the small blue's shoulder. A sheepish grin spread over her face, and Portia marched her new bond back towards the two Archivists. "She says her name is Delith," the young woman explained, her voice sounding relieved and delighted. Keum nodded and let the pair pass.

Another blue was on the sands, his hide an almost ultra-marine colour, and his arms and tail decked out with glowing lumi-wire. This one was cowering behind a rocking egg,staring at it, as if it were the only thing in the world. And then another dragonet, this one an olive green colour, with an extra three spikes atop his head, came slinking towards the blue. There was a short, almost comical interchange as the green tackled the blue, who squawked and rolled over, not making any move to defend himself. Then the two moved off of the sands, clearly bonded. The green walked a step behind the blue, forcing the slightly larger dragonet foreward.

~Byjoth,~ Linaeas heard his bond murmer, indicating the blue, ~and Kadicath.~

Thank you, Tax.

~No problem.~ The voice of Linaeas' dragon sounded plainly amused.

Finally, out amongst the quickly dwindeling eggs, one of the larger ones split neatly in half, and a deep, almost copper-coloured bronze stumbled onto the mossy ground. He made a snorting noise, preened, and then stood as elegantly as was possible for a new-born to do, his metal-plated hide reflecting the lights of the bay brightly. Just behind him, another shell broke, and another purple spilled out gracelessly onto the ground. This one, too, had shrivelled limbs and scarred skin, though instead of metallic wire, faintly glowing cables twisted around its forelimbs and wing. The bronze paid it no attention, heading straight for the candidates. He paused before one candidate, and then another, and finally settled at the feet of Tobias Nalyran. The huge bouncer (whose arms and hands were plated in a similar fashion), stared down at the dragonet, and then burst out chuckling. The bronze raised his still-sopping wings, chest puffed up with pride, and the two retreated from the dwindling group of candidates. The purple trailed behind them, uninterested in finding a bond.

"Themerith," Tobias told Linaeas and Keum as he passed, and the bronze cast a cocky look at them both.

~Domoth.~, Taxoness echoed as the purple limped by, completely oblivious towards them.

Linaeas watched as the newest pair began feeding, and then as the purple interrupted them. Tobias had been staring at the creature as it came up beside Themerith, and finally, the purple made a vulgur sounding creeling noise at him. Tobias blinked, the purple snorted. Themerith paused from his gorging and and literally growled at his clutch-mate. The Master Archivist watched all of this, ears pricked foreward, wishing for once that he was able to hear what conversation was going on. Back at the feeding tables, Tobias had been shaking his head, and finally burst out into another round of chuckles. "Did you make a new bond?" Keum called out, half-watching the side-show.

"No," Tobias called back, shaking his head and grinning, "but he says he doesn't want to get carted off-world. He says his name's Domoth."

"Well then, I take it you're going to take care of him?" The female wolf asked, her tone dryly amused.

Tobias shook his head again, more out of faint disbelief then negation. "Looks like it, yeah."

Keum looked back at Linaeas and shrugged one wing-shoulder. "Strange beasts," Keum repeated. And the hatching went on.

Another bronze had hatched, this one with a metallic tail that appeared to be a replacement, rather then simple plating. Along with him, a cream had tumbled out of her shell, as well. She appeared to have no cyborware whatsoever... the first of the clutch to be as such. The bronze--this one as dark as a brown, defineable only by the faint metallic sheen that appeared where the light hit him properly--moved slowly, carefully towards the candidates. He paused, as if listening to something, and then moved straight towards one of the most peculiar candidates on the sands. The bronze stopped before I-57v4n, looked up at the robot, and crooned. There was another pause as the two of them stared at each other, and then the bronze led his new bond towards the feeding bowls. The robot looked as dazed as an artificial intelligence without moving facial parts could, and Keum had to raise a hand-like paw at him. "Name, please?"

"0-c1y--I mean Odypyth." I-57v4n replied immediately. Keum looked at Linaeas. Linaeas looked at Keum. They both shrugged, and went back tot he hatching.

The afore-mentioned cream had already made her choice, and was causing quite a ruckus on the 'sands'. Qutteth was growling more loudly now as the cream stood defiantly within the ring of female bonders. Not only was the great queen rumbling, but two little fire-lizards, one crimson red and one milk white, were both shrieking at the defiant hatchling, their voices a counterpoint to the bass warning of the golden mother. The owner of the flits, however, turned from the violently rocking large egg and kneeled before the cream. Her long, flowing hair was only a shade darker, framing her alabaster face as she raised one hand, and gently placed it on the hatchlings snout. The cream crooned, delighted, while the flits continued to squawk and make an occasional, understandable word of protest. Aien guided her new bond away from the ring of female candidates, a euphoric look on her face.

"I... she... we..." She stopped before the pair of Archivists, trembling happily.

"Take your time," Keum spoke gently, while Linaeas watched silently.

Aien nodded, and tried again. "She's Jahevath." And without another word, she, the dragonet, and the two flits moved away towards the food.

Linaeas forced himself not to grin at the emotional outburst, focusing instead on the eggs that were yet to hatch. A large, pale and 'ware-less green had already hatched without notice, slinking towards the candidates. He looked absolutely evil, or Linaeas thought he did, and it was no surprise that he stopped immediately before the questionable M'fiv. The newly bonded pair approached the Archivists, M'fiv with a look that sat between blank and insane. The dragonet glared at the both of them, baring his little fangs. "Name please?" Linaeas gave them both a blank stare of his own, made easier by his emotionless red eyes.

"Mmm... Malinteth." M'fiv said, mumbling so that the both of them had to strain to hear him. Linaeas nodded, and let the two of them pass. The more quickly the both of them were out of the hatching bay, and preferably off of the station, the better.

Suddenly the volume of the audience increased, and attention was drawn towards the ring surrounding Qutteth's favored egg. It had been shuddering violently, and now, with a crack that was lost in the noises of the bay, it began to split. Hairline cracks spread over the entire egg, and with one more shudder, the shell shattered. A large, golden dragonet flopped unceremoniously in the left-overs of her encasing shell, untouched, of course, by cyborware. The candidates surrounding her closed in a little, each of them eager to form a bond. The dragonet lay sprawled for a moment, craning her neck up to look over her choices, and then she rolled over onto her feet, and pushed herself up rather weakly. She took a moment to hang her slightly lighter wings out to dry, and then took a step towards the candidates. With one more appraising look over the lot of them, she approached the dark skinned, dark eyed Jacquelyne. The young woman laughed aloud when the gold put a possessive paw over her foot, and the two backed out the disappointed ring of girls.

"Now that's a lovely pair," Keum grinned as the pair came near.

"Thanks," Jackie grinned a little shyly, "Ah... and her name's Quelymerith."

"Well enough." Keum nodded her massive head, and the pair moved on.

"It could be worse," Linaeas said, his tone mocking, "It could have been your apprentice who bonded the gold."

Keum made as if to knock him in the side of the head with a wing, but stopped short, sighing. "What the hells am I going to do about that?"

The Master Archivist shrugged, a motion that seemed odd on a quadruped like him. "We can sort it out after the hatching."

The hatching continued on: a 'wareless purple and a deep brown with metallic ears had approached their chosen ones. The purple had caught Sally on her way from the rejected gold-candidates, while the dark brown had literally run into his bond, Matthew. The group of four met up half-way to the feeding tables and walked together... apparently they were friends.

The female of the pair of... not-quite-humans, stopped breathlessly before the Archivists. "My bond's Bioleth, isn't she beautiful? And that's Parabolath..." she hiked a thumb at the dark brown with the droopy ears. Keum and Linaeas nodded in unison, both of them wearing pleasant expression. The girl hurried past them, while the boy shrugged and followed.

Out on the sands, another green had emerged from her shell: she was a rich, dark green in colour, and her entire left arm had been replaced with a fancy, glow-striped metal arm. She was more cocky then any green had the right to be, and made a show of pausing to stare up at each bond, before continuing on with a flick of her tail. She'd reached nearly the end of the semi-circle when she came to a full stop just in front of the frizzy, aubern haired Aeyateou. With a rustling of her slightly lighter wings, she butted her head against his thigh, demanding him to move with body-language and probably with a sharp mental prod as well. On his way towards the feeding bowls, he tossed her name over his shoulder. "Vetheth," he said, and the pair were past.

"How many dragonets has it been, yet?" Siche asked from the stands.

Venus, who'd been standing beside her and analyzing each of the newly bonded dragonets, took a moment to count. "Fourteen, I think."

"By hells and demons, I don't think any mutt has had that many offspring in one go in years!" Siche lashed her tail, counting over the remaining eggs, coming up with six more yet.

Venus gave a quiet chuckle. "Qutteth isn't a mutt, Siche..."

"I know, I know. I just wish I knew more about her kind of dragons!" the Minister flattened her grey ears against her skull, grimacing. "I hope we don't have too many more of her kind, anyways. They'd run us out of food and shelter!"

The cyborware installer simply laughed.

A pale brown had hatched, one who creeped along the ground as if by doing so, he could go unseen. He had a pair of antennae that bobbed with every motion, the glowing tips dancing over his face like little faeries. The brown creeped past one candidate, froze a few feet from Butexodubohi, and then leapt at him! The weight of the hatchling, combined with the surprise 'attack', sent Bute' bowling backwards, onto the soft ground. The hatchling chirped and gave his new a blatantly disgusting slurp across the face before backing off of him. The pair made their way towards the feeding bowls, showered with good-natured laughter by the audience.

When Keum paused the both of them, an expectant look on her face, Butexodubohi simply blinked at her. His bond nudged his knee, and he started. With a voice that sounded like a frog's croak, he blurted, "Dihoxeth," and then shuffled off with the dragonet, confused looking.

"Strange beasts?" Linaeas asked, "Strange candidates." Keum made a noise at the back of her throat.

When they turned their attention back to the eggs--there was only a fraction of what there had been--a sky blue dragonet had emerged, though when he spread his wings, they were revealed as a stormy grey colour. His cyborware consisted of a war-steed like, head to tail-base set of chrome armor, which glistened brightly under the hatching bay's lights. He had already mastered the art of walking and was prancing towards the shrunken selection of candidates. With a tilt of the head, and a small squawk for emphasis, the hatchling sat himself down before Altair Baclig. Probably the oldest candidate--maturity-wise, anyways--of the lot, Linaeas had been surprised that he'd signed up at all. But here he was, coming towards them with a blue-grey bond, smiling to himself as if he'd heard something amusingly ironic. "This one is Buhyth," Altair said, and the dragonet nodded agreement. Linaeas grinned and let them pass.

One of the candidates made a loud noise--a high-pitched laugh. Linaeas whipped his head around, and found that she was already on one knee, a large brown dragonet with faintly metallic filigree butting her head with his muzzle. Zher, for that was who had laughed, ran one hand over the metallic cyborware that encrusted her bond's right arm, and then got back to her feet. "Xiurazandeekeith," she said with a perfectly straight face when she got to the Archivists. Linaeas stared at her blankly for a moment, amazed that she hadn't even slowed to prounounce each syllable. She looked back at him for a moment, and then cleared her throat, "or... just 'Zandee, if that's okay." The wolf slowly nodded his head, and let the two of them pass. He jotted the name down in his records through vocal copy and pasting, afraid to try to spell it out for himself. The names that off-world dragonets chose for themselves... he supposed that he was glad that the native dragonets were given their names by sensible people.

The last three eggs had hatched one after the other: two browns and one green each struggled to their feet, their wide wings flapping unsteadily to help them gain their balance. The first of pair of browns--a chocolatey coloured little thing with a dark, licorice black mane--stumbled away from the candidates, towards the father. He paused there, tiny compared to the cream's massive bulk, and craned his head up... and up, until he fell backwards onto the sands. Isoshath tilted his head, and then gave the brown a gentle butt to the side to help him get back to his feet. The brown crooned thanks... and then trotted a little more steadily back towards the candidates. Isoshat sighed, then gave a little shrug. Probably better that he didn't bond a child, anyways.

The last pair of dragonets were just approaching their chosen bonds when the first brown reappeared before the ragged half-circle of candidates. All three of them paused, looking from one to another. Then, moving together, they forged their bonds. The 'ware-less green perched at the feet of Elmenorae, while the second brown sat with a good natured grin at Ilathin's side. The first brown, the one with the mane, paused with much more modesty at the foot of Talon Morningstar. All three newly bonded humans greeted their dragonets with varying degrees of delight, while the rest of the candidates that had gathered slowly began to filter away.

The three new riders marched towards Linaeas and Keum. One after another, they announced their bonded's names: "Gytiath," Elmenorae proudly announced, while her brother giggled and stroked his brown's head. "Linelith," the boy said, while his bond crooned. The last to speak was Talon, and he stood with a quiet dignity... as if he hadn't expected any of this to happen, but was supremely happy that it had. "Gifanith," he said, simply, and the brown behind him gave a tiny dip of his head. The Archivists let them by, marking down names as they passed.

"Well, that was interesting, hmm?" Linaeas remarked, but Keum was already heading towards her Apprentice and his new, crippled bond. She was settling things immediately, of course.

From the stands, Siche had braced for the usual barrage of want-to-be sponsors, so she didn't feel as harried as previously. "Now look," she bellowed as they converged on her, "There are three dragonets up for sponsorship: a bondless, and a pair. I want them to go to good homes, people!"

A deep black draconic creature--he wasn't a dragon in the sense that people knew dragons--muscled his way to the front. He was a lot smaller then the last time the Minister had seen him, so she assumed he must have some ability of size-shifting or something equally as useful. "You know me," he said, his voice sensible, "I've brought home a dragonet or two before..."

"And I trust they're doing well?" She gave him a hard stare.

"They are," he nodded his dark head. "They've grown up quickly, and are probably ready for a flight or two..."

Siche snorted. "They do grow up fast." With a sigh she continued, "Alright, fine. You take home..." she accessed the file that Linaeas had sent her, and looked up again, "brown Faceth. But after this, I don't want to see your hide again! I can't have you hording all of our hatchlings, lest I see some inbred little monster come back to fly here in the future!"

The black creature snorted and rolled his eyes. "As if I'd let something like that happen," he said, though his voice was nothing but amused. Siche grinned, and consulted her notes again. The other sponsors had begun speaking up again, but a gentle arm on her wrist caused the Minister to tune them out for a moment.

"If you don't mind," Venus said, her voice quiet, yet still carrying over the noise, "I'd like to keep those two here, for observation. Gods and Demons know if we'll ever see any of those dragons again," she pointed to the swarm of hatchlings below, "and I'd like to keep an eye on a couple of them." Siche flicked her tail, and didn't mention that a good four of them weren't likely to be leaving any time soon. Venus hesitated, and then continued, "besides, I think that there are some people I know who would be interested to see how that pair maintains a steady bond. You know how our mutts are..."

The Minister nodded slowly, considering. "All right." In a louder voice, she announced to the others, "Sorry, folks, that's it! No more from this clutch! Come back in a few weeks... there's bound to be one or two of those little tye-dye monsters for you to snatch up!"

Nearly everyone surrounding her made some kind of dejected noise before filtering away. Siche only relaxed when the last of them turned to leave. Grinning hugely, she cast a gold-eyed glance to the Cyborware Installer. "And this is why I get paid buckets-full of money." The two of them shared a laugh, before heading down to check on the newest additions to Star City's ranks.

**Story written by Dracothrope**