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Security Chief Baillie
There are plenty of places I'd a darned sight sooner be than sitting in a draughty cave in the middle of a Vellian thunderstorm watching Sulu and Lt. Standish crooning over a bunch of wilted plants as though they'd just found gold at the rainbow's end. Since I'm about as useful in that area as a sick headache, and since I always was of a practical turn of mind, I'm engaged in heating coffee from the supplies I had the forethought to bring down, wondering meanwhile how long this storm will last, and wishing that some engineering genius in Starfleet would come up with a transporter system that won't turn temperamental on us at every electrical disturbance.
Our Science Department are happy as sandboys on Vellia, even now; apart from the botany class, there's Parker from Geology, with his assistant, Helen Vale. Oh, and Spock, of course. He's sitting over in the corner already absorbed in correlating data, sublimely unconscious of the subdued chatter of the others. (Truth to tell, it's as much for his sake as anything that I've got the coffee on - he's soaked to the skin, and I can just imagine the look I'll get from Kirk if I bring back a shivering Vulcan. Besides, the thought of Spock pretending not to be suffering from a cold isn't a prospect I relish.)
As soon as it's ready, I start handing out the coffee; Sulu and Standish break off just long enough to thank me, but Parker beckons me down to show me what he and Vale find so interesting.
Basically, it's a pile of loose rock samples that they've gathered out on the surface; but they've been weathered into some curious shapes, and I amuse myself turning them over until one in particular attracts my attention.
"Hey, Parker - can I have this?"
He looks over to see what I've found. "Sure, Chief - I've got several samples of that rock. Interesting shape, isn't it? Simple explanation, of course - the rock's pretty soft, and the extremes of weather on Vellia did the rest... I had one a few minutes ago that looks a bit like a Romulan Warbird... see?"
"Mmmm, yes - but I'd rather have this one." Really, the resemblance to a dragon's head is remarkable - the ridged eye-sockets, the long narrow snout, even the suggestion of a crest on the back of the head.
I'm carrying it as I move over to the last member of the party.
"Coffee, Mr. Spock?"
"Thank you, Mr. Baillie. What have you there?"
"Just a weathered rock Parker found - I couldn't resist it." As I hold it out to show him I could swear his lips curve the merest fraction, and he cocks an eyebrow at me.
"Berengaria, Mr, Baillie?"
"Well... yes. It does rather remind me." Somehow I'd known he hadn't forgotten...
As a young, newly-promoted lieutenant in Security, only recently transferred to the U.S.S. Enterprise, it's a surprise to me when I'm assigned to one of the first shore-leave parties on Berengaria.
Berengaria! On a thousand planets children's eyes light up at the sound of that name, for only on that planet in all the galaxy are the ancient, magical words a reality. "Here be dragons." Real, honest-to-goodness, fire-breathing, flying dragons, as specified in all the best fairy tales. It'd been my ambition all my life to see one, and now I'd have the chance.
Perhaps. Trouble is they're shy, timid beasts, living high in the mountains, shunning man so completely that out of the many thousands who've sought them, only a handful have been lucky enough to see one.
So elusive are they that even today many people doubt their existence, calling them hallucinations, the fulfillment of wishful thinking. They've never been photographed, they don't register on a tricorder, except as very confused, blurred readings - not even a Starship's sensors can locate them, for the creatures seem to have the ability to know when they're being probed, and to ... well, vanish is the only way I can put it. This adds to their fairy-tale quality, of course, but only the indignant insistence of the Berengarians and the unimpeachable testimony of a few offworlders whose word cannot be doubted confirms their existence at all. But they exist. Oh yes, they exist.
On this shore leave I go down with Danvers and Trelawney from Security. We're all of the opinion that a small group stands a far better chance of finding something than if we go in a large party, as some of the others are planning to do. We set up camp on a small plateau high in the mountains, and settle down to figure out the best way to begin our search.
Normally we'd never dream of climbing alone, but we're young, enthusiastic - and a bit reckless. The weather report is good, we have our communicators in case of trouble, so we decide that to cover the maximum territory we'll each take a different route to explore. Not that we know exactly what we're looking for - but as Trelawney says, fire-breathing dragons are bound to scorch a few rocks here and there, which would seem as good an indication as any. The plan is that whichever of us finds traces will call the others by communicator, and we'll concentrate our search in that area.
For the first four days all goes well - no sign of dragons, but the fresh, clean air and the unhurried exercise help me to unwind after the tension caused by my unexpected promotion, my transfer to a new ship, and the general all-round trouble that's Security's daily lot.
On the fifth day, trouble. I'm edging my way gingerly across a slope of loose rocks when a shadow across the sun makes me instinctively glance up; it's only one of the enormous birds of prey common in the Berengarian mountains, but I pay dearly for my moment of inattention as a rock shifts under my foot and I go crashing down the slope on a moving carpet of dislodged stones.
There's nothing to catch hold of to break my descent, no protection from the falling rocks. I can feel blood running down my face, my left arm is certainly broken, and I'm not too sure about the rest of me. The only thing I do know with any clarity is that the slope I'm riding terminates abruptly in a drop of several hundred feet to the flank of the mountain below.
"So much for fairy tales, Baillie!" I mutter to myself as I go skidding down at an ever-increasing rate. "If I ever get out of this..." The thought is never completed as I spin crazily around and collide with something very solid and unyielding.
I'm wakened by a persistent, tickling irritation on my face, a rough but at the same time gentle sensation of something - an insect, perhaps - crawling across my skin. I raise my arm to brush it away, and the pain brings me fully awake as the edges of the broken bone grate together.
I'm lying on my side gazing straight out into space, the reassuring solidity of rock at my back, a sheer drop in front of me. I sit up carefully, nursing my arm; my whole body's aching, and my head feels like I've spent four days in a Rigellian nightclub, At least I''m relatively safe, lying on a ledge a few feet below the drop. The avalanche of rocks has stopped, so there's no danger from above, and the ledge is solid and firm, removing my fear that it might crumble and send me flying.
Even my communicator is still attached to my belt, as I discover when I reach for it; at that point my luck runs out, though, because my call to the Enterprise produces only a crackle of static - the communicator must have been damaged in the fall.
There's no need to panic, I tell myself. It's still working after a fashion, and the odds are that I'll be able to reach Danvers and Trelawney - they can't be too far away. And even if they are out of range of the damaged communicator, they'll know something's wrong when I don't show up at the camp by nightfall, and they'll come looking for me in the morning.
I'd sooner not spend the night in the open, though. It's bitterly cold at this height after dark, and if I don't manage to stay awake, the chances are that I'll roll off the ledge during the night.
I adjust the communicator to general broadcast. "Baillie here. Anyone receiving, please respond. This is a distress call."
I repeat the message several times, and at last there's a response; fragmented, distorted by static, but at least someone has heard me.
"... receiving you. Please state position..."
Tensely, I give my coordinates, hoping the communicator is transmitting more efficiently than it's receiving, and await a reply from my unknown rescuer - the static is too strong for me to recognise the voice.
"... lower slopes. Can you determine... injuries?"
"A broken arm, some minor cuts, possibly mild concussion," I report.
"... doctor standing by... not attempt to move... receiving me?"
"Understood. There's a lot of static, but you're coming through."
"...leaving now. Estimate arrival... Out."
I tuck the communicator safely away, feeling slightly more cheerful now I know that help is coming, and edge round to get a better look at my refuge, closing my eyes against a wave of dizziness produced by a careless movement of my head. When I open them again, I'm facing along the ledge to my right, where it widens out considerably into a smooth platform before the dark mouth of a cave; and sprawled out on the sun-warmed rock, watching me intently, is a real, live dragon.
He's just like I'd imagined, just as all the story books had described him. About twenty feet long - excluding the barbed tail which doubles his size. And he's even green - the delicate, fresh green of new leaves, shading to pale yellow underneath. The wings are folded, but present, as described, a glowing rainbow of purple and violet and gold. He yawns, his mouth a crimson cavern edged with sharp, white teeth like daggers, and an impossibly long, forked tongue flickers out to coil around the long narrow snout.
I must admit I jump a bit - well, few of the stories hint at a gentle dragon - and at the movement the enormous eyes blink at me in almost comical surprise. He shifts position restlessly, his tail twitching dangerously close - one move could knock me off my suddenly precarious perch - and gives a low, throaty rumble.
"Easy, boy." I put all the confidence and reassurance I can muster into my admitedly shaking voice. "Easy now - I won't hurt you."
Now there's a stupid remark if you like! One very scared, suddenly very fragile-feeling, six-foot-odd Human male, earnestly assuring a forty-foot dragon that he won't hurt it! Not that I could, anyway - the Berengarians don't like us bringing weapons down on shore-leave, and my phaser's back on the ship.
After a few minutes of the pair of us sitting staring blankly at each other, the dragon rumbles again, and edges closer. I think about retreating, but there simply isn't anywhere to go - to my left the ledge narrows after only a few feet. Soon it's too late to move anyway, because one enormous clawed foot is resting on my leg, and the great golden eyes are peering inquisitively into my face.
The tongue flickers out again, travelling delicately over my head and shoulders; and believe me, I'm praying that I don't taste too good, because I have the nasty feeling that I've been marked down as a prospective dinner.
I'd give a lot for one of those fairy tale wizards to turn up - well, all the best wizards are supposed to have a sure-fire spell for getting rid of dragons - and those teeth are unpleasantly close. In the absence of any such useful character, though, I reckon my best bet is to remain perfectly still, and hope that the beast isn't too hungry.
The weight on my leg shifts a little, and to my surprise the dragon rolls over onto his side, one hind leg raised into the air; he whimpers pleadingly, and his position reminds me irresistably of a dog I had once - he lay down and whimpered like that when he wanted his tummy tickled.
"Ridiculous!" I mutter. "Whoever heard of a dragon looking to be petted?"
You'd swear the beast understands, because he whimpers again, and nudges my arm with his snout. Oh well, it's worth trying... I reach out very cautiously and rub my hand over the surprisingly soft yellow skin.
At once an expression of sheer, idiotic bliss crosses the dragon's face; he gives a little moan of unmistakeable pleasure, and wriggles ecstatically, his eyes half-closed with sheer enjoyment. I can't help it - I begin to laugh. After all, here I am, with a broken arm and other injuries I'm not too sure about, stuck halfway up a mountain with - of all things - an affectionate dragon.
It seems the beast likes the sound of my voice, because a low rumbling kindles deep in his throat.
"The books didn't mention this either," I tell my companion. "I don't think dragons are supposed to purr."
Supposed to or not, this one definitely is. In fact, as time passes, the sound lulls me into a dreamy haze - so much so, that the sudden clatter of rocks below startles me for a moment until I realise that my rescue party must have arrived.
"Excuse me," I tell the dragon, and wriggle round until I'm able to watch the first man scramble over the ledge.
It had to be! I tell myself resignedly. Get into trouble on our first shore leave from a new ship, and have to be rescued by the First Officer in person.
Spock's followed by Jimenez, one of the junior medics, and a couple of men from Security; this makes the ledge pretty crowded, and I grin apologetically.
"Sorry about the lack of space - I don't think my friend here wants to move."
"Your "friend?" Spock's eyebrows vanish into his hair, and Jimenez, in the act of pulling out his scanner, looks at me worriedly,
"The dragon. He's been keeping me company for..."
At the sight of their carefully blank faces I turn my head; although I can still feel the warm weight against my leg, the ledge appears to be empty.
"There is a dragon," I assure them earnestly. "If you'd just feel..."
"Don't worry about it now," Jimenez says brightly. "Let's have a look at you, Baillie... Hmm, yes, a broken arm... and that's a bad bruise, possibly concussion... I think he'd better beam directly up to the ship, Mr. Spock."
"As you advise." The Vulcan pulls out his communicator, and as the two guards help me to my feet I lose my final proof as the weight lifts from my leg. Patterson follows the direction of my gaze, grins, and I have the nasty suspicion that I'm never going to be allowed to live this one down.
"I was not concussed, There was a dragon, whether you saw it or not. "
"Sure there was. St. George too... and perhaps a damsel in distress?"
One of these days I'm going to murder Patterson - slowly. He's spread the story all over the ship, and those idiots think it's the biggest joke for years. There's nothing more frustrating than being disbelieved when you know you're telling the truth - but the more I try to convince them, the louder they laugh.
In despair I glance around the rec room, looking for support, but in vain; the only person not grinning like a Cheshire cat is Spock, who's sitting at the next table poring over a chess board.
Something about his tense expression makes me forget everyone else for the moment, and I find myself watching him with curiosity, wondering what it's like for him to be the only one of his race on board; even though he's half Human it doesn't show, and I guess he must get pretty lonely at times. He's respected by the crew, but he doesn't seem to have any friends... irritating though mine can be at times, I can't imagine not having any.
Just then the rec room door opens, and his face... changes, softening into an expression of shy welcome; then almost at once the frozen mask is back in place, so quickly it's hard to believe it ever lifted.
Looking round, I see that the Captain has come in, with Gary Mitchell at his side, and it's clear what happened. On the way to sickbay after my "rescue " we'd met the Captain in the lift, and he'd arranged a chess game with Spock; but he's obviously got caught up with Mitchell and forgotten - leaving the Vulcan to hide a bitter disappointment.
"Hey Gary - have you heard about Baillie's dragon?"
Something very slow, very painful for Patterson, I decide as the navigator and the Captain pause by our table.
"McCoy gave you a thorough check-up, of course?" Kirk is smiling too, but his eyes are concerned - I'll say this for him, he worries about every member of his crew.
"I'm fully fit, Captain," I assure him. "The doctor fixed my arm."
"But not the hallucinations," Mitchell chuckles.
"Look, for the last time - I did see the dragon!" I snap somewhat irritably,
"Oh, come on, Baillie! You can't expect us to believe..."
"Mr. Baillie is perfectly correct." A cool, dispassionate voice breaks into the laughter. "There was a dragon on the ledge. I saw it as I arrived, but it vanished almost immediately - I assume it was made nervous by the arrival of so many people. It is curious, gentlemen, that you should find it necessary to doubt Mr. Baillie's word,"
"This is a conspiracy!" Mitchell grins. "You're joking, Spock - admit it,"
"Vulcans do not make jokes."
"That's enough, Gary. If Mr. Spock says he saw the dragon, it was there," Kirk says firmly, eyeing me with a new respect. "Sorry I doubted your word, Baillie."
"Understandable, Captain," I tell him, shooting a triumphant glance at the open-mouthed Patterson. "I'm just glad Mr. Spock was able to confirm the sighting. Thank you, sir."
The Vulcan inclines his head. "If you will excuse me, Captain?"
As he turns to leave Mitchell grabs Kirk's arm. "Coming for a drink, Jim?"
"Not tonight, Gary." Kirk's barring Spock's path. "Mr, Spock, I thought we had a game planned for tonight?"
"It is unimportant, sir, if you wish to..."
"I wish to try out that move you showed me - I've been looking forward to this game."
"Then..." Spock gestures Kirk to a seat at the table, and within minutes both men are lost in the intricacies of the game.
"I'll never understand Jim!" Mitchell sighs as he joins our group. "Heaven only knows what he finds so interesting in that Vulcan."
"0h, I don't know." I lift my glass from the table, "I have a feeling that Mr. Spock has a few surprises in store for us - and for the Captain."
Well, he's done that all right, over the years. I sometimes wonder if Kirk did notice that fleeting moment of vulnerability so long ago... but if he did, he's had cause to be grateful for that act of kindness many times since that day.
The gradually-penetrating dampness of the cave breaks in on my memories, and I rummage in the medical kit for a light thermal blanket.
Spock glances up as I drop it around his shoulders, and the faint hint of a smile still lingering in the dark eyes gives me the nerve to mention something that's been puzzling me for years.
"Mr. Spock, about that time on Berengaria, when I saw the dragon..."
"Yes, Mr. Baillie?"
"Sir, at the time I was so glad of your confirmation that I didn't think of it, but later I got to remembering... Even a Vulcan would have shown some reaction on seeing a dragon unexpectedly like that, made some comment, at least - but you said nothing. You didn't see it, did you?"
"No, Mr. Baillie, I did not."
"Then why did you say you had?"
"Because..." A faint tinge of green colours his face, and he glances round to make sure there's no-one within earshot. "Many years ago, Mr. Baillie, a small boy ran to his parents to tell them of the marvellous dragon he had seen. No-one believed him, either..."
"Indeed. In fact, I was fortunate enough to encounter three of the creatures - a family group. My father was displeased... he thought I had been daydreaming, a most regrettable Human trait... From your description and my own experience, I knew that you had indeed seen a dragon, for you could not have described its appearance and behaviour so perfectly if you had not - and I thought..."
"Thank you, Mr. Spock," For a moment I have this gorgeous image of a small, solemn Vulcan child carefully tickling a large dragon. "You sure made things easier for me."
"I am pleased to have helped." The smile is clear in his eyes for a moment before he returns his attention to his tricorder.
Three hours later the storm has blown itself out, we're in contact with the Enterprise, and the landing party is gathering to beam up. I turn to find Spock at my elbow.
"Mr. Baillie," he murmurs quietly, "may I ask... what impressed you most about the dragon?"
"Its size, I guess," I tell him, remembering. "Forty feet from nose to tail - it was some size of a beast."
"Then it may interest you to know - I told you that my dragons were a family unit?" He pauses, and believe it or not, his eyes are warm with supressed laughter. "Mr, Baillie, you were indeed fortunate - the dragon you encountered that day was very young, I would estimate less than a year old... and the Berengarians estimate the life-span of a dragon at some three thousand Terran years. You were - what is the term? babysitting? - with a very young dragon."
"I thought," I remind him, "that Vulcans don't make jokes."
"Jokes, Mr. Baillie?" An eyebrow disappears into his fringe. "I see no joke in a simple statement of fact. The creature you encountered was an infant of the species."
"When I was a kid," I tell him, "I had a book called, 'Happiness is a warm puppy. Makes me wonder, Mr. Spock - do you suppose there's a Berengarian equivalent?"
For just a minute I think he's going to answer, but before he can we're caught up in the transporter beam, Just as well, really - I don't think Vulcan dignity would have stood up very well if he'd realised the picture that's in my mind. Tribbles are one thing - but dragons?