Sparkles shivered, the light dancing around the small clearing. It inched closer. “Come on, don’t be afraid. I’m not.” It was probably stupid, Captain might be right. Someone, or something, might have motives to hurt me with this beautiful creature—but if they did, then they were the dumb ones.
Its scent enveloped me, that sweet odor tickling my nostrils. Its nostrils, a row of them going up its snout, flared. Then it shivered again. “What do you smell, huh? Is there something about me?” I held out one hand, palm down, and waited.
A low thrumming croon throbbed in the air. In an agile move no creature with a spine should be able to make, Sparkles twisted and exposed its neck and belly. The scales were hard and smooth under my fingers as I stroked its neck, first with just two fingers and a soft stroke. The croon grew as I gained confidence and leaned in closer, mapping out the path of the iridescent scales as they covered the being’s flexible neck and down to its powerful chest and abdomen.
“How did you get here, huh? Someone bring you to me? Captain is worried you’re here to hurt me.”
Sparkles opened its eyes wide, shaking its head, kicking up some dust and leaves.
“You do understand me!” I hadn’t been one hundred percent sure before, but I was now. “You answered yes or no. Let’s see…. Um, are you here alone or is someone forcing you to come to me?”
I got another head shake but that wasn’t really clear. I asked two questions. Was that no to both or to one? Those shining eyes were staring into mine, and I could just tell the language barrier was as frustrating for it as it was for me. I sighed. “I’ll get better at this. Though I wish you could just talk to me. Or I could understand you. You must be trying to speak to me. I thought these damn translators worked for everything nowadays.”
Or maybe that the junk the scientists had put in my head would be good for freaking something. I jerked back when Sparkles rolled abruptly, crouching on its six limbs. Its head came up over mine where I was sitting, then it wrapped the first two limbs around my chest and reared up.
Wide wings unfurled, flapped once, and then we were in the air. I didn’t even have time to suck in a breath and yell for Captain where he stood outside our little home staring wide-eyed up in the sky as we passed overhead like a speeding shuttle.
“What are you doing?” My legs dangled uncomfortably until I tried to lift them and Sparkles then used its lower set of limbs to support them. “Where are you taking me? Take me back, Sparkles!”
It ignored me.
Shit. Fuck. Had I been wrong? My heart was pounding, but I was startled by the abrupt changes. I’d never see the wings that perfectly matched the scale pattern of Sparkle’s back when they were folded, and I certainly didn’t expect to be flying around being held up by a creature who might be as tall as I was vertically, if I ignored its tail length, but was only half my width. Still… I wasn’t really scared or angry.
We didn’t travel all that far, though the speed might have been deceptive. Sparkles descended in looping circles under the canopy of some of the stone spires that made up the canyons and rock cliffs to the south of the town and our property.
Sparkles landed somehow on their middle limbs and one arm of their front and back limbs, keeping me tucked close enough not to hit the solar-warmed rocks that still radiated heat from the second sun. It scurried under cover and into a round bowl, putting me down. Then Sparkles eased down to a pool of water, slipping into the liquid.
That’s when the true worth of its scales became clear… or nearly as good as clear. I couldn’t see anything but its eyes and where its limbs were moving to keep it at the edge of the small pool.
“Stars! You live in the water. It’s like… camouflage. But you’re a fire breather.” How the hell did that work? Why?
The water rippled, and I crept closer. I should be trying to get back to Captain, but there was a mystery here, something drawing me closer. How had this creature followed us from another planet? Or had it?
I gasped. “Are those… are those eggs?”
I spun, stumbling on the rocks. “Aparoe?”
“Careful! You don’t want to crush the eggs. I don’t know how you managed to keep the first one intact through the attack and trip back to the ship, much less how it survived the reclamation system.”
“I did what?”
Aparoe smiled gently. “I have a theory that you might have actually swallowed the egg, because you seem to have sloughed some of your DNA into the… well, I don’t know if it has a name—”
“I call it Sparkles.”
“You do, do you?” Aparoe raised their eyebrows.
“It seemed right,” I said defensively. “What are you doing here? How do you know about Sparkles? What do you know about Sparkles? I just started seeing it a few weeks ago.”
“I found it when I was doing a biological scan on the ship for contagion after our last stop on Central to ensure we hadn’t been infected with anything deliberately to prevent landing on another station or planet.
“It was much smaller, only the length of my forearm, but it had your DNA. I didn’t want to alarm Captain Querry until I had more information, but it hardly seemed a threat or dangerous once my scans proved it was safe biologically.”
“And he won’t let you study me,” I said shortly.
Aparoe shrugged. “Perhaps.”
“Sparkles isn’t the size of your forearm now.”
“No. She’s not.”
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