At first I didn’t know what woke me. I was just jolted awake by some unfamiliar noise. But then the sound rattled the hull of Ma-rye-a again. There was no mistaking it. It was Kay-o bellowing at the top of his lungs. His booming howl vibrated my chest as if I had the bass tuned up way too high on Ma-rye-a’s sound system.
“What the…” I started to swear.
I tumbled out of bed and headed out of my room and down the hall toward the guest room where Jake, Arr and Kay-o chose to spend the night rather than pod back over to their ship. We had a few too many drinks. They considered that room theirs anyway, so had tucked in for the night.
The fact that I had one too many before retiring, was not helping my navigation down the hall. Jake came crashing out of the guest room. We collided head on.
“What the…” Jake said.
“That’s what I said,” I rubbed my temple as Kay-o let out with yet another ear splitting howl.
Jake pointed and hustled off ahead of me. I followed his half naked frame. He took enough time to slip on his pants, but he hadn’t grabbed a shirt or shoes. I always sleep in shorts and a huge t-shirt, makes it easier for emergencies like these, or worse.
When Kay-o let out another wail, I wondered if he had injured himself. I had never heard him sound so pitiful. It did sound like he was in pain.
The door to the lounge swished open.
“I’m sorry…” Arr apologized immediately on seeing both our sleep deprived faces.
He was sitting on the floor with his arms around Kay-o’s neck trying to comfort him. The artifact my parents gave me lay on the floor in front of them.
Kay-o cried out again. Now that he had an audience he was inconsolable.
“What is going on,” Jake demanded.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Arr started to explain.
Yeah, well, he hadn’t had any of the whiskey Jake brought over with him to celebrate our meet-up. The youngest of the three of us, he had the most sense when it came to drink. He stuck to his non-alcohol Muldavian Sunset Spritzers.
“I thought I heard something when we looked at the stone earlier,” Arr indicated the artifact on the floor. “I thought it was more than just random sound.”
Kay-o lowered his head and pawed at an ear. He whimpered pathetically.
Arr rubbed the big lugs head affectionately.
“I’m sorry, Kay-o,” he apologized. “I came in to see if I could stand the sound long enough to determine what it actually was.” He looked up to us. “It has different frequencies. I am sure it is some sort of communication device, but I didn’t think about its affect on Kay-o. I didn’t mean to hurt him.” He stroked Kay-o gently.
The Dar-dolf lifted his head. He was going to howl again.
“Nixs!” Jake ordered.
Kay-o’s head dropped. He flopped down on the floor, his head on his paws. Jake went down on one knee to check in both of the Dar-dolf’s ears.
“It’s not giving off any sound now?” Jake asked Arr to confirm.
Arr shook his head. “Not unless someone touches it.”
“He’s okay,” Jake pronounced. He scruffed up the ruff around Kay-o’s neck. “You’re okay, just milking for extra attention…huh?”
Kay-o rose up and licked Jake affectionately on the nose.
I swear, the beast smiled.
“Alright,” Jake said and pushed at the Dar-dolf’s head. “Go…”
He pointed toward the door and flicked his fingers in the Merc sign language we all knew. Kay-o came to his feet and headed out the door.
Arr rocked forward and started to pick up the artifact.
“Nope,” Jake said, and Arr obeyed as well as Kay-o, he left it lying on the floor and took a chair.
I collapsed into a chair myself. I didn’t have company aboard ship very often - especially such noisy company.
Jake flopped into the last curvature chair and manipulated the controls on the arm to turn on the heat. He sunk into the chair and it molded itself over his shoulders and around his torso with a bit more maneuvering of the buttons. Guess he was cold without a shirt. He tucked his feet into the pocket on the footpad and looked quite comfortable now, as well as handsome, with his bare hairy chest peeking out from beneath the folds of the chair’s coverings.
I left mine cold. If I got too comfy they would have to carry me back to bed.
“Tell me what you found out,” he addressed Arr.
“It has multiple tones depending on how you hold it and apply pressure. It was one of those that set Kay-o off. The more I listen to it, the more I think the vibration of it is just a side effect of the high frequencies emitting from it. I really think it is a communication devise of some sort. I want to try and sort it out before we reach the planet.”
Jake nodded his approval, than hit the retracting switch on his chair. He pulled my flat from its pocket on the arm, picked up the box the artifact had been packed in when it was given to me and with a flick of the flat, he flipped it back into the box. He handed the box to Arr.
“Don’t play with it again until I get Kay-o back on the Calpernia,” he ordered. “I’m going back to bed.”
He leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek and ambled out the door.
I smiled at Arr and he smiled back. He was like a kid with a new toy. He loved anything that had the slightest appearance of being another way to communicate.
We spent over a week getting to the Planet Designated 014.666.2460. Arr took up residence on Ma-rye-a with me. Jake trailed along or led in the Calpernia with Kay-o. Arr stayed with me so he could study the artifact further. I couldn’t hear the sounds it emitted. Sometimes I could ‘feel’ a certain note. Yes, we had started thinking of the piece as an instrument. During rest periods along the way, we would once again tether the ships together in a safe location out of trade-route lanes. During these rests Arr would put the artifact away and Jake and Kay-o would come over for the evening and a meal where we would always, eventually, end up discussing the device. Arr learned he could ‘play’ it by exerting different amounts of pressure with his fingers. He was actually creating music, ethereal as it were, since none, but he could hear it, but he said it was quite pleasing once he was able to learn to manipulate it properly.
All of Arr’s people are musically inclined. The Henu all have perfect pitch and many play instruments. A gathering of his colony often ends up including an impromptu sing-a-long.
Arr’s people also purr, which seems to fit well in our humanoid conception of cats since all his people have the bright blue eyes with the cat shaped pupils.
As Arr would sit or walk around the ship playing with the artifact I could hear his soft purr. The Henu purr for a variety of reasons. They do it to comfort themselves, when they feel pleasure, and also to raise their body temperature. Arr said playing with the artifact was both pleasurable and jarring at times when he hit something off the scale that made his teeth grind.
The Henu also growl, though the adults mostly grow out of it. I would on occasion see Arr’s eyes narrow to slits and a growl would slip out. I knew then he had gone even beyond his ability to an ear splitting level on the artifact’s scale.
Today we arrived at our destination – Planet 014.666.2460. Arr was standing on the bridge with the artifact in his hand. His fingers drummed on it like a pianist fingers across keys. From up here in orbit the planet looked almost a uniform red in color with what looked like spotty dust storms or some other form of wind activity. Some of the landmass was shrouded in clouds which I thought might be extensions of the heavy fog we saw on the vid my Father had on his flat.
Arr and my attention were on the viewport looking down at the planet when a dragon materialized on the bridge beside us. A dragon was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw it, even though I knew that was impossible. Dragons were the stuff of fairytales and children’s imagination. Theories of the origin and possible links to real creatures had existed for millennia, but no evidence was ever found. They were the creatures of myth and legend only.
The dragon was the size of a very large horse. It had tucked it wings, curled its tail around its feet, and lowered its head in order to fit into the empty space on my bridge. The first thing I noticed was its eyes. They looked like bloodstones. The full eye was deep red with speckles of black splashed in it as if someone had flicked a wet paint brush over its eyes. It had great curled horns which curved back over its head. They looked useless for stabbing, but heavy enough for butting. This black flecked pattern in the eyes seemed to bleed from them. It went across its muzzle to run down its cheeks, the sides of its neck and over its shoulders to spread out ‘spottily’ over the wings. The same pattern of irregular black specks started at the base of its skull and ran down its back when the black seemed to coagulate into a solid on its triple forked tail. A tail, which unlike the horns, looked as though it were for stabbing.
The second thing I couldn’t help but notice was the dragon was not alone. The beast extended a wing and a lizard like creature, which had also lowered its body down close to the dragon’s neck to get into the allotted head space, slid from the dragon’s back.
It was easily as tall as Targus, the Walhmite captain I knew who topped out at well over seven and a half feet tall. The creature stood on two legs with a tail extending behind it that exceeded the length of its legs. It had a dragon type snoot, with large canine teeth that protruded top and bottom from its jaws. Its feet and hands were similar in shape three fingers with opposable thumb. Long wickedly sharp claws extended from its fingers. It was also red in color, though more crimson then blood red. It had a pale cream colored belly and short cream colored nubs of horns growing on its head. I say ‘it’ because it had no clothes on, yet no genitalia was present. Some alien species have convenient sex glands that retract, so perhaps this one did too. The creature did not carry any weapon, but it did not look as though it would need any to deal with us. Not only did it have the formidable looking claws, but it was extremely muscular and looked as though it was built for speed.
It pointed toward the artifact in Arr’s hand.
“What’s going on over there?” Jake’s voice boomed from the console on the bridge. “I’m reading two more life forms on the bridge.”
The lizard’s head swiveled toward Jake’s voice.
“Hold tight,” I said to Jake. “A couple of visitors have dropped in.”
“Dropped in…”Jake started to say before I gave Ma-rye-a the high-sign to cut him off mid-sentence.
The lizard brought his attention back to Arr and the device in his hand. I saw Arr’s fingers play lightly across the artifact. Both the lizard and the dragon’s eyes squinted almost closed as though they were in ecstasy. Arr finished and let the instrument sit in his open palm. The lizard’s eyes came open and it took a step toward Arr. Arr growled and his fingers curled up around the device again. He punched his thumb hard into the end of the artifact and both the lizard and the dragon shook their heads in unison as though they were choreographed to do so. Arr growled again. The dragon responded with an answering rumble in its throat, than extended its wing to allow the lizard to mount. As soon as the lizard was in place astride the dragon’s shoulders the two disappeared from the bridge.
Arr and I both seemed to exhale at the same time in one collective sigh of relief.
“Was that a dragon?” I asked for confirmation.
“It appears so, and this,” Arr held out the artifact in his hand, “appears to be a Dragoncall.”