Noah’s Boy – Snippet 34
Bea couldn’t believe she had the keys in her hand and her purse too, which she supposed the Great Sky Dragon must have taken from her when he — her mind still flinched from it — killed her.
She’d gone over the purse and found her driver’s license, her cell phone, everything as it had been. It was perfectly normal stuff for her to be carrying in her purse, including the little charcoal drawing kit in a folding pouch that her father had given her for Christmas, but now all of it felt like artifacts from a lost civilization. Or at least like artifacts from a lost Bea.
Was it only three or four days ago that she’d arrived in Goldport determined to make the dragon triad stop picking on her dad? It seemed like it had happened centuries ago, or perhaps in another life.
She adjusted the seat and the mirrors. Someone taller than her had been driving the truck. Then she turned the engine on, and looked at the gas gage. Well. She’d have to grab some gas on the way out of Goldport too. Not a problem, as her credit cards too appeared to be intact.
A deep breath, as she realized that she could probably go home to mom and dad. With Tom in charge of the dragon triad, she didn’t think anyone would go after her.
But would Tom stay in charge? And if he didn’t, who would take over?
She had a strong suspicion that Tom would be very careful about that and that the threat of marriage to Tom — or his father, though she wasn’t so sure about the old great sky dragon — was gone. On the other hand…
On the other hand it seemed to her that Tom and every other shifter here in town was in trouble. She didn’t want to admit it and it took her some small struggle with herself, but after a while it dawned on her that of all the shifters in town, the welfare of one mattered the most to her.
No, she wasn’t in love with Rafiel, but she liked him an awful lot, and something about him appealed to her. Perhaps his devotion to duty as a policeman, as strong as his devotion to his kind as shifters. Perhaps just the way he understood her position with her parents — he too was perhaps too protected by his.
She would call her parents, she decided, and talk to them. She could do that much. But for now she would stay out here and figure out how this would end up, and make sure her father wouldn’t be blackmailed in exchange for her obeying the Great Sky Dragon ever again.
With the car in gear, she headed out of the parking lot. She could just barely — she thought — remember the way to the cabin. She would make it there before noon.
* * *
When Tom got back to the diner, it was largely empty. Anthony had gone home. Rya and Jason — who looked like he was sleep-punchy, were the only servers there. This was very good, Tom thought, because he could see the problem right away.
Standing at the counter, in a lab coat and dark pants was… a very large rat.
What puzzled Tom was not how often Doctor Tedd Roberts, professor at the Colorado University of Goldport medical school and one of the foremost researchers into brain-processes in the country, showed up at the diner in his shifted form. No, what puzzled Tom was how he’d managed never to be spotted. Possibly the fact that both his forms were roughly the same size, combined with the fact that he kept unusual hours.
Seeing Dr. Roberts, however, made Tom think of the whole thing with the dragon egg and memories and heredity. No sane dragon would pick him for an heir, so it had to be something genetic.
The scientist was standing between two counter stools, reaching for a cup of coffee as Tom approached and cleared his throat. Dr. Roberts turned around and looked at Tom out of inquisitive rat eyes.
“Uh, Dr. You’re…”
Dr. Roberts’ nose twitched, and he glanced quickly down at the general area of his fly.
“No, I mean you’re –”
“Squeak?” Dr. Roberts asked, puzzled. Then he lifted the cup of coffee with his paw and took it to his mouth. Coffee dribbled out the sides of the rat’s mouth onto the lab coat.
A very short, confused time passed, after which Dr. Roberts stood where the rat had been, looking at Tom in some irritation. “Damn it. Another lab coat to wash. Couldn’t you tell me I was shifted?”
Tom refrained from saying he had tried. The absent minded professor’s annoyance was more at himself than at Tom, anyway. “I need to talk to you,” he said, instead. “At least, I think you can help me.”
Doctor Roberts raised his eyebrows at Tom while taking another swallow of the coffee.
“It’s… biological and brain stuff, I think. Otherwise, it’s magic, and I refuse to think it’s magic.” Doctor Roberts eyebrows rose higher and Tom sighed. “Look, can we go to the corner booth and talk.”
“Sure. I don’t have to be at the lab for another hour,” Doctor Roberts said. “I just thought I’d come in and have some breakfast and do some thinking, and I suppose you can help with that.”
He sat down on the corner booth, while Tom surveyed what there was to eat. Then he realized that Laura had been at work in the back addition which they’d put in to attend to baking. She called good morning to him and pushed a plate of pastries towards him, “These are experimental. You guys might want to try them out. And aren’t you early?”
“A little,” Tom said. “We’ll probably go home later.”
“Tough night?” the diner’s baker asked.
Tom shrugged. He never knew exactly if Laura was a shifter or not. She smelled like a shifter, but they’d never seen her shift, and she always seemed to strategically have her eyes turned when someone shifted nearby. Kyrie and Tom had a running bet on which form she changed into, the most popular being various deadly animals.
The plate of pastries she pushed into his hand were warm. “Kyrie might want some also,” he said.
She said, “Already gave her a plate. You look like you need some food.”
Tom took the plate to the booth and a cup of coffee for himself, plus a carafe to refill the coffee. Doctor Roberts looked up at his approach. He’d been drawing something in one of his notebooks. “So, what’s puzzling you, Tom?” he asked.
“It’s…” Tom looked over his shoulder. No one was sitting near the corner booth, which was normally left unoccupied by all but the diner regulars anyway. Kyrie’s theory was that the blood-soaked painting of St. George killing the dragon hung right over the booth kept all but the most devoted away. Possibly. But Tom also knew given a chance, when he was trying to have a talk with another shifter, Kyrie would move people away from them.
Then he sensed Kyrie behind him, and looked up and scooted a little sideways. “Not needed?” he asked her.
“Nah, Jason says he’s good, and Conan is backing Rya up. And I’d like to hear this. Are you going to ask him about the dragon egg and the Pearl of Heaven?”
“Dragon egg?” Doctor Roberts looked from one to the other of them. “Does this mean you two are expecting a happy event?”
Tom chuckled and shook his head. “No. That would be way too easy. Or not, but you know what I mean. No. I want to know… That is…” He spilled the whole story about only male descendants of the Great Sky Dragon being able to inherit, about the packet of knowledge, with all its encrypted files, which seemingly passed to the oldest living male relative — or was it the oldest, Tom didn’t even know that — upon the Great Sky Dragon’s death, about what that packet felt like, and about the Pearl of heaven, which was supposed to activate the whole thing.
When he finished the scientist was biting his lower lip. Tom slid the plate of pastries marginally closer to the man, because he was starting to see the doctor’s face acquire a certain… ratty look, and he knew the scientist shifted when he became too immersed in his own thoughts.
He focused on the plate as Tom moved it, then picked up one of the pastries. “These look new.”
“Yeah, I don’t know what they are yet,” Tom said. “Laura wants us to try them out.”
Doctor Roberts bit into one, and said, “Oooh. Hazelnut cream.”
Tom grabbed one of the pastries and bit into it. Hazelnut cream indeed, still warm and squishy in the center. It was like a cross between a bear claw and a really good truffle. He took another bite before saying, “So, the thing is, you know, it can’t be magic.”
Doctor Roberts shook his head. “No, for sure not magic, though I can’t quite explain all of it. Our science isn’t there yet. I assume… from what you said, whatever it was, these life forms who came through those portals or gateways or whatever were very sophisticated gene splicers indeed. Because they clearly spliced their own genes with Earth life forms, or we wouldn’t be the same as the rest of Earth.”
Kyrie, sitting next to Tom scooted closer. “Unless of course they seeded the Earth,” she said. “To begin with.”
“True, but irrelevant for our purposes,” Doctor Roberts said. “Or, as we like to put it around the lab, that’s a fascinating conclusion but totally irrelevant to our question.” He shrugged. “You see, in either case, it’s a civilization much older than ours, and much, much better at the biological stuff.” He got another of the pastries. “You could get addicted to these,” he said. “But look, we are sort of on the same stairway of biological knowledge, only we’re on the landing contemplating putting our feet on the first step and they’re on the second floor landing or something.” He looked up and at what Tom knew was his utterly blank expression. A look at Kyrie showed her looking utterly puzzled. “What I mean,” Doctor Roberts said. “Is that we have some knowledge that indicates this could be possible. It’s been known for some months that we can encode memory in chromosomes, the same way we encode it into computer drives. So if you use the Y chromosome — and there might be reasons this was easiest or best — it completely explains why only males could inherit. If on top of that, to activate it, it takes something that is inherent to the shifter genes, you immediately have shifter males descended from the Great Sky Dragon on an unbroken male line. What is not clear is the whole other stuff… Why you’d only become aware of that memory when the Great Sky Dragon died. If you have his memories also, up to the moment he died. And also of course what is in the Pearl of Heaven that can make you… I say in computer terms, I suppose, uncompress and integrate the whole thing…” He shook his head. “I can make some educated guesses, but only guesses. First, I’m going to guess whatever the beings were that first came to Earth and became… embodied had some kind of powers inherent in them: mind communication, mind control, perhaps a whole host of other things we associate with magic.
“If they were beings that could at will, or without will, leave bodies behind and go on living, they clearly had abilities we don’t have. So, yeah. Okay, we’ll establish that.”
“The Great Sky Dragon said the reason he knew I was his descendant is that he couldn’t read my mind. And also, he couldn’t control me. He could communicate with me,” he said, adding, ruefully. “That’s how we ended up with the bathroom in a total mess when I shifted in it last year.”
“Yes, of course. That even makes some sense. Something about the transmitters being alike, so he could not communicate with you directly. Again, this is so far beyond our science I feel like someone who’s never seen a radio speculating about radio transmission, but I can sort of guess at the shapes of things and what they’re supposed to do. So, do you have The Great Sky Dragon’s memory up to his death?”
“I don’t know,” Tom said. “The actual… the personalities and life experiences of the other Great Sky Dragons are not accessible to me. The … files with the knowledge I need at any moment pop up, and I can peek in them, but not open them fully. If I inherited personal memories too, they would not be obvious.”
“Yes,” Doctor Roberts said. “And you think you need that.”
“I need it if I’m going to prevent the Great Sky Dragon from being… activated by the Pearl of Heaven and then made to open a portal to Earth to these creatures from other worlds. Mind you, I only have one side of the situation and it comes from the triads. For all I know these creatures from the stars are fine and dandy and would be the best thing that ever happened to us, but I don’t know that, and it seems best to me not to –”
“Yes, of course. For now, we’ll keep to the devil we know,” Doctor Roberts said. “But here’s what I don’t understand: if the triad knows there is something, some packet of knowledge, this … dragon egg, which could be activated with the Pearl of Heaven, why haven’t they done it before? I’m going to assume they have, right? So the Great Sky Dragon would already know how to open these portals, right? So, why would someone else need to… activate him and make him open the way to Earth? Why not just make him open the way to Earth?”
“This,” Kyrie said, in a tragic tone. “Is what comes from a really busy night with no downtime, not to mention all the excitement. We should have thought about it.”
“Yes, we should,” Tom admitted. “The thing is, it was old Joe who linked the Pearl of Heaven missing to whatever is going on with the Great Sky Dragon. And of course,” he said, as he looked around the diner. “He’s nowhere to be found. But the dragons didn’t argue with him. You’re right, that makes no sense at all, which means in this there must be something I don’t know.”
“I’d suspect if half of the story is true,” Doctor Roberts said. “There are whole territories of things you don’t know. Worlds of things you don’t know, in fact.”
* * *
After the doctor left, Kyrie and Tom sat in the corner booth, talking, sipping coffee. “We should go home and sleep,” Kyrie said, but looking Tom who sat sideways in the booth, chewing the corner of his lip as if it had done him personal harm, she knew that would never happen. Not a chance. He was thinking of something.
“I think,” he said at last. “It’s something to do with the Pearl of Heaven. Something has changed about it, or something can be changed about it, and once it is, then…”
“Then you access all these memories and you get… well, in game terms, you level up. All the Great Sky Dragon capabilities get increased.”
“You must be sleepier than I thought,” Kyrie said, taking a sip of her coffee.
“Because you didn’t shudder when you said that.”
“And I should have?”
“Do you hear yourself?” Kyrie said, “A leveled up Great Sky Bastard, now with even more power, should make you tremble in your boots.”