Babysitting the Taran-Saurus
A Vyrian Incursion Story
by Lance Schonberg
Sometime during the next few hours, Taran dragged a blanket across the few feet separating us and crawled into the chair with me to finish the night. I had no idea how he managed it without waking me, but the small warm body snuggled into my side didn’t give me any reason to complain and I looked down at him, smiling.
Until Taran, I’d never been very comfortable around kids, but draping an arm over his shoulders, a bigger question occurred to me. How had he gotten so comfortable around me? We’d had to develop a certain level of familiarity so that he trusted me in the event I had to do my job, and I did my best to be smiling and friendly whenever I spent time around him, even to the point of putting together some Legos or reading to him once in a while, but I was hardly one of his nannies.
And still he’d crawled into my lap.
He didn’t know it was my job to protect him, just that I was nice enough to play with him sometimes. I decided to chalk it up to being the only familiar adult available and start figuring out what to do next.
Operating procedure called for me to take Taran somewhere for the day, to hide in plain sight rather than just hiding. It seemed a little riskier, but his mental wellbeing was considered paramount and the powers involved wanted to make sure he had as natural an experience as possible. Not thrilling, but not something I could fight against. The basic script we’d been handed assumed a father with the day off work taking his son somewhere a father might take his son. I adjusted that to uncle and nephew before reading the second paragraph. No one would buy Taran and I as father and son, just aside from the possibility of him using my name by accident. I didn’t coach him to call me uncle, but figured I’d deal with that when it came up.
I had the latitude to take him anywhere, for any activity I might feel comfortable with and that he might enjoy, the only catch being we needed to be within five kilometres of a particular radio station transmitter between ten and three. If the receiver in my watch picked up a certain signal, the ancient Monty Python theme song would play as an alarm, and I could bring Taran to the secondary residence.
Repeat daily until signal received. Nothing like making my job easy.
I’d given it a lot of thought, trying to pick places based on Taran’s interests and eventually came up with half a dozen possibilities. After that, I’d have to come up with more, at least once he got bored with my first choice, because the Natural History Museum was probably significantly repeatable, where he could wander, closely supervised, through the dinosaur exhibits to his heart’s content. Not exactly exciting for me, but then I needed to be alert to the rest of the world.
Taran found a passion for dinosaurs before he could say the word. By the time I arrived on the scene, he was long past calling them “saur-saurs” and had mastered the pronunciation of more species than I’d ever heard of. The museum had plenty of kid-friendly activities and displays, but I knew we’d spend at least half the day going through the dinosaur galleries over and over again.
It took a little bit of contortion to get out of the chair without waking Taran, and I gently shifted him back to the bed while I went to skim my news feeds and verify dates on the groceries I’d laid in two weeks ago. Nothing about my personal adventure last night and nothing really interesting standing out from the political and business noise. At least, nothing beyond the latest Vyrian trade agreement, which fit into both categories. Just seeing all of the excited, meaningless or misleading headlines made my stomach sour a bit. I couldn’t speak for the rest of the world, but I didn’t think I was alone in wanting them to leave for their next tourist destination anytime now and let the human race go back to figuring out things for ourselves. If only so I could stop hearing about them.
Wrong time to get sidetracked. I thumbed the tablet off and stuck my face in the fridge to take stock. We’d need milk and fruit, but should otherwise have enough food for the two of us to last at least a couple of weeks. I hoped we wouldn’t need it, but I always liked being prepared. Luckily for breakfast, Taran didn’t like milk on his cereal and I could get by toasting frozen bread. Margarine made the list after breakfast, because a half kilo wouldn’t last long, and I decided some fresh vegetables would be nice.
Taran toddled into the kitchen just after seven-thirty, still rubbing an eye. He looked at me and smiled. “My pull-up is dry.”
Infected by the cute, and impressed considering the night’s excitement, I had to grin back at the declaration of happiness. Taran wasn’t much over three and he’d only worn pull-ups to bed for the past couple of months, which made any dry night still a big deal. “That’s great, bud. How many days in a row is that?” I pulled his chair out for him to climb into. Specially chosen by me, it was a good twenty centimetres higher than a normal chair.
“I not know.” He held still, hands gripping the edge of the table, while I pushed the chair in.
“That’s okay. We’ll call it one and keep track from now, okay?”
I tousled his hair. His own name for any cereal shaped like tiny donuts. “Absolutely. I’ve got a giant box just for you.”
Hard as it was to keep a secret while clearing the dishes, I thought a little bit of anticipation might be fun for both of us and asked Taran to remind me of some of his favourite things while getting him dressed. Moments after breakfast, the first thing on the list was Oh-ohs. “And smarties, chocolate, spaghetti, pizza… airplanes, space ships, robots, an’ dinosaurs.” This last was muffled as I timed pulling his shirt down over his head to match.
“Sorry. What was that?”
He giggled. “Dinosaurs!”
Laughing now. “No! Dinosaurs!”
He made it hard, but I bit down on my own smile for one more. “Albino floors?”
“Yes!” The laughter dropped back into giggles.
“Ah.” I reached for the socks, orange and purple with cartoon dinosaurs on them. “What if I told you I knew somewhere we could go see a lot of dinosaur bones?”
“Dinosaur bones?” He bounced up onto his feet, sending one of the socks under the bed, just within reach. “Yes! Let’s go!”
“Well, we’ve got time for a couple of cartoons first, if you’d like.”
“No, no! Dinosaur bones!”
“All right. Do you think you can find your coat and shoes?” Not hard, since both shoes had stayed at the end of the bed where I’d left them the night. His coat hung on the door handle. “Great. You get ready and I’ll pack a couple of snacks for the drive and the museum, okay?”
I left him with a fifty-fifty chance of getting his shoes on the right feet, the same for doing up the coat zipper, and went back to the kitchen.
Pre-packed snacks from fridge and cupboard found their way into his small travel bag along with two changes of clothes and a half dozen juice boxes. Lunch at the museum would be a treat, and I had plenty of cash for that and anything else we might want or need while out. Outside the kitchen, I turned to the security panel, wondering if I needed to expect anything between the apartment and the car. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. Not so much as a fly had touched the car and everything looked normal as far as the building went. Too late for most commuters and much too early for people working afternoon shifts, so not many people moved through the halls.
Away from Taran’s smiling face, my natural paranoia began to reassert itself as I scanned the camera images, and I wondered if the Natural History Museum was too obvious. Anyone who knew anything about him would know how much he loved dinosaurs. Even in a city this size, there were only so many places to go with fossils on display. It didn’t seem like much of a stretch to have the museum staked out.
But my opposite number or numbers knowing I’d take Taran anywhere instead of going to ground to watch cartoons waiting for an all clear assumed a knowledge of our contingency plans that frightened me. Only a few people knew what the procedures would be and everything was verbal. Nothing had been committed to any kind of record, or shouldn’t have been. Even still, the safe thing to do—the smart thing to do—would be to give my paranoia free reign, cancel the outing, stay in the safe house, and watch cartoons until he fell asleep again. Rinse and repeat.
Taran came to me with his shoes on the right feet and his coat zipped, sealing the bargain. I set the security timers for a five-second delay after the door closed, shouldered our supplies, and took his hand.
The trip to the museum was surprisingly stress free considering it was still technically rush hour when we got in the car, but starting late and so far out of the core helped a lot. Kids’ music with Taran’s headphones off put us both in a good mood. A couple of songs found me singing along, something I never do even by myself–too distracting, and not even I want to listen to me sing–but Taran found it hilarious.
I had much less fun looking for parking near the museum. Underground parking lots didn’t make the list for a lot of obvious security reasons, and no street parking existed so far as I could see. I finally squeezed the car into the edge of a surface lot almost eight blocks away and paid an exorbitant price for the privilege.
An odd mixture of emotions came with realizing I’d probably have to carry Taran back to the car when we finally left. I found concern easy to place, since carrying him without the backpack would hamper both mobility and equipment access if we had to get away quickly, but I had a harder time figuring out the happy undertone that went with it, trying to understand why I should be happy about carrying a child. Suddenly being conscious of the little warm hand in mine answered that, but it was an answer that didn’t make sense. Taran might be a sweet kid, both smart and articulate for a month past his third birthday, and I liked him, but there was no reason for me to have become so attached to him so quickly. Or at all. Doing my job properly meant staying detached.
I’d been a familiar adult in his life for months, taking steps to gain his trust and make him comfortable in the event of something like last night, but I had to be his guardian in a way most kids didn’t need, and that sometimes needed fast and cold decisions, not emotional involvement.
This morning, guardian and sometime-playmate had merged together to make me his favourite uncle, and I not only liked it, I’d embraced it. Something didn’t sit right and I needed some perspective, but with the museum steps in sight, I had no way to get it.