Babysitting the Taran-Saurus
A Vyrian Incursion Story
by Lance Schonberg
I laughed hard enough that Taran stirred against my back and I reached up with my right hand to stroke his hair a few times. He settled immediately. My eyes flicked around the subway car, looking for a way out, but the only thing I came up with was a bluff, so I cranked up the bravado, smiled, and leaned forward. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’ve got no chance of taking him now. You guys might be more advanced than humans, but coming into the bookstore to warn me was a mistake and coming onto the subway was stupid. Now I have witnesses. Lots of them.”
He looked around as if he’d only just realized that everyone else in the car was staring at us. When he looked back at me, his eyes narrowed and I could see the muscles in his jaw working.
Nodding, I leaned back just far enough to straighten my back without unbalancing my passenger. “At this point, all I have to do is ride to the end of the line with the driver, give appropriate contact information to his dispatcher, and wait for pickup. People have seen you here, seen the rest of your extraction team running through the streets. Oh, this is a big story, even in the middle of the night, so I’ll have to deal with media crews, and that’s less than desirable for the people I work for, but it’s an excellent alternative to losing Taran, I think.”
His whole body clenched and I considered what scenarios might be playing out in his head. He didn’t let me consider for long. “I could take the child and disappear into the night before your media can arrive, before the train even stops again. It is unlikely you could stop me, hobbled as you are by his presence and your solitude.”
He was right. It had been a hard run already. Not enough sleep and too much physical effort. My control was slipping. The smile on my face felt like it belonged in a bad action movie. “You’re probably right, but there’s still the problem of witnesses. What will it do to the Vyrian public image to have one of you seen taking a child from a human man on the subway? How will that play? Think about the video footage being captured right now, and I don’t just mean by the transit authority. Look around.”
My peripheral vision picked out two phones and a tablet flimsy. If I could spare the attention to really look, I’d probably find several more. This was not a private conversation, no matter what he’d thought when he first boarded the train. It might even be streaming, depending on network penetration depth in the tunnel. “You should have stuck to chasing me away from safe houses, kept me isolated. Pushing me into the streets, coming to me where other people could see—” I shook my head. “That was the real mistake.”
“We had thought to show you respect.”
Respect. At the bookstore, I’d been called an unexpected opponent, and it had been meant as a compliment. I didn’t know enough about Vyrian culture to put the sentiment in the right context, then or now, just a few news reports and half-digested documentaries. I had only my experience being human and playing in the shadows. “As an individual, I appreciate that. But this one emotional act, sending agents out of the enclave to kidnap a child, could go a long way to dismantling the image you’ve built for yourselves as rational, civilized beings.” I would have been willing to bet that just knowing they had agents who could take on that mission would change the whole tone of future negotiations.
Gloved hands clenched into fists, and for a moment I thought he might swing at something. Taran’s presence on my back would probably prevent it from being me. “The child is Vyrian!” Eyes widened, nostrils flared, and the skin of his face darkened. Replace the blue with something in a human skin tone, and you’d never guess his ancestors crawled out of a different ocean than ours.
“Is he? I might grant genetically, if you can show me the proof, but he’s been raised human so far, and he’s three. He won’t know the difference if you ask him.” A deep breath and a firm tone were all I had left to work with. “But I’ll make it really, really simple for you. You’re not getting him from me. If you have a problem with his existence, or how he’s being brought up, you’re free to go through the proper channels with the authorities. Go public with it, if you like, and I’m sure that will thrill everyone, but I’ll bet you don’t get very far with a happy, healthy kid. We don’t consider children to be property.”
His whole body tightened and I thought I might have gone too far, but the train started to slow again and he pulled the temper back under control. “That was tried first. Do you think we would start with an abduction attempt? Beyond vague hints, your government officials refused to even acknowledge the child’s existence. What recourse did we have?”
“The child has a name. And you could have kept talking. Why do you suppose we hid Taran from you?” Something that I hadn’t really thought about, but now the answer seemed too obvious. Maybe Vyrian thought processes were different. “Because we knew, sooner or later, you’d try to take him.” Jaw grinding, he kept silent, and I wished I could tell if he were digesting the words or trying to work out some internal conflict. Two bits of data clicked together in my head and I found one more card to play, one more button to push. “Have you collected any human DNA samples?”
Lips pressed together, his scowl deepened. “I am not in a position to know that.”
I laughed just enough to disturb Taran into trying to turn over in his sleep. “You’ve collected DNA samples from multiple individuals of every other animal you’ve gotten near, and made a big production of it for the media sometimes. Knowledge and preservation are your catch words.” I snorted. “Why should humans be an exception? What do you do with those samples?”
The doors slid open and shut again before he answered. No one got off and only one person boarded the car, oblivious to the proceedings until it was too late. “I am not a scientist, but I would suggest we study them. We collect samples to further our knowledge as a species and sometimes to assist in the preservation of endangered life forms.”
“Do you ever recreate them? Clone them?” The train started moving and he stayed quiet for so long my smile came back. “That would be a yes. So, you’ve cloned creatures alien to you, probably raised and sheltered them because you’d never create something just to destroy it, and kept it either in a lab or some simulation of a natural environment aboard your giant space ships.”
His skin flushed even darker blue and I suddenly wondered what that told me about the colour of Vyrian blood. “But we have never cloned another sentient being!”
Shrugging, I risked a glance at the glowing subway map above him, counting four more stops to the next main line transfer and something around a dozen after that to the end of the line. Half an hour at least, but since the only thing I had left to play was time, I just stared at my new friend.
Eventually, his shoulders slumped and the colour in his face dropped back to what I thought might be normal. The posture only lasted for a moment before he straightened his back. “I take your points.” As the train began to slow again, he stood. “The media attention would not be beneficial to relations between our two peoples should I choose force the issue. And the child, Taran, is a sentient being in his own right. Young yet, but with many rights under your laws or ours. I will accept this, though it is contrary to my orders and will make certain individuals unhappy in the hierarchy. Blind obedience is not in my nature. It is said to be a poor trait in a soldier.”
Not according to some generals I’d heard speak in the past, but I appreciated the sentiment, and looked for some way to respond as the train came to a stop. He wrapped a hand around the nearest bar and stood. “It is also said, that something done once can be repeated.” He ducked through the door but turned to face me again before it closed. “For myself, I would encourage openness on the subject of Taran’s existence from your authorities. It may be that our peoples can talk and learn from him. And each other.” He stared at me as the doors closed and the train started moving again. I didn’t see him turn away before he passed out of sight.
Questions from the other passengers started before our car reached the tunnel and I held up a hand. “He’s sleeping, and he’s gone through far too much in the last couple of days to be happy about waking up on the subway. Three year-olds need a lot of sleep, whatever their species.”
It worked on about half of them, but the others crowded around me, demanding I tell them the entire story, professing a right to know. The last few decades had spoiled us, the ever- increasing freedom of information leading us down the path that we had the right to know everything. Sometimes, there had to be a right to keep secrets, too.
“The only rights I’m concerned with are his.” I cocked my head to indicate Taran, still sleeping, wonder of wonders. “And if I’ve kept those secure from agents sent by the Vyrian Council, you shouldn’t doubt I’ll keep them secure from you, too. Back off and leave us alone.”
And they did. One or two inhaled to protest, but never got the words out. Having watched me talk a Vyrian commando, and one who out-massed me by at least fifty kilos, out of abducting a child, everyone listened. They exchanged looks and whispers and some of them undoubtedly took more pictures and video, but I didn’t care. All that mattered was that they left me alone to think and Taran to sleep.
I got off the train three stops later, and didn’t care that three of them followed me as I walked to the last, lonely little payphone in the station, third in a line of three that might once have been twenty, and punched in far too many digits to call anywhere in the city. Two in the morning, but someone answered on the second ring.
“Thank you for calling Thompkins Sec-“
“Skip the cover spiel. It’s me. Pursuit has backed off. I still have the package.” I made all the appropriate noises to respond to concerns. Yes, I could be at the southwest entrance to the station at street level in twenty minutes. Yes, I understood they’d keep me waiting while agents checked things out and established a perimeter. Yes, I understood that I was breaking procedure and protocol in a ridiculous number of ways. Yes, I understood all of the media risks and there were already reports on the net.
But a moment came when I’d had enough. “Twenty minutes. The clock’s running.” I hung up the phone with the man on the other end in mid-splutter and started a slow walk to the escalator.
A small hand scrunched the shoulder of my jacket and another grabbed my neck from the other side. Taran mumbled into my collar and then lifted his head just long enough for three words to make it past his lips. “Go home now?”
I reached up with my right hand and squeezed one of his, wondering what had finally pushed him close enough to awake that he could speak. “Yeah, buddy. Go home now. Sleep in your own bed tonight.” I hoped.
He squeezed back a little. “Good. Mph.” His forehead bounced against my neck and a faint snore reached my ears. I had to smile, but it faded as I walked, not caring if I still had followers. More pieces fell together in my mind, things I hadn’t thought of before and I wished I still had the same innocence to fall back on.
Something done once can be repeated. The Vyrian had meant, I thought, that if he took Taran, even in the face of all the bad publicity, we would just duplicate the experiment, try again to figure out whatever it was we wanted to know. It probably hadn’t occurred to the Vyrians yet to wonder if we’d only made one of Taran in the first place.by