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Short Story Index

Initially, I had only one Dimar-based short story, but recently, the writing bug bit me again. Now there are two. :) Both are appropriate for all ages..although the Gryphon does have a mention of homosexuality in it.

The Gryphon

The Gryphon

(Thanks Meilin for formatting suggestions. Thanks to PantherVampire and many others for great ideas for the ending! :) )

A Dimar Short story by Dee Dreslough. Public Domain. Feel free to enjoy it however you like.

"What are you working on?" The old Telkai master's English was stilted, but smooth. The long white hairs from his grizzled muzzle brushed over her design tablet as he observed.

Elsabeth looked up, nodding a bow in the traditional student-teacher greeting. "A gryphon, Master Ritin" She wished she had had the nila last semester to afford the mind-speaking alteration. Her projectmate had it, and could just 'Think' the image of gryphon to the master, but her projectmate wasn't here. Mimila, an Arrallin, was attending her parents' next Introduction ceremony, meeting her new sister for the first time. Elsa struggled on, gamely. "It's a creature of earth legend. Head, wings and forelegs of an eagle, but the hindquarters of a lion." She called up the exterior coloration charts her rank 1-2 acolyte projectmates had been working on.

The master nodded in approval. "An attractive beast. What classification are you designing under?"

"Oolar/Wolf class. Group predator with an Oolar's level of mindspeak, to make it a tractable pet. Because it's flighted, we're also including nectar processing for extra energy. We're basing it directly on the Oolar genetic code - the changes are really almost cosmetic - all external." Elsa knew the team had taken on a very challenging project for a rank 5 group, but they'd done all they could to simplify the design process. It didn't help that she was not a psi, either. She was always painfully aware of that, and secretly questioned the master's choice to make her the team leader for this semester.

"What class of reproduction? A beak and talons are formidable tools for hunting.coupled with an Oolar's natural skill and intelligence, this creature could have serious environmental ramifications. It could catch any animal it's size or smaller on land or in the canopy." The master flipped through the images on her tablet, interfacing mentally with the files the team had stored in the central memory banks of the Barryd design school, called in Dimar, an Arna. "Coupling earth genetics with a dimar species like an Oolar is also often difficult."

"No reproduction for this creature. It can't get loose. We are only two rank 5 engineers, and most of the rest of the design team are still only ranks 1-3. And we're basing the bird modifications on the new wing designs for feathered Dimar wings. We're not really using talons.just a design based on the Dimar hand." She looked down sheepishly. Perhaps the gryphon was too much for her team to hope to accomplish, even if it was based on some of the most tried and tested genetic code in Dimar. "If the design is approved, we may produce him and another male or female version, and keep them as team mascots. But, probably, we'll wait until we progress to rank 7-8 and can make them independently reproduceable, and then present them to the council for introduction into the pet species listing."

Elsa didn't like the idea of making a lone member of any species with no hope of it being able to find a mate. She always planned to at least make two, and either introduce homosexual traits in the genetics, or go as far as the much more difficult task of creating a female version of the same creature. Deprogramming the urge to reproduce, even in a sterile creation, was near impossible. Creating a lone creature was often considered cruel. However, creating two, two of the same sex or one male and one female, even if they were sterile, was often an acceptable compromise. It would be like having two fixed dogs. Elsa could live with that, even if she had dreams of her 'children', the gryphons, eventually mating and having families of their own.

"You could always combine forces with the Rank 9 Pegasus group in Arna Elatanin. They're doing herbavor reproduction, but they are training to be reproduction specialists in general. They've worked with Oolar related reproduction problems before." The master offered. "Keiran Donnel is the team head there now because they've been having trouble getting successful births in the simulation with wings on the foals. Your ancient Earth myth-makers didn't think of the engineering problems when they thought up the Pegasus. Wings and a birth canal don't mix, but Keiran says they won't need to resort to egglaying aparatus."

Elsa brightened. Keiran Donnel was a bit of a legend - he was a human who had no mindspeaking ability either. Despite this handicap, he rose through three ranks in just one year by perfecting a design for the reproductive system for a sterile but treasured woolbearing Dimar species, the Kallamitta. By promoting that species to it's own fully independent breeding class, he got himself promoted three ranks at the last Mirrai festival. There wasn't a mind-mute student in any of the Tel Arnas who hadn't heard about Keiran. "I'll definitely do that. You really think this design could be a candidate for the pet lists?" Elsa looked up hopefully at her Dimar teacher.

"We've had several requests for gryphons. Humans are quite fond of them, it seems. It could be a candidate for full intelligence. There are others working on the same designs, but taking different approaches to the problem. I do not favor their design choices." The master's tone was cryptic, but Elsa immediately understood the ramifications. She was in competition, and the master thought she could be on the right track to produce a gryphon before other Arnas! It would be quite an honor to their tiny design house to produce the first of this popular design.

She looked up at him, hiding her nervousness behind a smile. "We'll do our best, and continue on our current path."
With a gentle pat to Elsa's back, the master took his leave. He shuffled off, warbling optimisticly.

Elsa turned back to the design, determined.

Three weeks had passed, and the designs for the digestive track still weren't final. Elsa resisted the urge to light into her fellow engineers.anger at this point wouldn't help the process. "We're doing this to learn, remember.not to be the first with a viable gryphon in the Mirrai festival." She muttered to herself as she fixed earthy ceramic mugs of hot, sweetened goats' milk. She liberally flavored some with vanilla, and cocoa in others. After three months, she had the goat's milk routine memorized; cinnamon and vanilla for Tika, nutmeg and cinnamon vanilla for Mimila, whipped cream in Dora's cocoa, and some coffee flavoring in her own cocoa. Dan and Ceeval were in another part of the Arna working on finalizing the color scheme for the fur and feathers, so she left their mugs on their hooks. Goats milk was a favorite throughout this region, but especially of the engineering teams. It always soothed their nerves and helped them concentrate.

"Look.the liver has got to be larger to support the variety of foods he's going to eat while sustaining energy for flight. He can't eat as little as an Oolar.he has to eat more to support those wings." Mimila said. Mimila's tone was patient but strained.

"But the croup can absorb nectar.these are pet animals. They'll always have access to barryd nectar sources." Dora countered. "And, he shouldn't gorge like a wolf does. He won't be able to fly for days afterward."

Elsa set down the tray and scanned the tablets. Fortunately, the tablets were set to display whatever mental pictures Dora and Mimila exchanged so that Elsa would not be left out of the mindspeaking conversations. She wrapped her fingers around the rough surface of the mug, letting the heat from her drink seep into her cold, tired fingers. It was the middle of the night, and lack of sleep was causing her body temperature to drop. "What do the simulations tell us? Are they done yet?" She turned toward Tika, who was in Reverie, communing via mindspeak with the simulators in the Arna.

Tika was only a Rank 3 Telkai student but talented enough to rate a spot on the digestive design team. He was especially good with the simulator - built directly into the barryd plant. The barryd's memory stores were biological.a huge plant computer to be accessed by any Mindspeaking member of the city. Slowly breaking away from the link, Tika padded over on all fours. His graceful tail swished absently behind him, a blur of tawny gold with blue stripes. "I'd say go with the smaller liver. The simulator favors it."

Mimila conferred mentally with the simulator's results, and slowly nodded assent. Elsa could tell by her ruffled hackle-fur that she wasn't pleased with having to agree with much Dora had to say, but Tika's simulation couldn't be argued with. Mimi and Dora hadn't been seeing eye to eye on many issues, and it didn't help that they had very different personalities. Mimi tended to be independent, standing apart even from her closely knit Arrallin Hivemates. She instilled these tendencies in her designs - favoring creatures that didn't rely on any form of processed food, like barryd nectar. Dora, on the other hand, was laid back and gregarious, enjoying the company of pretty much anyone, but especially the creative, energetic company of Telkai engineers.

Elsa scanned the report on the tablet broadcast from the simulator. "Even with the smaller liver, Mimi, this creature won't be dependent on nectar for flying power." She pointed a finger at the tablet. " long as it gets 5000 calories from sugars, which it could get from cane or fruit, it can easily maintain the ability to fly into trees, and certainly enough power to hunt. It would just need to spend quite a bit of time eating every day, rather than napping."

Tika lapped milk from his mug, pausing only to interject. "I'd call the digestive track done. Elsa?"

Elsa weighed the possibility of them having made a serious mistake. Once the color charts were in from Dan and Ceeval, the design would be finished. There was nothing quite as heartbreaking as having a design fail. She'd been on an animal design team that had quite a few failures when she was a Rank 2. Watching the tiny creatures grow, just to hatch and die within days was not her idea of good engineering. These were lives, after all - not machines. These were little, loving beings. They were children. They felt pain and fear, just like everyone else.

"I know our time with the egg generation system is quickly running short. Ranks 15 and 16 will take priority soon, and there won't be an egg bay left for us to use. But, I don't want to have a failure." Elsa looked hard at young Tika. "Tika, there's quite a bit resting on you now. When the color charts are in, I'll need to you to test the whole system for two days in simulation before we make an egg. And this will only leave us a week to generate the two eggs. Can you do this?"

"Two days! We've simulated this thing half to death! Howbout half a day." Mimila slapped a paw on the table, sending the earthenware mugs rattling.

"Enough, Mimi! You know how I feel about failures. Better to be safe than sorry. Yes, you are an excellent engineer with a fantastic success rate.but that doesn't mean you should cut corners. This is a team project, and two little lives are counting on us not to make a mistake. Don't forget that." Elsa said, returning her attention to Tika. She knew she was asking a lot of the young engineer - two days with little rest to guide the simulator, but she would never ask anything of anyone on the team that she wasn't willing to do herself.

"I'll guide it with you, Tika. I'll enjoy it. My simulation skills are nearly as good as they need to be." Dora offered, smiling. "We can do it."

Tika brightened. "It's a deal!"

Simulation had been Tika's only job on the team, but it turned out to be a big one. Dora was a solid engineer, although not nearly as quick and ingenious as Mimi. But, she was a great team player with strong mindspeaking abilities who had already cheerfully shouldered much of the burden of the niggling alterations to the wing and leg designs. Elsa would make sure her dedication to the project, and willingness to go the extra distance to support the others in the team would be recognized in the project review reports.

"Okay.let's all get some sleep. Dan and Ceeval will have the color charts to you tomorrow, so you can start the simulations. Mimi and I will begin the preparation of the two egg bays." Elsa scrawled some notes into the tablets, checking bay and simulator schedules. "Is that okay, Mimi?"

Mimi, still sulking, shrugged. "Fine."

Elsa knew she'd get over it. Once they saw the eggs starting to develop, all these bumps and conflicts along the way would be forgotten.

"It's time, Elsa! Get up! Get your sani on!" Dora was shaking her awake, banishing dreams of eggs and flowers from Elsa's sleepy mind.

Elsa bolted awake, jumping from her cot in the observation lounge. "What time is it! Seven! How long did I sleep? I was supposed to take second to last watch!"

Dora threw her sanitary robe and leggings at her, turning toward the door to the pod room to give Elsa some privacy. "We let you sleep. You needed it. Having you slump over the pod monitor and accidentally hit the release pad wouldn't have helped anyone."

Elsa hissed at Dora, throwing a balled up sock her way as she disappeared behind the membrane door to the pod room. Settling down on the cot, she rubbed her eyes, crusty from long hours without adequate sleep. Dora was right, of course. She had needed the sleep badly.

Elsa shucked off her regular leggings and tunic, folding them neatly on the cot. She fingered the silk fabric, trying to get a hold of her nerves. She wrang the last of the moisture from the leggings, feeling the tingle on her skin as the live plant material scrubbed any bacteria or microbes from the outside of her skin. The antiseptic smell of the sanitary cloth helped bring her awake. She associated it with many triumphs in her career as a Telkai engineer, but also the many painful failures. She wriggled into the tight, smooth leggings, which contracted to fit her skin exactly. These weren't regular pants - the antiseptic clothing used in pod openings wasn't clothing at all. It was a living organism colony specially designed to locate and destroy anything harmful that might make it's way into the pod rooms. These special precautions weren't necessary when the egg pods were still closed; they were enclosed systems that could filter any harmful pathogens that were carried in on observers' clothing. However, the pods would be opening this watch. They all had to be clean.

She slipped into the looser tunic, enjoying the nubbly silk feeling beneath her fingers. The light yellow-green color of the cloth worked well with her chestnut hair and blue eyes. She admired the tunic as it shaped itself to loosely fit to her. "What a piece of engineering!"

Dan's voice startled her. He strode into the room, grinning. "I'dve made the same comment, but you would have slapped me."
"Arg!" Elsa punched him, laughing. "I was talking about the sani tunic, you letch!"

Dan was already suited up, in a tighter fitting robe and leggings of the same yellow-green fabric. He offered his arm. "Shall we, m'lady? Your children await." Arm in arm, they strode into the dim light of the pod room.

Two pools of yellow light highlighted the colorful pods. They were like huge tulips on thick, cartoonish stalks. The rest of the team was already in attendance, crowding around the monitors checking the readouts.

They were monitoring the simulators for any signs of problems with the introduction of the new genetic code into the infertile Oolar eggs. Each member of the team had taken shifts at the monitor, watching the entire five hours to make sure the two embryos was beginning to growing inside the eggs. After a five hour vigil, everyone was nervous. All indicators pointed to a successful implantation, but this was their first independent project. They just weren't sure what to expect.
Master Ritin entered through another door to the pod room, leading their surrogate egg mother. The eggs would need to be nurtured and watched by a real egg-laying animal for their maturing to be successful. No amount of engineering could replace millions of years of a mother's instinct. Kasey, a marble-spotted white Oolar, padded in behind the master. She whuffled goodnaturedly, and settled down next to the egg pods. She'd been through this several hundred times before, providing parenting and incubation to several new species as well as many of her own Oolar pups. Elsa envied her confidence, and the Master's.

"Ten minutes left in the requisite waiting period." Master Ritin settled on his belly on the floor, his long tan fur pooling around him like a nest. Kasey playfully rolled in it, chewing and pawing at it, ignoring the nervous people in the room.

Minutes passed like hours. Finally, he gave the nod for Elsa. Offering up a silent prayer, she placed her hand on the console.
Like a tulip, the satiny pink petals of the first egg pod slowly opened, revealing the pointed top of a swirled blue marble egg.

The first egg had a greenish cast to it, and was liberally sprinkled with grey spots. It shined with newness and moisture from the pod. That was the first male. They'd decided to make two gay males so that they could more easily make their deadline. Trying to engineer anything, especially a female, which was much more complex, was dangerous when they had so little time left. Elsa would not allow them to make any dead eggs by rushing. It was just too cruel to end up with only one of a group species. They'd create a female and a male next year if these two hatched out correctly - perhaps even breeders! Elsa admired the egg, letting the warm, proud feeling of creation wash over her. The team might be making many, many more if the design was well received next month at the Mirrai.

The second pod, with petals that had a salmon cast to them, opened next, revealing a blue-purple egg, with the same grey spots as the first.

Elsa and Mimila approached the pods slowly as Dan and Tika wheeled over the moveable nest cart. Kasey's mood changed abruptly as the smell of new eggs reached her sensitive nose. She eyed Elsa and Mimi suspiciously, looking back toward Master Ritin for guidance. The eggs had her signature smell introduced in them - even though she had not laid them, she considered them as much her eggs as any she would make herself, and her instinct was not taking well to the approach of two strangers. Her hackles slowly rose.

Master Ritin rose and lowered his head to Kasey's back, calming her with a low singsong tune. Like most tame Oolars, she could understand several mindspeak messages and commands, and her 'father', Master Ritin was clearly unalarmed by Elsa and Mimi, so she sat on her haunches and waited expectantly.

Elsa carefully lifted the first egg from the pod and set it gently into the warm nest. The shell had a glassy smooth feeling, and was hot to the touch - like a stone that had been in the sun all day. She didn't handle it too long for fear of upsetting Kasey. Mimi slowly lifted her egg and placed it in the nest next to the first one.

Master Ritin lifted his head from Kasey's shoulder as Elsa and Mimi backed away. From here on in, it was up to Kasey to make sure the eggs would reach maturity, and she was deadly serious about her job. She nudged Dan away from the handle to the nest-cart with her shoulder and circled, pushing back all the observers. Eagerly, she sniffed each egg and licked it clean of any remaining residue from the pods, turning it carefully in the soft nest pads. Satisfied, she clambered up onto the cart and lowered herself down over the eggs. The long fur of her belly created a warm blanket for them. Satisfied that her eggs were safe, she resumed her relaxed attitude, letting her tongue loll out of her mouth to one side. She looked at Tika and Ceeval, who had been staying in the back of the room, as if to say "Hey. Come on over and pet me!"

Relieved, they all did just that, as the new mother chuffed and purred with delight.

Kasey's excited yelps and growls drifted into Elsa's conciousness. Her warm, dry nose nuzzling her palm anxiously brought her immediately awake.

"You're off the nest, Kasey! What is it? What's wrong?" Elsa scrambled from her observation cot. "Of course, a problem on my watch."

It was a full week before the eggs were due to hatch, and Kasey had rolled the blue-green egg to the edge of the nest. She leapt back onto the platform to resume covering the other egg. Elsa had a sinking feeling. She rushed to the edge of the cart and felt the small was hot to the touch. If there was a problem, Kasey had caught it early and had given her good time to resolve it. She scooped up the egg in a warming pad from the nest and ran toward the doorway to the main Arna hall. She had to reach Master Ritin, and quick, or they may lose the egg!

She cradled the egg in her arms, running as smoothly as she could down the nightlit hallways.

A few Dimar students of higher ranks were relaxing together after a firefighting shift, and rose into the air as she burst into the room.

"Please, can you wake Master Ritin through Mindspeak? There's a problem with one of my eggs!" Elsa tried to control her voice, but she broke into ragged sobs.

"I will take you to Water. Let me carry you. We will go fast!" In halting English, a large blue female with yellow stripes landed in front of her and lowered her shoulder pouch. Elsa climbed aboard, kneeling across the Dimar's spine with her feet tucked into the furry pouch between her shoulders. The strong muscles in the Dimar's pouch clamped down across her calves as she launched into the air. Elsa bent her body around the egg and the burning hot warming pad, ignoring the pain that was starting to shoot through her hands and along the tender skin of her stomach.

"I am Heliaru. Telkai Seventeen. I hate losing eggs." Heliaru's deep voice rumbled up through Elsa's legs through the pouch, and she could feel the great creature's sympathy.

"I am Elsa. Telkai Fifth. Thank you for your help." Elsa managed to remember her manners even in the throes of her fear for the egg.

A light tan figure flying ahead caught Elsa's eyes. "That's Master Ritin!" For the first time that day, she felt relief.

"He knows.he comes to meet you at the Pools." Like a rollercoaster, Heliaru dipped and swept through the hallways, barely keeping pace with Master Ritin. She dove into the passageway that lead down to the healing Waters of the Barryd. "The others have been awokened. They come!" Heliaru roared back over her shoulder.

Elsa braced herself for a quick landing, but Heliaru set herself down without a bump. Releasing her pouch muscles and lowering her shoulders, she let Elsa slide safely down her neck to the edge of a small pool. Master Ritin was waiting.

"Quickly, Elsa. Immerse the egg. We must do a full permeation to see what's wrong." Ritin steadied her with a massive paw as she lowered the egg and heating pad into the steaming green Water pool. The water frothed around the floating egg, obscuring it in bubbles. Elsa just sat by the pool and wept, unable to 'hear' the Pool's analysis being broadcase to Master Ritin and Heliaru.

"Mm.Yes, I agree." The Master broke his Reverie with the pool first, and included Elsa in his conversations with Heliaru. "The problem with the beak is cosmetic, however the malformation of the spinal column may be fatal. Joining wings to a wingless form is never easy. That bone formation is interfering with the heart and lungs."

"We will do what we can do." Heliaru nodded, raising her head and closing her eyes tightly. She hummed a high, clear note. "My rankmates come. We are healers."

Mimila and Dan swept into the room on barryd-wings. Again, Elsa wished she had the Nila to afford her own wings, or mindspeaking! She could have gotten here even more quickly, or roused Master Ritin herself. She wiped her eyes and collected herself to brief Mimi and Dan on the bad news.

"Elsa! What's wrong! Did we lose the eggs?" Dan rushed over to the edge of the pool and stared in. "Only one egg's here."

"The other egg is fine. Kasey's still brooding it. But there are design problems with this egg. We used that wing design from Multellartin for War Oolars on this one - perhaps the design was too large for the frame. We may have sized it wrong." Elsa turned away from the pool.

"Well, therein may lie your first problem. Mul designs tend to clash with other Dimar genetics. There are often defensive reactions built into Mul genetics that react poorly with non-War breeds. Even when they clean and simplify the designs as much as possible, there's always the chance of a remnant strain of cancer remaining programmed into the code," The master said. Master Ritin's brow furrowed. "Did you use this design on the other one?"

"No, sir. We used the new feathered wing design for non-War Dimar, scaled down for the other one." Mimila answered, breaking Reverie with the Pool.

Heliaru's rankmates swept into the hall. Thanks to Mindspeaking, she had already breifed them on the situation. Ritin interpreted for Elsa and the others - the conversations were well above their ability to understand yet.

"They believe they can turn off the defensive growth of the Mul design - however this creature will lose its ability to fly until it can be redesigned and fully immersed again. We must allow the embryo to stabilize, and for the heart and lungs to resume normal growth before any alterations can be attempted." Master Ritin looked deep into the eyes of Elsa, Dan and Mimila. "I will not lie to you. This creature has a very low chance at survival, and even if it does hatch, it will always be weak. The wings will be useless. Our goal now must be to ensure that what life it does have is of the highest quality."

Elsa was thankful that she was human. The Dimar had a resistance to discarding part of a design in the development process by design tradition. Human engineers, on the whole, were much more slap-dash about their designs, but also much more willing to cut features than lose the entire project. She turned to Dan and Mimi. "I know the rest of our team isn't here, but Mimi and I are the highest ranks in our team. I propose that we completely eliminate the wing design from this creature to ensure that it has a chance to survive."

Dan and Mimi looked at each other, but only took a moment to cast their votes. "Ditch the wings. We can still get a fine little gryphon out of that egg yet." Dan smiled, taking Elsa's hand. "We both know how much you hate to lose eggs, and frankly, I don't want to lose this little guy. He's my first egg, you know."

Heliaru broke in, snorting, "We can save the wings. If it lives, it may yet fly. Making changes this late in the design is foolhardy. It will affect the entire system. You will fail your class if you remove the wings."

Mimi nodded her agreement with Elsa, and snapped at Heliaru, "So? This creature will have better food and energy processing than other non-winged Oolars. I see no harm in simply disallowing the wings. Remove them, please. We'd rather fail our class than lose this little life. And if it doesn't survive, we fail anyway! Better to have a living project."

Heliaru made no comment, but turned back to the pool with a blank expression - neither annoyed nor pleased. She probably considers us sentimental fools for trying to save the creature, even though it means we fail the course. Elsa smiled, remembering Heliaru's own admission, "I hate losing eggs." If only she had Mindspeak, she might be able to catch a glimmer of what Heliaru really was thinking.

Master Ritin turned to them and wiggled his ears in a slight Dimar smile. "So, you don't mind taking my class again, if it means your creation has a good life?" He looked at Mimila, who was the least sentimental of the three team members present.

"No sir. We'll make more gryphons and get it right the next time." Mimila crouched by the pool, watching the egg roll lazily in the foaming Water. The shell was taking on a greener and greener tone as the millions of virus-cells worked away reprogramming the egg to stop producing the massive wingbones that were protruding into the lungs and heart of the tiny gryphon. "And, from this, I will learn important things about Water re-engineering of embryos." She gazed up above the pool, watching the Healers work through Mindspeak.

"That's a good attitude to take Mimi. Dan, you may return to the watch. I will take you. Elsa, you should get your burns treated." Master Ritin lowered his shoulders to Elsa and Dan as they climbed aboard. Elsa steadied herself with fistfulls of Ritin's mane. She waved and thanked Heliaru again for her help and understanding. Putting your feet in someone's pouch, was only done for emergencies, and Elsa hadn't even asked when she had boarded Heliaru. Dan settled himself behind Elsa on Ritin's pouch, and grabbed her around the waist politely but firmly. Elsa let herself relax, and leaned into Dan's warmth. She hadn't realized how cold she was wearing just a simple tunic and leggings in the damp confines of the Water rooms.

Master Ritin continued, "That first egg will probably hatch out a success, if these permeation readings are similar. All in all, a very good design. Only one mistake." He launched smoothly into the air, rising toward the light of the entrance tunnel above.

"However, only one mistake is still a complete failure in genetic engineering," Dan quoted wryly. It was the drill they'd heard over and over as they learned each aspect of Telkai engineering.

Elsa chimed in, and in unison they chanted, "When you're playing with life itself, mistakes are not tolerated." Master Ritin just chuckled a deep Dimar rumble.

It was early morning in the second dining hall when Elsa met up with the team for breakfast. The sunlight filtered through the stained glass walls, casting splashes of color across the wooden tables. Elsa got a knot in her stomach when she saw the faces of the team. They were blank, and Dora looked like she'd been crying. Elsa sat, bracing herself for the news she already knew.

Mimila reached across the table and grabbed Elsa's bandaged hand. She looked deep into her eyes, "I'm sorry Elsa. We worked all night. We lost the egg." Mimila looked down, her ears drooping. "We will not pass this course."

Elsa sat back, stunned. "But. I thought if we removed the wings.?"

"I'm sorry. The cancer was too far advanced, even for the healers," Mimi's shoulders sagged. She looked exhausted. "We still have the other egg, and we can make it a partner next semester when we retake the Rank 5 course. And, the little one has us. We will be his family, until we can make him others of his kind."

Elsa stroked the fur on Mimi's forearm. "Thank you, Mimi. You're right. The little guy still has us, and Kasey. The other egg is gone. We have him to think of now."

Hatching day was bittersweet for the team. It was only six days previous that they lost the second egg, and the event had cast a pall over the entire project.

Kasey sat next to the egg on the nest cart, her tongue lolling to one side. Fortunately for Oolars, losing eggs was not as traumatic as it was for the engineers who had spent months and years learning to make them. She snuffled around the little blue egg, making sure nothing was going wrong inside. Her long tail twitched absently from side to side as she sat next to the egg, listening for the faint tapping from inside. When she finally heard it, she lept up and howled joyously, causing the stress-weary Elsa to snap painfully to attention.

"Is it time, Kasey?" Mimila kept a respectful distance from the nest, but couldn't help creeping closer. Master Ritin just watched the scene, smiling as he always did.

Elsa knew that Kasey had bonded with the team, and was no longer as defensive about the egg. Overcoming the same trepidation Mimila had about the large, tusked and horned beast, she moved to beside the nest. With a shaking hand, she felt the egg.

The egg answered with a good, strong tap. And another. Cracks began to form right under Elsa's hand. It rolled on the nest, the little creature inside struggling frantically to emerge. The rest of the team gathered round.

"Why don't you give the little one a hand, Gryphon Team Rank 5?" Master Ritin rose up, angling his head over the group so he too could have a clear view.

Dan asked, "But shouldn't we let him emerge on his own?"

The master chuckled. "No more than you should allow one of your human females to give birth with no one there to catch the baby! This is your child. Do not fear it. Embrace it. It's going to need much more help from you than just removal of it's shell."

Each member of the team grabbed a bit of the shell, which although hard on the outside had a resilient inner membrane. As each pulled, the membrane tore away easily - a sure sign that this egg was ready to hatch.

Elsa could feel the tears streaming down her cheeks. "Come on, you gorgeous little." Her breath caught in her throat.

"Guys?" Mimila laughed, as two tiny gryphons tumbled from the egg, newly gistening with the remaining moisture from inside the egg.

"Well, it seems your child is not alone after all. Although you still will have to repeat Rank 5 to make mates for them. We can't have two brothers mating, even if they produce no eggs together. Imagine the scandal!" Master Ritin wiggled his ears and chuffed in a deep Dimar laugh.

Mimi, always the one to angle for the advantage, was not lost on the meaning of this unexpected event. "We've produced two male gryphons. We've completed the assignment! Shouldn't we advance?" She tried a wheedling tone of voice Elsa wasn't used to hearing from the usually forceful and even overbearing Arrallin engineer.

As Elsa cuddled one of the babies close, admiring the glossy golden down that was beginning to dry along his back, she realized she was actually looking forward to repeating the course. The little one, eyes still closed, squawked contentedly and rested his head in the crook of her arm. Snoring audibly, all Elsa could do was look up at the rest of the team and smile.

Dora was holding the other baby which had also drifted into a contented sleep. Kasey licked the little one's dangling front feet, unphased by the fact that they were long and birdlike, instead of sturdy paws like a true Oolar.

"Nice try, Mimila," the Master replied firmly, "But you did not perform as you had planned. You had planned to have two eggs hatch successfully, producing two genetically different gryphons. These two are identical twins."

Mimi snorted and shrugged, petting the sleeping gryphon in Elsa's arms. "Well, next time we'll do even better. Maybe even jump to Rank 7. Can I hold him, Elsa?"

Gently Elsa transferred the sleeping one to Mimi's furry arms. Mimi's demeanor abruptly changed as the little one nestled against her furry chest. "Oh, schnuuuu." She sighed over the little one, who made a purring sound.

Elsa took the time away from the baby's spell to admire his beak; it was perfectly formed with a black egg-tooth still attached to the end. The eyes would open in a week, and then they'd know if at least some of Dan and Ceeval's work had taken hold. The rank fives of the group would not progress, but if the coloring was right, Dan and Ceeval would still progress. Hopefully, they would all still want to join her in the next gryphon project. She just HAD to make mates for these little ones. It was some consolation that there were two. Twins could be even closer than soulmates, in many cases. They would not be alone.

After everyone had had a chance to hold the little ones, who had dried to perfectly golden spheres of fuzz, they were left in Kasey's excellent care. She curled around them protectively sniffing constantly to monitor their health.

Slowly, everyone filed out heading off to bathe or take much needed naps, and then to attend the party in honor of their success. Elsa was the last to leave, looking back at the two little ones and their sleeping foster mother. Wiping a tear from her cheek, she smiled as a feeling of peace and surety welled up inside of her. "This day. This moment. This is why I became an engineer. I love you, little ones. God is with you."

Master Ritin, standing outside the doorway, sagely nodded. "You are Telkai."

Surprised, Elsa turned and stared, embarassed at having had her little prayer overheard.

He smiled down at her, "Rank and progress. All of it is meaningless to you. This is good. Those two creatures are, to Mimila, symbols of terrible failure, although she still loves them. Her disappointment was audible through her mind."

He paused, "I cannot see into your mind, Elsa, but I have watched you for many years now. You could have no rank at all and be cast out of all Arnas, Elsabeth Malten, but from this day on, you'll always understand, and fully BE, Telkai. You are willing to suffer and fail to make life that is not your own, or even your own species. You love it for what it is. Mating and breeding, as most do, is a selfish creation - an instictive command of evolution to survive. Telkai is creation in the service of all. It is selfless. It is pure. It is the highest Dimar; the highest truth. You understand this. I have seen it in you again and again."

"T-Thank you." Elsa stammered and bowed deeply, not quite sure how to respond.

"No, Elsa. Thank you. There are many Dimar who still believe humans incapable of the mystery of Telkai. You will go far in this art. You will help bridge the gap between our species." He reached under his long belly fur, producing a large leather pouch decorated with beaded depictions of Barryd flowers. Reaching in, he pulled out a scroll, and handed it to Elsa through the doorway. Before she could say a word, he launched into the air and flew down the hall into the darkness.

Elsa unbound the scroll, not quite believing her eyes. It was an appointment for Heilaru and her healing team to give her the power of Mindspeak! A water operation of this magnitude must have cost the Master half a year's Nila! At the bottom, in the Master's stylized script, was a simple Dimarian blessing: "I will let no cross winds bar you, Child."

With a final, gentle stroke to each of the babies, Elsa ran - practically soared - down the hallway toward the festivities. (Click for larger picture)

Woo! Some short story, eh? Well, it's not a novel, at least. Feel free to email positive comments and ideas to me. Thank you! Dee

All art and text (c) 1996-2008 Dee Dreslough unless otherwise noted.
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