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The Great British Celestial

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“I will not abandon this ship whilst there is still breath in my lungs, and that is the end of it.”

“Captain, if I may be frank?” The look Laurence gave made it clear that he should not take the liberty, but as there was no verbal denial, Riley continued, “You are the best pilot we have, God at the moment you are the only pilot we have, and this egg is more important to the war effort than you could be here.”

Riley thought he really should deserve a medal for withstanding the glare that Laurence was currently giving him, they had certainly given out medals for less. “There are still hostiles in the area, and we can’t ensure the egg’s safety if it were to stay here,” Deciding that he was in so far he may as well as push his luck, Riley added, “Not only the war but our diplomatic relations could be at stake as well. Sir you are the only one who would be capable of even-”

“I am well aware of what is at risk here Commander Riley. However, the point still stands that I have been charged with the safety of this ship. We also have officers who are capable of making the flight.”

“We have green officers who have never flown under enemy fire. We have officers who have gone God knows where to land. We only have officers capable of such a feat at the bottom of the ocean. Sir- Will, please, we’ve lost too much today, we can’t lose this egg as well.”

Riley thought if he had been told he would making such arguments even five hours ago, he may have laughed. Such was the high of victory. In his own defence, it had been quite a victory; the surrender of an enemy frigate was not to be sniffed at, especially not one which held such a prized egg.

The Sui-Riu had evaded their scanners by coiling itself on the leeward side of the frigate. No one knew if it had been there all along or if it had managed to creep up whilst they had been distracted by their prize. The alert had come late, the whole bridge alerted more by what they could see out of the window. Anything that had not been secured to the deck was lost within moments. Crew, crates and even a recently landed aircraft were lost to the swell.

The officers in the bridge had only been able to look on in horror as another jet which had come down low to land was caught in the spray. The jet had rolled, as if to counteract the onslaught, and pitched up to abort the landing. The Sui-Riu had caught sight of this new target and changed the direction of its attack to target the jet. The spray had hit one of the engines directly and half the jet had gone up in flames then fell down into the ocean below. There had been little hope for the pilot, but Riley had prayed that some of the other crew to be washed over could be saved, if they had been able to just hold on for a time.

“Sir, incoming from SE 167 on our port.” Had come the call from one of the officers on the bridge.

“Ready interception. Speed, numbers and size of incoming.”

“27 knots. Too close together to say and averaging 25m across but constantly changing.” The warfare specialist looked up with horror in his eyes, “They are sea serpents, Sir.”

The silence had been deafening as one by one they realised what this meant. Laurence’s face had paled and Riley wondered if he had felt as sick as he did. As quickly as it had stilled the bridge had become a flurry of activity to avert the disaster they were then staring down the gullet of.

The roar of the carrier’s guns had filled the air, hiding the screams of the crew who had previously found safety from the water jets, only to be lost then to the heavy weights of the sea serpents or to their gaping maws. There had been no chance of finding anyone alive in the waves that night. With the crew, had gone many of the items on the deck, lost to the ocean or damaged beyond repair by the serpents’ frantic plight to avoid the missiles. Several jets had circles above, helping in whatever way they could before they peeled off, one by one, to find somewhere to land before they ran out of fuel.

By the time the air had rung with silence, the deck had been awash with debris, in amongst it had sat only two jets which looked to be in any condition to fly. The one saving grace of the day had been the fact that the egg had somehow been safely stowed before the attack had happened. One of the sub-lieutenants had managed to identify it as some sort of East Asian breed when they saw it on the Amitié, and a heavy weight one at that. The legacy of the British Celestial and the poor state of their current RAF hung around the crew and they had hurried to secure it in their own hold as quickly as they could. They hadn’t been a moment too soon.

The egg was now the reason for Riley arguing with his superior officer. They could not risk losing it. They could only just deal with losing Laurence.

“Very well.” Riley looked at Laurence in surprise, he hadn’t expected him to yield just like that. “I understand what we stand to lose if I don’t do this, and it does me no credit if I cannot trust my senior officers to take care of the ship if I am not here. I bid you the best of luck, Captain Riley.”

***

They did not put anything into play until it had turned completely dark outside, after spending the rest of the afternoon planning. The deck lights were not put on and as soon as it was dark enough three engineers made their way to one of the remaining jets to check its status. Over the next hour and a half, they checked everything they could with the engines at low power and slowly moved the jet over to the runway. They were fortunate enough that the new moon had only been two nights ago and that the sky was currently covered with cloud. The crew of the Amitié seemed to have been made complacent by the Sui-Riu guarding their side and fortunately no alarm went up from them. The last thing to do was to load in Laurence and the egg. The safest place for it was deemed to be Laurence’s lap. It made reaching the controls difficult, but Laurence was sure he would manage. He had to.

“Good luck Captain.” The engineer saluted as Laurence closed the cockpit shutting out the brisk wind and turned his attention to the runway ahead.

The sound of the engines speeding up woke the Sui-Riu, which had retreated to the frigate to sleep. It dove under the surface and began to increase dramatically in size. Laurence went through his pre-flight checks as quickly as possibly could. When he had finished, he powered up the engines and signalled he was ready.

The acceleration from both the jet and the catapult beneath his had always exhilarated Laurence, now, he could only feel anxious. If he did not get up to take-off speed all would be lost. There would be not rescuing him if he ejected, not with the few hopeful sea serpents which still lingered. The egg masked the speedometer, he could only pray he was up to speed. The deck ended beneath him. Laurence felt the plane respond as he pulled it up and breathed out in relief.

Below he glimpsed the Sui-Riu’s great head emerging again as he kept climbing. The Amitié’s deck lit up and one of the gun turrets turned to his direction. Already Laurence was banking to get away from the frigate, but he was too slow. Shots rang out. Nothing immediately sounded out in the cockpit. Laurence continued his climb and was soon out of range. The Sui-Riu’s water jet falling short behind him.

Laurence felt restricted to the altitude he could fly at due to the egg. He had no idea how it would deal with low pressure and as it didn’t have his advantage of a pressure suit he would rather not find out. He settled on a low altitude of 10,000 feet and hoped it would survive. He double checked his fuel levels, they were were far below what they should have been. He was losing fuel. He settled in for the long flight and prayed he would find somewhere to land before he ran out for good. He glanced down at the egg.

“I hope you know what we’ve all been through for you.”

 

***
The beeping was incessant. Although that was probably the point, Laurence supposed. You don’t really want to forget the fact that your jet was nearly out of fuel, which, in the best case, would lead to an engine failure, or in the worst case cause an explosion which would send you to your death much earlier.

“This is HMS Allegiance, you have permission to touchdown Captain Laurence, over.”

“Permission acknowledged. Coming around now, out.” Usually one for proper protocol on the radio, Laurence found himself too distracted by the issues at hand to care at his momentary lapse. Mainly the issues of landing a speeding jet on a 150m long runway with an egg near half the size of him on his lap.

His hand twitched on the controls to match the rolling of the carrier. He felt as the landing gear hit the deck. One heartbeat passed, then another. The lurch as the tail hook caught filled him with relief as the plane was brought to a halt on top of the deck. Immediately crew filled the space before him, guiding him off the runway. Once the jet was secured, hands helped guide the egg down before it was then hurried away, awe in their voices for what Laurence supposed was the contents of the egg. Laurence then extracted himself from the cockpit. As he lowered himself down, the deck seemed to rush up to greet him a lot quicker than it should. Laurence decided that despite this it was surprisingly comfortable. Some part of him thought that he should probably move, he would at some point he conceded.

***

“You’ve got an awful lot of luck Captain, an awful lot.” Laurence heard a huff of laughter from one of the handful of aviators who were filling the bridge behind him. They were the captains of the beasts Laurence had displaced in his landing. As he looked out of the window of the bridge, he could see them resettling themselves on the flight deck; a few of the smaller dragons perching themselves on top of the larger beasts.

“Sir.” Even after the impromptu rest he had gained, Laurence still found himself incapable of putting together a longer sentence. He had told his story in fits and starts over a cup of tea after being scraped off the deck and deposited into the infirmary. The crash from the adrenaline rush hit Laurence hard and his report had taken him a lot longer than he’d wished. Eventually he had managed to drag himself to the bridge to finish his report and for the senior officers to discuss how to proceed.

“How on Earth you managed to transport yourself and a heavyweight egg through enemy fire without being killed let alone shot is beyond me.”

“Sir, I was shot. That is the reason I am here now.” Laurence hoped they had managed to do something about the leaking fuel tank, if there was even a spark- it did not bare thinking of.

“You mean to tell me that you meant to continue on to Britain? We’re at least 700 miles out, you had no way of being certain you wouldn’t run into hostiles. I had not taken you for a fool Captain, but I must have been mistaken.”

“Sir, it was in my understanding that the egg was of the utmost importance to our war efforts. My only thought was to get it to safety. We had not been made aware of your movements in this area. If we had, perhaps my decision may have been different.” Laurence felt an ache building at his temple. To think that talking to the aviators was making the pain worse was quite uncharitable, but the questions were not helping. The adrenaline crash had also left him chilled and he fought the shivers that came along with it.

Laurence had already had his fill of arguments today, much as he were loath to count the disagreement with Riley as one. If he counted that, he would have lost an argument to a subordinate, even if he did count Riley as a friend. After the egg had been taken off him, it had been safely stowed in the hold. The whereabouts and situation of his ship had not reached them yet though, he had to put his faith in Riley’s ability to keep both the ship and his crew safe. He hoped that Riley wouldn’t get too much heat from the Admiralty Board about Laurence’s decision.

“My apologies if my explanation was unclear for you, but I’ve rather found that rational thought fades after the thirtieth hour with no sleep.” Laurence had no idea how long it had been since he had woken, though if that unintentional confession was any clue, it was most likely a fair bit longer. Heaven knows he shouldn’t have flown the plane in the state he was in.

One of the aviators made to speak. Laurence wasn’t sure if he had managed to catch his name but from a look at his uniform, Laurence saw the gold bands that marked out the older man as an admiral. What an admiral was doing out in the middle of the Atlantic was beyond Laurence, but he found himself too tired to begin questioning it.

“Captain Price, if I may interrupt.” It was not a question. The navy captain found himself unable to argue, despite the different branches, the Admiral still held authority. Turning away from him the older man continued, “Captain Laurence, I have to thank you profusely for what you have done today. You have secured us a dragon which will hopefully give us a major advantage in the struggles to come. That is of course, if it deigns to give us its loyalty.” Laurence only nodded mutely, it was not his wont to interrupt a senior officer, nor, he thought, could he put together any eloquent response. “You will forgive me if we were to take the matters out of your hands now. The egg has been safely stowed. Though we estimate it may hatch before we are to reach land, it will be cared for. You need not worry about it further.” He seemed like he was going to say more, but before he could a junior officer in navy blue came into the room. She hesitated as the gathered officers all looked at her.

“Sirs,” She said, addressing the room as a whole, “I have been told to inform Admiral Lenton that the egg is hatching.” There was a flurry of curses and without waiting for dismissal, the aviators hurried out of the room. Lenton nodded to the messenger before following the others down to the hold.

The junior officer looked to Captain Price, unsure what to do next, Price however, was looking at Laurence.

“You may as well join them, see what all this fuss is about.” Laurence was instead tempted to go to sleep. His curiosity was piqued though, so he bade his farewells and made after the aviators.

 

By the time he’d followed the others down into the cargo hold the egg was already shaking violently. The room, already stifling from the heaters, was practically unbearable from the additional bodies and despite his earlier chill, Laurence found himself craving to remove some of his layers. It seemed like most of the contingent of aviators on the ship had fitted themselves into the room, though a closer look showed that nearly all were ranked at sub lieutenant or higher.

“For God’s sake get some bloody food for the creature!” A midwingman pushed his way past Laurence to follow Lenton’s order as quickly as possible.

“And fetch that fucking harness, we can’t take any chances here!” Another added. A wave of muttering spread across the gathered aviators in the room. Laurence felt almost inclined to join in, the forced servitude of a sentient being rankled him extremely and he was glad that it had been outlawed in the mid-19th century, still too late if you listened to some people. The mutters turned to outright objection as another midwingman brought in a large pile of Kevlar straps and buckles.

“Sir, with all due respect…”

“If you had any respect you wouldn’t be talking.” Another officer snapped, Lenton glared at him before turning to the first officer.

“I acknowledge your concerns Granby, but this dragon is too important to risk losing to another country.”

“But Sir, forcing it into service…”

“We won’t be pressuring it to serve, though if it were to choose to do so it would certainly be welcomed.” Granby opened his mouth to argue, “But regardless, we need this dragon and to make sure we keep it, it is necessary to make it choose a companion and-”

“The shell’s cracked, Sir!”

A hush fell over the gathered officers. Laurence craned his head to see past them to the egg in the middle of the room. Indeed, there appeared to be a dark line spreading rapidly across the shell. A crack sounded across the now quiet room and Laurence heard at least one gasp as he himself saw a glimpse of black scales.

“It can’t be…” The muttered denial came from Granby as he started in shock at the hatchling.

“He’s a beauty,” The whispered statement came from another of Laurence’s neighbours and, when he finally caught a proper look, Laurence had to agree. The dragonet was a sleek black with hints of iridescent red and green when his hide caught the dim light of the hold. The lithe body slowly uncurled as the dragonet poked a curious head around the gathered aviators. It then sat on its haunches and looked directly at Laurence. The deep blue of the dragonet’s eyes was nothing like he’d seen before; there was an obvious intelligence behind them, mixed with a curiosity and something more, something like a deep hunger, for knowledge or-

“You took your bloody time!” Startled, Laurence turned to see the midwingman from earlier duck past carrying a pail of still steaming meat. The dragonet’s head turned to follow its progress across the room. The midwingman made his way across the room to Lenton’s side with the dragon tracking every step. As soon as he set the pail down the dragonet darted towards it, arching its neck to get its head inside. “Not so quick you greedy thing!” The dragonet paused and looked up at Lenton curiously. “You need to pick someone in this room to put that harness on you then you can eat. You have the choice of anyone in this room, bar myself and these six behind me.” Lenton said, indicating to the other captains. Lenton caught sight of the midwingman still stood next to him, suddenly looking hopeful, and steeled himself, “Anyone you want.”

The dragonet looked very close to ignoring this and stuffing its face regardless, but after a small pause it huffed then started peering at the people gathered. The hopeful faces of the aviators fell as one by one the dragonet examined them and moved on. Admiral Lenton’s face got gradually more resigned as it seemed that the dragonet would not in fact choose any of the aviators. Laurence was not quite sure what this would mean but was distracted from pondering it much further as the dragonet was then in his face, examining him intently.

“Why are you frowning?” Although not expressly close to any dragons, Laurence had had the opportunity to speak to a few in his life, still the clarity with which such a young dragonet spoke took him back.

“My apologies, I did not mean to. My name is Will Laurence, what is yours?”

The dragonet seemed to consider this for a moment and paused, “My name is Temeraire.” It, or he Laurence thought as the voice was definitely masculine, nodded to himself as if reaffirming his choice. Laurence was not sure what was meant to happen next, indeed he wasn’t even sure of what had happened so far. All he knew was that the name brought up an image of the large black dragon which had appeared in his textbooks. A war hero from a past time and a very fine dragon to name yourself after Laurence thought, though perhaps a bit precocious. During this exchange, the now sullen looking midwingman had deposited the harness at his feet. Laurence supposed that that was as much answer as he would get as to what was next.

Looking up from considering the harness disapprovingly, Laurence caught the dragonet’s, that was Temeraire’s, eye. “I suppose you must put it on me, so I can eat.” Temeraire seemed glum at suggesting such a thing, but the way his gaze kept drifting over to the bucket of meat betrayed where his priorities lay at that moment. Laurence bent over to pick up the harness, the thought of what he was meant to do still plagued his conscience. He paused, his mind decided. Laurence straightened up again and looked Temeraire in the eye.

“I will do no such thing, unless, of course, you wish to wear it.”

“I do not really wish to, but Laurence, I am so hungry and so if I must…”

“Bring that bucket over here. Now if you please.” This was not addressed to anyone in particular but the midwingman at his side jumped to obey at his tone. His brain seemed to catch up with him about halfway across the room and he paused to look at Lenton for direction. Lenton had been watching the scene with a thoughtful, almost calculating expression. Finally, he seemed to stir himself.

“You heard the Captain; the dragon must eat.”

At that the midwingman sprang to life again and brought the bucket across the room. The aviators which he had pushed through were now muttering amongst themselves furiously, shooting Laurence glares. It seemed that the only person who wasn’t currently looking at Laurence was Temeraire who was again tracking the bucket’s progress across the room. As the bucket was set down Temeraire attempted to put his whole head into it, but stopped as Laurence put his hand in the way and said,

“Please let me.” Laurence reached into the buckets and pulled out a scrap of meat and offered it to Temeraire who carefully took it out of his hand before gulping it down. The meat had cooled to the touch and now was just unpleasantly warm Laurence noted as he repeated the action. He did not know what had possessed him to make such a move in the first place. Perhaps it was an innate urge to bond with the creature. Especially after going through what he had to save the dragon, it only made sense that Laurence would want to connect with him further. To have someone that shared the same experience as you could always make it easier, even if that someone was still in an egg at the time. Laurence settled down on the floor next to the dragon to continue feeding him.

Laurence realised that in the time that Temeraire was eating his fill most of the aviators had filed out of the room. The ones that remained held looks of barely concealed contempt and envy, and as Temeraire made to make himself comfortable to sleep they too turned to leave. The only one it seemed that wasn’t glaring at Laurence was Lenton, who had continued to watch the whole affair with a carefully neutral face. As the room finally cleared he turned to Laurence.

“You just achieved the thing that all those officers had spent their whole careers hoping to achieve, and you didn’t even know what you were doing. The start of your training may be unpleasant.” Laurence was given the feeling that this might have been an understatement, especially if he was meant to work with the officers who had just left the room. “He’s going to be out of it for a while now,” Lenton said, nodding to Temeraire who had settled with his head in Laurence’s lap. “You may as well make yourself comfortable.” Lenton paused, “That is, if you were planning on staying,” Laurence made a noise of affirmation and he turned to leave, “Just call if he gets hungry again, someone will bring food.” With this he left Laurence alone with Temeraire in the hold.

Laurence looked down at the dragon in his lap in contemplation. Temeraire cracked open one slitted eye and looked up at Laurence.

“You’re frowning again,” He murmured, taking in Laurence’s expression.

“Hush, my dear, you need your rest.” Temeraire closed his eye and made a noise of contentment, he buried his head into Laurence’s stomach with a sigh. Laurence found himself copying the sigh as fatigue pulled at his limbs and his mind. He found himself unable to follow the dragon- his dragon- into sleep however, the events from the past days flitting through his mind like a slideshow. The capture of the Amitié seemed like a lifetime ago, though it must have only been yesterday. There had still been no reports through about the Reliant and her former prize. Laurence could only guess what the aviators would have made of the true extent of the destruction he had witnessed that day.

The acquisition of a dragonet spelled an end to his navy career. He might be able to remain in the military though, if the dragon was willing to join the RAF or maybe even the army infantry. Laurence was certain that he wasn’t pleased with the way that he had acquired said dragonet, however. Dragons were given the choice soon out of the shell whether they wished to join the military, to give them the greatest chance of learning what they needed whilst they still could. Still, they were not made to make choices about captains and crews until they were at least two years of age. That had been the case for the better part of two centuries. Laurence understood the necessity of the situation, but he still struggled to see why they could not have waited. Perhaps they did not want to run the risk of the dragonet forming a loyalty to another country whilst in the shell. One thing Laurence was sure of was that he was glad he had not had to use the harness. All of his pondering had not helped with his headache which was slowly making itself known again. Laurence decided that he might as well rest whilst he could and shifted to make himself as comfortable as he could with a dragonet still on his lap. He settled into a position that worked and finally let himself drift off to sleep.

 

The last of the heavy weights?
By Georgina Place

It seems gone are the days of having the sun be blocked out as a Chequered Nettle, Parnassian or even a Regal Copper flew overhead. Although there are still a still fair number of each to be found in Britain (the total number of heavy weights in the country was put at 72 as of the last census) it seems that over the years their number has been dwindling. To discuss the causes of this, we must first consider the interaction between human and dragon over the years.

Humanity has always had a mixed relationship with dragons, it seems there is nowhere where this is more true than here in Europe. We have evidence of mostly peaceful cohabitation dating back to the time when the first humanoids traipsed this continent, but then something changed, we started farming. Almost every time we’ve found evidence of agriculture, in particular domesticated livestock, we’ve found evidence of humans and dragons fighting. Human and dragon skeletons alike have been found with wounds that only the other could inflict. The dragons didn’t see why they couldn’t have the food we had, humans took objection, then the dragons took objection to us taking objection. All this started to change though several hundred years ago. Like many milestones in our history it’s hard to pinpoint an exact date when this happened…

 

…was extremely successful with his endeavour and proved that not only could dragons be trained to obey orders, but could also become loyal, if not to their country, at least to their captain. A new age of warfare was born, and with it came breeding. Specific breeds of dragons slowly emerged from what was before a mostly random mix of traits. Although it is argued that some smaller and more common British breeds such as Winchesters, Greylings and Yellow Reapers existed before regulated breeding programs, these breeds were themselves refined into what we know them as today. Through selective breeding and some unusual crosses, emerged a new category of dragon, the heavy weight.