Urgus moved toward the stone stairs eagerly, his small plump legs excitedly propelling his short plump body. At the same time he was careful to move quietly so as not to disturb the snoozing but ever faithful watch dragon on the perch fixed to the wall by the castle window.
He did not know he was in danger until it was too late. What little warning there was came in the form of a shadow - - a reflection in the thick glasses that magnified his squinting eyes to owlish wonder. Something flew over him, settled downward over his head. There was time for him to manage but a single "Yurp!" before the dark smothering folds settled confiningly around him. Through the heavy material Urgus felt strong arms grasping him, lifting him up. "Yurp again!" he called, just in case. Someone was runing off with him.
In her room at the top of the stairs it seemed to Captain Shivers that there was something familiar about those "Yurps!" She threw down the book she was reading, leaped up from her chair and reached for her D-gun. Her hand was halfway to her hip when she realized she wasn't carrying a D-gun. Local law and custom dictated that she go nowhere on this planet armed with anything more deadly than a knife or sword.
She threw open the door and ran headlong toward the stairs. She rushed down them in time to see through the open door, a cloaked figure running across the courtyard outside. It carried something under its arm and from the way the bundle squirmed and fought she knew it was Urgus; there was something distinctive about the way those short fat legs kicked. She yelled, "McGuirk! Thurston! Grabby!" and started off after the young space kid's abductor.
On its perch the startled watch dragon blinked and looked up, disturbed out of its sound repose by all the racket. Humans. Pfah! Why weren't they decently asleep at such an hour as this? It watched the shapely space captain rush off like a streak of fire after something that had already vanished into the shadowy streets beyond. The watch dragon sniffed like an earthling with a cold and wondered if it were now possible to go back to sleep.
As if in answer to its question, at the head of the stairs a tall, green-feathered being appeared, pulling on a knife belt and saying incomprehensible words. Foul smelling fumes issued from the object in its beak. "Squibbin hapnaps," the bird-thing said and promptly tripped on its own belt.
The bird-thing was close enough to the top of the stairs and fell with such head and heels precision that the dragon found it actually interesting. The bird thing landed at the foot of the stairs in a tangle of feathers, reddish-yellow sparks, and unpleasant oaths. Almost at once a tentacled something in a battered hat, all ten extremities pumping like sixty, ran right over him. "I'm a coming, Cap'n Shivers!" yelled the decapus. "Just hold yore horses, I'm a coming! Reminds me of the time " And before the watch dragon could hear the adventure all this had reminded the decapus of, it was out the door and on its way in the direction Captain Shivers had taken. "Oh bummer of bummers," came a voice from the top of the stairs. The dragon looked up and saw the last member of the party, a big yellow disk with a perpetually smiling mouth. "McGuirk's dead!"
"I am not too dead," McGuirk snarled, sitting up and fumbling with the buckle of his knife belt, still trying to fasten it around his waist.
"Bummer," said the Smileyfacian, as it came down the stairs.
"Where's Grabby? I thought he was right in front of me." "That sorry excuse for a scraggly bearded space marshal ran right over me at top speed and never even said, 'Excuse me.' Give me a hand, Thurston."
The Smileyfacian called Thurston helped the green feathered mutant to its talons. "Maybe he'll apologize when he comes back."
"Why should he come back?" asked McGuirk.
"Surely running over you will have reminded him of some story."
"Double bummer," said McGuirk. He removed the hideously smelling object in his beak and studied it a moment, but apparently found it unharmed because he stuffed it back in place. "Okay. Now, what the natwhaling scables is going on here, anyway?"
Thurston, his perpetual smile fixed upon his round, loveable yellow face, looked around. "I guess our intrepid watch dragon must have noticed an interloper and alerted the captain and Urgus to some danger, which they and Grabby are now fearlessly chasing. Maybe we should reward it."
"Of course," McGuirk said. On the table beneath the dragon's perch there was a kettle and glass. He poured the faithful creature's glass full. The watch dragon blinked.
Well, thought the dragon. It hopped down off the perch and dipped its snout into the glass. It slurped down half the golden liquid.
"We'd better get going," McGuirk said, "before the danger's all over and there's nothing left for us to do." Both creatures turned and propelled themselves at top speed toward the door where they promptly ran into each other.
The watch dragon looked up from its glass as the two picked themselves up and, cautiously this time, eased their way out of the room. These space aliens who had rented the castle for the summer might be noisy but they were occasionally amusing, he thought.
With enthusiastic and prolonged slurping, the watch dragon finished his drink, then hopped back up on his perch where he proceeded to shove his snout under a warm and comfortable wing. Now that those preposterous space aliens had left the castle, it might be possible to get a little sleep around here.
The watch dragon might have managed four or five minutes of actual snooze time before the heavy wood door burst open and slammed against the stone wall causing him almost to jump off his perch. Two hulking figures stalked in.
"Oh, dear," said the second and only slightly smaller one peering around the great hall. "How I do wish I'd remembered to bring a thermos of nice hot pepper root tea."
"The place is empty," said the other one, a little suspiciously. "Couldn't they be upstairs? Or possibly in the kitchen, brewing up a nice pot of - - "
"Take my word for it, Emily," said the big one. "They're gone. Look on that perch. A dragon."
"A watch dragon, at that. What about it?"
"It's asleep. How could anything be sleeping in this castle if Nadir McGuirk or Grabby Haze were here? Take it from me, sister dear, the last time we had those two as prisoners, I got no sleep at all, and barely had an opportunity to torture either one of them."
At the mention of itself, the watch dragon blinked, seeing only darkness. Then it realized why. It slid its head out from under the comfy warmth of its wing and peered at the two interlopers and saw what appeared to be a pair of brontosauruses. It shrugged and slid its head back where it belonged, under the wing.
"Oh, goodness, Charlotte, must you always be so logical? What would be the harm of checking the kitchen to see if they're brewing some pepper root tea, or maybe just checking out their pantry to see if they even have any pepper root tea on hand?"
Wait a minute. Brontosauruses? Weren't those things supposed to be extinct? The watch dragon might not know much about the planet Earth, but it thought it knew that much. It yanked its head out from under its wing again and glared suspiciously at the interlopers.
"Because," the one called Charlotte was saying, "I arranged for them to vacate the premises."
"Well, if you're the one that arranged for them to be gone, Charlotte, I don't see what you're so suspicious of."
"It's such a brilliant plan," replied Emily, "I find it worrisome they could follow its intricacies. But more to the point, in an hour or so they'll finish up their little excursion and be back. I'd like us to be finished with what we're doing before then."
"So that we can leave this hellish abode and return to our own domicile and a nice, fresh cup of --"
"No. So when they get back we can focus all our attention to the proper application of electro-whips on whichever members of this group of sorry space do-gooders we manage to - "
"There you go again, Charlotte dear, forgetting that electrical torture instruments are illegal on this planet. All we have are knives, pliers, dental equipment, and racks and so on."
"Oh, yes," said Charlotte her voice a grim octave lower. "Oh, my god, yes." She shook her head. "How I hate these backward cultures."
Through all this foolish late-night jabbering, the watch dragon peered closely at the pair who stood near the doorway. By gosh, extinct or not, they certainly looked like brontosauruses. Well, up to a point. The one called Emily wore a grey old-maidish dress with lace at the collar and sleeves. Charlotte wore a tightly cinched corset, spiked collar, fishnet stockings on her muscular dinosaur legs, and spike-heeled boots. The watch dragon was not too sure how the extinct sort of brontosaurus would dress but he was pretty sure it wouldn't be like that. And, oh, yes, the wigs. You could tell they were wigs because (a) as everyone knows (or he assumed everyone knew that), dinosaurs didn't have hair to begin with, and (b) hair never fit more badly than it did on these two. They had to be wearing wigs. Emily's was grey and fixed in a bun at the back. Charlotte's was bright orange and hung in ringlets. They were certainly strange looking creatures, and for a moment the watch dragon wondered if they might not actually belong here.
"Now, then," Emily said, with a sigh of resignation. "If we're to waste a perfectly nice visit by searching for something, you're going to have to remind me what it is."
"I don't know what it is. If I did, we wouldn't have to waste so much time searching for it, would we? We'd just go to wherever it's supposed to be, and grab it."
"Oh, dear," said Emily. "If we don't know what it is, then how do we know there's anything to search for?"
"Because it's Captain Shivers and her crew," said Charlotte. She glared at Emily who continued to watch her expectantly. After a moment, Charlotte went on. "It's logic. This passel of space heroes comes to this planet, rents a castle and moves in. They must be here on some mission. They even have that idiot space marshal Grabby Haze with them."
"That's true," agreed Emily. "But does it really mean anything?"
"They wouldn't be here without a reason, and if they have a reason, then it's bound to be either something we won't like, or something we would love -- to cash in on."
"Cash in on? Oh, dear. I thought we were the jewel thieves, not them."
"We are. But if they're here there's got to be a reason and if we find out what it is, we can probably move in and take something valuable from them. Not to mention getting our revenge on them for all their past transgressions against us."
"You mean," said Emily, "all those times they've outwitted you?"
"I mean," growled Charlotte pointedly, "all those times they got lucky."
"Oh those times."
"Do you understand now, Emily?"
"I suppose. But it would be so much easier to understand these complicated social matters if I were sipping a nice warm cup of -- what's that?"
"A noise," Charlotte said. The watch dragon noted appreciatively how sinister she made those two words sound. "Someone's coming."
"They're back," said Emily.
Charlotte made a sound like a growl and said, "I doubt that. There hasn't been nearly time enough for them to rescue that fool spacekid. Not with McGuirk and Grabby along to complicate matters."
She moved rather gracefully -- to say nothing of quickly -- for a person of her species and weight, thought the watch dragon. Perhaps that explained why she wasn't extinct. Charlotte turned around, shut the door quickly but without making any loud noises. She glared at her sister and pointed toward a particularly heavy gathering of shadows in a corner to the left of the door. She herself slid behind a wall tapestry that didn't actually offer much cover to a person of her bulk.
The watch dragon took all this in with a certain degree of perplexity. The exotic actions and unfathomable psychology of these space aliens was far too much for his prosaic understanding. But he was beginning to think that they were sort of fascinating to watch. So he hunkered down on his perch and watched the door.
And after a short space of time the door opened and one of the humans -- a young woman -- entered the room. She was as attractive -- assuming your taste runs toward monsters from other planets -- as Captain Shivers and, despite her darker hair and shorter stature, there was a certain resemblance. Even her clothing, in that outlandish sort of garb favored by these off-world creatures, resembled Captain Shivers' except that it was in blue and gold where Shivers' was red and white. Apparently both vegetable and synthetic fiber was scarce on their home planet because neither costume seemed to consist of much material.
The dark haired girl stepped into the room and slammed the door behind her. "Aunt Ronnie!" she called. "Guess what? It's summer again and Miss Amelia Tidwell's Space Academy for Genteel Young Ladies has let us all out for vacation! It's me! Your favorite niece, Jillian!"
She stood there for a moment, listening. It was very quiet in the castle. "Aunt Veronica? Nadir? Urgus? Thurston? Are you here?" She waited another few moments but there was no response. "Grabby? I'd even settle for Grabby! It's my vacation and once again I've chosen to spend it with you guys. Surprise!"
Something huge moved behind the tapestry and said, "Surprise? You spending another summer vacation with your aunt and her crew of space misfits? That's anything but a surprise, young lady." And with those words Charlotte stepped out from her hiding place, an evil smile -- or maybe an evil smirk -- smeared across her ugly brontosaurus face. "But if it's a surprise you want, little girl, I think I can come up with one for you."
"Hello, Jillian," said Emily, stepping from the shadows behind her. "It's us, the Bronto Sisters. I'm so glad you came, child. Perhaps now Charlotte will let me go fix a nice pot of pepper root tea for us to enjoy while she's making you tell us all your secrets."
Despite the similarities the newcomer seemed to share with the Captain Shivers human, there were clear differences that suggested to the watch dragon that there were distinctions between them, that the newcomer was not quite the same as Captain Shivers. It wracked its prune-sized watch dragon brain for the name of the newcomer's species but just couldn't think of it.
"Secrets?" said Jillian, a mild edge of desperation in her tone. "What secrets? Why would I have secrets?"
"You're a teen-ager, aren't you?" growled Charlotte. Of course, that's it, the watch dragon realized. This space alien was not a "human being" but a "teen-ager."
"We're not naive," Emily said sweetly, waggling a forefinger at Jillian. "All teen-agers have secrets."
"Honestly," said Jillian. "I can't remember a single one."
Charlotte pulled a heavy chair across the floor then grabbed Jillian by the shoulders and shoved her in it. "Oh, that secret," Jillian said. "You should have been more specific."
Charlotte rummaged through a large bag she'd brought with her. The items in it clinked and clanked with heavy, sinister metallic sounds. "Don't go making this too easy," Emily said to Jillian, with a kindly smile. "You'll ruin Charlotte's fun." She turned and ambled off toward the kitchen in search of pepper root tea.
"I wouldn't dare do that," Jillian said. Almost she didn't sound desperate. "But it's such a good secret. Very juicy, if you know what I mean."
Both of the Bronto sisters stopped what they were doing and turned to peer at Jillian.
"Juicy?" said Emily. "Oh, dear me, I do hope it's not one of those gossipy secrets that isn't really fit for maidenly ears." But she started back toward where Jillian sat in the heavy chair. She found a heavy chair herself and pulled it close to Jillian's. She sat down. "Tell me."
Charlotte pulled something out of her bag and glowered at Jillian. "Bad news, girly. I'm afraid I don't share my sister's weakness for cheap gossip. Weren't you going to make us a nice pot of pepper root tea, Emily?" She held in her hand something that looked like a cross between a corkscrew and a plumber's friend.
"That's understandable," said Jillian. "Besides, it's old gossip."
"Oh," said Emily, her hands fluttering in the air with genuine disappointment. "I'm afraid I know all the old gossip." She got up out of her chair and started toward the kitchen again.
Despite living on a planet where advanced technology was so heavily restricted, the watch dragon was not entirely uninterested in scientific matters. He had entertained himself during the duller stretches of the conversation trying to imagine the exact function and application of the strange instrument Ms. Bronto was holding. Now it looked as if he were about to see it in operation.
"And of course," Jillian said, matter-of-factly. "You would just have to know all about this one. I mean, even though the school did try to suppress the story, I bet everyone knows all about the time Aunt Ronnie almost got kicked out of Miss Amelia Tidwell's Space Academy for Genteel Young Ladies -- I mean, even though that was such a long time ago."
"Aunt Ronnie," said Charlotte, putting down the instrument. "You mean your aunt, Captain Veronica Shivers?" She grabbed a chair and dragged it up beside Jillian's.
Emily had also returned, and sat in her chair facing Jillian. "You know, now that I think about it, I don't believe I do know that one."
"Like I said they tried to suppress it at the school. It was such a scandal. If I hadn't broken into the secret files in Miss Amelia's office and read all the reports myself, I wouldn't even know about it. Much less be able to share it with you two."
"Well, go on," snapped Charlotte. "Fill us in."
"It's so hard to imagine!" said Emily. "Your aunt seems like such a sweet, well-behaved young woman."
"Well, of course she is now that she's a middle aged space captain," Jillian said. "But this was such a long time ago, almost ten years, when she was a wild, boisterous teen-ager."
"Like you?" said Emily.
"Oh, well, I'd never do anything -- "
"Get on with the story, why don't you?" said Charlotte in a very grumpy tone.
A furrow formed between Emily's eyes. "Wait a minute, isn't Miss Amelia Tidwell's Space Academy for Genteel Young Ladies an all-girl school? And don't you need young men as well as young women for real gossip?"
"Not necessarily," said Charlotte. "Shut up, for a few hours, Emily. Now then, Jillian, you were saying?"
"Well, let's see. You may be aware that my aunt was a famous athlete while she was at the school. The year she was quarterback the fighting Grulzaks went undefeated and took the Intergalactic Cup. She was very active in track and space, especially in free-fall gymnastics. She won a platinum metal in the Olympics, you know. And - - "
"You know," Charlotte said pointedly, tapping Jillian's shoulder with a stubby forefinger, "none of this sounds that juicy."
"I have to fill in the background or you won't appreciate the juicy parts," Jillian said. "And stop poking me with that claw."
Charlotte snarled at her but she stopped tapping her with her finger.
"Now, let's see, where was I? Oh, yes," said Jillian. "This all happened back in the dark ages when my Aunt Veronica was my age and still in the prime of life. She played football, you know, for the Fighting Grulzaks - - "
"You were further along that that, as I recall," said Charlotte menacingly.
"Oh, I was? Yes, I think you're right. Well, Aunt Ronnie was Senior Class Admiral and it was during her senior year, in fact, that this all happened."
"Oh, dear me!" said Emily. She was fanning herself furiously.
"Well," said Jillian in hushed tones, leaning forward, "I don't know where you girls went to school, but at Miss Amelia Tidwell's Space Academy for Genteel Young Ladies, every senior class takes a field trip to the galactic core for six weeks training in multi-body navigational instruction."
"You don't say!" said Emily, in shocked, breathy tones.
"This story had better get better in a hurry," said Charlotte.
The watch dragon had pretty much come to the same conclusion that Charlotte seemed to be expressing, but with less optimism. He decided to tuck his head under his wing again and try for some sleep.
"Well, there was this young man named Flash Newton, who was part of the instruction crew on loan from the Space Navy, a Schizo-bio specialist, though why they needed one of those during multi-body navigation classes, I don't know," Jillian said. Both of the Bronto Sisters leaned forward eagerly at that. Jillian leaned toward them and in a conspiratorial tone, said, "Actually, I think it gave Aunt Veronica - - ideas."
Jillian gave that a moment to sink in, then gestured broadly and continued. "Well, it had been a hard, hard year and the school was experimenting with more classes and fewer extracurricular activities and the girls of the senior class had not seen a man in just weeks. Well, since there had been more classes, Aunt Ronnie had naturally learned a lot -- "
("Naturally," said Emily.)
"Including, cloning," said Jillian.
"Oh, my god," said Charlotte.
"Oh dear," said Emily, and blushed. The watch dragon noted that Jillian, who had possibly never seen a brontosaur person blush before, seemed momentarily struck speechless, but recovered herself quickly.
"Well, you can imagine what happened. Here they were, the whole senior class, thousands of light years from home, haven't seen a boy in just ages, and they're all lusting after this one handsome young man -- I haven't ever seen a picture of him, but the reports describe him as very cute -- and Aunt Veronica had done very well during cloning examinations a month before the field trip, and well, you can imagine all those girls and at least eight copies of Flash - "
"Captain Veronica Shivers did this?" exclaimed Emily. "Oh, my heart, my heart!" She fanned herself even more furiously than before. "I think I'm having palpitations."
"And to think that Captain Shivers would do such a thing!" said Charlotte. "And she gets so sanctimonious whenever I try to torture someone. Which reminds me."
She picked up the strange and ugly looking device she had taken from her bag.
Under his wing the watch dragon heard it rattle and stuck his head out to see if things were, at long last, getting interesting.
Jillian swallowed and said, "Uh, by the way, what brings you girls to this planet, anyway?"
"We're searching for something," said Emily, sweetly.
"Anything in particular?" Jillian asked.
"Well, Charlotte probably knows all about it, I suppose, but she's being so mysterious. You know how she gets."
Jillian nodded her head. "Oh, she's being that way, is she?"
"I'm afraid so."
Charlotte, who was busily tuning up her instrument before commencing the torture, looked up and said, "And what do you two mean by that?"
"Mean?" said Jillian. "We don't mean anything. Do we mean anything by that, Emily?"
"Just that, oh, Charlotte, you can be so frustrating, at times."
"Well, everything has to be such a mystery. You could have told me what we're searching for, you know, but no. You want to make it such a mystery!"
"Well, it is a mystery," said Charlotte.
Emily set her lips in a hard line. "Charlotte, not everything in life is a mystery."
"And what does that mean?"
"Oh, it doesn't mean anything," Jillian said. "I'm sure Emily isn't really saying you're such a drama queen - - "
"Drama queen!" shouted Charlotte. "Me? A drama queen? How could anyone say anything so ridiculous! And after all I've done for her!"
"And I just know she appreciates it, too," said Jillian. "In spite of everything she says."
Charlotte leaped out of her chair and faced her sister. "Everything she says! What is she saying about me?"
"Perhaps," said Jillian, "a nice cup of pepper root tea would calm us all down."
There it was again, the watch dragon noted to itself. Pepper root tea. Every time things threatened to get interesting, somebody would mention pepper root tea and everything would calm down. The watch dragon was starting to wonder how anything as interesting as war was even remotely possible in a universe with pepper root tea in it, much less intellectually stimulating late-night conversation. He started to think again of the warmth and comfy darkness the underside of his leathery wing promised.
But no one moved toward the kitchen, so the dragon decided to wait a few minutes before going back to sleep.
Charlotte got to her feet and glowered at her sister for a moment, then at Jillian. "Why don't you see to her comfort and security, Emily, and then help me with the searching."
"Actually," said Jillian, "I was just noticing how comfortable I already am -- not to say secure - - "
Emily was rummaging through her knitting bag. "Do you have a favorite color, dear?" she asked Jillian. "I think red would look very nice with your blue and gold uniform, don't you?"
"Not the knitting yarn," growled Charlotte. "You'll find some good, strong rope in with my torture equipment. Very rough, uncomfortable rope," she added for Jillian's benefit.
"Does it come in colors?" asked Emily, putting down her knitting bag.
"It's rope colored," said Charlotte. "Now hurry it up and help me search. I'm betting Shivers and her nincompoops will be back here in about half an hour."
She started for the stairs, but stopped on the first step, right after passing the watch dragon. "What is it?" Emily asked.
Charlotte turned around and gave the watch dragon an intent look. "Emily, hurry that up and get over here."
"I'm almost done," she said.
Charlotte came over to the watch dragon's perch and leaned in close. The dragon almost fell off, her breath was so bad.
Emily came up behind her. Their combined breath was no improvement. "What is it, Charlotte?"
"They have a watch dragon," Charlotte said.
"Yes, I think I noticed that," said Emily. "When we first came in."
Charlotte ignored the implication. "Doesn't that strike you as odd, sister dear?"
"Not particularly, no," said Emily. "On this backward planet, everyone has a watch dragon."
"Neither Shivers nor any of her pathetic crewmembers are from this planet," Charlotte said. "I find it interesting that they keep a local lifeform as a supposed pet."
"Couldn't it have come with the lease on the castle?"
"Emily, you're an idiot. Don't you realize what they could hide in that thing?"
The watch dragon watched as Emily scrutinized it closely; gad, her breath! After a moment, Emily said, "Not too much, I should think."
"Do you think they might have a thesaurus around here, somewhere?" Charlotte said. "I need a synonym for 'idiot.'"
"I don't think they could hide much in that watch dragon. For one thing, it's too small. Besides, what could Captain Shivers have to hide?" Emily was silent a moment, then added, "Would imbecile or moron, do?"
"They would do very well," Charlotte said, calmly. Then in a much louder tone, "Emily, you're an imbecile and a fool! I don't know what Captain Shivers is hiding! But something brought her to this planet! And it seems to me that this watch dragon makes an awfully suspicious hiding place."
"Oh, dear. What ever do you think could be hidden in it?"
It made the watch dragon nervous the way Charlotte was peering at it. Charlotte said, her tones quiet again, "A rare jewel, perhaps. Or some kind of computer chip that contains a treasure map --"
"Treasure map? Oh, dear!"
"Or scientific secret. Perhaps even some fabulously destructive but modestly sized weapon. I have no way of knowing what it is but I know how to find out."
"So do I," said Emily. "Let's ask Jillian." She turned to where she had left their prisoner and said, "Jillian, do you happen to - - oh, dear!" The chair was empty. All around it were pieces of rope, just lying there.
Charlotte groaned and buried her face in her hands. "Emily, tell me you didn't tie her up with bows instead of very tight, hard knots."
"My goodness, wherever do you think she could have gone?"
"Just about anywhere she wants to, I'd guess," Charlotte said. "Well, we need to hurry this up. Take a look in the equipment bag and find me something sharp. Really, really sharp. I don't have time to enjoy this."
That sounded alarming to the watch dragon. It sat up and flapped its wings and squawked. Emily turned around and reached for the bag with all the torture instruments in it and Charlotte reached for the watch dragon's neck. The watch dragon leaped into the air. Charlotte's hand closed on nothing.
The watch dragon continued to squawk furiously as it came down and grabbed at Charlotte's nose with its talons. The nose gave surprisingly good purchase. The astonished bronto lady said, "Leb ga ma nobe!" The watch dragon paid her no heed, but yanked off Charlotte's wig - and the armor plating attached to it, exposing her vulnerable spot. Tossing the wig to the floor, the terrified watch dragon pecked fiercely at her unprotected scalp. Charlotte made a gurping noise that might have indicated several things, including astonishment. Then she collapsed.
The dragon let go of Charlotte's nose as the bronto-being toppled. Emily, busily rummaging through the satchel, looked around in time to see her sister strike the floor. "I thought we were in a hurry," she said. "Are you sure you have time to roll around on the floor like that?" Only Charlotte wasn't rolling.
Emily gaped at her fallen sister a moment, then dropped the satchel. In her hand was a large axe. She glowered at the watch dragon and looked uncomfortably like her sister, especially holding that axe. It was the watch dragon's turn to make a gurping sound.
"How dare you hurt my poor dear, defenseless sister," she said.
The illogic of the accusation was not entirely lost on the watch dragon, but even had the creature possessed the ability to speak, he probably would not just then have taken the time to point that out. Emily grabbed for his neck, moving much more quickly than her sister had, and it was all the dragon could do to avoid being caught. Emily pulled back the axe and started to swing.
"Okay, Emily, drop that axe," came a melodious but forceful voice somewhere behind the bronto critter. Emily's eyes opened wide with astonishment. "Uh, oh," she said.
A tentacle slid like a snake across the top of Emily's head, grabbed her wig and pulled it off to one side. A heavy baseball bat came down on the poor jewel thief's head. Emily's bulging eyes crossed and slowly she toppled to the floor and lay quietly next to her sister.
"Well, I'll be fragblatted," McGuirk said, hefting his trusty baseball bat. "I need to carry this thing with me all the time."
"Hi!" said Jillian, crawling out from behind the hanging tapestry. "I was hoping you guys would show up. What happened, anyway?"
"Urgus got kidnapped," McGuirk said. Then: "Hey, look! It's Jillian. I didn't know she was coming."
"Neither did I," said the captain.
"Well, gee," said Jillian. "It's summer isn't it?"
"Not here," Grabby said, flexing his tentacles. "It's well nigh dead of winter. Which reminds me - -"
"It's summer back on Earth, and I always spend my summer vacations with you guys," Jillian said quickly, before Grabby could get started on a story. Once he was started, it was nearly impossible to shut him up.
A small parade of armored policemen paraded into the castle and prodded the fallen jewel thieves with their spear points. After a minute or so of this they seemed satisfied and dragged the bronto ladies out of the castle.
"Not much for rights are they?" Jillian said. "Oh well, it'll do them good to wake up in jail. Hey, do you know they were going to cut that poor sweet watch dragon open to find out what you hid inside it?" she told Captain Shivers.
"I didn't hide anything in it," the captain said.
"Then what really brought you here?" Jillian asked.
"We were called in to help the local authorities," Captain Shivers said. "When they heard the Bronto Sisters were somewhere on this planet, they panicked. They heard we'd had some luck catching them in the past, so they just sort of called us in to give them some pointers."
"Gosh," Jillian said. "I suppose this sort of ruins your plans, doesn't it?"
"Let's just say it was a bit easier than I thought it would be." She looked around. "This place is a wreck. Do you think we can get that door back on its hinges?"
McGuirk and Grabby, with more grunting and puffing than actual effort, began pushing the door into place. Well, thought the watch dragon. At last something amusing. It watched interestedly as the two space aliens took turns dropping the door on McGuirk's toes. It seemed unfair to keep dropping it on the same set of toes all the time, but since Grabby only had tentacles, there didn't seem to be much of an alternative.
"You okay, Urgus?" Jillian asked.
"I guess so. I got up for a peanut butter sandwich and next thing you know, I'm in a sack being carried halfway across the city! Good thing Cap'n Shivers and the guys caught up with me."
"I guess we saved his life," said Thurston.
"I'd like to get some sleep tonight," said Captain Shivers. "While I'll admit that their efforts to lift that door is as funny as the Three Stooges, I think we've had enough."
"No we haven't," said Thurston.
"Yes we have," said the captain. "Go help them."
Thurston heaved a sigh, said "Bummer, bummer, bummer," and walked over and lifted the door off McGuirk and, not straining his powerful little stick-figure arms at all, carried the door back to the doorway and hung it on its hinges. As soon as he had his beak straightened, McGuirk said, "I would have got it on the next try."
"Sure," said the captain. "Let's get to bed. I want some sleep before the sun comes up." They started up the stairs. On its perch, the watch dragon watched them through half-closed eyes.
"Hey, one more thing," Jillian said. "When I came in, the Bronto sisters were hiding out in the room. This so-called watch dragon wasn't paying them any mind at all."
"So?" McGuirk asked.
"So why do they call it a watch dragon?"
"You'll find out soon enough," he said.
Sooner than they thought, as it turned out.
They were almost to the top of the stairs when the watch dragon glanced out the window and saw the pale beginning of daylight in the eastern sky. Oh, wow, he thought.
And crowed, Cock-a-doodle-doo.