White light. Not the most pleasant of waking sights. Then again, the rocks that had nested in his back over night didn’t help his morning disposition, either. Flic blinked quickly, adjusting to the mid morning sun as best he could. Slowly he was able to open them completely, regretting his body’s decision to wake at that particular angle of sunlight. It was his least favorite time of the day to wake up.
The low hum of small servos drew his attention to away from the sky and his attempted to turn his body to look at the ground around him. Half way through his turn he felt a light shutter, and realized that Tess was burrowing into him for warmth, his shifting having uncovered her rosy cheeks, exposing them to wind and light. Smiling to himself, Flic decided that sleeping in just a bit more wouldn't hurt much, and tried to lay back down while avoiding his rocky bed. The humming became higher in pitch, and he knew that the dragon was nearby. Feeling a form shading his face through closed eyes, he opened them to see the beast peering down at him. The humming came primarily from the sides of the dragons mouth, where two round caps were barely fitted over the motors that allowed it to open and close its jaw. Flic wasn't sure why, but the dragon always seemed to go through the same motion when it woke up. It yawned. He knew that there was something wrong with its programming, it just didn't act like other dragons. He wasn't a trainer, but he had been through enough to pick up a good handling, even making modifications here and there. Nothing fancy, usually a permanent seat or a cargo harness. And yet something about this dragon was odd. It learned quickly. Faster than other dragons, faster than some people he knew. It watched over them at night, or rather, it watched them. And while it doesn't sleep it goes through all the motions. The first time he had seen it yawn was after he had done so himself. After that morning he had heard the tale-tell noises of the small humming motors that signified it craning its neck and extending its jaw. At first it was creepy, though now he found it oddly reassuring. It meant the beast had watched them, it had watched over Tess. Her relationship with the dragon was something that had been on his mind a lot lately. She was getting attached to it. He expected that, she was a child after all. She had given it a name, which he had warned against. Tora, she called it. She said it was a dragon's name, a prince in fact. He didn't know where she got her ideas on dragon royalty from, but she was adamant that this be the beast's name. The thing that worried him was how quickly Tora took to its new name. It was as if it understood that is what it what it was called, and that was not something Flic was used to. He had become close to a dragon when he was Tess's age. When its batteries became contaminated and had to be terminated before it leaked acid, he was devastated. That was the last dragon he had named. And now Tess had her childhood dragon. Flic had gotten a great deal for it. In fact, he kept it grounded for a month after buying it to make sure there wasn't a catch. For only four power cells and a pound of epoxy resin, he insisted on seeing the diagnostic records from the year prior. The family who owned it had everything in order, even going so far as to have a proxy ship sign off on the records certificate. When he pressed on as to why they were getting rid of a fully functional model they admitted there was something odd about its behavior. At this the children in the family began giggling until a stern glare from the parents quieted their laughter. His own diagnostics didn't show anything wrong with its programming or its motor skills. When it finally took it up into the air for the first time he was pleasantly surprised with its flight capabilities. Flic had been on smooth rides before, but nothing compared to Tora's flights. Steady and fluid, the dragon's take-off was like taking Kartik lift, while the actual flight had the stability of a hover ship. And that was without tuning. After Flic had installed the saddle rack and manual control board, he and Tess left the small rock. Flic was still finding little features on Tora. He wasn't familiar with over half the ports that interfaced with the dragons core, and was constantly surprised and wary of the energy efficiency it showed on long flights. If that weren't enough, it seemed to be a newer model, not much older than Tess's eight years. Flic had not been aware of any new factories being found nearby. He doubted that Tora had made its way to that small village on its own. Surely someone must had made these upgrades themselves. Yet he didn't know anyone this side of Amp that could do these mods. As if reading his mind, the dragon shook its head from side to side, its dog-like grin appearing almost comical, as if to dispel any mystery its origin may present. Tess raised a bundled fist to her eye, rubbing the sleep away while taking in the cold morning air. She looked at Flic with her other uncovered eye, a small smile forming from under her ever present scarf. Flic smiled back, affirming that they were done sleeping in. Pushing herself upright, then shifting her weight to Flic's chest, she reached out to pet Tora's nose. "Good morning, Tora," she said around another yawn, this time rubbing her other eye. Tora stretched out his wings in reply, shielding the father and daughter from the wind for a moment. "Good morning to your dragon before your papa, eh?" Flic mockingly glared up at his half awake daughter. "Good morning, Papa," she replied, laying back down and nuzzling into he heavy coat. Their high perch was considerably windy, and Tess didn't like a lot of wind in her face. Tora rose up and stretched, then nonchalantly lay perpendicular from their makeshift bed. The dragon's neck and tail formed a crescent around them, its bulk blocking most of the wind. The hardened metal-weave scales along its spine created a whistling sound as the air rushed through the joint shafts that held them in place. "How are you feeling? Did you sleep okay?" He asked the snuggling child. "I had a dream about mama," Tess said into his jacket, breathing into the pocket of cloth that held her face to warm it. She continued, "She was waving at us. We were riding on Tora. We were meeting her." Flic didn't say anything, instead putting one arm around Tess and using his other to sweep rocks from underneath his lower back. Tess looked up from her warm nest, meeting Flic's eyes as he settled back into place. Her brow was slightly furrowed. "Do people ever come back from heaven?" She asked. Flic's mouth went dry, his tongue suddenly cold and sore. He really wasn't expecting that question so early in the morning, or, really, at any time. Tess's mother had always been better at these kinds of things. What would she have said, he thought to himself. When he drew a blank he fell back to his rule of parenting, be truthful. With certain caveats that always seemed to be the way to go. A question of this type didn't seem to have any easy answer anyhow. "I don't think so," he admitted. "Boku mo," Tess agreed. She pressed her face into his jacket again, trying to absorb the last bit of heat. A few moments later she looked him in the eyes again. "I miss mama." She lay her cheek down on his chest. Flic lay there, slightly stunned by the nature of their exchange. A familiar pang began to squeeze his heart, something he felt whenever his daughter amazed him with her developing understanding of the world. He willed it away, lest his she feel his heart breaking through his chest. Look at how much she has grown, he thought to himself, wondering if Tess's mother would hear his silent admiration. He sighed, with Tess sighing right after. "I do too, Tess," Flic said as he wiped sleep and tears from his eyes.
“I do too.”