take it the meeting with the Board went well?” Ahndru asked Ryen, as he flipped over the real beef steaks on the grill. “Since you are here for dinner tonight, and on time?”
“Yes, how did the Board meeting go?” Toneya echoed, stepping over from the outside table. “That looks good to me,” she added, talking to Ahndru as she pointed at one of the steaks.
“I just flipped it, honey,” Ahndru answered. “This side just finished searing.”
“You know I like my steaks rare, sweetie,” Toneya reminded him. Then she returned her attention to Ryen. Before she could ask her next question, though, Shara came running over.
“Uncle Ryen,” she pleaded, “I can’t get my dragon back. She’s trapped in the dome.”
Ryen bent down to whisper in Shara’s ear. She ran back inside, shrieking. Ryen stood.
“What did you tell her?” Ahndru asked, as he lifted Toneya’s steak from the grill and put in on a plate for her.
“How did the Board meeting go?” Toneya repeated, more interested in what transpired in the Hall of the Dome than whatever nonsense her brother may have been sharing with her daughter.
“Not much to tell, really,” Ryen replied. “I was right to think I might not make it to dinner, though. We really just got started. Luckily for me, the Hope decided we would meet again in the morning.”
“You mean the Board will meet in the morning, right? Not you, though?” Ahndru asked, adding four foil-wrapped ovals to the grill.
“The Hope wants me there, too,” Ryen told them. “To provide additional insight, answer more questions, that sort of thing.”
“More insight into what?” Toneya prodded. “What sort of questions did they ask?”
“It worked! Just like you said it would!” Shara came running back, holding her dragon in one hand and a flat, brass ring in the other. She waved the dragon around and make it look like it was flying.
“I’m free!” she said in a deeper voice. “Free to fly!”
“What’s your dragon’s name?” asked Ryen. “Or have you given him a name yet?”
Shara gave Ryen an annoying stare. “Of course I gave her a name,” she said, placing one hand on her hip. She stretched her other arm out towards Ryen’s face, holding the dragon.
“My name is Elyxia,” Shara said in her deeper voice. “And how dare you call me a he!”
Ryen laughed. Then he followed his chuckle with a gasp.
“When did you get that tattoo?” he asked Shara. Then, turning to Toneya, he added “It is a gorgeous dragon tat. But I NEVER thought you’d go for Shara getting any ink.”
Shara giggled. “It’s not a real tat, Uncle Ryen,” she confessed. “It’s the latest thing in clothing – removable and reusable tattoos. See?” She peeled off the dragon tat to prove to Ryen that it wasn’t a real tattoo. “Mom bought it for me today!”
“It feels like you are avoiding my questions, Ryen,” Toneya smiled. “How dare you?” she added, in a voice much like that Shara had given Elyxia.
“Dinner’s ready,” Ahndru interjected, turning off the infrared cooking grill.
Toneya brought her plate over, with the rare steak already on it, to get a baked zurchat, the Pairodice equivalent of a potato, but with the color of ripe eggplant and the texture of a peach. Ahndru served up each of the others a plate with steak and zurchat, ending with his own. They all sat down to eat.
“Salads, please, Jaysin,” Ahndru said over his shoulder, in the general direction of the glass door.
“Right away, sir,” answered the service bot standing by. Jaysin rotated, and wheeled toward the door. The door slid open, allowing the service bot to enter. It went to the cooling chamber, gathered four salads, one in each arm, and rotated again. While Jaysin was retrieving fresh, cool salads, Toneya started in on Ryen again.
“So what happened on Koronos? I realize you can’t tell us everything, but surely you can tell us something.”
“Here’s what I can tell you,” Ryen said, taking a bite of steak. “This meat is absolutely fantastic!”
“You should have let me cook the meat,” Shara said in her Elyxia voice. “I can breathe fire, you know.”
“Thank you,” Ahndru answered Ryen’s comment. “It’s all in my secret sauce.” He turned towards Shara. “Maybe you can cook the meat next time, Elyxia.”
“No toys at the dinner table,” Toneya scolded. “You know that, Shara.”
Shara put the base ring of the brass dome beside her plate. Then she placed Elyxia in the center of the ring, pressed a small button on the side, and the brass dome arose around Elyxia, sealing her off.
“You were about to tell us more about Koronos?” Toneya prodded again, looking at Ryen.
“It’s a good thing you’re the one grilling my uncle,” Shara muttered under her breath. “Elyxia would never cook him.”
“As you were saying?”Toneya pressed.
“And these baked zurchat are marvelous, Ahndru!” Ryen ignored her. “I know you don’t use your secret sauce on them. So what is your secret?”
“I’m waiting for an answer, mister.” Toneya glared at Ryen. “We deserve to know what’s going on out there.”
“Now you know what happens to me, any time I stay late for work or go out with the guys,” Ahndru chuckled. “She’s relentless. You might as well tell her anything and everything you can. She won’t stop until you do.”
Ryen wasn’t ready to give in yet; he was just as stubborn as his sister. “What did you think of that Parade, Shara? Which float was your favorite?”
“I really liked the one with Pairodice. Kayne, Abel, Adam and Eve. Which was your favorite, Uncle Ryen?”
“The Pairodice float was my favorite, too,” Ryen agreed with Shara.
“Nice try, brother,” Toneya interjected. “But if you want dessert, you’ll talk.”
“Well, the Board didn’t actually tell me I couldn’t talk about it,” Ryen relented.
“So talk. Or I’ll put you in that dome, with Elyxia.” Toneya pointed at the brass dome sitting beside Shara’s plate. “And eat while you spill your guts,” she added, taking a bite of her own steak.
“He wouldn’t fit in Elyxia’s Dome, mommy,” Shara pointed out the obvious to her mother. “He’s too big to fit in this little thing.”
“Not if I cut him up into little pieces. Then he might fit.” She brandished her steak knife at Ryen, laughing.
“Eww,” Shara made a face. “That’s gross.”
“I don’t think all of me would fit, even then,” Ryen went along with the joke. “Maybe a couple of smaller pieces, like an ear, and a nose.”
“I’m not sure I would use the word small when talking about your nose,” Toneya teased.
“Not in Elyxia’s dome,” Shara chided, reaching for her dragon’s brass dome. It wouldn’t budge, of course, since she had activated the tiny F-cells powering it. She made sure the grown-ups weren’t looking. Then she pressed the other button on the ring, and the F-cells turned off, collapsing the dome and exposing Elyxia. Now Shara grabbed her ring and her dragon protectively, and held them in her lap.
“Don’t think a little distraction will work,” Toneya smiled at Ryen. “I’m still waiting to hear what happened on Koronos.”
“Nothing happened on Koronos, really,” Ryen answered. “It’s more about what I saw while stationed there.”
“Sounds pretty boring,” Ahndru yawned.
“And what, exactly, did you see?” Toneya asked.
“Were there dragons?” Shara wanted to know.
“Why don’t we put these things away, and talk later? Maybe over dessert?” Ryen smiled at Toneya, nodded his head in Shara’s direction, and stood, picking up his empty plate.
“Come on Uncle Ryen, let’s play some games.” Shara rushed into the house, carrying her dragon and ring.
“And you had better stop playing games with me, and tell me more later, brother,” Toneya warned Ryen as she gathered up her own plate.
Shara just had to show Ryen her latest e-games on her tablet. He was surprised she enjoyed Bull’s Eye, an ancient word game made digital. Less surprising was her love of Smashing Sweetness, descendent of a long-ago game involving candy. Then they migrated to Ryen’s favorite, board games on real boards.
Ryen enjoyed the electronic games more than he expected. Those were cool. But he was old-school in his appreciation for games played on a physical board, with real pieces to handle. And live interaction, especially among family. Even though he was interacting with them when playing electronically, it wasn’t quite the same. And his preference wasn’t just due to his stay on Koronos – Ryen felt this way even before going off-planet.
After a non-electronic game of Yo, Ho, Ho, Jaycin served dessert; Ahndru’s Famous Cheesy Pie. After one bite, Toneya started in on Ryen again.
“So what did you see on Koronos?”
“Ahndru, you’ve outdone yourself this time,” Ryen praised his brother-in-law around a mouthful of cheesy pie. He raised two of the fingers holding his fork. Toneya noticed; one of their childhood codes, indicating they would talk later.
Finally it was time for Shara to go to bed. Ryen felt like going to bed himself by then, but he knew he wouldn’t escape without telling Toneya something. Once Shara was settled in and ready to get some sleep, Ryen read her a bedtime story. She snuggled up with Elyxia and drifted off as Ryen was reading the part about the companions and their quest to destroy the One Ring. After Shara fell asleep the grown-ups gathered downstairs.
“Drink?” Ahndru asked Ryen, heading to the bar.
“Spill,” Toneya demanded.
“Ice,” Ryen fired off. Then, seeing Toneya’s irate glare and Ahndru’s bemused look, he explained. “I thought we were playing a word association game. You know – drink, spill, . . . ice?”
“Sure you did,” Toneya replied, sarcasm dripping from her voice. “I’ll have an Eden Two Iced Tea from you,” she told Ahndru, “and a bedtime story about Koronos from you,” she added, giving Ryen a no-nonsense look and leading him firmly to the couch.
“I guess I’ll have an Eden Two, as well,” Ryen sighed, looking at Ahndru. “Ok, here goes . . .” He spent the next hour telling them what he saw and heard while he was on Koronos, and answering Toneya’s many questions. “This is even worse than reporting to the Board,” Ryen thought.