It was earlier than usual in the afternoon when Lisbeth Zambrano returned home. She knew that her father was alert to any changes in her daily routine and she would have to tell him something that would probably make him curious, and he had heard more than enough than usual for him to be curious bout. And then there was the matter of the animal adoption that one of her classes insisted on. She knew that her father was not very fond of having pets, because he did not like the thought of having to take care of them, and she did not know how she would break it to him that she would need to have some sort of pet, preferably one from old earth and strange and exotic, for her to bond with. She wondered what the point of it was. But for the moment, at least, her irritation at having volleyball practice cancelled during the late afternoon and evening and her awkwardness about needing a pet was put out of her mind by what she happened to see.
What distracted her appeared to be a juvenile korinthidon that was in obvious distress in her backyard. She found korinthidons at least somewhat frightening, from what she knew of them, but she gathered that this one was in great suffering, though she did not know why, except she figured it was probably a bad thing that she was away from her parents. Come to think of it, she mused to herself, she had not seen any of the normal korinthodons about town today, and she wondered what was wrong because that was clearly unusual. Gathering up her courage, she walked out of the back entrance to her family’s modest and ordinary house and into her backyard. The dinosaur stopped, at least for the moment, her howling, and looked at her with a tilted head, as if she was curious. Lisbeth gauged her as being about the same age that she was, relatively speaking.
“Where are your parents?” Lisbeth asked thoughtfully.
The korinthidon acted as if she was about to cry.
“I don’t mean to hurt you,” she said thoughtfully. “I haven’t seen any of your kind around all day. Are you hiding from some sort of trouble?”
The dinosaur nodded her head, as if to agree.
“Is there any way I can help you?”
The dinosaur looked particularly thoughtfully at her, and after a pause of some seconds, rushed up to her and put her head together with Lisbeth’s. At first Lisbeth was very shocked, but before too long she realized what was going on, and that this scared young dinosaur was bonding with her. She wondered if this would help her complete her assignment, and figured that it would be sufficiently terrorizing to her classmates to bring a korinthidon to class that she had bonded with. At his moment she felt a great sorrow, and understood why it was that she had heard the dinosaur howling. The dinosaur’s feelings were somewhat complicated, but definitely very bad. First, the dinosaur seemed to be afraid of people, and missing her parents, which Lisbeth had been able to figure out. She probably came here because as loyal and patriotic servants of the empire, her family was probably the friendliest family to the dinosaur and her kind that could easily be found. In that, the dinosaur had guessed quite correctly that this was a safe place for her to be. There appeared to be more going on, though, a deep mourning over the passing of someone truly great. She wondered what it meant, and did not fully understand it, but there was a heaviness in her spirit all the same that she could not help but feel to the core of her being, even without knowing who she was mourning for.
She did not have long to think upon these matters, though, because soon the sound of her mother and father talking filled the front yard, and the sight of her bicycle would clue her parents into the fact that she was home early. “Well,” she supposed to herself, “I suppose we might as well get this conversation over as soon as possible and not delay, because father would be upset about it if I did not tell him what was going on right away.”
She looked at her new dinosaur friend, and a thought entered her head. “Do you want to come with me and meet my parents?” she said. The dinosaur nodded, and they decided to walk together to the front yard, where they met her surprised parents.
“Why are you home so early, and why is there a dinosaur with you,” her mother asked, with a firm grasp of the obvious.
“You have some explaining to do, young lady,” her father said, half playfully and half seriously.
“Welp, we might as well to it, then,” she said, deciding to explain as much as possible. “Today I was told that the gym was being used for another activity so volleyball practice was cancelled for tonight. I didn’t want to stay around in the Cultural District because the vibe there gave me the creeps, so I biked home as soon as I could. I noticed around town that all of the usual korinthidons that hang around the parks and corners were missing, but when I got home this girl was howling and crying and obviously upset. I talked with her and tried to calm her down a bit, and then she rushed up and put her forehead against mine for a few minutes.”
“Yes, I think so,” Lisbeth answered. “And that sort of answers the second thing I was going to tell you, and that is the assignment that my teachers gave me to adopt an animal for a class assignment. Can we keep her? She’s not a pony, but she’ll do.”
At this the dinosaur tilted her head thoughtfully, wondering what a strange child this was. Lisbeth’s parents looked at each other for a beat, and then her mother replied. “I can see you guys are going to have some police business to discuss, so I’ll get started on dinner.”
“Thanks muchly, mami,” her father said, gathering up his wife in a big hug and kiss before she happily walked inside.
“Do I understand it correctly that there are other people using the gymnasium tonight?”
“That’s correct, dad.”
“And you don’t have a good feeling about what is going on?”
“Not at all. The department of culture has been more than usually secretive recently, and in all of my classes there has been a big push to learn things relating to old earth. A lot of my classmates have gone around to putting black squares on their personal profiles and it is really frightening,” Lisbeth said, shuddering a bit at some of the things she remembered in reading about the history of old earth. “That time was scary. I don’t want those days to come again.”
“As God is my witness, I will do everything that is within my power to keep those dark days in the past,” her father said to her. “And it appears you might be able to help us.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Is there anything unusual about the gym and where it is in your school? I can’t remember ever being allowed inside to see your games,” he said.
“It is near the main street, not far from the museum and department of culture headquarters. There are only two entrances into the gym, one of them from the locker rooms, which join together on one side of the gym, and the other from the streets. You can’t get there from the school itself without first going into the locker rooms, and that is not an easy task, so if you want to get into the gym from the school you have to leave the school grounds and come around from the main street entrance.”
“Can you draw a sketch of it?”
“Sure,” she took out her console and showed a map of her school and sketched out the entrance points to the gym.
“You don’t know any details about who is using the school and for what purposes,” her father said.
“No,” she said.
“Alright, let’s eat quickly, then, as I think we both might be busy tonight, and this is information that my coworkers are going to need to know. By the way, it looks like your help in getting us a map of the cultural district, or the autonomous zone as they like to call it, has been been noted and praised, and my boss’ boss is trying to see if you can get an imperial service scholarship for university out of it.”
“Yes, am I one to joke about such a thing?”
“That would be amazing, dad,” she said, hugging him tightly and happily.
It was at this point that a neighbor decided to slink up to disrupt this moment of intergenerational family happiness.
“Excuse me, Mr. Zambrano,” the neighbor began in a tone of mock concern.
“Yes,” the officer replied, an eyebrow raised. “Is there a problem?”
“Actually, there is,” the neighbor replied, about ready to site chapter and verse. “According to addendum 514 of the residential code of Cherry Hill, recently enacted by the Department of Culture, no unbonded dinosaurs are allowed to roam in public. If you don’t mind, and even if you do, I am going to have to call this one in for removal.”
The three of them started at the neighbor blankly.
“Do you want to break the bad news to him or shall I,” stated the officer.
“What bad news?” the neighbor piped up. “This dinosaur is not supposed to be roaming around freely. She’s supposed to be locked up with the rest of her kind.”
The dinosaur looked at the neighbor slightly menacingly, a look that was surprisingly matched by the two people beside her.
“Technically speaking,” the officer began, “it has just been reported to me by my daughter that this is not an unbonded dinosaur, and that the two of them bonded just this afternoon. Do I have that correct?”
His daughter and the dinosaur both nodded their heads in agreement.
“I see,” said the neighbor. This is most irregular.”
“These are irregular times,” the daughter said, adopting a mock serious tone in response.
“Indeed they are,” said the neighbor. “I will still have to report that your family has bonded with one of these creatures, and the department of culture will want to come by and visit you and register you accordingly.” He had a wide grin, obviously not a good sign.
“I would be happy to visit the department of culture myself with my daughter and her new friend to explain it to them ourselves,” the officer stated, with a slight grin.
The neighbor shuddered to himself, waving a farewell and crossing himself as he walked back to his house, his mission having been far less successful than he hoped in trying to intimidate someone who clearly had a high disregard for the rules and procedures of the department of culture and who was now even more dangerous that his family was connected with those horrible reptiles.
“Do you have any homework due tomorrow,” the officer asked his daughter.
“I was able to get all my homework done earlier this week,” she replied. “I was expecting to have practice tonight so I made sure to get everything done beforehand since I figured I would be busy until pretty late tonight.”
“Well, it looks like you might be busy tonight,” the officer said. “I’m going to relay your information to my antima team, and it’s possible we might be going into the cultural district tonight on a surprise visit.”
“Would I be allowed?”
“Certainly,” the officer said. “You might even be leading a team of soldiers into the gym through the locker rooms.”
“Are you sure they would allow that to a civilian?”
“Well, you’d be a guide, and certainly adopted as one of us. I’m pretty sure they will be very happy to have the help.”
“And I would be happy to help,” the daughter said. The dinosaur nodded in agreement as well.
“You can both help, then,” the officer said, “as long as it is okay with my superiors.” I can’t see why it wouldn’t be, though, he said to himself seriously. In the meantime, though, I think we need to get our dinner eaten, because it’s going to be a long night, more than likely.”