“St. Ulixes has been invaded!” Graham shouted as he burst in.
“Go back outside and come in again properly.”
“Go back outside and come in again properly. This is my home. Show some respect.”
She raised her eyebrow.
He went back outside and closed the door after him.
“How long are you going to make him suffer,” wondered Hero Hertling.
“Until he learns to come when he’s called,” replied Senta as Graham once again knocked.
“Maybe he was helping Gaylene with her new baby.”
“No, he was playing around down at City Hall,” replied Senta. Then she said, “Come in.”
Graham opened the door and stepped in. He took a deep breath and smiled.
“Good day ladies.”
“Good day sir,” said Senta.
“Hey Graham,” said Hero.
“I, um… have some news.”
“What is it?”
“St. Ulixes has been invaded!” His self-control gave way like a dam bursting. “The Freedonians attacked it with a full brigade of infantry and steam powered war machines. They used their airships to drop bombs. It’s only a matter of time till they’ve completely taken over Mallontah. Then they have a straight shot on the train directly toward us. The whole city is going crazy over the news.”
“That is exciting news,” said Senta, though she didn’t seem excited at all.
“What are we going to do?” asked Hero, who looked not only excited but terrified as well.
“General Staff has ordered all the Colonial Guard out to Iguanodon Heath so they can be ready. The volunteers are going to start training at the guard base tomorrow.”
“Did you sign up?” asked Senta. “I won’t associate with a dastard.”
“I can’t,” Graham replied, with a frown. “I have to supervise the lizzie crews. We’re going out tomorrow to dig trenches and build an observation tower.”
“As long as you’re doing your part.”
“Is Hertzel going with you?” asked Hero.
“Of course he is.”
“Well, enough of worldly matters,” said Senta. “Do you have my present?”
“I do.” Graham reached into his trouser pocket.
“It’s not your birthday,” observed Hero. Senta just smiled at her.
“Um, I have to give her a present every day for seven days,” said Graham, pulling out a tiny box. “This is number six.”
He handed the tiny box to Senta, who opened it and withdrew a small bejeweled key on a silver chain.
“It’s a skeleton key, so it opens all kinds of locks,” said Graham. “But the really brilliant part is that the handle is a magnifying lens.”
“Well… I don’t know…” said Senta.
“Oh come on! It’s the best one yet.”
“What other gifts has he given you?” wondered Hero.
“I gave her a fan, a kaleidoscope, and some gloves…”
“And a silver page marker,” finished Senta.
“Ooh, nice,” approved Hero, who appreciated book-related gifts above any others.
“All right, I think I like it.” Senta fastened the chain behind her neck, so that the key lay across her chest right next to the silver dragon that Graham had given her several years before.
“Well, I have to go,” said Hero, getting up from the comfy chair. She opened the door and then slammed it shut again. “Graham, your dinosaur is right outside.”
“Of course he is. How did you think I got here so quick.”
“Can you clear him out of the way? He might step on me.”
“Stinky wouldn’t do that. He’s very gentle.” But he went outside anyway and guided the iguanodon out of the yard and onto the street. “Come on Stinky. Let the nice girl pass.”
“You’re going to block traffic there,” said Senta, following the other two out the front door. “Why don’t you take him around to the side of the house?”
“He’s afraid of Bessemer. I’m going to take him home. I’ll come back later.”
Out on the brick street, Graham tapped the great beast’s front knee. The dinosaur stuck its foot out, and Graham stepped onto it, propelling himself up onto its back. There was no saddle as such, but there was a kind of strap that wrapped around the iguanodon’s neck, to keep its rider from slipping forward. Senta placed her hand on Stinky’s flank. The flesh beneath that pebbled skin wasn’t cold to the touch like a lizzie. It was warm.
Grasping a pair of reigns attached to the iguanodon’s head with a harness, Graham urged the animal down the street.
“See ya,” he waved.
“He could have given you a ride,” said Senta.
“Oh no, he couldn’t have.” Hero took her own route away from the tower.
Senta walked around to the side of the house and entered Bessemer’s barn. There atop the great pile of pillows was the steel dragon, sprawled out and asleep. He had been asleep now for a full week. Climbing over several pillows, Senta placed her hand upon his scaly skin. She already knew that he was so much warmer than the iguanodon. He was warmer than human skin.