Stardust – Episode One: The Cosmic Forge

Jeremiah. He was no stranger to dreams. Jeremiah Adams knew that they were dreams, even though they seemed real sometimes. He dreamed now, vividly. It was so real to him that he could swear that the voice was audible to anyone around. Jeremiah Adams. Wake.

The man opened his eyes slowly. It was the first time in a long while that a dream had waked him. Jeremiah sat up and looked around, drowsily at his room. He could not remember his dream, nor what had caused him to wake up inside that dream. All he knew was that something had called his name.

He was fairly young, fresh out on his own, having broken away from his parents just a few weeks before. No one could mistake him for being any younger or older than his actual age of nineteen years. Whenever someone guessed it right, he would always ask how they guessed. Usually the reply was a vague notion that he just didn't look like he could be any other age. This led to him rolling his eyes and shrugging it off, usually with a vow to try and look a bit older from then on, which never succeeded.

Jeremiah was scrawny as well, hardly any muscle. He supposed that working in a fast food restaurant did not mean that he necessarily had an active lifestyle. This, combined with his place of employment had the effect of turning away the opposite sex, something for which he was eternally complaining about.

It was not that he did not look handsome, just not particularly special. Brown hair, brown eyes and a darker shade of skin had not been totally removed by genetic dilution. He was just average, except for an over active imagination. And except for one last detail, he really was average in every way.

That was why he woke. Because of that peculiarity, one that he knew not existed had called to those who did. Jeremiah, get dressed. You are being summoned. The communication, not quite audible but certainly clear, had woken him gently.

It was a first for him to wake in the middle of the night. The moon had already set behind the hilly horizon, but the stars were shining brightly through his window. Still, he was in shadows. Jeremiah, we need to leave. He turned the lamp on beside him. The room was empty save for him and his belongings.

"Who's there," he asked, quietly. The apartment almost echoed with the ensuing stillness. I need a drink, he thought. A glass of warm milk sounded good to him right now. Or even better, hot tea and a bit of milk. He pulled on a shirt and made for the small kitchen area of the apartment. "Tea. Maybe with cream instead."

Unfortunately, he did not have any cream, and only just enough milk. The water heated in minutes inside his microwave oven and soon he settled down in an armchair with his tea. There isn't anything better than tea, is there, he asked himself contentedly. He supposed that it was a good thing he had the next day off.

No, there is not. Please hurry outside, Jeremiah. What was that? The man had no clue where that—thing—was coming from. It was as if it came out of nowhere, or like whatever was using telepathy. Or at the very least it was using something similar. Jeremiah, outside I am waiting for you.

"Alright, who is that?" He stood and set his tea on a close by table. He had had enough of whatever it was. "I'm not going anywhere until I find out why you woke me up and why you continue to keep me awake."

I am the Star Shepherd, Jeremiah; a living ship come to bring you back to the masters. You may sleep on board. In fact I would prefer it. Eh? Did it just say living ship? As in it was alive and breathing and intelligent? Was it possible that Jeremiah was still dreaming?

He pinched himself and found out otherwise. Still, it could have just been him. Maybe the milk he had with his tea had already gone bad? Thinking along those lines, he checked the expiration date. May twenty-sixth was a week away and the milk had not tasted bad to him. Was it something in the water?

Jeremiah, it will be explained.

"Just a minute," he said, still quietly, for the dim light in the kitchen invited subtlety. "I can't go anyway. I have a job and life to live." The ship almost seemed to laugh at that, like it was humorous to some unknown degree. It was a hearty laugh, pleasant and infectious to the point where Jeremiah wanted to laugh with it. "What's so funny?"

Your life will have no meaning unless you come, Jeremiah. Please come outside. I am waiting and dawn is almost upon us. The human sighed and pulled on a pair of sweat pants. He was obviously not getting any rest until he had appeased this thing, and anyway, he could spare a day away from the world.

"Have it your way," he said, closing the door gently behind him and locking it. He crept down the halls and down the stairs equally as silent. He passed a clock on the way that read three in the morning. "I had better not be wasting my time," he muttered, creeping out the front door.

This is no time waste, Jeremiah. He examined the surrounding area outside his building and found nothing out of the ordinary at first glance. The alley behind this building, Jeremiah. You will find me there.

Jeremiah rolled his eyes again, annoyed. Being outside, he allowed himself to make a bit more noise, but the night still seemed to shout at him to be silent. There was just something about it that made the night seem to have a solemnly sacred feel to it. "Why do I need to go anyway?"

It will be explained once I deliver you to the masters, the ship told him. This human had a nervous feel to him. Being empathetic, it felt emotions that were quite sensitive. This human was annoyed, frustrated—most definitely because he had lost sleep over this—and weary of everything. Trust me, Jeremiah.

At that moment Jeremiah turned into the alley. At first he saw nothing but blackness where streetlights did not get through. But then a slight shimmer out of the corner of his eye caught the man's attention. It was faint at first, but grew brighter until a full shape was outlined in front of him.

The Star Shepherd was vaguely disk-like in form, tall enough for a man to stand in and easily sit comfortably. How else to describe it was lost on Jeremiah due to shock at first, and then later to the fact that it appeared black to him. Once the door opened to him, he was still unable to see anything, even inside.

Jeremiah, come. Jeremiah went to the hatch, cautiously so as not to get hurt. The ship sensed it and replied accordingly, dimming its internal lights ever so slightly to appear more welcoming. Jeremiah, I am an ally. You can trust me. Still, the ship knew that he was not coming in willingly.

By now, however, Jeremiah was standing on the hatch. Getting him inside would require forceful action on the part of the Star Shepherd that would hopefully not cause injury to Jeremiah. If that happened, it would require some explaining and probably disciplinary action on the part of the ship's masters. Still, the Star Shepherd closed the hatch and the human tumbled inside.

"Ack! What the heck!" he shouted, now a bit frightened. "Let me out of here!" Jeremiah did not seem to be injured. Medical scans indicated a high level of adrenaline and tenseness in the human's body. The Star Shepherd conjectured that this was due to fear, understandable under the circumstances.

The ship spoke accordingly, now audible since the human came aboard. "Jeremiah, I apologize for my actions. But otherwise you would not have come with me." The ship paused and waited for Jeremiah to cease pounding on its walls. After minutes, it realized the futility of this and spoke again anyway. "Jeremiah, you are beginning to damage me. Please take a seat in the front. The view is quite spectacular, as you would say."

Spectacular? The sudden piercing thought that the ship had been moving for quite some time dumfounded him. Then it frightened him again, this time making back away from the padded walls. "What view," he stuttered. "Where are you taking me? What did I do that I deserve this?"

"The view of Earth, Jeremiah." The ship displays were incredible. The Star Shepherd had been given the ability to present a display of the outside three hundred and sixty degrees around the circumference of its hull. It displayed only the front sixty degrees for Jeremiah, sparing him the full shock of being in space. "Your world is beautiful, Jeremiah. But we must make for the masters' home."

"Where is that," he wondered aloud. If it were as bad as this, he could only guess how much worse it could be. The masters did not sound appealing to him, especially if this ship had kidnapped him. "On second thought, I don't want to know."

"That is for the best then," said the Star Shepherd to Jeremiah. It would keep the human awake for the entire journey, and fear would most likely destroy him if he knew. The Star Shepherd could not allow that. It had been assigned to the human as a means of transportation—permanently it would have guessed had it been capable. Instead it hypothesized, based on information that it received and the vocal quality of the masters. "You must sleep instead, Jeremiah. The rest will do you well. When you wake, you will meet the masters."

The seat in what could be considered a cockpit seemed comfortable to Jeremiah anyway. There was unquestionably no escape from the ship for him. And it seemed he was destined to meet these masters, whatever they were. Jeremiah sighed and sat, trying to make the best of it.

"It could be worse, I suppose," he commented, yawning.

"How so?"

"I could be outside." The ship laughed again mildly, its soothing voice calming Jeremiah, who began to laugh with it. Outside is worse, he reminded himself. Or I could be burned to death inside the sun's core. The ship stopped laughing at the moment he thought of the sun, pausing for a moment before continuing its laughter.

The break went unnoticed by Jeremiah and he relaxed a little within the seat and watched the stars for a while as the ship orbited Earth. It was now that he fully took in the interior of the ship, the living ship. Aside from a small circular walkway, it was padded and entirely empty, aside from obvious controls in front of his chair. He wondered what they were but decided not to touch them lest he accidentally do something stupid.

The padding was a dark, rusty coloring that suggested something about Mars to Jeremiah. He asked and received a negative response. Again, the human sighed. He wanted another cup of tea, this time with cream and milk fresh from the cow. This could still be a dream.

"This is no dream. There is a compartment under your seat, Jeremiah. Your tea is there, with cream and milk." The ship was attuned to his thoughts as well as his emotions and sensed the desire for tea. Thankfully the masters had equipped the Star Shepherd with provisions for such things. "After that, it would be good for you to sleep. I will not bother you again until I land."

It had not lied; Jeremiah noticed when he smelled the tea. It was there, just like he had been told. The milk and cream were in two small metal cylinders and he poured to his liking. Jeremiah could definitely say it was the best tea he had ever had. There was something inhumanly pleasant about it that piqued his taste buds.

"Now sleep, Jeremiah," the ship told him. Again, it had had to resort to forceful methods to make sure that the human arrived safely. I apologize again, Jeremiah. But you must sleep. The Star Shepherd had also been provided medical supplies in case of an emergency. Included were mild sedatives, which it had used to put Jeremiah to sleep for the journey. The masters would ask why there were chemicals in the human's system.

But, the human had not been willing to do anything he had been asked, neither to come aboard nor to sleep. So the ship had acted in Jeremiah's best interests. That would be all the masters would need to hear. The Star Shepherd prepared itself for a long flight and began monitoring its internal systems, regulating temperature and radiation, and generally taking good care of itself and its passenger.

Even with all of this going on, the ship had time to get bored, as it had done on the transit to Earth. It puzzled the ship that it could become bored, like a human or any other life form. The Star Shepherd knew it was alive, knew that it had a mind and thought processes, needs and desires, but never thought it desired to have something to do. It was a shame that the ship could not sleep. That would have been something to do.

Jeremiah had been immersed into a peaceful, restful sleep. Brain activity suggested that he was dreaming again, and indeed he was. Not that he would remember it much afterwards, and he was only nebulously aware of it now. To him it was more going with the flow than creating his own images. It could hardly have been considered normal to any extent of the word. These visions were of things that could not be explained, described in gestures, much less told about in words.

Crystal cities millions of years old, volcanic plains that were inhabited by fiery creatures, forests of trees thousands of feet high—even a vision of a subterranean society filtered in and out of Jeremiah's dreams. Yet, tragically, he could never remember them. Even now the effects of the sedatives were wearing off and he would soon wake. The visions were fading into darkness with every moment.

"Jeremiah, please wake." The human recognized the voice easily and groaned. It had not been a hallucination, the ship had been real and he was still aboard. "Jeremiah, we are nearing our destination. Please wake." Was it possible for a machine to hate him? Why couldn't it have just let him sleep?

"Let me go back to sleep," he moaned. He never enjoyed getting up out of bed. The ship found it difficult to imagine what was so impossible about waking up after a rest. Jeremiah should have been ready to go at that moment. Yet he whined like a small child at the prospect of opening his eyes.

"Jeremiah, you are fully rested."

"I don't care! Let me sleep, dang you!" He turned and rolled over in the chair, eyes still closed. "And turn down the heat, I'm sweating like a pig." With that he began snoring again, much to the ship's dismay. Forceful action was required again of it. The Star Shepherd sighed and dumped Jeremiah out of the chair, roughly.

"Wake up, Jeremiah," it said firmly, watching as Jeremiah picked himself up carefully. There was a bruise starting to form on his arm, but that was only a minor injury. "I am sorry, but we will land in only minutes. I have taken the liberty of making you fresh attire for the occasion, Jeremiah. Your clothes are in the back."

"You sew?" the human asked, incredulously. The bloody machine was a jack-of-all-trades! Jeremiah went to the back and found a neatly folded set of clothes, brand new somewhat stylish. "Aren't they a bit like a—I don't know—a uniform?" He had picked the shirt up and found it reminding him of his work cloths, only where his nametag should have been was a gold bar instead and three strange characters.

"Yes, they are. I have inspected your 'work' clothes and based them off that." The ship was surprised to hear a gargled exclamation from Jeremiah, but dismissed it as a positive reaction. "Please put them on, Jeremiah. This is a very important day in the universe."

The human began to oblige the machine, and pulled off his shirt. "A bit of privacy please?" he said, pausing and looking down at the pants. "You can at least give me that, can't you? It's not like I can escape or anything."

The ship thought for a very brief moment, only pico-seconds, before replying. "Very well, I will shut off my internal sensors and re-activate them in two minutes. Dress yourself quickly, Jeremiah." It shut down the internal sensors like it promised and focused on guiding itself into the masters' home.

"Right-e-oh, Hal." If the ship could have blinked, it would have. The reference was easily recognizable to it. Why Jeremiah had made it was lost on the machine, however. "So why is it so bloody hot in here? I take it we're closer to old Sol than we were when you drugged me."

"Yes—much closer, Jeremiah." So he had known? That could put a damper on their future relationship, if the ship was correct and they were assigned together. "The masters make their home very close to the center of your solar system."

"Venus?" Jeremiah pulled up the pants that had been given him. "Or closer? Mercury maybe?" Two polished, black shoes lay in a corner and he grabbed them. He pulled them on and tied them quickly.

"Inside what you call Sol, at its core," the ship told him. "Your two minutes are over, Jeremiah. I am bringing my internal systems back on line now." Now that the Star Shepherd could see its work, it was pleased with itself. "Do they fit you well enough, Jeremiah? I took precise measurements of you."

The cloths were the least of Jeremiah's worries now. "Did you just say what I think you said?" The ship made a positive response. "Inside the sun! I'll fry instantly we go in there! Your masters are crazy!"

"You are already inside the outer core. It is perfectly safe for you, Jeremiah." It was bound to be a long argument with the human, the ship knew. The proposed impossibilities that Jeremiah clung to were laughable at best and each time he brought them up the ship corrected him. "The masters keep themselves secret for a reason, Jeremiah. It will be explained to you by them."

By the time that Jeremiah had run out of ideas to contest his leaving the ship, he had run out of breath as well. Then he simply refused to leave the ship; much like a small child needs to be dragged away from the cereal isle at a grocery store. He even pouted. "I won't go, and you can't make me."

"I won't have to make you do anything. I simply need call the masters and they will take care of the situation." Had it really come down to threats? Again, the ship laughed, leaving Jeremiah to wonder exactly what was being laughed about. "Jeremiah," the ship said at last, "you would much prefer to exit yourself, I think, rather than be escorted out by the masters."

There was slight tremble throughout the ship then. "What was that," Jeremiah asked, a tad nervous. "I told you it wasn't safe in here but no one listens to me! Now we're both gonna die and it's your fault."

"You are hyperventilating, Jeremiah," it informed him rather needlessly. "If you will calm yourself, I have landed and that was the shudder you felt." Jeremiah did not calm exactly, but was slightly relieved that he had not been crushed or burned to death yet. "The masters' leader is outside waiting for you."

"Oh no, not gonna happen, Hal." Again, there was the reference to the evil super computer? The Star Shepherd was beginning to think that the human disliked him somewhat. Or, at least, he thought that the ship was pushy.

"I am opening the hatch, Jeremiah. Please stand." There was a slight hissing sound as the pressure door was released and Jeremiah felt a burst of warm, and strangely not hot, air enter the ship. "You see, Jeremiah, you are still alive and in perfect health. You must learn to trust me."

"Then you must have lied and I'm nowhere near the sun, let alone it's core," the human grumbled. He stood, reassured that the machine was full of itself and incorrect in its assumption that they were inside the sun's core. "It doesn't even look like the sun."

"And you've seen the inside before," a voice asked. It was a deep voice, but very jovial sounding, like an old man feeding birds. "I assure you, Star Shepherd is correct. This is what you would consider your sun's core." Still, it sounded like one word could vaporize him, not that it would.

Jeremiah still did not like the idea of "outside" the ship. When he did step out of the hatch, he did not see the source of the voice, this master that the ship was speaking about. However, the entire landscape—actually it was more of a cityscape—was in shades of so-called hot colors; reds, yellows, oranges and the occasional blue or violet gave it the feeling of being extremely warm and welcoming. The buildings, skyscrapers each and every one, towered everywhere and reflected a myriad of colors from a high clouded ceiling.

He had seemed to land in what would normally be a green area, like a park, if it were green. Plant-life in the vicinity had held true with the same color scheme, though every now and then he caught a blooming flower that looked almost out of place. It was quite beautiful to him, and pleasantly warm.

"I am Galtahn," the voice said, at last stepping into view. Jeremiah, however, was too caught up in his surroundings to notice the new addition of a giant who seemed to be on fire. Indeed, he was made up of orange flames. Galtahn was a bulky figure, though, and had a clearly defined face—his eyes were made of a much darker shade of red, as was the mouth.

"Jeremiah," Galtahn said again. "Jeremiah?"

Jeremiah was not really paying attention to anything any more. The second time that Galtahn addressed him Jeremiah turned to face him, and became a vegetable, if only for a few moments. Still, it required Galtahn to wait for him to become coherent again. In the mean time, it gave the Star Shepherd the chance to explain that Jeremiah had been unwilling to come and that it required "mildly forceful actions," as the ship put it. Therefore, it would be prudent to expect there to be at least one or two bumps or bruises on the human.

Galtahn laughed at that, and asked what kind of actions the ship took. "I was required to "dump" him twice, once by closing the hatch and the second out of the control chair."

"It would seem that you have adapted to your role quite well," Galtahn told the ship happily. The intelligence that his people had integrated into the Star Shepherd had adopted a personality of its own as well. The design for the ship was a complex one. They had never attempted something quite so extraordinary. "I am pleased with your development. What else?"

"I administered a sedative to him so that he would rest," said the Star Shepherd, tentatively. It was not sure whether having drugged the human would be frowned upon or whether the masters would discard the idea as necessary. "I have monitored him closely to make sure that there are no residual effects."

"You see, your Hal 9000 drugged me."

"Ah! Jeremiah!" The giant's booming voice welcomed Jeremiah like a thunderclap. "You do not know how glad my people are that you are among us at last! From our larger sister Deneb to the Dog Star, and all the way across the universe, you are being hailed as our last hope."

Dog Star? Serius, the ship told him telepathically. Very bright and respected community, it is. We may visit them someday. So what did the giant mean by last hope? From the looks of it, they could take great care of themselves.

"Walk with me, Jeremiah. I will explain it all to you." The giant extended what looked to be a hand, though to the human it was like a massive paw. "I and my people are made from the fires that give your world light, but we will not harm you unintentionally, Jeremiah. Our fire is benign."

Yeah, real comforting, he said to himself. Just why should he trust this Galtahn fellow anyway? He sent that ship to kidnap him, and not only that but it had drugged him as well. This is going to be a very long day. Too long, in fact. Still, what had Jeremiah to lose? This Galtahn wanted him to follow; follow where, Jeremiah had no idea. But he went.

"My people are what you would call smiths. We forge things," Galtahn declared as the two walked. Jeremiah was leaving the park area now, and entering the city. Giants, all of them very similar to Galtahn, strolled around the promenade to and fro, going about their lives. "That is what we were created to do, forge. But what we forge is something incredible, even to us."

"And just what do you craft?" asked Jeremiah. If that ship were any indication, it would be impressive. "I have to wonder, is it anything to do with space ships?"

Galtahn laughed, heartily and loudly. "Oh no, Jeremiah! We make life! Some humans believe that they were created from dust, Jeremiah, and they are right." He breathed deep and a wisp of smoke escaped his mouth as he exhaled. "Jeremiah, we forge from the ashes of our own kind. All life—except my own race—is created from stardust. Even the Star Shepherd was forged from one of our own. From our deaths, life is created. Your world is one of the newest created."

"Stardust?" The human shook his head, disbelieving. It was understandable that he should be skeptical about such things. Every day he was faced with people who told him that this sort of adventure could not possibly happen. "So you mean to tell me that, not only is there other life, but that you people are gods?"

The giant stopped and turned to face Jeremiah, kneeling and getting himself to the human's eye level as best he could. "We are not gods, Jeremiah, but servants of God. Some of your kind call us angels, but even that is too much for what we are. We are simply crafters of life, Star-Giants. Sol was formed as a home for us, a place from which we created your kind and your world."

The human seemed to be taking it well, after the vegetable status he had fallen into at the beginning. The real test would come, though, soon enough. "But there are others of our kind, Jeremiah, who sabotage our work. They are called the Star Killers, workers who try to destroy life rather than create it."

Galtahn could read it well on the face of this human. What did it have to do with him? Why did the giants of the stars, the life-smiths, need a simple human—one of their creations? What was important about humans, especially about someone as average as Jeremiah Adams?

"Tell me, do you know what your last name means, Jeremiah?" the Star-Giant asked, standing again to his full height. Jeremiah made no response. "It means you are a descendant of the first man. Of the Earth, I am told. But you, there is something special about. You are the last direct descendant of his son, Seth."

"Seth?" Days in Sunday school popped back into his head where he had heard only a few brief mentions of Seth. "Wasn't that Adam's third son?" he asked, not sure of himself but thinking it better to take a chance.

"Yes," Galtahn replied, "Seth was the first son of the child of fire. Because of that, you have a great spark within you; one that will be very difficult for the Star Killers to extinguish."

"And you want me to stop them?"

Are all humans this difficult, Galtahn wondered to himself. Having never actually spoken to his creations, Galtahn had not expected Jeremiah to be so disbelieving and so untrusting. The human could almost be called sarcastic. It was more than enough to start him wondering if all humans were that way. The Star-Giant shook the thought away.

"We cannot do it ourselves, nor can we mount an effective defense. We cannot leave the forges unprotected, else they might take one. They're numbers are already well in advance of ours. Another forge would be catastrophic for the universe."

If the Star-Giants could not even lend defend themselves, what could one lone human do to stop them? "You can't be serious, can you? You guys, living at the heart of a star, can't even leave here? Are they like the size of galaxies, then?"

"Just a black-hole, Jeremiah." The human thought he was going alone? Galtahn must have unintentionally implied it. "If you have not already guessed, Jeremiah, we have called you to ask your help against the Star Killers. We have—"

"I knew it! You want me to risk my neck because you're too busy hiding!" Mentally, Jeremiah was having a blast of a good time laughing at the assumed cowardice of the Star-Giants. "I've got a life to live, so no thanks."

Galtahn waited patiently for him to settle down again, not interrupting. The human continued rambling on for some time before he realized that Galtahn was becoming annoyed with him. And, since Jeremiah had a little common sense, he silenced himself.

"If you are finished," the giant said at length, "we are assigning the Star Shepherd to accompany you on your travels. In addition, we have forged one more being as a companion for you." There was only a slight, uncomfortable shrug from Jeremiah to show that he had been listening. "Will you come with me to the forge, Jeremiah? I will introduce you."

The man nodded and Galtahn began striding along at a slow pace. They passed again through several squares within the city. After what seemed an interminable walk, they came to a rather large building, even by the Star-Giants' standards, that's door was plated in a gold alloy.

The forge inside was just as impressive, though not plated in gold. It stood against the far wall of a room left entirely open, with several levels layered one after another. Jeremiah could see the Star-Giants tending the flames and hammering out something. Molds were stacked against the walls, some of them vaguely human shaped and others made for distinctly animalistic creatures. Above him, Galtahn waved his flaming hand expansively at the handy-work being done by his people.

"Not bad," Jeremiah said dismissively. The giant only rolled his eyes at him. Secretly, the human was impressed though. He could never have imagined a forge that could create life from virtually nothing. Physically, at least to his mind, the task was impossible. Yet here it was, right in front of him. "Not bad at all," he repeated, a little more thoughtfully.

"I am glad you appreciate it, then, Jeremiah, because your companion is ready to step out of the forge."

Galtahn lifted his hands and ordered the forge to be opened. Then, a bit too theatric in Jeremiah's opinion, Galtahn boomed, "Lazarus! Come out!" The giant's voice echoed for a little while off the high, vaulted ceiling and then the only sound in the room was that of Jeremiah snickering.

Galtahn, looking a bit deflated, glared down at him with his arms still raised high above his head. "You will not laugh for long when the your star-dragon greets you, Jeremiah."

Abruptly, as if Galtahn's silent discourse with Jeremiah had cued him, a eight-foot-long fiery orange dragon bounded out of the golden forge. His eyes were crystalline, as were the talons on each of its four legs, and the barbs on its tail. Lazarus the star dragon was headed straight for Jeremiah too, and was what brought his snickering to an immediate end.

"Jeremiah!" it roared happily, tackling Jeremiah. "The told me you were coming today! I was excited so much that the almost didn't give me my wings!" The dragon roared again, spreading its wings into a full fifteen foot wingspan and then wrapped them tight around Jeremiah nuzzling him softly.

All the while, the human was squirming vainly to get out of the dragon's grasp and away from it. Eventually the star dragon noticed this and let him go, wondering why Jeremiah was trying to get away from him. "Did I do something wrong, Galtahn?" Lazarus asked sadly. He had hoped Jeremiah would be glad to see him as well.

"No, Lazarus. Jeremiah is just—nervous—about the mission we have give you two." The dragon nodded its big head and smiled a toothy, slightly insane looking smile. He got it. Jeremiah was just nervous like he was.

"Don't worry, Jeremiah!" Lazarus called to him. "I won't let you down!" And with that, the dragon bounded after him. Jeremiah had run for a long time, it seemed before Lazarus finally caught up with him. Lazarus found the human banging on the Star Shepherd's hatch, begging to be let in and away from him.

In fact, Jeremiah had not even noticed that Lazarus was behind him until the dragon's head was nestled gently on his shoulder. "Jeremiah? I'm a friend… There's no need to be nervous about stopping the Star Killers. I'll be with you, and the Giants will be there to help us when they can."

"Let me in!"

"Jeremiah!" Galtahn shouted, having followed Lazarus, a few moments behind. "Jeremiah, this star dragon is your companion and an ally. Lazarus will not fail you and will keep you safe through the danger."

"I will Jeremiah," Lazarus promised him. "We'll go to Deneb first and see what we can do there to help defend them, like Galtahn told me we would." The dragon nuzzled him again and gently pulled him back from the Star Shepherd's hatch.

Galtahn said something to the ship that neither Lazarus nor Jeremiah understood. But the dragon did not need to understand. His thoughts were on Jeremiah, who seemed not to like him very much. That was bad, but it could be fixed. Galtahn had told him that they would be good friends.

"You will go to Deneb as Lazarus said," Galtahn told Jeremiah, once he had calmed down again. "They are near where the Star Killers have been working and their defenses must be strengthened. I will send word to them that you are on your way, and to receive you accordingly, Jeremiah."

"But I—Deneb?"

"Yeah, Jeremiah!" Lazarus urged. "The blue giant star! I want to go and see it, please?" The dragon nudged him forward into the hatch and through the small internal halls of the ship. "I promise it'll be fine, Jeremiah!"

The hatch closed and Jeremiah had the distinct feeling that he had been duped again by these people. Now he was stuck on an interstellar mission with a talking ship and a dragon that seemed to want to be his best friend. Vaguely, through the mental fog of realizing that he would most likely not see his ramshackle apartment again, he wondered if the Star Shepherd would drug him again, or if the dragon would just knock him out.

Then with a burst of light the view outside the ship shifted to open stars and a massive ball of fire behind them. The dragon gasped, tickled pink that it was finally able to see the homes of the Star Giants who had created him. "Jeremiah," he said absently, "it's so pretty."

Fin