Of all the alternate universes in existence, Para Sympan is the most like our own. There are only a few minor differences. For example, like our world, Para Sympan has a Washington State and a Seattle and a Sea-Tac Airport. The only minor difference is the dragons living in the Cascades.
The mountains are home to thirty-six species of dragon which means trouble for travelers flying out of Sea-Tac from March through May.
You see, this is mating season for dragons and the lovesick young males often confuse aircraft for females to be wooed or rivals to fight. Either way, it poses a danger to departing and returning flights.
Fighter jets circle the airport every spring to protect passenger planes. Most dragons won’t fly above ten thousand feet, so defense is only required during takeoff and landing. Dragons are a protected species. While it is illegal to shoot them down, it is acceptable to scare them off with a warning shot. Usually this is sufficient. Usually.
Several years ago, there was one dragon who was not so easily dissuaded. His name was Herbert and he has become a local legend.
He flew down from the mountains one spring, passed over the airport, and spotted the emerald green of an Intermittent Airlines 737. From the moment he saw her, he was completely and totally in love. They had so much in common. They were both green, they both had a lingering kerosene scent, and they both emitted smoke. He watched her as she left the gate and taxied to the runway.
She gave a magnificent roar as she leapt into the air. He flew after her, mistaking the hum of her engines for the purrs of a broody female. No amount of warning shots could keep him from pursuing. He followed higher and higher calling out to her in dragonish:
“Come back, my beautiful! Let us go into the mountains and make eggs together! I will bring you dead cows! As many dead cows as you would like!”
As she ascended higher above the clouds, his pleas became more earnest.
“Where are you going, my beloved? How is it you fly so high? Come back to me! I will bring you more dead cows than anyone ever has! We shall have a beautiful nest with green and yellow chicks. Their little mouths shall be crimson with the blood of cows! Come back to me, beloved!”
He followed her higher and higher until the air became too thin for him to ascend farther. Even then, he followed her from below for miles calling to her until she disappeared from site. Then he returned to the airport, flopped down at her gate, stuck his nose in the ramp and made mournful sounds.
The ground crew shouted and threw things, but nothing could drive him away from that sacred place. Airline staff scrambled to reassign gates. The airport called animal control but animal control was not equipped to handle this kind of situation. A specialist was called in from Point Defiance Zoo.
Her name was Dr. Diana Diaz and she was a herpetologist who specialized in dragons.
Most people like puppies and kittens and furry critters. Dr. Diaz liked feeding furry critters to her reptiles. She had a warm heart for the cold blooded.
She prepared a sedative while the animal control team located a crane and the largest tractor trailer they could find. Diaz had a tranquilizer gun designed specifically for dragons. It looked like a rocket launcher but fired a giant syringe.
They sedated the great beast and loaded him onto the truck. (They had to add a second trailer as one wasn’t large enough, even with Herbert curled up.) Dr. Diaz took his measurements and injected a tracking device under his scales.
“He looks like a Herbert, don’t you think?” She commented to one of her assistants and that is how he got his name.
The dragon awoke the next morning alone in his natural habitat. Under such circumstances, most young male dragons would have moved on to pursue other females, or perhaps eat some elk, or pick a fight with a rival. Herbert, however, was no ordinary dragon. Immediately he took off toward the airport so he could continue mourning his lost love.
But, as he prepared to land, something caught his attention. It was another Intermittent Airlines 737. Herbert’s heart leapt. She’d returned for him! He looped in the air with excitement. He had to do something special for her.
The aircraft left the gate and taxied toward the runway. It was just about to take off when something fell from the sky and crashed directly in its path. It was the carcass of a fifteen hundred pound angus heifer.
The passengers heard some muffled profanity over the intercom. A few moments later, they heard the captain’s voice calmly explaining that there would be a brief delay and asking for their patience.
Herbert landed beside the carcass looking very pleased with himself.
“Look what I got for you, my beloved!” he purred.
Dr. Diaz and her team were called in once again to remove the animal, but that did not stop him from returning the next day, or the following day, or the day after that. Each day, he would pursue the first Intermittent Airlines 737 he saw, thinking that she was his beloved. What the poor, confused, lovesick creature thought was one female, was actually multiple aircraft.
He’d drop cattle, elk, and other prey around the airfield in an attempt to impress her. Additionally, he’d find shiny things like flagpoles, satellite dishes, and cars and bring them to her as gifts.
The Federal Aviation Administration was concerned about the safety hazard Herbert posed and the local farmers were furious on account of their lost livestock.
A paper quoted one farmer as saying:
“Regulations be damned. If that thing comes for my cattle. I’mma gonna shoot ‘im.”
Luckily for Herbert, no civilian possessed the necessary fire power to take him down.
In all her years of research, Dr. Diaz never encountered a dragon more persistent. She fully expected Herbert to lose interest in the planes after the first relocation. She tried to think of ways to discourage Herbert from approaching the airport.
First she recommended the crew install mirrors on top of every ramp so Herbert would be blinded as he tried to land. Herbert responded by landing at a distance and trotting in to meet his beloved on foot. Hopping the fences that surrounded the airfield was no trouble.
Next, Dr. Diaz tried noise deterrents. They played a sound at a pitch outside the human hearing range that was extremely irritating to dragons. This only made Herbert more determined to reach his beloved so he could rescue her from the awful racket. He charged across the airfield with his ears lying flat against his head, calling in dragonish:
“Don’t worry, my love! I will get you away from this awful noise! Come quickly! Let us go into the mountains were this terrible thing is not! We will eat cattle, and make eggs, and be happy!”
He trotted toward the first plane he saw that resembled his imaginary lover and grabbed her by the tail. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Herbert was once again tranquilized and relocated. The crew removed the noise deterrents and towed the plane to the hanger for repairs.
But Herbert returned that evening, set on finding and rescuing his mate. Since dragon’s are diurnal, the airport was completely unprepared for his visit. He trotted around the airport making distressed whimpers.
Then, he spotted her through the window of a hanger. It wasn’t difficult for him to break in. His hard scales made smashing through the window completely painless.
“My beloved!” He cried. “How wonderful that you have found a cave for us! And those sounds are gone so we can build a nest here!”
As the security guards frantically called for help, Herbert went to and from the hanger, carrying trees and tarps and other suitable nesting materials.
When the animal control team arrived in the morning, the hanger was in shambles and Herbert was curled up next to his beloved, sound asleep.
The airport called the Department of Fish and Wildlife to get permission to euthanize Herbert. (And by euthanize they meant shoot him down. Fire breathing dragons explode into a giant fireball when shot with an anti-aircraft missile. It’s a glorious site.)
Dr. Diaz begged and pleaded for time to think of an alternative solution. She was given forty-eight hours. She searched through all her research but couldn’t think of anything. Then she flipped through every book on dragon behavior that she owned, and still no solution came to mind. Then she spun around and around in her wheely desk chair until she was dizzy. That’s when it hit her—the corner of the desk. Then, as she was rubbing the bruise on her hip, she had an idea.
She called every zoo and wildlife rehabilitation center within two hundred miles until she found what she was looking for. Vancouver Zoo was home to a young female dragon by the name of Reya. She had been recovering from a broken wing and was ready to return to the wild.
The female was sedated and transported to the airport where Dr. Diaz had her painted with the Intermittent Airlines colors. (She was already green, but the shade was not in compliance with Intermittent Airlines brand standards.)
Diaz then had her team rub Reya with jet fuel so that she’d smell just like one of the planes. She assured her assistants that the entire process was completely harmless to fire breathing dragons. She advised them, however, to wear gloves and masks.
When the task was complete, the team fell back, leaving the animal to wake alone. The entire process was finished mid-morning which was when Herbert usually made his appearance. Dr. Diaz watched through binoculars from the air traffic control tower, her heart pounding in anticipation.
Herbert cruised toward the airport scanning the ground for his mate. Then, he spotted her, or at least something that looked like her.
He landed a short distance away and approached cautiously. Reya looked back over her shoulder at him, with a slightly bored expression.
“Why beloved, you look so beautiful today!” Herbert exclaimed. “I mean, you always look beautiful, but you… I don’t know, you seem somehow more alive. Did you have a good sleep?”
“Who are you?” Reya asked.
Herbert’s heart leapt. He’d never heard her speak. Before she’d purr and hum and sometimes roar, but she never spoke.
Of course, the humans observing couldn’t understand what was said. They only heard growls and grunts and throaty vocalizations. Nonetheless, Dr. Diaz recognized that communication was taking place. She tried not to get her hopes up too quickly.
“You know who I am,” Herbert replied. “I am your mate. I built a nest for you, remember?” His ears drooped. “But the people took it away before we could make eggs.”
“Aren’t you presumptuous!” The female scoffed. She lay her head on her forefeet and pretended to be asleep.
Herbert flew away and, several minutes later, a three thousand pound bull came crashing into the concrete behind her. He landed beside it and pranced back and forth looking pleased with himself.
Reya was unimpressed.
“You aren’t the first male to bring me a dead cow, you know.”
Herbert took off again and returned a few moments later with an elk carcass.
The female yawned.
The ritual continued. Herbert brought her all kinds of things until the gate area was littered with dead animals.
“Any male could bring me these things,” Reya observed.
Herbert left her one last time, and did not return for almost an hour. Dr. Diaz waited impatiently—typing a few notes, then pacing around the tower, then trying to type some more. It was agonizing.
Then, at last she spotted him approaching from the ground. He trotted proudly across the airfield clutching a Tesla in his teeth. It was the shiniest thing Reya had ever seen—blue and shimmery and beautiful. She could no longer be coy with him. She was completely and totally overcome with love.
I won’t describe what happened next, only that it made some of the spectators blush, some snicker, and Dr. Diaz cry tears of joy. The two dragons flew away together and left the airport in peace.
Dragons mate for life and hatch six to twelve chicks every spring. If you are ever flying south from SeaTac on a clear day, look out the window and see if you notice a speck of green sparkling against the snowy peak of Mount Rainier. It is likely Herbert and Reya teaching their little ones to fly.