“Kyra, if you are real quiet, we might see a family of pufferbills come down the valley,” said Papa. “Have you ever seen a pufferbill before?”

“No Papa,” said Kyra, her deep blue eyes wide with anticipation and wonder.

Papa smiled. Was he teaching her, he wondered, or was she mentoring him in the ways of joy. With each advancing year he valued more the raw curiosity and innocence of youth.

“Kyra, look to your right. Here comes a family now. Mom is out front, dad is watching the rear and baby is tucked safely in between. Pufferbills live for more than a hundred years and are considered some of the most intelligent life forms on Hyneria.”

“What makes them so special Papa?”

“Well, Fossil Valley can be a very dangerous place and on more than one occasion a wayward Hynerian has gotten lost in the valley without food or water. Pufferbills have always come to their rescue. The mother stays with the stranded traveler, bringing food and water while the father floats back to base camp at the entrance to the valley. The only time the males come to base camp is to lead a search party back to the stranded traveler.”

“And Kyra.”

“Yes Papa?”

“There is one other thing that makes them very special creatures.”

Kyra’s coal black eyebrows rose ever so slightly.

“If the search party is delayed . . .”

“Yes Papa.”

“If the search party is delayed, pufferbills will sacrifice their own wellbeing, even their life, to protect the stranded party. There is not another creature as selfless as pufferbills.”

“Can you hear me Kyra? Kyra?

“What loving creatures Papa.”

“Kyra, wakeup sweetie. Kyra, I have an important message for you. Come drink your snizzle before it gets cold.”

“Goldie, what are you doing here?”

“Waking you up sweetie,” said Goldie. “Sounds like you had a wonderful dream. We do miss Papa don’t we?”

“Yes Goldie, I do miss Papa. I miss him very much,” said Kyra, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “How did I end up in my quarters?”

“I’ll let Trev fill you in. I’m afraid he needs to talk to you about Kieran.”

“Oh My Janus, Goldie.” What has happened?”

“I’d better let Trev tell you sweetie. He said to send you down to his lab as soon as you were awake. Should I . . .”

Before Goldie could finish, Kyra was out the door.

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