You wake up slowly when you're a mile underground. The pressure and the heat alter your metabolism, and when you weigh fifty tons your circulation is problematic to begin with. That's the way it is for me, at least. I don't know about the others. We don't see each other so much any more, and when we do, we're so busy fighting, it just slips my mind.

I wake and stretch my head and legs out from under my carapace. My mouth still tastes of last night's helicopters. I'm queasy, too: I never should have had that subway train, but you know how it is. It just looked so good, and boy was it delicious. I'll feel fine by this afternoon. My old clock says I've got plenty of time. I gargle, stretch again, sneeze, and shake myself vigorously to get the cobwebs loose.

I thread my way through a vertical mile of caverns and chasms to get to the surface, but by the time I'm done I've logged five or six miles at least, with all the detours and switchbacks. There's no direct route, and I like it that way. Nobody but me can find my place down here, so I'll never have to move if I don't want to. It's homey and spacious, and it's convenient to Tokyo too. The bubbling magma on the far side of the chamber gives a nice cheery light with lots of high infrared, just the way I like it. The only problem is that I keep growing, of course, five percent more in radius every century. Always have, ever since I was big enough to eat a tree. I'm not complaining, but some of these passages will be tough to get through in a thousand years or so, and the day will come when I'll simply get stuck. I should start thinking about a move in a few centuries. Think ahead, plan ahead, take your time. It takes a while to find a good snug home with a nice location. With Rodan the way he can be sometimes, you don't want to rush yourself and settle for a place that's not secure. I don't know what it is with him, but he just gets meaner as he gets older. When we were kids, it was different. We were inseparable back then, but now . . . Hey, people change. What can you do?

The open air feels great, such a contrast to the tight spaces underground and the fumes from the lava. A perfect spring day: The air's just a bit cool, and not a cloud in the sky. The warm sun feels good on my shell, so I hunker down a while and just soak it in, letting it wake me up. What a beautiful day.

I lift off and enjoy the commute over the inland sea. My island looks so small from the air. I fly over the sparkling waves and tiny islands and little boats.

I think Rodan's problem is simply that he hates his job with the Finance Ministry. He was never cut out for that kind of work, but he let his folks talk him into it. Now he's miserable, but he's too proud to face up to it and make a change. He hates pushing paper around, he just plain hates it, and he's no good at it either. I'm lucky: I like my job. I always did. Even when I was a hatchling, knee-high to a baluchitherium, I knew I wanted to work with kids.

Honshu rises out of the sea, the ancient mainland. I lose altitude and cruise low over the hills. Antlike people wave, I breathe friendly flame to greet them, and then I'm touching down in the schoolyard. The children run to greet me. Toshio and Akio scramble up my forelegs to ride on my shell. Kazue is shy, Hiroaki diffident. These are my favorites, but I love them all. A dozen others crowd around or run ahead.

It's time for class, geography first and arithmetic next. Junichi is full of questions about everything, as always. Where's Vheissu, how old is Uqbar, do they sleep aloft in Hy Brasil? They're such good kids. Mmeh.




Many thanks to sensei for help with geography and proper names.

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