I knelt on the branch and looked back at the cleared fields. They said it was suicide for anyone to be outside the sonic barrier, a lot of the animals out here were predators. My mom and dad had been killed when they made one of the plasma bombs for the southern colony to large. I was ten then and left on my own.
I turned and stood as I started for the tree trunk. I was seventeen now and made my living bringing animals and plants back for the zoologists. I slipped around the tree and headed out on another branch. I used a vine to climb up a couple of branches before kneeling to catch my breath and look around.
This close to the barrier lots of larger predators patrolled. I saw the young female dwarf dragon across from me as she went back to eating. I smiled, she had a nest above us with a half dozen eggs. She was almost fifty meters away so when the huge tiger landed behind her I was to far to stop what happened.
I did sit and put the barrel of my twelve millimeter Richards on a knee as I aimed carefully. The tiger was eating the dragon as I squeezed the trigger and its head jerked away and it dropped to the branch. I stood and turned to jog towards the end of the branch as I opened the comm freq to the zoologists, “doc.”
“What is it Samuel?”
I dropped off one side of the branch to land on one a couple of meters below, “I can bring you dwarf dragon eggs.”
“We don’t have an enclosure right now.”
I bit my lip as I jumped to another branch and started climbing, “how can I raise them? The mother was just killed.”
“I’m sorry Samuel, the best I can do is tell you we suspect spice smoke is a hypnotic. Most of the animals are either leaning towards avian, the rest go the other way towards reptiles. Dwarf dragons are actually split between the two. I would make the babies breath the smoke before feeding them.”
I started walking towards the dead tiger, “what about a tiger pelt?”
“You killed a tiger? We want it.”
I knelt and touched the little dragon, “it weights a ton doc and I’m a couple of hundred meters above the ground.”
“How bad is the head damaged?”
I glanced at the tiger, “the bullet went in behind the right eye and exited beside the left ear.”
He sighed, “bring the head.”
I smiled as I started skinning the large animal, “give me a couple of hours and meet me at my tree house.”
I disconnected and finished skinning the tiger, I rolled the pelt up and then cut the head off. I put the head in the bag I carried made from the soft clothe leaves before looking up. The pelt I tied with a cord and used a leather strap to sling the bag over my head and under an arm before turning to climb a vine. I pulled the heavy pelt up to each new branch before continuing.
I switched vines a couple of time before stopping. I glanced out at the dragon nest before setting the skin and head down. I reached for a vine and started it swinging, it took several before I reached the nest. I knelt and looked around before taking the hard eggs and tucking them in my shirt.
I was careful moving back to the branch. I put the bag with the head over my head and shoulder. I lifted the heavy pelt to my shoulder before starting towards the barrier at an angle, the trip back was almost to much. My tree was just outside the barrier and fairly large. It was almost three hundred meters above the ground.
When I walked onto the landing platform a small flyer was waiting. The tall older man stepped out and looked around, “are you sure its safe?”
I smiled and set the pelt down with the bag and he knelt to look inside the bag, “It was a large one.”
I nodded as he looked at it before closing it back up, “we can use it.”
He carried the heavy bag to his vehicle before leaving. I glanced around before lifting the pelt and taking the stairs down into the house. I went down to the mid level, this was where I lived mostly. I was walking through the living area when I felt one of the large eggs move inside my shirt.
I stopped in surprise before looking around. I walked quickly into the kitchen and opened the stasis cabinet. I pulled out the two halves of a lemur and went back into the living area and the ceramic fire pit. I set the meat on the edge of the pit as I turned a little and pulled the six eggs out. I took my pack off and pulled out fire and spice leaves.
I set the pack aside with the fruit still in it and piled the spice leaves on top of the fire leaves and turned back to watch the eggs. It was several minutes before the first egg cracked and a moment later split open. The tiny baby dragon staggered and fell before I started the leaves on fire.
I picked the baby up and held it in the smoke as it cried. I pulled it back a moment later and set it down beside me as I cut a tiny piece of meat and pushed it into her mouth. Luckily for me they hatched one right after another and not all at once. When they stopped eating and curled up on the thick leopard pelt beside the pit I started to clean up.
Besides the almost ten thousand hectares outside the barrier I had a couple of hundred inside that I had started growing fruit vines on. I had started the farm a couple of years before so it was going extremely well now. The best seller was the citrus and vine melons, the next best was the red bananas and apple berries.
They grew year round but seemed to taste better in the summer months. The next six weeks were different, I had to hunt everyday to feed the fast growing dwarf dragons. I also spent a couple of hours harvesting fruit and taking it to a man that bought it for the market. I glanced up from tanning a leopard pelt, it had been hunting us.
The medium sized flyer landed on the pad and a guard got out and looked around before three council members. I reached out to pull Duchess back, all six dragons were female, “can I help you?”
The councilmen were looking around but Mr Jones cleared his throat, “Mr Davis we came to inform you the colony council is planning a plasma burn on this side of the colony.”
I looked at each of them, “that would destroy my forest.”
They didn’t say anything as I stood to face them, “Under the colony charter you need my permission or you forfeit your own property and any and all colony positions.”
Mr Jones smiled, “that isn’t always the...”
I held up my hand, “I’m not talking about an appeal to the colony court Mr Jones. I’m talking about the federation colony council.”
They stiffened and looked at each other. Mr Davis looked at me, “we can offer compensation.”
I looked at him before turning to look into the forest as I thought. I had been thinking about moving further away from the barrier. I turned back, “I want fifty thousand hectares on the north shore of Crystal lake. (It was one of a dozen great lakes in the southern hemisphere). I want a new flyer and you pay for the materials and provide builders to rebuild my house.”
They started to shake their heads as I shrugged and knelt to start working on the pelt, “those are my conditions.”
That was when the three tree rabbits leaped to the other side of the landing platform. The guard pulled his pistol as I stood, “Duchess.”
She was already leaping into the air but what surprised everyone was Baby pouncing from my small flyer. The animals turned to flee but it was already to late. She was spread out, one clawed rear foot snatched a rabbit, a front paw slammed another flat and she bit the third. I grinned as Duchess landed beside Baby and she let one of the tree rabbits go.
The others peeked out of my flyer before going to Baby and Duchess. I shook my head as I knelt again and went back to work. Mr Jones cleared his throat, “are those animals yours?”
I glanced at the dragons feeding on the three rabbits, “yes.”
Mr Davis shifted on his feet, “fine, you need to have everything out in a week.”
I stood again, “after I write the contract and you sign it.”
They agreed and left and I went back to finish what I had started. I called the dragons as I headed down into the house. I accessed the colony legal net and set the parameters before letting it print. I read it before sending a copy to the council. Most of the rooms in my house were empty or only had pelts and crude furniture so it didn’t take me long to move.
The only thing I regretted was leaving the farm. Building the house took two months and the only thing I did was protect the eight men that came to build it. I earned a reputation doing it and my little dragons made friends with all the men. I even killed the first king lizard ever with a long shot from the fourteen millimeter carbine I was using.
They even added a long stairway around and down the tree to the ground. The branches reached out over the lake which stayed clear enough to see the huge monsters swimming beneath the surface. I planted vines along the edge of the lake and kept checking them.
I glanced out over the lake as I climbed after the dragons. A large flying transport was heading this way and I turned to keep climbing. When I walked off the far branch and onto my landing platform it was sitting on the outer edge. Several men were standing around but it was the girl that caught my attention.
She looked my age with her long red hair tied back. I glanced back as the dragons followed me and started towards my house. One of the men cleared his throat but I kept going. I opened the door to let the dragons in before looking back, “I wouldn’t stay out there.”
I set the pack on the side table and removed the cleaned pelts and the meat. I walked through the large comfortable living area and into the kitchen. I put the meat in the stasis cabinet and went back into the living area as the men walked in. I went to the pack and pulled out the moss Dr Sahara had told me about, “what do you need?”
I headed to the wide table beside the window ledge the dragons were laying on. An older man cleared his throat, “the colony zoologist said you were the one for us to see. We want to observe the habitat of the animals here.”
I glanced at the girl before looking at him, “not hunt?”
He shook his head, “we want to watch and record everything on vids.”
I went back to rubbing the moss on the cleaned hide. I had discovered a type of beatle like the flesh eaters on earth. They lived and worked like a ant colony so I started calling them beatle ants. I was thinking about what they wanted and finally looked at the man again, “which level?”
He frowned and looked at the other three men, “level?”
I smiled as I moved to the second pelt, “the animals live in levels according to the trees. The larger the animal the lower to the ground they are found.”
I glanced at the girl as she moved closer to the window, trying to look at the dragons. I smiled, “that one on the end is Jess. She likes it if you rub behind her ears.”
I looked at the man, “it isn’t as simple or safe as you seem to think.”
He looked from the girl to me, “we can take the chance.”
I shook my head, “and what about me or the girl?”
I finished tanning the pelts and wiped them off, “let me put it this way, almost everything here is going to think you are their next meal. If you want to watch and stay out of their stomach it will take a lot of thinking.”
I turned to face them, “I move through the trees and watch but I also look for those that would hunt me.”
I shook my head, “in any case you are not in shape to do what you want.”
I smiled at the girl petting Jess and headed towards the kitchen. The men followed and stood watching as I pulled out the makings for a large stew. The idea made me stop and look at them, “can you sit for long periods of time?”
They looked at each other and the man I had been talking to nodded. I smiled as I turned back to making dinner, “do you know what a blind is?”
He smiled, “of course.”
I gestured to the table, “have a seat and listen to my idea.”
I waited and then started talking. I put them in my spare rooms and smiled when I heard the girl scream after the dragons followed her into the bathing room. I waved one of the men away and opened the door. The dragons had gone around her and into her bath. I grinned, “sorry, they really love taking a bath.”
She blushed before smiling, “I was startled.”
I started to call the dragons and she stopped me, “I’ll take care of it.”
I nodded before closing the door. I made a check around my house and all the grate covered porches. I returned to the living area where they were talking and sat. I looked at them and finally cleared my throat, “who is the girl?”
The older man blushed as the other three looked at him, “a slave.”
I kept looking at him and he shrugged, “she was being treated bad and well we pitched in and bought her.”
He looked at me before smiling, “we are married and were wondering how to explain to our wives.”
I looked at the other men before looking back, “just tell them.”
He snorted, “you don’t know women.”
I shrugged, “I don’t see many out in the forests.”
He looked at the other men, “you help us and she is yours.”
I looked at the hall before smiling slightly, “you can call me Sam.”
The leader nodded, “I’m Henry Peterson and this is George Atwood, Edward Smith and Adam Trent.”
I nodded to the men and glanced towards the sound of laughter coming from the bathing room, “and the girl?”
Henry cleared his throat, “Amber Ann Sinclair.”
I stood, “dinner should be ready soon.”
I looked at the window and smiled as I stood, “watch the blue falcon. She built her nest just beyond the window and is laying her eggs. Her mate has been bringing her rats and once a rabbit.”
That had all four men moving to the window. I went to check the large stew I had started and added fresh bread and citrus fruit. I started putting dinner on the table after calling the men. I went to tell Amber and found her drying Melody off. She blushed and I smiled, “dinner.”
I closed the door and went back to the kitchen. The men were talking about the blue falcon as they ate and Amber smiled at me. I started to clean up and she moved to push me away. She started cleaning as the men went back to watching the falcon. I had to chase them to bed before heading towards mine.
I followed the dragons into my room and stopped when I saw Amber naked in my bed. The dragons barely paused as they climbed up and over her to climb to their nest over my bed. I closed the door before walking to the bed, “you are in my bed.”
She smiled, “Henry told me you are my owner now.”
I hesitated, “you don’t...”
She reached for my hand and pulled me into bed, “the others didn’t want to bed me because they had a woman. I know you want me.”
I nodded and she smiled, “good because I want you too.”
She caressed my chest before starting to undress me. I helped her before kissing her and starting to feel her body. She smiled and laid back as my hands roamed over her. I felt her lovely breasts before moving my hand lower. She opened her legs as I started to feel her warm pussy and she shuddered when a finger rubbed her clit.
I grinned and did it again as I slipped the finger into her. It was a couple of minutes before her hips lifted and she moaned. I turned and moved down between her legs and licked through her slit. I pushed my tongue into her and started nibbling on her clit with my lips. Amber thrust her hips up and wailed as she shuddered hard, “yyyeeeesssss!”
She jerked and shook as I captured her clit and began to suck while I used my tongue to tease her. It was a few minutes before she twisted and pushed my face away. I looked up before moving over her as she panted. She reached between us to position my cock and the feel of her hand made me hump and push.
I groaned and she moaned as my cock pushed into her tight pussy. I kissed her as I began to move slowly and fuck her with long strokes. It wasn’t long before my cock was buried and she was howling again. Her warm pussy was grasping and squeezing my cock as I kept fucking her.
She clung to me when I finally thrust into her and kissed her as my cock peed and gushed a stream of cum. She lifted her hips off the bed and kissed me back as her pussy milked the cum out of my cock. When I stopped cumming she sighed and grinned before humping up, “again?”
I smiled as I started fucking her slowly again. We ended up fucking more then half the night and fell asleep in each others arms. I woke to the rumble of the morning storms and glanced at the girl I still held. She shifted uncomfortably and I glanced up as the dragons looked down. Duchess turned to climb down and laid beside Amber before putting a wing over her.
I smiled and used a hand to caress her as I held Amber. Her eyes snapped open at the crash of thunder and looked into mine before glancing at the wing over her. She turned her head to see Duchess and smiled before turning away from me and to her. The other dragons dropped to the bed to lay on or against me. When the storm stopped Amber sighed, “I don’t like storms.”
I moved dragons before climbing out of bed, “we have them almost every morning here.”
I helped her out of bed and sent her to the bathing room for a shower. I dressed and went out to make a list. When she appeared I pointed her towards the kitchen table with a basket of fruit. I gave the list to Henry when the men appeared before walking him to the landing pad and his flyer. I grinned after he took off and led the others all the way to my basement.
There was no light in the large room but I had several large armored glass windows that looked out all around the room, “no lights while in here and no quick movements to draw attention.”
I looked at the men and they nodded before leaving the doorway. The windows in the room looked out on the branches and forest at the two hundred meter level. I had made dozens of artificial bird homes so I had hundreds of birds flying around as well as squirrel rats. Of course that brought smaller predators and the hawks and falcons.
I left and Amber grinned as she followed me and I handed her my pack. My dragons were waiting by the landing pad door. I slipped out with my carbine and looked around before letting Amber follow. I had a quiver at my waist with spear type arrows that went into the carbine. Each one had a hundred meters of mono fiber cord that attached to a ring on my waist.
I walked the branches slowly as the dragons moved out onto the smaller side branches. After we had gone almost two kilometers from the house I signaled to the dragons, “Duchess hunt.”
Amber looked at me as the small dragon leaped into the air to fly a little higher and away from the branch. She turned and folded her wings back a moment later. She dropped and sped down towards the branch below and to one side. At the last moment her rear feet reached out as her wings snapped open.
Her claws took the tree rabbit in the head and neck as it was snatched off the branch and she began beating her wings to fly up to us. I knelt as I looked around and when she landed in front of me I accepted the dead rabbit. Amber grinned, “neat.”
I smiled as I quickly skinned and cleaned the rabbit before giving it to Amber. She looked at me and I gestured to the pack, “its her dinner.”
She grinned and removed the pack to put the rabbit body inside and I stood, “Jess hunt.”
Duchess moved out as the other dragon leaped into the air. Mostly they hunted rabbits but sometimes they wanted bird and hunted rainbow peacocks. I took the pack after the last one had made her kill and we started back. Halfway back I killed a couple of peacocks for our dinner as well as collected ripe fruit that was close to the branch we were on.
I stopped when I saw the broken open bird bat nest. I watched them all the time and seeing the nest torn apart made me upset, a pack of wolf apes must have done it. I set the pack down before grabbing a vine and looking at Amber, “stay here.”
I moved down the side of the branch to look at the ruin. Bird bats almost looked like old earth fox bats but larger. I looked through the sticks until I saw the four eggs and reached out to check them. They were still warm so I opened my shirt and put the eggs in. I climbed up and put the pack on before continuing towards the house.
Amber followed after me, “what are you going to do with the eggs?”
I glanced at her, “remember the leaves I collected?”
She nodded and I looked around as I continued to walk, “one I named fire leaves because it burns slowly even though it is green, the doc says it has almost pure alcohol in tiny pockets. The other is called a spice leaf because it has a peppery cinnamon taste and is very good for you. When you burn the two and a animal breaths in the smoke it is like a drug. It also does something to their minds and creates a bond like imprinting.”
I waved to my dragons as they moved around us, “I used it on the dragons.”
I looked at her, “their eggs would have died if left alone. I think I will call professor Johnson and see if he can send me an incubator.”
She grinned, “you going to bond the bird bats?”
I smiled and looked at her, “actually I was thinking you could.”
She blinked and glanced back before smiling, “that would be fun.”
When we got back the dragons headed to the window perches while I went to check the men. I came back and put the meat in the large stasis box before using the sat comm, “hey doc.”
“Samuel? Nice to hear from you. You agreed to help my associates?”
I smiled, “yes, Mr Peterson should be back there collecting a few things before I can do anything.”
“Good, maybe I’ll take a few days off to join them.”
I looked at Amber and grinned, “that would be excellent. I have some bird bats eggs and was wondering if you had a spare incubator.”
“How... you didn’t kill the bird bats did you?”
I sighed, “it looked like wolf apes broke open the nest.”
He sighed, “nature is cruel. I had a friend make up incubator pads. I’ll bring a few out with me, for now just keep them warm but not hot.”
I looked at Amber as she grinned, “I’ll have one of the dragons sit on them until you get here.”
There was a pause, “actually that might work. Most of the animals here tend to have similar body temperatures.”
I shook my head, “sounds like a plan. I’ll see you when you get here.”
He ended the call and I walked into the living area. I looked around before moving to the large window nest the dragons were using, “Sasha?”
The dragon turned from watching a bird right outside the window. I pulled the four eggs out and shifted her around so she could still see out and then tucked the eggs in against her stomach, “don’t eat.”
She sniffed before a clawed foot moved to shift them and then she went back to watching the birds. Amber giggled and I grinned as I turned away and led her back into the kitchen. I made a salad with chopped spice leaves and fruit and she helped me carry it down to the three men. We ate ours beside the dragons while I told her about myself.
She was hesitant but slowly began to tell me about her life before the four men had saved her. In the mid afternoon I called the dragons into the kitchen to feed them. After she ate Sasha rubbed against me like the others before heading back to the window nest and the eggs. I pulled Amber out and took her down and out along the edge of the lake.
I pointed out a few of the huge birds of prey and then began showing her the thousands of vines I had planted and was growing, “as they grew I lower them. It will take a few years before they are on the ground and I break them out of the planters.”
Amber smiled, “what are you going to do with all the fruit?”
I started us back towards the house, “sell the fruit. I’ve got a lot of land and there is a lot of space to farm like that while not ruining the forest.”
She smiled as we climbed up and started across the landing platform, “you could create a center to teach people about the animals.”
I stopped at the door as the idea struck me. I grinned as I opened the door, “that is a great idea but I think we should expand it.”
Amber looked at me as she followed me into the living area where we found the three men trying to coax Sasha off the eggs, “expand it?”
I grinned as I crossed the room and pulled the men back, “sure. We build a hotel and make enclosures to house different types of animals. We have tours and teach visitors about the plants and animals.”
I looked at the men, “they’re bird bat eggs and Sasha is just keeping them warm until Doc Johnson sends out an incubator.”
They grinned and I pulled them into the kitchen, “I was hoping Henry would return before tonight.”
I moved around and cut up two peacocks before putting them in spice leaves and wrapped several layers of fire leaves around each piece. I set them in a large metal pan and lit them before turning to start cutting melon. Amber pushed me away, “I’ll do that.”
I smiled and opened a tall stasis cabinet to pull out rice. I set it on my stove and got it started before checking the peacock, “If you gentlemen like you can sleep down in the basement room. Sometimes I see one of the large predators like lions or a tiger.”
They perked up and began talking to each other about the possibility of seeing one. After hesitant bites they almost wolfed dinner down. They left after dinner and disappeared down the stairs as Amber smiled and began helping me clean up. I paused when I heard the sound of a flyer and headed for the stairs. I grabbed my rifle before stepping out the landing pad door.
I looked around before moving out and a moment later the flying transport landed. I kept watch as Professor Johnson and Mr Peterson emerged, “leave everything and come inside.”
The professor knew better and pulled Mr Peterson after him. I closed the door behind us and set the rifle in the rack, “you cut it close.”
In the kitchen I pulled out more peacock while Amber got the rice and melon. I wrapped the leaves and Henry watched what I was doing as I set the leaves on fire, “that is amazing.”
I grinned, “you have no idea how long it took to find out how many leaves to wrap so the meat would cook and not burn.”
He grinned as professor Johnson laughed. I told them where the others went and they slipped away after eating. I took the incubator pad or warming pad as the doc had called it and put the bird bat eggs on it before folding it over. He had looked at the eggs and said it would be a few days before they hatched.
I woke to Sasha prodding me and looked at her as she whined and looked at the door. I slid out of bed before grabbing pants and my pistol. I opened the door and the dragons went through before I could stop them. I followed quickly incase it was a predator that had broken in. I found them sitting around the window nest looking at the warming pad.
I moved forward and lifted the pad to see the eggs moving and cracks. I touched Melody, “go bring the girl.”
She looked at me and I touched her, “go quickly and you can get back before they hatch.”
She spun and leaped as she half flew towards the stairs. I turned and walked quickly into the kitchen and opened the stasis cabinet. I pulled out fire and spice leaves as well as four small melons before going back and kneeling with the dragons. Amber walked in a moment later, “Samuel?”
I gestured as Melody slipped around her and moved to the nest, “the eggs are hatching.”
She crossed the room, “I thought they weren’t going to hatch for a few days.”
I grinned as I rolled fire leaves around spice leaves, “babies don’t listen to doctors I guess.”
She knelt beside me and watched the eggs, “what do I do?”
I smiled, “well I have my cooking pan. When one hatches you pick it up and I light the leaves. Put it in the smoke and we watch until it has had enough and then you pull it out and feed it tiny bits of melon.”
I looked at the dragons, “you ladies need to move back when I light the leaves.”
Duchess sniffed and I smiled and reached out to rub her back, “I mean it, no leaf smoke for you.”
It was several minutes before the first egg broke and the bird bat fell out. Amber was perfect and cuddled each one as she bonded and fed them. After the last one I put the fire out and stood to take the burnt leaves to the kitchen. I washed the pan before setting it to dry and returned to see the dragons against Amber as they smelled and touched the babies.
I shook my head and bent to help her up, “back to bed.”
She grinned, “what about the babies?”
I shooed the dragons ahead of us and thought as I pulled Amber after me with four clinging bird bats on her. I grinned as I walked to a thick leopard pelt and shook it out. I lifted it and used some cord to tie it to the side of my closet. I used a piece of netting and attached it, “let them hang on the net.”
Amber did as I told her and the four shifted until they were comfortable before quieting. Of course they woke with the morning storm and she had to bring them to bed. After that it was feeding time as they made noises that got us up. They only ate a quarter of a piece of fruit before stopping and Amber grinned as she pet and caressed them.
The men walked in and stopped when they saw her with the bird bats. The next thing she knew they were around her touching and checking the babies. I finally stood and went to get my rifle before heading out to the large flyer. I pulled out the rolled nets and bags of carbon fiber rods and carried them in one by one until I had them all.
I lifted a couple and began the long climb down my stairs. I stopped at the first branch level and looked around carefully. I spent all morning bringing everything down before bringing the commercial spike gun out. I slipped out onto the branch before moving to one side. I looked around before using the gun and moving slowly down the branch.
There was a solid thunk every foot as I sank a spike into the branch. I stopped and moved back to the stairs before stepping in and closing the door as I sat. It was an hour before I slipped out to repeat what I had done before on the opposite side of the branch.
An hour later I put rods together to make a ribbed tunnel going down the branch. After that I started moving nets out and pulling them over the ribs before removing a rod and weaving it through the net as I replaced it and fastened the net to the spikes. While I worked George left to bring more nets and ribs while the other men continued to watch through the windows.
The bottom branches were hugely thick with side branches that connected to branches from other trees. They also had two or three foot thick vines that grew up and attached to the branch before reaching up. When I finish I was more than ready for a bath.
I used my rifle with the spears to kill several large tree rabbits as well as two huge flying lemurs. I carried everything up the stairs and cleaned the pelts after putting the meat in the stasis cabinet. Amber helped and then grinned as she called the dragons and pulled me after her towards the bathing room.
I shook my head as the dragons eagerly slipped into the tub as it filled. I think Amber enjoyed the playing and splashing as much as the dragons. I got out after I was done and dried off before washing her. All the men came up for dinner and talked the whole time or absently slipped tiny slices of fruit to the baby bird bats.
It took two weeks to make the one kilometer net tunnel but that was just the beginning.