Birth of a Dragon
Copyright (c) 1998 Chris Dragon
All Rights Reserved.
Revision #10, Feb 21st 1998
How could he think these thoughts? Chris was only 12. He'd gotten the idea into his head that "normal" people tended to have collections of things, so he'd started collecting New York Seltzer bottles, a couple bottle caps, and then he latched onto pictures of dragons. For some reason he found dragons to be beautiful and fascinating. He struggled to understand this now. He hadn't intended to read the book he just read. It had a black dragon on the front... Dark black glimmering scales, an elegant neck and powerful haunches. A fearsome creature, but he did not fear it - he loved it. He... wanted to be it. Why? Why? He'd put such thoughts out of his mind easily before, but this book had been about a woman who also wished to become this black dragon. She was given this chance and took it, only to return again to human form to remain with the one she loved. Somehow it made it seem possible. The idea tore at his heart. It was impossible. It wasn't right. He should not think it. Yet the author of this book had thought it. He curled up into a ball on the soft gray back seat and cried as his human parents drove towards his human home.
Chris stared down at the ugly pinkish skin on his arms, his dark brown unkempt hair hanging just within his site, mocking him. He should not have hair. He did not want it. He imagined again golden scales. Wings at his back. He closed his eyes, trying not to cry. He needed to study. Should not think of this now. Another AP Biology test tomorrow. But he always did well on them. Whatever he read stuck. Perhaps because it was so important to his goals that he remember it. DNA, RNA, gene splicing. It was more then fascinating, it offered him hope. He'd clung to hopes like this ever since that night in the back of the car. He'd tried prayer. He'd hoped for some magical spell like in the story. But he was too logical to believe such things would work. He wished he did not feel these things. They were such pain. Was it just his sense of being an outsider that made him want to leave these humans? He hated the other children as a child. They teased him, made him retreat within himself. But high school had been so different. People had left him alone, perhaps even respected him. He'd found a few friends and over time life should have seemed more tolerable. But the feelings did not leave him. They became stronger. He could spend weeks just being depressed now. His parents knew nothing about why. Nobody did. He looked back down at his book and forced himself to read on. It was his only hope left.
It was a cold day in October, 2034 as Chris descended towards the airstrip in the middle of the brown California desert. He needed to clear his mind before he went into the lab this morning, but even the soothing grace of watching the ground slip by far beneath him had not calmed his sense of anxiety. They'd tried to engineer dragons five times before. The first embryo hadn't lasted a day. The second, only about a week. But those first trials weren't the problem. Chris could handle seeing an embryo die. And it was necessary. They simply couldn't predict all the variables that went into the creation of life. Oh, but how he'd fooled himself into thinking the embryos would be the only experiments to fail. Emily had been the first dragon to actually hatch. Everything went flawlessly at first. Chris had greeted her with tears in his eyes. Finally, finally his dream was close to being a reality. Nothing could go wrong on such a joyous day. And nothing did--until five days later when they tried to feed her solid food. An hour later she complained of stomach cramps. So young, and yet she had already picked up the basics of language through psychic communication. Twenty minutes later she was convulsing in pain on the floor. There was nothing any of them could do. They performed tests, broke equipment in their mad rush to save her life, all the while feeling her pain in their minds, growing and growing until he felt like vomiting...
"Warning! Altitude critically low for current airspeed. Compensating." The intellipiolot pulled the stick back and throttled down as Chris looked up to see black asphalt dangerously close. He growled softly to himself and hit the override button on the console to take back control and land with a thump. The end of the runway was coming up too quickly as he deployed the airbrakes and reversed the engines on full power. He ripped off his headset to get rid of the distracting air traffic controller yelling in his ears and breathed a small sigh of relief as it became clear he would stop in time. He cursed his lapse of focus. He could lose his license over a stunt like that. But what did that matter now? He sighed softly and closed his eyes, crying quietly. Why the hell hadn't they been more careful? Looking over the genetic code, the flaw had been painfully obvious. Of course, anyone could make a mistake. But the price of this mistake was too high. Chris had almost given up the project - but he couldn't. He'd spent his entire life on this. Even if he hadn't done all the previous work, even if he had just started today, he couldn't give up. After Emily died, Chris and his team had spent the next month reviewing the code to make sure it couldn't happen again. But it could. It could still happen again. It could happen today. Oh gods...
Chris was greeted at the lab by his two colleagues, Jessica and Anthony. Jess was 49, a nondescript woman with graying black hair who looked older then she was. The only thing really noticeable about her were her gray eyes. They were light and piercing, a high contrast against her tan skin. Her parents were half Native American, but she carried none of their beliefs. She was an expert programmer of genetic code, almost as good as Chris. Anthony, on the other hand, was 52 and more of an expert in anatomy and various animal physiology. He was a bit stocky, with light brown hair and whitish skin from staying indoors working all the time. Chris had been a bit stocky himself once, before he'd tried flying and found that he couldn't carry much beyond his own weight in the smaller planes. They'd all met 25 years previously on the Internet on one of the old text based role playing systems. They'd each been playing dragons of course. Chris had systematically questioned everyone playing a dragon, finding out about their scientific background, seeing what their goals were. Jess and Anthony were the only ones he found that took him seriously and stuck with the project. They'd discussed doing another round of recruiting, but the world was becoming more aware of the possibilities of genetic manipulation and they couldn't risk being discovered. After annoying the hell out of each other for the greater part of the project, Jess and Anthony had decided to get engaged soon after Emily died. Chris thought they made a cute couple, though was afraid their quick decision and lack of social life was an ominous portent for the future of their relationship. They all worked in a small lab in the middle of the California farm country. The building was uncomfortably small and cluttered with equipment and network cabling. It didn't look like a lab at all from the outside, which was good for secrecy. A decaying brown picket fence marked the property line around the dirty white walls and boarded up windows. There was a small brown barn converted into a storage warehouse to the back and side of the building. Chris looked down at a chicken incubator resting on a folding table in the center of the room. In its warm interior an egg rocked slowly back and forth. Its multicolored and iridescent surface looked almost magical even under the buzz of fluorescent lights, just as the team had engineered it to look. At first Chris had felt foolish for wasting time perfecting such a trivial aspect. It would have been so much easier to make it chicken egg white or perhaps just a glossy black. And yet, as he looked into its shimmering surface, he felt he was truly in the presence of a magical, mythical creature.
Actually, the dragon in that egg was very different from the traditional mythical dragons. For example, virtually all mythical dragons had tough armored scales. But realistically, to provide any sort of reasonable protection from even the weakest of modern weapons, those scales would have to be made so heavy that flight would be impossible. She lacked the typical ridge of sharp spines down her back because Chris felt dragons really shouldn't be afraid to lay on their own backs. She did have small retractable claws on her hands and larger talons on her feet, plus a set of very sharp teeth that weren't susceptible to plaque and other forms of decay. She also lacked the rather pointless prehensile thumb on her wings, body hair of any sort, horns, and the strange knobs, points, and dangly bits around the head that artists often added to their dragon creations. Apparently most humans didn't think about the fact that such head ornamentation would not only be heavy, but it would cause turbulence while flying and create so much wind noise the dragon wouldn't be able to hear much. For the same reason, Eva's ears were internal with only small crests to indicate their presence. Actually the crests had also been added to make her look more draconic. Otherwise her head would have looked too much like that of a snake. Chris smiled at the thought.
Suddenly the egg cracked. Chris and Anthony moved towards the glass, eyes glued to the expanding crack. Movement ceased for a moment, followed by what appeared to be a frustrated squeak and jab at the shell from within. The blow fractured off a large section of the egg, exposing a tiny black head on a long neck. The creature looked ecstatic for a moment, but the expression quickly changed to fright, and then bewilderment.
In his mind, Chris received an image of the team of scientists around the egg. A few seconds later, it changed to an image of dragons around the egg and a feeling of confusion.
Anthony understood first. "She doesn't understand why we're not like her - why we're not dragons."
For a moment, Chris wanted to laugh, and then he realized that it must be very strange for her. Actually, Emily had never seemed to notice the discrepancy. Was Eva more intelligent? At any rate, what could he tell her? He couldn't make her understand genetics with an image. A minute passed. Eva seemed to forget the issue and continued to break off bits of shell. Chris began wondering again what it would be like for a dragon child growing up amidst humans. Not that he hadn't expected problems, or - something, but he was bothered that she had brought up the issue so early.
Eva had now escaped from the shell completely and was pushing on the clear plastic of the incubator, flapping her tiny damp wings agitatedly. She acted like a bird confused by a glass window. Looking around, she seemed to spot the door and before any of them could react, she had opened it and was perched atop the machine, looking very proud of herself. Perhaps she wasn't as confused as she'd seemed. Anthony reached out to grab her, but she backed away and immediately launched into the air, flapping up to a high metal shelf. Jess rushed over and shut the door to the lab. Eva glared at her, almost seeming to understand that she was now trapped. Anthony was attempting to climb the ladder of shelves to get at her, but Eva simply hopped to another shelf and looked amused as the shelves nearly toppled over.
"Don't try and catch her by force." Chris said, annoyed. He walked over beneath the shelf Eva sat on and raised his arm. Eva looked suspicious for a few moments but sensing no danger she flitted down and landed softly. For a moment, her claws dug into his skin painfully, but she seemed to sense his discomfort and quickly loosened her grip. Chris brought her down to eye level and was caught in her silvery gaze. He raised his free hand to stroke her warm skin, perfectly smooth and more black then anything he'd seen before. She looked like a shadow, absorbing all the colors of light in a perfectly efficient form of photosynthesis. The undersides of her wings were threaded with gold, not an effective color for photosynthesis but how often would she be flying upside-down? Now Eva had turned around and was grasping the net-link on Chris's wrist with her tiny hands. The touch screen lit with a flashing icon that caught her eye, so she touched it. She tapped again and startled backwards as it began playing a short voicemail. Chris would have stopped her, but he was too intrigued by her every movement. He felt a pull, and suddenly Eva had ripped the net-link's thick plastic band in two. She lifted her prize in triumph before holding it out towards Chris. He was too touched to be angry. Shoving the link into his pocket, he noticed that Anthony had walked over and was watching Eva as intently as he was. Jess, on the other hand, was still monitoring equipment. He wondered briefly how she could do such a thing at a time like this, but his attention quickly returned to the small dragon. She was now attacking his silver dragon necklace, a symbol he'd kept since somewhere around age fifteen. This time he sent her a strong impression of the word 'NO' and pulled her away. She backed off, her silver eyes begging forgiveness. Chris was about to try and apologize when something registered in his brain. Her eyes were supposed to be a deep red. He thought for a moment. Emily's eyes had been red. They certainly hadn't changed the code that controlled eye color. So why did Eva have these sparkling silvery eyes? He tried to disregard it, but the possibility that Eva was somehow flawed made his heart stop. Eva could die, just like Emily... Horrified, Chris lost his balance and fell back, bumping his shin painfully on a swivel chair. Eva flitted off his flailing arm and landed on the incubator, looking annoyed and strangely concerned.
"You OK, man?" Anthony asked.
Even Jess seemed to come out of her stupor and show some interest in the affair.
Chris ignored them both. He had to think. If their software was making random errors it was unlikely that it would have randomly caused her eye color to shift to silver. He could see the possibility of it mutating the code to produce no red pigment at all, but to produce a silver pigment? The structure of the molecule was completely different. It was nearly impossible...
Then the obvious conclusion struck him. "Jess? You didn't mess with the computer model did you?"
Jess was silent, a look of defiance in her eyes.
"You did!" Chris was temporarily silenced by his anger. He had been so horrified to think that Eva might have... "Damn it Jess, why?! Did you change anything but the color?!".
"No... I simply thought she would look better this way," Jessica said stubbornly.
"You thought she would look better this way?! Do you realize how frightened you just made me? God damn..."
Jess rolled her eyes. "Jesus, it's just her eye color. It looks better with the gold streaked underwings then red does."
Anthony moved in to talk to her quietly. Chris was still extremely angry. He felt completely violated that Jess had changed the code without a group discussion. How could she... Then he felt Eva on his shoulder rubbing her head against his cheek. His anger melted immediately.
Chris's office was probably the cleanest room in the building. He'd realized early on that work was much more efficient in the long term when your work environment was clean and he had the discipline to keep it that way. His huge computer monitor hung on the wall with some older software and books on CD lined up beneath it. The computer itself and a small wooden cabinet for holding data crystals acted as bookends. The rarely used keyboard pulled out of a drawer beneath the desk, leaving desk space for projects and an input tablet. The walls were shelved up to the ceiling with books and equipment. Pictures of dragons filled up the remaining wall space. Chris was pouring over data on Eva's development and metabolic functions. Like a worried father, he found ways to see every little discrepancy as a life threatening condition. There was a soft knock on the door. Why wouldn't Jess leave him? Why the hell did she insist on working on pointless plant research on the side? She was slowing them down... Chris opened the door to see a five month old Eva standing in the hallway. "Uh.. Hi Eva." She was the last person he had expected. Person? No, she wasn't exactly a person...
Eva laughed. *I would consider myself more of a 'creature'.*
Yes, a creature. Wait a minute, how had she read his mind without him allowing it? He thought he had more control then that... Chris suddenly felt uncomfortable.
*Wait, no - I'm sorry... I didn't mean to read your mind. I mean, I can't usually, but you were...*
"It's alright Eva." Chris sighed. He just hoped she couldn't read anything when he was intentionally blocking her. "Come in. What would you like from me?"
Eva approached nervously, absently closing the door with her tail. Chris wished he could do that...
There was no extra chair in the small room so Eva sat on her haunches staring down at the floor. Chris noticed, like always, how beautiful she was. Her silvery talons gripped the carpet slightly, her sleek tail sweeping down into a twisting snake behind her, its tip swishing nervously. She was already fully grown, standing about as tall as a human but moving with much more grace. The stark black curves of her unclothed body were astonishingly perfect in form as Chris traced them with his eyes. He hid his thoughts with greater intensity and looked down as Eva thought suddenly, *I've been wondering... Why did you create me?*
Chris was caught off guard by the question. How could he explain it? He couldn't lie...
*No, look, I know about genetics. You engineered me using advanced software from combined sources of DNA including much that the computers created from scratch. You envisioned me years ago, a real creature based on a mythical one your species has written about for centuries. I know that what you did might be considered unethical by many people and I know you could get into a great deal of trouble if your work is ever discovered. All I want to know is - why?*
Alright, he was prepared for this. She would have asked sooner or later. Not like it was really a big deal to tell her... "We - all three of us - want to be like you, dragons."
Eva thought for a moment. *I thought as much. I've seen the way you look at me.* Chris looked away, embarrassed. *And I've caught stray thoughts now and then. But why? Why dragons?*
Chris was almost baffled by the question. How could she be what she was and not see the advantages? "You don't see yourself as superior to us?"
*Well, certainly. I have better eyesight, hearing, strength... But so what? It would have been much easier for you to modify your own DNA and give yourself all that without changing your appearance. Why this form?*
"Humans don't have wings, do they?"
*So you want to be a dragon just so that you can fly?* Eva asked with a note of skepticism.
Chris chuckled. "No... But really, you've obviously been thinking about this. I don't have to list the abilities you have that are not available to the human form."
Eva seemed frustrated. *Yes, but... How can it be enough? How can you leave your own kind? Your species is generally very social, yet you spend all your time here working on me. Did you think I would be happy here alone while you studied me? What am I going to do with my life as the sole member of a species that isn't even supposed to exist?*
Chris was too stunned to think for a moment. Had he made a terrible mistake? Gods... He looked up at her in silence, not sure what to say, tears forming in the corners of his eyes.
Eva grimaced and looked down. *I'm sorry... I came in here with the intention of not bringing that up. I... can feel how you feel. You want to be a dragon so badly that it pains you. I don't understand that, but I understand what it's made you do. I don't know if that makes it right...*
"Oh Eva... I don't really understand it either. I don't know if it's right. I'm so sorry. I was never sure how you would react. Your life, right now, must be very lonely. Eva, already I love you like a father. Please believe that I would never knowingly hurt you. Yet I fear that I've hurt you more then anyone else ever could..." He sighed softly and closed his eyes.
Eva smiled sadly. *Better to be given the opportunity to live as a dragon then not live at all. I can't blame you, Chris, feeling how you feel. Besides, it's too late to change what's happened. Better to move on and hope for the best.*
Chris looked up into her softly sparkling eyes and smiled slightly. She was already so... mature. "You won't be alone forever. Some day there will be many dragons in the world. We can start a colony... Gods, I'm still not sure about that part either. What if we begin to multiply out of control or spread some disease or..." He paused and smiled wanly. "At the very least there will be us. We are all dedicated to becoming dragons. We had to create you first as a template, to make sure the body works before we work on the process of transformation, which is almost as complex. I knew creating you would bring serious problems... but there was no other way."
Eva laughed slightly. "Despite the fact you're doing something most of your kind would consider appalling, you generally seem to be a very ethical person. You're just lucky I didn't turn out to be Frankenstein's monster."
Chris snorted softly and nodded. "It's damn near impossible to remain ethical in this pursuit, Eva. I'm ashamed of some of the things I've had to do. Why am I so weak? Why do I let these feelings control my life?" He shrugged helplessly, watching Eva. Her wings rustled softly as she shifted them into a more comfortable position on her back.
Eva finally thought uncertainly, *I don't know if you're weak, Chris. I've met few of your kind.*
Chris smiled a bit at her honest, logical assessment. He hadn't expected her to answer.
*I don't think there's anything else I wanted to ask you. Thank you for talking to me. I'd think I'd like to be alone to think on what you've said.*
Chris nodded and Eva rose to pad softly out of the room. He sat back in his beat up swivel chair and looked at a picture of a glossy black and red dragon backflapping. He should talk to her more. Slow down the study a bit. He couldn't believe he was so close, that it had all come together so perfectly. It seemed like they'd been working on this project for many lifetimes, and yet it really hadn't taken that long. What was the phrase, "standing on the shoulders of giants"? You couldn't wield the power responsibly if you hadn't worked for it? The world was changing so fast. Computers had become so powerful they could store and model an entire genome and create a virtual representation of the creature it represented. Chris certainly hadn't had time to create that software. It had been a national collaborative effort. It was meant to study the effects of genetic diseases, create genetic treatments for diseases and even for certain cosmetic things like weight loss. It was the only way to quickly study such things without testing on a live subject, which was far too dangerous. So many incurable diseases were now a distant memory because of it. Yet some third world countries had used its power to wage a horrible biological war. They'd tried to control the software's distribution from the start, but it could be sent anywhere on the World-Net in seconds and could be leaked from any one of hundreds of collaborating institutions. Chris was afraid of what others would use it for in the future. Mankind's power was growing exponentially, standing on the shoulders of those that had gone before.
*Come on guys, I know this stuff already!*. Eva had learned more in just under a year then the average American youth learns by the end of graduate school. In fact, they had run out of useful things to teach her. They had been forced to go on to advanced textbooks dealing with subjects they didn't even understand themselves. Yet whenever they stopped teaching her, she would get incredibly bored and moody. It wasn't as if she didn't have other interests. She could work wonders on her computer, had the observation and coordination to be an artist, a writer, a dancer, the math skills to be a physicist, a chemist, anything, and yet nothing seemed to truly interest her. Was everything just too simple for her? Was she still upset that she was the only one of her kind, trapped in the small confines of the warehouse and lab? She wouldn't say. Gods it was frustrating.
Anthony had had it with her. "Alright, I'll just go wait in my office till you get bored and ask me to come back again. But I won't this time. I'm sick of this game."
Eva narrowed her eyes at him as he walked out. *You're wrong, you know.*
Chris sighed. Eva had become quite secretive and cryptic. "Wrong about what?"
*I'm not moody because your science is too simplistic or because I want to leave.*
She had read his mind again. She was getting more and more lax in asking permission to do so. "Then what's wrong?"
Eva was silent for a long time. *Never mind.*
"Never mind!? Damn it, Eva..." Chris shook his head and followed Anthony outside.
Anthony was waiting for him. "What the hell is her problem?"
"I don't know. She won't tell me."
"Won't tell you? Jesus... You always seem to get along with her so much better then me and... Well, Jess doesn't seem to like her at all. Sometimes I can't blame her. But you have no idea what's going on?"
Eva padded over to her bed to brood. Why had she done that? She had meant to tell him... She almost had. But how would he react? She wished she could read farther into his mind. She could do it with Anthony and Jessica. But Chris was too damn closed. She could only sense stray thoughts. And stray thoughts were enough to tell her that Chris was now frustrated and upset with her. Damn it, damn it, damn it...
Eva watched the sun set slowly through the dirty glass of her warehouse home. She yearned for the night as the shadows stretched towards her. The darkness hardly made a difference to her eyes, but to the eyes of humans her shadowy form was practically invisible. Tonight was a new moon, the starlight masked only by the lights of encroaching cities, and Eva planned to explore farther then she'd dared before. She loved to fly, to explore the land, the mountains, the rivers -- to look down on the sparkling cities from high high above. Sometimes she found abandoned vehicles, houses, even ruins with her keen eyesight. She only wished she had someone else to share her discoveries with. She opened the door of the warehouse casually, ignoring the creaking hinges she knew no one could hear. Slowly she spread her wings, and the wind seemed to rise up in answer, tugging her towards the sky. A lone bat passed overhead and she leapt, catching the wind and gliding low along the ground below it. Her wingbeats fell inches from the ground as she looked down, thrilled to see it rushing by so close. She rose to loom above the bat, admiring its tiny wings, so similar to her own. The delicate creature didn't veer away as she had expected, but moved behind her, riding her wake. She looked back and laughed, noticing the sky behind her was still brightened by the sun below the horizon. Glancing down, she almost thought she saw a man standing on his front porch before the roof blocked her view. A wave of fear swept over her. She should have waited for full darkness before leaving...
Chris woke up to the sound of pounding on a door. What the... Great, he'd fallen asleep in his office. 3 AM? Damn... He didn't feel like driving back to his apartment. The pounding resumed. How did this guy even know there was anyone in the building? "What is it?!" Chris yelled, stumbling out of his office and towards the main door. There was no reply, just more pounding. He finally reached the door and opened it. There stood Mr. Benson, one of their "loving" neighbors. He was obviously angry, but there was also a hint of fear in his eyes.
Deprived of the door to pound on, Mr. Benson spoke. "What the heck are you people doing over here?!"
"What do you mean?" Chris yawned, attempting to appear indifferent.
"Don't play me for a fool, boy! What kind of monsters are you people creating?! I just saw a darned bat of some sort fly over my farm. But this thing wasn't no normal bat, this thing had a twenty foot wingspan! Black as night, with a long neck and a tail. Like a... dragon! And don't think I don't know you people are responsible!"
He'd seen Eva? How? She wouldn't have gone out... Maybe it was his imagination. A coincidence. He was exaggerating the wingspan if it was Eva. "I don't know what you're talking about. We're engineering plants that will..."
"Yeah, I heard that story before. Where are all your plants, huh? You've been working here for years, but I ain't seen no gardens, no greenhouse, nothing! I'm gonna go see for myself." Mr. Benson walked off towards the warehouse.
"No! Wait!" Oh, what the hell, the door would be locked anyway. Chris followed him. What? The door was open! Shit...
"Plants, huh? I don't see no plants. I do see three mattresses in the corner. That where your 'plants' sleep, is it? And I suppose your 'plants' watch this TV here too?"
This was bad. "Look... sometimes we work late and sleep here. I don't know where you get off blaming us for whatever you saw, but I can tell you it had nothing to do with us. Now kindly get off our property." God that had sounded pathetic. If only he had lied more as a child...
Mr. Benson glared at him. "If I thought there was a chance the sheriff would believe me, I'd have you freaks arrested. But you can't keep this secret forever. I'm watching you." Mr. Benson strode out the door without waiting for a reply.
Chris was shaking with anger and fear. EVA!!! Damn it, he couldn't make her hear his mental call unless she was tuned to his mind. How long had she been doing this? For a moment, Chris was extremely angry with her. Yet he would have probably done the same thing in her situation. He realized that was why he had been so opposed to Jess's idea of putting a lock on the door. They couldn't keep her prisoner in that warehouse. Chris looked over to see Eva creeping around the corner towards the door to the warehouse. "I see you, Eva."
She jumped. Apparently she hadn't seen him. She had been staring in the direction Mr. Benson had walked off in. *I...* She was shaking.
"What's wrong, Eva? I didn't mean to startle you. Look, I know you were out, and I understand. It's alright. You've just got to..."
*They shot at me! I was flying back over this house... The Bensons? I don't know... But the lights were on and everyone must have been awake. A boy... He was standing on the porch with a gun... And he shot at me! Why, Chris? I was just flying over...*
Chris growled softly to himself. He'd taken to making draconic noises when he was young. Why did his kind try to destroy things they didn't understand? Eva wouldn't even hurt a fly. She was shaking. He moved closer and held her gently. "I'm so sorry. I wish people didn't have to react this way. We're... not all like that."
Eva sobbed softly. *I'm an alien in this world, Chris...*
"I know, Eva. I'm sorry. I..." He didn't know what else to say. He felt guilty. If he became as alien as she he would become a target as well. He didn't care. She was still shaking slightly. He began to purr softly to her. Another draconic sound he'd learned to make. Other dragons on the net had suggested that dragons purred to show pleasure like cats do, and he had embraced the sound. It was a comforting sound. Eva stopped shaking and began laughing softly.
*You sound like a cat...*
Chris smiled. "You can purr too, Eva. It's a natural sound for you."
Eva purred hesitantly. It was the most beautiful sound Chris had ever heard. He smiled and held her more tightly. It was the first time they had embraced.
Jessica still couldn't believe she'd wasted so much of her life on this idiotic dream. But now Chris and Anthony were ready to go through with it! It was insane! No, she couldn't lose Anthony this way. "Tony, are you sure about this?"
"Sure? Hell yeah! Do you think I would have wasted thirty years on it if I wasn't? Why? Aren't you sure?"
Damn it. Why did he have to be such a fool? "Well..."
Anthony's excitement seemed to drain. "Jess, if you have any doubts, I want to know about it."
"Well, yes, I have a few doubts. Like, maybe this whole thing was just a stupid children's' fantasy we took a little too far. Like maybe we might die in the process. Like maybe..." She could no longer see through the blur in her eyes. What was her problem anyway? She'd really wanted it for so long... An escape from the crap she saw around her every day. But maybe it wasn't really an escape... She'd devoted her damn life to this project. She had few friends, no social life. Hell, maybe she had latched onto Anthony out of sheer loneliness. But she didn't want to leave now. She was finally understanding human relationships, and now Anthony wanted her to leave it all to become some alien animal? Why don't you see it, Tony? It's a mistake...
"Honey, you've just got cold feet. Come on! You can't honestly want to abandon what we've worked so hard for? Come here..."
"You don't understand! Tony..." She grudgingly accepted Anthony's embrace. She was sure now. This idea had been nagging at the back of her mind since Emily had died and she had first approached Anthony. Maybe Emily had been a reminder of her mortality. A reminder that she couldn't waste any more time. Yes, she was sure it was a mistake. A horrible, horrible, mistake...
Dragon eve. Chris stood at the door to their building taking a break from the last minute preparations for the next day. The wind was hot and dry on his face, and the brightness of the sun made his artificial light accustomed eyes squint. He stared down the road towards a line of lemon trees marking the property line of the Bensons. In a month, he would be out in this world, away from the climate controlled lab and the computers and the net. He would be free to look down on those trees rather then up. It would be such a major change. And now Jess and Tony wouldn't even be with him. He wasn't surprised about Jess after the way she had acted towards Eva and towards the project in general, but he had been counting on Tony. Anthony still wanted to go through with it, Chris was sure, but his love for Jessica held him back. How could he allow this love to crush his life's dream? He had to resent her for it, if not now, then at some point. Could they ever really be happy? He didn't know... A beat up car was bouncing up the road towards him. It had bad shocks. A line of blue and red lights along the top indicated it was a police car. Chris's heart sank. Not now. Please, not now.
As it pulled up, an officer shouted out the window, "We gots reports of a wolf round these parts. Ya seen an'thin?".
A wolf? "No. Sorry. Haven't even heard a howl."
The officer scowled. "Tha Bensons said ya might know sumthin'. Said ya might even be breedin' wolves. Messin' w'their offspring. That true?"
Why would the Bensons say they were breeding wolves... But obviously they wouldn't get anywhere if they said they were engineering dragons. "No, sir. We just do research on plants. Right now, we're working on plants that can resist insects. Might help the farmers in this area earn a lot more money."
The officer paused, thinking. Chris had guessed correctly, the cop owned a farm. "I reckon ya could be right. But I still gots ta check the place out, ya know?"
Check them out? Damn. Eva! God, what were the chances she'd be listening? "Uh, sure officer. You can park around the side there." Chris pointed, hoping he would have a moment to warn the others while the car parked.
The officer turned off the engine and got out. "That's awright, I don't reckon ya gets much traffic up here an'way."
Damn it! Chris forced a smile. "Come right this way."
There's an officer here. Get out of the warehouse. Go hide over the ridge or something, and don't leave any tracks.
*Of course. I'll tell Anthony and Jessica.*
Yes, tell them I told the cop we were engineering plants that resist insects.
*Alright. Good luck, Chris.*
Thanks. For once he was glad she had been intruding on his thoughts. He was also glad to feel the calmness and clarity of her mind. It helped him focus.
The officer followed Chris quietly down the hall until Chris stopped at the first door. "I'd like ta check out the warehouse in back firs'."
Great, a cop with brains. "I'm a little busy, can I introduce you to one of my associates and let them show you around?"
The officer narrowed his eyes for a moment. "Ya didn't look too busy when I came up."
This guy certainly was smarter then he sounded. "I was just finishing my break when you came up and... I've got an experiment that needs tending."
"I'll be quick. Jus' lead the way. An' then we can both go an' see your exper'ment afterwards."
Chris shut up. He was just digging himself deeper. He didn't really have an experiment to show this guy when he was done in the warehouse. Eva?
Chris held the door while the officer stepped out of the main lab building. You're out of the warehouse, right?
Good. He shouldn't have even bothered trying to stall this guy. Eva, ask Jess if she's got any experiments running. The officer waited while Chris unlocked the warehouse door. He looked down for a moment and then knelt to examine the ground. *Jess says she does.*
"These are odd tracks," the officer said. "They weren't made by an'thing heavy, but they're large. An' they end a few feet from the door. Know what made em?"
"Nope." Chris forced a laugh. "I hope they aren't wolf tracks."
The officer scowled. "Awright, les' see the inside."
Yeah, sorry Eva. Ask Jess to give me some details on the experiment. Can she leave it unsupervised? The officer was examining the mattresses carefully, probably looking for some evidence of who slept on them.
*She says she's not even watching it right now. It's a simple amplification of some plant DNA.*
OK, thanks Eva. Tell Jess to stay out of that room.
The officer walked up to Chris. "Wha's this warehouse used for? Don't look like no plant exper'ments."
"Oh, no. This is just a kind of rec. room. Sometimes we use those mattresses to sleep the night here if we need to keep an eye on an experiment. Other times, we just take naps." Chris forced a smile.
"Don't see no hair on them mattresses. No smell either. Yet they' pretty beat up, like they' used every night."
"We've... had them a long time. Ever since we came here, actually. Almost thirty years. They probably don't smell because we washed them recently." He was going to add that they used sheets but he was afraid the officer would ask to see them.
The officer didn't look too convinced, but he didn't have much to go on either, so he led Chris back to the lab building. He seemed mildly surprised when Chris showed him Jess's experiment and managed to answer all his questions about it. Next they went to the room Jess was working in and Chris waited while Jess explained various aspects of her research to the officer. Chris was frantically wondering how he would explain the room they had set up for the next day's procedure when the officer received a call on his radio and had to leave. Chris went into his office and collapsed in his swivel chair. What if he came back? What if he came back tomorrow? Or any time within the next month or so while the transformation was taking place? Perhaps they should lie low for a week or two. Damn the Bensons.
A week had passed hellishly slowly. The officer hadn't returned, and Chris couldn't wait any longer.
"You sure you're ready for this, Chris?" Anthony asked.
Chris growled softly. "You know I've been ready for it my entire life, Tony."
Anthony smiled. Chris was never one for small talk or protocol. Alright then. He inserted the intravenous needle.
Oww. Chris had always hated needles. He could still remember not being able to sit down for a week after getting a shot in the rear as a young boy. And then the next time when they wanted to give him a shot in the arm he had started crying before they'd even done anything. The virus Anthony was injecting contained engineered DNA housed in a very large strain of virus. It would infect his cells like a normal virus, but rather then replicating itself and destroying the cells, it would simply replace the human chromosomes with new ones. These new chromosomes would eventually contain DNA identical to Eva's, but at the moment they had extra code that would, in theory, transform a human body into a dragon body. The "in theory" part was a big concern, but who else could they test it on? Hopefully any problems that came up could be handled during the transformation. Since they didn't want the virus to be able to escape and become some sort of disease, it couldn't replicate itself like a normal virus. That meant Chris needed a lot of it injected into his body. Any cells that weren't infected would be destroyed by his new immune system as foreign bodies, and cells that were already infected would be modified by the virus so they wouldn't be infected again. To make sure his current immune system didn't do too much damage to cells infected with the new DNA, he would have to stay high on immune suppressant drugs for awhile. Of course that meant he was highly susceptible to any normal disease that came along, so he would have to stay in a makeshift "bubble" that separated him from the external environment.
"What's happening with you and Jess?" Chris asked, trying to ignore the discomfort of the needle in his arm.
"Oh..." Anthony paused. "I'm going to stay with her I guess. For now anyway. I mean, I can do this anytime..." He trailed off.
Chris shook his head. He was right, he could go through the process later. But would he? Not as long as Jess was around. And he couldn't wait too much longer. The younger the body, the better the chances. So unless Jess met with an untimely demise, they would probably grow old and it would be too late. "I'm sorry. Gods, I don't know what I would do in your place. Of course, you do have someone who loves you. Maybe I should be jealous." He tried to smile.
Anthony put a hand on Chris's shoulder. "I do love her." He tried to sound cheerful, but part of him still wanted to be dragon and always would. He hoped someday perhaps it could still happen.
The next day, Chris woke up inside the bubble in the warehouse. His body appeared unchanged, but he couldn't expect anything to have happened yet. He tried to sit up but felt dizzy and weak, probably because of the drugs he was on. The clear plastic walls around him looked so fragile. They hadn't had the resources to build the bubble properly. It sat in a corner of the warehouse so that two of its walls could be reinforced by the warehouse walls. Outside all sorts of equipment hummed quietly to supply him with clean air and water and monitor his vitals. He noticed a cable snaking away from him and realized he had sensors attached to his chest and belly. He smiled wanly.
*The police came again.* Eva was lying in a dark corner of the warehouse. Her eyes reflected the light far more then her body, making them appear to float in the darkness. *They wondered where you were. Anthony told them you were on vacation. Mr. Benson doesn't seem to give up easily.*
No! They couldn't find him now. He was so close... "How'd you keep them out of here?"
Eva looked down. *I suggested that they leave.*
Chris propped himself up on an elbow to face Eva. "You what?"
*When they were getting close to the warehouse I planted the thought in their minds that they'd seen enough, that everything was alright here and that they had other things to do. There were two of them this time, and they were ready to search quite extensively. They had a warrant. I didn't know what else to do.*
Chris frowned. He hadn't known she could do anything like that. He wasn't sure he approved. Then again, what else could have been done? He sighed. "Anything else?"
*Mr. Benson knows he saw something and he's scared. After he called the police he managed to gather up a small group to search for the 'wolf' that was 'eating his chickens'.* Eva snorted at being called a wolf.
"He won't get much support if he tells the truth," Chris muttered, disgusted with the whole situation. He should have waited the full two weeks like he'd intended. He hoped life wasn't conspiring to teach him a lesson in patience.
*The wolf story kept people searching all last night. Of course the first place they searched was around here. I didn't dare leave the warehouse. Some of them were knocking on the doors and walls. If they had had a ladder to get up to the windows...* Eva trailed off, then changed the subject. *How long will the transformation take?*
"I don't know. I'd say about a month with growth stimulation." They really should have tried their transformation technique on higher life forms, but it viral gene therapy was now common and Chris hated animal experimentation, especially when used to test something like this. He sighed, thinking of all that had been sacrificed just for him. He couldn't even say it had been done for Jess and Anthony too, now that they'd backed out.
Eva interrupted his thought. *Why didn't you build the bubble in the main building? All that equipment you had to move... It seems unnecessary.*
"We would have, but there's no room."
Eva grunted. *There's an entire room in the south.*
"Yeah, but Jess... How did you know there was a room empty?"
Eva gave him a smug smile. At least it looked like a smug smile. *I've seen it.*
Chris rolled his eyes. "You could have just asked, you know. I would have let you in."
Eva just smiled. It almost seemed that Eva's eyes turned a lighter shade of silver when she smiled. Gods, she was beautiful.
The pain... Two weeks had passed, the transformation was about halfway complete, and Chris was dying. They had tried to prevent this of course, but the dragon immune system was more powerful then the human and quite hard to suppress. Before they started they thought they had worked out a drug that could do it, but it wasn't enough. Chris's body was attempting to destroy itself and doing a very nice job of it too. Jess, Anthony, and even Eva were working on the problem, trying to come up with a more effective drug. But they were too slow. Oh how he'd screwed up. The rate technology was advancing, he could have lived to be well over two-hundred. But no, that was too ordinary. He had to have more. So now he was going to die at age 46, a strange mutant, half man, half dragon. Chris let out a garbled sort of roar as another wave of pain threatened to knock him unconscious again.
Eva burst into the warehouse. *You're conscious! Oh, Chris... We didn't think you'd make it this long. Jess and Anthony are in the lab. Should I get them?*
Her thoughts sounded frantic, sad, confused. So different from her normal calm presence. It upset him further. He tried to speak. He couldn't. He couldn't speak in this screwed up hybrid body. But Eva should still pick up on his thoughts. No. Don't get them. Let them keep working. Get me some pain killers.
*No, we can't. They would only make you weaker. Please Chris, hold on. We're close. We modified the previous drug. We've just got to synthesize it. About... Three hours. Please, we're sure it will work. You've got to...* Eva swung her head away.
Was she crying? He couldn't tell. He was crying from the pain. Three hours? Oh gods... For a few minutes, he couldn't think of anything but the pain. No... He wasn't sorry... He'd known the risks... He wasn't sorry... Not sorry... He fell unconscious again.
No. He didn't want to wake up. Go away.
*Please! You're going to die if you don't stay conscious! Wake up!*
Oh what was the use. It was so much more comfortable here... He couldn't feel the pain...
"Chris? It's Anthony. Come on man, you've got to snap out of it!"
Eva spoke directly to Anthony. *He can't hear you. He can hear me but he won't listen. We've got to go in there and shake him or something.*
"We can't do that! He'll get sick and be worse off then he is now! Please Eva, keep trying."
Anthony was right of course. Eva willed her thoughts to be calm. *Chris, you're going to die if you don't wake up. Remember your dream? Fight for it. Wake up!*
Yes. Of course he should wake up. But that would mean going back to the pain... No, this was better. He could still survive. What difference did it make whether he woke up or not? Ah, so comfortable....
Eva looked over to Anthony, eyes pleading for an answer. He shrugged helplessly. She looked down at the ground, then back at Chris. *Chris... I love you.*
What? Yeah, right. She loved him. Ha-ha. Very funny Eva. You're just trying to get me to wake up. Ahhhh...
Eva roared, sick with worry and frustration. She hadn't been ready to tell him that. And now she had, and it hadn't even done any good! *He's not listening to me, damn it!* She looked down again, trying to calm herself, then made her decision. She opened the door, squeezed in, and began to shake Chris.
"What are you doing?! Damn it, you'll kill him!" Anthony rushed over and slammed the door shut, nearly pushing over the whole structure.
*Come on, you've got to wake up!*
Chris felt an earthquake. He was shaking... Oh damn, the pain was back. Eva was shaking him. Stop shaking me! I'm conscious! Oh gods, stop!
Eva hugged him. *Oh, thank you! Please, you've got to stay awake now. Please stay awake. Don't leave me here alone...*
I wouldn't leave you alone, Eva. But when the pain was gone... Everything had seemed so unimportant... I'll stay awake now. Oh, but the pain...
Anthony was angry. "That was a stupid thing you did, Eva. You may have just killed him."
*I may have just saved his life!*
Anthony shook his head. "Alright, it's done. But you're going to have to stay in there with him. We can't open this door again."
Eva nodded and sat back on her tail, her hand touching Chris's chest. She wouldn't let him fall asleep again.
Two weeks and three days later, the transformation was more or less complete. After being delirious or unconscious on medication for the past few days, Chris woke up to find himself completely in control of his faculties. He felt good. Very good. Where was he? Oh yes, the bubble. He felt Eva beside him. Still beside him. She could have left by now. Suddenly it struck him. It had really worked! My gods. He was a dragon. It had worked. A dragon. A dragon. A dragon. That was all he could think about for... He didn't know how long.
*You're crying. Are you alright?* Eva had awakened from a light sleep.
He was? He hadn't noticed. Why, he hadn't cried in... Oh gods, who cares! He was a dragon! He could think of nothing else. After 46 years...
What? Stop distracting me, damn it. He tried to say something to her. He couldn't speak. Why? He didn't want to take the energy to try and figure out why. Oh yeah... He didn't have human vocal chords. Though he did have something better. He could imitate human speech. He could imitate his old voice even. But he didn't seem to be able to control it just now. Strange. How could he answer her?
*Just nod your head if you're OK, Chris. I can't seem to read your mind anymore,* Eva added, sounding disappointed.
Nod his head? Yes, that was simple. Nod-nod-nod. But he couldn't. Alright, now he was getting annoyed. He tried to stand up. Couldn't. Something was wrong. Oh gods, something was wrong. No. Nono. Nonono...
Eva could see fear now in Chris's eyes. *Chris? It's all right. You can't move? We anticipated that, remember? It's a new body. Your mind controls it differently then your old one. Speak to me. Use mental speech.*
Mental speech? Oh yeah... That's how he was supposed to answer her. *I m f in E sto p dis T ra cTin g m E I am Dr a go n* He wasn't thinking clearly, but he didn't care. He felt giddy with joy.
Eva cocked her beautiful long black muzzle at him, then started to chuckle. *You don't seem to have the speech worked out either. But don't worry about it, you'll learn. You want me to stop 'dis t rac ting' you? Alright. Mutter something when you're ready to talk.*
Yes. He would learn. A dragon. He had almost died, but it had worked. He was a dragon. A dragon. Finally... a dragon.
Had it been seconds? Or days? Either way it was too soon for Eva to interrupt his euphoria. *They're back!*
She happened to be in the line of sight of Chris's immobile head. Unlike the rest of his body, he'd kept using his eyesight and other senses throughout the transformation, adjusting to the gradual changes. He opened his eyes to see Eva as she concentrated on the situation outside. Again he was struck by her flawless beauty. Beauty made all the more stunning when viewed through his dragon eyes. She stood erect on a desk, her strong, thin forelimbs pressed against the wall, her long body and neck stretched so she could just see out a high window. Light streamed in at an angle and was caught in the dusty air, making Eva's shadowy body seem to glow around the edges. Her wings were spread slightly in agitation, tail swimming cautiously back and forth. She lowered her head as the police moved closer and spoke to Chris. *Two days ago Mr. Benson came over here personally, again. He had a ladder and a camera. I think he saw us before Anthony scared him off with a rifle. I think he must have taken some pictures. They probably weren't very good because it was dark and the windows are old and dirty, but I guess they were enough to interest the sheriff. There are two officers heading this way. They're too convinced something's in here for me compulse them into leaving. There's more of them in the main building.*
*Mm m mM,* Chris said, barely paying attention.
*What is wrong with you? We need to leave!* Eva tried to help Chris stand. It was no use. He couldn't even crawl, much less stand. She tried to pick him up. She was surprised at how easily she lifted him onto her back, resting him on her wing joints. But of course bodies built for flying were naturally light. Eva quickly carried him through the back exit. They slipped out just as the police lifted the main warehouse door. Eva darted across a field, heading for shelter behind a hill. She was nearly there when she heard a cry of surprise followed by two gunshots.
Chris's arm felt wet. He managed to shift his eyes to look at his arm which was now beginning to hurt. What an odd color of red. Dark. Almost maroon. Like... Dragon blood! One of those bullets had hit him! Oh man. It certainly didn't feel like what he thought being hit by a bullet would feel like. There was definitely pain, but he seemed to be able to control it. Yes, he could block it out completely. Amazing. He seemed to have control over this ability at least. The bullet had just nicked him. That was good. He wouldn't have to worry about getting it out. Eva was still running, apparently unaware of his injury. Damn cops. He had nothing to cover the wound with. He almost wished he'd kept his clothes, for bandages if nothing else. *E va Sh oT m y aR m*
*What?* Eva stopped and set him down. *Chris! Does it hurt? No, of course it doesn't. Unless you can't control the pain yet. Can you?*
*No p A i n*
*Well that's good. Wait here. I'm going to sneak over to that farm and try to find some bandages.*
Without Chris to carry around, Eva leapt into the air and winged her way towards the farm, flying low to the ground in hopes of not being seen. Chris stared at the wound. Actually he couldn't move his head to stare at anything else. It had already stopped bleeding. In fact, it almost seemed to be healing. Didn't even hurt when he stopped blocking the pain. Very cool. He tried to move again. He could actually move his head slowly, if he really concentrated. His eyes moved fairly easily, though it was very hard to train them quite right on things, especially if they were moving. He could blink. He tried other body parts and found he could move almost anything a little bit if he concentrated on it. So given an hour or two, maybe he could actually crawl a few feet. He sighed. It shouldn't be like this. Movement should come naturally. That was how it worked for newborn dragons at least. But he wasn't really a newborn, was he? Oh well. Something else was bothering him... Well first off, he wasn't a 'he' anymore. He was a she. There was only one sex of dragons, each able to carry eggs and each able fertilize another dragon or even herself if the need arose. So Chris could carry eggs. Boy was that weird... Frightening almost, yet somehow comforting. They had decided to use the word 'she' as opposed to 'he' simply because 'she' suggested the ability to carry offspring. It would have been better if there was a specific sexless word other then 'it' in English, but since there wasn't, 'she' was it.
Alright, since Chris was now a she, and a dragon, it seemed an appropriate time to choose a new name for her new life. In many ways Adam seemed quite appropriate and symbolic, but she just didn't like the name. She wanted a dragon name. Orlith, Holth, Ahzdeen, Elisel, Morkeleb; names she'd read in books. They had a power to them, a presence. But none really felt right. If not Adam, perhaps Eve? Eve and Eva? Too similar. Alright, she would settle on Kystan, a name she'd called herself when playing a dragon on the net. It had been derived from Kystaa, the name of a lizard man in an old computer game she'd liked. It seemed a foolish place to get a name from, but she did like it. *e v a?*
*i wa nt Yo u tO cal l mE Ky st a n.*
*Call you what?*
*kys ta n* she thought carefully.
*Kystan? Is that what you said?*
*Alright, Kystan. Why? No, don't attempt to explain. I can barely understand you... Kystan...* she mused.
Kystan sighed. She felt like an entirely new being. Her old life seemed vague and unreal, despite the fact that she could remember it more clearly with her new mind. And that was what was really bothering her. Her new mind. Her thoughts were different. Faster. More focused. She hadn't yet drifted into another thought and forgotten what she'd been thinking about before. She'd drifted, but she could immediately return to her previous track. And her memories were definitely clearer. She'd had a habit of forgetting a person's name immediately after hearing it, but now... Now she could remember the name of every person she'd ever met! Twelfth grade calculus. She remembered that too. It dawned on her that she understood it better now then she had when taking the AP test. Well of course this was all to be expected. They had designed it to be this way. In fact she could explain all the details of her dragon brain from memory. But to actually experience it! It was like being a different person. The way she thought about things... Perceived things. It was so different. She could remember how she'd thought as a human and this was definitely different. She wasn't sure if she liked this aspect or not. It was almost like being a different person with access to the memories of her old self. But she supposed she'd better get used to it... Wait... Well how interesting. She was still thinking in her human voice. A voice she no longer possessed. She'd always wondered if someone from another country who thought in another language, say, a language that was spoken very quickly, would think more quickly. Or if it would be possible to train the mind to think in concepts rather then words. Conceptual thought was much faster, she had tried it many times, but it always seemed her thoughts weren't nailed down until she put them into words. They went by too quickly. Perhaps dragons, having no need of voice communication through a specific language, would find a more effective way to think in concepts, pictures, and ideas. Perhaps Eva already did it. Or had she been trained too early to use English? She wished she could ask her. Ah, the possibilities. She looked at her arm again. Yes, it was definitely healing. Let's see, for a wound like that, it should take what, a day to heal? Probably. Of course she couldn't be sure. Eva had never been seriously injured. In fact she'd never been minorly injured. Dragon skin was tough to scratch, and Eva was too agile and graceful to easily get into an accident anyway. So what else could she do? She stared across a wide expanse of farmland. Luckily she was on a small hill so she didn't have to lift her head. There was a barn in the distance. Instinctively she focused in on it, zooming in on the building using an ability of her mind to focus on only a small piece of what she saw, like cropping out a piece of a picture on a computer and enlarging it full screen. Startled, she blinked and the scale returned to normal. She must be able to see farther and more clearly then an eagle! Well of course she could... None of this should be a surprise to her. But still, experiencing it was extraordinary. As a human, she had been forced to wear contacts. Even laser surgery hadn't completely cleared her vision. But now... She focused on the barn again. Hints of wood shone through the peeling red paint. Her gaze wandered off to the side, to a clump of bushes behind the barn. There was something red moving beyond them. No, not red... Infrared! She could pick out the vague outline of a dog through the small gaps in the bush. Wow... She noticed small white flowers dotting the grass around the barn. She looked at one closer to her and noticed odd patterns on it in another color she hadn't noticed before. They must be the ultraviolet patterns meant to attract bees. She watched a bee as it sipped nectar from one of the flowers. In fact, she could almost hear it buzzing. She listened more closely and was suddenly flooded by a cacophony of sounds. The volume of it all was almost painful and she was grateful when the sound died away. Suddenly she felt Eva lift her injured arm. How had Eva returned without her hearing? Actually... She couldn't hear anything!
Eva's voice sounded in her mind. *Doesn't look like the bandages will even be necessary. But just to be safe...*
Kystan realized she must have gone to the opposite extreme and tuned everything out. She concentrated, willing her hearing to return to normal. Eventually she coaxed it to do so, but remained unsure of how to really control it. Oh well, she had time.
Eva seemed to have borrowed a first aid kit from somewhere. She spread antiseptic cream on the wound and covered it with pads and tape.
*T ha Nk yo u* Kystan attempted to say.
*You're welcome. We should keep going before they get the dogs on us.*
*D og S ca N t tRa ck us*
*We may have no natural scent, but you never know what we might have picked up from that warehouse, especially with all the drugs we were using. Now as I see it, the police are going to be swarming our lab for awhile, and since they've seen us, they'll probably keep some sort of watch on the building for who knows how long. I think our best bet would be to head for the mountains, away from civilization, and stay there until you've learned how to walk at least. Agreed?*
Eva lifted Kystan onto her back and headed for the mountains.
Sheriff Tod Nelson stood amidst a large group of country officers on a dusty road beneath a shady clump of trees. Nearby the lab was swarming with officers still scurrying in and out like ants carrying pieces of equipment and other evidence like morsels of food. All in all there were about fifty men outside from all over the county, all of them waiting impatiently next to their beat up squad cars to receive orders from the Sheriff.
"Alright. We're not sure what we're dealing with, but we appear to have two animals of unknown species loose in the area. They've been described by Mr. Thompson and Mr. Renolds as black in color, so black they appear to be shadows even in strong sunlight, bipedal walkers, about 15 feet long including a long neck and a tail with a noticeable diamond shaped tip. Renolds says they seemed to have wings folded on their backs but weren't using them because one seemed to be injured while the other carried it on its back, supporting it with humanoid arms. I don't have to tell you that that behavior suggests a high degree of intelligence."
The officers around the Sheriff were talking and laughing as if they thought the gathering was a joke. The Sheriff called for order. "Now I know the creatures I have described sound fantastic and in fact a six limbed creature is evolutionarily impossible, but Mr. Renolds, Mr. Nelson, and three members of a family, the Bensons, claim to have seen these creatures. Their testimony is backed up by some very strange equipment found in that lab and warehouse over there. I have to assume that if this isn't an elaborate hoax, these creatures, 'dragons' according to Mr. Benson, are the product of a genetic engineering experiment which has been made illegal in the United States. We need to capture these creatures as evidence, and to protect the public at large. Mr. Edwards, you find this funny?"
Chuck Edwards stopped laughing instantly and bellowed. "No, sir!"
Tod Nelson scowled but didn't have time to discipline him now. Besides, he probably would have laughed too if someone had told him what he was telling these men. "Alright, the creatures exited that warehouse behind the laboratory and headed up that hill. There are visible tracks of a type we've never seen before. Their depth suggests that the two creatures together weigh between one-hundred and one-hundred fifty pounds. Initial scouting with tracking dogs and equipment has proven ineffective, so we'll have to do this the old fashioned way."
"What the hell's he thinkin', Murphy? We ain't gonna find anythin'. There's nothin' t'find." Steven McForrester and Murphy Johnson were driving slowly on a piece of rutted road amidst fields of corn. A team trained in tracking had followed the "dragons" for a few miles, but without effective scent tracking, they had lost the trail at a river. The two officers were now heading in the general direction the creatures seemed to have been going but the chances of finding them seemed impossibly slim.
"I don't know, man. But I know Renolds, and he definitely saw something... Wait. What's that over there?" It was early in the season so the corn in the fields was still fairly short. Amidst it, Murphy saw a black shape moving slowly away from them.
"I don't see nothin'," Stephen said, anxious to complete their search and get home.
"I saw something black. There, I definitely see something moving. Come on." Murphy opened the door and began to get out of the car.
"Wait! Shouldn't we call for backup or sumthin'?"
"Backup from where? We're spread too thin as it is. Like you said, we're probably not gonna find anything. Don't wanna waste more manpower on it then necessary. Come on."
Murphy was always going in without backup. Normally it didn't matter too much in the small, peaceful towns they patrolled, but this time they had no idea what they were dealing with. Stephen sighed and got out of the car to follow, loosening the clasp on his gun belt.
Eva suddenly stopped and set Kystan down in the middle of a corn field. *I just heard a car stop and two doors slam. We'd better lie low for a bit.*
Oh great, thought Kystan. Not this again. It always ended up that Eva had heard farmers stopping to pick up supplies or something. She sighed. This all could have been so much simpler if they had left without being seen. Hell she'd had a chance to learn to use her body or even fly they could have reached the mountains in no time. But instead, Kystan was a helpless bundle being carried miles by a grounded dragon all the while being hunted by the state police force. Oh well, adventure was part of what she wanted as a dragon, wasn't it? She tried to smirk.
15 year old Ben Taylor sat at the window, bored, staring out at the gently blowing corn outside his white house. He noticed a police car stop on the road nearby. Two officers came out and walked into his family's corn field. Strange. Oh well, he might as well check it out. Nothing better to do. He sluggishly got up and wandered to the door. He stood for a moment in the doorway, staring out at the heads of the two officers wending their way across the field. Then he noticed something else. From his higher vantage point on the porch, he could see a faint trail ending in a small gap in the corn, as though something were hiding there, pushing it to the side. He had stared at that field long enough to know it wasn't natural. This was getting interesting. Whatever was out there must be as big as a cow. He wondered for a moment if he shouldn't stay inside and let the police handle it, but his curiosity got the better of him and he stalked silently into the field. It was his family's field after all. He was short enough that the cops couldn't see his head if he crouched a little as he walked. After a few minutes he figured he should be around where the animal was hiding. He peered between the corn stalks ahead. He could see something black. Not moving. He edged a little closer. Two large gray eyes stared at him from within the blackness. Ben froze. This wasn't any animal he'd ever seen. But he kept cool. It wasn't attacking. Didn't even look alarmed. He'd had enough experience with animals to know. Still, maybe he should yell for the two officers.
Then a new thought entered his mind. He shouldn't be frightened. He should just stay calm and quiet. Actually, he should just turn around and go back. It was just an animal. It would go away soon.
He scowled. This wasn't a normal animal. He wanted to know more about it. He couldn't just leave. Why was he thinking that? Maybe he'd better get the officers, this was too strange.
Eva lay staring at a young, freckle faced boy with tasseled red hair peering at her between stalks of corn. She could hear the officers rustling farther away. From what they were muttering, they seemed to be getting frustrated and were ready to give up. She couldn't let this boy make a sound. Damn it, her compulsion didn't seem to be working. Not that she'd really expected it to. The thoughts she was putting in his mind ran too contrary to logic and normal behavior. His common sense told him to call the officers. She'd have to talk to him. *Please listen. My name is Eva. I'm a dragon. There's another behind me named Kystan. We've done nothing wrong, but those officers are trying to capture us. They don't know what we are. They're afraid we're wild animals that are going to hurt people. But we're not going to hurt anyone. All we want is to get away from here. Please keep quiet.*
What? Who the hell was speaking to him? The animal? A dragon it called itself. He watched her quietly for awhile and then whispered, "May I come closer?"
*If you wish. But do so quietly.*
Ben edged closer. There were two of them. One lay on the ground, not moving. He almost looked dead. But no, there was faint breathing. And he was looking up at him with deep silver eyes. Ben was entranced by those eyes for a moment. They sparkled, even in the dim light. He pulled his gaze away and asked, "Is he hurt?"
*No. Not at all. And she's a she, not a he. We're both hermaphroditic.*
"You're what?" Ben was getting braver, speaking more loudly.
*It means a creature possessing aspects of both sexes. Look, I don't have time to explain our situation. Please be quiet.*
Quiet? But he had to talk to these creatures! He looked at Eva again. He'd never seen an animal remotely like her. Six limbs? But that was impossible! At least he thought it was. He'd certainly never heard of an Earth animal with six limbs. "What are you, anyway? Are you from another planet?" He asked incredulously.
Eva began to chuckle in spite of herself. *No. And I said I don't have time to explain. Nor do I wish to. If you're going to continue to ask questions, could you at least whisper?*
"Alright," Ben whispered, "I'm sorry." He still couldn't figure out what she was. She was nothing like any animal he'd seen or heard of. She couldn't be from Earth. But she claimed she wasn't an alien. What else was there?
Eva figured the officers were far enough away for them to move safely. *OK, we're going to leave you now. It's been nice talking to you,* she added, trying to sound polite. She'd never spoken to a young human before. His thoughts were so strange - illogical and curious. She didn't know how to deal with him.
"Wait!" Ben said entirely too loudly, "You can't just leave. Tell me what you are! Where did you come from?"
*I can't. I'm sorry.* With that, Eva lifted Kystan and moved quietly away.
Damn it, Ben had to know more about them. He followed Eva. She paused and looked back at him, annoyed.
*Look, you can't follow us. I thank you for not calling the police officers, but I can't explain what we are. No one must know. And staying here having a conversation with you can only give the officers time to find us.*
Ben scowled. What was she hiding? He suddenly remembered dragons being mentioned in the bible. They were supposed to bring the end of the world or something. They were evil! "If you don't tell me what you are, I'll call the officers right now!"
Eva narrowed her eyes and pondered the boy. He started to get nervous and backed away. If she was evil, she would probably be able to kill him before the officers could stop her. "I... Uh... Alright, fine! Go! Keep your damn secret!"
Eva turned and walked swiftly away.
Ben was immediately sorry he had been intimidated. Yet pride and fear kept him from following after he'd told her to go. But there was something he could do. He ran for his house and burst into the living room, almost tripping over the family dog. He headed for his room and started rummaging through his drawers. There! An old camera he'd gotten from his grandfather. He almost never used it, but the film should still be good. He rushed back to the window. Hmmm... There! He tracked the movement in the corn through the view finder. They were disturbingly far away. Still, as Eva and Kystan emerged from the field and started running across freshly plowed land, Ben snapped off the few pictures he had left on the film. They were pretty far away, but he should still have gotten some decent shots. Now people would have to believe him.
"Sheriff?" Murphy prompted.
Sheriff Nelson was sitting at his desk gazing at the pictures the Taylor boy had taken. What he saw was definitely not natural. But what was even more frustrating then the unknown, was knowing that the unknown had slipped through his fingers. Knowing that he never would know what had really happened. Of course the damn scientists were still playing innocent, claiming they were doing plant research. Sneaky bastards had destroyed or hidden any evidence there might have been and actually did seem to be doing something with plants, but he knew they were lying. They were covering something up. And the third member of their team? Well of course they didn't know where he'd went. Said he'd gone on vacation and never come back. It was such bullshit! He slammed his fist on his desk. Murphy flinched. He'd had search teams out for four days, but it was obvious that these creatures were fast enough to have traveled far out of their search area by now. The state police had just laughed when he suggested they put out an APB for dragons. "Alright, Murphy, call off the search. They're long gone by now. Report to me personally if you hear of any more sightings."
"Yes, sir!" Murphy said, relieved to be dismissed.
Nelson remained at his desk, still staring at the pictures.
By the end of the fourth day, Eva had carried Kystan about two hundred miles away from the lab. They were deep in the mountains now and figured that they would be safe if they stopped. For the next few weeks, Kystan learned to move, crawl, and finally walk. She felt like a child. She was a child. It would have been humiliating, but somehow Eva always made her feel comfortable. It was just a part of the transformation, she said. Ah, Eva. So wonderful.
Eva wheeled lazily in the thermals a few hundred feet from Kystan. *Come on in, the air's fine!*
Funny... Wonder where she picked up that expression? Kystan stood at the edge of a sheer granite face, five thousand feet above the sprawling forest beneath. The rock felt rough and cool beneath the pads of her feet. She tapped her talons against it lightly and laughed to herself. She was suddenly conscious of her tail sweeping back behind her, being blown lazily back and forth by the breeze. Its gentle weight felt so natural, like she'd been missing it all her life. She smiled gratefully. It would help her steer today during her first flight. Gods how she had dreamed of this moment. Kystan swept her wings out like a cape being blown back by the wind and flexed them, feeling the air. She swung her neck to admire them, reaching up to touch one of the shimmering, gold etched membranes to find it slightly elastic, but firm. She loved how it felt. These were her wings. Hers. This must be some wonderful dream...
*Stop feeling yourself and get out here!* Eva tried to sound stern.
Kystan laughed. She'd been waiting all her life for this. The last few weeks had bean practice, flapping on the ground, imitating movement, watching and listening to Eva. She looked to the trees far below and, as usual, felt no fear for the height. She jumped towards the void, welcoming it as her own. Her wings caught the air easily, balancing as if by instinct. Perhaps her flight was unimpaired by her old human neural patterns because the muscles she used now were all new. It didn't matter now. She stared wide eyed at the spectacle around her, already able to keep up with Eva as they climbed towards the clouds. Slipping through the blue between, Kystan was surrounded by fluffy white islands, finally below her instead of above. She smiled and purred softly to herself, flitting around a cloud, trying to follow its strange billowing contours, her wings leaving tiny swirling eddies of mist. It was a fantastic world of white flowing hills, a slowly shifting landscape caught somewhere between fluid and solid. Kystan dove, feeling moisture cover her body as she fell easily through the whiteness, not as solid as it had appeared. Underneath was a panorama of green - forests and rolling hills with granite fingers breaking through and reaching towards the sky. Light radiated through wispy gaps between clouds, casting luminous beams for Kystan to soar between. This was heaven. This was freedom. A memory of golden wings came to her and she blinked, missing a wingbeat. The thought vanished as quickly as it had appeared. She tried to reach back in her memory to find it again, but it was gone. She frowned, but soon became caught up again in the feel of the air rushing past. It was so much more exhilarating to be part of the wind rather then to feel it through the control stick of a rented plane. Up ahead, a lake sparkled in a lush valley. Tilting her wings - her wings - she turned towards it. They carried her faster and faster, black knives cutting effortlessly through the air. Chilling wind couldn't touch her inner warmth. Now over the lake, wings folding, she dove, throwing back her head to trumpet her happiness to the world. The sound echoed around her as she hit the water, sending a tumult of water ten feet into the air. She found that she could still fly under the water, beating her wings slowly and half furled through the denser substance that surrounded her. Deeper she dove, suddenly intent on touching the bottom, just to see if she could. Her eyes adjusted as the rippling light from above faded away. Ah, she could see the bottom, a silt strewn wonderland of odd shapes, marred occasionally by pieces of refuse, the wreckage of a small speedboat... Damn!
Eva noticed the problem at almost the same time Kystan did. *Kystan! There are cabins around the lake! People have come out and are trying to figure out what all the commotion was about. I've got to get above the clouds before they see me.*
*Just stay up there. I'll figure a way out.* Kystan said, annoyed with herself.
*Alright. You're just lucky it was too early for them to be up.*
Eva's thoughts were tinged with a sense of disapproval. Fool. How could she have been so careless? And more importantly, how long could she stay under water? Her lungs were somewhat similar to a bird's, with anterior and posterior air sacs that cycled air though a central lung. It was a highly efficient system, letting her breathe in the very thin high atmosphere, but unfortunately it didn't allow her to breathe water. On the other hand, her blood could retain a very large amount of oxygen. Of course her blood could also carry carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, but oxygen was what was important at the moment. Anaerobic respiration in muscles allowed her to go without oxygen even longer. She could even slow her heart rate and drift, but that wouldn't really help her get out of this mess. So in theory, she could probably stay under for up to an hour, but at the moment she didn't want to put that theory to the test. It was safer to get out as soon as possible. Perhaps if she swam to an area on the shore where there weren't cabins and the cover of forest was nearby she could make a run for it. Of course she didn't know where the cabins, the people, or their boats were. She could swim up and poke her eyes out of the water, risking being seen or being hit by a boat. Hrm. A thought was nagging at the back of her mind. There was a better way... Echo location! She couldn't believe she had forgotten about it. She smiled. Hopefully the instinct to use it had carried over... She sent out a burst of ultrasonic sound. As alien parts of her brain processed the returning echo, she was suddenly aware of objects around her. This was too cool! She spent the next five minutes sounding the whole area, loving the odd sense of spatial location it gave her. Then she remembered she was going to run out of air. Probably not the best time to be experimenting. She turned and winged her way quickly towards what appeared to be a deserted section of the lake's perimeter. Upon reaching it she sent out a narrower beam of sound, trying to discern the echo of any people that might be near. She couldn't. Hopefully that meant that there weren't any. Should she move quietly or run? She ran, bursting noisily through the water's surface and sprinting over the hot sand and into the forest.
*You've got to be more careful in the future,* Eva said to Kystan when they were safely back in the cave they had made into a temporary home.
Kystan didn't care to talk about it. *How far does echolocation reach, anyway?*
She started to repeat the question. *How far...*
Eva cut him off. *I know, I heard you the first time...* She didn't like the way Kystan had changed the subject. *Haven't you tested it yourself?*
*I only remembered I had it when I was in the lake.*
*Really? I rely on it all the time. Hmm... Well, it depends where you are. In the sky, with nothing in the way, you can probably detect a bird about a mile away if you direct a narrow beam directly at it. Of course you need to see it to direct the beam so the only reason for using echolocation is to determine how far away it is.*
*Interesting...* Kystan trailed off, wishing to think.
After a few moments of silence Eva looked over at her. *What are you doing?*
Kystan craned her neck towards Eva. *What do you mean?*
*You've got your wings wrapped around your body.*
*So - why?*
*I like to remind myself that they're there.*
Eva stared at her for a moment and then began to chuckle quietly.
*Nothing,* Eva managed between giggles.
*Alright! I'll stop. Jesus...* Kystan folded her wings neatly to her back. *Happy?*
*Well then stop laughing!* Kystan leaned back against a smoother portion of the cave wall, trying to get her mind off of the beautiful wings at her back. Eva took them too much for granted.
*I'm sorry Kystan... But you just looked so funny...* Eva was still shaking.
Eva shook her head. *I don't know what it is with you and flying. I enjoy flying too, but you treat it like it's some sort of religion.*
Kystan sighed. How could she explain? She'd already tried many times. They sat in silence for a while.
Eva asked, *If you like flying so much, why didn't you make dragon wings feathered? You know that type of airfoil is more effective at producing lift.*
*Because dragons don't have feathers.*
*That's your reason? What happened to creating the perfect creature?*
Kystan shook her head. *Perfect is in the eye of the beholder. For example, does the ability to breathe fire really warrant the extra weight needed to store the chemical components and organs? Logically, you might argue that it doesn't. If we really want to defend ourselves, we should carry guns. But what if we get stuck without a gun? The fire could save our life. Then again, so could a number of other things. Our ability to heal quickly, great strength, talons, et cetera. So is fire worth it? When there was no real compelling reason one way or the other we fell back on the obvious; dragons breathe fire.*
*That didn't answer my question.*
*I'm sure you've thought of every logical reason I have.*
*Probably. But tell me anyway.*
*Well, first of all, feathers would be heavier and thicker, making the wings more bulky and annoying when we're on the ground. Second, it would be harder to put black chlorophyll in feathers, and there would be parts of feathers that would be covered up and always in shadow, making the chlorophyll there a waste of resources. Third, we don't have small beaks to preen feathers with, nor would I want the oil secreting gland on my body necessary to coat the feathers with, nor would I want to waste time preening them in the first place. Fourth, dragons don't have feathers.*
Eva smiled. *What about a double membrane structure, flat on the bottom and rounded on the top. An airfoil like that might work even better then feathers.*
*Yes, it might. But again you have the problem of bulk and weight. And how do you keep the air pressure between the membranes constant? You'd need a pump of some sort and a valve to keep the pressure constant, otherwise the changing pressures on the wing's surfaces while flying would push air in and out with undesirable results. And what if a membrane was cut or broken? Simple designs just tend to be more reliable, if slightly less effective.*
*Tell me something I don't know.*
*So you figured that all out on your own?*
*Then why did you make me explain it?*
Kystan growled softly. *You...*
Kystan smiled a little. She was still upset by the lake incident.
Eva shook her head. She hated to see Kystan in a bad mood. But she didn't seem to be helping much. She moved over to sit beside her.
Kystan thought, *We should go back to Jess and Anthony. See if we can sell some equipment and buy a house in the wilderness somewhere.*
Eva lowered her eyes. *Yes, I suppose...*
Kystan looked at her in surprise. *Why not? You don't like living in this cave, do you?*
*No... But I also don't want to see them again.*
*Well they're... I don't know... I mean, it seems like they raised me and then rejected what I am. At least Jess did... And Anthony decided to follow her. But you didn't.*
*No, I didn't. But you can't expect everyone to be willing to make such a radical change. Even I still have my fears. They didn't reject you, they just wanted something different then we did.*
Eva snorted. *Maybe Jess did, but not Anthony.*
Kystan nodded. *Perhaps.*
Eva sighed softly. *Kystan?*
*Did you hear what I said when you were unconscious in the bubble?*
Kystan cocked her head. She had been in such pain, half delirious... Then it came back, and she smiled. *I love you too, Eva.*
Eva smiled. She looked down, then back up. She leaned forward and licked Kystan's cheek gently. Kystan took her in her arms, caressing the wings at her back. They purred softly to each other, necks entwining.
Eva spoke first. *I was so afraid you'd heard me, but that you had been trying to forget. That you were uncomfortable with it...*
Kystan shook her head. *No, Eva. How could you not know I loved you? I thought you could read my mind. I thought you were the one who was uncomfortable.*
Eva smiled sadly. *I could never catch more then stray thoughts from you. Your mind was always so guarded.*
Kystan nodded. *I'm sorry, Eva. I've always been alone. I've learned to be defensive. Keep people out. But you knew that I loved dragons...*
Eva pulled away. *Dragons? You love me only because of what I am?*
*No! Eva... You're the most wonderful, kind, intelligent, and beautiful creature I've ever met.*
*You mean ever created.*
Kystan sighed. *Yes, I suppose you have a point. I did design you to be what I most admired. Does that make it wrong to love you? You could have turned out to be a selfish, violent animal.*
*Not with the DNA you gave me.*
*Yes, you could have. That was my greatest fear. We don't know exactly what creates a personality. Yes, we did make sure you didn't have any chemical imbalances that have been known to cause violent behavior. And we did make sure you would be highly intelligent. But we had no idea what you would really be like. I can tell you for a fact that Emily wasn't like you. Your first thought to us was asking why we looked different then you. Emily never asked such a question. Yet her DNA was virtually identical to yours.*
*But you still don't know that I could have turned out any other way. Maybe you got lucky and created genes for the perfect personality too.*
Eva shook her head. *I'm sorry... I... Normally everything is so clear to me, but these feelings just make me... I don't know how to deal with them.*
Kystan laughed for a moment. *Nobody does, at first. I've lived forty-six years, had a few failed relationships, and I still don't always know how to deal with such feelings.*
Eva looked down and smiled a little.
A thought occurred to Kystan. She opened her mind, dropping the strong mental defenses she had grown used to keeping up.
Eva sensed the change in mental state immediately. She looked at Kystan in surprise.
*No more secrets, Eva.*
Eva stared at Kystan for a long moment, then let her own shield slip and touched Kystan's thoughts. Suddenly, Kystan was Eva. She remembered vaguely her childhood, her hunger for knowledge and understanding, her initial confusion and distrust of humans that had slowly turned into love for one of them. The jealousy, the hate, the bitterness, along with the selflessness, the love, the understanding; everything that Eva was, Kystan understood. Then she was Kystan again, back in her own mind, yet a part of Eva remained.
Eva spoke first. *You had an unhappy childhood.*
*So did you.*
*Nothing compared to yours.*
*Mine was all in my mind. You had the real problems.*
*But your pain was so much greater...*
*I still love you.*
*And I, you.*
"Amazing," Anthony said over a cup of coffee. "We didn't think you two would escape. Those two cops, along with the Bensons, somehow convinced the sheriff they'd actually seen something. They had a manhunt like you wouldn't believe. I think the sheriff thought he could be famous for capturing aliens or something."
Jess spoke up. "So what did you come back here for, anyway?" She didn't seem pleased to see them.
Kystan had squeezed herself into a chair in their tiny laboratory kitchen. Her tail was pinned uncomfortably against its hard wooden back, and she wished she had considered the problem before taking her usual seat. Eva waited outside, not wanting to come in contact with Jessica. *We need to get some money and buy a house.*
Jess choked on her coffee, "A HOUSE? For what?! We don't have enough money for a house! You think we'd be living in an apartment if we did?!" She didn't see why those two damn freaks should have the right to ask her to screw up her life even more then she already had. She couldn't seem to get anywhere on her plant research, no one wanted to fund it, and the old foolish dream she had clung to all these years was gone. Now it seemed to have come back to hurt her anew.
Kystan was taken aback by her anger. *Please Jess, calm down. We'd just like to sell some of the more expensive equipment.*
"Uh, news flash! We're still working here. We need this equipment."
*You've only got two people working here now. You can at least sell the computer I was working off of. And you can't need the incubator, or the bubble, or even the warehouse.*
"We've already sold all of that, and we're renting the warehouse. We bought equipment we need for our research and we just don't happen to have enough money left over for you to buy a house. We're really very sorry," Jess said sarcastically.
*Damn it Jessica, I helped pay for this building and that equipment!*
"Not much you didn't! We had the majority of the capital!"
Kystan growled deep in her throat. She noticed a hint of fear in Jess's eyes. *At the very worst, you have to assume I own at least a fifth of what's in this building.*
"We don't have anything to spare!" Jess shot back.
*Look, Jess, I'm sorry you're having financial difficulties, but I never signed over my portion of the investment to either of you. I legally own some of this stuff.*
"You gave up your legal rights when you left the human race! Now get the hell out before we call the police!" She stood up and stepped back, reaching for a phone, her hand trembling noticeably.
Kystan and Anthony stood up at the same time. Tony spoke first, "Chris... We have our own lives now. All the investment into the dragon project was wasted money for us. We're trying to change direction now and limit our losses. We can't... afford to give you anything."
"And don't forget we spent a week in jail for you, not to mention all the public controversy, phone calls - hell, they tried to burn this building down with us in it! The way I see it, you owe us," Jess added coldly.
Kystan growled again, unconsciously baring her teeth as she stood up, causing Jess to grab the phone. Kystan stared at them for a long moment, trying to control her anger. Jessica and Tony had done a lot for them, and taking the money would probably bankrupt them, but Jess had no right to speak to her that way. *Thanks for all the support, old friends. I see that my time here is wasted.* She turned to leave.
"Chris, wait," Anthony called.
Kystan ignored him and walked outside where Eva was waiting, tense with anger. As she exhaled through her nose, two tiny flames appeared followed by puffs of smoke. Kystan raised the dragon equivalent of an eyebrow and Eva sat down on the dry grass, unclenching her fists.
*Don't burn your lungs out, dear,* Kystan chided.
*Damn she makes me angry.*
*It's alright. We're not in any danger of starving. We've got all the time in the world. Hell, we could build our own house.*
*With what? Even if we were to cut down trees, how would we cut them? Where would we get a hammer and nails? Steal them? We can't get a job...*
*Actually, we could. We've both got considerable talents that could be used behind the scenes, and I've got some old friends that might be willing to help. But I was just thinking of something even better. You can probe the memories of humans, right?*
*Yes. Why? You can't?*
*To an extent, but you've had much more practice. I was thinking you could scan the minds of the leaders of the big businesses around here, see what they're up to. And if they were going to, say, release a new product in the near future that might cause their stocks to skyrocket, we simply buy stock now before they release it. I've still got a few thousand in the bank, and I'm sure some of my friends would loan us even more money...*
*Isn't that like insider trading? Illegal?*
*Well... Probably. But look at all the money we lost to Anthony and Jessica. And I'm going to miss out on the retirement pension I could have had in a few years, and social security...*
*And you're also missing out on food expenses, medical insurance, car insurance, taxes... You're rationalizing.*
Kystan smiled. *I know. It's not exactly ethical. But it's not exactly bad, either. Do you realize what we can do for the world? We could buy land away from companies cutting down the few remaining rain forests. We could fund all sorts of environmental and social movements.*
Eva looked skeptical. *Like a modern Robin Hood.*
Kystan nodded. *I've been angry with how humans have treated the planet all my life, Eva. Some people care, but those with all the money and power bend the laws in their favor. Who else is going to take a stand but us?*
*Even so, how do you rationalize buying a house with this money?*
Kystan shrugged. *Call it a salary. I'm sure the people we help wouldn't mind. Maybe we can supplement it with other more legitimate jobs.*
Eva raised her brow. *And just the two of us are going to do all this?*
Eva mulled it over. *I don't know whether you're brilliant or insane.*
Kystan just smiled.
"You hear them stories about dragons sighted around here Frank?" a tall, oversized worker inquired of a thin man putting the finishing touches on a linoleum floor.
"You know Eddie got so freaked one day he just left. Him and me, we was friends! But he just up and left! Looked scared to death. I really think something strange is going on."
"Oh, yeah man, I'm sure. People are always comin' up with strange sightin's. Them V-net specials got everyone b'leavin in aliens nowdays too. Get with the program Tom, it's all jus' talk."
Tom wasn't so sure, "But I've never heard of people seein' dragons before. Loch Ness monster, aliens, bigfoot, sure, but dragons? And this house is really strange too. It's like it's built for people who're 8 feet tall! You got any idea who's gonna live here, Frank?"
"Nope." Frank said, getting tired of Tom's fantasies. Couldn't they talk about something interesting? Like women?
"I don't know man, but you've gotta be pretty weird to live in the jungle at the top of a huge cliff on an uninhabited island. How they even gonna reach the house? There ain't no way up here 'cept by helicopter. That's gotta get pretty expensive. And where are they gonna get food? Whoever's building this baby's gotta be pretty rich and pretty weird. But look at the materials they got us usin'. Linoleum? Rich people would use fancy tile. And the place ain't anywhere near mansion sized. It don't make sense."
"OK man, stop worryin'. Those eccentric rich people build crazy stuff like this all the time. You ever hear of that guy that got his own amusement park built right into his mansion? Don't nobody use it except him and a few invited guests. That's crazy. Whoever's buildin' this is economical. They got sense not to waste their money."
"I still don't like it." Tom said, looking nervously into the jungle behind him.
"Jus' keep on workin' man. We're bein' paid good for this job, so don't blow it."
Kystan and Eva floated lazily around their new island home. The island was quite small, the tip of a volcanic mountain covered in dense jungle. All the buildable land was hard to reach by conventional transportation and there wasn't much of it, so it had been inexpensive. Eva and Kystan had spent weeks flying building materials over to save on transportation charges, and they'd done a lot of the work on it themselves. It was nice to finally get out of the caves they'd been staying in near the top of the mountain. They'd already found a man named Charles to stay with them in their new home. He was the intermediary they'd used to conduct all the contracting work on the house, the island, and most of their investments. They were now letting him stay on in the house, free of rent, with the condition that he continue to take care of any business they needed done that required contact with humans. It was really working out quite nicely so far. Passing over a ridge they saw it, a mid-sized two story house, pure white with a black roof that twinkled with solar panels. It sat like a roosting swan above a narrow white sand beach hundreds of feet below. A waterfall cascaded off the cliff not far away, carving out a small lush lagoon below, secluded in the perpetual mist of the fall. The view from above was decidedly breathtaking. Kystan and Eva drifted slowly downward, two kites in the warm, tropical breeze. They headed not for the house, but for the lagoon. On a mental cue, they folded their wings and dove together. Eva's clarion call reverberated throughout the cliffs as they hit the warm water together.
Eva surfaced, the water on her skin glinting in the sun. *Lovely,* she said, craning her graceful neck to gaze at the waterfall.
*So are you, my mate,* Kystan replied, her mind's voice filled with love.
Eva smiled and turned to her, her silver eyes sparkling like the sun on the pristine water around them. They kissed. Even after a year together waiting for this house to be completed, Kystan thrilled to her touch.
Eva crooned softly and ducked under the water's surface playfully, swimming around Kystan's legs. Kystan then lost sight of her till she surfaced some distance away, laughing.
Kystan looked towards the waterfall and was still amazed to see the rainbows glittering in the mist, edged with the indescribable colors now visible to her eyes. The memory of golden wings was pulling at her mind again. When she was young she'd wanted to be a golden dragon, but gold reflected light instead of absorbing it. She'd tried to convince herself that her desire to be dragon was a desire to be something better, and yet here she was wishing for heavy, reflective golden scales. Why? She concentrated on the vision and this time it didn't fade away. The golden wings were hers. She was flying over strange terrain... The plants were like none she'd seen before. But no, they were familiar. Everything was so familiar. She looked at Eva in shock. Could it be?
Eva swam back to her. *What is it?*
Kystan closed her eyes. *I've... been a dragon before. I remember. Another world. Golden wings. It explains so much, Eva...*
Eva looked at Kystan curiously.
Kystan smiled and took Eva in her wings, kissing her again. It made no scientific sense, yet she was sure it was true. Something about her new mind let her remember now. She'd lived before, on another world. All her life she'd been missing it. She'd been sad and longing and didn't understand why. But now she was dragon again. She remembered what she was. She finally felt at peace.