Alex finished gutting the deer, deer-like, creature and hoisted the carcass into the sample cooler in Leon’s cargo area. Finding it had been a minor challenge, bringing it down had been even less of one. He could see now why the wildlife departments on most worlds forbade hunting from vehicles.
And hunting with auto-locking turrets.
It was bad enough that the creature hadn’t known what to do when Leon rolled out into the meadow, but it really had no chance when a laser designed to shoot down hypervelocity missiles locked onto its head within a millisecond of Alex confirming his kill order and punched a pen-sized hole clean through.
As far as pastimes went, Alex found this one pretty boring.
Still, however boring or unfair, it was an efficient way to stock the Daniel Boone’s larder. His crewmates were going to need meat when they woke up, and the protein analyzer insisted that this was a hundred kilos of prime grade.
He finished securing the carcass so it would stay put and closed the cooler, then took a look around the meadow.
Flowers, shrubs, waist-high grass. Beyond that, all around, twenty-meter high trees.
No humans. Nothing else large.
Nothing moving except for bugs.
He spotted something brightly colored fluttering on a flower nearby.
It looked like a butterfly.
He zoomed in with his optics. It was a butterfly. His suit computer identified it as a close relative of Junonia Coenia, the common buckeye.
The deer was not a deer, but the butterfly was definitely a butterfly.
Where was this? Maybe it was an ahlstromformed world that hadn’t been discovered yet.
Fifty-light years or more from any other stars.
Lord. Where IS this?
The scream cut through the sky and yanked him out of his thoughts. He tagged the close switch on the cargo hatch and ran for the driver door.
“Leon, you hear that?”
“Of course. Triangulation puts it at about 1.4 kilometers north-northeast of us. Also, about fifty-meters above-ground, and falling. I have two drones on the way already.”
Alex dropped into the driver’s seat. The auto-harness grabbed onto his armor and snugged him in immediately.
“Get us there. That was not a happy scream.”
“Roger,” Leon said, and took off so fast Alex was punched deep into his seat. On smooth, solid ground wildcats were capable of going well over four-hundred kph. While the forest was anything but smooth and solid, Leon still managed an average speed over one-fifty, using every off-road trick he had.
Thirty seconds later he skid-braked to a stop and tagged a human target running across the forest floor for Alex’s attention.
“One human female… make that human-oid female… apparently in distress. Her wings are burning.”
Alex zoomed in on Leon’s mark and immediately saw what he was talking about. A woman who appeared very human, very caucasian, was running across the forest floor leaving a trail of smoke that came from the large, feathered, wings attached to her back.
Alex almost stopped thinking at that point…
Wings. She has wings!
…but something about the fact that she seemed more concerned with running than with the fact that she was on fire pushed through to his soldier’s brain and put him on full alert.
“Recall all drones and find what she’s running from. Charge your shield and deflector, too. It might be something serious.”
Leon was just starting to respond when the dragon showed up.
Alex had never seen one, of course, but that was the only thing it could be. The closest real creature he had seen pictures of was a drax, a thoroughly nasty octaped that the Kir-tenz liked to sneak onto other race’s planets for mayhem and giggles, but the largest drax to have wings was still smaller than Leon.
Draxes also looked somewhat bug-like.
This thing was easily the size of a house and looked exactly like the dragons from fantasy stories: Six limbs, long neck, dense, powerful body, giant, GIANT bat-wings, whippy tail, thick, overlapping crimson scales.
Alex tried to process what he was seeing, but his brain was failing. Advanced physics had been a requirement for becoming a Stellar Corps officer and it knew that something that big could not fly.
But it was. And somehow the forest was not falling over from the downdraft.
The dragon slammed to a landing in front of the running woman and Alex felt the tremor even through Leon’s shock absorbers.
That was right, at least. It felt like a house dropping ten feet onto the ground.
The woman stumbled and fell down from the jolt, then rolled over and began to crawl backwards away from the monster.
Alex had almost processed that his eyes weren’t lying and dragons were real when the dragon began to shrink and change and…
A scaly human. He still had crimson scales running along his shoulders, the tops of his forearms, his thighs, and all the other areas where normal humans had thicker skin.
But human. The face was right, if a little reptilian.
Where had all that mass gone?
At least he was naked. It would have been really insane if he’d somehow materialized clothes.
“I’m dreaming, right Leon? I’m still floating in space, suffering from hypoxia, and this is all a hallucination. I’m going to be dead soon.”
“No, Alex. You are not dreaming. There really is a man who used to be a gigantic dragon advancing on a woman with wings in the clearing in front of you. Also, judging by how that woman is reacting to that man, if you do not make a decision on how to handle the situation you are seeing, I believe you will shortly become witness to a violent crime.”
“Why couldn’t I be just be crazy?”
(The above is just a sample scene from a story idea I’m fiddling with. If anyone’s interested, tell me and I may do some more on this. Might do some more anyways.)