art by Melissa Mead
by Wakefield Mahon
"I really hate my job." Arlen stretched his arms and tried to loosen his stiff neck.
"That's nice. I hate my stinking job too." Every "s" the guard spoke came out as a hiss.
Arlen glared at his reptilian captor. "That's easy for you to say. You're the one with the stick."
"Three years on this Okara-forsaken rock, with you stinky mammals, and you think having a stick makes me happy?" Electricity crackled as the guard sunk the prod into Arlen's skin. Arlen screamed, and then gagged on the smell of his own charred flesh.
The guard chuckled, "Well, maybe it's a small pleasure."
The hissing laughter irritated Arlen most of all. He desperately wanted to give a sarcastic response, but the pain in his side reminded him it was better to hold his tongue. He glared at the electric prod and went back to working on the console.
"You can thank your precious John Chan for integrating the biometric security protocols into these garuk machines. If we didn't need your living bodies to operate them, then we wouldn't have this arrangement."
The mealtime buzzer blared.
"Time to eat." The way the guard licked his non-existent lips with his forked tongue made Arlen uneasy as he got up to leave.
"Nice try mammal, engage the safety. I'm sure you would just love to see a dragon ripped apart by a runaway drill, but it won't happen on my watch."
Arlen engaged the safety and waited for his guard to remove the shackles from his legs.
The guard nudged him down the hall to the nourishment replenishment center, shaking him from his thoughts.
"So, what's for lunch, boss?" The question was rhetorical. They had cheeseburgers, French fries and chocolate shakes every single meal, every single day of their lives. If the workers didn't eat, then they got the electric prod and a couple of guards to "assist" them with finishing their meal.
"You do realize that we would live much longer if we had some variety in our diet, right?"
"Humans are not much good after 30 years of age anyway... too tough and gamy." Arlen couldn't tell for sure, but he thought the guard was grinning. "I just remembered. You're just about thirty, aren't you? Hmm, I wonder if the guard gets first dibs on their prisoner." Then he laughed with that terrible hiss again.
Arlen hurried into line to get his tray. He wasn't particularly excited about the meal, but he'd already burned five minutes of his thirty-minute lunch break and he needed to talk to Darrin. Lunch break was the only time the guards allowed the workers to speak to one another.
"Do you remember when we thought dragons only existed in fairy tales?" Darrin whispered.
"I don't know, I think they just look like humanoid iguanas to me. I don't known why they even call them dragons, It's not like they breathe fire"
"You ever been prodded?"
Arlen showed him the fresh scar on his arm. "So did you talk to your guy?"
"Not so loud, man."
"Did you get the disk or not?"
"Yeah I got it, chill. Are you sure you want to take the risk?"
"Are you kidding me?"
A guard looked in their direction and Arlen lowered his voice again. "Don't be ridiculous. Anything's better than being stuck here forever. I'd rather be killed in an escape attempt than eaten alive."
"Hey, I mean we don't really know if that's what happens to the former workers."
"Yeah, we don't know, because no one ever sees them again. You may be happy being a little sheep in this pasture, waiting to be mutton, but I'm looking for my way out."