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art by Melissa Mead


When he isn't building applications and databases to feed his family and pay for his writing habit,  Wakefield Mahon is a writer and musician.  His first book Jade Dreams was published this year.  You can find more of his work at Wakefieldmahon.com

"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."
"Well nobody has ever escaped either," Darrin sighed and shook his head. "Suit yourself buddy. Just remember..."
"Yeah, I know, I didn't get this from you."
Arlen palmed the miniature disk and returned to the area where his guard waited. Guard and prisoner returned to the workstation as the second klaxon blared.
"Did you enjoy your cheeseburger?" The guard secured Arlen to his desk again.
"Oh yeah, I'm going to be nice and juicy for you." As usual, this sent the guard into a laughing fit. "Laugh all you want lizard-breath," Arlen muttered, "we'll see who laughs last."
At exactly 2:59, Arlen placed the disk in his workstation and closed his eyes. For months, he had planned this moment. He memorized the escape route and shift schedule of the guards. The plan required a lot of luck, but he was willing to take the chance.
The guard noticed his odd behavior. "Hey, what do you think you are--?"
A pattern of images flashed across the monitor. The guard was, momentarily, stunned. Arlen took advantage of the opportunity and grabbed the cattle prod from his captor. He turned it against the guard.
"See how you like it."
The guard crumpled to the ground. Arlen grabbed the keys from the unconscious guard and unlocked his shackles. He moved quickly, taking the prod with him, just in case. He ran as fast as he could, until he nearly plowed into a group of guards and realized he had to slow down. Arlen's heart pounded in his chest as he waited, hiding against the wall while they talked. Sweat dripped slowly down his face, stretching out the eternity until they continued walking again.
Another left, then right at the second corridor and he was home free. He broke into a full run. He ran right into a locked door. He forced open the lock with the prod then ran through the door… into a steel wall.
"What the…" Arlen's shoulders sank. His maps didn't say anything about a barrier. He tried to think over the alternate plans and routes that he had mapped out. Suddenly, guards surrounded him and secured the prod. He tried to fight back but there were too many of them.
"Mister Jones, exactly where did you think you were going?" The sound of the warden's voice sent ice through Arlen's veins. "You have been very busy, Mister Jones. Are you aware that you have killed one of my guards, damaged a protective barrier and broken a drill that is worth more than your life?"
Arlen wasn't even going to pretend he was sorry about the drill. Although he didn't actually intend to kill the guard, only maim him. Either way, he wasn't about to give the warden the satisfaction of a response.
The warden, Captain Amat, appraised him with his dark beady eyes. He shared that same hint of grin that had always danced on Arlen's nerve endings. "Guards, please escort the prisoner to the laboratory. Doctor Drake, may I have a word with you?"
"Yes, Captain?"
"I believe this mammal would be an excellent candidate for your most painful treatment."
"Oh yes, Captain. Nothing would give me greater pleasure." The doctor hissed with glee.
Captain Amat looked at Arlen, one last time, as the guards pulled him, kicking and screaming, down the corridor. "Make sure you don't use a sedative."
Strapped down to the table, Arlen glared up at Doctor Drake, trying to hide the terror in his eyes. "Let me guess, this is the part where you eat me alive, right?"
"Don't be ridiculous, we aren't the barbarians." The doctor smiled and produced an enormous syringe.
Seconds after the injection, it felt as if every cell in Arlen's body burst into flame. He gave in to the pain... and darkness overtook him.
Arlen woke up in a ten-foot-by-ten-foot room. He lay on a bed that actually had a mattress. It was lumpy, but it was a mattress nonetheless. Next to the open doorway, he saw the dreaded cattle prod. He considered trying to grab the prod and escape, but he decided it was probably a trap. Next to his bed, on the nightstand, he saw a pressed and neatly folded navy blue guard uniform.
A horrifying thought exploded in his mind. The room wasn't the only thing that looked different. Everything had changed. The air looked different; it even smelled different. He slowly lowered his eyes. The claws on his scaly green hands confirmed his worst fears.
Doctor Drake walked around the corner, wearing the dragon equivalent of a smile on his face; somehow, Arlen recognized it now.
"Congratulations, Arlen. You've been promoted to middle management. Your training is about to begin."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Author Comments

I was looking for a subject to write on when one of my coworkers suggested that I write about what I know. That night, after a hard day at the office, Dragons was born.

- Wakefield Mahon
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