ECLIPSE: The Great Escape
Talons off, people! Please do not edit this unless you spot typos or grammar mistakes. Thanks!
List Of Characters:
Eclipse - Hybrid Miniature Light Fury with black/grey tiger stripes, blue eyes, and a dream for escaping the laboratory complex. Has no fire yet, but can deliver a nasty bite. Five years old.
Blackout - Hybrid Miniature Night Fury with white stripes and green eyes. Eclipse’s ‘brother’.
Electro - A young pygmy Skrill with purple scales. Sad, nervous, can deliver electric shocks, is 4 years old.
Blade - RazorWhip hatchling, blind, sharp wings, can throw spines from her tail. No fire yet. Less than a year old.
Ghost - Blue pygmy Flightmare with no glow, can breathe a paralysing mist, 4 years of age.
Grappler - Orange Grapple Grounder. Largest dragon in the group. Breathes yellow pulse-blasts.
Flappers - Baby Deadly Nadder. Two years old. Can throw spines from his tail. No fire yet.
Goat - Baby Rumblehorn, about three years old. No fire, but good at tracking and charging.
Petrie - Baby miniature Tide Glider, two years old. Smallest member of the group, cannot move fast because of her flippers. Spits water, has healing saliva and gills, puts out Spark’s accidental fires. Just over a year old.
Spark - Pygmy Monstrous Nightmare, four years old, cannot control his fire jacket very well.
3 Gronckles: Pebble, Sulphur & Granite. All one-and-a-half years old.
Angry Triple Stryke: (Adult, not pygmy or miniature) Has no implants, and is angry at everybody and everything, but particularly with the humans who have trapped him.
Feeder: The human who fed Eclipse and Blackout for the first three years of their lives.
The Visitor: Important human in a black suit.
Various scientists (White Coats)
Guards: Have dart-pistols, and the dragons no likey.
Chapter One: The Laboratory
I had lived in the glass tank in the lab-room for as long as I could remember. It was my entire world. I had hatched there, out of a pure white egg with black stripes running down it, and for two years I had seen nothing else but that lab-room. When I was very young, only a few months old, I heard a squeaking. I had not heard much else, nor seen anything but the lab-room, with doors leaving it on three sides, two benches, vast arrays of scientific equipment I had no knowledge of, a central pillar I would later learn was an incubator, and two glass tanks, one of which was my own. The other tank I had seen little of, because it was on the other side of the pillar.
Now, I saw a box placed down on the bench by a White Coat human. I crept closed to the thick plexiglass and shoved my face up against it. I could smell something through the air holes, something scared and nervous, with a scent not dissimilar to my own. I understood, of course, that the White Coat humans were not my own species - we looked nothing alike after all. But...
“Eclipse,” My Feeder said. I perked up. My name? This was most out of order. Feeder did not usually do this. (Feeder was the human who opened my home every morning at exactly 7am, stroked me on the head with white plastic gloves exactly three times, said “Good morning Eclipse.” squirted liquid protein mush down my throat, cleaned out my enclosure and left.) Come to think of it, Feeder had only EVER arrived at 7am, never at any other time. What was going on?
The lid of the box was lifted and white-gloved hands reached inside. They lifted out a wriggling black dragon with white stripes. He had ear nubs and tail-fins just like mine! I bounced up and down happily. Was he going to live with me? Was he? Was he?
YES! He was. The White Coat human deposited my first ever playmate in my tank. I was quivering with excitement, my tail flapping back and forth.
“Hello.” I breathed in Dragonese, the language that all Dragons are born with on their tongues. “H-hi.” replied the green-eyed dragon, looking up nervously as the White Coat humans inspected us. I met their gaze, and felt...Observed. They didn’t seem to be watching us out of adoration or love. Barely even curiosity, just looking at us as if we were an interesting kind of food-syringe. For the first time, I had doubts about them. Were they really the caring family I had thought they were?
My sort-of-brother was later nicknamed ‘Blackout’. When we got older, about a year or so, and now about three feet in length, they took Blackout away from me. I was nervous, really nervous, but sure that he would return. He did, a few hours later, looking tired. And wearing a tight metal collar. Apparently he’d been taken to another room and set on a shiny desk. “There was this sharp stab in my shoulder, and I think I fell asleep. When I woke up, there was all this new stuff in my head…”
“New stuff?” I questioned, sniffing the metal collar, which almost seemed welded to his skin.
“Information in my...Databanks. It’s like they’ve given me extra memory. And there’s this thing that tells me where I am. And I think I can understand Human.”
“Woah. D’you think I’ll get it too? I’d love to understand Human!”
I didn’t get my implants until much later. In the meantime, Blackout was put under lots and lots of pressure in the lab. The humans started taking him away every afternoon and making him complete tasks in another much larger tank that was on the floor. They were not the sort of tasks where you got a tasty treat afterwards, like some of the things I had done. No, not at all.
They poked him with burning metal rods, they forced him to sprint on a treadmill for hours, they cut his skin to see how fast he would heal. In other words, torture. I could hear his cries through the plexiglass. Sometimes I curse my phenomenal hearing. And, somehow worse, in a way, they started measuring and weighing him, using tape measures around his torso and stretching it from nose to tail. I saw them comparing notes on clipboards, and shaking their heads. I was fairly sure that was a bad sign.
“They’re making me stronger.” he said to me happily, wheezing, but I thought otherwise. These White Coat humans were not nice.
I really made my mind up about the White Coats when I saw Blackout die. Feeder did not open up our tank that morning. Something was wrong. I had a bad feeling about this. My adopted brother was still dozing. I growled, showing my sharp teeth, flaring my wings out in fear, covering the little black dragon, trying to protect him from harm. NO. They couldn’t take him away again! He wouldn’t be able to survive it! “He’s only little.” I snarled. “Just leave him alone! Why can’t you take me for once?” Polystyrene gloves reached in for him. I was bigger and stronger than Blackout. Why couldn’t they torture me, give my little brother a day off? I backed up, wrapping my tail around him, my tail fins flared wide, my hackles rising. The hands kept coming. I made my choice. I had sharp teeth now, and the White Coats had been weaning us onto solid food. I bit down as hard as I could on the hand. It had the desired effect. The gloved hands retracted hurriedly, bleeding, as I tasted human blood in my mouth for the first time. It would not be the last.
“If you come one inch closer, I will remove a finger, you hear me!?” I yelled, standing over my comatose brother, who was barely strong enough to walk. “Eclipse…” he said quietly. I let out a warning RRRRR through my nostrils at those evil, stinking humans and poked my head down to look at him.”It’s okay, sis...I’m just not good enough for them...They’re disappointed in me…”
I swallowed. It was true. He wasn’t big enough, fast enough or strong enough for their purposes. They had wanted to use him, but he hadn’t passed the test. He was too small, only two-thirds my size. But I would not let them take him without a fight. The White Coats knew I would bite them again if they tried to touch him. Instead they reached for me. I stood my ground, hissing like a rattlesnake, arching my back, determined not to back down. But I wasn’t strong enough for Blackout. I wriggled and writhed, snapped and snarled, thrashing with fury and terror. But there were too many hands, and they wore different gloves that I couldn’t bite through. I was nearly a metre long, so they tied my muzzle with cord and held me down, while another White Coat human reached into the tank and pricked my brother in the shoulder. I saw him fall unconscious within the space of a minute. He stopped breathing. He didn’t move.
A sudden jab of cold fear stabbed my heart, I let out a cry through my snout, tears pricking at the corners of my eyes.
After Blackout’s execution, the will to fight left me, basically because I had nothing left to fight for. I let them handle me, I surrendered entirely to their instruction, I gave up, almost. A tiny spark of rage and hope burned somewhere deep inside me, refusing to be snuffed.
Years passed: I was moved to another lab room, which was quite the change, and I was given my implants, which was scary and disconcerting. However, it allowed me to both read and understand Human, which was useful. I had a trick up my sleeve now. Admittedly it was a trick they already knew about, but I could use it to my own advantage. Combined with my phenomenal hearing, it meant I was an excellent eavesdropper:
“We found we did not need to add AI in order to extend the Furies’ cognitive abilities, sir.” I heard one human say to another, as they walked down the corridor. I lay still, eyes shut, twitching my ears occasionally, listening. Sir. That meant an important human, perhaps a pack leader. I knew what I was, of course - that had been put in my databanks too. “All Strike-Hybrids can reliably solve logic puzzles of up to decile eight,” said the White Coat, as the two entered my lab room. “And the mental ability rating of most of these creatures is around eleven to fourteen. The Fury Hybrids are usually around fifteen.”
“You mean they are extremely intelligent reptiles.” said the visitor/sir-person, walking over to inspect a big glass tank with an adult Triple Stryke pacing around in it. It screeched in anger, flaring its wings and tails, stingers waving. It pressed it’s head against the glass and snarled at the man in the smart black suit, who simply smiled calmly and turned back to his guide. I watched them intently, listening closely, my ears up, sucking in all the information I could. The White Coat gestured to me. “This particular FH’s MA rating is eighteen. The highest on record.” I studied them closely, trying to glean all I could from their expressions.
What are you thinking? I wondered, stepping forward, my gaze meeting the black-suited human who had bent down to inspect me, as if I was a new test tube. He tilted his head on one side, and a thin smile spread across his lips. I, too, tilted my head, and copied his expression, my ears cocked at curious angles. I was now intrigued. Why was he here? Obviously checking or being shown something…”She showed remarkable, but unexpected viciousness when her other tank-member was put down.“ The White Coat kept talking, and I was sure to keep listening, while my mind focused on the visitor.
“I wonder what the little creature is thinking.” he said with a chuckle, standing up. “I would like to see it tested to its full capabilities.” The White Coat nodded.
I felt something cold run through me. This did not sound good.
The first few tests were OK. I was dropped into a maze with nice-smelling food - which was particularly enticing because I hadn’t had any breakfast. There was transparent plastic over the top so I couldn’t fly. Several White Coats and the black-clad human I was now thinking of as ‘The Visitor’ were watching and taking notes. I sniffed the ground and began to explore the maze, mapping it out in my head, noting where I was, and where the dead ends were. All the time, I listened to their chatter, trying to gather as much intel as possible. There were things I had to crawl through, wriggle under or spring over. I was careful to downplay my speed and agility, as always. I made things look tricky or hard when in reality I already knew the solution. Unfortunately, although I completed the maze, I was removed before I could eat the treat. It was very annoying. I deserved a reward for that, right? I usually got to eat it. Hmph. No, focus! Eclipse, you need to focus on the task. I told myself.
The next test was a small room with a chute I knew to be a food dispenser. There were some pressure plates on the floor and a few objects of varying weights strewn about the room. I was hungry, so I worked out what went where fairly quickly, and got to eat my frozen prawn before the White Coats moved me on. I like challenges and puzzles, and I like frozen prawns even more.
Some of the other tests were not so fun, however. When I was returned to my tank at the end of my testing day, I simply lay down where I was and closed my eyes, I was so exhausted. A single frozen prawn was not enough for a day like this, and I was very thirsty. I needed to be strong - I needed food and water, and I wasn’t getting any. My brain still clicked it’s cogs, working through my various options. The Visitor was an unexpected variable to my calculations. Why was he here? Why did he want to see me put through my paces? In order for a creature of my size to support itself for a day, I needed roughly 200 calories…
I had an idea. How could I trick them…?
Chapter Two: The Cage Room
I acted up. I deliberately got distracted. I didn’t need to feign tiredness. I misbehaved, trying to show that I was not a good test subject. This went on for a week, and then they put me in a room, in a small cage. There were lots of other cages, stacked up to the ceiling with dragons in them. They looked weak and tired - the other wills the humans were trying to break. I stayed there for several days, and got chatting with a sad young purple Skrill next to me called Electro. I was not the only one who had lost a loved one. We became friends while we talked away the hours. I even confided in him my desire, and my dream, to escape. He seemed nervous, yet longing for the idea. I quizzed him on what he knew about this place. He knew no more than me, although he did tell me that, his frill shaking, his words stammering, his little sister, Ruby, was fed a treat with something fatal in it, because she died minutes after. He and his older brother had to watch, helpless, as her breathing slowed and grew shallow. Shortly after that, Thunder, his big grey-scaled brother who he had always relied on, had been taken to another place, and poor Electro had never seen him again.
It wasn’t very nice, and Electro never spoke above a nervous stammer. He was impressed with my biting of the White Coat’s paw, and my anger towards the humans. Other dragons started listening in to our conservations, and later joined in. Apparently the cage-room had pretty much been silent, everyone nursing their own fears and grief in private. A tearful young RazorWhip hatchling was the first to tell her story of the lab. Her name was Blade, and like all baby RazorWhips, she was blind. There was me and Electro, Blade and Ghost (a flightmare with no glow) on the bottom layer. Flappers was a Deadly Nadder. Goat was a RumbleHorn. Spark was a Monstrous Nightmare who couldn’t control his flame-jacket. Petrie was a small, kindly Tide Glider who was in a cage above Spark, and put him out whenever he accidentally flamed up. And three Gronkle brothers on the second rack of cages who huddled together whenever a human entered the room: Granite, Sulphur and Pebble.
And, of course, Grappler, sitting on top with Petrie.
We shared, we talked, we comforted as best we could, even if we couldn’t touch each other. We even laughed - Grappler was an older Grapple Grounder who turned out to be a truly excellent comedian - he could have all 12 of us roaring with laughter, lying on our sides in hysterics. Even Electro and Blade giggled together. One of the Gronckles once went to the toilet by accident. I laughed so hard that my teeth retracted - which is something I would never normally do. Those White-Coats watching us through the cameras must have been mystified - a whole room full of 2 to 5 year-old dragons, jumping up and down, rattling the bars, rolling on the floor and shrieking with mirth until they could barely breathe. That guy was brilliant - he made a terrible situation into something we could really laugh about. Oh, Grappler was great.
It was strange - the White Coats had put us in this room to dampen our will to rebel, but by putting us together, they actually made us stronger. My old anger and determination to escape was reignited. I was gonna get out of here.
Most of the other dragons soon joined the Escape Committee. Petrie wanted to escape, and Spark was coming with her. Goat was going, and so was Flappers. They were both thoroughly fed up with their cages. Electro and Blade were both nervous, but longing for freedom. Ghost didn’t speak much, but she wanted to come too, as did Grappler. But the three brothers refused to even talk of escape. “We’re safe in this cage!” they replied. We couldn’t convince them, so instead we focused on our escape plan, discussing deep into the night. We didn’t know all the details, so we had to make a plan that would work in several different situations.
Not many of us could breathe fire, me included. Blade was all sharp edges, and her and Flappers could throw spikes from their tails. My tailfins sported a clamp, so I was not able to steer my flight very well.
All of us had little to no flight experience, anyway - although we all had information in our databanks. Everything from chemicals, military tactics and strategy, various animal anatomy, medical procedures, and flight and fluid mechanics. We could work out flying when we needed to do so. Grappler and Goat the Rumblehorn were both good at ramming things. Ghost could breathe out a blue mist that paralysed anything with a central nervous system, and Spark was getting better at controlling his fire. If anyone tried to pick him up they’d get a nasty burn. Electro could zap people. Petrie, unfortunately, could manage a speed no faster than a crawl, because of her flippers. Grappler was the largest, and I was the strongest for my size, so it was agreed that he and I would carry her on our backs when the time came to escape. Goat and Flappers had the best sense of smell, so they would sniff out the quickest exit to the outside - if such a thing existed. But when we had been moved here, some of us had been taken through a room which had a big window, and ventilation. The outside was green, and it smelled wonderful, a different sort of fresh from disinfectant. That was all we knew about the outside world.
One day, early in the morning, a White Coat entered our room. I watched him with one eye open, thinking fast. The others of us woke up quietly, and monitored him closely with our noses and ears, unmoving, appearing fast asleep. I shook my head groggily, yawning, appearing slow and lethargic. In reality, I was primed for action, but I had to appear vulnerable. He unlocked my cage door with a plastic card and held out a tasty morsel in a pair of tongs - the humans did not feed me by hand anymore. Heh, they’d learnt their lesson. I sniffed the air cautiously. I was rather hungry, but...I remembered Ruby, and the poisoned food Electro had told me about. I flicked my eyes towards him for a second and saw him imperceptibly shaking his head. Right. Don’t eat it. But this was my best chance...I reached out, took the food from the tongs, retreated to the back of my cage and banged my clamped tail twice on the floor. That was the signal. Ghost was on my left, ready and waiting. In seconds she had opened her mouth with a hiss, and her mist had frozen the White Coat. She’d been wise to hide that particular trick. I hurried out from under his arm, spat out the treat with the dangerous pill inside it, grabbed the keycard in my now-toothless mouth and - Left My Cage. Yes! I was out!
“Operation Escape is go!” I cried, spreading my wings. I wasted no time - I freed Blade first, so the young RazorWhip could spear the cameras with her silver spines - with Ghost and Electro giving her directions. Ghost went next so she could keep the human paralysed, then Electro, so he could zap anyone who entered. Then I sprang up to the third level with one jump and a beat of my wings. The human’s frozen face contorted into surprise - I had kept my strength hidden for good reason. I freed the Flappers, Goat, and Spark, who was flaming erratically with excitement as they glided to the ground. Then I clambered up to Grappler and Petrie.
Grappler had a small wingspan, so he could not catch enough air for both him and the Tide Glider. He flapped his way downwards. The keycard in my mouth, I helped Petrie onto the top of the third rack of cages (The fourth layer only had two cages, so it had some space to stand.) Then, I wrapped my front legs around her smooth belly, spread my white wings to their full extent, and pushed off. I had never flown before, although I had an understanding of flight mechanics in my databanks. I thought it would be easy - it was not. Instinct, fear and a detailed understanding of flight was what got us down in one piece.
When we got to the ground, the cameras had been taken out and Electro had fried the White Coat’s radio.
“Hey! Fury!” A voice squeaked. I raised my ears. It was the Gronkles.
“You three changed your mind?” Grappler asked. They nodded, so I took the keycard once again and sprang up, clinging to the thick mesh, unlocking their cages one by one. The three Boulder Class Dragons tumbled out onto the floor and squished up against each other, licking each other and rumbling happily.
“Guys,” Ghost spoke up, “This guy’s unfreezing, and I’m all out of mist. We need to go!”
I stood on Goat’s back, and pressed the card to the door. It unlocked with a ‘shup’. The human was definitely moving now. Grappler, Goat, Electro and I pressed our heads to the heavy metal door, and pushed. Straining, grunting with effort, we pushed it open. Flappers dashed back and quickly gave the White Coat a ridiculous hairstyle with his tongue. Ghost followed with the keycard in her mouth. The Gronkles followed slowly, hesitantly, as I shepherded them out into the corridor with my white wings. Blade and Flappers had already taken out the cameras nearby, but I was fairly sure someone knew of our escape. The door shut behind us, as Goat sniffed for an exit. “This way!” he snorted, and charged off down the hallway. Grappler pounded after him, Petrie squeaking in surprise, clinging to his back with her wing-claws. The gronckle brothers said they would go the other way, to confuse the White Coats. “Two groups are harder to catch than one.” Granite said. It would buy the Escape Committee some valuable time… ”Are you sure?”
“Yes, Eclipse.” said Pebble and Sulphur together.
I looked into their brave, frightened eyes, and I bowed my head to them. “Thank you.” were the last words I said to those three, before galloping off after my friends, who had already rounded the corner.
Chapter Three: Running
“Where are the brothers?” said Grappler, as I drew level with him and Petrie, so she could climb on my back, to give him a break. He could be quite serious sometimes, for all the jokes he told.
”They’re not coming.” I replied. “Hold on tight.” I instructed Petrie, as I raised my wings so she wouldn’t fall off. It was harder with the extra weight, but I pushed forward, tailing the others as we all followed Goat as he led us through this white, plastic maze. Electro and Ghost guided the sightless Blade around the corners by brushing her with their wingtips. I kept up my pace, sweating, as Petrie chatted over my shoulder. “I’ve never moved so fast before! Hehehe!”
I slowed, and moved forward to the front of the group - Goat had stopped, his burnished armour clinking uncertainly.
“Hey, Goat, what is it?” I asked as me and Petrie came beside him. The others were sniffing the ground. He lifted his head, and said, as worried as a proud Rumblehorn could be: “I’ve lost the scent.”
Petrie’s little frill shivered. “That’s not good. Goat, are you sure?”
If Goat or Flappers couldn’t find the outside-smell-trail, then none of us could. I looked about us. Ooh-kay...What happens now?
“Eclipse?” said Blade, creeping to my side, suddenly looking like the young hatchling she was. “What do we do now?”
Petrie’s head dropped upside-down from above me. “Eclipse? You got an answer?”
My mouth opened a little bit. I didn’t know what to do! Why was everyone looking at me? I closed my eyes, thinking fast.
Petrie put her mouth close to my ear and whispered, so the others couldn’t hear: ‘Leaders aren’t allowed not to know.’
I feigned stretching, moved away from Blade a little, and hissed: ‘What? I’m not a leader!’
‘It was you who first put the idea in our heads. You were the one who started planning, who explained it to us, who asked questions. You are the leader, whether you like it or not.’ said Petrie. I exhaled. Who’d have thought a Tide Glider would say something like that?
“We’re going to listen, Blade.” I said loudly. I couldn’t let fear set in. In me, or in any of the others. We had to make a decision, now.
I stood up straight, raised my ears, and listened. Dragons’ cries...Human voices...Traffic? Yes, traffic! Right.
I opened my eyes, nudged Goat with my tail, and looked over my shoulder. “Follow me!” I led the charge now, Goat and Flappers running on the flanks, Ghost guiding Blade, Electro and Spark running in the middle, while Grappler brought up the rear. Petrie wrapped her wings around my torso as I sped up, my short claws skittering on the floor as we rounded a corner. I heard alarms wailing. It sounded deep and awesome to my ears. It had taken them this long to raise the alarm? We weren’t far from what I guessed was a garage. With vehicles, and doors to the Outside. I was growing tired - Petrie was not as light as she looked, and I was very thirsty. We just had to keep running, just had to keep up this pace for a little longer… I saw a sign on the wall that read: GARAGE & FIRE EXIT: 250m> Ah-hah! I took a right and the others followed close behind, Grappler making sure we didn’t lose anybody. Petrie turned her head, and read the sign, before turning back to Spark and her friends.
“We’re almost there!”
It was now a simple sprint to the door with a car symbol on it at the end of the corridor. Or it should have been. Two humans came out in front of us, with dart-pistols. Ghost quickly passed the keycard to my mouth, and I took it, and then passed it to Petrie. The humans did a double take, seeing her on my back. I sprinted forwards, teeth at the ready, and as I dived through the legs I bit as hard I could, before retracting my teeth and powering on to the door, coming closer with every bound. Behind me, Grappler fired a yellow pulse-blast which smashed into the wall, while Ghost sprayed one guard’s legs with her mist. Electro delivered a cruel shock to the second, Goat charged his knee, and Grappler knocked the semi-paralysed one clean over. Blade and Goat then hurried by, as other humans arrived at the other end of the corridor, firing their darts. They pinged off their armour easily, and Grappler fired another shot in their direction. Electro and Ghost were catching up with me. Flappers, however, was not the fastest runner, and a dart hit his leg. He stumbled and fell over. Grappler bravely turned back, firing shots at the guards, grabbed Flappers’ tail in his mouth and chased after us. With Petrie balancing on my head, we managed to get the Garage door open. Four of us disappeared through and into the garage. Grappler galloped through the door with the limp Nadder hanging beside him. Me and Petrie were the last to slip through. My tail got stuck, and the heavy door shut on the clamp. Oops.
Petrie squeaked through the keycard, as I gave my tail an enormous yank. The clamp splintered under the pressure of the swinging door, but my finned tail was free. It shut behind us, and I heard the beep as it locked. I saw Spark’s flaming head peek out from some crates, and I dashed over, looking around me nervously - but the cameras were all pointed at the vehicles in case they got stolen. No-one had ever thought that a bunch of escaped young/pygmy dragons would get this far.
As Petrie was clambering off my back, I heard the door open again. I spread my wings over her - I had this sudden instinct to hide. Amazingly, the humans who ran past us to a Jeep didn’t bother with us, even though I’m fairly obvious. I looked at my paw in surprise, because I couldn’t actually see it. It looked like shaped air. And then my skin faded back to white again.
“…..Eh?” Spark blinked in amazement, and then shook his head.
“Never mind….Whatever that was.” he said. “Should we try sneaking onto one of those trucks?” I nodded, aware of everyone staring at me.There was a covered trailer we might be able to climb onto, which had it’s gate down. That seemed to be our best bet.
We had to make do with a mad dash to the truck, and a wriggle under the tarpaulin. We had to drag Flappers though, because he was out cold from the dart. Eventually, all nine members of the Escape Commitee were lying on the metal, all of us suddenly exhausted now the excitement had worn off.
“I’m ti-erd! I want to sleep!” complained the little RazorWhip, walking into the waterproof fabric wall. I shook my head, even though my limbs, too, were crying out for a rest.
I’d hadn’t run on a treadmill in a while, and I’d never carried a baby Tide Glider while doing so.
“Later, we can sleep. But what if a White Coat looks into this truck? We’d be found in seconds. We need to conceal ourselves.”
We started rooting around in the cargo, and found some empty crates that were probably waiting to be filled up. There was also a bit of dirty laundry - towels and an old blanket. This appeared to be a delivery or rubbish truck of some kind. We put ripped towel padding in the crates, and Goat helped Blade make little air holes in the wood. Petrie tended to Flappers, who was still very deeply asleep. She removed the dart with her little jaws and licked the entry point with her special saliva. We pushed the wooden crates, straining and grunting together, into a corner and everyone but me, Grappler, and the comatose Flappers crawled in. We put the lids on, and then Grappler took Flappers under the blanket and the remains of the towels to hide him, and keep him warm. I wriggled under a tarp near the crates, settled down on the floor, wrapped my wings around myself, tailfins over my eyes and tried to doze off, while my worried mind chased my thoughts around my head.
After a while of lying awake, I heard a low snoring from the crates. Not soon after, I heard human voices, talking:
“This is the leaving truck - any junk that needs to be sorted when it arrives at Base Bounder. Just put that in here.”
A second voice, younger: “Got it...Hey, did you hear about that escaped animal?”
“That’s classified!” the first voice snapped. “Just load the -#@#*% sacks!” There was a mumbled: “Yes sir,” in reply.
I heard the noise of sacks being loaded, and stayed very still, and very, very quiet except when one of them landed on me. “Oof.”
Chapter Four: Sunset
Lying under the tarp, my ears flicked. So, some of the humans here had heard a rumour about an escaped animal, but not twelve young dragons escaping? You’d think they’d let everyone know all the details. Well, the less the humans knew, the better it was for us, I supposed. I also wondered why I could not understand one of the words. I tried to search up the sound composition, length, pattern and tone in my internal databanks, but I did not get any answer except the red words: PROHIBITED in my mind. However, I was jolted from my worried musings when the trailer began to move. The engine of the pulling vehicle started up, and we pulled out from the garage. I made a startled ‘meep!’ noise, and my claws involuntarily dug into the metal. After I’d got used to the movement, I decided to risk a look.
I peeked out from under the tarp, my nostrils taking in the scent of diesel exhaust. It made me gag, so I got up, crept to the edge of the trailer, and put my eye to a gap to the outside fabric cover. I saw a blur of colours go by. The paddocks were flushed with green grass, I saw hedges and trees...But, the thing I liked the most was the sky. If I twisted my head, I could see an endless rolling blue, white clouds shifting across it. The implants inside my mind told me that it was a cold front and…It didn’t matter. Something old and ancient stirred inside of me and I felt, no, I knew, that was where I should be. I settled down for a nap until night came. It would be the best time to stage an escape.
I could hear the slow breathing of Grappler and Flappers as they slept under the towels. I continued to watch as the bright blue sky faded to a sunset. My first sunset. It was so pinky-red it had no style at all, but that didn’t matter. I just watched the colours change. A blue twilight came out. I watched in wonder as I saw the glimmer of stars amongst the clouds. “It’s so beautiful…” I whispered to no-one in particular. I could smell the air, I could hear the wind. I was very nearly outside. My vision was a little blurry, and I felt an ache inside. A single tear ran down the side of my face. For the first time since Blackout’s death, I cried. I cried silently, feeling a release as water moved across my scales.I was free. And I was not alone.
The trailer stopped at a petrol station. I woke Grappler. Base Bounder was evidently some distance away, but every minute we stayed on this trailer we got closer. I did not want to go to Base Bounder. Flappers was starting to wake up. We left him dozing under the towels and began unpacking the others. Unlike us, they had been curled up in those crates for several hours now. Blade was quite comfortable. Petrie and Spark had to go into one big crate, so Spark didn’t set the whole trailer on fire. Goat had been quite a podgy fit in his box, and while the others stretched their limbs, I tried to pull him out. Grappler stuck his head out. “All clear!” he called. Ghost and Spark slipped out and silently carried Petrie to the safety of the bushes at the edge of the petrol station fence. “Can you guys take Flappers?” Electro guided the blind Blade across the dark tarmac, wincing every time the light caught her shiny scales, or when she stumbled. I retracted my teeth, gripped Goat’s tail, braced my front paws against the crate, and yanked. He shifted a little, and he informed me in a muffled voice that he’d got his horns free. I pulled again, and now his back legs were out. Grappler lent his strength to the struggle, and soon Goat was out of the box, although he still had a piece of ripped towel stuck on his horn. Grappler and Goat fell out ontop of eachother, while I watched, worried, from the trailer. They headed for the bushes, which were rustling, despite the lack of wind. Grappler set off at a lolloping gallop, while Goat charged forward, his little legs pumping like pistons despite his armour, and they both hid. Not a moment too soon, as I saw the human driver walk out of the little shop with some kind of food. I had my head poking out from the trailer, but human eyesight was terrible in the dark, and he wasn’t looking for escaped dragons. I jumped free, and sprinted pell-mell for leather, skidding to a stop in the greenery. Phew.
The human climbed inside the Jeep, the engine started, and the trailer slowly pulled away. I exhaled in relief. We’d all made it out safely. The little blind RazorWhip was sniffing eagerly at everything, Spark was flaming erratically, Grappler’s forked tail was wagging, Petrie was squeaking in triumph and I noted that Electro had live electricity crackling across his scales. His frill stuck up, and he was grinning. I looked for Flappers, probably waking up somewhere. The Deadly Nadder was not nearby. I sniffed the air.
“Guys,” I said, cutting off our celebration, “Where’s Flappers?” That killed the mood pretty quickly. The trailer was trundling off down the road. Flappers was still inside it. Aaagrh.
Chapter Five: Taking Flight
I burst free from the bushes, took a hard left and ran across the tarmac, unaware of my friend’s cries, devoting all my processing power to calculating thrust, momentum and whether I could fly at the required speed. The trailer with it’s precious cargo was receding further and further away with every bound. Despite my every bound.
I pushed into a higher gear, forcing myself from a gallop to a sprint, approaching my maximum land speed, beyond anything the White Coats had measured. I opened my wings to the wind.
I boosted along those white lines, eyes fixed on the glowing tail lights of the trailer. Faster, faster, come ON! I screamed at myself, my eyes narrowing as I felt the air catch under my white sails.
I pushed off from the ground, and brought my wings down with all my strength. I managed a prolonged leap. I did it again, and again, as the trailer rounded a bend in the road. And then, with a great deal of fear-induced flapping, I managed to get airborne. “YES!”
My wings pounded the air as I gained height, flying up to a good cruising altitude. Quite a bit of this flying business seemed to be based on instinct. It was unnerving - I knew it without knowing. How did - how could I know this? I’d never flown before, so how come I was? How come I hadn’t plummeted, or died? I felt that old animal feeling stir deep inside me again. It was both unusual and natural for me. I knew what I was doing, and I knew what I was.
Somehow, I found a breeze that tickled my ear nubs in the right way. I then shifted my position and glided, scanning the ground below for the telltale lights of the trailer.
Aha! I spotted it, and without understanding what I was doing, I angled my tail fins, pulled my wings in slightly, and shadowed it, moving in closer. An occasional wingbeat was all I needed to follow it.
I entered the trailer’s slipstream, and was dragged along behind it. I saw Flappers poke his head out from under the tarp, and gawk at me. “Eclipse!” he shouted. “You’re flying!”
I grinned widely and flapped my wings once or twice. “I know! Cool, right?”
“Epic!” he replied. “Errr, how do I get down?”
The trailer was still moving, the white lines on the road were flashing beneath us. I looked down with a little frown as I adjusted my tailfins and twisted my body, beating my wings to change my course as we took a tight turn. “Flappers? Listen up!” I called, channelling my secret alter-ego: the fearless, confident leader. Hopefully…It was a secret even to me. He looked up, meeting my gaze as I beat my wings to stay aloft. “You’ll need to jump off the back of the trailer and-”
“What?!” he squawked, his yellow eyes widening. I held his gaze, confident, brave, supportive - I hoped.
“And flap your wings like your life depends on it.” He exhaled, watching the road below. I had to flap hard to keep up now - I’d lost the slipstream. Uh-oh. He’d better jump quickly…
“But what if…” His sentence hung in the rushing air. What if he doesn’t make it? What if he ends up as roadkill? What if...
And then, with a shriek of terror, the baby Deadly Nadder toppled off the edge. I let out a yelp, and dived after him.