“Did yo’ miss me?” said Flossie, grinning like a loon.
The dragon gently flapped its wings to hover over us. The hill on the other side was quite steep so there was room for it to create downforce without knocking us all down.
There were some clicks and snaps from behind me. I turned to see Jack and his men holding their plastic guns pointed at the dragon.
“Can you ease off on the shoot-everything-that-moves policy?” I said. “There aren’t any villagers with sticks for you to mow down. I’ll let you know if we come across any kids that need a good napalming, you insufferable tosspots. Put the guns down or I’ll cut off your dicks and wear them as a necklace.”
The men looked a bit hurt by my unfair and unjustified accusations, and a little disgusted by my choice of jewellery. It wasn’t like I had any proof of their dire intentions, so how could they be tried in an international war crimes tribunal? Especially one they hadn’t signed up to?
It amazes me how people can be so supportive of the military with the kind of track record they have. The idea of the armed forces is certainly a good one. Defend democracy, protect the weak, stand up to tyranny. The actual guys wearing the uniforms and saluting the shit out of every flag they see, they aren’t so impressive. I know I’m generalising but anyone who’s spent time with a large group of guys can tell you they don’t lean towards being chill and amiable. And that’s when they’re not armed.
“His mood hasn’t improved much,” said Flossie.
“He thinks people are going to bother him now that he’s back,” said Jenny. “You know, expect him to act like a human being.”
Flossie rolled her eyes. “Like any of us would expect that.”
“So it begins,” I said. “Where are we?”
“This is Monsterland,” said Flossie. “We’re in the heart of enemy territory.” She tried to make it sound menacing, but it came out like she was telling a spooky story to five-year-olds, widening her eyes and elongating words.
“And how the hell did you know we’d come out here?”
“Ah didn’t,” said Flossie. “It’s Bertie you’ve got to thank for that.” She patted the dragon’s head. “He knew yo’ were on your way back, couldn’t wait to see yo’ again.”
“That’s Bertie? He’s grown a bit hasn’t he?”
Bertie was the baby dragon I saved. He was now about the same size as Vikchutni. In fact, he looked exactly the same. Yes, I’m a dragon racist, although I’m not sure if it counts if you can’t tell relatives apart.
Not that the problem with racists is their inability to tell people apart. It’s more to do with them assuming their lack of discernment means they can treat everyone as guilty. I’m referring to the police, mostly.
Not that the police should be blamed for being incompetent. They all failed hard at school so it wasn’t like we didn’t know how fucking dumb they were when they were hired. It’s just that no one else wanted to do the job, so we got stuck with the Keystone Klux Klan.
“That’s cos we fed him on lots of lurrrrv, didn’t we babby?” She patted him on the head some more. The dragon was staring at me with big cow eyes. “Who are those people? Should Ah tell Bertie to fire a warning shot?”
I looked over my shoulder at Jack and his men. They had lowered their weapons but only halfway. I could appreciate how hard it was for them to take this in. The usual reaction to this sort of situation would be to fire at will and roll around while shouting militaristic phrases they’d heard in movies.
“No, but can you get rid of those drones?” I pointed at the flying machines on the grass, made of the same material as the guns. They looked ready to launch. I had no idea how they were powered — clockwork? — but I didn’t think they’d be used for taking cool aerial shots with a GoPro in the nose section.
“No problem. Okay, Bertie, time for din-dins.”
Bertie seemed to know what to do. His mouth opened and a stream of green liquid gushed out, hitting one of the drones. To little effect.
The green acid frothed and turned the grass to mulch but the drone remained intact. Acid-resistant plastic? These guys really came prepared.
“Oh,” said Flossie. “That’s not right.”
“Stop,” said Jack. “What are you doing? We need them.”
“He’s American,” said Flossie. “Are they marines? They’re not here to start trouble, are they?”
“Yes, they are,” said Jenny. “But they won’t.” She turned around and looked at Jack.
Jack seemed a little perplexed at Jenny staring at him. I knew the feeling. Women always expect you to know what’s on their mind, as though telepathy is the true sign of real relationship. Maybe it is and we’re still one evolutionary stage away from really understanding one another. If so, I’m glad I missed it. I’d hate to see what goes on inside other people’s minds. I can barely stand what goes on in mine.
Jack started to cry. He was weeping and looking very sad. He fell to his knees, all limp and feeble. Jenny looked up at the men behind him and they all burst into tears. Bunch of wusses. It took her twice as long to get me in that sort of state. Admittedly, she could do it to me without using her ability.
The dragon landed and bumped its head against me, nearly knocking me over. It tried to lick me but I dodged.
“Look, food,” I said pointing at the ground.
Delighted by my recommendation, it started eating, unimpressed by the US forces’ synchronised bawling. The US army are well known for being the most in-touch with their feelings. They’re the only ones who go back to the place where they killed lots of people in their own homes and make movies about how upset it made them to remember all the screaming.
Everyone sympathises with veterans who suffer from PTSD. It’s a very real condition, although it was a lot more accurately labelled when they called it shell shock back in the day. It referred to the nervous system breaking down due to the insane stress of soldiers bombing the shit out of each other under orders from distant generals who didn’t care what happened to them. When it’s a disorder caused by the trauma of watching the gangrape of a thirteen-year-old girl in the backstreets of Iraq by your buddies, fuck you.
Before I thank anyone for their service, I’d like to know what that service was. Every soldier has a chest full of ribbons, most of them are just participation medals. When they add the skull badges for heinous acts of inhumanity, then we’ll have a much clearer picture of whose hand to shake.
“I see you’ve got your powers back,” I said to Jenny. As low as my opinion was of Jack and his ilk, it brought me no pleasure to see them suffer in this manner. It’s like seeing a guy get kicked in the nuts — you feel his pain as though it were your own. I don’t know if it’s bros before hoes but it certainly helps to have hands before balls.
“Yes,” said Jenny. “What are we going to do with them? How did they get past all the demons?” It was a good question.
“Hey, Jack, what happened in the Void? Did you kill the demons?” If he did, I’d like to know how. Probably come in useful at some point.
Jack looked up at me with eyes full of regret. Tears were falling down his cheeks and his lips trembled. He was a big macho bloke, so the effect was a little comical. A guy can cry, even gorillas like him. If you lose a loved one, a kid, a dog even, I think people would expect to see some emotion. But the truth is feelings are devious little bastards that are rarely honest.
No one should judge someone based on how emotional they can get, even though we’re built to empathise. Well, some people are. I’m not.
“Can you ease off so he can answer?” I asked Jenny.
“I’ve already stopped,” said Jenny, “I don’t know what he’s so upset about.”
Once you open the floodgates, I guess.
While he recovered from his first intense Jenny experience (might take a while, I was only just in remission myself) I walked over and examined the drones. There were four of them and they were put together so well you couldn’t even see the joins. They were clearly very advanced technology and probably cost a shedload of money to make. Years in the making, powered on sunshine and rainbows, guaranteed to wipe out primitive civilisations while keeping your hands clean.
If the dragon acid wasn’t strong enough to destroy them, then what would?
I took out my wooden swords and sliced through them like butter. The men, who were just recovering, transitioned their sadness into horror. Their boys were being massacred.
I have to admit it felt good. Unlike on Earth, here my powers came easily. I felt in control of them and nothing seemed to be a problem. A dangerous feeling. The people who have it easy are never good people. They might start out that way, they may have the best of intentions, but in the end their access to power makes them douchebags.
It’s very rare that it happens otherwise. And when it does, the douches gather quickly and in secret and whisper and conspire to have the powerful non-douches taken care of. You can’t have one guy going around making everyone else look bad. The optics, dude, the optics.
Was I in danger of turning out like that? I had certainly become OP from lowly beginnings. I could take over, proclaim myself king of the world and get up to all the usual nonsense. The idea was repugnant to me.
It helped that I was in a place where nothing appealed to my deepest desires. That place wasn’t here, it was in my head. Having a bunch of people do what I told them to a low standard with terrible after-sale service was not my idea of a good time. I mean sure, I could force thousands to build me a huge monument, a pyramid, a tower, hanging gardens etc. Why the fuck would I want to? How bored out of your mind do you have to be to start designing giant buildings? I’ll tell you. Bored enough to play Minecraft.
“Stop, please stop,” said Jack.
“Guns, ammo, all of it,” I said. “On the ground.” I waved my glowing sword about. I was bullying them, which as we know is a bad thing.
Sure it is.
How much better things are with nerds running around free and wild, no predators to keep their numbers down. And women wearing big glasses with thick rims to catch themselves a tech millionaire, selling nudes and bathwater to pass the time.
No one complied with my instructions. I stepped forward and sliced off Jack’s hand. It came off cauterised, which was very nice of me, I thought.
Someone shot me. They fired a gun and a pellet flew towards my head. I left my body and everything stopped. Not to blow my own horn, but I was like a god here. It hadn’t really seemed that way until I went home and realised what it felt like to be normal again. Even with some powers, I still felt like I had too much of a mountain to climb to get anything done over there. The powers that be were too well entrenched, their foundations too deep to dig up.
Here, I could actually affect change. I could, if I wanted, fix things.
I was on super-dangerous ground. How easy it would be to convince myself I was the only hope for the future, and then fuck everyone who got in my way. They were not worthy but I was. A different breed. A different species.
Thing is, real change, real evolutionary change only works one way — sex. And plenty of it.
You get a mutation, a new feature. A longer neck, a thinner beak, thicker fur. Whatever it is, it gives you an advantage finding food or surviving the environment or whatever, and that guy gets strong and healthy and has the looks and the energy to fuck. A lot.
He bangs. He gets kids that are a chip off the old proverbial.
The missing link, the other branch of the ancestral tree, those guys didn’t get killed for being different, they weren’t treated to bigotry and contempt because they were dragging knuckles when the cool new mode of transportation was walking upright with hands in pockets. They phased out because they couldn’t get laid. They went incel and had no shitty online forum to complain on. Gone and forgotten.
If a guy cheats, he’s just trying to help human development. It’s a noble goal. Me, on the other hand, I don’t really want to bang lots of chicks. Not because I’m faithful or honourable — I think I’ve proven that well beyond a reasonable doubt — but because I really don’t fancy having to talk to that many women and pretend I’m interested in their boring lives. I mean sex is great but you never have a sudden horrible embarrassing flashback to that time you didn’t speak to anyone for a week.
I moved the bullet, which looked like it was made from stone, and attached some black goo to it. I re-entered my body and the pellet flew past me and then came twanging back to land in my hand. It looked like I had plucked it out of the air. It hurt quite a lot but I covered my pain by shrieking.
“Fuck me,” I said. I took the pellet out of my bleeding palm and healed myself.
Jack, whose hand I’d cut off, hadn’t made any sound and was just breathing heavily.
“If any of you shoot again, it’s gonna get ugly.” I could already sense myself turning into a cocky wanker.
I picked up Jack’s hand and stuck it back on. Only took a few seconds.
“Now, here’s what you’re going to do. You’ll hand over your weapons and supplies and then you’re free to go. This place is called Monsterland and for a very good reason. The place with the people is…” I looked around to get my bearings and couldn’t find them anywhere.
“That way,” said Flossie, pointing.
“Right. Over there. You can’t miss it, there’s a bridge with a giant on it. You’ll see. It’s up to you how you get across, assuming you make it. We arrived with nothing and we managed, you can too. Maybe you’ll learn something about yourselves on the way. I fucking doubt it, but you never know. Let’s go, all your cool gear.”
Jack gave the others a look and everyone started dropping their stuff.
I went around cutting it up, leaving a terrible mess. I’d probably get fined for littering.
Once that was done, I prepared myself for a final speech, something that would leave this lot in the right state of mind for what was to come.
“Right, I know you came here to—what the fuck…”
The ground shook and I fell over. A huge worm erupted from below and shot into the air. Panic ensued as the worm opened its giant mouth to reveal several sets of sharp teeth.
“For fuck’s sake, can’t I even finish one thing without being interrupted. Kungen, you piece of shit, what kind of entrance was that? Hey, wait a minute, you owe me don’t you. You can help me. I need—” I only got halfway into making my demands of the giant worm that had once been a troll before it dived back into the ground and legged it, metaphorically speaking.
“Hey, come back here. Stop shirking your responsibilities, you bloody worm.”
It was too late, the Kungen-worm was gone. Not so much a special guest star appearance as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo.
“Damn it. I see nothing’s changed this side of the divide. Might as well go sort this out myself.” I looked back at Jack and his men who were huddled together, waiting for the order to shit themselves. “I forgot what I was going to say. Good luck, have fun. Let’s go.”
Bertie, who had taken off with Flossie when Kungen arrived, came down looking a bit shame-faced.
“Oh, decided to come back did you?” I got on the dragon’s back. Looked like I was going to do it all myself, as usual. “What are you smiling about?”
“Nothing,” said Jenny, grinning. “I didn’t think you’d be in the mood.”
“This mood.” Her smile broadened. “Get things done quickly mood. I like it when you’re like this.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. I wasn’t in the mood to get things done. I was in the mood to be left alone. Unfortunately, the only way to do that was to get things done.