Drakin: The Orphans of Haven
The Red War may be over, but not all wounds have healed. For Sergeant Radley Zall, the nightmares never end. After years of struggling for survival, he finds himself in a dead end job, deporting wayward dragons to the Exclusion Zone. The horrors of his past have left him a broken man, slowing killing himself in a bottle of whiskey. It’s a wearying existence that many former soldiers have been subject to since the war ended, but for Radley, that is all about to change. Throughout his life, Radley’s hatred of dragons has been unmatched until one evening when a small one shows up on his doorstep. The pathetic creature is emaciated and begging for shelter. Her appearance reminds him of his younger self, compelling him to help her. That uncharacteristic decision forces him to confront his past actions— some of which may have contributed to a sinister plot to reignite the Red War and wipe out the few remaining dragons on Earth.
“Let us overcome these obstacles together, in the spirit of what our forefathers, friends, and neighbors fought and died for!”
It was a good speech… too bad that’s all it’ll ever be. I remember the cheers. I remember the savior standing off to the side before she disappeared… It was only ten years ago, but I remember it like I remember my childhood… as a distant memory.
“Radley? Sergeant Radley Zall, are you with me?”
Radley felt a gentle elbow to the midsection, “Sarge, snap out of it!”
He immediately came back to reality and nodded, “Yes, sir. I’m ready, sir!”
A gruff-looking commander eyed him suspiciously, “Are you sure, Sergeant Zall? I mean we can wait. Whatever you’ve got going on is clearly more important than doing your job. No rush, you know? It’s just a dragon after all. It’s not like the men rely on you to back them up.”
Radley felt his face heating up and was sure that it was turning red, “Sorry sir.”
“Are you feeling sick? Do we need to have Sergeant Bosell check you out?”
Radley felt the tension in the back of his neck. When Commander Miles decided to mock someone in his unit, the man would push it as far as he could. The worst part was that it worked. The officers did everything they could to stay on their toes and avoid it.
“No, I’m fine, sir!” Radley replied as he straightened himself out. He could hear a couple of snickers coming from the ten armored men standing with him.
“You sure?” The commander asked.
“Yes, Commander Miles… I’m sure.”
Commander Constantine Miles eyed Radley for a few moments. The younger officer blinked as he waited for the commander to finish. His blue eyes felt dry under his protective goggles. He could feel his brown hair matting to his head under the heavy helmet he wore.
Commander Miles had been his commanding officer since he joined the security division. The man knew him well, too well. He clearly didn’t buy that Radley was all there.
Finally, Commander Miles nodded, “Well… All right, let’s go.”
He flipped on the radio wired into his vest, “Command, this is Security Group Alpha, we’re in position and ready to move in.”
“Copy that, Commander. Proceed with caution. Good hunting.”
The group entered a massive cave that was hidden deep in the Yellowstone Canyon. The cave walls were as black as coal. The stone floor had once been molten rock, flowing outward. This gave the floor an almost organic look.
Radley carefully balanced himself on the terrain that looked like it had been frozen in time and petrified. He planted his legs between to inclines and raised his bolt rifle.
Six of the other officers followed close behind him. One, a younger man jumped up behind Radley “I thought we’d be waiting out here forever. Finally, we can get this over with.”
“You may hope you’d been able to wait even longer, Kevin,” Radley replied as he removed his goggles, revealing the burn over his left eye. “These dragons usually do not want to come willingly. Often they’re protecting a nest.”
“Is it going to attack us?”
“Hard to say. That happens from time to time.”
“Stay close and keep your weapon ready, Rookie. You’ll do fine.”
“Cut the chatter,” Commander Miles called out from the front. “Let’s get in and out as cleanly as possible. We don’t want a repeat of your first time, Sergeant.”
“First time?” Kevin whispered.
“It’s a long story Rookie, and I’m tired of telling it. I’m sure someone will fill you in before too long.”
The group separated into two as they entered the cave. One proceeded left, while the other went right, forming a pincer. Radley led the second group, closely behind Commander Miles’s. Within moments, both groups were cloaked in almost total darkness.
A staticky sound filled his helmet as the groups kept moving. It was quickly replaced by Commander Miles’s voice, “Okay, everyone… lights on, stay sharp, and keep focus! –Command, this is Unit Commander Miles. We have confirmed the location of an illegal dragon roost. We’re moving into position now.”
The sound of the officers’ footprints was quickly replaced by the sound of throaty breathing. The sound resembled the growl of a lion, only deeper. It echoed through the cave like a shockwave rushing to the entrance.
Radley clenched his rifle as they stepped closer to Commander Miles group. He’d seen this situation play out before and it was nothing new. They’d go in, surround the dragon and take him down from either side. If he tried to fly, they’d shock his wings. If he tried to fight, they’d incapacitate him. It had all become perfectly routine.
“Member of the Dragon species, my name is Commander Miles, Western Coalition Internal Security. You are in direct violation of WestCon Provincial Edict 453, stating that no dragon shall roost outside of the designated dragon zones. This is several miles outside of the Exclusion Zone and your designated areas. You are ordered to surrender and submit to processing. Once you have been tagged, you will then be transferred to a designated holding facility for processing. Please understand, we do not wish to harm you and if you surrender peacefully, you’ll be treated with care.”
The low breathing turned into an angry growl, “The Exclusion Zones… you mean the barren wastelands that your people have set aside for us… You mean the lands with minimal food and few ideal places for us to build roosts! Lands that we have to fight cannibalistic humans for. You offer us amnesty and then force us into the worst possible living conditions!”
Miles didn’t appear to be moved, “I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them. We gave you nearly the entire western coast of this hemisphere all the way down to Mexico. Many dragons have found ways to cultivate a living. If you can’t do something with that, it isn’t my problem. Surrender now, and we promise you’ll be treated fairly!”
This isn’t going to end well… Radley thought as he raised his rifle. This dragon is going to escalate!
“Get out of my home!” The dragon roared before a plume of flame shot past the officers, out of the cave.
The cavern walls lit up orange and revealed the large green dragon that was curled up in a small nest. There were no eggs and no sign of a mate, so this was likely a rogue.
Radley’s eyes widened, “Alpha class. Watch it, everyone! This guy is going to be tough!”
Miles dove away from the flame and hit the ground hard as a second plume passed over him, “Light him up! –Command, we’ve got a code 42. Engaging hostiles!”
The orange hue was replaced by momentary white and blue blasts that spread throughout the cavern as the officers let loose with a spray of electrically charged pulses. The loud pops from the guns echoed off the walls creating a deafening cycle
The dragon’s scales glowed as the pulses electrified them. Little beams of blue and white static outlined each scale. The dragon let out an intense scream as it immediately fell to the side. Its body trembled but otherwise did not move.
The moment the dragon’s head hit the ground, the officers gather around it. The sparks slowly died down as the group moved in. Commander Miles stood in front of its snout and turned to the man closest to him, “Get the shackles.”
As the man went back to the tunnel to fetch the large metallic rings, Commander Miles read the dragon the required statement of rights, “Illegal dragon, you are hereby under arrest. The charges are illegal roosting, desecration of human territory, and resisting relocation efforts.”
The dragon looked menacingly at Miles as it was shackled. The stun bolts had done their job as it was unable to even lift its head. Smoke emanated from its mouth as it spoke, “May you burn for this…”
“Not today,” Commander Miles replied as he switched on his shoulder radio, “Command, mission accomplished. The dragon has been subdued. We’re looking at an Alpha class, so you’re going to want to bring in the heavy hauler.”
“Acknowledged,” replied a staticky voice. “We were starting to worry about you for a moment. Good work.”
Commander Miles nodded, “Sergeant Radley, let’s get cleaned up here.”
Radley sighed as he turned to his group, “All right men, we’re done here. Let’s head back to the entrance.”
The rookie officer’s eyes focused on the dragon. He remained still as the others moved towards the exit. He was like a statue, frozen in place as though forever contemplating the universe around him.
Radley stopped in front of him as the rest of the group continued, “Hey Rookie, you okay?”
“It’s… it’s not what I expected at all,” Kevin replied.
“What do you mean?”
Kevin beckoned to the dragon’s eyes, “Look at it… I always thought they were giant killing feral machines, acting on instinct like a shark. Now… they actually…”
“You’ve never been up close to one of them, have you?”
“No, I mean I’ve seen pictures and all, but they always flew overhead or were at a distance.”
Radley nodded that he understood, “Right, that’s how it always is. It’s easy to take them down when they just look like mindless killing machines, but when you see them and see the life and intelligence in their eyes, all that changes. Still… it’ll pass and you’ll see them for what they really are again.”
“Really are? You mean…”
At that moment, the dragon came to life and snapped at them, “Inanimate killing machines? We are living creatures, just like you! We think and we feel things. All we want now is peace!”
Radley ignored the dragon’s words. He turned calmly and gave Kevin a gentle push, “Come on Rookie, let’s get out of here so that the relocation team can get in and do their jobs.”
“You can’t ignore us forever!” The dragon roared. “Someday you will pay for what you’re doing here!”
“We already did,” Radley shot back, “5.5 billion times over.”
Outside, Radley closed his eyes and sucked in a breath of fresh air. For years, the air had been badly polluted from dragon flame and an extreme reduction in plant life. When the war ended, the coalitions put their combined science teams into creating massive air filters that were placed all over the world. They would clean the air until new plant life could take over. Is this what fresh air is like? It doesn’t smell like burnt wood or like something’s being cooked… it’s actually kind of nice.
“Good job in there, Sergeant Zall! For a moment, I thought we’d lost you,” Commander Miles said in a light tone.
“Sorry sir, I just… I was thinking about everything that’s happened since the dragon horde left Earth.”
“You certainly chose an interesting time to become reflective,” The commander chuckled.
“Sorry sir, it won’t happen again.”
“That’s fine. You’ve been at this longer than most, a little backward thinking is normal every now and again. Just try to save it until we’re in a little safer circumstance.”
Commander miles nodded, “Good. –How about you Kevin, you were all excited about getting to see some action, this everything you thought it’d be?”
Kevin frowned, “No sir…”
“No?” The commander asked, surprised.
“I joined the force to help fight canbans and raiders… I didn’t want to be assigned to the dragon core. This was kind dropped on me by command due to a lack of volunteers.”
Commander Miles nodded, “I understand, it’s not the most appealing work. Sometimes I wonder if the danger is even worth it, but it’s work that needs to be done.”
“Does it?” Kevin asked. “Do we really need to hunt down these dragons? Is it really necessary to force them to live in sectors that are cordoned off from the rest of the world? I’ve heard stories…”
Radley scoffed. His lips twisted into a menacing grimace. He’d heard people talk about dragon rights before and it always got him heated, “Have you forgotten the war that literally just ended ten years ago or how many people they wiped out?”
“No, I haven’t,” Kevin replied sternly. “But those dragons are gone. We built ships for them and they left as quickly as possible. It’s been years since then. These dragons didn’t want to fight anymore and requested amnesty, which we granted them.”
Commander Miles nodded, “Yeah and when the new government came to power, they enacted policies to protect dragons and humans. There’s still a lot of bitterness between dragons and humans, and rightly so. This is as much for the dragons’ good as it is our own.”
“You sure about that?” Kevin asked. “I mean…”
Kevin’s eyes darted between Radley and the other men. He quickly shrank back a little, “I’m sorry sir, never mind.”
“Speak your mind, Rookie,” Commander Miles said. “Tomorrow’s too late.”
“Sir, the dragons have done everything we asked them to right up until they were segregated. It was only after we pretty much banished them to the Mojave Wastelands that they began to try to find roosts elsewhere. I’ve heard of what life is like there; it’s hot, nothing grows, and finding food is difficult.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that… maybe we’re part of the problem?”
“You think humans are part of the problem…?” Radley asked in a state of disbelief. “They came here uninvited, attempted to steal our world and wipe out our entire population. After they lost the war, we did what they asked and built them a ship to get back to their own world. We should never have allowed some of them to stay here, but we put aside our differences and allowed the ones that wanted peace. Now they’re hiding outside the designated area. They should have been a lot more grateful than that!”
“But maybe if we didn’t segregate them and allowed them to interact with humans, this wouldn’t be a problem,” Kevin shot back. “We want peace, yet we continuously take rights away from others, breeding hate and resentment! How does that make us any better than them?”
Radley clenched his teeth as he ripped his helmet off and brushed back his brown hair. His cheeks felt like they were on fire as the hair on the back of his neck bristled. He had to hold himself back from striking Kevin across the face, “Watch it, Rookie! You were only old enough to experience the ass end of the war. Watch a dragon torch a shelter for children and mock them as they burned… then we’ll talk!”
Kevin fell silent and lowered his eyes. Commander Miles stepped between them and spoke with a stern voice, “That’s enough, both of you.”
Radley nodded and stepped back, “Yes, sir… Sorry, sir.”
He flashed Kevin an angry look. It was momentary so that Commander Miles wouldn’t see it, but Kevin clearly got the message. The rookie lowered his eyes and bit down on his lower lip. Neither one of them said anything else.
Commander Miles turned and began to walk back to the other group, “Radley, head back to the carrier. The relocation team should be here any minute. It’s just about time for us to go home. You look like you could use some rest. –Kevin, I want you to wait here and go with the extraction team. This will be good practice for you.”
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