by Prester John
Dragons Keep Contest entry
|Aloicious MacGregor wiped his hands on a wad of cotton waste then lobbed it into the bin in the corner of his spotless workshop. He turned to the gleaming machine occupying the centre of the floor and surveyed the results of two years intense labour. He walked slowly around the electrum plated device that looked exactly like a giant, squat artillery shell. The only discernible difference was the carefully fitted door that was slightly set into its curved surface. It stood exactly eight feet tall with a circumference of nearly thirty. He controlled the slight tremor of excitement in his hand as he reached for the recessed handle of the "Capsule," as he called it. He pulled the door open to reveal a large chair affixed to the deck in front of a control panel that was full of instruments and indicator lights; all of which were quiescent for the moment.
Stepping into the capsule's cabin, Aloicious undid the clasps that held the lid of the hopper built in to the back wall. He stared gloomily into its interior and sighed deeply.
Where will I get enough metallic Cobalt to power this size of capsule? I shall have to make a trip to Oxford again. He thought.
Carefully closing the lid he left the cabin and locked the capsule door before leaving the workshop for his rented suite of rooms in Whitechapel.
The following day he travelled to Oxford on the morning train. The train chuffed steadily through the quiet English countryside as Aloicious read the complimentary Daily Telegraph. He finished his paper in the Hansom cab he took from the station to the small research laboratory that Alan Winstone ran. Alan was the university's leading expert on smelting rare metals; and he owed his position at the university to the fact that it was Aloicious father who had sponsored his education through Harrow school and on to Oxford.
Alighting from the cab at the door of the laboratory Aloicious paid the driver and entered the building.
Alan looked up from his bench as Aloicious greeted him with a cheery "What-ho old bean! Do you have any spare Cobalt lying around?"
"Dammit Aloicious. Why is it that I only ever see you when you want something?"
"Oh my dear fellow! is that the way you greet your favourite cousin these days?"
"It is when you turn up out of the blue attempting to rob me and the university of some of the rarest metals on Earth. The last time that you came to me was for Praseodymium of all things."
"I was able to make the minute magnets I needed for the field generator for the temporal vortex.” He paused briefly.
"Alan I have built a viable full sized device. All I need is about ten pounds of metallic Cobalt for the reactor, then I can test it out."
"You are quite mad you know. Do you really know what you are doing?"
"That's the fun of adventure; one never really knows how it will turn out. Do you have any Cobalt or not?"
"Yes, yes, yes, you can have the ten pounds of Cobalt ... Just stop tinkering with my research." Alan said taking a small steam powered centrifuge out of his cousin's hands and putting it back on the bench with a thump.
Tut, tut Alan. You are just a tad sensitive you know." He chided.
Back in his laboratory, Aloicious reverently laid the block of Cobalt in the hopper of the reactor casing. Then stood back as he closed the lid and clamped it shut with slightly trembling hands. The trembling was the only external manifestation of the excitement suffusing his entire being.
There! At last Everything is in place." He though with a small degree of apprehension.
Aloicious determined that his first excursion should be to the past. His insatiable curiosity about the recently discovered giant lizard fossils that had been found in Dorset had determined this months ago. All the experts were agreed that these fossils were four million years or so old. So Aloicious carefully calibrated the destination dial for that time in the past.
Sitting in the chair he gently advanced the reactor control arm. A low hum filled the cabin and an electric tingling gently stroked his skin as the magnetic field built up, powering the temporal vortex that would send him hurtling pastwards for four million years.
After about an hour of relative time the large counter clicked at -4,000,000 BP. (Before Present)
Aloicious stood and turned on the scope that allowed him to have his first view of the world of the deep past. His main concern was that there were no great predators outside that would take his frail flesh as a tidbit and dine upon it. The scene was amazingly beautiful. The sky was cloudless and a magenta colour that intrigued him immensely ... still it was 4 million years younger than the one he saw on a daily basis. He turned on the external microphone that would add sound to the pre-historic vista. His ears were filled with a bedlam of calls, whistles, barks and cries of amazing variety. He determined that he would take a short trip outside to breathe the air and to set up the Daguerreotype camera that he had brought to catalogue his adventures in time.
Opening one of the cupboards that lined the wall of the capsule behind his control chair he withdrew the heavy camera from its padded recess and loaded a fragile glass plate that would capture the image. He also took the Holland and Holland .470 Nitro Express out of its case and slipped two of the 4 inch long brass shells into the chambers with a click. This gun went into a boot that was designed to sit on his back, yet left the gun easy to draw.
Suitably accoutred, Aloicious opened the capsule door and stepped out into Earth's past. The warm humid air made him immediately regret wearing his heavy woollen jacket, His nostrils drank in the scents of the ancient forest where he now stood. He walked slowly to a spot that afforded an excellent panorama of the scene. Setting the camera tripod in the clearing he turned the camera to the vista. Unidentified rustlings in the surrounding forest made him nervous and jumpy. He had seen artist's renderings of the fossil monsters that made them appear fearsome indeed, hence the armaments on his person. Taking out the Gold Hunter from his watch pocket in his waistcoat He slid the protective cover from the glass plate back to expose it to the light that would flow through the lens when he removed its cap. He counted off the twenty seconds of exposure time from the sweep second hand on the watch then replaced the cap and covers.
As he packed the camera up to return it to the capsule he suddenly realised that the primordial soundtrack had quietened considerably, looking up his skin crawled as he saw the huge winged Pteranodon alight in the clearing with a powerful sweep of its huge, burgundy leathery wings. The monster hissed loudly and started walking towards him using its semi-folded wings and small back legs in a strange quadrupedal form of locomotion. A large pointed crest swept upwards from the back of its head.
Aloicious stumbled backwards dropping the camera as he fell to the ground. He clambered to his feet and pulled the rifle from its holster and pointed it at the beast as it paused and cocked its head at him.
"See here, not one more step or I fire!" He exclaimed rather incongruously at the Pteranodon as he drew the hammers back. In his trembling hand the barrels waved about describing wild circles in the air between the two of them. The beast uttered a series of clicks and hisses as it looked at him and took another step.
"I'm warning you, stop or I fire!" He pointed the gun in its general direction and pulled the triggers.
Both barrels of the heavy rifle fired setting the local fauna into a cacophony of panicked cries and calls and Aloicious on his backside. The monstrous winged reptile sat back on what passed for haunches on its anatomy and shook its great crested head from side to side, then it took another step. He had missed!
Aloicious' courage failed him and he threw the gun at the advancing beast as he turned tail and bolted for the safety of his capsule. The beast ambled after him with surprising alacrity, so much so that Aloicious only managed to close the capsule door a fraction ahead of the Pteranodon's arrival. He then looked at the screen that had afforded him his first glimpse of the primordial and was shocked to see the emerald eye of the beast staring back at him from the outside of the capsule. There was a slight scratching sound that penetrated the wall and a rocking sensation that caused Aloicious considerable alarm, The beast was trying to get in and consume him! It would also damage the plating that was integral to the operation of the temporal field.
He jumped in the chair and set the controls for the reciprocal course back through time to his home date. Once again the sounds and sensations of time travel filled the cabin as he advanced the control rod and hurtled forward to the future. A feeling of relief flooded through him as these familiar sensations assured him that he was fleeing the past and his near-nemisis pteranodon. A strange lethargy suffused his body as he sat in the chair, a slight feeling of "otherworldliness" that had not been present on his initial trip. Aloicious worried that the plating had been damaged and that he was lost in time.
The counter slowly clicked to the date and time of his departure from his workshop and the reactor hum ceased as the capsule returned to the present. Aloicious had spent his hour of travel time writing his experiences in is log book specially bought for recording the fantastic adventures he had had in mind. There was a twinge of regret that he had lost the photographic evidence of his first trip. Looking at the screen he saw that he was indeed in his laboratory. Breathing a huge sigh of relief he shut everything down then opened the door of the capsule and stepped out into the familiar environs of his spacious workshop. Once out of the capsule he turned to survey any damage the beast had done to it. The sight that greeted him, two emerald eyes set in a massive lizard head with an upward sweeping crest, sent him into a dead swoon.
He came to as a cold wet cloth stroked his forehead and a slight tut-tuting reached his ears. Opening his eyes he was once again greeted by the impossible emerald gaze of a creature 4 million years extinct. His eyes fluttered and a black roaring filled his ears as he started to slide back into unconsciousness. A stinging slap brought him back to the present.
"Now now, my good man try to stay awake, you have had a terrible shock don't you know?" The reptile gently chided him in a plummy Oxbridge tone. Aloicious promptly fainted again.
When he came to he was seated in the armchair by the open fireplace in the corner of the laboratory, the cheery glow and warmth of the fire burning in the grate . Cautiously he looked around and found the beast staring at him from the other side of the fireplace.
"Ah! You are awake ... again." Said the pteranodon. "I took the liberty of burning the other armchair to provide the fire, I hope that you don't mind too much. I could not find coal or cordwood."
Aloicious decided that he was not in any immediate danger of forming the reptile's next meal and cleared his throat.
"How is it that you are here?" He asked. "And, how the hell can you speak English?"
The Pteranodon folded its wings in a way that allowed it to rest its chin on the claw-like fingers that protruded from each of the joints and stared at Aloicious for a short while.
"I'm not precisely sure of the exact science behind this, but it seems that I was caught in the temporal vortex and transported outside your capsule to the nineteenth century."
The beast reached out with one of its wings and lifted the teapot from off the trivet beside the fire.
"I'm afraid I could only find the Earl Grey. How do you like it? There is no lemon I'm afraid."
"J-j-just as it comes." replied a totally bemused Aloicious.
The "Dragon," as Aloicious now thought of the beast, poured the tea into the Denby cups that were warming on the hearth, then gave one to Aloicious who took it carefully from the dragon's formidable claws. Taking a sip he found it to be just right.
The incongruous sight of a large burgundy dragon drinking tea from his mothers second-best Denby china sent him into a fit of the giggles. The Dragon appeared to raise an eyebrow at him in a quizzical way.
"Ahem." he interrupted Aloicious. "If I may continue?"
"Yes yes, of course." Giggled Aloicious.
"I seem to understand it this way. I was not fully in the temporal vortex, yet was protected from rapid aging. As a side effect of this, I was still subject to the evolutionary process, only the effect was on this one body rather than successive generations. As to the English and my knowledge of science I can only surmise that the disturbance in the vortex allowed your knowledge to be duplicated in my evolving brain." The dragon took a sip of tea. "So what you see here is the product of four million years of uninterrupted evolution and an Oxford education completed in about an hour of relative time."
Aloicious stared at the dragon in stunned amazement.
“What else happened during the time transport?” He asked.
“Well, I am not sure since I was quite un-evolved when we set out, but I am fairly sure that I did not have the ability to breathe fire back then.”
“You can breathe fire?” He spluttered.
“Yes, It came as a surprise to me too. I was having some trouble manipulating the matches to light the fire and I huffed in frustration and found out that way.”
“So what do you intend to do now.” Aloicious enquired.
“I'm not quite sure. I have only been sentient for an hour or so, but I have a hankering to experience the world as it is now.” It took another sip of tea.
“I'm not so sure that is such a good idea.” opined Aloicious. “The world is not exactly ready for Burgundy fire-breathing Dragons. What should I call you?”
“I rather thought that Blaze was a good name for an incendiary dragon.”
“Oh! Very good. How do you think the people of England will react to you?”
“Ah now Aloicious. That's the fun of adventure; one never really knows how it will turn out."
Blaze turned and opened the laboratory door, squeezing his huge bulk through the frame he took off into the night sky.
Word Count 2560