Meteor never hit earth. Alternate history where lizard men rule and keep humans as pets.
|The train ride home had been more exhausting than the whole of the previous week put together. Why was sitting still so tiring? He watched Andrea as she slept in her compartment, designed for humans traveling with their reptilian masters. He pondered their dream future, a life apart where they could live as equals.
That future was closer now than it had ever been. That was true of any future if you waited long enough but this felt so much more significant. If it had been up to him they would be on their way now, to an island procured with the wealth they'd amassed. It wasn't only up to him. Andrea had made a request, something that she had never done in all their long years together. So how could he refuse?
One last job, she'd said, before they took off for the unknown. She wanted to hit a house belonging to a high born rock lizard named James. The mark was his human pet. George didn't understand what it was about this particular human that made Andrea want to take him along but he wasn't opposed to it. Part of the beauty of their partnership was that they often wanted the same things.
George had never liked James. The idea of stealing from him made George feel a deep satisfaction. His eyes half-closed with contentment at the thought. Leaving society behind was its own reward but sticking it to James before he left? Icing on the cake.
They took a day to rest and recover and then waited for nightfall to approach the estate. "Are you ready for this?" she asked. Her hands moved fluidly in the sign language they had created. Her tongue, incapable of reproducing the hisses and clicks of his own native language, and his tongue, equally incapable of wrapping itself around the tripping syllables of human speech.
"Of course, dear. I'll keep an eye on them for you. Maybe even both eyes." He tilted his head and winked at her.
She smirked and turned towards the house. He circled around to the front and picked the lock easily. Compared to the other jobs they'd pulled, this one was like catching crickets in a barrel. He could have knocked, but he'd known James for far too long. If he could get away with just surveilling and not having to actually speak to him, then that is the path he chose to take.
He slipped into the house and flicked his tongue to get a sense of the place. Two lizards and the smell of fire coming from the parlor. He drifted to the open door and peered through the crack to get a decent view of James and Edwin. Edwin was a decent sort but James had always suffered from a sense of entitlement and a tendency to spend too much time polishing his scales. He was of the type that was always much more concerned with how a thing looked rather than what it really was. This gave him a blindness to the world that frankly irritated George. So he waited and he watched.
James broke the silence. "It's just. . . How were we to know how much trouble they'd be? They crawled up out of their caves as weak as kittens. They are only still here because we took them in! Could you imagine them trying to survive in the wilds? Insects as big as them? Ha!" He took a puff of his pipe and then gently knocked against the side of the bowl with his claw. The tobacco settled for an easier burn.
"Too right, too right." Replied Edwin. "Just like the kittens." A wistful shine came into his eyes, as it always did when he thought about cats. "But cats are so graceful."
"Implying that humans are not? You're not wrong about that. I saw one trip over its own feet yesterday, and you know . . ." He paused to really look at his companion. "That's not tobacco in your pipe, is it, Edwin?"
Edwin didn't answer but he did look quite pleased. "I'd take a cat over a human any day. Cats are so much less work and so much more beautiful."
"You and your cats. How many do you have now?"
"Oh, I don't know. A few."
"When you die, they are going to rip you to shreds without a thought," said James.
"You say that as if they don't try to rip me to shreds now," said Edwin. The scales of his claws had battle scars.
James blinked his membranous clear eyelids slowly and thoughtfully. He turned the conversation back. "I just don't know how much longer things can go on like this. My human is driving me absolutely batty. Gets into all sorts of trouble the second that I leave the house."
Edwin nodded, lethargic. "What sorts of things has he been getting up to?"
"Oh, the usual. Moving things around. Trying to sleep in the bed. And . . . My wife says I'm mad, but I would swear to you that he's meddled with my thermal suit in such a way that in the sun, I'm always just a bit too warm and in the shade just a bit too cool. I've had to move back and forth to regulate my temperature like we used to do in the dark ages! And don't think that I haven't seen the others talk about me. Hissing behind my back about how improper my behavior is."
"Yes." Edwin had heard some of that hissing. "That does sound a bit embarrassing. Why don't you just take him out to the forest ? Let him fall in with one of the feral packs. Some humans just aren't meant to be kept and they do seem to be adapting. Fighting together against larger threats and fashioning better shelters." Smoke curled out of Edwin's mouth as he spoke so that he looked like a fire-breathing dragon from the old tales.
"I did think about it, but I've heard that they are becoming a problem. A nuisance, procreating like mad. I don't want to add to a social dilemma. And you know my wife would never allow it." This last bit was grumbled almost too low to hear.
"No. No. Of course not." Edwin paused again to think and went down a rabbit hole. "Hey. Do you know those strange grunting noises they make?"
"Apparently, that's meant to be some sort of a language."
Edwin shrugged. "Just what I heard."
"And do you believe everything you hear?" James scoffed.
George decided that he'd heard quite enough. He knew that humans were capable of all the things they'd talked about, and more. The blindness of his people boggled his mind so much that it propelled him forward and into the room.
"Do you?" he asked. "Believe everything you hear?"
"George, is that you?" James turned to look. "How long have you been standing there, old chap?"
"Long enough to hear about the problems you've been having with your pet." George shook his head but appreciated the look of affront that crossed James' face at the insinuation of being thought less of for any reason. He spoke again before James could comment.
"That does seem rather ingenious, though, doesn't it? If he has been meddling with your suit." He paused. "Do you ever think that perhaps we should give these humans a little more credit?" He approached the seating area without waiting to be invited to sit. "I've brought mine along, by the way. She's down there playing with yours as we speak."
"Good. Maybe she'll tucker him out and he'll be too exhausted to bother with anything tonight." James grumbled.
George settled into the third chair.
James asked him, "When did you get back from your travels?"
"Just last night."
"Where did you go this time?"
"What was up there?"
"Nothing, really. Family." He shrugged and lit his own pipe.
Edwin had been watching this exchange with some interest. "North, eh?" he asked. "Wasn't there some big heist up north this past week?"
"Was there? I wouldn't know. I was involved with the family, rather." George made a show of relaxing into the chair despite the adrenalin that had pumped into his system at the fond memory of the weight of that gem in his hand. "It's so good to be back."
"There was, though," continued Edwin, lost on this track now. "A jewel of some kind? James? Didn't you hear about it?"
"Naturally, I heard about it, but who cares? It wasn't my jewel that was stolen and I do have more pressing matters. Like what am I to do with this human? I'm to go to town next week to attend the royal wedding. I can't have a wardrobe malfunction there. I'd never live it down. And if I brought another suit up from storage what’s to stop him from altering it as well?"
An idea occurred to George. A much easier way to pull off this entire job. George was nothing if not an opportunist. He sighed and acted his best to appear put upon, like he'd be doing James a grand favor with the offer he was about to make. "If he's all that bad, why don't you let me take him off your claws for a while? You've only got the one, right?"
George continued, "Sometimes they do better in pairs. Like goats. He gets along well enough with mine when we are here. We could see how he does with her." In his mind he could almost hear Andrea’s reaction to being likened to a goat. It wasn’t very pleasant.
"An excellent plan! A potentially temporary measure, thereby placating to my wife, but then, when she sees how much happier he's become in his new life, she'll have no choice but to let him go."
George had to struggle to keep from laughing and instead hold up a firm hand. "Now, look here, I never said I'd keep him forever."
"I know, I know. But you might like him. Didn't you say something about giving him credit for his devious nature? Have fun, my friend." James chuckled darkly.
George looked aghast. "Are you trying to talk me out of this deal?"
"Heaven's no!" James pressed his palms together in a gesture of prayer. "I'll beg if you want."
George smiled serenely, projecting the image of a saint. "Really, James. There's no need for that. I'll take him."
He thought about Andrea downstairs and all of her planning. She was likely still working on deactivating the man's collar. She'd made an elaborate escape route, changing trains, taking back roads, and switching carriages often. Here George was, allowed to simply walk out the front door with him. The novelty of this whole situation, a mark handed to him on a silver platter, made him feel perfectly incandescent. The only drawback was that it did sacrifice sticking it to James in an obvious way, but this was almost better.
James sighed with relief. "Now then, I'll have to take my suit in for repairs, and in the meantime, I'll order my backup suit unpacked."
Andrea had been teaching this human the secret sign language between jobs. So, after they'd settled at home, George could ask the man directly.
"Did you really alter his suit? Make him have to zigzag all over the place just to keep regulated?"
He nodded. "I did." And then added, "I did it to all of his suits. Even the reserves."
George thought of the confidence in James' eyes when he'd planned on pulling his other suits out of storage. He imagined James running from place to place, shade to sun and back, in front of the everyone who was anyone.
George laughed and laughed until red tears streamed down his face and he thought that perhaps he was starting to understand what Andrea saw in this particular human above all the others.