Whatever it was, it took three full days to wear off.
"And no one else had any problems at all." Her head was throbbing. "Life is not fair."
Major Brant chuckled and brought her up to date. "We've made contact with the two main polities. We were in the country of Freer, which is a parliamentary democracy with a king who apparently still holds a good deal of power. The other country is called Crease and is a democracy with limited voting rights. They've both accepted our embassies, so we'll be headed downside again soon, to scout openly."
"I don't need rules." Her voice was a hiss, her fists knotted.
Homer looked down at the child, baffled. She's usually so happy. Must be hormones; puberty, all that stuff.
Then she drew back a foot and kicked him.
The sharp pain made him yelp, and his vision faded as if . . . Homer frantically tried to suppress his alter-ego. The last thing he needed was for ~ ~ ~ Herod ascended, ready to fight for his life, a sweeping glance taking in the situation. The large room, the chemical odors, the sullen human teenagers.
Armed with paintbrushes.
A classroom? Has Homer turned into a masochist?
The open, unprotected door at his back was both an escape and a vulnerability. But he apparently wasn't under attack. Mostly.
"You can take your petty rules, and your nitpicky laws and stick them up your scaly anus. I have principles, and those are quite sufficient for me, thank you very little, you appalling bore and pitiful excuse for a mighty beast." The scrawny girl in front of him drew her foot back and kicked him.
Herod cocked his head. He replayed the entirety of the argument from their joint memory. Ah! She'd kicked Homer, triggering Herod's ascent. He snatched the girl and sat up. His long hands with the three inch claws on the thumb and first two fingers were almost big enough to wrap her waist. He noticed that Homer had been filing the claws down, the tips were nice and rounded and safe. Idiot.
A human might have said he sat up like a cat. This human, despite her proximity, wasn't in a position to judge. Although she might be forming an opinion of his dentition. But her outthrust jaw and crossed arms remained, even as her hard eyes went suddenly speculative.
"Herod, I presume?"
"Indeed. Perhaps I should do Homer a favor and eat you." He flicked out his tongue and ran it around his teeth, slowly. Suggestively.
The door in the back of the room opened. A man and a woman, both in uniform, entered but stayed in the back. The appropriate memory popped up. Juvenile Hall. Behind-bars-school, with an enrichment program. Bah. He eyed the girl. Probably kicked some wimp who went crying to the police.
"I thought dragons' alts preferred disfavors?"
Didn't bother her a bit. She must really trust Homer. Or perhaps she thinks all dragons are like him. "I am not the alternate personality, I am the dragon."
She nodded. "That's probably true. Homer's a piss poor dragon. Pretty good lounge lizard though."
She slipped from his grasp as he choked back a laugh. Dragons tended to flame when laughing. And he might not like rules and laws either, but he did understand the force of the law. Arson, they called it, when the dragon lost control. Or attempted murder if it came anywhere close to another person, accidentally or not. A wisp of acidic vapor escaped his nostrils.
The girl grabbed his hand long enough to control her drop and landing. Even in dragon-form he wasn't that large. Seventeen feet long, about five of that tail. Sitting with his back arched, his shoulders were six feet off the floor, two more feet to the top of his head.
He swallowed the acid remainder of almost-flame and looked down at her. "You are much too young to know about lounge lizards."
"I hear all about them from my big sister. Anyway, I'll be eighteen in three months. And out of school. And out of here a few days later."
He looked her up and down. "Dragon bait."
She smiled sharply.
She knows when she's been called a whore. Not from a protected environment.
"It's an easy way to make money. But I think I'll try gold mining instead. Want to come?"
"Certainly not." Consort with a second comer? Kasta! And a lippy one at that. The guards can deal with their wards. They aren't my job. He turned and left. Only a dragon, or a snake, could have turned in the space. The room had been designed so dragons could use it without changing. It had not been designed for their comfort.
Outside, a chain link fence separated him from a parking lot. He stretched his arms, unfolded the wing membranes between his third and fourth fingers, and shook them a little to free up the main sail, from his fourth finger to his side. Crouched and leapt upwards and forward, over the fence. He let the rising heat of the pavement lift him into the air as his wings swept him forward. It had been a long time since he'd truly surfaced, taken over. This civilization tried to subdue the "bad" half of a dragon, all the while tempting it. Laws and customs on one side, the easy sex, the gangs, drugs, and crime on the other. The underside of a civilization was a small evil, nasty and dirty, in the end harming the dragon more than the civilization.
Where had the glorious dragon lords of the last millennia gone? Where were the mountain top redoubts of the great raiders? Who was he kidding? The last had been turned into a museum fifty years ago, when he wasn't paying attention.
The climb to altitude had taken him away from the city. Alone, above the clouds, Herod let loose a great stream of flame. He burped up the last of the bile in his second stomach and climbed to even thinner air.
The sunspot cycle was ending. He and Homer would be trading dominance more often, now. He'd be in control for longer and longer periods as the Sun's magnetic field changed polarity. Then Homer could go into eclipse for the years of the peak of the cycle.
Herod, for several years, had been coming out for a few hours each night around the new moon, then retreating from the over-civilized environment Homer thrived in.
He knew everything Homer knew. Knew the research that confirmed the joint ancestry of dragon and man. The series of mutations that had crippled and shrunk one branch of draco sapiens, that had taken their wings and fostered their tool making . . . while the other branch became a bit larger, and much less communal. They even argued whether wingless and dragon were one species or two. And whether interbreeding was natural, sensible or perverted.
Not that any amount of learned discourse stopped it.
Thank Zeu dragons couldn't cross with the second comers. A thought insinuated itself from their joint memory. They'd made contact with yet another group of wingless people. Probably an off shoot of the Comers, though. Apparently free of that stifling religion. He supposed that he'd have to meet some of them. Analyze them.
Mountains rose to intersect his path. He eyed the terrain below, spotted dinner immediately and folded wings to dropped on the buck that had foolishly entered an open glade to graze. His weight broke its neck, and his jaws ripped its throat to drink the blood as the heart faltered and stopped. Fresh hot blood. Muscles still quivering with residual life. This was what a dragon was meant to eat. It was a small species of deer. He ate everything but the offal and largest of the bones, and even those he split for the marrow. He buried the remains tidily, and slithered into the nearest icy stream to clean up.
He found a black basalt knob, hot in the evening sun and draped himself limply over it to digest. This was the life. The opposite of the over civilized, shop-in-the-store-and-cook-it style of Homer. His civilized alt. How long had it been since he'd hunted? He cast his thoughts back, trying to remember a date for that buffalo hunt . . .
". . . might still be around, if it didn't eat the whole carcass."
"Jake, you always say that. We don't even know if the dragon got a deer."
"Saw his stoop. Gotta look. Zeu damned dragons, there's something wrong with having two people in one body."
"No there ain't. Have you been hanging around with Comers?"
Herod stuck an eye over the edge. The uniforms . . . park rangers. And now memories were surfacing. Hunting regulations. Seasons, licenses, limits. Now I remember why I didn't want to surface again. Homer's memories were of a hunting season becoming even more restrictive every year. Only a dozen years, but he'd been busy during his last cycle of dominance, mostly in the far west, where he'd studied those second comers. So it had been close to forty years since he'd done much hunting up here.
The wuss rangers walk past, unaware.
Herod's dark patterns of scales blended tolerably with the stone. So he just plucked a few of the tufts of grass he was laying on and stuck them on his spines. Shifted the edge of one wing under the low growth of a scrawny pine, and held still as a pair of dragons flew overhead. So much for the uncanny vision of the drake. The draconic brain tended to recognize patterns when they moved.
He stayed, indolent and full, watching the sun set.
There were lights everywhere.
Home to wuss and dragon alike. So many. It made him sick.
The Gold Country.
Dragons' need for gold was seriously exaggerated. But not made up whole cloth; they had a higher metabolic need for metals than even the wusses. More to the point, Homer's memories of the Gold Country—from his reading—were of a savage and unsettled land. Sounded great. Herod had only briefly touched on the southern part of that continent, during his restless youth.
So, that girl wanted to go there. She was obviously a second comer, pale skinned, if unusually dark haired for her people. Was the King letting them emigrate to the Northwest Continent? Herod sighed. The King couldn't stop them, they were Freer citizens now, most of them.
The second comers. They were like an anemic, bleached version of the wuss—the wingless, unchanging, single personality, crippled dragons. The second comers thought they were the way people should be. They called themselves humans, and called dragons demons. He'd advised the King to keep them out, but the Parliament had wanted the cheap labor. Perhaps he should do something about them. He looked at the memories he and Homer held in common, and winced. That many! Last I checked, there were only a few million of them. Now? Perhaps twenty million. And a hundred million back where they came from. And I've been barely surfacing for the last twelve years. More emigration, and lots of births. Thunder and Lightning! It's too late to do a damned thing.
He gathered his haunches under him and leapt off the knob. He stayed low, sweeping along comfortably above the tree tops, but not so high as to be visible to anyone and everyone with a clear view of the sky. Lights moved against the stars; airplanes, flying higher than he could easily go. And faster, of course.
Homer flew so little he didn't even have the air lanes memorized. Herod watched and deduced them, but no doubt they'd be different when the wind directions changed. All the low level activity was to the city's northwest. He made a mental note to check a flight map, and circled to the south, below the level the planes were using.
He flew all night, circling wide, and everywhere he found lights.