Old Dragons, New Tricks
by Mike Brotzman
©2005 Mike Brotzman -- all rights reserved
Star Guardian Schtalfylian canceled the alarm flashing prominently in his GUI and cut the strength of his warp field to reduce his speed. Activating his various advanced sensor systems, he turned his full attention to the space-time anomaly his long range sensors had detected. Over 200 feet long from nose to tail and looking like a gold dragon, Schtalfylian was an artificial intelligence initialized centuries ago by an advanced yet reclusive race that placed him into the streamlined, smooth metallic body he now wore. Their goal was to create a new race of beings that could patrol the hostile expanses of space, helping those in need, fighting evil and guiding less advanced life forms along the roar to ultimate existence. Alas! the Makers are had died off long ago, but the Star Guardians had lived on, finding new hosts and increasing their numbers until finally being caught up in the new Federation which had not only spread across this galaxy, but through parallel galaxies in thousands of alternate realities. Still, Schtalfylian had no care for parallel universes. This universe was vast enough and hostile enough to demand the Star Guardian's continuing attention, and by agreement the Guardians enjoyed great autonomy in their part of the galaxy doing what they had always done, year in and year out for millennia.
His scans complete, Schtalfylian became puzzled. The anomaly was localized on the surface of a desert world orbiting a star known only as M6A-4684 in the Kinsoll sector. The readings were nothing Schtalfylian had ever encountered before and failed to match anything within his database, but if he had to make an educated guess it would be that local quantum states were undergoing mass change in anticipation of inter-reality or inter-time jump to occur at some point in the near future. The Guardian had already been on the outer fringes of his assigned patrol zone, and 4684 was in a bit of a gray areas as far as his responsibility was concerned, but Schtalfylian's new Federation bosses had listed unidentifiable time or reality travel as one of his priority action items. So Schtalfylian banked his great wings, altered his warp field and changed course toward a star system so out of the way that even smugglers shunned it as too inconvenient...
Space Dragon Philijagger folded his wings and dropped out of hyper-speed. He had just been about to turn around for home when he had felt a growing and not at all pleasant disturbance in The Continuum. While Philijagger was just a plain old gold dragon (if one could call gold dragons plain), with a thick coat of overlapping scales resembling a classical tile roof to keeping the cold of space out and the squishy parts of his body in, and lacked even what could be considered modest sensor equipment, he could smell trouble half a parsec away -- and this disturbance reeked of it. Pulling out his talonheld computer he calculated the source of the disturbance to be located in the system M6A-4684 in the Kinsoll sector. Philijagger sighed mentally, the black hair along the ridge of his back floating haphazardly in the emptiness of space, the detour to 4684 could undoubtedly him make him late on his patrol and it would probably miss the scheduled portal back to his home planet. When Philijagger had sighed up for the Space Dragon Corps it had seemed like a handy way to pay for college and fresh meat, but now the 500 year part-time service obligation was beginning to wear him down. Sure, helping disabled ships and primitive civilizations was fun, but the Corps was turning into a serious time commitment and was impacting his ability to find and hold onto a mate.
Even though 4684 was technically outside his patrol radius and he could get away with simply calling in the anomaly to Central, he was a gold dragon. And gold dragons had a special honor and reputation to maintain. Even thought this would probably just be a false alarm, a gold dragon was never to pass responsibility along to another, especially if that other happened to be an inferior breed of dragon. The thought of a silver or, (perish the thought!) a red getting the credit for breaking up a dangerous band of smugglers, or rescuing a lost ship, made the gold dragon's stomach cringe. Touching the blue glowing gem set into his ventral scutes at the base of his neck, Philijagger reengaged his magic-based star drive and reentered hyper-speed, now on course to the 4684 system.
About 5 cycles later Philijagger dropped out of hyper-speed and continued on his own internal magic toward the third planet of the system which contained the source of the disruption. The star of 4684 was young, and it spewed a hell of a lot of radiation which rendered his communications devises nearly useless. Philijagger engaged some extra magical shielding against the radiation, just in case the nitrogen/methane atmosphere of the giant sandbox below him failed to stop the bombardment of high energy particles that might otherwise pose a risk to his genetic structure. Spreading his wings and exerting a counter-force, Philijagger slowed his descent for safe passage through the atmosphere. While fantastic fiery descents posed no risk to gold dragons and were always a crowd pleaser, Philijagger never liked to clean all the soot and plasma residue off his scales and was perfectly happy when he lightly touched down on a flat rocky plain between two orange sand dunes. Half expecting a false alarm anyway, Philijagger was not surprised when after about an hour of searching he had found nothing. Unfortunately, Philijagger the 'nothing' he'd found was not merely metaphorical. Something was still disturbing the continuum, but he had not been able to locate the source -- and it was against regulations to leave such a mystery unsolved. Reciting a complex spell he had written on an index card, the gold dragon upgraded his vision to detect 17 kinds of cloaking, 22 kinds of masking and 12 styles of illusion and craning his neck around he saw a large dragon shaped blue glowing blob watching him about 100 yards away. Turning his body as to hide his hands, Philijagger conjured a large ball of phased energy; he winged it at the hidden intruder with a smooth overhand cast.
Schtalfylian had been targeting the unknown organic dragon for attack, so when his adversary spun round with a surprise energy projectile, he was unable to switch to defense mode and thus bore the full brunt of the attack. Although he couldn't prevent the destruction of his phasing cloak, Schtalfylian managed to quickly dissipate the energy before it disrupted any other systems. His vision returned just in time to ward off a slicing blow from the other dragon's sword. One spin-flip later, he stood to face his opponent in a ready stance.
"You impudent fool," Schtalfylian hissed, "how dare you attack me!"
Philijagger sniffed the air, the mysterious dragon's mechanistic nature instantly apparent to his keen senses. "What's the matter, robot? Didn't expect a lowly organic to stop your plans to wipe out natural life?"
"Fleshy whelp! How dare you try to distract me from what is surely a dragon's typical self-serving power grab. You are the cause of the disturbance, now tell me what you were up to before I let your fluids flow all over this desolate rock!"
"Ah yes, I am sure that you would like me to believe this is all some sort of misunderstanding. Yeah, the day I trust a soulless, honorless machine is the day I fully review its source code."
"I am far more pure of purpose than you fleshlings will ever be." Schtalfylian took on a mocking sneer. "What's the matter, did your organic brain deteriorate into senility so that your deep rooted dragon instincts took hold to force you to alter space-time in some attempt to eat virgins and horde treasure? Or did you maybe just get up on the wrong side of the cave?"
Philijagger barred his teeth, but using all his willpower managed to swallow the insult and stay professional. "Just power yourself down and eject your processor, robot. We'll get this all straightened out without any more violence."
"The day I surrender to an organic is the day my resources are recovered! You take off all those little magical baubles and gew-gaws, then lay on the ground with your muzzle pointed into the sand and your arms behind your wings. Then we'll get this all straightened out without any more violence."
"Too late for that!" yelled Philijagger, protecting plasma beams from each talon combined with his fire breath weapon all set to focus in the center of the mechdragon's chest.
Schtalfylian pulled out his chest and smiled as the three beams of destruction rebounded off his shield, engulfing the organic in a giant fireball. "Awww, it looks like your statistical engine failed to anticipate mine."
"Looks like you should have googled my species as we are immune to fire," Philijagger sneered, stepping out of the flames unharmed. "Let see if you can predict thi... um... where'd you go?"
"Right here!" bellowed Schtalfylian, plunging from the sky and onto Philijagger's backside, pinning his arms, wings and tail. "Might I consider installing a proximity scanner," the mech continued as he prepared the force bonds.
Unfortunately, Schtalfylian found himself wrestling with empty air as Philijagger teleported himself onto Schtalfylian's back where he then proceeded to plunge his teeth into the bot's shoulder before finally delivering a healthy electromagnetic pulse. Schtalfylian roared as he felt the components in his right arm burn out or go dead, but he was still 90% operational and struck at the annoying organic's belly with a razor sharp tail blade. Philijagger screamed and launched himself backward off and away from the mech, clutching the bleeding gash in his belly scutes. He glared as the mech dragon before him struggled to his feet, his right arm hanging limp and useless.
"Soulless hunk of junk!"
"I have had enough of you and your magical bedevilment. I will water this wasteland with your blood!" bellowed Schtalfylian bringing his weapons to full charge.
"You are an abomination to nature and dragonkind! I will not rest until you have been appropriately recycled into playground equipment!" trumpeted Philijagger, activating his spells and drawing in as much magical energy as he could muster.
Just moments before the two enraged dragons unleashed an amount of energy that would have vaporized a sizable chunk of the planet's surface, there was a white flash of light and a being materialized in between the two enraged dragons. Both saurians stopped in their tracks, eyes wide and mouths agape, letting their accumulated energies drain away in a safe manner. To Philijagger, the visitor looked like a fairly typical silver dragon with black and red highlights and black hair flowing around his horns and down his backridge. To Schtalfylian, the visitor represented perfection in the mechdragon form, namely an all-metallic silver body that looked as if it had been sculpted from a single piece of metal and gave off the energy signature of a 100% efficient total conversion power core. This strange dragon was none other than Gaenfen, the chief dragon deity, and although he wasn't the most powerful deity in the multiverse he could manage nevertheless be all things to as many as 1,000 people at any given time. Making eye contact with his first the mech, and then the organic, Gaenfen signaled for the two warriors to approach and stand before him.
"G-Great lord," stammered Philijagger, instantly bowing down before his deity, "I was just about to rid this world of a horrible dragon impostor."
"No High Elder, it is I who was trying to apprehend his little reptile who has dishonored our kind with some plot of great evil," responded Schtalfylian, also bowing down.
Gaenfen rolled his eyes and sighed. "Will you two please get up, you're acting very silly and causing me a great deal of embarrassment in front of the other deities."
To this both dragon stared and blinked at their deity.
"'But lord,' nothing. You are both highly trained and experienced warriors, yet you let you silly prejudices about organic and inorganic life cloud your judgment -- which resulted in you both nearly destroying yourselves as well as a sizable chunk of this planet."
"My lord... I detected a disturbance..."
"As did I and when I got here who did I find but this... machine... sneaking about."
"I was tracking you. I know you were up to something, now admit it!"
"Will you both be quiet!" Gaenfen bellowed, his divine voice knocking the two golden dragons back some yards. After a few moments of silence he continued. "There, that's better. Did either of you two ever stop to consider that the disturbance you both felt might signify the arrival of a great evil in the not to distant future? Just maybe you were both good guys and the disturbance was caused by something else?"
Both Philijagger and Schtalfylian looked down at the ground, having no good response available.
"Heck, did you two even attempt to show or ask for identification? Maybe call into base and see what was up?"
"No, M'lord," responded the two dragons in unison.
"Well, please allow me to bring you up to speed. There is a great evil set to arrive here shortly, and you two nearly bungled it up with your bickering. How do you think that would make our kind look if two dragon warriors killed each other before the evil even arrived?"
"I apologize High Elder," said Schtalfylian, speaking up, "and let me be the first to volunteer my services to take on and destroy this menace."
"No, Great Lord!" interrupted Philijagger, "I should be the one to stay and defeat this evil. After all, evil is a job for strong magic, not strong machines."
"OK, that's it!" yelled Schtalfylian, launching himself at Philijagger before running into a force barrier that Gaenfen had prudently set up between them.
Gaenfen put his muzzle in his talons and sighed. "I see that you two just aren't getting the message -- so I will have to take other steps."
Immobilizing the two large and powerful dragons with a flick of his talon, Gaenfen carefully reached out with his divine power and extracted the consciousness and memories from the neural tissue that comprised Philijagger's brain. Philijagger's body slumped limply as Gaenfen held Philijagger's mind as a pulsating cloud of gold light hovering in the air. Not missing a step, Gaenfen turned his attention to Schtalfylian, extracting his consciousness from the apple-sized blue glowing crystal that comprised his processor core. Corralling them like some sort of sheepdog, Gaenfen proceeded to move the blob of silver light that was Schtalfylian into Philijagger's old organic body and the blob of gold light that was Philijagger into Schtalfylian's advanced robotic body.
"Now, I am holding you both immobile until I leave because I don't feel like witnessing all the moaning and flailing when you are confronted with the reality of being in a completely alien body. But let me make one thing clear: You two are going to work together to learn how to function in your new forms, and you two will defeat the evil. The pride of our kin is riding on you. What you will face has been playing havoc across time and space and it is up to us, the dragons, to stop them. So hop to it, I am counting on you!"
His pep-talk over, Gaenfen transported himself to the other plane of existence where he and the other second tier deities hung out and oversaw the various happenings in the mortal realm. Gaenfen was confident that his plan would bring these two stubborn drakes into line. If there was one thing he'd learned from that course on relieving inter-cultural conflict at the professional training workshop, it was that body swapping always resolves superficial differences and brings about peace and harmony. He couldn't wait until the next group assembly; with the defeat of The Three to his credit, he would most definitely be sitting pretty.
As expected, as soon as Gaenfen left and the pair had their movement restored they immediately began to freak out.
"Ahhhhhh, I have windows popping up in my vision! I can't stop them!"
"Ahhhhhh, I can't run processes in the background! What if I forget to breathe!" ::huff:: ::puff:: ::huff:: ::puff:: "Fuck! My heart -- I don't know how to make it beat!"
"Oh just quiet down you big baby, that stuff just happens, you don't need to think about it. Now will you please help me deal with all of these damn pop-ups!"
"Just select them and make then close."
"Select? How the heck do I do that?"
"Focus on them and make them close."
"OK, got them." Philijagger let out a puff of air. "Goodness, this body is so heavy, how the hell do you get around in this contraption?"
"I get around just fine, thank you. Gosh, how can you stand this weak body? No telemetry, I'm probably getting cancer from all this radiation. Argh, I'm feeling things but I don't know what they mean!"
"I think I was a little hungry before I landed, you could try that. You know how to eat, right?"
Schtalfylian spun and poked a clawed finger into Philijagger's belly. "Yes I do, thank you very much." Schtalfylian paused suddenly looking down at his finger. "That's odd, your... I mean my chest is feeling awfully warm."
Schtalfylian placed his paw onto Philijagger's chest and then quickly pulled it back.
"By the Implementors, you're burning up!" Schtalfylian's eyes went wide. "You're overloading me! Isn't the cooling system engaged?"
"I don't know about cooling systems."
"Didn't you get a red action message?!"
"I closed all those annoying windows."
"You're going to make me explode! Quick, turn on the cooling unit!"
"If I knew how I would have already," sneered Philijagger, showing his annoyance. "And please don't forget, I will be the only one exploding."
"OK, don't panic. Just execute the command initialize /dev/cooling_unt t u /etc/confg/.coolingconfig1 and after that executes, start /dev/ cooling_unt A."
"W-what? Where do I run these?"
"Just open a mental terminal and then think the commands and then think about executing them."
"What were the arguments?"
"With the first one!"
"OK OK... I think I got it."
"You'd better, my scales are starting to melt!"
"Calm down, it's working, I think the temperature is going down. Um, why are you glowing?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're projecting an aura, what do you think you're doing with my magic?"
"What do you mean? I'm not doing anything."
"Yes, you are! You've accessed all the energy I was storing for the battle. If you don't do something with it you're going to push yourself to a different plane of existence."
"Well, do you want me to calm down or something? Well being shoved out of existence is not going to make that easy!"
"Friend, stop, you're glowing brighter. You need to release energy."
Schtalfylian glared at Philijagger. "Well, I have a pretty tempting target..."
"I'll forget you said that. Look, try pointing your head and talons at that small moon there and just pushing out everything you have within you towards it."
"Implementors, what I wouldn't give for my fire control system. You sure what you said will work?"
"Sometimes roaring helps."
Muttering curses, Schtalfylian looked up at the moon, let loose a mighty roar and protected a three-foot-wide beam of red energy upwards into space. About 30 seconds later Schtalfylian, completely spent, collapsed onto the ground.
"You know, at least my body comes with a man page. I could have been halfway to oblivion before I knew anything was the matter!"
Philijagger swung his head over to his former body and glared, it was only by dint of Schtalfylian noticing the red shine in the back of Philijagger's eyes that he was able to jump aside before twin disruptor beams shot past him, taking a chunk out of a nearby sand dune.
"You brain-dead son of a lizard! Disable your eye beams! You nearly put a hole through your own damn body, which I happen to be wearing at the moment."
Schtalfylian was becoming more and more enraged. So much that he didn't feel the static electricity beginning to saturate his hair tufts.
"You know you're in a weapon of mass destruction, yet you fail again and again to take proper precautions! That body is fully documented and has a logical operation. The only reason that you are screwing up like you are is a sheer unwillingness to learn!"
"Hey, back off. Computers don't like me and I don't like --"
Before Philijagger could respond, two massive lightning bolts descended from the sky and shot through his machine body on their way to ground.
"Listen, robot..." whispered Philijagger, smoke wafting up from his open muzzle. "The next time you get mad... please refrain from calling down electric charges from the sky... especially with those of metallic construction nearby."
"I-I-I'm sorry," stammered Schtalfylian, who was probably more surprised than Philijagger at the results of his tirade. "Auto-repair should fix you up."
"Yeah, like I would know how to monitor that," replied Philijagger, rolling his eyes.
Several days, 5 misunderstandings, 3 close calls, 4 near misses and 1 'whoops!' later, Schtalfylian had managed to get most of his blood back into its original container and Philijagger had managed to get the radiation levels to a safe enough level for so they were actually able to start trying to show each other how to use the other's body.
"And once you feel the targeting system lock on, you simply send a mental command for the emitters to discharge," said Schtalfylian as he stood behind Philijagger, helping to guide his head towards a large rock in the middle of a flat plain. "No no, don't close your eyes... just let the command flow out of your mind and into the fire control system."
Suddenly a bright blue point of light appeared at the tip of Philijagger's tail, quickly erupting into a solid beam of energy which proceeded to disintegrate the boulder leaving only a small puff of smoke.
"Whoa!! I did it!" yelled Philijagger, jumping up and down. "There's still one thing I don't get though. If the beam caused the rock to experience some sort of phase change, wouldn't its excited particles created some sort of massive explosion?"
Schtalfylian let out a chuckle and patted Philijagger on his scaly head. "There's just some things you magic users will never understand. Now, why don't you show me how to call down lightning from the sky... consciously this time."
Philijagger gladly turned back to help his new best friend master the vagaries of organic existence and magic use. While they had suffered a rocky start, both had learned their lesson and were developing a bond that could last the rest of their extremely long lives. Unfortunately, they were only about a quarter of the way through the requisite training montage when they were abruptly interrupted by the close-by formation of an energy portal. Taking a moment to quiet their respectively unfamiliar magical and technological alarms, both Philijagger and Schtalfylian turned around and were greeted by a most unusual sight. Before them stood three individuals, two male dragons, one blue, one red and a flaming orange flaming phoenix. All three were clearly less than the standard age of maturity of their respective species. Now, the sudden appearance of these three in the absolute middle of nowhere and the fact that none of the three seemed to take any notice of the harsh planetary conditions would typically raise some flags. Unfortunately, both of our brave dragon warriors had a lot on their mind, not the least of which was the impending arrival of some ultimate evil that would tax every one of their developing skills.
"Um, this doesn't look like the next jump point, Justin," said the sapphire blue dragon, breaking the silence.
"Admit it, you got us lost. This teaches me to let you work the jump device," remarked the phoenix.
"We're not lost, it's a shortcut."
"These jumps are supposed to be direct. Any jump that is not the destination is by definition a long cut," replied the blue dragon, clearly getting irritated.
"Look, just cut me some slack. I am not used to working the new device."
"Well that was your chance, give me back the orb."
"No! I can get it this time. I need another chance."
"Hey look," said the phoenix pointing a wing at Schtalfylian and Philijagger, "there're some locals."
"Um, greetings," said Schtalfylian taking charge. "I am Star Guardian Schtalfylian and unfortunately, for your own safety, I am going to need to ask you to clear the area immediately."
"Yes," injected Philijagger, "there is a great evil on its way to this very spot. It is not safe for you to remain here."
The three travelers were silent for a moment, looking as if they had somehow been confronted with the absurd. Finally, the blue dragon broke the silence by pulling out a talon-held device and pointing it at the two big dragons.
"Interesting, that one on the right appears to be some sort of advanced sentient machine."
"In dragon-form no less," remarked the Red, "and gold to boot."
"Yeah, talk about a find," replied the blue, putting the scanner away and pulling out his laptop."
"Um, Excuse me," said Philijagger, amplifying his voice slightly to sound more authoritative, "didn't you hear us? You need to leave... right now."
As the sapphire blue dragon began to click away at his laptop Philijagger did not notice the new connection to his wireless I/O port amongst all the other background information generated by his unfamiliar body. To Schtalfylian, the fact that the three strange travelers had not responded in any way to their orders was odd indeed. Suddenly, noticing that while the blue worked feverishly on his laptop, the other two were staring at Philijagger (who currently inhabited his beautiful mech body), Schtalfylian's eyes went wide as he realized what was going on.
"Phil!! Disable your I/O ports! The blue is trying to hack you!!"
"What?" replied Philijagger, concern in his voice, "What is my I/O... Hey! By my egg!! I can't move!"
"Wow, Ted!" said the red, turning to the blue. "24 seconds, that's a new record."
Schtalfylian, novice mage or not, was about 3 seconds from going plasma on these three impudent younglings when he saw that the phoenix was looking straight at him.
"Goodness, you are a very handsome dragon if I might say so myself."
This statement caught Schtalfylian off guard and his magical focus began to slip.
"And your gold scales... oooo, I definitely like."
"You... you like?" stammered Schtalfylian.
The way the phoenix was speaking to him and moving her wings was having a strange effect on the new organic that he was definitely not used to. His legs felt wobbly and there was a warm, tingling, expansive sort of sensation surrounding his hips. As he desperately tried to discover the cause of these sensations the phoenix hopped forward and embraced the side of his head with her wonderfully soft plumage.
"Schylan? I can't control any of my systems. You gotta help me! What's going on over there? I can't see!! Schylan??? Schylan!!" cried Philijagger, his head and neck locked in place, unable to turn back toward his friend.
"Oooo," cooed the phoenix, "I def-initely li-ike."
Schtalfylian knew he needed to attack, needed to save his new friend, but there was just something about this creature, something that sapped his concentration. Instead of calling up his spells and magical energy, all he could think about was how sweet she smelled and how wonderful her feathers felt against his cheeks. He felt his throat begin to emit a throbbing noise reminiscent of a small chemical engine.
"There's my dragon... my new dragon body that is."
The phoenix patted Schtalfylian briefly on the head before thrusting her wings into his armored body as easily as if he were some sort of hologram. To Schtalfylian, one moment he was looking at what could be the very definition of beauty, then there was a weird flash, and the next moment he was floating in midair, looking back at both the phoenix and the organic body that had been recently his. The body collapsed inertly to the ground and the phoenix squawked in delight.
"Ooooh! I finally got a new dragon body I can wear to parties or battles!"
"Hey! That is not your body!"
The feelings of arousal now gone, Schtalfylian shot forward trying to shred this bird into pillow stuffing using tooth and claw. Unfortunately, after several minutes of slashing and biting, Schtalfylian realized that his form was as insubstantial as the morning mist and his attacks were just passing through the phoenix harmlessly.
"Ugh," said the phoenix, finally turning in his direction and raising her wings. "Could you be any more annoying?!!"
With this Schtalfylian's aural form was blasted some hundred or so yards backward, burying him deep within a sand dune. At this point in time the red dragon walked over to the now immobile Philijagger. Looking the golden mechdragon's head over for a few seconds, the red placed his clawtips at three points on the top of his head and then pressed in. A triangular line formed in the middle of Philijagger's skullplate before a hatch lazily popped open.
"Ahhh, very user friendly," remarked the red dragon.
"Yes," replied the blue, reaching his claws into the braincase, "I just need to... trick out the ejection system here... and it should... just... pop... out!"
With that there was a whirring sound and an apple-sized gem filled with a flickering blue glow was pushed up on rails above the level of the skull.
"Pretty. What's that?" asked the phoenix.
"I believe it is some sort of consciousness crystal."
"Consciousness crystal... you mean his brain?" said the red.
"Well, essentially," answered the blue, tossing it aside onto the hot sand. "However, all the head unit here is filled with all sorts of auxiliary processors and... hmmmm, what appears to be memory units."
"Whoa, memory units! I'll bet they're packed with all sorts of useful information. Advanced technologies, weapon designs, who knows what."
"We should only be so lucky," said the phoenix. "Two top-rate bodies and a raft full of sensitive intelligence."
"How are we going to get them home?" asked the red.
"Oh, just leave that to me," replied the phoenix, already starting to glow brightly.
Touching each body with a wingtip, they both began to shrink. Down and down they went in size until each was no larger than a child's plush toy.
"Cool! Action figures," said the red picking them up and proceeding to make them 'fight'.
"Stop!" squawked the phoenix, grabbing them away and conjuring a padded briefcase in which to put them. "You'll break them, you great oaf! These bodies are for Ted and I, seeing as how you did nothing to capture them, so claws off!"
"Hey, I brought us here. That should count for a timeshare."
"You just got us lost," snorted the blue.
"Fine, what if I can get us un-lost?"
"Maybe," said the phoenix.
With a flourish the red dragon brought forth a purple orb and, laying a talon upon it, began to chant in some strange dialect.
"Are you pronouncing it right this time?" asked the blue.
"Yeah... well basically... maybe not every single syllable."
Before the other dragon or the phoenix could even roll their eyes they were surrounded in a large sphere of purple light. When the light faded the three travelers and their pilfered cargo were gone, leaving behind a spell-shocked dragon aura and an angrily flickering Mark IV consciousness crystal.
Gaenfen was in a less than optimal mood, the sound of cloven hooves still echoing as he transported himself away from that smarmy little unicorn deity Equus, to the site of one of his more brilliant victories. Although he was feeling bad now as a result of the unicorn's insulting behavior, he was confident that in a few seconds he would be proven right and that asshole equine would have to suck it up. Finally, dragons were about to be shown as the superior life forms in the multiverse once and for all. Appearing on the flat wasteland that was to be the final battleground, he looked around expecting to see the remains of The Great Evil's entrails scattered about. Much to his surprise... the scene before him was calm. Empty. Almost serene.
"Um... hello? Philijagger? Schtalfylian? You guys didn't go celebrate without me did you?"
Taking another step forward his forepaw landed on something painful. Pulling his paw back and looking down he was shocked to see what looked to be a discarded Mark IV consciousness crystal. Blinking his eyes in disbelief he found himself confronted by yet another sight, the ghostly form of Schtalfylian's astral self.
"Oh Great Lord, praise be! You have returned!"
"The Great Lord? The Great Lord is here!?!?" flickered the Philijagger-crystal.
"Oh Great Lord, thank goodness you came. We had only just started our training montage when we were set upon by three delinquent mythics. Philijagger and I had barely begun to explore the offensive capabilities of our bodies, and regrettably had no defense against even their basic attacks on our new bodies."
"Can you believe it?! One of those dragons had the audacity to hack into my system, take control of my body and then steal it! I say, when we track down those kids they will be in some trouble."
"But fortunately, High Elder, you had the wisdom to check in on us and let me tell you we have not let you down! Shortly after our bodies were stolen, I realized I could communicate with my new partner by pressing my aural form into his crystal. In this way we taught ourselves everything we each knew about being organic and being mech. We even set up virtual reality simulations to give us experience in using our new bodies in combat. Great Lord, we have become the best of partners and now that you're here to restore our bodies we will give this 'Great Evil' thing everybody keeps talking a real ass whooping."
Gaenfen sat there staring at the ghost and the crystal, his face unmoved by their uplifting journey of personal growth.
"Great Lord?" inquired Philijagger. "You don't have to give us new bodies. We'll be happy with loaners, and we'll give them back when we catch those crazy kids and get our real bodies returned to us. They probably just gated in from Gamma Hydra IV to set off some fusion-works. With me and Schylan working together, there's not a dive in this quadrant that is safe from the long claw of justice!"
Despite being a god Gaenfen looked like he was having trouble breathing.
"You... absolute... morons!!!!!!!!!"
Gaenfen bellowing roar was so loud that even Philijagger, who lacked sensory devices of any kind, was rattled by it.
"Those three kids," yelled Gaenfen his eyes glowing red in anger yet visibly trying to control himself to avoid collapsing the star system into a black hole, "were the Great Evil! Your bodies aren't in some back alley garage on Gamma Hydra IV -- they're off wreaking havoc somewhere in the multiverse!"
This statement left both the gold dragons blinking for a few moments.
"Really now," said Philijagger.
"You don't say."
"Well, I certainly didn't see that coming."
"I... I can't believe this," stammered Gaenfen. "Not only did you not destroy them... Not only did you let them get away... You let them steal your bodies in the process!"
"That reminds me," said Schtalfylian, "I believe they successfully recovered the Phill's memory units as well."
"Wonderful. Please tell me you remembered to re-encrypt them after the body swap."
"Uuuuuum, no, that wasn't exactly on our to-do list at the time they showed up," said Philijagger.
"Well, at least they only got Phill's memories and not mine."
Gaenfen grabbed the sides of his head in desperation.
"Think again, buddy boy. I left a copy of your memories in Philijagger's crystals. Guess that teaches me to take precautions against you dying," spit Gaenfen in a highly sarcastic tone. "I... I can't believe this. Do you know how far out on a limb I went? That fucking Unicorn Equus is never going to let me hear the end of this. Do realize the personal stock I invested???!!! You -- The honor of the entire dragon species was riding on your back, and you fucked it up!!!!!!!!!"
"Hey now," protested Schtalfylian, "it's not our fault. You swapped our bodies and then didn't give us enough time to train."
"You had 5 days! You are professional warriors, with thousands of years of combined experience. That should have been more than enough time to get up to speed. What the fuck were you two clowns doing all the time?"
"With all due respect, High Elder, I had lost a great deal of blood, Phill was undergoing auto-repair, and there was an unrelated radiation problem."
"You two were fighting. I tell you that you had to work together to defeat a great evil, and instead of learning your lesson and working together, you two spent four days fighting!"
"Excuse me Great Lord, but I believe you're missing what's important," interjected Philijagger. "You see, Schylan and I learned something today. Its not winning or losing any specific battle that's important, but creating lasting bonds and lifelong friendships. Those are the things that are really important and one good pair of dragons, working together today, is worth a thousand victories in the future. Schylan and I went from being bitter rivals, about to blow each other into subatomic particles, to the most devoted partners in the space of a week. Can't you just forget about the lost battle and see the beauty in the bigger picture?"
For the briefest of moments, Gaenfen's blazing red eyes seemed to soften. Then, the air was filled with the sound of cloven hooves on rough ground. A well built white unicorn came galloping up and over a sand right. Pausing for a moment to survey the scene the Unicorn broke out in what could only be described as an equine belly laugh, stamping his hoof up and down and trying not to topple down the incline. Finally the unicorn reared up, his horn alight with magical energy and vanished into the otherrealm. For a moment only the wind blew, and then Gaenfen turned back to the aura and the crystal, his eyes blazing, his scales hot enough to melt steel, his magical energies crackling around him like a thunderstorm in a box.
"Um... so..." began Schtalfylian, "can you help us out with some loaner bodies?"
Phil moved methodically down the dimly lit hallway, gun at the ready.
"Where do I go from here Schy?"
"Second door on the right," came Schylan's response over his communicator.
"Are you picking up anything new on your scanners?"
"No, nothing but a few elevated readings. You'll have to go in yourself. Don't worry, I've got your back."
"Alright. I'm going in."
Phil opened the door and clicked on the light switch, instantly illuminating the entire sub-section. Phil proceeded silently through the tall racks on either side of him, carefully checking his corners at every junction.
"Down the ramp to your left, make a right at the bottom... " crackled Schylan's voice again.
"The lights aren't working so well down there... "
"I'll see what I can do to reroute power."
The emergency lights flicked on, dispelling the shadows of the sub-sub-section with their greenish glow.
"There's an odd smell in the air Schy, I think I'm getting close."
"End of the walkway. It's the last row."
In complete silence Phil moved on, one foot in front of the other. Very carefully he poked the muzzle of his gun around the corner and then jumped out completely in a fighting stance.
"YEEEEEAHhhhhWWWWOOOOAAHHHHHHH!" erupted Phil, his aggressiveness turning into a shriek of fear. "Schylan!! It -- it's everywhere!"
Phil depressed the trigger, hosing down the entire corridor.
"Phil? Phil?? Are you OK? What's going on??!!"
"I... I can't stop it. It's spread too far!"
"I've mobilized drones from three sections. They are converging on your location ETA 2 minutes. Fall back, wait for backup."
"Ahhhhhh! Die you scum!" screamed Phil, exhausting his gun as he stumbled backwards, slipping and falling to the ground. Here the noxious particles were much thicker and Phil began to cough and gag. "Schy ::gasp:: I need UV light ::cough:: maximum intensity."
"I-I can't... I will blow the circuit."
"Just do it, Schy."
Phil managed to crawl back to the ramp where the clear air helped his breathing improve.
"Whew... that was close, where the hell are those drones."
"ETA 1 minute. You know Phil, I told you to wear your mask."
"Oh shut up your overgrown computing cluster."
"Another thing, it's not scum."
"You plainly yelled 'Die, Scum'. It's not scum, it's mold."
"Oh stop your nitpicking. That stuff has spread over the entire corridor. The entire set of records for the 346th meeting of Elders has been contaminated!"
"Do not worry yourself. We are the best team in all of physical plant. We will get it clean."
The drones buzzed in and began to continue to spray antifungal foam all over the contaminated section. One paused, its camera turning toward Phil.
"Hey Schy, lookin' good."
"You know this is only a remote unit."
"I was being sarcastic," grumped Phil.
"Oh, pardon me. My sense of humor isn't what it used to be since they downgraded it so I could take over the toilet flush systems."
"Whoopee! I wonder when they'll come down and take out pieces of my brain to improve my mopping speed."
"You are sounding a little depressed today Phil."
"Well, of course I sound depressed -- I am depressed! I went from an elite dragon warrior to an elite janitor in the space of half a cycle."
"Now then, don't lose hope. We'll work our way out of here, become elite warriors again. In fact, did you hear? USONIA* is moving on to an orbital platform, and I stand a good chance of being selected as the new records retrieval and location system!"
* University of Somewhere Operational Networked Intelligent Accident:
"You mean a card catalog?"
"Hey, my duties will also include research assistance."
"Well, bully for you. "
"Listen, we work hard here, we move up, save our money for new bodies and in no time we will be right back in the game."
"So, assuming you get the job, how long before you'll save enough to buy a new dragon body?"
"Oh god, kill me now."
"Incidentally, which god would that be? Did you find a new one yet?"
"I'm still reviewing brochures."
"Well, don't wait too long. If you die unaffiliated, your soul runs the risk of being appropriated by any magic user in the universe. You wouldn't want to spend all eternity as a +2 magical sword, would you?"
"That's got to be more exciting than this."
"Listen, Phil, you have every right to be depressed, being stripped of your dragon body and spirit and all. Then there was the whole thing with your family disowning you and the government seizing your hoard on that trumped up tax charge. But look at the bright side: At least we didn't get fired from the UFAW* armed forces! Considering the circumstances, I think that letting us maintain the Dragon Knight Records Archive as janitors was very big of them indeed."
* United Federation of Alternate Worlds:
"You're not helping me, Schylan."
"Oh, I am sorry. My comforting skills are not what they used to be since my psychological programming was downgraded so that I could support the air freshener system."
Phil let out a sigh and used his foam gun as a crutch in getting to his now human feet.
"Well, it looks like the drones are about done. If you don't mind me I'll just go get the old wet-dry vac."
"Phil," buzzed the speaker on drone #6. "You're going to be OK, right? You're the best friend I've got."
"Don't worry about me, Schy. We're partners now, partners for life, and I'm not going to let you down."
Phil paused, staring off into space for a moment.
"You're right Schy... we'll make it back into the game. We'll make it back, if only for the singular purpose of dishing out to those three asshole mythics the fate which they so desperately deserve."
"Now you are talking!" buzzed the drone, doing a little flip in the air before flying back to the storage closet.