There's a Dragon in My Time Machine
What was that? I opened my eyes and lifted my head to look around but everything seemed OK. Sort of felt like the floor shook a bit. Guess I must have been dreaming. It was still early and I could see through my window that dawn was just beginning. Plenty of time to get more sleep, so I rolled over and shut my eyes.
After a few moments, I felt it again. OK, I wasn't dreaming it this time. The room really shook.
An earthquake? We didn't have earthquakes in Dragon City, at least not that I had ever heard of. Was it a group of dragons running by on Connor's practice track outside? He hadn't said anything about practice runs today and it was way too early besides.
Before I could figure out what was happening, an even larger jolt hit. Whatever was going on, it was getting worse.
I heard running footsteps approaching my room and Connor's voice calling out in near desperation.
"Beau! Beau! Are you there?" he yelled.
I could hear in his voice that he was deadly serious about something. I had known Connor all my life and one thing was certain: when Connor was serious about something, it was serious.
I leapt to my feet as the door to my stable slid open. Connor ran in carrying some sort of gear pack under his arm and a smaller unit in his other hand. The expression on his face and tone of his voice made it clear he was desperately worried about something but relieved to see me. He said, "Beau! Thank the Magna Draconis you're still here!"
Still here? Why wouldn't I be here? I cocked my head and said, "Huh?"
"Beau, we're all in grave danger. You especially. And we are literally out of time."
This wasn't starting out good at all.
"Those jolts you felt? Those were time-quakes," he said.
Time-quakes? What the heck was a time-quake?
"A time-quake is the shock wave caused by a change to our past," he said, having guessed that the questioning look on my face meant I didn't know what a time-quake was. Connor had raised me from a pup and knew me well enough that he could generally deduce what was on my mind. Plus he had gotten really good at reading my facial expressions. To be sure, this was a rather crude way to communicate, but it seemed to suffice. Most of the time, anyway.
Speaking quickly as though he had a lot to say and little time to say it, he continued, "When something alters the past, the present reality has to adjust to fit the new past and this generates a shock wave as the change ripples through time to our present. It's like throwing a stone into a pool of water. The magnitude of the shock wave corresponds to the degree of the change in the past. Minor changes generate only small tremors. Large changes, the kind that literally change the course of history, cause massive shock waves as reality adjusts to accommodate the change. Look here," he said as he held out the small device in his hand for me to see. It was a data pad of sorts with a display read-out that showed a pulsating circle moving towards the center portion of the grid. He continued urgently, "This ancient sensing device was given to me by the Dragon Priests. Among other things, it's capable of sensing temporal disturbances. This pulsating circle is a massive time-quake approaching our present time. When it hits, our entire reality and what we know as our history will change. After the shock wave passes, a new reality will be in place and no one will remember the previous one. It will be as if it never happened."
Believe it or not, this was making some sense to me. Artha and Lance both liked science-fiction movies and I had watched a couple with them that had involved time travel. The movies usually went along the lines of someone traveling into the past, changing something to suit their interests, then returning to the present to benefit from the change they had made. Unfortunately, I had devoted more of my attention to the bucket of popcorn Artha had given me than to the plot of the movie, and that's about all I could remember of the story. Sigh. I really must learn to stop thinking with my stomach. But how was I supposed to know that I'd have to understand time travel some day? They didn't exactly make it a point to teach quantum and temporal physics to dragons, you know.
"Only one person can be behind this," Connor said distastefully.
Let me guess, Word Paynn?
"Word Paynn. He must have found a way to travel into the past and is making changes so that he can rule the world in the present. Only one thing has ever stood in Word's way, and that would most certainly be his target in the past." Connor then looked at me with the grimmest expression I had ever seen on him."It's you, Beau. Only the gold dragon of legend can stop Word's plan for a dragon-human war and his domination of the world. Therefore, he must have planned to eliminate you by altering the past." Connor looked back at the data pad. "Whatever he's done, it's massive. He may have had me murdered before I could start the breeding program that lead to you, or perhaps he smashed your egg before you hatched. I'm afraid there's no way to know. When the time-quake gets here, you and I could both wink out of existence and Word will be free to carry out his plans and plunge the world into war."
These were pretty shocking thoughts. Connor was like a father to me and the thought of him dead or my egg being reduced to a pile of goo on the ground were both shocking and nauseating to me. How on earth could I do anything about this?
"This gear may be our only chance, Beau," he said as he pulled the gear pack out from under his arm. I could see it was made of gold draconium, which of course meant it must be ancient gear. I had never seen any gear like it before and I had no idea what it did.
"This is ancient defensive armor. It was used to make a dragon both invisible and impervious to any attack. None of the Dragon Priests who raised me knew exactly how it works since it can only be powered by gold draconium energy. And, as you've probably noticed, we don't have a whole lot of gold dragons around these days."
Tell me about it. I couldn't help but roll my eyes.
"During my studies with the Dragon Priests, the ancient texts I read made reference to the gear and talked about how it generates an isolation field by forming an independent pocket of space around the wearer. The pocket of space is then isolated from effects in normal space and anything inside it is therefore impervious to anything outside it. Or so the texts say. I'm hoping that the pocket will also isolate the wearer from the effects of time-quakes as well, but I can't be certain about that. Clearly, it would never have been designed with that in mind, but it's our only hope."
A faint rumbling could now be heard that was slowly growing. The time-quake must be very close to the present.
"We are quite literally out of time, Beau. Mag the gear and drive it with as much power as you can. Hopefully, the pocket it generates will be strong enough to protect you."
Just me? Worry and concern for Connor showed in my eyes.
"The gear only generates a field around the dragon using it. If you survive the time-quake, I'm afraid you'll be completely on your own. I wish I could help you more, but I will most likely cease to exist in the next few moments. Among other things, that means Artha and Lance will probably never have been born either."
I was in shock. The three people I cared the most for were about to become non-existent. If I could talk it wouldn't have mattered since I would have been speechless. There were about a thousand questions I wanted to ask right about now, but had no way to ask them and no time. Note to self: If I manage to survive this, I have to find a better way to communicate with humans. Maybe I can make some sort of arrangement with Propheci some day. I did save his tail once and he still owes me.
"And whatever you do, don't stop powering the gear until you have corrected whatever was done in the past. If the gear shuts down sooner than that, you'll be subject to the new reality. And if you aren't supposed to exist in that reality, then you will immediately vanish from existence and all will be lost. The outcome of this lies solely with you, Beau. Do whatever you have to do to restore the proper reality." The data pad in Connor's hand started beeping urgently. "We're out of time, Beau. Hurry!" he said as he held out the gear.
I quickly magged the gear to my forehead. From the shape of the gear, that looked like where it was meant to go, plus that was where my energy was the most concentrated. If I had fingers, I would have crossed them for luck the way the humans did. I took a deep breath and powered-up the gear with all the energy I had.
The ancient gear activated immediately. That was the nice thing about ancient gear: it was built to last and functioned as well now as when it was made 3000 years ago. It was shaped more or less like green ramming gear except it was primarily gold in color with some black markings. These looked somewhat like my own black and gold markings. Like ramming gear, the armor opened up as it activated and spread itself out across my forehead and wrapped around the top of my head to form a helmet of sorts. It started emitting a whine that was quickly rising in pitch. Apparently, it had to build up a charge before the field could form.
I could see my reflection in the window and the gear had a row of small protrusions in a line down the center of my forehead. These were apparently emitters for the gear's field generator. It was probably no coincidence that these emitters were shaped to look just like the small horns on my snout. That was the funny thing about the ancient gear designers: they had a real sense of style. If they weren't making stun gear that looked like a ruby-studded artichoke, they were making defensive armor that looked downright stylish on a gold dragon. For some reason, they were always trying to make a fashion statement with their gear. Must have been a fad of the times.
The gear finished charging and I heard and felt a moderate "wump" sound all around me. I felt mild pressure all over my body as if I was being squeezed from all directions. Even my ears popped. This apparently was the field activating and forming a pocket of space around me. The pressure quickly equalized and felt more normal, though it still felt as though a layer of something was clinging to me. It seemed that the pocket of space the gear created was almost skin tight and it felt like it was somehow supported by and tied into my mag energy aura. Clever design. That would explain why this gear could only protect a dragon and not a rider as well.
I glanced over to the window again and my reflection was nowhere to be seen. The gear had done it's job and made me invisible. Now the question was would it isolate me from the time-quake as well.
Connor had a look of relief on his face as he saw that the gear was functioning as expected. His expression changed to quiet resignation as he bravely accepted the fact that the time-quake would most likely eliminate him from existence. He said simply, "Good luck, Beau." He placed all his faith in me and I was determined not to let him down.
What happened next is difficult to describe.
The shock wave from the time-quake struck the present and immediately caused everything around me to suddenly move and shift. Parts of the room appeared to be receding while other parts appeared to be twisting and bending in odd and impossible ways. It wasn't long before the world around me looked like that famous drawing with the stairways going in every which direction. Reality was rearranging itself to conform to the new past and it was quickly becoming difficult to tell up from down, or what any direction was anymore for that matter. Despite all this, I felt no motion at all.
Connor was of course affected by this as well. Without warning, he suddenly appeared to quickly recede into the distance as if he was being pulled to some far away vanishing point. It was a strange and disturbing sight. He was moving away from me rapidly, as if he was falling in a horizontal direction, yet he somehow remained in sight and simply became smaller and smaller. At the speed at which he appeared to be moving, I shouldn't have been able to see him for this long. It didn't make any sense, but little of what I saw did at the moment.
Connor's hope that the gear would protect me from the time-quake seemed to be correct. Reality was in chaos all around me, but so far it was leaving me completely unaffected, even as things became more and more chaotic.
What was once my familiar stable was now a jumble of unidentifiable shapes moving and swirling in every possible direction at once. The sight became more disorienting and dizzying than I could handle and I had to shut my eyes. Instinctively, I tried to hold on by digging my claws into the floor. The only problem was that the floor didn't feel like it was quite there anymore. But it wasn't quite nothingness either. There was something there, but I couldn't quite manage to get my claws into it for some reason. The more I tried to grip it, the more it slid away from me. There didn't seem to be anything firm underneath me, but I didn't seem to be falling either. Nothing was making sense.
Then without warning, I suddenly felt something firm and solid beneath my feet again. I stood still for several long moments, hoping the ground would stay where it was. My eyes were still shut tight and I realized now my heart was pounding and my teeth were clenched. They called me the dragon of legend, but I wasn't ashamed to admit that I still felt fear. Given everything that I had been through, I think I've actually felt fear on more occasions than most dragons. But Connor had given me some key advice a long time ago: He said that only the insane didn't feel fear. What made a brave dragon brave was not being fearless, but instead being able to face the fear and having the will to act and to do what had to be done in spite of the fear. I never forgot that.
The ground had remained stable beneath my feet so far, and so I decided it was time to do what had to be done. I gathered up my courage to take a look. I unclenched my teeth and opened my eyes slowly, uncertain as to what I might see.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw that reality was no longer in chaos. I found myself standing alone in the middle of a deserted, but otherwise ordinary looking drag-way somewhere in Dragon City. It was still dawn, and the early morning hour explained why the drag-way was empty. So even though the time-quake had changed reality, it apparently hadn't changed my position in time. It was still morning on the same day.
I wasn't sure where I was and so I looked around at my surroundings. After a few moments, I recognized a few of the buildings nearby. There were several newer buildings I didn't recognize, but the older buildings, the ones that had been there long before I had hatched, were very familiar: They were all buildings that had surrounded Penn Stables. In fact, judging by their position, Penn Stables should have been right where I was standing. But it was nowhere to be seen. In its place were several newer buildings and the drag-way I was standing on. As best I could figure, I was standing exactly where I was before the time-quake hit, except that Penn Stables wasn't here anymore. The time-quake had changed reality but had left me standing exactly where I was.
Connor had been right. Word had done something to eliminate him early in his life, before he had ever built Penn Stables. Not only was Penn Stables never built, but that meant that nothing he had done ever happened in this reality.
I suddenly felt very alone. The man who had cared for me and raised me from a hatchling, as well as Artha and Lance who were both like brothers to me, simply didn't exist here. No one in this reality would know anything about them. I was the only one who carried the memory of who they were and everything they had done. And the only reason I could remember them was that I was existing in my own little personal reality now, completely isolated from this new reality since I wasn't supposed to exist here either. I felt very alone.
Wait a minute. Completely isolated? This pocket of space was almost skin tight. How was I able to breath if I was isolated from the air outside the pocket?!
A wave of panic spread over me, sending shivers down my spine. Was I about to suffocate?
No, wait. I've got to calm down. Certainly the gear designer would have thought of that. The gear wouldn't be terribly useful if the dragon using it died, now would it. Let's see... Yes, the air smells OK. Not stuffy or stale at all.
It appeared that the gear was recycling the air here in my pocket of space. It was taking in the carbon dioxide I was exhaling, stripping the carbon and returning the oxygen to the air for me to breath again. Whew. That was a relief. Very clever design.
I guess the reason the gear makes me invisible is because this pocket of space basically doesn't exist as part of the space around me. So light traveling through the normal space just keeps on going like I'm not here. To an outside observer, there's nothing here to block or reflect the light, so they see nothing. Interesting.
But since air couldn't get into this pocket of space from the outside, that means I couldn't get food or water either. And I couldn't shut the gear off while I ate or drank because I would cease to exist myself. It looked like I would have to go hungry until this was over. I sighed. It figured that this would all happen before I had my morning breakfast. Oh, well. I could go several days without food if necessary. My stomach would complain, but I'd just have to live with that.
There was another problem: Directing my mag energy into the gear required conscious thought just like walking or any other activity. I had to be awake to do it. That means I couldn't sleep and power the gear at the same time. I'd have to stay awake. I didn't think I could do that for more than two days, so that limited my time even more.
But I had an even more pressing problem: I was running the gear at full power at the moment and my draconium energy was dropping too fast. I couldn't keep this up for more than an hour or two at best. If I used up my energy, the gear would shutdown and I'd vanish into non-existence. The only way to replenish my energy was to eat and get some sleep and those options were out. I sighed. I'd be a lot more powerful if Artha was here with the amulet and Dragon Booster suit, but that wasn't going to happen. Artha didn't exist in this reality and who knows where the amulet and Dragon Booster gauntlet were right now. So I was going to have to find a way to deal with this just as my little old red and blue self.
Scales, my life was complicated. At times I wished I could just be an ordinary dragon whose human was a little old lady who only rode her dragon to church on Sundays. Things would be so much easier. Yes, easier. And, quite dull. And no one would be here to stop Word Paynn, which means the world would be in the same mess as it is now. Sigh. OK, that was enough self-pity for one day. Back to the task at hand.
I didn't think there was any way I could possibly stop Word Paynn within the next two hours. That left me with only one choice. I had to hope that the gear didn't need to be run at full power now that the time-quake had passed. I had to reduce the amount energy I was sending to the gear and hope that the field that was maintaining my pocket of space would hold up. However, if I mistakenly reduced the energy too much, the field could collapse and I'd be a goner.
I summoned my courage and began to slowly back off on the amount of energy I was sending into the gear.
I felt a little bit of relief as the gear continued to function properly. I continued to slowly reduce the power, dreading what would happen if the gear suddenly stopped working.
Luckily for me, I was able to reduce the power down to a level low enough that I felt I'd be able to power the gear for nearly a day. This would have to do since I didn't dare go any lower than that.
Now I had to find a way to set things right. But where to begin? The only place I could think to go was to Word's citadel. If there were any clues to be found about how to stop the dragon-human war he had planned and return things to the way they were, then that would be the place to find them. The question was: would the citadel still be where I remembered it being in the previous reality? The only way to find out would be to go there. Time was short and it would take awhile to get there, so I took off running.
As I set out, it finally dawned on me that I could still feel my weight on my feet. So that would mean that I was still being acted upon by gravity even though the gear was isolating me from normal space. That seemed reasonable since I had to still exist in the universe otherwise it would have violated the law of conservation of matter. Matter cannot be created or destroyed, so even though I was in my own little region of space, I was still in the universe itself, and so my matter existed. Matter always has mass, and having mass meant that gravity would still be acting on me and holding my feet to the ground, which was why I felt my normal weight.
Having mass also meant that I wouldn't be able to walk through walls and it explained why I didn't fall through the surface of the drag-way. So even though I couldn't be seen and nothing could touch me in here, I still had to use doorways and I could still fall. It was a good thing that Connor had taken the time to teach me some basic physics. I had no idea that would ever come in handy.
As I continued on, it wasn't long before I began to notice that things weren't right in the city. Even though it was still early in the morning, I should have passed someone by now, but I was all alone on the drag-way. No dragons or humans to be seen anywhere. What's more, the surrounding buildings were all dark. This was erie and strange.
After a time, I came into an area where it looked like a riot had occurred. There was extensive damage to the buildings which had broken windows and cracks in the walls. Debris littered the street. The whole area appeared to be deserted and the buildings all seemed empty. Something had clearly happened here. I found this to be unsettling and I picked up the pace.
The parts of the city I was passing through now were becoming more and more damaged the farther I went. And still no one was anywhere to be seen.
Farther on, I rounded a corner past some large buildings, and off in the distance ahead I could see frequent flashes lighting up the sky. So far, all the parts of the city I had been through were dark and seemed to be deserted, so I figured I'd better check this out. I turned in the direction of the lights and kept up the pace.
As I got closer, I began to feel deep periodic vibrations in the roadway. Then I began to hear it. The vibrations I had felt where caused by large impacts that I could now hear. Above this noise, I heard the sounds of commotion. As I approached, these became the sounds of chaos. It sounded as if some sort of demolition was underway, with explosions of varying intensities at different intervals. I saw smoke rising in the air. Then I could hear dragon and human voices. It was just crowd noise at first, then it more clearly became yelling and shouting; the sounds of panic and anger. The flashes of light were more distinguishable and more frequent now. I hurried on to get to a point where I could see what was happening.
I was nearly upon the scene now and the sounds of destruction and chaos were unmistakable. I reached a point in the roadway where it came to a crest that allowed a vantage point to look down on the scene below. What I saw caused an icy chill to spread over me and a knot to form in my stomach. My legs felt weak and my heart ached at the sight. It was something I never thought I'd ever see. Something I never wanted to see. Something that made me feel more shock and sorrow than I had every felt before.
I stood there, staring down on the scene below in disbelief and horror. I saw thousands of them. Perhaps more. Dragons and humans both, spread out over a wide area below and stretching farther into the distance than I could see. The pandemonium was almost a blur. A scene of chaos and destruction. The dragons were entrenched on one side, the humans on the other. Bodies littered the area that were too numerous to count. They were engaged in intense, all out battle. Dragons and humans were at war.
The flashes of light I had seen was mag-fire from the dragons and the discharge of energy weapons used by the humans. Rubble and carnage filled the streets. As I watched, a building collapsed, crushing those that had tried to seek cover within. The destruction and violence was on a scale I had never seen before. Everything was in ruins. I could see signs of more battles happening off in the distance. There were probably even more happening on the lower levels of the city that were out of sight. The city appeared to have been largely abandoned while the battles played out. Except for the fighters, everyone else had probably fled the city to take refuge elsewhere.
It was urban warfare at its worst. The fighting was brutal with neither side showing any mercy. No one was taking prisoners. And above all the commotion were the screams of the dying.
I had to turn away from the sight and I hung my head as I was overwhelmed by a feeling of hopelessness and despair. I slowly walked away, my tail dragging on the ground behind me.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Dragons and humans were meant to unite in a peaceful partnership where each helped the other. We were to share this world and work together to make it better. I knew that to be true beyond any doubt. This wasn't supposed to happen.
Connor had tried so hard and taught me everything he thought I needed to know to prevent this, but despite all those efforts, the world was now at war. Dragons were killing humans and humans were killing dragons. Something that hadn't happened in Dragon City for 3000 years. And from the the veracity of the fighting below, it was clear the war would only escalate further. And Word Paynn would sit back and wait until both sides were sufficiently weakened and then take over.
Word had done something in the past that had incited both sides to act to this extreme. It was probably all based on a lie or deception he palmed off on both sides to manipulate them to this point and drive them to anger beyond all reason. But there was nothing to be done about it now. I was too late.
What could I do now? I couldn't stop a war all by myself. That would be impossible. And I could only power the gear that's keeping me here for less than a day. There just wasn't enough time to do anything. It was hopeless now. I had let everyone down.
The world was engulfed in war and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Some dragon of legend I turned out to be. It was ironic: All this time I had to keep encouraging Artha because he doubted his potential to be the Dragon Booster, and here I was the one who couldn't fulfill my part of the prophecy to prevent the war. I had failed.
I couldn't help but wonder if I had missed an opportunity somewhere along the line. There must have been something I could have done to prevent things from getting to this point.
Should I perhaps have killed Word before things came to this? There had been several opportunities along the way where it would have been easy. And all those people and dragons wouldn't be suffering and dying right now. Should I have taken his life when I had the chance in order to save all the others? But the idea of murdering someone like that for any reason and the thought of human blood on my claws was something that was repugnant to me. Or was that to have been my burden to bear? Was there no other answer? Was this now my fault for not having acted in the past?
The thoughts of despair and self-doubt continued to swirl in my head. How could I have let this happen? Didn't the prophecy say I was supposed to be the one to prevent the war? Then how could the war be happening? Was the prophecy wrong? Or maybe I wasn't the one the prophecy spoke of. Maybe I'm not the dragon of legend afterall. The sadness and doubt was almost overwhelming. If only I had more time...
Time... Hmmmm, time...
Time! I jerked my head up and my eyes went wide as the thought occurred to me.
Yes, that's it! Time was the answer! Even though I knew no one could see me, I couldn't help but smile when the solution dawned on me.
This reality was no more set in stone than the previous one. If Word could travel back in time and alter the past, then so could I! If I could find Word's time machine and go back and prevent what he did, then this reality will never have occurred and the war would never have started. I didn't have to stop this war because I could prevent the war by changing the past so that it never starts! If I could do that, then none of the people or dragons down there would have died.
A wave of relief washed over me as if a great weight had been lifted off my back. The prophecy might be right afterall. Maybe this was the path destiny had laid out for me.
OK, so there were a few details to work out. First, I didn't know where Word's time machine was. Second, I didn't know how it worked. And third, I didn't know where to go in time or what to change. Well then, first things first. I couldn't do anything until I found the time machine. So I had to solve that problem first and hope the rest fell into place after that.
The only place I could think to look was Word Paynn's citadel. That seemed the most likely place where he would keep it. Time was short though, so I took off at a fast gallop. The realization that I had still a chance to set things right gave me the fortitude and renewed strength I needed to go on. I felt a strong sense of determination and purpose now, and this showed in my eyes. Maybe I was the dragon of legend fulfilling his destiny according to prophecy or maybe I wasn't. But either way, I was going to try my best. I couldn't let Connor down and I couldn't stand by while all those dragons and humans suffered so much in a war that wasn't meant to be.
It took me close to an hour to get into the vicinity of Word's citadel. I knew I was on the right track before I even got close. I saw only a few at first, then more as I got closer: Wraith dragons.
At the outer edges of the perimeter, there were only a few wraiths on patrol. But their numbers increased steadily as I got closer. Thanks to the gear I had, it was easy enough to slip past them since they had no idea I was here. It was a good thing, too. I could never have hoped to fight my way past this many dragons. Word had created a formidable army. Altogether, I'd say there were probably ten thousand or more wraith dragons in the area. Word never had this many wraiths before. He must have done something in the past that allowed him to build an army this big.
The area closest to the citadel was thick with wraith dragons standing guard. I weaved my way around all the sentries and made it to the main entrance of the citadel. Getting in would be easier than I thought. I observed that the wraith dragons were coming and going from the citadel at regular intervals. They still had to be fed of course, and so they were presumably being rotated through in shifts for feeding. It was easy enough to follow a group of wraiths in as they entered the citadel.
Once inside, I headed towards the upper levels. Thanks to Moordryd, I had been in here once before and knew the general layout. The higher levels were more secure since they could be easily defended from anyone breaking in from below, and I figured he'd want to keep the time machine in a very secure area. I slipped past all the security check points with ease. Overall, the security wasn't that tight. Word apparently assumed that no one would be able to get past the army of wraith dragons outside.
I reached the upper levels finally and began exploring. I didn't really know what a time machine would look like, so I was just looking for anything out of the ordinary. There was little activity up here and moving around was easy. Except for Word's personal staff, all the other dragons and humans serving Word were on the lower levels.
After a time I came upon a large room with a lot of equipment in it and two human technicians in lab coats. In the back corner of the room was a large spherical pod, perhaps 20 feet in diameter, with a ramp leading up to a door in the center. The pod was nearly all black and had the familiar look of black draconium gear. The surface of the sphere was studded with the usual spikes and sharp edges so common in black gear. This looked promising, so I entered the room to get a better look.
The technicians were occupied by their work and they couldn't see me anyway, so I simply walked past them. The aisle ways in the room were designed for human proportions and were a little tight for a dragon my size. I moved carefully, making sure not to bump into anything or knock anything over, and paying particular attention to keep my tail out of the way of anything.
I made my way up the ramp to the pod. The door was open, so I stuck my head inside to have a look. There was a metal floor spanning the center portion. On the side opposite from the door was a small control panel with a vid screen above it. The control panel had a few switches and indicators and one large lever in the center. It would be a little snug, but I could get inside it if I had to. That is, assuming this was the time machine.
I wondered how it worked. I also still hadn't figured out where, or rather when, I was supposed to go even if I could get it going. I sighed. I really wished Parmon was here right about now. Most of the time I thought that kid was a geek, but he'd have this thing figured out in no time. Of course, I had no way of knowing if he even existed in this reality. And even if he did, he wouldn't know me even I could show myself to him. I'd have to figure this out on my own.
Just then, I heard a voice from behind me. It was one of the technicians. "Hey, where did these dragon tracks come from?"
Dragon tracks?? Oh, scales.
Scales, I could be such an idiot at times. I was so worried about knocking things over that I completely forgot about leaving footprints. Naturally, since I could feel my weight on my feet, that would mean that I'd leave footprints anywhere I might step. I sighed. Too bad that didn't dawn on me sooner. I was just no good at stealth. The problem was that dragons had always been the dominate predator on the planet. No other animal was faster than us nor more powerful. And nothing hunted us either. When our ancestors hunted for food, they could easily chase down and capture anything they wanted. Since there was never any need for a dragon to hide or lie in wait, we never developed an instinct for stealth. As such, our thinking was geared towards direct attacks and brute force. We were just no good at sneaking around.
The other technician had come over to look at the tracks I had left. He said, "Do you think the boss sent one of his wraith dragons through to check up on us?"
"I don't know," the first technician said. "He's never done that before. He hates to be bothered, but I think we should let him know about this."
"Right," the other said. He moved to a console nearby and hit a switch.
A few moments later, the impatient voice of Word Paynn answered, "What is it?"
"Mr. Paynn, sir," the technician said formerly. "We found some dragon tracks on the floor here, and we were wondering if one of your wraith dragons had been through here recently."
Sounding annoyed at having been disturbed, Word answered, "What are you fools blabbering about. You know the dragons don't come to the upper levels. Why are you wasting my..." His voice trailed off and was silent for a few seconds. "Those tracks: are they from a biped or a quadruped?"
"Looks like a quadruped, sir. With claws, not hooves. It looks to be a fairly large dragon by the size of the footprints."
There were a few seconds of silence as Word seemed to think this over. "Wait there. I'm coming down," he said sternly. "And remove the energy cells from the time machine and lock them away just in case."
"Just in case of what?" asked the technician.
"Don't ask questions. Just do it," Word ordered emphatically.
"Yes, sir," the technician responded. He turned off the com-link and said to the other, "Come'on. Let's get to it."
The technicians moved over to the pod. They opened a panel on the side of the pod below the ramp I was standing on. They released some catches and each of them drew out a large cylinder. One was black and the other red. As soon as they removed them, I noticed all the lights went out inside the pod. Great. Not only did I not know how to use the thing, but now it had no power either. Just what I needed: more complications. Well, at least I knew I was in the right place now. This was indeed the time machine.
The technicians carried the energy cells back to the other side of the room and placed them in a storage container. Then they closed the lid and locked it. They waited there for Word to show up.
A short time later, he strode into the room carrying a small scanner-like device in one hand and a larger piece of black draconium gear in the other. He walked over to where the technicians were standing and looked down to study the tracks I had left. He didn't look happy at all and he scowled as he looked at the footprints. All he said was, "Hmmm."
Still frowning, he raised the scanning unit that was in his right hand and began panning it around the room. When he pointed it in my direction, it started beeping. He stopped and studied the readout. This didn't look good.
His eyes narrowed and his frown changed to a sinister smile and, with
a bit of sarcasm in his voice, he looked in my direction and said, "Well,
well. It looks like my old friend Mortis had an ace up his sleeve. Ancient
gold defensive armor. How lucky for you he had that gear. And how lucky
it was that he got it to you in time." Then with a deadly serious
look on his face and continuing with a more dire sound in his voice, "But
I'm afraid this is where your luck runs out."
"It looks like we have a visitor," Word said speaking to the two technicians. "You can't see him, but there's a dragon standing over there by the pod. He's using ancient gear to hide his presence. Unless of course, you know what to look for," he said indicating the scanner in his hand. Word then turned in my direction, lowered the scanner and said, "I must say, it was most clever of you to get this far. I don't imagine there are many dragons who could have figured all this out on their own."
Yeah, well they don't call me the dragon of legend for nothing. Though it looks like I wasn't quite clever enough.
"And you are the gold dragon, aren't you? No other dragon could power that gear."
You got that right.
"It's such a pity that this is where it will end for you," he said with mock sympathy. He continued more seriously and with some anger in his voice, "Do you realize how much trouble you've caused me? If it wasn't for you and that fool Connor trying to fulfill an ancient prophecy, I wouldn't have had to build this time machine in the first place. But you left me no choice. I had to alter history and arrange that unfortunate accident for Connor in his childhood to get you both out of my way. I do all that, and you still show up here and get in my way! If you had only chosen to work with me instead of against me, neither of us would have had to go through all this."
You tell me you went back in time and murdered the man who was like a father to me and you expect me to feel guilt? Eat my scales, Word. Even though I knew he couldn't see or hear me, I bared my teeth and growled anyway.
"So you thought you could use my time machine to undo what I had done, huh? Very clever." Word lightened up a little and started boasting, "You know, it isn't really a time machine per se. It's really a reverse entropy field generator. The fact that the pod travels through time is merely a side effect of the entropy field. It's based on an artifact I discovered from the ancient Red Draconium Empire. They were experts at forging raw draconium and had created a device to generate a field of increased entropy. As you know, everything decays over time and the decay is represented by an increase in entropy. The greater the entropy, the greater the state decay. The device the Red Draconium Empire made creates a field that increases entropy. They used this to help break down exceptionally hard pieces of raw draconium to make them more malleable for forging."
It was true enough that the ancient Red Draconium Empire was known for their ability to forge just about anything. In fact, they were good at just about anything to do with the use of heat. But how do you take a device that makes metal more easily forged by increasing entropy and turn it into a time machine?
"It took me a long time to develop, but I discovered that the artifact had an interesting effect when it was properly powered by black draconium energy. When done correctly, and by balancing the red and black draconium energies, the entropy field created by the device actually reverses. Instead of increasing entropy and causing things within the field to decay faster, it actually does the opposite. However, the second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of an isolated system must increase over time. The laws of physics do not allow this rule to be broken, so when my modified device is activated and begins decreasing total entropy, the universe compensates for it by pushing anything within the field backwards in time. A state of decreased entropy could only have existed in the past and so anything in the field must move into the past. It's a rather indirect way to travel through time, but it works."
Word was clearly enjoying his chance to gloat. I guess killing Connor wasn't enough for him. He wanted to rub my snout in it as well.
"When the reverse entropy field is activated, it surrounds the entire pod and moves it and everything inside it backwards in time. When the field is shut off, the normal entropy within the pod is restored and it returns to the point in time from which it left. Quite simple really."
It did sound pretty simple.
"But you've got nowhere to go now. Without the energy cells, the time machine won't function. So I'm afraid you're stuck here now in this new reality I've created. And when you have no more energy to power the gear you're using, you will simply cease to exist and there will finally be nothing to stop me," Word said as he clenched his fist in the air. With a sinister grin, he added sarcastically, "How unfortunate for you."
Word did indeed like to gloat. But he said he achieved the time travel effect by mixing red and black draconium energies. Red and black: That was almost too much of a coincidence. Hmm, I wonder...
"You've been powering that gear all day, haven't you? I imagine you must be getting weak by now. And just in case you have any ideas of your own still, let's not prolong the inevitable."
Looking his most malevolent, Word then took out the black draconium gear he had brought in with him and held it in his left hand. It was saucer shaped: flat on the bottom and domed on top. It was about 14 inches across and was black with purple markings. He pressed a button in the center and it activated. A pair of short antennae-like projections unfolded and extended from the dome. Once extended, the gear began glowing with a purple black draconium aura and pulsated. As soon as that happened, the smooth subtle hum of the gold draconium gear on my forehead was interrupted. It started to sputter a bit and began to sound like machinery under strain. Oh, scales! Word had a counter-measure for my gear. The gear was still protecting me, so he couldn't attack me directly, but that black draconium gear was emitting something that was interfering with the operation of my gear. The straining sound my gear was emitting was getting worse, plus it was getting warm against my skin, like it was overloading. This wasn't good. The gear was clearly having trouble maintaining my isolated pocket of space. If this kept up, it would quit completely. And if that happened, I'd vanish into nothingness and this reality where dragons and humans were at war would become permanent. Word will have won.
I was out of time. I had only one last idea. I had only one last chance.
Whatever Word's black gear was doing, it was certainly effective. My gear was straining and giving signs of cutting out completely. I drove more energy into it to bring it back to full power in hopes that would keep it going. That did seem to stabilize the gear, but I couldn't keep this up for long since my gold draconium energy was almost exhausted at this point. I had to act fast.
There was no time to try and get the energy cells out of the locked case and back into the time machine. Plus I feared that the effects of Word's counter-measure would increase if I got any closer to the black gear he was holding. Word seemed to know this as well and had positioned himself between me and the energy cells to block any attempt to get near them.
I had a desperate plan, but would it work?
I jumped down off the ramp to where the technicians had removed the energy cells from the pod. I took a look inside the receptacle that held them. In the back, I could see the red and black draconium contacts where the cells would normally engage. It was a long shot, but this might work.
It was uncanny: of all the possible color combinations of draconium, the time machine worked on red and black. That seemed like more than just a coincidence. In fact, it was downright creepy, and it gave me a bit of a chill just thinking about it. The thing that made it creepy was that, other than gold of course, red and black just happen to be the other two colors of draconium energy that I could generate in large quantities. Thanks to Moordryd, I had absorbed all of the intense red draconium energy from the bonemark of the Furox. And thanks to Word himself, I had also been forced to absorb the energy contained in the concentrated liquid black draconium he had gotten me to drink. The energy contained in those was so strong that they nearly drove me insane, but in both cases, Artha had helped me to regain control before it was too late. As a result, I could now use those energies at will.
That made me the only dragon on the planet who could both power this ancient gear with gold draconium energy and simultaneously be able to generate red and black energy which I could use to power the time machine. As such, I was the only living being, dragon or human, who could be here at this moment and do what had to be done. That was a chilling thought. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
The questions swirled in my head: Could my being here and now be part of the prophecy? Could everything that had happened to me up to now, including the trials of absorbing the bonemark of the Furox and the liquid black draconium, been to prepare me for this moment? Was this then all preordained? Was I walking the path of destiny my entire life? Did this mean I had no free will?
I would have liked to have had a thorough discussion of this topic with a dragon priest right about now, but that wasn't an option. But whether I was a slave to destiny or not, I still wanted to set things right. Perhaps that desire was just a side effect of not having free will, but if this was my destiny and I indeed had no choice in my life, then so be it. At least this was a destiny that had meaning and was worth fighting for. I could take solace in that if nothing else.
Time to get on with it.
It looked like there was enough draconium metal in the time machine that it would hold a charge even without the energy cells in place. I had to hope it would hold enough energy to take me back in time to where I needed to be.
There was only one way to find out.
"It will all be over soon," Word gloated. "Once you're out of the way, there will be nothing to stop me from finally ruling the world!"
Not if I can help it.
It was time to see if I could power up the time machine myself. I decided to transfer my red draconium energy first. Any dragon could tell you that controlling more than one mag energy stream at a time took concentration, but my problems were further complicated since I had to keep the different energies separate. I had to keep powering the defensive armor with gold energy while simultaneously transferring my red energy into the time machine. My gear wouldn't run on red energy so I had to be careful not to let the energies mix or the gear might shut down on me.
Working under pressure was never fun, but I had gotten lots of experience at that ever since The Choosing had taken place. I did my best to clear my mind and focus on the energy within me. I made sure I could feel the different energies and then carefully directed my red energy into a mag stream and sent it into the red dracronium contact on the time machine where the energy cell used to be. I wasn't sure how much energy the time machine needed to operate, so I transferred as much energy as I thought I could spare.
Word saw the red mag energy stream and exclaimed, "WHAT?" as he stared in disbelief.
Ha, caught you by surprise, huh Word. You weren't ready for this, were you. Well, good. Even better: the time machine seemed to be holding the charge I had sent into it.
Now it was time to transfer the black energy. I focused again and let out another energy stream. After a few seconds, the time machine started to power up. The lights inside came back on and it looked like it did before the energy cells had been removed. I transfered a bit more energy to hopefully give it a sufficient charge.
Word was angry, and that was putting it mildly. "Impossible! It can't be!" Turning to his two technicians, he said, "Stop him you fools!"
The technicians looked back at Word. One of them just said, "How?"
Word had lost his patience by this point. He yelled, "The dragon can still see, you idiots! Grab some flash sticks and stun him!"
The technicians jumped at Word's order and scrambled to get the flash sticks. That was my cue to leave. I hurried back up the ramp towards the door of the time machine. Word took a guess where I was and threw the black interference gear he was holding at me. I saw it coming towards me and got in position. As it was about to hit me, I whipped my tail at it and batted it back towards Word as hard as I could. The look of shock on his face as he saw his gear hurtling back at him was priceless. He had to duck quickly to avoid being hit, and the gear impacted the wall behind him. Just like drag-ball. How I enjoyed that game.
The technicians were back how, flash sticks in hand, along with half a dozen guards. Word shouted at the guards, "There's a dragon in my time machine! Stop him!"
Time to get out of here. I squeezed my way through the door of the time machine. The door was human sized and I was a little too wide at the shoulders. One of the guards threw a flash stick at me as I managed to finally get my shoulders through the door. I pulled my tail in and used it to slam the door shut as I heard Word scream, "NOOOO!" I could hear the flash stick hit the door as it shut. That was close.
I was wedged in a bit tight, but fortunately my head ended up near the controls. I looked around to try and see how this thing worked. I had to think quickly. Fortunately, there weren't a whole lot of controls. That was one of the things the humans were really good at: computers and automation. Just about any kind of gear or equipment was so automated that it was pretty easy to operate it. As it was, there were only a few indicators, a few switches, and one large lever in the center. The indicators were all in the green, which seemed to indicate the time machine was properly powered up and ready. Odds were the lever would make it go.
The guards were at the door, trying to get in. No more time. The question was, had I transfered enough energy to make this thing actually travel through time. I held my breath and pushed the lever forward gently with my chin, uncertain as to what might happen.
Something was happening, alright. The vid screen above the control panel showed a view of the room just outside the pod, and as soon as I pushed the lever, Word and the technicians started moving backwards. I found myself watching everything that had just happened outside, but in reverse. It was working. Thank the Magna Draconis. I was traveling back in time. I pushed forward further on the lever and things sped up. It was like watching a movie on rewind now.
Now that I had moved back in time, Word's black draconium gear was no longer interfering with my gold armor. I breathed a sigh of relief and quickly reduced the amount of energy I was feeding into my armor. I had to conserve my remaining gold energy for as long as possible. I would have really liked to have had a good meal and some rest right about now to replenish my energy, but that wasn't an option. Still, I felt better now that I didn't have to run the gear at full power anymore.
My relief was short lived, though. I still didn't know where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do in the past in order to stop Word. Scales. Why couldn't these prophecies come with more detailed instructions. If my destiny was to serve the prophecy then why didn't they just write down what I was supposed to do and be done with it. Why do they always have to be so vague.
OK, let's see. Word said he had caused an "unfortunate accident" for Connor in his childhood. Assuming Connor's childhood period would be before he was age 10, that means I'd have to search through 10 years of Connor's life to find what Word did. I didn't see how that would be possible. Connor was an orphan raised by the priesthood, and nothing was known about his earliest years. I had no idea where to look for him. And even if I could find him, how do I know at what point in time Word decided to strike? If I had more time, I suppose I could find Connor and guard him until Word appeared, however that could take years and I didn't have enough energy to power the gear for that long. I was down to a matter of hours now at best. There had to be another way and I had better think of it quickly.
The vid screen was showing much activity in the room outside the pod. It looked like I had reached the point in the past when the technicians were building the time machine. In reverse, it looked like they were taking it apart. The equipment in the room decreased rapidly until the room was empty, save for a few workbenches and tools. I was now at the point in the past just before work began on the time machine.
Wait! What in the Magna Draconis is that? Two Word Paynns?
It was a weird sight, but the vid screen showed two Word Paynns talking to each other in the room outside the pod. The only way I could think this could happen would be if after the time machine had been built, Word traveled back in time to meet with his earlier self. If he did that, he must have had to tell his past self something important. This seemed like something I should check out. One of the Word's may reveal a clue about how I can fix things.
As I watched them, they walked out of the room backwards. Since I was moving backwards in time myself, this meant they had just come into the room. I figured this was as good a place as any to drop in on them, so I moved a little further back in time and then pulled the control lever back to the center position.
The room outside was empty, so this was a good time to step out and have a look. There wasn't enough room in the pod for me to turn around, so I pulled the door to the time machine open with my tail and backed myself out the door. As soon as I got my head out the door, I saw the another pod standing next to mine. That was the pod that the other Word Paynn from the future must have arrived in. It looked identical to the one I had traveled in, which made sense since it was in fact the very same pod, just from a different time period.
This was actually kind of interesting. The law of conversation of matter states that matter cannot be created or destroyed, yet here were two instances of the same object which was composed of the same matter existing at the same time. In a sense, the arrival of the time machine created matter where none had previously existed. Normally, this would be impossible, but apparently time travel allowed an exception to the rule. It would seem that the law of conservation allowed matter to be shifted in time just as it allowed matter to be shifted in space. Since the matter in the pod was here now and not presently existing in the future point in time from which it had left, then conversation of matter was still maintained. So multiple copies of the pod could exist at the same time, as long as they had all come from different points in the future. Very drac concept. And to think, I'm the only dragon in the world who knows this. I felt a bit of pride at having figured this out on my own and it helped lift my spirits a bit. If I managed to survive this ordeal, I promised myself I'd find a way to tell all this to Connor.
Now, time to find the two Word Paynns. I headed out of the room to look for them. I went down the hall and quickly heard their voices in a nearby room. This time I looked around on the floor and made sure I wasn't leaving tracks again. I wasn't going to make that mistake twice. Everything was clear and I entered the room where they were talking to listen in.
I carefully made my way into the room to see what was going on. It was a large conference room with an oval table in the center. On the table was some type of red draconium gear. The two Word Paynns were there standing by the gear and having a conversation. The room was clearly designed for humans, but it was large enough for me to move around in without much trouble. Still, I stayed by the door to play it safe.
One of the Words handed a data pad to the other and said, "This contains all the specifications for the black draconium power regulator along with the assembly instructions. As you surmised, the careful application of black draconium energy to this red gear will reverse the entropy effect, and from there you can build a time machine. But the power regulator is the key element needed to do it safely."
"This is quite convenient," the other Word said. "As soon as I got the idea for using the red entropy gear to construct a time machine, I started wondering if I would see signs of time travel due to my using the machine in the future. Though I must admit, I didn't expect to be visited by myself," he said with a sly smile.
"I know," the other Word responded with an equally sly grin. "I was you not too long ago, so I remember standing where you are and having this conversation with my future self. By giving you the plans to construct the time machine, I'm avoiding the possibility that you might damage the gear beyond repair if you try to do it on your own."
Now there was a paradox if I ever saw one. Word gets the idea for building a time machine, then his future self arrives in the time machine and hands his younger self the plans for said time machine so that his younger self can build the time machine he arrived in. This was difficult to wrap your mind around, but I guess time travel by its very nature allowed such things to happen.
The Word from the future picked up a scanner and held it over the red gear. He pointed to the scanner display and said, "See here? This juncture between the main elements of the red gear is where the black draconium energy injector needs to be mounted. That way the black energy will flow smoothly and reverse the entropy effect. But whatever you do, do not connect a black draconium energy source to the injector directly. You must only connect it through the regulator in the plans I gave you. Without the regulator in the circuit, the black draconium energy could easily overload the gear and completely burn it out."
"I understand," the Word from the present said. "This will certainly make building the time machine a lot easier."
The Word from the future continued, "As you know, this is last remaining piece of red entropy gear left in the world. All precautions must be taken to avoid damaging it or you won't be able to build the time machine. That's why it was necessary for me to travel back in time and meet with you to warn you of this and give you the plans you will need. And remember, once you get the time machine built, you must travel back in time and meet with your past self as I am doing now or the cycle will be broken. If you don't warn your younger self, he may not figure out that a regulator is needed, and a black draconium overload could damage the gear beyond repair and ruin our plans to eliminate Connor and the gold dragon."
Well, you haven't quite gotten rid of the gold dragon yet. And this dragon had an idea. Since this is the last remaining piece of the red entropy gear, if I could destroy this gear here and now before the time machine gets built, then the time machine could never be built and Word would not be able to travel back in time to eliminate Connor. Connor would then live and reality should revert back to the way it was before Word starting changing things. At least, I think it would. This time travel stuff was complicated.
The future Word said a black draconium energy overload could destroy the red gear. I smiled. Well, that just happened to be something I could arrange. It sounded like a mag-burst was in order. Only one little problem: I had hardly any black draconium energy left. I had channeled just about all I had into the time machine in order to travel back to this point in time. Sure, I could still manage a feeble little black draconium mag-burst, but it wouldn't amount to more than a pretty light show at the moment. I just didn't have enough energy left to destroy the gear. However, I had an idea of how I might get some extra energy.
About then I noticed that the two Words had stopped talking. The Word from the future was looking at the scanner and frowning. The other Word said, "What is it?"
The future Word said, "I'm not sure. This is strange. The scanner is picking up something that shouldn't be here." He held the scanner out and panned it around the room. He stopped when it pointed in my direction. "There," he said and punched some buttons. "The scanner is reporting some sort of spatial anomaly in that part of the room."
"A spatial anomaly?" the other Word said. "How can that be?"
"I don't know." The future Word keyed various buttons on the scanner and studied the read-out. After many long seconds, he stopped and gaped at the display. Incredulous, he said, "I don't believe it. The scanner has picked up the signature of the ancient gold defensive armor!"
"But that gear can only be powered by a gold dragon. Which would mean..."
"That the gold dragon is here with us now!" The Word from the future just stared in disbelief, "This can't be happening. This didn't happen when I was you and experienced this the first time around." He pondered this for a few seconds. "That must mean the armor is allowing him to effect the time line independently of reality. This is a complication I hadn't anticipated."
Well, at least it looked like the gear was giving me a bit of an advantage. But I still had to destroy the red gear and I needed more black draconium energy to do it. I was pretty sure I knew where I could get some, so I started backing my way out the door.
"He's moving!" Word said, looking at the scanner. "Quickly! Seal off this section of the floor!"
It looked like I had worn out my welcome here. Time to go, and fast. I made my way out of the room and started heading down the hall back towards the lab where the time machines were. Unfortunately, I hardly got anywhere before a massive door slammed down and blocked off the hallway. Another slammed down at the other end of the hall.
The two Words had followed me out into the hall. The one holding the scanner said, "He's trapped over there."
The doors blocking the hall were massive. I was pretty strong as dragons went, but I wasn't strong enough to knock down these doors on my own. I had to figure some way out of here and quickly.
The Word from the future said, "Hurry, go get the black draconium interference pod and we'll overload his defensive armor. That should finish him off."
Oh, no. Not this again.
I felt a knot of fear form in my stomach and a chill went over me. I had only barely survived my last encounter with the black interference gear. And doing that had drained my gold draconium energy down to almost nothing. I couldn't power my armor for all that much longer as it was, and if Word got here with that gear, I'd be dead for sure this time around. I had better think of something, and fast, or it would be all over for me.
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