Lords of the Dragon/Boss Tongue
Wulf returned to the Computer Room with Natasha. “There are two hundred eleven so far,” Natasha said to Wulf. “Evidently Santa Bob has lots of friends and relatives.”
“They all check out?” Wulf asked.
“For the most part, they appear to be normal people with normal problems,” Natasha replied. “At least they were before the Conflict. The URAC has prosecuted quite a few of them because of their personal beliefs. The number one of which is that they still believe they have the right to bear arms to protect themselves. Other than that, all I’ve been able to dig up is the usual traffic violations, drug and alcohol arrests, using, not dealing. Nobody checked out perfect and no Jack the Rippers. There is one possible problem though.”
“What’s that?” Wulf asked. He was thumbing through stacks of data, numerical profiles of people’s lives.
“Chickens,” Natasha laughed, “horses and cows, pigs, dogs and cats, ferrets... You name it, the list goes on and on.”
“Just a sec’,” Wulf said to Natasha. “Vera, are you listening?”
“One ear always open, Commander,” she replied.
Wulf held a finger over his lips, flashed Natasha a little smile. “What about the animals, Vera?”
There was a small chirp in Wulf’s head, then, “Each level of After Earth is designed specifically to accommodate one hundred thousand human beings. Any number of beasts will decrease human capacity proportionately.”
“We need food,” Wulf said.
“After Earth is stocked with stores to last one hundred years at full capacity,” Vera reported.
“Space food?” Wulf asked. “Dried up and powdered?”
“No flesh,” Vera replied, understanding his questions completely. “A perfect balance of nutrients to fuel the human body, allowing it to function at maximum efficiency.”
“Is there adequate graze for the beasts?” Wulf asked.
“These matters have been researched exhaustively,” Vera said, “although the research specifically targeted the preservation of endangered species.”
“So... the docs considered building a zoo,” Wulf observed.
“A research facility,” Vera corrected, “for the preservation of certain of the beasts indigenous to earth.”
“Is there adequate graze for the beasts?” Wulf asked again. “I remember seeing open parks and meadows from the orb, what appeared to be bluegrass and alfalfa.”
“You are persistent, Commander,” Vera allowed. “Yes, there is adequate graze for the beasts. Certain plant life has been developed which thrives on synthesized light. Your beasts should find it more than adequate for survival. Specific strains can be grown under water although harvesting them may present a problem.”
“Fish?” Wulf asked.
“Several species of your underwater creatures have already been introduced,” Vera informed Wulf. “The docs, to utilize your vernacular, were avid anglers. After Earth’s streams, lakes and ponds are teeming with small gilled beasts.”
Natasha tapped Wulf on the shoulder. “Dad, are you in there?”
“Sorry hon’,” Wulf said. “Just talking to Vera, the After Earth computer.” He pointed to his head. “Laser implants.”
“You let them do that to you?” Natasha asked.
“I agreed to be King,” Wulf replied, “laser implants were the small print in the contract.”
Natasha shook her head. “Well King, it’s like listening to one side of a telephone conversation.”
“Tell them to bring their beasts if they can get them here on time,” Wulf said. “No sick or diseased animals.”
Natasha gave him a nod of assent. “Is there really room down there for all of us?”
“One hundred thousand human beings per level,” Wulf mused. “It’s an amazing place, it really is. Oh, you have to deduct proportionately by weight to allow for the animals.”
“I’ll key it into the computer when I get their figures,” Natasha said. “Sounds like we won’t make a speck down there if there’s as much room as you say.”
“I don’t see how they’ll get the critters there in time,” Wulf said. “Did Bob mention anything about that?”
“He said these people of his shared pasture on the Stone Mountain Ranch, so they aren’t that far away,” Natasha replied.
Wulf shook his head in wonder. “Cowboys and Santas. What the hell am I doing?”
“You’re doing what you have to, Dad,” Natasha comforted. “It’ll all work out, you’ll see.”
Wulf forced a smile to his face. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. Contact Bob and tell him to get his people rolling as soon as possible. The thirtieth may be too late.”
Wulf felt them through the floor of his cave, in a rush of blood, moments before Natasha shared his awareness. Wulf left the Computer Room and Natasha closed the door. Outside in the yard, the air was filled with the thunder of a hundred dragons. They appeared two abreast from the road between the trees. When they entered the clearing, they executed a perfect parade maneuver, the front two crossing one another, then the next pair and the next, each rider in the pair crossing to the opposite side of the clearing. They then turned half circle until there were two perfect lines facing away from Wulf’s cave. A ten-foot aisle was left in the middle of the two lines. The last two riders rode through the aisle space and came to a stop in front of Wulf, who had stepped out to greet them.
“Pretty drill,” Wulf said to Crescent as he dismounted his dragon. “A variation of the wedding line?”
“Close,” Crescent answered, “except the riders form to and park, rather than riding line to touch.”
Wulf stepped forward and embraced his brother, then waved at several familiar faces in the lines.
The man who had ridden forward with Crescent was named Boss Tongue. He was the undisputed field leader of the Lords of the Dragon. Though fluent in seven languages, he liked to brag that the name was bestowed upon him for his well-known prowess and congress with those of the opposite sex. He dismounted and stood, extending long arms to the heavens and stretching, first to the left and then the right. Each movement was calculated, an exuberant display of his six-foot six-inch frame. At thirty years old, he was a bronzed Adonis, wide in the shoulder and narrow of hip. His hair was worn short on the sides, with a strip the width of his forehead flowing back and
down his back in a long yellow mane.
Wulf couldn’t see his eyes behind dark wrap-around shades, but knew they were a startling cornflower blue. When he removed the shades, he would don small round spectacles, his only known weakness. Even this became a strength in its small way, adding authority and wisdom to the awesome spectacle, the warrior Boss Tongue.
He was clad in typical Lords’ attire, blue jeans and chain belt, triple buckled steel toed boots and cut-off leather vest, his rags. They were stained and worn yet appeared immaculate. The front was adorned with assorted buckles and small chains, bits of memorabilia from fallen brothers and vanquished opponents. Covering the back was the insignia of the Lords, the silhouette of
a rider astride his dragon, pistol in one hand, sword in the other. These were superimposed over a winged wheel, a circle of flames. LORDS was stitched boldly in fine gold braid over the top of the insignia, The World, a quarter circle underneath.
Finished stretching, he studied Wulf for a long drawn out moment. “How’s our bad boy?” he said in a carefully modulated baritone.
Wulf laughed. “Better than I thought, I guess. It’s quite a compliment to be referred to as such by one as notorious as yourself.”
They each took a half step forward, neither giving ground. They thumb clasped fist to fist, then gripped each other’s forearms in a grudging warrior’s handshake. “Let’s go inside and wait for the others,” Wulf said.
“There won’t be any others,” Tongue informed him. “Crescent will represent the Dark Heart and I, the Lords. We’ve been commissioned to come and hear you out. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a waste of our time.”
“Come on in then,” Wulf offered, attempting to conceal his disappointment. Wulf pulled a small table away from the others and arranged three chairs. Tongue and Crescent rearranged two of the chairs so that they were sitting facing the door. They positioned themselves at odd angles so that Wulf was forced into a position of vulnerability, his back to the open door. He sat down, uncomfortable in his own home. The URAC intends to blow us up in one hour, he thought.
“Something for the head,” Tongue offered. He set a small tooled metal snuff box on the table.
“Great!” Wulf tried to sound enthusiastic. “You guys go ahead. I’ll get us a drink. Screw drivers okay?”
“Make mine a bat juice,” Crescent said.
“Turkey and water for me,” Tongue put in, “We been off screw drivers for a while, bro.”
Wulf went to a small bar he kept in a corner of the room. He filled three large glass tumblers with ice and began mixing the drinks. He glanced at Tongue while he mixed. Tongue winked, opened the small snuff box and poked at the white powder inside with a small knife. They’ll refuse to drink until I drink, Wulf thought. And I don’t care to taste until they taste. Stalemate. He took the drinks to the table and sat down.
“Here,” Tongue said, switching drinks with Wulf, “screw driver sounds good after all. You drink mine.”
“I’ll make another,” Wulf said evenly. “I don’t drink whiskey and water.”
Crescent’s eyes darted back and forth between the two men then he switched drinks with Wulf. “Here Wulf, have a bat juice.”
“I don’t feel like drinking bat juice,” Wulf said. “I’ll make another screw driver.”
Tongue slammed a big fist on the table. “God damn it, Wulf! You know what’s goin’ on here. Just drink the fuckin’ whiskey!”
“Tongue, you’re losing your touch,” Wulf said softly. “If you don’t trust me, you should have had the same as me. The switch could have been made smoothly then.” Wulf glanced pointedly at Crescent. “You could also play Roman conqueror and have one of your flunkies taste your food and drink.” Wulf took back the screw driver, placed Crescent’s drink in front of Tongue and
Tongue’s before Crescent.
“Can’t you even trust your own fuckin’ brother?” Tongue stormed.
“It’s the company he keeps I don’t trust,” Wulf replied. “Ah this is a crock o’ bullshit!” He lifted the three drinks one after another and took a long swallow from each. Before he set Tongue’s glass down, he bit a chunk out of the rim, chewed it up and swallowed it. “May you live long and fuck lots of other men’s wives,” he said then set the glass before Tongue.
“Crazy motherfucker!” Tongue growled, shaking his head angrily.
Wulf lifted his own drink. “Aren’t you boys gonna drink to my toast?” he asked as if his feelings were hurt.
“I wouldn’t fuck your bitch!” Tongue declared with venom.
“She wouldn’t have you,” Wulf informed him. “I said other men’s wives, not mine.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Crescent said nervously, raising his glass. Wulf clicked it with his own and took a small sip.
“I ain’t drinkin’ from a broken glass,” Tongue announced, sulking.
Wulf was studying him, a trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth. “Hate to see you cut yourself, Boss.”
“I’ll make you another, Bro!” Crescent grabbed Tongue’s drink and headed for the bar. He rummaged around underneath, then held up an unopened bottle of Wild Turkey. He winked at Tongue then cracked the seal.
When Crescent returned to the table with Tongue’s drink in hand, Wulf wet an index finger and touched it to the contents of the open snuff box. He rubbed the finger on his lower gum, then glanced at Crescent. “You’ve been busy, haven’t you, Brother?”
“Let’s do it up right,” Tongue said. “I brought a carburetor.” He took a chrome tube from the pocket of his rags and twisted it onto a curved Y-shaped piece of glass. He dipped the Y deep into the powder, then placed the ends delicately up Wulf’s nostrils. “Crazy motherfucker!” he repeated. He took the tube between his lips and blew the powder into Wulf’s nasal passages.
Wulf took the tube and repeated the procedure for Tongue and Crescent. The three of them sat for a moment, enjoying the smooth heat of the drug. Wulf felt the roof of his mouth go numb, then his gums. “You switched up on me,” he said to Crescent. “This is pure coke.”
“Pretty close,” Crescent admitted. “Just a taste of zip to make it snazzy.”
Tongue sipped his drink. “Sorry about before,” he said to Wulf, “been up for a couple of days. Feel like I was rode hard and put away wet.”
“Hey,” Crescent interjected, “remember when we got ahold o’ that YURASS Agent Training Manual? They taught those pups that one of our known rituals was stabbing each other in the nose with knives.”
“Yeah,” Tongue laughed. “Stupid asses missed the trick, as usual. Never snapped to the blast on the end of the blade.”
Wulf shook his head. “Dumb shits had the manuals printed in the joint. We had copies before the YURASS instructors did.”