by CB Droege
The plan was that we would drop onto the airstrip, clear the LZ of lizards, then the plane could land, and we’d off-load the heavy artillery. It didn’t quite go down like that, though. During the drop my chute got tangled, and I was steered off course, dropping me just off the beach outside the fence. I was sandy and dripping, much of my equipment waterlogged and useless, including my radio and gun, but I was the lucky one. After coming ashore, I watched the plane circle for another ten minutes, then it flew off north, back toward the mainland. It was clear that the rest of the team was not able to clear the LZ as planned, and they were likely dead.
“Some kind of big dumb lizards with big dumb teeth,” Harris had told us during the mission briefing on the plane twenty minutes earlier. “Apparently, some rogue scientist opened a portal to an alternate earth populated by giant carnivores, and some of them got through.” It was always some idiotic scientist. Those people are dangerous: opening portals, doing genetic experiments, or signaling alien spacecraft. Science should be outlawed if you ask me. “The scientist and his crew are dead,” Harris continued, “but a construction worker and his family are trapped in the event zone. We’re being sent in to take the beasts down and rescue any survivors we can find. Luckily, the whole place is closed up with fences, and it’s an island anyway, so containment shouldn’t be complicated.”
I was the only survivor, other than the pilot, and he would be home and safe soon. I was wet and cold, and night was coming. I needed shelter, and in the distance, I saw a small cabin up against the fence, so I set out. I was half a kilometer away when I spotted movement. I was happy at first to see another person, but the movement was strange, alien, so I ducked behind a nearby tree, and took out my spyglass, which was luckily waterproof. From my cover, I spied the cabin, and saw Talon for the first time, though I wasn’t calling him that yet.
He was in front of the cabin, standing where the grass turned to sand. He looked like a raptor with a nearly horizontal spine, supported on two thick legs. His trunk was balanced by a thick tail that nearly brushed the ground. His body was covered in heavy wrappings, including what looked a bit like a turban on his head. His forelimbs ended in three-fingered hands, and he was bending over a firepit, with a flint and steel, attempting to start a fire.
The door of the cabin opened, and another came out, the one that I would eventually call Lizzy, once we were amicable. She was dressed in similar wrappings as Talon, making it clear that these were intentional; not just dressings, but clothing. She took a few steps down toward the beach and made some growling sounds. After a few weeks, I would come to understand some rudimentary phrases in their language, and they in mine, but at this point, I only really noticed her teeth, which were mostly flat. I remembered enough from biology class to know those were the teeth of an herbivore, though I later discovered that, while they never ate the flesh of the rodents I caught around the cabin, they would sometimes catch and grill fish.
Lizzy spoke with Talon for a moment, and he spoke back, and then she returned to the cabin, and he to his fire-building attempt.
These were the monsters I had been sent to kill? It was clear that these two were anything but monsters. They were people. Cold people trapped in a strange land. Of course, I would learn about the real monsters later, the terror lizards who had also come through the portal, and the three of us would have to work together to survive once they eventually broke through the fence, but this first day the only challenge was diplomacy. I wasn’t really thinking about things like ‘first contact protocol’. I was mostly just wet and cold.
I set my waterlogged gun aside, in case they would know what it was, and I approached their camp slowly and with hands raised, not understanding then that this was a sign of aggression in their culture. Lizzy came out, and we three faced off for a few minutes, not understanding each other at all. The misunderstanding didn’t last though.
My first bit of real diplomacy was showing Talon how to use my lighter.
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About the Author
CB Droege is an author and voice actor from the Queen City living in the Millionendorf. He loves wizards and time-travel, but has an irrational distaste for time-traveling wizards. His latest books are Ichabod Crane and the Magic Lamp and Other Stories and Quantum Age Adventures. Short fiction publications include work in Nature Futures, Science Fiction Daily and dozens of other magazines and anthologies. He also produces a weekly podcast, in which he reads other people’s stories: Manawaker Studio’s Flash Fiction Podcast. Learn more at cbdroege.com