"Jared, wake up!"
"Jared, you better get out of bed before I finish breakfast. We have a lot to do today and you need to earn your place at the table."
"Why do I hear my dad's voice?" Jared thought. His dad was dead. He died three years ago when a mutated bear raided the farm. Jared struggled against the pain in his head and tried to pry his eyes open. It was as though cement glued his eyes together. They weighed a ton, and he continued to struggle.
"Leave him alone John, he's only five. He's not even of official age to work."
Jared's eyes snapped open, or at least he thought they opened. He looked around and all was black. A suffocating blackness enveloped him. He tried to move his body, but nothing responded. He could look around, but there was nothing to see.
"Where am I?"
Jared turned in a circle and noted a small pinprick of light in the distance grow larger. He tried to walk forward, but again his body betrayed him. As the light grew brighter, he looked down to see why he couldn't move.
"Where is my body?" Jared could feel his body, but it wasn't visible. "What the heck is happening?"
The light grew brighter and Jared watched the scene unfold. He stood, or hovered, just outside a small room. This was his childhood home. At the table stood his mom and dad. Had he been able, Jared would have wept at seeing his parents once again. His mom had died five years ago from radiation poisoning, even with the nano injections.
"No!" Jared screamed in rage.
Now he knew the truth, those elitist pricks in the city killed her to keep the technovirus a secret.
"I will kill every one of them!" vowed Jared.
If his body was more corporeal, he would have smashed his fist into the wall as the scene continued to play out before him. His rage built until the five-year-old version of himself joined his parents at the table. The rage subsided as he gazed upon the excited, youthful face eager to greet the day.
That day marked the first time he left the boundaries of the colony. His dad planned to show him the farms he managed and teach him how to harvest resources. The jubilation in little Jared flowed outward as he bounced on his toes.
"Let's go dad!" Jared heard himself say.
His mom and dad shared a knowing look, and they packed up breakfast to eat along the way. Just before they left the small room, Jared heard a light, female voice whisper,
Jared strained his ears listening for the voice and wondered if he imagined it while the scene faded to black.
"No! Stop!" He tried sprinting to the fading scene, but his body lacked substance to move. Once again, the oppressive darkness surrounded him.
"Am I dead? Where is this place? What happened to my body?"
These questions remained unanswered as Jared existed within the void. Time was meaningless here; he didn't know how much time passed. He thought about his mom and the seed of vengeance blossomed deep within. In his delirious state, he remembered little of the mysterious note he received right before he blacked out. He recalled the phrases "I was wrong" and "those in power lied to you and made you slaves." The nanites, injections, occasional deaths from radiation was all a lie. It was a cover up and his mom had paid the ultimate price for those elitist dicks.
He needed to find a way out of this state if there was a way out. "Maybe the bonding, or whatever it was, killed me?" Jared wondered. "Maybe I'm losing my mind and stuck in my own head?"
He tried shouting, cursing, sleeping, and even counting down from 100. Nothing worked. He lingered in this formless void.
Resigned to his fate, Jared gave up and let his frustration go. Once relaxed, a brilliant light blinded him and he squeezed his eyes shut against the pain.
"Stay down you loser!"
"Nobody wants you here, you little pipsqueak."
Voices all around cajoled and mocked. Jared forced his eyes open to the scene and saw himself at ten. He lay on the ground with a bloody lip and shiner on his left eye. Three larger boys loomed over him spitting hateful words and phlegm. He could have cried or called for help, but instead attempted to rise to his feet. The larger of the three boys, nicknamed "Tiny”, pushed him back to the ground and the name calling resumed.
"Get up!" Jared yelled at himself.
He knew it was a futile attempt since he was just an invisible bystander in this act. He remembered this day and knew there was more to come. Sure enough, ten-year-old Jared rose to his feet and squared of with the leader of the trio. He stood, ready to take anything they dished out. They tried to goad him into attacking, but he refused to take the bait. Frustrated, Tiny launched his fist into Jared's other eye and knocked him back to the ground.
He lay on the ground stunned. It looked like the fight was over until they heard a groan and Jared tried to stand. He stood on shaky legs, both eyes swollen. Tiny roared in rage and embarrassment at this little pest and his tenacity; he cocked his arm back to strike again when a voice boomed from across the field. Everyone scampered away as Jared's dad sprinted to him. He picked him up and carried him across the field to their home. Just before they crossed the threshold, little Jared smiled through his split lip and with pride in his voice said, "I stood up to him."
"Bastards!" Jared felt the pain and embarrassment all over again.
The bullies had gotten away with the attack after Jared told his father to leave it alone. Jared had still experienced their ridicule, but it was less severe and never developed into a fight again. He had earned their respect that day. Tiny still hated him but his sidekicks kept him in check and Tiny became a loner when he refused to stop antagonizing Jared.
All of those fights and ridicule seemed minuscule and petty. As he stared at the door his father disappeared through, the light once again faded to darkness and he heard the whispered voice again.
Perseverance, Courage, Determination, Toughness, Pride...
This time he knew it wasn't his imagination. There was someone else here.
"Who are you?" Only silence greeted him. "Answer me! What do you want?"
Again, silence reigned. Frustration tried to overwhelm him again until he remembered the last scene occurred after he relaxed and resigned himself to the situation. Eyes closed, not that it mattered in total darkness and no physical body, he tried to clear his mind. He sensed another memory and opened his eyes to see himself at age 19 working the fields near the tree line. His dad worked a few paces away from him testing the soil.
"No...anything but this memory! Please, stop! I can't see this again."
This was the worst day of Jared's 22 years. Three years later the memory was just as fresh and painful as the day it happened. Jared had his back to the forest, when a giant, mutated bear charged from the trees. His dad yelled to get his attention, but it was too late.
He was in his dad's line of site and his dad couldn't shoot the bear or he risked hitting Jared. His dad lunged in front of Jared and fired his weapon, but it was too late. The bear was mid-swing and decapitated his dad with one swipe of its claws. The shots fired from his dad's gun, the Colt 45-70 he now carried, killed the bear, but his dad's lifeless body fell to the ground.
"NO!" he heard himself cry.
He had cradled his dad's body, uncaring about the blood, the lifeless bear, or his dad's head sitting next to him. Jared remembered sitting there for hours as his friends tried to pry him away. He refused to move. His dad was all he had left after his mom had passed away. A part of him refused to believe what happened and prayed he would wake from the nightmare.
"Why is this happening? Please, just let it end."
Jared stopped caring. He survived the first time he'd "lived" the scene, but to experience it twice was unbearable. Suicidal thoughts became the norm for him after his dad died and his home was never the same. The next year he spent surviving until one day he left. It was a spontaneous decision, but he could no longer endure the rote of daily life and the proximity to the place both of his parents had died. That started the journey that culminated with this unexplainable nothingness that enveloped him.
The voice sounded again, but his care had fled after that last memory. He felt despondent and the two years that hardened him into an explorer dissolved. Conflicted and uncertain, he let go of his awareness and the sweet escape of sleep claimed his consciousness.
When Jared woke from his slumber, he felt refreshed and the memories he dreamt felt distant. As he tried to recall the dream it slipped through his grasp. He knew what the dream had revealed, but the emotions he felt in the past lay dormant. He felt the same numbness from the past few years and chalked the dream up to a nightmare.
"There was...something else in the dream, but I can't seem to remember it..." muttered Jared.
He shook his head to clear the remnants of sleep and stood up. Today marked the start of a new journey for him. He had nano injections, a phase pistol, and that strange object... He froze and turned around. Once he completed the turn, a voice spoke into his thoughts.
"Ah, What the..." Jared yelled as he stumbled back into the wall. He fumbled for his Colt when it spoke again.
My name is Scarlet, and we have bonded.
Jared asked, "Are you really a dragon?" He kept his weapon drawn in the event "Scarlet" tried to attack him.
I am a dragon.
"You look like a snake...with legs, aren't dragons supposed to have wings?" Jared asked. "How...how can I hear you right now?"
I will grow in time and develop wings, responded Scarlet. Dragons have the ability to use telepathy and our bond allows you to communicate with me.
"How do you know all of this?" Jared asked, sounding incredulous. "You were just born, or hatched!"
I have incubated for half a millenia. I also absorbed many memories and knowledge from an explorer named Scarlet.
"Ah, I bet that's who made the markings I followed into the tunnel,” said Jared.
“How did she find the nest to begin with?” Jared wondered aloud.
He supposed it no longer mattered, but he felt bad about her fate and how close she'd come to the discovery he made. In the two years of exploration, he heard no rumors or stories of dragons existing, let alone the ability to bond with them. The egg he found could have been anything from a spider to some nasty larvae.
He shuddered, "Thank God it wasn't a spider!" he said and rejoiced in his luck.
"How long have dragons existed?" Jared asked. He knew it was a long shot asking a newborn some of these questions, but so far, she appeared to have a deep knowledge and understanding of her situation.
Dragons have existed since Earth's existence. When mankind spread throughout the world, they hunted and killed dragons. Many of our kind created homes deep within the earth near the outer core and entered a long slumber. The heat sustained the dragons and allowed their progeny to grow and incubate. My mother awoke five-hundred years ago, when it was time to lay her egg. Like most dragons, she had a natural affinity for telepathy and realized the Earth above was silent. She emerged to investigate and found much of the world in ruins. Due to her time underground, my mother could not fly and made her homes under the streets of what Scarlet called New York City. For five-hundred years she watched and guarded my resting place. None of the creatures within the city dared get close, until you and Scarlet, humans, came along.
"Wow, I definitely didn't expect so thorough of an answer," responded Jared. "Were you always aware while in the egg? How did you learn your history?"
Yes, I was aware for hundreds of years. I could communicate with my mother using telepathy.
"Your mother..." whispered Jared.
"Um, Scarlet? Please tell me your mother won't eat me for stealing you away?" Jared asked, hoping he wouldn't end up like the other explorer. "If you want to go back to her I won't stand in the way. I have no desire to become a meal for your mother."
She was furious and destroyed much of the city searching for me.
"Dang..." Jared said dejectedly.
However, Scarlet continued, we communicated while you were sleeping after the bond completed. She is unhappy, but will not harm you now that we are bonded.
“If you could talk to her this far away, why didn’t she find us when I carried your egg?”
We were only able to communication when I was in the egg through direct physical contact. Now that I am out of the egg, I can speak with her from any distance.
Jared, my mother does not have much time left before she leaves this world; I must go to her. Dragons live for thousands of years, but a matriarch dies after birthing another female dragon. She will pass a part of herself to me before she dies and I must be by her side.
"I...I'm sorry Scarlet," Jared said sincerely.
Do not apologize, this is the way of life for a dragon. We have spent the last two hundred years communing and have prepared for her departure.
"Even still, I am sorry you have to lose your mother. I know how hard that can be."
I know, your character is why you are still alive. The dream you experienced was part of the bonding process and I sifted through some of your core memories.
"That voice in the dream...that was you?" he asked and remembered the feminine voice he heard.
Yes, I was weighing your character to determine if I should let the bond continue. Your character resonates with that of dragons and I deemed our companionship to be complementary.
Not every creature would be able to resist the bond, but due to my nature, telepathy, and nanite absorption from Scarlet I could have ended the connection. This would have resulted in your death as the technovirus that inhabits your body consumed you.
Curious, Jared asked, "Are you infected with the virus as well?"
Yes, every creature that inhabits the surface is infected, but it has little impact on dragons or other non-humans. It will allow us to enhance our physical and mental faculties, but there are no negative side-effects like with humans.
"So, you can grow stronger and develop abilities from the nanites? How?" he asked intrigued.
Based on the bond we share, you will choose which enhancements occur for the both of us.
"Wait, I can increase my strength or other physical attributes too?" Jared said excitedly.
Yes, only you can choose the abilities and assignment of the nanites for us. I understand how the nanites work and their capabilities, but I cannot control them.
Jared looked to the corner of his vision where the status screen lived. It had appeared after he used his first nano injection ten years ago. "Technovirus," he corrected himself. That prickly rage bubbled to the surface again, but he forced it back down. He could do nothing at present and he had more pressing needs to address.
The status screen changed little. It showed an outline of his body, basic descriptors of the nanites in his body and a percentage of viability that ticked down towards his next injection. As Jared's eyes relaxed, he flicked his gaze over to the screen, and it expanded to cover his entire view.
There was so much more information than he could make out on the minimized version. He also noticed a "tab" or "outline" of Scarlet and could toggle back and forth between himself and Scarlet. The descriptive text around the outline of his character showed percentages. They amounted to one hundred percent when totaled. Another change included sliders next to each description. It looked like he could change the amount of nanites dedicated to specific areas. The areas he could change included Mind and Body, but there were dozens of sub-aspects for mind and body.
The two categories allowed for finite control over his entire body and mind. Telepathy was something he didn't know existed until Scarlet, and now he could augment his brain to use the ability!
Jared mentally selected Telepathy.
Telepathy is a form of non-verbal communication. Dedicating nanites to the development of this area will allow near instantaneous communication between sentient beings at the speed of thought.
After he read the description, Jared asked, "How can I hear you if I don’t have any Telepathy ability? Also, where are these descriptions coming from?"
You do not need Telepathy to hear me, but you would not be able to use it to speak with others until you developed the ability. Because of our bond, you can communicate using thought with only me.
Can you hear me? Jared thought.
Yes, I can hear you, but remember you can only communicate with me like this. Once you increase your telepathy you can use it to communicate with others. After you begin developing it, you will only be able to send impressions, then simple words. As the ability is developed, you will share a thought space and can share complex ideas and conversations.
“I’m going to keep talking out loud for now,” Jared said, “it’s still a little weird having a voice in my mind. Tell me about these descriptions please.”
All the description for the augments and enhancements come from my instinctive understanding of the nanites. You are fortunate to have bonded with a dragon. Our mental abilities and intellect have allowed us to gain a deep understanding of the nanites and technovirus. Had you bonded with a mindless creature, you would be subject to experimentation to ascertain their abilities. I also added the categories you see when looking at your status screen.
Once someone has unlocked the bond we share, they can develop mind or body. If they choose only body, they would never understand the different areas they could unlock. If they choose mind, the different areas that the nanites can augment and change would appear as they grow in strength. You have the unique perspective of seeing the categories before making your choice.
"That's… thank you for helping make this transition and decision easier!" Jared said gratefully. "I'd hate to think what would have happened if I'd bonded with one of those feral lizard creatures that attacked me in the tunnel where I found you."
They would have become more like a pet than a companion as they lack intelligence.
"Ugh," grunted Jared. He had lucked out big time when he grabbed Scarlet on his way out of the tunnel. At least, until they met her mother. He could still end up being a dragon snack. If this were a game, his luck stat would have been screaming with abuse. He doubted there are any stronger or more intelligence creatures than dragons. Then again, he didn't know dragons existed until now.
"Scarlet, based on what I see here in the descriptions and the percentage bars, I can only assign the nanites I already have?"
Yes, and you cannot exceed one-hundred percent allocation for the nanites. As you absorb nanites from other creatures, your total allocation will increase. This allows you to assign nanites to more augments or enhancements. Beware, every change you make is permanent, so choose which areas to improve carefully.
The decision to assign the nanites was huge and Jared thought it would take a while to decide. He needed to think about all the areas to augment that would allow him to survive first. Then he could gain more nanites by taking down infected creatures. Since the choice was permanent, he needed to ensure he chose well.
"Scarlet, do certain creatures hold more nanites than others?"
Yes, often the more powerful and smarter creatures have more nanites to absorb since they hunt and eat other infected creatures, and even humans.
They needed to start small and work their way up to the top of the food chain to grow stronger. He allocated the nanites so it would enhance his physical abilities and senses to increase his survival chances. Areas like intelligence enhancement, hyper cognition, and physical augmentation could come later. The nanite assignment looked like:
- Physical Enhancement
- Strength - 30%
- Reflex - 20%
- Muscle Mass - 20%
- Speed - 10%
- Brain Augmentation
- Enhanced Senses - 10%
- Perception - 10%
"Maybe I should increase speed and endurance some," mused Jared. In the end, he decided that he survived the last two years without any enhancements and left them alone. The little boost he would get from these changes should be sufficient for now. He moved the sliders around to match his choices and waited.
"Um, Scarlet? Why is nothing happening? I feel no changes and I got no feedback that the changes happened."
I am preventing the changes from taking place right now. If they were to happen during waking hours, it would render you unconscious due to the intense strain on your physical body. Do you recall the pain you felt when we bonded?
"Uh yes, of course, that was the worst pain I've felt in my life," Jared said and cringed at the memory
The process the nanites used to change your body and mind are the same and you will feel the same agony once again. Waiting until a sleep cycle, I can assist in the process and dull the pain if you are unconscious. You will still feel the after effects of the changes.
"Thank you!” Jared said wholeheartedly, “I never want to experience that kind of pain again. It felt like my entire body was on fire and something was digging around inside my brain with a knife."
I too felt pain from the changes, but I can separate my mind from the pain so it doesn't incapacitate me. With time, you should be able to do the same.
It was time to dive into the enhancements for Scarlet. She already had the telepathy ability, but she could use increases in the physical realm. Right now, she stood a foot high and three feet long. She had razor sharp claws and teeth and a barbed tail. Almost as if it were fate, Jared's little dragon companion was a deep, blood-red color to match the name of the deceased explorer. Jared ignored it before, but he asked now.
"Scarlet? Why did you choose the name of the explorer as your own?"
Through the nanite absorption process, I gained some of her memories and personality. My mother gave me my dragon name, Sildrainen Maildrel, five-hundred years ago, but I have chosen to use Scarlet. It seems more appropriate now since I am bonded with a human.
"Sildrainen Maildrel, that is a cool name. What does it mean?"
It is difficult to explain, but it means "firstborn of the fire dragons, firstborn of the fierce and powerful dragon queen." It is hard to translate it into words as its more of an impression that other dragons would understand. The impression shows my heritage and the nature of my mother.
"You are dragon royalty?"
Not in the human sense of royalty. Each type of dragon has a queen. My mother is the queen of fire dragons.
"So... when did you say we need to meet your mother?" Jared asked with a note of fear in his voice.
We need to see her within the next few days. She will leave this world and I must be by her side to absorb her essence and keep her memories alive. Do not fear, she will not harm you.
Jared felt sad for Scarlet, but she seemed at peace about everything. Scarlet's mother knew she would pass on after Scarlet hatched.
"I wish I'd known when my mother would die; there's so much I would do differently," Jared spoke his thoughts out loud. When she had died, it was unexpected, and he assumed that doctors in the cities could heal her.
Without delaying further, Jared pulled up the status screen for Scarlet.
"It looks like our options are very similar; that should make the choices easier."
Yes, we have the same nanites so the only differences that should exist are major physiological differences such as my ability to breathe fire and the fact I have scales.
"Why are your Mind options different? You have 'enhancements' and a smaller number of areas to improve."
A dragon’s brain develops to capacity before hatching. Dragons also have an eidetic memory and can use telepathy to its fullest capacity.
“Scarlet, you understand these nanites better than me, where do you think I should assign the nanites you already have?”
I will receive a significant boost to my nanites once I have absorbed my mother’s. Right now, the amount is negligible, but physical enhancements will provide the most immediate benefit.
Jared appraised the enhancement areas, read descriptions, and decided on allocations with the help of Scarlet.
- Physical Augmentation
- Muscle Mass - 25%
- Body Manipulation - 25%
- Physical Defense/Attack - 50%
- Skin Hardening - 10%
- Scale Hardening - 15%
- Bone Hardening - 10%
- Fire Breathing - 15%
“Okay, I allocated everything into Physical Augmentation. You are a bit snack sized for a majority of the creatures out there," Jared said with a smile. "I also increased 'fire breathing'. Can you breathe fire right now?"
I can only breathe a tiny spark as it takes time for my fire glands to mature. With the amount of nanites you designated, I should be able to breathe a small trickle of flame, not much use in an attack until it gets stronger and I grow.
Jared finished going over both of their status windows. "I wonder where the ability options are? Didn't the nutty professor say something about gaining traits or abilities?" Jared muttered to himself.
"Scarlet, do you have any abilities?"
I have a psionic ability as part of my dragon heritage. I can use the attack for temporary stuns or disorienting creatures. As I mature, the attack will become stronger, but nanites cannot enhance it like my physical body and mind, Replied Scarlet.
"What about me? Can I gain abilities too?"
I do not know how assimilating traits and abilities will affect us. The nanites we share are familiar but I won't be able to analyze others until absorbed.
"How about your ability? Can I learn the psionic attack?"
The psionic attack is specific to dragons or creatures born with an affinity for telepathy. Based on my understanding of the nanites it seems possible to mimic the psionic attack using nanites. You will need to gain a greater control over the nanites before you are able to use them for any type of ability.
"Decisions, decisions...," Jared said quietly. He'd made the initial choices that would impact him and Scarlet for the rest of their lives. "I hope they were the right choices." He whispered. His first goal was survival, then they could work on getting stronger and enhancing other aspects of their Body and Mind.
"Physical enhancements will make me stronger and faster. I'll have enhanced senses and perception to know when danger is around and..." Jared talked through all of his choices to assure himself. Meanwhile, Scarlet sat there and stared at him.
"All right, all right...let's go see your mother."
Jared removed the barricade from his temporary shelter and stepped outside to stretch when he felt something breath down his neck. He froze. Stay inside!, Jared yelled mentally at Scarlet. She didn't seem to care as she slithered out of the room. She scampered around Jared and made a mewling noise.
"Dang," Jared thought, "Scarlet's mother..."