Saturday, 22 September 2012
"There you go, my pretty," muttered Gladys under her breath, pouring half of her can of Prozacade into her dragonette's water dish. The dragonette, a slim pink dragon as long as Glady's arm, watched her from what it considered a safe distance, waiting until she'd moved away from the dish before it came over to see what had changed. Its long black toenails clicked on the parquet floor, and its tail swayed gently from side to side behind it – not an indication of friendliness, but just a means of staying stable – until it was close enough to sniff the contents of the dish. Huge nostrils flared until they were as large as its eyes, which, like an anime character's, were too big for its head. It tilted its head this way and that, and eventually decided that what was in the dish smelled fine. It dipped its head and lapped up the Prozacade.
"Gladys?" The voice behind her was soft, caring, and sounded a little tired. Gladys's back still snapped ramrod straight and she froze as though she'd been caught hacking the nursing home's computers again. "Gladys, what are you doing?"
"Feeding Lulu," she said. She turned round to face Dr. Elizabeth, a middle-aged woman with horn-rimmed spectacles and a permanent clipboard held defensively at chest height. Dr. Elizabeth's eyes moved down until they were focused on the can of Prozacade. "Lulu likes it!"
"I expect she does," said Dr. Elizabeth. The clipboard lowered and she took a pen from its attachment point on the side. She looked Gladys in the eyes again. "You used to work for BioPets didn't you? Which is how come you have a dragonette, in fact."
Gladys said nothing, waiting for Dr. Elizabeth to reach her conclusions and go.
"Come on Gladys, you can talk to me. Dragonettes: theyr'e gengineered pets aren't they?"
"Well of course," said Gladys, irritation forcing her to speak. "They're not natural, are they? Or do you have a bunch of them frolicking at the bottom of your garden?"
"That would be nice," said Dr. Elizabeth, a smile brightening her face. Gladys thought that she still looked like someone's mother. "How much are they fetching on the open market at the moment? More than my annual salary, I expect." Gladys nodded, unwilling to provide numbers, though she knew them all down to the decimals. "No, they're not natural, and they're expensive and hard to come by even if you have the money. And yet here you are, feeding your dragonette your Prozacade instead of drinking it." Gladys could almost hear "like a good girl" at the end of that sentence. "Why?"
"It likes it," said Gladys. She stuck her chin out unconsciously.
"Yes, yes," said Dr. Elizabeth, writing something on her clipboard. Gladys found herself curious as to what was being written, but the clipboard was angled just out of her view. "But you wouldn't give it something it liked if you thought you were risking its life, would you?"
"Maybe," said Gladys, though she knew she'd not do anything to harm Melchior, her dragonette.
"Maybe," said Dr. Elizabeth, writing on the clipboard again. She was writing for too long to have just written Gladys's answer down though. "Maybe." There was a pause, and then, just when Gladys was hoping that the conversation was over, "You used to work for BioPets, didn't you?"
Gladys stayed quiet again.
"Well, let me answer that for you," said Dr. Elizabeth. "It's here on your chart. You did, you were at various points the Dragonette Lead Researcher, the Technical Director for Reptilian Research, Head of Dragonette development, Vice President for Reptiles and Ophidians, and Medical Officer for Xenospecies. It's a very impressive CV, and it suggests to me that you know exactly what Prozacade will do to a dragonette."
"Make it cheerful?" said Gladys. She was slightly stunned that all her significant job titles were on her chart – this was just a nursing home after all, for people like her who considered children a nuisance rather than a life-insurance policy – and a little puzzled that Dr. Elizabeth was paying any attention to them.
"Hah, wouldn't that be a surprise?" said Dr. Elizabeth. "Those things seem to be permanently grumpy unless they're with they're owner."
"They're territorial," said Gladys feeling a little awkward. "They're quick to identify competition."
"I think," said Dr. Elizabeth, looking at the dragonette appraisingly, "that Prozacade probably opens up some extra branch of coding inside the dragonette. I think that you did it deliberately; some little trick that you kept secret and took away with you, so that when you got bored with retirement you'd be able to use it to go back to work. It won't work Gladys, you're simply too old now."
Melchior the dragonette stretched, feeling a little odd. Its brain felt like it was fizzing and bubbling, as though there was a really big, important thought coming.
"I don't want to go back" said Gladys. "There was always too much work and too few people." Dr. Elizabth looked perplexed.
"Then what...?" she asked, just as Melchior opened its mouth, belched, and blew a ball of fire in front of him to crash against the wall and burn up the wallpaper.
Gladys turned to Dr. Elizabeth, who was staring wildly at the dragonette. "I just want to take out an insurance policy."