This is an original piece of fiction meant for entertainment purposes only.

..Here There Be Dragons!

By LJ58

"Don't move," the voice ordered her even as she turned at the sound of something crashing through the dark underbrush of the alien forest.

Commander Alice Summers froze, knowing the sound of that peculiar voice came from above her, so couldn't have been whomever, or whatever was now stomping through the forest not far from her position.

"Not a muscle, offworlder," the voice rasped in a low, wary tone.

Offworlder?

The word both confused, and excited her. Still, she kept as still as she could as her already straining eyes searched the darkness around her. She'd been caught out away from the ship by the sudden dusk on this alien world, and had been investigating the alien flora and fauna of this potential colony when the dusk became an even more abrupt night. Neither of which she had noticed until too late, and was well and truly lost in the thick, twisting maze of foliage without visible markers to guide her back to her ship.

"Good," the voice above her hissed a bit smugly in her ears as it added, "You are relatively intelligent.

"Now, do not question, just obey. Throw your lighting device as far from you as you can.

"Quickly," the voice took on an urgency echoed in her own mind as the heavy crashing grew ever closer to her position.

Alice swallowed, and thanked God she used to be a bit of an amateur athlete as she considered the meager light of her flickering beam. Then she threw the aluminum-cased light as far as she could into the shadows, watching as its beam cast eerier shadows among those already surrounded her. Even as it flew end-over-end into the forest, the mysterious source of the crashing and stomping sped off in the direction of the flashlight.

"Stay very still now," the voice above her warned, sounding much closer to her. "The sharlym is stupid, but not deaf. It is still very dangerous."

What was a sharlym she wondered even as she glanced up at the stand of trees surrounding her, wondering what was up there. Wondering who, or what was speaking to her. And in such perfect, if heavily accented English, too.

"Who are you," she whispered up into the darkness after a long silence passed following the last fading sounds of the stomping creature that had passed her by. Even as she looked up, she caught sight of the first light source she had seen that evening as twin moons began to crest the obscured horizon, to almost blind her blinking, blue eyes with their startling brilliance.

In turn, amber eyes overhead blinked as something very large shifted its perch on the nearest branch to the ground, just nine feet over her head. "A friend," the voice finally replied as the shadow remained still after that brief movement, hiding any other discoveries she might have made. "If you prove yourself worthy."

"We come here in peace," Alice told the creature that was obviously intelligent, and knew something of space travelers if it knew English. "We are scientists."

"Scientists," the speaker hissed, his echoing tone more an oath of disdain, than not. "Pillagers, more like. You come to cut our world apart, making it more fit for your own kind. I have seen this before."

"No," Alice protested. "We are travelers. We try to live in harmony with those we find. We don't…." "Such an innocent," the unseen speaker cut her off. "Or are you simply blind?" "I….I prefer to think I am neither," she huffed, her voice rising indignantly.

"Be still," the voice cautioned her anew with a soft, sibilant hissing. "The sharlym is not so far away it cannot hear you."

"I'm sorry," she sighed, shaking her head at the shadow, trying to resist projecting images upon its featureless silhouette. "Listen, to you think you could point me back to my shuttle since you seem to know about us anyway?"

"You are a female of your species," the shadowed sentient questioned her then in an odd tone. "Are you not?" "Yes," she answered slowly. "I'm Commander Alice Summers. A biologist, and chief of science on the….."

"Ahhh," the voice above murmured strangely. "Ahlesso in our tongue is the word for light and life. Surely this is an omen." "So," she muttered. "You don't naturally speak English?" "Of course not," the hissing voice snorted now. "I am Draconian. I speak the old tongue, as do all my people."

"Draconian?" "Its as close as your tongue allows me to approximate," he told her in that smug tone.

"I see. Well, can you…help me?"

"Possibly," the speaker finally replied. "Your name presents a powerful omen, one that is difficult to ignore. Still, there are other considerations."

"Such as," she asked quietly, fighting to restrain her temper.

"Tell me this. How many females are on board your sky ship?" "About…." She paused, wondering at the need for such a question. "Why do you wish to know," she asked, giving voice to her doubt.

The voice above her head chuckled softly in its sibilant fashion. "Because, little one. Experience has taught us that humanoids with few women are invariably warriors. Humanoids that travel with mates are usually prove more….agreeable."

"Oh. Well. I told you we came in peace. There are about a hundred and twenty of us. Women, that is. But that is counting the women up on the starship in orbit."

"Starship," the voice murmured thoughtfully.

"Yes. We are only a survey shuttle. There are only about thirty of us on that ship. About twelve of us are females."

"So, then, you would number about two hundred plus then in total?" "Closer to three hundred and eighty," she told him.

"Ah. More males than females. Do you have children in your sky….starship, then?" "You seem to know something of space travel," she noted. "What do you think."

The voice chuckled. "I think you would be wary of taxing your rations."

"So you do know the vulgarities of interstellar travel," she realized. "Are your people capable of star travel, too?" Again the chuckle. "Naturally. It is how we arrived her from our own homeworld when it was invaded by deadly conquerors."

"Then….you could leave if you wished?" "If. We were considering seeking out a viable colony or two of our own when you arrived. The sharlym make like difficult here, to say the least."

"What are they," she asked, recalling that loud, thunderous crashing earlier that seemed to have passed them by now.

"Imagine a terrestrial elephant with armor plating, and a carnivore's appetite."

"Oh," she choked, putting the imagery together. "Oh," she paled, thinking of just how close those heavy steps had come to her earlier. And then she thought of something else.

"How do you know of terran elephants," she asked warily in almost the same breath, still trying to make out some shape, or feature in the shadowed sentient overhead that kept carefully to the shadows despite the rising moons that now lit the forest.

"We know of many things. Many races. Many worlds. We have been explorers since exiled from our home. There is much we could share with you. Much we have learned. Much we have seen."

"Oh. Well, I….I should thank you," she realized then. "You did help me."

"No thanks are necessary," the voice chuckled. "Now, lift up your hands."

"What?"

"I wish to lift you off the ground. Traveling on the ground is a sure and certain way to draw every pred in the forest after you. Especially the sharlym. Now, raise your hands."

Feeling a little foolish, and a bit excited, Alice lifted her hands into the darkness below that hulking silhouette. So far, she had still yet to make out any real features but the gleaming, amber of the creature's eyes. Yet it was sentient, had a sense of humor, after a fashion, and obviously knew much more than she did of this world. So she raised her hands, and even stretched up on her toes just in case.

Her effort was unnecessary. She felt powerful hands curl around her wrists with ease, and felt only three thick fingers, and a stiff thumb-like digit. The skin was smooth, cool, but heavily calloused. She felt herself drawn up into the trees with ease, and then pulled tight against a warm, muscular chest that seemed as smooth, and unyielding as the tough flesh of those palms. And it was a very male chest. She knew that once, for there was no doubting the shape and nature of the bulge that was now pressing against the groin of her own jumpsuit.

"Ah, getting a little overly friendly, aren't we," she asked uncertainly as she felt the creatures arms shift to hold her tightly to his chest as she felt the massive body before her shift on the branch. If she had to guess, she would have put at close to nine, maybe even ten foot. He was obviously very strong, and he handled her weight as if she were no more than a child to him as he kept her where he had settled her against his body.

"It is time to leave the ground, female," he murmured, his voice taking on that hissing rasp as she heard of the snap of leathery folds opening that proved to be huge wings that spread out from behind his broad body.

"What? Oh, my God," she shrieked as the huge wings unfurled, and with a sudden leap into the air, the wings propelled them up into the night air over the forest with only a few powerful flaps. In seconds, they were high over the forest, and miles from where she had been. In that same moment, the still mostly unseen creature's hands proved themselves versatile as one held her easily in place while the other tore her uniform off with unflattering ease.

"What are you doing," she screamed indignantly even as she watched pieces of her garments and equipment fall away beneath them. The excitement of meeting a new sentient was quickly being lost in her rising fear as he carried her from where she knew her comrades still awaited her.

"Mating," the creature replied too casually even as she felt her now bared legs parted against the alien's warm, strangely textured flesh. "You could well be the salvation of our species. I must know before we proceed with further contact with your kind."

Alison screamed again as they soared ever higher into the air while the creature now simultaneously lifted and sheeted her now completely naked body in his arms. At the speed they were traveling, there was no way of knowing where her shredded uniform and gear had fallen. A moment later she forgot all such considerations as she felt the searing stretch of her body as he pressed her down to meet his questing shaft.

"Let me go," she screamed too late as she felt the tapered end of his shaft sliding inside her vulnerable sheath. He was incredibly thick, and she felt herself being forced open wider than she had even been as he lowered her onto his hard organ. Not even Ben, her longtime lover on this journey, was this large.

Strangely, he did not thrust at her as she expected. He simply forced her down on his rampant shaft, then held her in place. She held her breath, waiting after he had fully and firmly lodged her atop his sex, fully expecting to be savaged by this powerful creature. Only the rhythmic pounding never began. She slowly let her breath hiss from between clenched teeth as she stared at the hard, shadowed torso which was all she could see. As she did, another long moment passed before she finally understood.

If the creature had not been holding her so tightly just then, she would have curled up against the sheer agony of his pulsing seed she actually felt pumping into her body with searing intensity. She tried moving enough to know that her struggles were in vain, though. She was being held in place by more than just his powerful arms. Something inside her, something from him, now kept his phallus lodged securely in her belly as his seed flooded her womb. There was simply nothing she could do about it as the alien's searing fluids poured into her body.

She moaned and shrieked as they continued to fly high over the trackless forest, every cell in her body lit with a pain that was only slowly beginning to fade, fueling a growing pleasure that burned deep within her body. She had never felt anything even remotely similar to the heat now beginning to pulse within her violated body. It was as if every nerve in her entire body had been lit up, and forced to throb in unison with each pulsing flow of the creature's alien seed.

She heard, more than saw his wings abruptly folding in partially after what seemed an endless flight over the dark expanses below, and he angled them downwards he carried them into a slow descent before he stretched out his powerful legs to absorb the impact of their unexpected landing. She barely felt the jolt of touching down on the hard, rocky ground that now surrounded her, but she managed to refocus on the world around her as she blinked away the tears forced form her as much by the co-mingling sensations yet stirring within her as much as by the wind that had whipped past them in their swift flight. She blinked again, and noted they were standing near the edge of a plateau, and far below that edge was the dark carpet of the forest they had left behind. It seemed endless. Trackless. She had no idea where she could even begin searching out her comrades even if she could escape. Presupposing she even get off this high plateau. Even as she thought of that, she realized only then she was no longer joined to the towering creature that had just sit her down as if she were but a child.

Then, of course, she recalled the little matter of her nudity.

A sharp, hissing blending into a feral snarl had her snapping her head around as her captor turned to face the threat, responding in kind. For the first time she got a clear look at the Draconian species. Until now she had been mostly blinded by tears, wind, and darkness. Also, she had had her face held firmly against the creature's chest all this time as well. Now, she had an unobscured sight of another sentient like the one still holding her atop the moonlit plateau. Still, she couldn't even bring herself to gasp as she stared at the big creature glaring back at her as she unconsciously backed toward the one that had abducted her in the first place.

They were dragons! Real, literal, ten foot tall dragons with long tails, real wings, and huge, amber eyes that glowed with secret knowing. And like her rapist, this one was very obviously male. The pair were standing there hissing and snarling at one another as she looked back and forth between them, and she cringed as the second finally came closer, sniffing at her as if he were considering whether or not she might make a tasty snack. Even as she looked up into the eerie, amber eyes inspecting her, the darker creature's head cocked slightly and he seemed to smile as he made a rustling hiss of sound that sounded like a growl again.

Again, her abductor replied in kind.

"Since you're likely speaking of me," she snapped peevishly for lack of anything else within her power to do in reaction, "Would you mind at least speaking so that I can understand you?" "You are right," the other dragon drawled in a mocking tone she understood all too well, having heard enough of that tone from her abductor. Even if she couldn't understand the language, she understood enough to recognize the tone as the other added, "She is female."

"Yes," the reddish creature that had claimed her agreed as he smirked at the way she had unconsciously retreated toward him when she had shied from his companion. "And by the daystar's rise, we shall know if she can hold our young. If so, she will be but the first of our brood mothers. Our race shall prosper once again."

"The off worlds will be armed," the other remarked. "They will not wish to yield their females," his brother pointed out.

"They will not know of us until too late. I passed a sharlym pack earlier. One of them almost found this foolish creature, but I managed to save her. We shall run the pack toward their sky ship, and with luck, the brutes shall damage it enough to draw the others this female said that still orbit above. Even if they do not come, or the sky ship is not seriously damaged, we will use the cover of the pack's charge to ensure that they are unable to launch again.

"This will ensure the others must come down. If we act carefully, we shall have even more females than are present on the small sky ship already here. We shall be able to increase our numbers through the use of their wombs."

"If this one proves fertile," the other hissed, cocking his head at her as if continued to inspect the small, helpless creature made entirely of soft flesh. She didn't have a single scale on her entire body. "She does seem….reasonably intelligent."

"They obviously have some wit. They have crossed the stars to reach us. I saw their sky ship land. It looked quite formidable. They are cautious, but they are obviously bold to have come this far. Nevertheless, I feel the plan will work."

"Then, brother, I pray to the Maker that this female will host your first egg soon."

"By daystar's rise," the reddish dragon nodded to his companion. "We shall know," he agreed as he glanced down at the female still eyeing them both with wide, wary eyes.

"Are you still talking about me," she demanded in what sounded like a screech to them, her eyes obviously as furious as they were fearful.

"She has spirit," the second dragon finally chuckled, reaching out to touch her cheek with a tapered claw that adorned the long finger that brushed her skin.

Alice froze, her eyes locked on that long, forenail she viewed as a vicious claw. "Yes," the other agreed again. "I like spirit," he grinned, eyeing her slightly rounded abdomen, and imagining his seed already taking root in her alien womb. He would know soon enough, of course. She might yet reject his life, but he felt the omen her name and presence intimated were powerful enough to assure him of success. He knew that soon, he and his few surviving brothers would once more be spawning eggs to replenish their dying race. All thanks to this tiny creature, and her sisters.

X

"I found her belt, and her beacon. Just no sign of her," Lt. Ben Tate rasped as he held that latter object in one hand as he spoke into his communicator held in the other hand.

"You found nothing else?"

"Not a sign of her, captain," another man in the rescue party spoke up to be heard over the frequency. "But we have caught glimpses of some pretty ugly bruisers. Look like horned elephants, with lots of teeth. You had better increase security, and keep an eye on our perimeter."

"Yes," Ben agreed. "I was about to suggest that, too."

"Maybe we should also consider moving everyone back inside the shuttle at night, too," the voice on the other end of the communicator suggested.

"Might not be a bad idea. Just because we had no trouble last night, doesn't mean it won't come. Especially if Alice's disappearance is any indication," Ben agreed.

Lt. Owens came up beside the two men just then, her green eyes dark with grief. Allie had been her best friend, and they had signed up for this exploratory run together. "What do we do if those things do get close to the ship. Even our standard security shields might have trouble holding those things at bay?" Ben noted the way the young woman's eyes were moving around. She was even more afraid they might yet draw one of them after them while they were still in the forest. It was something to consider, but he had other things on his mind.

"Any ideas, Ben," the captain asked.

"One, but you're not going to like it," he told his superior.

"Spit it out. I know you're not bashful," the man in charge of the landing party snorted.

"I know we can't find a trace of the commander, sir, but I don't think those things got her."

There was a tense silence over the link for a short time, and then the captain spoke up. "So, what are you suggesting, lieutenant?" "I'm suggesting we're not alone, sir," Ben said tautly, his voice thick with emotion. Everyone knew Alice was his lover, and that they had been growing pretty serious of late. Serious enough to have been discussing a request for bonding papers. "I think Alice was taken, sir."

"Taken," the captain echoed, his voice tight with alarm. They knew they weren't alone in the galaxy, but so far, the few life forms they found on a par with them technologically were usually willing to get along peacefully enough. It was the uncivilized races they had to be wary of when landing on their worlds. "Our mother ship's scans indicated this was a class two planet. No indigenous life other than the usual low-level flora and fauna."

"Captain, I inspected Alice's equipment belt myself. It looks…sliced open. Maybe by a claw, but by something at least as sharp as a knife."

"I see."

"Sir, those big creatures couldn't have had the finesse to do something like that. They damned sure wouldn't have had the patience, or reason to bother. They could just about swallow one of us whole."

"I see," the captain said in a low murmur. "Ben, bring your team back. No sense in risking more lives," he added even as the very air began to echo with thunder.

"Oh, shit," one of the search and rescue team shouted, pointing toward a nearby stand of trees that were visibly swaying through the foliage. "They're moving," the man shouted as he all but threw his scanner aside, looking around for some form of sanctuary. "They're coming right at us," he shouted as the muted thunder turned to a deafening rumble as more than two dozen of the huge, lumbering, but deadly beasts came charging right into the glade where they had stopped to rest.

"Scatter," Pat Evans was shouting at her companions even as Ben shoved the woman near him toward a tree. "Climb," he shouted as he raced for a tree himself. Most of the team, he noted, had already gotten the idea. Even as he clambered into one of the alien trees, he spotted several of his teammates already clinging to branches high over the ground.

The brutes gave cries that sounded like sonic blasts as their thunderous footsteps deafened everyone as they passed through the glen, knocking some trees aside, and smashing several to the ground. Ben could only pray none of the trees he and his people were using were damaged as he felt his sanctuary sway dangerously as one of the horned monsters plodded past at a fast clip. He continued to cling to the trunk of the now leaning tree as he watched the last of the beasts disappear into the near distance, unwilling to risk moving just yet as they still had no way of knowing what drew those things.

Or what had set them off.

By the time the last one was gone, and they regrouped on the ground, Ben found two of his team missing. On the ground were small bits of shredded cloth and smashed equipment they had carried. There was no other sign of the two women.

"Those things got Pat, and Mary," an ensign remarked dully as he studied the other nine team members gathered around the potentially grizzly find.

Ben was no a scientist. He was a warrior. A security agent, and a damned good scout. He looked at the bits of cloth and rubble that had once been viable equipment, and glared at his people. "Bullshit," he told them.

"What," someone remarked.

"I should have seen it. I almost did, but now….now I know for sure. William," he turned to a junior officer. How big would you say those brutes average?" "I don't know, lieutenant. Maybe…five, or even six thousand pounds. They are pretty damn big."

"Right. With some pretty damn big feet. Not to mention strides that match."

The men around him nodded.

He held up Allie's belt. "Then tell me how one of those things, big and clumsy as they seem, could have so carefully sliced through a synthiband belt without cutting into flesh. Because, gentlemen, notice that there isn't a drop of blood on this.

"Or on any of the ladies' uniforms left behind there," he pointed at the scraps of cloth that had been on their teammates' just moments ago.

"Something out there, something we've missed, took the women. And they're trying to make it seem the big boys killed them."

"I'll be damned," William muttered as he squatted down to poke at the dusty scraps of cloth. True enough, there wasn't a trace of blood anywhere. "Then…there must be intelligent life on this rock. Sentients of some sort, and they want our women."

"The only question," the ensign voiced when no one else did. "Is why."

"Not for meat, Ivan," Ben told him, knowing of the young man's background back on old Earth. "If they were cannibals, they would have taken us all. Or, at least, the larger of us. The women wouldn't make a decent meal for a starving man in that respect.

"No, they must have some other agenda in mind."

"I have to agree," William nodded as he rose from where he had been inspecting the ground. "They specifically targeted the women. Only the women. They must have some kind of superior skill, or even tech, that is letting them slip around without getting even a clue as to their presence."

"And right in the middle of a stampede," Ivan shivered.

"Which I'm betting they caused," Ben said as several others nodded.

"So, what do we do," Frank asked Ben.

Ben stared around at the now silent forest. He studied the crush brush, and the large prints pressed into the soft ground. "First, we get back and get us some serious weaponry. Then, we make sure the captain has our people adequately defended while we go and find our missing women," he spat.

Not one man argued with him.

X

Far off, and high overhead, the two missing women screamed in fear and horror as they were carried off by two of the more than fifty circling dragons that filled the sky around them. Just as they had screamed at the very moment of their abduction only moments ago, but with the charing, thundering beasts filling the air with sound, no one even heard them as they were literally carried away right under the noses of their companions. Or over their heads, to be more precise. Not one of their teammates had even seen, or heard them as they were abducted by the strange creatures that methodically stripped them of everything they wore even as they flew back into the skies to join their companions.

It was after that, that Patricia Owens realized that these things might just have taken Allie, just as Ben had predicted. Even as she wondered what they wanted with them, she was ruthlessly shifted in her abductor's arms, and forced to face the pale, strangely warm body of the thing that then pressed her smaller body down toward it's waiting phallus. She kicked and screamed, heedless of her danger as she and her kidnapper circled the forest hundreds of feet in the air, but it was a futile struggle. She was pressed relentlessly downward, her body violated with little of the warmth, or care of lovemaking she experienced at her few lover's hands. This monstrous creature simply impaled her upon his shaft, then held her there as something began to surge up and out of him, burning her very womb as it filled her with its alien fluids.

Nearby, she heard Mary screaming as she, too writhed in her brutal rapist's arms, and Pat found herself wondering if they might yet be killed even as the searing pain began to ebb, and her body jerked spasmodically as if surprised by the slowly rising tide of pleasure beginning to warm her bare flesh. Even as she moaned in surrender, clutching at the scaled demon that had stolen her from her own kind, the dragons turned as one, and began to fly toward a distant mountain peak. Patricia never noticed. Not for a very long time.

X

"So, they want our women," the captain asked with a frown as he met Ben when he led his team out of the forest toward the now secured shuttle, the base camp looking oddly desolate since those that had been out studying the planet for possible colonization were now locked up safely inside in case they had to make an emergency launch.

"It is the only solution that fit's the facts," Ben told the other man as he nudged the recovered pieces of clothing and gear on the table in the ship's mess, the only room big enough for a meeting other than the sickbay, which was currently filled with his people getting checked over for various cuts and gashes after their mad dash for safety.

"Look, Lt. Tate," Randy Voles sighed. "I know you care about Allie. I know you'd like to find her, but hell, you said yourself….."

"Captain, those things could just about swallow us whole, just like I said. But like I said, they don't have the skill to so carefully slice off equipment belts and clothing. They wouldn't bother, now would they?

"Something else is at work here. Something….sentient."

"Ben, we've surveyed over two hundred planets within this quadrant alone. Not one of them showed any signs of sentient life. Not on any level. The starship's own scanners indicated nothing on this planet that would fit your intimated threat level.

"There is nothing out there but primitive life forms. Animals. A few oddities, perhaps, but nothing sentient. We have seen no indication of cities, or tech on any level. I think…."

"Nothing we've found yet, true," Ben cut the man off. "But what about those mountains west of here. They're twice the size of the Rockies back on Earth. They could be hiding underground, and we wouldn't have a clue if an entire civilization was down there right under our feet."

"Now you're pushing it," Randy shook his head.

"I want heavy arms," Ben spat. "And any patrols going out should have bio-scanners, with auto-stasis mines on the perimeter along with our usual sentries."

"You're getting paranoid, lieutenant," Randy told him. "The war is over. This is not Earth. We hardly need heavy weapons to keep a few animals off our hull. Despite what the holovids have shown…."

"Of course," Ben swore, slapping his forehead with an open palm. "The holovids!"

He searched through the equipment before them, and pulled out a small, flat disk the size of his thumb from one of the devices. He gave the research captain a smug look as he took the file disk from their patrol, and then fed it into one of the computer's in the mess hall's public display system. Viding all security teams had been one of his ideas that Captain Voles had tried to override, complaining it was an unnecessary expenditure of resources. "Computer, access file, time reading 2399804 at 1100 hours prime, and display."

The screens nearest them flickered into life, and showed the search team as they first noted the charge of the strange, elephantine beasts that had them scurrying into the nearest trees. Randy ignored the other crew members that drifted over to concentrate on the screens. It was, after all, one thing to hear one of the beasts described. It was quite another to see twenty-odd number of them charging past an active holo-vid scanner.

"My God," Randy rasped as he and several of the others who had not seen the things watched as they pack charged through the glade, ripping up and smashing anything in their way. He watched in horror at the reality of the charge, and the aftermath, shaking his head as he turned away at the end of the file.

"I'm sorry, Ben, but it doesn't show…."

"You've obviously never analyzed a security vid, sir," he told the man with all the respect he could manage, conscious of the audience they had attracted as several crewmembers stayed to watch what was happening.

"Computer," he turned to the screens. "Freeze frame at 2399807."

"Lieutenant," Randy sighed.

"Just be patient, captain," he all but ordered the man as he continued to adjust the view on the screen.

"All right. But what are you trying to…."

"Computer," Ben snapped, cutting the man off as he focused on the screen. "Eliminate all quadrupedal alien life forms from view in this segment."

"Noted, all elephantals eliminated," the computer reported. "Okay, I see your people, but where are…?" Ben glanced back at Randy. He was a good man, but more of a bureaucrat than a real military man. He was good for leading a pack of scientists on these milk runs, but this wasn't one of those times. This apparent milk run had just turned serious, and he didn't have time to placate the civilian's ego.

"All right, computer," he went on after the image cleared of all the elephantine brutes. "Notate and eliminate all human life forms except for Ensign Mary Evans, and Lt. Patricia Owens."

"Noted," the computer replied dutifully as the image blurred briefly, and left only the two women in view, both standing near trees they were about to try scaling as they looked back at the fast-approaching menace behind them. "All male humanoids eliminated."

"Ben," Randy frowned as the security chief remained focused on the pair now left on the screen.

"Good, computer. Now, focus on the remaining humanoids. Progress at standard stop motion until any unaccounted for life forms are detected."

"Ben," Randy growled as the men and women around them began to murmur. By now the usual rumors had been spreading, but even as he spoke, Ben pointed at the screen.

"There," he snapped. "That is what we missed," he barked, pointing toward Pat as she made it into the branches of the tree she had been standing nearest to, and huddled there looking not down, but up. Nearby, Mary was still climbing, but screaming as she, too, shifted her gaze upward. Even as she lifted a free hand as it to ward something off, a dark streak flashed across the holographic image, leaving only the next frame empty, and the women both gone as if they had disappeared.

"What the hell just happened," Randy asked quietly as he watched the same view Ben had been studying a second time with the same results.

"Don't tell me that was a system glitch, captain," Ben swore as he backed up the view on the monitor.

"Computer," Randy instructed the vid-monitor for the first time. "Freeze program, and analyze. Do you detect any additional life forms surrounding the two women?" "Negative," came the shocking reply as the audience gathered around murmured even louder. "No discernible life forms detected by the holo-scans within the perimeters given."

"They're too fast to be scanned," Ben guessed as he studied the blurs now frozen on the screen before them. And there were two. One just out of frame, which Pat was staring toward with wide, frightened eyes even as the second swept down toward Mary Evans.

"Computer," he spoke deliberately as he focused again on the screen. "Reverse six frames previous presentation, and reply at one-fifth stop motion speed."

"Affirmative," the computer replied dutifully as the view blurred again as the orders were carried out, and the women again began scrambling into their selected trees. This time, the streaks that approached the women, while still blurred, were more obviously visible as something real.

"My God," Randy rasped as everyone fell silent as Ben froze the screen on the first, closer image that swooped down about to snatch up Patricia Owens. The fierce scowl of the demonic beast about to grab their companion made the strongest of them pause as Ben's cold gaze turned to the captain.

"Paranoid, captain," Ben asked deliberately as all eyes remained focused on the winged creature reaching out with clawed fingers to grab up Patricia from her perch.

Randy didn't answer him. He turned to the nearest com-panel, and all but hammered the switch as he began to speak. "This is the captain to all hands. This is a full alert. I repeat, this is a full alert. This is not a drill. All security personnel are to report to posts with full armor, and heavy weapons at once. All nonessential personnel are to remain in quarters for the time being.

"Captain Voles, out," he ended helplessly as he glanced over at Ben.

"Now, what," he asked the security chief, fully recognizing he was out of his element.

"We gather everyone so we can brief them. There is no sense in panicking them, after all, and if they know what we're facing, we can more adequately defend ourselves. Meanwhile, I want my people armed as I requested, and you just ordered.

"And we'd better call Captain Carol up on the Sojourner. As the senior captain, and trip commander, he's going to need to be briefed, too."

"Of course," Voles nodded, looking more than a little sick. Ben understood. Unlike most explorers, they were more of a scouting mission for colonists. They weren't looking for sentients, and weren't really prepared to encounter them. They hadn't even expected any, which was why they had been sent in the first place. The apparently uninhabited system looked like a good place to plant colonies from the ever-expanding Earth. Now, they were not only facing sentients of some kind, they were obviously hostile.

X

The shuttle crew's assembly took place just twenty minutes after the alert. By then, six more women had disappeared, all but one of them members of the security team charged with the defense of their ship. All were briefed, armed, and supposedly prepared. All had vanished without even a sound. No indication of any trouble had been given. They simply vanished. The sixth women had been a biologist that had gone out to check on a running experiment. Her guard had been standing not six foot from her. He never saw, or heard anything. All he could report was that one moment the scientist was there, and the next she was not.

"I don't have to tell you, we are under attack, people," Randy told the assembled crew. By then, even the security personnel had fallen back to the ship, especially the remaining females. It was just too hard to fight something you couldn't even see, even when it was right in front of you.

He looked at the men, and remaining four women, and shook his head. "I've contacted the Sojourner, and the senior captain's orders are as follows," he told them grimly.

"We are to make contact at all cost. This planet is too important to lose. If we cannot negotiate with these….creatures, then we will have to confront them with more….forceful means. "And frankly, I don't think we're really up to that kind of conflict," he added as he glanced to a very sullen Ben Tate who was looking ready to shoot anything as he silently mulled over every female lost under his watch. He had no need of asking what Ben thought of those orders. They had already had their own meeting on that development in his cabin.

"All right, as far as analysis of the holovid indicates, we are facing a superiorly aerodynamic creature that has obviously evolved from some form of reptilian life form," Randy went on as the cleaned up image of the winged creatures kidnapping their women. "Dr. Franks," he nodded to their team's xeno-biologist. The only one left after Alice's disappearance.

"Thank you, sir," the older man with thinning gray hair smiled blandly as he turned to face the crew crammed into the small mess never meant to handle the entire compliment at once. He smiled weakly again, then turned to the image projected behind him.

"As the captain indicated, this is a new form of evolution before us. Sleek, aerodynamic, and obviously reptilian. These….well, dragons, are obviously at home in the air, but judging by their size, I believe that Lt. Tate's earlier theory that they must roost in the mountains to be more than probable.

"After all, their speed suggests they must dive from very high altitudes. This necessitates that they have a high launching point to allow for their wingspan, much like the now extinct pterodactyls, or similar winged dinosaurs must have favored high roosts to facilitate their flights. Since such suitable take-off points are going to be rare in the craggier mountains nearest us, I suggest we look for any plateaus, low areas in the mountains, or even possible ledges near caverns as likely starting points in our search."

"One more thing," Ben pointed out as he rose to speak without invitation, his plasma-rifle now a constant presence at his side. "I think the remaining women should be kept inside, under constant watch to prevent their abduction as well."

"That really isn't feasible, lieutenant," Dr. Beth Williams spoke then. "We all still have work to do," the ship's medical doctor reminded him. "And if we just cower and hide in the ship, it'll hide our recent discoveries to these….dragons. Who knows how they might react if we decide to show them a hostile front."

"Hostile," Ben fumed as he faced the older woman with gray just beginning to streak her dark hair. "Listen, doc, you may be operating under one of those cute little cosmic friend theories that everyone loves these days, but the facts are staring us in the face. They took nine of our friends, our women, without so much as a warning. As far as I'm concerned, they've already showed us what they think of us.

"That suggests they don't care if we are hostile, or not. And I sure as hell don't care. I only care about getting our people back.

"Or avenging them, if necessary," he spat. "If, of course, diplomacy breaks down," he added with a sour look at Randy, spitting out the word as if it were a vile taste in his mouth.

"It could simply be their culture and thought processes are so alien that we don't understand….." Ben cut off Dr. Franks' argument. It wasn't the last, however, and the debate continued as the remaining scientists all tried to forward their theories while Ben tried to remind them just what they faced here. Typically, few of them listened. Too many of the eggheads were excited over the possibilities they imagined, rather than the realities they had to face.

X

She was pregnant.

She had no real proof, but there was a growing feeling in her gut that she just couldn't deny. Then, too, there was also the way that big, red-gold jerk kept staring at her stomach with a smugly arrogant smirk that suggested the possibility was all too real. And before long, she had seven other women from the survey shuttle to keep her company, and she was pretty sure every one of them had experienced the same frightening introduction to the Draconians she had. Which meant, she was pretty sure they were all going to end up pregnant, too.

She wondered what a half human, half dragon would even look like as she tried not to think of Ben. And of the rest of the crew on board the Sojourner. The females, that is. For her personal guardian had continued to wheedle information out of her of the starship, and its crew. Especially the females. He seemed oddly pleased to have learned they were from Earth, for apparently the planet was known to him, just as he had claimed. She supposed they could have been some of those aliens supposedly visiting the planet from time-to-time in those fanciful tales from the past. Only why had no one ever described nine foot dragons? It was usually little gray or green men with no resemblance to anything they had ever heard of before.

She sighed as she leaned against a damp wall in the cavern where they were all being held just now. After landing on that narrow plateau near one of the tallest peaks, she had been carried into a maze of tunnels that eventually led here. In time, which she had lost track of in this dim place, more women arrived. They commiserated, but few of them had yet to recover enough to share what had happened to them, let alone to face it. Even as she thought of that agonizing bliss forced upon her, she heard another human voice screaming in fear and panic as yet another woman was led into their chamber.

"Nine," she counted aloud as several of the women turned to stare at her.

The emerald dragon carrying the struggling woman, predictably naked, unceremoniously dropped his burden when he reached the cavern. She glared at the thing as it simply turned to go, ignoring the female that quickly scrambled away from it and the two sentries at the mouth of the cavern to find solace in the silent women that had come before her.

"You overgrown moron," she couldn't stop herself from shouting after the emerald dragon. "We don't have scales. You could have hurt her dropping her like that," she informed him as she moved to help the blonde to her feet as she whimpered while trying to stand.

Alice understood the feelings the young woman was experiencing. She wasn't as brave as the others seemed to think. She had just had more time to acclimate herself to the realities of their situation. "Allie," Pat hissed from nearby. "Don't make them mad."

"I've got their number, and they know it," she snorted as she helped the young botanist over to where the most of them had settled.

"Their number," Pat frowned. "How do we even know if they can understand us," she demanded as the others welcomed Paige Hunter into their small group. The blonde, still shocked by all that she had undoubtedly experienced, especially since her raw, swollen sex was still slick with dragon semen, just sit down and hugged herself, not even looking around.

"They speak English," she told her friend who had been strangely belligerent toward her since her arrival. She put that down to her way of coping. "The one that grabbed me had a very nice, polite conversation with me. Right up until the moment the arrogant lizard kidnapped and raped me," she shouted at the sentries at the mouth of their den.

The two chuckled as they glanced back at her, their amber eyes lit with obvious mirth.

"Y'see? They do understand."

"What do you think they want," Paige asked, speaking for the first time though her blonde head never rose.

Alice glanced down at the woman, wondering just how strong she was at heart. Some of the women had yet to even stop their weeping. A few glowered at her. Only Pat had shown half her spirit, but chose to channel it into arguing wit her. The fact was, she didn't even know the botanist. They had been culled from the mother ship, and didn't all know each other. Only she and Pat were really close. Maybe that was why her friend felt safe in venting her frustration and fears on her.

"Babies," Alice finally decided to reply. She patted her own belly as she spoke, and wondered if it didn't feel just a little firmer than it had before. She patted her belly again.

"Babies," one of the others shrieked, looking truly horrified. "With those…monsters?" "I'm guessing we're genetically compatible," Alice told them as she nodded firmly. "Or we wouldn't even be here."

Pat nodded reluctantly. "I was afraid of that."

"I'm guessing I was some kind of test case," she told her friend as much as the others as Pat sighed heavily before leaning back against the cavern wall as Alice began to pace. "I should have been suspicious when that lizard kept asking about our females, and children, and things like that."

"We are not lizards," her strange mate hissed at her as he appeared in the mouth of the cavern. "We are Draconians. I have told you this," he reminded her with a glint of humor in his oddly expressive eyes.

Alice glanced over her shoulder at the creature that had just entered the cavern. He brought an armfuls of strange fruits and herbs he had been feeding all of them since they their arrival. "Look," she told him plaintively as she turned to confront him. "We are going to need more variety than this if you expect us to survive here. And we certainly can't live in this cold, drafty, old cave."

The dragon's reddish head cocked. "My brothers are right," he commented as he glanced over at the other females who eyed the food, but didn't move. They never did until he stepped away, or departed. "You have an overabundance of spirit."

"Thanks," she muttered.

"That was not a compliment," he replied, every woman there staring at the pair as they absorbed the fact that this dragon was speaking quite plainly.

"Too bad," she snorted in reply. "Because that's the way I see it."

"I do like spirit in the mother of my brood. But too much spirit in a mate is not proper." "So speaks the lizard."

The creature hissed at her in disdain.

She glared at him in turn, showing little of the fear her companions still showed toward their abductors. "Go ahead," she taunted him. "Get mad. Hit me. Beat me up. Tear out my heart. Then where's your precious little baby going to be," she glared at him, one hand held over her belly in an ironic protective gesture.

He shook his head as he looked down at her, his amber eyes glowing in the dimly lit cavern as the sun's light only just reached them at the end of the tunnel. Then he laughed. "Your words are peculiar, but they are logical," he relented.

"We want to go back to our ship," she pointed out, growing bolder when not only didn't she anger the dragon, but neither did he retaliate.

"You ship will not be leaving. Thus, you have no need to go to it."

"What," she gasped, not liking the implications of that one.

"I stated that…." "I heard what you said," she cut him off furiously. "What did you mean by it?" "We require more of your sisters for our race to survive," he told her casually. Almost too casually. "We must draw the others you spoke of from their orbiting sanctuary."

"So, I was right," she murmured, glancing back at her companions as she noted the looks of despair and misery that filled the women's eyes. "You intend to use us for breeding."

"I believe that was made evident the night I chose you as my mate," the dragon shrugged eloquently.

"So, what happened to your females," she asked, hoping that the information might somehow help them.

"We lost them, obviously. Many died in the star crossing from our homeworld. It was a long, and arduous journey. For as you have discovered, worlds capable of hosting life are rare indeed. More died after our arrival, for we had not yet learned of the threat the sharlym posed to us. To any who remained on the ground.

"Unfortunately, our mates could not fly when burdened with the eggs they spawned, and those that tried to defend their nests were easy prey to those ever-hungry monsters. After too short a time, there were all too few of our precious females left to us.

"In truth, the last died but five seasons past. We feared we might be the last generation of our kind. That our race was doomed. That is, until you came to our new world," the gruesome visage smiled. Or she thought he did.

Alice couldn't help but be touched by the tale, but she still didn't like the idea of being so forcibly drafted even to so noble a cause. "Well, look, I really do sympathize with you. But you cannot just go grabbing any….female you see. There might be others that would voluntarily accept your….offer, but some of these women already have….ah, mates. They want their own kind. Their own children."

"Their wants are now irrelevant. They will bear the eggs of our brood. It is inevitable once the spawning has fertilized your wombs."

"We don't bear eggs….genius," she snorted.

"You will now. As all of you will. It is our way."

"But…."

"It is done," the Draconian reminded her with a potent glance that swept over her lower body. The gaze served to remind her she was still as naked as the first day she had arrived in his arms, and she blushed furiously before she shook off the confusing sensations that simple glance created in her.

"Look, how can you even be sure your race will continue as it has been? We're two entirely different species. We are not egg-layers. We're mammalian. You're….I guess, what we would consider reptilian. Our very biologies may well change your….brood, making them an entirely different species."

"An interesting argument, but not likely. You are merely females. Vessels for our eggs. It has every been the way that any compatible female fertilized by one of our kind become so."

"You really have a thick head, don't you," Alice snorted, feeling he wasn't getting the message.

"That wasn't a complement," she added, echoing his earlier words when the creature only grinned again in its fashion.

"Nevertheless, it is true," the dragon smiled, baring very sharp teeth as he did. "My skull is quite thick."

"Oh, boy. You and Ben would love each other," she sighed, rolling her eyes at his attitude.

"This Ben is another female," the dragon asked with a glint of interest in his gleaming eyes.

Pat, who knew Ben well enough, could not help but burst into laughter as Alice simply rolled her eyes again.

"You should be happy," the dragon told them after Pat's laughter faded. "Mating with us will grant you many benefits you might not otherwise know."

"Oh, yes, the bliss of laying lizard's eggs," she snorted.

He only chuckled at her in response.

"You will make a fine brood mother," he informed her with smug superiority.

"Hold on," she called out when he started to turn away. "I was serious about what I said earlier. You can't just leave us in this cave….."

He leaned down, his blunted snout brushing her cheek as he whispered in her ear. "I've no intention of letting you go anywhere, Ahleeso."

She shivered in unaccountable delight as she stared up at him. "Then I'll just have to escape," she told him even though she couldn't even summon the will to consider fulfilling her boast just then.

"Yes, too much spirit," he chuckled as he straightened. "that is your problem," he sighed as he turned to go once more, leaving the fruit and herbs for them behind.

"Hey, lizard," Alice rasped in fury when he reached the mouth of the cavern.

He turned just in time to receive an overripe yellow fruit right between his hooded eyes. "Never call my bluff, you jerk. I don't make empty promises."

He merely stared at her, shaking his head as he casually wiped away the debris of the pulpy fruit from his face. He said something to the two sentries in his own tongue, and the pair shook with laughter as she pondered snatching up another fruit.

"Jerks," she muttered as she reached for one of the greenish fruits she knew by now she preferred. "Okay, back to the important stuff," she said as she turned to the other women while chewing the mouthful she had bitten off from the pear-like fruit. "You're the newest member of our group. Has anyone back at the shuttle figured out what's going on yet?" "Lt. Tate has," Paige admitted as she looked up at Alice as someone handed her a small fruit with a reddish-orange peel like a banana's, though it was more spherical. "He figured it out, and called a meeting with the captain. I heard them arguing, but I was taken before I ever learned what they were planning," she admitted.

"Actually, it was right after the alert was sounded I was taken, so they must know something," she remarked.

"Ben knew we were being taken on purpose," one of the women that had been on the security detail spoke up. "He had us going out in armor, with heavy weapons. For all the good it did," she muttered, realizing how easily she had been taken.

"Ben is sharp," Pat nodded. "He managed to track the creatures that had passed by the camp, and found your….ah, clothes, and things."

"He must have had a holovid on then," Alice nodded, knowing her lover well enough. "He must have found out what's taking us by now."

"Has anyone else spotted them," Pat asked Paige.

"I…I don't think so. They're so…fast," she murmured, focusing her attention on the fruit in her hands.

"I know," Alice nodded agreement. "But if he recovered a holo-remote from the any of the teams, he must have figured out everything by now."

"I was carrying a vid-recorder when I was taken," Mary Evans spoke up then, a quiet, brown-haired girl who had said little since her capture. "I don't know what happened to it, though."

"Ben would have found it," Alice decided. "And that means he would have seen what you saw. He would have seen the dragons. That means he'll be calling the Sojourner. We just don't know what they'll decide. I don't know Captain Carol, but I've heard he's pretty much a by-the-book type."

"Standard protocol would be to try negotiating with native sentient beings for any rights to the lands being occupied," someone remarked in a flat tone.

"Protocol," Pat hissed, venting her own frustration on someone else for once. "That should not be considered since these things are kidnapping and raping us," she spat.

"I don't want to have dragon babies," a young redhead whimpered as she stared at the dusty floor of the cavern where she sat.

"Listen," Alice spoke softly as she glanced around. "I have an idea. Uhm, you guys just finish eating, and cover for me while I go look around."

"What are you going to do," Pat asked.

"You recall my earthside hobby," she asked.

"Oh, yeah, you like to crawl around in caves, and dark holes," she grimaced.

"It's called spelunking, girl," Alice muttered. "And if you knew anything about it, you'd know there's a pretty good draft coming from the back of this cavern. That means there may be another way out. A way we can use to escape it if leads to the outside away from any guards.

"I want to go check it out."

"So, you're going to go exploring?" "Exactly," Alice grinned as she glanced over at the far wall where she had first detected the breeze that shouldn't be there.

She kept an eye on the sentries as she resumed pacing, and gradually made her way to the back wall once more without trying to look deliberate in her actions. The pair never even glanced her way. They were likely there just to keep them in, not to control their behavior. The only times they had been let outside at all was to go relieve themselves, and bathe in a nearby pool they were carried to since it was below the plateau in the forest. Otherwise, they were relegated to the cavern, and left alone.

From what she had been able to tell, Red, as she had nicknamed him, was atypical of his kind in his attention to her. From what she had been able to tell from the others, the dragons apparently just planted their seed, and left the women alone. Only Red seemed to take some kind of perverse delight in visiting her, taunting her, and driving her to distraction every time he did.

She eased along the wall, using her fingers as much as her eyes since the latter weren't that much use in her current environment. A long, narrow crack proved to be the source of the air flow, but it was wide enough for her to slip inside, and it led to a narrow corridor that led into another underground chamber. A huge, rocky cathedral that housed a truly massive ship that looked as if it had barely reached this planet.

The huge, faintly spherical vessel was obviously of alien design, and its dusty hull was battered and warped in places, with gaping holes in some of the panels. The ship could have carried thousands, but she knew she had only counted about fifty of the dragons so far. Fifty-three to be precise. She wondered if the ship had crashed here, but from the look of the cavern, which seemed to have been deliberately carved out, it had been purposely placed here. As if the occupants had been hiding.

From what? Or whom? For it was hard to think of those tall, fierce creatures fearing anyone, or anything. That being in spite of Red's tale of being driven from their homeworld.

She circled the vessel twice, ignoring the damage the rock and sharp stones did her bare flesh as she stumbled through the massive chamber around the ship. A first, quick glance had shown her the chamber, however it was carved to allow this ship in, had been long since sealed afterward. She could find no other way out but the way she had come. Once that was discerned, she turned her attention to the ship itself. Her first quick studies of the vessel hadn't shown her any obvious entry points, but the elongated, silver sphere had several holes in the hull near where the base she could reach. Deciding that since she was already here, she elected to climb inside, and see if there was something inside she might be able to use to help her, and her companions. After all, it was obvious the ship was still functional since it had interior lighting, and the outer hull had been illuminated by faint running lights.

The corridor she clambered into through the egress she had chosen proved to be dusty, and long disused, but as she stood there wrinkling her nose at the musty air, she was relieved no one, or nothing came rushing to confront her.

"Damn," she whistled as she came to the first indication of any quarters in the ship. The ceilings had to be twenty feet high, if an inch. Was that an indication of how large the Draconians grew, she had to wonder.

Searching the rooms and walls as she explored the massive ship, she failed to find anything that might serve as a tool, a weapon, or even a communications device. There wasn't even anything that served as a clue as to the dragon's origin, or history. It was just a large, empty hull judging by what she had found so far. Still, she wasn't one to quit so easily, she climbed to the next level through an open vent shaft, and began exploring it, too.

She was halfway along the second level's corridor when she found it. She stared in horror as she opened the panel and stared at row upon row of large stasis tubes. Many were shattered. Most were empty. Far too many were filled with long dead, desiccated remains that lay limp and broken in the tubes that were meant to save life, but now served only as macabre coffins. There was no doubt that the graying husks, many close to eighteen feet, and crammed into the stasis tubes, were once dragons like her Red.

Her Red, she asked herself as she shook her head, shaking off her bewilderment as she entered to the room to study the tragic scene more closely.

"It is a great tragedy," a voice hissed with ancient sadness as she moved to the first of the tubes. "Is it not, human," the low, husky voice rasped.

She turned and stared. The dragon was a stranger to her. Fifty-four, she mentally updated her count. A very tall fifty-fourth she noted even as she noted the creature's blunted skull brushed the ceiling as he stooped to even fit in the doorway to join her, blocking the hatch that seemed to be the only way out. For this dragon had to be close to twenty feet, if not over, if she was any judge of height. And looking up at that huge reptile was more than unnerving. It was downright terrifying. Yet all the creature did was settle in the door, and drop down to squat before her so he was better able to study her.

"Did….Did they all die in the crash," she asked for want of something to break the silence that fell uncomfortably around her.

Thin lips quirked as the nostrils twitched visibly. "We lost power in mid-flight. Our ship was pounded by celestial rock and ice. Many died. Too many. Mothers. Hatchlings. Young males. So many. We have fought for two of your centuries to keep our race alive once we found this hostile world. We have not had a hatchling in almost three of your decades, though," he sighed, his breath a low, rumbling sound like distant thunder in the enclosed chamber.

"Our lasts female was old, and wounded by the sharlym," he explained when she found herself frowning at that revelation. Red had never really said how they had ended up in such straits. Only that they had.

"I….I really am sorry," she told him, and wondered if this older dragon might not be a potential ally. "But surely you're old and wise enough to know that taking us from our own people….."

The dragon grunted, his lips curving in what passed for smiling with his kind. As Red did, he touched her cheek gently with his foreclaw, but the nail was so much larger than Red's. And it didn't do the things to her that his touch did. "There is an irony in your coming here, human," was all the great dragon told her.

"Irony," she asked, staring at the huge, potentially deadly claw leave her too vulnerable flesh.

"Oh, yes. Would you like to know why? Would you truly like to know all? To truly understand why we would dare so much to have you, and your sisters, despite the risks we must take to keep you."

"I….I think I can understand the need to survive," she murmured quietly, not sure about this entire situation now that she was stuck in this macabre chamber with the giant dragon.

"Ah, but do you understand our great distrust of you humans?" "You….You know about us?"

"We knew you from long ago. And how could we forget? I am just astonished that none of you seem to recall us."

"I….I don't understand. Our races have never met…."

"It has been many generations. Times beyond counting. But we have met. Come, I will show you something you will find of great interest," he assured her as he rose with a fluid grace despite his apparent age, leading the way to the next level, and a huge, squared chamber that was empty as they stepped into it.

"This is where I have spent many of my last years, human. Remembering. Now, I will show you what our race remembers."

"Our homeworld," he gestured, and a truly impressive hologram flared into life that was so perfect she could literally smell the flowers that now blossomed around her feet as the room's boundaries vanished in a panoramic view of a truly idyllic world. It looked like one, huge, endless garden. Not one building marred the scene as far as the eye could see.

And there were dragons everywhere.

"A peaceful world, our home," the old dragon sighed again. "A true paradise. We called it Aklantzaz. Naturally, that is as close as your tongue allows me to approximate."

That might have been true, but as she stared around her rather than at her giant companion, only one word rose in her mind. "Atlantis," she choked out, trying to match it to the word he had spoken.

"Yes, that is what some of the invaders called it, when they came," the dragon nodded sagely.

"Invaders," she asked, looking up at him now.

"This is the moment of their arriving. One of the first to come," he pointed, and she looked up to see a huge, burning sphere streak out of the sky, slamming into a mountainside with titanic force. Men came out. Human men. Taller than the men she knew, but otherwise, no different. They carried weapons that cut down the Draconians without mercy. And they wielded them with ferocious ease.

The men carved out the very hearts of towering mountains, letting the rubble collapse in on itself as they sapped the very life out of the planet around them. Forests were decimated, oceans were harvested of almost all they could offer. Thousands upon thousands of grassy meadows were crushed to build technological monstrosities that sprawled out across the once lush plains. And all of that was augmented by more and more ships that continued to slam down into the hapless planet.

"We never knew why they left their own world. Let alone where it might have been. We only knew they had selected ours as their next conquest. They pillage the very earth itself. They just kept coming, and taking, and killing.

"Then, came the final indignity. They stole our hatchlings. They tried to raise our young as pets. They trained them for their own amusements, or perverse pleasures. That was when the war began in earnest.

"It reached an inevitable ending all too soon. Our once lovely home was ravaged by their technological might, and hunger for more. Their weapons all but exterminated our forefathers. Finally, five thousand of us embarked on a dangerous, and daring plan. We stole several of their sky ships, and left our world behind even as they struggled to survive on the ruined husk they had made of our former paradise. We never knew what became of those we were forced to leave behind. We even lost touch with the other ships that launched with us.

"All we know now, is this world. A world that once more, humans have sought out in their greed for more."

Alice was overwhelmed as she absorbed the ancient history that collided with her own understanding of her race. She recalled mythological legends from long ago, and tried to piece them together with what was being forced into her mind. Strangely enough, she found she couldn't refute a single thing the elder dragon told her. It all carried the ring of truth. It was as if God Himself had just dictated mankind's true history to her.

"There….are no dragons left on Earth," she told him after a long silence as she stared at the charred, barren wasteland the dragon's memory conjured in the holographic chamber to replace the spoiled paradise. Bodies lay heaped about them, and now the stink of death filled the air to replace the softer fragrances of long-dead blooms. "There are legends, but….no one ever took them seriously," she admitted.

"None," the dragon rasped, his huge, amber orbs clouded with grief. "Then…unless the other ships survived, we are truly alone. I had always hoped…..

"Well, one must face reality, despite the heart's preferences to dream otherwise," he smiled in a sad, forlorn way that made her want to weep for him. "The reality is this, human. I am the last elder, the last guardian of my brood. Only fifty-seven hatchlings remain alive on this world. There are no others. None to my knowledge, at least.

"If your races deprives us of brood mothers, we will soon die out completely. My sons will not allow this. And so you and your sisters are being taken. As we will lure your sisters down from the sky, to take them as well."

"Even if you manage that, there are only a few hundred of us," she protested. "How can so few a number do you any good," she asked, though she couldn't help her own sense of mourning for the loss she felt when the hologram faded to leave them once more surrounded by four, sterile walls of unyielding metal.

The dragon gave a snorting chuckle. "Human, you do not understand our ways at all. Has my son not explained to you what will soon come to pass?" "What do you mean," she asked.

"When a male spawns with his chosen mate, he gives her all his seed. For life."

"So….you still only get one egg," she protested.

"No. You will bear an average of one hundred eggs. Perhaps more."

"What," she almost screamed, the sheer number shocking her.

"You will bear one to three each cycle. That is about three years as you count them. Birthing a hatchling is more than laying the egg, however. You will tend those eggs, watching over them, and caring for them until they are able to break free of their birthing egg. After that, the male will tend them, teaching them the ways of our people, and raising them as they should be raised, leaving you to recover until the next cycle is upon you."

"How soon does….does it start again," she asked fearfully, seeing herself trapped in an endless cycle of bearing eggs to Red.

"There is a resting period after the hatchlings are taken from you. Then, when your body senses it is ready, it will once more begin to conceive and the seed now filling you will continue to fertilize new life within you. And so it will go until your full brood is born."

"So….when Red said I was going to be the mother of his brood, that's what he meant," she realized. "He meant….all of them. At once."

"Do not fret, human," the elder sighed. "The gift of our seed will keep you young and strong until your time of life-giving is finished. Even then, you will continue, resuming your normal life cycle after you have borne your last hatchling."

"How….How can you be so certain about all this," she asked.

"I know, because it has happened before. When we first welcomed the humans, when they feigned peace to better infiltrate our world, we accepted them as equals. It proved a mistake, as you now know. But it was a mistake in more ways than we realized."

"How so," she asked quietly, not sure she wanted to know any more. The news just kept getting worse.

"There were younger males who took human females who were curious, and enticed into spawning with them. When they did, and the males noted their increased life cycles, they craved the longer lives granted their females by becoming brood mothers. They thought we lied to them, that we purposely denied them longer lives. They did not realize that the quality of life, and its accomplishments, were what mattered. The years, in and of themselves, meant nothing without that.

"As my years. They have been so dark until your coming. Now I can once again look forward to my end with the hope my race shall live on after me. That the Draconian name shall not be forgotten after all. "

"Our men will fight," she warned him, although there was little spirit left in her voice by then. She felt sapped by the enormity of all he revealed to her.

"I am aware of this. That is why I instruct you, human. You must return to them. Instruct you in all I have revealed. Tell them of our need. That all we seek is our own survival, not their enmity. If possible, perhaps you can convince your males that peace is still possible between our clans."

"And if they won't listen," she asked carefully.

The old dragon smiled fiercely as he again straightened until he towered over her once more. "Then we shall not face eternity alone. For while my hatchlings are young, they are strong. And unlike their forefathers, they have been raised to fight when necessary."

"I see," she murmured in an even smaller voice.

"Besides, I have monitored your arrival since your ship first entered this system. How do you think my sons knew to find you in the first place? I know your technology. I know your vessel carries nothing that will remove the life from our bodies without slaying yourselves as well. I know also your medical abilities are far more backward than your own ancestors. You have no way to remove the life you now carry without again, slaying yourself. Therefore, I entrust you to accept my words, and not to risk yourself, or your future hatchlings to a painful death."

"I….I believe you," she rasped, still thinking of bearing a hundred babies in the years to come. Jeez! And she had been worried Ben might have wanted one or two.

"Good. Your mate will now carry you to your people. He prefers his original plan to simply take what we require, but he underestimates your kind's ingenuity, as well as your violent natures. Let them know we wish only peace, and a few more females. Fifteen or twenty should be ideal. Tell them, human, all I have told you. Perhaps it will be enough."

"And if it isn't?" "In either case, you will return to us, and the future will tend itself," the dragon told her.

"And if they won't let me come back," she asked a little more desperately than she should have sounded, and wondered why even as she voiced the words.

"Trust me on this human," the dragon told her solemnly. "You will want our aid in the days to come. Especially when it is time for the first of your hatchlings to be born. It is not a time for a brood mother to be alone."

She frowned at that.

"Your kind would be unable to aid you. Your mate is the only one that will make that time pleasant. And you will need him."

"This is a lot to accept," she complained, some of her spirit still uncowed by all she had absorbed.

"I understand, human. Consider, I am the last of my race, seeking my hatchling's future. I would make any sacrifice to assure their continued existence. Were it necessary, your ship would be destroyed before it could even begin to attempt departure.

"That, however, is a matter I suspect best kept between ourselves," he smiled sardonically.

She said nothing in reply. There was nothing to say as the huge elder dragon led her back through the corridors to a hatch that opened as they approached it. On the other side, Red stood awaiting her. He cocked his head, wearing his customary smirk.

"You knew where I was," she asked of him, noting he made no attempt to scold her, or even question her presence.

"Of course," Red smiled on. "Our hearing is quite good. Your softest whispers were as shouts to my ears."

"You really are a jerk," she spat at him, stalking past him.

"You enjoy this word overly much," he remarked, cocking his head in that arrogant fashion of his as he indicated a now open passage. "I do not believe you compliment me."

"Bet on it," she snapped.

"I have told her all," the elder told her mate.

"Then, now is the time. I will carry her to her people, and bring her back….if I am able."

"The risk will be great. By now, they will be wary. And while they cannot slay you, they can injure you if hard pressed," the other warned, and Alice frowned, not liking the idea of him being hurt. Especially because of her.

The elder reached out and put a huge hand across the shoulder of his younger charge. "Be careful, hatchling. I do not wish to lose any more of you."

Red, as she had long since christened him, only shrugged in that casual manner of his. "I am not important now. Only my brood matters. So long as she survives, so shall I."

Alice stared at the strange pair. They were serious. They would sacrifice themselves willingly for their future generations. She wondered how many men would do the same. She had heard many boast of their courage, of course. But it was easy to boast when you were insulated by a peace enforced by a powerful military-run government. Even easier, when that government was no longer actively at war with anyone.

"Listen," she began as Red turned toward her, again gesturing to the passage he had opened somehow that had escaped her detection earlier. "Why not just drop me off. Then I could say what I have to say, and then….meet you somewhere later," she suggested with a bright smile.

"And why would I wish to do that," Red demanded of her, obviously not taking her seriously.

"I don't think you understand how dangerous this situation could be," she told him gravely, her smile slipping when she realized he wasn't giving her idea the slightest consideration.

"I understand the dangers of your kind quite well," he contradicted he. "Now, come. We will leave at once."

"Wait," she protested. "I should tell the others what is happening so they won't worry about me."

"They are safe, and guarded. They should realize the same is true of you. Therefore, you have no real need to see them. Any sharing can wait until your return."

"I want to talk to them, you overgrown…."

She glared at him, biting off 'lizard,' as she didn't really want to insult him in front of the elder who followed after them to the opening that led to the plateau outside. He commanded too much respect. "Bully," she amended as she glared up at Red.

He only chuckled. "You will speak to them when you return. There is no need to concern." he told her as he lifted her into his powerful arms.

She gasped as his folded wings unfurled, and with several quick, leathery flaps, he launched them out into open air. They seemed to dive downward for several breathtaking feet before his wings caught the air, and lifted them even higher than the lip of the plateau they had just left. She had not noticed that dangerous aspect of flight the night he had abducted her. Everything had been so dark, and she had been caught up in the strangeness of everything around her. Especially him.

"Listen," she raised her voice to speak over the rush of the winds as he flew unerringly toward the encampment where her survey ship had landed. "You realize that I have accepted that I'm going to need you? That I'm willing to work things out for….our future?"

"I heard your words with the elder," he replied with that smug tone that so infuriated her.

"Yeah, well, I meant what I said. We can't live in that stupid cave. We need fresh air, and sunshine. We need better food. We need our friends. Can't we work out some kind of compromise….?"

"You will stay with us," he told her bluntly. "With me.

"The human cannot be trusted to raise our hatchlings properly."

"I'm a human," she spat, barely noticing the distance his wings had already carried them.

"You are the mother of my brood. By taking my life within you, you can no longer be considered merely human."

"Waitaminute," she hissed. "Are you saying…mating with you….is changing me?"

"Somewhat," he conceded.

"How," she demanded.

"You have approximately two hundred and thirty-five of your years to learn."

"Two….hundred," she choked, staring up at him in shock. "You're kidding me."

"That is the estimated cycle of a brood's hatching by your understanding of time," he told her, his tone as blandly as ever.

She had no reply to that. She could think of nothing to say in the face of such statements. Absolutely nothing. For the first time in her life, she was literally speechless. Red merely smiled down at her, as if knowing exactly how she felt.

X

"Captain," Ensign Laura Kurt, one of the few scientists allowed outside under very heavy guard to carry out some of their more critical experiments pointed. "Look, I think it's one of the aliens."

All eyes went to the much slower moving creature that now circled the perimeter of the encampment as it seemed to be studying them. "No one fire," Randy shouted, catching sight of the creature's burden as it's outspread wings suddenly folded in over halfway, and it all but dropped the last twenty feet to the ground, landing easily on clawed feet, its thick, muscular tail balancing him as his wings folded up the rest of the way to drape down his broad back.

"Commander Summers," Randy gasped as he stared at the naked figure just then being set down on her feet with all the care one might take with a child. "Are you all right?" "Captain Voles," she grinned, trying not to be too conscientious about her nakedness which was, admittedly, starting to feel almost natural. "You are not going to believe what I've got to tell you," she exclaimed as she started to take a step forward only to stop when Red shadowed her, keeping her within reach of his arms.

"I'm having trouble believing what I'm seeing," he confessed, his eyes locked on the tall, red-gold dragon more than his naked shipmate. Alice understood completely. Ten foot dragons did take a little getting used to at first glance.

"It gets better," she grinned, but her smile faded as she caught sight of one of the men moving forward, a plasma rifle armed and ready as he approached them. "Uhm, Ben, point that the other way, please. My….escort here won't hurt anyone. That is, if you're not stupid."

"Are you all right," her lover demanded, refusing to lower his weapon as his dark eyes flashed between her and Red.

"Escort," Randy Voles was echoing as his wonderment filled his tone.

"Ah, could we talk privately, captain," she asked, trying to ignore the hostility coming from Ben, who still hadn't lowered his weapon. Between him, the security team beginning to circle them, and the research people all gaping at her, she was beginning to feel a tad conspicuous. And it didn't help that Red looked as if he were ready to feed Ben his own weapon at that point.

"Look," she sighed when Red gave a disapproving growl she knew well enough by now. "A little trust is going to be needed by both sides at this point, big guy," she told him as she turned to scold him.

Randy, nor any of those around him, couldn't believe it when the huge creature simply smiled down at her, and then shrugged, letting her go when he had grabbed her shoulder the moment she had started to walk away earlier. Red continued to watch her, still wary, but he did let her go. Now, if she could calm Ben down, they might all survive this moment.

"You going to shoot me, too," she asked, deliberately stepping in front of Ben so he ended up pointed his rifle right at her belly. She didn't look back at Red, but she could imagine his expression. "Just put it away, would you," she continued when he sighed, and lowered the weapon. "You're making me nervous, too."

"They took eight others, Allie," he told her grimly.

"They're with me. And they're all safe," she told him, her voice loud enough to carry to the others who surrounded them by now.

"How many of those things are there," Ben demanded, his voice a soft whisper as he glanced back at Red.

"Not as many as we once were," Red replied in his soft, sibilant tone. "Or will be."

"He, uh, has excellent hearing," she grimaced at Ben's glare. She tried hard not to notice he was staring down at her groin, where her light brown curls proved she was a natural brunette. Or that her belly, once sleek and flat, was already beginning to curve in a sensual fashion common to early motherhood.

"I'm Captain Randy Voles of the survey ship Reliant," the captain drawled, stepping forward to try ending the tense silence that fell around them after that cryptic statement erased all doubt what the dragons wanted with their women. "We hope to forge a peaceful co-existence with you, and your people," he told the dragon.

"That is what we wish as well," Red replied with a curt not, and Alice bit her lip at that one.

"May we know why you took our females, then," Randy asked, pretending not to notice what had already been said. Or focusing on Alice's condition.

"The female shall explain," the dragon replied, copying Alice's aggrieved stance down to the crossed arms, and cocked head. "Thus will you know the truth of my people without doubt clouding my words."

Realizing she wasn't getting away from her audience, and maybe it was just as well, she began retelling all she had learned from the elder. She tried not to notice Ben was growing more and more flushed as he clenched his fists so tightly around the weapon he still held that his knuckles looked white. The captain, however, listened very carefully to every word.

"Do you realize what you're saying," Randy asked her once she concluded with a more sanitized version of the elder's request they be given a dozen or so more females to aid them. His question was softly spoken, but carried with it all the shock, and horror a man could summon in his words as he tried very hard not to even look at Red as he spoke.

"Actually, I do. And as odd as it might seem on the surface, I do have to agree with them. Of course, I'm, by necessity, already confirmed to be with the Draconians. Still, as it seems we do go way back, I think this would make a more lasting impression than any other gesture you could make, sir. Our histories don't really make them all that impressed with any verbal declarations of peace.

"But believe me, captain. While they are a bit….unusual, they do mean what they say. All they want is the chance to survive here, the same as us. So maybe you could get in touch with Captain Carol, and maybe….there might be….I don't know, a few more volunteers that would willingly accept this assignment."

"You actually condone this," Ben spat now, his outrage growing past his ability to contain himself.

"Hey, I was drafted," she tried to joke. "But think about it. Aside from the benefit of a longer life span, I am in the position to actually study a people and culture far older than anything we could have ever guessed possible. Who knows what they could still teach us. If I can get Red here to understand human females actually do more than sit around and breed."

Red's lips quirked as he betrayed his amusement at her words yet again even though he stood silent through the brief tirade. She did manage to distract Ben again, though, she didn't consider the effort wasted. He was looking more amazed than angry now. Which was a start. Of course, Ben knew her better than anyone else at this point, so he knew how she could be when she got wound up.

"I want Dr. Williams to check you out before we proceed any further," the captain stated, voicing the very fear she had felt inevitable since she had started back.

"I'm telling you now, there will be no attempts at abortion. I have it on good authority it wouldn't work, but it would still end up in a painful death."

"No, no," Randy shook his head looking chagrined. "I….I just want to ensure you are healthy. Physically, and…..mentally."

She glared at him. "Is that a shot," she demanded, her eyes flashing as they narrowed on him.

"Don't answer," Ben stunned her now by cutting in. "We'll be arguing for hours if you do."

"Look, I just want to ensure your health hasn't suffered," Randy spoke up. Your….escort may come along, if he wishes," the captain added as he finally looked back at Red again.

Red frowned at the ship before him. The hatch was not a size made for him, and they all knew it. "I will wait here for Ahleeso," he replied quietly, calling her by name for only the second time in her hearing. He also sensed the humans were as fearful as they were intrigued by him. He remained perfectly still as they gaped at him, surrounding him, but keeping a healthy distance from him as the security team stood by with their readied weapons.

"I will be back," Alice told Red with a confident smile.

"Of this, I have no doubt. I trust you," he said, his purposeful emphasis not lost on Ben, or the captain as they both escorted her to the ship.

"Are all the other women already pregnant, too," Ben demanded as he led her through the corridors to the sickbay after they entered the ship. The captain fell back, trailing in silence.

"Yes," she nodded. "They waste no time, but as I've told you, they don't have much time to waste. They're dying as a species. Just think how you would feel in their place? You can't tell me that wanting to assure your race doesn't die is a sin."

"This is most astonishing," Randy sighed as he spoke up again. "I'm going to contact Captain Carol on the Sojourner," he told them when they both turned to stare back at him. "I'll run all this past him, but as you know, he has the final say on whatever decisions are reached here. Whatever he decides, we'll have to abide by. He might just decide this kind of symbiotic existence with those creatures is too costly."

"If he decides he can't cooperate, you might remind him that I, and the others, have to stay regardless," Alice told him in just as solemn a tone.

"What," Ben spat.

"Think about it, captain," she told him, ignoring Ben. "We're going to be bearing a new kind of life. Beth is good," she told him, referring to their physician. "But I rather doubt if even she's qualified to help deliver dragons," she quipped, not telling them just how that delivery would be accomplished. She had been shocked herself when she had heard it. She doubted the men would care hearing the details just now.

"I…I see your point," Randy nodded, looking more than a little sick. "I'll mention that to the senior captain….if necessary."

"Let me know what he decides," she asked, and then turned to head for medical with Ben still at her side.

"Are you all right? I mean, really all right," he demanded once they were alone.

"I'm fine," she assured him. "I'll admit, I was a little scared at the start. Hey, but mostly that guy out there can really piss me off. Talk about arrogant. You two might just be equally matched in that department," she added as he snorted his opinion of that.

"I recall you liked my arrogance," he reminded her.

"Not that much," she chortled when he feigned a pout. "But I am serious about this, Ben. We are all fine. I'm fine. It's funny, too, but I…..I sympathize with him. With them. To think of all they must have suffered, and all because of our ancestors."

"So they say," he shot back. "We still have only their word for this supposed history. It all sounds a bit farfetched."

"Maybe," she murmured, not bothering to even wonder why she had never questioned a single part of the tale. She just felt it to be true.

"Allie," the elderly doctor gasped as they stepped into the medical bay a moment later. The woman stared at her, eyes rounded in shock as she took in her appearance. And being a doctor, she didn't miss a thing, Alice knew, judging from the way her eyes lingered on her abdomen.

"Easy, doc," she grinned at the woman. "I'm just here for a standard physical. Captain's orders. Oh, and Ben, while you're waiting, could you go and get those supplies and equipment I mention," she asked, having requested some things she knew she and the others would be needing if they were going to try and stay sane in that cave Red seemed determined to keep them locked in.

He glared at her. "You don't really mean to go back with that…."

"I have to," she told him as Beth led them toward an examining table.

"Go back where," the doctor asked, her middle-aged features pinched with concern.

"I'll tell you the whole story while you're working," she smiled at the woman she had always found to be a friendly, and easy-going person. "As for you, you know I have to go back. As much for the others, as for anything else. Besides, I gave my word."

He glared at her. "They aren't even our kind."

"They are a very intelligent, very caring race," she shot back at Beth programmed the computer for a full physical scan. "And you're getting out of line. Now, how about that gear I requested. Some of those women aren't as hardy as I am."

He snorted at that, but then gave a sigh of surrender. "All right. But I'm putting a communicator, and tracking beacon in with the equipment you requested. You aren't getting lost this time."

"That's fine with me," she told him as Beth gestured the table was ready for her.

Ben gave her a last, disgruntled stare, then stalked out of the sickbay.

X

"….that's about it," she told Beth as the doctor studied her mediscan as she concluded the same story she had just told the others outside.

"Well, if I didn't see this myself," the woman told her, "I certainly wouldn't have believed it."

"What's that," Alice asked, sitting up to look over her shoulder at the computer scan.

"You definitely have a growth in your womb, Allie," she told her. "And it isn't human."

"I guessed that part," Alice grinned.

"The only thing that confuses me is how they managed to create this shift in your cellular structure without causing some serious abnormalities."

"Shift? What shift," she demanded as she studied the scan, trying to pick out what the woman meant.

"Here," Beth pointed at the readout on the console. "It looks as if your DNA is actually rewriting itself, from the base upwards. You have….well…very alien DNA being melded to your own. I can't begin to decipher it."

"That might account for the lifespan that the elder mention."

"Possibly," Beth Williams agreed. "But you also have a strange growth just inside your vaginal canal that concerns me. I can't seem to get a reading on hit, but it is part of that alien growth."

"Something to do with my….pregnancy?" "I don't know for sure. I want to take a closer look. If you don't mind," she asked, knowing some women these days didn't like the more intimate examinations when a computer usually did all the scanning required for most checkups.

"I guess it's okay. But I have to remind you, I really do hate those probes," she told her as the doctor took a small, elongated probe from a nearby shelf as she lay back down, spreading her thighs as Beth pressed a switch that had the inevitable stirrups rising from the table's sides.

"Imagine being the one that has to use them," Beth chuckled. "On yourself," she added as she checked the light on the end of the device.

"Ouch," Alice muttered as Beth leaned between her thighs, her now gloved hands parting her pink lips as the other pressed the device into her moist channel.

"You don't know the half of it," the other woman chuckled as she pressed the cold metal deeper into her orifice.

"Aha, what have we here," she murmured as Alice felt a sudden, familiar heat surging up out of her swelling sex. Before she could react, she felt Beth recoil, dropping the probe as she fell back, her hands at her throat, as if choking for air.

"Beth? Doc," she called in alarm, unable to move since the stirrups had her ankles clamped securely in place.

Beth continued to wheeze, and cough, as if trying to breathe without much success. All Alice could do was stare at her as she turned a violent shade of purple, and started to fall back. Even as she did, the choking stopped, and Beth suddenly straightened, and smiled down at her.

"Doc?" "I'm fine, Allie," the woman assured her.

"What happened," she asked, still feeling a faint hint of the heat she had known with Red flickering in her belly as she felt her own swollen sex beginning to actually dribble fluids down her thighs. She should be embarrassed, or concerned, but just then all she felt was hungry.

"I don't really know what happened," Beth was saying. "But oddly enough, it was rather….nice," the woman told her as she moved closer, leaning forward to actually stroke and fondle Alice's throbbing core this time. She stopped short of sliding her nimble fingers inside her, but only because she paused to remove her surgical gloves. Then she leaned forward, lapping at the musky flesh spread before her as she began to eagerly taste what her fingers had already explored.

All Alice could do was moan as the older woman's surprisingly talented tongue delved ever deeper into her hungry passage, teasing her to ever higher crests of pleasure as she occasionally stroked her throbbing clit before returning to thrusting her tongue into Alice as if seeking to embed it within her.

Her fingers joined her tongue by then, and Alice could only lay back and moan as the older woman continued to suck and lick at her as if intent upon devouring her whole. Alice felt a rising heat that this time spread throughout her entire body as alien thoughts began to collide with her own, and a purpose she had been unable she was serving began to rise in her consciousness even as it rose within her flesh.

"You know what to do," Beth rasped, sounding as if she were barely able to speak.

"I know," Alice sighed in long, ecstatic moan as her hips arched up to better offer herself as Beth rose to press her own surprisingly damp hole to her, revealing she had stripped away her uniform slacks and panty sometime during their frantic lovemaking.

"Give it to me," Beth moaned, trapped in blissful surrender as Alice felt something beyond herself pulse with life in her dripping channel.

Only then, as the first liquid flow began to pass from Alice to Beth, did the scientist in her perceive what had happened. She gasped again as that something within her moved, this time thrusting out to join Beth, linking their bodies together at the crotch as their sodden groins melded together in a near desperate dance of lust. She could feel that presence within her thrust deep in reverse, and then it was as if she could actually feel Beth's tight, rubbery flesh stretching around her. Then something seemed to slip out of her, and Alice felt oddly bereft as the doctor's face took on a glow of ecstatic revelation.

"Don't worry," Beth smiled at her. "We know what to do," the woman told her as she received the first seedlings from Beth's womb. "By the time anyone notices what has happened, the rest of our sisters will have joined us."

Alice said nothing. She felt a distant rush of horror, but more immediately came a glow of elation and pleasure. She understood too late, that she was never in danger. Never even in control. Red, and his ancient ancestors were.

The doctor continued to smile as she shivered with her own private pleasures atop her. "I'll enjoy….passing this on, once I am filled with life," she sighed.

Alice felt the understanding come too late. Somehow, Red had left a part of himself in her. It had been dormant, unnoticed, and waiting. As if that piece of cunning flesh had planned this moment all along. Now it had entered Beth, filling her with life, and beginning the changes in her that prepared for the life to come. As if would for every other woman it was passed to in the future.

True, there were only three others left on the survey ship, and as the doctor, Beth would be seeing them all for one reason, or another. Too late, they would be seduced into joining the Draconian brood. Like it, or not. And meanwhile, in orbit, several hundred other women waited. It wouldn't take all that much of an imagination to think that only one woman, filled with Draconian life and DNA, would be all that was needed to impregnate the entire starship's complement of women.

Alice should have been horrified as those realizations came in that moment. Instead, she sighed blissfully as she lay back, basking in the rippling afterglow of a lethargy born of genuine contentment. Red had been right. She would be returning. With company. They had no choice. And just then, she couldn't conceive of having one.

X

Captain Jack Carol stepped off the shuttle, weapon in hand as he and his handpicked crew stared around the empty encampment around the deserted survey ship. Over thirty crewmembers, mostly scientists, but also some very well trained security teams, had just vanished. They had heard nothing from any of them since Voles' last cryptic message. Something about the aliens wanting peace, but first they had to give them….something. The message had broken up at that point.

Jack waited. And waited. And continued to wait. But nothing else was picked up from the ground crew, or the survey ship's captain as they broke off their own study of the system to return to the planet. Three weeks had passed by then, and he had still heard nothing. Rather than relegate the task, he left the first officer, a good woman, in charge of the Sojourner, and led his own handpicked team comprised of all veteran security officers down to the planet. Whatever was happening here, it had to be solved, and resolved. The moons they had been exploring were dead ends. The four outer planets were dead ends, literally. Two ice planets, a barren rock, like this world's moons, and a huge gas giant midway out from the star. So this planet was their only hope on this mission, because Sojourner wasn't just a survey vessel. It wasn't meant to travel continually. It was a colony ship, carrying a human cargo to its new home to keep the human race alive and thriving throughout the galaxy in spite of its faltering home world. They needed this world. And if he had anything to say about it, they would have it.

"Nothing on the bioscans, captain," one of the officers reported. The woman's face was screwed into its usual frown as he turned to glance back at her as she studied her equipment. "The entire area seems deserted."

"These people didn't just vanish," he spat.

"Captain," another officer came out of the open hatch of the abandoned survey ship. "This shuttle wasn't just deserted, it was gutted. They cleaned out everything that wasn't part of the superstructure."

"Gutted," he frowned as he and his exec turned to study the silent hulk.

"Yes, sir," the man nodded as he held out his inventory analysis on a small scanning device. "Anything and everything of use has been taken. Even the power core is gone, which explains why we weren't getting any readings from it."

"Well, that gives us something," he decided as he glanced at his exec, the pretty redhead with the perpetual scowl. "Contact Sojourner, and have them fine tune our scanners. That core will still be active even if it is unplugged. We should get a reading off it no matter where it was taken. Have them start checking south of here, along that mountain range."

"The mountains mentioned in Tate's reports," the woman nodded in understanding. A few minutes later, she returned from the shuttle with no indication of success. Still, her words belied her characteristic expression.

"We have a reading, sir," she reported as she nodded only when she reached his side. "Two hundred and thirty kilometers south by southwest, near midrange of the mountains you mentioned."

"Why would they leave the shuttle, and go into those mountains," a man asked as he paused in his own futile search for answers among the debris left around the encampment to listen to the report.

"We'll find out soon enough," Jack replied. "I'm betting it has something to do with Lt. Tate's less than glowing report on the indigenous life forms, though."

"I suggest we go to condition yellow, then, sir," the exec declared as she stared up at him with a deeper scowl. "We should be ready for hostilities in the event the survey crew botched diplomatic efforts with the native sentients."

"Agreed, Francis," he said as he turned form her to face the others gathering around them. "All right, people. Condition yellow, lock and load. We're going to track the ship's core reading, and hopefully find our missing people.

"We have to be ready for anything, so keep it tight. And keep it together," he told them gravely as he led them back to the shuttle.

"Holy shit," Lt. Georges swore as they closed in on the signal less than fifteen minutes later. Even as he yelled, he forced the nose of the shuttle down and starboard as the ship shook violently at the rough handling in the thick atmosphere.

Jack didn't berate him as he held onto his own seat. He was staring out the front windows at what had alarmed his pilot. He still couldn't believe what he was seeing, but they were there. And they were real. Dozens of them. Dragons. Real, flying dragons.

"Set this crate down before it falls down," he barked as the ship shook again. This wasn't just bad turbulence. Something was hammering them. And he could guess what. "There, on that plateau," he pointed out, noting it coincided with the energy signature from the survey ship's core.

Had his people been attacked, and forced to flee these things? Had they taken shelter in the rocky caverns he was beginning to make out as they neared the ledge that set about midway up one otherwise sheer cliff? They'd find out soon enough.

"Captain," Ensign Frances Baker scowled predictably at him as the shuttle settled roughly down on the plateau, taking up nearly all available space. "I have life signs, sir. Human life signs. They're coming from just ahead of us, and underground."

"Bingo," he nodded as the pilot shut down the engines once the shuttle had settled completely. "And the energy reading?" "Located in the same approximate location, sir," she reported. "Indications from the thermal scans suggest an array of underground passages cut into the very mountain itself."

"All right. Let's go find out what is going on here, people," Jack drawled as he reached for his own weapon as he passed the arms locker.

X

Jack Carol pounded futilely upon the rock wall that sealed him in with the other men from his crew. Only the men. Outside their cavernous prison, the women had already been taken away, divided into two groups as far as he could discern. Those with tails, and swelling bellies. And those without. Some of the women even had bulging, misshapen shoulders that suggested they would soon be sprouting wings. Just like the scaled creatures that had set upon them the moment he and his team had exited the shuttle. They had moved so fast, they had been virtually invisible. They hadn't even managed to get a single shot off before they were all disarmed, and made captive.

His willingness to try to reason with the creatures hadn't helped either. Even as he had tried to offer peaceful dialogue with the creatures he now knew were called Draconians according to what he had managed to overheard, the female members of his search team had been raped and carried away by their captors. He had found some of the men from the survey ship locked in the same cavern, too. They had been the ones to tell him of the Draconians. Of their apparent history. None of Voles' men seemed to care much they were prisoners, however, for they all shared the same bland lethargy, as if entranced.

He shivered as he remembered that first, horrible shriek as they stepped off the shuttle, and just that quickly Francis had been taken, her torn uniform falling to land at his feet as she was impaled with casual ease by a huge, yellowish creature that circled the plateau. And she had only been the first. He had been horrified. Then terrified. Now, he now longer knew what to think, or feel.

Now he thought of the pregnant women with tails whose naked skin seemed to be toughening, as if preparing to grow scales as well. He felt regret, knowing that not only was Francis lost, but his entire survey crew. He just prayed his shipmates in orbit didn't repeat his mistake. What had he told them before he left? Keep the com-systems up and tracking them? Had he warned them off in case of something like this? He didn't remember. After all, how could he have predicted something like this? How could anyone?

"If we could only get to a communicator," he sighed, not for the first time. "If we could call the Sojourner."

"It wouldn't matter."

He turned to face a familiar man he hadn't seen until then. "Lt. Tate," he exclaimed, almost hugging the man. "I thought you were dead, or something. At least you're not like the rest of those zombies," he shuddered, glancing over at the dead-eyed men who stayed to themselves.

Ben smiled blandly as he pulled off his torn uniform jacket. "They're just having trouble adapting. Not that any of us have a choice."

Jack could only stare. Just beneath the thin, ragged shirt he still wore, Ben's chest was now swelling in unmistakable fashion. Even as he studied the man as a whole, he realized there was actually very little left of his masculinity. Despite his still short haircut, he now looked rather feminine. Aside from his own plain features, he looked like he was becoming a woman. Only then did he realize, feeling that twin rush of horror and fear, so were all the other men around him.

"What is happening here," he rasped, unwilling to consider himself in this same scrutiny he gave to the others.

"Sit down, and relax, Jack," Ben smiled wryly. "And I'll tell you all about the greatest mistake mankind every made. We landed on the wrong planet," he said with a strange smirk as Jack just stared at him.

"We landed on Earth," Ben told him.

Jack listened to Ben's story as he stood there, frozen by what he heard as he began to put together just what the Draconians were doing to them. They were all somehow being reshaped. Made females. And then, as females, they would join the others as mothers to these creatures' future generations. He listened as Ben shared how the last elder had passed on recently, and the young Red, as he was known now, took over leadership of the dragons. He and his queen were even now planning something that defied reason. Having learn of Earth's dying, and mankind's desperate plight to flee their home, Red intended to take his people there, and with their superior biotech, retake the planet for their own kind. That was going to be their ultimate revenge. They would use man's own technology, and flesh to rebuild both their numbers, and their lost homeworld. Turning men into women, who could then be made into mothers was child's play for their bio-tech, as Ben had learned to his regret too late. And as a female, Ben learned, they would be birthing over a hundred dragons in time. And there were three hundred and eighty-four humans on Sojourner. Three hundred and eighty-four potential breeders.

"My God," Jack rasped, realizing the implications without being told. "We have to stop them."

"Too late," Ben sighed, smiling that same maddeningly bland smile. "By now, the next phase of their plan is already going into effect. You brought down a shuttle they can use. All they have to do is reach the Sojourner, and they can convert the rest of the crew with ease. And with Sojourner's tech and power supplies, they can finish the repairs on their own ship, and thus, reach Earth."

"My God," Jack rasped again.

"Yes. And think of it. They'll be catching them all unawares. Before mankind even knows what is happening, they'll be nothing but breeding machines. Billions of ripe, unsuspecting wombs for a race we almost wiped out so long ago we didn't even remember them."

"We can't just let this happen," Jack complained, wondering what had happened to the bold, capable veteran he remembered.

"We have no choice."

"There has to be a choice. You can't just let this happen. How can you just stand there like this, accepting what's happening to you like a…..a drone," he spat.

"Their bio-tech is impressive," Ben smiled. "You wouldn't think so, but they have knowledge that spans star systems, and centuries. They can do things beyond anything you could even imagine.

"Do you know….their dead….they survive as mental constructs. Living minds. It's the only way to describe them. They can be symbiotically grafted to living hosts, such as us, and then they genetically reshape our very bodies. Naturally, this also dulls our minds, until only their will remains."

"That's…."

"It's true," Ben smiled again, well understanding his captain and friend's loss for words. "You see, only a few weeks ago, I felt the same as you. I fought, too. But….you see what they've already accomplished. Imagine what a few years will do for them, and us. We'll be at the vanguard of an invasion force to reclaim the Draconian homeworld from its invaders. Do you see the irony in that?"

"We have to warn…."

"Jack," Ben laughed mockingly. "In a very short time, we will be part of their race. We have no other choice. Accept it. It'll make things easier all around. Trust me. You can't fight them. You can't," Ben sighed, his gaze sympathetic. "I know. I tried."

Jack stared at the feminized man, and at the others around him just like the lieutenant. His own men huddled away from those half men, as if fearing they might somehow contaminate them. He couldn't tell his men there was no hope. He had to try. He had to do something. He was a man, damn it. It was his duty. To his people, and his race.

X

Alice felt her fears slide away as she launched herself into the air, feeling the rush of cool wind slide over her body as her own, newly formed wings stretched out to catch the currents of air. Flight, she know knew, required an intricate balancing of her body, which was aided by her tail which served as a rudder while in the air. It was all eerily complicated, yet her mind knew instinctively what to do.

"This is fantastic," she screeched as Red flew along beside her, grinning at her childish glee at so simple a thing. His eyes roamed over her sleek, voluptuous body, taking in the growing patches of silvery scales that now almost covered her entirely. He was also pleased that she used his own tongue more these days. Her own was so crude, and limited.

"Do I really have to give this up when my eggs grow large," she complained in typical female fashion.

"For a time. The next generation must survive," he reminded her.

"I know," she sighed, sighing her pleasure into the air with a sibilant hiss as she luxuriated in the sheer sensation of actually flying. "But I'm already missing it."

Red chuckled in understanding as they began an intricate game of tag across the sky. Around them, a dozen other couples joined them in a wild, primal dance of freedom. Their race, on the very verge of extinction, now had hope for a future. A future long denied them, but now ironically restored by the very race that had first sought their destruction. For the first time in centuries, time was finally on their side.

X

"Incoming star cruiser of unknown configuration coming in from the fourth quadrant," an ensign reported as he monitored the blip that had appeared on their long-range scans at the edge of the star system just two days ago. "It's definitely earthbound."

"It's still broadcasting an emergency beacon," one of the communication officers reported as the fleet admiral stepped up behind the men at the bridge posts. "No other signals, or communications detected."

"So, just a standard, repeating signal," Admiral Dan Riker murmured as he studied the empty starscape in the visual monitors of his patrol ship.

"Not as yet," the man reported.

"Sir, I'm getting a visual. It's still distant, but I think I can magnify it enough to get us a good look at whatever it is out there."

"Do it," Admiral Riker ordered the man at the science station. "Let's see what we're dealing with."

"Holy spit," someone whispered as the image blurred on the side screen for a moment, and then sharpened into focus. "How does that thing even move."

"It looks like a….a patchwork puzzle," the ensign at communications snorted as they all studied the massive, scored and pitted hulk that filled the monitor. The sphere wasn't even lit. It looked as if it had been drifting for more time than anyone wanted to consider.

"Orders, admiral," one of the men asked their commander as they stared at the metal hulk now known to be approaching Earth.

"Let's try broadcasting to them. Beam a welcome message, and ask them approach in our wake where they can be welcomed. See if they reply."

"And if they do," the communication officer asked anxiously as he glanced at the huge vessel filling their screens as it closed faster than expected.

"Have the ninth legion from Mars colony standing by just in case," he told the man.

"Yes, sir," the man nodded, feeling a bit more secure knowing they wouldn't be facing the unknown alone as he transmitted the welcoming message.

"One thing is certain," the science officer noted. "It's a genuine alien. I've never seen anything remotely like that vessel."

"We'll find out soon enough" the admiral snorted, being a pragmatic sort. "Is it replying yet," he asked the communication officer.

"No, sir. But it has moved to intercept and follow our flight path."

"So they are listening, and apparently they understand," he nodded. "All right, people," he addressed his bridge crew. "Let's lead them to Earth, and roll out the red carpet. But, meanwhile, tell the ninth to keep their big guns trained on that thing all the same."

In less than ten hours, the massive sphere landed on the western plains of the northern continent. A military team found no one aboard at first. Not until they entered a huge, hibernation chamber where sleeping aliens were entombed numbering in the thousands. Their tech, they discovered to their astonishment, was a blend of alien and strangely familiar human hardware. The creatures slumbering in their stasis beds were all very alien.

"The computers must have been piloting this wreck," a captain decided as he checked in with his superiors. "And we can't make out anything on the ship's record logs. It's all a lot of hissing and spitting."

"Is there anything aboard that would constitute a threat to our world," the admiral asked from orbit, his own ship one of several orbiting above the alien vessel with all their weapons pointed at the ship.

"Nothing, sir. Not even a recognizable sidearm. And there are a lot of very pregnant females and young among the aliens. I think they might be refugees, at best guess."

"I see. All right, captain," the admiral decided curtly. "Wake up one of the females, It should be easy enough to handle if they prove hostile."

"Yes, sir," the captain acknowledged as he turned to his contact team. They studied the nearest stasis tubes, and settled on one of the closer females that looked young enough to manage. She was also one of the pregnant ones.

"That one," he decided as he pointed out the silver-scaled creature with the swollen abdomen. "Wake her up," he ordered his men.

X

Just outside the range of the system's defensive scans were five thousand other ships waiting for a pre-arranged signal. Using the technology of the human colonists, the Draconians had not only launched their damaged starship, they had found many of their missing comrades, and learned they, too, had survived and thrived on other alien worlds. They regrouped, and took flight once more, all converging on the single, small planet that had once been their home.

By now, the waiting armada knew the first colony ship would have reached the homeworld. It would have entered the atmosphere, and released the first of the biospores that would begin the work of genetically altering the humans on the planet. By now, the crew of the Ark would have woken, and given a prearranged tale of seeking asylum from a cataclysm that had destroyed their own planet. That, in itself, was true enough. By the time the humans realized anything different, the Draconians from the Ark would have established themselves on the planet, and the humans would be caught up in their own transition, and helpless. Then, they would come, taking a page from human history, and visiting humanity with overwhelming numbers, and a superior technology they couldn't hope to overcome.

For every race shared the drive to survive. To reproduce. In adding the human race to their own, they would be ensuring Draconian survival. By turning the mammals into useful females, they would not only aid in helping the Draconians rise from the ashes of ancient defeat, they would also be assuaging their ancestor's deaths. Thus would they be avenged, for the true Terrans had finally come home.

Just the Beginning…..