— UNTITLED FUTURISTIC/DYSTOPIAN FULL EXCERPT —

“Save the world?” He laughed scornfully. “Much good that will do. Thank you, but I do well enough surviving on my own without embroiling myself in a doomed revolutionary attempt.”

Her lips narrowed. “We have done much for you already; do not push your fortunes too far. You still think this is a futile plan?”

“I appreciate what you have done for me, and I believe that you at least have good intent — for your superiors I still withhold judgment — but yes, it is a dewy-eyed, romantic, futile plan.”

“Come,” she said, turning on her heel, and she led the way through corridors reeking of chlorine until they reached an ordinary metal door. “Open it,” she said to the three uniformed men standing nearby, and with the slightest flourish she stepped aside.

The scent of burning filtered out to him, and disorder and destruction met his eyes, overturned chairs and smashed tables… and in the center of it, a smoke-enveloped, plated, rumbling monster. It fixed one golden-glittered eye on him, but he was already moving.

His bow was in his hand in a second, the arrow flying free, another, and another. The creature bellered and tottered, and then as the fourth arrow found its eye it fell with a crunching roar, splinters of wood — and dark blood oozing on the floor.

The violent gasp sent him spinning around and he studied Laura, whose stern features were slack and gaping. Her dark eyes seemed to swallow her face. “The — dragon,” she gasped.

“A dragon, was it? I didn’t know they still existed. Well, you might thank me for keeping my head!”

Her expression changed subtly. She looked almost as though she were going to hit him, and not a feminine slap but a hard, angry punch. But instead she drew herself up and looked at him with cold, calculating, unforgiving eyes. “The dragon was our hope for victory. And you killed it.”

“What did you expect me to do?” He spat the words at her angrily, kicking against the restraints that held him to the wall. Anger at his unjust treatment had filled him for the present, holding back the panic that might have set in instead. “Your ‘hope’? The thing was wrecking the room!”

“That was its bed,” she returned flatly. “It likes to sleep on jagged materials, so we put tables and chairs in there and let it lie around on them until it made a proper nest.”

You might have told me!” he exploded. “You say, ‘Come,’ in the most cryptic way imaginable, and then you drag me into a place where it looks like a monster is terrorizing the building, and then you think it’s my fault when I defend myself!” He strained against the bonds again. “What did you expect?”

She sucked in her breath carefully, reflecting. “Shock, yes, surprise, even fear. But I thought you would give us enough benefit of the doubt to wait until we explained. To give you all due credit, I did not think you could whip your weapons out and fell the thing in the space of five seconds; and, as I said, I thought you said you trusted me.”

He snorted. “I said that I trusted your intentions. Not your judgment. If I had considered the possibility that you thought that thing was safe, I would have discredited you as simple. Maybe I still should. How do you know it was tame? Wasn’t going to turn on—”

She clamped her hand across his mouth, her eyes burning with fury. “No more of that nonsense. The point remains, that you destroyed our hope for achieving anything of any worth at all.”

“I suppose an apology is in order. Well, you have it. It was self-defense and I don’t regret it, but I’m sorry that your hope is dead. There was no call to truss me against a cell wall.”

“I’m sorry, but I had nothing to do with that.”

“Yes, you only tattled to your superiors and let them do it!”

“If you had just waited a few seconds and not had a panic reaction!”

“If you call my cool, level-headed response panic—”

“There is more than one kind of panic,” she snapped.

“If you had not stupidly concealed everything from me because you wanted to see me doubly impressed — do I seem like a naively trusting person to you? Do I seem like someone you should sneak up behind and tap on the shoulder in the dead of night?”

She folded her arms and stepped away from him. “The point remains, you killed our best weapon and you will be here until they have made a discernment as to whether you are a danger to the base or not. Either way, you will be required to make some kind of reparation to us.”