Flight of Fancy

Flight of Fancy Audio Available!
So I pretty much blame my AP English Lit teacher for this one. I really let go on it, so if you like your writing styles dense and convoluted, then, hey, I've got good news!..
But still, it's about dinosaurs (sort of) and I did have fun playing with some literary devices, so I like to think it still makes for a decently comedic narrative.

Flight of Fancy
A Thom Swanson original cautionary (albeit farcically lighthearted) tale

The tricky thing about Pterodactyls is, of course, getting a proper hold atop the thing. One tends not to give the matter much thought when the question is of a Rex, or Duckbill, Triceratops, Club Tail—really the better part of species our minds have been conditioned to jump to when thinking of wrangling dinosaurs—but almost unconditionally one is afforded at least some degree of a grip with their legs, which is a factor far too often overlooked in considering the feasibility of getting one’s work as a dinosaur wrangler safely and efficiently through with. This is in large part, then, what makes Pterodactyls so particular.
            You see, Pterodactyls defer an inconvenient amount of their anatomy to “the membrane,” as anyone who has ever spent any time working with the creatures will unanimously come to resentfully term it, such that getting your legs around anything would require the respective posing of the animal in such a way as would completely negate the purpose of the exercise. Which leaves the only available mounting method that has seen any degree of success to be jumping flat on your belly across a particular specimen’s back, hooking your arms around the neck, and holding on feeling stupid as you are flopped about with little better to do than constantly remind yourself of the futility of the practice, the perpetual engagement necessitated of the hands quite as encumbering as the initial knees-and-wings dilemma.
            Not that they tell you any of this when you’re still actually in a position to make any kind of an informed decision on the topic. No, Neil never got any such consideration when he was up to select a department; when he still had any say over his fate in the matter.
            Neil in fact, belonged to one of the select few of the community with little feeling one way or the other on the project. He wasn’t a paleontologist, someone who gave any real thought to the terrible lizards past the initial natural-history-museum phase: He was a techy, drawn to the Dome when it rather unexpectedly replied to his broad, fresh-out-of-school net of resumes mainly by its array of benefits. The dinosaurs, at the very most, factored as a passingly intriguing perk, and held no bearing on the actual decision.
            He therefore found himself quite exceptionally void of any predisposition towards one particular species over another when the whole the "dinosaur" aspect of the program was introduced, rather finding himself pushed toward the sparsely furnished table and its sole sourly scowling attendant that happened to represent the Pterodactyl regiment at the dino fair. As far as he saw it at the time, the whole wrangling thing still just constituted a minor responsibility, mainly instituted to subvert the legal complications of bringing more people into the project, and very much secondary to his main technical job description. Any respite from the overwhelming enthusiasm only he seemed to lack was, therefore, as good a determinant as any.
            What Neil would soon come to realize, however, was that different dinosaurs attract different types of people, and so whichever you pick invariably goes a long way to defining your character.
            The T-Rex guys were, without exception, (debatably-)former-jock adrenalin junkies, who loved working out and lacked the mental capacity to realize the similarly simplistic predictability of their wards made physically confronting them on a regular basis far less remarkable than they liked to make it out to be; Stegosauruses drew a larger female following, of the annoyingly healthy variety, and tended to spawn community groups for things like biking or lacrosse; Duckbills had hippy-tree-huggers, and triceratops burly, bearded men with the propensity for flannel plaid shirts: The Thick Skull contingent had been on the Rogaine marketing shortlist for decades.
            And the Pterodactyl, as it would turn out, aligned Neil with a ragtag block of apathetic introverts with a troublingly high comfort being perpetually bitter.
            Of course, it was possible to switch after the fact, but it was an awful lot of paperwork, and the whole torturous course of introductory seminars all over again, and Neil, when it came right down to it, would just as soon resign himself to suffer through the at-least-familiar lot he’d so easily shuffled into, than to take the initiative, to put in the effort, to gamble on a new one. Ironically, it was this passive masochism that most aligned Neil with the Pterodactyl crowd, the stagnating despair of the collective woven of dozens of such stories.
            But of course, no one ever told Neil any of that.


            Looking back on the remission now, Neil, not unfamiliarly, cursed the whole lot of them.
            Of course, he was as much to blame as anyone for the incident, more so even, but, given the circumstances, it was perfectly justifiable to fault the system, and really, for it to have spiraled as far as it had, had taken a perfect storm of negligence: Plus, it was, after all, his skin that was—quite literally—on the line.
            For example, Neil knew he shouldn’t have gone back in for his bag without reclosing the hatch, or raising the shields, the whole ten minute ordeal; it was him that chose to ignore the redundancies of the protocol: But that wouldn’t have amounted to anything really, had Toby followed his protocols and stayed in the observation booth while Neil was On Deck, as he’d rather reluctantly agreed to, from which vantage he’d have been able to intervene with the failsafes, at least preventing such an escalation.
            And Toby, in all honesty, would have been in the clear just fine ditching, if whoever the hell’s rotation it was today had actually seen to it that the enclosure was properly locked.
            But no, that was apparently too much to ask.
            …Which pretty much sums up how Neil came to be straddling a fully grown female Pterodactyl, helplessly watching the safety of the bunker melt away to be replaced by the steamy green canopy of the Dome stretching out increasingly-far below him.
            As the full realization of the predicament began to dawn on Neil, he was struck by an overwhelming gap in the company-beloved protocol regarding the proper course of action for such a scenario, though he couldn’t yet make out whether that was because of an actual lack of it, or rather a shock induced failure to recollect said particulars.
            It had been shear adrenalin-fueled instinct that got him on top of the animal—with maybe just a touch of muscle memory thrown in, though Neil never was much for physical fruitions—which, with some stretch, could go to support a lack of procedural precedent, but he was still plagued by the nagging back of the mind rumination that this type of occurrence wasn’t so much entirely novel as it was the sort of thing that you just didn’t talk about, in hushed tones and associations with large counter cards boasting accident free days.
            But now that initial adrenalin was ebbing, and his instincts were turning alarming expectantly to the rational centers of his brain. So forced to take control, Neil could recognize his thought processors reluctantly beginning to fire through the facts, though they seemed to remain notably recoiled in insulation against the sheer terror of what they added up to, only going as far as to offer up the fuzzy inclination that the beast, undoubtedly just as eager to be rid of him as he was it, was now flying with a tried patience suggestively low above the lake.

All things considered, the fall hurt about as much as he had any right in hoping for. He’d impacted awkwardly with one of his legs, and a cursory evaluation suggested it would be under commission for the next few days, but if Neil was completely honest with himself, he never did use it all that much anyways: As much as he hated to admit it, the bruise sustained to his tailbone, while certainly a less substantial injury, would probably prove the more debilitating.
            He was thus able to fish himself out of the water with relatively little difficulty—though again, he would hardly have listed “swimming” among his strengths—to take somewhat soggy stock of his predicament.
            Now the procedure, Neil could not fail to remember, held very clearly that should one find themselves stranded in the dome, they are to stay put, calmly twiddling their thumbs until the rescue parties showed up.
            As tempting as Neil’s habitual temperament found it to be to indeed sit back, complacently follow orders, and let someone else do the work, the little sun as had been left at the start of the debacle was quickly retiring, and even if they said that all the larger creatures were supposed to be safely rounded up by this time, he had personally been party to far too much apathy to maintain any illusions that he wanted to be out after dark. And that was even assuming they came  looking for him in any kind of a timely fashion; The sad truth of the matter held it was entirely probable no one would care enough to notice his absence until he was up for “doo-duty” in (Neil ran through  the  calendar in his head) four days.
            Not to mention the mere fact that his sparse initiative choosing to rear its questionably existing head was reason enough to heed its advice and take matters into his own hands, those cases of its intervention so few and far between as to merit attention in of themselves.
            Neil had even managed to retain his ill-omened bag throughout his playdate with the lake (another small miracle one believing in fates–which Neil didn’t—could take as a sign to defy their dispositions) so that while the whole traditional wilderness-survival-a-la-Jurassic-Park may have been insurmountably beyond him, he was well equipped to extend the situation into his own areas of expertise.
            Taking a small, hard, kernel of solace in that notion, he invested 45 minutes and a fortuitously scavenged silica packet from a weeks-empty bag of beef jerky to jerry-rig a passable blow drier. That in hand, he was comfortable booting up his newly-dry tablet as the moon cracked over the water’s glassy surface, and, with his ear buds screwed in to finally drown out the shadow-exacerbatedly distracting bush-rustling, spent another 15 minutes hacking the Dome’s NAV server, and, in what ended up being the most beautiful piece of code he’d ever seen in his life, redirected a nearby straggling transpod to his location pinged off three of the climate monitoring towers.
            It showed up shortly, and Neil was almost too far retreated into shock and exhaustion to register the hulking pair of Rex guys suavely gripping the controls behind the sculpted windshield, despite the full autopilot.
            The rescuers, for their part, were undoubtedly surprised to see Neil though, and were clearly confused to find their pod easing down not in front of the base hub as expected, but a shrimpy, shivering, tech in the middle of the jungle. They quickly consoled themselves with some deluded logic to the end that it must be something they’d heroically done to merit taking credit, though, and helped heave Neil into the back.
            The rest of the trip was mostly a blur to him, but he supposed he must have divulged his story, because he could remember the Rex guys nodding impressedly and launching into a recounting of their own misadventures with a scar show and tell of verbal one-upmanship that quickly degraded into a back and forth arm punching competition.
            That carried them pretty much the rest of the way to base, interrupted only with a time out to radio in the due diligence advisory that Rex 21 (yeah that’s right, “Mean Al”) had been unable to be brought in for the night and should be considered at large.


            Though he again had no recollection of it, they must have also relayed Neil's situation, because there was a small hoard of lawyers waiting when they buzzed up a short while later.
            Perking up as the Rex guys dumped Neil unceremoniously on the tarmac --their heroism not, evidently, extending as far as to jeopardize their diners-- the huddle swarmed around him, barraging him with heated legalize from a safe enough distance to allow him to pull himself arduously to his own unstable feet.
            They proved remarkably adept at maintaining this buffer as Neil half drag - half hobbled off in the direction of the Med Unit, the efficiency of the effort suggesting they sought to avoid any actions that could be misconstrued as legal concessions of sympathy, and though Neil was finding it rather easier than usual to tune out their continued drone, it was very clear their concerns were not for him but the Pterodactyl, phrases like “need I remind you the dinosaur in question is still technically only on inter-dimensionary loan” keenly imparted in what must have been his direction.
            Undeterred by his hollowly determined nonchalance, they blundered on in what even Neil had to give them credit for was a remarkably thorough presentation (in reflection he was fairly sure there may even have been large printed diagrams at one point) and they still maintained a steady commentary a long while but no time later when Neil rounded the corner to meet a very flustered looking medic hurrying towards them with a wheel chair.
            “You Nigel?” she asked distractedly, before adding a hasty, “Who am I kidding, of course you are,” in a way that somehow made Neil suddenly aware he was shivering quite a lot and still fairly wet.
            Not sure whether he ever gave any answer, Neil found himself being helped brusquely into the chair, pirouetted dizzyingly back the way the medic had come, and hurried urgently along about three doors down to the large serpentine red caduceus marking the passage to their destination. The lawyers—spurred into renewed enthusiasm at the appearance of someone new to harass—met some resistance at the bottleneck of the entrance, one walking sideways into the wall with a satisfying thump, but  otherwise continued unrelentingly, and Neil was finding them rather more distracting now he had to concentrate on the medic’s contending instructions.
            She seemed to be the only one manning the unit and got progressively more frazzled as she sprinted around cabinets and drawers dodging lawyers as she donned Neil with an electric blanket and prepared an endless plethora of shots, punctuated the whole while with queries shouted back at Neil. These were thankfully mostly yes-or-no questions, which was still about all he could manage, but it still seemed like the majority prompted the answer “Ummmm…”
            Though the medic was perfectly understanding of this, it did little to improve her mood, and as the heat and medication slowly brought Neil’s senses back to him, he felt she was being rather more gruff with the needles then was entirely necessary.
            She had finally contented herself with the pin cushion motely of his arms and was half finished wrapping his knee when his supervisor shuffled into the room dejectedly, scowling, if it was possible, even more than usual.
            Much like the lawyers, it was clear his presence here was purely professional rather than for Neil’s benefit, and he only acknowledged his subordinate after having made a great show of signing everything the lawyers shoved at him as exaggeratedly put out as possible, with the afterthought of a reminder “Fecal Allocation Friday, Neville,” offered back halfheartedly as he made his way back out the door.
            By this time the medic had finished with his leg and was taking back the blanket and packing away her supplies.
            “You’ll probably have missed diner at this point,” she informed him matter-of-factly, to which Neil blinked pointedly, rather than expending the energy to oblige the reflexive inclination to check his watch, “If you wanted to stay the night” (the lawyers began eagerly reeling of all the reasons this wouldn’t be covered by the company insurance) “I could have something brought up, otherwise…”
            Neil, who’d already been thinking of nothing but his bed, grunted that he would be quite alright, thank you, and the medic, looking abashedly relieved, went about discharging him with a pair of crutches, a lollipop, and a scoffing “aspirin” to his expressed concern about something for the pain now stiffening throughout the wake of the retreating numbness.
            Annoying, but unsurprisingly, the lawyers followed him out again, exhaustion and the tantalizing thought of sleep thankfully proving just as effective a shield as shock had been, and this mantra carried him two thirds of the way to his bunk uninterrupted, until an audible growl from his stomach made him suddenly realize he actually was hungry after all, enough so to prompt him to now really check his watch and, upon finding it broken, chance the detour.
            He got to the dining hall just in time to see the metal shutter being rolled down to prevent anyone else entering, the unsympathetic glare of the attendant daring him to try talking his way in.
            Hardly insulted by this point, Neil didn’t bother, rather directing his efforts to imagining what a scene he must make, clumsily circling around on his crutches, his lawyer entourage likewise spilling around back on itself in a thoroughly confused gaggle. The image fresh in his mind, he made to console himself with the lollipop, but couldn’t find it and almost felt the urge to laugh at the culminating absurdity of the evening.
            That happy notion seeming to drain the last of his emotional capital, his ebbing thoughts and shuffling treads turned back toward his bed, all else tunneling to the anticipation of that beacon.
            He was so tired and retreated into that impulse that when he at long last reached his door he hardly took any satisfaction at shutting it in the nearest lawyer’s face. He managed to kick one shoe off as he stumbled toward his bunk, the strain of the exertion leaving no illusions as to the worth of trying for the second, and collapsed, finally into the soft warmth of his mattress, the exotic sounds the hot jungle night washing over him.

            Sighing a last breath of relief, he closed his eyes, and was asleep, just in time to miss a winged silhouette cutting across the seemingly exaggerated star flecked purple swirls of the Dome night sky.

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