This is a Tomorrowlands universe story; they are listed at http://www.tomorrowlands.org/story/stories.html.
© 2001, Den "Batty" Whitton
Tracks ------ Tracks in the sand, a scrape, and a drop of blood. Frank sighed as he gazed along the creek bed. Blood. The animal was seriously injured. He hated this part of being a park ranger -- hunting down injured animals and killing them. Or rather, he used to hate it. Since The Changes he actually enjoyed finding the animals and removing their pain. The ranger squinted up at the towering walls of ancient basalt, shading his eyes as he gazed at the shadows. The late summer sun beat down on the world, driving everything to the shade. The young wallaby would be somewhere along the cool north wall. He could forget about searching the south wall, baking in the full sunlight. Cicadas sang in the trees lining the banks, making it hard to hear the other sounds of the bush. He walked slowly along the sandy bed, dodging around the long tufts of tussock grass, watching the tracks, and identifying other traces of animals; a snake, a goanna, a small mob of 'roos -- A dog. Frank swore loudly. There were no dingoes in the park, so this must be a feral. He'd need some help to catch it. Well, I was going to see Mick on the way back, thought Frank as he gazed up at the sloping walls of the valley, so I might as well do it now. He knelt, gathered the blades of a tussock and tied them into a loose knot, did the same to another tuft at his right hand, then stepped between the pair. After walking a few paces he turned and examined the sand. His footprints ended at the knotted grasses. The slopes of the valley were steep and wooded, and the last 10 meters were sheer wall. Frank had climbed to the top once, and today was far too hot to do that again. He knew that at least an hour's worth of thick bush stood between him and the crevice leading to the top. That first climb had been necessary; he didn't have to climb it again. Examining the skyline did not reveal a familiar shape, so he closed his eyes. "Let's see. There was a mulga tree there, and that rock ... ah! There it is. So if I turn ... yes! Okay!" Frank hummed to himself for a moment before opening his eyes. A hundred metres below, the sandy creek bed wound its way in and out of the shadows. He turned to face a pile of massive basalt boulders, an upwelling from some ancient eruption eroded by time. Someone of great power had dug their way into the hill. The ranger looked into the dark cave, took a deep breath, and began to sing loudly. "Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside! Oh, I do like to be beside the sea! Oh, I do like to walk on hypodermic needles, picking up a nasty case of Hepatitis C! Oh, I do like to swim among the --" Something stirred in the darkness. A large, scaled head lifted into the light. The dragon stared at the man for a moment, then said, "Jeez, Frank! Give it a rest!" Frank fell quiet. "Don't you like my song, Mick?" he said with a smile. "Well, yeah! But I was trying to snooze." Mick frowned for a moment. "Were you trying to ward my camp? I set my own, you know." "That was a warning song, not a warding song," said Frank. "I just wanted to wake you up. Are you doing anything later?" "Yes," said the dragon with a nod. "I'm meeting with a team of architects to discuss what to do with the Homebush site after the Olympics. What do you reckon?" He waited until Frank had stopped laughing. "So how's the outside world?" "Well," began Frank after a moment's thought. "The Yank government wanted to set up camps for all the theris there --" "Bugger that," grumbled the dragon. "Which is pretty much what the theris said. The Liberals tried to push that through here, but the Labor Party killed it on the floor, and the Democrats said it wouldn't get through the Senate anyway." "Remind me to vote Dems next election." "Yes has produced a new CD called 'Open Your Eyes,' and I just happen to have a copy in my pack --" "OOH! Gimme!" "And the Civil Aviation Authority has set up a 1 kilometre theri-no-fly zone around airports and flight paths," finished Frank as he pulled the CD from his pack and handed it over. "Good idea. A bloke doesn't want his tail caught in a jet intake." He peered at Frank for a moment before asking, "Did they find the three who flew over Times Square?" "No," said Frank quietly. "They're in hiding." "I'm not surprised," said Mick. "As if the death penalty would solve anything. Bloody idiots," he growled. Frank nodded. "So how's everything with you?" Mick asked. Frank sat in thought for a moment. "The Dreamtime is very cool," he said at last. Mick looked at him. "Is that all? 'Cool'?" "And interesting," added Frank. "That's all I'll say for now. I could take you there one day, if you wish," he added. "Listen, I saw some dog tracks in the creek. Can you look for it? I can't have a feral running around here. There are too many endangered animals." "Dog?" wondered the dragon. "Ah! That would be the dingo." "We don't have dingoes in the Warrumbungles." "You'd better tell her that," said Mick, nodding to something behind the man. Frank turned and saw a medium-sized dog the colour of sand, standing there and staring at them. Frank wondered at her silent arrival. "This is Sally, from the Telescope," said the dragon. The dingo walked over to Frank and sniffed him. "You must be Frank the ranger," growled Sally. "Mick talks a lot about you, kadaitcha." "Don't call me that," said Frank, quickly. "Why?" she said, then frowned. "Uh, can you guys look away for a moment?" Frank shrugged and turned his back on her. Mick looked away. "Sorry, but it's easier to talk like this," said Sally a moment later in a more human voice. "Why can't I call you --" "No!" said Frank as he turned around, then took a step back in surprise. Standing before him now was a young lady, about 5'6" tall ... and naked. "N-no. Call me Mage or wizard or something, but don't call me that. I haven't earned that right." He looked at his feet and coughed. "Um. Do you have any clothes?" he mumbled. "They fall off when I change," laughed Sally. "Are you embarrassed?" "No, but it was a bit unexpected." "He's embarrassed," said Mick. "Maybe you should have changed into your anthro-dingo form. The fur covers all your -- you know -- bits." "It's too hot for that," said Sally. Frank looked at Sally thoughtfully, then realized he was staring, and flushed. "You can change between forms at will?" "Of course! Why shouldn't I?" "Maybe you can help Mick with his changes," said Frank. The dragon looked away but said nothing. Sally looked at them. "You can't change?" she asked eventually. "You changed once. Why can't you change back?" "I can, but it's the next one that worries me," said Mick. "What if I can't change again? I don't want to lose my wings." Sally reached up and patted the dragon on the shoulder. "The next change is the same as the first change." "I hope not," said Mick. "He caused a traffic accident," explained Frank. "Silly bugger changed on the Harbour Bridge at peak hour. Gridlocked central Sydney all day." Sally's mouth fell open. "That was you?" "I did not cause that accident," grumbled Mick. "It was the stupid people looking at me instead of watching the car in front." Sally stared at the dragon in silence. "I think I can help you," she said at last. "But you have to help me." Mick looked at her quizzically. "We're taking some deep-sky photos tonight," she explained. "If you refrain from buzzing the dome I'll help you through your fears." "I don't buzz," grumbled the dragon. "I was just flying past for a bit of a look." "Well, you two have a lot to talk about, so I'll be off," Frank said suddenly. "I have a wallaby to find." He waved to the pair and left the cave. Moments later, he was standing between a pair of knotted grasses. He untied the knots and continued along the creek. Fifteen minutes later, he found the exhausted animal lying in some shade. She had broken her leg. Frank placed a hand over the little wallaby's eyes and waited for her to become still. Moments later he straightened the leg, began to Sing, and felt the ends of the bone knit together. Once, not too long ago, he had to shoot animals injured like this. Things had Changed.
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