Dimensions were sort of like brick houses built in a row. Someone wanting to jump between them first had to run across the yard; then, from there, they would have to find a suitable door to open. Technology helped both in opening those doors and pointing the wanderer in the right direction – assuming, of course, that it worked.
Josh’s technology? It… kind of worked.
When he claimed he “made all of his tech from scratch” it sounded impressive – especially at the age of eighteen. The disclaimer he neglected to mention, however, was that each and every piece of equipment was a prototype. Untested and unlicensed, field tests were how he proved whether or not his endeavors were as impressive as he claimed – and the unfortunate fact of the matter was that only a fraction of them were.
The run was designed to test his four newest projects: a hook-like attachment on his belt, a peculiar clip strapped to one ankle, a thin metal box secured to his back, and a thick watch situated on one wrist – the very device that allowed him to leap between worlds.
But if that watch was intended to let him stride casually from his dimension’s yard to that of his neighbor, it was indeed a failure. As if overjoyed at the chance to get out and see the worlds the device whisked its owner blindly down road after road, stopping at the end of a planar cul-de-sac and hurling him onto the porch of a house at random.
When Josh’s eyes opened to the sun of a new world, he didn’t find the open fields or sprawling meadows he was expecting. Vines flung themselves this way and that, climbing up impossibly tall trees to strangle at the heavens themselves. Nature seemed to angrily lash back at them, hurling heat and humidity down their lengths to bombard the forest floor with a mire of sweating pores and panting breaths.
Content with its work, the watch displayed a jovial “Battery Recharging” message and abandoned its wearer in the heart of the jungle.
Scowling Josh swept a hand across his brow, trying to gauge the time through the canopy. The trajectory of the light was impossible to determine; so, instead, the young engineer relied on sound.
The fading chirps of crickets accompanied by the growing chorus of birds put the hour at some point in the early morning. Running water on all sides told him that he was on an island or long peninsula.
And heavy footfalls quickly closing in on him told him that he was not alone.
Reaching to his back, Josh flicked a small switch attached to his metal box. Immediately the contraption whirred to life, causing the air to ripple and distort like a heat wave in the desert. By the time the oncoming footsteps reached him, the engineer was gone: tiny vibrations rendered him invisible, subtle tremors canceled out the sounds of his movements, and heavy outputs of the world’s own odors shrouded his scent.
And the guise couldn’t have come at a better time. While the creature that arrived on the scene was most certainly humanoid it was far from human: covered in a myriad of bright green scales and armed with an assortment of fangs and claws, she resembled a dragon more so than she resembled any person Josh knew. And, at just over fifty feet tall, she seemed more than capable of living up to a dragon’s grisly mythological reputation.
Josh backed away slowly. Though he was unable to make noise, he was more than capable of altering the landscape – and a falling stump or a ruffle of leaves would be proof enough of his presence.
Yet his caution paid off: the dragon looked through him on multiple occasions, and yet her eyes continued to scan unfocused into the distance. His stealth generator had been a success!
Triumphantly the young engineer turned and started to stroll away. He took three steps, each accompanied by a bang, a clunk, and a hiss respectively. On the fourth step he heard the definitive crunch of a leaf underfoot; and, looking down, he found himself quite visible.
His stealth generator worked… but only for a few minutes.
“Well, well, well…” purred a voice at his back. It was melodic and feminine; yet, at the same time, dripping with predatory hunger.
“Well…” Josh grumbled, turning to meet the eyes of the huntress. It was more than a little disconcerting, realizing that only a few yards separated him from such a reputable predator; but, with a hand on his belt, it was reassuring to know his arsenal was not yet depleted.
“You’re very good at hiding. One moment you’re here and the next you simply vanish…”
“I’m not that good at hiding: you just aren’t very good at knowing where to look.”
She scowled but otherwise shrugged aside the insult. Inching closer she arched an eyebrow, scrutinizing the dimension-traveler’s assortment of gear with feline curiosity.
“I haven’t seen armor like that before – it doesn’t cover much.”
“It isn’t armor?”
“Then… what is it?”
“None of your business?”
Her scowl deepened, yet she successfully kept her rising temper in check.
“So few people come to my island.” She said somberly. “I truly do appreciate visitors. I’m surprised the tribes didn’t warn you about me?”
“You’re not very intimidating.”
She flashed him a bright grin, exposing her long and jagged teeth. Her claws extended as far as they would go, ripping at the earth to expose ancient tree roots. Her tail thrashed madly, splintering a thick trunk with ease.
“How do you figure,” she demanded “that I’m not ‘very intimidating’?”
“Well you’re strong…” he mused, gesturing towards the damage. “But you don’t seem very smart…”
One hand, absentmindedly playing with the dirt, suddenly snapped up and took a wide swipe at the human. He pushed back, narrowly avoiding the claws; and, in response, gave the dragon a scowl of his own.
“What was that for?”
“That,” she bluntly clarified “was for being an ungrateful guest. But don’t worry: I think I’ll still let you stay for dinner.”
The connotations were more than clear. Hardly wanting to see the dragon’s teeth any closer Josh turned and bolted further into the jungle – well aware of the crashing pursuit of the predator behind him.
Utilizing the miniscule lead he had, the human slipped his hand towards his belt and unclipped the grappling hook fastened there. With practiced aim he angled the head towards a distant branch; and, with a quick flick of the trigger, the sharp head was sent careening through the canopy.
As he felt the tug of metal meeting timber, his finger slipped down to the second trigger. In a rush the rope began to recoil, tugging him from the ground to send him hurdling through the trees. With minimal difficulty he caught and held the branch; then, disentangling the rope from the tree’s eves, he took aim again and moved to the next tree.
With each successive shot the sound of the footfalls at his back softened – and the pattern repeated itself until they vanished entirely. Confidently he continued to soar above the forest floor, happy to test his devices to the fullest extent of their abilities – and, at the same time, seemingly happy to let his powers of observation get away from him.
When the footfalls returned they were right in his ear; and Josh barely had the opportunity to glance over his shoulder before the same teeth he had so feared minutes before closed directly on top of him.
Josh had been eaten before and knew what to expect. The predator’s fetid breath swirled around him, choking out any aromas from the outside world; the heartbeat coming from deep within the predator drowned out his own, made him seem an inconsequential part of a whole; the saliva and spittle mingled with his own sweat, further distorting the line between himself and his captor.
Spinning on the dragon’s tongue he clicked the recoil mechanism on his grappling hook. The line began to drag him forward for a moment; then, in a terrifying instant, snapped. The same bite that had swallowed Josh had cut the anchor holding him to the tree; and the following gulp sealed his fate.
Reaching to his ankle, the engineer’s hands fiddled with the final prototype in his possession – the clip that had remained forgotten since his arrival in the new dimension. The mechanism there relaxed, dropping two large pills ahead of him down the predator’s gullet.
When Josh himself arrived in the waiting stomach, his tech was already hard at work. He didn’t feel the sting of acid but instead only the frothing bubbles of his harmless chemical reaction.
Josh had been eaten before and knew what to expect – and, as such, had prepared for just such an occasion.
“Enjoy your stay.” The dragon purred coyly. A gentle beat echoed all around him, signaling she was patting her stomach.
Leaning back against one organic wall, Josh smiled and shook his head. He would only be hanging around for his watch to recharge; and, for him, it would be a much more enjoyable stay than the huntress expected.