Hammer stepped out into the hallway. Five Oilberger recruits stood with their mouths open, their expressions split between wonder and horror. What seemed to be a silver, glowing dragon floated above their heads. Sedgwick was among them, but his expression was different. His face wore an unafraid, unsurprised look that startled Hammer.
Its had a texture like a silver cloud. Its body formed a spiral twisting downwards from the head. Its head was that of a dragon: slitted eyes, flared nostrils at the end of a long snout. But it was pixellated: each shape that made up the head had square edges. When it opened its mouth, silver tongues of fire leaked out in clumps of square pixels, unfolding in jerky frames. It was like seeing the guts of a computer projected into reality, simultaneously grand, intimidating, and buggy, incomplete. It filled up the narrow space of the hallway but it seemed shrunken-down, too grand for its small form.
One of the recruits stepped close and reached out to touch the silvery substance of the dragon. The dragon’s head immediately snapped downwards and a ball of white of light grew inside its mouth. It extended into a beam that hit the recruit in the chest. It knocked him back against the wall, and he lay there.
Hammer stood, immobilized, in the door. He was reminded of when he was young, and had seen a grizzly bear on a family vacation. It had been so majestic, and seemed so calm as he took pictures from the window. When he tried to roll it down, but his father had gripped his wrist, furious. Later on, his older brother had shown him a video of a bear attacking a group of tourists. But this was no bear–it wasn’t made out of fur and skin and muscle. It seemed to be made out of light.
Suddenly, with a flash, Alex’s head appeared on its body. The face of his girlfriend from home was unchanged from the first time he had seen it: her delicate eyes, their shape between the rough slant of her father’s and the round expressiveness of her mother’s ending in flares of mascara, her full, defiant lips. Hammer couldn’t believe it. He felt a pang in his heart as he recalled walking up the wooden steps to her small apartment in Boulder, so far away from this fluorescent corridor in the middle of a Siberian night.
Then it changed back into to the silvery dragon’s head. The eyes seemed to bore into Hammer’s. Then, suddenly, the whole body turned around and started moving down the hallway, towards the exit.
Hammer stood frozen for a moment, and then pursued. Even as Sedgwick tried to stop him, grabbing his wrist from behind, he knew that he couldn’t let the apparition escape. It was his only link back to Alex, his only connection to home.
The being accelerated down the hallway, heading towards the metal door that led to the outside. As Hammer caught up to it, he could hear the cold wind whistling harshly outside. It lowered its head and charged towards the door. The same beam of light that had attacked the recruit hit the door, blowing it open forcefully on its hinges. It swung around and hit the outside wall with a clang.
He ran after it, pushing himself against the burning of his lungs as it pulled away. It was heading for the chain-link fence that separated the Oilberger plant from the sleepy town of Novostok.
The dragon glided with intimidating grace over the fence. As it did, it started to grow. Its body lengthened and its head drew larger, until it had exceeded the size of any earthly animal. It filled up the dark space of the night, drowning out the pale stars. Hammer had to snap back to reality to stop himself from running into the fence, which was topped with spirals of wire tipped with glinting razorblades.
As the dragon’s silvery body passed over the fence, stretching to a grandiose length, part of its underbelly scraped against a blade before the dragon adjusted and pulled its tail into a higher arc. A scale of glowing matter peeled off and floated down to the ground, growing dimmer as it fell.
Hammer ran sideways along the fence, searching for an opening, but soon he knew it was useless. He watched the dragon recede into the night, gliding over the houses of Novostok. Its light slowly faded and the stars appeared again.
Hammer noticed his breath again. He had no idea what he had just seen, no context in which to place it.
More details of his surroundings leaked into his stunned consciousness. It was cold. A few flakes of snow started to fall around him, illuminated in the floodlights above the fence. Someone was jogging towards him, breathing heavily. Sedgwick.
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