Fishing for Dragons
Karl pulled the throttle, slowing the Manta-class submersible to 10 knots. It was midday on Beta Hydri V, so at 120m depth, the water was a brilliant cobalt blue; bright enough to run without floodlights. The current was slow and the temp read 15 C.

“Perfect waters for a dragon.” Karl said, grinning.

“Yeah, that’s why I can’t stop shaking.” Jay replied nervously. He was sweating, in spite of the cool cabin, and his hands were indeed visibly shaking.

“Don’t be such a baby!” Karl sighed impatiently. “You know what they’re worth?”

“There’s a reason they’re worth so much. And a reason why it’s illegal.”

“There’s about two hundred thousand reasons why you agreed to this, so quit whining and be ready. There’s a mass ahead, probably a jelly."

Jay swallowed and tried to keep calm. He knew he had good reason to be afraid. While the three meter length didn’t make dragons the biggest fish in the sea, the fact that they could squirt a burning jet of white-phosphorous – literally breathing fire underwater – gave them their name and made them the most dangerous creatures discovered in Hydrus. They were fast too. The combination of rapidly undulating kite-shaped membranes and internal turbine-like propulsion gills made them nearly as fast and maneuverable as the submersible. Sure they needed the money, but dragons had killed more than a few poachers.

“Jelly!” Karl beamed, “What’d I tell ya?”

“Oh, she’s a beaut. Sure you don’t wanna just nab an angel or somethin’ and head back?” Jay pleaded, squinting through the six-inch thick canopy.

“Not a chance! We’re fishin’ for a dragon and nothin’ less will do.”

He cut the Manta down to 5 knots and banked right, skimming the surface of the giant organism as he searched for his quarry. The jelly truly was ‘a beaut’. The enormous jellyfish looked like a translucent phosphorescent white ship-sized dome, probably twenty meters in diameter. Beneath the dome, this floating self-contained ecosystem housed at least a hundred different species within its symbiotic tendrils that hung down over a kilometer. In spite of the teeming variety, Karl knew that a bright orange kite-shaped dragon wouldn’t be hard to spot. He guided the Manta below the umbrella’s edge and whistled. The wildlife on BH V never got old. A stunning array of colorful fish, rays, and eels glided and darted around the milky ribbon-shaped tendrils. He skirted the perimeter and watched.

“There!” Karl pointed excitedly. Clearly visible, pursuing a ghost ray, they spotted the dragon. Jay gasped. “Wait for it, bro. Looks like it’s about to cook that ray. Perfect!”

Jay fought to steady his aim. He had one shot. Dragons, being the only other species besides humans that ‘cooked’ their food, would be vulnerable for about 20 seconds after. Dragons stored enough tetraphosphorus in their glands for several gouts, but it took at least 20 seconds for their gills to extract enough oxygen to ignite it. If Jay missed, the dragon would likely dart further into the tendrils and then come back around and burn their Manta like a blowtorch through a snowball. Just then, a bright white plume seared the ghost ray, burning it in half.

“NOW!” Karl shouted, but Jay had already pulled the trigger. The trident, a three-pronged rocket harpoon, shot through the water like a bullet. It hit dead center, the spring-loaded prongs expanding on impact, both snaring and killing the dragon with lethal efficiency.

“YES!” Karl shouted, jumping and hitting his head on the canopy. “NICE SHOT!”

Jay exhaled, hitting the button to reel the dragon in and wiping sweat from his brow.

“Hell of a shot, buddy!” Karl praised, “Let’s go home.” He turned the Manta back toward the colony as their quarry finished its trip and now hung securely below the hull. He pushed the throttle to 15 knots, wishing he could go faster, but taking no chances with their precious cargo. His elation was interrupted by a flashing indicator.

“Object approaching from our 6 at 25 knots!” Jay warned urgently.

“Probably just an eel shark lookin’ for lunch.” Karl said as he hit the switch for the rear cam. “If it gives us a love tap, just drop some… chum…”

The rear-cam had been acting up, but through the snowy picture the horizontal swath of bright orange was unmistakable.

“SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!” Karl shouted and threw the throttle to full, zigzagging wildly. The Manta responded sluggishly, the tethered carcass causing considerable drag.

“What is it?” Jay shouted back, missing the fleeting glimpse that Karl had seen on the monitor.

“Dragon!” Karl replied in a voice that Jay didn’t recognize. “Cut the cord!”

“That’s impossible!” Jay argued more with reality than his brother. “It’s not mating season and dragons are solitary…”

“CUT THE DAMN CORD!” Karl screamed, trying to shake their pursuer.

Jay flicked the safety and punched harpoon tether release. The Manta lurched forward, rapidly approaching top speed. Karl’s heart leaped with relief and then froze with terror as the instruments flickered and wailed with critical alerts. He read the warnings and then slammed his fists on the console in frustration. They were hit. The cabin filled with smoke and ozone.

“No… Wait…” Jay was bewildered and looking at his oldest brother. The brother that had been getting him into trouble since they were little, but somehow always found a way out. But Karl just looked back at him with tears in his eyes and said:

“I’m sorry.”

The loud sirens were interrupted by louder cracking and hissing noises and then the Manta imploded.

Exo-species BH5 Dasyatis Draconis, dubbed ‘dragon’ by the colonists of Beta Hydri V, are solitary aquatic rays with a unique biomechanism allowing them to eject an ignited stream of tetraphosphorus. In spite of many fatalities, these dangerous predators are commonly hunted by the local colonists.

Addendum: Six years after the underwater colony was established, the entire species spontaneously made the most peculiar change in behavior…

They started swimming in pairs.

This story was inspired by a contest on to create a thousand word dragon-themed story. I don't remember if it was part of the contest parameters, but I tried to think way outside the dragon box.

It turned out that I was way past the contest deadline that I hadn't noticed until after I tried submitting it, but I was happy with the result so it worked out.

The word count was exactly 1000 words when I originally posted it, but it shrunk to 996 after a few minor edits.

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