Account of Life on Brobdingnag
Editor’s note: Earle Horne, 62, dragon rancher, titanium mine operator, and chairman of the Dionaea Policy Council, gives an account of life on Brobdingnag. Born a native of immigrant parents, Earle earned a degree in Minerals Engineering from the Ward Institute of Technology and worked for five years as an exploration geologist with the Crawford Minerals Company. He was instrumental in developing the Doppler g-wave wide-range scan technique for defining mineral deposits, and shares one of the patents on that process. He became interested in raising domesauri. With the royalties from his patents to support him, he staked a grazing claim and built himself a ranch. He has written two books on the care and feeding of these large beasts which have become “required” reading for anyone who wants to enter this field.
Brob is a big place! Not that the planet’s so big – it actually has less dry land than Earth- but the enormous life forms can scarcely be believed! Standing on the plains near a herd of grazing domesauri, I’ve often reflected on how feebly Humans compare to those great beasts, and yet we have shaped all this great life to our wills. We have prospered and multiplied, and before my great-grandchildren die, a billion Human beings will live on this world. If aliens land here then, they’ll observe the planet’s Human population, but they will barely notice the great beasts which have roamed here for millions of years.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a dragon. I was almost six. My family lived in a 20 hectare compound about 200 kilometers from Dawson’s Gap, a small settlement in central Horus. As a child, I never ventured outside the compound except when my parents drove me to town or to the compound of a neighboring family. One day my dad said, “Son, it’s time you see whose planet this really is.” He went to a locked cabinet in the back of the house and got out a strange-looking object. It resembled a misshapen field ball bat with a piece of pipe and an insulator on it, and a strap to hang it over his shoulder. Later I learned it was a laser rifle, which he hadn’t used since I was born. We got into the car and headed out of the compound for a while. Soon Dad set the car down in a small clearing, and we climbed out.
Not a sound could be heard. No talk, no activity, no machinery, not even insects buzzing, broke the silence. My dad whispered not to make any noise, and we headed across the clearing toward the trees. We pushed through a wall of ferns at the clearing’s edge and started walking in the dense forest. The soft, spongy ground muffled our footsteps, and the cathedral-like canopy of leaves overhead filtered all but green light. After a while we came to another wall of foliage, and Dad told me to be very quiet because we were about to see what we had come for. He pushed the plants aside and guided me on ahead. Nothing had prepared me for that sight.
I looked out of the forest into a larger clearing with a small lake in the center of it. In and around the lake stood 20 of the largest animals I had ever seen. As they grazed, their great necks moved tiny heads slowly over the long grass, cutting a swath as they went. They had great round bodies, long winding tails and legs as big around as tree trunks! Their smooth, leathery skin varied between mottled pink and light brown. The rushing sound of their breathing resembled the roar of distant surf, and the moisture in their great breaths condensed like smoke when they exhaled. So these were the dragons! I had looked at pictures of them on the Infax, and I had gossiped in low whispers about them with my friends at school, but the awe of seeing them in the flesh sent tingles through my body. I stared transfixed for what must have been a long time.
Suddenly a cracking and crunching of vegetation at the far end of the clearing interrupted my trance and another equally awesome and wondrous creature came into view. Its enormous head was dominated by a mouth inset with double rows of pointed teeth, each the size of a man’s thumb. It loped along on all fours, though its hind legs were a good deal larger than its front legs. Every few steps it rose up on its rear legs and let out a great hiss that stopped my heart cold. The great grazing beasts raised their tiny heads all together and looked toward the attacker in dumb terror.
My father let the rifle slip from his shoulder and held it in front of him. The great beasts began to run from the attacker. Though they moved swiftly, their size made them appear in slow motion. Father pulled me back into the brush, and we walked quickly back the way we came. I heard no screams and did not appreciate fully the fate of one of those big, pinkish creatures near the pond. Twenty years later I would avenge its death in face-to-face combat with a relative to the toothed monster. Though I didn’t know it then, the sight in the clearing had marked my soul for life. My hopes and ambitions and the path I would follow to satisfy them had been permanently altered.
Though central Horus had not been settled long in those days, my childhood in the country passed uneventfully. Before my father came to Brob, early settlers had learned to protect themselves from dragons by surrounding their compounds with ultrasonic fields. These fields don’t affect Humans, but the dragons find them so repulsive that they won’t even approach them. Our house sat in the center of a circular clearing about 250 meters across. At its edge, a green wall of vegetation rose 70 meters in the air. The cleared area around our house contained an assortment of tiny farms and orchards, and a small grassy field for us children to play in.
My parents, quiet people who kept to themselves, had left the crowded bustle of Earth because Brob offered them the rural life of their dreams. I was born the eldest of three children, and despite my parents’ natural reserve, we grew to be a very closely knit family. My contacts with other people occurred no more than once a week until I turned five, and Mother sent me to the regional day school at Dawson’s Gap. I enjoyed the school and had several friends there. I dabbled in sports but became preoccupied with science at an early age. All fields interested me: astronomy, chemistry, geology, and biology. I had collections of insects, a telescope, a small chemistry lab, and a rock collection. My father worked as a foreman at a nearby chromium mine, and he encouraged my interest in geology. At sixteen, he got me a part-time job as a worker-helper in the mine. I loaded trash, oiled equipment, fetched and carried, and helped out with a lot of assorted dirty work. After a while I even learned to make basic repairs on the autominers. This experience forever solidified my distaste for physical labor. From the first, I showed promise as a good student, and Father began putting aside money early for my education. At 17, I was accepted into the Ward Institute in New Houston.
My parents drove me to Dawson’s Gap and put me on the bus to New Houston. Father said he didn’t care if he ever saw the “big town” again, and wouldn’t go there until my graduation. I had never left the region before. Though I had seen New Houston on the news, it seemed more remote than the planet Earth, which often appeared as the setting of movies and shows we watched at home. Once again I was emotionally unprepared to deal with an unfamiliar aspect of my world.
My bus arrived at Gate Seven of New Houston. The passengers filed out of the bus and down a long tube that led to the main terminal. The terminal floor formed the heart of the gate. From there moving ramps filled with people and cargo rose for sixteen stories and headed in what seemed to be every conceivable direction. Numbers in round signs of varying colors marked the routes, and everyone seemed to know where they were going.
Even those that didn’t consulted small screens around the main floor of the terminal entering codes on a keyboard and getting directions from an unseen computer buried in the center of the city. I stood staring at all this for half an hour, wondering what I was going to do. At last, I noticed a stylishly dressed fellow carrying a handpainted sign saying “Ward Tech” pass by with about half a dozen younger people in tow, who looked about as confused as I. He was an upperclass student who had volunteered to meet incoming freshpeople at Gate Seven that day.
After he finished gathering up about a dozen of us, another student came to relieve him, and we headed into town. He took us to a large rack containing rows of barrel-shaped containers about 1.5 meters in diameter, opened one and put our luggage inside. He punched a long number into the key board on the side followed by the words “Ward Tech.” The barrel tipped forward into a large chute and scuttled away. We then turned to a nearby self-propelled ramp and started our journey into the city. The older student explained the workings of the guideway system as we went, but I was too preoccupied with the view to listen.
We moved between successively faster ramps until we reached the fastest one travelling at about 35 kilometers per hour. As I looked out I could see dozens of other ramps, some moving parallel with us and others moving in the opposite direction. All moved at different speeds, and now and then one or two would branch off or merge in from an angle. Thousands of interesting people filled the ramps. They didn’t look like country folk. They dressed in shiny Virion or Acrovel outfits in an array of bright colors. Many wore their hair long. Some wore it teased and piled up on their heads in a variety of weird styles. Beyond them loomed the great multi-story structures of the city. The geometric shapes of the buildings seemed incredible.
Most country houses are made up of low, flat rectangles, but these buildings contained cylinders, pyramids, and irregularly-piled blocks of rectangular shapes. Graceful arches supported and connected some of the larger structures, and periodically, great silver spires thrust up, crowned with giant arrays of communications antennas. Between the structures stretched long narrow parks containing grassy knolls and tree*lined paths of shiny black material. City people strolled through these parks and sat on benches beside the walkways or on the neatly trimmed grass. As we passed through commercial areas, I could see shops lining ground level arcades, whose display windows fille d with brightly colored goods tempted passersby. In other places, bars, theaters, and clubs opened onto the arcades, their signs and displays offering all manner of instruction or diversion from religious lectures to comic opera, from the formally proper to positively sordid.
We arrived at the Ward Institute and descended from the ramps. The campus consists of a rather dense complex of medium-sized buildings on a trapezoidal-shaped piece of ground about 500 meters on one end, 300 meters on the other and 700 meters long. I was shown to a room in a large dormitory building that looked out upon the city from about 50 meters in the air. The dorm buzzed with students newly arrived for the coming quarter. During the next few days I received hundreds of instructions about school procedures: choosing my classes, eating, joining social groups, grades, scholarships, and so forth. In another environment I might have paid more attention to all this, but my mind had been captivated by the wonder of the great city spread out before me, a city that never stopped, never even slowed its endless stream of traffic and activity.
My first quarter at Ward became the all-time low point of my academic career. I spent more time in the city than I did in the classroom or studying. The stores, the shows, and the endless crowds fascinated me. The city’s atmosphere seemed electric. I stood for hours in squares or busy intersections just watching all the people pass by. Live entertainment also fascinated me. There is something about watching live people singing, dancing, or acting on stage that just can’t be conveyed on the holoscreen at home. I took a job in a bar to earn money. I served alcohol and pills in a variety of forms, and, of course, took to using far too many mind-affecting chemicals myself. The money I earned was supposed to pay educational expenses, but I spent too much of it on entertainment and fast women, my ultimate undoing.
I had dated a few local girls during my high school years, but nothing had prepared me for city women. In the country, men and women dress in similar fashion, wearing loose-fitting jump suits or shirts and pants of rugged material. No one wears makeup and hairstyles tend to be short. City women wear high-styled, tightly fitting outfits, and use a variety of body paints and artificial scents to enhance what nature gave them. I had developed no immunity to these lures, and spent many spare hours in singles bars hustling girls. I guess I was sort of attractive in a country-bumpkinish way, for I managed to spend almost half my nights in the apartment of some unattached female whom I had met only hours before.
Exams came and the results were as expected. My advisor called me in and told me that I had better shape up or I’d find myself permanently out of school and working in the mines again. Fascination with the ways of the city was a common malady among country freshmen, he said, and those who fell so ill that they flunked out regretted it within a year. He suggested that, despite my poor showing in the first quarter of geology, I enroll in his laboratory course, which included a four-week trip to Alabuka. He offered to tutor me in geology during the tween quarters vacation so that I would be prepared for the trip, and he got me a job on campus so I didn’t have to work in the bar.
The field trip provided still more revelations. We traveled by levitruck to Alabuka and worked out of a base camp operated by Crawford Minerals. We explored the foothills of the Chebak mountains looking for rare earth deposits and cataloging the planet’s geological forms. We also visited the mines and processing plants. There I got to know a couple of the engineers quite well. On weekends we travelled to Wynand to savor the city life of what was then an emerging boom town. The engineers belonged to expensive clubs that offered superb food and outstanding entertainment in far more lavish settings than I had ever seen. I met women too, women so exotic, so sensuous, so worldly wise that I forgot completely about the shop clerks and secretaries I had been chasing back in New Houston. I returned to school with a renewed desire to succeed and I managed to graduate four years later with high honors, despite my early academic probation.
After graduation, I accepted an offer with Crawford Minerals as an exploration geologist. I wanted to see the world and explore territories that few people had seen before. Dionaea and Moa were opening up, and I spent five years on exploratory parties probing unknown sections of those continents in our search for minerals. During those trips I had the chance to renew my interest in the great dragons that roam the planet. I read several books about them and soon learned that people knew very little of these magnificent animals. Though several hundred of the more than two thousand species had been classified, most of those listed lived on Horus. Evolution had proceeded quite independently on the different continents of Brobdingnag, and the animals on each continent adapted uniquely to each environment.
People knew very little about their diets, their habits, their natural instincts, or their intelligence. I spent many of my spare hours observing the dragons. I kept careful notes and took photographs of the creatures which helped me to discover more than 20 previously uncatalogued species.
As my studies of dragons progressed, I grew bolder. The majority of species are herbivores that graze on shrubs and trees. Sedentary animals, they don’t more around more than they have to. Humans, or anything else smaller than they are, don’t seem to frighten them, so I began to walk among them as they grazed. This enabled me to observe their indiscriminate eating habits, and their limited social patterns. In general, females outnumber males by a fairly constant three to one ratio. Their sexual relations occur randomly; they don’t take permanent mates, nor does a dominant male maintain his own group of females. Their tendency to herd seems based on instinct and a common desire for food. I suppose nature programmed them to know that the eating is good where the others are eating. A typical group consisting of one to three males and three to fifteen females remains together unless scattered by a predator. Many species are quite adept at sensing natural predators. I’ve seen large carnivores scatter herds long before I saw or heard the intruder’s approach. The first time this happened nearly cost
me my life.
I was observing a group of titanisaurs at close range when suddenly, without warning, the group broke into a run. They headed off in a widely scattered pattern, but in the same general direction. I had to step lively to avoid being crushed, but fortunately the creatures move slowly, especially when they’re just starting out. I soon found myself alone in a clearing facing a charging icondodon, a large, ferociously toothed creature that stands about six meters tall. I ran at right angles to it, hoping it would not pursue me, but it turned and headed straight for me. I guess it figured I’d be a warm hors d’oeuvre before its main meal. I always carried a laser rifle when walking alone and took careful aim at the monster’s head. It looked about 100 meters away when I started firing. The first burn to its forehead didn’t appear to slow it down. I fired again at its chest and could see its flesh burning. Yet that didn’t appear to hurt it either and its pace barely slackened. It moved about 40 kilometers per hour, so flight was out of the question. Desperately I crouched and took careful aim at one eye, which burst like a balloon of water with the laser’s heat, but he had another and simply turned his head slightly to bring me into full view. As he towered above me, I got off a final shot to his other eye, then turned and ran. Blinded, the creature began whirling in circles, and I threw myself to the ground just in time to avoid being swatted by its great tail.
I picked myself up and, rifle clutched tightly, ran as fast as I had ever run in my life. When I stopped, I stood 100 meters from the beast. He had fallen to the ground and was writhing furiously. I don’t know if it actually felt pain, or if his nervous system had become totally confused by its lack of sight. I didn’t wish to leave it suffering, but I didn’t know if my laser rifle had enough energy left to kill it. I returned to my levitruck, a drilling unit that I had borrowed for the day. It contained a 10,000-kilowatt rotary polarized laser drill. I flew back and hovered over the beast. His movements seemed slower now, perhaps from its impressive loss of blood. I positioned the laser carefully and fired a brief burst from overhead. The levitruck was slowly drifting, so the beam cut through the creature’s middle in a second, slicing it in two. Blood gushed forth, and although it appeared actually dead for the first time, the halves of its body continued to twitch for half an hour.
Minutes after it stopped moving, hundreds of tiny reptiles emerged from the grass to feast on the large carcass. I returned the next day to find the bones stripped clean of flesh, and tiny bone-eating insects slowly working on the remains of its skeleton. Although I had never been more frightened, I felt sad. Had I been carrying a sonic disperser, the animal’s death wouldn’t have been necessary, nor my own so likely. Before it happened,
I had imagined this battle with myself as Sir Galahad. Since then the image seems foolish. The struggle proved little, except that these huge dumb life forms are no match for Human weapons. It was a needless destruction of one of nature’s creatures, a disrespect for the value of life. I undertook my early years of dragon study as a pure hobby and had been doing it for about three years before it occurred to me that they might be useful. As was typical for early colonies, the first settlers of Brobdingnag brought the seeds of their own foods with them from Earth. Meat on Brob used to cost a bunch because native vegetation wasn’t suitable feedstock for Earth-type animals. Ranchers had to fatten cattle, pigs and sheep on grains. The planet’s heat and humidity also bothered the animals, so their production had to be confined to northern regions of Horus. People also ate synthetic meats produced from vegetable proteins, but neither the taste nor the texture of these facsimilies equalled the original. The dragons, because of their alien body chemistry, hadn’t been considered sources of food for the first century of the colony’s history. About the time I was born, dragon meat began appearing in the stores. Most of it came from hunting creatures in the wild, and its quality varied highly from batch to batch. My parents never served the stuff at home.
I got my first taste of dragon while at the Lake Manassis base camp on Dionaea. A newly arrived cook had been working at the camp about two weeks when a young scanner technician lost control of his levicar while landing and accidentally killed a dragon weighing more than ten tons. When the cook heard this, he asked if he could go out and butcher some of its meat for our dinner that night. The camp boss grimaced and complained, but the cook persuaded him. I went along simply because I’d never dissected a dragon myself.
We brought back 150 kilos of meat, plus about 30 kilos of entrails from the carcass of an as yet unclassified obesidon. The cook fileted it and broiled it, and it was the most delicious meat I had ever tasted. After dinner I asked him about it, and he replied that he learned to serve it on his previous assignment. He always cooked and ate some first, because the flavor could vary quite a bit from one animal to the next. As the beast we ate was unclassified, I submitted a classification report to GAILE and christened the species “domesauris.” After that we ate domesauris several times a week at the camp. Every month the cook and I went hunting. I identified the proper species and set a trap for it, usually a percussion device that killed them quickly and painlessly. The flavor of wild dragons, even from the same species and the same area, varied considerably and rarely measured up to my first taste. About one creature in four actually made us gag when we tried it, which seemed to me a terrible waste.
From these experiences, a germ of a business idea grew, and two years later I left Crawford Minerals to give it a try. I had assisted another engineer in developing a new mineral survey technique, and, under Brob’s law, earned a royalty on its patent. Also, I had saved some money while working as a field engineer. These funds I invested in a second-hand levitruck, some cryopreservation equipment, and a prefab building. In Brob’s remote regions, the planetary government handles land claims. I petitioned for a traditional cattle ranch homestead of 8,000 hectares and for a special grazing claim of 286,000 hectares on the continent of Dionaea. I had to persuade the land claims board of the validity of the grazing claim. (Shown in figure 3.9 below). Basically, it allows me to have exclusive rights to graze and capture domesauris within a specified area. However, ‘ should anyone else wish to use the land for some “higher” purpose, such as mining or crop farming, my claim can be superseded.
Figure 3.9 – Horne Grazing Claim – Central Dionaea
As almost no marketing system for dragon’s meat existed, I approached traditional meat wholesalers with a proposal to supply them with domesauris of consistently high quality, at prices far below that of traditional Earthly meats. This would enable them to expand their business with a less expensive product. It took quite a lot of salesmanship, including many free samples, to get distributors lined up. Many timid and conservative meat dealers turned me down for a variety of imaginative reasons, but at last I did get enough commitments from buyers to let me start raising dragons.
My early years on the ranch in Dionaea kept me busy. Most of the time I spent alone, keeping watch over the herds and processing meat in my tiny factory. I had to figure out how to keep the beasts from wandering off, how to protect them from predators, how to protect me from predators, and most importantly, how to assure a consistent quality of meat. My earliest quality control method was to simply slaughter the animals, sample them, and discard the unacceptable ones.
I turned the rejects into fertilizer which I used in my orchard and vegetable garden or sold to a few organic farmers in the area. It seemed a great waste, so I set about finding out why the creatures varied so much in taste. After two years of work, I found the cause lay in their diet. Domesauri will gobble up just about any plant that happens to be in front of their noses. Many of these native varieties impart a foul flavor to the meat if the creature eats them. It takes anywhere from two to three weeks for the taste to be purged out of their systems after they are taken away from the offending plants and fed good food. I could never have identified all the harmful species of plants and figured out what to do about them without the help of my wife.
Although my work fascinated me, the loneliness of life on the range began to get to me after six or eight months. My only contacts with Human beings were with the teenagers from Fort Mackinac (then a tiny outpost) who helped me out at butchering time, and with the people I met on weekly trips to town or on occasional business trips to New Houston. On one of those, I met the college-age daughter of the buyer for a major foodstore. She was a biology major, just about to graduate from prestigious Wheeler College. She had a very quiet, almost hermitic personality, and she said little until one evening after dinner she found out what I did.
That evening we talked all night about life in the wilderness and my experiments with the dragons. The week after her graduation, she ran off to Dionaea to live with me. Two months later, her father found out where she was and swore I’d not sell a gram of meat on Horus again. We silenced his objections by getting married and have remained so ever since.
Suzanne has been in every sense a partner in my life. Her interest, inspiration and creativity helped me to develop many of the animal husbandry techniques for which I am known. She is not as disciplined as I, preferring to be off in the forests looking for new plants and animals rather than keeping the records or organizing the feeding schedules. Yet she becomes absorbed in the knotty scientific and technical problems of our work, and I confess her ingenuity often exceeds mine.
It takes 300 hectares of Dionaea’s central plains to support one domesauris. Clearing all of this area of unfit food is totally impractical; so we cultivate smaller fields of finishing food and place the animals in them three weeks before packing time. Development of this technique, together with the breeding, guarding, and herding techniques we use today took the next 25 years of our lives. During that time, we watched Dionaea grow from a wilderness to a self-sustaining community. An awful lot of untouched land still remains out where we live. We can fly at top speed for hours without seeing a trace of Humanity, and Suzanne still prefers country life to the city where we also have a home.
A look at the map of our ranch (figure 3.10 below) gives some idea of how complicated dragon raising has become. In the old days, I used to have to go out and look for the beasts then herd them in one at a time by levicar. Now, brain wave attractors, based on the principle of the somafield, lure the creatures into the drive chute from all over the grazing area. Once inside, pulsed low-wattage laser fields make it very unpleasant for them to turn around, so they just mosey on down to the purified grazing area to fatten up for a while.
Figure 3.10 – The Lazy Eta Dragon Ranch, Central Dionaea
Keeping all the bad-tasting weeds out of an area as large as the purified grazing area was no mean trick. Much of that huge space marked “Labs and Medical” is taken up by experimental plots of specially bred feed grass, though the pens for sick dragons take up a good chunk of it too! The scale of the map makes the process buildings look small, but each one contains more than six thousand square meters of space.
After business really got going, all kinds of people from as far away as Horus kept stopping by to see the dragon ranch. I got so tired of explaining how it worked all the time that I installed an automated air car tour that takes visitors all over the ranch and gives a canned spiel by me that doesn’t forget something important each time I give it.
Though the tour doesn’t make me rich, it has paid back my investment, and given me some peace and quiet that I’d have paid dearly to get. Now things run so well, that I have moved my home over to the cliffs above the lake. This not only keeps me away from the tourists, but keeps the ranch hands from sticking their heads in the door every time they have a dumb question.
My success at ranching has attracted many imitators, but I’ve profited from this too, for my books on dragons bring in a steady stream of royalties with very little work on my part. The meat business has grown so competitive that profit margins have been driven steadily downward.
Meat is now so inexpensive that I worry about people eating more of it than is really good for them.
In the 36 years since I filed my claim, Dionaea has grown enormously. It now has a continental government that handles many matters formerly handled in New Houston, and I serve as an elected member of its Policy Committee which formulates laws to protect Human rights. Gardenia and Fort Mackinac have blossomed from small outposts to full-fledged cities offering a wide range of consumer goods and services. Farms have spread on to the central plain, though none have reached as far as my grazing claim. Someday, perhaps five or six centuries from now, there won’t be enough land left to graze domesauri. I don’t have to worry about that, because I have hedged my bets and gotten back into mining. That little titanium mine in the southeast corner of my grazing claim makes about as much money as the whole ranch.
I’ve had a good life, and I’ve enjoyed watching my children grow up to become responsible adults with a world of opportunity before them. My wealth now allows me time for civic matters and philanthropic activities. I think my knowledge of business and the biology of our planet has enabled me to contribute useful ideas as well as money to worthwhile causes. I’m looking forward to helping the newly founded musical society raise money for a performing arts center in Fort Mackinac, so we Dionaeans can enjoy live music and plays just like folks do in New Houston. I’ve expanded ranching operations on to Valeria continent, not because I need room, but because it will give me a chance to work with the local dragon species and to develop them for commercial use. I’m optimistic about the future of Brob, and I’m confident that pioneers will find the next 162 years twice as exciting as the first ones.