Cold open

The end of a sunny Wednesday morning, late August. Jason Greenwell, A slim man in his early sixties, left the courthouse and looked over the garden. His eyes scoured the courtyard, looking for his friend. Or maybe not his friend. Ezrathan was more like a son to him. He actually was, in a certain way, if a dragon can be a son of a Man.
  Ezrathan had ran off when the trial was suspended, but the judge was about to continue. Soon, the verdict would be read, and the dragon had to be present during that event. It had been a hard morning, for nearly everyone involved, and Jason understood his friend might desire to be alone for a while, but now wasn’t the right time.

To the naked eye, Jason looked like any other human, but as we all know, looks can be deceiving. On the other hand, he hadn’t exactly paid effort to look like he owned one of the country’s biggest companies in bio-engineering and genetic research. Ever since he had become the staff director, he had done his best to keep living a relatively normal life.
  His life wasn’t normal, however, and that’s where his friend came in. Before Jason became the owner of Scavion Incorporated, he had been a genetic engineer, working on a secret and highly experimental project. Together with a band of colleagues, his job was to create a new form of life.
  It took years, but eventually, they were successful. Even though it was thirty-five years ago, he could still remember it like it was yesterday – the day they created a Halfling. A being that was roughly taken half human and half animal, hence the term ‘Halfling’. The first of them looked much like a black bear, and they thought they had failed.
  Until the cub began to babble, that is. Teaching him how to speak was tough at first, but back then, there was no greater satisfaction. However, to his former boss, there was, and Jason was ordered to design more of these creatures. A decade and a half later, they even tried to build one from scratch.
  That is to say, they attempted to not only create a Halfling, but to have its animal part be a new animal. Some of his colleagues had called him crazy and said it’d never work, but he persisted. The end result was what Jason considered to be the most impressive thing he’d ever done.
  A reptile Halfling with a ruby red hide and two leathery wings. He grew jet black hair on his head and a mane all the way to the end of his tail before he was even a year old, and when he turned four, two black horns began to protrude from the top of his head, just above his temples. The creature was, in every aspect, a dragon.
  When Jason officially concluded and announced his experiment was successful, he was still called crazy, or even a ‘mad scientist’. He didn’t listen, however, and decided to name the youngling ‘Ezrathan’[1]. Every Halfling he had designed before and after the dragon had amazed him, yet Ezrathan was special to him.
  The dragon proportionally surpassed most of his fellow Halflings. Whenever he walked through a crowd, his head would usually stick out above the humans around him, not even counting the additional length of his horns. However, the most impressive aspect about Ezrathan was his flight.
  At some point, the Halfling had begun to teach himself how to fly by studying and observing birds. The beginning of everything is hard, but the dragon persisted. Throughout the years, Jason had witnessed various aesthetically appealing aerobatics Ezrathan had performed for him. Especially his colleagues in anatomy were pleased about these developments.
  Unfortunately, there was one big downside. Jason never managed to create a second dragon. For every other Halfling so far, there was at least one within the same race or biological family. He wondered what Ezrathan was really going through, as the Halfling didn’t talk much with him about feelings.
  The old engineer understood his friend didn’t like to discuss such intimate matters with humans. Jason had bimonthly individual meetings with each Halfling to keep track of their development, but the dragon didn’t talk more than was strictly necessary. During one of those scheduled conversations, Ezrathan had said he ‘felt’ like his emotions were none of Jason’s business.
  Of course, this lead to a disagreement, but Jason eventually let it go. After all, the dragon had been adopted by a Halfling couple, who raised him with the love and care he deserved. It was only logical he didn’t want to share his private life with a humans. In terms of social and cognitive intelligence, humans and Halflings were equals, but appearance can easily divide people.
  Then again, Ezrathan did visit him whenever he felt bad or worried. Such occasions weren’t frequent, but it’d always be about something serious – something the dragon couldn’t solve on his own, or with the help of his godparents. In the most recent few years, Jason had been able to build an unusual friendship with this Halfling.

Eventually, he found what he was looking for. Or whom, actually. Ezrathan sat on the far side of the garden, on the roots of a large tree, resting in its shade. His ears were folded flat against the side of his skull, and his tail was relaxed, save for the tip. After all those years, Jason still wasn’t an expert on Halfling body language, but it was clear to him the dragon was pondering.
  When he came near, the engineer noticed the look in the eyes of his friend. They expressed a mixture of worry and anger, over matters unspoken, but an overload of both ingredients. His half-long hair concealed Ezrathan’s eyes, and Jason couldn’t see what he was looking at, until he was close enough to see the metaphorical fire in his eyes.
  “Ezrathan, there you are!” he called out, hoping to catch the Halfling’s attention. “I’ve been looking for you all over the place,”
  “It’s inevitable, isn’t it?” the dragon replied plainly, without looking at him.
  Jason remained silent.
  “To even consider locking up someone who’s had a miserable life already,” Ezrathan said to himself. “I just can’t wrap my head around it.”
  “It’s not over yet, son. The outcome of the trial, including the punishment, mostly depends on whether an exception is made. The fact Halflings don’t count as citizens might seem to be in your disadvantage, but it could also work for you.”
  The dragon looked his creator straight in the eyes. His ears pointed upwards.
  “You only say that because at the end of the day, you might have to deal with whatever bucket of sewage that judge is going to pour out, not me.”
  Jason wanted to say something, but he was too late.
  “We both know the prosecution pleads ‘guilty’, and I don’t think the judge will disagree. Look at all the evidence! There’s hardly a bright side to this, is there?”
  “Ezrathan, you’ve got to understand this is not an easy case. There’s many different people involved, conflicts of ethics, maybe even politics, who knows?”
  “Oh, I do. I know what’s involved,” the dragon scoffed.
  His creator looked at him with a questioning expression.
  “The same as always when there’s humans involved. Money, power, reputation… or any combination of those, pick one.”
  “This is the High Court, son,” Jason countered. “If any judges could afford to let people’s reputation make them side with any of the parties involved, it’s not going to be these judges.”
  “That’s nonsense, and you know it. Regardless of what you said about whom and what’s involved, you seem to be forgetting a critical piece of information here.”
  “Which is?”
  The fur of Ezrathan’s mane stood up straight.
  “You’re humans. Not even the law thinks of us as citizens. We count as something between pet animals and property. What do you think the outcome will be? I’ll give you a hint. Form a sentence in your head, containing the words ‘guilty’, ‘eleven years’ and ‘prison’. That’d sum it up nicely, I suppose.”
  “You’re exaggerating!” Jason replied, getting angry himself as well. “You’re convinced every human thinks of you as garbage, but it’s not true! Do you have any idea how valuable you’re to me?”
  The dragon bared his teeth.
  “Expressed in time or money?” he taunted.
  Jason grumbled. “No, you fool! This isn’t about money to me! Can you imagine how much time I’ve spent to figure out how to make you? You, specifically? You’re my life’s work!”
  “So? In other words, if something happens to me, you’re sad because of the time you lost?”
  The human let out a sigh. “No… You mean a lot to me, you really do. I even look up to you, son. I don’t know if I could live the life you have. Please understand not every human thinks they’re superior to Halflings. In fact, I believe it’s only a minority.”
  “If that judge agrees with eleven years in prison, I’ll turn his face into a minority,” Ezrathan growled.
  “I think I can grasp how you feel, son, but is that really an answer? It’s not a solution to your problem, is it?”
  The dragon shook his head.
  “But I’ve done so much, I’ve gone so far, and there’s nothing I won’t do,” he said. “The point is, there’s no solution I can think of.”
  Suddenly, the desperate expression on his face melted into one indicating an epiphany. Whether it was something he said, or something Jason didn’t say, he couldn’t tell, but he knew for sure there was one thing he hadn’t done yet. It would be his last possible opportunity in his struggle with the human system of justice, and he’d grasp it with both claws.
  It had to be done, no matter the risk or the cost. Besides, there wasn’t that much he could lose, relatively speaking. The future wasn’t altogether bright in the first place, so anything significant he could undertake probably wouldn’t make matters any worse.
  “That’s it…” he said to himself. “By Fenrierc, Jason, that’s it!”
  The human gazed at him in confusion as Ezrathan jumped up and got on his paws.
  “What’re you talking about?”
  “I just remembered something important. It might just be the opening we need. Let’s hurry, we’ll be too late as soon as the final verdict is read.”
  Not waiting for Jason, the dragon ran off as fast as his paws would carry him. The garden soon disappeared behind him as he entered the courthouse. When he reached the stairs, he scaled it with three steps at a time, until he reached the massive wooden door of the courtroom.
  Panting, he reached for its handle. His hand trembled as he stretched it out, and he felt the tension of the moment in his entire body. The action took only a second or two, but to the dragon, it felt like an eternity. He took a deep breath.
  “This is it, Ez,” he whispered to himself. “Your last chance to show them a Halfling will not be easily ignored. Especially one that has done his homework.”
 


[1] Pronunciation is straightforward. The first and third syllable are stressed, the second is not.