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A Change of Heart A Tale of the Galactic Circle Veterinary Service Copyright Š 2015 by Stephen A Benjamin All rights reserved. No part of this story (e-book) may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or book reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidences are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Edited by Terry Wright Cover Art by Terry Wright ISBN: 978-1-936991-93-8


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A Tale of the Galactic Circle Veterinary Service by Stephen A. Benjamin I was preparing our ship for takeoff when the monitor showed three dragons standing quietly at the bottom of the ship’s ramp. That alone gave me pause: dragons, who resembled tyrannosauruses with wings, were not shy retiring creatures. The lack of a demand for attention was atypical. With some trepidation, I traversed the corridor from the bridge to the top of the open ramp and shouted down, “Can I help you?” The largest of the three, a purple dragon the size of a giraffe, looked directly at the speaker from which my AI’s translation issued. Good echolocation made sense for a flying predator. The AI’s translation in my ear-bud converted the dragon’s mélange of hisses and subsonic tones to Common. “Captain Doctor CyBerger. We need help.” My empathic sense picked up a distinct undertone of aggression— nothing unusual for a dragon—along with a modicum of embarrassment. That was definitely unusual. Maybe I had that backward: the aggression


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was because of the embarrassment. He definitely did not want to be here. And he certainly did not want me involved. I sensed the emotions of animals and sentient beings, including humans. My empathic connection allowed me to soothe stressed beasts, a useful talent for a veterinarian. Some powerful emotions came through as visions, but I was not a telepath. I did not read minds. And I could not influence sentient beings in the same way I could animals. Strong emotions caused both physical and psychological reactions, but sentient beings affected me worse than animals. If I let them through, powerful emotions caused nausea, vertigo, and headaches. This was the reason I had developed mental empathic screens. The middle-sized dragon, a mustard yellow female, added, “It is our son,� and pushed the smallest dragon forward toward me. I caught a mental image of me ministering to a variety of dragons with everything from gout to ingrown toe-talons, what my veterinary assistant, Furoletto Cohen, and I had been doing on this world in the Cassiopeia region of the galaxy for the past month. This was the second world the Galactic Circle Veterinary Service had visited that had sentient, dinosaur-like flying beings that resembled the dragons of Old Earth fantasy literature. The third dragon was as small as any I had yet seen. The youngster’s color, an ugly muddy orange-brown, was the hue one might get if one took a palette and mixed the colors of the two adults. I wondered if mating dragons ever took the appearance of their offspring


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into account before they mated. The purple dragon—Papa—demanded, “Help our son.” The young orange looked healthy enough but, of course, many disorders had no outward signs. I kept my distance for the moment. “Exactly what seems to be the problem?” Mustard Yellow Mama said, “Too small. Be killed.” Huh? What did that mean? I did not know enough to gauge the dragon’s age and size. “Um, how old is he?” Purple Papa’s fiery anger seared my empathic perception. I slammed my mental barriers into place but my stomach wrenched. As I quashed the incipient nausea—I did not need to lose my dinner in front of these creatures—the inevitable headache stomped my brain. Papa gnashed his gargantuan teeth as a tongue of flame shot out from his mouth and smoke escaped from his nostrils. The dragons on this world had learned to breathe fire, making them even more reminiscent of Terran fantasy. They strutted around erupting like biological volcanoes. Turned out these alien dragons had a unique three-stomach digestive system, not like that of a herbivorous ruminant, but one evolved for digesting all manner of lipids and proteins. The first stomach produced acid for initial digestion of meat and soft tissue, a second one contained chemicals for dissolving bone, teeth, and claws, and a third one, unique for a carnivore, harbored a host of microorganisms that further digested the meal but also catalyzed the


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production of methane, a gas usually found in the colon. A belch of this flammable gas, a click of their teeth, like flint on steel, and smoke and flame whooshed from between their dagger-like teeth. Dragons belching fire at each other was not a problem for them, their armored scales shrugged off the flames as a minor irritant, but it was a definite hazard for a couple of soft, thin-skinned humans. Fortunately for our tender hides, the dragons at our previous stopover on Dragonworld had evolved with a single stomach, and did not possess the fire-breathing ability. But why was Papa mad because I asked the small dragon’s age? What was I missing? *** To find out what happens next, go to www.twbpress.com/achangeofheart.html and click on the links to purchase this story for 99 cents from Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook Press, TWB Press, and Smashwords


About the Author

Dr. Stephen A. Benjamin was born and raised in New York City. He received his A.B. degree from Brandeis University, and his D.V.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University, and he’s a board-certified veterinary pathologist. He has been a university teacher, researcher, and administrator, and is currently Professor Emeritus at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. His interests in human and animal health are reflected in most of his short stories and novels. He lives in Colorado with his wife, and enjoys traveling, especially visiting his family, fishing, golf, skiing, cooking, and writing fiction.


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A Change of Heart  

In a corner of the galaxy far far away, Dr. Cy Berger, operating the first interplanetary veterinary service, lands on an alien world where...

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