“Expedition Z-1925 was written for the Microcosms flash fiction competition. My prompts were “Qilin”, “Camelot”, and “Science Fiction”.
“It’s a giraffe.”
“In the records it’s called a Qilin. Quite apt. According to old earth mythology-”
“Looks like a giraffe to me.”
“It has scales and can breathe fire.”
“The last giraffe died more than three centuries ago. On earth. And you know the kind of stories that lot could come up with. For all we know they could breathe fire.”
“What? And that’s where the veldfires came from?”
“What the – veldfires? Don’t act all smart Mister-I-read-everything-about-earth. Most of the crew didn’t want you along to begin with.”
“Thank you for that. Like I didn’t know it already. If you send your men out there to catch it, they had better be ready, that is all I’m saying.”
“Animals can’t breathe fire. Scientific fact.”
“I thought so too – until the Qilin did this to my camera.” He held up a melted hunk of plastic, metal and glass.
“And the locals?”
“We couldn’t find them. Well… we found traces of what could have been the colonists.”
The captain answered with a string of curses.
“What did you expect? Between pathogens and new fauna and flora –“
“Stop talking for a moment, will you!”
“Making me stay quiet will –“
“Shut up! Listen!”
Somewhere the hull of the CA-melot exploratory vehicle creaked. The captain ran his hand through thinning hair.
“Could the giraffe have followed you here?”
Another creak. A sound like a furnace igniting.
“The Qilin?” Silence. “Perhaps.”
“We leave now.”
“What about the president’s –“
“The president can go –“
A loud rumble shook the vehicle. Metal crumpled, melted. Glass cracked.
The Qilin stared at the metal husk that had invaded her territory. She breathed fire on it three more times for good measure then ambled off towards her nest. Her young were waiting.