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In a story I'm working on, a nation of humans with WW1-level tech and some concerningly fascist leanings encounter a late-medieval society of dragon-like creatures on a distant continent. They are sentient and sapient, have opposable thumbs, have 6 limbs (4 legs, 2 wings), and are roughly 5 or 6 times as big as a human. Some of them can breathe fire, but other breath weapons such as incredibly toxic and acidic saliva or jets of supercold gas exist. For an idea of what they look like, here's an image: Skywing from WoF by Joy Ang

The humans saw these huge, majestic creatures, and immediately came to the ridiculous conclusion that they'd make perfect slaves. Yes, enslaving sentient creatures who are five times as large as you, can fly, and can breathe fire is a completely and utterly insane plan at its absolute possible best, but try explaining that to the humans.

So naturally, the humans set about capturing and imprisoning dragons. The dragons they captured were chained up in overcrowded and cramped holds of their ships in preparation for the long voyage back to the Human continent. If you think this is sounding very similar to the Middle Passage in the African slave trade, you wouldn't be wrong. It is very similar in all the worst ways.

Thing is, these humans may be utterly insane, but they aren't stupid. They'd like to keep the dragons bound up in a fashion that lets them cram as many dragons into the hold as they can. This leads to my main question;

What position should these slavers bind their 6 limbed, winged captives up in to allow for maximum use of space?

Note that the position the humans bind their dragon captives up in has to be 'natural', in that the slavers don't have to dislocate any joints or break any bones to get them into it. This in no way means that the position has to be comfortable.

EDIT: Note also that the humans are really adamant about keeping the dragons below deck, partly to make escape harder and partially out of concern for maintaining the 'quality' of the 'cargo'; dragons below deck are somewhat protected from inclement weather encountered during the journey.

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    $\begingroup$ Two issues: 1). Actual slavers had to let their slaves out occasionally to move around so they weren't crippled by the end of the voyages, and 2). the slaves were prone to suicide/self harm, and if their breath weapons can harm self, this is a huge logistical problem. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    May 29 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus 1). The humans do take their dragon captives one at a time up onto the top deck and take them for 'walks' on occasion, though they keep the dragons on a tight (and very literal) leash during this to prevent escape or suicide. 2). The breath weapon can't hurt the dragon unless it's directed at their body, and both that and the breath weapon itself are in the human's power to limit. $\endgroup$
    – Brinstar77
    May 29 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ VTC:Needs Details. (a) What are the specific measurements, weight, and dietary requirements (including time between meals) of the dragons? (b) What are the specific dimensions of the ship? (c) How long can dragons survive (or, at least, before their muscles atrophy) with bound wings? (d) What's the value of the cargo (or, more accurately, how many can be lost to bad judgement before the trip becomes unprofitable)? (e) Must the dragons be muzzled, their heads contained, or caretakers armored? (f) How much manure is created by a dragon in one day? (g) How hard can a dragon be hit? (Rough seas.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    May 29 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact The edit is in response to two answers actually, one of which is now deleted. And it only gives a reason for something already stated in the question; that the dragons are kept below deck. $\endgroup$
    – Brinstar77
    May 30 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ Curiously, you might not want that as a restriction. Your edit suggests doing it to protect the quality of the cargo - but packing a lot of heat-generating creatures maximally in a small space with limited air flow (lest one sinks) is going to result in dead cargo. What's less valuable, dead cargo or damaged cargo? In fact, as I read through the current answers, most of the suggestions are going to result in a lot of dead dragons. Slavers are no end of evil - but they won't lift a finger if they can't make a buck. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    May 30 at 3:47

4 Answers 4

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HCP/BPD

enter image description here

This handy acronym stands for hexagonally close packed bipedal position dragons.

Your typical fictional dragon can rear up on its hind legs, but usually prefers not to. Prefers not to, you say? Too bad.

I'm proposing binding them in a position similar to lots of standing humans packed in adjacent straight lines; standing on their hind legs and leaning on the dragon in front of them. Tails fit under the dragon behind, similar to what you'd get if you closely overlaid and tiled the dragon depicted in the diagram above.

Adjacent lines are offset by half so that limbs fit into the 'gaps' between bodies. They face the same way so humans can enter from behind without exposure to breath weapons.

This is how you fit in unthinking spheres to make the densest possible arrangement, and it will work for dragons.

Have metal poles in the "gaps" as manacle attachment points. Between binding and just sheer close packing, they'll find it hard to move.

Do keep your world's evangelical Christian equivalents away, the last thing you want is a Wilberforce or a Spurgeon/Finney/Weld. Newtons are harder to avoid, of course. Quakers too. Steer carefully to avoid a Zong massacre.

enter image description here

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Triangular trade: six-pack.

The "triangle" is the shape described by the dragon's longest fingers. To break this down:

  • The dragon's four front legs are chained together like cans in a six-pack (with the center two cans missing for now). This probably starts from the first capture with a very heavy bolas-like device.

  • The dragon's mouth is muzzled crocodile-style, and its head is turned under its body so that it is looking down (up) at its sensitive underbelly and genitals. Just past the tip of its flaming nostrils, should it get any ideas. The head is securely bound to the centaur trunk by something resembling a saddle, but with the "rider" (the head) on the bottom.

  • The neck is further secured between the four front legs in the rear "six-pack" ring.

  • The tail is looped forward, starting behind the head (in front of the dragon's eyes), and ending by being secured in the last ring of the six pack. A bracing bar that screws through the protruding dorsal scales may help to keep it out of trouble.

  • The wings are bent to follow the leg supporting them for two segments; the distal (outer) segment of each finger is then bent down to be attached at the sides of the six-pack.

  • The dragon still has four points it can move - the front+middle legs and the back legs on each side. Those rear legs could reach out too far though, so they are hobbled to the tail/trunk/head.

  • The dragons as bound are now somewhat donut-shaped, maybe a little delicate on the sides where the wings are, but they can be stacked in a hold like tires, with a chain passed through each stack to keep it roughly in line. Take care to placard the end of each chain with the appropriate hazard class (flammable, corrosive, etc.)

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On Deck

Most of the Dragons' mass is located in the body and legs. They have a lot of extra tail and wing that takes up a lot of volume but doesn't weigh much. Perhaps we could chop off the tail to save space, but the wings cannot be squished into a small space without breaking them. This makes below deck an inefficient place to store the dragons.

The best place to store the wings is sticking out in the space above deck. Strap the dragons' legs to their bodies and lay them belly down in alternating directions on deck. You can have tails and heads hanging off the side of the boat to save space. There will be a lot of wing sticking out in every which direction but that is fine.

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    $\begingroup$ A few issues; the humans are really adamant about keeping dragons below deck, partly to make escape harder and partially out of concern for maintaining the 'quality' of the 'cargo'; dragons below deck are somewhat protected from inclement weather encountered during the journey. Plus, the 'natural position' requirement does specify no bone-breaking or joint dislocation, and it's thus implied that tail amputation breaks this requirement. $\endgroup$
    – Brinstar77
    May 28 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Brinstar77 Just cover the dragon with a tarpaulin $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 29 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ There's another issue; these dragons are SAPIENT, and thus may find a way to slip their restraints. If that happens on deck, then there's nothing stopping them from flying away. On the other hand, if it happens below deck, then there IS something stopping them; namely, the hull of the ship. $\endgroup$
    – Brinstar77
    May 29 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Brinstar77 That might be a good thing. Better the dragon just flies away, than sinks your ship and then flies away. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 29 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Brinstar77 "Only a Sith deals in absolutes". $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 29 at 12:19
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Wings

The most obvious solution that presents itself to me would be to have all legs bent as close to the body as possible, so that the wings hug their torso. This would allow for ropes/leather straps/chains or whichever binding method is most appropriate, to wrap around the breadth of their torso and wings (possibly also binding the several wing joints together).

Limbs

The knees on the back and front legs would be bent as tightly as possible, and these could be shackled both to each other and to the corresponding limbs on the opposite side of the torso. Moving them on either axis would be very challenging this way, and it would make the bulk of the dragon's volume more compact.

Neck, tail, head

Wrapping the tail around the side of the torso and binding it to it and the limbs seems like the best way to secure it with minimum space. As for the neck, it could be secured along the torso (much like the tail), or left extended, shackling the base of the head to impede movement. This, rather than having each dragon be fully compacted, would allow humans to alternate the way each dragon faces in order to maximize cargo space.

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